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Fading Gigolos, Naked Aliens & Captain America

April 19, 2014

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My apologies, Fretts on Film-goers: I’ve been so busy lately, I haven’t had time to post. But I have been going to movies, so here’s a catch-up. The most surprisingly enjoyable film I’ve seen in ages is Fading Gigolo. Based on his disappointing works as a writer-director (the semi-autobiographical dud Mac, the muddled musical Romance & Cigarettes), John Turturro didn’t seem capable of making a movie that would live up to such a terrific title. But by channeling the spirit of a costar who rarely appears in films he doesn’t write and direct, Turturro has made the best Woody Allen film Woody never made.

It’s good to see Woody back in the ‘hood—New York City, that is—after so many years of carpetbagging around Europe (London, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, etc.). Even Blue Jasmine was mostly set and shot in San Francisco. But he seems right at home in Fading Gigolo as a rare-bookstore owner who closes up shop and opens a new business pimping out his florist/plumber/electrician friend Fioravante (Turturro) around Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Turturro’s view of the City that Rarely, If Ever, Sleeps is slightly different than the Woodman’s. It’s more racially diverse (Woody’s character lives with an African-American woman, played by Tonya Pinkins, and her four adorable sons) and bops along to a funkier kind of jazz—including several tracks by R&B-influenced saxman Gene “Jug” Ammons—than Woody’s beloved Dixieland swing. But Fading Gigolo‘s unpredictable comic tone and amusingly bemused observations about Jewish cultue, including a subplot involving a rabbi’s widow (the pleasingly cast-against-type Vanessa Paradis) and a Hasidic neighborhood watch-man (Liev Schreiber, showing a similar flair for comedy as he did in Larry David’s underrated HBO flick Clear History), puts it right in Woody’s wheelhouse.

Say what you will about Woody’s personal life (and a passing incest reference resonates disturbingly), but as a filmmaker, he’s always had an appreciation for beautifully complicated women, and Turturro is a kindred spirit. As bi-curious babes of a certain age who recruit Fioravante for a menage a trois, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara exude sex appeal to spare. But it’s the bromance between Turturro and Allen — the auteurs and their characters — that’s the most delightful aspect of Fading Gigolo.

One of Woody’s more recent muses—Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona vet Scarlett Johansson (we’ll skip Scoop)—gets a whole new kind of exposure with her double fantasy features Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Under the Skin. She slips comfortably back into her leather Avengers ensemble as Black Widow, achieving a teasingly flirtatious chemistry with Chris Evans’ all-American hero in the engagingly light-hearted sequel. New directors Anthony and Joe Russo enlist their Community pal Danny Pudi for a funny cameo as well as channeling the sitcom’s antic spirit. And Anthony Mackie, as high-flying sidekick the Falcon, is—as Pudi’s Abed would no doubt put it—cool, cool, cool.scarlett-johansson-600

As for Under the Skin, it’s beyond cool: It’s downright chilly. Sexy Beast director Jonathan Glazer casts ScarJo as a new type of sexy beast: an alien who seduces and destroys unwitting men as she drives around Scotland. (The locals speak with such thick brogues, this English-language movie could benefit from subtitles). Johansson doesn’t speak much but she frequently disrobes, and Glazer knows she’s a compelling enough camera subject to hold viewers’ interest without a lot of blah blah blah.

Under the Skin looks, sounds and feels like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure what the point is (or if there is one), but it’s certainly out of this world. The same can be said for Captain America and Fading Gigolo. And as we head into the cinematic silly season that is summer, that’s cause for celebration.

 

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