Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen

Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen

Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen

A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial, arrives in San Francisco to impose upon her sister.

To start off, Blue Jasmine has a tremendous cast. A lot of unsung credit belongs to Allen’s long time casting director Juliet Taylor, who’s assembled a cast that aptly plays the social distinction between the lower and upper class. Each character, whether it’s a glass-clinking socialite or a muscled tough guy builder, says the pitch perfect thing in the exact way they would say it. They all felt like real people.

As of right now, Cate Blanchett should win the Oscar for Best Actress.  She is the film’s main event. There’s no sense of where Cate Blanchett starts and Jasmine French begins, she simply was just the character. Her character, Jasmine French, is not a likable character in any traditional sense. But she in such immense physical stress and on the brink of complete mental breakdown, it is an awesome spectacle to be marveled. It was like Blanchett was suffering in front of me for the entire 98 minutes.
Sally Hawkins is a great partner to Blanchett as her onscreen sister Ginger. Hawkins provides the necessary counter balance for the audience to gain true insight into Jasmine. It is like watching a master class in acting watching them. Alec Baldwin makes a great slime ball. I couldn’t help laughing when Louis C.K. showed up as a sleazy boyfriend. His character reminded me how some of my male friends are with women. The real surprise was Andrew Dice Clay, who gives a heartfelt performance as Ginger’s husband Augie. I hope he gets a nomination.

Blue Jasmine is by no means the most audience friendly of Allen’s works. Actually, it may be the most uncomfortable film Allen has made. For some audiences, this might be too akin to real life to be truly entertaining. There are many laughs, however most of it is nervous laughter from witnessing an oncoming train wreck situation perpetually worsening. Woody Allen’s sense of irony and truth is so strong, even when he tries to be dramatic it still comes off funny.

Allen has masterfully written the script in such a way that it was hard to see where the story was heading. It was not traditionally written where one scene set up the next. Instead, it was more like I was looking into these characters’ lives. Whether you like Woody Allen or not, it doesn’t matter. Blue Jasmine fires completely on another level and it’s really something to behold.

Related Links
Midnight in Paris by Woody Allen
Woody Allen: A Documentary by Robert B. Weide
Louis C.K.: Oh My God by Louis C.K.

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The Iceman by Ariel Vromen

The Iceman (film)

The Iceman by Ariel Vromen

The true story of Richard Kuklinski, the notorious contract killer and family man, who has claimed of killing over a hundred victims.

The cast gives good performances. Michael Shannon brings gravitas to the Iceman. It’s impressive how much life he’s breathed into a role that is so oblique and intimidating. The audience never really knows what is going on inside his head, but a threatening violence is communicated underneath his dead calm demeanor. It’s an engaging scary performance. Winona Ryder is good in the role of Kuklinski’s wife Deborah but the potential of the role isn’t explored to the fullest. The real-life Kuklinski did hit his wife and broke her nose several times. Unfortunately for Ryder, it is not explored in the film. Kuklinski’s wife in the film suspects something is wrong but is scared to pry, which is contrary to her real-life counterpart had no idea what was going on at all. This was all probably changed to create more character likability for Kuklinski, more on that later. Chris Evans gets to transform and do some character acting as the Iceman’s assassin partner Mr. Freezy. Evan seems to be reveling in this part, it’s probably a breath of fresh air from having doing the recent Marvel films. James Franco also shows up in a fun cameo role.

The story, however, fails to rise above the sum of its parts. One particular aspect of dramatic filmmaking is for the story to be compelling, the audience generally has to empathize and root for its protagonist. It’s hard to feel that for Richard Kuklinksi because he is fully aware of his actions. Kuklinksi was an effective killer from his lack of compassion for people. He gave zero thought to murder and that’s what made him scary. But director Ariel Vromen tries to insert the idea that Kuklinski had empathy and struggled with balancing his antisocial behavior with the safety of his family. This is only touched upon and never fully explored. But perhaps there was nothing behind the real Iceman’s psychosis, maybe he just did not have empathy. The truth is Vromen doesn’t know more than we do and the film is only working on pure speculation. . So it is soft pedaling solely for dramatic purposes, Vromen should have just taken narrative liberties and just fully presented his own take of what happened.

Perhaps it’s not even Vromen’s fault, dramatic film was probably not the proper format for this story. I recommend everybody see the 1992 HBO documentary The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer. Watching Richard Kuklinski recount his own story was a much more compelling and shocking experience. The Iceman, by comparison, seems relatively watered down and this isn’t a story that should be toned down.

World War Z by Marc Forster

World War Z by Marc Forster

Gerry Lane, a retired United Nations employee who must travel the world to find a way to stop a zombie pandemic.

I haven’t read the original novel going into World War Z. There have been some complaints that this film departs heavily  from the novel, but apparently the novel reads like a series of personal accounts. If that’s the case, it’s probably more effective to experience the story through a first-person perspective for a film. On with the review…

The PG-13 rating has always been an interesting constraint for horror movies as it cancels the use of gore and forces more ingenuity in creating the scares. Marc Forster creates a constant frantic sense of jeopardy and properly raises the stakes. Even though it’s possible to outsmart and escape from these running zombies, we fear that the characters will eventually fatigue and lose from being outnumbered. The opening set piece was shot too shaky and cut too fast and it seemed like Marc Forster didn’t learn anything from the action in Quantum of Solace. But the set pieces improve as the film progresses.

By the finale, I was fully immersed into this world, alert of everything that can startle the fast-running zombies and looking out for every possible human mistake. I was cringing at every door squeak and wished a can of WD-40 would just fall out of the sky on their laps. That said, the characters don’t make typical stupid horror movie mistakes. Even in times of risk and with the occasional accidental mistake, they take the proper precautions and do the most sensical thing.

Zombie films typically are set in a town or city. What makes World War Z an unique experience is its international scope, we get to see the entire world react to the zombie outbreak. It gives a political and cultural cross-section of how different countries would react to such a catastrophic event. It holds a mirror to our current world. This was the most interesting part of it for personally as it sets itself apart from George Romero films or The Walking Dead.

The most valuable Brad Pitt brings to the film besides his star power is the big-budget production values itself. The cast performs fine but it’s by no means a performance-driven film. The studio has decided to produce a sequel, as the war in the novel lasts for a decade. And it will probably continue to draw from the U.N reports in the novel. Depending if Brad Pitt returns to the role or if the story unfolds with a new protagonist, the story can go either which way. I’ll probably see it then but for now, the epilogue doesn’t tease me that much.

Louis C.K.: Oh My God

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Louis C.K.: Oh My God by Louis C.K.

I have no intention of going through and naming each comedy bit, that would ruin the surprise and fun of watching this new hour from Louis C.K.. The core of C.K.’s comedy is not the material itself. He is not reliant on comedy mechanics for laughs. Nothing he says ever feels like a joke in the traditional ‘setup, punchline’ sensibility. No, the humor is sourced in his energy and inflections, where the audience is experiencing the world through his point of view as if we were in his body, thoughts or fantasies. Sometimes it’s all three.

Often I find myself laughing at his word choices and visual descriptions. At times, he’s merely just stating the obvious. But the way C.K. utilizes a metaphor or simile is artful in how he can conjoin two separate ideas together, where he can wormhole the audience’s minds to some unexpected grotesque places for comparisons. And then he builds on it by acting out these ridiculous thought trains. There was also one improvisational moment where he accidentally spills water and he comments on it that had me aching in laughter. The bit he did as his closer was truly the climax of this new hour.

C.K. makes a point that being older makes a more intelligent and interesting person. He is the living embodiment of his own point. We’re watching a comedian who has grown into himself, and we’re intrigued not just for the laughs, but because he has something to say. A voice with true gravitas that he has earned from living a life.

And for that, Louis C.K. seems eternally connected to the grotesque and the morbid, but it’s all enwrapped over a positive message: appreciate life and what you have. That’s how he gets away with saying very horrible things on stage. As an audience member and a student of stand-up comedy, I enjoy watching him get away with it.

4:44 Last Day on Earth by Abel Ferrara

4:44 Last Day on Earth by Abel Ferrara

A successful actor and his younger painter girlfriend spend their last day together in New York City before the world comes to an end at 4:44am.

Apparently there is no chaos on the night of the apocalypse, people casually hang out at bars, they chitchat on Skype, the streets are clear for safe driving and you can even have Vietnamese food delivered to your apartment. The apocalypse itself is not much discussed, but everybody seems to be relatively accepting of their ordeal.

What drew me to the film was Willem Dafoe in an apocalyptic movie. To cut it short, this movie has no character, no plot, and does nothing interesting with the apocalypse. It wasted Willem Dafoe. His character Cisco appears to be concerned about the end but cannot seem to get his priorities straight. He talks to himself on the rooftop of his New York apartmett, wanders around to see friends and contacts his loved ones on Skype to tell them he loves them. He claims to love his girlfriend Skye but doesn’t do much to show it other than making love to her. Is there more he can do to show them he cares? What does he want? I am not really sure.

Shanyn Leigh is really horrid as Skye. To be fair, I haven’t seen her other works. I don’t know if it’s a just bad performance or the lack of character that she is given to play. The worst part is I think it’s both. Skye is annoying in the same way as Maria Schneider was from Last Tango in Paris. She’s pretentious, fragile and passive. Could she be frail because the world is ending? I have no clue. I never found myself sympathizing or rooting for her. There’s a scene where Shanyn Leigh witnesses Willem Dafoe talking to his ex-wife via Skype and goes hysterical and it is cringing to watch. The rest of the time all she does is sit around on the floor working on her abstract painting. When one coat of paint is done, she sets down an electric fan to dry it. Yes! You get to watch paint dry in this movie! And you know what? It’s not a day at the zoo. If they weren’t going to anything with her character, Ferrara may as well have casted someone more attractive or more interesting to play the part. Yes, I know that’s a horrible thing to say but there was nothing going on to keep me invested in these characters or situations. None of these characters act believably to their situation.

Just to tread back for a minute, there is nothing wrong with having characters paint on film. It’s a pretty tricky thing to make work, but it’s been done before. Thus far, I have only see it in 2 Takeshi Kitano films (Hana-bi and Achilles and the Tortoise), he manages to develop character with his characters painting. In Hana-bi, a retired policeman who is confined to a wheelchair is given a set of paints and a beret by the protagonist. He starts to paint and we see a series of his paintings as they improve and become livelier paintings. We see that he slowly finds the purpose in his life again and it’s quite poetic. There’s nothing even close to the craft that can pull that off in this film. I did not expect it but I’m citing Kitano to say that Abel Ferrara does not make attempt anything interesting at all.

What makes it worse is there are archival footage of the Dalai Lama shown on Cisco and Skye’s television to directly tell you the director’s message. I have seen this level of filmmaking during my 2nd year of film school. I worked on an apocalyptic-themed student film similar to this movie. A real raspberry. That 14-minute short ended with a series of archival footage splicing Gandi, the Dalai Lama, Stalin and Hitler together, of which the director reasoned that’s what made his film a social commentary. Assuming Abel Ferrara has more experience than my idiot classmate, how could you not know how uninteresting this was? What was he trying to say about people at the end?

Having seen a series of apocalyptic films done this year, I say go see Melancholia or Perfect Sense. 4:44 Last Day on Earth frustrated and angered me till the middle, and towards I just decided to let go and not to get mad over this movie. I do not know how one can manage to make the apocalypse boring but this certainly takes that mantle.

Though I’d really like to keep the number to that Vietnamese restaurant. In case the end is near, I like to have some Pho delivered to my place.