Tag Archives: D+

ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE

Producer: Justin Bare, Jennifer Cooke and Matthew Miele
Director: Matthew Miele
Writer: 
Stars: 
Studio: Good Deed Entertainment

D+

Matthew Miele’s motto might be “If you can’t join them, fawn over them.” Previously he made a documentary ogling the privileged treatment accorded to super-rich shoppers in “Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s,” a gushing love letter to the ritzy store. Now he’s turned his attention to the New York hotel where the one percent can find not just accommodations but endless coddling and supposedly absolute discretion—except, of course, for the tidbits that staff members dole out with a show of reluctance but obvious relish in “Always at the Carlyle.” And it’s all served up without a trace of irony.

The film is almost entirely composed of excerpts from interviews with the staff and guests, though they are embellished with archival footage and scattered bits of information on the history and decor of the place, which frankly are the most interesting elements to be found here. (The rather scattershot editing is by Mac Edgerton, and the new footage shot by Justin Bare.) The remarks on the original construction of the place, along with the descriptions of the paintings on the lobby walls and Ludwig Bemelmans’ murals on those of the bar named after the “Madeleine” artist, are historically informative. (Mini-bios of Moses Ginsberg, who built the place, and interior designer Dorothy Draper, who gave the hotel what might be described as a modified art deco style, are particularly welcome.)

That kind of material is entirely secondary, however, to the cascade of blather from the staff about how much they love working at the hotel and what great people their illustrious guests are (Jack Nicholson and George Clooney are special favorites), and from many honored customers about how staying at the Carlyle feels like being at home—which it probably is, so long as your home is a palatial mansion where a staff of deferential servants will cater to your every whim. In a couple of instances interviewees joke about the entire process—Harrison Ford sneers about the junky room he was given, and after saying that staying at the hotel is proof that you’ve made it, Jon Hamm adds that he never stayed there. Tommy Lee Jones, moreover, cuts off his interview by pleading boredom, a feeling some viewers might sympathize with. Apart from such incidental moments, though, the movie mostly comes across like an extended episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Fatuous.”

Of course, there will be viewers—probably the same ones who watched every minute of the latest royal wedding—who will thrill to hearing about how Prince William and Kate’s visit to the place was carefully prepared. And they’ll probably love hearing Clooney, Anjelica Huston, Wes Anderson and a host of others enthuse over the hotel’s unmatched old-time elegance, and catching a glimpse of Woody Allen joining the cabaret’s band on his clarinet, or Jeff Goldblum on the piano. There’s also an extended tribute to Bobby Short, who performed at the Carlyle Café for years, and another to Elaine Stritch, the legendary Broadway star who was a regular tenant, that are nice. But then one has to put up one more with encomia to the Café from Lenny Kravitz and Alan Cumming, among others.

One can imagine a documentary about The Carlyle that would have gone beneath its self-created image to analyze the legend, and its social implications, in serious terms. Miele’s exaltation of glamour and glitz is as far from that as you can get, not so much an investigation as a celebration of the extra-obsequious treatment that the upper-upper-crust expect—and receive—there.

A final note: you might feel a little queasy when the first well-traveled guest appears on the screen to talk about the Carlyle’s uniqueness, depending on when you watch the film. Seeing it on June 8, 2018, this reviewer did.

SHERLOCK GNOMES

Producer: David Furnish, Steve Hamilton Shaw and Carolyn Soper
Director: John Stevenson
Writer: Ben Zazove
Stars: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mary J. Blige, Jamie Demetriou, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Julie Walters, Stephen Merchant and Ozzy Osbourne
Studio: Paramount Pictures

D+

This sequel to the first gnome-based animated picture, 2011’s mediocre “Gnomeo and Juliet,” begins with a debate about what story it should tell. One suggestion is “Game of Gnomes,” but the punning options land on “Sherlock Gnomes” instead. Presumably the choice was made on the basis of what happens to be in the public domain.

Whatever the rationale, the movie turns out to be a pretty anemic idea, connected to its predecessor only by the most tenuous of links. Boring Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and feisty Juliet (Emily Blunt) are now a couple, moved along with all their gnome friends and family to a new garden in London. No sooner do they arrive than a wave of disappearances of gnomes breaks out all over the city. Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp), the sworn defender of gnomes, and his partner Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor) would ordinarily suspect their nemesis Moriarity (Jamie Demetriou), an evil plastic spokesthing for a pie-selling outfit, but he supposedly died during the team’s latest gnome-rescue.

The two teams meet when Gnomeo and Juliet’s garden-mates all vanish while they’re out on the town, and Gnomes and Watson turn up to investigate. Joining forces, after a fashion, they follow the series of clues that arrogant Sherlock works out in a number of surrealistic black-and-white montages, and eventually track the missing gnomes via visits to first a Chinese restaurant and a doll museum, and then to some London landmarks—the Museum of Natural History and Tower Bridge. (“Paddington 2” also used London locations as touchstone places, but did so much more cleverly.) The abductors are revealed to be a couple of gargoyles, but they’re in the employ, as it turns out, of not one but two villains. Their identities are not surprising.

The pursuit has a subtext in Gnomeo’s recognition of Juliet’s strength and her coming to accept his needs too. Meanwhile Gnomes must accept Watson as a friend as well as a true collaborator.

All of this is rather tedious, though the computer animation is good and the 3D effective, though the voice work by the leads and such stalwarts as Michael Caine, Maggie Smith and Julie Walters in supporting roles is surprisingly bland. (The exception is Demetriou, who is so frantic that he quickly becomes grating.)

But there are oddities throughout. A scampering horde of rats in a sewer is likely to disgust parents and kids alike. The Chinese restaurant sequence is loaded with old-fashioned ethnic stereotypes. And for a movie aimed at tykes, including a couple of subtitled sequences makes little sense, since a large segment of the audience can’t yet read.

Then there’s a truly weird sequence featuring Mary J. Blige as Irene, the queen of the doll shop, who sings a new song called “Stronger Than I Ever Was” by Elton John, who’s executive producer on the movie. It’s meant as an anthem to strong womanhood (a topic Irene also discusses briefly with Juliet), but it’s presented in the form of a Las Vegas casino number, and you have to wonder what kids will make of it. Their parents might find their eyes widening, too.

Frankly “Sherlock Gnomes” might have worked better if Gnomeo and Juliet had been excised from the story (along with their garden comrades). One shudders to think what their roles might be in sequels like “Gnome on the Range” and other punning titles.

Of course, stopping the series right now could bring everyone a sigh of relief. Can Mr. John be persuaded? By low grosses, most assuredly, and that’s the likeliest outcome.