Magic in the Moonlight

August 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Simon McBurney
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Blue Jasmine”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

With the amount of features filmmaker Woody Allen has consecutively written and/or directed over the last 30-plus years (at least one annually since 1981!), not all of them can be winners. For every Oscar-winning script penned like “Midnight in Paris,” there‘s a picture like “To Rome with Love” that fails to reach the level of intellect and wit one would hope Allen could recreate in every project.

After writing and directing last year’s wonderful character study of an emotionally unstable and neurotic woman in “Blue Jasmine,” which won actress Cate Blanchett her second Academy Award, Allen has once again quickly churned out another screenplay with “Magic in the Moonlight” It is, however, one that evokes his lesser attempts and is sure to garner little attention after it’s release. While “Magic in the Moonlight” is, at times, charming and beautifully shot, the humor, romance and sharp dialogue are sorely lacking.

In the film Oscar winner Colin Firth (“The King’s Speech”) plays Stanley, a popular magician who performs under a stage name and behind a costume and is known for being able to debunk supernatural powers. Stanley is faced with his most challenging case when he meets Sophie (Emma Stone), a young woman claiming to be a spiritual medium who can connect with the dead and reveal things about someone’s past that would be impossible to know. Although Stanley refuses to allow himself to be cast under her spell and become a believer, he soon finds out there is more to Sophie than he first thought.

While the theme of logic versus faith is interesting, “Magic in the Moonlight” is far too predictable and lightweight to build on a fine performance by Stone, who shows some nice range as an actress coming into her own like she did in “The Help.” Firth, too, is substantial as he tries to separate what his heart and mind want. Without the dramatic confidence of some of Allen’s earlier films, however, “Magic in the Moonlight” sizzles out faster than Allen can type screenplays.

 

Blue Jasmine

August 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Cate Blanchett, Sally Hawkins, Alec Baldwin
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

If director/writer Woody Allen has proven anything during his screenwriting career, it’s that he knows how to write extraordinarily neurotic characters. From Alvy Singer in “Annie Hall” to Maria Elena in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (and countless more), Allen’s ability to show off the ugly emotional scars of both men and women and give them an almost grating personality is an art form incomparable to any director over the last four decades. Despite the numerous disturbed protagonists he’s created in all that time, it could be argued that the title character in “Blue Jasmine,” played by Oscar winner Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”), is the most complex one he has ever written. It’s Blanchett’s obsessive performance that takes on a life of its own and reveals some of the same despair as a Tennessee Williams novel.

In “Blue Jasmine,” Jasmine (Blanchett, who just might end up getting her fifth Academy Award nomination here) is a well-to-do New York City socialite who has fallen from grace because of the shady business practices of her financier husband Hal (Alec Baldwin). With nowhere to go, Jasmine makes a move to San Francisco where she turns to her estranged, working-class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) for a place to stay. Ginger’s mechanic boyfriend Chili (Bobby Cannavale) doesn’t like the fact that Jasmine has come around only when she needs something. It might be a reason Jasmine starts planting seeds in her sister’s head that Chili is as big of a loser as her last boyfriend Augie (Andrew Dice Clay, in a scene-stealing role).

As things get testy in the household, Allen uses flashbacks to explain just what went wrong in everyone’s lives to get them to where they are now. It’s a storytelling devices that is tricky to do well, but Allen pieces the narrative together with such creativity and ease, jumping back and forth from the past and present doesn’t feel like work for the audience. This is a tragic tale only Allen could write. His characters are pathetic when they need to be, and enlightening at the perfect moments. At the end, they’ll all break your heart.

Besides Allen’s talent with the pen, it’s Blanchett’s total commitment to the role that gives “Blue Jasmine” its gravitas. Yes, she goes a bit overboard (think Charlize Theron in “Young Adult” without the meds), but there’s no denying the powerhouse performance still resonates, even when Blanchett is chewing up scenes like a starved Brahma bull.

To Rome with Love

July 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin, Roberto Benigni
Directed by:
Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)
Written by:
Woody Allen (“Midnight in Paris”)

Even at the age of 76, Woody Allen remains one of the most prolific filmmakers working today. So prolific, in fact, that he has produced at least one movie in which he has written and directed every year since 1982 and a dozens of other movies going back to the mid-60’s. Last year, Allen struck gold with “Midnight in Paris,” a whimsical time travel-centric romantic comedy which brought him, among other things, an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and the biggest box office success of his lengthy career. Still, with so many films being churned out, there are bound to be some that are less successful than others. Using a beautiful European city as a backdrop once again, Allen returns with “To Rome With Love,” a messy romantic comedy that is desperate for a focus.

The film is told through four vignettes of different stories taking place throughout Rome. The most successful of these is the one involving Allen himself, in his first acting role since 2006’s “Scoop.” In a random meeting while visiting Rome, Hayley (Allison Pill) and Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti) quickly fall and love in get married. Hayley’s parents Jerry, (Allen) a man retired from the recording business and Phyllis (Judy Davis) fly into meet Michelangelo’s parents including his father Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato) who has a talent that Jerry wants to utilize. Allen gives himself the best material in the film, as this vignette contains the wittiest and most well written moments of the film. Allen’s return to acting is also welcome, with his neurotic babble and sharp one-liners firing on all cylinders. While the latter half of this story gets a little silly, it manages to maintain its cohesion and form the strongest portion of the movie.

In the next vignette, we see architect student Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend Sally (Greta Gerwig) living a comfortable life in Rome. This all changes when Sally’s good friend with a reputation of making men fall in love with her, Monica (Ellen Page) shows up after recently being dumped. As Jack tries to not fall for her, another fellow architect named John (Alec Baldwin) constantly shows up to Jack advice to give him advice. There are some good things to come out of this section of the film. The chemistry between Page and Eisenberg really works, with Page as a standout in particular. One might think that Eisenberg would be the perfect actor for an Allen movie, but his dialogue feels incredibly forced and scripted. There is also something bothersome about the omnipresence of Baldwin. While he is fine on screen, his constant appearances don’t add much and are hard to take seriously.

In another vignette, newlyweds Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) and Milly (Alessandra Mastronardi) are on their honeymoon in Rome. As they are about to meet Antonio’s very important family, Milly sets out and gets lost in Rome and a prostitute named Anna (Penelope Cruz) mistakenly shows up at Antonio’s door. While Milly is lost, she stumbles across a movie set and gets to spend time with her favorite actor while Antonio must pretend Anna is his wife. Indifference is the best way to react to this portion of the film. Most of the dialogue is subtitled, and the only recognizable actor on screen is Cruz. Unfortunately for this part, cheesy sexual jokes and gags are told at Cruz’s expense and they tend to fall pretty flat.

Finally, the fourth story involves everyday businessman Leopoldo (Roberto Benigni) who wakes up one day and is a massive celebrity for no apparent reason. This story is the most unsuccessful of the group. While it is clear what Allen was trying to get across with this story, there is literally no reason that Leopoldo should be famous. It’s a preposterous concept even given Allen’s penchant for whimsy. It provides for some amusing moments at first, but the story very quickly wears out its welcome.

If there’s one thing that “To Rome With Love” is begging for it is a common thread. There are hints of themes of adultery in three of the four vignettes, but other than the shared backdrop of Rome, the audience is truly left with four completely unrelated stories. While Allen does a fine job at balancing time and switching back and forth between the vignettes, only one of them truly stands out which makes for an uneven and unsatisfying overall product.

Midnight in Paris

June 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had been born in another time period? Imagine experiencing the Renaissance in the early 16th century or witnessing the birth of Hollywood’s silent film era in the late 1880s.

The idea is something three-time Oscar-winning filmmaker Woody Allen (“Vicky Cristina Barcelona”) experiments with in his new film “Midnight in Paris,” a smartly-written, whimsical romantic comedy that just so happens to include a charming little time-traveling storyline that fits in wonderfully.

In “Midnight in Paris,” Owen Wilson (“Marley & Me”) stars as Gil, an American screenplay writer and self-described “Hollywood hack,” who travels to France with his boorish fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents and ends up going on an adventure on his own. Gil enjoys Paris well enough, but he wonders what it would’ve been like to be there during the Roaring 20s when art and literature were at a historical peak.

When Gil decides he no longer wants to hang out with Inez and her snooty friends (Michael Sheen plays a know-it-all intellect to perfection), he decides to take in Paris by himself by going on a late-night stroll through the city. In a magical and Cinderellaeque twist, Gil steps into a mysterious car at the stroke of midnight and is somehow transported back in time to the 1920s where he meets the like of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso, all of whom inspire his own work as an aspiring novelist.

The time traveling scenario happens every night at the same time and Gil takes full advantage of his newfound friends. He even gets writer Gerturude Stein (Kathy Bates) to read over his own manuscript and give him some priceless constructive criticism. During his nightly trips back to the era (the time-traveling scenario happens every night and every night Gil somehow returns home without explanation), Gil ends up meeting one of Picasso’s mistresses (Marion Cotillard), a French socialite who also wishes she could have been born in another era, specifially the Belle Epoque.

As picturesque as most of Allen’s past work that embraces particular cities like New York and Barcelona, “Midnight in Paris” is a refreshing fantasy that takes being inspired to a whole new level. It might not reach the greatness of some of Allen’s classics, but “Paris” easily arouses the artist’s passion in all of us.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

August 27, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Javier Bardem, Scarlett Johansson, Penelope Cruz
Directed by: Woody Allen (“Match Point”)
Written by: Woody Allen (“Scoop”)

Calling a Woody Allen film the best film of this summer (excluding animated trash-compacting robots, of course) might rub some comic book fans the wrong way, but with “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” the New York City-born auteur has returned to form and does it out of his East-Coast element.

The setting might not be in Manhattan like many of Allen’s films, but in Spain, the three-time Oscar winner has found a fanciful way to display his unique take on the difference between passion and love in both relationships and fine art.

In the film, Oscar winner Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men”) plays Juan Antonio, a Spanish painter who makes an indecent proposal to two American tourists vacationing Barcelona for the summer. When Juan Antonio audaciously walks up to Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) and asks them to spend a weekend with him, the duo is bemused by his debonair style and disregard for possible rejection.

Vicky is engaged to be married and has no interest in Juan Antonio but joins him anyway, while Cristina, who had noticed the smooth talker earlier at an art gallery, is easily persuaded to take up the offer. Although it is a lovely weekend for the trio, the scheduled sexual escapades are altered when Cristina becomes ill and Vicky is left to fend off Juan Antonio’s charm.

The complexities of these characters are revealed even more when Allen pulls an ace from his sleeve in the second half of the film when he introduces us to Juan Antonio’s ex-wife Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz), who’s fierce attitude and semi-psychotic behavior has been the downfall between her and her heart’s conquistador.

It’s Cruz’s intense performance that is the show-stopper in “Barcelona.” In her best role since earning an Oscar nomination for Pedro Almodovar’s 2006 film “Volver,” Cruz owns the screen as a woman scorned, not only by a love lost but also by life itself. When her and Bardem share scenes, the raw emotion and brutally honesty of the film climaxes. Whether the ex-lovers are fighting in the streets of Barcelona or when Juan Antonio is pleading with Maria Elena to speak English when she is talking in front of Cristina, Allen’s definitely got a handle on searing verbal conflict.

Cruz deserves another Oscar nomination this year in the Best Supporting category. Along with her performance, director Allen’s trek across the Atlantic is inspiring despite missing the boat on his last two voyages with “Cassandra’s Dream” and “Scoop.” But in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” Allen writes a foursome of characters that epitomize what the word “desire” means. It truly is a sexually-engaging (and not just because of the buzzed ménage a trois scene between Bardem, Cruz, and Johansson) and fascinating cinematic travelogue of neurotic narrative.