A Review of Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

“I’m famous for my intolerance.”, 21 August 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

Vicky (a neurotic and sexy Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (a neurotic and gorgeous Scarlett Johansson) are two American tourists in Spain examining their differing views on love in Woody Allen’s breezy and alluring Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  Amidst a tempestuous summer in Barcelona, the ladies are both seduced by a free-thinking painter (a perfect Javier Bardem) whose own life is complicated by his still passionate relationship with his ex-wife (a devastating Penelope Cruz, who has never looked more beautiful).

Much like the change from New York City to London invigorated Allen in Match Point, this vacation to Spain has revived some of the director’s more artistic aspirations. The scenery is postcard perfect but drenched in that same dizzying lushness that made Allen’s view of NYC so intoxicating in Manhattan. The churches, the homes, the art museums, the countryside, the intimate city streets and touristy details make you feel like you are visiting Barcelona along with Allen and his cast.

There’s also sharpness to the trademark Woody dialog that has been missing for quite some time. Like all of Allen films, this one is endlessly talky, but there’s some great subversion when certain lines that seem like throw-aways actually pack a punch when given a second thought. When Bardem first attempts to talk Johansson’s character into bed, he says something clichéd about her being hard to please. Quick witted, Johansson replies, “I’m famous for my intolerance.” She says it casually, but it packs a bite as it’s the complete antithesis of her character’s outward desire to be someone who rallies against cultural norms, and she presents herself as someone who is easy-going and tolerant of all.

Allen also displays a keen sense of pacing when he creates tension in his build up to Cruz’s appearance after her character is endlessly talked about but never seen until about half way through the film. When Cruz finally arrives, her moody whirling dervish of a performance is the perfect spice to liven up the soupy proceedings. Her seething, fiery line readings combined with looks that could kill make her the front-runner for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars.

The baseline archetypal characters are essentially clichéd, but the way in which Allen handles all of their interpersonal relationships is fairly sophisticated and entertaining even when it grows absurd. There is of course that kiss between Scarlett and Penelope but also some moments of Lynchian-lite when Allen photographs the brunette Hall and blonde Johansson similarly to make them seem like they are two sides of the same woman. There’s even more weirdness when die-hard Woody fans realize that in some perverse way Scarlett Johansson’s character is the “Woody” part–as in any film he does not star, there is always one character who represents the part he would’ve played had he been in it. However, film buffs will enjoy some of the nice touches like when Hall and another go to see Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (one of my all time favorite films) or the repetitive use of a Spanish guitar in the soundtrack whenever Bardem and Hall get together. But then there’s the mostly unnecessary voice-over narration that fills in expository gaps and shows Allen can still be a lazy tactician.

Woody Allen has always been an acquired taste, even more so in his latter years when he sometimes forgets how to provoke, but his fans should be delighted with this latest European flavored effort. In the end, you’ll feel like Javier Bardem is the luckiest man in the world, Penelope Cruz is operating at the echelon of her appeal, and Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson, well, they’ll always have Barcelona.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0497465/usercomments-37

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A Review of “Man on Wire”

CAPTION:  Yup, he actually did it…and lived to tell the tale.

The Best Laid Plans of Crazy Frenchmen…, 10 August 2008
9/10
Author: David H. Schleicher from New Jersey, USA

…sometimes work as director James Marsh and subject Philippe Petit prove in the sublime and inspiring documentary, Man on Wire. Here we see Petit and his cohorts recklessly plan and execute the most daring stunt in the history of the world. In August of 1974, Petit walked a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in NYC.

As part of Hollywood’s increased awareness of the possibilities of counter-programming, summertime has become a haven for documentaries. Thanks to Michael Moore and Al Gore, most of the blockbuster documentaries over the past few years have been in the form of political propaganda. By simply wanting to tell the story of one man’s amazing act, Man on Wire breezes into this summer like a breath of fresh air. The act depicted is singularly focused, but the logistics behind perpetrating the act are fascinatingly complex, and the aftermath of the successful completion of the act is breathtaking.

Director Marsh wisely avoids the typical trappings of documentaries by filming the story like a fictional narrative, jumping back and forth in time, shifting points of view, and creating palpable tension leading up to the death defying act of Petit walking across the wire. The film relies heavily on reenactments, and Marsh stages them like mini expressionistic student films full of stunning cinematography and wonderfully antiquated in-camera effects. The careful juxtaposition and blending of archival footage, still photography, reenactments, and interviews is a master-class in the school of film editing. Also adding to the film is the quietly tense music score composed of pieces from Michael Nyman and Erik Satie among others.

For those who never saw the Twin Towers of the WTC in person, the film shows beautiful archival footage of their construction. For those still haunted by their fall, the film offers a bit of catharsis as we get to watch them reconstructed piece by piece on film and lifted again on high through Petit’s potently mad dream. The film is as much a love letter to New York City as it is a testament to the power of one person’s vision. The film allows us to see how Petit did it, but it also gives a glimpse of the greater “why?” For beauty, for the thrill…for the sad knowledge that no one in the history of the world will ever be able to do it again.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1155592/usercomments-12

The Beijing Olympics

Now Playing in Beijing:  TRIUMPH OF THE PAGEANT

On the eighth hour of the eighth day of the eighth month in 2008 (Beijing time), the Communist run economic powerhouse and 1.5 billion people strong Chinese Machine finally had their coming out party.

The first images are streaming in from the Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.  Famed filmmaker Zhang Yimou (who has been responsible for Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Curse of the Golden Flower) staged the epic event with all the grand pageantry of his signature films.

The images are dreadfully beautiful and sumptuous, though the particular slide show linked below also features a hilarious shot of our President Dubya and the wife Laura with horrified looks on their faces as they are shown to their seats.  Could they be afraid of a little propaganda?  I highly recommend clicking the link and flipping through all the photographs to get the full effect of the power of what has been staged:

http://www.nbcolympics.com/destinationbeijing/photos/galleryid=183709.html?GT1=39003

I’ve been trying to avoid political commentary on this blog lately, but these amazing images couldn’t go unnoticed.  Why does it all remind me of Leni Reifenstahl, Triumph of the Will, and the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics?

The Opening Ceremonies will be televised tonight on NBC.

To keep track of the overall Medal Standings as the Olympics progress, click below:

http://results.beijing2008.cn/WRM/ENG/INF/GL/95A/GL0000000.shtml

Written by David H. Schleicher

A Visit to the Brandywine River Museum

UPDATE FOR READERS:

Click here for a post on Andrew Wyeth’s passing on Januaury 15, 2009.

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Over the years I’ve seen some great exhibits at the Philadelphia Museum of Art including the Renoir Landscapes and the recent one featuring Frida Kahlo.  However, the one that will always stay with me most is the amazing Andrew Wyeth Memory & Magic exhibit.  His art highly influenced some of the imagery I tried to create in The Thief Maker and continues to captivate me. 

This summer I finally ventured out to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA, which houses much of Andrew’s art as well as other painters and works from his father, N. C. Wyeth and son, Jamie Wyeth.  About an hour from my neck of the woods in South Jersey and about forty minutes from Center City Philadelphia, the museum is a picturesque three-story masterpiece that cozily wraps around a lazy stretch of the Brandywine River (where kayakers can be seen gently passing by) and is situated in quaint pastures just off of Route 1.  Part of the museum’s appeal beyond the beautiful setting is the level of intimacy it allows visitors to achieve with the works of the Wyeth Family, and in some cases, with actual members of the family.  Guided tours by shuttle-bus take you to the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio, and to be able to see the family quarters and the working space of three generations of world-renowned artists is a unique experience few other museums can claim. Continue reading