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 – 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.
Lucy – Wacko action director and French philosopher (ha!) Luc Besson’s latest borderline travesty has become the biggest hit of his career for one reason: The Power of ScarJo. He successfully tapped into the right actress at the right time. For the casual movie-goer, Scarlett Johansson has emerged as an action star thanks to her multiple turns as Black Widow in the Marvel regime. For the cineaste, she’s honed her acting skills playing “The Other” – the ultimate operating system that falls in love with a human in Her and an alien that can’t help but be fascinated by humanity in Under the Skin. Besson struck lighting by accident (he originally had Angelina Jolie in mind) and combines both of ScarJo’s recent evolutions into one character: Lucy, a kick-ass lady who’s been able to unlock 100% of her cerebral capacity thanks to a busted bag of drugs some scumbags implanted into her stomach. Much of it makes no sense, but it’s an entertaining exercise in star-power muscle flexing (ScarJo is fantastic) in a monumentally dumb flick about becoming wicked smart. Strangely, one wonders, had this been made back in 1999 would’ve it have been celebrated as revolutionary and smart like Run Lola Run or The Matrix? Well, then it wouldn’t have had the Power of ScarJo. Which means it would’ve been nothing.
Bottom Line: Spin once with grave reservations.
Blood Ties – One of the oddest films in a long time has to be the rather rote but strangely compelling crime thriller Blood Ties, which sadly suffered the fate of the forgotten. Apparently the studio thought only one 1970’s style slow-burn character drama (in this case, American Hustle) could be handled at a time by audiences. Blood Ties has an A-list cast (Clive Owen, Billy Crudup, Marion Cotillard, Zoe Saldana, Mila Kunis and James Caan) going through curious motions (Clive Owen is muted, Crudup brooding, Kunis is photographed beautifully while Cotillard vamps it up with a fascinatingly bizarre unidentifiable New York/Spanish accent) while a French director (Guillaume Canet) goes full American and scores the film with an unbelievably fantastic classic rock soundtrack (I shamelessly iTuned Gerry Rafftery’s “The Long Way Round” minutes after the credits rolled). The film looks and feels fantastic, but is also plodding and predictable. If one goes in viewing it as an homage to 1970’s Sidney Lumet (think Serpico), the film is something of a utilitarian masterpiece. As a stand-alone piece of emotionally involving cinema, it falls frustratingly flat despite the best efforts of Cotillard and the soundtrack to add unforgettable flavor.
Bottom Line: Spin once with caution. Buy the soundtrack.
Blue Ruin – The less you know about Jeremy Saulnier’s minimalist Virginia-set revenge flick the better. A minor masterpiece, I watched it over a month ago and still can’t shake it. It will surely land in my year-end top ten list. Sparse, tense, darkly comic, wholly engaging and off-kilter, Blue Ruin echoes the early work of the Coen Brothers while still coming into its own. Like Blood Ties, the film makes expert use of song, and I dare you not to be humming Little Willie John’s “No Regrets” after the film leaves you in pleasing dark bluesy ruins.
Bottom Line: Spin and repeat with no regrets.
Written by David H. Schleicher