It’s a great week to take a break from Hollywood bombast and invest in something independent. In the podcast this week we break down Tyrel, Maria by Callas and Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes. Plus, a few quick thoughts on the Golden Globe nominations before heading out to the lobby to sort through new releases in home entertainment.
To simply label Richard Turner a “blind magician” would be to insult a man whose pursuit of perfection is all the more admirable considering his impairment. Turner, the subject of Dealt, is much more than a spell-binding “card mechanic.” He is also a father, a husband and an all-around legend within the magic community.
The film, directed by Luke Korem, introduces Turner and what he is best known for: his card tricks. Or, rather his card mechanics. Turner specifies that he is a card mechanic which means he can “fix” a card game—something he can without any vision at all.
Korem pulls TV spots featuring Turner dating back to the late 1970s. From these television appearances, we witness how one man has managed to capture our attention over the years with his impeccable abilities.
His jovial attitude is disarming, even as he explains how he will bend the card game. He uses his mechanics to cheat you, yet all the while explaining how he is doing so. You can’t help but smile while he succeeds.
The film really shines, though, when it shifts focus from the mesmerizing card tricks to Turner’s family. We get a glimpse of a man who relies so much on his wife and child to assist him throughout the journey of his life.
Turner also shares a strong bond with his younger sister, who is also visually impaired. She proves to be a point of strength for him, helping him begin to shed the stigma of his blindness.
The film is a brief look into a rather compelling and friendly character. Richard Turner and his family definitely stick around with you once the film is over—a film that will have you buying a deck of cards and trying out some tricks on your friends and family, just like Richard did when he started.
Charming is the first word that comes to mind while watching the Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles documentary, Dina.
From the first moment, the audience is given an unfiltered look into Dina’s world. At a dentist appointment, she reveals her discomfort to the hygienist who offers to hold her hand while the dentist drills. It seems an odd moment to begin this intimate look at a woman’s life, but as the film unfolds, it’s a piece that fits into the larger puzzle that is Dina.
After a few more scenes in which we’re privy to Dina’s day-to-day routines, her fiancé, Scott, is introduced. In most ways, Scott and Dina are just like any other couple preparing for and anticipating their wedding day: there’s excitement, some trepidation, and a few hurdles to work through if they’re going to succeed in the long run.
But Scott has Asperger Syndrome and Dina has “a smörgåsbord” of mental disabilities (per her mother). Still, Santini and Sickles show us that Dina and Scott are a couple like any other.
At times, as the film navigates the sexual side of the couple’s relationship, it tends toward voyeurism. As they page through a copy of “The Joy of Sex” and Dina relays her sexual frustrations, the film skirts the line.
But the directors approach the subject with sympathy and compassion. The openness Dina and Scott have reveals the comfort between subject and documentarians. Never does the film feel exploitative or mocking.
It’s easy to like Scott and Dina and the more time spent with them only deepens the affection.
It’s a testament to the filmmakers, who make the audience feel like they’re spending time with old friends. It’s also a testament to Dina herself. Her past is one of hardship. She’s a widow and a survivor of a terrible ordeal at the hands of a boyfriend. But she is full of optimism and warmth.
Scott and Dina are exceedingly polite to each other, but the warmth behind their words reveals their love. In fact, the world would probably be a lot better if we all treated our friends, family and spouses the way Dina and Scott treat each other. While they have their problems, as every couple does, their polite natures, their openness, offers hope that their marriage will stand the test of time.
As a love story, Dina is exactly what the audience wants it to be.
It is hard to go wrong with a story as viscerally affecting as that of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli who took a year off from his life to seek adventure. He found it in the Jungle.
Beautifully portrayed by Daniel Radcliffe, Yossi heads to Bolivia where he befriends Swiss schoolteacher Marcus (Joel Jackson) and American photographer Kevin (Alex Russell).
Director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) invests a good chunk of Jungle in letting us get to know this amiable, romantic trio—searching souls that seek some kind of connection with nature, humanity and life.
They find something that may be too good to be true when Yossi meets the mysterious jungle guide Karl (a wonderful Thomas Kretschmann). Together the foursome head into uncharted territories in search of lost tribes, rivers full of gold and other wonders not found on the typical tourist to-do list.
You know what they say about things that sound too good to be true.
Frustrations run high, mercy runs low, faith in leadership wanes, and eventually, an accident separates Ghinsberg from the group. He is on his own to survive the jungle, starvation, delirium, and one nasty, squirmy head wound.
Adapting Ghinsberg’s autobiography, screenwriter Justin Monjo sticks to highlights, which gives the film an artificiality it never fully shakes. McLean’s camera embraces both the overpowering beauty of the extreme environment as well as its shadowy, jagged, sometimes toothy menace. He just needs to learn when to leave it alone.
Speaking of alone, Radcliffe spends about 1/3 of the film on his own. For anyone still wondering whether Harry Potter can act, this film should set aside all doubt. Radcliffe is a natural fit for deeply decent characters, and his expressive face helps him communicate an enormous amount of unspoken content.
He’s great, as is the story and the balance of the cast. It’s just the writer and director who let us down from time to time.
Jungle is at its worse when McLean shows how little faith he has in his material and his audience, leaning on emotional manipulation and an almost oppressively leading score to ensure we are getting his point.
There are other questionable decisions, like the dream sequences, which offer little to the film besides the opportunity to objectify the few—all lovely, all nameless—women who grace the screen.
Jungle is, if nothing else, a powerful testament to Daniel Radcliffe’s potency as an actor. It’s also an unbelievable story, and Radcliffe’s performance ensures your keen interest regardless of McLean’s antics.
Let’s say you love Nancy Meyers’s movies – you know, those fantasies like It’s Complicated or Something’s Gotta Give where late-middle-aged women land all the attention, sex, career opportunities and marital comeuppance they’ve always really deserved, only to realize that they had it all in them the whole time. Let’s say you love those, but you’d like them to skew maybe 15 – 20 years younger.
Boy howdy, is Home Again the movie for you.
Written and directed by Meyers’s daughter Hallie Meyers-Shyer, it spins a familiar, albeit younger, yarn.
Newly single, freshly 40, gorgeous, living in an unbelievable house and raising two precocious and adorable kids – man, does Alice Kinney (Reese Witherspoon) have it rough.
One contrivance leads to another and suddenly three Hollywood dreamers in the form of gorgeous twentysomething dudes hoping to realize their moviemaking ambitions are living in her guest house.
Why not? I mean, except for the high potential for murder and/or child molestation, but this isn’t that kind of movie. This is the kind that would never happen.
What will happen when Alice’s estranged husband (Michael Sheen) comes home unexpectedly?
Gasp – do you think he’ll finally see how special she is? Will she hear all those things she’s wanted to hear from him for years? Will it work, or will she slowly realize that she deserves better?
Hell, she deserves it all!
I will tell you who deserves better—besides the audience—Reese Witherspoon.
How great was she earlier this year in HBO’s Big Little Lies? Well, she’s not great here. She coasts along with awkward and/or appreciative faces. She does have some fun chemistry with the underused (but always welcome) Candice Bergen.
None, surprisingly, with the usually reliable Sheen and less than none with the trio of hotties (Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander and Jon Rudnitsky) taking up residence.
It doesn’t help that those actors are bland (Wolff) to middling (Alexander) to weak (Rudnitsky).
No problem appears to be especially troubling, no solution feels earned, no relationship looks authentic. Even Nancy Meyers’s most self-indulgent work had a hard earned charm about it.
What Home Again needed was a different Meyers. That or a scary clown.