Janis: Little Girl Blue

'Janis - Little Girl Blue' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 27, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Amy J. Berg

Directed by: Amy J. Berg

Janis: Little Girl Blue isn’t the whole puzzle but it offers up a lot of significant pieces in its exploration of the life of iconic blues rocker Janis Joplin. The account offers a celebration of a life cut tragically short, packing in as much fascinating archived footage and interviews with famous faces as a 100-minute treatment can afford. Driven by a narrative that entwines tour/concert/backstage footage with letters she wrote to her family about her experiences, the film earns an emotional heft that also makes an otherwise broad documentary feel more intimate.

It’s a travesty that Joplin’s story feels so familiar. Her succumbing to a powerful drug addiction becomes downright surreal when you consider the company she keeps. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Alan Wilson — all gone at 27. And that was just the ’70s. You would think a sense of inevitability would actually ruin the experience, and at times the knowledge of the tragedy and that this has happened so many times before (and since) does indeed loom larger than what’s taking place in front of you. Perhaps it is better, then, to think of the overdose in the motel room not so much as a destination but as just another terrible thing that happened to her. (Lest we forget her being voted ‘Ugliest Man’ in a local college paper before Janis Joplin became Janis Joplin.) Of course, it would be callous to write off her death as a footnote. The point is that this life, as writer-director Amy J. Berg thankfully recognizes, represents much more than a statistic.

Because it doesn’t focus on her passing or use the documentary format as yet another platform for stigmatizing drug abuse (though it certainly doesn’t support it), Little Girl Blue is more often than not upbeat. The singer is larger than life both in personality and reputation, her presence exuberant and ubiquitous. People surround her, if not fellow musicians and bandmates then strangers hoping some of her rubs off on them. Whenever there’s a chance for her to mug for the camera, she does. In frame she’s alluring, a rebellious spark of energy that betrays her small-town-Texas upbringing. Out of frame of course, she’s an entirely different story. When reflected upon, she’s a character in a Shakespearian tragedy.

We start by walking through her high school days where she became a target of vicious bullying not only for her physical appearance — Joplin never was the poster child for femininity but the antithetical nature of her image is partly why the world fell in love with her in the first place — but for her advocacy for racial integration in schools as well. Interviews with younger siblings provide some color to her home life and what motivated the future industrial icon to break free of her Port Arthur roots.

From there it’s a jump into Joplin’s first experiences in San Francisco. We head to North Beach and then to the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, a hippie hot spot, where she’d hook up with many likeminded individuals who took notice of her natural inclination to hang out with the guys rather than the pretty Californian women. Her first stint on the west coast wasn’t great. She became heavily involved with drugs and ended up on a bus back to Texas where she’d vow to overhaul her life and adopt a lifestyle more befitting of her parents’ expectations. As history would have it, that wasn’t meant to be either.

More anticipated chapters unfold soon hereafter. We chat with members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, a psychedelic rock group on the rise (at least as far as the local counterculture of the mid-60s was concerned) and to whom Joplin fully committed herself having gained recognition for the power in her voice and the pain with which she expressed herself having endured a tortured and confusing adolescence. The story then tackles head-on the turbulence of the following years with grace and dignity: the post-BBHC fall-out, the press surrounding her decision to form a new back-up band (who remembers the Kozmic Blues Band?), flirtations with Dick Cavett, the Woodstock gig and fleeting female lovers. The ebb and flow of an infatuation with drugs and alcohol becomes more flow than ebb as romantic prospects similarly come and go.

Away from her personal troubles, mounting pressure within the industry generated by speculation over what Joplin should do with her career continued to drive the nail deeper. What is a girl to do when she becomes bigger than the band she is a part of? One might naturally assume cultural evolution would eventually create an atmosphere of acceptance and comfort. Someone with talent of this magnitude should never have to feel alone but time and again we are reminded of Joplin’s sense of isolation and helplessness as she, as some interviewees put it, grew into a caricature of herself. How much imitation is considered flattery? Was she trying too hard to be the next Aretha Franklin? Should she have stayed with BBHC?

If Joplin were any less interesting an individual Little Girl Blue would suffer from its cookie-cutter design. Along with her spunky personality it’s the little things that help set it apart. Contemporary American singer-songwriter Cat Power gives voice to Joplin’s telegrams. A view from the back of a train as it winds through California hills becomes a motif. And of course the interviews are (mostly) unique to this production. In truth, it just wouldn’t be a bonafide rock-and-roll documentary without a few well-worn edges. Almost obligatorily we have to explore beyond what’s captured on camera. Misery as a motivator. The irony and general strangeness of fame and popularity. Like with a great many acts, Joplin had a serious problem with the post-show comedown. Walking onstage is a totally different experience than walking off of it.

Berg’s efforts shouldn’t be taken as the definitive account of such a pioneering woman, but she has created mandatory viewing for anyone looking for a way to get to know the person behind the music a little bit better. The regular rhythms of a documentary based on the life of a famous person are always present but here they are as powerful as the subject is empowering.

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Recommendation: Documentary takes viewers on a tour of the many ups and downs of the life and career of one Janis Joplin. While doubtful there’s anything here that long standing fans of the blues/folk rock singer haven’t already been exposed to but the film will be a good crash course for anyone who doesn’t have much history of her. Highlights: loads of archived footage including concert performances and awkward talk-show appearances; great interviews. Lowlights: very little about the overarching narrative comes as a shock. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that this is a retrospective, not a fluff piece. Nor is it a hagiography.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 103 mins. 

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.nerdgeist.com 

30-for-30: The Day the Series Stopped

Release: Sunday, October 12, 2014

[Netflix]

Directed by: Ryan Fleck

October 17, 1989. Game 3 of the World Series, the Battle of the Bay. It was the Oakland Athletics squaring off against the decidedly more white collar-catering San Francisco Giants. The A’s were up 2-0 in a series they would go on to sweep. On this day in this October the scoreboard was so trivial it may as well have not even existed. Before Game 3 got underway the Bay Area was struck by a 6.9-magnitude earthquake, crippling much of the surrounding area and posing a major safety risk to everyone crammed in to Candlestick Park.

Ryan Fleck, an Oakland native and director of major Hollywood productions such as Half Nelson, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Mississippi Grind, jumps behind the camera to helm a 30 for 30 feature that shines a light on the aftermath of the disaster, a sobering reminder of the significance of sports drama relative to real life occurrences. Fleck’s approach manifests as a collage of footage from the chaotic moments during and after to create an atmosphere of confusion and apprehension, immersing viewers in the very turmoil in which the camera crew and its happenstance subjects found themselves.

The Day the Series Stopped, while lacking the emotional epicenter that has made other episodes in this series truly memorable, offers some unique perspectives from that day. For starters, the event stands as one of the few live broadcasts interrupted by a major natural disaster. Up in the press box we hear (and see) a young Al Michaels, who was calling the game along with former catcher-turned sportscaster Tim McCarver, react to the ‘quake while somehow managing to maintain his professionalism despite the uncertainty now introduced.

Elsewhere, stagehand Benjy Young, who was responsible for maintaining certain parts of the stadium, including the towering stadium light fixtures, happened to be caught in one of the worst places imaginable as the ground turned to mush. He was up on the towers as the ‘quake hit, holding on for dear life as, and these are his words, “the whole thing just jumps forward. I looked down the poles, massive steel columns, just like spaghetti.”

In spite of a few poor judgment calls — the use of a highly distracting, melodramatic soundtrack, and an all-too-brief runtime being the main culprits — Fleck carefully navigates his story through the chaos as he turns cameras to the surrounding Bay Area, where estimated damages were projected north of $5 billion. In total 67 lives were lost and over 3,000 were left injured as fires raged and massive chunks of concrete and rubble were upheaved and distorted. Both sides of the Bay Bridge resembled a child’s toy set mangled in the aftermath of a temper tantrum. Much of the footage, including the havoc that was wreaked upon the Bay Bridge itself, is surreal.

This documentary supports the theory that even the most intense rivalries are trivial when it comes to life or death situations. Both communities came together in this difficult time as they helped one another search for missing family, friends and relatives and lent a hand to rescue efforts. Much of this information is disseminated through interviews with former players from both teams, some of whom are visibly uncomfortable talking about this particular game.

When it was time to play ball ten days later, the atmosphere had changed dramatically. It was less about statistics and records as it was about the simple pleasures of being able to resume play. Life would never be the same again, of course, but it was starting to resemble something close to normal. Even if this Series marked the first sweep of any team in the World Series in more than a decade, the biggest victory was witnessing the two communities overcoming their differences under these remarkable circumstances.

The Day the Series Stopped is a great example of 30 for 30‘s appeal to general interest audiences. Some familiarity with baseball couldn’t hurt, though intimate knowledge of the sport isn’t a requisite for appreciating the magnitude (sorry) of these events. Coming from someone who doesn’t watch baseball, I wish this one could have been given a lengthier run time. I can only imagine what kind of things Fleck couldn’t or didn’t even know to include here.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews.

Recommendation: Offers some interesting perspectives on this chaotic day but unfortunately not enough to make it a truly compelling documentary. Good enough to satiate general fans of sports, and anyone with a knowledge of this rivalry are sure to find this slightly more captivating. Worth a look if you can spare 51 minutes out of your day.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 51 mins.

[No trailer available; sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: Google images 

The Diary of a Teenage Girl

Release: Friday, August 7, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Marielle Heller

Directed by: Marielle Heller

If there was a film this year that epitomized the expression ‘don’t judge a book by its cover,’ uh . . . yeah, this is it.

In hindsight the suspect title is rather ingenious. ‘Teenage’ is certainly specific, and so is ‘the diary’ for that matter. Those aren’t the key words in the title, though. Instead, this film could have easily been titled The Diary of THE Teenage Girl, and with a simple change in articles, instantly there vanishes the personal space Marielle Heller, in an impressive directorial debut, explores invades. By reducing the scope to an individual experience rather than assuming to speak for a generation of kids going through adolescence, Heller injects her film with an intimacy that makes the film a difficult one to look away from even while being pretty uncomfortable to watch.

The teenager in question is Minnie Goetze (Bel Powley), daughter of hard-partying, image-obsessed Charlotte who is played by Kristen “I’m everywhere now and movies are better because of it” Wiig. Charlotte and her first husband are divorced and she is now seeing the handsome, mustachioed Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). While Minnie’s curious, personal confession at the beginning — she’s just had sex for the first time and can’t stop thinking about it — is the kind of opening that quickly grabs attention, but is it enough to sustain it? Fortunately, this diary is loaded with dirty little secrets that slowly expose a family undergoing a major crisis.

Minnie is coming of age in a San Francisco set in the 1970s. Her sexual awakening encourages a series of pretty poor decisions. Her desires lead her into an affair with Monroe, who admits to having had feelings for her for sometime. Minnie hasn’t felt much attention from anyone for as long as she can remember. Perhaps the worst offender has been her own mother, who is more obsessed with extending the long-since-past days of the summer of love; Charlotte is frequently seen drunk and hanging sloppily off of Monroe’s shoulder, the pair adrift in a sea of smoke that fills the house top to bottom. Sometimes friends come over and ingratiate themselves in the cocaine that’s making the rounds.

In a corner and by herself, Minnie has her sights set on Monroe. Monroe every so often acknowledges her in the same room, but the action — yes, that action — will have to wait until later. That clandestinity is sketchy all on its own, but when factoring in age difference and the potential for the relationship to turn legally incestuous, it’s often amazing how Teenage Girl massages the risqué into something that resembles empathetic behavior. Not necessarily relatable behavior, but the kind of stuff that suggests teenage rebellion.

Heller doesn’t set her sights on perverting romance, and hopefully that wasn’t the point of Phoebe Gloeckner’s novel, either. For a film shot from the perspective of a confused teen, more often than not the sexual content is taboo rather than romantic. Performances from the lead trio — Powley being the most memorable of all — are across-the-board fantastic. Wiig is continuing a hot streak that’s lasted several years at this point, while Skarsgård challenges Wiig for the least likable adult character. Relative newcomer Powley, though, is the heart and soul of Teenage Girl‘s unusually intense angst and she will be remembered for her bravery here. Dressed down and with a crop of bangs that perhaps too lazily suggests unattractiveness, Powley’s natural prettiness is still visible but never becomes distracting.

That’s mostly because she fits so well into the environment. The film impresses with its strong production design — soft lighting and a dull color palette matches the air of melancholy that represses the Goetze household, as well as the general moroseness of an America trudging through a post-60s hangover. Scenes that don’t take place at home are largely fixated on dark and depressing knooks and crannies. Mood is inescapable. So are the awkward moments. But hey, at least they aren’t the kind you might associate with a film titled The Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Recommendation: A likely underwhelming box office draw due to its title, The Diary of a Teenage Girl is an authentic, emotional film about a life in transition. Tinged with a romanticism that’s not immediately obvious, the film works on many levels. Well-performed, unexpectedly dark and beautifully captured, I simply have to recommend giving this one a fair chance.

Rated: R

Running Time: 102 mins.

Quoted: “I’m better than you, you son of a bitch.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Almost Famous (2000)

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As Will Smith notes in Independence Day, it ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings. And while I knew, deep down, there would not be any fat lady singing to indicate this feature had truly ended, I also knew there was no way I could stop doing these posts. It’s the longest-running feature on the blog! Fortunately I have, in my estimation, something kind of important to talk about to jumpstart the conversation about films from years past. And it is actually one I am lifting from this Top That! list I had posted a little while ago, which you can check out here. Okay. I think that’s enough links for one intro.

Today’s food for thought: Almost Famous.

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Following Stillwater since: September 22, 2000

[Netflix]

Even though it’s kind of a bummer, it really does make sense. Rock stars are cool and rock journalists are . . . not. I wonder what that says about film critics, about those who try hard to be included in the spotlight but never will — doomed to remain tantalizingly on the fading edge of the spotlight while trying their damnedest to understand that which they are covering for their stories in an effort to perhaps better understand themselves.

In Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe’s turn-of-the-century (millennium, actually) film about a young aspiring journalist who stumbles into the industry only to haphazardly fall back out of it after following a fictitious rock band around the U.S. in an attempt to get his first cover story published, Crowe was confessing several things.

First, the obvious (and quite cliché): fame ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Patrick Fugit, billed as William Miller but clearly miming Cameron Crowe at age 15 when he himself was contributing articles to Rolling Stone magazine while still attending high school, learns this the hard way. When a rock critic he greatly admires sends him on his first professional assignment to cover headliner Black Sabbath, William inadvertently gets swept up in the experiences — many thrilling and others not so much — shared by the members of Stillwater with whom he forms a bond during their 1973 American tour.

Second, if Almost Famous was even close to an accurate rendering of some of his experiences, then writing about rock’n roll was the gig to get, despite bitterness frothing in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s cautionary monologues bookending William’s adventure. “Don’t befriend the bands you meet . . . ” (whoops); “You will never be as cool as a rock’n roll celebrity. People like us, we’re not cool.” If the relationship between Crowe and Rolling Stone taught him anything, it’s how to write a great screenplay. Perhaps the transition into writing movies was less a stepping stone as it was inevitable, the precursor to actually being cool.

And of tertiary importance: if you were a die-hard rock fan, the 70s must have been a rough ride. Band leaders Russell (Billy Crudup) and Jeff (Jason Lee) take center stage in representing Stillwater on and off the tour bus, naturally, as the two lead guitarists. The pair exhibit varying levels of enthusiasm over having a journalist along for their tour as they have serious concerns about how their image may be affected when William (a.k.a. “the enemy”) publishes his story. Struggling to maintain relevance in an era of ‘Boogie Oogie Oogie’ and Dancing Queens the members are keen on steering William in the direction they wanted his writing to take them, which is to say, towards the limelight of bigger stages.

Almost Famous is uncanny in many ways but it truly excels in creating tension between personal and professional goal-setting. New band managers entering the fold add to Stillwater’s misery; an air of distrust and uncertainty surrounding the wide-eyed journalist’s intentions thickens as time passes. Then toss Stillwater groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson, iconic) into the mix as Russell’s ex and the first to take an interest in William at the Black Sabbath concert, and suddenly the lives of rock journalist and professional rock band don’t seem so incongruous. It’s the warning Hoffman’s Lester Bangs was providing all along.

Crowe may have tapped into the zeitgeist of the 70s music scene, but he also struck a deeper chord. This was something of a personal journey for him and it would be a mistake to think, despite how good Patrick Fugit is — hell, how good any of the members of this sprawling ensemble are — Almost Famous served primarily as an actor’s showcase. This learning experience is tinged with pain, nostalgia, envy, regret, sorrow, elation. The cast sublimely navigate these emotions in a story that begs to be revisited time and again. For all of these reasons and more, Crowe’s fourth directorial effort has been rightfully regarded as a classic.

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4-5Recommendation: An almost perfect film experience, watch Almost Famous for the nostalgia, for the music (there are 50 credited songs used here), for the performances, for the Philip Seymour Hoffman performance (who was sick the entire time), for the plane scene, for Penny Lane — for all of it. If Almost Famous doesn’t appeal, music dramas are clearly not your cup of tea. And I guess, that’s cool too . . . 

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

TBTrivia: A literal coming-of-age story: Patrick Fugit’s voice apparently broke (deepened) during the making of Almost Famous.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com

Godzilla

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Release: Friday, May 16, 2014

[RPX Theater]

I AM GARETH EDWARDS, HEAR ME ROAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who?

Oh, a nobody, other than the guy who’s responsible for retrofitting the world’s most famous monster for a 21st Century outing.

The British director has been in charge of at least one more monster-related movie. It was actually ingeniously titled Monsters. Now, he’s been tapped to awaken a beast living deep within our oceans — an effort, it’s hoped, that should eradicate any last vestiges of the memory of what Roland Emmerich did to the legend back in 1998. The last man to touch Godzilla controversially recast the giant lizard as some unexplained and malevolent force of nature bent on destroying the world uptown Manhattan. He has posed on occasion throughout his lengthy film career as the villainous type, but never did he feel as disconnected from lore or irrelevant as a threat to mankind as he did then.

Now Edwards has arrived on the scene and there’s a detectable escalating tension in the room. With a restless fan base growing ever desperate to see Godzilla as it truly wants to see him, the time is now to deliver on promises. No more messing around. No more straying from the truth. Just deliver the goods, and no one else gets upset. Or hurt.

Godzilla, the creature, receives a quality facelift in 2014. (I emphasize quality just to ensure no one here’s under the impression of an un-sexy beast; that this is the Joan Rivers of monster lizards.)

He’s so massive the cameras have to take their time in a particularly memorable, vertical panning shot, the moment his true size is revealed. He possesses a thunderous roar that will give the most hardened of ex-cons no choice but to go running for their favorite blankey; and the combination of sheer size and the way he moves in an epic, lumbering gait makes the big guy, for all intents and purposes, the standard against which any forthcoming CGI-fests are to be measured. Behold, the Godzilla we’ve been awaiting, expecting, maybe even demanding — a behemoth so positively ridiculous it couldn’t do anything but sit and wait for technology (namely, visual effects) to catch up and be able to support its very scary ambitions.

In 1999 scientists working in the Janjira Nuclear Plant in Tokyo experience a catastrophic disaster in the form of a series of earthquakes that threatens to expose the entire city to toxic levels of radiation. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are dedicated researchers/engineers on the hunt for something enormous. As fate would have it, their dedication, a stubbornness woven into the fabric of human nature, would become a means to a very certain end.

A collaborative effort among Edwards’ three screenwriters, a trio which includes the one and only Frank Darabont, produces a screenplay that paints the human race as a mostly likable yet largely incapable species. Our sense of self-importance is quickly curtailed by the arrival of two massive insect-looking monsters the government is quick to label MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms). Mankind’s inability to stop experimenting has ironically produced its inability to continue living in its current state, apparently. Hence, Edwards’ decision to root the Brody’s at physical, emotional and psychological Ground Zero — they are a decent, hardworking family who clearly represents the best of humanity.

While not everyone’s performance strikes the same note — the movie’s biggest crime is that Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Lieutenant Ford Brody is on occasion a bit too dry — the cast do what they need to in order to elevate the non-fantasy component to a suitably dramatic level, while still stepping back enough to allow our own fears and concerns to boil over quietly. We have time to ponder what we would do in these people’s shoes. And while characters fail to break the mould of archetypes — Ken Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa might be the most irritating of the bunch, and Sally Hawkins needn’t even have bothered showing up on set her role is so limited — such is really all we need if we’re talking about retelling a classic and not reinventing it.

Godzilla is one of only a few films that succeeds in producing that gut-feeling, a fear so palpable we wish we don’t keep digging into the unknown. There’s a visceral reason to fear what we don’t understand or have never experienced. In the horror genre of today it seems copious amounts of blood and cruel, unusual ways of suffering and dying translate to “stuff that should scare people.” I mean, that works too. But it’s time the trend is bucked. Here’s a completely new taste for the palate. Packed with scintillating imagery, a generation of suspense that’s comparatively lacking in even recent superhero films, and crafted out of love and passion, the Alpha Predator is back and bigger than ever in an old-school film experience that recalls a bygone era in moviegoing.

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Godzilla is smiling. How can anyone be terrified of a smiling Godzilla?

4-0Recommendation: Quite possibly the biggest film of the summer, Gareth Edwards’ hotly debated second film understands how important it is as it handles the challenge of redesigning the beast on his 60th birthday with aplomb, with room to give plenty of attention to its A-list cast. While some characters are definitely better than others, there’s enough here to keep even the most casual attendee engaged in this global crisis. A movie that would never escape criticism, but considering the alternative (let’s never mention Dr. Nico Tattoo-lotsa-lips. . .or whatever his name was from the Emmerich version. . .) it has done alright for itself.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “The arrogance of men is thinking that nature is in their control, and not the other way around. Let them fight.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Blue Jasmine

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Release: Friday, July 26, 2013 (limited)

[Theater]

Blue Jasmine is the film that has officially given me a reason to side with some harsh detractors of the Woody Allen school of film. Provided that I’ve only seen two of his films (To Rome With Love being the other) I can’t say definitively whether I fully embrace his films but I appreciate his style — and moreover, his output. He’s one of those movie-per-year kind of directors, and has harvested a massive crop of films that have yielded above-average, if not phenomenal levels of commercial and critical success over the past couple of decades.

The primary complaints lodged against this director’s repertoire involve the following: a stuffy atmosphere, central characters that are difficult to like and/or defend, and a narrative that tends to meander quite a lot relative to the overall runtime (most Allen movies clock in at barely over 90 minutes). While this most recent love story amply evidences justification for such criticism, no trait makes itself more apparent than the second — the fact that Allen likes to work with ‘unlikable’ characters. In fact, it was so difficult to sit through the trials and tribulations of this cast of down-and-outers that it got to the point where the overall movie became a chore to watch. And that is an incredible disappointment considering all the high hope I was bringing with me into the theater.

But before anyone begins to panic and think this is about to be another rant-review, I have to put this out there: I don’t own any Louis Vuitton handbags. There, I said it. I have outed myself as not the target audience for this one.

Nor do I really care much about Louis Vuitton. Or the fashion world. Or high society. Or Alec Bald….okay, yeah, maybe Alec Baldwin. However, and it must be said that it’s not always imperative that a viewer be impressed by or even care about the movie’s choices in thematic elements, this is a film where it really wouldn’t hurt to have some interest in them. Allen’s signature quirky eye isn’t to blame for the sheer lack of enjoyment, nor is the acting really. In fact, Cate Blanchett is almost too convincing here. She is a full-blown alcoholic and more than a little unstable as Jeanette “Jasmine” French, a woman who’s been sent crashing down to Earth after her recent marriage ended in an FBI investigation and has rendered her with no other option but to move in with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), who is living a more modest life in San Francisco.

No. Blanchett turns in one hell of a performance as Jasmine. Though she could not have irritated me more with the requisite snootiness of a woman displaced from her lavish lifestyle in New York, I could appreciate the level to which the actress had physically and mentally embraced this emotionally fragile state of just such an individual. One particular highlight is the fact that Jasmine goes off on tangents and talks to herself in public, appearing at times like a complete and total nutcase. Indeed, she’s an interesting character even if she doesn’t do a single thing that’s admirable in the slightest.

However, the narrative is shifty, often confusing and occasionally jarring as it darts back and forth between significant past events and catching us up with Jasmine’s mounting despair as she lives with her sister in the present. In spite of things she forges attempts to “better herself,” and move on with her life. That, and. . . well, the rest of the cast are not exactly a likable bunch, either. Featuring Louis C.K., Peter Sarsgaard, Andrew Dice Clay, and Bobby Cannavale, Blue Jasmine truly plucks the apples who have fallen the farthest from the tree, if truth is to be told here. C.K. plays the potential future love interest for Ginger, during a bout of overconfidence brought forth by Jasmine as she brings her along to a party to meet guys and officially put themselves back on the market. Spoilers come from explaining his character, but let it be said that he provides a great example of how Allen likes to give his characters layers. For as brief of a time C.K. is involved, he makes a big impression.

The Diceman makes his insanely inconspicuous appearance in the extensive flashback scenes, playing the ex-loser boyfriend of Ginger who also happens to be upset with her sister. And then there’s of course Bobby Cannavale as the current boyfriend, Chili, who appears to be nothing more than the next pick out of the abusive boyfriend pile. He’s a volatile, aggressive and moody guy who can’t help but cry in public when things don’t go his way. He demonstrates Ginger’s taste in men quite clearly and is perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects to this film. The one-man island of amiable characters lies within Peter Sarsgaard’s Dwight, a man whom Jasmine bumps into at that same party — an aspiring Californian congressman who Jasmine takes to quickly because of his high aspirations and warm personality. Aside from him though, everyone else is some varying degree of sleazy, miserable or just plain drunk.

But supposing these are the attractive qualities to the latest from Woody Allen. Did I just miss the boat with this cast or something? Maybe I am overlooking something critical in my evaluation here but it seems that in order to enjoy a movie, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple characters to root for. That’s decidedly not the case here. Not to mention, there are more than a few moments throughout the film that are simply stressful and uncomfortable.

All around, this is likely to be one of his least-appealing Woody Allen offerings given the vast amount of time one is likely to spend wondering just how the hell this woman is going to make anything of herself in her frenzied state. The film is somewhat unforgiving in that regard. At times, you just would like to see the poor woman rest and escape all of her problems (that is, without reaching for a bottle of vodka). Blanchett really humbles herself with this unattractive person she’s just turned herself into. Allen here seems content enough to watch his cast squirm under the crushing weight of sobering realities. Unfortunately, he also crushes any hope for enjoyment at the same time.

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2-5Recommendation: I didn’t enjoy this at all, but then again, I found myself well outside of the intended audience for Blue Jasmine. As the central character is somewhat obsessed with fashion and interior decorating/design, perhaps those who find themselves engaged in those things in the real world will find great enjoyment in Blanchett’s whimsical attempts to become reintegrated into that lifestyle. Though, for those who don’t particularly care to watch someone suffer for the duration of a film — even if that person has brought it upon themselves — it’s best to stay away.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 98 mins.

Quoted: “Anxiety, nightmares and a nervous breakdown, there’s only so many traumas a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming.”

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