Month: July 2016
Three’s A Crowd
If three’s the charm in real life, it is more of a curse at the movies. Just think: The Godfather, Star Wars, Spiderman, The Lord of the Rings, Batman, Iron Man, the first X-Men trilogy… the list goes on forever. And now completes the second X-Men trilogy. Crammed to the brim with lesser supers coloring by numbers various anecdotical vignettes, that thing is a panicked attempt at closure as much as it is an exercise in frustration. The patient fan will weather its foolish writing and mediocre CGI; the occasional spectator might feel more than a little bored by the stiff, uncharismatic portrayal of characters much better deployed in Brian Synger’s two original movies, the irony being that he’s back in the director’s seat.
The pre-title sequence brings us back in Egypt, the country where they are quite lousy at anything but building pyramids. Wizard En Sabah Nur is venerated like a God but the heresy successfully aborts his transition from one body to another, a process requiring magic, sun and a very ineffectual crew. One perused comments on the movie deploring that a God was too powerful an antagonist for the X-Men, and one would like to suggest that someone who can be defeated by a few blocks of stone and desert sand is not exactly of divine essence, but whatever. Apocalypse, as he’s fortunately not called during the movie, is buried in limbo until his expected, well, resurgence.
After a weird credit sequence jumping to the end of the 20th century by way of Jesus Christ, Mona Lisa and a subway train, the film proceeds to character exposition, so here we go meeting Nightcrawler (looking as German as the Taj Mahal), Angel, Cyclop, Havoc, Jean Grey, Yadda, Yadda, and Yadda. Most of them gloomily assemble at the Xavier School for Creepy Mutants, then En Sabah Nur is released and apocalypse ensues until he is defeated quite the same way than the first time around, another clue that either Gods have short memory or that the guy is just an old mutant well past his prime.
While most of the movie is puzzling to say the least, some key points of the screenplay are indeed apocalyptic for their awkwardness. Consider the fact that an explosion in Egypt is felt in Poland, that the Auschwitz concentration camp, still in shambles in the 80s when it was already a museum in the 50s, is destroyed by an Egyptian “God” spending half his time debating good and evil when he’s by essence beyond both, or the inept Wolverine cameo. But most of all, try to wrap your head around the fact that En Sabah Nur enables his Four Horsemen (AGAIN?) to defeat him by tuning them like quads; or that Jean Grey, who’s presented by Xavier as having “the most powerful spirit in the galaxy” is played by Sophie Turner (Games of Thrones‘ Sansa). Let’s take a moment to let that sink.
If Miss Turner has proven something with Games of Thrones, it’s her ability to wear ludicrous costumes, and that ability is well used here. But you know you have a problem when she’s written as the most powerful spirit of anything, let alone the galaxy. As most of the new class, she has the charisma of a kitchen appliance. You plug her in, she acts, you hear nothing but a monotone buzzing. Storm is the same but worse. Psylocke, who escapes at the end, better should not be the villain next time because she has the screen presence of a puppet finger.
One quite likes the X-Men, much better actually that the Avengers’ ragtag posse of a smug cyborg, a Nordic God, a Jeckyll & Hyde brute, a vintage Republican soldier and a Russian assassin. Their powers are more focussed and the Professor Xavier / Magneto rivalry adds a layer of character complexity to their story. But alas, not this time. Better watch again the two first movie: if two is company, three’s a crowd.
The best this movie has to offer is Geoffrey Rush, giving a subtly layered performance and elevating an otherwise classic (and classy) heist material to the heights of tragedy – and redemption. At the beginning, Virgil Oldman is seen as a cold fish, an auctioneer at the peak of his worldwide reputation. His refined eye can’t be fooled as he scrutinises works of art he manipulates with gloved hands, gloves of which he has dozens of pairs meticulously aligned in a special cabinet. He does not even take them off when he dines at his favourite restaurant, where he has his table and his monogrammed tableware. He is, at his core, disgusted by other people and refuses to touch them or their possessions.
But Virgil has a secret: for years, he has been under-evaluating arcane paintings of great value, expertising them as forgeries on which his partner in crime and failed painter Billy (Donald Sutherland, succulent as usual) successfully bids at auctions. Billy gets a cut of the profit and Virgil hangs his loots in his secret vault, where he can gaze at them in solitude. From the size of the vault and the number of paintings, one can say that this stunt has been lasting for quite some years.
Claire Ibbetson, a mysterious woman (isn’t there always one?) calls Virgil and ask him for an evaluation of a big collection of furniture and paintings. Reluctant at first, he finally agrees to meet her but she misses their first appointment, then another. He finally gets to see the collection but not its owner whom, her servant informs him, nobody has seen for twelve years as she suffers from agoraphobia and only leaves her panic room when everyone else has left the villa. She seems to be quite the bipolar recluse, with violent mood swings which only amplify his curiosity.
Said curiosity is heightened again when he finds a piece of machinery in the villa’s basement. After being expertised by a genius mechanics with whom he’s in regular contact, the fragment reveals to be part of a 18th century automaton built by Vaucanson (he of the mechanical duck fame), which value if completed would be inestimable. A game of cat and mouse starts between the auctioneer and the potential seller, to whom he hides his discovery. He spies on her and finally see her 50′ after the film started, and talk to her only well into the second hour.
Time and again he returns to the villa, grabbing here and there pieces of the automaton, which builds in parallel with the tension between the elusive Claire and himself. His initial mistrust is mollified by her constant yo-yoing between fear and attraction. They quarrel like lovers well before becoming so. Anything and its contrary, under a constant suspicion of treachery and betrayal. Scopophilia plays an important role in their relationship; he buys her couture dresses and jewels, in the hope she will get better and can get rid of her phobia and join him for a trip abroad.
One won’t be so cruel as to spoil the ending of a movie, which is predictable but elegantly put together, with the help of a paralysed midget gifted with eidetic memory. Virgil loses some, wins some and, at the time of the majestic last scene in a Prague restaurant, is a changed man. Meticulously filmed, well played by all involved and benefiting from an Ennio Morricone score, The Best Offer is a quiet thriller, almost perfect but for a few inconsistencies, fortunately appearing early enough in the picture not to impair the final momentum. There is always something authentic in a forgery, and everything can be faked but what one is feeling towards oneself. Whatever the distance self-inflicted between one and the rest of the world, one remains part of it, for better or for worse. A brilliant machine with a telltale heart, The Best Offer deserves its title.
- You enjoy listening again and again to the cries of exotic birds.
- You like solving puzzles because you are blind.
- You play prog rock that makes people wanna kill you.
- Your nightmares have a British accent.
- You sing nursery rhymes to your child in order to mess up his life.
- You quit ballet training because of all the barbed wire.
- You have no joy finding your keys, especially when you have to swim underwater for them.
- You are prone to sudden urges to repaint your kitchen wall in bright color.
- Your BFF is a lepidopter.
- After your colleagues have been viciously killed by a maniac, you find solace gazing at mountain flowers in the Swiss Alps.
- Your aesthetic sensibility is so developed that it sometimes puts you in tricky situations. In retrospect, you wish you hadn’t kissed that grouper on the mouth.
- A dwarf killed your mother with a clarinet.
- When you have a day off your demanding police work, nothing helps you unwind like a game of Texas Hold’em handcuffed to a busy railroad.
- Nothing in your immemorial witchcraft prepared you to the fact that fire burns.
- You are Adrian Brody, except when you are Adrian Brody.
Hole in the Wall
If Italy is food heaven, Tuscany is one of its archangels, with centuries of tradition, wonderful products and some of the finest wines the country has to offer. A Tuscan meal is robust the way a Tuscan city is fortified: simple, sometimes brutal everyday fares better eaten in family restaurants, invigorating dishes one would comfort oneself after a long day feuding with members of a rival Guild five or six centuries ago, when the Medici were ruling a flat Earth.
Tranvai is such a place. Situated on the Oltrarno, at the Renaissance city limit, it borders a municipal square were kids play football and is a relatively modern eating spot, its name and decoration referring to the local early 20th century tramway. It is a family restaurant which menu never changes but for the daily special: they definitely know what they are doing, so well indeed that for a couple of years you can spot Japanese help in the open kitchen. One can’t go wrong with a place where Japanese come to learn the right way to fry zucchini flowers.
Very moderately priced and displaying an good wine list, Tranvai gives you the feeling that you are visiting relatives, a couple of which are great cooks. This is the kind of osteria one returns to, time and again, ordering the same thing because it has been brought to perfection without losing its proverbial simplicity. For the educated palate, the cervello fritto (fried lamb brains) or the lampredotto (a particularly suave variety of tripe) are a feast, but there are numerous options for the less adventurous.
At one’s last visit, a succulent meal consisted in a shared plate of fried zucchini flowers, followed by a panzanella (a Tuscan fresh vegetable salad based on bread crumbs and olive oil) and a pasta alla chiantigiana, a fragrant mix of tomato, red wine and Tuscan sausage, which tasted even better than it smelled. Not exactly high cuisine, but one wanted the plate to last forever…
Friendly locals mix with tourists, who can be overheard asking genuinely puzzling questions (“How do say spaghetti in Italian?” is one’s all-time favorite). The noise level can be high and the sitting is not exactly comfy, but who cares when a smiling lady you wish were your homely Tuscan cousin brings you a dish worthy of a prince? When in Rome, do like Romans do; when in Florence, dine at Tranvai.