31 July 2010

Review: "The Maid" (La Nana)

The Maid is one of the best films that I have seen in quite some time. Recently I complained about the lack of quality 2010 films and it is a shame that Sebastián Silva's Chilean film was released in 2009. The film introduces international audiences to Catalina Saavedra, a talented actress who sets fire to the screen with the simplest action and brings her character to life. The film premiered at many film festivals across the world (in Asia, Europe, North and South America) and both Silva and Saavedra received multiple honours. The Maid is a straightforward story about a wealthy family and their maid that they have welcomed into their home. It often blurs the line between drama and comedy but the result is a very touching film. Silva's direction and screenplay (with Pedro Peirano) is strong and honest and Saavedra's performance is downright brilliant. I have not seen a Chilean film before and the only South American film I have seen is City of God (Brazil), but The Maid exists beyond cultural restraints because the honesty of its story will resonate anywhere in the world.

Racquel (Saavedra) has been the maid for the Valdes family for over twenty years. The Maid begins on Racquel's birthday and while the family is surreptitiously arranging the presents in the dining room Racquel is eating her dinner alone. Pilar (Claudia Celedón) and Mundo (Alejandro Goic) try to treat Racquel as part of the family and she has helped raise their four children. Camila (Andrea Garcia-Huidobro) is in her twenties and has a tense relationship with Racquel, Lucas (Agustin Silva) is a teenager and is Racquel's favourite, and the youngest Tomás (Darok Orellana) and Gabriel (Sebasti
án La Rivera) still rely heavily on Racquel. From the beginning we know that Racquel is in poor health and she repeatedly rebuffs Pilar's offers to hire more help. Pilar, knowing the house is too big for just Racquel, hires the young Mercedes (Mercedes Villanueva). Racquel is not welcoming whatsoever and eventually her behaviour forces Mercedes to quit. After Racquel has an accident at home the family hires Lucy (Mariana Loyola) and although Racquel is at first very stubborn she and Lucy develop a very close bond that changes the environment at home.

The Maid does something that I enjoy when I watch a film: it does not control the film with dialogue and allows the action on screen to exist in silence. Catalina Saavedra's face is so beautifully expressive that the audience is able to understand her thoughts and emotions without dialogue. Credit must be given to Sebasti
án Silva for giving his actress to much room to grow and to Saavedra for making Racquel such a finely-tuned character. It is only Silva's second directorial effort (after 2007's La vida me mata (Life Kills Me)). The Maid won the Grand Jury Prize: World Cinema - Dramatic at Sundance and considering how much buzz films often get from Sundance it is a shame that the film and Catalina Saavedra did not receive more attention in North America. The Maid is fresh, funny, touching and superbly crafted and one of the best foreign films that I have seen recently.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

26 July 2010

Review: "Salt"

Angelina Jolie has built a career balancing character-driven films and action films. She won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for 1999's Girl, Interrupted and has since been nominated for Best Actress for Changeling (Clint Eastwood's overrated 2008 film) and a Golden Globe nomination for A Mighty Heart (2007). Angelina's profile skyrocketed after appearing in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and further cemented her status as a bankable action star in Mr & Mrs Smith (2005) and Wanted (2008). It has been two years since she appeared on screen and it is unfortunate that she chose Salt. Salt is a decent spy film but it plays like a cheap Bourne film with obvious plot twists and a rushed pace. The film's marketing campaign struggled when most avid film fans were busy awaiting Inception. Salt reunites Angelina Jolie with Phillip Noyce, who directed her in The Bone Collector (1999), but the film is a series of action sequences and fails to even begin to develop the character of Evelyn Salt. I really enjoyed the entire Jason Bourne trilogy (minus the shaky-cam) because they are intelligent films that focus on character first and then action. Salt features too many similarities to Jason Bourne, right down to the German love interest, and while the film ends with the possibility of a sequel I feel that Salt divulged too many secrets too quickly which would turn the next film into a revenge film rather than keeping with the spy genre. Salt starts off an exciting film but peaks too quickly and turns into predictable cat-and-mouse game that focuses more on Angelina Jolie's appearance than on the development of her character.

Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent. When interrogating a Russian defector named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) and he informs her about Day X, an operation that has been in place since the Cold War. He claims that Russian children were strategically placed with American families and these agents will join together on a specific date. He goes on to say that one agent in particular will kill the Russian President at the funeral of the Vice President of the United States. That agent is Evelyn Salt. The only person who believes this to be untrue is her partner Ted Winter (Liev Schreiber). The agents attempt to restrain Salt but she is very skilled and is able to escape. She is worried about her husband Mike (August Diehl) and returns home with the government on her tail. Salt changes her appearance and travels to New York City for the funeral. There is extra security but Salt is able to infiltrate and assassinates the Russian President. She is apprehended by the government but escapes and finds her way to Orlov. It is revealed that Evelyn Salt is really a Russian agent and that Day X includes killing the American President and causing an attack on two major cites.

I was very unimpressed with the very beginning of Salt, set in North Korea, and I feel that it did little to set the tone of the film because the characters were so underdeveloped. I am unsure if the action sequences were under-choreographed or over-choreographed and simply poorly filmed. There is a chase scene along a major highway that should have been more exciting but it lacked a lot of adrenaline that is necessary for a film in this genre. I feel like I have spent too much time negatively critiquing the film when I did enjoy the film. On the surface. Salt seems content to be a decent spy film that works on the surface but when you think back on the characters and the plot there are far too many holes and problems. It would be easy to blame Angelina Jolie for the film's shortcomings but the screenplay and the direction are Salt's primary weaknesses. While Inception is a film that requires your full attention and an open and intelligent mind, Salt certainly demands the opposite. If you can shut your mind right off you will enjoy Salt on the surface (even if the film is often darkly lit) but any analysis of the film will result in disappointment.

My rating: 2 stars out of 4.

Woody Allen: Day Twenty-One

Deconstructing Harry is Woody Allen's most vulgar film. It features a brilliantly funny screenplay replete with profanity. It is also reminiscent of another Woody Allen film, Stardust Memories, where a celebrated author is being honoured and agonizes over past relationships. Deconstructing Harry is more accessible and less philosophical than Stardust Memories, which was a polarizing film. It is a hilarious film but it lacks substance as if the film's weaknesses are masked by the vulgarity of the language.

Harry Block (Woody Allen) is a famous author that is about to be honoured by his Alma mater. He wants to take his son Hilliard (Eric Lloyd) with him but his ex-wife (Kirstie Alley) thinks Harry is a bad influence on their son. She is furious about a story he wrote about their relationship in which a man (Stanley Tucci) and his wife (Demi Moore) grow further apart after their son is born. Harry is also terrorized by Lucy (Judy Davis) who is angry because his latest novel vaguely masks their affair (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Richard Benjamin). The film also stars Elizabeth Shue, Billy Crystal, Tobey Maguire, Robin Williams and Amy Irving.

Next up: Celebrity.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Everyone Says I Love You
3. Manhattan
4. Bullets over Broadway
5. Annie Hall
6. Crimes and Misdemeanors
7. Radio Days
8. Husbands & Wives
9. Another Woman
10. The Purple Rose of Cairo
11. Broadway Danny Rose
12. Love and Death
13. Mighty Aphrodite
14. Interiors
15. Sleeper
16. Manhattan Murder Mystery
17. Zelig
18. Stardust Memories
19. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
20. Take the Money and Run
21. Deconstructing Harry
22. Oedipus Wrecks from New York Stories
23. Bananas
24. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
25. Alice
26. Shadows and Fog
27. Don't Drink the Water
28. September
29. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

24 July 2010

Review: "Life During Wartime"

Todd Solondz may be one of the most polarizing American directors working today. His films are provocative and feature many taboo themes, such as incest and child molestation. Like his most recent films, Life During Wartime, Todd Solondz' previous films have been fixtures on the film festival circuit and are usually screened amid controversy. In 1995 his first film, Welcome to the Dollhouse, was released and it may be the most accessible of his five films. It is a coming-of-age story about an extremely unpopular young girl (played by Heather Matarazzo in her breakthrough role). Happiness, his 1998 follow-up, was given an NC-17 rating and was refused admission to the Sundance Film Festival, where Welcome to the Dollhouse had been awarded the Grand Jury Prize. Life During Wartime is its sequel. Happiness is a fantastic film that is as brilliantly hilarious as it is painfully uncomfortable. Every single role has been recast for Life During Wartime, which could have been disastrous were it not for the extremely talented actors. Life During Wartime is just as inventive and provocative as Happiness because Todd Solondz is adept at blurring the line between uncomfortable and funny and that makes Life During Wartime a worthy sequel to Happiness.

The film revolves around the lives of three sisters, Helen, Trish and Joy, who were originally played by Lara Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson and Jane Adams. Trish (Allison Janney) is busy raising three kids and living her Florida. Her ex-husband Bill (Ciaran Hinds, originally Dylan Baker) has just been released from prison after being convicted of child molestation (a major storyline in Happiness). She has told her young son Timmy (Dylan Riley Snyder) that his father is dead. Joy vis taking a break from her husband Allen (The Wire's Michael K. Williams, originally Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and visits Trish then soon begins having visions of her former lover Andy (Paul Reubens, originally Jon Lovitz). Helen (Ally Sheedy) appears very briefly in the film. She lives in California and is dating Keanu Reeves. Unbeknownst to Trish Bill travels across the country to visit their eldest son Billy (Chris Marquette) who is at college in Oregon. Trish is the central figure in Life During Wartime. She has begun a relationship with Harvey (Michael Lerner) and it is thrown into jeopardy when Timmy learns the truth about his father.

Part of what makes Todd Solondz' films so uncomfortable is the camera that slowly pans the room before focusing in on the character. His actions may be slow but they are deliberate. Happiness is not necessarily the kind of film that required a sequel but by recasting every character the audience is given a new layer to deconstruct. Life During Wartime is certainly more enjoyable if you have seen Happiness. He is able to deftly blend uncomfortable situations with humour and that is why Life During Wartime is more than just a film that challenges your views and your patience. His characters are often unsympathetic people with few redeeming qualities but Life During Wartime looks for acceptance and forgiveness within its character. It is a more mature film than Storytelling (2001) and Palindromes (2004) which were explicit and provocative. Todd Solondz is not for everyone and there are probably more people that will hate his work than love it. I have always been impressed by his audacity and bold approach to filmmaking. These characters have grown and evolved since Happiness and so has Todd Solondz.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

23 July 2010

Review: "Inception"

We are six and a half months into 2010 and the film industry has offered us very little. I have only seen four great films at the theatre, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Toy Story 3, The Kids Are All Right and I Am Love. Since two of those titles are foreign and one is a sequel that means Hollywood has offered me only one great original idea. Since Avatar was released film studios seem content to slap on some 3D effects and hope people will waste their money (hello Alice in Wonderland). For months Inception has been the film that people have been talking about. Many critics and fans think Christopher Nolan is a genius. The Dark Knight was a huge success and some think it should have been nominated for Best Picture. I did not care for Batman Begins (2005) at all or The Prestige (2006), but The Dark Knight did show that Christopher Nolan is a gifted filmmaker with a great eye for detail. The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, and actor who is sometimes overused and ill-suited for certain films roles. If he was the only star of the film I probably would not have seen Inception, but the film offers great supporting performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao, Ken Watanabe and a scene-stealing Marion Cotillard. Inception is a wonderfully conceived film. The story is lures you in and forces you to use your mind and follow along. The cinematography is so spellbinding that I found the film more visually stunning than Avatar. It is unfortunate that Inception can be so easily compared to Shutter Island, at least on the surface, because Inception is such a cohesive film that the entire team (actors, director, editors, etc.) should be applauded for their efforts.

Roger Ebert claims that Inception is immune to spoilers and that even knowing how the film ends will reveal nothing if you did not know how it got there. I will do my best to give a brief overview of the film.

Dominic Cobb (DiCaprio) is able to extract dreams from people by entering their subconscious. He works alongside Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), who is responsible for researching the clients. They are approached by Saito (Watanabe), a wealthy businessman. Saito wants the two men to perform inception (planting a dream inside a target) on Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), the son of Saito's corporate rival. Arthur thinks that inception is impossible but Cobb disagrees. Cobb seeks out his father-in-law (Michael Caine) in order to find a highly skilled architect who can create the worlds inside the dreams. Cobb is unwilling to act as architect because his subconscious projection of his wife Mal (Cotillard) is dangerous. He is introduced to Aridane (Page), a young but highly skilled architecture student. The other members of the team include Eames (Hardy), who is able to shift identities, and Yusuf (Rao), a chemist who concocts a sedative that is strong enough to keep Fischer asleep through the layers of the dream.

Inception is brilliant and confusing. There are times where you might think you have the film understood but then something new will derail you. Leonardo DiCaprio is able to anchor the film but the performances of Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are inspired. I read, and am now unable to find, a review that compared Marion Cotillard's breathtaking performance to that of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Her presence on screen is that powerful. This is a film that inspires and provokes. It is hard to leave the theatre without wanting to talk for hours and days about the reality on screen. I saw Inception in IMAX which made so many of the film's most inventive scenes seem that much more ingenious. Many accolades must be given to the cinematographer, Wally Pfister, whose work will assuredly garner much acclaim. The last time I remember being so impressed with a film's cinematography was Fargo. Inception is a great film and one that begs to be seen multiple times (though this does not seem as much a cash grab as James Cameron re-releasing Avatar with eight more minutes!!). It may not end up being the best film of 2010 but it is one of the most inventive and imaginative stories I have seen in a very long time.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

21 July 2010

Review: "Solitary Man"

It has been a while since I saw Michael Douglas in anything, and that was King of California in 2007. Granted, he has only been in a select few films in recent years. There is something off-putting about him as an actor. It might be that he presents too much of an ego with his public persona. Or maybe I only see him as the husband of Catherine Zeta-Jones. His greatest career triumphs were when I was quite young (Wall Street and Fatal Attaction in 1987, Basic Instinct in 1992) and I though I have seen him in Traffic (2000), Wonder Boys (2000), and Don't Say A Word (2001) I fail to see the allure that won him an Academy Award for Best Actor for Wall Street. His father, Kirk Douglas, was one of the most celebrated actors of Hollywood's Golden Age. I approached Solitary Man with some hesitation, though it offers a great cast, and frankly I was worried Michael Douglas was going to be playing just another womanizer. I was half right. His character often lacks decent respect for women but the film itself does hit the right notes most of the time. Michael Douglas is the the best that I have seen him in this film and he has a good supporting cast (though I was very disappointed in Mary-Louise Parker, whose performance on Weeds in the past two seasons has become lackluster). Solitary Man does not offer any fresh ideas but it is a film with a solid story that is well-paced and acted.

Ben Kalmen (Michael Douglas) used to be one of the most wealthiest and most respected car dealers in New York. The opening scene of the film, set at a doctor's office six and a half years in the past, shows us that Ben may have heart problems. In the present Ben has lost his wife Nancy (Susan Sarandon) and has a strained relationship with his adult daughter Susan (Jenna Fischer). He has also lost his career because of some disastrous choices and is in financial ruin. His current girlfriend Jordan (Mary-Louise Parker) has a very wealthy father and Ben hopes to regain his career with the help of her father's connections. Ben has agreed to go with Jordan and her teenage daughter Allyson (Imogen Poots) to Allyson's college interview in Boston because he has a relationship with the dean. His life continues to unravel when Jordan is unable to go and he is left alone with Allyson. Ben makes a few wrong decisions and soon finds himself alone and without any money. He returns to Boston and reunites with Jimmy (Danny DeVito), an old friend, and develops a friendship with a young college student, Daniel Cheston (Jesse Eisenberg). Ben's life seems to be getting back on track but his past egotistical behaviour eventually threatens his life.

The more I think about Solitary Man the more I wish Ben's relationship with his wife was better established on screen. Susan Sarandon is a fantastic actress and she works well against Michael Douglas, but I feel that the film's conclusion would have been more satisfying if Nancy had been a multi-dimensional character. It was nice to see Jenna Fischer outside of The Office, even if she looked and acted exactly the same. Michael Douglas has rightly been praised for his performance. Ben Kalmen is a loathsome man and yet Michael Douglas makes him a sympathetic character. I worry that Michael Douglas' performance may go overlooked because his character in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps seems very similar, at least on the surface. Gordon Gekko, like Ben Kalmen, is an aging man with a neglected daughter who is trying to reestablish his career. Michael Douglas is being typecast as an egotistical womanizer and it would be great to see him in a drastically different role. According to both IMDB and Wikipedia he is going to be playing Liberace in an upcoming film. I am not sure how well that will turn out.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

17 July 2010

Woody Allen: Day Twenty

I love Everyone Says I Love You. I think that it is a magical and hilarious film with great musical numbers woven into a story about love. Roger Ebert, in discussing one of the film's final scenes, wondered if this was Woody Allen's best films. It works from beginning to end.

For more about my thoughts on Everyone Says I Love You follow the link.

Next up: Deconstructing Harry.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Everyone Says I Love You
3. Manhattan
4. Bullets Over Broadway
5. Annie Hall
6. Crimes and Misdemeanors
7. Radio Days
8. Husbands & Wives
9. Another Woman
10. The Purple Rose of Cairo
11. Broadway Danny Rose
12. Love and Death
13. Mighty Aphrodite
14. Interiors
15. Sleeper
16. Manhattan Murder Mystery
17. Zelig
18. Stardust Memories
19. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
20. Take the Money and Run
21. Oedipus Wrecks from New York Stories
22. Bananas
23. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
24. Alice
25. Shadows and Fog
26. Don't Drink the Water
27. September
28. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

Woody Allen: Day Nineteen

I vividly remember being thirteen and renting Mighty Aphrodite on VHS. I had just started renting movies on my own and after having seen Bullets Over Broadway the year before I knew that I loved Woody Allen. The Greek choir in the film is especially genius and gives the film an added dimension. When I was in high school we did a version of Woody Allen's play God (first published in 1975), another comedy with a Greek choir. In one of her very film film roles Mira Sorvino won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Mighty Aphrodite, beating the likes of Joan Allen in Nixon and Kate Winslet in Sense and Sensibility. It is no secret as to how much I love those two actresses and how much I think Joan Allen was robbed of an Oscar in 2000! Mighty Aphrodite may not be amongst Woody Allen's best comedies but it is a clever film with a superb performance by Mira Sorvino.

Lenny (Allen) is unhappily married to Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter). Amanda wants a baby but does not want to get pregnant because of her career. Lenny agrees to an adoption because he thinks it will save his marriage. Their adopted son, Max, begins to show signs of giftedness and this prompts Lenny to try to find out more about his son's biological mother. He eventually finds out that her name is Linda Ash (Sorvino), a prostitute and porn star. Lenny begins a friendship with Linda without telling her his true intentions. Throughout the film a Greek chorus narrates and comments on the events on screen. F. Murray Abraham, Olympia Dukakis, Jack Warden and David Ogden Stiers appear as members of the chorus.

I may hold Mighty Aphrodite in higher esteem than most because of how young I was when I first saw it, but it is a clever comedy that proves Mira Sorvino made one good film.

Next up: Everyone Says I Love You, a Woody Allen musical comedy.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Manhattan
3. Bullets Over Broadway
4. Annie Hall
5. Crimes and Misdemeanors
6. Radio Days
7. Husbands & Wives
8. Another Woman
9. The Purple Rose of Cairo
10. Broadway Danne Rose
11. Love and Death
12. Mighty Aphrodite
13. Interiors
14. Sleeper
15. Manhattan Murder Mystery
16. Zelig
17. Stardust Memories
18. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
19. Take the Money and Run
20. Oedipus Wrecks from New York Stories
21. Bananas
22. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
23. Alice
24. Shadows and Fog
25. Don't Drink the Water
26. September
27. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.

Review: "I Am Love"

Tilda Swinton is a chameleon. The Oscar-winning British actress has created such a wide range of characters that her choice of role can never be shocking. I did not take notice of her until I saw Michael Clayton in 2008, for which she won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She followed her win with roles in the studio films Burn After Reading and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but it was her performance in the independent film Julia that was criminally overlooked. I Am Love is an Italian-language film that the actress co-produced. It is almost unheard of for an Anglophone actor to appear in a foreign language film and speak that language. The film is directed by Luca Guadagnino who developed the film with Tilda Swinton over an eleven year period. It is absolutely not a mainstream film. The film relies heavily on lighting and camera angles and features a dynamic score by John Adams. I Am Love belongs to Tilda Swinton, a talented actress who breathes life into Emma Recchi and is able to transmit one woman's yearning and desire through the simplest and most minimal action. Its often slow and deliberate pacing may alienate some viewers, but I Am Love is a beautifully photographed film with a terrific cast and a standout performance from Tilda Swinton.

Emma Recchi (Swinton) is the Russian-born wife of Tancredi Recchi (Pippo Delbono), the son of an Italian textile magnate in Milan. The film begins with Emma overseeing the preparation for a formal dinner party in honour of her father-in-law Edoardo (Gabriele Ferzetti). She manages the staff and the arrangements with such ease, even when told that her son Edoardo (Flavio Parenti) is bringing his new girlfriend Eva (Daine Fleri). She is an outsider and although she speaks fluent Italian she will never be a true member of the family. At the party Edoardo Sr. announces his retirement and names his son Tancredi and his grandson Edoardo as his successors in the family company. Edoardo Jr. prefers to spend his time with his friend Antonio (Edoardo Gabbriellini), a talented young chef. Emma and Antonio's first encounter is innocent but there is an instant attraction. While Tancredi is in London on business Emma decides to travel to see her daughter Elisabetta (Alba Rohrwacher) in Nice and makes a stop in Sanremo, hoping to find Antonio. Emma and Antonio begin an affair that deeply affects Emma, though neither could imagine the consequences of the affair.

Tilda Swinton may be the star of I Am Love but she would be lost without the tremendously talented group of actors that appear alongside her in I Am Love. Emma Recchi is beautiful and stoic but there is so much yearning inside her. There are many powerful scenes in the film which elicit an emotional response through the silence on screen. One of the best scenes of the film involve Emma walking around the Duomo di Milano after she has inadvertently discovered a secret about her daughter Elisabetta. The camera moves effortlessly around her and the beautiful cathedral as we see the emotion and thoughts wash over her. The film ends suddenly without dialogue and John Adams' score drowns us. The couple beside me at the theatre said that the end of the film with the booming music ruined the whole experience for them. I love when a film's score is treated as a character, as it is in I Am Love. It is an art house films and the audience should expect to find elements not present in mainstream films. I Am Love is a film that leaves you wondering and questioning, as a great film should. I hope that Tilda Swinton continues to provoke us with her films because she is a tremendous talent whose work may often be polarizing but it is still better than watching teen vampire movies.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

EDIT I am reminded of the hour I once spent in Milan in 2004. I had just done a whirlwind tour of Venice, Florence and Rome and I was on my way back to France. I had taken a ten hour night train from Rome to Milan and I was so tired that I changed my train ticket to Chambéry to an earlier train. I Am Love, with its beautifully shot images of Milan, makes me wish I had decided to spend that day in Milan.

15 July 2010

Woody Allen: Day Eighteen

As I said previously Bullets Over Broadway is the film that introduced my to Woody Allen. I was twelve the first time I saw it and I remember seeing it repeatedly after that. It was because of this film that I ever saw Mighty Aphrodite and Everyone Says I Love You. It is one of Woody Allen's most outrageously funny films with a brilliant performance from Dianne Wiest, who won her second Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the film. Bullets Over Broadway also features brilliant performances from Jennifer Tilly and Chazz Palminteri, who were both awarded Oscar nominations, and John Cusack, Tracey Ullman, Mary-Louise Parker and Jim Broadbent. This is absolutely one of Woody Allen's funniest films and a must see for any fan.

David Shane (Cusack) is a struggling playwright married to Ellen (Parker). In order to get funding for his play he is forced to agree to give one of the lead roles to a gangster's girlfriend, Olive (Tilly). He only agrees when he learns he can cast Broadway legend Helen Sinclair (Wiest) and Warner Purcell (Broadbent). Olive lacks a considerable amount of talent and is always accompanied by a bodyguard (Palminteri), who is always criticizing David's play. David must contend with his growing affection for Helen, the talentless Olive, Warner Purcell's compulsive eating and his affair with Olive before the show is able to open.

Bullets Over Broadway is wonderfully funny and inventive and is a return to the brilliant genius of a Woody Allen comedy.

Don't Drink the Water is a television film that aired in December 1994. It is based on a play that Woody Allen wrote in the 1960s about a family of American tourists that get trapped behind the Iron Curtain. In 1969 a feature film based on the material was released that starred Jackie Gleason. The film was such a disappointment to Woody Allen that 25 years later he felt the need to film his own version. Don't Drink the Water has a very funny premise with a great performance from Julie Kavner, but by the middle of the film I found Woody Allen's performance to be too over-the-top and it distracted my focus.

Sometime during the 1960s Walter and Marion Hollander (Woody Allen and Julie Kavner) and their daughter Susan (Mayim Bialik) are victims of an international incident when Walter takes a photograph of a sunset. The military of the unnamed country thinks that the Hollander family are a group of spies. The Hollanders take asylum in the American Embassy that is run by the Ambassador's son Axel (Michael J. Fox). Axel is seen as incompetent and has been removed from all previous posts in other embassies.

Don't Drink the Water is funny enough but lacks the focus and control that is evident in Woody Allen's successful comedies. It is unfortunate to have to watch this film after Bullets Over Broadway because the first film is wonderfully funny with a fantastic screenplay. It just seems like there is a reason Don't Drink the Water was made as a television film.

Next up: Mighty Aphrodite.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Manhattan
3. Bullets Over Broadway
4. Annie Hall
5. Crimes and Misdemeanors
6. Radio Days
7. Husbands & Wives
8. Another Woman
9. The Purple Rose of Cairo
10. Broadway Danny Rose
11. Love and Death
12. Interiors
13. Sleeper
14. Manhattan Murder Mystery
15. Zelig
16. Stardust Memories
17. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
18. Take the Money and Run
19. Oedipus Wrecks from New York Stories
20. Bananas
21. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
22. Alice
23. Shadows and Fog
24. Don't Drink the Water
25. September
26. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

14 July 2010


The lovely Penélope Cruz and equally handsome Javier Bardem, pictured in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, have wed.

Congratulations to the beautiful couple and I wish them many years of happiness. Let's all hope that their marriage is just as passionate, but less volatile, than the couple they played in Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

13 July 2010

Woody Allen: Day Seventeen

After the fallout with Mia Farrow in 1992 Woody Allen reunited with an old flame for 1993's Manhattan Murder Mystery. Diane Keaton was cast in a role originally intended for Mia Farrow and the best part Manhattan Murder Mystery is seeing Diane Keaton and Woody Allen alongside each other for the first time since 1979's Manhattan and her first performance in a Woody Allen film since her cameo in Radio Days. The idea for Manhattan Murder Mystery was part of the screenplay for Annie Hall. Woody Allen obviously went a different direction and we all know how that turned out. Diane Keaton is the star of the film but there is a great supporting performance from Anjelica Huston. The film also stars Alan Alda, Ron Rifkin, and Joy Behar (whose dream was to appear in a Woody Allen film).

Larry and Carol (Allen and Keaton) are a New York couple experiencing empty nest syndrome. The day after spending an evening with their neighbours from down the hall they find out that the wife has suddenly died from heart failure. Carol is shocked and suspicious because Lillian (Lynn Cohen) made no mention of heart problems. Larry wants to forget about the whole ordeal but Carol becomes very suspicious of the husband, Paul (Jerry Adler). Carol and Larry begin investigating Lillian's death. Larry insists that Carol is crazy to suspect foul play but their friend Ted (Alda) is intrigued by Carol's findings. Anjelica Huston stars as an acquaintance of Larry's who also becomes interested in the mystery.

Manhattan Murder Mystery is a decent film with a good mystery. The best part of the film is the chemistry between Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. It is a refreshing change to have another actress in a Woody Allen film besides Mia Farrow (who appeared in thirteen films).

Next up: Bullets Over Broadway, the film that started my Woody Allen obsession.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Manhattan
3. Annie Hall
4. Crimes and Misdemeanors
5. Radio Days
6. Husbands & Wives
7. Another Woman
8. The Purple Rose of Cairo
9. Broadway Danny Rose
10. Love and Death
11. Interiors
12. Sleeper
13. Manhattan Murder Mystery
14. Zelig
15. Stardust Memories
16. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
17. Take the Money and Run
18. Oedipus Wrecks from New York Stories
19. Bananas
20. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
21. Alice
22. Shadows and Fog
23. September
24. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

12 July 2010

Woody Allen: Day Sixteen

Shadows and Fog features one of Woody Allen's most impressive casts. Joining Woody Allen and regular performers Mia Farrow and Julie Kavner are Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, John Malkovich, Lily Tomlin, John Cusack and Madonna. Unfortunately with the terrific cast Shadows and Fog does not really get off the ground and wanders around aimlessly, much like the main character.

An unnamed town is being terrorized by a serial stranger. Kleinman (Allen) is awakened by a vigilante mob that is wandering the town at night to find the killer. A group of circus performers are staying on the outskirts of town and sword swallower Irmy (Farrow) gets into an argument with her clown boyfriend (Malkovich) and ends up leaving him. Irmy meets a prostitute (Tomlin) on the street and is invited back to the brothel, where the other whores (played by Bates and Foster) are waiting for the night to begin. Kleinman meets Irmy after the brothel is raided and she finds herself at the police station. The two wander together for most of the night. They both run into strangers and acquaintances while news of the strangler continues to strike fear into the mob.

Shadows and Fog seems to want to borrow too much from other genres. The dialogue seems ill-suited to the events of the film. Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster and Lily Tomlin are the absolute highlights of an otherwise disappointing film.

After the disappointment of Shadows and Fog Woody Allen gives us Husbands & Wives, a fantastic film about the emotional and marital troubles of two couples. It is also the last Woody Allen film to star Mia Farrow. The two couples are played by Woody Allen and Mia Farrow and Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis. Judy Davis is superb as a fragile and emotionally disturbed wife and she was rewarded with a nomination for Best Supporting Actress (losing to Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny). The film exists as a pseudo-documentary with the main characters discussing their relationships with an off screen interviewer.

Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Farrow) believe they are happily married. Their marriage begins to unravel when their best friends, Jack (Pollack) and Sally (Davis), announce that they are separating. Gabe is shocked and Judy becomes very depressed at the news. Sally soon becomes distraught when she learns that Jack has moved in with a younger woman (Lysette Anthony) and Judy decides to set her up with her colleague Michael (Liam Neeson). The problem is that Judy harbours secret desires for Michael. Gabe, a college professor, begins a friendship with a young student (Juliette Lewis) that borders on inappropriate.

Husbands & Wives is infamous for being released around the time that Woody Allen and Mia Farrow ended their relationship. The film is full of honest emotion and fantastic performances. If Jack Palance really read the wrong name at the Oscars in 1993 I can only assume that Judy Davis' name would have been on the card!

Next up: Manhattan Murder Mystery.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Manhattan
3. Annie Hall
4. Crimes and Misdemeanors
5. Radio Days
6. Husbands & Wives
7. Another Woman
8. The Purple Rose of Cairo
9. Broadway Danny Rose
10. Love and Death
11. Interiors
12. Sleeper
13. Zelig
14. Stardust Memories
15. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
16. Take the Money and Run
17. Oediupus Wrecks from New York Stories
18. Bananas
19. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
20. Alice
21. Shadows and Fog
22. September
23. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

Woody Allen: Day Fifteen

It is hard to judge New York Stories against all other Woody Allen films because it is an anthology featuring three shorts from three directors. The three directors, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen, were three of the most celebrated American directors when the film was released in 1989.

Martin Scorsese's Life Lessons tells the story of an acclaimed painter (Nick Nolte) and his relationship with his assistant/former lover (Rosanna Arquette).

Francis Ford Coppolo's Life Without Zoe is about a spoiled young girl (Heather McComb) and her attempt to reconcile her divorced parents.

Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks stars Woody Allen as a man with an overly critical mother (Mae Questel). She disapproves of his fiancee (Mia Farrow) and he tries to get them to bond by going to a magic show. His mother is selected as a volunteer for a disappearing trick and does not reappear. He thinks he can finally relax with his mother gone but soon she appears in the sky over New York City and makes conversation with strangers about him.

Woody Allen's short is the highlight of the film that is hampered by Francis Ford Coppola's weak effort. It is not amongst his best or most creative films but Martin Scorsese helps make New York Stories a decent film worth watching.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of Woody Allen's most complete films and should be regarded alongside Hannah and Her Sisters, Manhattan and Annie Hall as one of his masterpieces. The film is wonderfully written and performed, with a standout performance by Martin Landau, which earned him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

The film follows two men who are experiencing ethical dilemmas. Judah Rosenthal (Landau) has been having an affair with a woman named Dolores (Anjelica Huston) for two years and she is now threatening to tell his wife Miriam (Claire Bloom). He eventually turns to his brother Jack (Jerry Orbach) and struggles with the idea of paying to have Dolores killed. Cliff (Woody Allen), a struggling director, is married to Wendy (Joanna Gleeson). Wendy's brother Lester (Alan Alda), a successful television producer, pities Cliff and asks him to director a documentary about him. During shooting Cliff falls in love with Halley Reed (Mia Farrow), a producer of the documentary.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of Woody Allen's most well-rounded films. The juxtaposition of the moral crises of the two characters is brilliant.

Alice is one of Woody Allen's more whimsical films. The film is interesting and clever but failed to really grasp my interest for the entire film. There is an fun story within Alice but I mostly feel that the actors kept their emotions at a distance and it was difficult to be invested in the film.

Alice Tate (Mia Farrow) has been married to Doug (William Hurt) for fifteen years. She spends her days shopping with friends and gossiping. She meets and begins a brief affair with Joe Ruffalo (Joe Mantegna) but her guilt manifests itself in the form of a backache. She is referred to Dr. Yang (Keye Luke), an herbalist, who first gives her some ancient herbs that force her to act on her feelings towards Joe. The next time she sees the doctor she is given herbs that make her invisible. She uses this to visit Joe's ex-wife (Judy Davis) and even listens in as her friends gossip about her. Alice reveals many of her deepest yearnings to the doctor and his herbs allow her to act on her own desires, even letting her communicate with the ghost of a former lover (Alec Baldwin).

Alice has quite an intriguing concept but ultimately fails in its delivery. This is the first time that I feel Mia Farrow was miscast in a Woody Allen film.

Next up: Shadows and Fog.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Manhattan
3. Annie Hall
4. Crimes and Misdemeanors
5. Radio Days
6. Another Woman
7. The Purple Rose of Cairo
8. Broadway Danny Rose
9. Love and Death
10. Interiors
11. Sleeper
12. Zelig
13. Stardust Memories
14. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
15. Take the Money and Run
16. Oedipus Wrecks from New York Stories
17. Bananas
18. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
19. Alice
20. September
21. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

09 July 2010

Review: "The Kids Are All Right"

Annette Bening and Julianne Moore are two of the most talented actresses working in Hollywood today. Save for Cate Blanchett they might be my two favourites. They have both given Oscar-worthy performances, Annette Bening in American Beauty and Julianne Moore in Far From Heaven. Bening lost to Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry in 1999 while Moore lost to Nicole Kidman in The Hours in 2002. The Kids Are All Right pairs these two majestic actresses together as a married couple. Thankfully the film is promoted without having to explicitly state that they are lesbians. It is a film about a modern family and Annette Bening owns the screen throughout the entire film giving a performance worthy of an Academy Award. The film is written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko who two previous feature length films are High Art (1998) and Lauren Canyon (2002). I have only seen Lauren Canyon but The Kids Are All Right is proof that she has matured as a writer and director. The Kids Are All Right is tremendously well written and features fantastic performances by all five of the lead actors. This is not a film about a lesbian couple. It is about a real family with honest issues. I have been waiting to see this film since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2010 and it did not disappoint. The Kids Are All Right is more touching and heartwarming than I had anticipated. It is the best film that I have seen this year.

Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) are married with two teenage children. Joni (Mia Wasikowska) is eighteen and Laser (Josh Hutcherson) is fifteen, both the product of artificial insemination from the same sperm donor. Nic is a doctor and is the dominant personality in the house while Jules is starting a new landscaping business after a series of career changes. Joni has recently turned eighteen and is heading off to college at the end of the summer and Laser has pressured her into contacting their biological father. Without telling their moms they have an awkward first meeting with Paul (Mark Ruffalo). Nic and Jules are upset when they learn that their kids have gone behind their backs to meet Paul and try to welcome him into their life while keeping a distance. Joni's relationship with her biological father begins instantly while Laser is more hesitant. Eager to make peace with the two women Paul hires Jules to do some landscaping in his backyard. Nic feels that her kids are straying from her and spending too much time with Paul and her jealousy begins to hinder her relationship with Jules. Jules, feeling under appreciated at home, becomes closer to Paul and their relationship threatens her whole family.

It is hard for a film that is so deeply emotional to succeed so wonderfully as a comedy. The screenplay is so well written with near-perfect dialogue that the characters and their choices seem realistic. Julianne Moore and Annette Bening are so comfortable and at ease in their roles that we believe they are a married couple and not two actresses playing gay on screen (contrary to how Jules defines lesbian porn in the film!). It is great to see a film that depicts this type of modern family without having to constantly remind us that they are gay. Nic and Jules have the same issues and problems as any couple and it would be reasonable to believe that a straight couple with children conceived via artificial insemination could find themselves in a similar dilemma. The Kids Are All Right is a comedy with heart. There are genuine laughs and there are some tear jerking scenes. Annette Bening is brilliant as Jules and she shines on screen as a woman losing control of her family. It is easy to see why this film garnered the most attention at Sundance. The Kids Are All Right is smart, amazingly well acted, and incredibly funny while being a heartwarming portrait of a real family.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

Review: "The Girl Who Played with Fire"

Since seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo I have devoured all three of Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy novels. I even saw the first film for a second time and it was just as powerful and shocking. The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second film in the saga and it comes to theatres when Seieg Larsson's novels have become even more popular. I was fortunate enough to get to see the film at a screening the night before it officially opened on Friday, July 9, 2010. The second film retains the principle cast from the first film and once again Noomi Rapace is mesmerizing as Lisbeth Salander. She embodies the heroine with so much power and conviction that the film's lack of intensity, compared to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is less pronounced. The second novel is just as powerful and provocative as the first and I feel that the blame for The Girl Who Played with Fire's lack of punch should be attributed to the change in director. Daniel Alfredson has taken over from Niels Arden Oplev and the novel's dark themes and the manhunt for Lisbeth Salander are absent from the film. While The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was aimed at those who had read the original novel The Girl Who Played with Fire seems more directed towards those who have seen the first film and not read the novels.

Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) has not been in contact with Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) since the end of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has traveled around the world and we meet up with her in the Caribbean as she finalizes the purchase of an expensive new apartment in Stockholm. She returns and reconnects with her former lover Miriam Wu (Yasmine Garbi) and offers Miriam her old apartment rent free. She visits her guardian, Niels Bjurman (Peter Andersson), the sadistic man who once raped her and reminds her of their agreement. Bjurman, anxious to get revenge, contacts an acquaintance and demands that Lisbeth be killed. Meanwhile Blomkvist and Millennium magazine have become involved with a freelance journalist named Dag Svensson (Hans Christian Thulin) who is working on a major expose of sex trafficking in Sweden. Dag and his girlfriend Mia are soon murdered and the murder weapon, a gun belonging to Bjurman, has Lisbeth's fingerprints on it. The police soon find that Bjurman has been murdered too and Lisbeth becomes the prime suspect. Blomkvist believes that she is innocent and their online friendship resumes, albeit sporadically, and she tells him to find a man named Zala. The police hunt for Lisbeth Salander puts Miriam's life in jeopardy and she is kidnapped by associates of Zala who are also hunting for Lisbeth. Blomkvist keeps certain information away from the police, including Jan Bublanksi (Johan Kylen) and Sonja Modig (Tanja Lorentzon), who are reluctant to believe that Lisbeth is innocent. The film unfolds with Lisbeth and Blomkvist trying to uncover the whereabouts of Zala separately and eventually Lisbeth's stubbornness puts her life in jeopardy.

The Girl Who Played with Fire is a fantastic novel full of great details and background information. Obviously the film The Girl Who Played with Fire cannot include every detail and the screenwriters and director have chosen to change facts and remove most of the background information. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was so powerful because the central elements and themes from the novel were present in the film, but I feel that The Girl Who Played with Fire becomes a thriller when Lisbeth Salander becomes a fugitive on the run. I did not feel that the film explored the manhunt with the same effect. Noomi Rapace is brilliant as Lisbeth Salander. She is such an introverted character that her most brilliant moments exist in her silence. I talked about the Hollywood remake of the trilogy in my review of the first film and since then there have been reports that Carey Mulligan has been cast as Lisbeth Salander. She is a tremendously talented young actress (who should have won the Oscar for An Education), but the film adaptations of the Millennium Trilogy owe every bit of its success to Noomi Rapace. The films, not just the novels, have become a worldwide phenomenon and it is ridiculous that an American film studio thinks that American audiences need an English-language version because it is unreasonable for people to see a Swedish film, even when the novels are of Swedish origin! The Girl Who Played with Fire lacks the tremendous intensity of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo but it is still a good thriller with an amazing heroine that takes the audience on a great adventure.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

Review: "Winter's Bone"

A lot has been said about Winter's Bone since it won the Grand Jury Prize for drama at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The film has received glowing praise from critics and currently has a 94 rating on RottenTomatoes. I first saw a preview for the film after rushing in late to see Agora and did not know much about the film. While finally watching Winter's Bone I was struck by how similar it felt to Down to the Bone, a 2005 film that starred Vera Farmiga. It turns out both films were directed by the same woman, Debra Granik. Granik adapted the film from the novel Winter's Bone (2006) by Daniel Woodrell, whose earlier novel Woe to Live On (1987) was the basis for Ang Lee's 1999 film Ride with the Devil. The film stars Jennifer Lawrence as Ree Dolly, a seventeen year old girl living in rural Missouri who is looking for her deadbeat father. Her performance is breathtaking and the film is worth seeing for her alone. I was not as enamoured with the film as some critics have been. My principal complaints are that secondary characters are introduced too haphazardly and their importance feels rushed, and I found the camera work to be very clumsy. In Down to the Bone the camera work was rocky and made to feel realistic, but Winter's Bone has much better production to make this excusable. Winter's Bone is a good thriller with a standout performance by Jennifer Lawrence and while it may not be amongst the year's best films (as some have stated) it is certainly better than most films in theatres right now.

Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) is a seventeen year old girl living in rural Missouri. She has a lot of responsibilities. Her mother is sick and unable to maintain the household. Ree has two younger siblings, twelve year-old Sonny (Isaiah Stone) and six year-old Ashlee (Ashlee Thompson). She has taken charge of the young children and takes them to school each morning, feeds them and puts them to bed. She has dropped out of school to chores at home, which include chopping wood for the fire. Her father has a court date approaching and the sheriff (Garrett Dillahunt) informs Ree that her father was unable to cover his bond and put up the family home as collateral. Her father is known to operate a meth lab with members of his family and she visits his relatives hoping to find information. There is a code of silence amongst these violent men and women and Ree finds herself in one tough situation after another. Her uncle Teardrop (John Hawkes) refuses to help her and her father's cousin Merab (Dale Dickey) threatens her violently. Ree works diligently to keep her family intact while also risking her own life to find her father before their home is taken away.

Winter's Bone is a good film and a decent thriller. Jennifer Lawrence does a fantastic job of Ree Dolly even though the film's emotional core rests on her shoulders. I still think that the film introduces secondary characters too quickly without purpose. Gail (Lauren Sweester), a friend of Ree's, becomes involved when Ree wants to borrow Gail's husband's vehicle and eventually seems to be living at Ree's house. It did not seem reasonable to me. If her husband was so reluctant to give up his truck then why does he not appear after Gail stole it? It could have been the heatwave that kept me from fully enjoying the film, or the bright blinding light from the projection booth behind me, or the man who decided it was a good idea to answer his phone. I do not think a lot of people saw Down to the Bone (even I only saw it because I fell in love with Vera Farmiga after seeing The Departed) and I felt like I was seeing parts of the same movie, or at least themes that were common. I do not want to bash Winter's Bone because it is a good film and many people will love it. Jennifer Lawrence's performance alone is worthy of viewing the film.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

07 July 2010

Woody Allen: Day Fourteen

In the midst of this heatwave and with the lack of air conditioning it seemed like the best idea was to hide in the cool basement and watch some Woody Allen films.

The first film I watched was Radio Days. The 1987 film is about the Golden Age of Radio during the late 1930s and 1940s. Radio Days, narrated by an unseen Woody Allen and played on screen by Seth Green, focuses on one family in Queens. The film unfolds with small scenes involving the favourite radio shows of family members. We see Joe's (Seth Green) exploits as a young boy, his aunt Bea's (Dianne Wiest) attempts to find love, and the behind-the-scenes story of Sally White (Mia Farrow), an aspiring radio star.
Radio Days does not have a narrative from beginning to end. The film is about how radio affected the world during the period and the stories are woven together to make a beautiful film.

Woody Allen filmed September twice. He constructed a small cottage on a sound stage and shot the film and then decided to recast certain roles and reshoot the whole film. The film stars Mia Farrow, Elaine Strich, Dianne Wiest, Jack Warden, Denholm Elliott, and Sam Waterston (originally played by Christopher Walken, then Sam Shepard).

Lane (Farrow) moved to her summer house to recuperate after attempting suicide. Her best friend Stephanie (Wiest) is staying with her for the summer. They are joined by Lane's mother Diane (Strich) and her husband Lloyd (Jack Warden). Lane and Diane have a strained relationship because of events in the past. Lane's two neighbours, Peter (Waterston) and Howard (Elliott), are frequent guests in her house. Howard is in love with Lane, who is hopelessly in love with Peter, who is in love with Stephanie, who is married. This causes much tension in the house. To add to Lane's fragile state, Diane has asked Peter to write her memoirs, including painful events from Lane's past. The film explores the pain and the secrets that have ravaged Lane for most of her adult life.

September is not a terrible film but I think it is one of Woody Allen's weakest. The film unfolds too quickly and it takes place over such a short time span with too many events occurring. The film would have been better served, in my opinion, if it had transpired over a longer time period.

Out of all Woody Allen films I feel that Another Woman is unjustly forgotten. It is a terrific film starring Gena Rowlands and Mia Farrow. I am always drawn to this film and it is because of Gena Rowlands. She is captivating on screen and emotes so much with her eyes. We watch films to watch lives unfold. It is very voyeuristic and Another Woman gives us a character who is a voyeur herself. It is a fascinating film, one of Woody Allen's most mysterious.

Marion (Rowlands) is a 50 year old philosophy professor. She is taking a sabbatical to write a book and has rented and apartment so that she can work in peace. Through a vent in the apartment she can clearly hear the confessions of patients of her psychiatrist neighbour. At first she attempts to block the sound using pillows but she events gives in and becomes engrossed. She is deeply affected by one patient in particular, a pregnant woman named Hope (Farrow). Hope's revelations startle Marion and Marion begins to reflect on her own life. She questions her relationships with her husband Ken (Ian Holm), her father (John Houseman), her brother and sister-in-law (Harris Yulin and Frances Conroy), an old friend Claire (Sandy Dennis) and her stepdaughter Laura (Martha Plimpton). She is also reminded of her former lover Larry (Gene Hackman).

Next up: New York Stories.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Manhattan
3. Annie Hall
4. Radio Days
5. Another Woman
6. The Purple Rose of Cairo
7. Broadway Danny Rose
8. Love and Death
9. Interiors
10. Sleeper
11. Zelig
12. Stardust Memories
13. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
14. Take the Money and Run
15. Bananas
16. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
17. September
18. A Midsummer Night's Sexy Comedy

Woody Allen: Day Thirteen

The Purple Rose of Cairo is a hidden gem amongst Woody Allen films. It is also the first of his films to not feature Woody Allen himself and the first to feature Dianne Wiest. The film is set during the Great Depression and Cecilia (Mia Farrow) has an abusive husband (Danny Aiello) and wants more out of life. She is a frequent patron of the movie theatre and often sees the same film more than once. The Purple Rose of Cairo is this week's feature and Cecilia sees the film five times. During one screening Tom Baxter, the character played by Gil Sheperd (both played by Jeff Daniels), seems to notice Cecilia in the audience and begins a conversation with her. Tom eventually steps from the screen into the real world and soon wants to run away with Cecilia. This causes a huge controversy in the town and Gil Sheperd and the film's producer arrive to lure Tom back into the film.

The Purple Rose of Cairo
is a great film but it is often forgotten due to the fantastic film that followed it.

It is no secret that Hannah and Her Sisters is my absolute favourite Woody Allen film. Each section of the film begins with a quotation or statement written in white text against black and it unifies the storyline of the film. Hannah and Her Sisters is an ensemble and features a terrific cast, with Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine winning Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively.

See my original review of the film here.

Next up: Radio Days.

My list:
1. Hannah and Her Sisters
2. Manhattan
3. Annie Hall
4. The Purple Rose of Cairo
5. Broadway Danny Rose
6. Love and Death
7. Interiors
8. Sleeper
9. Zelig
10. Stardust Memories
11. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
12. Take the Money and Run
13. Bananas
14. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
15. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

05 July 2010

Woody Allen: Day Twelve

Broadway Danny Rose is centred around a conversation at a New York deli. A group of men are discussing Danny Rose, a Broadway talent agent, and their memories are seen through flashbacks. Like Stardust Memories and Manhattan, Broadway Danny Rose is shot entirely in black and white. It is a great comedy about affection and friendship. Though the group fondly remembers many anecdotes, it is the story involving Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte) and Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow). Lou, a former client, is now a washed-up singer who returns to Danny hoping for more success. Danny has arranged for Lou to perform in front of Milton Berle and needs Danny to bring his girlfriend Tina and pose as her date. Mia Farrow is incredible in the film. She is beautiful and charming as the stylish former Mafia wife.

Broadway Danny Rose is a great Woody Allen film that is well crafted and well acted. It can be considered a career resurgence for the director whose next few films were very well received after the disappointments of Stardust Memories and A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.

Next up: The Purple Rose of Cairo.

My list:
1. Manhattan
2. Annie Hall
3. Broadway Danny Rose
4. Love and Death
5. Interiors
6. Sleeper
7. Zelig
8. Stardust Memories
9. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
10. Take the Money and Run
11. Bananas
12. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
13. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

04 July 2010

Woody Allen: Day Eleven

Zelig is reminiscent of Take the Money and Run, Woody Allen's 1969 film presented as a documentary. It is the story about a man named Leonard Zelig, a man capable of changing his physical appearance and thus nicknamed the human chameleon. The film features an off-camera narrator and newsreel footage of Zelig, played by Woody Allen. It also uses a lot of special effects that have cleverly interwoven Woody Allen's character into stock footage. The film's best moments are the many reenactments and parodies of historical moments. Woody Allen has cleverly employed a great number of techniques in the film and has created a comedy so ingenious that it is comparable to his earlier films. I wonder what the special effects would look like today with the great advances in technology since 1983.

I would not put Zelig amongst my favourite Woody Allen films but it is consistently funny. And rest assured, Mia Farrow does a much better job alongside Woody Allen than she did in A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy. It is easy to get wrapped up in the effects of the film but there is an interesting social commentary presented in the film that gives Zelig another layer.

Next up: Broadway Danny Rose.

My list:
1. Manhattan
2. Annie Hall
3. Love and Death
4. Interiors
5. Sleeper
6. Zelig
7. Stardust Memories
8. Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask)
9. Take the Money and Run
10. Bananas
11. What's Up, Tiger Lily?
12. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy