Tag: Woody Allen

MOVIE REVIEW | Manhattan (1979)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: Allen has spent the majority of his long career trying to get his version of New York city onto the big screen, and none of his work does it better than this.

Manhattan 1
“He adored New York City. He idolized it all out of proportion. Eh uh, no, make that he, he romanticized it all out of proportion.”

Woody Allen made slapstick comedies in the late 60s and early 70s. He made deadpan, Swedish inspired dramas in 80s. And he’s spent the last 30 years oscillating from beloved “returns to form” and supposed “pale imitations of his former greatness”. But in over half a century of film making, it’s amazing to me that he made what are commonly regarded has his two absolute masterpieces in such close proximity to each other. There was Annie Hall in 1977, then, just two years later, he blew everyone away even more, with Manhattan.

Struggling with writers block, the voiceover of Isaac (Allen) tries to define his love for the titular city and his place in it. Cut to the 42 year old Isaac having dinner with 17 year old, high school student and girlfriend, Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), along with best friend couple, Yale (Michael Murphy) and Connie (Karol Ludwig). When Tracy goes to the bathroom, the other middle agers at the table are quick to let Isaac know that they think dating a teenager probably isn’t a great idea. Isaac agrees, and has no good reason to stay with Tracy. He even actively tries to convince her to move on to someone closer to her own age. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Irrational Man (2015)

Irrational 2
I couldn’t remember the reason for living and when I did, it wasn’t convincing.

Woody Allen makes movies so regularly that you can almost set your watch by them.  And with his regulatory and prolific output, comes plenty of derision.  Every movie is either heralded as a return to form, or condemned as proof of him being long past his prime.  But here’s the thing, even when he doesn’t make amazing movies, Woody Allen makes really good movies.  Which is why I’ll watch everything he makes, including the pretty universally shrugged at Irrational Man.


Able Lucas (Joaquín Phoenix) is a college philosophy professor who has hit a wall.  He drinks, has a reputation as a philanderer, and is a tittle on the self destructive side.  But he finds a reason to be via one his students, Jill (Emma Stone).  She’s smart, confident, engaging and fascinated by the tragic, older man.  Their friendship gains the attention of other faculty and students, but Abe is determined to make sure things stay on the up and up. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #35. Annie Hall (1977)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
 Annie
“I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.”

When Woody Allen entered the film making world, he was already a successful stand comic and talk show guest.  So kicking off his career with a string of zany, goofball comedies probably seemed like no surprise.  These days, a new Woody Allen movie can swing anywhere between zany comedy, art house experiment, dark thriller, rich character study and a million other things in between.  But in the mid 70s, the first sign of that evolution from zany, goofball comedies to his wildly swinging approach to story and film making began, with Annie Hall.


Alvy Singer is the kind of Woody Allen character that people think of when they think of a Woody Allen character.  He’s stutteringly neurotic, and overthinking every aspect of his life.  Including his relationship with the titular Annie (Diane Keaton).  Addressing the camera, Alvy lets us know that this is the story of how he and Annie got together.  But it’s also the story of how they drifted apart.  From the get go, we know they won’t live happily ever after. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

Magic

“When the heart rules the head, disaster follows.”

Woody Allen has a pretty steady routine these days. He pops out a movie every year or so. About every third or fourth one gets decent critical reaction and box office, and the others get dismissed as slight and inessential. But I tend to like them all. Sure, Blue Jasmine is more substantial and packs more of an emotional punch than something like To Rome With Love. But that doesn’t mean I was any less entertained by the latter. After the Oscar success and general raves for Blue Jasmine, it was inevitable that its follow up would be dismissed and overlooked. And that’s a shame, because Magic in the Moonlight is Allen at his whimsical, silly (not quite) best.


It’s 1928 and on stage, Chinese magician Wei Ling Soo wows audiences with his disappearing elephant and other magic tricks. Off stage and out of makeup, he’s stuffy, cynical and sceptical Englishman, Stanley (Colin Firth). Recruited by his lifelong friend and fellow magician, Howard (Simon McBurney) to debunk a clairvoyant, Stanley heads to the South of France. When he arrives, he meets the target of his proposed debunking, Sophie (Emma Stone).

Stanley’s entire life is based on logic, science and finding practical reasons, excuses and explanations for every aspect of it. At first, he thinks Sophie is a cheap charlatan, looking for nothing more than a rich man to marry. But the more she seems to know about him, the more Stanley starts to question his every idea about life, and believe that Sophie may just be the real thing.

The south of France setting, the almost-screw ball approach to the story, the silliness that ensues when opposites attract, Magic in the Moonlight is pure fluff, and Allen executes in perfectly. The bright colours, the gorgeous outdoor locations, the easy life and social graces that came with class and privilege in the 20s. This is pure escapism executed by an expert director and expert cast (including Jacki Weaver and Marcia Gay Harden).

Woody Allen is a cynical film maker and story teller. The worlds he builds are full of hapless characters who can’t catch a break. Even at his silliest, there’s still a dark streak of despair and hopelessness to a lot of his work. And it’s that back catalogue that makes Magic in the Moonlight such a great surprise.

Here is a story built entirely on cynicism. Built around a central character who refuses to believe in things like fate, destiny and even love. Yet, Stanley gets to become one of Allen’s most idealistic and optimistic characters. Not only that, he actually gets rewarded for his optimism. After almost 50 years and about as many movies, Magic in the Moonlight isn’t just a pretty good movie, it’s a great sign that Allen still has plenty of new things to say and do.

Magic in the Moonlight
Directed By – Woody Allen
Written By – Woody Allen

MOVIE REVIEW | Fading Gigolo (2013)

Fading

“Yeah, she’s my doctor, but in today’s world she could be a psychopathic axe murderer.”

John Turturro is one of the few “interesting” looking character actors who managed to make the jump from “that guy from that thing”, to an actual, recognisable name. In supporting roles, he’s managed to steal movies from much more famous leads in things like Do the Right Thing, Miller’s Crossing and Rounders. While I love him as an actor, and while I know he’s made a few movies as director, it took the addition of Woody Allen in an acting role to make me finally watch a John Turturro joint.


John Turturro is Fioravante, a working class florist and gentle soul. His best friend is Murray (Woody Allen), the owner of a small second hand book shop that is closing down. There’s a quick reference to Murray saving a young Fioravante from a life of crime, but really, that little bit of back story is unnecessary. Turturro and Allen make their friendship seem so real and lived in, you don’t need any history to make it believable when Murray suggests Fioravante becomes a gigolo, and Fioravante eventually agrees. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***BOND WEEK*** Casino Royale (1967)

Casino Royale

“You can’t shoot me! I have a very low threshold of death. My doctor says I can’t have bullets enter my body at any time”.

When I decided I was going to do a James Bond theme week, there was one movie that intrigued me the most, one that I was most interested in seeing. Not because it has a reputation as being the best, but because it’s the black sheep, the red headed step child, the most often dismissed of the series. I don’t know if it’s even officially a part of the James Bond series. But from all reports, it’s the weirdest, silliest, and possibly worst entry in the franchise. It’s Casino Royale. Not the new millennium Daniel Craig Casino Royale that made the series more culturally relevant than it had been in decades. But the 60s Casino Royale that is, well, I’m not sure what it is.


David Niven is Sir James Bond, a long retired spy with no interest in abandoning that retirement. But when the heads of MI6, the CIA and the KGB realise they’re losing too many spies to sexcapades and general promiscuity, they beg the chaste Bond to return to the field. You see, in this version, James Bond is a prude. That’s a joke, ‘coz in the other Bond movies, he’s always on the job. Get it? Anywho, he’s eventually convinced to get back into the spy game and has so much success, he’s made head of MI6. His first decree as boss is to name all agents James Bond 007, and train them to resist the feminine wiles of the dolly birds they will inevitably face in the field. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | The Seventh Seal (1957)

7sealpost
Ingmar Bergman made over 50 feature films in his career. Over that time, he became a kind of figure head of European, art house cinema, especially in the eyes of average English language movie goers. Even if you’ve never seen one of his movies, chances are you’ve seen a parody of one. Ever stumbled across a scene of emotionless Nordic sad sacks, looking into the distance, delivering deadpan, obtuse dialogue heavy in meaningless symbolism? Chances are that’s someone pulling the Bergman piss. And based on my (admittedly limited) experience with Berman films, it’s not that far off the mark. Which is why I was so surprised by The Seventh Seal.


Antonius Block (Max von Sydow) is a knight, on his way home from the crusades. Travelling with his squire Jons (Gunner Bjornstrand), he’s almost home when he meets Death, the grim reaper. It’s Antonius’ time, but he convinces Death to play him in a game of chess. Antonius will live, as long as he still has pieces on the board. After their initial moves, Death lets Antonius continue on his journey before they’ll soon meet again to continue their game. (more…)

***2013 RECAP*** MOVIE REVIEW | Blue Jasmine

CN_BlueJasmine_0
So it’s return to form time again for Woody Allen.  Except it’s only been two years and two movies since his last return to form, the Oscar winning Midnight in Paris.  Before that, it was 2008’s Vicki Christina Barcelona.  And before that, Match Point in 2005.  What I’m getting at is, is it really a return to form if you have one every couple of years?  Or is it just solid, consistent work, with the odd clunker (which even those, I tend to like) that’s inevitable when you’re as prolific as Allen?  Whatever it really is, according to the press, it’s another return to form for Woody Allen with Blue Jasmine.

Kate Blanchet is the Jasmine of the title.  A widow after her husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, killed himself on jail where he was serving time for some 2008ish, Global Financial Crisis type malfeasance.  Now she’s totally hit bottom and is forced to move in with her all but estranged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in her small San Fan Cisco apartment.

Jasmine also has to contend with Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), and current boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale, as the blue collared Chilli.  While a lot Blue Jasmine is built on the class struggles and clashes between the haves, like Jasmine and Hal, up against the have nots, Ginger and her circle of friends, it’s not really about a spoiled rich bitch receiving her comeuppance and learning there’s more to life than money. There are hints of that, but those without money are just as guilty of financial prejudices as those with it.

Cutting back and forth between the story of Jasmine’s old life falling apart, and her attempts to build a new one, Blue Jasmine does a great job of planting all sorts of assumptions about its characters in your mind, before totally flipping them on their heads and making you question who the heroes of the movie might actually be.  It takes a certain kind of skill as a writer and director to make a character played by Andrew Dice Clay the one you sympathise with the most, but Allen somehow manages it.

All the talk around Blue Jasmine is that Kate Blanchet is currently the front runner for the Best Actress Oscar.  Having now finally seen it, after months of praise surrounding her performance, it really did live up to the hype.  The way she plays the constant feeling of being overwhelmed, the occasional moments of questionable sanity, the stuck up snob looking down her nose, the few moments of happiness, the sad helplessness, the vindictive acts of sabotage…  Blanchet is all over the shop in this, but it’s never jarring or inconsistent.  You totally believe it when she goes form one extreme to the other.

As amazing as Blanchet is, credit has to go to everyone else around her as well.  Woody Allen’s always had a knack for building great ensembles, and here Clay, Carnnavale, Baldwin and Hawkins all play off her perfectly.  As well as Peter Sarsgaard and Louis C.K who also show up for small, but integral roles.

Blue jasmine isn’t a return to form for Woody Allen.  It’s just another reminder that he’s a really great writer, director and story teller, who, after almost fifty years and almost as many movies, still somehow has great stories to tell.

Blue Jasmine
Directed By – Woody Allen
Written By – Woody Allen

MOVIE REVIEW | Blue Jasmine (2013)

CN_BlueJasmine_0
So it’s return to form time again for Woody Allen.  Except it’s only been two years and two movies since his last return to form, the Oscar winning Midnight in Paris.  Before that, it was 2008’s Vicki Christina Barcelona.  And before that, Match Point in 2005.  What I’m getting at is, is it really a return to form if you have one every couple of years?  Or is it just solid, consistent work, with the odd clunker (which even those, I tend to like) that’s inevitable when you’re as prolific as Allen?  Whatever it really is, according to the press, it’s another return to form for Woody Allen with Blue Jasmine.

Kate Blanchet is the Jasmine of the title.  A widow after her husband Hal, played by Alec Baldwin, killed himself on jail where he was serving time for some 2008ish, Global Financial Crisis type malfeasance.  Now she’s totally hit bottom and is forced to move in with her all but estranged sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in her small San Fan Cisco apartment.

Jasmine also has to contend with Ginger’s ex-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay), and current boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale, as the blue collared Chilli.  While a lot Blue Jasmine is built on the class struggles and clashes between the haves, like Jasmine and Hal, up against the have nots, Ginger and her circle of friends, it’s not really about a spoiled rich bitch receiving her comeuppance and learning there’s more to life than money. There are hints of that, but those without money are just as guilty of financial prejudices as those with it.

Cutting back and forth between the story of Jasmine’s old life falling apart, and her attempts to build a new one, Blue Jasmine does a great job of planting all sorts of assumptions about its characters in your mind, before totally flipping them on their heads and making you question who the heroes of the movie might actually be.  It takes a certain kind of skill as a writer and director to make a character played by Andrew Dice Clay the one you sympathise with the most, but Allen somehow manages it.

All the talk around Blue Jasmine is that Kate Blanchet is currently the front runner for the Best Actress Oscar.  Having now finally seen it, after months of praise surrounding her performance, it really did live up to the hype.  The way she plays the constant feeling of being overwhelmed, the occasional moments of questionable sanity, the stuck up snob looking down her nose, the few moments of happiness, the sad helplessness, the vindictive acts of sabotage…  Blanchet is all over the shop in this, but it’s never jarring or inconsistent.  You totally believe it when she goes form one extreme to the other.

As amazing as Blanchet is, credit has to go to everyone else around her as well.  Woody Allen’s always had a knack for building great ensembles, and here Clay, Carnnavale, Baldwin and Hawkins all play off her perfectly.  As well as Peter Sarsgaard and Louis C.K who also show up for small, but integral roles.

Blue jasmine isn’t a return to form for Woody Allen.  It’s just another reminder that he’s a really great writer, director and story teller, who, after almost fifty years and almost as many movies, still somehow has great stories to tell.

Blue Jasmine
Directed By – Woody Allen
Written By – Woody Allen

MOVIE REVIEW | Fahrenheit 451 (1966)

fahrenheit-451-poster
When someone watches Elysium in fifty years, will they think it’s a gritty, realistic, scary look at mankind’s possible future?  Or will it look like a cheap, corny, naive, laughable indication of how uncool the world was in 2013?  Because whenever I watch a movie from the 60s or 70s depicting the future, they seem less like a possible look at our future, and more like a collection of all the worst stylistic aspects of the time they were made.  Which is exactly what you get with the production design of Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451.

Based in no particular time in the future, Fahrenheit 451 is the story of Guy Montag, a fireman played by Oskar Werner.  Only in this version of the future, firemen don’t put out fires, because houses are now built using fire proof materials.  Instead, fireman go around burning books.  Not threatening or antiestablishment books either, they go around burning absolutely every book they find.  All printed texts are outlawed, although plenty of people still hide and cherish the odd volume, until they’re inevitably found and they’re books are subjected to Montag’s flame thrower.

The signs of Montag’s own disillusion with this world show early.  After receiving a promotion, he’s disappointed by his wife’s (Julie Christie) general obliviousness to his good news.  She’s too concerned with TV and popularity.  On the monorail ride home from work one day, he meets his neighbour, Clarisse, also played by Christie.  He immediately notices something different about her, and eventually is hoarding and reading his own collection of books under her influence.  Of course, his subversion of the status quo can’t go unnoticed forever and he’s eventually opposing the organisation he’s worked for seemingly his entire adult life.

This is a very serious movie.  Based on a novel written during the McCarthy era witch hunts, you could see it as a warning of the perils of censorship.  You could see it as an indictment of people’s obsession with TV, celebrity and popularity.  No matter what serious issue you think Fahrenheit 451 is tackling, the impact and edge are well and truly taken away by the goofy 1964 version of the future.  I know it’s easy to make fun of the production values and designs half a century later, but it’s impossible to look past them seeing this movie with 2013 eyes.

I’m no Truffaut expert, as far as I can remember, the only other movies of his I’ve seen are The 400 Blows and Day For Night, but when I think about those in comparison to Fahrenheit 451, and how great they are, I think it’s obvious that he was much more suited to character and reality based story telling than he was to high concept sci fi.

For a movie that’s tackling such heavy issues, time has not been kind.  I can’t imagine many people watching it for the first time today and taking it seriously as a piece of social commentary.  Instead, I think it would probably come off to most people as a campy, funny oddity, highlighting the goofiest parts of the 60s.  The same can be said for Woody Allen’s Sleeper.  The difference being, Allen was actually trying to make a campy, funny oddity, highlighting the goofiest parts of the 60s and 70s.  Any enduring comments he managed to make about the time are just an added bonus.

Fahrenheit 451
Directed By – Francois Truffaut
Written By – Francois Truffautf

MOVIE REVIEW | Road to Bali (1952)

Bing Crosby - Road to Bali

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, another great comic duo from history that I’d only ever heard about, never actually seen, until now.  Road to Bali is the sixth in their Road to… series and while most franchises are really struggling this far intro a series (Police Academy 6: City Under Siege being an obvious exception to the rule), Road to Bali is really funny.


As far as I know, the Road to… movies don’t follow on from each other, they just seem to be an excuse to put a tried and tested comedy double in an exotic location and see what happens.  Which actually works pretty well here.  Bob and Bing begin their adventure performing vaudeville in Melbourne.  After winning the hearts of a couple of local girls, they have to flee the girls’ fathers who think Bob and Bing should make honest women of their daughters.  Fun fact, the super shitty Australian accents in 1952 are actually better than the super, super shitty Australian accents Pacific Rim served up more than sixty years later.

They flee to Darwin where their final escape requires taking jobs as deep sea divers for a shifty islander promising them a tropical paradise off the coast of Bali.  Or as the Americans frustratingly say for the entire movie “Balley” (rhymes with “alley”).  There, they meet the shifty islander’s cousin, played by Dorothy Lamour.  The rest of the movie is Bob and Bing competing for her affection while helping her defeat her evil, shifty cousin.  Like a lot of these old comedy team movies, the story seems to be a loose frame work for them to recreate sketches they’d already used on stage.  Unlike a lot of these old comedy team movies, Road to Bali actually makes them work.

Road to Bali is very meta.  It seems like no more than few minutes go past without the movie acknowledging the fact that it’s a movie.  Hope especially breaks the fourth wall constantly to deliver some of the movies funniest lines.  Bing gets in on the talking-to-camera action a couple of times, but it really is a schtick owned by Hope.  Even right up until the end when Hope frantically tries to shoo the “The End” titles off the screen because he’s not happy with his character’s not so happy ending.  Road to Bali also has a couples of great cameos.  Humphrey Bogart’s is one of the cleverest uses of a cameo for a joke I can remember seeing.  And the appearance of Jane Russel, Hope’s crazy hot co-star from Son of Pale Face, is awesomely self referential as well.

Knowing that this is so far into the series, Road to Bali definitely makes me want to see more Road to movies and more Bob Hope in general.  Ever since I read a Woody Allen biography in which Allen talks about his admiration for (and blatant ripping off of) Bob Hope, l I’ve been meaning to see what all the fuss is about.  Now I know, Bob Hope was an amazing comedy actor and I really want to see more.

Road to Bali Watch the full movie, streaming for free HERE
Directed By – Hal Walker
Written By – Frank Butler, Hal Kanter, William Morrow