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.

Day 179: Deconstructing Harry

5190Q1J1FJLAs if the cast of Everyone Says I Love You wasn’t big enough, Deconstructing Harry raises the bar even higher – at least in body count.

The cast for Deconstructing Harry reads like a Who’s Who of Hollywood:

Caroline Aaron
Kirstie Alley
Bob Balaban
Billy Crystal
Judy Davis
Richard Benjamin
Eric Bogosian
Amy Irving
Julie Kavner
Eric Lloyd
Hazelle Goodman
Mariel Hemingway
Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Tobey Maguire
Demi Moore
Elisabeth Shue
Stanley Tucci
Robin Wiliams

Unless all those people opted to work for peanuts, the cost for the cast, alone, must have been the entire budget of the movie.

Deconstructing Harry is about an oversexed novelist (Woody Allen) who writes – when he doesn’t have writer’s block – without conscience or guilty about the people in his life, spinning thinly veiled yarns that ruin lives.

“I still love whores,” Harry tells his shrink as they “deconstruct” his life, which is told in flashbacks and covers various relationships and/or sexual conquests he’s had over the years.

Deconstructing Harry is another caustic, foul-mouthed Continue reading

Day 178: Everyone Says I Love You

51K44K4EQCLEveryone Says I Love You is a musical, of sorts.

It’s kind of a throwback to the old-school musicals of Hollywood’s heyday (think MGM in the 1950s). But I’m not sure all of the cast actually sings. The voices that come from their mouths don’t seem to match what I thought they’d sound like.

Oh, I can recognize Edward Norton’s voice. And Alan Alda’s. And a few others.

But does Tim Roth really sound like that? If so, he’s pretty good.

This is another huge, star-studded cast.

Too huge, in my opinion.

When the cast gets this big, I don’t think Woody knows how to film it well. Everyone Says I Love You comes across too jumbled, too jam-packed, too frenetic.

This is a new twist on a Woody Allen film. In fact, it’s an ambitious Woody Allen film.

But it’s a typical Woody Allen film in that it’s filmed in New York, it’s chock-full of neurotic characters, it’s about relationships, and love, and death (the ghosts dancing at the visitation, for example).

Woody was 61 in this picture. His love interest (Julia Roberts) was 29.

In other words, Woody gets older. But his leading ladies do not.

It starts to look a little creepy after awhile (especially in an upcoming movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion when Woody – then 66 – is paired with Helen Hunt – then 38).

By the way, I love the Captain Spaulding number, which is an homage to the Marx Brothers.

And the dance number beside the river with Woody and Goldie Hawn was magical, a really well-constructed scene that astounds and delights.

Everyone Says I Love You isn’t a bad movie. In many ways, it’s a very fine movie. It’s just not one on my Best-Of-Woody list.

Day 177: Mighty Aphrodite

51P59FDPC8LMighty Aphrodite, the 26th movie Woody Allen directed, is a return to form.

It’s a more focused, clever film, which – amidst the previous couple of dogs, and followed by another couple of really awful movies – makes it stand out like a diamond on black velvet.

Which is not to say Mighty Aphrodite is the best Woody Allen movie. In fact, it’s probably right about in the middle, perhaps just a tad above average.

Even at that, it’s a far better movie than most made these days.

Mighty Aphrodite is the story of a New York couple – Lenny Weinrib, a sportswriter (Woody Allen) and Amanda, his S.O. (Helena Bonham Carter) – who decide to adopt a child.

At one point, Lenny starts to feel disenchanted with his relationship (big surprise there, right?) and he seeks out the adopted boy’s real mother, who turns out to be a hooker/porn star named Linda Ash (Mira Sorvino, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance).

Woody has a knack for writing bimbo characters, and Continue reading

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

Day 173: Husbands and Wives

518V6SXNJ1LHusbands and Wives, Woody’s 22nd turn behind the camera, is a terrible movie, on par with Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask*.

Maybe worse.

For one thing, this 1992 documentary-like film is the most foul-mouthed Woody Allen movie to date. Lots of F-words.

Lots. Of. F. Words.

For another, Husbands and Wives uses my most despised cinematic technique: hand-held camera work. It’s the most pretentious, pseudo-envelope-pushing gimmick in the book. Words can’t express how much I despise this way of filming a movie.

The ends result is a film that’s like seeing the world from a swift-moving roller coaster. Sloshes from side to side, extreme closeups, slow (or fast) zooms…It makes me nauseous.

I’ve walked out of movies with cinematography this shitty, and I’m likely to walk out of this one.

Finally, the subject matter of Husbands and Wives is the most 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