Thursday, January 30, 2014


Eva  massages people for a living. Her clients, for the most part, are disgusting. They have bad breath, they talk too much, and one of them is so dense that he stands at the top of his stairway while she lugs her massage table up to his place; the guy never offers to help, even as she struggles. It's a lousy way to make a buck, but she's divorced, and doesn't have much going for herself. In a way, rubbing the backs of these slobs is the only contact she has with humanity.

One night she attends a party and meets Marianne, a poet who is wealthy and lovely and knows Joni Mitchell. Eva also meets Albert, a bear of a man with a disarming smile.  Eva takes on the former as a client  - she is delighted to massage someone who isn't gross - and starts dating Albert. Life, for a change, is looking good. She and Albert are comfortable with each other.  They grow close. Eva grows close to Marianne, too. Marianne (Catherine Keener) is flighty and needs a friend. Eva then learns that Marianne and Albert were once married. She tries to keep her friendship with Marianne a secret from Albert, but as Marianne is constantly bad-mouthing her ex, Eva's view of her precious new boyfriend is being slowly poisoned.

All of this may sound like a sitcom episode, maybe because Enough Said stars longtime TV favorites Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini as Eva and Albert, while writer/director   Nicole Holofcener has an extensive television background.  As we watch Eva try to squirm out of the situation, it's hard not to think this might have made a nice Seinfeld. Yet, Gandolfini and Louis-Dreyfus have a nice chemistry. You want Eva to ignore Marianne's influence and stay with Albert. Because Eva's painted as a wishy-washy person, you're not sure which way she'll go. That's what makes the movie work.

The story brings up an intriguing point that is very true: no matter how much you may like someone, there's a chance that someone else considers them a loser, which is the word Marianne uses to describe Albert. Unfortunately, the movie has too many subplots about various friends and neighbors; sometimes these side stories distract from the main plot.  Still, the two leads are wonderful here. I like how this middle-aged pair are as shy as kids at first, sharing an awkward kiss, moving cautiously, knowing they have stumbled into something that might be special. Their performances are enough to lift a standard romantic comedy into something quite watchable.

The quartet of Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Kevin Kline, and Morgan Freeman could probably elevate even the dreariest of movies, even in this era when movies have been dumbed down to an embarrassing level. The four old champs do exactly that in Last Vegas,  about four men on the cusp of 70 hitting Las Vegas for a bachelor party. It's the sort of scenario that you just know will feature a lot of Viagra jokes, and you also know at least one of the guys will end up dancing with a female impersonator.  But while those predictable gags are here, there are just enough fair one-liners, plus the presence of the four stars, to make the film palatable. 

Douglas' character, the glossy one of the bunch, is getting married to a much younger woman. He invites the other three to the wedding, and as usually happens in films of this sort, old hostilities rise to the surface. Douglas, you see, didn't show up for De Niro's wife's funeral a year earlier. They had once vied for the same girl back in their Brooklyn childhood. De Niro got her. Now, things get sticky in Las Vegas when both De Niro and Douglas set eyes on a lounge singer played by Mary Steenburgen. Of course, friendship conquers all, and the film moves briskly to its pat, predictable outcome.

De Niro is fine here as the dark cloud of the group, a sad widower who seems unable to enjoy himself. Freeman, too, delivers his usual solid performance. Kline and Douglas mug it up. Douglas still seems to be playing Liberace, and Kline is too urbane to be a believable Brooklyn boy from Flatbush. Only De Niro and Freeman appear to wear their roles comfortably. Still, there's something sort of fun about seeing these four actors together. The film turned a profit during its winter release, so we can probably expect another like it real soon. Highlight: One of the guys from HBO's Entourage harasses the crew on the dance floor of a Las Vegas nightclub. De Niro drops him with a left hook. A nation cheered. At least I did.
24 Exposures is the sort of snide, hastily assembled film that gets made these days because it's become increasingly easier to make a low budget feature.  This one is about a "fetish photographer" who shoots pictures of women posed as murder victims.  It was such an underwhelming film that I'm hardpressed to recall details, but there are some lesbians here, and a loopy cop, and an angry boyfriend, and a lot of amateurish acting. The film is presented with absolutely no style, no humor, no intrigue. Adam Wingard plays the photographer as a giggling lech. One woman tries to kill another in a bathtub. I'm sure there was more to it, but sometimes it's fruitless to make sense of a bad movie. The impression I get is that  director Joe Swanberg wanted this to be like an early Brian De Palma film, but it turned out more like a Doris Wishman.   Seriously, some of the acting here is as bad as in Wishman's old nudie flicks. I'll give some credit to Simon Barrett as the psycho cop. He was bearable, a step up from Doris Wishman and well into Ed Wood territory.

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