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Blue Jasmine • The Wolverine

Fruitvale Station

August 1, 2013

Blue Jasmine (***1/2)

PG-13

By JOCELYN NOVECK

AP National Writer

Diane Keaton. Mia Farrow. Dianne Wiest. Scarlett Johansson. Penelope Cruz.

To the long list of actresses who’ve thrived in Woody Allen films, it’s now time to add Cate Blanchett. And in big, capital letters, because her spectacularly wrenching performance in Allen’s latest, Blue Jasmine, lives up to every bit of hype you may have heard.

As his fans well know, Allen, 77, keeps up the incredible pace of about a film a year, and had lately been focusing on frothy comedic fare: the whimsical hit Midnight in Paris, and the less successful From Rome with Love.

Blue Jasmine, surely one of his meatiest films in years, finds him in different territory, both geographically—we’re back on U.S. shores—and emotionally, addressing serious issues like the Bernard Madoff financial scandal and its social ramifications.

It’s also a fascinating character study of a woman trying to keep her head above water, financially and mentally, and as such, it’s a clear homage to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and his tragically unstable Blanche DuBois. Some might quibble with how much Allen borrows, thematically, from that play. But in such expert and loving hands, do we really care?

Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins & Andrew Clay in Blue Jasmine

And who better than Blanchett, who played such a searing Blanche onstage several years ago, to bring a 21st-century version of the character to life on the big screen?

Blanche, as reimagined here by Allen, is Jasmine, an upper-crust Manhattan socialite whose life has gone seriously wrong. Jasmine had been living, you see, on Park Avenue—and shopping on Madison—as the pampered wife of high-flying investment broker Hal (Alec Baldwin, perfect in this smarmy, Madoff-inspired role.)

But it’s all fallen apart, in spectacular Madoff style, and Jasmine is now flat broke. She flies to San Francisco—in first class and carrying Vuitton luggage, because some habits are hard to break—to move in with sister Ginger.

Ginger was adopted from a different set of biological parents, which helps to explain why she’s everything Jasmine is not. A divorced mom of two boys, she works bagging groceries and dates an auto mechanic named Chili. The guy is gruff, temperamental, unsophisticated—Stanley Kowalski, anyone?—but he and Ginger sure have chemistry. British actress Sally Hawkins is hugely touching as Ginger, and the passionate Bobby Cannavale, with a cowlick—or is it a bang?—to remember, is spot-on as Chili; you can almost hear him yelling, ``Ste-LLA!!’’ (Or, ``Gin-GER!!’’)

Allen uses flashbacks to tell the story of Jasmine’s past, while in the present, she tries desperately to get back on her feet, with a dream of becoming an interior decorator.

It’s hard to say which is more fascinating, Jasmine’s fictional journey or Blanchett’s dramatic journey in the film, between the two Jasmines. Look at Jasmine in her glory: her skin virtually glows, her smile is glorious, and her ethereal, high-class beauty jumps off the screen.

But when Jasmine’s down, Blanchett’s eyes are red and puffy, her skin pale and blotchy. Her posture changes. Sweat stains soak the same silk dress that once looked so smashing.

As always, Allen draws strong supporting performances from all. The comic Andrew Dice Clay is an especially fun surprise as Ginger’s embittered ex, and Louis C.K. is deviously sweet as Ginger’s suitor. Peter Sarsgaard strikes the right tone as a wealthy diplomat who just might be Jasmine’s savior. Is ``Blue Jasmine’’ an Occupy Wall Street-era morality tale, or just a deeply absorbing character study? Either way, Allen has given us a whole lot to chew on, and a flawed heroine we’ll remember for a long time.

Blue Jasmine is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for ``mature thematic material, language and sexual content.’’

Blue Jasmine has not yet opened in Charlotte, but will open at Aperture Cinema in Winston-Salem on August 23, 336-722-8148. Check Hickory & Charlotte listings prior to August 23 as this well-regarded film may open locally sooner.

The Wolverine (***) PG-13

Surprised is the first word that comes to mind when recalling my experience of seeing The Wolverine. It’s the latest installment in the seemingly never-ending series of spinoffs emanating from the X-Men franchise and for the most part it succeeds where too many of the others in the X-Men universe have failed. I think a lot of credit for what makes the film tick must be given to the film’s writers most notably co-writer Scott Frank, who has a knack for human interaction, as evidenced by previous films on his resume such as Get Shorty, The Lookout, and Out of Sight.  I came to the Wolverine table expecting another cacophonous and soul numbing experiment in the utilization of the latest CGI technology and walked away with a feeling of contentment. Most of that is due in no small part to the decision of the aforementioned writers and director James Mangold (Walk the Line) wisely choosing to give equal parts of the film ample time to bask in the human element of things. It’s not something that I expect when walking into a film like this, that’s for sure, and quite a welcome surprise.

Wolverine opens with the character (Hugh Jackman, of course) spending his days as a loner in what appears to be the Rocky Mountains. He’s haunted by dreams of his now deceased love Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). When the granddaughter (Tao Okamoto) of a man that Wolverine saved from a nuclear blast comes looking for him, the wheels of the plot are set into motion.

Svetlana Khodchenkova & Jackman in Wolverine

That man, Yashida (Hal Yamanouchi), is now one of Japan’s wealthiest citizens. He’s on his deathbed and Wolverine is whisked away to Tokyo as Yashida attempts to arrange for Wolverine to give him his regenerative powers. Yashida sees Wolverine as someone who has little to live for, while he appears to have multiple reasons for pushing on, most notably his wealth. Meanwhile, Yashida’s other granddaughter, Yukio (Rila Fukushima), is engaged to a high ranking politico and her life is put into danger when she discovers she’s in line to inherit all of Yashida’s business holdings. It’s up to Wolverine of course to right some wrongs, giving his life much needed purpose. Somewhere in the midst of all of this Wolverine manages to find romance and there’s also an interesting villain known as Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) thrown in for good measure.

If there were a complaint to hedge against the film it would be lodged against some of the plot inconsistencies. Trust me when I say that they do not bear much close scrutiny, particularly a last minute plot twist where a character thought dead returns, negating several earlier story points. Still, it’s good, solid entertainment for the most part and a cut above—no pun intended—what you would expect coming from this franchise.

Fruitvale Station

(*** 1/2) R

My emotions ran the gamut during the unspooling of director/writer Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station. I have a feeling that most viewers seeing the film will probably have that experience as well. Most of all, I found myself saddened and angered at the life that was lost at the hands of the Bay Area police on that fateful New Year’s Day in 2009. That’s not to say that Oscar Grant, the 22-year old man who is the central figure here and whose killing is the subject of the film, was perfect. He had a checkered past, to be sure. The film does not tiptoe around that, to its credit. There is the sense, at least in Coogler’s portrayal of things, though, that Grant was on the cusp of turning his life around. The old cliché goes that where there’s life, there’s hope, and seeing the events of Grant’s tragic death unfold on screen left me with the unshakeable feeling of regret, not only for the loved ones Grant left behind, but for the promise of a life that can never be fulfilled due to someone’s ineptitude and preconceived notions about certain things.

For those of you unfamiliar with the case, Grant was fatally shot by BART police officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California, in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2009. Officer Mehserle and another officer were restraining Grant, who was lying facedown and allegedly resisting arrest. Mehserle claimed that he mistook his taser for a gun and shot the unarmed Grant while stunned onlookers filmed the whole thing on their phones. The film basically depicts the last day in the life of Grant, leading up to the fatal moment. Along the way, the audience meets the varied characters in Grant’s life, including his daughter, girlfriend (Melonie Diaz), and mother (Oscar winner, Octavia Spencer, in a powerful performance).

The late Oscar Grant

Newcomer Michael B. Jordan, who had a pivotal role in last year’s sleeper hit Chronicle, has the lead role and he does a terrific job breathing life into Grant and giving us an idea of the young man behind the headline-making story.  Although some of the film relies on dramatic license, as is to be expected, the film’s message comes across powerfully and gets it point across without bludgeoning the audience. It’s films like Fruitvale Station that serve to remind that there’s still much in the world that isn’t right and probably never will be.

The Wolverine and Fruitvale Station are playing at the Carmike Theatre in Hickory.

Questions or comments? Email Adam at 1970@hotmail.com.  

 

ARCHIVES:

Fruitvale Station • The Conjuring & The Way Way Back

Pacific Rim & Grown Ups 2

The Lone Ranger & Despicable Me 2

The Heat & White House Down

Monsters University, World War Z, Before Midnight & The East

Man of Steel & This Is The End

The Internship & The Purge

After Earth, Now You See Me & Frances Ha

The Hangover Part III Before Midnight

Star Trek: Into Darkness & Fast and Furious 6

The Great Gatsby & Frances Ha

Iron Man & Peeples

Pain and Gain & Mud

Oblivion & Lords of Salem

42 and Scary Movie 5

Evil Dead & Jurassic Park 3-D

G.I. Joe: Retaliation Tyler Perry’s Temptation

Spring Breakers Admission

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone • The Call

Oz: The Great And Powerful West Of Memphis

Jack the Giant Slayer The Last Exorcism, Part II

Dark Skies & Snitch

A Good Day to Die Hard & Safe Haven

Side Effects & Identity Thief

Bullet To The Head Warm Bodies


 

 

 

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