8/28/2014

DVD Review: 1 Chance 2 Dance (2014)


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Though the film's screenwriter, editors, and director seem content to present us with a near cut-and-paste style collage of scenes, stock characters, and subplots from genre film favorites, 1 Chance 2 Dance works best when it aims for mere affectionate homage (instead overwhelming tribute) in the moments it manages to break free from the pack and follow its own lead.


Yet unfortunately for director Adam Deyoe’s well-intentioned work, these stretches of spontaneity vs. Chance's safe structural choreography of scripted routine are few and far between.

Simply put, there isn’t much in Chance that we haven’t seen before... save for perhaps the poorly named villain Valerie Harper who calls to mind the actress of the same name that embodied Mary Tyler Moore’s best friend Rhoda on 1970s TV as opposed to the film’s manipulative blonde high school queen bee.


Having turned pulling the strings of everyone from boys to teachers into an art-form, the cliquish Mean Girls use their gossip fueled frenemy approach to size up the threat of the new student (likable Lexi Giovagnoli) that arrives Footloose style following a cross-country move from a big city to the small town.

Since the messy emotional weight of her parent’s recent divorce has sent her entire family reeling, the All-American new girl looks for a new way to cope with the stress by preparing for a high-profile dance competition at the school where surprisingly the performing arts usurp sports in popularity.


Most likely by now savvy viewers will have begun mentally ticking off the boxes of the multitude of movies from which Chance has drawn upon to construct its contemporary take on the same underdog/fish-out-of-water hybrid coming-of-age storylines that have propelled other films of this type since Saturday Night Fever.

Reflecting everything from Save the Last Dance to Center Stage as well as the Step Up franchise among others, 1 Chance 2 Dance comes complete with a Fame turned Glee (or now Pitch Perfect) like showcase sequence at the end.


Yet to its credit, Chance does score points for putting primary characters before performance choreography, thus managing to create a few woefully underdeveloped yet admirably serious subplots (including alcoholism and medical crises) that help anchor the film in real vs. reel life.

Additionally, our heroine’s unique sense of style (a la Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink or Mary Stuart Masterson in Some Kind of Wonderful) also echoes films of the '80s Footloose era as if perhaps they’d originally set out to make a John Hughes-like dance picture… without that much dance to otherwise propel audience interest.


Yet as terrific as a Hughes-infused dance film sounds, despite its potential, the creative gamble never pays off. From our lead’s instantly forgettable friends to the dramatically dubious nosedive the script takes in the final act during an obligatory party sequence where the actions of its core characters make absolutely no sense, Chance collapses under the weight of the movies made before it.

Still much more ambitious than your average straight-to-disc offering, Chance sets out to prove that you don’t need the big budgeted backing of High School Musical’s House of Mouse to make a teen-centric performance picture.

But given its awkward rhythm and overreliance on old footwork – instead of taking a modern freestyle approach to tell a worthwhile story – Deyoe’s Chance to Dance fails to pick up enough momentum to encourage viewers to join in.


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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

8/27/2014

Film Movement DVD Review: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow (2013)


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“Sometimes,” a character states in the English language translated subtitles of writer/director Arvin Chen’s bittersweet Taiwanese effort Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, “a crisis can be a good thing because you learn to see things clearly.” 



Therefore it’s only fitting that the man whose entire existence (including his loves, life, and pursuit of happiness) is put under the microscope in Chen’s feature is the newly promoted employee of an optical shop who becomes the head optometrist after the outgoing, soon-to-be-retired manager tells him that his “relationship with glasses is over.”

Relationships of all types from romantic to marital, business, and parental between lovers, exes, strangers, and those in all places in between are the subject of this intriguing domestic dramedy that – much like the films of Jacques Demy which it salutes both stylistically and structurally – first focuses on the optometrist until Chen widens his lens to incorporate his larger circle of family and friends.

Introducing us to a number of characters right off the bat which tests our ability to juggle subtitle reading comprehension with memory function in trying to discern who said what before they disappear from the frame, the film soon zeroes in on its main subject Weichung (marvelously played by Richie Jen). 

And by way of a photographer whose picture perfect snapshots transform reality into fantasy, Chen reiterates his theme about looking beyond the surface to see what's really there after the photographer crosses paths with our lead and reveals the truth behind the image during a chance encounter between the two old friends in a conversation that has lingering effects.


Despite having left his old secretive gay lifestyle behind to marry his best childhood girlfriend and start a family, it’s only after the married optometrist finds himself unexpectedly coming face-to-face with what might be true love that Weichung realizes may not be able to face an entire lifetime denying his true nature.

Yet by understanding that on its own that the sensitively handled protagonist’s plot could’ve easily bordered on the melodramatic or soap operatic – Chen is right to turn Love into a genre-blended ensemble study about how we reconcile our heart’s immediate desires with our plans for the future. And it's a smart move too since broadening the scope of the work makes Chen's film stand out.

Showing us the flipside of their relationship, our hero’s wife begins to sense that something is missing in her own life and contemplates having another child to fill the gap.

Avoiding clich├ęs or the opportunity to take an easy way out via a narrative shortcut, the delicate and emotionally respectful way Chen handles both of their struggles to solve and fulfill their own needs individually and as a couple makes a terrific counterpoint for some of the other tales of romantic woe that fill the rest of Love’s running time.


Soon encountering a bride (also Weichung’s sister) who develops sudden cold feet while shopping for household supplies and a handsome lonely flight attendant whose eyes latch onto those of our lead, we’re given a large number of wholly relatable, fully three-dimensional characters and situations that Chen brings so vividly to life.

Using a touch of magical realist induced whimsy to heighten moments such as when a kiss sends one character high into the sky in what seems— by extension – to be a tip-of-the-hat to the French trifecta of Tati, Demy and Jeunet, the humanistic Love tips its hat to a wide array of directors and titles from around the globe.


From the explosions of color a la Punch Drunk Love to the multilayered ophthalmologic motif first encountered in Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors to the tongue-in-cheek tone of The Wedding Banquet, Chen’s found the right blend of realism and artistry to heighten but never overwhelm events with gentle nods, flourishes, and allusions.

A naturally delightful dreamscape, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? is filled with inventive production design where sets, costumes and color help layer scenes with humor whether it’s in the beige and white blandness of an antiseptic office building or the neon lights of a gay club.


Perfect for an outside screening on a warm summer night, from the titular imaginary musical sequence to the lovely final moments, Chen’s Love will inspire cuddling one moment before tempting you to get up and dance the next.

Stemming from a very personal place for the Taiwan based filmmaker (and former apprentice of Yi Yi helmer Edward Yang), in its timely and topical dedication to addressing gay and straight rights in an area of the world where far too often they’re not being acknowledged, Love proves just as heartfelt and universally engrossing regardless of gender, race, orientation, language or land.


Using a memorable score composed to reflect the era of Legrand and Bacharach as well as gentle special effects and trickery to transform regular activities into super-heroic acts, Love celebrates the unsung heroism of everyday people and the evolving definition of family.

Via this affable, well-acted confection, Arvin Chen offers you a ride on an emotional rollercoaster in the hopes that after you vicariously travel the highs and lows of love, life and characters-in-crises in the pursuit of happiness, you’ll disembark refreshed, ready to focus and suddenly able to see the future of Tomorrow much more clearly.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

Blu-ray Review: Rio 2 (2014)


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Related Review:
Rio (2011)

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Blue Sky Studios’ globally-minded musically driven 3D CG-animated adventure movie Rio brought its aptly named Blue Macaw Blu and his bookish owner Linda (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Leslie Mann respectively) from Minnesota to the titular Rio in the infectious 2011 original that enchanted viewers with its high-spirited energy and fast moving storyline which danced at a steady Samba pace.


Unfortunately while it’s as beautifully vibrant as ever in a visually breathtaking opener that once again feels like it's an animated half-pint version of the Carnival classic Black Orpheus, the second film is an undeniably busy, ambitiously overstuffed and disappointingly episodic return to the delightful high-flying world of Rio.

Strategically released to coincide with the World Cup, Rio 2 incorporates a soccer fueled scene that’s – like everything else in the film – ratcheted up a million degrees so that it’s storyboarded less like a regular match and more like a spectacular Harry Potter styled aerial game of Quidditch.


And despite its pro-nature message about preserving the Amazon Rainforest (as well as the endangered birds in another through-line admirably carried over from the first film), far too much gets lost in the shuffle of individually isolated “scenes” in a movie that ultimately lacks the cohesive focus of a well-conceptualized whole.

As Rio 2 begins, we check back in with the paired off lovebirds (Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) from the original as the couple and their three young flappers leave Rio behind before flying into acquaintances both new and old in the sequel’s dominated Rainforest setting.


Essentially a feathered version of Meet the Parents for the small set, in Rio 2, Hathaway’s Jewel is stunned to discover that the family she’d long thought to have been deceased is alive and well in her old Amazon home.

While indulging in his opportunity to play the Robert De Niro like Parents heavy, voice actor Andy Garcia is clearly having a ball as Jewell's long lost father who takes an immediate dislike and disapproval to Blu by admonishing him as a mere “pet.” However, the biggest surprise is musician Bruno Mars, who steals several scenes in an often screamingly funny role as a childhood friend who still clearly carries a torch for Jewel.


Burning through subplot and supporting characters (including a return of the first film’s fan favorite Jemaine Clement who’s now partnered with Kristin Chenoweth), from its snappy one-liners to obligatory pop songs and brightly colored, firework-fast diversions, Rio 2’s key takeaway about preserving plant and animal life on Earth gets pushed into the periphery.

Sloppily written, the film shortchanges its talented cast and expectant audience alike with a collection of sitcom level scenes edited together with a few eye-opening epic moments (such as the aforementioned opener) buried in between in order to satisfy the shortest of attention spans.


A pleasant enough diversion for your tiniest tots especially given the multiple format combo pack release which boasts a Blu-ray, DVD and digital copy, director Carlos Saldanha’s effort works better than a majority of run of the mill fare like The Nut Job.

And likewise given the studio's dedicated to discovering new topics, techniques, and terrain (even by way of a preexisting template), it is a stronger than average follow-up as far as animated movies go.

Nonetheless there’s still no beating the South American spirit of Blu’s original opus that showed ticket-buyers that outside of the frozen tundra of the impressive Ice Age franchise, Blue Sky has a bright future ahead of them in the sun.

   

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

8/26/2014

Blu-ray Review: Operation Petticoat (1959)


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Under the tutelage of his frequent cinematic collaborator and early mentor, the talented director Richard Quine, Blake Edwards penned the original and adapted scripts for a string of successful service comedy studio pictures from Sound Off to the On the Town inspired All Ashore.

Rounding out the series of 1950s-based WWII nostalgia driven films by co-writing the Jack Lemmon vehicle Operation Mad Ball, Edwards cemented a relationship with the star that would ultimately pay off in his greatest early achievement via the dramatic Days of Wine and Roses years later when he became an acclaimed genre and rule-breaking filmmaker in his own right.

After ten plus years of writing jokes and helming B-movies, Edwards had proven his track record with the then-trendy genre that played into the Greatest Generation’s experiences and sacrifices in the second world war now that the veterans had begun growing restless in the suburbs. Given the chance to move up the ladder in the same terrain, Edwards closed out the decade with a cinematic coup by taking advantage of the opportunity to climb it several rungs up to go straight to the top.


Earning his dues by trying to be the funniest, friendliest and/or fastest one in the room, Edwards was tapped to direct a big-budgeted WWII submarine-based servicemen sex comedy with a star-studded cast of marquee names playing larger-than-life characters.

Two years before he talked Audrey Hepburn into taking on an against-type role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (which has since become synonymous with the star who rose to icon status with the film) and four years before he kicked off another picture-perfect collaboration with Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther franchise that illustrated his ease with physical pratfall based comedy, Blake Edwards took Petticoat to sea.

Embracing the challenge of blending high and lowbrow humor in the film’s shameless hybrid of sophisticated wordplay with silly slapstick and sight-gags, you see in Petticoat a filmmaker at play, practicing and getting better with a new prop, line-read, or ensemble approach here or there.


While like a few of his other earlier works, the results are uneven, Petticoat is one of his strongest precursors to Panther.

Whether scenes are filled with conman swagger or comedic klutziness, you can sense his filmic thought process being tested onscreen so that by the time he crossed paths with Sellers, it only took them one test-run (by way of the first, oh-so-slow Panther) to realize that chaotic rhythm – something fast-paced and with a beat you can laugh to – makes everything wittier.

And it’s this frantically fast and furiously funny approach that both professionals illustrated again and again both together (in The Party as well as the Panther series) and apart (in The Great Race for Edwards and Dr. Strangelove for Sellers).

Petticoat’s long-overdue arrival on this Blu-ray presentation from Olive Films offers the ideal opportunity for cinephiles to get a second chance at their first impression of Edwards which is too often linked with the absurd antics of Sellers in Panther, Dudley Moore in 10 or sadly, the misguided racist caricature of Mickey Rooney contrast with the loveliness of Hepburn in Tiffany’s.


Despite its contrivances and formulaic service comedy structure that couldn’t hold a candle to the then-recent Mister Roberts, upon revisiting Petticoat today you find an energetic, ambitious – if overlong old-fashioned ensemble comedy that highlights all roles from walk-ons to leads.

From the wild guests at The Party to all those taking part in The Great Race, Edwards is – like most writers – fascinated by people and the generosity with which he creates something scenes out of nothing parts is a breath of fresh air to the cardboard cutouts walking around in today's titles.

And while one can only imagine how stressful it’d be to direct cast members of the stature of Cary Grant – much like he did with Richard Quine and Jack Lemmon – Edwards reunited with Grant’s co-star Tony Curtis later on in a career where not only did he seem to play well with others collaboratively by working together to bring out the best in all but also by building on his background as a writer in understanding that the film begins on the page.

The result is a brilliantly written dialogue-heavy comedy with a peach of a part as a fast-talking operator (in the vein of Sgt. Bilko or Axel Foley) for Curtis whose multiple page per minute delivery helps punctuate the Oscar nominated script from Pillow Talk scribes Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin.

While one shortcoming of the new high definition transfer is the shoddy sound and lack of subtitles to make sure every word lands, it's nonetheless a multilayered work that's pulsing with life. Lensed with care and attention, the cinematography by legendary Howard Hawks cameraman Russell Harlan (Red River, Rio Bravo) ensures we feel every bit of sexual tension and every close call aboard the perpetually doomed U.S.S. Sea Tiger that Cary Grant’s career officer is determined to save from the scrap heap and get back in fighting shape.


Pushing his hardwired military mandated morals and regulations aside, Grant opts to look the other way and let Curtis’s conman steal any available part that isn’t nailed down as the new supply registration officer with a habit of smuggling anything from people to toilet paper aboard the sub.

After a group of stranded female servicewomen are forced to stow away on a ship filled with men quickly driven to distraction – including Grant who fails to keep things professional after ill-timed flirting forces him to torpedo a truck instead of taking out the enemy who’s just discovered their position – understandably, it’s getting things off the vessel that proves to be Grant’s biggest problem.

Soon realizing that they’ll need to band together to get out of the war alive and keep the ship afloat – both of which are tested when a primer problem results in a bright pink submarine – the crackling chemistry and camaraderie helps buoy Edwards’s Operation whenever it begins to stay off course. Amazingly deriving some of its most memorable characters and craziest anecdotes from real life battle stories – Petticoat manages to hit mostly untroubled waters for a majority of its overly long running time.

Hilarious as the conman template for the talk-his-way-out-of-anything archetype later embodied by Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop, Tony Curtis (whose daughter Jamie Leigh was cast in what would’ve been essentially the love interest to his ‘59 part in the short-lived late ‘70s TV spin-off) nails his jokes although his character’s skirt-chasing antics seem about a overdone as the actor’s rather conspicuous eye makeup.


One of the highest grossing titles for the year, Operation Petticoat was also said to be one of the biggest regrets of Bob Hope’s professional life after he turned down a role in the film he later admired.

While the subpar sound quality and muddied color specs of the release pales in comparison to some of Olive’s previous titles (in Blu-ray or DVD) and make me wonder whether or not it was even restored before the 1080p upgrade, the film is still an entertaining men-in-uniform romp with a bit of war action and sex comedy mixed in for good and bad measure.

For admittedly the changes in tone work about as well as the extended flashback device does to bookend the uneasy blend of nostalgia and the ridiculousness that arises in this nonetheless enjoyable tribute to problem solving on a large scale.


However from a film studies standpoint, Petticoat can also be appreciated as a tribute to early Edwards (and therefore his mentor Quine) in not only foreshadowing later work but also showing you his movie-making method of madness.

Namely, as evidenced onscreen, it starts by surrounding yourself with a loyal, talented crew. Then by working in the fact-based offscreen elements, Edwards also uses everything at his disposal from a memo about toilet paper to the unexpected patriotism of a brassiere to make you laugh so hard that – like a magician using comedy instead of a wand as a misdirect – you don’t notice the trick that he’s actually making you think as well.

And now that we've just begun to digest his transition from writer to director, what we really need is a box set release of his ‘50s service comedies to reacquaint film lovers with the start of a brilliantly funny career due to his collaboration – before Moore, Sellers, Hepburn or Lemmon – with the underrated Richard Quine.

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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

8/22/2014

Blu-ray Review: Fading Gigolo (2013)


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Blu-ray Introduction

Shot in just thirty days on glorious 35mm film, writer/director and star John Turturro teams up with his longtime assistant Cameron Bossert to record a delightfully friendly and informative feature-length commentary track on the beautiful new Blu-ray transfer of his spring art-house charmer, Fading Gigolo.

Freely acknowledging the way that his obsessions, recurring motifs (including nuns), and themes wind up weaving their way throughout his directorial career, Gigolo’s chatty commentary is filled with insider details, anecdotes, and bite-sized nuggets of personal inspiration he called upon to create the film.

Whether it’s in Turturro’s fascinating admission that his own friend – a former rare bookseller – served as the muse for Woody Allen’s scene-stealing character or the “lice lady” he’d met that likewise inspired the role of his unlikely onscreen love interest (nicely played by Vanessa Paradis), again and again, Turturro’s revelations remind writers that reality truly is the best jumping off-point for creativity.


In fact, celebrating the authenticity of life is one way that the otherwise fantastical Gigolo stays so believably rooted in the real world and Turturro proudly credits all collaborators and colleagues including some friends and family turned co-stars (like his cousin Aida Turturro who makes her scene count to memorably comedic effect).

Referencing the at-times coincidental overlap of cast and crew in New York’s filmmaking community, he shares a remarkable tale of an unintentional reunion between Woody Allen and his former prop man of ten years who happened to be in one scene early on in the movie.

Unfortunately aside from the terrific commentary track, the Blu-ray is ultimately lacking in worthwhile bonus features as we quickly discover that the included deleted scenes were all left on the cutting room floor for a reason.


And although the decision to not offer a DVD or Ultraviolet high definition code might’ve hindered sales from budget-conscious consumers eager to have the opportunity to screen Gigolo in multiple formats, personally given the way that music plays such a key role in the film, I was hoping for a behind-the-scenes featurette that explored that department in further depth.

Luckily however, the surprisingly sweet and unexpectedly moving work along with Turturro’s intelligent, respectful handling of both its daring subject matter and the film's affable supporting players makes it worthwhile nonetheless (as I discovered in my earlier theatrical review republished below).

Additionally, it’s sure to appeal to Allen fans who’ve grown disappointed by the way that his films seem more and more stuck in the past with each passing year. For in Fading Gigolo, Turturro proves he’s more than willing to help Woody Allen move into more modern territory, even if it’s writer/director/star Turturro instead of Allen who’s calling the shots behind the camera.


 


Original Movie Review
(Published 4/24/14)

There’s an old saying that when it comes to filmmaking success, everything depends on who you know. And obviously John Turturro has met, worked with and befriended his fair share of very powerful people throughout his impressive career on both sides of the lens as not only one of our greatest character actors but a filmmaker in his own right as the director of four acclaimed independent films.

Yet when it came to developing what would become his fifth film Fading Gigolo, the road from idea for finished screenplay did wind up having a lot to do with who Turturro knew – although instead of a studio head or a power player, the man most responsible for getting Gigolo off the ground was none other than his own barber.


Amused by the clever concept that had first been brainstormed as a hypothetical, improvisational joke shared over lunch with a friend, Turturro’s barber later shared the story he’d been told with another filmmaker client of his in the form of Woody Allen who was so intrigued by the promising potential that he contacted Turturro out of the blue to learn more.

Helping Turturro refine the witty pitch into a viable plotline that would eventually find Allen costarring as well, Fading Gigolo began to take shape, evolving from something wholly comedic to a warmhearted, highly personal, moving dramedy that handles the provocative subject matter with the utmost sincerity and maturity.

Caught off guard when his beautiful dermatologist (Sharon Stone) asks her client Murray (Allen) if he knew anyone who would be interested in having a threesome with her and her fiercely independent friend (played by Sofia Vergara), the fast-talking retired rare bookseller decides to pimp out his best friend Fioravante (John Turturro) on the spot.


A part time florist who’s always done well with the ladies – although he’s initially hesitant to become Murray’s ho, curiosity and flattery not to mention the prospect of an impressive payday eventually win him over as Fioravante gives in, making a first “date” appointment to show up for a one-on-one trial with Stone’s even more nervous doctor.

Attempting to play the part, Fioravante shows up with a floral arrangement as if he were there for a real live date before taking the plunge.

Dancing with the lonely women in the daytime, Fioravante’s attentiveness pays off as before long, the sensitive man’s man finds himself in demand as the opportunistic Murray begins cruising yoga classes in Central Park looking for new clients.


Although at first uneasy about taking money from vulnerable women, Murray is quick to tell him isn’t nearly as bad as preying on the misery of others like a bartender since he’s building up the women’s confidence after all.

And using the same sales pitch that describes his friend’s gifts as akin to healing, Murray finds a potential customer in Avigail (Vanessa Paradis), the lonely young widow of a deceased Hasidic Rabbi whose own primal need for intimacy has been ignored for way too long.

Unfortunately the suspicious behavior of Murray arouses the suspicion of Liev Schreiber’s jealous Hasidic community officer who’s spent his entire life pining after his lovely neighbor Avigail and puts their impromptu operation in jeopardy.


Understanding that it would have been both disrespectful and entirely too farfetched to turn the devout Avigail into just another client in need of sexual release, Turturro uses compassion and class onscreen and off by handling their complicated dynamic with sophistication as the lonely mother of six weeps openly as he massages her back, admitting that she hadn’t been touched in years.

Awakening a sensual side of Avigail that we suspect had been dormant long before her husband passed away, Gigolo infuses the second, more emotionally involving half of the film with a tender exploration of how their relationship unexpectedly affects both parties. And at the film continues, it results in a humorously bittersweet yet fitting payoff that invites you to read into the charmingly ambiguous final sequence for yourself.

While it makes the most of its New York setting in some breathtakingly beautiful scenic shots of fall leaves, carousels and bookshelves – by spending so much time in the Hasidic community in addition to giving us the point-of-view of an unexpected middle aged gigolo – there’s also a unique sense of detachment to the work that makes it seem like a foreign film shot on American soil.


And although admittedly you do have to suspend your disbelief regarding the drop-dead beauties to whom Fioravante is pimped out to throughout – all in all it’s rooted in enough reality that the sweet yet sexy infusion of a bedtime fantasy story best begun with the words “Once Upon a Time” still results in a lovely cinematic surprise.

Refreshingly devoid of cynicism, while some filmmakers would’ve approached the topic with a much bleaker worldview of humanity and/or women in general to make a statement on sex and commerce, it’s evident that Turturro’s heart is in the right place from the start.

Feel-good filmmaking that springboards off its inventive premise to truly invest us in the plight of its multiple lonely outsiders, Gigolo evolves into a stylish, well-acted ensemble dramedy the likes of which Turturro would have easily gravitated to as an actor even if it had been helmed by someone else.

And much like the word-of-mouth that helped get the film made offscreen and earned Fioravante clients onscreen, Fading Gigolo is sure to attract an even bigger audience in its spring theatrical release as this delightful Gigolo offers something for everyone.




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Text ©2014, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved. http://www.filmintuition.com Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited and in violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I may have received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.

8/20/2014

Blu-ray Review: Viva Las Vegas (1964) - 50th Anniversary Edition


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(Along with Blu-ray Premiere of Elvis: That's the Way It Is


  
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Related Reviews:



Introduction

As it’s since become not only one of the most popular records in his entire career but also the unofficial theme song to Sin City, in retrospect, it’s mind-boggling to discover that Elvis Presley’s then under-marketed movie title song “Viva Las Vegas” would reach only #29 on the Billboard Music Charts in its original release.

Foolishly relegated to the B-side of his Ray Charles cover “What’d I Say?” (which the record company had dropped as the lead single just three weeks earlier), executives hoping to double down on interest wound up pitting one track by the King against another.

But although “Say” won more fans in the states in its original battle of airplay and listener requests, the film in which both songs were first performed onscreen had far greater appeal with everyday filmgoers and Elvis fans alike as ticket-buyers turned the 1964 release into the eleventh highest grossing picture of the year as Presley’s biggest box office hit.


Timing its new Digibook debut to Elvis Week – while cinematically speaking Viva’s dueling dual release of Elvis: That’s the Way It Is has the most bang for its buck given that it’s bowing on Blu-ray for the first time and boasts two versions in one – Viva’s collectible photo filled book makes it a must for fans of Presley’s slick crowd-pleasing endeavor.

Likewise, it’s a welcome treat for those eager to own Vegas on its own as opposed to packaged together in WB’s previous 3 film set release four years ago when it made its high definition debut alongside Jailhouse Rock and Elvis on Tour.

The first of a handful of feature films to be choreographed by West Side Story actor David Winters (whose innovative work still dazzles in the film’s whopping ten song and dance numbers), Viva Las Vegas showcases Elvis at the peak of his charismatic powers as a screen performer.


Admittedly of course, the chemistry between Presley and Ann-Margret is palpable from their earliest scenes together onscreen. Nonetheless, it’s still fascinating to go back and look at the studio’s potent hype machine in action, given the PR memos and publicity loglines included in the collectible book which reveal the strategic plans MGM had to capitalize on the sex appeal of its newest starlet.

But holding her own opposite the King in what was – throughout Presley’s pictures a traditionally thankless part for young women certain to be upstaged in ever-interchangeable turns as “the girl” or love interest – Viva’s Ann-Margret proved she was more of a match for Elvis than MGM’s bosses had ever anticipated.


From instructions for advertisers to “make [a] large blow up of this rear, sensuous view” of her rear complete with the teaser pitch of “Who is she? We can’t tell you yet but we can say that she is the most lovely, talented dish to hit the screens in many a year,” the PR department instructed fans to “watch for her.”

And as Viva Las Vegas proved back in 1964 (and today once again thanks to this gorgeous release), those in Ann-Margret’s orbit both offscreen in the form of film fans and onscreen in the form of her visibly mesmerized costar – The King of Rock ‘n Roll – were only too happy to oblige.



Original Blu-ray Review
(From the release of Elvis: Blu-ray Collection - Published 8/17/10)

Whereas Jailhouse Rock excelled at showcasing Presley's promise as an actor, Viva Las Vegas served as one of the King's most quintessentially '60s splashy MGM Elvis musical confections.

Reuniting with his Bye Bye Birdie star Ann-Margret, acclaimed director George Sidney (Pal Joey, Annie Get Your Gun, Kiss Me Kate) managed to get an unlimited amount of mileage out of the sizzling sexual chemistry shared between the two leads, making their onscreen professions of motor revving race car driver (Elvis) and smoking hot swimming instructor and pool manager (Ann-Margret) seem especially fitting.



And sure enough it's all the two could do to keep their hands off of one another offscreen which infuriated his wife Priscilla when word and far too many photos spread back to Graceland.

With this in mind, it's extremely easy to predict that soon after Grand Prix driver Lucy Jackson (Presley) meets Swedish siren Ann-Margret's sweet-natured Rusty Martin, her resolve that she's “one gal [he'll] never get,” will disappear as soon as the two share a dance.

And dance they do in the production number filled Viva which finds Elvis singing even more than usual onscreen in some true toe-tappers, offering us his own rendition of Ray Charles' “What'd I Say” along with the sensational show-stopping title track which was filmed in a single take with only one camera, illustrating his high degree of perfectionism as a performer.

Sadly however it's bogged down by its one-dimensional screenplay from otherwise talented Shadow of a Doubt scribe Sally Benson perhaps best known for her stories which inspired MGM's Meet Me in St. Louis.

And while the admittedly corny and forgettable Las Vegas doesn't offer anything new in the realm of Elvis pictures, it nonetheless entertains the hell out of us from the confines of his traditional fast-paced rhythm and racing paradigm.



Once dubbed “the female Elvis,” sultry Ann-Margret is on sex kitten overload. She dives headfirst from her initially wholesome Esther Williams style introduction into an approach that goes beyond Marilyn Monroe's innocent pin-up into more aggressively carnal terrain, growling like a tiger at the camera while never failing to shake her moneymaker even when she's walking in a straight line.

To this end, it hinges on camp at times, abandoning the cinematically refreshing approach of Elvis musical realism in the “Viva” number with some laughable montages as the characters undergo endless costume and scenery changes in a single date straight out of various sound stages off the MGM backlot.

All the same, while it's just as impossible to take seriously as other Presley productions of that particular decade and George Sidney's ambitious nature to cram a dozen pictures into one gives it a bit of a variety show feel, Viva Las Vegas still remains a sunshine bright work of escapism.

And in this high definition presentation, Vegas is augmented even more with WB's diamond flawless Blu-ray transfer that races into your living room with vivid colors, scintillating chemistry, and pitch-perfect musical numbers.


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