Monday, May 7, 2018

The Con Is On!

Uma Thurman with co-star Alice Eve and director James Haslam at The Cinema Society screening of "The Con is On."
"The Con Is On" — a crime caper soufflé that rises enough for me. Also — Elizabeth Phillips MUST Die!  And My Latest Netflix Binges.
by Denis Ferrara

“WHAT THE F**K  are you doing here?”
That’s the first line in the new Uma Thurman/Tim Roth movie “The Con Is On.”  And it is uttered by somebody who we are led to assume is a nun, of sorts. 

The movie takes off from there, and for a while it sails on at a pretty lively pace.  I saw the film last week at an Andrew Saffir Cinema Society screening downtown at the intimate Roxy Theater, sequestered in Tribeca’s Roxy Hotel. 
“The Con Is On” wants to be many things, and it succeeds here and there in most of its aspirations.  There’s a bit of Tarantino, a lot of Stanley Donen, circa “Charade” and “Arabesque.” There’s a surreal Coen brothers vibe popping up occasionally. 
The frantic plot involves two cons — the eternally alluring and unflappable Uma Thurman and a constantly inebriated Tim Roth, who owe a lot of money to a cold-blooded mobster (Maggie Q).  They flee London for Los Angeles in an effort to raise the cash, by hook or by crook from Roth’s wealthy, ditzy ex-wife, who is now married to a philandering director (Crispin Clover, currently philandering with an actress, Sofia Vergara.)

Throw in other criminals whose allegiances shift constantly (Stephen Fry) and a stoned/psychotic in-house assistant to the director and his wife — the great Parker Posey — and the soufflé seems ready to rise.   It doesn’t, quite, but the movie, at about 95 minutes edges you on, excruciatingly, in an arch-caper mode that becomes a bit repetitive toward the end, although I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t mostly amused, if eventually restless, waiting for release.
Uma Thurman and Tim Roth (above) and Stephen Fry (below) in “The Con Is On.” 
Nothing is supposed to make sense, and nothing does, and depending on one’s mood, it’s easy to go with the flow of absurdity. (If you’ve never seen Sofia Vergara outside of TV’s “Modern Family,” her comically vicious, sexually rapacious character will be a new experience.) 
Thurman, who has one of the great beautiful/not beautiful faces ever, remains endlessly fascinating to watch. (Alas, I did not have the opportunity to watch her onstage in “Parisian Woman,” but according to Patti LuPone I didn’t miss much.  Dear, dear Patti.)  I’m not sure if Uma has, in Shakespeare’s language, an “infinite variety,” but I think she’s going to be one of those actors working consistently well into her 70s and 80s.  There are a lot of quirky grande dames in Thurman’s future.
THE PARTY after happened at Arlo Roof Top. The suddenly super-warm weather — and a strong breeze — made this an idea spot.  Patti Smith, Griffin Dunne, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Mariah Kennedy Cuomo, Lisa Love, Gabriela and Austin Hearst, Alex Lundqvist, Candace Bushnell and dozens of others mingled with Andrew’s usual mix of not-yet-known but awfully pretty models, actors and professional party-goers. 

However, it was impossible to miss Uma Thurman who dominated not just because, well, she’s the star of the movie, but because of her height. That statuesque six feet — and more in heels — is always an impressive surprise. In low-cut black, her hair blowing in the wind, Uma was downright cinematically dramatic; a graceful human obelisk. Her petite co-star, Alice Eve, was also on hand and similarly inescapable in a strapless Cinderella ball gown. Hugging, kissing and chatting, they were a charmingly dissimilar pair.  The vibe was easy and low key and Uma, Alice and their director James Haslam took a lot of compliments which I don’t think were merely polite.  The audience had really seemed to enjoy the movie; I think the more untethered from reality things are these days, the more those things are appreciated.
Uma with Patti Smith ...
Griffin Dunne ...
... and 9th Prince.
THIS ‘N That:

... TOMORROW night Linda Lavin makes her Café Carlyle cabaret debut, titled “My Second Farewell Concert.”  I saw Lavin years ago in “Gypsy” and loved her interpretation.  I’ve never seen her perform an intimate set such as this.  I’ll be there. She’ll be there until the 18th.  Call 212-744-1600.
... David Johansen (or Buster Poindexter, if you prefer) will perform on Wednesday night at Cipriani 42nd Street  for the Caron New York Recovery Center gala.  He’ll also gather up an award.  The Caron Recovery Centers offer innovative, cutting edge treatment and education in various addictions — the opioid epidemic is just the latest crisis they have plunged into with vigor and committment.  Others will be awarded (Tony and Elaine Grillo), celebs will be on hand (Clive Davis, Katie Couric, Joan Osborne, Ira Joe Fisher) and a silent auction raises funds for Caron — tickets to “Springsteen on Broadway,” a table for eight at the impossible-to-get-into Rao’s eatery, etc.  The wizards at Buckley Hall have put this event together.  If you want to contribute to the ongoing good works of Caron, go to
...”The Americans” starring Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys — Russian spies masquerading as a typical all-American mom and pop with two kids — wraps up for good this year, and it is as dark and deadly as it has ever been. More!  I’ll miss this show, despite the ridiculous wigs and the astonishing, somehow unnoticed body count the couple (especially Russell!) has racked up.  But for me, there can be only one satisfying conclusion — Russell, (aka Elizabeth Phillips) must die.  The actress has been brilliant, uncompromising — this is not a villain you love to hate.  You just hate her.  And her imbecilic, easily influenced daughter, Paige, now a spy-in-training, hardly warrents a generous thought either.  There are only a few episodes left, and I’m going to be awfully disappointed if Keri/Elizabeth isn’t dead as a doornail when the final credits roll.  Sorry to be so bloodthirsty.  One does get caught up in these things!
... BINGING on Netflix and Amazon I came across another one of those Nordic noir detective sagas, that semi-obsess me (“Wallander,” “Lava Field,” “The Bridge,” “The Break,” etc).   This one is “Borderliner” — all bleak and chaotic and despairing.  Loved it, although the eight-episode series ended with such an unexpected outcome — and no follow-up — that I hope there’s another season.  Tobias Santelmann (Ragnar the Younger from “The Last Kingdom”) is terrific as the cop who goes home — the cops always go home or move to small towns in these things — and finds that you can go home again, but just don’t expect hugs, kisses and Spritz (Norwegian butter cookies.)
Also on Netflix, “Troy: Fall of a City.”  No way could I overlook that one.  This BBC production has, I’ve since learned, received mostly harrowing reviews, but I rather liked it — of course, I am predisposed to the material, being an old “Iliad” fan.  But while liberties are taken, one must remember it’s a myth, and ripe for any number of interpretations.  Some people have complained that they were “distracted” by such 21st-century nods to diversity as casting African-American actor David Gyasi as “golden-haired” Achilles.  Why not?  It didn’t distract me. And, although Gyasi is not quite as traditionally glamorous as Brad Pitt in “Troy” he is actually a better actor.
Bella Dayne as Helen is beautiful, although Helen is supposed to be the world’s most beautiful woman, so it’s a difficult role to live up to. Probably the best Helen was bodice-busting Elizabeth Taylor, meandering wordlessly through Richard Burton’s “Doctor Faustus.” And that’s really because Taylor was, arguably, at that time in real life The World’s Most Beautiful Woman.
Also I appreciated the more realistic approach to the architecture of the time. The Bronze Age didn’t feature particularly soaring homes or even temples — you had to travel to Egypt to see that sort of stuff.  So this version looks kind of low-key, more mud and wood, much less marble.  (It reminded me of the of the late lamented HBO series “Rome” which showed the great capital much as it was before certain emperors went on building sprees.  The Eternal City was fairly modest and grimy for a long time.)   

I’m just glad the old story of princely shepherd Paris, his fatal choice from among the three feuding goddesses, Helen, Menelaus, Hector, the impregnable walls of Troy and that damn horse, are still open for a new audience.

Photographs by Patrick McMullan (Cinema Society)

Contact Denis here.