Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Fading Gigolo (+ some brief followups on August: Osage County and Under the Skin)

New York, New York, It’s a Wonderful Town 
(well, maybe not if you have superpowers of any kind)
 Review by Ken Burke        The Amazing Spider-Man 2
The triumphant teenage web-slinger is in action again taking on some highly dangerous foes, but the real threat comes from girlfriend Gwen who’s leaving town without him.

                                                     Fading Gigolo
Given Woody Allen’s appearance in this film you might think it’s one of his but it’s a project of co-star John Turturro about a middle-aged "ho” who suddenly finds true love.
[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting (please note that Two Guys critic Ken Burke is a bit odd—in more ways than one—using a 5-star-rating-system but rarely going to the level of 4 ½ or 5 stars, reserving those rankings for films that have been or should be acknowledged as time-honored masterpieces so that a 4 is about the best you can hope for from star-stingy Ken).  But we ask you to be aware that the links we recommend within our many reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
This week we’re headed to New York City where crises large (very large, in fact), along with the interpersonally-small, are shaking up the local populace, either en masse as in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (Marc Webb) or just among a few folks in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn in Fading Gigolo (John Turturro).  We’ll begin on the larger scale, where our Teenage Mutant Ninja Arachnid faces off against 3 monsters out of control, once again giving this metropolis’ city-reconstruction-workers nightmares, as it seems that they’ve just barely been able to repair it all after the previous destruction-derbies that smashed so much of Manhattan’s infrastructure in The Avengers (Joss Whedon, 2012; review in our May 12, 2012 posting) and the first edition of The Amazing Spider-Man (Webb, 2012; review in our July 12, 2012 posting)—although you’ll have to ask the concept-creators at Marvel and the intellectual-property-owners at Sony and Disney why none of these guys were available to help each other during their seemingly-concurrent-disasters (which, oddly enough, isn’t the case with the X-Men and Spider-Man, at least in terms of cross-promotion if not actual screen-sharing as the fast-upcoming 20th Century Fox X-Men: Days of Future Past [Bryan Singer, who now joins NYC-based-director Woody Allen on the child-abuse-accusation-hot-seat, at least until someone offers any proof one way or the other beyond impassioned-testimony; until then, I’m staying away from comments on either of their situations] not only had the final preview spot just before The Amazing Spider-Man 2 rolled when I saw it but also there’s a subdued Days of Future Past preview-promo during Amazing … 2’s end credits; if you want to find out why that’s happening, despite the corporate gulf between these two Marvel franchises, please read this.)  As we rejoin Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) at some point after he previously saved the city from turning into a collection of human-lizard-hybrids he’s supposedly fired-up on an almost-constant-basis (as indicated by the opening testimony in the trailer; see the second link connected to this movie far below) but he’s troubled on 2 fronts which serve to unsettle him throughout most of this installment of the rebooted Spider-Man saga.  First, he’s never gotten over the sense of abandonment from his long-departed-parents (although we know from the pre-opening-credits-sequence that they died in a plane crash long ago while battling agents who were attempting to kill them in a more direct manner); second, he’s haunted by the memory of girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s (Emma Stone) father who died in the last movie, with a last request to Peter to stay away from his daughter in order to prevent her from being terrorized by Spider-Man’s enemies (this memory even takes on a literal presence for him as Police Captain George Stacy [Denis Leary] keeps appearing in Peter’s minds-eye [and on our screen], reminding our high-school-superhero that the continued romance with Gwen goes contrary to his hard-to-keep-promise).

Both of these mental turmoils weigh heavily on our emerging-into-adulthood-protagonist.  (Whose non-costumed demeanor—frustrated, anxious, over-reactive at times—seems a bit more convincing to me of how a guy would act at his hormone-fueled-age than did the more reserved manner displayed by Toby McGuire in the earlier Spider-Man trilogy [Sam Raimi; 2002, 2004, 2007], although as best I recall those original Spidey comics from the 1960s McGuire’s characterization may be fairly accurate to the initial depiction in print just as the comic-book Clark Kent of yesteryear presented a meek, bumbling secret identity whereas the more recent manifestations that I’ve seen allow Clark to be much more outgoing, alluring, and athletic;  Peter and Clark make an interesting comparison as characters [even if the former has the edge in terms of fan-accepted-movies along with box-office-cash] in that for much of his media-existence Clark Kent—the adult version at least—is simply a disguise for the actual personage of Superman [although in the comics Clark seems to be now developing a bit more of a personality in his own right with Superman as simply an unmasked-created-persona, as I prepare to stand corrected if more knowledgeable readers than me might want to weigh in on these assertions] while in Parker’s case his human identity is the real thing whereas Spider-Man just exists behind the spandex and the mask thanks to that random-radioactive-spider-bite that endowed him with his own set of powers “far beyond those of mortal men.”)  Spider-Man’s also dealing with the dual problems of still trying to win over the doubters in the public, the media, and the law-enforcement-troops of NYC who dispute the propriety of a physically-superior-masked-man taking the law into his own vigilante-hands (despite the good it does) while facing the difficulty in this movie of not being responsive enough to a member of that public, Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), who essentially worships Spider-Man for saving him from sure death in an early action scene in our current story but then turns against him in his tortured mind when he gains a superpower of his own of control of electrical current, turning him into the dangerously-powerful Electro who has desperately dreamed of being noticed and acknowledged in an uncaring world, only to quickly gain notoriety because of his own accidental transformation (zapped with high voltage, then falling into a tank of attacking, genetically-modified electric eels; with his scarred blue face and hoodie he looks quite a bit like a younger version of Emperor Palpatine [Darth Sidious] from the Star Wars series, conjuring up some further wicked connotations) but finding it overridden by the focus on Spider-Man as the city’s savior from Electro’s “shocking” (sorry, couldn’t resist) command of the entire power grid.  After a fierce battle (there are many of them here—including some great freeze-frame shots in the Times Square faceoff between Electro and Spidey—all well-orchestrated, marvelous to look at, effective in 3-D but probably not a necessity to view in that format), Peter manages to short-circuit Electro so that he can be contained at the Ravencroft Institute for the Criminally Insane under control of a guy who easily reminds me of the Dr. Strangelove character (played by Peter Sellers) from the film of the same name ([Stanley Kubrick, 1964] again, I’m possibly talking out of my depth here, but this place reminds me of Batman’s Arkham Asylum, where his captured villains reside, which first appeared in 1974 in the comics [Batman #258, October] vs. Ravencroft’s emergence in 1994 [Web of Spider-Man Annual #10] so score one for DC here).  Electro’s soon back in action, though, being freed by young, rich, but crazed Harry Osborne (Dane DeHann), newly in charge of Oscorp Industries (in the 1980s in the Superman comics Lex Luthor evolved from being simply a mad-scientist-criminal-genius to become the public face of LexCorp as a megalomaniacally-powerful-but-socially-tolerable-corporate CEO [sort of like Donald Trump—but with no hair—to keep our NYC allusions fresh], so here’s a case of DC probably cribbing from Marvel because Oscorp was first presented in print way back in 1966 in Amazing Spider-Man #37) after the death of his father, Norman (Chris Cooper), although he's fighting his own battle to retain that position due to treachery from within this megalithic company leading to his pact with Electro.  This creates another crisis for Peter, with ramifications back through his past and surely into his cinematic future.

After pressuring Aunt May (Sally Field) to tell him what she’s been keeping from him about his parents she informs Peter that they were revealed as spies, ready to sell the genetic-research-secrets that Dr. Richard Parker (Campbell Scott) had been working on at Oscorp, when he along with wife Mary (Embeth Davidtz) disappeared.  Peter is heartbroken by this news but later (through a lucky coincidence) discovers some long-forgotten-computer-technology in a secret subway tunnel where a video of his father reveals the truth, that in his work with Norman Osborne to genetically manipulate spiders (with their self-generative abilities in an attempt to cure Norman’s slowly-growing-but-terminal-illness) he’s become convinced that Osborne is actually the one willing to sell biogenetics secrets to foreign powers so he attempts to escape with the experimental data to keep it out of enemy hands; he also says that it’s his DNA in the hybrid-spiders (so I assume that the one that bit Peter on his visit to Oscorp years later actually returned another shot of his Dad’s essence into Peter’s body, although maybe that’s a factoid that will have significance in a future Spider-Man movie); however, we also learn that the spiders have since been destroyed but not before their venom was extracted, stored in secret Oscorp chambers.  Meanwhile, Harry’s become aware of the secret work that’s led to Spider-Man’s abilities, just as he finds early manifestations of the hereditary disease now working against him at a much earlier age than it destroyed his father so he calls on Peter (who’s now without Gwen because his on-off-actions in memory of her father’s plea have caused her to break up with him, even as she’s pursuing a scholarship to do advanced research at Oxford, leaving him behind in the process) to help him locate Spider-Man for a transfusion in hopes that the mutated blood will cure him.  Peter—in costume—meets with Harry but refuses the transfusion because he has no idea what will happen if his fluids enter another human’s body (turns out he had a proper premonition because when Harry finds the stored venom and injects it he has a debilitating reaction but also discovers his Dad’s jet-propelled armor that allows him to become the Green Goblin as he and Electro set out to capture Spider-Man while drawing all of NYC’s power grid into Electro’s command in an attempt to impose his will on everyone in his vicinity).  Once again, titanic battles ensue, with Gwen, reunited with Peter, offering a risky-but-scientifically-sound-strategy that eventually helps Spidey explode Electro through a massive overload, but then faces danger herself as the Goblin attempts to capture and use her as a bargaining chip with Peter (once again, as in the first movie in this rebooted franchise, the secret of who’s behind the mask becomes logically reasonable to figure out; at this rate the whole concept of a hidden identity may soon prove useless, especially as the Goblin survives his battle with Spider-Man to be sent off to the Ravencroft Institute and prepare us for the next installment, planned for June, 2016)OK, if you haven’t taken heed of my standard Spoiler Alert above here’s your last reminder before we get into territory best left alone for now unless you either know your Spider-Man comics history or have already seen the current movie.  If not, don’t blame me for the ruinous results of your morbid curiosity!

For those of you still with me, you know that even as Peter has resolved all of the crises noted above—the final one being Gwen successful in winning her scholarship so he’s decided to go to England with her where their love can continue along with his masked crime-fighting-career—he suddenly finds himself overwhelmed with a new one that can’t be overcome but, in a horrible twist of ironic fate, it’s even worse because he’s partially responsible for the most-disastrous-defeat he could imagine—her death.  In an attempt to save her from a tremendously-long-free-fall through a crumbling building as he fights with the Green Goblin, he sends down a long strand of his bioengineered webbing to catch her, which it does, but apparently the whiplash of being stopped at such an acceleration kills her (there’s no statement as such in the movie, but accounts of how it happened in the comics—The Amazing Spider-Man #121 [June 1973]—clearly implicate the Web-Slinger, even though it was purely accidental on his part).  Even with this foreknowledge among the "comic"-ally-informed and the further-known-reality that for Peter his later love, Mary Jane Watson (played in the earlier Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies by Kirsten Dunst), waits in the wings, it’s still shocking to see a popular character in a financially-successful-series suddenly come to an unanticipated end (made all the more real by successive shots of Peter in mourning at her grave site across some seasonal changes, all to confirm that this is no assumed death that often occurs in these types of stories only to have the character be secretly alive until an opportune moment of revelation—as with the supposed demise of Nick Fury [Samuel L. Jackson] in the recent Captain America: The Winter Soldier [Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; review in our April 10, 2014 posting]).  Even though Peter has a tangible reminder of her in the video recording of her stirring “rise to the occasion” high-school-valedictorian-speech not long before Gwen dies, he puts Spider-Man's publically-embraced-vigilante-justice on hold until forced back into action by a very young boy in a Spidey suit (purely coincidental again, but for those of us in the San Francisco area especially it brings back memories of "Batkid" when the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted the dream of 5-year-old-lukemia-survivor Miles Scott by letting him aid Batman in fighting crime in SF on November 15, 2013) standing up to the story’s final villain, Aleksei Sytsevich ([Paul Giametti] the guy that Spider-Man captured in the movie’s opening catastrophe-control-scene, where Max Dillon was rescued by the Wall-Crawler [although he rarely does that anymore, preferring to swing through the skies on that webbing instead, leaving his residue all over NYC’s buildings to go along with the ground debris from all of those various extended fights]) now calling himself Rhino as he stomps through Midtown streets in a huge armor-suit sort of like what Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) wore to battle the monsters in Aliens (James Cameron, 1986), so Peter’s suddenly back in action again, although with no resolution with Rhino before the final credits abruptly roll so as to properly keep us in suspense for a couple of years until we see how this new henchman of Harry Osborne/Green Goblin will play into what awaits next for Spider-Man. (Although this also leaves us with a clear sense that everything that goes on at that Ravencroft Institute is done for the benefit of the social manipulators at Oscorp, so a final triumph between the comic-book-megapowers exists for DC’s Arkham Asylum in that it truly is a prison for archfiends, not a developmental lab for furthering corporate control of our country—and territories beyond, I’m sure; it has to make you wonder: is Putin running Oscorp now?  Let's hope not.)

With all that narrative explication and referential material now done, the final question for me is what works so well in my opinion for this renewed Spider-Man franchise, with its 2 episodes so far being the only superhero movies, along with The Dark Knight Rises (Christopher Nolan, 2012; review in our August 5, 2012 posting), to which I’ve granted my hallowed 4-star-ratings?  (Even though I have stronger personal preferences for Superman and Thor as characters, but that’s a purely-personal-taste-thing that cannot be logically defended.)  Essentially it comes down to a deeper sense of getting under the surface (and the mask) of the main characters: understanding that Peter Parker is just a quickly-maturing-teenager with great ambitions to do good, even as he’s torn between his understanding of how best to use his newly-found-powers and the pressures being put on him by older adults that he wants to respect even as they can’t hope to understand what it’s like to be in his situation; appreciating that Gwen is being presented as a strong, intelligent partner for Peter with a determination to choose her own path, even as he fears that her desire for such partnership is a dangerous situation for both of them given that she doesn’t share his physical enhancements; appreciating that Peter isn’t yet experienced nor knowledgeable enough to always know what to do in every situation, nor is it even that easy for him to conceal his identity from anyone with an ability to do a little research, especially in this day of Internet and social media where it’s difficult to maintain privacy about much of anything.  Certainly the pyrotechnics of these new Spider-Man movies display a grand sense of command of spectacular special effects (even as those poor city-cleanup-guys are groaning again about the needed rehab work needed to repair the massive mess left from all of those non-stop battles, with electric bolts and concrete flying all over the place, just as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 almost knows no plot-tension-limits, indicated by situations such as Spidey desperately trying to take down Electro, even though an additional complication is tossed in with 2 airlines about to crash because they have no ground control to guide them because all NYC power is off while Electro sucks up his immense strength), but mostly these "Webb"-designs work to balance the visually-superb with emotional realities of what it must feel like to be capable of such superhuman actions yet not understand how to proceed with such attributes when every victory you score just brings about a more complex challenge to the human under the mask trying to figure it all out, while those close to him constantly want more than he can give if everyone is to be satisfied.  Make no mistake, these new Spider-Man stories aren’t great art, nor do they pretend to be, but they’re artfully-executed as entertainment, setting a enviable standard for this genre that I’ve seen matched so far only by the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012) but hope will continue to manifest itself as these Marvel and DC characters spin their screen evolutions into the next decade—probably beyond—joining James Bond on the all-time-character-longevity-list.

While I don’t have much in common with our NYC-focus this week (despite living there for a couple of years in the early 1970s), I do share a lot of film-review-commentary with various folks from around the country and the rest of the world at LinkedIn’s Film Addicts group discussions.  One active contributor is Fiore Mastracci, whom I don’t always agree with but he consistently puts interesting-to-watch-commentary on YouTube under the general category of Outtakes with Fiore; one of those video reviews was of Draft Day (Ivan Reitman), which he referred to as “A football movie without being a football movie,” because of the focus on the front-office-maneuverings of owners and general managers rather than any on-field-drama (you can watch his Draft Day review here; in that it’s a movie we do find harmony with, you might also want to read my comments for comparison).  In a similar manner, I’ll steal a line from Fiore and say that Fading Gigolo is much like a Woody Allen film without Woody Allen—as screenwriter and director, that is, because he’s a very prominent actor in this strange tale, in which John Turturro is not only the co-star but also takes on the creative roles behind the camera usually done by Allen, a relatively-rare (but not debut) turn for Turturro.  From the first time the previews starting appearing for Fading Gigolo until you sit in the theater to see it you’d easily be forgiven if you assumed this was Allen’s follow-up to the marvelous Blue Jasmine (2013, providing a worthy-Best Actress-Oscar-win for Cate Blanchett; review in our August 16, 2013 posting)—actually that would be Magic in the Moonlight from Allen (set for a late July 2014 release, a romantic comedy starring Spidey-girl Emma Stone, Colin Firth, and Marcia Gay Harden)—because of the opening white titles on a black background, a jazzy soundtrack, oddball characters who find themselves in unconventional situations, a notable cast of famous names (including Michael Badalucco and Bob Balaban in cameos), not to mention some cinematic similarities to Woody’s work (as with the photo that opens this paragraph of Allen and Turturro walking along a city street in Brooklyn, in not-quite-as-wide-a-shot and not-as-distant-from-the-actors-when-the-scene-begins as was a similar-extremely-long-take-dialogue-exchange between Allen and Tony Roberts early on in Allen’s Annie Hall [1977] but the current image still evokes the structure of the earlier one nevertheless).  However, there’s a serious turn as Fading Gigolo moves away from its opening premise of middle-aged-bachelor-florist Fioravante ([Turturro] also known as Virgil Howard to his female clients), newly successful as a “call-man” for rich NYC women (bringing back additional memories, of Joe Buck [Jon Voight] from Oscar’s 1969 Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy [John Schlesinger], almost achieving the same success with socialites before needing to make that ill-fated-trip to Florida on Ratso Rizzo’s [Dustin Hoffman] behalf), who suddenly takes an invested interest in one of the liaisons arranged by bankrupt-bookstore-owner-turned-one-client-pimp Murray ([Allen] who likewise adopts a “porn name,” Dan Bonko), a devout Hasidic Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis).  In the process, Fading Gigolo loses its way a bit as the plot turns in a manner that possibly requires a better understanding of the religious/cultural traditions of this Williamsburg neighborhood than I’m able to fathom, but then it picks up again at the end in a way that returns it to the opening attitudes, so while I don’t find it entirely successful I do find a lot of laughs, a lot of heart, and enough of an attraction for what it’s exploring to want to send me on my way after the screening to the nearest bagel shop or maybe a bit further to the delicious fare of the Holy Land restaurant in Oakland, just around the corner from the majestic Grand Lake Theater (as always, no payola for me in making these plugs, just a genuine desire to encourage potential customers to indulge in the finer aspects of this much-maligned city across the bay from The City proper [San Francisco, as the upscale-nuevo-natives there—the ever-increasing Internet millionaires—insist it be called, as they seamlessly buy their way into the old guard, displacing many much-lower-salaried-people).

The more comic aspects of Fading Gigolo come from the various encounters of “Virgil” with the women “Dan” sets him up with (apparently he knows a good many well-off-gals whose sex lives leave something to be desired until “Virgil” shows up), with the primary attention given to Dr. Parker ([Sharon Stone] I missed her character’s first name and can now find no mention of it)—Murray’s dermatologist—and her good friend, Selima (Sofía Vergara), with their desire to have a ménage à trois being the impetus to Murray’s decision to strike out on a new career for himself and his struggling florist buddy.  While there are no sex scenes as such in this film, the verbal reports of Fioravante’s encounters provide proof of satisfaction on both ends (so to speak) of the transactions as does the suddenly flowing income (Murray’s charging $1,000 a pop [so to speak again], splitting it 40-60 with Fioravante) which provides both men with economic stability, even as the intended ménage is postponed for some reason that only the scriptwriter can answer (in fact, even though Dr. Parker and Fioravante seem to have become a regular item—in part to get back at her much-hated-husband, whose presence here is mostly in his photo that she sneers at—she prevents a similar one-on-one with Selima in an admitted show of greedy jealousy until the threesome can be consummated).  And, just to complicate the situation further, as well as steer the plot into a direction that counters what the trailer sets you up for in this tale, “Virgil” is truly falling for Avigal (as is she for him) which leads to a more dramatic subplot, although even that is countered with yet another narrative variation when a Shomrim Williamsburg neighborhood security guard, Dovi (Liev Schreiber), decides to take action against Murray out of a combination of personal desire for Avigal and sincere dedication to his religion which calls for protection of the widow (apparently stoning isn’t out of the question given the ancient foundation for the social “laws” that Dovi and his colleagues are sworn to protect, although I guess [you can surely tell I’m no Talmudic scholar] the punishment must be meted out to the involved man rather to the woman for her transgressions [allowing a man not her husband to touch her, taking her wig off in public so that Fioravante can see her natural hair—again, I don’t understand these “sins,” except to assume that they have a scriptural foundation, but it’s a serious situation for Murray who’s hauled before a rabbinical “court” to answer for his actions until Avigal learns of this inquisition, then storms in to take full responsibility for her behavior which seems to let Murray off the hook).

There are other aspects of this plot that I’m not very clear on either, including: why women as attractive and well-heeled as those played by Stone and Vergara seem to have no access to sexually-satisfying-men until an old guy with no previous connection to the “gigolo” business suddenly comes up with the appropriate stud for them; how it is that Fioravante so easily manifests that suave, serene studliness when it seems that he’s been shy and alone for quite awhile as well; what the relationship is between Murray and the notably-younger Black woman, Cee Cee (Jade Dixon), and her 4 children that he’s living with (they call him “Uncle,” but that’s about the only explanation that we get); and, why, after being passionately awakened by “Virgil” (Murray took her to Fioravante’s lower Manhattan apartment [as best I could tell from the background landscape in shots of her finally leaving Brooklyn after being in isolation so long after the death of her rabbi husband] for a message—not trying to recruit her as another sex client, again as best as I could tell, but sincerely wanting to help pull her out of her heart-dead-shell—which ended quickly as tears and emotions finally began to flow out of her, but the initial meeting soon led to dinner at his place, then time alone in a park while Murray arranged for a baseball game between her 6 sons and Cee Cee’s brood plus some of their friends), leading to her self-confident “confession” in Murray’s courtroom scene, does she suddenly break it off with Fioravante in order to allow Dovi into her life after having avoided his interests ever since their mutual childhoods (I suppose it’s because Italian-ancestry Fioravante isn’t the Sephardic Jew that Murray claimed he was, so that Dovi is the more “orthodox” choice for her, especially when she surprisingly reveals that she’s loved him all these years despite her aloof attitude toward his advances).  These mood swings and plot holes prevent Turturro’s film from being as totally effective as it might be (I guess he tries to justify the tonal clashes with the line “Where there is love there is pain,” but you could also say “Where there is narrative confusion there is audience detachment”), although the acting is solid throughout, the humor when it’s used is quite funny, the interchanges between Fioravante and Murray, Fioravante and Avigal are quite engaging to watch, and the general feel of a Woody Allen story (even if it comes from someone else but at least it's enhanced by having him be a part of it rather than just watching from the sidelines as his work is ripped off, as I feel is the case with how Nora Ephron as screenwriter and Rob Reiner as director recycled much of Allen’s themes, attitudes, and settings in When Harry Met Sally … [1989]) all make Fading Gigolo a generally pleasing experience for me, even though I don’t think it has enough consistency or clarity in its own narrative direction (“Virgil” finally arrives for the long-delayed ménage only to find out that he’s no longer interested in being a “ho” because of his love for Avigal, only to have her abruptly cut off their relationship right after that, yet the “business”—or some new actual romance—may be brewing again at film's end when Fioravante and Murray meet a new-to-New York-Frenchwoman with strong hints that Mr. Stud’s not going to leave the city for a new life somewhere else after all) to hold up as well as the better Allen New York stories do.  If any of Woody’s Manhattan-based-output of the last 40 years appeals to you, I think you’d at least moderately enjoy Fading Gigolo—you could even like it considerably more than that—but you might do just as well to refresh yourself with a video viewing of something like Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) or Husbands and Wives (1992) which have a lot more substance as well as cohesion within their NYC-settings.

Given that the available publicity stills for Fading Gigolo barely do justice to any of the leading ladies, while not even offering an image of one of the film’s main presences in Vanessa Paradis, I’ll close out these review comments with this general headshot of her, as we transition to our musical metaphor to give us one last bite of this posting’s Big Apple stories with (what else?) Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” at com/watch?v=6YjIsUc 4Ank (music by John Kander, lyrics by Fred Ebb, used as the theme song from Martin Scorsese’s 1977 film of the same name, sung there by Liza Minnelli; Sinatra’s version was on his 1980 album Trilogy: Past Present Future), accompanied by black and white imagery of NYC; or, if that’s too much like Woody’s Manhattan (1979) for you (maybe Turturro should have just called his film Brooklyn, given its distinct Allen-aura [or odor, depending on your feelings about Woody at the moment]), here’s another Old Blue Eyes version, sung live, at with color photos of the “city that never sleeps.”  (Although, if you’re a cinematic purist, you might insist on Ms. Minnelli from the Scorsese movie at watch?v=KLeC9RvrKrU—a performance which, I must say, reminds me as much of Mama Judy Garland as anything I’ve ever heard daughter Liza sing.  According to one source I’ve read, the Yankees used to play Sinatra’s version when they won a home game, Minnelli’s when they lost, but after she complained they started using Frank for both results; I can’t testify directly because I’ve seen just 1 game apiece in both old and new Yankee Stadiums, both times they won, but I guess the Bronx Bombers figure they can’t lose [once again, so to speak] with the original Jersey Boy sending the crowd home from Mr. Jeter’s house [for the rest of 2014, that is], no what the scoreboard shows).  But, before shutting down shop for Film Reviews from Two Guys in the Dark this week, here are a couple of follow-up-statements on recent reviews of mine.

Inter-Media Updates:  In a couple of my ramblings over the recent months I mentioned original inspirations for the films under analysis, but I couldn’t say more at the time because I’d yet to be exposed to the source materials for those adaptations.  Well, now I have, so here are some brief comments to bring closure to my thoughts.  August: Osage County (John Wells, 2013; review in our January 15, 2014 posting) is based on a Tony-and-Pulitzer Prize-winning-play, which I just saw an outstanding production of last weekend at the Contra Costa Civic Theatre, El Cerrito, CA (not shown here [this photo is of some other production but I don't know which one], and unfortunately for any of you in the SF Bay Area just now reading this it closed last Sunday, May 4, 2014; however, a Google search for upcoming productions shows, among others, stagings scheduled for the Act Two Theatre, St. Peters, MO May 9-18, 2014, the Midcoast Actors Studio, Belfast, ME May 30-June 8, 2014, and the Cardinal Stage Company, Bloomington, IN Nov. 1-17, 2014 if that’s any help for any of you—if not, keep Googling the title [as a play] and maybe you'll find something more available for your location).  Typical of the reviews that chastised the screen version with Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in the key roles as being inadequate to the play is this one by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Mick LaSalle; all I can say, Mr. LaSalle (knowing privately that’s not even your real name), is that what you claim as a “dark comedy” throughout quickly loses that distinction for me on stage, settling into a consistently dark drama as the play plays out, just as you complain that the film does in error.  I have no doubt that a top-flight-stage-cast could do wonders with this work (in fact the Tonys for the 2007-2008 season did result in awards for Deanna Dunagan [Violet Weston] for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play and Rondi Reed [Mattie Fae Aiken] for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play [along with other awards to Tracy Letts for Best Play, Todd Rosenthal for Best Scenic Design of a Play, and Anna D. Shapiro for Best Direction of a Play]), but I fail to see now why Wells’ filmic adaptation misses the tone or underlying power of the intended story, verifying all the more for me why I was willing to give the film my usually-highest-rating of 4 stars (reserving 4 ½ and 5 for unusually-outstanding-work); I continue to highly recommend finding the Wells’ version on video—I’m sure the Weinstein Company would appreciate a bit more of your cash considering that this film grossed only about $25 million, which probably barely covered the salaries for the stellar cast—(and for those who find the Weston-interfamily-melodrama as too extreme, I again offer you the opportunity to live in west Texas for a week [bring your own bourbon; you’ll probably need it even though you may still have difficulty buying it within those “dry” sections of many counties] to see for yourself that what Letts recorded about life in rural Oklahoma is barely-fictional).

Another adaptation that I’ve now got a better insight on is Under the Skin (Jonathan Glazer; review in our April 16, 2014 posting), based on the debut novel of the same name by Netherlands-born-Australia-raised-now-Scotland-resident Michel Faber, but in this case my 4-star-response to the film is more in line with the critical consensus (Rotten Tomatoes 84% positive, Metacritic 77% average of scores).  Now that I’ve finally read the book I can say emphatically how each medium’s version is a fascinating experience in its own right even though the film has about as much relation to the book as most of the James Bond movies after Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) have to Ian Fleming’s original writings, in which the title and the concept of the main character survive in the translation but that’s about all.  In the book of Under the Skin we get a name, Isserley, for the alien female hunter of beefy Earthmen, along with considerable details of the harvesting “meat farm” that she shares with her off-world-colleagues, plus a lot of well-presented-insight into the painful mutations needed to transform her into a human-seeming-biped, virtually none of which is articulated in the film even as it also makes some major changes in plot structure.  None of this works to the film’s detriment, though, as it simply becomes an ethereal tone poem on inter-species-alienation-and-conflict (as well as a chilling climate-change-story for our times) whereas the book allows us to know in a straightforward manner the mindset of this somewhat-reluctant-hunter who was probably more like a lioness in her native environment on a water-and-oxygen-starved-distant-planet.  I continue to recommend the film (on the big screen if you can find it because it’s got some mesmerizing visuals; however, after 5 weeks in release it’s made only about $1.8 million, playing now in just 125 theaters, likely fewer very soon) as a fascinating—if obscure—encounter while the novel gives much more detail without fully explaining itself either, so that both leave a lot to your personal creative imagination.

With those vital news flashes taken care of, I’ll walk you to the finish line with a closing continuation of music that celebrates our thematic “New York state of mind,” first the actual song of that name (from the 1976 Turnstiles album) by Billy Joel at com/watch?v=Xbd3C 44fAHo (there are many other video versions of this song available, but I chose this one for my wonderful wife, Nina, because it features her favorite vocalist, Tony Bennett [Sinatra’s way up there with her as well, so that’s why he got the call for the musical metaphor above, but maybe you prefer Liza—another talent whom she also respects], at Joel’s July 2008 Shea Stadium concert), followed by a curve back to the Manhattan reference above with a rendition of George Gershwin’s 1924 “Rhapsody in Blue” which was so effectively used in Woody Allen’s most direct homage to his beloved island home, so here’s the opening to that 5-star-worthy-film at complete with appropriately-overdone-voiceover-dialogue from Allen’s character, Isaac Davis–or, if you’d prefer just the music here’s a nice version at (supposedly featuring Gershwin himself on piano).  All of that should keep you well in tune until we meet again, I hope.

If you want to know more about The Amazing Spider Man 2 here are some suggested links: (as background to the current Spider-Man movie, this is a 5:47 independent critique of both of the opening episodes of the Spider-Man and rebooted Amazing Spider-Man franchises, which mostly dumps on the more recent version; if—like the Google [non-radioactive] spiders and robots that oversee this blog—you’re offended by frequent crass language, though, you may not care for a lot of this commentary)

If you’d like to know more about Fading Gigolo here are some suggested links: (to maintain my journalistic integrity, I offer you this link which advertises a “Hot Deleted Lesbo Scene” between Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara in Fading Gigolo but apparently you have to subscribe to the site to see it; if anyone chooses to do so, let me know how it works out for you if you're still able to function after you see the scene)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control.

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.

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