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Posts Tagged ‘Scarlett Johansson’

George Clooney

George Clooney

“HAIL, CAESAR!” My rating: C+ 

106 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The Coen Brothers’ “Hail, Caesar!” isn’t much of a movie, but as an affectionate (mostly) valentine to the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking, it’s a generally enjoyable goof.

The threadbare plot devised by Joel and Ethan Coen provides the siblings with multiple opportunities to go behind the scenes at the massive (and fictional) Capitol Movies studio in Los Angeles in the late 1940s.

We get to watch as America’s fantasies are brought to life. But as with sausages and laws, sometimes it’s best not to know how they’re made.

Kicking the yarn into motion is the kidnapping of stiffly handsome matinee idol Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), whose current assignment is to play a Roman centurion in the biblical epic “Hail, Caesar!”

The studio’s production chief, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) gets to work recovering his ransomed movie star.

That’s about it for story.

The pleasures of “Hail, Caesar!” (the Cohen Brothers movie, not the “tale of the Christ” being filmed on the Capitol lot) are to be found in its satire/celebration of iconic Hollywood personalities and situations.

Early on Eddie must convene a meeting of faith leaders who have been asked to comment on the screenplay for “Hail, Caesar!” — it’s the movie’s funniest scene and a wickedly barbed sendup of institutionalized religion.

Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum

Eddie must contend with the potty-mouthed Esther Williams-type star of aquatic musicals (Scarlett Johansson) whose mermaid outfit now won’t fit because of pregnancy (she’s unmarried).

He drops off the ransom money on a soundstage where a Gene Kelly-ish song and dance man (Channing Tatum) is shooting a big production number about a crew of sailors dismayed at the prospect of eight months at sea without women.  Not only are Tatum’s acrobatic musical comedy skills first rate, but the slyly homoerotic elements of the dance routine suggests that these Navy swabs will find ways to let off steam during their voyage.

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** and Jon Favreau in  "Chef"

Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau in “Chef”

“CHEF” My rating: B (Opening wide on May 22)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The title character of “Chef” works in a hugely lucrative but artistically stifling high-end L.A. restaurant. He has a meltdown and goes off looking to regain his muse of cooking.

Interestingly enough, “Chef “ was written, directed by, and stars Jon Favreau, who first burst onto the scene as an indie auteur (“Swingers,” “Made”) before finding mucho money and Tinseltown clout cranking out superhero movies for the Marvel folk (“Iron Man”).

“Chef” can be seen as Favreau’s return to down-home cooking/filmmaking. Despite its impressively deep cast, it’s a relatively simple, modestly budgeted affair, less a banquet than a delicate palate cleanser.

Nothing earthshaking happens here. No deep emotions are plumbed or existential dilemmas explored.

But if  the film is superficial, it is often slyly funny, has a real handle on the restaurant biz and its denizens, genuinely likes its characters, and tries to look on the sunny side. In short,  a pleasant couple of hours at the movies.

Carl Casper (Favreau) is top chef at one of Hollywood’s most in-demand eateries. But he’s hit a creative dead end. The joint’s owner (Dustin Hoffman) doesn’t want to tinker with success and consistently nixes Carl’s attempts at an edgier menu.

When a powerful food blogger (Oliver Platt) pans the place as old hat and unimaginative, Carl has a very public meltdown that is recorded by dozens of customers, making him an Internet sensation.  But while being the raving chef raises Carl’s profile, it gets him fired and makes him unemployable.

He’s got no choice but to start over. (more…)

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cap 3“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” My rating: C+ (Opening wide)

136 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

There are few moments early in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” that suggest what the film might have been.

Fans of the Marvel Universe will recall that at the end of 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger,” the Cap (Chris Evans) was thawed out after a half-century of suspended animation and was recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and his super-secret spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D.

Put yourself in the Captain’s shoes. You grew up in the 1930s a 98-pound weakling. You were transformed into a muscled hunk of extraordinary power by some government-brewed elixir. You fought the Nazis in World War II.

And now you’re in 2014. Overnight you went from a world where “high tech” meant an AM radio to one of cell phones and the worldwide web. Of course, you must contend with more than just technical advancements. You’re bombarded by modern morals and sensibilities that run counter to your squeaky-clean upbringing.

When you were frozen the word “teenager” didn’t exist. Now you’re in a civilization that caters to teens as the most desirable demographic (this movie being Exhibit A).

Credit Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely’s screenplay for this much at least: It tries to say something about the dislocation that good-guy Cap – aka Steve Rogers – feels, to explore the angst of a man from a genteel past trapped in a crass present.

That’s a movie I would have enjoyed.

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Joaquinn Phoenix

Joaquin Phoenix…isolated, but not for long

“HER” My rating: A- (Opens wide on Jan. 10)

120 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The sentient computer — the mechanical brain that becomes self aware — has been with us for many years now (perhaps most famously in the person of “2001’s” HAL 9000). But writer/director Spike Jonze’s “Her” pushes that idea in new and wonderful directions.

Along the way it becomes the best film of 2013.

In the near future — so near you can’t categorize the film as science fiction — a computer operating system is developed that so perfectly imitates human thought and emotion as to make the iPhone’s Siri seem like a grunting Neanderthal.

Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a lonely romantic.  Lonely because he and his wife (Rooney Mara) are divorcing — though Tehodore cannot bring himself to sign the papers.  Romantic because his day job is writing heartfelt letters  to strangers.

He works for a company that, for a fee, will compose personal letters to family members, dearly beloveds, friends and acquaintances. Apparently in this near future most personal written correspondence is limited to texting abbreviatons and emoticons. Some folks will pay big bucks for a well-written, sincere and “handwritten” letter (actually, a computer provides the appropriate font and coughs it out of a laser printer).

Theodore is a master of this old-fashioned form of communication — which only makes his sterile personal life all the more ironic.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johanssen

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Scarlett Johanssen

“DON JON” My rating: B+ (Opening wide of Sept. 27)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Former child actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt has displayed his grown-up chops in recent years in everything from big-budget sci-fi tent pole pictures to edgy indie fare.

His feature writing/directing debut, “Don Jon,” falls into the latter category if only because of the subject matter.  Basically, it’s a comedy about masturbation.

It’s raunchy.  Also very, very funny. And beneath the lewdness, “Don Jon” has something like a heart of gold.

Gordon-Levitt appears in just about every shot as Jon, a cocky Jersey Shore Guido with a formidable reputation with the women. He’s got the look made famous by MTV – ripped torso and a ‘do that’s borderline skinhead on the sides, while the hair on top is combed straight back and gelled into a tornado-proof finish.

You might view Jon as this generation’s Tony Manero (the John Travolta character in “Saturday Night Fever”) with one major exception:  Jon has access to the internet, which means he can watch porn any time he likes. Which is pretty much all the time.

As Jon explains early on in voiceover narration – and he’s just being honest here – while he loves doin’ the ladies, he’s never quite at ease in the sack. He’s too conscious of the need to please, too uptight about the stuff he doesn’t want to do (cunnilingus, which disgusts him) and too disappointed about the stuff many girls won’t do (fellatio).

Which is where porn comes in. Snuggled all warm and naked in front of his computer, Jon can get his rocks off to just about any sexual scenario he can think of, and he doesn’t have to cuddle afterward. This guy buys Kleenex in bulk.

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