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Anthony Weiner

Anthony Weiner

“WEINER” My rating: B 

96 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s documentary begins back in 2011. Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-New York) rises in the U.S. House to eviscerate his Republican colleagues for voting against special funding for medical care for 9-11 emergency responders.

Weiner is on fire. Scrappy, combative, mocking the GOPers for their shameful practice of voting not with their consciences but for political ends. It’s a hell of a performance. Makes you proud to be a liberal.

Of course the glow doesn’t last. Within months Weiner was caught up in a sexting scandal, having tweeted photos of his bulging BVDs to a woman not his wife.

At first he lied about it. Then he came clean. Then he resigned.

Most pols in that situation would pack it in.  How do you resume a political career when you’re the punchline of a joke?

But Weiner didn’t give in.  He threw himself into the 2013 New York mayoral race, which is where filmmakers Kriegman and Sternberg got on board. Weiner seems to have granted them unlimited access…rarely has a political campaign been documented with such warts-and-all total coverage.

And for a while it looks as if Weiner is going to put Dickgate behind him (“I hope to get a second chance to work for you…”). He’s the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination. His pull-no-punches liberal combativeness and dedication to solving economic issues of the dwindling middle class are gobbled up by the voters (at times he seems like a mini-Bernie).

He leads NYC’s gay pride parade, waving a huge rainbow flag like Lady Liberty at the barricades. He hits the retirement homes.

“I have successfully whistled past the graveyard,” Weiner says of his political resurrection. Continue Reading »

Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depps.

Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depps.

“ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS”   My rating: C 

113 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG

Perhaps to truly enjoy Disney’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” just forget there was ever a Rev. Charles Dodgson, a socially awkward mathematician who under the nom de plume Lewis Carroll wrote children’s fantasies bursting with sly satire and fabulous wordplay.

Sly satire and fabulous wordplay are in short supply in this overproduced yet perfunctory sequel to 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland.” They’ve been replaced by unfocused, unmanaged movement. This is a very busy film.

The best way to approach “Looking Glass” is as a two-hour 3-D special effects demonstration reel. With lowered expectations it might not be so bad.

Fans of the Carroll novels will be utterly at sea. Familiar characters drift in and out, but the story cooked up by screenwriter Linda Woolverton is cut from whole cloth and hits hard on issues of female empowerment — a worthy topic, perhaps, but not something on the Rev. Dodgson’s radar.

In the first scene Alice (Mia Wasikowska reprising her role), now a young woman, is the captain of a sailing ship braving a fierce storm and Malay pirates.

Bring on the F/X!

She returns to 1870s England only to discover that her beloved father has died and her impoverished mother (Lindsay Duncan) has agreed to sell the ship to the pea-brained, chauvinistic ex-fiance she spurned in the first movie.

Guided by a butterfly (voiced by the late Alan Rickman in his final role) Alice passes through a mirror into “Underland,”  where a new quest awaits her.

She learns that the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp) is ailing — at death’s door, in fact, mourning the demise of his family years before.

Alice resolves to travel back in time to rewrite history and save her suffering friend. This entails a visit to the citadel occupied by Time personified (Sacha Baron Cohen), where she pilfers a time machine.

Once in the past she not only tries to rectify the Hatter’s domestic situation but discovers the origin of the enmity between the White Queen (Anne Hathaway) and her sister, the foul-tempered Queen of Hearts (Helena Bonham Carter).

At one point the story zaps back to the real world, where Alice has been institutionalized with what her barbaric male doctor calls “a textbook case of female hysteria.” Continue Reading »

Kate Beckinsale, Tom Bennett

Kate Beckinsale, Tom Bennett

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”  My rating: B

92 minutes | MPAA rating: PG

Cinematic evil has a new name…thanks to the unexpected alliance of Jane Austen and Whit Stillman.

Well, maybe not so unexpected. Stillman’s comedies of manners (“Metropolitan,” “Damsels in Distress”) have always shared Austen’s concerns with social status and  romantic self-fulfillment while casting a satirical eye on human foible.

It’s just that this time Stillman has gone to the source and, for my money, come up with the best film of his career.

“Love & Friendship” is based on Austen’s unfinished novel Lady Susan, which was not published until 100 years after her death. It is largely unknown even to fans of her masterpieces, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, largely because it is unbelieveably dark, with a “heroine” who would be repulsive if she didn’t so effectively couch her sociopathy in Georgian good manners.

One of Austen’s big topics — the necessity of single ladies finding suitable mates — is once again explored, but this time without a shred of romance. All is calculation, subterfuge and scheming.

The recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (a sensational Kate Beckinsale) is cast adrift without a man or the money to continue her highfalutin’ lifestyle. About all she has going for her is reputation for desirability and borderline scandalous behavior — that and the ability to charm her way past weaker minds (which in her reckoning means the rest of mankind).

As “Love & Friendship” begins (and the title is supremely ironic), Lady Susan pays a visit to her sister-in-law, Catherine (Emma Greenwell) and her kindly, impossibly thick husband (Justin Edwards). There’s never a question of thanking her moneyed in-laws for putting her up. Lady Susan operates on the principle that as a special person this simply is her due.

Any discussion of her paying her way, she observes, “would be offensive to us both.”

Her agenda — shared only with her friend and co-conspirator, the American Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) — is to find suitable mates both for herself and for her mousey daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who is about to be thrown out of her ritzy boarding school.

 

Continue Reading »

Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling

Russell Crowe, Ryan Gosling

“THE NICE GUYS” My rating: C116 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Moviegoers recognize that trailers are basically a form of publicly sanctioned lying. Filmmakers will do just about anything to make their next release come off as a gotta-see-it necessity.

Given this tendency toward fudging the facts, the trailer for “The Nice Guys” is brutally honest.

It makes the film look like a loser.  Which is exactly what it is.

Directed and co-written by Shane Black (with a writing assist from Anthony Bagarozzi), this action comedy wants to emulate the violent/comic nexus exemplified by the old Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy pair-up “48 Hrs.”

With stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling and a late 1970s disco-drenched atmosphere, “The Nice Guys” seems promising. But its thrills and laughs are modest at best.

Cop-turned-private eye Holland March (Gosling) meets muscle Jackson Healy (Crowe) when the latter is hired to break the former’s arm. Nothing personal — someone wants Holland to give up his search for a missing deb named Amelia (Margaret Qualley of HBO’s “The Leftovers”).

Despite this not-promising initial encounter, Holland and Jackson find themselves teaming up to locate the missing girl and uncover a vast criminal conspiracy.

They’re odd bedfellows. Jackson is a human fireplug with a slow burn and a calculating style. Holland is a boozy jerkoff who succeeds more by luck than perseverance.

Rounding out the team is Holland’s young daughter, Holly (Angourie Rice), a fearless young soul who provides the two grown men with a moral compass.

Continue Reading »

Matthias Schonhart, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes

Matthias Schonhart, Tilda Swinton, Dakota Johnson, Ralph Fiennes

“A BIGGER SPLASH”  My rating: B 

125 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Among the many on-screen personas of Ralph Fiennes are terrifying mob boss, casually cruel concentration camp commander, serial killer and silky aristocrat.

But nothing he’s done has quite prepared us for the acting dervish on display in “A Bigger Splash.”

In Luca Guadagnino’s steamy and visually ravishing display of psychological noir, Fiennes plays Harry, a renowned music producer who unexpectedly drops in on his old flame, rock star Marianne (Guadagnino regular Tilda Swinton), and her paramour, Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts).

Marianne and Paul are living in glorious isolation in a hilltop villa on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, where they lounge about naked and make furious love in any and all rooms. Their choice of a retreat suggests they just want to be left alone, but neither can turn down Harry, a natural-born glad-handing speed freak who guzzles vino, pees where he likes, and is determined to be the life of the party.

For the music mogul was once Marianne’s lover and the force behind her international career. And as their relationship was winding down, Harry groomed Paul, a documentary filmmaker, to take his place in Marianne’s bed.

So suddenly the couple has as  a houseguest the motormouthed Harry, an interloper who seizes control of Marianne’s record collection, buzzing from one topic to another, erupting in rock ‘n’ roll survival stories and doing an insanely cool and ridiculously sinuous open-shirted dance to the Stones’ “Emotional Rescue.”

David Kajganich’s screenplay — an adaptation of the 1968 French film “The Swimming Pool” — centers on the question of just why Harry has shown up at this time.

For Marianne and Paul are extremely vulnerable. She’s had throat surgery to reverse the damage done by her larynx-shredding singing style. There’s no way of knowing if she’ll be able to resume her career; in the meantime she has been ordered not to speak above a whisper.

This prompts the irreverent Harry to ask Paul: “Does she write your name when she comes?”

 

Continue Reading »

Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne

Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne

“THE MEDDLER” My rating: C+

100 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“The Meddler” is selling itself as one kind of cliche, when actually it’s a cliche of a different kind.

Marnie (Susan Sarandon) is a recent widow who has moved from her lifelong home of NYC to be with her screenwriter daughter
Lori (Rose Byrne) in sunny L.A.

TheBrooklynese-speaking Marnie is the sort of doting/smothering mama who shows up unexpectedly, lets herself into her daughter’s home with the key that is supposed to be used only for emergencies,  and dispenses unwanted advice about how Lori might deal with the breakup of her own long relationship.

Okay, we’ve seen this comedy before. Pushy mom, resisting child.

Except that “The Meddler,”  written and directed by Lorene Scafaria (“Seeking a Friend for the End of the World”), isn’t that movie at all.

When Lori leaves Los Angeles for a long location shoot, Marnie is left to her own devices and…and now we’ve got a drama about a widow exploring the options for the rest of her life.

That’s right, a drama. “The Meddler” is only nominally a comedy, if that.

Without Lori to fixate on, Marnie picks other targets. She befriends the Apple Store clerk (Jerrod Carmichael) who trains her to use her new iPhone; before long she’s talked him into enrolling at a local college and is even driving him back and forth to class.

 

Continue Reading »

Mads Mikkelson, Dav id

Mads Mikkelsen, David Dencik

“MEN & CHICKEN” My rating: B

95 minutes | MPAA rating

WTF?!?!?!?

This will be a common reaction to the Danish “Men & Chicken,” an extremely black comedy that plays like a Three Stooges version of
H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”

Our protagonists are bickering brothers Gabriel (David Dencik) and Elias (Mads Mikkelsen).  They don’t look like brothers — Gabriel is short and balding, Elias is tall and hairy — but they have almost identical hairlips.

And their personalities couldn’t be more different. Gabriel is a college science lecturer who resents his crazy brother Elias for wrecking every romantic relationship he’s ever had. Once the women get a gander at Elias — a bizarrely compulsive fellow who masturbates several times a day and claims to be a great ladies man (though he’s never been on a date) — they decline to swim in that particular gene pool.

In a video last will and testament their late father reveals that the boys were adopted. In fact, they are the offspring of one Evilio Thanatos, a brilliant but disgraced geneticist who has spent the last 50 years on a remote Danish island. Curious about their heritage, the pair go looking for Daddy.

What they find are three of their brothers — the chicken-porking Gregor (Nikolaj Lie Kaas), the cheese-obsessed Franz (Soren Malling) and the taxidermy-crazed Josef (Nicolas Bro) — living in spectacular squalor in the rotting sanitarium that has always been their home. All three are genetic oddities: hairlips, hammer toes, gnarly noses.

Initially they attack and pummel their uninvited guests. But, getting used to the idea of an extended family, they reveal that their father is ailing and never leaves his bed in a remote upstairs room.  No visitors.

So Gabriel and Elias decide to hang around, settling into one of the few rooms not overrun by the cattle, sheep, geese, chickens, pigs and other livestock that have taken over the ground floor of the old hospital.

Continue Reading »

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