November 13, 2018

Posted July 10, 2012 by Ed Goldberg

After a long, and semi-justifiable, absence, I am back with movie reviews on our blog.  You can hear us review films by downloading our webcast, but it was time for me to get back to writing reviews.
First, though, Kimberly Gadette has decided that she can no longer spend the time required to be a regular member of our group.  She will be able to fill in, from time to time, and she will be missed.  Perhaps, in the future, she may have enough room in her schedule to rejoin us on a regular basis.

To Rome With Love
Director: Woody Allen
With: Allen, Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penelope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, Roberto Benigni, etc.

When New York ceased to inspire, Allen went off to Europe and gave us films that succeeded with greater frequency than his prior work.  I really enjoyed Midnight in Paris, but To Rome With Love is a bit of a mess.  Worse, Allen has a role in this one and seems to have lost his comic timing.  His character’s jokes are often lame, or they misfire or both.
It is three unrelated stories.  The Allen story concerns his daughter who has been living in Rome and has become engaged to an Italian.  Allen’s character is a hack opera director, and the boyfriend’s father sings magnificently, but only in the shower.  So, Allen contrives to present the man in both operas and concert settings while in a portable shower.  This is mildly amusing the first time we see it, and never after.
Allen is working with good actors, Judy Davis plays his wife, but he can’t cut it any longer as an actor.  His delivery is more road-company Groucho than the old Allen nebbish.
Eisenberg plays an architecture student living with his girlfriend (Gerwig) in Trastevere.  Her friend (Page) is a spoiled film star who asks to stay with them for a while.  Meanwhile, an older and more cynical man (Baldwin) meets Eisenberg.  Baldwin is an architiect, and once lived in the same neighborhood as a student.  They hit it off, and, at some point, Baldwin ceases to be a real person and morphs into a kind of spirit guide, not unlike Bogart in Play it Again, Sam.
Baldwin correctly identifies Page as a waste of time and a danger to Eisenberg’s relationship.  And, he is simply the best thing in the film, a more focused version of Jack Donaghy, the needy tyrant he plays on TV.
Another plot involves a newlywed couple in from a small town who get separated, and each falls in with an accidental lover.  Cute, but unnecessary, and very uninspired.  Cruz plays a prostitute who gets attached to the young husband, and is the second-best thing in the movie.
Finally, we have Roberto Benigni as an average guy who, for no known reason, is chosen as the next instant celebrity.  He is hounded by the paparazzi, interviewed on TV, asked embarrassing questions, sleeps with women not his wife, and is then abandoned for the next phenomenon.
Allen has covered this material before, and much better, as in Stardust Memories.  The segment is the runt of this litter, and very annoying.  Benigni, as everyone else, does the best they can with inferior material.  Sure, there are laughs, and the occasional flash of what Allen once was, but only devoted Allen fans need to bother.
I used to be one…

The Amazing Spider-Man
Director: Marc Webb
With: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field

This is what is known in modern film as a “reboot.”  We have had three Spider-Man films, all pretty good to great, so why is this trip necessary?
I can’t argue that it is, I can only say that this is a fun movie.  Garfield is a nerdy/feisty Peter Parker, Stone a brainy and brave Gwen Stacy, and Sheen and Field a terrific Uncle Ben and Aunt May.  Ifans is adequate as the troubled villain, but is no Willem Dafoe.
The spider bite is now from a genetically-engineered critter, rather than a radioactive one.  Keeping up with the times.
The improvement in visual effects since the last trilogy works to make Spidey’s web-flights through Manhattan more exciting, and the graphics more realistic.  The story is largely the same.
And, those of us who remember the upside-down kiss and the broken friendship with Harry Osborn as highlights of the first film have yet to be similarly knocked out, but there will be more coming.

Director: Oliver Stone
With: Taylor Kitsch, Blake Lively, Aaron Johnson, John Travolta, Benicio del Toro, Salma Hayek

When I read Don Winslow’s source novel for this film in 2010, I raved about it to my friends and passed the book around.  Hard-boiled, cynical and yet a tender love story about three pals/lovers who grow and sell superior marijuana in Laguna Beach.
Ben (Johnson) is a holdover from the hippie days of turning on the world.  Using seeds his pal Chon (Kitsch) brought back from Afghanistan, he has developed a super-weed.  Ophelia (Lively) loves them both.  She is their sister, their lover, their muse, their reason to live.  They plan to keep selling the stuff until they can all get away to spend the rest of their lives in stoned bliss on a somewhere beach.
Not to be.  The Baja Mexican cartel has taken notice of them and their excellent product.  Their friend and protector, Dennis (Travolta), a corrupt federal agent, can no longer guarantee their safety if they deal with the cartel.  But, they are given no choice.  Elena (Hayek), the ruthless matriarch of the cartel, and Lado (del Toro), her enforcer, kidnap Ophelia to force them to deal.
Chon, who has training and friends from his days in Afghanistan, and Ben, who must confront his pacifist ideals, vow to rescue her, no matter at what cost.  What ensues is a story almost as good as the one in the book.  Stone is nearly perfect in his translation of the material, and all involved do a fabulous job.  Special praise to Hayek, del Toro, and the three leads.  But, Travolta nearly steals the movie away.  He is riveting in every scene he works, and brings up the others around him.
It is bloody and violent, and the ending may have some scratching their heads, but it is a terrific movie.  And, it keeps the mordant streak of dark humor that made the book such a delight.
Oh, and read the book, too.