Tag Archives: Woody Allen

Wonder Wheel

25 years ago, Woody Allen sexually assaulted his 7 year old adoptive daughter, Dylan. “Allegedly.” He has continued to make movies and has continued to be rewarded for them while his young victim has grown up in a world that protected bullies and made excuses for monsters.

Not anymore. For too long we have separated art and artist – but at whose expense?

Last year Allen released Wonder Wheel, starring Kate Winslet and Justin Timberlake, just as the #metoo movement was gaining ground. For the first time, actors were being put on the spot, forced to justify their work with him (and others, to be sure), and to actually be accountable for making a career choice over a moral stand. Some of his past collaborators were quick to jump ship:

“I did a Woody Allen movie and it is the biggest regret of my career.” – Ellen Page

“I wouldn’t work with him again.” – Colin Firth

“[It] made me realize that I increased another woman’s pain, and I was heartbroken by that realization.” – Greta Gerwig

Kate Winslet had some early Oscar buzz for her role in Wonder Wheel, but seemed to sink those chances by refusing to condemn Allen in the months leading up to its release. Now, obviously it’s a tricky situation when this is your work and you’ve signed a contract and you have some obligations. But also she’s a millionaire with a shelf full of awards who could probably spare a little of both to stand up for her fellow woman. And, you know, do the right thing.

Griffin Newman, who is a more modestly paid actor from Allen’s upcoming film, A Rainy Day in New York, wrestled with his conscience and decided to donate his salary to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. That prompted some of his more famous costars, Rebecca Hall and Timothee Chalamet, to do so also. Hall wrote “I see [now] not only how complicated this matter is, but that my actions have made another woman feel silenced and dismissed. That is not something that sits easily with me in the current or indeed any moment, and I am profoundly sorry. I regret this decision and wouldn’t make the same one today.” She donated her salary to Times Up, the legal defense fund to support victims of workplace sexual harassment. Chalamet has said “I don’t want to profit from my work on the film. I want to be worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave artists who are fighting for all people to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

f50690e00877dc00ee5218bfa40af334--woody-allen-hollywood-actressesMeanwhile, Justin Timberlake got some deserved flak for daring to wear a Times Up pin but refusing to so much as comment on his willingness to work with Allen. Both Selena Gomez and Elle Fanning have been unapologetic about working with him on A Rainy Day, a troubling trend for young women. Jude Law and Liev Schreiber have also remained mum. Scarlett Johansson, who has positioned herself at the forefront of the Times Up movement and has publicly criticized James Franco for his creepy sexual advances, has failed to comment on Allen’s though she’s worked with him repeatedly. And Alec Baldwin has of course been stupid enough to support him – I suppose abusive men have to stick together.

Will Woody Allen continue to work in Hollywood? Who knows – he’s actually mostly been working for Amazon lately, and that’s a questionable future since he was brought on board by – guess who! – Roy Price, the guy who has since quit amid sexual harassment allegations. Sigh. I guess the better question is Who cares? He can continue to write and produce, but it’s going to be a lot harder to secure financing without big-name stars, and it’s going to be an awful lot harder for a big-name star to sign on without backlash. And in the meantime, his movies are nothing if not a good excuse to talk about a movement that’s been a long time coming and to thank the brave people like Dylan Farrow for speaking up and reminding us all what’s important.

 

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Cafe Society

I wanted to crawl right into the very first frame, so luscious and drenched with colour it was. If I had turned it off right then and there, I may have dreamed in technicolour and sung the film’s praises. I didn’t.

Cafe Society is a beacon of hope to all the men who have been friend-zoned. Stick around for long enough to provide the shoulder to cry on when she eventually breaks up with her boyfriend, who is cooler, more interesting, and more wasp2015_day_21-0031.CR2successful than you, and you might actually find her vulnerable enough to prey on her heartbreak and win. For a while. But since you’re still nerdy old you she’ll eventually wise up and leave your ass, potentially even for the ex who doesn’t deserve her, and you’ll have to content yourself with second place. If second place always looked like Blake Lively you might thank your lucky stars, but Woody Allen is an idiot, so here we are.

Bobby is the Woody-Allen-stand-in in this case, played by Jesse Eisenberg, an inspired choice because he’s already got the annoying neuroticism and concave chest. He’s not content with the similarity though, he goes full-on chanelwa15_d21_00172-h_2016_0impression, right down to the self-conscious body language and flighty hand gestures. Bobby moves to Hollywood, trying to escape the family business. He goes to his uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), an important guy at a big movie studio, who barely makes time for him, and pawns him off on his secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart). Eisenberg and Stewart have a twitchy chemistry that works well, but it does mean you’ll have to watch the two most high-strung performances in Hollywood today. Simultaneously. In a Woody Allen movie.

Steve Carrell is the best thing about this movie, and he wasn’t supposed to be in it. He replaced Bruce Willis well into filming after Brucie was fired for being a diva and not learning his lines. The costumes are also divine. ‘Cafe society’ was coined to describe the beautiful people hanging out in night clubs, and all those beautiful people are prettily dressed and on sumptuous display. This is Woody Allen’s first digitally captured movie, and his first collaboration with cinematographer Vittorio Storaro – if he’s smart, it’ll be the first of many, because this film is gorgeous if nothing else. And yeah – nothing else. It feels like two different stories stitched inexpertly together (Allen provides the stitching – he narrates the thing, cause he just can’t keep his wrinkly hands OFF). Despite the window dressing, Cafe Society is a love story at its core, but a love story between two people you don’t really care about, and you don’t even like. The end.

Irrational Man

Abe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a burned out, impotent philosophy professor who’s looking for the will to live. A fellow teacher (Parker Posey) throws herself at him and a pretty and 45-Irrational-Man_1promising student (Emma Stone) engages him mentally, but he’s still, shall we say, unresponsive, until he starts plotting a hypothetical murder.

Joaquin and Emma have an easy rapport that’s eminently watchable, when the dialogue’s not getting in the way. The story is partially inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, about a university student who commits murder to prove that he is morally superior to other people. But both Dostoevsky’s student and Woody Allen’s professor are only pretending that murder would be to help others, or the world in general. In fact, it’s a pretty selfish pursuit, even when purely cerebral. Can thoughts of murder really be a “creative 635725682661364214-11-1600x900-c-defaultendeavour”, or is that just the typical justification of an unfulfilled philosophy professor?

Woody Allen struggles to sound authentic around some of the philosophical arguments, and Joaquin doesn’t do a much better job conveying them. And Allen’s dialogue surrounding the erection difficulty is as stilted and awkward  as only Woody Allen can be – which doesn’t quite sound right coming from Joaquin, even with his 30 pounds of pot belly. Allen’s more adept with the cynicism and the dark humour (not to mention age-inappropriate romance), and when the material’s good, he’s hired actors talented enough to handle it. So this movie is not without merit. It’s also just not very original (even among Allen’s oeuvre) or very necessary, and the unevenness almost drove me batty.

Verdict: quintessential mediocre Allen.

I Missed Him Again?!?!: Annie Hall and Why Jeff Goldblum is my Polkaroo

According to IMDB and the closing credits of Annie Hall, Jeff Goldblum appears in the film’s LA party scene and I always forget to watch out for him. Watching the credits about twenty minutes later, I always throw up my hands in frustration thinking “I missed him again?!?!”

Annie Hall

Annie Hall has a lot of moments like that. It’s another movie that I make a point of revisiting about once a year and, unlike Citizen Kane, I rarely look forward to it. I seem to keep remembering Woody Allen’s examination of a relationship that’s run its course as more depressing than it actually is. I remember Alvy’s anxieties, Annie’s depression, and how sad it is to watch these two inevitably grow apart. Sure, this is 1977 Woody Allen (long before his movies started becoming no fun at all) so there are lots of laughs throughout to make it all go down easier but surely I must see all those coming by now.

Annie Hall 2

What I keep forgetting, besides that I’m supposed to be on Goldblum watch, is how many funny moments Allen works in. Some are funny because they’re true, others because they’re outrageous, but nearly every scene hsa something to laugh about. So many of them still catch me off guard after all these years. This time it was “You’re what my Grammy would call a real Jew” that really got me. I even somehow forgot all about Christopher Walken’s scene. There really are a lot of gifts for the audience in this movie and, watching it  today, I realize what a positive note it ends on. I’m already looking forward to next year.

Annie Hall 3

You won’t get away from me next time, Jeff Goldblum!

Midnight in Paris

Establishing shots at the beginning of the film are divine, and if I wasn’t in Paris already, I’d be booking my flight! Funny how the toast of Manhattan, consummate New Yorker Woody Allen, now seems to be smitten with Paris. Is the City of Light his new inspiration?

Owen Wilson is quite taken with Paris in the 1920s.  He’s a writer who’s spent years grinding out Midnight in Paris (2011)scripts in Hollywood (successfully, it seems) but wishes he’d had the guts to write novels in Paris instead. He’s visiting the city with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams), who’s had enough (“If I never see another charming boulevard or bistro -) but he’s still bubbling with anecdotes of Monet and Hemingway and their fruitful time lost in their art. While he’s out chasing the ghost of Joyce down cobbled streets, the clock strikes midnight and an old Peugeot drives up, full of merry-makers. Turns out – spoiler alert – that it’s Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

We never know whether this is magic or mental health, but he now possesses the ability to slipparis3 back to his favourite time period, 20s era Paris, and he gets invited into Gertrude Stein’s (Kathy Bates) famous salon. Bates is lovely but I have to say, Wilson’s earnestness is what really sells this piece. He’s wide-eyed and worshipful of his heroes. It’s major wish-fulfillment and it’s fun to see all these giants come to life.

parismarionRachel McAdams starts to get annoyed that he disappears every night, but how can he resist? Hemingway himself has offered to edit his work! Woody Allen’s script sings with treasures for book-lovers, and in this film, I can combine with my love of literature AND film (AND Paris, incidentally). Owen Wilson is just as bowled over – particularly when he comes across a beautiful muse (and mistress) to many famous artists (Marion Cotillard), but what a conflict between his actual fiancée in the present tense, and the people who get him but may just be figments of his fertile imagination.

This movie is not for everyone and that’s okay. And it’s not just about being well-read. You just either feel the charm or you don’t. Allen sprinkles the scrip liberally with treats that add up to a veritable feast (a moveable feast?) – you get the sense that he must have had fun writing this, which is perhaps why he won the Oscar for Best Orignal Screenplay (though he never attends to pick up his statuettes). If any of the above has sounded interesting, or if you just need another excuse to fall in love with the City of Possibility, then put this on your list.

Magic in the Moonlight

Colin Firth plays magician Wei Ling Soo (aka Stanley) brought in to a wealthy family’s home to debunk Emma Stone’s Sophie, a beautiful young medium who Stanley is sure is a swindler.Magic-in-the-Moonlight-onesheet

I want to say that Woody Allen films have been pretty hit or miss with me lately, only I can’t think of any hits. Last year’s Blue Jasmine cast an admittedly stellar Cate Blanchett but other than a great performance, I’m not sure the movie really did anything for me. I was similarly unmoved by Midnight in Paris. His movies for the past  couple of decades have been lighter and less ambitious (not to mention white-washed). This one, as a rom-com, is standard formula, but it does start off with some really great questions of belief. Stanley is a rational man who believes only in what his (5) senses can tell him. The convincing and bewitching young psychic have him doubting his entire existence, and for the first time, he’s feeling happy about life.

Magic in the Moonlight has some great dialogue, which Allen is known for, but also some heavy-handed expository stuff, which I find unforgivable. Allen’s motto of late seems to be quantity over innovation. He’s a very productive writer\director, but what is he presenting that is new? What he shoots is beautiful, but also predictable and safe.

Colin Firth is the Cate Blanchett of this movie, he makes it worth watching. The romantic nature barely concealed under disdain and haughtiness and a dash of intellectualism. Swoon. Emma Stone I was less sure of. I asked Sean, is she very bad in this, or is she always this bad, or is she pretending to be this bad? We weren’t sure. But I was pretty sure that I felt a little creeped out to see Colin Firth kiss her. Now why is that?

Emma Stone, the actress, is 26. But Emma Stone looks quite young and is playing quite young in this film. Hollywood makes no bones about pairing ingenues with daddy types, and either way, I am definitely on team Colin. He could tongue me any day he pleased even though at age 54, he is older than my mother.

So here it is. At what point does what we know about a morally corrupt artist taint the art that he produces? My repulsion to the kiss was not a conscious reaction to Woody Allen: film maker and child molester. But clearly these are serious allegations and so how do we feel when he continues to work out his neuroticism and sexual dysfunction on-screen? I’m not saying that art is confession (although it sometimes is), but I’m wondering at the correspondence between the characters he writes and the crimes we hear about in the newspapers. It’s troubling. Criticism must be within context. A movie written and directed by Woody Allen cannot be considered as wholly detached from Woody Allen the man.  His female characters are never well-developed, and the men in his movies, including ones he’s played himself, are very often emotionally stunted, and almost always chasing after some uncomfortably young tail.

So how do we watch Woody Allen movies going forward? Or should we not?

Fading Gigolo

John Turturro writes and directs this movie, and stars in it alongside Woody Allen doing a terrific Woody Allen impression.

Both men are past their prime and underemployed, so when Woody’s doctor mentions that she and her girlfriend are thinking about having a “menage” (a trois!) he volunteers his good pal Johnny Turturo, who’s “good with the ladies” and “sexy” and “looks good naked.”

All of these things are new and surprising and difficult to comprehend for an audience more used to thinking of John Turturro as he actually is. Good thing for director’s conceit.

It was hard to digest this movie for many reasons, but above all: why on earth would a hot lesbian couple made up of Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara need to pay for sex? And if they were so inclined to do so, why are they paying for John Turturro and not Channing Tatum? The only way John Turturro starts to seem like a good option is when you stand him next to say…Woody Allen. Oh. I see what happened here. Suddenly the casting all makes sense. Johnny looks good in a comparative\relative way, and he gets to make out with a lingerie-clad wet dream and call it a living. The only thing more mystifying than this dynamic is the one between Turturro and a Jewish widow who is so orthodox that she cannot shake his hand and yet somehow has sought out the services of a neurotic gigolo and his spastic ho.

I see now that it was a morbid curiosity that made me watch this movie and I tell you with confidence that the world could have done without it. This gigolo didn’t fade fast enough.