The Two Faces of Cate Blanchett and Woody Allen in Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine 2

Happy Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine

In Woody Allen’s last dramatic mini-masterpiece, Match Point, his protagonist showed that with a bit of hard work, and a bit of good luck, a person could get away with anything…even murder.  But maybe the old Woodster really wasn’t that cynical, and maybe he wanted to atone for that message.  Allen has plenty to atone for.  And so does Wall Street.  His latest, Blue Jasmine, shares a bit thematically with Match Point in its depiction of charades and human beings willing to do anything (even start Ponzi schemes) to hold onto the good life, but it also shows that bad luck is just as easy to conjure as good luck.  Here, Allen’s culprit (Alec Baldwin) gets caught, and Allen depicts the aftershocks of a Madoff-like scandal through the eyes of the criminal’s fractured wife.  With its bi-coastal setting hopscotching timeframes between New York and San Francisco, Allen seems to be atoning for all the time he spent in Europe, and perhaps communally for Wall Street’s dirty deeds…for the gilded life he’s lived for so long in New York alongside those financial schemers…for the snobbery…for the elitism…the casually charming arrogance of it all.  Every good thing comes to an end…right?  And all we need to get through it is a little vodka and Xanax. Continue reading

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To Rome With Love

There are a lot of characters in the new Woody Allen movie.

At one point in Woody Allen’s rambling, absurdist, vignette stuffed, overflowing pasta dish of a new film, Woody’s character says to his psychiatrist wife (Judy Davis) when she tries to psychoanalyze him something to the effect of, “Go ahead, thousands have tried and failed.”  On the surface Woody appears to be attempting it on himself here in To Rome With Love.  As is such with latter-day Allen flicks, this one is a beautifully photographed postcard of a film, pseudo-intellectual stuff for American tourists, as much a fluffy love letter to Rome as it is a love letter to Allen himself.  But Woody is only psychoanalyzing himself for comedic effect (I suppose that’s the eternal self-loather in him), and in many ways this film is as much a jab at his fickle critics and fans who seem lost in this haze that every other film of his stinks.  Some are clearly better than others (thus is the curse of being prolific) – but they rarely stink.  But if you insist on categorizing this thing, I would say this is at the higher end of the low-end of post millennial Woody.  Yes…I guess it’s just above middling, if you must.

There are a million stories in the eternal city, and Allen – the seemingly eternal filmmaker – finds in Rome a kindred spirit.  Damn his silly old soul if he doesn’t try to tell a million of those stories in a single film.  Continue reading

The Spin’s Top 60 Comedies of All Time

“You put WHAT on your top comedy list?”

I was recently asked by the film blogger extraordinaires at Wonders in the Dark to submit a ballot for the Top 60 Comedies of All-Time in preparation for their next feature which will tabulate the ballots and produce a definitive list later in the summer.  At first I found the task daunting – as many will remember guest-blogger Nicky D’s hotly contested and wildly popular Top 47 Comedies of All-Time that graced The Spin not so long ago.  For me, comedy is the most subjective and generational-based of genres – and it’s hard to judge films on personal tastes in humor.  However, the always generous Sam Juliano at WitD invited balloters to adopt an “anything goes” policy – meaning – if it’s a comedy to you! – put it on the list.  This opened up the door for me to include some of my favorite accidental comedies as well as satires and dark comedies that many would judge as dramas.  One will see my love for the darker side of comedy in this list, as well as my love for Woody Allen and those rascally kids that had me in stitches when I was a kid – yup – short films are allowed – hence the love for Our Gang.  At any rate…let the debate that started with Nicky D’s list continue as  I present to you my official rebuttal and ballot for the Wonders in the Dark polling.  I will provide no additional commentary and let the list speak for itself… Continue reading

The Inception of Woody Allen

Marion Cotillard amuses Owen Wilson in Paris.

In present day Paris, a hack Hollywood screenwriter named Gil (Owen Wilson) finds himself on an extended vacation with his spoiled dolt of a fiancé (Rachel McAdams) and her hateful parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy – both spot on).  Gil hopes to uncover some literary inspiration in the City of Lights so he can finally finish that novel he’s been working on.  Soon he finds himself on the streets at midnight and transported back to his favorite time-period – the 1920’s.  There he discovers himself in the midst of artistic geniuses and idols such as Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, the Fitzgeralds and Pablo Picasso.  While putting up with the inanity of his stifling present situation during the day, his dreams are fueled at night by his time-tripping walks where Gertrude Stein gives him manuscript critiques and he falls in love with one of Picasso’s mistresses, Adriana (Marion Cotillard).

Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris follows the trend of his latter-day persona where a change in venue invigorates his imagination. Continue reading

A Review of Woody Allen’s “Whatever Works”

Larry David tries to convince Evan Rachel Wood that Woody Allen likes her just as much as Scarlett Johannson.

Larry David tries to convince Evan Rachel Wood that Woody Allen likes her just as much as Scarlett Johannson.

“I’m not a likable guy…”
7/10
Author: David H. Schleicher

Woody Allen’s alter ego, Boris (a bitterly good and sardonic Larry David) makes this statement to the audience rather early on in Whatever Works.  The truth is, no matter how misanthropic, sarcastic and neurotic Woody Allen is, he ultimately is a pretty likable personality…if you like that type.  Allen’s return to Manhattan after three stays in London and a wonderful stop-over in Barcelona is yet another niche film. Fans of Allen, as well as fans of Larry David’s “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (which not so ironically should be the same folks) will find plenty to laugh at here, while others will inevitability whine, “I don’t care for Woody Allen…and oh, that Larry David! Can’t stand him!”

The plot of Whatever Works  is irrelevant.  Boris is some sort of genius-level physicist trying to speed his way to death, though those metaphors are never explored as poignantly as they should be.  It all just serves as a soap-box for Allen (through David) to funnel his usual dialogues about relationships, love, luck and the meaning of life.  It’s all very broad and obvious this time around, but it’s sometimes nice to still be laughing at the same old feel-good shtick.  It should come as no surprise that Boris also tells the audience this isn’t a movie designed to make you feel good, unless you’re Allen fans, and then you’ll feel pretty swell afterward.  Leave it to Allen to infer moviegoers are inherently morons, but we’re sophisticates for watching his films.

Apparently this is a reworked screenplay from the 1970’s and the Annie Hall style monologues to the audience are evidence of that.  In the jokes department you’ll find old standards mocking the French and suggesting kids should attend “concentration camps” for the summer mixed with modern humor about the Taliban and Viagra.  There’s also one hilarious throw-away/blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to James Cameron’s The Abyss that makes you wonder if perhaps the screenplay was first reworked in the 1980’s before its final incarnation here. 

In the casting department we find Patricia Clarkson, yet again, is a delight in her curiously under-written over-written role (which is far too simply complex to explain in a traditional review) and continues to build a case for herself to be declared this generation’s “Best Supporting Actress” twenty years from now.  Evan Rachel Wood is cute-as a-button (oh, as her character might declare, what a cliché) as a Southern cutie-pie who runs away to New York City and meets up with the suicidal Boris.  Allen, as always, is luminous with his photography of the “young lady.”  And unlike the similarly dumb motor-mouthed funny-voiced Mira Sorvino character from Mighty Aphrodite, Wood’s character is actually given an arc here and proves not to be as shallow and moronic as Boris originally assessed, which indicates maybe Allen is growing just a teeny bit in his view on women…or maybe not.

Ultimately this is yet another testament to Allen’s worldview, which is summed up here as do whatever works for you to trick yourself into believing you’re happy in this miserable world.  Sure, there are times when Boris’ diatribes run a few lines too long, or when the film stops dead when he is not on screen, but for the most part, this is Allen doing what works best for him.  No other director can call himself out on all his personal pratfalls and annoying quirks yet still find a way to endear himself to the faithful who are ever patient with him and his films.  No other director can be so charmingly mean-spirited and self-deprecating yet still find a way to declare his alter ego a genius at picture’s end.  And that’s why we’ve always liked you, Woody, for better and for worse.  For what it’s worth, when it comes to Allen’s better and worse, Whatever Works falls happily in between and works just fine, thank you very much.

Originally Published on the Internet Movie Database.

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Check out some of my reviews of past Woody Allen films:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Match Point (2005)

Melinda and Melinda (2004)

Annie Hall (1977)

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:

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