Screen Savor: Fantastic society crimes

Sun. July 31, 2016 12:00 AM
by Gregg Shapiro

A considerable improvement over 2015's waste of time Irrational Man, it's safe to put Woody Allen's new movie Café Society (Lionsgate/Amazon Studios) in the recommended column. Allen, who once again shows a greater affinity for the past, in this case 1930s Hollywood and New York, than the present (i.e. Irrational Man), delivers a complete package here. There's a love story. There's comedy. There's glamour and grit. The attention to detail, whether depicting a pool party in the Hollywood hills, a Hollywood agent's office or a Manhattan nightclub, is remarkable. Allen also gets some high caliber performances from his cast, especially queer actress Kristen Stewart, as well as Jesse Eisenberg and Steve Carell.

Ambitious Bobby (Eisenberg) wants more out of life than working for his jeweler father Marty (Ken Stott). His mother Rose (Jeannie Berlin) calls her brother Phil (Carell), a big shot Hollywood agent, to tell him that Bobby is headed that way and he's looking for work. After putting him off for a few days, Phil finally meets with Bobby and hires him to do menial errands for him. Bobby is introduced to Vonnie (Stewart), Phil's secretary, and there is electricity between them. Phil asks Vonnie to show Bobby around Hollywood and the two hit it off immediately. However, Vonnie makes it clear that she has a boyfriend to quell Bobby's interest in her.

Predictably, that only makes Bobby more determined to win Vonnie over. As we soon find out, long before Bobby does, Vonnie's boyfriend is none other than Phil. Phil, who has been married to Karen (Sheryl Lee) for 25 years, is ready to end his marriage and begin a new life with Vonnie.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Bobby's older brother Ben (Corey Stoll) is a mobster and cold-hearted killer. He thinks nothing of knocking off anyone who gets in his way, while generously providing cash to his struggling parents who have a vague sense of where the money is coming from. Bobby's older sister Evelyn (Sari Lennick), with whom he enjoys corresponding, has her own issues with her family including her philosopher husband Leonard (Stephen Kunken) and their daughter.

Once it is revealed that Bobby and Phil are in love with the same woman, Bobby returns to New York where he goes to work at Ben's nightclub. The change is good for him and he becomes a success. Bobby spends time with Rad (Parker Posey in a role she was born to play) and her husband Steve (Paul Schneider), New Yorkers he met in L.A. at one of Phil's brunches. He meets, marries and starts a family with Veronica (Blake Lively). His life is moving in a positive direction, in spite of the authorities coming after Ben. That is until Phil and Vonnie, now happily married, show up at the nightclub one night, disrupting everything.

At turns hilarious and serious, Café Society also features Allen as the unseen narrator, removing any doubt that this is a Woody Allen movie; one of his better ones at that.

Remember the movie Captain Fantastic (Bleecker Street) around awards season as it is almost guaranteed to snag its share. Written and directed by Matt Ross, an actor known for HBO's Silicon Valley and other films, Captain Fantastic lives up to its name.

Ben (Viggo Mortensen) is raising his six kids – Bodevan (Pride's George MacKay), Kielyr (Samantha Isler), Vespyr (Annalise Basso), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotweel) – way off the grid in the Pacific Northwest. Home-schooled (Noam Chomsky is revered) and put through daily rigorous physical training, the kids hunt for their own food, each armed with various knives and assorted tools for such work. They are as self-sufficient as they are sheltered from the outside world.

The safety and seclusion of the sphere in which they exist is shattered when their mother Leslie (Trin Miller) is no longer able to manage her bipolar disorder and commits suicide. Ben is banned from attending the funeral in New Mexico, where Leslie's parents Jack (Frank Langella) and Abigail (Ann Dowd), who blame Ben for Leslie's decline, live.

Encouraged by his children, who want the chance to say goodbye to their mother, Ben ignores Jack's warning and heads south, on the family bus called Steve, with his brood in tow. On the way they encounter many "fantastic" adventures, including a supermarket where they "free" some food, a trailer park where Bodevan is almost seduced by teen temptress Claire (Erin Moriarty), and an uncomfortable visit to the home of Leslie's sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn), her husband Dave (Steve Zahn) and their sons.

But none of this can compare to the funeral itself, or the alternately heartbreaking and uplifting events that follow. Captain Fantastic takes viewers on an emotional voyage that is timely, necessary, enlightening and entertaining.

In 1984, after her breakthrough debut in 1981's Body Heat and before her Oscar-nominated turn in 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married, Kathleen Turner took the greatest risk of her career and portrayed kinky hooker with a heart of gold, China Blue, in Crimes of Passion (Arrow Video), now available in a special edition Blu-ray/DVD set. Directed by Ken Russell (Women In Love, Tommy) with a screenplay by gay screenwriter Barry Sandler (Making Love), Crimes of Passion is a guilty pleasure with aspects that still resonate today.

A high class fashion designer named Joanna by day and a streetwalker in a platinum wig and blue satin dress by night, China (Turner) is the recipient of special attention from two men. Bobby (the very hot, at that time, John McLaughlin), a security specialist brought in by Joanna's boss who thinks she might be stealing from him, and the psychotic street preacher Peter (Anthony Perkins) who is on a mission to save China, armed with a razor sharp dildo.

Bobby's marriage to Amy (Annie Potts) has lost its spark. They have a hard time communicating when alone or with friends. Bobby's best buddy Donny (Bruce Davison, before he began starring in Christianist propaganda films) is of no help. However, once Bobby meets China he thinks she may be able to get him out of his sexual funk. As it turns out, China also sees something favorable in Bobby.

Quick-witted and sharp-tongued, China may have met her match in the perverse preacher Peter. He pays for her time, he spies on her, he knows where she (as Joanna) lives; his obsession with her is all encompassing. Because she doesn't take the threat seriously, Peter is able to put her in a life-threatening situation. (If there is ever a Crimes of Passion remake planned, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins was born to play the part of Peter.)

As sexually graphic (don't miss the scene with the cop and the nightstick) as it is sensitive (the scene with the dying man), Crimes of Passion is also silly and chaotic. It won't be everyone's cup of tainted tea. But for those willing to watch, it has enough interesting moments to make it worthwhile. Bonus features include audio commentary by Russell and Sandler, a new interview with Sandler, a new interview with the film's composer Rick Wakeman (of Yes) and more.