July 27 (Bloomberg) -- Woody Allen finally makes his Tennessee Williams movie with “Blue Jasmine,” a terrifically engaging re-imagining of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Writer/director Allen, who hilariously did a bit of Blanche to Diane Keaton’s Stanley in “Sleeper,” leaves the acting to his typically fine players this time around, and ditches the laughs altogether.
Cate Blanchett, gorgeous and styled to Diane Sawyer perfection, is superb as the fragile Jasmine French, the Blanche Dubois stand-in who lands broke and broken on her sister’s doorstep.
“I need to stay here for a while,” says Jasmine, frazzled but chic, toting Louis Vuitton and a Xanax habit.
Neither sister is thrilled at the prospect.
Blue-collar Ginger (Sally Hawkins) is a grocery-store cashier living in a cramped San Francisco apartment with two screaming kids and a loutish mechanic beau named Chili (Bobby Cannavale).
It’s a big come-down for Jasmine, who left her impoverished, adopted-family roots (and the name Jeanette) when she married wealthy New York businessman Hal (Alec Baldwin).
In flashbacks that alternate with the San Francisco present, we see the rise and fall of Jasmine’s economically privileged Fifth Avenue life with her philandering, Bernie Madoff-like husband.
Among Hal’s victims: Ginger and her working-stiff ex-husband Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), bilked out of $200,000 in lottery winnings and the chance at a better life.
No one mentions Ambler & Ambler or colored lights (and Williams receives no official credit) but “Jasmine” follows the “Streetcar” route faithfully, from king-of-the-castle tantrums and fluttery mad scenes to a last desperate shot at love (Peter Sarsgaard).
Allen’s usual broadly depicted class distinctions are here, along with his emotionally devastated heroine, but the time-worn tropes make a comfortable fit with Williams’s schematics.
There are some unfortunate detours, though, including a superfluous subplot involving Jasmine’s part-time job with an abusive dentist (Michael Stuhlbarg, suitably creepy).
More damaging, Allen splits Stanley in two and goes soft on both. Some rewriting could have eliminated the sole misfire in the outstanding cast: Cannavale, overdoing Brando and stealing time from the surprisingly engaging Dice Clay.
Allen’s most telling “Streetcar” divergence, though -- and probably the film’s raison d’etre -- pays off beautifully: Hal’s era-defining criminality and Jasmine’s blind eye toward it.
Blanche Dubois wanted magic. Jasmine French settles for a beach house in the Hamptons.
“Blue Jasmine,” from Sony Pictures Classics, is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: **** (Evans)
Anyone with Hugh Jackman’s body hardly has to waste energy acting in a project like “The Wolverine.” So there’s something moving in the fierce sincerity he brings to the role, which he’s playing for the sixth time. His brooding gives the movie some of the heart of the original “X-Men.”
The story is derived from several celebrated Marvel Comics episodes from the early ’80s. It’s set in Japan, and it has a winning Japanese cast, plus the blond Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper, a long-tongued villainess with a poisonous kiss.
The director, James Mangold, has staged the battles far more crisply than those in “Man of Steel” or last summer’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” The best one is a heart-in-the-mouth fight atop a bullet train barreling under metal railings and crossbars. The director draws beautifully arresting imagery from a midnight-blue sequence full of flying arrows.
“The Wolverine” offers about the most that you can ask from a summer blockbuster. It has enough story to be involving, and the fights transcend mere machinery. In its astronomically budgeted, effects-laden way, it’s appealingly modest. And it has the glory of Hugh Jackman’s chest.
Stick around for the credits; there’s a bonus in them.
“The Wolverine,” from 20th Century Fox, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *** (Seligman)
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Greg Evans and Craig Seligman are critics for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are their own.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on theater and New York Weekend.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org.