Tag: alec baldwin

To Rome with Love

To Rome with Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★

At one point in “To Rome with Love,” written and directed by Woody Allen, a character says, “Whoever imbecile conceived this moronic experience should be taken out and beheaded.” And although my sentiment for this picture does not reflect that line exactly, it comes really, really close. I hated this movie.

I was at a loss on what Allen wishes to communicate or convey to the audiences. I cannot imagine anyone that can relate to this film on a pragmatic or emotional level because all four story strands are given an element of absurdism so off-putting that it is difficult to discern whether the writer-director is making fun of his subjects or he is simply wishing to make a movie that feels light and inconsequential. Either way, it is a lose-lose situation especially when expectations are high. Allen is a seasoned writer-director. What is produced here is egregiously bad—slow in pacing, a bore to sit through, one of the most worthless experiences I have had in quite some time.

Out of the four strands, perhaps one that is most marginally interesting is a young architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who falls in head over heels with his girlfriend’s best friend, Monica (Ellen Page), an actress, who is visiting Rome after having broken up with her boyfriend who turned out to be gay. Although Jack’s girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), fears that her beau will grow attracted to Monica eventually, she keeps looking for ways for the two to spend time with one another. The situation could have been rife with potentially funny truths and consequences, but the screenplay loses the big picture consistently, opting to focus on behavior—such as aside comments with a sort-of imaginary character (Alec Baldwin) that can be seen and unseen by the trio whenever convenient—rather than the real emotions that are encountered when such a situation arises.

The casting of Eisenberg and Page does not work because these performers are driven by innate quirkiness. The attention is further focused on behavior—which is a problem in the first place. Because the two are so idiosyncratic, the tone is almost always off. They need a co-star who can function as a sounding board for their peculiarities. As a result, we are never really convinced about what Jack sees in Monica and vice-versa. Although I thought Gerwig does an adequate job in playing the role of an insecure girlfriend, she is not the ideal co-star. She, too, can be too quirky but the saving grace, I suppose, is that she does not have very many lines.

Two stories I found ridiculously boring involve Allen playing the father who meets the Roman family of his daughter’s boyfriend and an ordinary man (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly finds himself being stalked by the paparazzi. The former does not work because we never really believe that Allen’s character, Jerry, is once an opera director who rarely received good reviews for his work. I was at a loss on what Allen was thinking when he decided to cast himself in this role. It does not fit him in any way, shape, or form. All we see on screen is the director of the film wanting some sort of attention.

The latter does not work because the screenplay never allows us—in a meaningful way— into the life of a man suddenly finding himself considered as a celebrity. While the message of celebrity being an evanescent thing is crystal clear, that is a truth that is obvious. Wouldn’t it have been so much better or interesting if we learned how special this ordinary man really is despite the chaos unfolding around him? We rarely saw his family. I was not convinced that Allen had a rudimentary understanding of what it means to be a part of the working class. His work here reeks of privilege. I found it repelling.

I would like to think that Allen is smarter than this. I want to convince myself that he made this movie as a joke—that people will be brave enough call garbage as garbage rather than art regardless of the name behind it. I sensed no effort put into this work. It is not funny. It is not sad. it is not tragi-comic. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. I felt as though I wasted my time and I advise you not to waste yours.

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), until she gets back on her feet. Jasmine is completely broke; her husband (Alec Baldwin), who had recently killed himself, was involved in fraud and they lost everything—the big mansion, the expensive cars, the bank accounts. Having been used to a life of privilege, the New Yorker must learn to live in a small apartment, earn her own money, and endure a sibling she never felt close to but is nice enough to take her in.

“Blue Jasmine,” written and directed by Woody Allen, is propelled by an electrifying performance by Blanchett. She is willing to try anything: allow herself to look ugly, create a most despicable character that—still—we hope will change or learn something throughout the course of the picture, and modulate the character’s broken mind as if she were living two realities. Just about every decision she makes to get us to feel closer to or feel repelled by Jasmine—often at the same time—is fresh so watching her perform is a delight.

It is easy to make fun of the character for hitting the ground hard. After all, she is not a very nice person. She talks about the responsibility of being rich and how it is important to be generous but her actions do not match what she preaches. When she was swimming in money, she treated her sister like they were not related. One of the scenes that got the most reaction out of me was when Ginger visited Manhattan. Giving Ginger material things—such a a ridiculously expensive Fendi bag—is easy for Jasmine, but giving Ginger some of her time—a tour around New York City, spending a birthday dinner together—is a lot harder for her. It is most ironic that this repugnant woman wants to be an anthropologist.

Hawkins’ Ginger provides a good foil for Jasmine. She is the nicer half—maybe too nice—and I found her likable, an energetic auntie that one looks forward to seeing during the holidays. Perhaps it is the point but I was frustrated with her at times. She is too much of a pushover, always yielding, never realizing she does not have to put up with any of her sister’s prolific neuroses. For once, I would liked to have seen her put Jasmine in her place. Interestingly, the the screenplay never goes in that direction.

“Blue Jasmine” has a few subplots which do not quite come together. The conflict between Jasmine and her stepson (Alden Ehrenreich) feels tacked on. There is a dramatic scene between them near the end but I was left more confused than impressed. Also, Ginger’s ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) is given big scenes but his background is not developed in such a way that enhances the otherwise good acting.

As usual, Allen excels in showing contrasts: Jasmine’s life in NYC versus SF, the extravagant interiors of the mansion versus a humble but homey apartment, the protagonist’s glistening face when everything seems to be going right versus her haggard look when everything is being burnt to ashes. The writer-director jumps back and forth between past and present so effortlessly that it never feels distracting. We are put inside Jasmine’s troubled psychology. She’s there but sometimes she’s not really there.

Married to the Mob

Married to the Mob (1988)
★★ / ★★★★

Frank (Alec Baldwin) works for a mobster called Tony “The Tiger” Russo (Dean Stockwell), a man that the FBI has been watching for some time. When Tony discovers that Frank is getting his sloppy seconds, it is the perfect excuse to shoot Frank dead. During his former henchman’s burial, Tony makes a move on Angela (Michelle Pfeiffer), Frank’s wife. This forces the now single woman into an uncomfortable position because she no longer wants to have anything to do with the mob. To assert her independence, she moves to the Lower East Side with her son. This does not stop Tony from wanting to win her over.

“Married to the Mob,” written by Barry Strugatz and Mark R. Burns, is not devoid of humor, romance, or excitement, but it fails to excel at all of them. The mob boss is too outwardly silly and soft to be taken seriously. His henchmen are no better; it seems like not one of them has ever handled a gun before. Is it supposed to be farcical? I assumed it is.

It is fine that the picture has a light-hearted tone, it is supposed to be comedy after all, but its characters do not need to be so obvious all the time that we eventually grow numb to the screenplay’s efforts. There is one action scene involving a burger place that is designed to show how dangerous Tony can be when absolutely necessary, but the set-up feels like it has come from a completely different movie.

Mob bosses are scary not because of their ability to kill. That is probably a major factor for many but capacity for violence does not differentiate a gangster leader from his henchmen. I argue that the inherent fear we have about mob leaders stems from the way they are able to get whatever they want through conversation, silky-smooth charm, or a certain look they give when they mean business. Tony lacks depth. So when Angela feels threatened or disgusted by simply being in his presence, there is no change in the level of suspense. Even when he pulls out a gun, I had a difficult time believing it.

Angela, only a day after she has moved into her new apartment, meets Mike (Matthew Modine), who, unbeknownst to her, is one of the FBI agents, the other being Agent Benitez (Oliver Platt), assigned to spy on her and gather evidence to bring down Tony for good. I enjoyed the scene when the two go on a date (she is the one who asks him out) and share a few drinks. However, when they interact without drinks in hand, I could care less about how their relationship ends up. Naturally, she must find out about his true occupation and has to deal with the fact that she has been used.

The character I was most interested in is Connie (Mercedes Ruehl), Tony’s high-strung wife. Every time she is on screen, there is something off-kilter about her. She is so obsessed about being the wife of Tony, she will do absolutely anything to keep that title. If it means barging in on Angela’s apartment with nothing but a hunch on her side, then so be it. Even if she knows she is in the wrong, she walks away proudly. Ruehl is amusing to watch not because she is trying to be funny but because her character’s suspicion and paranoia become so severe, they take over her completely. I wished the picture was about Connie.

Directed by Jonathan Demme, “Married to the Mob” lacks subtle spice. Sitting through it is like eating a bowl of noodles with meat and vegetables but without key seasonings to make it splendiferous.

Talk Radio

Talk Radio (1988)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A Dallas talk show radio, managed by Dan (Alec Baldwin), is in its last days before it broadcasts nationwide. This does not stop Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian), a former suit salesperson, from delivering his usual brutally honest remarks that inspire callers to respond to him and his opinions with great indignation.

Based on a novel by Stephen Singular and directed by Oliver Stone, “Talk Radio” is a mesmerizing piece of work because it is able to take all sorts of vitriolic opinions and shove them in our ears. It is impossible to come out of this film without feeling shaken or moved, positively or negatively, by the phone calls.

One of the many standout scenes involves a group of Neo-Nazis who sends Barry a package. They claim that there is a bomb inside–a present for a “faggot-loving, nigger-loving” Jew who deserves to be hanged. Instead of calling the proper authorities, the daring radio host decides to call it a bluff. As Barry carefully opens the box while on the air, we hear a strange woman rambling on about putting her hand inside a garbage disposal and her fear of it suddenly turning on.

That is what I loved about the film: it does not leave much room for us to escape and so we are enveloped in the experience. If we focus our attention on the images, we are faced with a bomb going off. If we shift our attention to the sounds, our minds paint a picture of a woman who just might lose a limb. The images presented to us are strong, at times unbearable, and the sounds we hear force us to look at the images that we wish to avert our eyes from in the first place.

Whenever Barry is on the air, my eyes focused on his face as he deals with different and volatile personalities. The picture would not have been as captivating without Bogosian’s very intense performance. He is able to communicate so much with wrinkling his forehead just a little or bulging his eyes for a few carefully chosen seconds. Although he constantly screams and yells out of frustration in order to get his point across, I craved to hear what scandalous thing he is going to say next. In a way, it feels as though we are one of his night listeners.

When Barry is not in the studio, he spends time with his ex-wife, Ellen (Ellen Greene), who he invites to come visit to celebrate the radio program’s promotion. It is a welcome change of pace because the former couple’s interactions have a lot of joy. Their history may not have been pretty (Ellen caught Barry with another woman in their former house) but their reunion feels fresh because they want to make it work. There is a different type of tension embedded in the possible romantic reconnection.

“Talk Radio” brings up important questions and implications about the responsibility that we have–and should have–when we choose to exercise our freedom of speech. The film exposes all sorts of dirty laundry. Each phone call is funny, strange, scary, maddening, and, in its own sick way, enlightening. Despite the picture being released in the 1980s, it is more relevant than ever because regular folks, who don’t necessarily have to be smart, sensitive or have any sort of filter, now have the access to broadcast anything they want to with the advent of cell phones’ partnership with social media.

Two Bits

Two Bits (1995)
★★ / ★★★★

Twelve-year-old Gennaro Spirito (Jerry Barone) was desperate to get into La Paloma, the newly-opened movie theatre in town, but he didn’t have twenty-five cents to pay for the admission ticket. Everybody seemed to not have any change to spare because of the difficult times. Even his mother (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) saved every bit of money they had for food in order to care for Gennaro’s ailing grandfather (Al Pacino). Inspired by young street performers, our little protagonist decided to earn the money himself by taking odd and sometimes dangerous jobs to finally get inside the newfangled cinema. Main critiques about the film was directed toward a selfish main character who only cared about raising enough money as everyone else worried about bigger things in life such as hunger and deteriorating health. I felt differently because Gennaro was just a kid. Even though he was on the cusp of being a teenager, his brain was still like that of a child’s. He fixated on one idea and couldn’t let go until he was able to grasp it. In some ways, I found his adamant nature amusing because I was able to relate to him on some level. For example, when I really want to see a certain movie, I just can’t help but think about it. No matter what I do, I find it difficult to get rid of the fantasy of finally sitting down and seeing something I’ve so been yearning for. Obviously, there’s more to life than watching motion pictures, but Gennaro’s perseverance to see a film in the movie theater was more than the obvious. Whether he was consciously aware of it or not, I believed that he wanted to be a part of something bigger than himself, perhaps to share a rewarding collective experience in a dark room with strangers. Another interpretation was maybe he needed a temporary escape from his grandfather’s illness and the streets that served as his playground which was filled with people dealing with the Depression. Just because Gennaro was adamant about going to the movies, not once did I think that he didn’t love or care for his mother and grandfather. However, I did wish that the relationship between Barone and Pacino’s characters was explored in a deeper way. The adult Gennaro (narrated by Alec Baldwin) claimed that he and his grandfather had a special relationship. In the end, it still wasn’t clear to me what made their relationship so special. There were moments of genuine connection between them, like when the grandfather asked his grandson for a really big favor which might have been a bit too much to ask of our protagonist, but I didn’t feel the special element that the adult Gennaro, through a retelling of his memorable day, wanted us to experience. Written by Joseph Stefano and directed by James Foley, “Two Bits” contained some thoughtful scenes but it just felt short in achieving the magic that Giuseppe Tornatore’s “Cinema Paradiso” and Victor Erice’s “El espíritu de la colmena” seemed to effortlessly possess.


Beetlejuice (1988)
★★ / ★★★★

The Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) was a bubbly couple on “vacation” in their beloved big house. Sadly, they died via drowning when their car plunged into a river. A couple of months later, initially unaware that the former owners tragically passed away, the Deetz family (Jeffrey Jones, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder) moved into the Maitlands’ former home. After a few failed attempts to scare away the new family, the dead couple recruited the nasty Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a self-proclaimed “bio-exorcist” with a talent for verbal double entendres. Directed by Tim Burton, “Beetlejuice” was quirky, fast-paced and had a solid grasp of dark and sometimes macabre humor. I enjoyed watching it as a kid because even though it had elements of horror, the scary scenes were light and the irony embedded in the images (such as a skeleton that obviously died from severe burns claimed that he wanted to quit smoking) overshadowed the grotesque. However, seeing the film from an adult’s perspective, it crossed the line between cute and cheesy too many times. I cringed at the scenes when the characters broke into songs. Once was enough because I understood that the characters were being possessed by ghosts but after several times it happened, the joke became stale. I felt like the material was desperate to entertain but it did not need to because it was at its best when the jokes flowed naturally. Small twists regarding our archetype of haunted houses elevated the picture. For instance, I loved the scene when Baldwin and Davis decided to scare the family by putting designer blankets over their heads. I would have expected their strategy to work because if I was the one that saw two figures with blankets over their heads in an empty hallway, I would have ran out the house in record time. Instead, Burton injected a small twist by having Ryder’s character be weird but friendly and open to paranormal happenings in order to show us that there were other dimensions to her gothic high school stereotype. There was one scene that I found touching which I thought could have been explored further. That is, when Ryder’s character decided that she wanted to die at such a young age. It was a shame the material shied away from the sadness in order to deliver more comedy that did not work half of the time. Nevertheless, I believe “Beetlejuice” is worth watching because it had a spectrum of humor that ranged from deadpan, slapstick to slightly disturbing.

It’s Complicated

It’s Complicated (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Jane (Meryl Streep) and Jake (Alec Baldwin) had been divorced for ten years. In that time period, Jake married a much younger woman and Jane established herself as an independent woman by running her own business. But the two began having an affair during their son’s (Hunter Parrish) college graduation and that’s when things began to get complicated (and convoluted). The picture had good focus when it tried to explore the dynamics of the relationship between the two former married couple. There was a certain energy about it that felt fresh because the two actors were clearly having fun in their roles. The script may not have been as realistic as I would have liked but I found myself smiling at the fact that two people of a certain age could still be romantic and have fun. Streep and Baldwin had good chemistry because both were so colorful and both could deliver power in their scenes when they really needed to. I also enjoyed Jane’s relationship with her charming architect played by Steve Martin. Spending time with him made her realize things she’s somewhat forgotten such as letting go of control once in a while and just have fun. However, whenever the film shifted its focus to the impact of the romantic entanglements on the children, I just didn’t believe it. I found it difficult to accept the fact that none of the three children (not including John Krasinski as the future son-in-law who was sometimes amusing, sometimes distracting) had the maturity to accept the fact that former couples can fall for each other again. Haven’t they had past relationships themselves? They didn’t act their age (the youngest was in college) and I cringed at the scene when Streep was forced to explain and justify her decisions to them. I felt like all three of them had the same brain and I wished that they weren’t in it at all. The kids dragged the movie down instead of adding a new dimension to the story. However, I did admire the way the movie ended because, just like the three leads, it handled the complicated situation in a mature way and it was able to impart some sort of wisdom regarding trust and fragility of relationships. Written and directed by Nancy Meyers, “It’s Complicated” offers a nice perspective concerning people in their 50s and what it means to find and rediscover romance. I was glad that it took the time to focus solely on Streep and Baldwin initially and eventually just Streep and Martin. It highlighted the positive and negative qualities of both men and it explained why Streep was torn between them. “It’s Complicated” is not a bad movie because it has charm and is accessible. However, it too often suffered from almost tried-and-true sitcom-like set-ups especially the scenes involving the family.