Day 296: The Great Gatsby (1949)

81jfNBbRwOL._SL1500_This 1949 adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famed book The Great Gatsby opens with two people (MacDonald Carey as Nick Carraway and Ruth Hussey as Jordan Baker) standing next to the tombstone of Jay Gatsby reminiscing about the life of the dearly departed.

Methinks it foreshadows the events to come too quickly, and too on the nose.

There’s a lot wrong with this movie, not least of which is the hideously ham-fisted dialogue, which is about as natural as a Beagle in a jump suit. As a result, the movie plays like a melodramatic soap opera, one that hops, skips, and jumps through Fitzgerald’s book, quickly reaching the end without bothering to develop the characters along the way.

It’s an epic cast:

Alan Ladd … Jay Gatsby
Betty Field … Daisy Buchanan
Macdonald Carey … Nicholas ‘Nick’ Carraway
Ruth Hussey … Jordan Baker
Barry Sullivan … Tom Buchanaan
Howard Da Silva … Wilson
Shelley Winters … Myrtle Wilson
Henry Hull … Dan Cody
Ed Begley … Myron Lupus
Elisha Cook Jr. … Klipspringer

But not even talented character actor Elisha Cook, Jr., can save this film.

A blogger wrote a great review of this version of Gatsby on his site The Ol’ Fish-Eye. I recommend it. I agree with every word. Especially his description of Alan Ladd’s characterization of Gatsby.

The ending of the movie – during and immediately following the car accident – is Continue reading

Day 180: Celebrity

71KREPYQ2QLCelebrity, Woody’s 29th movie as director, features another massive cast and themes of relationships, love, infidelity, sexuality…wait.

Haven’t I seen this before?

Celebrity features a number of interesting performances, notably the leggy, sexy, and model-esque Charlize Theron playing a leggy and sexy model…British actor Kenneth Branagh doing a very fine impression of Woody Allen throughout the movie – stuttering, gesturing, and trying to get into the pants of every woman he meets – theatre director, author, and actor Andre Gregory (of My Dinner With Andre fame) making a cameo appearance as film director John Papadakis…character actor J.K. Simmons as a souvenir hawker…Leonardo DiCaprio, whom someone on IMDB noted was in this film for exactly 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

My favorite scene is when Robin Simon (Judy Davis) and Tony Gardella (Joe Mantegna) are at a screening of a film. Robin says she’s ought to know more people there. Tony points to Andre Gregory.

Tony Gardella: You see that guy?

Robin Simon: Mmm-hmm.

Tony: That’s Papadakis, the director of the film were gonna see.

Robin: Oh, yes.

Tony: Oh, yeah, he’s very arty, pretentious, one of those assholes who shoots all his films in black and white.

Robin: [laughs]

[Camera picks out a handsome young guy talking on the phone.]

Tony: Tom Dale. *Big* star. He’s in New York filming an adaptation of a sequel of a remake.

[Camera picks out a guy who looks like the late film critic Gene Siskel.]

Tony: Oh, and getting out of the elevator I see there’s a famous critic.

Robin: Him, I recognize.

Tony: Oh, he used to hate every movie. Then, he married a young, big-bosomed woman, and now he loves every movie.

The line about the pretentious asshole who shoots all his films in black and white was an inside joke because Celebrity is shot in black and white, which Continue reading

Day 172: Shadows and Fog

51MJ3DB536LShadows and Fog, the 21st movie Woody Allen directed, boasts another huge cast.

And a very strange plot.

And Mia Farrow, who was in every one of Woody’s movies since 1982′s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.

According to its entry on Wikipedia,

Shadows and Fog (1991) is a black-and-white film directed by Woody Allen and based on his one-act play Death. It stars Allen, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Madonna, and Kenneth Mars. It was filmed on a 26,000-square-foot (2,400 m2) set at Kaufman Astoria Studios, which holds the distinction of being the biggest set ever built in New York. It was also his last film for Orion Pictures.

Shadows and Fog is an homage to German Expressionist filmmakers Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau in its visual presentation, and to the writer Franz Kafka in theme.

Shadows and Fog is almost absurdist in its execution. Lots of misunderstandings, non sequitur dialogue, and bizarre characters.

All wandering around a city at night, in the fog, with a killer Continue reading

Day 164: The Purple Rose of Cairo

41WAWC1EV0LThe Purple Rose of Cairo, the 14th film directed by Woody Allen, is my third favorite movie by this American icon.

When Jeff Daniels visited our city 6-7 years ago to promote his latest CD, I brought the insert from the DVD for him to sign.

He did.

Haydn231The Purple Rose of Cairo is an incredibly inventive film within a film – a movie about a movie named “The Purple Rose of Cairo” that Cecilia (Farrow) watches with such awe and reverence and longing that the characters on the screen come to life for her and one – Tom Baxter (Daniels) – steps off the screen to rescue her from her brutish husband Monk (Aiello), from whom she escapes by watching romantic movies.

Eventually, the other characters in “The Purple Rose of Cairo” movie who are on the screen (in black and white because it’s supposedly an old Hollywood movie) find themselves off script, and even talking to the audience.

Brilliant.

The movie features some of my favorite actors (Daniels, Herrmann, Wood, for example), including several from Hollywood’s Golden Age Continue reading

Day 163: Broadway Danny Rose

41ETZ0P9X7LBroadway Danny Rose, the 13th film directed by Woody Allen, is the story (told mostly in flashbacks) of Danny Rose (Woody Allen), a failed-nightclub-performer-turned-ne’er-do-well theatrical agent who now handles clients like balloon folders, bird acts, and a has-been nightclub singer named Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte, 1938- ) who finally gets a chance to perform for Milton Berle – but only wants to if Danny can get Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow, 1945- ), his lover, to attend the show.

When Danny tries to convince Tina to go to Lou’s show, Tina’s would-be suitor, a member of the mob, thinks Danny is Tina’s lover and puts a hit on him.

Danny and Tina run for their lives.

Do they survive? Does Lou? Does Danny ever make it big? Who ends up with Tina Continue reading

Day 162: Zelig

41AFRGT4F7LZelig out-Forrest Gumped Forrest Gump – a full 11 years before that Oscar-winning movie.

The story is about a man named Leonard Zelig, a person who – out of an intense need to be liked – can take on the characteristics and even the appearance of those around him. Doctors refer to him as “a human chameleon.”

One of the doctors is played by Mia Farrow.

Zelig goes from obscure and unknown to national celebrity, but then falls out of favor and becomes an outcast again.

Told in documentary format (complete with narrator), Zelig is a combination of the aforementioned Forrest Gump and a movie called Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, a Steve Martin movie that takes film clips from classic old films and seamlessly weaves them into the noir-ish story of a hardboiled detective. Zelig does that, too, using vintage film clips, black and white footage made to look old and contemporary interviews (in color) with people today who were supposedly part of the story back in the 1920s and 30s. Even Scott Fitzgerald makes an appearance, in the clip of him sitting outside at his writing desk.

If one didn’t know this was a Woody Allen movie, one might think it a real documentary of a historical figure.

Not quite.

But that’s the overall effect.

Zelig, released in 1983, is inventive, creative, and just strange enough to make it riveting.

It’s an excellent film.

Day 160: Stardust Memories

51E2F6Z0KDLIn Stardust Memories, Woody Allen gives us his version of Federico Fellini‘s 8-1/2, which it parodies.

A black-and-white film about – surprise! – death and the (mostly futile) meaning of life, Stardust Memories is the story of a director named Sandy Bates (Woody Allen) who decides he’s tired of being funny and – at the urging of his handlers/studio execs – attends a retrospective of his work that pushes him to confront far more serious aspects of life.

“I look around the world and all I see is human suffering,” Sandy tells his handlers.

Full of odd camera angles, shadows, surrealistic imagery, grotesque faces, sometimes in extreme close-up, and uproarious laughter in inappropriate places, Stardust Memories was directed by a middle-aged (45-year-old) Woody – and it shows. This is his most introspective, self-conscious, and anhedonic film to date. And forty-five is about the right age to think such thoughts. So why not?

Frankly, this movie is the cinematic equivalent of rock stars (like Robert Plant) who leave a wildly popular band and then seem to show nothing but disdain for what he accomplished, which is a massive slap in the face to the band’s fans.

In this movie, Woody seems to say to everyone – especially critics – that comedic filmmaking is bullshit and his fans are asshats for thinking they’re otherwise.

Somewhere along the way during Continue reading

Day 159: Manhattan

51vEMCaXeXLManhattan, one of Woody Allen’s most poignant films, is almost too poignant to watch.

It’s the story of a middle-aged man in love with a girl (Mariel Hemingway) who’s still in high school. This isn’t just a May-December romance, this is an Embryo-December romance that borders on creepy.

Or even pedophilia.

It’s a bittersweet movie, with a terrific cast, that delivers the goods.