Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)

Written & Directed by Woody Allen


Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA.  June 24, 2012  4:30PM


"To Rome With Love", the forty-sixth film written and directed by Woody Allen, is a manic farce set in the Eternal City with an all-star cast of American and Italian performers. Given that this film was highly anticipated, due to Mr. Allen's comeback smash comedy, "Midnight In Paris", "Rome" is just as generic and uninspired as it's title. The film is surprisingly bland and unfocused as it manages to deliver only very brief moments of charm, wit or actual humor.

The film is played out in four unrelated vignettes; Hayley (Alison Pill), an American visiting Rome, asks a passing stranger for directions. The handsome Roman, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) is more than helpful and soon the two fall madly in love. Hayley's parents, Jerry (Allen) and Phyllis (Judy Davis) come to the city to visit their daughter and to meet this new man in her life. Jerry, who is a bored, retired music teacher, over hears Michelangelo's father, Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), singing opera in the shower and he has a spectacular voice. With dollar signs flashing before his eyes, Jerry is determined to get this man on the stage but Giancarlo declines as he is just a simple mortician, not a singer. After Jerry wears him down, Giancarlo finally auditions but discovers that he can only actually sing in the shower. Unfazed, Jerry is not about to let a little thing like that stop his plans.

John (Alec Baldwin) is an another American visiting Rome but he had been to the city many years ago as a younger man while studying to become an architect. Deciding to revisit his old neighborhood, he runs in to a another American, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) who recognizes him. This young man is studying to become an architect and just happens to live in the same building that John used to live. His sweet girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig) informs Jack that her broken-hearted friend, Monica (Ellen Page), a high-strung actress is coming to Italy to stay with them for a visit. She warns her boyfriend that she's a reluctant seductress but he's not concerned until he meets her. Despite John also warning him as he's been in a similar situation when he was his age, Jack still winds up being swept away by this actress. Are Jack and John the same person, looking back on his life or is John a figment of Jack's imagination? No idea.

Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) is a simple, unasuming man who eats breakfast with his family every morning before going to work at his routine job. His life is turned upside down when one morning, he becomes a sought-after celebrity for no apparent reason. He's at first very annoyed by all this attention but soon learns to easily enjoy the perks of his new-found fame.

The best segment involves a newlywed couple from a small town who come to the big city for the opportunity to start a new life. Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) is nervous about meeting his relatives who could help lead him to a better career but his wife, Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) is only concerned about having her hair done before they arrive. As Milly becomes hopelessly lost trying to find the salon, there is a knock on their hotel door. Anna (Penelope Cruz), a comely, local working girl, pounces on Antonio, informing him that she has been paid for to fulfill his wildest dreams. Although a mistake has been made but his high-class relatives arrive early, so Antonio has no choice but introduce this lady as his wife. Meanwhile, Milly stumbles on to a film set where she becomes star-struck by meeting an Italian movie star (Antonio Albanese) as he becomes focused on seducing her.

"To Rome With Love" is a heavy handed affair, combining surreal fantasy with broad comedy but it all ends up feeling pretty stale. It seems like Mr. Allen whipped these dusty, random sketches out of the bottom of a drawer and tied them together to make this film. However, if Mr. Allen wasn't going to put any real effort to update or improve these wheezy stories, he really should have left them where he found them. I am a very big fan of the writer/director and what makes this latest film so disappointing is that I have seen what great work he is able to do when he puts a little effort such as "Crimes & Misdemeanors", "Bullets Over Broadway" or "Hannah and Her Sisters" to name just a few of my favorites.

Mr. Allen returns to the screen for the first time since his last appearance in his 2006 film, "Scoop" and he, once again, plays a high-strung New Yorker. While he is still more than capable of selling a joke but his routine feels just as tired as the rest of the film. The actors don't seem to have been given much guidance so they just rely on their own instincts which leads to some wildly, varied performances that also throws the film out of whack. Ms Cruz is able to do much with very little as she effortlessly brings much needed warmth and charm as she is the true comic highlight of this misfire. Mr Benigni, also long absent from film, delivers delightful moments of hilarity with his rubbery face alone but since Mr Allen didn't rein the comedian in, his antics become overbearing, most especially during his segment's final act. Rising indie star, Greta Gerwig is completely wasted and no offense to the talented Ellen Page (who was perfect in her breakout film, "Juno") but she is never believable for one moment as an irresistible femme fatale, no matter how hard she tries.

While "Midnight In Paris" played like Allen's lovely valentine to that city, "Rome" feels more like an unnecessarily hostile assault on this ancient city. Rome deserves much better and so does the audience.



Wednesday, June 13, 2012

2012 LA FILM FEST

The 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival will be held downtown at the entertainment venue, L.A. Live. This film fest will not only host a wide selection of American and international independent feature and documentaries but there will also be free outdoor screenings, television premieres, musical performances at the Grammy Museum and conversations with filmmakers and artists.


L.A. Film Fest runs from June 14th through June 24th with the opening night film being Woody Allen's latest, "To Rome With Love" and the closing film will be Steven Soderbergh's, "Magic Mike".


This year's Guest Director will be William Friedkin who will present his controversial new film, "Killer Joe" starring Mathew McConaughey.



For the complete list of films, purchase tickets and additional information, please go to:

LA FILM FEST 2012

Sunday, June 10, 2012

DARK SHADOWS (2012)

Written by Seth Grahame-Smith


Directed by Tim Burton


Where & When: Mann's Chinese 6, Hollywood, CA. May 15, 2012 5:30PM


The most amazing thing about Johnny Depp's career as a movie star is that he achieved it without ever having to rely on his ruggedly handsome face. He managed to do it on his own terms by playing many colorful eccentrics and quirky oddballs that were (for the most part) far removed from the actual actor. Depp is fearless as there's no character too bizarre or grotesque for him to explore. It's clear he has no interest in playing it safe or expected as he enjoys hiding behind heavy make-up and extravagant costumes to become something that might only exist in his own imaginary world. The few instances when he attempted to portray more conventional people, he was much less successful and even appeared slightly bored. Although it took some time before the public came around to fully embraced these strange characters but by the time they met Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of The Caribbean" franchise, he was welcomed with open arms and a major star was born.

Mr. Depp's latest creation or rather, recreation, is the soap opera vampire, Barnabas Collins in the film, "Dark Shadows" which is based on the 1960's television program. The actor has once again teamed-up with director, Tim Burton for the ninth time (including both live-action and animation) as they both shared an affinity to the original show. Although the film pays a warm and loving homage to their memories but as an engaging entertainment, it's not quite as successful.

During the eighteenth century, the Collins family left England to move to America. They end up in Maine where they achieve great success by creating a fishing port. The town became known as Collinsport, and the family built a spectacular manor and called it Collinswood. Their only child, Barnabas grew-up to become handsome, wealthy and eligible which serves him well as this allows him to have his pick of any of the ladies in town. However, he has the misfortune of having a brief affair with his servant, Angelique (Eva Green) before becoming smitten with the lovely, Josette (Bella Heathcote) as the jilted woman turns out to be a witch. After she jealously causes the demise of his new lover right before his eyes, Angelique bitterly turns Barnabas in to a vampire. She rallies the townspeople against him so that they chain him inside a coffin and bury him where Barnabas Collins will have to spend the rest of eternity.

Cut to two hundred years later, a working crew, while doing construction, discover the ancient coffin. Barnabas is released from his tomb and, unfortunately for the men, he's very thirsty. He manages to find his way back to Collinswood manor only to find his old home in sad shape. He meets his descendants who still live in the decrepit house; his cousin, Elizabeth Collins-Studdard (Michelle Pfeiffer) who runs the household, her brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his troubled, young son, David (Gulliver McGrath) and Elizabeth's rebellious teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). This family is so highly dysfunctional that even David's psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham-Carter) lives in the home although it's questionable how much help she actually is as most mornings are spent struggling to recover from a hangover.

A recent arrival has joined the house; Victoria (also played by Ms Heathcote), as David's new governess who startles Barnabas by her striking resemblance to his lost love and finds himself being drawn to her.

Elizabeth is the only one who's aware of their lost relative's true nature and explains to him how the family ended up in this troubling misfortune due to a rival fishing company that is run by witch who imprisoned him. Angelique, willing to let bygones be bygones, is more than happy to rekindle their romance but Barnabas wants no part of her which leads to an explosive showdown between her and the vampire

Mr. Burton started out his career as an animator for Disney so, it's not really surprising that as a filmmaker he tends to place a higher importance on the visuals. There has also always been elements of darkness and  kitsch to his work and "Dark Shadows" is no exception except this time it's actually quite appropriate. He is helped to achieve this by the impressive work of cinematographer, Bruno Delbonnel as he mutes the colors that highlight the inky blacks and icy blues to create an atmosphere that is perfectly gloomy and costume designer, Colleen Atwood who has worked regularly with Burton (and won her third Oscar with their last collaboration on 2011's "Alice In Wonderland") delivers her clever twist of the garish, over-the-top fashions of the 70's.

Although there are quite a few witty lines that provide some out-loud laughs but the script is convoluted and doesn't offer much of memorable story. The real problem is that the movie doesn't know whether it wants to be a campy comedy or a dramatic horror tale leaving the audience off-balanced. As "Dark Shadows" progresses, it rapidly loses steam with the laughs becoming fewer until we reach a wildly manic ending that feels rushed and unsatisfying.

Mr. Depp has created another fun and memorable character and it's clear he's having a good time. After Depp, the other highlight is Ms Green who brings delightful menace and tough sexy charm to her role as the demented witch. It's always an absolute pleasure seeing the amazing Ms Pfeiffer on the screen but her visit is too short and she's not at all utilized to the best of her abilities.

Despite some wonderful visual razzle-dazzle and a hilariously creepy performance by Mr. Depp, this updated "Dark Shadows" ends up not feeling improved or invigorated. It only comes across like some old, creaky relic but with some fresh paint slapped on it.