Friday, April 1, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: EXPOSED (2016); YOUTH (2015); and LEGEND (2015)

(US - 2016)

So are some movies.
EXPOSED is one of those films with two parallel storylines that finally converge in the closing minutes. In a predominantly Latino neighborhood in NYC, Dominican-born Isabel (Ana de Armas) has a strange hallucination of a levitating albino while waiting for the subway at the very stop where a cop (Danny Hoch) is killed the same night. That dead cop's hard-nosed detective partner is widower and anger-management case Galban (Keanu Reeves), who focuses his investigation on local drug lord Black Jones (Big Daddy Kane). Galban digs deeper, ultimately getting romantically involved with his partner's widow (Mira Sorvino) and uncovering evidence of police corruption and his partner's extracurricular, outside-the-law activities that must involve Isabel or there'd be no movie, and perhaps there shouldn't have been. The chaotic backstory of EXPOSED is far more interesting than anything that ended up onscreen. Originally shot as DAUGHTER OF GOD, the film was an indie drama about, among other things, the plight of poor immigrants, violence against women, the lasting trauma of child abuse, and the effects of the war in Afghanistan on the families of those who serve. Making his feature writing/directing debut, Gee Malik Linton lucked into the involvement of Reeves following the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was originally cast as Galban and knew that it was intended to be a small role. Reeves, who became one of 30 credited producers and whose presence helped secure funding and a Lionsgate distribution deal, brought his KNOCK KNOCK co-star de Armas onboard, and all was well until Lionsgate saw Linton's cut.

DAUGHTER OF GOD got positive reaction from test audiences, but Lionsgate insisted they were promised a commercial Keanu Reeves thriller, and no one was going to confuse DAUGHTER OF GOD with POINT BREAK, SPEED, or JOHN WICK. They proceeded to take the film away from Linton, gutting it from 126 minutes to 102, losing much of the cultural elements--most of DAUGHTER OF GOD was in Spanish with English subtitles--and eliminating entire subplots and characters. The biggest change they made was cutting down the screen time of those who remained in the film while keeping everything with Reeves, who signed on for what was to be Hoffman's small supporting role--a big-name actor doing a solid to help out a new indie filmmaker--but was now the co-lead with as much screen time as de Armas. A "source" claimed Reeves supervised the overhaul, first called WISDOM and then changed to the more lurid EXPOSED, though Reeves' rep insisted he had nothing to do with it. Realizing he was fighting a battle he had no chance of winning, Linton successfully petitioned to have his name removed as director, with credit going to Alan Smithee protege "Declan Dale," while remaining credited for his screenplay under his own name. It should go without saying that EXPOSED, in its released form, is almost cataclysmically awful and borderline unwatchable, the logical end result of trying to turn a low-key and largely foreign-language art-house drama into a mainstream cop movie. Disjointed and dull, with fantastic elements that make appearances as random as those of the recognizable character actors in the supporting cast (Christopher McDonald plays Galban's captain, and Michael Rispoli appears a couple of times for some reason), and with the war in Afghanistan and child abuse subplots now looking exploitatively wedged in and quickly abandoned, the film makes no sense at all and more or less just ends in the least satisfying way possible, topped off with the bonus of glacially slow closing credits to inflate the truncated running time by another ten minutes. It's certainly a possibility that Linton's director's cut of DAUGHTER OF GOD is a worthwhile film, though considering he named an inner city, African-American crime lord "Black Jones," one shouldn't be too quick to assume it's a lost masterpiece. Lionsgate dumped EXPOSED on VOD and in as few theaters as contractually required with no publicity at all. Welcome to Hollywood, Gee Malik Linton! (R, 102 mins)

(Italy/France/UK/Switzerland - 2015)

Italian filmmaker Paolo Sorrentino returns with a spiritual cousin to his Oscar-winning THE GREAT BEAUTY, set at an almost tomb-like resort in Switzerland. Like the guests, the film never seems to leave that location, at least until the final scene, with the primary focus on two elderly friends, both artists, both feeling the effects of a lifetime of love, loss, regret, and age, with the looming feeling that death is waiting just around the corner. It's a film of much sadness and melancholy, but it's not a depressing downer, and is in fact quite funny at times, even if it's not what US distributor Fox Searchlight seemed to pass off as a GRUMPY OLD MEN for the art-house crowd. Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) is a legendary composer and conductor, now retired and refusing an offer by an emissary of the Queen to be knighted and to perform his most famous piece, "Simple Songs," at a gala event for the Royal Family. Fred's best friend of 60 years is renowned filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel, in his best role in years), who's working with four young screenwriters on what he intends to be his final masterpiece, his "testament" to a life in cinema. You can already sense the Fellini homages in the form of nude bodies--young, old, toned, and flabby--posed in pools and saunas in an almost still photography fashion, coupled with Visconti shout-outs in the ornate but dreary resort that's still a draw for the jet-set but, like its central characters, has seen better days.

Characters drift in and out of the story--Rachel Weisz is Lena, Fred's daughter and assistant, who's just been dumped by her husband (Ed Stoppard), who happens to be Mick's son; Paul Dano is a Shia LaBeouf-like American actor, deeply focused on his art and working with the most important European filmmakers but unable to escape the fact that everyone knows him from a big, dumb Hollywood blockbuster where he played a robot; and Jane Fonda as an aging, embittered Hollywood legend, star of 11 of Mick's 20 films, who flies all the way from L.A. to Switzerland to tell Mick a lot of things he doesn't want to hear--but Caine's Fred and Keitel's Mick are the foundation. The two icons are magnificent together, whether they're lamenting the inevitability of the end, or reminiscing about a girl they both loved 60 years ago and clearly still think of often (leading to one of Keitel's most unexpectedly poignant scenes). YOUTH can be downbeat (Weisz spits out a devastating monologue where Lena unloads on her father for leaving her mother decades earlier) and cynical (a cinema purist who dedicates the film to Francesco Rosi, Sorrentino doesn't have much use for television), but it's also very funny. Fonda's only in the movie for five minutes, but she makes every second count, whether she's emphatically stating that she had no problem blowing producers to get a foot in the door 50 years ago or telling Mick "Stop licking my ass" when he's overselling how great she looks. Her character is crass and vulgar ("She's only read two books her entire life, and one of them was her autobiography written by a ghost writer," Mick tells Fred), and Fonda plays it to the hilt with very little screen time. Fred and Mick start their days bitching about how they can't piss and are later shocked when they're out on a walk and happen upon to elderly resort visitors screwing up against a tree. Like the classic Italian cinema that Sorrentino adores, YOUTH is artsy and surreal, whether Fred sits in a field of cows conducting a symphony played by their cowbells, or Mick is confronted by all of the heroines from his movies. The most outrageous bit comes from Dano's brooding method actor, prepping a Hitler biopic and deciding to get in character by spending his remaining days at the resort walking around in full Hitler makeup and costume to get the feeling of alienation and being hated, which seems like exactly the kind of idiotic, attention-seeking stunt LaBeouf would pull. YOUTH is a lovely, hypnotic film that deserved more exposure than it got, even though "Simple Songs" got an Oscar nomination, which is odd considering it's an almost sublimely awful composition, perhaps intentionally so. (R, 123 mins)

(US/UK/France - 2015)

Peter Medak's 1990 film THE KRAYS was a mean, tough chronicle of twin British gangster siblings Ronnie and Reggie Kray played by two-years-apart brothers Martin and Gary Kemp, best known as, respectively, the bassist and lead guitarist of the '80s radio staple Spandau Ballet. LEGEND--what a terrible title--is based on John Pearson's book The Profession of Violence, and tells essentially the same story, with Tom Hardy playing both roles. Written and directed by Brian Helgeland (PAYBACK), who won an Oscar for his L.A. CONFIDENTIAL screenplay, LEGEND has Hardy turning in two distinctive and vividly exceptional performances as the gay, hot-tempered, paranoid schizophrenic Ronnie and the ostensibly more focused and level-headed Reggie, but one of the key facets of the film is how their personalities eventually cross over to the point where Reggie gets so out of control that an on-his-meds Ronnie is the one who has to calm him down. LEGEND doesn't have much to go on other than Hardy's performances. Helgeland is content to let his star carry the weight of an otherwise rote and routine gangster movie that borrows liberally from Scorsese, right down to a long GOODFELLAS tracking shot when Reggie takes his girlfriend and eventual wife Frances (Emily Browning) to a nightclub, and pissed off British mobsters constantly calling each other "cunts" instead of "jerkoffs." The time element in LEGEND isn't handled very well--we know the Krays ruled London from the late '50s to the late '60s, but the film seems to start in the late '60s and we see their ascent in the nightclub scene after a partnership with Philadelphia-based gangster Angelo Bruno (Chazz Palminteri shows up for a couple of scenes), a top underling of Meyer Lansky. There's conflict with the Krays' cash handler Leslie Payne (David Thewlis) and hapless flunky Jack McVittie (Sam Spruell), whose brutal murder at the hands of an enraged Reggie is what would eventually be the beginning of the end for the Krays, with Reggie sentenced to life in prison in 1967, though he'd get a "compassionate release" in 2000, when he was dying of cancer and had only a few weeks to live (Ronnie would succumb to a fatal heart attack in prison in 1995).

Helgeland sticks to the standard-issue tropes and basics here, with a lot of time spent on Reggie and Frances' crumbling marriage while curiously glossing over Ronnie's relationship with "Mad Teddy" Smith (KINGSMAN's Taron Egerton). He also utilizes the hackneyed device of having the film narrated by a dead character, and even resorts to a sneering Reggie confronting dogged Scotland Yard inspector Nipper Read (Christopher Eccleston) with the obligatory "Ya know, we're not all that different, you and I" speech. Hardy is exponentially more effective as the Krays than the Spandau Ballet siblings were, but THE KRAYS is the overall better film even though it took some liberties with history. THE KRAYS had a vicious and ominously sinister LONG GOOD FRIDAY feel, along with a WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?-esque freakshow of a performance by the great Billie Whitelaw as the Krays' harridan mother, a character who barely figures into LEGEND and mainly just makes a couple of dismissive remarks about how Frances can't make a decent cup of tea. By comparison, LEGEND just feels like an overlong Scorsese retread in a London setting. A much bigger success in the UK than in the US, where its planned nationwide release was busted down to a limited run at the last minute, LEGEND inspired two cheap, Asylum-worthy British knockoffs with this year's THE RISE OF THE KRAYS and THE FALL OF THE KRAYS, as movies about the Krays are apparently to the UK what Coco Chanel biopics are to France. (R, 132 mins)

No comments:

Post a Comment