Posts Tagged ‘Woody Allen’

Fascinating premise, flat drama: Light comedy and heavy philosophizing go nowhere in Allen’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’

August 16, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 16, 2014

Author’s note: Having noticed a handful of typos and textual loose ends in this post, I made some adjustments on Aug. 21, 2015. I’ve used boldface (like so) and strikethrough lines (like this) to mark all but the most minor changes. MEM

The newest Woody Allen movie, Magic in the Moonlight, revolves around the question of whether the universe is wholly confined to scientifically observable phenomena or whether there might exist spirit or spirits unseen. The irony is that writer-director Allen, in this movie, has crafted a subtext-free dramatic venture, one limited almost exclusively to superficial appearances and to the literal words and events that it depicts.

Allen’s protagonist is Stanley (Colin Firth), a magician whose brilliance is matched only by his cluelessness in social and emotional realms. When we meet him in 1928, on the eve of the finale of his European tour, he is about to embark on a vacation to the Galapagos Islands with his fiancée.

That all changes when Stanley receives a backstage visitor — Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), a childhood friend and longtime professional rival. Howard has spent the past few weeks at the French estate of the Catledges, a wealthy American family that has been divided by a young medium who purports to be in touch with the family’s deceased patriarch.

Howard has unsuccessfully striven to debunk the psychic as a fraud. When he beseeches his friend, who’s famous for exposing supernatural hoaxes, to lend a hand uncovering the scam, Stanley requires only a modicum of cajoling to get him to scrap his summer vacation. (The fiancée, featured in a single scene, hardly seems bothered that Stanley will be spending the next few weeks apart from her.)

Stanley’s first encounters with the supposed psychic, Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), are intriguing. She instantly intuits his stage persona and holds a seance in which, somehow, a candle hovers in midair without any supporting mechanism that the skeptics are able to detect. When Sophie apparently discerns information about a secret lover after, from holding a strand of pearls owned by Stanley’s Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), who also resides in Southern France, Stanley immediately abandons his lifelong commitment to rationalism.

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Gigolo meets Hasidic widow. Oddity ensues in John Turturro’s new movie.

June 12, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
June 12, 2014

Against all odds, Fading Gigolo is an oddly a strangely charming feature starring, written and directed by John Turturro.

The film hinges on three relationships. One involves Turturro’s character, a lonesome jack-of-all-trades with the unlikely name Fioravante, and his longtime friend and mentor, Murray (Woody Allen). Murray is closing down the New York City rare bookstore that was started by his grandfather and has been in the family ever since, a transition that leaves “Mo” at loose ends. A joking exchange with his rich, glamorous and randy dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), who longs for a ménage à trois, prompts Murray to persuade his buddy Fioravante to become a prostitute.

The sophisticated but taciturn Fioravante is a reluctant gigolo; still, women love his quiet confidence, dark looks and trim body. Mo proves to be an enthusiastic pimp. Within moments, thanks to the power of montage, he’s recruited a variety of clients, and the boys are soon rolling in money.

One of the clients is Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), an Orthodox Jewish widow whom Murray meets while she combs through the lice-infested hair of his stepkids. Although her community’s strict customs forbid a man from riding in the back seat of an automobile with her, and bar women from displaying their real hair in public, Avigal travels to Fioravante’s apartment for a massage. The tightly wound single mother sheds tears when Fioravante’s bare hands gently touch her skin.

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Woody Allen finds comedy (but not too much!) in the tragedy of ‘Blue Jasmine’

August 14, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 14, 2013

Author’s note: Having noticed a handful of typos and textual loose ends in this post, I made some adjustments on Aug. 21, 2015. I’ve used boldface (like so) and strikethrough lines (like this) to mark all but the most minor changes. MEM

When we first meet Jasmine, the antiheroine of Woody Allen’s new film, she is a character in free fall. Her successful but disgraced husband, Hal, recently committed suicide in prison; now destitute, Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is flying across the continent to move into her sister’s modest San Francisco apartment.

Life with Ginger is destined to be rocky, we learn even before the two characters are shown in the same frame. Jasmine is a college dropout with no work experience, computer aptitude or other job skills, not to mention that she’s horribly whiny, spoiled, self-pitying and snobbish. Both Jasmine and Ginger (Sally Hawkins) were adopted, but the former had an excellent relationship with their parents, while the latter had a rocky one. (Ginger likes to joke, seemingly without bitterness, that Jasmine got the good genes.)

Those things alone would make the situation prickly. But there’s also the fact that the crooked Hal (Alec Baldwin) purloined the lottery winnings of Ginger and her then-husband, Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, demonstrating superb dramatic chops), thereby leading to the breakup of their marriage. And that’s not even mentioning the nearly immediate enmity that springs up between Jasmine and Ginger’s current fiancé, Chili (Bobby Cannavale).

This combustible mix forms the setup for Blue Jasmine, the 44th feature film directed by the astonishingly prolific Allen. Unlike the director’s three previous movies — You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (set in London), Midnight in Paris and To Rome with Love — this picture is set exclusively in and around New York City and San Francisco. From a geographic point of view, it resembles the director’s 2009 movie, Whatever Works, which took place entirely in New York. (Several of Allen’s movies prior to Whatever Works had been located in Europe, especially London.)

The two features have more than that in common, though. Neither main character — Jasmine here, Boris in the 2009 film — cuts much of a heroic figure; it’s often hard to find them sympathetic.

But Blue Jasmine is much darker than Whatever Works. If that movie was essentially a comedy with tragic undertones, this one is a tragedy with comic notes. And while Whatever Works wrapped its narrative up with a nice, neat bow, Blue Jasmine arguably provides no such closure. Read the rest of this entry »

In which I try to write something original and insightful about ‘Husbands and Wives’ 20 years after its release

August 17, 2012

The 1992 comic drama Husbands and Wives opens in the Manhattan apartment of Gabe and Judy Roth (writer-director Woody Allen and Mia Farrow) shortly before they have dinner with another married couple, longtime friends Jack and Sally (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis).

Things go off the rails almost immediately when Jack and Sally make an announcement. They are splitting, they say calmly. Gabe and Judy are astonished. How can this be after they have spent so much time together? What does this mean for the Roths’ own marriage?

Jack and Sally try to reassure them, saying that the decision is mutual and amicable, but the Roths have trouble accepting the change.

So do Jack and Sally once they start trying to deal with the practical realities of their divergent lives. With different degrees of enthusiasm, they take younger lovers. Read the rest of this entry »

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