When In Doubt, Trust the Trailer

I don’t know about you, but I am rarely influenced by a review for a film that I’ve already decided that I want to see.

How then do I make the decision in the first place, if not by reading the opinions of so-called experts whose opinions I value and trust? First, I take into account the alchemy of cast, director and screenwriter, their track records, news surrounding production, and of course, the plot, especially if it’s based on a book I’ve read and loved.  The coup de grâce is the trailer.

If I enjoy a movie’s trailer, the probability is high that I’ll give the actual film a chance, even if any of the above elements are weak.

Does this formula ever backfire? Pffft. Certainly. How many times have we seen a movie where all of the best jokes or action scenes were in the trailer? I’ve also paid good money to see films that ticked all of the boxes and still turned out to be real turkeys. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (or The Unbearable Length of This Movie, as a friend and I refer to it) comes to mind.  Great book – check. Great cast, including Daniel Day Lewis, Juliette Binoche and Lena Olin – check. Great director (Philip Kaufman) – check.

Great trailer – check:

Add all of that together and what do you get? Nearly three hours of utter boredom that I will never get back. (You may disagree. Roger Ebert gave it four stars back in 1988.)

You want a more recent example? There are plenty, but how about Dreamcatcher? It was directed by Lawrence Kasdan from a novel by Stephen King with a screenplay by William Goldman, starring Damian Lewis, Jason Lee, Timothy Olyphant and Morgan Freeman.

The trailer:

Seriously, doesn’t the Castle Rock logo combined with all the rest give you certain expectations, cause goosebumps or at last instill a bit of curiosity?  Dreamcatcher wasn’t based on King’s best work, I’ll grant you, but astoundingly, this confluence of talent managed to make from it something totally suck-tacular.

At any rate, when thinking about a movie’s trailer, the opposite is also true.  It is said that a film is truly created by the editor. After everyone else has done their jobs, it falls to the editor to arrange the pieces of the puzzle to tell the story and deliver the finished product.  The trailers for these products are designed to sell them. The editors of the trailers have to then parse out that finished product into small digestible bits to feed to whatever audience the distributors of the product want to reach.

If, after the first viewing, usually in a theater in front of a movie I have already paid to see, which leads these marketing wizards to assume that I will want to see this new one, I turn to my companions and shrug “meh”, those wizards have almost certainly already lost me.

If the trailer for a film fails to elicit the intended response, whether that be to laugh at a comedy, feel the beating heart of a love story or the least little bit of dread or curiosity for what comes next in a thriller, I’m probably going to pass, unless word of mouth manages to change my mind.  But, no amount of good press or even the urging of friends I trust can get me to see a movie after the trailer has made me cringe in embarrassment for the participants and/or left me with the desire to never have to see it again. (Which pretty much ensures that I will have to see it every time I turn on the television, but I digress.)

All of this brings me to one of this weekend’s new releases, Snatched. It’s nominally a mother-daughter buddy comedy let loose just in time for Mother’s Day. It stars Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn, both gifted comediennes, although they couldn’t be more different in style or tone.

I love Amy Schumer’s comedy. She’s original and fearless and her standup is hilarious.  Goldie Hawn is an icon. Read  her name and you know with 99% certainty what you’re going to get and that’s okay. She carved out that niche and she owns it. Sure, there have been some misfires during the span of a forty plus year career, but when she was on top of her game like she was in Foul Play or Private Benjamin, Goldie Hawn was a joy to behold and so were the movies. So what the hell happened?

Here’s the trailer:

Destined to make a pile of cash big enough to be seen from space, it’s safe to say that none of my dollars will be included. I wouldn’t see this movie on pain of death.  This movie looks more like a trainwreck than Trainwreck (which was actually pretty good. Another exception that proves the rule, but the trailer didn’t get a cringe, only a “meh”, and I saw it on cable.) I had numerous opportunities to see advance screenings of Snatched free-of-charge, and was never even tempted.

Reviews for Snatched are beginning to emerge online and most seem to confirm my assessment. My favorite comes from Variety’s Owen Gleiberman. For whatever it’s worth, I don’t always agree with him, in fact I usually refer to him as a curmudgeon who seems to be getting crankier with age.

Excerpt from his review:

“The movie is a jungle-set chase comedy that has many antecedents, from “Romancing the Stone” to “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason,” but really, “Snatched” is the generic version of a latter-day Paul Feig comedy — which is to say, it’s an attempt to shoehorn Amy Schumer into the action-meets-yocks-meets-sisterhood formula of movies like “The Heat” and “Spy.” …“Snatched” is a flashy piece of product. It doesn’t quite try to turn Amy Schumer into the new Melissa McCarthy, but it reduces her all the same.

… The movie also looks about 10 times better than it needs to; Florian Ballhaus’ cinematography might have served an elegant Amazon Forest thriller. You could say that there’s no harm in Amy Schumer doing a picture like this one, and maybe there isn’t, but she’s one of those actresses who has the potential to bring a rare full-bodied comic voice to movies. That’s a quality that shouldn’t get thrown overboard.”

You can read the whole thing here, but to summarize, it would seem to bear out the theory that even with a good pedigree, the finished product can ultimately be less than the sum of its parts.  We have a lot of entertainment choices these days. If we’re going to leave the comfort of our homes and fork over the money for a first-run movie, we need to be able to make informed decisions.  By all means, take into account reviews, however they are delivered, by people whose opinions you trust, but ultimately, go with your gut. Trust the trailer.

By the way, that last line of Gleiberman’s review was a dig at the film Overboard, in which Goldie Hawn does what she does best, and while it’s not great, it is one of my favorite guilty-pleasures. It’s one of those movies that I own on dvd and still stop to watch at least a bit of if I happen to run across it on tv. I originally saw it at the theater. Why? Because the trailer made me laugh. Out loud.

I Like What I Like…and So Should You

Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author
Law Abiding Citizen, written by Kurt Wimmer (Salt, Total Recall, Point Break), directed by F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton, The Fate of the Furious), starring Gerard Butler (every movie critics love to hate for the last 20 years), came out nearly 8 years ago. I saw it twice opening weekend, in Lincoln Center in NY, with one of my besties – it was a fantastic trip, but I digress.  I’ve written about the film before (on this blog) and I stand by my assessment.
I’ve also written more than once about the disconnect between “critics” and the vox populi. I’m remarking on this again tonight because I came across Law Abiding Citizen on TNT, again, and while I’m always compelled to watch at least a little bit of it whenever I do, I just noticed not just the fact that XFINITY gives you the “Rotten Tomatoes” score of the movies in its onscreen guide, but that the “Tomato-meter” score for Law Abiding Citizen is: critics 25% (which is actually up from about 16% when it was first released) and  “users” 75% (which is also up from its original which hovered around 60). 
Now, there was and is, obviously, a huge gap between critics and casual viewers of the movie, but the real news here is how the appreciation of the movie has grown both with critics and viewers over the intervening eight years. Hell, even imdb.com now has it at 7.4. TNT doesn’t continue to air it every other month because no one likes it or, more importantly for them, because no one is watching.  
Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author, Fate of the Furious
Part of  the renewed appreciation might have to do with F. Gary Gray, who now has two huge back-to-back hits to follow up LAC. It’s only natural for those who suddenly become enamored of a director’s work to check out their back catalogue, and an orphaned or maligned film may gain new fans, particularly among those who may have missed it the first time around.
It’s no secret that I am a Gerard Butler fan. I will forever be convinced that, like other actors of his generation, Matthew McConaughey, until recently, comes to mind, he’s not yet been given the chance to shake loose the trappings of his leading man appearance and become the character actor he really wants to be. And he’s damned good in Law Abiding Citizen. (Sorry, I will always thing Jamie Foxx snoozed his way through the movie.)
While I admit to being a snob to some degree, there are instances where I am willing to dig deep to find something to like in anything I’ve paid my hard earned money to see.
Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author, Gods of Egypt
I even enjoyed Gods of Egypt. I like to think I can see it for what it is: an ode of sorts to the Saturday matinees of old, and particularly the Ray Harryhausen creature-features where the strings and zippers are visible, but the movie we’re watching is just too much fun to care.  Seriously, what the hell is wrong with that? Are we really at a point, as a theater-going, cinematic audience, that we cannot still appreciate a film just for the good time it seeks to provide?
Gerard Butler, Law Abiding Citizen, Adam Sandler, Reign Over Me, S.A. Young author
My point might be an obscure one, but it’s this: Don’t let anyone come between you and what you like.  Even Adam Sandler has done good work. (He’s a victim of his own success, if you ask me, but really, who did?) If you want proof of his talent, beyond his really early films (I admit to laughing at Happy Gilmore, but I go no further with his comedies – there has been some true dreck), check out the dramas like Reign Over Me. But if you are a fan, and there must be quite a few of you, then you get on with your bad self.
History, even as little as eight short years, might prove you right.

Impressive #CrimsonPeak is Vintage Guillermo del Toro

Crimson Peak, Guillermo del Toro, Jessica Chastain, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, movie, poster

Contrary to those ads you’ve been seeing and the trailers with Nick Cave‘s “Red Right Hand” playing beneath it, make no mistake, Guillermo del Toro‘s Crimson Peak is a true Gothic romance that just happens to have ghosts in it (as well as copious amounts of blood and blood-like substances).What it is not, is a horror movie. The director himself has not called it that. He’s actually compared it to Hitchcock, particularly Rebecca or George Cukor’s Gaslight (both of which are apt comparisons), but it is as a horror film, that it is being marketed. It was shot February through May and completed in December 2014, but Universal wanted to release it at Halloween, so here we are in October 2015. Make no mistake, there are thrills and chills, and it’s full of murderous intent and malice-aforethought, but no real “scares”, at least in terms of what movie-goers born post-Freddie Kruger and weaned on the Paranormal and Insidious series’ as well as remakes of Halloween, The Fog and Poltergeist, would consider truly scary.

Mia Wasikowska is Edyth Cushing, an aspiring novelist, whose biggest champion is her wealthy industrialist father (Jim Beaver). Her aspirations make her something of an outsider to her social climbing contemporaries who prove that the male publishing world isn’t alone in thinking she should be concentrating on getting a husband.  So of course, it is is Edyth that the mysterious Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), a rakish English demi-noble (his title, “Baronet”, is thrown around a lot) plucks from the bouquet of dewy young things presented to him upon his arrival in turn-of-the-century Buffalo. He quickly marries her, after the shocking (and incredibly brutal) death of her father, who had objected to the match on grounds we are not immediately privy to (made known to him by his hired detective Holly, played by Burn Gorman), then whisks her away to a molding, crumbling estate back in (extremely) rural England, full of ghastly secrets and even ghastlier ghosts.

When her heart is stolen by a seductive stranger, a young woman is swept away to a house atop a mountain of blood-red clay: a place filled with secrets that will haunt her forever. Between desire and darkness, between mystery and madness, lies the truth behind Crimson Peak.

The film, written by the director and Matthew Robbins (Mimic) who started it in 2006 and finally finished during filming, is visually stunning in typical del Toro style. All of the colors are rich and over-saturated. Both Wasikowska and Jessica Chastain often look like they belong in a Pre-Raphaelite painting. A lot of the sumptuous fabrics used in designer Kate Hawley‘s costumes are vintage, from the period depicted. The set design (all of which was built from the ground up specifically for the film by art director Thomas E. Sanders) is, in a word, incredible. Every scene, particulary once the film moves to spooky Allerdale Hall, could have been captured by an artist’s brush as well as the lens of Danish cinematographer Dean Laustsen.  del Toro has said that he wanted his movie to look like a Technicolor Mario Bava film (Bava was a painter before he was a director/cinematographer) and, JMHO, he’s succeeded. (You will hear about Crimson Peak come awards season. It will be up for all of the technical awards – as it should be.)

But this film owes as much to Bava as it does Hammer Studios in its hay-day. Charlie Hunnam‘s Dr. McMichael is a “good guy” straight out of their repertory company. The grand score, by Fernando Velasquez, and the dialogue, particularly in the early scenes, is straight out of a period-perfect Penny Dreadful (speaking of which, there are shades of the Showtime series as well – again, not a bad thing at all), with a lot of stilted delivery of the phrase “my child”.

Watching Wasikowska and Hiddleston, it’s hard to imagine Emma Stone and Benedict Cumberbatch in their roles. Hiddleston, in particular, was made for this type of film (if you haven’t seen his tortured, soulful vampire in Only Lovers Left Alive, remedy that. Immediately) and the site of him in white tie and tails is indeed impressive and utterly swoon-worthy. Wasikowska gets to be the heroine of her own story, in a departure from the Gothic formula. del Toro has imbued her with the intelligence and resiliance to not only recognize the dastardly shenanigans of her new husband and his creepy sister, but to defend herself against them.

The Sharpes are a tragic pair, certainly not your typical villains, created by equal parts nurture and nature, and it is Jessica Chastain’s Lucille that is the beating pulse of this movie. Lucille is fierce and determined, with a stare that is both ice cold and blazing with intensity. She doesn’t go full-tilt bozo until the final reel, but it is a payoff the film has been ratcheting toward from the start and what we’ve been waiting for. (Even then we feel some small measure of sympathy for her.) I don’t want to spoil anything, particularly since most of the plot twists are easily untangled while you watch, but trust me – there are monsters and there are monsters.

See Crimson Peak and see it at a theater in all its glory. I’m not usually one to endorse what I consider marketing gimicks, but I highly recommend IMAX for this one.  It deserves the biggest screen  you can find. Come back and let me know what you think.

Cotillard, Phoenix and Renner in The Immigrant – Now Streaming!

Cannes 2013, poster, movie, The Immigrant, Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner

Poster for The Immigrant – Cannes 2013

 

Turning on Netflix the other day, eager to hunker down and binge on the last six episodes, ever, of “The Killing”, I was surprised to learn that The Immigrant, James Gray’s tale of life in New York during the early part of the 20th century, a gorgeous film that I’m almost sure you missed at the theater, is available for streaming. That’s right, like a number of other hot titles have done lately, it skipped right over premium cable channels such as HBO or Starz and went right to Netflix, where we can watch it free (well, not quite free, assuming we’re not pirates and we’ve paid our monthly $7.99).

I’m not here to judge, so either way, let me tell you why you should be interested. (Frankly, the name Marion Cotillard will pique the curiosity of most cinephiles, however, for those of you that require more…)

The beautiful opening shot is of the Statue of Liberty shrouded in mist. (It’s a scene worthy of Chaplin – if he’d had access to the same technology while making his own The Immigrant in 1917.) It’s 1921. Ewa Cybulska (Cotillard) a Polish Catholic, has just arrived in New York after fleeing the deprivation caused by the First World War. She and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafian) are seeking a fresh start and their own piece of the American dream. What transpires next is what happens after the promise heralded by that first glimpse of America meets the grim realities of immigrant life. Magda is ill, and she and Ewa are immediately separated. For her part, Ewa, for reasons we don’t yet understand, is classified as a person of ‘questionable morals’ and in danger of being deported. Everything that follows results from Ewa’s efforts to both get her sister off of the island and keep them both from being sent back to Poland.
Enter Bruno Weiss (Joaquin Phoenix). Is he a Good Samaritan in the right place at the right time, a well-dressed representative of the “Traveller’s Aid Society”? Or is he a pimp? He does in fact produce burlesque shows. And while it does not take long for Ewa, who is desperate rather than naïve, to figure out that her savior is indeed also a predator, Phoenix’s Bruno is no Snidely Whiplash and by no means a simple villain. He’s certainly charming, but is also by turns wicked as well as vulnerable.

Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, photo, The Immigrant, movie

Marion Cotillard and Joaquin Phoenix in The Immigrant

At what would seem to be her lowest point, Ewa crosses paths with the suave, and equally as charming magician, Orlando (Jeremy Renner), whom we come to learn, happens to be Bruno’s cousin. He’s instantly smitten. She tries to resist, but he sweeps Ewa off her feet and would appear to be a chance for her to escape the cruel world in which she finds herself. But is he everything he would seem to be? Or is he what the jealous Bruno says he is?

How about both?

 Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Renner, photo, The Immigrant, movie

Marion Cotillard and Jeremy Renner in The Immigrant

There is history between them and that history will practically dictate their futures, but neither Bruno nor Orlando are all of one thing and none of the other. This makes sense, both because life exists in the gray areas, but also because the immigrant experience of the late-19th and early 20th centuries consisted of both struggle and triumph. Part of writer/director James Gray’s point would seem to be that although we now see the transition from the Old World to the New through the prism of time, tinged with nostalgia and family memories, to those making that long journey it was often terrible, and certainly strange.

Ewa is forced into prostitution and rejected by relatives she thought would care for her,  but she also must be devious and at times a thief.  She is treated with suspicion by some of her new companions, particularly Belva (Dagmara Dominczyk – Mrs. Patrick Wilson – who is wonderful and should be seen more), another of Bruno’s girls. Through it all, Cotillard makes her shine like a diamond in a coal heap. The part of Ewa was written for her and I cannot imagine it without her. Ewa is intensely luminous, vulnerable, fragile and yet dignified. The camera lingers on her face in much the way it might have done with the silent stars of the era in which she’s placed. (She particularly brings Greta Garbo, in her early silent roles, to mind.) Cotillard projects precisely the qualities that would cause not just one, but two men to be prepared to risk everything after just a mere glimpse of her.

Purposely melodramatic, The Immigrant, of course, is not a silent film and in fact has some beautiful dialogue, but cinematographer Darius Khondji has used a soft-focus, luxuriously grainy palette so that it feels almost like a long lost gem from the era it depicts. (If the silent film comparison doesn’t work for you, think Theodore Dreiser and “An American Tragedy”. Bruno has a lot in common with that novel’s protagonist Clyde, whose destruction was brought about by his innate moral and physical weaknesses including a lack of scruples, self-discipline and unfocused ambition. If you need a more recent cinematic comparison, try Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America.)

Of course, in a film more interested in mood and feeling than in the mechanics of plot, some elements don’t work, and unfortunately Ewa’s relationship with Orlando seems little more than a structural convenience. While he serves to move the story forward, his character should have been more fully realized and his subplot given more time to develop. I have to wonder if there weren’t more to it that didn’t survive the cutting room.
Ultimately, what we’re left with is a glimpse of early 20th century urban life, complete with a performance by Enrico Caruso (and set to the gorgeous score by Chris Spelman). The “doves” in Bruno’s employ, as well as their customers emulate the Astors and the Vanderbilts of Fifth Avenue in dress and mannerisms. It’s difficult to distinguish art from sleaze, since popular entertainment brought strippers, comedians and musicians together under one roof. Which is America in a nutshell. The tawdry exists side by side with the exquisite, brutality with tenderness. So it is with Bruno, and why we can’t quite separate the lost boy from the scoundrel.

The Immigrant gives us the flip-side, or the mirror image of the American dream. It’s the warts-and-all version of the tale your great grandparents told about their adventures in “coming to America”, the antithesis of the Hollywood-glamorized version one would expect, but probably much closer to the truth.

The Immigrant directed by James Gray, written by Gray with Ric Menello, with Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, Jeremy Renner, Dagmara Dominczyk, Robert Clohessy, Adam Rothenberg, and Angela Sarafian. It debuted at Cannes in May 2013, has played film festivals all over the world, and now, thanks to Harvey and The Weinstein Company, can be found on Netflix.

Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin Deliver a Steamy Labor Day

Josh Brolin, movie, photo, Kate Winslet,  Jason Reitman, Labor Day

Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet in Jason Reitman’s Labor Day

Another film you more than likely missed in the theaters is Labor Day, directed by Jason Reitman with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. (I’d been following it since filming began, since the story takes place and was filmed in the suburbs west of Boston. But I digress.) The movie is a sweet, old-fashioned love story. The type that could easily have been made by Howard Hawks in the 1940s or Nicholas Ray or Douglas Sirk in the 1950s, the type about which it could appropriately be said, “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore”. Until this one came along, that is.

Critics, for the most part, savaged the film. Perhaps they’d have found it more plausible if it starred Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (or Gloria Grahame) or even Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. It was the first of Reitman’s films to earn a “rotten” score on Rotten Tomatoes, let alone fail to earn a single Academy Award nomination (although Winslet did earn an obligatory Golden Globe nod. The HFPA loves her).

Never one to let someone else tell me what I should like, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the fact that Reitman took a chance on a genre completely out of his comfort zone. I enjoyed seeing Josh Brolin’s tender side. And of course, I enjoyed Kate Winslet as Adele, a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown who not only finds love, but manages to find herself again, over the course of this one strange and sticky long weekend.

It’s not really a spoiler if I mention the pie-making scene in which Brolin’s escaped convict, Frank, teaches Winslet’s blowzy single mother how to bake a peach pie. It rivals Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore and the clay in Ghost.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. There is no “meet cute” for Frank and Adele, it’s more a “meet terrifying”. It’s 1987. The agoraphobic Adele and her 13 year old son Henry (an amazing Gattlin Griffith) have made the painful journey out of the house and into town because school is about to start and Henry has outgrown his old clothes. She’s terrified, he’s patient. While Adele trepidatiously pushes her cart through the store, Henry wanders off to look at comic books. Out from behind the rack pops a bleeding man. Having recently escaped from prison, Frank forces Adele and Henry to drive him to their house where he proceeds to hold them hostage.

There is, of course, a lot more to Frank than his arrest record. The house is, of course, as unkempt and rundown as Adele herself and soon, as only happens in the movies, the hostage situation dissolves into something else entirely and we see Frank teaching Henry how to throw a baseball; he waxes floors and even irons. And again, as only happens in the movies, pretty soon it’s not only Adele’s car that gets a tune-up.

For her part, Adele used to be a bright, vibrant woman until tragedy struck. As the adult Henry explains in voice-over (Tobey Maguire), “I don’t think losing my father broke my mother’s heart, but rather losing love itself”. It’s plain to see from the beginning that these two people need each other.

Reitman admits that the hardest hurdle raised by the story was why this woman would take in this strange man in the first place, one who’s bleeding and probably dangerous to boot. And what about Henry, who is obviously a mature and savvy 13, why wouldn’t he stop her? But if you’re along for the ride, you understand. It’s because Adele sees the way he treated her son, and she responds to his courtesy toward her as well, and whenever she thinks he’ll behave one way, he surprises her.

Adele also can’t bring herself to turn her back on Frank’s wound. Despite the fact that she can’t take care of herself, she has the skill to care for Frank. Again, we know that there is much more to the stories of these people, some of it we’re shown, some of it we intuit. If you’ve seen and enjoyed any of Reitman’s previous films, you know he is a master storyteller, and one of the biggest reasons is that he understands human nature. He helps us to understand that these two wounded people just fit.

Okay, okay, before the eyerolling begins, let me add that I can understand how you might have some difficulty buying into all of that, at least on the face of it. But it is Winslet and Brolin, (such an unexpected pairing in real life and on film), and their earthy, sexually-charged chemistry that sells the entire package. Sure it’s a preposterous premise. But it was no less preposterous when Joyce Maynard published the novel in 2009. It became a bestseller and achieved widespread critical acclaim. Why any of this would be any less easy to accept in film form, from a cast and crew as talented as this movie had, doesn’t make much sense to me.

Jason Reitman read the book and immediately knew he wanted to adapt it for a film. He told a TIFF 2013 audience, “I wanted to know why these broken people needed each other, and slowly, the answer unveiled itself to me. I was overwhelmed. Parts of the book leveled me, and I cried.”

For my money, Labor Day is a warm and lovely little film about longing, hope, and the redemptive power of love, beautifully photographed by Reitman regular Eric Steelberg, with an evocative score by another regular, Rolfe Kent (who also composed the score for Dom Hemingway).

It was a novel, not a memoir. It’s a movie, not a documentary. If it’s a good story, emotionally gripping, well told and well acted, isn’t that enough?

Labor Day also stars Clark Gregg, James Van Der Beek, J.K. Simmons, and Brooke Smith. It’s out on dvd and blu-ray today, August 5.

Trailer:

Jude Law Gets Hilariously Filthy in Dom Hemingway

Dom Hemingway, Jude Law, movie, poster, Richard Shepard, Richard E. Grant

Poster for dvd release of Richard Shepard’s Dom Hemingway with Jude Law

Dom Hemingway, a movie I’m almost certain you missed in the theaters, is out now on dvd and blu-ray. It’s about a Cockney safecracker of the same name, zealously played with bawdy, psychotic, raunchy, balls-out , go-for-broke bravado by Jude Law like you’ve never seen him before – and not just because he gained thirty pounds to play him. Dom is Bricktop from Guy Ritchie’s Snatch (sans pigs), if Ritchie were Francois Rabelais channeling Mickey Spillane.

Actually, Dom Hemingway sprang from the talented and slightly twisted mind of writer/director Richard Shepard, whose last movie, 2005’s The Matador, gave us Pierce Brosnan strolling across a hotel lobby in a Speedo and ankle boots.

After spending 12 years in prison for keeping his mouth shut, notorious safe-cracker Dom Hemingway is back on the streets of London looking to collect what he’s owed.

The story begins as we listen, likely in slack-jawed wonder, watching Law’s face in close-up, as Dom addresses the audience and delivers an ode to his favorite part of his anatomy. As the camera pulls back we realize he’s talking all the while being “serviced” by a faceless someone whom we come to recognize as a fellow inmate. It is a truly awesome monologue, an efflux of Shakespearean proportions, both epic and surreal, funny and jaw-droppingly filthy.

jude law, shirtless, movie, photo, dom hemingway

That stunning scene pretty much tells us what we’re in for as we follow this violent, poetic, hilarious, anachronistic gangster on his quest to get the money owed to him for not ratting out his boss… plus a present.

Then there’s Dom’s best friend, Dickie, played by the under-rated Richard E. Grant, as a toff in leisure suits and aviator shades, with a prosthetic hand. Dickie is at Dom’s right hand, observing everything and responding with a verbal or literal eye-roll, but we know instantly that this is just par for the course and there is deep affection between the two.

Dom: Fontaine better have a well-stocked bar.
Dickie: He was raised in a Russian orphanage and kills people for a living. Of course he has a well-stocked bar.

In fact, all of the characters, from the double-crossing Russian mobster Mr. Fontaine, played Demian Bichir (!) to Melody (Kerry Condon), whose life Dom saves in a rare moment of unselfishness, to an unrecognizable Emilia Clarke as Dom’s estranged daughter Evelyn, are very well drawn. The problem is that Dom is such a BIG character that everyone around him is dwarfed.

It’s a story we’ve seen play out countless times before with varying degrees of success, but a character like Dom, rarely. Shepard’s twist is the humor with which he tries to balance his main character’s amoral behavior. However, that we are not repulsed by Dom is, of course, down in part to the clever things Shepard has given him to say, but mostly it’s all Law, who manages to remain as charming as ever. He embodies every aspect of Dom, from the way he walks (more like swaggers bow-legged with hips thrust forward like a cowboy or porn star, usually with a cigarette plugged between his teeth), talks, swears, drinks, laughs, and cries with every bit of the bold presumptuousness needed to make the character come to life.

The movie ultimately can’t decide what it wants to be. Instead of letting Dom just “be”, Shepard sees the need to add a redemption plot to his otherwise slight tale of an ex-con looking for payback. Dom’s efforts to repair his relationship with his daughter, despite how good Clarke is, and how good Law is in the scenes with her son, feel tacked on. It really wasn’t necessary to give Dom any redeeming qualities when the reprobate is so much fun.

Dom Hemingway as a whole should not work, but amazingly it does, for the most part – including the striking and vibrant color palette, the soundtrack full of instantly recognizable classics by The Alarm, Primal Scream, Big Country, Pixies, Godfathers, Motorhead, and Citizen Cope, as well as a very sweet version of The Waterboys’ “Fisherman’s Blues” sung by Emilia Clarke, and a truly memorable car crash sequence – as long as you don’t ask too much from it.

If for nothing else, though, I recommend the film for Jude Law, who at 41 has eschewed “pretty boy” status for good and Dom Hemingway finds him at his very best.

Red-band trailer:

Dom Hemingway, written and directed by Richard Shepard, with Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Demian Bichir, Emilia Clarke, Kerry Condon, Jumayn Hunter and Madelina Ghenea, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013 and is on dvd and blu-ray now.

Only Lovers Left Alive: A Romantic Vampire Tale for Grown-ups

Only Lovers Left Alive, movie, still, Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton
Only Lovers Left Alive, an official selection of Cannes 2013, is stylish, hip, sexy and smart, all of which are things I’m generally in favor of. It’s also, despite the scenes of Jim Jarmusch’s creatures-of-the-night (the word vampire is never used) imbibing “the good stuff” from delicate cordial glasses and antique flasks (or even “on a stick”), the most sanguine vampire tale I’ve ever seen.

Actually, it’s a film that is more about eternal love, not just eternal life; a character study in which our Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) just happen to be vampires. Other than their quest for a blood supply untainted by the poisons of modern life, they fill their endless lives much as we mortals do: searching for ways to amuse themselves as well as give meaning to their existence. Twilight, this is not.

We will learn that Swinton and Hiddleston are lovers, that they have been married for centuries, that they are soul-mates. But from the first scene, we already know they are connected even when they’re apart. The film opens with intertwining shots of the two, spun to the tune of “Funnel of Love”. ( I thought I was listening to the song played at half speed so that Wanda Jackson sounded less like Minnie Mouse on helium than I’ve ever heard, but it’s actually director Jim Jarmusch’s band, SQÜRL with singer Madeline Follin, of Cults.)

Adam, who refers to humans as “zombies”, is a musician, who is hiding out under the perfect cover of a decimated Detroit. His devoted “Renfield” is manager/enabler Ian (Anton Yelchin), who would love to be able to promote him so that Adam’s music could reach a wider audience, but Adam won’t have it. The zombies love his music, but he ‘vants to be alone’. He collects antique instruments and shuns modern anything, unlike Eve who embraces the technology that allows her to stay connected to Adam. Sensing Adam’s growing despair, which is only confirmed via a Skype chat (the Rube Goldbergian way in which Adam has rigged his antiquated analog devices to accomplish this task is comical, yet indicative of what an intelligent mind can come up with when one has all the time in the world),  Eve decides to make the transatlantic journey to see him, despite the intrinsic difficulties of traveling by day.

Eve is a seeker, and a lover of knowledge, currently residing in Tangier. She’s worldly and as much of the world as reclusive Adam wants to shrink from it. I’m not sure the part wasn’t written specifically for Swinton, she is just so perfectly cast, and her chemistry with Hiddleston is palpable. (I know I’ve mentioned that Michael Fassbender was Jarmusch’s original choice. I, as I believe you will, have no trouble embracing Hiddleston as Adam.)

Watching Eve make her travel arrangements is just one of the sly and witty ways that the script pokes holes in well-known vampire lore. It also hints at the possibility of the presence of vampires throughout history. Adam gave an adagio to Shubert. Christopher “Kit” Marlowe (John Hurt) is not only “alive” but a vampire and used the “illiterate” Shakespeare as his front to continue to “get the work out there” long after his supposed death. There are also odes to the same lore that the script deflates eg: vampires must be invited to cross a threshold. And there are things that Jarmusch may have made up, yet seem like they should be part of the myth, for instance, vampires also need permission to remove their gloves, which they always wear in public. I’ve never heard of that one (or have I just forgotten it? Anyone? Bueller?)

Adam plays word games with a hematologist (Jeffrey Wright) who calls himself Dr. Watson, that he bribes for access to pure blood. He calls himself first Dr. Faust then Dr. Caligari. Eve expresses her love for Jack White, who has always looked a bit like a vampire, although to my knowledge, there have been no rumors of blood drinking.

At the end of Eve’s journey, she and Adam reconnect in a dozen sexy, slinky, sultry ways, including sinuously dancing around his crowded manse in silk dressing gowns (wouldn’t it be nice if Denise LaSalle and Charlie Feathers experienced career resurgencies?) and driving through the desert of Detroit at night, discovering its lonely beauty. Their reunion, however, is interrupted by the arrival of Eve’s irresponsible and uncontrollable little “sister” Ava (Mia Wasikowska). Although both Adam and Eve (as well as Marlowe) had dreamt of her arrival, it was anticipated with dread.  Ava’s bratty antics become the catalyst for all that follows, including the funniest lines in the movie.

Example: Adam and Eve watch a body melting in acid. “That was visual”.  (You just have to see it.)

Jim Jarmusch doesn’t like digital cinematography and wanted to shoot on film, but could not due to budgetary constraints. He and his director of photography, Yorick Le Saux, whose last English-language film was Arbitrage, worked with low lighting (they were after all, shooting entirely at night) and experimented with a variety of lenses until they were able to achieve the look they wanted, one that approximated “film”. However they got there, they’ve found a prism of color in the blackness and the result,  in which the cold dark night of Detroit is contrasted with the exotic warmth of the Morocco where Eve lives and walks among the locals, is mesmerizing.

Adam and Eve glide along to the trance-like soundtrack provided by SQÜRL (which includes Carter Logan, and Shane Stoneback, in addition to the director), and Dutch minimalist composer Jozef Van Wissem, with a guest appearance by Yasmine Hamdan, the singer for Soapkills, the first indie/electronic band in the Middle East, and nod their heads in unison to the beat. Jarmusch has given his immortals a “been there and done that” insouciance, but if there’s one thing that they still can’t get enough of after all these years, it is each other.  So, aptly, we are left with Adam and Eve, determined to survive, if only so that they can continue to be together.

Ultimately, Only Lovers Left Alive is a hypnotic paean to the mysteries of true love.

“Make me immortal with a kiss.” – Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus

 

 

Bit of trivia that may or may not have been intentional: One of the books that Eve packs for her trip to Detroit is a catalog of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. Jeffrey Wright’s film breakthrough was as the title character in Basquiat.