Film Review: ‘Blind’

'Blind' Review: A Cliched Love Story

Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin play Manhattanites forced together by adversity in this muted drama.

In 1996 Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore starred in “The Juror,” an uninspired thriller (with the unfortunate ad line “There is no defense”) in which she played a single mom  blackmailed by his Mafia hitman into swaying the jury she’s on, lest he kill her son. Both actors had just passed the crest of their brief big-screen stardom, though that wasn’t necessarily evident at the time, even if “The Juror” certainly didn’t help keep them at the top.

Two decades later, Baldwin is something of an institution — albeit mostly for TV comedy, not a path one would have anticipated back then — while Moore, though she’s worked sporadically, feels like a missing person in any recent pop-culture census. The difference in their career arcs can be attributed to many things, an obvious one being Hollywood’s greater willingness to grant a second act to male stars who’ve aged out of their initial hunkdom, as opposed to women who outgrow ingenue roles.

It’s safe to say that their pairing in the new film “Blind” isn’t a reprise anyone was clamoring for and won’t stir any great excitement on its own. This slick but muted drama — a first directorial feature for producer Michael Mailer, written by actor/playwright John Buffalo Mailer, both sons of late literary maverick Norman — reunites the actors in a (somewhat) less pulpy-melodramatic context. This time the emphasis is more on midlife romance than suspense. But the amour is as unconvincing as the tension is underdeveloped. The result is a watchable, albeit unsatisfying, vehicle for two stars who’ve now made a pair of movies together in which their skills constitute the main attraction, yet who aren’t particularly well-served by either film.

Moore plays Suzanne Dutchman, first encountered celebrating her 19th wedding anniversary with husband Mark (Dylan McDermott). They’re penthouse-dwelling members of a Manhattan elite, about to suffer a downfall all too familiar to their class. The Feds arm-twist his lawyer associate (James McCafferty) into exposing some high-end financial skullduggery that’s serious enough to get Mark thrown in jail while awaiting trial. Suzanne’s earnest plea that she knew nothing about these doings (though Mark used their mutual accounts as a cover), rings true enough with a judge to limit her to community service for her unknowing complicity.

Thus she finds herself at a center for the blind, volunteering as a reader for crankily incorrigible Bill Oakland (Baldwin). He’s a novelist of moderate renown who lost most of his sight five years ago in a car accident that killed his wife. He still teaches writing in college, which requires another set of eyes to read his students’ stories aloud.

The two get off to a poor start, as he goes out of his way to offend her, recognizing her shyster husband’s last name, while she proves all-too-easily offended. Nonetheless, the program’s administrator (Eden Epstein) isn’t about to let this overdressed socialite abandon court-ordered duties over a personality clash. So the two keep at it, eventually getting past their mutual dislike.

It’s when the grudging pleasure they begin to take in one another’s company turns into something more that “Blind” forsakes its moderate early promise for shaky contrivance. While the lead characters aren’t fully dimensionalized in the script (which is based on a story idea by producer Diane Fisher), the actors attain a certain amiable frisson so long as erudite but semi-insufferable artiste Bill is playfully goading the uptight Suzanne, whom Moore imbues with a refined reserve bordering on resentment. (That Moore’s performance is occasionally a bit stilted, particularly early on, actually works in her character’s favor.) But when Bill commences pitching “Scent of a Woman” woo, and Suzanne eventually succumbs, the dynamic — both in acting and psychological terms — grows much less convincing. The more we’re meant to be swept up in their romantic chemistry, the less it’s evident.

Nor is “Blind” helped by the simultaneous darkening of Mark, who behind bars reveals a sneakiness, jealousy and violence that somehow evaded his wife’s notice until now. McDermott is up to the job, but he’s playing a villain in a near-thriller that occupies little of the runtime. He ends up seeming to exist in a different, fragmentary movie — something considerably more like “The Juror” — awkwardly cobbled onto the main one.

Various supporting characters are more distracting than enriching. These include Epstein, as well as Steven Prescod (as an aspiring writer), Drew Moerlein (as Mark’s own wannabe-protege), Viva Bianca (a predictably backstabbing fellow socialite), and scenarist Mailer as a janitor. The young Mailers surely must have witnessed sufficient Big Apple celebrity, power, talent, striving, ego and excess to make all these character types come alive. Tethered to a central love-story concept that never quite gels, however, none of them quite do.

In the larger scheme of things, Bill is the biggest disappointment: Always a confident, competent screen performer, Baldwin nonetheless can’t elevate the material’s rote movie notion of “serious author” as rude, rascally and able to pull literary quotes from thin air.

While narratively underwhelming, “Blind” is smoothly packaged, its veneer of Manhattan high life amplified by well-chosen locations, Michal Dabal’s attractive widescreen compositions, and a soundtrack filled with lightly jazzy contributions from various musicians.

Film Review: ‘Blind’

Reviewed online, San Francisco, July 13, 2017. MPAA rating: R. Running time: 106 MIN.

Production

A Vertical Entertainment release of a Michael Mailer Films presentation in association with Foresight Unlimited, AMPM Enterprises, Tremendous Entertainment, El Dorado Pictures, Haymarket Annex II and Funding Group of Kingston. Producers: Michael Mailer, Diane Fisher, Pamela Thur, Jennifer Gelfer, Martin Tuchman. Executive producers: Alan Helene, Alessandro Penazzi, Scott Kluge, Alec Baldwin, Mallory Schwartz, Mark Damon, Tamara Birkemoe, Terry Allen, Kramer Khuloud, Kelly Rabadi, David Moscow, Jonathan Gray.

Crew

Director: Michael Mailer. Screenplay: John Buffalo Mailer, from a story by Diane Fisher. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Michal Dabal. Editor: Jim Mol. Music: Dave Eggar, Chuck Palmer, Amy Lee, Sasha Lazard.

With

Alec Baldwin, Demi Moore, Dylan McDermott, Steven Prescod, Viva Bianca, John Buffalo Mailer, Eden Epstein, Drew Moerlein, James McCaffrey.
[“Source-variety”]

Cannes Film Review: ‘Loveless’

'Loveless' Review from Cannes: Andrey Zvyagintsev's

 

Alexey Zvyagintsev’s stark tale of a divorcing couple is a missing- child procedural that meditates on the corruption of Russia.

“Loveless,” the title of the compelling and forbidding new movie by the Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev (“Leviathan,” “Elena”), seems, for a while, to refer to the state of the relationship between the film’s two main characters, a Moscow couple who are on the verge of divorcing. Boris (Alexei Rozin), bearded and officious, a kind of mildly saddened Teddy bear, and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), beautiful and knife-edged, with a buried despair of her own, still live together in the same apartment. But they’re trying to sell it off as quickly as possible, because they can barely come up with three words of civility between them.

Their marriage, or what’s left of it, has reached the toxic point of no return. No one understands this better than Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), their pale and passive 12-year-old son, who doesn’t do much besides stare at his computer between crying fits. When Alyosha disappears without a trace, his emotionally estranged parents have to come together to search for him. But no, “Loveless” isn’t a story about how the search for Alyosha brings Boris and Zhenya closer together, or makes them take stock and stop hating each other. What the movie is about, in a way that’s both potent and oblique, is something larger than the charred ashes of one dead marriage.

There have always been oppressive societies that clamp down on filmmaking, but allow just enough wiggle room of expression for a shrewd — and poetic — artist to say what’s on his mind. That was true in the Communist Czechoslovakia of the 1970s, or in the Iran of the last 30 years. It’s true, as well, of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. As a filmmaker, Andrey Zvyagintsev can’t come right out and declare, in bright sharp colors, the full corruption of his society, but he can make a movie like “Leviathan,” which took the spiritual temperature of a middle-class Russia lost in booze and betrayal, and he can make one like “Loveless,” which takes an ominous, reverberating look not at the politics of Russia but at the crisis of empathy at the culture’s core.

Boris and Zhenya have both moved on to other relationships, which are far more affectionate than the one they’re in, so that seems to be a sign of hope; after divorce comes a new beginning. Boris is with the perky, very pregnant Masha (played by Marina Vasilyeva, who suggests an Eastern European Michelle Williams), and Zhenya, between visits to the salon and a consuming relationship with her smartphone, has found the man who answers her dreams, or at least her needs: the wealthy, handsome, doting, middle-aged Anton (Andris Keishs). Love, it seems, is possible. But what kind of love?

Zvyagintsev colors in a whole society’s romantic neurosis, and he does it with the details along the sidelines. Boris has to keep his divorce hidden at his corporate sales office, because the boss is a fundamentalist Christian. (If Boris isn’t married with children, he’ll be out of a job.) Zhenya’s lover, on the other hand, has given her entré to the one-percent echelon of the new gilded Russia. The film introduces us to it in a telling moment at an outrageously ritzy restaurant where the camera lingers on a woman flirtatiously giving out her phone number…before sitting back down to dinner across from the man she’s come with. That moment speaks volumes — about a clawing-to-the-top ethos of desperate avarice that scarcely leaves room for “romance.”

So what does all this have to do with a missing child? Everything, it turns out. “Loveless” has been made in a forceful and deliberate socialist-realist Hitchcockian style that recalls the most celebrated films of the Romanian new wave (“4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days”; “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”). The disappearance of Alyosha hangs over the movie and haunts it, and on some level it’s a missing-child procedural. Yet what’s meaningful is the way that he disappeared: He was left unsupervised, and his mother, coming home at night, assumed that he was in his room and didn’t bother to check in on him. A minor mistake…and an epic instance of neglect.

The Moscow police, who lean toward thinking that he has run away (because if so, the statistics suggest he’ll likely return, and they won’t have to add to their caseload), can’t do a lot, and a local citizens’ group is more proactive. They scour the area in their orange jackets and fatigues, leaving no stone unturned. As all of this goes on, the title of “Loveless” begins to expand. A society rooted in corruption becomes a petri dish for a loveless marriage that spawns a family in which a child isn’t loved — that is, looked after — in the right way. And the result, seemingly out of nowhere (but not really), is tragic.

The dramatic aesthetic of a movie like “Loveless” — rock-solid yet leisurely in its observance, grounded yet metaphorical — makes it a quietly commanding film, but it’s not clear, at least in the United States, that there’s much of an art-house audience left for a movie like this one. It culminates (in a resonant final shot), but it’s doesn’t always powerfully deliver. It’s a meditation as much as it is a relationship drama. That said, almost anyone who sees it is sure to recognize the virus it diagnoses, which is hardly limited to Russia. The forces that conspire in the fraying of love are now everywhere.

[“source-ndtv”]

Film Review: ‘Snatched’

Snatched Movie Amy Schumer Goldie Hawn

Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn team up in a mother-daughter kidnap romp that sticks to the surface and earns too few laughs.

Amy Schumer is one of those rare comic artists, like Louis C.K. or Chris Rock, who can get you laughing out loud at reality. Two years ago, she carried that scorched-earth impulse right into her first movie, the fearlessly funny and close-to-the-bone “Trainwreck.” Written by Schumer herself, and directed by Judd Apatow, it was the most audacious romantic comedy in years — and the most satisfying, too — because it touched a nerve of almost masochistic sincerity. In “Snatched,” her first movie since “Trainwreck,” Schumer gets cast as a loser who’s even further down on the totem pole of respectability. It’s a sign of Schumer’s rapport with the audience that in the opening scene, where she appears to be playing the most annoying off-the-rack clothing-store customer in history (it turns out she’s actually the sales person), the deeper the hole she digs for herself, the more we like her.

Schumer is a virtuoso of cringe comedy. When her character, Emily, gets fired, and is then dumped by her boyfriend, her mixture of pathological self-doubt and clueless egomania is served up with a candor you can’t stop gawking (or giggling) at. You may feel like you’d follow her anywhere.

But at “Snatched,” even if you do love Amy Schumer, you have to follow her into an aggressively cartoonish mother-daughter vacation-from-hell comedy that never strays far from the fractious, one-note surface. The movie teams Schumer with Goldie Hawn, in what’s supposed to be a return to form for the original contempo kewpie doll of screwball comedy. The trouble is, “Snatched” really is a return to form — it goes right back to the knockabout synthetic spirit of such cheeseball Goldie Hawn comedies as “Foul Play,” “Overboard,” and “Bird on a Wire.” If you like those movies (and some do), maybe you’ll go for this, and “Snatched,” at least for the time being, probably has the market cornered on major Hollywood comedies about women behaving badly. But as written by Katie Dippold (the “Ghostbusters” remake) and directed by Jonathan Levine (“The Wackness”), it doesn’t set the bar very high.

Hawn plays Emily’s divorced mom, Linda, who is settled and stodgy, and treats her children with such indulgence that she has turned them into flamboyantly arrested basket cases. Emily’s brother, Jeffrey (Ike Barinholtz), is an agoraphobe who still lives at home with the woman he calls “Ma-ma” (he’s also a pop-culture drooler who thinks he can speak Klingon). As for Emily, her failure to be a functional adult is exceeded only by her lack of awareness of it. She can’t exist without somebody to prop her up, and that’s why she guilt-trips her mom into going with her on an exotic getaway to a resort hotel in Ecuador, taking the place of the boyfriend who just dumped her.

Hawn, in theory at least, is supposed to be playing one of those cranky maternal comic nightmares, like Shirley MacLaine in “Terms of Endearment” or “Postcards from the Edge” or — to tie it to the franchise era of Mother’s-Day-weekend-as-marketing concept — Jane Fonda in “Monster-in-Law.” But Hawn’s whole shtick as an actress is that she always insists, deep down, on being cuddly and likable. Linda gets her token lines of sniping, but it’s not funny sniping (the insults are too soft-edged; they aren’t allowed to be brittle), and this means that the movie’s mother-daughter jokes are like firecrackers with damp fuses.

In the hotel, Emily, who is already as tired of her mother’s limp scolding as we are, goes down to the bar to have a drink, and it’s there that she meets James (Tom Bateman), a swarthy bearded English dude who’s so handsome yet courtly that he isn’t fooling anyone — except her. Actresses like Sandra Bullock have specialized in taking everyday insecurities and turning them into stylized comedy, but Schumer does something even a lot of trained actresses don’t: She lets the feelings — the icky, squirmy, uncomfortable ones — come right through her skin. When she runs to the bathroom to prep for her evening with James, she gets caught, with the door open, in a compromising position, and Schumer makes it feel like a compressed stand-up routine (“Have you ever gone to the ladies’ room to clean your…?”). She’s a completely original presence, like Ann-Margret with the soul of an eager neurotic gopher, and she uses it to signify the jitters and dreams of a blessedly ordinary woman.

It won’t spoil “Snatched” to reveal the premise of the movie, which is that Emily and Linda get kidnapped…by scary racist-lite cliché Ecuadorian kidnappers! They’re tossed into a cell, with blood on the walls and a scorpion in the corner. Then they escape; then they get tracked down again. 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.” Feig is one of the film’s producers, and back in the days when he was teaming up with Apatow and directing “Bridesmaids” — the best romantic comedy before “Trainwreck” — there was a human touch to his work. It seems more gone than not now. “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.

In a middling comic ride like this one, you fasten onto moments and squiggly little jokes. It’s funny that Emily keeps on killing people, and Christopher Meloni, looking like a debauched Jon Hamm, shows up as an adventurer-explorer so valiant that we keep waiting for the catch (the catch is: he’s out of his mind). The fact that the State Department can’t do much to help our heroines beyond advising them to “Get to Bogotá!” feels like a timely forlorn joke about the collapse of American power. The movie also looks about 10 times better than it needs to; the cinematography, by Florian Ballhaus, 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.

Film Review: ‘Snatched’

Reviewed at AMC Lincoln Square, New York, May 8, 2017. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Chernin Entertainment, Feigco Entertainment production. Producers: Peter Chernin, Paul Feig, Jessie Henderson, Jenno Topping. Executive producers: Kim Caramele, Tonia Davis, Katie Dippold, Amy Schumer.

Crew

Director: Jonathan Levine. Screenplay: Katie Dippold. Camera (color, widescreen): Florian Ballhaus. Editors: Zene Baker, Melissa Bretherton.

With

Amy Schumer, Goldie Hawn, Wanda Sykes, Joan Cusack, Ike Barinholtz, Tom Bateman, Oscar Jaenada, Christopher Meloni.

FILED UNDER:

  • Amy Schumer
  • Goldie Hawn
  • Snatched
  • Trainwreck

[“source-variety”]

Doctor Strange Is a Visually Dazzling Film That Adds Magic to the Marvel Universe

Doctor Strange Is a Visually Dazzling Film That Adds Magic to the Marvel Universe

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Already released in some parts, Doctor Strange opens November 4 here
  • Doctor Strange is the 14th film in the Marvel universe
  • There are two bonus scenes during the credits

In the first five minutes of Doctor Strange, director Scott Derrickson gives us the wildest and strangest look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe yet, rivalling every moment seen in any of the previous 13 instalments. Even for an ever expanding franchise that regularly sees immeasurable power, demigods from different realms and individuals warping reality, the scene is far out there. It’s oddly comical that Benedict Cumberbatch’s Stephen Strange gets his introduction in a surgeon’s garb only moments later, tapping his feet to Chuck Mangione’s 1977 Grammy-nominated hit Feels So Good.

Strange – or as he prefers it, Dr. Strange – is a highly-ambitious egotistical neurosurgeon at a New York hospital, who fixes people up while showing off in front of his lesser colleagues at work, and zooms about at dangerous speeds in a Lamborghini Huracán. Naturally, (and because any origin story demands pain and suffering) Strange ends up as a patient in his own hospital after a ghastly car accident.

And it’s the worst possible kind of affliction – irreparable nerve damage – which means Strange is nearly useless anywhere near the operating table. His search for a cure leads him to Nepal (the comics’ preference for Tibet had to be scratched to please China), where he encounters the Ancient One, portrayed by a flawless, indubitable, and completely bald Tilda Swinton.As a man of medicine and science, Strange is clearly wary of the Ancient One’s promises, but the man is in for a rude awakening. Derrickson’s visual depiction of the mystic world – and its limitless possibilities – is a wild kaleidoscopic ride full of bright pop colours and dream-like imagery. At one moment, hands start to appear out of Strange’s fingers, continuing in a recursive fashion. It’d more be in place in an 1960s acid-rock music video than the MCU, and it’s a refreshing change for the series.

(Also see: Ant-Man Is Small, Funny, and Just What Marvel Needed)

It’s this constant innovation on the visual parameter that distracts from what is otherwise a humdrum storyline that we’ve seen all too many variations of – even in the Marvel world itself. Here is a genius, rich, overly-confident, white middle-aged man who is pushed to the limits in order to repair his body, and then ends up with more power than he knows what to do with. Remember Iron Man?

Thankfully, in place of the endless fist-fights, streams of bullets, and over-the-top explosions, screenwriters C Robert Cargill and Derrickson himself prove rather inventive with their action sequences, even if some of the ideas are borrowed. A mind-bending scene in the film’s latter half is a twisted marriage of Inception’s world-folding ideas, and its hallway fight scene. Things get much weirder in Doctor Strange though, with the city of New York divided into different planes in a claustrophobic fashion, each with its own gravity, and elements broken apart and joint together in unimaginable shapes.

Elsewhere, in the climactic sequence, the film offers two perspectives on time – and in neither does time flow in a linear fashion – which finds Strange relying more on his brain cells than the damaged ones in his limbs. By doing so, Doctor Strange is able to shift away from some tropes. Save one fight sequence midway through the film, in which an in-training Strange seems to be taking on more than he ought to be capable of, the film is clever enough to balance events towards the former on an intellectual-brawn scale, lest Strange feel like another iron-fisted, caped superhero. Even the cape itself – the most senseless of things for most costumed vigilantes – gets its own comical entry, while saving Strange from serious matters such as impending death on several occasions.

Others aren’t so well served. One scene finds Strange fighting with an antagonist’s minions in the astraldimension, but apart from being translucent and traversing through his ex-lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), the assailants still keep crashing into walls which makes the whole thing seem a bit stupid and hokey.

(Also see: Avengers: Age of Ultron Is Everything You Wanted It to Be)

Then there are the issues with character depth, which affects everyone outside of Strange and the Ancient One. Palmer might just be the MCU’s weakest love-interest written yet, which is almost an accomplishment in a world that has already given us Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster (in Thor). McAdams is virtually side-lined after the film’s start, and only comes back later to act as an audience surrogate of sorts. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Karl Mordo, a fellow student at the mystic facility in Nepal, isn’t given enough material to work with. He does make an appearance in one of two sequences during the credits, so stay put through to the very end if you’re invested in the bigger MCU picture.

On top of that is the villain Kaecilius, for which the brilliant Mads Mikkelsen seems terribly wasted. Given how the Danish actor is capable of bringing great nuance to his roles – see the TV series Hannibal for reference – the one-note nature of the character and chance set-up of his face-off with Strange are a disservice to Mikkelsen, particularly after Derrickson admitted that MCU villains have a poor track record.

Doctor Strange works great as a standalone film, and its visual inventiveness is a breath of fresh air, as most films in the MCU have tended to come from a cookie-cutter approach these days. While Strange might be similar to Stark in some ways (and the film’s plotline has parallels to another rich playboy), at the same time the movie does give Marvel a character to lead the Avengers if Robert Downey Jr were to walk away, or the character to be phased out.

(Also see: Guardians of the Galaxy Proves That Marvel Is the Pixar of Superhero Movies)

Sure, the level of wizardry on display in Doctor Strange is never explained too well – there’s a levitation cloak, time-altering artefact, odd-shaped knuckledusters, and parallel dimensions in the mix – but when it’s all done with such splendour and a dash of fun, it feels rather pointless to complain.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Strange remarks at one point. “Not everything does, not everything has to,” the Ancient One retorts. Let Marvel worry about integrating Doctor Strange and his world-altering powers into the rest of their universe. The rest of us can reminisce about the fact that the 2016 superhero-movie calendar has been saved by a (literal) sprinkle of magic.

Tags: Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch, Marvel, MCU
[“source-ndtv”]