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posted: 8/1/2013 6:00 AM

Bad things happen to characters we love to hate in 'Blue Jasmine'

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  • Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) shares a moment with her rich con-artist husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) shortly before her privileged world implodes in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."

      Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) shares a moment with her rich con-artist husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) shortly before her privileged world implodes in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine."

  • Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) fights an invisible force of suspicion and hatred as an innocent man marked by false charges in "The Hunt."

      Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) fights an invisible force of suspicion and hatred as an innocent man marked by false charges in "The Hunt."

  • Video: "Blue Jasmine" trailer

  • Video: "The Hunt" trailer

 
 

Mini-review: "Blue Jasmine"
The heart of Woody Allen's latest comedy, "Blue Jasmine," is a beating tragedy, a Greek tale of a fallen financial goddess who, like Tennessee Williams' self-deluded Blanche DuBois, seems to be incapable of acknowledging the reality of her existence.

Cate Blanchett, executing a role that comes equipped with its own auto-Oscar nomination, doesn't go for easy empathy. Quite the opposite. Her Jasmine comes off aloof, petty and pretentious, a perfect study of a personality type we should feel for, but really don't.

Once the New York wife of a super rich financier (Alec Baldwin in a spot-on portrait of duplicitous arrogance), Jasmine is now bankrupt and disgraced following the implosion of his economic empire and his subsequent prison suicide by hanging.

Her son has disowned her. Her possessions have been seized.

Forced to live with her San Francisco grocery store employee sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins), Jasmine attempts to reinvent herself as a dental receptionist and learn some computer skills. But like a Ruth Madoff knock-off, she's hopelessly clinging to the affluent self-image of the figure she never really was.

Andrew Dice Clay is Allen's surprise casting choice here. As Augie, Ginger's silvering hubby with a grudge against Jasmine, the former sexually explicit stand-up comedian comes across almost vulnerable after Ginger kicks him to the curb.

Bobby Cannavale plays Ginger's new short-tempered boyfriend with aplomb. Louis C.K. slithers into the scene as a Jasmine-approved suitor for her working-class sister. (Jasmine and Ginger are adopted, but not blood-releated.)

Peter Sarsgaard brings unaffected sincerity to Dwight, a proverbial knight in an expensive suit who shows up as a possible savior for Jasmine's financial plight.

At times, "Blue Jasmine" lapses into high-grade Neil Simon glibness. But the player is the thing here, and Blanchett conjures up a crackling caldron of colliding conflicts with one of the most memorable female protagonists Allen has ever written. (That Blanchett has played Blanche DuBois on stage in her native Australia probably didn't hurt.)

"Blue Jasmine" opens at the Century Centre and the River East in Chicago, the Evanston CineArts 6 and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual situations. 98 minutes. ★ ★ ★

Mini-review: "The Hunt"
If you watch the Danish drama "The Hunt," Thomas Vinterberg's horrifying extension of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "wrong man" scenario, take a close look at Mads Mikkelsen's character Lucas right after being informed that a child has accused him of improper sexual conduct.

Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen slightly distorts the picture with an ultra wide-angle lens, injecting the moment with dramatic disequilibrium. The widescreen composition transforms Lucas' view of the world from normal and concrete to feelings of disorientation, of something unreal and intangible.

"The Hunt" presents a harrowingly realistic story of how fragile the bonds of trust can be, and how easily a lifetime of exemplary behavior means nothing in the face of mob mentality.

A cute girl named Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the little daughter of Lucas' close pal Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen), develops an innocent crush on Lucas, who diplomatically rebuffs her attentions. Hurt, Klara repeats something she heard her older brother say about a pornographic website he's accessed.

Her kindergarten supervisor Grethe (Susse Wold) questions Klara and determines that Lucas, a father and a beloved figure in town, has exposed himself to the girl.

Instantly, the tight-knit community that Lucas has been a part of all his life turns on him with savage ferocity. Other parents suddenly notice signs that their children have been acting strangely. Were they molested by Lucas, too?

This is a classic witch hunt story, given great weight and power by Vinterberg's restrained direction and Mikkelsen's astonishing, transcendent performance as a character struggling to survive social and economic torment.

He fights back, but has no weapons against a force fueled by paranoia and the unfaltering belief in the truthfulness of children.

"The Hunt" is far scarier than the most frightening zombie film, because everyone in real life is safe from zombie attacks, yet no one is truly safe from the sort of instant suspicion and social excommunication that befalls Mikkelsen's innocent man.

And the story's ending isn't really an ending, but a raw, realistic tagline attesting to the lingering effects of presumed guilt.

"The Hunt" opens at the Music Box in Chicago. Rated R for violence, language and sexual images. With English subtitles. 106 minutes. ★ ★ ★

Film notes:
• You can see Ted Demme's 1996 ensemble drama "Beautiful Girls" on the silver screen for only $1 when the Chicago Film Critics Association presents it as part of the "Film With a View" program at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 7, at the Studio Movie Grill Wheaton theater, 301 Rice Lake Square in Wheaton. Elk Grove Village's Erik Childress, a CFCA board member, will introduce the film and conduct a post-show discussion. Go to studiomoviegrill.com.

• Mount Prospect filmmaker Satya Kharkar took his independent movie "Coin Toss" to India earlier this year. Now, you can see it at the Mount Prospect Public Library at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 6. (That's at 10 S. Emerson Street.)

Kharkar and other principals will be there to answer questions and share stories about making the movie and the independent film industry. It's free, but please register at mppl.org or call (847) 253-5675.

• Whether you wanted it or not, the virtually bloodless, PG-13-rated zombie thriller "World War Z" has been digitally remastered into an IMAX 3-D format. It opens in select theaters starting Friday, Aug. 2, for what Paramount Pictures is describing as a "one-week engagement." worldwarzmovie.com

• Join me and founder Mike Kerz as I, in my role as master of ceremonies, formally open the annual Flashback Weekend's Chicago Horror Convention on Friday, Aug. 9, at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O'Hare, 5440 N. River Road, Rosemont. Guests include "Predator 2" star Danny Glover, "Rocky Horror Picture Show" star Patricia Quinn, zombie king George Romero and many others. flashbackweekend.com

• The crazy killer shark movie "Sharknado" premiered July 11 on the Syfy channel. Now you can see it as a midnight movie special at 12:01 a.m. Friday, Aug. 2 (technically it's Saturday morning) in area theaters. To watch what happens when a sea storm sucks up sharks and drops them all over land, go to FathomEvents.com for details.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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