What’s in the Cineplexes? A Lot of "Who Shot John," But with Some Standout Performances
By: Ellis Nassour
It’s high summer, and the studios are rolling out films, blockbuster after blockbuster, it seems every weekend. And every weekend, there’s a new Number One. Here’s a look at some of what’s out there. Now, the audiences will speak.
Magic in the Moonlight ==
We have long expected a lot from Woody Allen, and lately we haven’t been getting what we used to get. That’s more than true of his somewhat romantic comedy Magic in the Moonlight [Sony Pictures Classics; 97 minutes], set exquisitely in the 20s on the French Riviera, but not very funny. The focus is on an egotistical, stuffed-shirt, agnostic master magician, the always steady Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA winning Colin Firth [The King’s Speech], who’s baited by a revengeful second tier magician friend who always been in his shadow, into exposing a beautiful, young American psychic, who’s holding Europe’s mouths agape at her supernatural powers. The latter is played by a quite radiant Emma Stone; the scammer, by acclaimed actor/director Simon McBurney, who displays a total lack of charisma and screen presence.
In the end, Firth, who begins to question, albeit briefly, if he’s been wrong about the world and if there might be an afterlife, is transformed by Sophie when he actually falls in love with someone other than himself. Allen sticks to his 90 or so minutes running time formula, and has more often than not pulled a hat trick or two, but there’s not enough time here to develop anything of much interest.
Aussie stage actress and two-time Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver [Silver Linings Playbook, Animal Kingdom] is stunningly coiffed and period couture-dressed but it’s just hard accepting her as an American grand dame of untold wealth. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden is wasted in what amounts to a cameo. TV star and two-time DD-nominee Hamish Linklater makes for a dashingly tall madcap fool. If you don’t blink, you’ll catch Ute Lemper as a Berlin cabaret singer.
The scene-stealing award goes to veteran actress – BAFTA, Olivier, Emmy, DD-winning and four time Tony nominee – Dame Eileen Atkins [Royal Shakespeare Company, Broadway’s The Retreat from Moscow, Indiscretions, Vivat! Vivat, Regina!, The Killing of Sister George]. Though, sadly, she’s not given much to do except to walk through a couple of scenes, she manages to walk off with the film in her several minutes-long biggest scene. Sitting, playing solitaire, she becomes Firth’s alter ego, telling him what he wants to hear and what he doesn’t want t hear, leading him to his big Henry Higgins thunder-struck moment. If only MITM had more magic like this!
You might think Allen’s traditional use of period jazz/blues tunes could work, and in a couple of instances they’re passable; but this is getting old and, here, often prove jarring, especially in that moment when Firth and McBurney arrive at the hospital to be with the dying victim of an auto accident. Against all the scenic backdrops, a romantic original score would have played better.
This is no Midnight in Paris. There is magic: a few classic illusions, great attention to detail in costuming [a majority of the costumes are period originals gathered in a worldwide search by Sonia and her team], production design, fun antique autos, lush scenery, magnificent mansions overlooking the azure Mediterranean seas, and Nice locations; but hardly ever where’s it’s needed – in the screenplay. Even if the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to much, MITM might make a pleasant art house distraction for Allen fan.
Click Here for "Magic In The Moonlight" Trailer
And So It Goes ==
By no means is this as good as it gets. Pardon the pun/sarcasm, but Rob Reiner’s And So It Goes [Castle Rock, Clarius; 94 minutes], by Mark Andrus [screenplay nominated for Oscar and GG, As Good as It Gets (shared with James Brooks)], isn’t even the picture you might be expecting if you came after seeing the TV commercial blitz. Yes, there’s a bickering, couple of a certain age: a widow, the always delightful Diane Keaton; and widower, Michael Douglas, finally giving up the ghost as a screen hunk and tottering into seniordom, conveniently living next door in a complex Douglas owns and where he’s temporarily living following the death of his wife while attempting to sell their ab fab Connecticut estate.
What we haven’t been led to expect is a father-bonding-with-wayward son, who, on his way to prison, deposits his daughter with reluctant grandpa. She helps turn him into a sort of caring person. Keaton, following her dream of becoming a cabaret singer, reluctantly but thankfully goes into action as a faux grandma. Real sparks never fly, but there are hilarious moments, and some very tender ones. Featured in a series of cameo bits is stage, film, and TV veteran [three-time Emmy nominee, so memorable as Sex and the City‘s Bunny MacDougal; The Closer‘s Willie Rae] and Tony and two-time DD-nominee Andy Karl, whom Reiner should have found much more for him to do.
Get on Up ==
Put Chadwick Boseman’s name on the short list for an Oscar and GG nomination. In the James Brown bio pic Get on Up [Universal; Two hours, 18 minutes], he captures funk-giant Mr. Dynamite and the Godfather of Soul to a tee [however, good luck understanding some of what he says since he went to great pains to capture Brown’s diction; you may have the same problem on some of the vocals, but you’ll mostly be hearing Brown].
Boseman was in doubt about following another bio role [baseball giant Jackie Robinson in 42], but once he signed on he worked hard with choreographer Aakomon Jones to perfect Brown’s swagger and craft footwork and to also capture Brown’s unique persona [the good, the bad, and the ugly: massive ego, madcap escapades, arrests, and drug and spousal abuse].
Director Tate Taylor, a native Mississippian, shot on location in Natchez and Jackson for scenes set not only in the U.S. but also in France. He has an eye for casting. In major roles, he has two stars who did splendid work in his The Help: two-time Oscar and GG nominee Viola Davis, in the heartbreaking role of Brown’s sometime mother, and Oscar and GG winner Octavia Spencer as a bordello madam; Emmy-winner Nelsan Ellis [TV’s True Blood] as Brown’s through-thick-and-thin friend; Dan Aykroyd, solid, as Brown’s longtime agent; Natchez natives, twins Jamarion and Jordan, both memorable, as young Brown. Then there’s a super hilarious cameo by Brandon Mychal Smith as the emerging Little Richard, who became Brown’s idol. Also featured in the large cast are Aunjanue Ellis, and, for reasons that may remain mysterious for decades, in a blink-if-you-miss cameo, multiple Emmy winner and GG nominee Allison Janney, as a bigoted Southerner who won’t swim in a pool with blacks but has no problem getting down to Brown’s funk.
The movie’s way too long and the screenplay/editing is all over the place: present, past, future – it helps if you pay close attention to follow where it’s going and the points it’s trying to make, but if you’re into funkadelic, this one’s for you. Longtime Brown idol Mick Jagger is a co-producer with Brian Glazer.
You know she shouldn’t do it. From first glance, in Luc Besson’s edge-of-the-seat pulp fiction, Lucy [Universal/Canal/Cine; 90 minutes] you know that pick up boy friend is a bum. You’re yelling – silently, because you’re in a Cineplex – "Don’t do it!" However, in tried and true movie tradition, and in spite of the audience’s intuition, she proves to be vastly naïve. She gets caught up in a raving mad scenario where’s she’s kidnapped and turned into a drug mule. But Scarlett Johansson, who’s proven she can do anything, has ingested some nonsense that makes her not only the most powerful warrior known to man but also the most brilliant and she’s on a mission. Not much plot and what there is makes little sense. For once, that’s good. Lucy and Scarlett pack a wallop. If only Besson had eliminated all the doc footage of animals preying on each other and given us more Johansson, it could have been so much more. As it is, it’s almost as good as it gets.