I have just seen the first OSCAR WORTHY performance by an actress this year– or any year: Cate Blanchett in BLUE JASMINE–Woody’s latest and absolutely one of his best films, ever. It’s become a cliche that writer/director Woody Allen’s work had hit the doldrums critically for a bit, and lately, everything he’s doing has been cited as “one of his best in years.” BLUE JASMINE is better than that. It is an almost perfect amalgam of the themes that continually recur in his work–wealthy/intellectual/artsy New Yorkers and their romantic entanglements, crimes, misdemeanors, and neurotic focus on mortality, success, and the meaning of it all. BLUE JASMINE finds us observing a wealthy socialite’s unraveling, when she loses everything and moves in with her estranged, adopted sister (an endearing Sally Hawkins) who’s living a low-life by Jasmine’s standards in San Francisco. Jasmine has certainly moved to the opposite coast– her fortunes, her identity, her landscape– it’s all foreign territory. She is left to try to make sense of her past life and build a new one. She’s a woman whose identity heretofore was linked only to her husband’s status and money; her origins are vague (she too is adopted), and her name is made up. She literally doesn’t know who she is.
The film moves seamlessly back and forth in time as Jasmine lurches around trying to make a meaningful life. Every scene is interlaced with equal parts humor and pain. Blanchett brings an almost otherwordly confluence of vanity and vulnerability to this lost, elegant woman, until the final shattering scenes where we see through her, window-like, to the soul and psyche of a woman so fragile we can practically hear her cracking. DO NOT MISS THIS. With great supporting work from Alec Baldwin, Bobby Cannavale, Louis C.K., and Andrew Dice Clay (Yes. That Andrew Dice Clay.)
ELYSIUM— I can barely remember it and I remember ALL of Matt Damon’s films. Just love the guy– but wish he would stop putting his social agenda ahead of his taste in scripts. The last time this happened, “fracking” was involved, and that thinly disguised educational exercise of a film died a quick death. This time, we have a futuristic sci-fi action adventure that pits the “haves” against the “have nots” lead by Damon’s social conscience re: the ever-widening gap between the 99% and the 1 tenth of 1 % super-rich. ELYSIUM is loaded with repetitive action, no notable special effects, no suspense, no humor, no romance, no urgency, and one bad/wacky performance by Jodie Foster who demonstrates no talent for accents. ELYSIUM is paradise– if you snooze through it; and you might.
2 GUNS--Another Boston boy fares better this summer– Mark Wahlberg teams up with Denzel Washington as they try to outspar each other in this non-stop, shoot’em up adventure (based on the BOOM! Studios graphic novels) involving drug cartels, naval intelligence, the DEA, CIA, local police, at least one helicopter, and stampeding cattle. It’s overlong, over plotted, and occasionally brutal (chickens get their brains blown out, bad guys lose their heads) but Wahlberg and Washington rivet our attention from first frame to last. Neither knows the other’s true identity until half way through the film, but in the meantime, they engage in some of the funniest whip crack repartee, double crosses, slapfasts, car chases, and diner dishing since pulp fiction. An inspired pairing. These 2Guns are loaded for a sequel.
WE’RE THE MILLERS–It’s a ridiculous movie– not even remotely believable, so I gave up and just laughed my head off. It’s actually a sweet idea– the vacation movie turned inside out. Instead of a typical all-American family on an outing that turns crazy and tears them apart, here we have a completely dysfunctional set of misfits, outcasts, nerds, and one stripper who fake being family and set out in a camper to smuggle drugs across the border– and BECOME a family. The bad guys they encounter are one step ahead of the three stooges, and Jennifer’s climactic “FLASHDANCE” strip tease is obviously the reason she took the part; yeah, she’s really worked out– but I have no idea why she’s still working or why we still care. And there is one “wish I hadn’t seen that” shot of a young man’s swollen privates. BUT Jason Sudeikis is a charmer, the situations (crossing the border, camp side nocturnal hi-jinks) are unexpectedly surprising, and the ending plays to everyone’s best self. Occasionally, I am easily amused. This was definitely a guilty pleasure.
THE WOLVERINE: The Wolverine has never held any allure for me as a character–Hugh Jackman aside (whom I prefer singing and dancing on Broadway or hosting the Tony Awards). I have always found him emotionally impenetrable. I know he killed the woman he loved, but it just didn’t get to me. Here, the Wolverine heads to Japan and confronts powerful women who are as narrow and sharp as his own claws. He also meets a surprising enemy who forces him to face the torment of his own immortality. But the filmmakers are clearly more interested in the action sequences– a rip-roaring bullet train chase, and a climactic dalliance with something big and mechanical. Ho hum woof.