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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Growing Pains: Ted vs Moonrise Kingdom

A teddy bear and his hookers.

In this corner – the weekend’s number one film at the box office and Seth “Family Guy” MacFarlane’s first foray into film – Ted.

A director and his children.

In the other corner – the critically acclaimed sleeper hit for the hipster arthouse set, Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

The first film I wanted to like a lot…but didn’t…while the second film I wanted to dislike a lot…but didn’t. Strangely they suffer from the same troubling underlying theme (the old more of the same bit), though one film is clearly better at overcoming that flaw than the other.

First up – Ted. It’s a simple sellable concept – boy wishes teddy bear could talk, wish comes true, teddy grows up into foul-mouthed pervert, hilarity ensues…right? Hilarity should be ensuing. Waiting….waiting…. Oh, wait, a fart joke! The movie starts out charmingly sarcastic enough, a kind of riff on those magical wish-fulfillment kids’ flicks from the 1980’s (that I hated) complete with Patrick Stewart narration. After the credits finally roll (featuring a pretty funny montage), MacFarlane attempts to translate all of his patented animated schtick to live-action complete with 1950’s-style music.

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Cinematic Rites of Passage

Cinema, the youngest of the great art forms, has wrestled in its time with defining its own archetypes.  Some have been pilfered from other art forms…literature and theater and opera…your classic Oedipal complexes and hero-worship.  But there is one archetype that has evolved into something purely cinematic.  It’s been there from the earliest days.  We saw it with Dreyer and Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc, a prototypical materializing of The Director orchestrating The Performance from The Actress.  In its infancy, cinema gleaned from the religious.  After its golden era of youth, as it settled into cynicism and postmodernism, it became more deranged.  Polanski’s Repulsion…Bergman’s Persona…Altman’s 3 Women…Lynch’s Mulholland Drive.  There have been seeds of it planted in horror as well…Argento’s Suspiria…De Palma’s Carrie

We know the characters:  The ingenue dying to land her first big role (Natalie Portman), the fallen star (Winona Ryder), the obsessive mother figure (Barbara Hershey), the psychotic director (Vincent Cassel) and the dark femalien foil to the ingenue (Mila Kunis).  To play these parts…to choreograph this masturbatory madness…it’s become a cinematic rite of passage.  Darren Aronofsky — impregnating the archetype with his own hang-ups — makes his film, his rite of passage about the achievement of perfection.  He’s so comfortable with the archetype that the first spoken words of the film following a fade from black are, “I had the craziest dream last night.”  He closes arrogantly with, “It’s perfection.”  Fade to white. 

Portman speaks both of these lines, and the transformation we witness in between…well…it’s the archetype as we’ve never quite seen it before.  Everything we think we know about the archetype is spun seductively into the mind of The Actress!  Her character and Aronofsky’s camera twirls like a ballerina out of control…but there’s nothing graceless or mad about The Performance.  Portman has us just where she wants us.  She is in complete control at all times.  Never once did I think she lost herself.  Continue reading