Fading Gigolo – John Turturro (2014)

FADING GIGOLO

http://orlandoweekly.com/film/just-a-faded-gigolo-1.1681400

John Turturro is not, objectively speaking, a handsome man. You know this, and I know this. He knows it, too. Subjectively speaking, that changes. He’s confident, conversant, funny and has a hint of the maniac in his eyes. His face, you find as you take all of that into consideration, has real character.

In Fading Gigolo, which sees him play a mild-mannered florist turned reluctant (but rather high-priced) gigolo named Fioravante, that punim is the tool that Turturro wields as both actor and director. If he were handsome, it wouldn’t be a comedy; if he were without the many traits that give him character, it would just be a joke. But his face is the Goldilocks example: just right.

With Woody Allen as his pimp, Murray, Fioravante becomes the No. 1 loverman of his ZIP code – for a price, which they split. It’s all in practice for the initial request that comes to Murray from his therapist (Sharon Stone), who nervously wants him to arrange a three-way for her and her curious best friend, Selima (Sofía Vergara).

It’s a somewhat scatterbrained, novelistic film, though. The real plot is set off when Murray brings his adopted black child to the “lice lady,” a Hasidic widow named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). Thinking she needs some comfort, Murray suggests Fioravante’s services under the guise of massage therapy. En route to her session with Fioravante, the Jewish neighborhood watchman (Liev Schreiber) with a lifelong crush on Avigal follows her to the appointment and susses out Murray’s plan, eventually kidnapping Murray to bring him before a rabbinical tribunal.

A complicated plot is fine for a novel, but in film, simple is almost always better. Each half of the plot is strange and funny in an entirely different way, but the two never mesh as a whole like they might in a novel, so the wildness of this storyline grab bag leaves the stitching far too visible.

But there is an almost perfect passage around the middle in which all of the extraneous elements part to the side and the film’s loneliness is examined. Fioravante and Avigal are characters from two different worlds, worlds that make it impossible to do anything about the budding connection they find together, but they smash face-first into the wall of love without worrying about it. For the briefest moment they find themselves. Not as a couple, but what they’re about as individuals.

It’s an elating, surprising piece of story, but it’s far too short-lived. Despite some funny moments, especially early on, before the film decides that it wants to be a little bit more than a straight comedy, you would have to say that the gigolo storyline doesn’t really fit into the film outside of the title. It’s a MacGuffin, but not on purpose. It was meant to be the funny part, but the story outgrew it and no one told Turturro. It’s brave to do something so different, but brave efforts don’t always work out. If they did, they wouldn’t require any bravery.

Can Girl Meets World live up to its original?

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/can-girl-meets-world-live-original/

In our age of sequels, prequels and reboots, it’s the most fair-unfair question that exists: will it live up to the original? It’s a question that might not matter to those younger than the original, but to anyone of the right age for the original, it’s really the only question worth asking.

It’s a question we’ll ask a lot today between the opening of The Amazing Spider-man 2 and the just-released 60 second promo for the long awaited Girl Meets World.

The show sees the cast of Boy Meets World set 15 or so years along their journey in life, where Cory (Ben Savage) and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) have transitioned from high school sweethearts to an old married couple with two kids. The show centers on their oldest daughter, Riley (Rowan Blanchard), who looks to have inherited her dad’s quirky spunk more than her mom’s brainy practicality, but also on the family unit as a whole as the original did.

It will also feature Rider Strong, Betsy Randle, William Russ, Will Friedle and William Matthews in cameo roles throughout the series.

The show will not begin airing until the end of next month, but the anticipation has been building for months now as the cast have Tweeted out photos of the on-set reunions.

I was a little too old for Boy Meets World to have been my show in the same way The Adventures of Pete and Pete or Salute Your Shorts were. Those are the shows I feel possessive about. I remember Boy Meets World mostly existing in the background while stuck hanging out with younger cousins or friends with younger siblings. Through the casual osmosis of teenage ennui, it ended up seeping in though, and I eventually found myself idly watching reruns and becoming invested in the characters.

Strangely, I became most invested in Cory, the show’s main character. I say strangely because I usually find the main character to be the most boring. Maybe because he was already set in my brain as Fred Savage’s little brother Cory didn’t seem like the typical, boring main character.

The original show was done in the classic mold of zany comedy set up that ended with heart, not entirely unlike it’s Disney extended family cousins Step by Step or Full House, which ran the TGIF table in the 90s. But it was also entirely different. Entirely.

Part of the charm — maybe all of the charm — was that it was so dorky. Cory and Topanga were goddamn dorks, but they never slipped into clownishness like Steve Urkel or Balki Bartokomous. Shawn had his Fonzie thing, and Eric had his classic twist on the bimbo thing, but Cory and Topanga were dorks on a level I can’t remember seeing before. And of course they were backed up by the Father of Dorks in William Daniels, who finally had a body again after playing K.I.T. on Knight Rider.

The first promo for the show that Disney released last month showed none of that. If it’s unfair to question whether a show can live up to its predecessor, it’s cruel to release something so underwhelming as the first impression:

I almost expected an “oh, Mylanta” or “of course not, don’t be ridikulus” by the end of this clip. This clip had all of the appeal of Drexell’s Class or Thunder Alley.

It’s also a good example of how first impressions are sometimes pretty awful. Here is the spot-on promo that Disney uploaded this afternoon:

That’s a huge difference in approach and in general quality. It actually has the elusive feel of the original, but it’s removed from the original too — as an update should be. Riley and her best friend, Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), don’t have the dorkiness that made Cory and Topanga so special, but they seem to have something, and it’s kind of refreshing that neither of them are played by anyone’s younger sister (sorry Ben).

And, maybe most importantly, the show is not above a good nose pick joke, which bodes well.

That’s about as far as I was to go based on 60 seconds though. Sometimes second impressions aren’t worth that much either.

Dom Hemingway – Richard Shepard (2014)

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http://orlandoweekly.com/film/dom-hemingway-1.1677529

Bob Hoskins. Michael Caine. Terence Stamp. Clive Owen. Stephen Graham. When you think about the most noteworthy faces of English hard-men films, these are some of the names that come to mind. But Jude Law? That’s not a name that jumps out at you. Even when he’s played killers and criminals in the past (Shopping, Road to Perdition), you can still see the smiling pretty boy staring at you from under the makeup, hoping he doesn’t get caught out in a world he doesn’t belong in.

Except as Dom Hemingway, he does belong. As Dom Hemingway, he’s not a smiling pretty boy. He’s doughy and rude, bearded and maniacal – and damned funny, too.

Dom has been in jail for more than a decade, taking the time inside by himself instead of dropping the dime on his boss, Mr. Fontaine (Demián Bichir). In the intervening years, Mr. Fontaine has grown more rich and powerful while Dom’s life has become tattered. His wife has divorced him, remarried and died of cancer, and his only daughter, Evelyn (Emilia Clarke), hates his guts for the betrayal and for having to grow up without a father.

Now that he’s served his time and gotten out, though, he wants what is owed to him: money, a lot of it, and Evelyn back in his life. But neither are as easy as that.

The film is a black comedy in the tradition of Snatch and Bronson, though it comes in a tick below both. Its run of sight gags and one-liners are genuinely funny, but the American instinct to always add heart to the story keeps it from reaching the truly iconic-funny heights that Guy Ritchie and Nicolas Winding Refn reached in their films.

That’s not to say it was a move in error. Dom and Evelyn’s push-pull story works in the framework of the film, and director Richard Shepard gets touching, funny moments between Dom and his young grandson, Jawara (Jordan Nash), but it sticks out somewhat, hurting the depth of shading to a degree.

Emilia Clarke, in her first real film role since shooting to fame as Daenerys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, doesn’t have quite as meaty a role as she does when she plays the Khaleesi, but she is bright and believable. There is a lot of gravity to her character, and she holds it well, though her real standout scenes might be the ones in which she fronts a Pogues-esque band, including singing a cover of the Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues.”

I’ve always been on the fence about Law. For every Gattaca or Closer, there are a handful of The Holidays and Cold Mountains to contend with. But if Dom isn’t his best performance, it’s certainly his funniest. I don’t know that it takes me off the fence, or makes me think he’s got a Matthew McConaughey streak coming, but he’s got three in a row now between this, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Anna Karenina and it could easily become one.

Ernest & Celestine – Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar, and Benjamin Renner (2014)

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Love is love. It’s a simple idea that so many people can’t grasp. Love is nothing to be afraid of. Black and white, boy and boy, girl and girl — or indeed, mouse and bear — it’s never anything to be afraid of. But it seems to only make sense to one inquisitive mouse, Celestine (Mackenzie Foy), and one hungry Bear, Ernest (Forest Whitaker), who meet quite by accident when Ernest saves Celestine’s life only to then try and eat her for a snack.

In the film’s world that is inhabited by animals like Art Speigelman’s Maus, the other mice are afraid though, and the other bears. Mice live in underground, bears above ground, and the two share very little with each other. When Ernest and Celestine find themselves on the wrong side of the law in both the bear and mice world that notion is challenged in startlingly emotional ways and the unlikely pair find each other to be perfect protectors for each other in different ways.

The animation, done in a sumptuous broken-line storybook-style watercolor, is outstanding. Despite the rumors of its demise, 2D hand-drawn animation isn’t dead, in fact it’s becoming vital again in Europe, and this is a brilliant example of what it could be again.

Forev – Molly Green and James Leffler (2014)

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We’ve all proposed to someone we barely know as a joke, right? Growing up, the movies we watched taught us that you can get to know a person intimately enough to marry them in a single day. Love is magic and predestined and nothing ever goes wrong. In the movies, when you ask a girl you barely know to marry you, she says yes and you go forth and have wonderful times together. So there is no reason to doubt the strength of Pete (Matt Mider) and Sophie’s (Noël Wells) engagement. Someone should tell that to Pete’s little sister, Jess (Amanda Bauer) who mocks their coming nuptials when the three get stranded outside of Phoenix during a road trip.

Even for a low budget indie, Forev is a kind of dumpy film. It’s the kind of film that feels like a bunch of friends got together over a few weekends with someone’s dad’s DV cam and banged it all out on the first take, just for fun. From the surface look of it, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. But then something happened: I laughed. And I laughed again. Though some of the drama in the middle is a little on the stock side, Wells and Mider’s genuine and surprising on-screen chemistry, and Green and Leffler’s subtle, biting script bring it back from the brink. It doesn’t outdo Eternal Sunshine as commentary on the recklessness of movie romance on real romance, but it has plenty to say on the subject.

Ilo Ilo – Anthony Chen (2014)

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If spoiled brats become spoiled from too much love in real life, it’s the exact opposite at the movies. They are damn near unwatchable even in their most passive portrayals and very few of the Veruca Salts and Junior Healys of the world waste time with passivity. But Ilo Ilo bears witness to the emotional emergence of a spoiled brat, Jiale (Koh Jia Ler), who has only ever cared about two things in his life to this point, his grandfather and his Tamagochi. After exasperating his mother almost to the breaking point, the Lim family hires a Filipino nanny, Theresa (Angeli Bayani), to shoulder the load of selfishness and troublemaking that is weighing down the already stressed out family.

Theresa has taken the job in Singapore to send money back to her family in Ilo Ilo, a province in the Philippines, but runs head first into the reinforced wall of Jiale’s stubbornness and resentment at having to be handled by a stranger. The film is set during the Asian financial crisis in the late 90s, and the fear and helplessness that Jiale’s parents face as their lives shift under foot is familiar but takes away from the more interesting story of how Jiale softens in a particular way to the undeserved support Theresa provides his coming of age. Watching his face process these feelings makes you think that Koh is either a great actor for his age, or that he’s spoiled brat in real life. Either way, he’s a standout.

Winter in the Blood – Alex and Andrew Smith (2014)

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The story for Winter in the Blood is taken from James Welch’s novel of the same name which won him some acclaim when it was published in the mid-70s. It is both an intense, personal journey of a man trying to find a place in the world that has given him nothing but pain, and a sweeping microcosm of the modern struggle Native Americans face to find a place in a world taken from them inch by inch and mile by mile. But what sounds like a powerful film on paper falls apart in execution from page to screen.

I hesitate to use the word “adapted” because the Smith Brothers and their co-writer Ken White have not really adapted this into another art form as much as they have tried to film it as a moving book. As a film, it plays like a series of sketches taken from the novel. Voice over and music by the Heartless Bastards are attempted as storyteller’s glue, but it doesn’t adhere. Each scene feels so artlessly slapped together in random order that it’s difficult to engage head on — and if any story needs to be engaged head on, it’s certainly the story of America’s original sin. There are worthwhile scenes, and the mood is occasionally affecting, but it doesn’t come together as singular piece overall and that’s too much to overlook.

Copenhagen – Mark Raso (2014)

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Characters don’t have to be sympathetic for art to be good. They don’t even have to be likable. History is littered with the despicable and despised. To empathize with a character is far more important. But in Mark Raso’s Copenhagen there is nothing empathetic, sympathetic or likable about William, a 28-year-old American backpacking in Denmark after the death of his father.

William is played by Gethin Anthony (Game of Thrones’ Renly Baratheon). In Copenhagen he explores the same bottomless pit of contemptibility as Joffrey Baratheon as he searches Copenhagen for his grandfather to deliver an angry letter that his father wrote him but never mailed. While searching, he runs into Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen), a beautiful young girl who helps him navigate the Danish geography and language barrier.

As the two search, they fall for each other. Deep. There is just one small catch. She’s younger. Much younger. Like, 14 (about to turn 15!). You’ll remember above, where I said William was 28, though he doesn’t.

It’s nearly impossible to buy Hansen as a 14-year-old though. She is 19 and looks it. It doesn’t make William any less terrible, but the film is about him growing up and coming to terms with the fact that having a terrible family doesn’t mean you have to be terrible too. Raso gets stuck in indie trope hell though, and can’t find his way out. Hansen is the film’s only redeemable quality; it’s a shame that she is wasted on this pointless search.

30 years of raiding Barry Manilow’s wardrobe

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http://blogs.orlandoweekly.com/the-gist/for-reels/30-years-of-raiding-barry-manilows-wardrobe-breakfast-club/

Saturday…March 24, 1984. Shermer High School, Shermer, Illinois 60062. Dear Mr. Vernon…we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was that we did wrong. What we did was wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make us write this essay telling you who we think we are. What do you care? You see us as you want to see us…in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. You see us as a brain, an athelete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal. Correct? That’s the way we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning.

We were brainwashed…

It’s such a strange and disorienting feeling when a touchstone of being young and frustrated turns a landmark age as John Hughs’s The Breakfast Club does today (or by the date it takes place on anyway; its release date was in February).

The film belongs strongly to the 80s — it might be the signature film of the 80s, in fact — but throughout the years has become timeless as generations since have picked up on its keen observations and well drawn characters. They are detailed to enough to be specific and alive, yet broad enough for everyone to have someone in the film to latch onto. Everyone has an in. It’s the basket case for me, though I can certainly see things from Brian and Andy’s perspectives as well.

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The film came out when I was still 3 years old, yet feels attuned to how I felt at 16 when I finally saw it years later. As much as they are a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal, none of them are. It’s all fear and stupidity. That’s all being a teenager is about, it just comes out in different ways. It sounds cliche and overly reductive to say it like that, but the best themes in film are always the simplest themes. It’s all a matter of dramatic (or comedic) degree after that.

Whether he actually knew he was writing about fear or not, Hughes destroyed it when he wrote the script (the first draft allegedly over one weekend — read it here, it’s a very good read and has more insight into the characters). He’d written and directed entertaining movies before (as he did after) but never made anything as powerful, perceptive, funny or universal.

There is a line in the original draft of the screenplay when Bender is hiding under the table and sticks his head up Claire’s (Cathy, early) skirt that sort of reminds of me Hughes writing this script:

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Raw, unrepeatable power is the perfect notion of this film. It’s lightning, caught.

Though as lightning does when it strikes, it leaves the ground marred. I’ve always considered the ending of the film (mostly Allison cleaning up and hooking up with Andy, while Brain is forever alone) to be a black mark on the film. I’m hardly alone in that though, of course. The issue stems from this: Hughes has the princess clean the basket case up and pairs her off with the jock. That just didn’t work for me on any level when I was younger. I considered it cinematic theft by the criminally insane misfit, John Hughes.

But I’m older now. The film is 30, I’m 33. I’m an adult, sort of, and I see the ending different — or at least I feel it less. I’m not as attached to the film itself or the characters as I am to the idea of myself being young and frustrated by adults and this film reflecting that so well. The more true ending would have been the five reverting to their social roles come Monday morning, but in a strange way Hughes might have written the most teenage ending to the film possible, because, really, what does a teenager do better than making a mistake at the worst moment?

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2013 Top 10

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This may be the earliest I’ve ever completed a Top Ten list in my life, not even half way into January.

01) The Grandmaster – Wong Kar Wai (Hong Kong) *****
02) Her – Spike Jonze (USA) **** 1/2
03) An Oversimplification of Her Beauty – Terrence Nance (USA)
04) Frances Ha – Noah Baumbach (USA)
05) The Great Beauty – Paolo Sorrentino (Italy)
06) Inside Llewyn Davis – Coen Bros (USA)
07) 12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen (UK/USA)
08) Short Term 12 – Destin Daniel Creton (USA)
09) Gravity – Alfonso Cuaron (USA)
10) The Broken Circle Breakdown – Felix Van Groeningen (Belgium) ****