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Posts tagged ‘woody allen’

6
Apr

Husbands and Wives


Husbands and Wives (1992)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Gabe (Woody Allen) and Judy (Mia Farrow) wait for their friends, Jack (Sydney Pollack) and Sally (Judy Davis), in their home so they can head out to dinner together. Gabe and Judy are expecting to eat Chinese food, but what they do not expect is to swallow the news about Sally and Jack getting a divorce. The couple discloses it so flippantly, Gabe is left not knowing what to think or say while Judy responds with a smidgen of hostility. This is a surprise to Gabe and Judy, to say the least, because they have always believed that Jack and Sally share a great marriage. Meanwhile, the divorce forces Gabe and Judy to inspect what does not work in their marriage and face the possibility that perhaps what they have, too, is beyond repair.

“Husband and Wives,” written and directed by Woody Allen, is a picture that is alive, so observant about human psychology and behavior, that looking at the way the characters move and react as well as listening to them speak and be quiet recalls the feelings of reading a novel so immersive, you keep wanting to know more about what happens next even after encountering the final word on the last page.

The four principal performers are not only equal to the task of creating complicated and fascinating characters, they are attuned to one another’s rhythms so no one shines more brightly than the other. For instance, I admired the way Davis allows Sally to be so shrill and controlling and yet at same time opening her up just a little so that we can feel the pain and shame that she grapples with for not being more thoughtful toward her former husband when he needed her most. Pollack gives Jack a certain level of exhaustion from constantly being corrected and criticized by his ex-wife. He is the first to decide to search for happiness, however he defines the word, and just when we think he has it, Jack starts to question the value of his newfound relationship from behind Pollack’s spectacles.

On the other hand, Farrow plays Judy almost like a mouse in voice and the way she scuttles about the apartment. And yet, arguably, she is the smartest of the four—most interesting in that maybe she is not even aware of it—because she has a way of always getting what she wants. Allen, sporting his usual but signature nervous energy, makes us feel for Gabe that even when the thought of having an affair crosses his mind, we do not hate him for it.

The screenplay treats each character like he or she is worthy of being understood. This is reflected in way Allen controls the camera during confrontations. When someone is being attacked with verbal daggers, we are behind that person’s shoulder to make it appear as though we are also being criticized. Then, when that person on the defense takes the offensive position, the camera floats behind the other character’s shoulder so we get to hear where that person is coming from.

All the while the focus is on the dueling faces and how their expressions change throughout a course of a fight. If I were the one behind the camera, I would not have done it any differently. This is because, at least for me, when I confront another person, my eyes go directly on the other’s face to see which of my words trigger the most response: To learn which ones hurt so I can use them again during the heat of the moment and, conversely, to learn which words not to use when things have settled down.

The picture has the courage to poke fun of itself, too. Gabe, a college professor, decides to let one of his most brilliant students, Rain (Juliette Lewis), read the novel he is working on. Though she claims to love what she has read, she criticizes Gabe, which is really Allen, the director, only under a different name, for his ideas especially how he perceives women. Rain’s assessment of the novel can be taken as a direct criticism of the film which is very smart because it is one step ahead of the thing I plan on addressing initially. That playful self-awareness adds an additional mirror alongside one already being held in front us.

“Husbands and Wives” is able to successfully balance quiet desperation as much as the expressions that demand attention. It stumbles a little toward the end, however, when it uses a storm as a symbol of intensity boiling from within each character as well as the washing away of animosities. It is an elementary storytelling technique and yet so heavy-handed that I am reluctant to say that the writer-director has gotten away with it. Still, it is astute about what it wants to say and perceptive about how we might react to it.

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6
Mar

Broadway Danny Rose


Broadway Danny Rose (1984)
★★ / ★★★★

In midtown Manhattan, as famous comics in suits share a meal in a restaurant, their topic of conversation moves toward Danny Rose (Woody Allen), a personal manager of various acts which range from bird performers to blind xylophone players. One of the men claims he has the funniest story about Danny which occurred many years ago when the manager was close with Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), an Italian singer who finds that his career had peaked in the 1950s but has decided recently to make a comeback. It turns out that his decision to once again step into the spotlight is largely influenced by Danny.

Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Broadway Danny Rose” is a mild comedy, sometimes very funny but sometimes very flat, perhaps more than half its jokes directed more toward people who already have a knowledge of the entertainment business. Fortunately, a lot of the performances are entertaining which serve as a sort-of distraction from the jokes and references that fail tickle my insides.

Allen as the lead character is especially entertaining. Danny being a smooth-talker, I found it interesting that he uses his hands quite often, palms directly toward various persons he addresses, as if adopting a stance, readily able to deflect a verbal attack when they happen to see through his flattery. But his nice words are not always false. I enjoyed trying to recognize which compliments he genuinely means because he knows how to appreciate the little things apart from being a competent, sometimes very good, personal manager.

The plot is driven by Lou’s performance in front of a crowd where Milton Berle, playing himself, is to determine if the singer was entertaining enough for Las Vegas. Danny wishes Lou to remain calm and focused prior to the big night but this seems impossible because Lou has just had a fight with his mistress, Tina (Mia Farrow), and there is a possibility that she will decide not to come to the show for moral support. As a very hands-on manager, Danny goes to visit Tina and the duo get into all sorts of trouble.

The partnership between Tina and Danny has its share of laughs as we learn that the two embody very different mindsets. Tina’s pessimism is reflected through her wearing a pair of sunglasses, which she never takes off, as a beautiful and adventurous day unfolds in front of her. On the other hand, Danny, despite wearing a pair of glasses, personifies positivity, as if the accessory helped to magnify the beauty the world around him. Their differences—in personality and perception of the world—create jokes that work even though the situations they are thrusted into at times come across predictable.

Despite the film being shot in black and white, I found that the world the characters inhabit seems to be full of vibrant energy, especially when there are extras on the background. It almost feels like we can go up to them and they will have their own stories to share. I noticed the extras as the characters on the foreground lost my attention, either from being too quirky or when the material verges on insularity, too “theater.”

While “Broadway Danny Rose” provides light entertainment, I could not help but feel it could have been about much more. The sadness toward the end hints at a more insightful level of commentary about how it must really like to work in show business.

29
May

To Rome with Love


To Rome with Love (2012)
★ / ★★★★

At one point in “To Rome with Love,” written and directed by Woody Allen, a character says, “Whoever imbecile conceived this moronic experience should be taken out and beheaded.” And although my sentiment for this picture does not reflect that line exactly, it comes really, really close. I hated this movie.

I was at a loss on what Allen wishes to communicate or convey to the audiences. I cannot imagine anyone that can relate to this film on a pragmatic or emotional level because all four story strands are given an element of absurdism so off-putting that it is difficult to discern whether the writer-director is making fun of his subjects or he is simply wishing to make a movie that feels light and inconsequential. Either way, it is a lose-lose situation especially when expectations are high. Allen is a seasoned writer-director. What is produced here is egregiously bad—slow in pacing, a bore to sit through, one of the most worthless experiences I have had in quite some time.

Out of the four strands, perhaps one that is most marginally interesting is a young architect, Jack (Jesse Eisenberg), who falls in head over heels with his girlfriend’s best friend, Monica (Ellen Page), an actress, who is visiting Rome after having broken up with her boyfriend who turned out to be gay. Although Jack’s girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig), fears that her beau will grow attracted to Monica eventually, she keeps looking for ways for the two to spend time with one another. The situation could have been rife with potentially funny truths and consequences, but the screenplay loses the big picture consistently, opting to focus on behavior—such as aside comments with a sort-of imaginary character (Alec Baldwin) that can be seen and unseen by the trio whenever convenient—rather than the real emotions that are encountered when such a situation arises.

The casting of Eisenberg and Page does not work because these performers are driven by innate quirkiness. The attention is further focused on behavior—which is a problem in the first place. Because the two are so idiosyncratic, the tone is almost always off. They need a co-star who can function as a sounding board for their peculiarities. As a result, we are never really convinced about what Jack sees in Monica and vice-versa. Although I thought Gerwig does an adequate job in playing the role of an insecure girlfriend, she is not the ideal co-star. She, too, can be too quirky but the saving grace, I suppose, is that she does not have very many lines.

Two stories I found ridiculously boring involve Allen playing the father who meets the Roman family of his daughter’s boyfriend and an ordinary man (Roberto Benigni) who suddenly finds himself being stalked by the paparazzi. The former does not work because we never really believe that Allen’s character, Jerry, is once an opera director who rarely received good reviews for his work. I was at a loss on what Allen was thinking when he decided to cast himself in this role. It does not fit him in any way, shape, or form. All we see on screen is the director of the film wanting some sort of attention.

The latter does not work because the screenplay never allows us—in a meaningful way— into the life of a man suddenly finding himself considered as a celebrity. While the message of celebrity being an evanescent thing is crystal clear, that is a truth that is obvious. Wouldn’t it have been so much better or interesting if we learned how special this ordinary man really is despite the chaos unfolding around him? We rarely saw his family. I was not convinced that Allen had a rudimentary understanding of what it means to be a part of the working class. His work here reeks of privilege. I found it repelling.

I would like to think that Allen is smarter than this. I want to convince myself that he made this movie as a joke—that people will be brave enough call garbage as garbage rather than art regardless of the name behind it. I sensed no effort put into this work. It is not funny. It is not sad. it is not tragi-comic. It is nothing. It is less than nothing. I felt as though I wasted my time and I advise you not to waste yours.

20
Jan

Blue Jasmine


Blue Jasmine (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) moves to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins), until she gets back on her feet. Jasmine is completely broke; her husband (Alec Baldwin), who had recently killed himself, was involved in fraud and they lost everything—the big mansion, the expensive cars, the bank accounts. Having been used to a life of privilege, the New Yorker must learn to live in a small apartment, earn her own money, and endure a sibling she never felt close to but is nice enough to take her in.

“Blue Jasmine,” written and directed by Woody Allen, is propelled by an electrifying performance by Blanchett. She is willing to try anything: allow herself to look ugly, create a most despicable character that—still—we hope will change or learn something throughout the course of the picture, and modulate the character’s broken mind as if she were living two realities. Just about every decision she makes to get us to feel closer to or feel repelled by Jasmine—often at the same time—is fresh so watching her perform is a delight.

It is easy to make fun of the character for hitting the ground hard. After all, she is not a very nice person. She talks about the responsibility of being rich and how it is important to be generous but her actions do not match what she preaches. When she was swimming in money, she treated her sister like they were not related. One of the scenes that got the most reaction out of me was when Ginger visited Manhattan. Giving Ginger material things—such a a ridiculously expensive Fendi bag—is easy for Jasmine, but giving Ginger some of her time—a tour around New York City, spending a birthday dinner together—is a lot harder for her. It is most ironic that this repugnant woman wants to be an anthropologist.

Hawkins’ Ginger provides a good foil for Jasmine. She is the nicer half—maybe too nice—and I found her likable, an energetic auntie that one looks forward to seeing during the holidays. Perhaps it is the point but I was frustrated with her at times. She is too much of a pushover, always yielding, never realizing she does not have to put up with any of her sister’s prolific neuroses. For once, I would liked to have seen her put Jasmine in her place. Interestingly, the the screenplay never goes in that direction.

“Blue Jasmine” has a few subplots which do not quite come together. The conflict between Jasmine and her stepson (Alden Ehrenreich) feels tacked on. There is a dramatic scene between them near the end but I was left more confused than impressed. Also, Ginger’s ex-husband (Andrew Dice Clay) is given big scenes but his background is not developed in such a way that enhances the otherwise good acting.

As usual, Allen excels in showing contrasts: Jasmine’s life in NYC versus SF, the extravagant interiors of the mansion versus a humble but homey apartment, the protagonist’s glistening face when everything seems to be going right versus her haggard look when everything is being burnt to ashes. The writer-director jumps back and forth between past and present so effortlessly that it never feels distracting. We are put inside Jasmine’s troubled psychology. She’s there but sometimes she’s not really there.

6
Jul

Midnight in Paris


Midnight in Paris (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

The plan is for Gil (Owen Wilson) and Inez (Rachel McAdams) to get married in California after their mini-vacation in Paris. Gil, already a successful Hollywood writer for movies but currently hoping to break into the literary scene, informs his bride-to-be that he wants to live there for the time being because he is inspired by so many things: the magnificent architectures, the amazing art, and the histories behind them. He is even able to find beauty in the way the rain tends to cover the streets like a warm blanket.

But Inez does not want to live in Paris–end of discussion. She scoffs at the way he romanticizes the city. While walking around at midnight, something magical happens. Gil is able to walk into the 1920s, his favorite decade, and meet his idols: literary icons like F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).

Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris” shows us the slow decomposition of a relationship through fantastic encounters. A lot of care is put into the central character. Though the tone is light and accessible, the screenplay is concerned about details: what Gil feels and thinks about his career and relationship, the people of the past that he is able to interact with, and, eventually, to consider doing what is necessary so he can move forward.

The scenes set in 2010 as Gil interacts with Inez and her family (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy) are both maddening and amusing. I found Inez’ side to be really annoying because they are the kind of people who buy a $20,000 chair and not feel guilty about it. Their big problems consists of silly things like which clothing are appropriate to wear at a party or if they are coming off as smart or worldly enough to their acquaintances. Still, they find a way to complain about something. At the same time, I was entertained because Gil is so passive toward them at times. Clearly, he is the conduit between our simpler worlds and the disgustingly privileged just as he is the bridge between the past and the future.

Despite the glamour, the story remains relatable. I loved the scenes when the couple are forced to listen to pedantic Paul (Michael Sheen) about the history of each landmark and artwork. Even if he is wrong, he considers himself to be right. We all know people like Paul. What is it about certain people who feel that they know or must be right about everything? Given that they encounter others with similar know-it-all personalities, do they get annoyed around each other? Even with supporting characters like Paul, I enjoyed that the script inspired me to wonder.

The midnight time jumps to the 1920s is a welcome conceit. They are shot in beautiful bright yellow glow. While the scenes in 2010 focuses on negative energy that surrounds Gil, the 1920s are positive and golden. Wilson has played plenty of good guys, but I have never seen him so likable and in command of his effortless charm. He gives Gil a certain level of humility so our protagonist approaches legendary authors and artists as a wide-eyed fan, perhaps the way we would have if we were given a chance to meet the artists face-to-face.

It is joyful meeting colorful figures like Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), and Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody), but the film does not lose track that this is about Gil’s journey as a budding writer, not just a revolving door of highly influential figures. By touching them physically, discussing and exchanging ideas, as well as taking note of their flaws, Gil is able to gain a fresh perspective on how to write and edit his novel. In addition and equally important, by spending time with Adriana (Marion Cotillard), Pablo Picasso’s then-girlfriend and muse, he learns that maybe Inez needs a man who has a more polarizing personality. Life is short and we should lead a life that is deserving of us.

“Midnight in Paris” entertains in a subdued way. While the pacing is slow at times, complementing Gil’s relaxed personality, its quirks do not overshadow the emotions. Like a novel worthy of reading while under soft blankets, there is elegance in the way in sashays from one encounter to another.

16
Dec

Whatever Works


Whatever Works (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Boris (Larry David) was a cynical man. He was smart but he was lightyears from charming. He was a man without a filter; he took great pride in pointing out the phenomenal idiocy of mankind like their belief in the man in the sky, pretentious art, and the travesty we call modern culture. Nothing surprised him. Beating kids at chess and teasing them about him gave him pleasure. But his eccentric nature hit a detour when he met a Southern girl named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood). It was her first week in New York City so she had nowhere to go. To our surprise, he allowed her to stay in his apartment until she found a job. Despite what he considered to be her utter lack of intelligence, often calling her an “inchworm,” he began to like her the more they spent time with each other. Written and directed by Woody Allen, “Whatever Works” consisted of some good performances but it failed to resonate with me emotionally due to its lack of focus on the lead character. I enjoyed the film when it was only Boris and Melody in one room. It was like watching a man with anger issues fire in a shooting range: Boris was the shooter and Melody was the target. As Boris complained about humanity and the like, Melody just absorbed each verbal bullet. I loved her because she was sunny and words didn’t get her down like most people. She knew that Boris’ verbal diarrhea was therapeutic for him and, for her, it was an opportunity to learn something different, something so far from the beliefs she was raised in. They were good for each other even if it was just for a while. But when Melody’s mother (the wonderful Patricia Clarkson), Marietta, knocked on their door, it was a downhill race to the finish line because the story was no longer about Boris and his wild temperament. It became about Marietta’s evolution as an artist, her ménage à trois with our protagonist’s friends, and her desperate attempt to pluck her daughter out of Boris’ life and set her up with an actor named Randy (Henry Cavill). Another unnecessary piece of the puzzle was John (Ed Begley Jr.), Melody’s father, and his mission to win back Marietta’s heart. Boris hated clichés and this film ended up exactly that. I kept waiting for the director to pull something different out of the bag but he didn’t. Excitement came as far as Boris talking directly to the camera to acknowledge his audience, to discuss the concepts of entropy and the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Only about a quarter of the material was funny. The rest of the time I spent wondering why Boris was constantly yelling. We didn’t know much about his background, other than he was once considered to be awarded a Nobel Prize, so why was he such an angry, hypochondriac misfit who saw himself as better than everyone else? “Whatever Works” was an appropriate title because it was mishmash of third-rate material from Allen’s other projects.

22
Nov

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger


You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Helena (Gemma Jones) decided to see a fortuneteller (Pauline Collins) after the divorce between her and her husband (Anthony Hopkins) had been finalized. She claimed she needed direction, but we quickly realized that she was clingy, didn’t know how to keep certain opinions to herself, and was hopelessly gullible. Maybe the divorce was a gift or a breath of freedom for her husband. Sally (Naomi Watts), Helena’s daughter, was also having trouble with her marriage. Roy (Josh Brolin), Sally’s husband, was having a difficult time finishing his book and was weighing the possibility of having an affair with a beautiful woman in red (Freida Pinto), his muse, across their apartment building. On the other hand, Sally was considering to have an affair with her boss (Antonio Banderas) while working in an art gallery. “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger,” written and directed by Woody Allen, was a missed opportunity. The story was interesting, the coincidences didn’t feel heavy-handed and the various ironies between and around the characters were accessible. However, the film felt like a satisfying but incomplete novel. Just when Allen needed to deliver the punches involving the consequences that the characters had to live with due to their unwise actions, the screen abruptly faded to black. It left me wanting more but not in a good way. The picture’s lack of resolution highlighted its flaws, especially its highly uneven tone. Allen spent too much time trying to convince us that what we were seeing was comedic. As a result, he was stuck in highlighting the characters’ quirks instead of exploring other dimensions that would make us want to get to know more. For instance, the relationship between Hopkins’ character and his young girlfriend (Lucy Punch) was mostly played for laughs. The former’s quirk was, despite his age, he was convinced that he was still in his thirties. Like his ex-wife, he was inclined to self-delusion. The latter was a classic golddigger who loved to buy expensive clothing and accessories in exchange for sex. She was a former callgirl but, in reality, she never left her profession. The film only turned darker toward the end when Hopkins’ character, after the woman revealed that she was pregnant, threatened her that the baby better have been his or else. The comedic element was gone and we were left to stare at the character’s desperation, hurt, and anger in his eyes. Unfortunately, that was the last scene between the old man and the golddigger. The same hustle-and-bustle applied to the other characters and were left in the dust wondering what happened next. Not unlike Helena, “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” needed a strong direction with clear vision. The important questions it brought up about life were cheapened and it ultimately felt like Philosophy 101.

13
Sep

Interiors


Interiors (1978)
★★★ / ★★★★

An unexpected trial separation between the patriarch (E.G. Marshall) and emotionally fragile matriarch (Geraldine Page) thrusted three sisters (Mary Beth Hurt, Diane Keaton, Kristin Griffith) into a territory in which they had to deal with their own lives and their parents’–something they weren’t used to because they’ve become accustomed to living a life of privilege and constantly reevaluating their careers. Joey (Hurt) was smart but never found what she was really good at. She held a grudge because she felt like she was the only one who went out of her way to take care of their mother. Renata (Keaton) was immersed with her work and craved to be left alone. She found it difficult because her husband, also an artist, took criticisms too personally. Instead of focusing her energy onto her work, she felt the need to build her husband’s confidence. Meanwhile, Flyn (Griffith) was never around because traveling was a part of being an actress. Her physical beauty was valued more than her wit, kindness, and personality. Despite the fact that the film was essentially about self-centered, white upper-class, highly irksome individuals, I found Woody Allen’s film to be admirable because he held a laser-like focus on the material’s theme. His subjects lived in big houses that felt more like museums than a comfortable home. When they spoke, their voices echoed as if they craved to be truly heard. They filled their houses with expensive material; the figurines had to complement the color of the walls and the texture of the carpet, and the insular themes that just had to work with the ambiance in a specific way. Everything had to be controlled. It showcased their intelligence, their place in society, and what they could offer to visitors who they considered to be on a lower level than them. But they weren’t emotionally equipped people. The sisters were jealous of each other and Allen wasn’t afraid to show us how ugly sibling competition could become. Arguments were abound, but since the characters didn’t know how to treat communication as a two-way street, nothing was really solved. In fact, it seemed like things turned for the worse after explosive confrontations. These people led sad existences but we didn’t pity them in the least. Allen’s script was vivid and the beauty of it was highlighted by the way the actors expressed their characters’ hypocrisies and histrionics. The picture was at its peak when the women’s father brought home Pearl (the wonderful Maureen Stapleton), a woman he wanted to marry. Pearl was supposed to personify people like you and me, someone who had a lot of energy, willing to talk about her imperfections, and wasn’t guilty about eating an extra slice of pie just because it was considered unhealthy. Allen adroitly used her character as both a hurdle and someone to aspire to for the three women in question. “Interiors” was about people who were not unlike the figurines they so deeply coveted: shining on the outside but tragically hollow on the inside. With Allen’s assured direction, the film was bleakly cerebral yet emotionally rewarding.

2
Jul

Sleeper


Sleeper (1973)
★★ / ★★★★

Imagine going into a minor operation and waking up two hundred years later. You’ve been told that, due to minor complications, you have been frozen without your consent. That is exactly what happened to Miles Monroe (Woody Allen) as he woke up and learned that everything was different. Everything we thought was bad (like smoking) is now good, and everything we thought was good is now bad. The two scientists who revived Miles gave the protagonist a mission to seek refuge within the Underground, an organization that wanted to overthrow the country’s oppressive leader and thus change the government. Along the way, Miles fell in love with a spoiled party girl named Luna (Dianne Keaton) who enjoyed having fun with an orb (equivalent to getting high) and having sex that lasted for about two seconds in a machine. Written by Allen and Marshall Brickman, “Sleeper” was an interesting hybrid of science fiction and slapstick comedy. It had some great one-liners and truly memorable (albeit campy) images such as when the main character stumbled upon giant fruits and vegetables and when he disguised himself as a robot butler. I had fun with the scenes when the scientists would attempt to learn more about the 20th century by asking Miles questions of what he thought about the images thrown at him. When Miles responded, there was joy in Allen’s signature wit and tongue-in-cheek bravado in tackling usually serious topics such as cloning and political assassination. The references to pop culture came hard and fast, sometimes overwhelming, but consistently deserving at least a chuckle. However, I thought its type of comedy was depressingly one-note. Initially, I enjoyed the slapstick such as when Miles woke up from his extended sleep and he had no control of his limbs. He reflected Gumby’s movement at best or as if he had a neurological disorder in which electrical impulses had complete control of his body. It was funny without trying. But when the cops closed in on Miles and he had to escape, it resulted to cartoonish manner in resolving the matter at hand. For instance, the protagonist would simply grab a big branch (or anything that was available) and bash everyone on the head. Naturally, Miles and Luna would occassionally hit each other accidentally and it was supposed to be funny. I just didn’t get it. The cheesy, Saturday morning cartoon music made what did not work all the more unbearable. Directed by Woody Allen, I must admit that the film could appeal to people who are magnetized to its brand of humor. I thought it had moments of originality. I just wished it did not rely too much on the physical jokes and had focused more on its witty wordplay.

27
Jun

Hannah and Her Sisters


Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hannah (Mia Farrow) and her sisters Lee (Barbara Hershley) and Holly (Dianne Wiest) often met and discussed their lives over lunch or dinner in Manhattan. They talked about all sorts of happenings from their career prospects to pecuniary matters, but the main driving force of the film were the topics that they would rather keep a secret from each other. For instance, Hannah’s husband (Michael Caine) had told Lee that he had fallen in love with her (should Lee tell Hannah about it?), while Hannah’s hypochondriac ex-husband (Woody Allen) dated Holly (Was it appropriate for Holly to discuss it with Hannah?). What I loved about “Hannah and Her Sisters,” a quality almost always present in Allen’s more renowned pictures, was not a scene was wasted. It was all about character development as each character was given the chance to narrate a scene and share his or her thoughts about someone else or his increasingly complicated and desperate predicament. The first scene stood out to me because Caine’s character essentially had made the confession that he wanted to leave his wife for his wife’s sister. Allen immediately placed us in the husband’s shoes. When he moved toward the woman he was interested in, the camera moved with a sense of urgency, and we had no choice but to move with the husband and anticipate a potential train wreck. With marriage dramas, the tone could quickly become too depressing and suffocating. Allen was aware of this so he injected comedic scenes of the hypochondriac Jewish TV producer discovering that he might have had a tumor in his brain. Obviously, the situation he was in was quite grim but his reactions to certain revelations spearheaded the comedy. The person dealing with the situation was funny, not the situation itself. However, one major weakness I found in the film was the fact that I still did not know who Hannah was. She was overshadowed by her sisters, her philandering husband, and neurotic ex-husband. She was there when they needed help or someone to talk to, but in terms of her relationship with the audiences, I felt as though there was a disconnect. Toward the end, everyone admitted that she was the strong one and that she never needed help from anybody, but it was not the idea of Hannah I had in my mind. To be succinct and completely honest, I thought she was a bit boring–she was a nice woman but she was unexciting. Despite its flaws, “Hannah and Her Sisters” had a deep sophistication in its characterization of people constantly wrestling with their desires and needs. Best of all, I enjoyed its honesty in terms of people sometimes being unrelentingly awful, sometimes being beyond wonderful.

20
Jun

Celebrity


Celebrity (1998)
★★ / ★★★★

A journalist (Kenneth Branagh) divorced his wife (Judy Davis) because he wanted to be with other women–women who were some type of a celebrity, like a supermodel (Charlize Theron), an actress (Melanie Griffith), or a very successful book editor (Famke Janssen). One of his main reasons for divorcing his wife was, as he claimed, he was unhappy with the way she was in bed. The insecure wife, on the other hand, met a seemingly perfect television producer (Joe Mantegna). She could not believe the fact that she had met someone who was willing to devote everything to her. She suspected there must be something wrong with him and so she waited for the relationship to go haywire. Throughout the film, the journalist became unhappier while the ex-wife’s luck turned for the better. Directed by Woody Allen, “Celebrity” was ultimately a disappointment despite its interesting subject matter. I think it is more relevant than it was more than ten years ago because of the recent surge in technology that allows us to get “closer” to our celebrities. Unfortunately, I thought the humor was too broad. Did it soley want to be a showbiz satire, a marriage drama, or a character study? It attempted to be all of the above but it didn’t work because the protagonists lacked an ounce of likability. The journalist was desperate in getting into women’s pants while the ex-wife pitied herself so much that it was impossible to root for her. Their evolution and the lessons they learned (or failed to learn) were superficial at best. Instead, I found myself focusing on the many interesting and vibrant side characters. For instance, I loved Theron’s obsession with her health as well as her outer appearance. It was interesting to see her and the journalist interact because I constantly wondered what she saw in him. As the night when on, layers were revealed as to why while some details were best remain as implications. Leonardo DiCaprio as the very spoiled young actor was great to watch as well. His arrival on screen was perfect because it was at the point where the script was starting to feel lazy. The characters had no idea what they wanted or what they wanted to say. DiCaprio’s character was invigorating to have on screen because he wanted everything but at the same time his wants lacked some sort of meaning. Even though the spoiled actor and the journalist did not get along well, they were more similar than they would like to believe. While cameos were abound such as the surprising appearance of Donald Trump, I wish the filmmakers trimmed the extra fat in order to make a leaner film with astringent wit. It had some great moments but they were followed by mindless sophomoric jabber (uncharacteristically not charming considering it’s a Woody Allen film) that quickly wore out their welcome.