Thursday, October 24, 2013

Blue Jasmine: Woody Misses the Streetcar

In 1980 I attended a Woody Allen doubleheader in Lisbon. The matinee session was a packed house, a clear indicator of his international popularity in those days. One of the films was Manhattan. I remember laughing loudly during both movies. It was a tad embarrassing as most of the audience were reading the subtitles so my responses were a couple of seconds ahead of the rest.

Allen's latest effort as writer/director, Blue Jasmine, is supposed to be a comedy/drama but the humour passed me by. It's a tale of two sisters. Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is sure that glamorous sister Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) "got the better genes" but the irony bursts out fairly quickly. It parallels the contrast between suitors Chili (Bobby Cannavale) and Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard). In fact, the same could be applied to their husbands Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) and Hal (Alec Baldwin). If there is a moral to this story, it might be that in terms of wealth, intellect and personality, more is less in terms of successful relationships.

There are some solid performances. Blanchett is wasted in this role. Using a Lauren Bacall's accent to play a modern version of Streetcar Name Desire's Blanche is a puzzle. Critics have made the links. Perhaps Alec Baldwin role in the movie remake or Cate's stage role flagged their observations.

If Blue Jasmine is an allegory for modern America's dystopia, its dysfunctional society and economy, then it is a very clumsy, in your face, effort. Don't expect much subtlety here.

Variety called it a 'dramedy'. Perhaps the comedy/drama tag is a mistake. Woody brings little humour to the dark side he is painting. It is doubtful that the Portuguese would be chuckling in their droves for this, but my assessment seems to be very much in the minority.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Best Offer: Not Enough Sting in the Tale!

Writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore's The Best Offer is an Italian film in English with Australian and Dutch leads. Geoffrey Rush plays Virgil Oldman with Sylvia Hoeks as Claire Ibbetson. Virgil is a top-end art and antiques dealer with mysophobia - a hygiene freak. His signature gloves play an important role in the mystery. Rush carries off the role of the eccentric with his usual ease.

On the other hand (no pun intended) Claire seems to suffer two fears: agoraphobia (open spaces) and scopophobia (being seen). It's not the stuff of which romance is usually made. Rush carries off the role of eccentric with his usual ease. It is hard to tell whether Hoeks' performance is wooden or it stems from the character.

My biggest disappointment with this movie is that its surprise climax is too easy to guess. Its overly long 131 minutes probably contribute to this. Too much free time to speculate! Perhaps the subtlety was lost in translation. The inclusion of an historic automaton as plot device has echoes of Martin Scorsese' Hugo.

Like Rush, Donald Sutherland is well cast as the roguish Billy Whistler. He is as well-worn as his character's unimaginative name. Come to think of it so is Virgil's surname. Jim Sturgess adds the youngman stud factor as Robert. The ambiguity of his occupation of artificer is another of the hints. Anyway, enough spoilers already.

The high quality photography, sets and costumes give the film a charm and elegance that help to redeem its rather pedestrian plot. If you try to block out the hints and blatant clues, The Best Offer is an agreeable enough experience.