Day 195: Blue Jasmine

71XsC--9m-L._SL1500_Gee whiz. If Blue Jasmine – the 44th movie Woody Allen directed – was any more depressing, it would be Husbands and Wives or Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The film is about a wealthy New York wife (Cate Blanchett), married to a high-rolling financier (Alex Baldwin), a Bernie Madoff-type who suddenly finds herself without a husband, without a home, and without money after her husband goes to prison for fraud.

The dramatic drop from the highest high to a humbling low takes a toll on her life and she more or less snaps, ends up talking to herself.

She moves in with her sister in San Francisco and takes a job as a receptionist in a dentist’s office while she attends school to better herself. The pressure of juggling her job, her class, her sister’s lower-class lifestyle and friends (who hit on her), and her boss (who hits on her), and a growing drinking problem takes a toll.

Her last chance at escaping the downward spiral is meeting a wealthy state department diplomat (Peter Sarsgaard) at a party, inventing a different past, and posing as an interior decorator. The two fall in love.

But when Jasmin’s ruse is discovered, the bottom totally drops out.

Blue Jasmine was nominated for Continue reading

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 193: Midnight in Paris

61WHnlZzQHLMidnight in Paris is a perfect movie, one I’ve watched dozens of times since it was released in 2011.

It is my second-favorite film by Woody Allen, second only to Annie Hall.

The Academy-Award winning script (Best Original Screenplay) is tight, witty, clever, and intelligent.

The casting is exceptional, although at first I couldn’t see Owen Wilson as Woody Allen, the stammering, gesturing writer looking for inspiration. He eventually grew on me.

Even the soundtrack is outstanding – so much so that I bought it as soon as it became available.

Midnight in Paris combines everything I love in a movie – including the kind of magic that could transport someone back in time…in this case, Paris in the 1920s, the city filled with ex-pats like Ernest Hemingway, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Cole Porter. Other characters making an appearance are Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Matisse, Gauguin, Degas, and others.

The cast is remarkable:

Owen Wilson … Gil
Rachel McAdams … Inez
Kurt Fuller … John
Mimi Kennedy … Helen
Michael Sheen … Paul
Alison Pill … Zelda Fitzgerald
Tom Hiddleston … F. Scott Fitzgerald
Marion Cotillard … Adriana
Corey Stoll … Ernest Hemingway
Kathy Bates … Gertrude Stein
Adrien Brody … Salvador Dalí
Tom Cordier … Man Ray
Léa Seydoux … Gabrielle

Standout performances were turned in by Tom Hiddleston as Scott Fitzgerald, Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll as Hemingway (possibly the greatest performance in the film), Adrien Brody as Dali (the second best performance), and Marion Cotillard as Adriana, one of the sexiest woman ever to 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 191: Whatever Works

81o4Izgs4mL._SL1500_Whatever Works doesn’t.

Not on any level.

Larry David (playing the anhedonic Woody Allen character this time around) is terrific casting – if you want a douche bag as a protagonist.

Here’s how the movie starts: A bunch of friends sitting around in New York talking. Boris is insulting them. Mercilessly.

After a few minutes, Boris starts talking to the audience, calling them (us) mouth breathers.

He gets up and walks away from his friends, still talking to the camera (“breaking the fourth wall”). He says:

Why would you want to hear my story? Do we know each other? Do we like each other? Let me tell you right off, ok… I’m not a likeable guy. Charm has never been a priority with me. And just so you know, this is not the feel-good movie of the year. So if you’re one of those idiots who needs to feel good, go get yourself a foot massage.

And there you have it. That sets the tone of the movie. He tells us from the get-go he’s not a likeable character. The movie proves that. Repeatedly.

He even warns us mouth breathers up front:

Boris: What the hell does it all mean any how? Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nothing comes to anything.

Boris is right.

This isn’t the feel-good movie of the year.

And this movie, essentially, means Continue reading

Day 189: Cassandra’s Dream

51ODobl2lfLCassandra’s Dream, the 38th movie Woody Allen directed, boasts a truly stellar cast that includes Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Tom Wilkinson, and Sally Hawkins.

Mom to her sons at the dinner table: And let that be a lesson to you. In the end, all you have in this life that you can count on is family. And don’t you forget it.

And that’s what the movie is about: family.

Oh, and murder.

According to the copy on the back of the DVD case,

Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell star as working class brothers whose dreams of better lives lead to desperation, greed and deadly betrayal. When gambling debt and an expensive courtship place them in a financial bind, a rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson) offers them an out, in exchange for committing murder.

Yeah. That’s not your typical Woody Allen movie.

By the way, “Cassandra’s Dream” was the name of a horse that pays off that allows one brother (Farrell) to help the other brother (McGregor) buy a used sailboat he has his eye on.

Sally Hawkins, who sometimes plays dowdy mom-type characters in other movies, is a blonde hottie in this one.

Unfortunately, Cassandra’s Dream is a so-so movie that never really becomes a great movie.

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 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 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 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.