Woody Allen’s forty-fourth film, “Magic In The Moonlight,” may be the seventy-eight-year-old writer-director’s strangest in ages. It’s the first movie of his I can remember where all of the actors seem to be playing in the same scenes, and they’re largely idiotic. It’s most pronounced in terrible dramas like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” but the syndrome is similar in even more accomplished work like “Blue Jasmine,” where there are scenes with multiple actors who seem completely stranded, or visiting from another movie down the hall at the multiplex. So this period trifle has at least that going for it, plus a lead actor, Colin Firth, who doesn’t seem to be channeling a single shred of Allen’s own on-screen persona. (The character’s self-proclaimed “genius” is never demonstrated by his actions or bluster.) As for the screenplay, it’s a full-on fumble. Doddering, even, and distant from any representation of plausible human behavior. Read the rest of this entry »
Gillian Robespierre’s canny, taut “Obvious Child,” a distinctly contemporary comedy, is rich in people talk and how some people swear and how modern audiences laugh, shocked, with gratitude. And lead actress Jenny Slate? Here comes a great comedy star in a smart, conversational, bluntly funny, certainly subversive romcom. Simply: the plot pivots on an unwanted pregnancy.
At Sundance 2014, “Obvious Child” was that rare, total surprise for me, a press screening I ducked into after Park City, Utah’s insane traffic problems prevented me from getting to yet another movie across town. Didn’t know any of the names, Brooklyn, thirtysomething romantic comedy, just over eighty minutes. Everyone’s always hoping for the platonic ideal of what Woody Allen represented in romantic comedy in the 1970s. And the title? What on earth did that title mean?
“So you’re a ‘Graceland’ guy, not a ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ guy,” lead actress Jenny Slate says when we meet, laughing, sitting alongside her near-lookalike, co-writer-director Gillian Robespierre, who directed Slate in a short version of the material in 2009. “Paul Simon song,” Robespierre says, nodding. Read the rest of this entry »
“Fading Gigolo” is exceedingly odd and a discomfortingly inauthentic comedy of sorts from writer-director John Turturro, about a florist, Fioravante (Turturro) who becomes a “ho” with the encouraging of his friend Murray (Woody Allen), who’s shuttering his New York City bookstore. Weirdly, the film turns into a second enterprise, a drama about the fate of an Orthodox widow played by Johnny Depp’s ex, Vanessa Paradis, who’s also worshiped from afar by her childhood friend, Dovi, a Hasidic policeman (Liev Schreiber). (Paradis, full-eyed, still, gap-toothed, provides an impassive mask for Dovi, and later, Fioravante, to project shortcomings onto.) Along the way, Turturro tries to invest his bonsai-shaping empty vessel into a character akin to Chance the Gardener from “Being There,” someone whom disappointed women (Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara) can look upon and find themselves transformed.
Woody Allen’s bleak, seriocomic mash-up of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and an imagined life of Mrs. Bernie Madoff after her husband’s vast Ponzi empire collapsed, is filled with odd turns, tone-deaf comedy about class, but most importantly, a no-holds-barred performance by Cate Blanchett as a woman of privilege who can no longer hold onto anything, particularly her mind. Crashing into madness, she’s a monster, hungry for her own soul. Read the rest of this entry »
“With age comes wisdom,” a character says in “To Rome With Love.” “With age comes exhaustion,” Woody Allen answers, a touch weary-looking himself. Still, his first appearance at the packed screening where I saw the seventy-six-year-old director’s fortieth feature caused the room to ripple with pleasure: both that he’s still standing and in anticipation of spoken spleen to come. Allen’s said he doesn’t care for the title “To Rome With Love,” which supplanted “Decameron Bop” and “Nero Fiddled,” but my biggest curiosity about creative choices is at what moment he and editor Alisa Lepselter threw temporal unity to the wind and intercut the film’s four discrete episodes. Read the rest of this entry »
Synopsis is the devil, but sometimes the devil is in the details. Here’s Tribeca Film’s synopsis of writer-director-actor-producer Edward Burns’ microbudget romantic comedy and fan letter to New York’s upscale Tribeca neighborhood, “Newlyweds”: “Buzzy (Edward Burns) and Katie (Caitlin FitzGerald) are a newly married couple living a seemingly conflict-free life. But when Buzzy’s damaged and impulsive half-sister Linda (Kerry Bishé) arrives at their doorstep expecting to stay for an indefinite period in their Tribeca loft, her antics threaten to disrupt the couple’s commitment to an ‘easy’ marriage.” Sounds like any romantic comedy, but it’s more like Woody Allen on a designer shoestring. Read the rest of this entry »
The first feature by Chicago director Dean Peterson, “Incredibly Small: A 300-Square-Foot Love Story,” is indeed an incredibly small, incredibly understated and indelibly bittersweet romantic comedy. Shot in Minneapolis on a fourteen-day schedule, “Small” follows Anne (Susan Burke) as a proficient law student who moves into a bashed, battered, filthy, too-small apartment with her life-to-be-determined-later sculptor-escalator attendant boyfriend Amir (Stephen Gurewitz). Peterson’s apparent influences range from Eric Rohmer to Woody Allen, and he does a more-than decent job of fitting himself for their boots. Read the rest of this entry »
“Imagine the two of us settling here,” says Gil (Owen Wilson) to his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) on a trip to Paris. She cannot. But he can: more so than he can imagine. After Gil relates his marvelous encounters during solo midnight walks, she suspects the screenwriter she’s about to marry suffers from a brain tumor. Writer-director Woody Allen returns to classic style, complete with college-lit footnotes and his longstanding slur of “pseudo-intellectual.” His kneejerk liberalism lets Gil count his future father-in-law among “Republican Tea Party crypto-fascist airhead zombies.” Gil is like so many other neurotic Allen characters: a self-identified conflicted hack insecure about his creativity. This time his stand-in seeks inspiration for his labor-of-love novel about a nostalgia-shop owner. Soaking up atmosphere on the late-night streets of Paris, he gets magical rides from F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Tom Eliot. They convey him to legendary scenes of the 1920s Paris he idolizes. Among the luminaries he meets are Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel and Djuna Barnes. Gertrude Stein looks at his manuscript and gives him tips. (He’s a long way from Pasadena.) He meets Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who pines for the more vibrant Belle Epoque. One carriage ride later the pair consort with the storied figures of that era, who in turn fantasize about the grander Renaissance. The enchanting “Midnight in Paris” is a cultural romance of time-travel tourism. With Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Nina Arianda, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Léa Seydoux and French First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. 94m. (Bill Stamets)
“Midnight in Paris” opens Friday at Landmark Century, Renaissance, River East and Evanston Cinearts.
Slivers of urban living, not quite city symphonies of the condition of the high streets and alleyways of a town with a complicated history like London: these hold a special attraction. “Forget Me Not,” written by Mark Underwood, and directed by first-timers Alexander Holt and Lance Roehrig (who’ve made shorts together), swoops from city lights to golden-lit cafes and restaurants. Musician meets barmaid. Trouble finds trouble. Night turns to day and fortunately to night again in their first twenty-four hours of acquaintance, and the co-directors’ pacing has the kind of understated confidence that reassures. Modest, intermittently poetic, keen on fate and fatefulness, it’s sweet diversion, even with an overly sturdy use of the London Eye landmark. Avoid the inevitable comparison to Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” and his masterpiece, “Before Sunset.” With Tobias Menzies and Genevieve O’Reilly as the couple that might not have come to be: their chemistry breaks all bonds of narrative forethought. Gemma Jones’ turn as a grandmother with failing faculties takes advantage of the gifts that Woody Allen only billboards in her role as a meddlesome psychic in his indigestible “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.” 93m. (Ray Pride)
“Forget Me Not” opens Friday at Facets.
Woody Allen has said a lot of late that he believes his latest film is always his worst, and at last, you can take him at his word. His fortieth feature as a director, “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger,” is advertised as a comedy, but it’s not. It doesn’t seem to be straining for anything more than idle spite. In this London-set but not London-sprung bumf, saddled with an unmotivated narrator of bromides (Zak Orth), 73-year-old Anthony Hopkins, slightly younger than Allen, plays “Alfie,” a man of inexplicable wealth who has a senior moment, leaving his brutally belittling wife of many years (Gemma Jones) for a tall blonde prostitute (Lucy Punch). Their daughter, Sally (Naomi Watts), a smaller blonde, works at a high-end gallery, fantasizing about her boss (Antonio Banderas) while her husband, Roy (Josh Brolin), longs for the woman playing flamenco guitar across the courtyard (Freida Pinto, “Slumdog Millionaire”). As the whining harridan, Jones overworks watery rheumy pale blue eyes, but her unceasing interference and belittlement is pathetic and unilluminating unless you consider her modeled after Allen’s own mother, with the attributes he disdainfully credits her with in Barbara Kopple’s “Wild Man Blues.” Allen’s disregard for his audience extends to no one in “YWMATDS” taking an afternoon off to murder her. Nothing but accents mark this imaginary place as London; the economic, social and cultural observations belong in Allen’s 1980s Manhattan, not any recognizable today. Vilmos Zsigmond’s cinematography tends to an orange akin to a heat-damaged 1960s Eastmancolor print. And as for Woody’s nifty, snazzy pile of 78-rpm shellacs, their trite jauntiness, after all these years, leaves me fantasizing about dial tones. Wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwvvvvoooooooooo… 98m. (Ray Pride)
“You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” opens Friday at Landmark Century, Evanston Cine Arts and Landmark Renaissance.