The Woodython continues. In 2013 we are watching the complete films of Woody Allen and neatly packaging them into a series of ten or more themed lists. This is the second in the series and goes to the polar end of his directorial career than the first, The Early Funny Films, to his Grand Tour of the major cities of Europe.
“I love him/her, but I don’t love him/her,” is a repeated adage in these late period Woody films. It is phrase that is often uttered by a character who is about to make a decision about fidelity within a relationship, but the same could apply to audiences towards Woody Allen; they love him but they can’t quite bring themselves to go to the cinema to see his films.
In the past decade the distribution of his output has been hit and miss; audiences within America have fallen, so he has travelled to where he can find the finance, to the European cities where he is still admired. He brings a tourist-eye to the cities that feature in these films as they often feature an American abroad, who often puffs up the cultural value of the city. The camera frames the people and buildings like a picture post-card. Martin Scorsese has said that his version of New York is similar, a version of the city that he can’t recognise, despite living there: superficial and focused upon the photogenic landmarks.
Another feature of these late period pieces is the stylistic and generic diversity (Hitchcockian thrillers to Romantic comedy to Magical Realism) yet the themes, concerns and characters remain familiar from his earlier work.
There’s much to enjoy here, but there are some real cringers amongst them too, so don’t forget your toothbrush its a European vacation …
Woody’s first collaboration with Scarlett Johansson who would become his muse de jour of the the noughties. In MATCHPOINT she is the sexy femme fatale Nola, an American actress who is the girlfriend of a London socialite. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is very persuasive as Chris, an ex-Tennis pro, who becomes friendly with the wealthy family and develops an obsession with Nola.
The upper-class twits are very annoying, so much so that it should be used as agit-prop for the anarchist movement, but that said its Ripplyesque narrative works until the final act. It’s half an hour longer than the usual running time of a Woody film and its the last 30 minutes that are the worst. It may not be the perfect crime, but luckily, James Nesbitt’s cop just can’t be arsed working out what may have happened.
Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
Where to start with this one?
It’s a bizarre addition to the oeuvre that acts as a companion-piece to MATCHPOINT as it is a thriller set in London from the opposite side of the class war. It seems to take its stylistic clues from the films of the British New Wave in the 60s. It’s set in the modern day but seems to be a period piece thanks to awful wallpaper and set-dressing that implies that the working classes still live like Arthur Seaton: the family drink beer from little glasses as they tuck into their cottage pie and brown sauce.
There also seems to be a indebtedness to Ken Loach in the attempt to make the dialogue appear naturalistic, however it merely sounds under-rehearsed and stilted. Tom Wilkinson as the uncle offering money to down-on-their-luck nephews in exchange for the murder of an inconvenient colleague, fluffs his way through his lines. I felt a bit embarrassed for him.
But it is the lack of chemistry between the two brothers that is the most awkward aspect of a toe-curling experience. Colin Farrell seems to have channeled his performance through Coronation Street’s Kevin Webster (make your own jokes up) and Ewan McGregor gives his most flat-packed performance since Phantom Obi Wan.
The eponymous boat appears only as a nod and a wink towards PLAIN SOLEIL (1960). Like MATCHPOINT it recalls both Ripley and Greek Tragedy, however its not tragic enough; some of the characters survive at the end.
Vicky, Cristina Barcelona (2008)
I saw the trailer for this when I went to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE at the cinema and when Penelope Cruz appears suddenly with a gun, a woman behind me shrieked in horror. The film didn’t have the same effect when we saw it at a Dirk screen a couple of years ago.
Its a sun-drenched setting for a fairly typical Woody set-up: Vicky, played by Rebecca Hall, is a controlled, responsible and ethical woman who is the opposite of her friend Christina (Johansson again) who is a free-spirit. Javier Bardem is remarkably muted as the charismatic Spaniard who seduces the two American students. Cruz is wonderfully unhinged as his ex-wife, but she didn’t make me scream.
Midnight in Paris (2011)
For a film about strange quirks it is a strange quirk that this film has been his most commercially successful film.
Owen Wilson is the shrugging Woody surrogate in this fantasy set in contemporary Paris. He is an artistically unfulfilled screenwriter who is visiting the city with his fiancé and family. Following a midnight stroll he finds himself transported to the bohemian 1920s where the bars are populated by the cultural figures of the day. They are not actually wearing name-badges when they arrive, but they feel like they should be: Hemmingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and, Adrian Brody in an inspired bit of casting, plays Salvador Dali. Along the way he falls for Marion Cotillard and is seduced by the creative potential of the era. It’s like Goodnight Sweetheart never happened; Lyndhurst should sue.
To Rome with Love (2012)
A series of unrelated vignettes set in modern day Rome that have a charming, light touch, based on a single conceit. The stories are similar to his prose pieces in The New Yorker, as they take an idea and play with it. There’s Robert Bellini who is taunted by paparazzi when sudden, unexpected fame thrust upon him for no apparent reason, or there’s Woody as a failed Opera producer who discovers an amazing singer who can only perform while in the shower, or there is the Penelope Cruz as the happy hooker who goes in the wrong hotel room with funny results. There are more serious pieces too. Alec Baldwin shambles into a version of his past, recalling a time in his past when he lived in the city, he watches as Jesse Eisenberg develops a crush on the delightfully pretty Ellen Page. It’s a frivolous, but fun collection of stories that is my pick of the five.
- The Woodython Five: The Early Funny Films (dirkmalcolm.wordpress.com)
- Woody Allen’s Classic Leading Ladies and Their Contemporary Counterparts (flavorwire.com)
- Penelope Cruz goes topless for Italian film (worldcelebrety.wordpress.com)
- Review: To Rome with Love (2012) (thefilmoracle.wordpress.com)
- Woody Allen Amuses Himself by Giving Untruthful Answers in Unaired 1971 TV Interview (openculture.com)