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IN SHORT: We didn't like it when it was called Love Story, either. [Rated PG-13. 129 minutes]
Readers of an appropriate age already know what that summary means. In its day, Love Story was massive. It was the date flick that you either suffered through (dudes) or swooned for (dude-ettes). You can rent the film for three bucks from Amazon. Or you can sit through Winter's Tale, which is not about any character named Winter with a tale to tell, and experience a very similar story, twice. Once in the early twentieth century and once in the present day
That second sentence tells you just about all we would say about the dense story that is Winter's Tale. Still, I have space to fill so . . . let us pause to remember Sunday School lessons and another, far older tale that is also lifted to begin this one. For those that are not Members of the Tribes, there came a time when the Czar of Russia expelled all citizens of Jewish heritage from his Empire. Even those, like Cranky's great and great-great-grandfathers, who had earned the very rare position of Jew in Service to the Czar. In Winter's Tale, a seemingly well dressed pair of young Russians are turned away from Ellis Island. It is 1895 and they are infected with some disease. Their baby is not. The pair beg Immigration Agents to allow the baby to enter but are told "no". So, bundled in a blanket and packaged in a toy sailing ship, the parents lower their child over the side of the Russian boat. The toy, labelled "City of Justice" brings the baby to the Promised Land. Just like Moses in the rushes of Egypt . . .
. . . except that this baby is adopted and raised by a scar-faced man, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), leader of a gang of Irish criminals called the Brooklyn Short Tails. By the time we meet the rechristened Peter Lake (Colin Farrell) as an adult, he is a thief. For some reason, as Winter's Tale begins, there has been a falling out between Pearly and his "son." With the Short Tails in pursuit, Pearly chases Peter through Iron Gates and out of the purgatory that is some part of Brooklyn. Rescue is achieved not by the intervention of a god, whether Old or New Testament, but by the theft of a white stallion -- call him "Peg" -- which just happens to be standing around sussing out the local situation, waiting to be stolen.
Piece together the clues in that last sentence, readers. Peter, who had been educated by the criminal Pearly to be a thief, knows nothing of mythology -- which was anything but myth to the ancient Greeks. Peter, knowing nothing better, calls his savior "Horse" throughout the film.
Yes, Moses/ Peter has left his homeland for exile in Manhattan, protected by a Greek God. There, he can exercise his skills as a second story man, breaking into the mansions of the wealthy inhabitants of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue in a most clever way. Pearly Soames ventures deep underground to the hot and stifling hiding place of his boss," the Judge" (Will Smith) to request permission to pursue Peter into Manhattan. It is denied. Once in a while, Pearly slips up and calls the Judge by the more familiar "Lu" -- it's not in the story but we'll venture a guess that such familiarity is the reason for the scars on Pearly's face. That, or a knife fight.
As for Peter, Fifth Avenue is a bountiful Land, ripe for picking. Horse seems to know which mansions are empty and, in one case, refuses to budge at the end of a profitable day. So Peter breaks into 53 Fifth Avenue which, unfortunately, has one occupant. She is a flame-haired beauty, Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) whose father Isaac (William Hurt) is the powerful managing Editor of the New York Sun newspaper. It is a doomed Love At First Sight, for she has pulmonary tubuclerosis, a disease which eats its way out of the body (and so its more common name, Consumption).
So begins an hour of sappy love story; Think of it this way: The story of a Man who so Loved a Woman that, when she is taken from him by disease; far too young and far too beautiful for him to bear... that the Man refuses to let his body age or die, until the time comes that his One and Only True Love can be reincarnated. Only then can they be Reunited as One! Forever and Ever, with a passion so brilliant that it flames like Stars in the Heavens!
Here the men mutter under their breath "Oh God just shoot me now." They will then pay for the tickets at the box office so that their dates can coo "How Romantic!" and later snuggle inside the theater.
We will leave out most all of the rest of the film, adapted by writer/ first time director Akiva Goldsman from what must have been a door-stopper of a novel by Mark Helprin. The first part of the story is not difficult to watch and some minor special effects work kept us wondering "what the devil is supposed to be going on here?" which, it turns out, isn't far from the point.
It is a wee mathematical error that brings the house down as, 98 years after Beverly's death, an amnesiac man wanders the streets of New York City, making chalk drawings of a flame-haired girl on the pavement of the city. The New York Sun is now in the hands of Beverly's youngest sister Willa (in 1916 played by Mckayla Twigg and as a spry 106-year old by the great Eva Marie Saint) but the focus of the story is now on reporter Virginia Gamely (Jennifer Connelly) and her daughter Abby (Ripley Sobo).. And that amnesiac guy, whose plight has fallen on Virginia's sympathetic ears. Who looks remarkably like the picture of man found in a 1916 story in the archives of The Sun.
If we told you any more you would roll your eyes back in your heads and wish for "Judge" Lucifer/ Lu for a quick end to it all.
The great list of stars, most of whom have worked on earlier blockbusters written by Goldsman, are what will bring couples into the movie theater. If the film had failed simply because, like Love Story, it works for one gender and not the other, we'd have granted a Five Dollar rating as a lesser dateflick. But the women sitting behind yours Cranky were muttering out loud what we were thinking as we watched Winter's Tale, "This is ridiculous."
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Winter's Tale, he would have paid . . .
Cranky now sheds his liberal skin and admits that a movie like Winter's Tale, is the best argument for why we shouldn't mess with the Second Amendment to our Constitution. Without the Right to Bear Arms, how would we blow our brains out after suffering through this thing?
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