CAFE SOCIETY*** Good Company


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WARNING: PLOT REVELATIONS TO FOLLOW

IT IS THE thirties…a time when Ginger Rogers and Joan Crawford were just two of the legends that lit up the glittering escapist fantasy of Hollywood. At the centre of this world of glitz, glamour and gossip sits super agent Phil Stern (Steve Carell), a deal-making, name-dropping master schmoozer. And into his crowded life comes his nephew, Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg), a gauche wide-eyed young man, escaping the claustrophobia of the family jewelry business back in New York and in search of all the possibilities Hollywood has to offer.

He finds more than possibilities. He finds Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) to whom he’s introduced by her boss, Uncle Phil (“go show the kid around” Phil instructs her) and with whom he is immediately smitten. But she’s reluctant; she’s “seeing someone else”. Alas, she’s exactly Bobby’s kind of gal: smart, unimpressed by the vulgar showiness of Holllywood, fabulously beautiful and fun to be with. The problem is, her “someone else” is her said boss, Uncle Phil.

She loves Phil, but still manages to fall in love with Bobby.

Complications ensue (natch).

The complications drive Bobby back to New York, back away from the false and superficial world of schmoozing and Hollywood to the false and superficial world of schmoozing and his gangster brother’s night-club. Both worlds exist in their own alien universes. These are worlds of wealth, beauty, haute couture, idle chatter, smart repartee, gossip, insider trading, gangsters and an ever-flowing stream of golden champagne. Here the only currency is the caliber of your contact list. Nothing else matters in these intersecting orbits of like-minded, nocturnal souls. Bobby, all grown up has become just another version of Phil.

The war, bubbling up somewhere far away in Europe barely merits a mention.

This is the universe of the café society; an artificial place far, far away from the real world of the Bronx, of grubby tenement apartments, badly fitting clothes and Yiddish. It is a world where the only – fleeting and genuine – escape comes from the honesty of love. Both Bobby and Vonnie marry –others- ‘happily’ (Bobby’s wife is not coincidentally also called Vonnie, or Victoria). But as they discover when they’re thrown together briefly once again in New York, theirs was a connection – a moment of something genuine in their worlds of artifice – they once had and now have forever lost.

It’s a tale of love won and lost and the melancholia of its lingering memory.

Café Society is a charming, lovely and slight movie that plays like a sort of Woody Allen greatest hits (not a bad thing) – the period settings lovingly shot (medium close-up) by Vittorio Storaro with Suzie Benziger’s sparkling costume designs. All his top tropes are here: the clarinets in the background, the angst about Jewishness, the gauche, nebbish protagonist who is irresistible to the prettiest dames on the block, the occasional lapses into philosophical musings and a well plotted story line that always veers away from cliché even when it seems to highlight it.

But this is no Blue Jasmine, with its thoughtful characterizations and compelling insights. Fortunately, it’s also no To Rome With Love either.

Jesse Eisenberg seems to have quickly become a type; his character is an imitation of Woody’s characters…with all their nervous tics and hesitations (so much so that we never quite believe in his so called pushiness or, really, his ability to run a gangster-controlled night-club). Blake Lively has a brief cameo role as Bobby’s wife. It isn’t much of a part, but she looks spot on: she shines as an embodiment of golden, bedazzling old time Hollywood star power.

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Steve Carell (who replaced Bruce Willis…who couldn’t remember his lines) manages great restraint in what could easily have been a caricature of the pushy Hollywood big shot type. But it is Kristen Stewart (again) who gives us a real person. She allows us to always glimpse two people vying for supremacy: the striving name dropping small town girl who landed the big fish and the sad, needy person so ripe for the pickin’

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As with anything Woody, there’s always much to discuss; more than this, even in such ephemeral fare as this, he’s worthwhile company… delivers a mood and an aura that’s a fabulous way to spend a few passing hours.

 

Café Society. Written and directed: Woody Allen. With Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Blake Lively. Cinematographer: Vittorio Storaro. Production Designer: Santo Loquasto

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BATMAN v SUPERMAN***Packs a Punch


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DESPITE THE FACT Zack Snyder gave us one of the worst films of some time (300) and a dull as dishwater Superman (Man of Steel), his new DC Comics blockbuster (it’s that time of year), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is, if over-long and over-stuffed, a thrilling, operatic re- engagement with the Batman and Superman franchises.

DC Comics must have been suffering from Marvel envy. Marvel’s Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, Spiderman, multiple TV shows and, of late, Deadpool franchises have been raking in the money. For DC Comics, what with the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman trilogy long past, only a tepid Superman (nobody remembers Brandon Routh as Superman in Superman Returns) to count on, and with JJ Abrams tied up with Star Wars, it must have been a desperate board that turned to Zac once again.

This time, the producers paired Zack and his group of regulars (Larry Fong, the cinematographer and Patrick Tatopoulis, the production designer… 300 was rubbish, but it was lovely to look at) with a strong writing team (David Goyer who wrote the story of The Dark Knight Rises and Chris Terrio from Argo) and a tremendous ensemble cast. The result is that a potential gimmick (a la Alien v Predator) has been transformed into a delight.

The story centers around what Bruce Wayne (himself an unregulated vigilante) considers to be an existential threat to humanity: the rise in popularity of an equally unregulated vigilante who is also an immortal alien with a strong God complex: Superman.

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To Bruce, this is a man who could, at a whim, destroy us all. We are ushered into the story via the concluding scenes of from the previous Superman movie (his battle against Zog): scenes of massive destruction and untold loss of human life. Zac makes a clear visual link to the fall of the twin towers, as an anguished, pissed off Bruce rushes into the engulfing cloud of debris. In his despair, a mission coalesces: rid the world of Superman. Man must kill off the God.

Into this drama of egos, enters the twitchy, crazy Lex Luthor, a man in possession of enough Kryptonite to destroy the man of steel, and bent on unleashing the forces of hell. Just to round things up, an avenging angel (Wonder Woman) joins this mythic battle of man v God v The devil.

Good Easter fare.

Zack plays the story without a trace of irony (though the writing is often laugh out loud witty) and his cast is uniformly excellent. batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-ben-affleck

Ben Affleck, much criticized when this casting was announced is a tremendous Batman. He’s sullen, driven and haunted by nightmares. He’s also the most ruthless Batman ever. Henry Cavil, whose performances as Superman and the man from U.N.C.L.E have been more wooden than a lumberyard full of ply-wood, actually exudes what passes for real emotion. His Superman is a man more of anguish than of steel. His powers weigh him down, and he’s burdened by responsibility. His love interest, Lois Lane is a feisty, fearless Amy Adams…a damsel in distress who refuses to be a damsel in distress. mgid-ao-image-mtv

Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor is a treat. His Luthor (usually played as a comic buffoon) is part Mark Zukerman (charming, young man of the people) and part Keith Ledger’s Joker (wide-eyed, demented). It’s a frightening mix. images-3

And absolutely holding her own in this class of talent is a (relative) newcomer: the Israeli born Amazonian beauty, Gal Gadot (From The fast and Furious movies) as the fierce, badass Wonder Woman (who fortunately has shed her naff Stars and Stripes one piece bath suit for something more befitting a warrior princess). Even Jeremy Irons, in the smaller supporting role as Alfred adds gravitas to the ensemble.

So all is well in the blockbuster world. DC Comics is back in business (after all the name…Dawn of Justice is a nod to the, no doubt, soon to be released Justice League ensemble) to ensure Marvel isn’t the sole super-power around.
At least I think all is well…except for (spoiler alert) Clark Kent, who is dead.

And what of Superman?