Friday, August 30, 2013

Why Women are Better


An Artist and His Muse

By Skip Sheffield

There have been countless stories of artists and their muses, dating back to Dante and even before.
“The Artist and the Model” is another such story, but it is a particularly, artfully realized fable by Spanish writer-director Fernando Trueba.
Trueba dedicates the film to Maximo Trueba. I learned he was a sculptor and the brother of Fernando. Maximo’s life was cut short in 1996 an auto accident at age 42. There is a lot of fascinating back story to this project. The origin dates to 1990, when Fernando and Maximo planned to collaborate.
Maximo’s death was just two years after Fernando Trueba won the Best Foreign Language Academy Award for “La Belle Époque” in 1994.
Shot in sparkling black-and-white, with French language and set in the South of France near the Spanish border in the summer of 1943, “The Artist and the Model” is a lovely tribute not only to Maximo Trueba, but to artists everywhere who struggle to harness, mold and maintain their artistic inspiration.
The artist of the story, Marc Cros, is played by the great French actor Jean Rochefort. Rochefort told Fernando Trueba he was planning to retire, which gave the director a sense of urgency.
Rochefort is now 83. We are fortunate Trueba was able to persuade Rochefort to take on the role of a character a lot like himself.
Marc Cros is a famous French sculptor who retreated to his house and has not set foot in his studio since France was overrun by the Nazis.
Marc lives with his devoted wife Lea (one-time Italian sexpot Claudia Cardinale, still beautiful) who was once his model and inspiration. After a lifetime together she knows him better than anyone.
One day Lea is in the village marketplace with her housekeeper Maria (Chus Lampreave) when she spots a tattered but pretty young woman asleep on a doorstep.
Lea knows at first glance that the woman; a Spanish refugee named Merce (Aida Folch), is just the type who could inspire Marc as a model.
Merce is a rough and tumble girl who has been involved in smuggling rebels out of Gen. Franco’s fascist Spain. She is also a stunning beauty with a voluptuous body; perfect for the sensuous female shapes Marc creates out of clay with his hands before the sculptures are recast in marble or bronze.
The artist states at the outset his model must be comfortable posing completely nude.
Merce is a little shy at first, but she learns to let go her inhibitions while learning about the mysteries of artistic inspiration from the master. It becomes clear this will be the artist’s last work. Possibly it will be his crowing achievement.
The movie is very sensuous and bold in its depiction of artful nudity, but it also has its funny and dramatic diversions. School children are intrigued with the prospect of a naked woman lounging in the old artist’s studio. On a nighttime walk Merce encounters Pierre (Martin Gamet), a wounded French resistance fighter. She convinces Marc to harbor him, despite the steady threat of occupying Germans.
One of these is an officer named Werner (Gotz Otto), who oddly enough is an art aficionado, admirer and author of a forthcoming biography of Marc Cros.
“The Artist and the Model” is not only visually sumptuous, the language of the artist praising female form and inherent moral superiority is quite poetic. You may not agree with this cranky old artist, but you will find his words quite inspiring.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thinking Person's Teen Movie


“Spectacular Now” No Ordinary Teen Flick

Tired of mindless, shallow, puerile teenage high school movies? “The Spectacular Now” provides a thought-provoking alternative message about responsibility and the consequences of irresponsibility while still managing to be funny.
Directed by James Ponsoldt, “The Spectacular Now” is based on the novel by Tim Tharp, with screenplay by Scott Neustadter.
The two main characters are played by two relatively unknown actors who look more like real kids than movie stars.
Miles Teller is the lead character, Sutter Keely, a likeable high school senior and directionless slacker who is becoming increasingly fond of nipping from the flask he always carries with him.
We meet Sutter in mid-dumping by his pretty girlfriend Cassidy (Brie Larson).
Sutter tries not to let it get him down, so he starts hitting on other girls at a party. The next thing he knows he is shaken awake by Aimee Finecky (Shailene Woodley), a mousy smart-girl classmate, who has found him passed out on her front lawn.
“Where is my car?” asks the dazed Sutter, who asks Aimee to help him find it.
Both Sutter and Aimee have issues with parents. Neither has a father figure and both feel oppressed by their mother. The two each help the other. Sutter encourages Aimee to be more confident and independent. He also introduces her to booze.
Aimee tutors Sutter in math and encourages him to be more serious about school and a goal in life.
Romance blossoms, but there is a 500-pound gorilla obstacle that prevents the couple from realizing either one’s short-term dreams.
Director James Ponsoldt had an earlier film with a heavier and more obvious message called “Smashed.” Screenwriter Neustadter explored the fleeting vagaries of young romance in “500 Days of Summer.” The two elements are combined beautifully thanks to the wonderfully natural performances of Miles Teller, an actor who is scarred figuratively and literally, and Shailene Woodley in her first grown-up role since she played George Clooney’s daughter in “The Descendants.”
“The Spectacular Now” is no ordinary teen flick. That’s why young people should see it.

A Triple-Threat New Talent Named Lake Bell


“In a World” Where Voice is Everything

By Skip Sheffield

A new triple threat emerged at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Her name is Lake Bell and she won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award for her film “In a World,” which she also directed and plays the main character.
If you are puzzled by the title, all you need is to hear is familiar deep, husky male voice solemnly announcing, “In a World…” (where violence rules, people have gone mad, or other dire scenarios) “there is only one person,” (who can blah, blah, blah).
That deep bass voice belonged to the late Don LaFontaine, “The King of the Voiceovers,” with more than 5,000 movie trailers to his credit.
Lake Bell acknowledges the legacy of Don LaFontaine at the very start of “In a World” and uses it as a springboard for an idealist, screwball feminist fantasy in a world where female announcers are treated equally with males.
Bell’s character, Carol is the daughter of Sam Soto (Fred Melamed), one of Hollywood’s leading voiceover artists. Carol makes a living as a voice coach and lives in the shadow of her egotistical, self-centered widower father, who has taken up with a 30-year-old bimbo named Jamie (Alexandra Holden). Sam wants Jamie to move into his apartment.
This is bad news for Carol, who is approximately the same age as her dad’s new playmate. Sam gently but firmly pushes his daughter out the door. Carol is forced to appeal to her older sister Dani (Michaela Watkins), who is married to an insincere male chauvinist named Moe (Rob Corddry) for a place of refuge.
Lake Bell evidently has some pull in the film community, because she got top-drawer actresses Eva Longoria and Geena Davis to play cameo roles. Longoria plays herself, hilariously attempting to master a foreign accent. Davis plays a film producer who may give Carol her big break touting a four-part Amazon Women blockbuster.
Just about all the male characters in the film are jerks, with one notable exception: a geeky sound engineer named Louis (Demetri Martin).
Louis not only believes in Carol; he has a crush on her. This is the complete opposite of Gustav Warner (Ken Marino), a hotshot voiceover guy who takes advantage of her and wants to take her father’s crown.
“In a World” will appeal most to those who know a little bit about movies and the highly-specialized voiceover business. Two of my brothers are in it.

The competition is fierce, work is unsteady and the anxiety over vocal health is constant, but the rewards can be huge. “In a World” is more clever than it is deep. Lake Bell has a way with words and a lovely rich voice with which to convey them. This could be a good date movie for guys who don’t mind some pointed jokes at the expense of their sex.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Paranoia" a Glossy High-Tech Misfire


A Slick, Glossy Misfire

By Skip Sheffield

Australian actor Liam Hemsworth is one heck of a handsome guy. The younger brother of the equally hunky Chris Hemsworth (“Thor”) has a bit to go on his acting expertise.
Hemsworth is the young star of “Paranoia,” paired with old pros Harrison Ford and Gary Oldman under the direction of fellow Australian Robert Luketic (“Killers”).
Screenwriter Jason Dean Hall’s story is a high-tech thriller set in Manhattan and Brooklyn which becomes an increasingly murky and hard-to-follow labyrinth of intrigue, fake-out and double-cross.
Harrison Ford is Jock Goddard, once partners with Nicolas Wyatt, played by smooth but menacing Brit Gary Oldman. The two men had a falling out, and Wyatt, who was the creative brains of a technological giant called Eikon, was forced out by Goddard. Wyatt rebounded to found his own company, for which Adam Cassidy is a young development guy.
As we meet Adam he is preparing to present his revolutionary new mobile device to the Wyatt board of directors.
Adam is cruelly crushed and mocked by Wyatt, and in foolish retaliation Adam takes his crew out on a $16,000 night on the town on his company credit card.
It comes as no surprise Adam and his colleagues are fired when the transgression is discovered. However, Wyatt sees something in Adam Cassidy he likes. Adam is a “bridge and tunnel” guy who lives in Brooklyn with his ailing dad. Wyatt feels a kinship with the brash blue-collar striver, and he detects an ingenuity and fearlessness that could make him a good corporate spy.
“What if I told you I could get you rich and get back your friends’ jobs?,” Wyatt asks in his penthouse office suite.
Coached by corporate psychologist Dr. Judith Bolton (Embeth Davidtz), Adam is told to gain the trust of Jock Goddard by taking a position in his company and finding a way to steal new development plans. Adam is set up with $500,000, a dream apartment, expensive car and tailored suits.
Adam is surprised to find that Eikon’s pretty public relations director Emma Jennings (Amber Heard) is the same woman who put him down after he had a one-night fling with her.
So the web is spun, but like all webs it is sticky. Everybody is spying on everybody else, and there is a third party; namely the FBI, tracking the corporate shenanigans.
Harrison Ford’s hair is close-cropped in convict fashion and he wears large horn-rimmed glasses, perhaps to make him look more menacing. It does not really succeed, because Ford’s heart does not seem in his role, nor for that matter is Oldman’s. Hemsworth just never comes off as a native genius, and Amber Heard does not seem cut out to be a cutthroat corporate type.
All are betrayed by a script that goes all gooey by the finish. For such an impressive cast, “Paranoia” is at best a glossy, glittering, high-tech misfire.

Two stars

Friday, August 9, 2013

Cate Blanchett Will Tear Your Heart Out


By Skip Sheffield

Woody Allen has painted a minor masterpiece called “Blue Jasmine.” He did not do it alone.
Much of the credit goes to Australian actress Cate Blanchett, who gives the performance of a lifetime as Jasmine, a New York socialite falling to pieces.
Hovering over “Blue Jasmine” is the ghost of playwright Tennessee Williams and his play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which is about a once-affluent Southern Belle named Blanche DuBois.
Many writers have pounced on the similarities of Jasmine (born Jeannette) and Blanche, but they are really quite different.
Cate Blanchett knows this as well as anyone else, because she played Blanche DuBois on Broadway about five years ago. The biggest difference between the two characters is the setting. Blanche was in an idealized, fantasy-world Old South of New Orleans. Jasmine was in New York City circa the Bernie Madoff scandal.
The Bernie Madoff-like character is Hal Francis, played with smarmy charm (as he does so well) by Alec Baldwin.
Not only does Hal swindle gullible investors with promises of unbelievable profits, he lives high on the hog in the upper strata of Manhattan society and South Hampton smart set, with Jasmine his trophy wife. Worse, he is a serial cheater, and Jasmine refuses to acknowledge the clues. Instead she retreats farther into fantasy, babbling to herself as she descends.
Cate Blanchett is a woman of extraordinarily delicate, haunting beauty, but she allows herself to look, if not ugly, then pitiful as she loses all her material possessions and fair-weather friends and is reduced to begging her hard-working adopted sister Ginger (plucky British actress Sally Hawkins) to take her in to Ginger's modest, cluttered San Francisco apartment, which she shares with her two chubby, unruly sons and a loving but possessive boyfriend named Chili.
You could call Chili, played powerfully, proudly, yet with humorous vulnerability by Bobby Cannavale, as the Stanley Kowalski character. You would be wrong.
There is another character closer to Stanley Kowalski, the brutish character who shames and ridicules Blanch DuBois, yet lusts for her, and that is Ginger's first husband Augie, played by comedian Andrew Dice Clay. Clay's appearance is brief, but we get the impression Augie would give his snobbish, haughty sister-in-law a toss.
Not so with Chili. He truly loves Ginger, and though he is inarticulate and temperamental, as a character he is touching.
“Blue Jasmine” is equal parts comedy and tragedy, but the dark side gains and ultimately wins out as we watch Jasmine in her hopeless quest to become a working member of society. Her quest becomes farcical as she takes a job as receptionist for a nerdy dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has the hots for her. Perish the thought Dr. Flicker could ever get to first base.
Jasmine is not above using her sex appeal in a vain attempt to restore herself to her former grandeur.
When she meets preppy diplomat Dwight Westlake (Peter Sarsgaard) she pours on the charm and come-hither sex. Sadly for her Dwight is no fool. Jasmine's lies and fabrications betray her and Dudley Do-Right explodes into righteous indignation.
Woody and Cate save the best for last. “Blue Jasmine” is told in a series of flashbacks, contrasting the glittery past with the grim, increasingly hopeless present. Toward the end we glimpse the real reason Jasmine is in her predicament. In a brief cameo as Jasmine's estranged son Danny Francis, Alden Ehrenreich cuts through the fantasy, lies and pretensions to expose Jasmine as she really is. It is not pretty. It will rip your heart out, for as unsympathetic as Jasmine is, Cate Blanchett makes us care for her and pity her and all other beautiful, superficial women who live like birds in gilded cages. “Blue Jasmine” makes you happy you are not rich like them, and for that reason it is a deeply satisfying film. One thing for sure: Cate Blanchett will be a heavy favorite at the Academy Awards.

Four stars