Saturday, August 31, 2013

Films That I Saw: August 2013



Summer is finally coming to an end. All I can say about that is this…


That’s right. That’s me after spending part of my summer watching Woody Allen films for my four-part Auteurs series. I’m finally glad I’ve now seen every film he’s directed so far and would I do something like this ever again? Fuck no. I’m extremely burned out after watching many films about neuroses, nagging women, slapstick gags, and all sorts of crazy shit. I love Woody Allen but I need a break from the guy. In fact, I need a break from film-watching just for a while. I saw a slew of films in the course of the summer and I think I overdid myself.

I think there’s a lesson to all of this. I think if one is to cover one filmmaker’s entire of body of work for example like John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, Federico Fellini, or Ingmar Bergman. The best approach is to spread it out to a year or two at the most. An entire season on one of these filmmakers will be exhausting. Especially if it’s John Ford who has made over a 100 films in his career. An entire season on his entire body of work is more or less likely to drive someone insane. I have four more filmmakers to cover for the rest of the year where thankfully, their bodies of work won’t be exhausting as Allen as I’m going to take my time with those filmmakers.

I’m currently in the process of finalizing the selection of filmmakers to cover in my Auteurs series for the next year as a few of them will have bodies of work that are huge. Yet, I will spending my time watching some of their work that I haven’t seen for the duration of the year so I wouldn’t burn myself out like I did with Woody Allen. Speaking of the Auteurs series, the Woody Allen piece will be the last one I will post at this blog. Courtney of Big Thoughts from a Small Mind has asked me to be a contributor to his new blog in Cinema Axis which I’ve accepted as I will post all my new Auteurs series at this blog from now on while the older ones will stay where some of them will be updated whenever a new film is out.

For the month of August, I saw a total of 34 films this month. 20 first-timers and 14 re-watches. Definitely down from last month due to burn-out though I still don’t think it’s quite bad. Especially as I spent a week watching The Decalogue which was the highlight of the month. Here are my top 10 best first-timers for August 2013:


1. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg


2. The Grandmaster


3. Fruitvale Station


4. The Spectacular Now


5. Blue Jasmine


6. From One Second to the Next


7. How the West Was Won


8. Casting By


9. I'm So Excited


10. Eros


Monthly Mini-Reviews:

Here Comes the Boom


I think Kevin James is a funny guy though I really think he should cut his ties with Adam Sandler as it just makes more of a goof than a real comedy actor. This film was OK at best where his character is a teacher who goes into MMA fighting to save his school’s music program as it has a few funny moments though it’s very predictable. There’s some nice supporting performances from Salma Hayek and Henry Winkler that does help the film. It’s not a total waste of time but it’s not one of James’ better films.

Red Tails


I like historical films and anything that has to do with World War II though I was very wary about this one. Largely as there was a TV movie from HBO made in the mid-90s about the Tuskegee Airmen that also starred Cuba Gooding Jr. as well as Laurence Fishburne, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Andre Baugher, and John Lithgow. While I applaud producer George Lucas for wanting to tell this story, I felt the film was very uneven in the fact that there’s a lot of dramatic storylines that really takes away from the film despite some noteworthy performances from David Oyelowo, Terence Howard, and Bryan Cranston. I also had some issues with some of the air-fighting as I felt it looked too much like the Star Wars films as I thought it felt unreal in the way the planes flew and such.

Yodelburg


I saw this through the Pitchfork’s new film site the Dissolve as they were talking about shorts. It’s a funny little short about Mickey Mouse wanting to reach Minnie’s home up in the mountains but had to make sure he doesn’t make any noise and cause an avalanche. It’s part of the new series of Mickey Mouse cartoons as I really liked watching Mickey Mouse as a kid and I’m glad that there’s more to come in this new series of shorts.

Top 10 Re-Watches:

1. Tootsie


2. Life of Pi


3. Sweet and Lowdown


4. Match Point


5. Superman the Movie


6. Forrest Gump


7. Private Benjamin


8. The Kids in the Shoe


9. Small Time Crooks


10. Detroit Rock City


Well, that is it for August and the summer. Later today, I will have reviews of The Spectacular Now and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg finished and ready to be posted but I won’t release them until next weekend. I’m going to spend the first week in September just taking a break and not make any posts. When I do return, there will be a review of The Grandmaster (in both its original 130-minute Chinese cut and the 108-minute American cut) as well as some new releases like The World’s End and Don Jon. Also slated for September will be a slew of films by Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Luis Bunuel, Aki Kaurismaki, and a few other things. There will also be a special 10th Anniversary piece I will to celebrate my all-time favorite film Lost in Translation. Until then, this is thevoid99 signing off and just needing to take break…


© thevoid99 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Auteurs #24: Woody Allen (Part 4)



Part 4: The Wilderness Years (2004-2013)

Melinda & Melinda



After a trio of poorly-received films critically and commercially, it seemed like Woody Allen had ran out of ideas. Despite having a career that included some of the greatest films in cinema, Allen was now facing a period where he was becoming uncertain about where to go as he also knew that he needed to make some changes creatively. In an attempt to shake things up, Allen’s next project would be about the question on how life works in the form of a comedy or a tragedy. Allen would use this question to tell the life of two women with the same name as one is mired by her own troubled life while the other finds herself in a comic situation.

Allen would create a film that would play into these circumstances as it’s mostly told by two writers who are eating dinner with friends where they talk about the question. Wallace Shawn and Larry Pine played the roles as Allen wanted Winona Ryder to play the role of the titular characters as well as Robert Downey Jr. as a man who falls for the comic version of Melinda. Unfortunately, Ryder and Downey were unable to take part due to insurance reasons as Ryder was stung by her shoplifting scandal in 2001 while Downey was still blacklisted by the industry over his drug abuse as he was still in recovery. Allen eventually chose Australian actress Radha Mitchell to play the lead roles with comedy actor Will Ferrell as the part that Downey was supposed to play. With a cast that would include Chloe Sevigny, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Jonny Lee Miller, Amanda Peet, and Steve Carell. Allen was set to make one of his most daring projects to date.

Shot in New York City, Allen got the services of the famed Hungarian cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond to shoot the film while retaining most of his collaborators in editor Alisa Lepselter, production designer Santo Loquasto, sound editor Robert Hein, and casting director Juliet Taylor. Allen decided to create scenes set in the same places and similar situations to play out the concept of comedy vs. tragedy. Notably as Allen had Mitchell create different looks for her characters with the tragic Melinda looking quite ragged and act as if she’s teetering on the edge. With the comic Melinda, Mitchell is more relaxed though a bit uncertain about where to go as she would stumble her way into things as it would result in something comical.

The film premiered at the San Sebastian Film Festival in the fall of 2004 where it got a good reception as Allen found distribution in Fox Searchlight to release the film in the U.S. in the spring of 2005 via limited release. While the film did received mixed reviews from audiences and critics, it did OK in the U.S. though got a better commercial reception in Europe. For those who did like the film, some felt that it was a step in the right direction from Allen as he was trying to do something new while retaining some old ideas and tricks that he’s known for.

Match Point



Allen’s interest in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime & Punishment allowed him to create a new project that bear similarities to his 1989 film Crimes & Misdemeanor which was also inspired by Dostoevsky as it would revolve on the idea of luck. The story would be about a former tennis pro who meets the daughter of a rich businessman as he would later marry her yet falls for his brother-in-law’s moody girlfriend as their affair would later spell trouble as he tries to find ways to deal with his situation. It was a concept that recalled the dramatic portion of Allen’s 1989 film in which Judah Rosenthal has an extramarital affair as his mistress threatens to reveal the affair to his wife.

Allen wanted to set the story in the Hamptons in the state of New York but funding was becoming more difficult for Allen as his films were no longer becoming financial hits in the U.S. Though Allen still owed Dreamworks Pictures one more film from their deal, they weren’t on board with the next project as Allen and his sister/producer Letty Aronson as well as longtime producers Charles H. Joffe and Jack Rollins tried to find funding for this film. British film producer Gareth Wiley came in to the picture as he offered Allen the chance to make his film in London where it would prove to be helpful as Allen also got funding from BBC Films.

In re-writing the project by setting it in London, it gave Allen the chance to do something new with his drama as he would also go for a largely British cast. For the lead role of Chris Wilton, Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers was cast as its main supporting cast would consist of Britain’s finest that include Brian Cox, Penelope Wilton, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode, Ewen Bremner, and James Nesbitt. For the role of Nola Rice, Kate Winslet was asked to take part in the production but decided to leave the production just one week before shooting. Winslet’s departure forced Allen and his longtime casting director Juliet Taylor to find a last-minute replacement as the part went to American actress Scarlett Johansson who was just coming off a break-out period with 2003’s Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring as she won a BAFTA Best Actress prize for the former.

Allen immediately rewrote the Nola character as an American as production finally commenced where Allen got the services of cinematographer Remi Adefarasin to shoot the film entirely in London with a largely British crew. For Allen, shooting in London gave him the chance to find something new as he had been shooting in New York City for so many years. Notably as Allen got the chance to explore locations outside of the city to showcase a world that is unique to those who don’t live in Britain as both Nola and Chris are essentially outsiders who come from working-class background as they use their own sex appeal to woo people who are from the upper-class until they meet each other which makes their attraction intriguing but also volatile.

Since the film is largely dramatic, Allen decided to take on a very different approach to music for the film as he strays from his love of jazz and standards in favor of opera. Allen chose pieces by Giuseppe Verdi, Georges Bizet, Gaetano Donzietti, and Carlos Gomes as the musical accompaniment as some of these pieces were sung by the legendary Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. A lot of the music features arias and extracts from various operas that Caruso sang to not just play to some of the romance but also the element of suspense and consequences that Chris Wilton would do in order to take control of his life and his affair with Nola. Particularly as he would create an outcome that would play into his own idea of luck but also the guilt that he would have to carry for the rest of his life.

The film made its premiere at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival that May where it got a great reception as some felt it was a return to form for Allen. Upon its theatrical release in late 2005 in the U.S. and Britain, the film would be Allen’s most commercially successful film as it grossed more than $23 million in the U.S. with a total of $85 million worldwide. While critics in Britain were divided over the film, it got a better reception in the U.S. where critics praised the film as Allen received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay while Johansson got a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress as she would become Allen’s new muse for the next few years.

Scoop



The success of Match Point not only gave Allen a much needed boost in his career but also the chance to do something new as London would become a new temporary home to make films as he would get funding as well as the freedom to do what he wanted. Allen decided to go back to comedy where he decided to make a film about a young journalist who receives a scoop from a recently-deceased journalist about the identity of a mysterious killer as she gets help from a magician to crack the case. The film would give Allen the chance to not only have a bit of fun but also play a supporting role as a magician who would pretend to be the young journalist’s father who also claims to be a rich businessman.

With Scarlett Johansson playing the lead role of the young aspiring journalist Sondra Pransky, the cast would also include Australian actor Hugh Jackman as the main suspect Peter Lyman, and Ian McShane as the deceased journalist Joe Strombel. The rest of the supporting cast would also include Romola Garai, Charles Dance, and Julian Glover as Allen once again shot the film in London but also in various locations nearby as Allen would also get the same crew he worked with from his previous film. With this approach, Allen would find ways to utilize as much humor as he can from the cast while keeping things simple as far as some of the suspenseful moments were concerned.

Already known for his love for magic, Allen wanted to provide a lot of witty humor to his scenes where he performs his magic tricks while playing the same dialogue in the way he complements his audience. Still, it would be his character that would do more to uncover the mystery while Sondra falls for Lyman as it would involve a lot of funny moments where Allen tries to save Sondra from what might really happen. Though the results turned out to be a mess, Allen was able to find some rapport with Johansson as she would display humor that recalled Allen’s collaboration with Diane Keaton.

The film premiered in July of 2006 in the U.S. where it got mixed reviews from critics were some enjoyed its humor but some felt it was too much of a mess where a few thought it was one of Allen’s worst film. The film was not released theatrically in Britain which was also surprising as it would eventually arrive in the U.K. on BBC Two in 2009. Still, the film was still a commercial success grossing nearly $40 million worldwide while it brought in $10 million in the U.S.

Cassandra's Dream



Despite the mixed reaction to Scoop, Allen still felt vital in his time working in London as he wanted to go for another dramatic feature set in London. This time around, it would revolve around two brothers who find themselves dealing with money problems as they turn to their rich uncle for help. Yet, what their uncle wants in return is to kill a fellow businessman who is threatening to expose him over finances. It’s a premise that had Allen wanting to explore not just the world of greed and guilt but also the concept of family and how it can trouble the mind of the people in that family.

With Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell playing the lead roles of the brothers Ian and Terry, respectively along with Tom Wilkinson as their rich uncle Howard. Allen originally wanted American actress Michelle Williams to play one of the female roles but was unable to take part in the project as Allen got Sally Hawkins to play the role of Terry’s girlfriend Kate while newcomer Hayley Atwell was chosen to play the role of Ian’s actress girlfriend Angela. Allen also got famed Mike Leigh regular Phil Davis to play the role of Howard’s business rival whom Ian and Terry have to kill.

With Vilmos Zsigmond working with Allen again as his cinematographer, Allen also got the services of famed minimalist composer Philip Glass to create a film score which was a rare thing for Allen. Glass’ score would play to the suspense that Allen wanted to convey as well as the dramatic tension that would occur in the film where both Ian and Terry try to comprehend the task that they have to do. Especially in the aftermath as one of the brothers is consumed with guilt where its climax would force the other brother and the uncle to realize what must be done. All of which would play into a tragedy as it took place in the boat the two brothers had bought at the beginning of the film.

The film premiered in Spain in October of 2007 as it was followed by its release in France days later as the film was a co-production with the British, the French, and the U.S. While the film got a nice reception in Europe, it got mixed reviews in the U.S. when the film got released in January of 2008 as it was later followed by a U.K. theatrical release that May. While some critics enjoyed Allen’s approach to suspense, some felt that Allen didn’t do enough to make the suspense more engaging despite the fact that film did modestly well in the worldwide box office.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona



Allen’s popularity in Spain was a bit baffling for Allen as he had been asked to make a film in the country where he finally gave in to make a film in Barcelona for his next project. The film would be about two American women named Vicky and Cristina who both travel to Barcelona for the summer where they meet a man named Juan Antonio as they’re both attracted to him. While Vicky is an engaged woman trying to figure herself out, Cristina begins an affair with Juan Antonio where it later becomes a threesome with Juan Antonio’s troubled ex-wife Maria Elena.

The project would be partially inspired by Francois Truffaut’s 1962 film Jules and Jim as well as Ingmar Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night as Allen got the chance to scout various locations in Barcelona as well as Aviles and Oviedo that inspired Allen to do much more with the story. For the cast, Allen decided to work with Scarlett Johansson for the third time as she gets to play the role of aspiring photographer Cristina while her co-star from Christopher Nolan’s 2006 film The Prestige in British actress Rebecca Hall was cast as Vicky. With American actors Chris Messina playing Vicky’s fiancee and Patricia Clarkson as a relative of Vicky. The respective roles of Juan Antonio and Maria Elena went to two of Spain’s hottest actors in Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz.

While there was controversy over the some of the funding of the film where Allen got came from local governments of Barcelona, Allen still pressed on for the production as he got the services of famed Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe to shoot the film. Allen also got the services of Christopher Evan Welch to narrate the film to bring in a lot of exposition about the lives of Vicky and Cristina in their adventures. Notably as it plays into the tumultuous relationship between Juan Antonio and Maria Elena who love each other but also hate each other and Cristina becomes the perfect balance for both of them until she decides to go on her own while Vicky deals with the downside of being married as she is still in love with Juan Antonio.

The film made its premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival where it was well-received by critics and audiences as it later got released in the U.S. in August of that year where it would be another commercial hit for Allen. While reviews were mostly positive while there were those that didn’t enjoy the film, many praised the performance of Penelope Cruz as Maria Elena as it garnered her many accolades from various critics prizes as well as an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Whatever Works



After a period of making films outside of the U.S., Allen decided to return to New York City by reviving an old script that he had written back in the 1970s that was supposed to star Zero Mostel. With an impending strike from the Screen Actor’s Guild coming in 2008, Allen decided to do some re-writes on the script with some updating to make it more relevant as it would explore a frustrated intellectual whose encounter with a young Southern woman has him baffled by his new changes as her family would also arrive to New York City from the South to discover their new surroundings.

For the role of Boris Yelnikoff that was written with Mostel in mind, Allen chose comedian Larry David who had previously appeared in a couple of Allen’s projects in Radio Days and the Oedipus Wrecks segment in New York Stories. David was reluctant at first in playing the lead but after some convincing from Allen, he decided to do it. Evan Rachel Wood was cast as the young Southern girl Melody while Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr. played her parents as the cast would be filled out by British actor Henry Cavill and comedy actor Michael McKean.

Allen reunited with longtime production designer Santo Loquasto for the project after a break from each other while Allen also got Harris Savides to shoot the film entirely in New York City. Allen wanted the film to feel loose and such which allowed Larry David to improvise quite often while Allen also got to make fun about the world of New York City art culture that Patricia Clarkson’s character would be part of after her own transformation. Part of the film’s climax in which Ed Begley Jr., who plays Clarkson’s husband, realizes that he’s not going to get her back where he meets a man at a bar where he has a realization about who he really is.

The film would marked a new beginning for Allen as he signed a new deal with Sony Picture Classics to get his film distribution as it was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in April of 2009. Following its U.S. theatrical release two months later, the film drew mixed reviews from critics and audiences while critics did praise Patricia Clarkson and Evan Rachel Wood for their performances. Sadly, the film would be the last film to produced by Allen’s longtime manager Charles H. Joffe who died in July 9, 2008 during the film’s production. Joffe was responsible for giving Allen his film career as well as championing the work of his stepdaughter/filmmaker Nicole Holofcener as it marked another end of an era for Allen.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger



After his brief return to his home city, Allen decided to return to London for a project that would have him explore people trying to find new relationships as old ones are either disintegrating or had ended. This time around, it would play into people’s faith for something as well as how delusions can make people lose sight of things. All of which would be presented in a mixture of comedy and drama as Allen hired Zak Orth to narrate the film as he had appeared in Melinda & Melinda and Vicky Cristina Barcelona.

The cast would include a largely British cast as it starred Anthony Hopkins, Gemma Jones, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin, Frieda Pinto, Antonio Banderas, and Anna Friel. While Nicole Kidman was asked to play the role of Hopkins’ new younger wife, she was unable to take part due to scheduling conflicts as British actress Lucy Punch took over. With cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond re-teaming Allen for the production, the film would be a look into the world of individuals all wanting something new in their life but also have to realize what they took for granted.

One of these storylines play into Gemma Jones’ character as she often goes to a fortune teller for advice as she would do things under these instructions much to the frustration of the people in her family including Naomi Watts’ character who is dealing with a disintegrating marriage to Josh Brolin who is falling for Frieda Pinto who lives across from his building. Allen wanted to inject as much humor to the story but also drama where Watts’ character is in love with Antonio Banderas but he is more interested in Watts’ friend played by Anna Friel. All of which would play into the troubles these characters they face into the decisions of their life with only one character coming out of all of it much better.

The film premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival where it got a nice reception as it was later released in the U.S. that September to mixed reviews. While some enjoyed its humor as there was a lot of praise towards Gemma Jones’ performance, some felt the film was a mess and the humor and drama didn’t mesh. While the film got a somewhat better reception in Britain than in the U.S., some felt that Allen is just rehashing old ideas.

Midnight in Paris



After a period making films in London, Allen decided to go somewhere else as he had always interested in making a film in Paris. Even the city itself wanted Allen to make a film set in Paris as the two along with Allen’s producers decided that a film project set in Paris would happen. Allen had a grand idea for his film in Paris that would revolve around a Hollywood screenwriter whose attempt to write a novel while visiting Paris with his fiancee has found himself traveling back in time to the 1920s where he meets various characters from that era including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, and many others. It’s a concept that definitely seems outlandish and ambitious for Allen but with the clout he has in Europe, he gets the chance to make a film about nostalgia and looking for meaning in life.

For the lead role of Gil Pender, Allen and his longtime casting director went to Owen Wilson to play the role as it would be different from his work in mainstream comedies and the films he does with Wes Anderson. Wilson chooses to do the film as the cast would include Canadian actress Rachel McAdams and British actor Michael Sheen in respective role’s as Gil’s fiancee and a stuffy intellectual whom Gil despises. The casting would get much bigger as Kathy Bates, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Corey Stoll, and Adrien Brody would play some of the famous luminaries of the time while Allen also got French actors to play key roles such as Gad Elmaleh, Lea Seydoux, and Marion Cotillard as a woman Gil falls for who is from the 1920s.

Another big moment in the casting was hiring Italian model/singer-songwriter Carla Bruni as a tour guide as the casting of a former French first lady definitely drew a lot of attention for the production. Allen got the services of Darius Khondji to help shoot the film as Khondji was familiar with the locations in Paris while Allen also got Anne Siebel and Helene Dubreuil to do the set designs. While Allen kept a lot of the location scenery in Paris very straightforward, he also wanted to showcase a world where Gil is fascinated by the city and its culture though his fiancee Inez and her family don’t seem as interested.

Allen opens the film with this three-and-a-half minute montage of Paris in all of its beauty through various locations and different settings like in day and night or in the rain or if it’s snowing. It is a moment that is definitely very different in the way he opens the film while he is more focused on the story where Gil tries to find inspiration where at midnight, a car passes by and he finds himself back in 1920s Paris. Allen would use many of the 1920s scenes to play up not just Gil’s fascination but also the individuals he would meet as some of it is quite dramatic while others such as Adrien Brody’s performance as Salvador Dali is played for laughs. Another of those funny moments would include Gad Elmaleh who plays a private detective hired by Inez’s father to see where Gil is going as the outcome of what happens to him proves to be funny.

All these stories wouldn’t just play the conflict of nostalgia vs. modernism but also told in a way in which a man is eager to define himself in some ways as an artist but also has to deal with revelations about himself and his life. Even as he and Marion Cotillard’s Adriana travel back in time to the 1890s Belle Epoque period where Adriana is more in tune with that world than the 1920s. It’s a moment that would hurt Gil while he would get one final advice from Gertrude Stein who has been looking over his work where Gil would make a big decision about what to do with his life. Even as he would eventually find the one person who not only shares his love for the city but also what it was back then.

The film made its premiere at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival where it would open the festival as it would kick the festival off to a great start. The film not only received a great reception from audiences at Cannes but also critics who praised the film for its whimsical charm and ode to nostalgia. The film would become a major hit in France while it got released in the U.S. more than a week after its premiere at Cannes where the film got major buzz from its limited release from audiences and critics. After being given a wide-release in mid-June, the film would become not just Allen’s most commercially-successful in the U.S. grossing more than $56 million but also getting a theatrical run that went beyond expectations as it would play for almost the remainder of the year.

The film would eventually give Allen his biggest worldwide gross of a total of $151 million as accolades started to pour in. Many critics cited it as not just one Allen’s best films but also being one of the best films of the year as even filmmakers who are fans of Allen like Quentin Tarantino praised the film. Award nominations would pour in from all over the world where Allen would get his first Goya award from Spain while the film itself would receive four Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Art Direction, and two nods for Allen for Best Director and Best Screenplay where Allen would win the latter.

To Rome with Love



Though surprised by the success of Midnight in Paris, Allen decided to move forward with his next project as he once again got an offer to make a film in Rome, Italy as Allen said yes as he had always wanted to do something in Rome. Inspired by the works of Giovanni Boccaccio and his book Bop Decameron, Allen decided to create a film where he would have four different stories set in Rome where people try to deal with their surroundings as well as the expectations they have about the city and its culture. Though Allen would originally called it Nero Fiddles, he eventually settled on To Rome with Love.

The film would mark Allen’s first appearance in a film in six years as he would co-star the film with longtime Allen regular Judy Davis as the cast would be filled out by Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Greta Gerwig, Alison Pill, and Penelope Cruz. The Italian cast would feature the famed comedy actor Roberto Benigni, famed tenor Fabio Armiliato, Ornella Muti, and Antonio Albanese. Many of which would appear in four different segments that would play to what Allen wanted while he also made some discoveries during the location as he let real-life traffic policeman Pierluigi Marchionne to open the film and comment about the wonders of Rome.

The stories would all play into the expectations and how some just want to have a simple life. The first segment involved Alec Baldwin as a revered architect who guides Jesse Eisenberg over his attraction towards Ellen Page where Baldwin would comment on every situation that is happening as if he is a Greek chorus where Eisenberg isn‘t sure if he should stick with Greta Gerwig or go for Page. The second involved Allen and Judy Davis visiting their daughter, played by Alison Pill, who is to be married to an Italian lawyer as they learn that his funeral director father can sing opera but only can do it when he’s in the shower prompting Allen to try and give the guy a career in opera.

The third segment involved a newlywed couple who are supposed to meet the groom’s relatives where the bride gets lost in the city as the groom reluctantly takes a prostitute, played by Penelope Cruz, to pretend to be the bride as she gives the groom advice on how to bring excitement to his marriage. The fourth and final story has Roberto Benigni play a simple business clerk who suddenly becomes famous for no apparent reason as he is baffled by it while he eventually comes to the conclusion that it’s fleeting where he wants to have it back.

The film made its premiere in Rome, Italy on April of 2012 where it was well-received in its home country critically and commercially. The film later got a limited release in late June in the U.S. before going wide where it got mixed reviews though it’s box office was still pretty good. Penelope Cruz received praise for her performance though some felt the film was a mess. Still, it gave Allen another major box office hit as he proved to still pull in an audience.

Blue Jasmine



Allen’s newest and most recent film has him returning to the U.S. where he not only spends some time in New York City but also shooting the film partially in San Francisco. Inspired by a story his wife Soon-Yi had told him about a friend of hers, Allen used that story as well as the works of Tennessee Williams to create a story about a woman whose life crashes down by financial scandal as she is forced to move in with her estranged sister. Notably as she is desperate to climb back into the upper-class world while her sister much prefers the lower-middle class lifestyle.

Allen reunited with cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe who had shot Vicky Cristina Barcelona for Allen as the film would be set in parts of New York City and San Francisco. Santo Loquasto also returned to the fold after another break to do the set design as Allen wanted to create something to display two different worlds that would play into the troubled state of mind of its lead character Jasmine. Notably as she also has to deal with her estranged adopted sister Ginger who lives a more lower-middle class lifestyle while being with men who are also working class.

For the role of Jasmine, Australian actress Cate Blanchett would be cast while Allen would also get previous players Sally Hawkins and Alec Baldwin to play the roles of Jasmine’s sister Ginger and Jasmine’s husband Hal, respectively. With a cast that would also include Bobby Cannavale, Alden Ehrenreich, Peter Sarsgaard, and Michael Stuhlbarg, Allen also wanted a comedian to play to the role of Ginger’s former husband Augie. While Louis C.K. originally auditioned to play the role of Augie, Allen eventually gave the part to Andrew Dice Clay while he would give C.K. a role as a man Ginger meets at a party.

Allen wanted to explore not just the relationship between two sisters and their differing lifestyles but also a woman whose life had been marred by the fact that her husband was a crook and had stolen money from people as he was destroyed by the government. Even as she also learned about the other things that her husband did as the life that lived turned out to be a fa├žade as she has a hard time facing that reality. By living with her sister, she is unaware of her mental state while criticizing not just her sister’s lifestyle but her choice of men which would allow this dynamic between Blanchett and Hawkins to play out where the former is also her own worst enemy.

The film made its U.S. premiere in the U.S. in late July 2013 via limited release as its critical reaction was very positive as was its box office where it would get a wide release a month later. Already becoming another critical and commercial hit for Allen, the film got praise for Cate Blanchett’s leading performance as well as its supporting cast led by Sally Hawkins. It’s current rise to success not only dispels the question of Allen’s relevancy with the current film culture but also prove that he’s still got something to say.

For nearly 50s and over 40 films with more to come as he’s getting offers to make films in places like Sweden and Brazil. There’s no question about Woody Allen’s role in shaping cinema. Whether it’s making comedies that range from silly to thought-provoking or dramas that dares to ask big questions and even small ones. He always find a way to give the audience something whether it’s in New York City, Paris, Rome, or London by telling a story that he wants to tell and find ways to connect with that audience. Allen has also inspired many filmmakers through his films while probably also introduced them to people like the Marx Brothers, Federico Fellini, and Ingmar Bergman. Though it’s unclear when he will end his career as a filmmaker but when that does happen. It will be an end of an era. Still, Woody Allen’s role in cinema has already been set in stone as he remains not just one of the best filmmakers working today but also one of the most enduring forces in cinema.

Pt. 1 - Pt. 2 - Pt. 3

© thevoid99 2013

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Tootsie


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 6/4/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.



Directed by Sydney Pollack and written by Larry Gelbart, Murray Schisgal, and Don McGuire with additional contributions from Barry Levinson, Robert Garland, and Elaine May. Tootsie tells the story of Michael Dorsey, an actor who is brilliant but extremely difficult as he tries to raise money for a play he co-wrote. Realizing that no one will hire him after his friend lost a huge part, he decides to play the part in a TV soap opera by dressing as a woman. During this time, he battles a sexist director while falling for one of his co-stars as well as attracting the attention of men. Starring Dustin Hoffman, Jessica Lange, Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, George Gaynes, Sydney Pollack, Geena Davis, Doris Belack, and Bill Murray. Tootsie is a brilliant, funny, sweet comedy that shows how a man becomes a better man as a woman.

What happens when a brilliant but difficult actor who can't get work when he decides to dress up as a woman to get a role for a TV soap opera? That is essentially the premise of the film as it is a mixture of comedy and romance where it all centers around the character of Michael Dorsey (Dustin Hoffman) who is a very gifted actor but is always difficult as the last job he got was playing a tomato for a commercial. He also helps out other actors where one of his friends in Sandy (Teri Garr) got turned down in an audition to play a role in the daytime soap opera Southwest General where Michael dresses up as a woman to get the part. With only his roommate Jeff Slater (Bill Murray) and his agent George Fields (Sydney Pollack) know the truth, Michael becomes a hit in the show despite having to deal with a sexist TV director (Dabney Coleman) while helping out an aging lead actor (George Gaynes) and falling for one of his co-stars in Julie Nichols (Jessica Lange). Throughout the course of the film, Michael Dorsey not only learns how to be a better man but also find out more about what it means to be a woman.

The film's script is a mix of romance, comedy, and light-hearted drama where it acts as a genre-bender but it is rooted in its comedy genre. What makes this film so brilliant is a funny, witty script that is filled with lot of light-hearted humor and dialogue, improvisation, and characters that audiences can relate to and root for. The script written by Larry Gelbart and Murray Schisgal is truly wonderful in how a brilliant but out-of-work actor is so desperate for work to raise money for his own play. He'll even dress up like a woman to get the role only to fall for a woman while realizing that being a woman makes him a better man in understanding them. The film is also in some strange way, a feminist film as Michael Dorsey makes Dorothy Michaels into a feminist of sorts. Particularly in one scene where she is acting on the TV show to a character playing an abused woman. Michaels' point of view about things makes her into a feminist character who helps women stand up for themselves and such.

While the script works as a part-feminist film with a man playing the feminist, it's still a comedy but also a romantic-comedy in the storyline between Michael/Dorothy and Julie. When Michael is being himself in a scene with Julie, he acts like a jerk but as Dorothy, he acts as her close friend as he gets a sense of understanding in being a woman. This is where Sydney Pollack's direction is at its brilliance in building up the relationship between Michael/Dorothy and Julie while allowing the audience to get to know its supporting characters including Julie's father Les (Charles Durning) who falls for Dorothy. With Pollack's background in television and theater, he explores the world of acting through its different forms. Both TV and theater as the character of Michael uses his skills to play to both mediums. Pollack's presentation of the TV soap format is very realistic in how the director and producer work around everything and how the actors rehearse and read their lines.

The sense of improvisation and looseness is also key to Pollack's direction as he lets the comedy flow naturally while not go way into silly, slapstick humor. Allowing the actors including himself, to say funny lines and be in character while letting the audience feel relaxed and giving them a good time. The result is truly superb as Pollack's direction is truly top-notch and smoothly entertaining.

Cinematographer Owen Roizman does a good job with the film's look with his polished yet colorful camera work to show the style of lighting for TV soaps and such while the shots of the exterior of New York City is wonderful to look at. Editors Fredric and William Steinkamp do an excellent job with the film's pacing and cutting style that is smooth and relaxing to play to the film's unique tone. Production designer Peter S. Larkin and set decorator Thomas C. Tonery do a fantastic job with the looks of the different apartments of Michael and Julie as well as the set designs of the soap opera set they created. Costume designer Ruth Morley and supervisor Bernie Pollack do a fantastic job with the film's costumes. Particularly on the dresses that Dustin Hoffman wears as well as the clothes of the cast for the soap opera.

Sound recordist Phillips Rogers does a fine job with the film's sound including the atmosphere of TV production and such. The film's music by Dave Grusin is bouncy and melodic as it leans towards the sound of soft rock. Yet, Grusin along with noted lyricists Alan & Marilyn Bergman create two memorable songs for the film both sung by Stephen Bishop. The upbeat title song and the love ballad It Might Be You, the latter of which was a hit song that works for the film's light-hearted romantic tone.

The cast assembled by Toni Howard and Lynn Stalmaster is excellent as it features small appearances from the likes of Estelle Getty, Ellen Foley, and Christine Ebersole plus cameo appearances from Andy Warhol and a then-unknown Marg Helgenberger. Memorable small performances from Amy Lawrence as Julie's daughter, Anne Shropshire as Amy's scary nanny, and the late Lynn Thigpen as Carlisle's assistant director. Doris Belack is great as the show's producer Rita Marshall who hires Dorothy on the spot while convinced that the show's success and increased ratings is all due to her. In her film debut, Geena Davis is good as a young actress who first appear in her underwear as she makes Dorothy a bit nervous while being one of the women Ron is having an affair with. George Gaynes is wonderfully funny as an aging actor who is forced to read his line through cue cards and such as Dorothy gives him confidence as he also falls for her. Sydney Pollack is great in his cameo as agent George Fields who has some of the funniest lines as Michael's agent who keeps telling him that no one will work with him.

Dabney Coleman is excellent as the sexist TV director Ron Carlise who likes to sleep around with other women and treat Julie inferior to him as he dukes it out with Dorothy Michaels. Charles Durning is brilliant in his charming role as Julie's father Les who tries to woo Dorothy while showing a softer side as a man longing for love since the death of his wife a long time ago. Teri Garr is great in her role as the insecure Sandy, a struggling actress who has a hard time getting a role only to duped by Michael's own flirtations as she finally gains confidence as an actress. Bill Murray is amazingly funny as Jeff Slater, Michael's laid-back roommate who knows what Michael is doing as Murray has some of the funniest one-liners film with his deadpan delivery that is Murray in classic form. Then there's Jessica Lange in an Oscar-winning performance as Julie Nichols. Lange's understated, graceful performance is a wonderful mix of beauty and depth as a young actress struggling to be a single mom and juggling an unhappy relationship as she gains confidence with help from Dorothy on her life as a woman. Lange, often seen as a pretty face, proves her talents as an actress in which, she wins her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Finally, there's Dustin Hoffman in one of his iconic performances as both Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels. Hoffman's performance as Dorsey is brilliant for someone who is trying to be a total professional and artist who can't catch a break only to understand what women are. Hoffman as Michaels is a character full of charm and attitude as it's a brilliant performance-within-a performance that just knock the walls down. Hoffman is truly amazing from start to finish from the early scene of him acting various characters like an old man to a boy that shows his superb talents as one of cinema' finest actors.

Tootsie is a magnificent film from Sydney Pollack thanks to Dustin Hoffman's incredible leading performance. Along with Jessica Lange's touching supporting performance as well as other memorable performances from Teri Garr, Dabney Coleman, Charles Durning, and Bill Murray. The film is definitely one of the finest comedies of the genre as well as engaging for the way an actor whose desperation to find work has him getting a better understanding of what it means to be a man by pretending to be a woman. In the end, Tootsie is a spectacular film from Sydney Pollack.

Sydney Pollock Films: (The Slender Thread) - (The Property is Condemned) - (The Scalphunters) - (Castle Keep) - (They Shoot Horses, Don't They?) - (Jeremiah Johnson) - (The Way We Were) - (The Yakuza) - (Three Days of the Condor) - (Bobby Deerfield) - (The Electric Horseman) - (Absence of Malice) - (Out of Africa) - (Havana) - (The Firm) - (Sabrina (1995 film)) - (Random Hearts) - (The Interpreter) - (Sketches of Frank Gehry)

© thevoid99 2013

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Casting By




Directed by Tom Donahue, Casting By is the story about legendary casting director Marion Dougherty and her impact into how she shaped the film industry with her casting ideas from the 1960s to the 1980s. Notably as she would help set a wave of many casting directors to come as filmmakers and actors talk about the importance of Dougherty’s contribution to the film industry as well as why there’s a need for an Oscar category for best casting. The result is a fascinating documentary from Tom Donahue.

The documentary is about the unsung heroes in film which are the casting directors where their impact happened during the late 1950s and early 1960s when the old Hollywood system began to die out and actors who were in contract with the studios were becoming obsolete. One of the individuals who would make some great discoveries for the films that were to come in the 1960s through the 1980s was Marion Dougherty who worked in New York City as she discovered Jon Voight, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Robert de Niro, and many others. Her discovery of those actors would be crucial as she would later find a Hollywood counterpart in Lyn Stalmaster who would also make discoveries like John Travolta and Jeff Bridges as the former was originally supposed to be in Hal Ashby’s 1973 film The Last Detail but then Randy Quaid came in and got the part.

Dougherty’s brilliance in casting led to a great collaboration with George Roy Hill that not only got her to cast people like Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and John Lithgow but also help various individuals who would also be key players in the casting process. Among these individuals who would be Dougherty’s associates like Wally Nicita and Juliet Taylor as they would bring key importance to many films as Taylor would become one of Woody Allen’s most important collaborators. When Dougherty moved to Hollywood in the mid-70s to be the head of casting at Paramount for a few years until joining Warner Brothers. Her decision to cast Danny Glover as Murtaugh in the first Lethal Weapon film was a surprise as Richard Donner owes a great debt of gratitude towards her.

Tom Donahue’s direction showcases the importance of casting director and why Dougherty’s influence should be noted as the Academy Awards still refuse to put a casting category in the list. While there were several actors and filmmakers who tried to plea to the Academy to give Dougherty a special Oscar, they refused. Even as filmmaker Taylor Hackford explains his side about why casting directors shouldn’t have director in their title while filmmakers like Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood disagree with Hackford’s views as they also give credit to their casting directors.

Through the cinematography of Peter Bolte and Jill Schweitzer’s editing, the interviews are presented quite simply with Dougherty being the big star as she shows pictures and such including a scene where she watches Slaughterhouse Five which was the first film where she got a big credit for her work. With the sound editing of Steve Bucino and Leigh Roberts’ low-key yet playful score, the film shows the evolution of casting and how it kind of lost importance by the late 90s as studios were starting to be run by corporations who are more concerned with faces and money rather than who is right for a part.

Casting By is a marvelous documentary from Tom Donahue about the world of casting directors and the influence that the late Marion Dougherty had provided. It’s a film that showcases not just their importance to the world of films but also the discoveries they made and the actors who are grateful towards them as well as the filmmakers. In the end, Casting By is a wonderful documentary from Tom Donahue.

© thevoid99 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Eros




Eros is an omnibus film from three different filmmakers that explores the world of eroticism in three different continents from its filmmakers Michelangelo Antonioni, Steven Soderbergh, and Wong Kar-Wai. Each segment explores the world of love and sex in various different ways told by these three filmmakers. The result is one of the most fascinating anthology films that features two incredible segments from two of its contributors but also a disappointing one from Michelangelo Antonioni.

The Dangerous Thread of Things

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. Screenplay by Michelangelo Antonioni and Tonino Guerra from a book by Michelangelo Antonioni. Starring Christopher Buchholz, Regina Nemni, and Luisa Ranieri. Cinematography by Marco Pontecorvo. Edited by Claudio Di Maurio Set design by Stefano Luci. Costume design by Carin Berger. Sound editing by Gianluca Carbonelli. Music by Enrica Antonioni and Vinicio Milani.

The first segment explores a bickering couple (Christopher Bucholz and Regina Nemni) who spend the day together as they deal with their disintegrating relationship as the man later meets a beautiful woman (Luisa Ranieri) whom he wants to have sex with. It’s a segment that is essentially all style but very little substance. While many of the compositions are beautiful and definitely recalls a lot of Antonioni’s great work from the 1960s that includes Marco Pontecorvo‘s lush cinematography and Claudio Di Maurio‘s stylized editing. It feels more like this bad mix of pretentious art-house cinema mixed in with vapid soft-core porn though nothing really wrong with that. Plus, the acting isn’t very inspired while the music is also very off as it adds to the sense of pretentiousness that is rampant in this very terrible short.

Equilibrium

Written, shot, edited, and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Alan Arkin, and Ele Keats. Set design by Philip Messina. Costume designed by Milena Canonero. Sound editing by Larry Blake. Casting by Debra Zane.

The segment revolves a man (Robert Downey Jr.) who talks to his psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) about a recurring fantasy he has with this mysterious woman (Ele Keats) while dealing with the pressure he’s having working as an advertising agent. It’s a film that explores a sense of repression and fantasy where it mixes reality and fiction where the psychiatric sessions are shot in black-and-white while the fantasy scenes are shot in color. It’s filled with many ambiguities about what is real and what is fantasy where it also involves voyeurism as Soderbergh puts bits of humor as the psychiatrist is also a voyeur who is more concerned with what’s outside rather than this man’s problems. With great performances from Robert Downey Jr. and Alan Arkin, the segment is easily the most entertaining.

The Hand

Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai. Starring Gong Li and Chen Chang. Cinematography by Christopher Doyle. Edited and set/costume designed by William Chang. Sound design by Claude Letessier and Du-Che Tu. Music by Peer Raben.

The third and final segment is about the relationship between a high-class prostitute (Gong Li) and her tailor (Chen Chang) as the tailor makes dresses for her yet keep their relationship professional no matter how troubled she may be and the desires they have for each other. This one is easily the most sensual in not just in its story but also in the performances of Li and Chang as they play into people who care for each other but are separated by circumstances. With its exotic soundtrack filled with old Chinese music and dazzling images courtesy of cinematographer Christopher Doyle and editor/set-costume designer Wiliam Chang. Kar-Wai creates a piece that is just intoxicating to look that is backed up by a very heartbreaking and enthralling story about love.

The film is essentially an exploration into the world of eroticism and how it can delve into the psyche of individuals. With inserted artwork by Lorenzo Mattotti that is filled with these gorgeous images of people making love that comes in between each segment that includes some bossa-nova music in the background. It all reinforce the idea of eroticism as both Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-Wai each manage to create interesting takes on eroticism. Soderbergh in a lightly-comedic fashion that is filled with ambiguities while Kar-Wai adds a melancholia to this love story about a tailor and a prostitute. The one person that definitely seems to miss the mark is Michelangelo Antonioni as he seems to want to reach into the great work he did in the 1960s to comment on loneliness and sex but ends up making something that just feels very empty despite the gorgeous visuals he creates.

Eros is an excellent omnibus film thanks in part to the contributions of Steven Soderbergh and Wong Kar-Wai. Fans of the two filmmakers will no doubt enjoy their segments as it represents some of the best work they did. Especially Kar-Wai whose segment is easily the best of the three for his sensitive portrayal on love. The film sadly also features a very disappointing segment from the late Michelangelo Antonioni in one of his final contributions to cinema. In the end, Eros is an extraordinary anthology film that explores the world of eroticism.

Michelangelo Antonioni Films: (Story of a Love Affair) - (I Vinti) - (The Lady Without Camelias) - (Le Amiche) - (Il Grido) - L'Avventura - La Notte - L’Eclisse - Red Desert - Blow-Up - Zabriskie Point - (Chung Kuo, Cina) - The Passenger - (The Mystery of Oberwald) - (Identification of a Woman) - (Beyond the Clouds)

Steven Sodberbergh Films: sex, lies, & videotape - Kafka - King of the Hill - The Underneath - Gray’s Anatomy - Schizopolis - Out of Sight - The Limey - Erin Brockovich - Traffic - Ocean's Eleven - Full Frontal - Solaris (2002 film) - Ocean’s Twelve - Bubble - The Good German - Ocean’s Thirteen - Che - The Girlfriend Experience - The Informant! - And Everything is Going Fine - Contagion - Haywire - Magic Mike - Side Effects - Behind the Candelabra - The Auteurs #39: Steven Soderbergh Pt. 1 - Pt. 2

Wong Kar-Wai Films: As Tears Go By - Days of Being Wild - Chungking Express - Ashes of Time/Ashes of Time Redux - Fallen Angels - Happy Together - In the Mood for Love - 2046 - My Blueberry Nights - The Grandmaster - The Auteurs #28: Wong Kar-Wai

© thevoid99 2013