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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with FADING GIGOLO, LOCKE, BLUE RUIN and Kevin Spacey in NOW!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a few films that are making their way into art houses or coming out in limited release around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…

Why haven't these two spring chickens paired up in a movie before? I think they really have something. In the past John Turturro has made several films (MAC, ROMANCE & CIGARETTES) about passion, big sweeping emotions, noise and heart. But his latest work is the more modest, quieter and frankly more meaningful FADING GIGOLO, which sounds like a comedy about two old friends, a florist Fioranvante (Turturro), and a book store owner Murray (Woody Allen), whose establishment is about to go out of business, and he's concerned with his future income. Together they come up with the strange idea that Murray will drum up business from some of the older female friends looking for a little male companionship, while Fioranvante will become a sensitive gigolo whose reserve is his sexiest trait.

As silly an idea as Allen playing a pimp might sound, the whole arrangement works and makes more sense when you see it executed. The first client is Murray's married dermatologist (Sharon Stone), who mentions that she and her girlfriend (Sofia Vergara) are considering doing a threesome, but first she wants to test the merchandise out and she ends up getting a bit hooked. And before long the business arrangement nets Murray and Fioranvante a great deal of money.

But the film's most interesting moments come when another client, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), comes into the picture. She's the widow of a well-regarded Hasidic rabbi in the neighborhood where Murray lives, and she's clearly suffering because she misses not just human touch, but any kind of connection. There's a Hasidic cop (Liev Schreiber) who is attempting to become closer with her, but she seems more interested in looking outside the limiting confines of her faith. Murray brings her to Fioranvante, who engages in some non-sexual behavior with her that clearly has an impact on them both. Their encounters border on the erotic, even though there is no nudity or actual sex.

At its core, FADING GIGOLO is about reinventing oneself in the face of a changing world. It's not so much a nostalgic look at the recent past, but more of a pining for simpler times, knowing full well that if they don't take a good hard look at modern living, they may get left behind. I don't think I ever thought Fioranvante and Avigal would end up together, but they use each other to find the humanity in their feelings of disconnect with everything around them. The film is delicate, almost fragile, and Turturro taps into what is most gentle and charming about himself to make his character authentic.

Naturally, Allen carries the bulk of the comic relief, but even he is working on a more subtle, less jokey level at times, and he really pulls off one of his best acting roles in decades. What might have been truly cringe-worthy in other hands turns out to be a touching glimpse at two lonely souls that find a brief bit of companionship, which in turn inspires them to move forward with their lives. It's a lovely, amusing and heart-affirming work.

Well, now I know what it's like to stare at a bearded Tom Hardy (BRONSON, WARRIOR, DARK KNIGHT RISES) for 90 minutes. It's actually kind of fantastic. For those of you who believe you could listen to Hardy read the phone book and be utterly captivated, prepare to have that belief verified. In all seriousness, his performance in LOCKE probably isn't the kind that gets remembered come awards season (or even Best of the Year season), but it's not a film you'll soon forget if only for its utterly unique approach to storytelling and tension building.

Told more or less in real time, LOCKE is the story of Ivan Locke, a construction site manager who is on the eve of the biggest concrete pour he will ever be responsible for. He's got the organizational skills to handle the job; he's got a notebook full of lists and contacts to triple check with; and he's about to drive away from it all because of an ill-timed phone call that single handedly destroys his entire life. So all the film is is Locke's drive from his job to a hospital about two hours away. On the way there, he must make a handful of largely painful phone calls, both personal and professional in nature, that he will attempt to run through with minimal pain and suffering. I'm not sure if you've heard this, but things don't always work out the way you plan them to.

Writer-director Steven Knight (who wrote the screenplays for EASTERN PROMISES, DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, and AMAZING GRACE) gives us 90 solid minutes of Hardy trying to play it straight with each and every person he talks with, even if a white lie or omission might work in his favor. It's as if Ivan has decided that on this day, he will be honest to a fault. He uses words like "practical" and "reasonable" during conversations that are clearly unspooling rapidly. His wife (voiced by Ruth Wilson) is losing her mind, his oldest son (Tom Holland) is scared for the future of the family, his boss is furious that he's abandoned his position, and his second in command is fast on his way to getting drunk while Ivan is attempting to walk him through what he'll now be in charge of the following morning. And then there's the woman at the other end of this drive, Behan (Olivia Colman), who is slowly revealing just how unstable she is as Ivan gets closer.

You may have noticed, Ivan isn't being chased; there are no life-and-death calamities at play here; there are no bad guys in the film (unless you count Ivan's invisible father in the backseat, whom he rants against as he drives). This is a story of an ordinary man plunged into an unenviable situation of his own making, and he's simply trying to do the right thing by everyone. He has an ironclad plan, and the film has a sadistic kind of fun watching it fall to pieces.

Hardy's Richard Burton-esque Welsh inflections make every word he says come out so perfect enunciated that you can't help but wonder if he's trying to make himself crystal clear after his turn as Bane in DARK KNIGHT RISES. Whatever the reason, it makes every situation he finds himself in and maneuvers himself through that much more interesting and captivating. There are many hiccups on the construction site as his right-hand man, Donal, begins to work his way through the checklist, and for all of the technical language that Ivan uses regarding the concrete delivery and pour, you get what it is he's talking about.

The film takes place entirely at night, which only adds to Ivan's feeling of isolation. You never see the faces of the drivers in the cars around him on the motorway. All of the phone calls are from disembodied voices, most of whom are in various stages of panic or anger toward him. This is a man utterly on his own in the world. LOCKE's simplicity in story and trust in Hardy to hold our attention with a mesmerizing performance is makes it so successful and gripping. I hope Knight has found the secret passage away from conventional filmmaking and plotting, and continues to find unconventional ways to make movies from now on.

If you're tired of tales of specially trained men or women (many of whom are in retirement) suddenly having to call upon their instinctual abilities, often in defense of a loved one, then BLUE RUIN is the film for you, because in all likelihood the central character, Dwight (Macon Blair), handles his brand of revenge and justice a lot like the rest of us would.

Dwight is a hapless drifter, stealing food, baths and sleep from empty vacation homes going from place to place in a beat-up old Pontiac (thus the film's title). We get a sense that Dwight was made this way because of some devastating event in his life, and before long he is informed by the police that one Will Cleland is being released from jail, at which point a feral look comes across Dwight's face, and he sets out to murder this man for unknown reasons, becoming an ad hoc assassin of the ex-con. And while in many films, the revenge is the end of the film, for BLUE RUIN, it is only the beginning of this story.

It doesn't take long for Cleland's family to figure out who murdered their kin, and before long they are after Dwight. The rest of the film is a brutal and surprisingly moving chase story, with Dwight attempting to protect what little family he's got, while picking off the Cleland family one by one before they get to him. BLUE RUIN is an award-winning film that took prizes at Cannes among other festivals, and it's wonderfully effective at generating suspense while it adds a bit of depth and substance to the revenge genre. All the while, the true backstory of these two families begins to come into focus, forcing both sides to come to terms with what they've done over the years.

BLUE RUIN is small but powerful gut-punch of a film, in which nearly every act of violence comes with real consequences. The situations may be familiar, but the way each scene plays out often is unexpected and shocking. Saulnier's skill as a screenwriter, director and even cinematographer are all on full display, and I bet that after a couple more films under his belt (this is his second feature, after 2007's MURDER PARTY, also starring Blair), he'll become one of those directors whose work you eagerly anticipate. He's taken one of the most familiar (some might say overused) story set ups in filmdom and done something and exciting and new with it. That alone should earn him high praise.

I don't think it's a coincidence that nearly 20 years ago, actor Kevin Spacey appeared in LOOKING FOR RICHARD, an Al Pacino-directed documentary that examined the fascination that surrounds Shakespeare's "Richard III"—the play and the most evil of his characters. A couple years ago, Spacey and his AMERICAN BEAUTY director Sam Mendes embarked on one of the most ambitious stage productions in history: they gathered a group of British and American stage actors and put up a production of "Richard III" (with Spacey as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, naturally) that toured the world, totaling nearly 200 performances and resulting in several dozen exhausted performers and crew members.

With NOW: IN THE WINGS ON A WORLD STAGE, director Jeremy Whelehan does a tremendous job capturing what it was like for many in the troupe to be plucked from obscurity (with the exception of the great Gemma Jones) and sent on this whirlwind trip around the globe, which eventually landed on Broadway. The scene during rehearsals and backstage during a production is a blinding mixture of chaos and controlled mastery of the craft. There are a few instances where we follow an actor as they leave the stage, watch them move around the cramped backstage halls, change costumes, and head back behind a stage door until it is time to enter again. Those of us who aren't actors probably have never seen this before, and it's thrilling stuff.

When the interviews focus on the obsession surrounding the play or the choices Mendes and Spacey make in staging this particular production, NOW is a revealing and insightful document of the creative mind, and Spacey reveals that the film world had grown tiresome and not especially challenging, making him seek out new ways to challenge himself as an actor (such as taking on the series "House of Cards," which ramped up after this show ended). The film only lets us down a bit when it allows the actors to indulge in the obligatory talk of how great it was to work with everyone and how no one ever fought. If that's true, who cares? If it's not true, it's only mildly more interesting.

The travelogue part of the movie is fairly enjoyable, especially when the group (known as the Bridge Project) travels to exotic lands in the Middle East or China. But I found myself far more captivated by the backstage excitement. There are a few moments where director Whelehan catches Spacey mentally preparing for his next entrance, tuning his mood and emotion until it's just right, and then launching on stage. It almost feels intrusive, but you can't avert your eyes because it's a rare opportunity to watch a great actor earn his reputation.

Meeting the rest of the actors is hit and miss. Some are very actorly and have very little to say about their work; others have contemplated their place in the production and the acting world in general and have a great deal to add to the conversation. It essentially comes down to who you'd rather hang out with and who you wouldn't. But it's the discussion of the play that drew me in the most.

Richard III is a sublime, self-hating monster who Shakespeare still attempts to make us feel a bit sorry for in the end. And it's ones of literature's finest and earliest examples of delving into the brutal past of a character to explain his behavior in the present. And Spacey has picked apart this character's nature until it becomes his own, and his thoughts on the play and character are funny and heartfelt, much like the film itself. Nitpicking aside, the journey chronicled here is extraordinary and beyond entertaining. In addition to a limited theatrical run, NOW will be available for download at starting May 2.

-- Steve Prokopy
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