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.

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#ChefIsSoMoney

Celebrity Sightings - Bauer-Griffin - 2013

You could draw a long, clean line from the 1996 film Swingers to the 2014 film Chef.  On the surface they couldn’t be more disparate – one a generational touch-point about proto-hipsters creating their own culture during the swing revival of the mid 1990’s, the other a film about an artist chef getting back to his roots and reigniting his passions.  But they both have at their center a sad man (Jon Favreau) at a crossroads in his life.  In Swingers he was a young guy who couldn’t get over the heartbreak of his first love lost while struggling to break into acting.  Then in Chef he’s a middle-aged guy stuck in a rut after a divorce and struggling to fuel his passion for cooking.  Both films show the prototypical artistic man at different stages in his life struggling to find balance and deal with feelings of loss.  As it turns out, Favreau, when not directing perfectly serviceable blockbusters for the Hollywood machine, is capable of tapping into the male psyche with great sensitivity and humor through really good indie screenplays.

Carl Casper (Favreau) is a formerly renowned chef who’s lost his zest for life while working at a successful Los Angeles restaurant run by a man (Dustin Hoffman) who stifles his creativity and forces him to stick to the same old menu even when a top critic (Oliver Platt) stops by for a visit.  He has a loyal crew (Bobby Cannavale and a shockingly likable John Leguizamo) and a sassy sexy hostess/waitress (Scarlett Johansson) who urge him to reignite those fires, but it takes a public blow-up with the critic who pans the tired menu that goes viral through Twitter to force him to take stock of his life after losing his job.  When his ex-wife (the saucy and smoking hot Sofia Vergara) suggests he come with her to Miami (where he originally got his groove on for cooking), he reluctantly takes the opportunity under the guise of bonding with his smart, tech-savvy ten year-old son, Percy (Emjay Anthony, one of the most unaffected and casually natural child actors to come down the pike in a while).  Still, it takes his ex’s ex (Robert Downey Jr.) gifting him a food truck before he truly seizes the moment to find his passion again and reconnect with the ones he most loves.

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Scarlett Fever Gets Under the Skin

Under-the-Skin-Poster

In Her, all we heard was Scarlett Johansson’s voice – that husky, alluring, beautiful voice – as she played Samantha, an Operating System that fell not only in love with its owner, but in what it means to be human.  In Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michael Faber’s novel, Under the Skin, it’s Ms. Johansson’s body that is on display (her voice used sparingly, awkward and British when she picks up her victims on the street) as she portrays a nameless alien come to earth to lure men into an inky goo (for what purpose we can only imagine from director Glazer’s fantastically bleak and otherworldly images).  She is an alien that eventually succumbs to that same Samantha trap – she can’t help but become fascinated by what it means to be human.  What egotistical creatures we humans are that we constantly have to fantasize about the “other” – be it artificial intelligence, gods or aliens – going completely gaga over us – as if we’re the greatest thing since sliced bread…or chocolate cake, as in one heartbreaking scene that probably has made every female audience member gasp, poor Scarlett is a cursed creature that can’t even enjoy THAT…a piece of chocolate cake.  Oh, if only she could be human and enjoy that damn slice of cake!

Yet Mr. Glazer and Ms. Johansson lured me into the trap with master precision.  The film is directed with a doctor’s scalpel with every image, every dissolve and overlay, every light, every tone, every musical note (from Mica Levi’s extraordinary score that sets a new bar for the discordant musician turned film scorer, Jonny Greenwood and his ilk) perfectly composed.  The packaging of this boring ages-old-tale and self-obsessed human fantasy is so disarming…so transfixing…I didn’t care what it was about. Continue reading

Intimacy, Technology and Social Media in The Circle and Her

Dave Eggers The Circle

In Dave Eggers’ new novel, The Circle, young, impressionable and lonely Mae Holland lands a dream job with a utopian posh social media tech company thanks to nepotism.  There she becomes fully immersed in her new work, which turns out to be so much more than just another job, it’s a way of life…and Eggers’ quasi-futuristic look at a corporation-as-religion is both humorous and horrifying.  The Circle, like some parasitic mash-up of Google, Amazon, Twitter and Facebook is hell-bent on creating a world of complete transparency where cameras monitor everything, and every thought or notion that pops into someone’s head is shared ad nauseum on its social network.  The intentions seem noble – education through access to every piece of information available, surveillance as a way to deter crime, and transparency of governments to create a true global democracy.  But The Circle soon becomes a monopoly bending the populace and world governments to its will under the guise of this being the will of the people who champion The Circle’s causes through “Likes” and sharing.  It quickly becomes obvious that not everything should be known.  Eggers seems to be saying with this cautionary tale that there’s value in mystery and privacy is still a right.

Mae, unfortunately, falls head over heels for The Circle, and her connection to the corporation goes from whirlwind romance to abusive relationship.  She can’t seem to break herself from this way of life even as she witnesses the destruction of friends and family.  Eggers describes moments where Mae gets a certain “high” from posting, pinging, and liking across The Circle, where there’s a feeling of euphoria mixed with exhaustion.  Yet in the corner of her mind she sees a tear in the universe opening up that seems poised to swallow her into utter darkness.  And that’s what all this interconnectedness is…a black hole where synthetic moments take the place a real emotions and connections.

Her Joaquin Phoenix

Eggers’ vision could take place in the same universe as Spike Jonze’s latest and Academy Award nominated film, Her.  His protagonist, Theodore (an awkwardly charming and sad-sack Joaquin Phoenix), seems like the type of guy Mae Holland would date, and The Circle the type of place he might work.  But in Jonze’s universe, Theodore works at a company where he ghost-writes handwritten letters – synthetic pages of falsified emotions – and he’s fallen in love with his new state-of-the-art and self-evolving Operating System named Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who gives a breathy and compelling performance without ever appearing on-screen – something that I initially thought of as a crime on Jonze’s part but actually works quite well).  Continue reading

The Spin’s Top 60 Comedies of All Time

“You put WHAT on your top comedy list?”

I was recently asked by the film blogger extraordinaires at Wonders in the Dark to submit a ballot for the Top 60 Comedies of All-Time in preparation for their next feature which will tabulate the ballots and produce a definitive list later in the summer.  At first I found the task daunting – as many will remember guest-blogger Nicky D’s hotly contested and wildly popular Top 47 Comedies of All-Time that graced The Spin not so long ago.  For me, comedy is the most subjective and generational-based of genres – and it’s hard to judge films on personal tastes in humor.  However, the always generous Sam Juliano at WitD invited balloters to adopt an “anything goes” policy – meaning – if it’s a comedy to you! – put it on the list.  This opened up the door for me to include some of my favorite accidental comedies as well as satires and dark comedies that many would judge as dramas.  One will see my love for the darker side of comedy in this list, as well as my love for Woody Allen and those rascally kids that had me in stitches when I was a kid – yup – short films are allowed – hence the love for Our Gang.  At any rate…let the debate that started with Nicky D’s list continue as  I present to you my official rebuttal and ballot for the Wonders in the Dark polling.  I will provide no additional commentary and let the list speak for itself… Continue reading

The Avengers or In the Name of Phil

What is this? Some kind of bust?

Let’s get one thing straight – Scarlett Johansson is so smoldering in The Avengers, I was aghast.  I mean can this woman get any sexier?  And director Joss Whedon wisely places her in tight-fitting outfits and under perfect lighting and has her kick wall to wall ass as super assassin Black Widow.  As ho-hum as some of the rest of this film was, for me, bottom line – Johansson and how Whedon utilized her assets were worth the price of admission.  But enough of that…

Break out the extra-large, layered butter, heavily salted popcorn and enjoy this thing for whatever deviant or nostalgic or escapist reasons you so choose.  Here’s the patented Schleicher Spin rundown: Continue reading

Actresses I Would Watch Read a Phone Book…

…or text a Tweet.  Hell, these are the actresses who I would follow on Twitter if I had a Twitter account, though I know they are way too hot and talented to subject themselves to something as belittling as Twitter…right?

This is The Schleicher Spin’s tribute to my favorite lovely ladies of the silver screen.

Who are you favorite actresses?  You know what I’m talking about – the women who are often the only reason you are willing to sit through a film you would otherwise avoid…the women you’d be willing to watch in just about anything.

Well, here are mine:

The Gold Standards of Talent:

The BlondeNaomi Watts

Naomi Watts

British-born, Australian-raised Naomi Watts should put a patent on her American accent because it’s perfect.  Ever since nailing the role of a tortured actress in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, Watts has gone against the grain by shunning the limelight, aging naturally and beautifully, and carefully choosing roles over the past decade that put her in a position where she can constantly challenge herself and work with the best directors.  She’s keenly maneuvered the big studio system while keeping one foot firmly placed in the world of independent and avant-garde filmmaking.  Continue reading

A Review of Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

“I’m famous for my intolerance.”, 21 August 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Vicky (a neurotic and sexy Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (a neurotic and gorgeous Scarlett Johansson) are two American tourists in Spain examining their differing views on love in Woody Allen’s breezy and alluring Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Amidst a tempestuous summer in Barcelona, the ladies are both seduced by a free-thinking painter (a perfect Javier Bardem) whose own life is complicated by his still passionate relationship with his ex-wife (a devastating Penelope Cruz, who has never looked more beautiful).

Much like the change from New York City to London invigorated Allen in Match Point, this vacation to Spain has revived some of the director’s more artistic aspirations. The scenery is postcard perfect but drenched in that same dizzying lushness that made Allen’s view of NYC so intoxicating in Manhattan. The churches, the homes, the art museums, the countryside, the intimate city streets and touristy details make you feel like you are visiting Barcelona along with Allen and his cast.

There’s also sharpness to the trademark Woody dialog that has been missing for quite some time. Like all of Allen films, this one is endlessly talky, but there’s some great subversion when certain lines that seem like throw-aways actually pack a punch when given a second thought. When Bardem first attempts to talk Johansson’s character into bed, he says something clichéd about her being hard to please. Quick witted, Johansson replies, “I’m famous for my intolerance.” She says it casually, but it packs a bite as it’s the complete antithesis of her character’s outward desire to be someone who rallies against cultural norms, and she presents herself as someone who is easy-going and tolerant of all.

Allen also displays a keen sense of pacing when he creates tension in his build up to Cruz’s appearance after her character is endlessly talked about but never seen until about half way through the film. When Cruz finally arrives, her moody whirling dervish of a performance is the perfect spice to liven up the soupy proceedings. Her seething, fiery line readings combined with looks that could kill make her the front-runner for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars.

The baseline archetypal characters are essentially clichéd, but the way in which Allen handles all of their interpersonal relationships is fairly sophisticated and entertaining even when it grows absurd. There is of course that kiss between Scarlett and Penelope but also some moments of Lynchian-lite when Allen photographs the brunette Hall and blonde Johansson similarly to make them seem like they are two sides of the same woman. There’s even more weirdness when die-hard Woody fans realize that in some perverse way Scarlett Johansson’s character is the “Woody” part–as in any film he does not star, there is always one character who represents the part he would’ve played had he been in it. However, film buffs will enjoy some of the nice touches like when Hall and another go to see Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (one of my all time favorite films) or the repetitive use of a Spanish guitar in the soundtrack whenever Bardem and Hall get together. But then there’s the mostly unnecessary voice-over narration that fills in expository gaps and shows Allen can still be a lazy tactician.

Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste, even more so in his latter years when he sometimes forgets how to provoke, but his fans should be delighted with this latest European flavored effort. In the end, you’ll feel like Javier Bardem is the luckiest man in the world, Penelope Cruz is operating at the echelon of her appeal, and Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, well, they’ll always have Barcelona.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0497465/usercomments-37