Day 194: To Rome With Love

91Z2UrFxZ-L._SL1500_In keeping with Woody’s apparent interest in shooting films in Europe rather than New York (Midnight in Paris, his last film, was shot in, well, Paris.

A couple of previous films – Scoop, Match Point, and Vicky Christina Barcelona – were shot in England and Spain). To Rome With Love was shot in Italy.

With lots of Italian dialogue.

And English subtitles.

I’ve seen worse movies. In fact, I’ve seen worse Woody movies.

To Rome with Love is an interesting movie, mostly because Woody Allen plays Woody Allen. And, at 77, he still plays his old character well.

Also of interest in the film is the cast:

Judy Davis … Phyllis
Flavio Parenti … Michelangelo
Roberto Benigni … Leopoldo
Alison Pill … Hayley
Alessandro Tiberi … Antonio
Alessandra Mastronardi … Milly
Alec Baldwin … John
Carol Alt … Carol
David Pasquesi … Tim
Woody Allen … Jerry
Jesse Eisenberg … Jack
Penélope Cruz … Anna
Ellen Page … Monica

Penelope Cruz returns. And looks stunning in a red hooker dress. Alison Pill returns (she was Zelda Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris).

Ellen Page is woefully miscast. She has zero chemistry with Jesse Eisenberg, supposedly her love interest in the film.

Alec Baldwin plays a kind of spiritual adviser Continue reading

Day 192: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

41589Wf1FVLYou Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is a movie I could have done without seeing.

It’s yet another movie about relationships, divorce, infidelity, lust, love…and hookers.

Woody seems to have a thing for sleazy bimbos.

In Tall Dark Stranger, it’s the character played by retiree Anthony Hopkins who divorces his wife and falls for a hooker much younger than himself that he says he wants to marry.

In another relationship, James Brolin lusts for the young guitarist across the way while wife Naomi Watts tolerates his pretentious writer bullshit. But that’s okay because Watts’ boss – played by Antonio Bandaras – wants her.

If the adage “write what you know” is true, then all Woody Allen has ever known is broken, mismatched relationships, May-December romances, lusting for someone else’s significant other, and depression.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger is the 42nd movie Woody Allen directed. He was 75 when it was released.

Day 188: Scoop

51M9FYSPMRLThe time around, Scoop – the 37th movie Woody Allen directed – is a comedy.

But with Scarlett Johansson again.

’nuff said, eh?

Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

Only, I suppose I could add that Scoop, much like Anything Else, is another trifle, a relatively lightweight comedy about (according to its entry on IMDB):

An American journalism student in London [who] scoops a big story, and begins an affair with an aristocrat as the incident unfurls.

A kind of Greek chorus of death appears a few minutes into the film, a ship sailing in the fog captained by Death himself, with the late journalist Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) on board, and trading anecdotes with a woman who tips him off to the scoop of his life – that socialite Peter Lyman (Hugh Jackman) is the Tarot Card killer.

Enter journalist Sondra Pransky (Johansson) who, through slightly supernatural means (enter Woody Allen as Sid Waterman, a magician named the Great Splendini), gets wind of the scoop – and goes after Peter Lyman.

I wouldn’t say Scarlett Johansson would ever win any acting awards for this movie. Frankly, I don’t think she’s all that good playing a coed cub reporter. But she’s Scarlett Johansson. And that’s good enough for me.

Day 186: Melinda and Melinda

51KJBK5TF9LMelinda and Melinda opens with four people sitting in a restaurant talking about plays, and the essence of comedies and tragedies…and which one is better.

Then, the people tell a tale of the same incident, from different perspectives, to prove their point.

As with many of Woody’s movies from the 1990s through the mid 2000s, this one isn’t really firing on all cylinders. Its cast was not stellar. And the story was not crisply told.

This is the 35th movie Woody wrote and directed. It was released when he was 69.

Day 185: Anything Else

51T0H078P2LAnything Else is a trifle.

It’s an interesting movie with not one but two quirky characters – Woody Allen, who plays a sixtysomething comic and Jason Biggs, who plays his protege, an up-and-coming young comic.

According to its entry on IMDB, Anything Else is:

A contemporary romantic comedy set in New York city about the relationship between an older guy and his younger protege. The older guy guides the younger through a messy and hilarious love story.

I don’t know about hilarious. But it’s mildly amusing.

Woody Allen … David Dobel
Jason Biggs … Jerry Falk
Fisher Stevens … Manager
Anthony Arkin … Pip’s Comic
Danny DeVito … Harvey Wexler
Christina Ricci … Amanda Chase
KaDee Strickland …Brooke
Jimmy Fallon … Bob

But it’s a trifle. And life’s too short to trifle with trifles.

Even a trifle about relationships from Woody Allen.

Even when the lead actress is hottie Christina Ricci.

Well, okay. Maybe Anything Else is worth trifling with.

Day 182: Small Time Crooks

41AS92MD04LWoody Allen was 65 when Small Time Crooks, his 31st film as writer and director, was released.

In some ways, this movie feels like a throwback to the zaniness of Take the Money and Run.

It’s about a hapless crook (in this case, a bank robber named Ray) who plots the perfect crime – he rents an empty pizza shop a few doors down from a bank and plots to dig a tunnel to the vault and make off with the money.

As you might expect, the plot doesn’t pan out the way Ray predicts.

It’s a lean cast that makes the most of its talent:

Woody Allen … Ray
Tracey Ullman … Frenchy
Michael Rapaport …Denny
Tony Darrow … Tommy
Sam Josepher … Real Estate Agent
Jon Lovitz … Benny
Elaine May … May
Hugh Grant … David
Elaine Stritch … Chi Chi Potter

Of course, Wood plays Ray playing Woody.

This is my 10th favorite Woody Allen movie.

Woody was 65 when Small Time Crooks was released.

Day 181: Sweet and Lowdown

51T-uNgN+fLSweet and Lowdown, the 30th movie Woody Allen directed (wrote, too), is a much better film than I suspected it would be.

For the longest time, I avoided this movie because I’m not really a fan of Sean Penn.

But this documentary-style movie (complete with “interviews” with various people – including director Woody Allen – who were involved with making this movie about Depression-era guitarist Emmett Ray adds a kind of charm to it…despite the “lowdown” nature of Sean Penn’s character.

Sweet and Lowdown is summarized nicely by someone named Sean Axmaker on Amazon:

Woody Allen makes beautiful music but only fitful comedy with his story of “the second greatest guitar player in the world.” Sean Penn plays Emmett Ray, an irresponsible, womanizing swing guitar player in Depression-era America who is guided by an ego almost as large as his talent. “I’m an artist, a truly great artist,” he proclaims time and time again, and when he plays, soaring into a blissed-out world of pure melodic beauty, he proves it. Samantha Morton almost steals the film as his mute girlfriend Hattie, a sweet Chaplinesque waif who loves him unconditionally, and Uma Thurman brings haughty moxie to her role as a slumming socialite and aspiring writer who’s forever analyzing Emmett’s peculiarities (like taking his dates to shoot rats at the city dump). The vignettelike tales are interspersed with comments by jazz aficionados and critics, but this is less a Zelig-like mockumentary than an extension of the self-absorbed portraits of Deconstructing Harry and Celebrity. The lazy pace drags at times and the script runs dry between comic centerpieces–the film screams for more of Allen’s playful invention–but there’s a bittersweet tenderness and an affecting vulnerability that is missing from his other recent work. Shot by Zhao Fei (The Emperor and the Assassin, Raise the Red Lantern), it’s one of Allen’s most gorgeous and colorful films in years, buoyed by toe-tapping music and Penn’s gruffly charming performance.

Indeed. That’s the movie.

Sean Penn did a fine job of pretending to play the fleet-fingered guitarist’s licks.

Sweet and Lowdown is not a perfect movie. It’s no Annie Hall. Not by a long shot. But it’s an interesting film, and Samantha Morton (1977- ) is exceptional.

Day 176: Don’t Drink the Water

51K2CVB5NDLWoody Allen adapted this 1994 movies from his 1966 play of the same name.

Don’t Drink the Water, the 25th film Woody Allen directed, opens to voice-over narration, delivered in that sonorous, well-modulated radio-announcer (or TV news anchor – a la Ted Baxter, “The anchor man”) style, and period visuals of the Cold War, circa early 1960s.

But the narrative is convoluted, hard to follow, runs on too long, and uses too many words.

Sort of like the movie itself.

By the time Michael J. Fox appears – and he seems woefully miscast – I’m not only not hooked, I’m turned off.

Plus, Woody used hand-held cinematography again. Yuck. It totally interrupts the flow of the movie, although it appears he was going for a documentary style. So perhaps he Continue reading

Day 174: Manhattan Murder Mystery

518B34J685LManhattan Murder Mystery is one of my favorite Woody Allen films.

It’s not a heavy movie.

It’s not an essential movie.

It’s just a fun movie.

I like the pairing of Alan Alda, Diane Keaton, and Anjelica Huston with Woody.

It’s the first time Diane Keaton has appeared in a Woody Allen film since Manhattan in 1979. (Interesting that the word “Manhattan” is in both titles featuring Keaton.) It’s Alan Alda’s second appearance in a Woody film, the first being Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Here’s the plot of this 1993 comedy, the 23rd Woody directed:

Woody and Diane are married. They live in an apartment across the hall from an elderly couple whom they befriend. One day, the old woman drops dead from a heart attack. Diane suspects foul play, however, and enlists the help of friend Alan Alda who, together, ratchet up their suspicions until they’re convinced the old man murdered his wife.

Did he? Or didn’t he?

Ahh, that’s why Continue reading

Day 175: Bullets Over Broadway

51W6CN4Y3FLBullets Over Broadway is the 24th film Woody Allen directed.

This time around, he co-wrote his movie with Douglas McGrath.

Released in 1994, this “crime-comedy” – according to its entry on IMDB – is about:

In 1920s New York, a struggling playwright is forced to cast a mobster’s talentless girlfriend in his latest drama in order to get it produced.

It’s a heck of a cast:

John Cusack … David Shayne
Dianne Wiest … Helen Sinclair
Jennifer Tilly … Olive Neal
Chazz Palminteri … Cheech
Mary-Louise Parker … Ellen
Jack Warden … Julian Marx
Joe Viterelli … Nick Valenti
Rob Reiner … Sheldon Flender

And there are some great performances.

However, this movie is loud, talky, and frenetic, even by Woody Allen standards. Shouting appears to be the preferred method of delivering lines. And, when that fails, bullets from a Tommy gun help punctuate a scene.

The end result is loudness. Times 10.

For example, Continue reading