Tag Archive for 'Woody Allen'

Magic in the Moonlight

Magic in the Moonlight (5/30/15) HBO (2014 ***) Written and directed by Woody Allen, starring Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden and Simon McBurney. Set in Southern France in the 1930s, a famous stage magician is asked by a friend to help de-bunk a young woman with apparent mystical powers. As a long-time fan of Woody Allen, I’ve watched nearly all of his films at one time or another. When this was released last year I was vaguely aware of it and knew I would make a point of watching it someday. As his films go, this was clearly one of his lesser ones, but still charming. Stanley, the main character, is painted initially as thoroughly unlikable, but of course that gave him plenty of room for his character to “arc” over the course of 80-some minutes. I enjoyed the first two-thirds or so of the film more that its remainder. There came a point when Woody Allen’s typewriter seemed to go on autopilot, and scenes became less artful and more perfunctory, almost as if Allen has lost interest in the script and wanted to move onto something else. In addition to “perfunctory,” another word that comes to mind is “pedantic:” The film’s theme (whether or not magic in the universe truly exists) wasn’t exactly hidden, and toward the end of the film two characters get into a philosophical debate on the topic that seemed absolutely interminable.

Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine (3/22/14) Netflix (2013 ****) Written and directed by Woody Allen, starring Cate Blanchett, Alec Baldwin, Sally Hawkins and Andrew Dice Clay. When her Bernie Madoff-esque husband is arrested and commits suicide, the sudden fall from the heights of New York society finds a deeply troubled woman moving in with her sister in San Francisco. Cate Blanchett won multiple awards (including an Oscar) for her portrayal of Woody Allen’s titular character, and deservedly so. It undoubtedly helped that this is the best film Woody Allen has made in many years, with the exception of 2011’s Midnight in Paris. Blue Jasmine‘s screenplay has deservedly received many nominations and accolades. I found most interesting that it felt as though someone had gone through and had removed any and all distracting “Allen-esque” lines. Finally, I was also very surprised by the acting chops demonstrated by the star of The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990), Andrew Dice Clay. I would love to hear the story of how he came to be cast.

Play it Again, Sam

Play it Again, Sam (2/8/14) Sundance (1972 ***) Directed by Herbert Ross, screenplay by Woody Allen (based on his play), starring Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts and Jerry Lacy. A film critic haunted by visions of Humphrey Bogart falls in love with the wife of his best friend. It’s worth noting that this film, based on material created by Woody Allen was not directed by him, but was instead helmed by Herbert Ross, who would go on to direct movies like The Sunshine Boys (1975), The Goodbye Girl (1977) and Steel Magnolias (1989). It makes me curious about the production’s backstory: In 1972, the year of it’s release, Allen had already directed 3 or 4 features, including Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex * But Were Afraid to Ask, which was also released in 1972. At any rate, regardless of Ross’ involvement, this film is classic early Woody Allen, and while it’s not one of his best films, it’s well worth seeing.

Star Trek: Year Four

Star Trek: Year Four (6/12/12) Comics (2008 **) Written by David Tischman, illustrated by various. Seven stories, originally published in IDW Publishing’s Star Trek: Year Four issues #1-6 and Focus on… Star Trek. I picked up this volume at a used book store at a used book store price. Its premise (a graphic novel-ish continuation of the original series) was intriguing and I imagined it should be good for a fun, decently entertaining read. It might have been had the stories been produced by more capable hands. Tischman’s skills as a storyteller and writer of dialogue left a great deal to be desired. He seemed intent to awkwardly add “He’s dead, Jim” and “Dammit Jim, I’m a doctor, not a ____” into each story. At the risk of evoking Woody Allen’s joke about “terrible food… and such small portions,” the ratio between the text and the art felt way too low; had these fourth season “episodes” actually been filmed, they wouldn’t have even lasted to the first commercial break. In addition to the weak writing, it was also painfully apparent at times that the artists selected to illustrate the stories were limited in their abilities. Overall, I got the distinct impression that these stories were produced “on the cheap” and it’s quite possible that a big chunk of the budget was taken up acquiring rights from Paramount.

Love and Death

Love and Death (3/1/12) TCM (1975 ****) Written and directed by Woody Allen, starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. Self-proclaimed “militant coward” Boris marries his cousin (twice removed) Sonja and attempts to assassinate Napoleon. I first saw this movie in the early 1980s when I, a high school student, went to a double feature at the local university (the other film was Annie Hall). I loved it then and I love it now, and not just for the nostalgia factor. On paper, there’s no way a film lampooning Russian literature and foreign films could work as a mainstream comedy, and yet it did. I can’t imagine this same film being greenlit now, which is a real shame. As for the writing, Love and Death remains one of Woody Allen’s sharpest screenplays, and it’s certainly one of his funniest. If you’re scared away by the title, don’t be. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll be glad you did. (Favorite)

The Front

The Front (1/25/12) TCM (1976 ***) Directed by Martin Ritt, screenplay by Walter Bernstein, starring Woody Allen, Zero Mostel, Michael Murphy and Herschel Barnardi. Set during the height of McCarthyism, An apolitical cashier / bookmaker named Howard Prince agrees to help out a blacklisted TV writer friend… at a cost. The Front, which featured formerly-blacklisted talent in front of the camera as well as behind it, told a shameful chapter in entertainment history that had happened a mere 20 years before it was made. Though it wasn’t really intended as a full-on comedy, there were certainly some funny moments. Woody Allen has acted in very few movies that he didn’t direct, with The Front being probably the best of the lot. I can’t help but think that Allen was influenced by director Martin Ritt, since Allen seemed to have incorporated some of Ritt’s directing touches (such as staging with speaking characters offscreen) in his later films.

Woody Allen’s New Orleans Jazz Band

Woody Allen’s New Orleans Jazz Band (12/29/11) UCLA’s Royce Auditorium (2011 ***1/2) Woody Allen, Eddy Davis and the rest of a 7-piece band played authentic Dixieland jazz to an appreciative, sold-out audience. If you can believe it, this is the third time I’ve seen my childhood idol Woody Allen live, and the second time playing his clarinet. The previous time I saw him play was in October 2009 at the Carlyle Hotel in New York, and as I mentioned in my review of that performance, our bill (dinner + drinks + cover charge) cost more than my first car (a used 1966 AMC Rambler Classic)! This time around, the tickets were considerably more affordable, though still not exactly cheap, and the “highbrow” crowd was polite and generous with their applause. As a matter of fact, we were seated across the aisle from the actor James Spader (Boston Legal, The Office)! As for the music itself, I’m not exactly a New Orleans Jazz aficionado. Many of the songs Woody and his band played were unfamiliar, and I must admit the first seven or so all sounded to me like variations on Johnny S. Black’s “Paper Doll.” As wonderful as the band and the music was, my guess is that most in the audience were there for the same reason my wife and I were: To see living legend Woody Allen in person.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (12/12/11) Netflix (2010 **1/2) Written and directed by Woody Allen, starring Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and Gemma Jones. When Helena’s husband leaves her after 40 years of marriage, she turns to a London fortune teller named Cristal, who basically tells her what she wants to hear. You know me, I’m one of Woody’s biggest fans. But despite its London setting and terrific cast, this film — well made as it was — never quite achieved lift-off for me. The problem was that its multiple storylines never developed into a unified whole, and nearly all of them ended in ways that weren’t particularly… well, enjoyable. In addition, the theme that related them wasn’t clear until the film’s final minutes. Add to that a screenplay that boasted numerous unlikable characters and you’ve got a recipe for disappointment soup. Fortunately Woody made up for it with his next, audience-pleasing (and critic-pleasing) film, Midnight in Paris.

Midnight in Paris

Midnight in Paris (8/8/11) DWA Screening (2011 ***1/2) Written and directed by Woody Allen, starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates. A writer visiting Paris stumbles through time into the “golden age” of the 1920s, where he encounters F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and other luminaries of the period. Bravo, Woody! This is probably the best movie Woody Allen has made in the last 20 years, and it’s done box office business to back that statement up. As someone who’s often been forced into the position of being his apologist, it was such a pleasure to sit in an audience of my co-workers and their guests and listen to them laugh again and again at Allen’s writing. And not only that, but the movie offered a beautiful message about the pleasures and dangers of romanticizing the past. What made this movie even more fun to me personally was that its premise was effectively “stolen” from one of Allen’s own jokes from his early standup career (“…and then Hemingway punched me in the mouth.”), which makes me wonder if one of his next films will be about taking a moose from upstate New York to a costume party.

What’s New Pussycat?

What’s New Pussycat? (2/17/11) TV-TCM (1965 **) Directed by Clive Donner and Richard Talmadge, written by Woody Allen, starring Peter O’Toole, Woody Allen, Romy Schneider and Peter Sellers as Dr. Fritz Fassbender. A Casanova with (a) an insatiable appetite for the ladies and (b) a girlfriend who wants him to get married takes his trouble to a crackpot psychoanalyst. This film is historically important because it was the first produced film written by Woody Allen. Though What’s New Pussycat? had many of the makings of a good film, Mr. Donner’s directing ranged from “blah” to “absolutely awful.” In addition, the final “act” of the film (a rural sex-romp / go-car race that may have inspired much of Benny Hill’s career) felt wholly stitched-on. It was as if the rest of the film had been shot, edited and tested poorly for a live audience, so a new ending was needed. Also, much of the audio was garbled and hard to follow; my enjoyment probably would have increased somewhat had it been close-captioned. In the end, the three best things about the movie may well have been Romy Schneider’s adorable face, Ursula Andress’ amazing body and that awesome and memorable theme song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and sung by Tom Jones.