REVIEW: Fading Gigolo

29 07 2014

Fading GigoloOn paper, “Fading Gigolo” sounds like the kind of movie Woody Allen would have made in the ’70s or early ’80s.  The bored Murray (Allen) facing the obsolescence of his current job decides to pimp out his unconventionally virile buddy Fioravante (John Turturro) to jaded women.  The concept is ripe for laughs and some good character development.

Sadly, Woody Allen didn’t direct “Fading Gigolo.”  That position belongs to John Turturro, who can’t quite recreate the magic of the acclaimed director he managed to cast in a key role.  Whereas even the minor films of Allen manage to provide a unique experience, Turturro’s film is rather bland.

Allen’s character is firmly supporting, which is a shame since he’s the best thing “Fading Gigolo” has going for it.  Even though it’s a little bizarre to hear him speaking someone else’s dialogue, there’s a certain vitality his trademark persona brings to the screen.  The same could not be said for Turturro, who seems to be sleepwalking through the film.

Fioravante is supposed to be entrancing these women, but I’ll be darned if I could tell you what exactly was capturing their imaginations.  Either Turturro was on downers the entire shoot, or he just actually lacks the charisma to hold the screen as a leading man.  He’s been great as a character actor for the Coen Brothers in the past, so I don’t quite know what to think.

In the director’s chair, Turturro is every bit as colorless.  He could certainly have learned the economy of comedy on set from Allen, but he proceeds with making a bloated film that lacks a pulse.  Everything from the way Turturro directs the actors to the elevator music he chooses to score the film feels drained of energy.

And I don’t mean to imply that Turturro is some kind of an anti-Semite, but I felt ill at ease with the way he portrayed the Jewish community in “Fading Gigolo.”  Much of the plot centers around Murray trying to convince a Hasidic rabbi’s widow to see Fioravante for some healing sessions, creepily against her strict religious vow of modesty.  His presence brings about the curiosity of a particularly zealous Hasidic neighborhood watchman played Liev Schrieber, complete with fake sidelocks.  The whole community seems to be constructed as rather exotic by Turturro, almost to the point where their differences are the butt of jokes.

Perhaps it’s just me who found that troubling, but I can make other assertions about flaws in “Fading Gigolo” with confidence.  It’s a film conspicuously lacking in humor as well as in panache.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Magic in the Moonlight

23 07 2014

Magic in the MoonlightAt a Cannes Film Festival press conference back in 2010, writer/director Woody Allen opined rather extensively about his views on life.  Among the misanthropic murmurs, he remarked, “I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”

Four years later, “Magic in the Moonlight” arrives in theaters to once again hammer home Allen’s personal philosophy as expressed in the quote above.  You know, just in case we happened to miss it in any of his other four dozen or so films.

This pessimistic fatalism goes down, however, quite palatably here because Allen casts two leads far more charming than himself: Colin Firth and Emma Stone.  Though they’re spouting lines that could make Nietzsche chuckle, the film never loses its mirthful mood thanks to the effervescence that the duo radiates.

“Magic in the Moonlight,” similar to 2009′s “Whatever Works,” has the feel of an undeveloped comedy from Allen in the ’70s.  That tenor is achieved by the nature of the concept, yet it’s also due in large part to the spell that Stone casts over it.  Allen clearly sees in her the same kind of alluring wit and personality that Diane Keaton immortalized in his films; it’s simply delightful to watch a wide-eyed Stone revel in one of his creations.

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REVIEW: Blue Jasmine

12 08 2013

Woody Allen’s latest feature shows our most prolific filmmaker access a side of his writing seldom seen: dark and unsparingly grim tragedy.  I’ve seen all of his 48 films, and perhaps not since 1992′s “Husbands and Wives” has he taken such a bleak and hard-hitting look at the demons we battle and the struggles we face.  His “Blue Jasmine” is a modern “A Streetcar Named Desire” mixed in a cocktail with the Bernie Madoff scandal and washed down with a toxic mixture of alcohol and antidepressants.

It’s no stone-faced drama like “Match Point,” though.  There are still plenty of laughs to be had here, although they definitely don’t resemble the kind of humor you’d find in Allen’s early farces like “Bananas.”  Nor do they even take the shape of the clever wit of “Annie Hall” or even “Midnight in Paris.”  In “Blue Jasmine,” we chuckle as we cringe.  Almost all of our laughs are muffled as they come while we grit our teeth.

That’s because his protagonist, Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine (formerly Jeanette, but that name wasn’t exciting enough), is slowly charting her own way to another complete mental breakdown.  She suffered her first one after her husband’s vast fraudulent financial empire collapses, leaving her penniless to fend for herself in the world.  Lost and not placated by her Xanax, she journeys cross-country to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in the hopes of getting back on her feet.

But Jasmine quickly finds that she’s woefully underprepared to enter the workforce since she has no degree, dropping out of Boston University with a year left to marry Hal (Alec Baldwin).  Despite offers from Ginger’s circle of friends to help her find secretarial or wage labor, Jasmine remains defiant, unable to accept the reality that she is no longer among the privileged Park Avenue lot.  Her half-hearted effort to come to terms with her new social standing leads to clashes with her eventual employer, Michael Stuhlbarg’s genial dentist Dr. Flicker, and Ginger’s boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale’s unabashedly honest Chili.

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REVIEW: To Rome With Love

31 07 2012

So maybe it lacks the timely thematic punch of “Midnight in Paris,” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Woody Allen’s latest, “To Rome With Love,” thoroughly and completely.  Sure, it’s not going to be rise to the top of his filmography.  Yet it’s a solid reminder of just how much of a comedic master Allen really is and just how effortlessly the laughs flow.

Part of my love of this movie could just be that I was in Rome a month before seeing it, though I will admit Rome gets a far more shallow portrayal than Paris.  Nevertheless, while we miss out on the Eternal City, we are treated to generous helpings of Woody Allen.  Since the story consists of four vignettes (which are really totally unrelated aside from their setting), we are treated to not one, not two, not three, but FOUR neurotic Woody Allen surrogates in one movie!

Now, if you hate the archetypical Woody Allen character with his nebbish misanthropy and his self-deprecatingly intellectual wit, then “To Rome With Love” will sound a lot like nails on a chalkboard to you.  However, if you are like me and willing to sit through something dreadful like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” in the hopes of one classic Allen moment, then you could probably care less about a statement on nostalgia or beautiful, city-encapsulating ambiental cinematography.  You’re just happy to see another Woody Allen movie.  And for me, that’s enough.

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Oscars 2011: Why it should be “Midnight in Paris”

25 02 2012

When I first saw Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” back in June 2011, I knew it would be one of my favorite movies of the year. Sure enough, it was, charting at #3 on my Best of 2011 list. But I had my fingers crossed all year that it would have what it takes to make the Academy’s list for Best Picture.

I got a little worried over the summer when the rule change in Best Picture to allow for a fluid field of five to ten nominees put extra stock in first place votes. I feared that everyone liked the movie but not enough people loved it. Allen has plenty of respect in the Academy – I mean, he’s only been nominated 23 times – and everyone loves it when an old pal returns to form.

But once awards season got rolling, all my doubts were put to rest. It had a relatively easy cruise to a Best Picture nomination after picking up just about every precursor mention necessary to stay firmly planted in the conversation. It was nominated for the top prize at the Critics’ Choice Awards and the Golden Globes as well as picking up a mention as one of the year’s ten best from the American Film Institute. It did exceptionally well on the guild circuit, notching mentions from the Screen Actors Guild, the Producers Guild, the Directors Guild, and the Writers Guild (where it picked up a much deserved win!). I don’t think anyone would deny that in a traditional year of five Best Picture nominees, “Midnight in Paris” would easily have been included.

With the ceremony just days away, everyone knows it’s “The Artist” for Best Picture – just like it has been since the season got kicked off, arguably since Cannes back in May 2011.  Thankfully, a concept I like to call Oscar Socialism will kick in and give “Midnight in Paris” a win. My bet is that it comes for Best Original Screenplay since the writers love Woody Allen and its stiffest competition comes from a film with very little scripted dialogue. He hasn’t won here since 1986 with “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Allen’s highest grossing movie until “Midnight in Paris” surpassed it.

But let’s zoom back for a little bit and examine the movie irrespective of awards season politics. That’s what Woody Allen would want. Why else would he not attend any ceremonies to pick up his well-deserved trophies?

“Midnight in Paris” opens to the music of Sidney Bechet with a three-minute prologue featuring nothing but exterior shots of Paris. And if you aren’t resolved to visit by the time the opening credits roll, I don’t know what will ever make you want to go to Paris. Allen says the sequence is designed “to put people in the mood of Paris.”

The movie itself addresses the theme of nostalgia, and its warning to resist its deceiving allure resonates strongly and truthfully in a Best Picture race that includes “The Artist,” “Hugo,” and “War Horse,” all cinematic paeans to bygone times and styles. Early on in the film, a character states that “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one’s living in – it’s a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” Throughout the film, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) must confront the validity of this assertion as he experiences the joys and the struggles of living in a different era, the 1920s Lost Generation of expatriate artists in Paris.

In a December piece in The Los Angeles Times, Allen reflects on why his latest film seems to have struck such a cord: “”People don’t want to be where they are at the moment. All of us at the moment are in a bad time, because reality is a tough place to be in. Gaugin thinks if he lived in Tahiti, or I think if I moved to Martha’s Vineyard or Paris, would I be happier? That is the constant fantasy, but you’re the person with problems, and they get transferred to the new locale. You can’t shake it.”

For me, movies like “Midnight in Paris” are the perfect companion to deal with the painful present. It’s a movie that doesn’t ignore the problems of the modern age but doesn’t dwell on them as insurmountable. That’s why it’s in the race – and that’s why I believe it deserves to win.





Oscar Moment: Final 2011 Predictions!

23 01 2012

Well, folks … guesswork is almost over.  In a little over 12 hours, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) will announce their nominations for the best of the best of 2011.  We’ve had plenty of nominations and winners to give us an idea of what’s to come tomorrow morning.  I’ve done plenty of analyzing the categories, but I think now I just have to go with a mix of gut and knowledge.

Best Picture

  1. The Artist
  2. The Descendants
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. Midnight in Paris
  6. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  7. War Horse
  8. The Tree of Life
  9. Moneyball
  10. Bridesmaids

I’m feeling only six Best Picture nominees this year.  (For those who don’t know about the new rules and regulations of the category, the Best Picture field is now an elastic number of nominees between five and ten.  In order to be nominated for Best Picture, a movie needs to receive at least five percent of the number one votes.)  The top five are very obvious.

I would say “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” takes the sixth spot because it’s the only other plausible nominee with enough guild support (sorry “Bridesmaids”).  If we learned anything from 2010, it was that the guilds still win out in the end.  “War Horse” has been far too silent on the guild front and hasn’t made nearly enough money to be a smashing success.  Plus, there’s an opportunity – and a likelihood – that they can give him another Oscar win in the Best Animated Feature category for “The Adventures of Tintin.” “The Tree of Life” has the critical support, but I don’t think that’s enough to break it into this race.  Oscar voters aren’t critics.

Best Director

  1. Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
  2. Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
  3. Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
  4. Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”
  5. David Fincher, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

The top three are rock solid locks.  Woody Allen seems very inevitable given the widespread love for his movie and that the directors have nominated him six times before.  The last slot could go any number of ways – Fincher like the DGA picked, Malick like every critic proclaimed from the rooftop, Spielberg if “War Horse” actually makes a strong showing, or maybe even Tate Taylor if they really love “The Help.”

Looking at history, the lone director slot comes when there’s a particularly unknown director for a well-liked movie: Joe Wright missing for “Atonement,” Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris missing for “Little Miss Sunshine,” Marc Forster missing for “Finding Neverland,” and Gary Ross for “Seabiscuit.”  So I think it’s safe to say that the vulnerable director of a leading movie is Tate Taylor.  But who gets the slot?

I would say look to the DGA, but looking over their nominees, they do a better job of picking the Best Picture five than they do picking Best Director.  So thus I glean from their slate that “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has the strength to crack the Best Picture field, but Fincher might not necessarily show up here again.  My brain says go with Malick since lone director nominees usually represent far-out, well-directed artsy films.  But my gut says Fincher gets it, if for no other reason that Hollywood seems to have found its new anointed golden director and just wants to shower him with awards for everything.

Best Actor

  1. George Clooney, “The Descendants”
  2. Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
  3. Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
  4. Michael Fassbender, “Shame”
  5. Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”

Best Actor is, on the whole, a very conservative category.  Save the occasional Tommy Lee Jones for “In the Valley of Elah” or Javier Bardem for “Biutiful,” it almost always unfolds according to plan – no matter how boring that plan may be.  So yes, I still pick Michael Fassbender for “Shame” even though there has been some skepticism raised recently.  And yes, I will even defend Leonardo DiCaprio who stars in what will surely be one of the most maligned movies of 2011 to receive an Oscar nomination.  This year, he accumulated the three most important precursor nominations.  And he managed to get nominated in 2006 even when he had two performances in play.  They like him, and I think that (unfortunately) they’ll probably reward him with another nomination.

Best Actress

  1. Viola Davis, “The Help”
  2. Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
  3. Michelle Williams, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
  5. Rooney Mara, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Yes, even though she missed with the BFCA and SAG, I have confidence that the late surge of support for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” can net a nomination for Rooney Mara over Glenn Close.  I don’t think “Albert Nobbs” has much buzz about it anymore, and even though they like Glenn Close, there are a lot of quotients that Mara would fill.  She’s under 30 and hasn’t been nominated before; you have to go back to 1994 to find a year where the Best Actress category was all prior nominees.  Thus, I rest my case and cross my fingers.

Best Supporting Actor

  1. Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
  2. Albert Brooks, “Drive”
  3. Kenneth Branagh, “My Week with Marilyn”
  4. Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
  5. Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”

I only feel sure of the top pick Plummer; the next three are fairly vulnerable; the fifth spot could go any number of ways.  I still can’t predict Nolte for “Warrior,” and maybe it’s because I can’t separate my dislike of the movie from the nomination process.  I just don’t think the performance was good, and I’m hopeful that the Academy will validate my opinion.  It could be Brad Pitt as a double nominee for “The Tree of Life;” it could be Ben Kingsley sneaking in for “Hugo;” it could be SAG nominee Armie Hammer for “J. Edgar.”  When in doubt, go with SAG, I guess.

Best Supporting Actress

  1. Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
  2. Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
  3. Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
  4. Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
  5. Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

Someone else suggested the Woodley comparison to Andrew Garfield’s snub for “The Social Network,” and I’m dreading that it might be the case.  But I really have a hard time picking Melissa McCarthy for a nomination, even if she was a SAG nominee.  I just don’t see it happening.  I don’t think the performance is enough of a stand-out to break the funny woman barrier at the Oscars.  The nomination could be a symbolic vote, but I think traditional performances win the day.

Best Original Screenplay

  1. Midnight in Paris
  2. The Artist
  3. Bridesmaids
  4. Win Win
  5. Beginners

This category always has some surprises up its sleeve for nomination morning, so I don’t know how confident I feel picking so close to the WGA nominations.  I think “Bridesmaids” will see the prize for its remarkable awards run here, and I think “Win Win” has built up enough steam to get in too.  “50/50″ has the WGA nom but not much else going for it.  Some say “A Separation” takes its enormous buzz and makes a showing here, but I think the drama of choice will be “Beginners.”  Just another gut feeling.

Best Adapted Screenplay

  1. The Descendants
  2. Moneyball
  3. The Help
  4. Hugo
  5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Four Best Picture nominees will be adapted, so I feel like those will make it in over some arguably “better written” or “more loved” work.  And “Moneyball” has too much acclaim and steam to ignore; it could win even if it doesn’t get a Best Picture nomination.

So that’s what I think!  What about you?  Anything you are hoping for?  Rooting against?





Weekend Update – Golden Globes 2011 Live Blog!

15 01 2012

4:00 P.M.  E! has already started their Golden Globe coverage, so I guess it’s time for me to begin as well!  Time for the best of Hollywood (and television) to come out and get rewarded (or robbed).  Predictions will slowly trickle in as the stars grace the red carpet, but I’ll be writing from the arrivals to the awards to Ricky Gervais’ harsh quips.  With recaps, opinions, and insights, make “Marshall and the Movies” your companion for the Golden Globes!

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