The Last Cut is the Deepest for The Skeleton Twins

Skeleton Twins

There’s a truly fantastic scene about half-way through Craig Johnson’s dramedy, The Skeleton Twins, where Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig lip-synch to Starship’s hilariously 80’s anthem, “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.”  It’s been highlighted ad nauseam in the TV spots for the film, but it’s even more dynamic and infectious on the big screen.  Its almost painfully prolonged unfolding is built upon the rising tension of Wiig’s character being supremely pissed off right now and refusing to play along with her brother’s antics until that moment comes where she just can’t take it anymore and has to join the insanity.  The look on Wiig’s face as she reluctantly (yet deep down so happily) mouths the lyrics, “Let them say we’re crazy…” is a perfect moment for this gifted actress inside a wildly imperfect film.  Hader, likewise, is borderline idiot genius with his mannerisms and body language.  It’s a shame then that writer-director Craig Johnson saddles them with such obvious clichés.

The dysfunctional sister-brother relationship dramedy has long been the bastion of many an indie filmmaker.  Most of these films star Laura Linney (think You Can Count on Me, or probably the ultimate example of this sub-genre, The Savages).  Wiig is an interesting substitute for Linney, as the comedic actress has never been allowed to go dramatic before, but with such a great built-in chemistry with Hader (who is most beloved as SNL’s Stefon, the worst NYC tour guide EVER) the two click whether they’re lip-synching to bad music or revealing devastating secrets to each other. Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Cuanto

Boardwalk Empire 5.4

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Cuanto

Season Five: Episode Four

Directed by:  Jake Paltrow

Written by:  Christine Chambers, Howard Korder and Terence Winter

The Spin:  There’s been a melancholic pall hanging over Boardwalk Empire’s fifth season.  Yes, it’s the last, which is sad enough alone, but it’s also strangely fitting that in the real world the actual current Atlantic City is on a generational decline with the closing of multiple casinos (most notably the lavish Revel) and nothing seeming to go the city’s way.  Watching the flashbacks to “The Education of Nucky Thompson” where the city was but one resort and a modest boardwalk before the turn of the 20th century reminds those localized to its current perils just how far the city has come and how long the way down is (I fear in the real world we ain’t seen nothing yet about how down and out AC can get).  You see this mirrored in the lethargy of 1930’s Nucky, a man who’s gonna have to wake up.  And could Capone’s warning call to Nucky about Luciano’s insinuation that the Italians should cut out Nucky from their empire at the end of tonight’s episode be that wake up call?  Nucky is a man who’s come so far (from Dickensian beginnings so painstakingly tailored in the flashbacks) and runs the risk of falling ever harder.

The episode oozed a calming dread in almost every scene.

Continue reading

Drop it Like it’s Cold

The Drop

Michael R. Roskam’s Brooklyn set crime thriller, The Drop, is a deceptively pleasant nasty piece of work.

While walking home from work at his cousin Marv’s bar, Bob hears the heart-tugging yelps of a pit bull puppy in the trashcan of the unsuspecting Nadia.  Left with no choice but to rescue the poor dog, Bob is also drawn to Nadia, and thus blooms a romance.  The Drop is one of those “feel-good two lost souls getting together while raising a pet” movies that just so happens to take place inside a gritty little crime flick.  You see, Marv’s bar isn’t an ordinary dive, but a key drop bar for money flowing into a Chechen crime ring.  And that dog was dumped by Nadia’s ex, Eric, a scumbag who may have been involved in the disappearance of a former friend of Marv and Bob ten years earlier.  Adapted for the screen from his own short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane, Roskam’s film is oddly paced but still wholly satisfying, where everyone plays their parts effectively, and all of the carefully crafted pieces fall towards a tense and tidy, albeit unpredictable, conclusion. Continue reading

The Mystery of The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby

All the lonely people...

All the lonely people…

Ned Benson’s somber relationship drama, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby, is not a mystery despite the title, though it’s plenty puzzling.  The version reviewed here, Them, is an edited combination of what was originally two separate films, Him and Her.  It flips back and forth between our two players Conor (James McAvoy, donning an unconvincing American accent) and Eleanor (Jessica Chastain, all pale grief and feigned smiles) as their marriage disintegrates, but it never plays its gimmick out with the obvious one scene played twice from different points of view gag.  That may have actually made the film a bit more interesting, though it would’ve also added to the film’s already burdensome two-hour-plus runtime.

After surviving a leap from a bridge, Eleanor moves back in with her parents (William Hurt as the stereotypical soft-spoken bearded professor and Isabelle Huppert as a drunk French former violinist) and single-mom sister (a likable Jess Weixler, who it would’ve been nice to learn more about), while taking a class on the theory of identity taught by a bitter but wise woman (Viola Davis).  Meanwhile, Conor is moping around his failing restaurant, lashing out at customers and his best friend/chef (Bill Hader) and moves back in with his recently thrice divorced and overly philosophical father (Ciaran Hinds, always good).  Slowly but surely we find out the real reason behind the break-up and their decent into the spiral of grief (hint: it’s not just about losing each other), and it is indeed tragic and hangs a pall over the whole family, not just our protagonists.

The film is filled with talking it out and philosophical ponderings espoused by really good performers.  In lesser acting hands, the film would’ve been an outright mess.  The characters speak dialogue sincerely as if read from discarded Felicity-era WB melodramas and self-help books.

Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: What Jesus Said

Boardwalk Empire 5.3_1

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – What Jesus Said

Season Five: Episode Three

Directed by:  Ed Bianchi

Written by:  Christine Chambers and Howard Korder

The Spin:  Plots thickened and women showed their cunning nature during crisis situations in this Chambers and Korder penned hour.  Early in the episode, Nucky and Sally (Patricia Arquette) share over the phone “Happy Days are Here Again” playing on the radio after he tells her about the presumed Kennedy deal, but are they counting chickens before they hatch?  On the run, our old friend Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) and his volatile chain gang compatriot pull off a sloppy home invasion of a mother and her teenage daughter.  Chalky shows his true colors as he’s still clearly ravaged by the brutal death of his own teenage daughter, Maybelle, years ago, but these ladies prove to be more resilient than either foolish man could know.   Out in Harlem, Luciano and Siegel begin to systematically threaten Narcisse’s operations in no uncertain terms.  Meanwhile, Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) is forced to pay a visit to the Rothstein widow (Shae D’lyn in a pitch perfect cameo) who has her own plot to hatch that involves the blackmail of…you guessed it…the Nuckster.

Continue reading

The L’s Have It

It’s official, when it comes to the music on my iPhone, “L” is the best letter of the alphabet.

The Letter L

Not only do three of my favorite songs EVER (the Goodfella‘s inspiring Derek & the Dominos version of “Layla”, Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and The Eagles “Lyin’ Eyes”) begin with the letter “L”, but my “L’s” are also a completely stress-reducing mix of weirdly juxtaposed but oddly complimentary tracks that make any traffic jam, jam.  It also makes me realize I am very, very tragically white.

Here’s the complete song list: Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: The Good Listener

Boardwalk Empire 5.2

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – The Good Listener

Season Five: Episode Two

Directed by:  Allen Coulter

Written by:  Terence Winter

The Spin:  Director Coulter takes advantage of this being the last season by adding some compelling directorial flourishes, and was that a nod to Twin Peaks and Lynch in the opening “through an ear” dissonant audio-visual cross-cuts, which were bookended nicely in the end with an all-too noticeable missing ear?  It’s nice to see the regular series directors give it their all, but it has me worried that Winter felt the need for such a ho-hum filler episode when the there’s only six left to go after this.  This week we got (mis)treated to some bizarre sequences in a women’s sanatorium where Gillian (Gretchen) has been spending her days that played with our prurient-minded expectations, continued grim flashbacks to Nucky’s childhood, Nucky turning to Torrio to see who tried to nab him last week in Cuba, Lansky still plotting with Luciano and Siegel to up their game (at the Nuckster’s expense?), the Muller formerly known as Van Alden still making a mess of things at home and at work (with no help from a drunk-as-a-skunk Eli), Capone getting all Capone-y (seriously his character has become a clichéd bore after some shining moments in seasons’ past), young Will Thompson vying for an Assistant DA spot, and some distracting Look, Ma, who it is! guest-appearances by Joe Kennedy Sr. (Matt Letscher) and Eliot Ness.

Continue reading

Boardwalk Empire: Golden Days for Boys and Girls (Season Five Premiere)

Boardwalk Empire - 5.1

Boardwalk Empire: Complete Episode Guide

Boardwalk Empire – Golden Days for Boys and Girls

Season Five: Episode One

Directed by:  Tim Van Patten

Written by:  Howard Korder

The Spin:  The final season opens with the haunting Gretchen Mol reading a voice-over from the children’s periodical “Golden Days for Boys and Girls” where she’s seemingly telling the young lads we see diving into ocean after coins, “Be honest and true boys!  Whatever you do boys, let this be your motto through life.”  A moving flashback to Nucky’s hardscrabble childhood in 1884 Atlantic City (which was merely a pier and one Corner Hotel on a tiny boardwalk) is expertly interwoven into a flash forward to 1931, where will the help of the effervescent and ever-saucy Sally Wheet (Patricia Arquette, all bosoms and moxy), the Nuckster has become Our Man in Havana, using a screwy senator as his pawn to talk a Rum King into hatching a deal to get Bacardi into the States as soon as Prohibition is inevitably repealed.  But trouble always seems to find our anti-hero, and Havana might be too hot to handle for the aging kingpin, who for the first time in his life is placing his biggest bet on a legal operation. Continue reading

The Quick Spin on Woody, Blue, Blood and Lucy

Here’s a quick rundown on 2 flicks still in theaters (Magic in the Moonlight and Lucy) and 2 on Netflix (Blood Ties and Blue Ruin):

Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the Moonlight – Woody Allen’s latest is a postcard pretty period-piece set on the sun-splashed French coast and countryside.  Here a renowned magician (Colin Firth) travels to France at the behest of his friend to debunk an American spiritualist (Emma Stone).  The whole film, like Emma Stone (luminously photographed in classic Allen fashion to play up her best features – that red hair, those blue eyes, that mischievous smile) is ridiculously good-looking and light on its feet.  Stone soaks up the sun and Allen’s directorial affections, plumbing her plucky personality to its most glorious depths.  Her performance, which takes on the allure of a subtle silent film starlet, is almost transcendent.  The film, far from Allen’s greatest, is sill a pleasure to watch, and would’ve been forgettable if not for Stone’s classically styled star turn.  Word on the street is she’s signed up for another Allen flick.  Like her character, clever girl.

Bottom Line:  Spin once.  Watch out for Emma Stone’s next Woody.

Continue reading

A Most Wanted Man

A Most Wanted Man

Here’s one of the many reasons why the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman will be so sorely missed:  his mere presence prompted other actors/actresses to up their game.  Case in point here in A Most Wanted Man:  the couldn’t be lovelier but normally vapid Rachel McAdams, shaky German accent and all, manages to actually make you feel for her troubled lawyer accused of being a social worker for terrorists.  What’s even more amazing is that in an adaptation of John Le Carre novel you actually feel anything for anyone!  With the emotional powder keg of The Constant Gardner being the exception to the rule, Le Carre’s spy procedurals are normally colder than an interrogation room metal tabletop.  Yet Anton Corbijn wisely allows his A-list cast to tap into the quiet, bubbling under the surface, heartbreak of this post 9/11 spy-eat-spy world.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is Gunther Backmann, a world-weary German intelligence station chief in Hamburg who was burned by the CIA at his last post in Beirut where assets were betrayed and lives lost.  He’s quietly been toiling away, utilizing McAdam’s liberal lawyer to reel in his minnow, a Chechen Muslim who entered Germany under cloak and dagger, that he hopes to dangle in front his barracuda, a renowned Islamic political activist and spiritual leader thought to be secretly funding a shipping company with terrorist ties.  He tries to keep the CIA, represented by a professionally flirtatious Robin Wright, at bay, while aided by his right-hand woman played with subtle skill by the fantastic Nina Hoss.  Willem Dafoe, meanwhile, plays a banker used as a pawn to channel the alleged funds that were left behind in secret by the Chechen’s recently deceased Russian crime lord father. Continue reading