All posts by One Guys Opinion

Dr. Frank Swietek is Associate Professor of History at the University of Dallas, where he is regarded as a particularly tough grader. He has been the film critic of the University News since 1988, and has discussed movies on air at KRLD-AM (Dallas) and KOMO-AM (Seattle). He is also the Founding President of the Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics' Association, a group of print and broadcast journalists covering film in the Metroplex area, and was a charter member of the Society of Texas Film Critics. Dr. Swietek is a member of the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS). He was instrumental in the creation of the Lone Star Awards, which, through the efforts of the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Film Commission, give recognition annually to the best feature films and television programs produced in Texas.

BOSSA NOVA

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D+

Director Bruno Barreto and his wife Amy Irving attempt in their
latest collaboration to create a Brazilian version of the sort
of romantic roundelay that Max Ophuls managed so memorably in
1950’s “La Ronde.” The fulcrum of the complicated plot is a
middleaged Rio lawyer named Pedro Paulo (Antonio Fagundes), who
falls for English teacher Mary Ann (Irving), who will also be
romanced by a randy soccer star (Alexandre Borges), who in time
becomes Pedro’s client while Pedro is himself pursued by his
ex-wife (Debora Bloch). Meanwhile, Pedro’s half-brother Roberto,
(Pedro Cardoso), a tailor working for their father Juan
(Alberto de Mendoza), is smitten by the attorney’s sultry
intern Sharon (Giovanna Antonelli), who also catches the soccer
player’s roving eye, while the teacher’s friend Nadine (Drica
Moraes) is engaging in an internet romance with another lawyer
(Stephen Tobolowsky), who just happens to be a colleague of
Pedro’s and who, when he arrives in Rio, mistakes the teacher
for his unseen e-mail correspondent. And did I mention that
Mary Ann is still grieving over the loss of her beloved husband
in a drowning accident, or that Pedro is representing his aged
father in a divorce action, or that Pedro’s ex-wife, a travel
agent, abets her client Nadine in her efforts to make contact
with her internet beau?

As you can see, the plot of “Bossa Nova” is very complex, but
unfortunately it’s not terribly confusing. I say “unfortunately”
because a tale like this one needs to be effervescent as well
as elaborate, and that means it has to be light and airy,
moving swiftly enough so that the viewer is caught up in the
characters’ dizziness, too. Barreto’s directorial hand is
leaden, however, making the onscreen shenanigans seem more
forced and turgid than intoxicating. Nor does the cast play
the material with the delicacy needed to keep it afloat.

The result, despite the musical beat the setting lends to the
story, is about as appetizing as a soggy souffle. “Bossa
nova” has moments of sporadic charm, but it needs to fly, and
Barreto heavy-handedness keeps it resolutely pedestrian. It’s
nicely photographed, though.

COMMITTED






“Precious” is the word that best describes Lisa Krueger’s
sophomore feature, a terminally cute bit of feminist whimsy
about a driven young New York City woman (Heather Graham) who
trails her wayward husband (Luke Wilson) to El Paso, where
he’s fled to search for “space.” There she develops an unusual
friendship with her hubby’s new inamorata, a beautiful Mexican-
American waitress (Patricia Velasquez), and the girl’s amiably
mystical grandfather (Alfonso Arau), and eventually learns the
self-confidence she needs when her spouse resists her attempts
to reconnect.

The film wants to be a kind of comic reverie on modern notions
of interpersonal commitment, questioning how far today’s
society will allow one to go in being true to the pledges of
permanency made in marriage. That’s actually an admirable
artistic aim, but “Committed” fails to realize its ambitions.
The main difficulty is that as written the lead couple is so
dippy and thick-witted that they soon cease to have any
resemblance to reality; their quirkiness is so calculated
that it quickly degenerates into heavy-handed affectation, and
they become oddball caricatures to whom an audience can’t
truly relate in any honest way. When the heroine winds up in
a mental institute because of her obsession with reuniting
with her reluctant husband, therefore, it seems a crude
tragicomic contrivance rather than the sharply ironic
observation it’s clearly intended to be.

If the central duo is more off-putting than intriguing, however,
the supporting characters provide some consolation. Casey
Affleck gives a warm, ingratiatingly laid-back performance as
Graham’s brother, who follows her to the southwest and
eventually links up with Velasquez. The latter is an attractive
new screen presence, both alluring and funny. And Arau manages
to retain his considerable dignity in a role that could easily
have become sheer shtick.

As for Krueger, her debut feature “Manny and Lo” showed that
she’s got a real ear for dialogue and a director’s eye. Very
few people escape the sophomore jinx, however, and she hasn’t
managed to do so. One can only hope that her next effort will
be a return to earlier form.