by Steve Habrat
Since 2007’s unremarkable crime drama Cassandra’s Dream and 2008’s sultry love triangle Vicky Christina Barcelona, Woody Allen has reverted back to making cutesier dramedies like Whatever Works, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, the superb Midnight in Paris, and To Rome with Love. Now well into his seventies, Allen continues to make one movie a year to keep busy. In 2012, he snagged an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his work on the enchanting Midnight in Paris, a win that you’d think he would have ended his career on, but he continues to push forward. I’ll be honest, I really worried that Midnight in Paris might be the last great film of Allen’s career, but I’m so pleased to say that the persistent writer-director blindsided me with Blue Jasmine, a stinging art-house portrait of a woman who had everything and ended up with nothing. With most of the comedy dropped, Allen builds to a climax that is sure to freeze you in your seat for a solid few minutes. Blue Jasmine is already a sobering slap, but it is made all the more captivating by a devastating Cate Blanchett, who will certainly have her name in the Best Actress category at the Oscars.
Blue Jasmine begins with Jasmine (played by Cate Blanchett) arriving in San Francisco in the wake of a nasty divorce and a financial scandal that led to her wealthy husband, Hal (played by Alec Baldwin), committing suicide. Broke, angry, and alone, Jasmine shacks up with her blue-collar sister, Ginger (played by Sally Hawkins), with whom she shares a rocky relationship. In the past, Hal let Ginger and her ex-husband, Augie (played by Andrew Dice Clay), in on a faulty investment deal that left the couple broke. As Jasmine tries to compose herself and restart her life, she meets a wealthy California Congressman Dwight Westlake (played by Peter Sarsgaard) at a party. The two quickly fall in love and plan to marry, but Jasmine’s dark past comes back to haunt her. Meanwhile, Ginger, who is set to marry the big-hearted grease monkey Chili (played by Bobby Cannavale), strikes up a romance with seemingly nice-guy Al (played by Louis C.K.), who has a secret of his own.
Based upon Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, Blue Jasmine initially comes on like a typical Allen film. Blanchett’s character is presented as a nervy and neurotic mess looking for any ear that will listen to her spew her tragic life story. She flies first-class even though she doesn’t have a penny to her name and she constantly reminds her modest sister that Uncle Sam took everything from her, even her precious furs. When she lays eyes on where she will be staying, she fights back vomiting and musters the thinnest compliment imaginable. When her angst becomes too overwhelming, she rushes for a bottle of vodka, pops a Xanax, and starts mumbling to herself about her lavish past with a philandering millionaire who showered her with expensive gifts to blind her to his unfaithfulness. She makes the viewer cringe as she scoffs at Chili, who she views as a loose cannon deadbeat who will never be able to provide for Ginger, even though Chili desperately tries to be as warm to Jasmine as he can. At times, you almost get the sense that Allen is concealing the really brutal stuff behind a romantic comedy/midlife crisis mask, but we are never entirely sure how vicious this is going to get. Even though she is highly unlikeable and about as self-absorbed and pretentious as you can get, we still oddly root for Jasmine to get her life back together and find love. It’s hard to find a scene in Blue Jasmine that doesn’t have Jasmine herself a red-faced, withering mess fighting off the creepy advancements of a dentist and Chili’s buddies and throwing a pity party.
The true power of Blue Jasmine rests on the slender shoulders of Cate Blanchett, who gives the performance of her career as the equally pathetic and detestable Jasmine. Watching her try to go from swanky socialite to receptionist with absolutely no skills to get by is gripping every step of the way. You hate her when Allen flashes back and shows her blowing off the beaming Ginger and Augie as they pop by New York for a visit and you stand behind her hope as she lingers by the telephone waiting for the dashing Dwight to call her up. There is something admirable in her attempt to finish school and learn how to use a computer, but this drive is done in by the shallow possibly of returning to the life of luxury with Dwight. Hawkins gives a big-hearted performance as Ginger, Jasmine’s sister who is constantly being berated by Jasmine over her job, living conditions, and choice of men. You really have to pat Ginger on the back for her kindness, especially when it is revealed that Jasmine barely acknowledged her existence when she was living high in New York. Bobby Cannavale is a delight as Chili, Ginger’s rough-around-the-edges fiancé who tries to kid with Jasmine, but always ends up in a war of words with the fallen queen. Louis C.K. turns up as a lovable stereo installer who just can’t seem to get enough of the bubbly Ginger. Peter Sarsgaard’s Dwight is a nice upper-class gentleman with big dreams, but even his soft personality isn’t immune to the lies that Jasmine is spinning. Explicit comedian Andrew Dice Clay gives a dramatic performance as Ginger’s ruined ex-husband, Augie, who fell into some money and was then taken for a ride by Hal. Recent Allen regular Alec Baldwin gives a soft-spoken performance as the crooked philistine businessman Hal who is seen running around on Jasmine mostly in flashbacks.
With such a serious story, Allen tries to lighten the mood early on with some of his trademark dry wit. But by the last fifteen minutes of Blue Jasmine, he drops any attempt to cushion his blows and dishes out a one-two punch that sends Jasmine to the brink of madness. I must say, Allen unleashes a series of plot twists that catapult Blue Jasmine to the forefront of Allen’s massive body of work. I was left speechless, paralyzed, and most of all, I was thrilled to see Allen shrewdly serve up an ice-cold plate of reality to a character that just kept trying to turn a blind eye to it. Allen is ever careful in the way he allows these prickly twists to reveal themselves, a testament to his skills as a writer. Overall, in years past, Allen has said that he loathes reality and that he prefers the fantasy realm. With Blue Jasmine, Allen seems to have hardened and embraced the idea that there are some seriously crushing realities in the world and they can have some serious consequences. Blue Jasmine is a masterpiece from a man in the twilight of his career and one of the best films I have seen in 2013 so far.
by Corinne Rizzo
Totally sophisticated in most of his characteristics, Mr. Fox finds himself living in nature’s version of the suburbs after spending the majority of his foxhood stealing poultry and looting cider from the local farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. In an effort to move up in the world and out of the fox hole his family began in, Mr. Fox buys a tree trunk for the family to move into—right across the valley from his old chicken thieving stomping grounds—and his old ways begin to haunt his instincts. The hardship of instinct versus the inclination to do what is right puts Mr. Fox, his family, and his friends in some compromising positions and Wes Anderson’s sixth film, Fantastic Mr. Fox (based on the original children’s text by Roald Dahl), not only tells the story of the secret lives of foxes, but builds yet another invitation only universe in which to entertain the endless details that create a classic Wes Anderson film.
So, Fox meets farmer, farmer has chickens, chickens get stolen, farmers get mad, Fox gets caught, farmer traces Fox to his residence, farmer does everything in his power to kill Fox.
This is the basic plot of Fantastic Mr. Fox, though if Wes Anderson has anything to do with it, the plot can be considered a bit more complex than that. In fact, Anderson makes it a habit in his films to show how complicated things can really become either by giving a character an inclination toward drawing maps or continually document, or expose early on in his films the tribulation that each of his characters bear. In The Royal Tenenbaums, for example, the audience is introduced to each character by Alec Baldwin’s monologue. The survey of personality traits gives the viewer all of the information that is needed to anticipate any combination of conflict between the characters, while in The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson shows Mr. Fox himself as quite dexterous in the making of “master plans”.
The viewer is at that point given the essential plot out line and has become familiar with the players, leaving the imagination to begin piecing possibilities together, though you never can quite tell what Anderson has in store, even when the director gives you that essential information.
On that note, Fantastic Mr. Fox is complicated in plot and runs a good eighty-seven minutes, which is a whole lot longer than most want to sit through an animated film. Anderson’s twist on the story and the choice to use stop animation, though, is what drives the film. Voices like George Clooney, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman bring the familiar cynical tone to the characters that are popular in Anderson’s films, adding to the sophistication of the characters.
Important also to the film is the sense of humor these actors can bring to the characters. Often a scene that seems too sentimental or serious is broken by the true animalistic nature of each forest beast. Mr. Fox, wearing a suit with his hair all groomed does not hesitate to break a chicken’s neck with his teeth or growl and scratch when he doesn’t get along with someone. This is true for all of the characters and each one seems to have one of those moments in the film where they kind of just lose it and show what Mr. Fox calls the truth about himself, which is the fact that he is a wild animal.
The stop motion is incredible and crafty. Each creature has his own personae: Beaver, Beaver and Badger are attorneys, Kylie (an opossum) is kind of like a superintendent, and so the list continues. But what is so stunning that the puppets are dressed to the nines, all throughout the film. Ash, Mr. Fox’s son, even wears layers and layers of clothes, all modified with holes for his tail and ears. The imagery is seamless and clean and the expressions of the characters are meaningful and distinct.
Everything from a toothy fox grin to the twitchy radar ears of a scavenger, Anderson and his stop motion team have taken a children’s story and mastered it into a film enjoyable to all ages. The tendency toward foul language is replaced simply by the word “cuss” and the only sign of alcohol or drug abuse is that of the Bean security rat living in a cider cellar, which is the cleanest we have seen Anderson yet, but also displaying some of his strongest creative moments.
Top Five Reasons to Watch Fantastic Mr. Fox:
1) Bill Murray plays a badger.
2) You get a run through of every character’s latin animal names…so it’s educational.
3) Really the whole film is about eating.
4) The Beach Boys dominate the soundtrack.
5) The film can be used as a gateway to exposing your family and friends to other Anderson films.
by Corinne Rizzo
Imagine every screwball moment of your exploited genius childhood narrated as a prelude to your adulthood by Alec Baldwin. Then imagine your adulthood reaches its pinnacle way early and the only way you see fit to recover from the disappointment of an early peak is to move back home. At the same time as your bother and adopted sister.
This is the premise for Wes Anderson’s third essay into character structure and storytelling (also co-written by Owen Wilson)—and so far his most successful.
As Royal Tenenbaum, the father of these three genius children, is evicted from the lofty conveniences of his hotel residence for payment delinquency, he receives news of a suitor after his wife, whom he’s been separated from for most of the children’s childhood and even adulthood. When the news hits that Henry Sherman, Etheline Tenenbaum’s accountant, is interested in marrying her, Royal takes the opportunity to get back into her life by faking a terminal illness, scoring himself a place to live as well as an advantage to win over his the affection of his estranged children (who one by one have found themselves living with their mother, Etheline).
Our characters consist of Richie, played by Luke Wilson, a tennis professional by the age of thirteen by the nick name “Baumer”. Richie Tennenbaum was the apple of Royal’s eye which lead his brother Chas, a financial and technical prodigy, into a lifetime of sibling rivalry that keeps him at a distance. Our third character in the list of siblings is adopted sister Margot, an early successful play write in love with her brother (but not by blood) Richie.
Richie’s best friend, played by Owen Wilson, brings back the original chemistry that jumpstarted Anderson’s career, though the cast of The Royal Tenenbaums is held up by each actor in the film and lead by no one in particular. Even the narration of the film by Alec Baldwin is essential as well as the smallest parts played by Bill Murray (as Ralleigh St. Claire) are crucial to the twisted familial clusterfuck that is the Tenenbaum reunion.
But this isn’t just your run of the mill, everyone hates each other and fights type of dysfunction. The entire family rallies behind Royal, even Chas who is reluctant to do so. So no family member is left behind. Everyone loves each other, though there are some who love each other more and those with more of an even keel on the situation.
The drama in the film exists in places you would most expect it to live within your own family, but certainly not on the screen. Think about it for a minute: You and your siblings living MTV’s Real World style. Pretty much the best and worst of everything you’ve ever known with an ending that is as hopeful as the Real World is hopeless.
And Wes Anderson knows this drama and knows how to portray it. The themes and colors of previous films exist in The Royal Tenenbaums and the themes and colors of films to come are hinted in it. Seamlessly, Wes Anderson has created almost a centerpiece to his cannon of work, not as a pinnacle (by no means has he hit his peak) but as a confident stride.
Plus, I mean, the soundtrack! If you ever wanted to seem cool in front of anyone, just down load a few of Wes Anderson’s soundtracks and act like you know exactly what you’re listening to. Or better yet, get to know what you’re listening to and be extra cool.
Top Five Reasons To Watch The Royal Tenenbaums:
1) You learn what a javelina is! Unless you already know and if you do already know, skip to reason #2.
2) The kid who plays Richie Tenenbaum as a child is a riot.
3) Find Kumar Pallana.
4) Shameless smoking and drinking.
5) If you are unsure of where your style of dress is going, you could just adopt the style of one of the Tenenbaums and never think twice about it. Or even look to Henry Sherman for an example.