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Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - August 2, 2013

Movie Reviews

Blue Jasmine

(Century 16) Recently, Sony Pictures Classics was sued by the rights holders of William Faulkner's work, who objected to Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" employing the slightly paraphrased quotation "The past is not dead. Actually, it's not even past." Last month, Sony prevailed, and eight days later, released Woody's latest, "Blue Jasmine," in which the words have changed but the song remains the same.

"I want the past past," says Jasmine. Fat chance of that. The haunted protagonist of "Blue Jasmine," played by Cate Blanchett, can't forget her bygone bliss and the horrifying loss of it. A Park Avenue socialite accustomed to quality time in the Hamptons and Martha's Vineyard, Jasmine has lost it all and landed on the San Franciscan doorstep of her working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), a good soul sorely tested by her long-absent sibling's out-of-touch demands.

Jasmine asks, "People reinvent themselves, don't they?" but what she craves is something more like reinstatement. She rejects a job opportunity in a dentist's office ("Jesus! It's too menial!") and thrills to the possibility of repeating history by attaching herself to a man for security, an unsettling theme for both sisters. Badly burned by her Bernie Madoff-esque husband, Hal (Alec Baldwin), Jasmine sees new possibilities with a sleek, well-appointed diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard).

Jasmine and Ginger were both adoptive sisters, but when Jasmine made her social-clambering escape, she never looked back, becoming accustomed not only to a certain lifestyle but to a fabulous selfishness, insulated by willful obliviousness. "When Jasmine doesn't want to know something," Ginger explains, "she has a habit of looking the other way." But Jasmine's fall has broken her, and that nervous breakdown has left her manic and prone to all-consuming flashbacks that Allen layers into the story with structural finesse, each memory plausibly triggered by a present moment.

Meanwhile, Ginger has a loving if somewhat boorish fiance in Chili (Bobby Cannavale), her own replacement for an ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay's surprisingly resonant Augie). Naturally, Jasmine's dissatisfaction with anything she deems declasse (including, to her constant horror, herself) pits her against Chili, which contributes to Ginger's exploration of another romantic option: Louis C.K.'s middle-class sound engineer Al. While the story is awash in the various prevarications the characters inflict on each other, it's the ultimate, socially agreed-upon lie of class distinction that pervades "Blue Jasmine." (Unfortunately, Allen proves a bit dialect-deaf in casting San Francisco's working-class men, to a one, in the New York-mook mold.)

Certainly, "Blue Jasmine" is Allen's riff on "A Streetcar Named Desire" ("A Cable Car Named Desire"?), an impression only helped along by the casting of Blanchett, who played Blanche DuBois in an acclaimed 2009 production transplanted from Sydney to Brooklyn. Blanchett is a force of nature as Jasmine: the beating heart that keeps the conspicuously schematic picture alive and kicking, and a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Though "Blue Jasmine" is much more of a drama than a comedy, Blanchett's comic brio, in Jasmine's blithely imperious manner, magically complements her tragic mental fragility and self-defeating desperation.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, language and sexual content. One hour, 38 minutes.

— Peter Canavese

2 Guns


(Century 16, Century 20) By not being instantly dismissible with a comparison to some other movie, "2 Guns" wins some audience goodwill right out of the gate. Yes, it's based on a graphic-novel series, but not a famous one, and while we've seen plenty of R-rated action buddy comedies before, the stream of amusing banter here comes with plotting that has a few good tricks in reserve.

Don't get me wrong. "2 Guns" is as glib as all get-out, and once the characters' hidden agendas are all out in the open, the film begins to feel pretty long-winded in taking care of its business of Mexican standoffs, explosions and demolition derbies. But the compensation of Denzel Washington, joined with surprising effectiveness to Mark Wahlberg, is not to be underestimated, and the release feeds into the zeitgeist of intense disillusionment with corrupt government institutions.

Washington and Wahlberg play wheeler-dealer Bobby "I Know a Guy" Beans and "junkyard dog" Michael "Stig" Stigman, a pair of dealers who — when stiffed by Mexican drug-cartel head Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos) — mutually agree to a compensatory savings-and-loan robbery. That scene partly plays out in the film's engagingly schtick-y opening sequence, which establishes a cool rapport between the stars and their characters before screenwriter Blake Masters (working from Steven Grant's comics) and director Baltasar Kormakur ("Contraband") roll back the clock for some context.

How the plot unfolds, and what the characters are really after, is best left unexplained here, but it does come to involve $43.125 million, and the sticky fingers of U.S. Naval Intelligence (in the person of James Marsden) and the CIA (repped by a drawling, creepy-comic Bill Paxton). The rot of corruption has disillusioned Bobby to the point where he continually insists to Stig, "There is no code," explaining why he has no "people" or "family." Of course, Stig just as insistently gravitates toward being both to Bobby, in true buddy-comedy tradition.

Bobby's cynicism extends to withholding commitment from co-worker-with-benefits Deb (Paula Patton), who may or may not be worthy of trust. Once it expends its big twists in the early going, "2 Guns" begins a decline into the familiar toward an ending that could be described, in style and substance, as predictable. But there's fun to be had getting there, mostly in the game playfulness of the leads and the pleasingly tart dialogue (Olmos, underplaying delightfully, gets the zinger "It's a free market ... not a free world").

With its truth-in-advertising title and movie-star charm, "2 Guns" will probably connect with audiences; if so, it's certainly sequel-ripe.

Rated R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity. One hour, 49 minutes.

— Peter Canavese