“Fading Gigolo”: Paid for every dance, selling each romance

AP FILM REVIEW FADING GIGOLO A ENT

“Fading Gigolo” opens Friday at Sundance Cinemas. R, 1:38, two stars out of four.

There ought to be some kind of asterisk required on reviews of movies shot in New York City in autumn. Even the worst movie can seem pleasant enough when you see those leaves dappling the stoops of a row of brownstones, or people in expensive coats walking through a golden Central Park. There’s one scene in “Fading Gigolo” set in a glade in Central Park, the trees every gorgeous shade of red, yellow and orange imaginable, that looks like a CGI painting from “The Hobbit.”

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“Blue Jasmine”: A streetcar named Desire meets a train wreck named Cate

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“Blue Jasmine” opens Friday at Point, Star Cinema and Sundance in Madison. PG-13, 1:38, four stars out of four.”

“Blue Jasmine” opens with a disgraced woman fleeing New York City for San Francisco. Yes, only Woody Allen would think a fall from grace would involve relocating from the most expensive city in American to the second-most expensive city in America.

But if Allen is outside his element shooting in San Francisco, so is his heroine Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), and the result is one of the nerviest, freshest films he’s made in a long time. Whereas some of Allen’s films seemed frozen in time (last year’s “To Rome With Love” could have been made any time in the last 50 years), this one feels rooted in the here and now, in the anxieties of the class struggle and the unmooring of social and financial institutions.

Jasmine was the wife of a smooth-talking financier (Alec Baldwin at his oiliest) who turns out to have been a Bernie Madoff-style fraud. Having ripped off all of their friends, Jasmine is forced to flee to San Francisco and her adoptive sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Who he also ripped off, but at least she’s family and can’t turn Jasmine away.

The scandal has deeply rattled Jasmine, who probably already had emotional issues, but kept them safely cushioned in the cocoon of wealth and privilege. Alone and exposed, crammed into her sister’s apartment with noisy kids and a hotheated suitor named Chile (Bobby Cannavale), Jasmine is slowly losing her grip. Sometimes, she’s determined to make a new life for herself, taking a job as a dentist’s receptionist and studying to be a interior designer. But she’s fragile, brittle, and the tiniest setback sends her off, prattling on about her old life as if she was still at a charity ball in Manhattan. But her rich friends are ghosts now, haunting her with memories of the life she lost.

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Blanchett is flat-out amazing as Jasmine, a woman of exquisite culture and breeding on the outside, a bottomless well of nervous need inside. At times, buffeted by the rigors of ordinary life, she seems almost catatonic, her big blue eyes searching desperately for escape. We should hate this woman, but we pity her. At one point, she meets an attractive diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard) who offers her the chance to rejoin the ruling class. For her own sanity, we start to wish that would happen, even as we recognize her capacity for self-sabotage.

This is one of those Allen films like “Midnight in Paris” where everything just clicks, from his confident staging and seamless uses of flashbacks to his impeccable casting. Hawkins gives her sister character a kind of brassy nobility, and Andrew “Dice” Clay is effective as her ex-husband, who is a voice of conscience in the film. That’s right: Andrew “Dice” Clay, voice of conscience.

The resemblance to “A Streetcar Named Desire” is intentional, but also inessential, as “Blue Jasmine” charts its own course through post-meltdown America, and how the rich really are so different than you and me. Or, at least, you can hide the differences with enough money.

Wisconsin Film Festival: Michael Murphy takes “Manhattan”

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I had not planned on going to all three of Michael Murphy’s events at the Wisconsin Film Festival. I thought I would hit “Phase IV” for sure, and then maybe “Brewster McCloud” just to hear the actor tell Robert Altman stories. But that was it. Certainly not Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” which I love but have seen plenty of times in my life.

And there I was, watching “Manhattan” at the Union South Marquee Theater. And loving it. Because it’s “Manhattan.” And it’s Michael Murphy.

Murphy is just such a great storyteller and such a gregarious guy (and, let’s face it, “Manhattan” is such a wonderful film) that I couldn’t pass up the chance. Festival director of programming Jim Healy said it was a new print of “Manhattan,” and the black-and-white shots of ’70s New York looked awesome on the big screen. I got chills during that final “Rhapsody in Blue” overture. And, after Allen’s spotty later years, it’s just such a pleasure to return to the sharp writing (with UW-Madison graduate Marshall Brickman) of his peak years.

So, of course, Murphy talked during the Q&A about how much Allen never liked “Manhattan,” so much that he wanted to take the print back from the studio and make them another film for free. Murphy said he agreed with actor Pat Healy, who was at the screening, that Allen might have been so uncomfortable with the film because it hit so close to home.

“This is as close to Woody as you’ll ever see,” Murphy said.

Murphy and Allen became friends while acting together on 1976’s “The Front,” and Murphy said what you see in “Manhattan” is pretty much their lives together (minus the adultery,etc.) “We had a million meals at that table in Elaine’s, some unbelievable conversations,” he said. “It was just like going out and having dinner with your friends.”

Murphy also told some funny stories about Allen’s notorious hypochondria, such as convincing himself that he had a brain tumor after listening to a lot of George Gershwin, who died of a brain tumor. Another time, Murphy remembered trying to convince Allen that he wouldn’t die young, noting that both his parents lived to be well into their 90s.

“Genetics will only get you so far, Murphy,” Allen reportedly responded.