Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Fading Gigolo, Transcendence

Fading Gigolo

For his fifth directorial effort, "Fading Gigolo," John Turturro has given Woody Allen a substantial role, and good thing, too, because Woody and the rest of the supporting cast bring to life a movie that, despite a few grace notes, largely dies on the vine during the scenes of the main plotline.

Woody plays Murray, a rare-books dealer forced to shutter his obsolete shop, whose dermatologist (Sharon Stone) casually asks, while checking Murray for moles, whether he knows a suitable stud for a ménage à trois she and her best friend (Sofia Vergara) have decided they want. He suggests Fioravante (Turturro), his best friend and a part-time flower arranger. Fioravante, who makes up in sensitivity and a keen ear what he lacks in looks, turns out to have a knack for making women feel special, and the two form a sort of pimp-ho relationship that even includes aliases (for Fioravante, Virgil Howard; for Murray, Dan Bongo). Stone and Vergara show an appealing playfulness, and every woman will want the dress Stone wears to her first appointment with Fioravante.

Murray's got a black girlfriend, Othella (Tonya Pinkins), and takes her kids playing in the park. When one of the boys gets lice, Murray brings him to Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a lice picker and the widow of a late Orthodox rabbi. Murray senses that she hasn't felt a man's touch in forever, and sells her on Virgil's healing hands. Her encounter with Virgil brings a smile to her face for the first time in years. She begins regular weekly sessions, catching the disapproving eye of Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a member of the Shomrim, a local Jewish civilian patrol, who also happens to carry a torch for Avigal since childhood. There are some tender moments of interplay between Avigal and both Virgil and Dovi, and a fascinating look at a hastily convened rabbinical council in which Murray is put on trial - but enough for one of several strands, not for the through line, where Paradis, acting in English for the first time, looks luminous, but can't fill silent gaps with the significance to which Turturro aspires. He's suffused Brooklyn in the same golden glow Allen applies to Manhattan - some of the interior and exterior shots scream Woody - but his ostrich body type and internalized presence act as a wet blanket on this material, and his movie's best when he's off-screen. If you dislike Woody, or his well-worn neurotic shtick, goy for you - er, good for you. My peeps - the ones who filled the big theater at the Landmark on Easter Sunday -couldn't get enough.

About 90 minutes into the two-hour torturefest "Transcendence," I turned to my friend and asked, "Do you have any idea what is going on here?" She had no clue, nor did the third member of our party. Cinematographer turned director Wally Pfister has chosen a truly convoluted Jack Paglen script for his debut, and the result is yet another nail in the coffin of Johnny Depp's career. I love Rebecca Hall dearly, but between "Closed Circuit" and this bomb, she too is going to have to start picking better projects. Depp plays Will Caster, a preeminent AI research scientist and former Wired magazine cover subject. When he's shot (by a member of R.I.F.T., one of those radical Luddite groups that must spend their time waiting for the call-up from Central Casting) with a polonium-poisoned bullet after a conference at which he admits to wanting to play God, his wife Evelyn (Hall) plots to keep him alive forever by "uploading" his brain into their most state-of-the-art AI entity, P.I.N.N. (the movie's a maze of acronyms), over the objections of Will's protégé (Paul Bettany) and former employer (Morgan Freeman). If you think you're confused now, wait until you get to the combination skin grafts/brain transplants, rainwater that falls upward, and Terminator-esque resuscitations. "Transcendence" is a hot mess.

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