Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

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Rayon Vert
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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#101 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:38 am

I guess it's more that I feel the points or choices Allen presents aren't particularly profound, combined with the way they're presented. Those flashbacks to Judah's upbringing, like the discussion around the table, for example. The choice is either between a "nihilistic" view (everything goes), as that position is expressed by the aunt (or whoever she is), and labeled as such by the Jewish patriarch, and the fairly caricatural view the latter presents of a personal God looking into people's souls and judging them like a father. I understand on one level that represents the character Judah's upbringing, of a particular time and place, but elsewhere in the film those views don't seem to be proposed in a less reductive way. If that represents Allen's actual thinking about these questions, it doesn't speak to a particularly profound or refined inquiry, and it suggests that he's also perhaps stuck somewhere in the culture of his childhood.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#102 Post by knives » Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:43 am

I don't disagree with any of that, especially the last sentence which I think is key, but that's what makes the film great for me in a sense. Allen's dealing with a youth a Judaism and seeing how it works in an adult reality of Christianity (as represented by Dovtoyesky). It reminds me of the Hegel argument about how everyone in Europe is ultimately Christian. Does an immature Judaism combat that. Allen's nihilism is different from the aunt's because his is an unwillingness to see as an adult a world that isn't his adult world.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#103 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Mar 03, 2019 1:43 pm

knives wrote:
Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:43 am
because his is an unwillingness to see as an adult a world that isn't his adult world.
Maybe that's why Cliff seems to get along best with his child niece Jenny (and tries to recreate with her his bygone world of classic Hollywood films and old New York photographs), and who of course services his ego:

Cliff: How can I compete with the guy? He's rich and famous and successful.
Jenny: Come on. He's no competition for you.
Cliff: God bless you for saying that.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#104 Post by knives » Sun Mar 03, 2019 1:59 pm

I didn't think of that, but I think you are correct.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#105 Post by AWA » Sun Mar 03, 2019 3:12 pm

My chronological re-watching of the filmography has brought me to what is possibly what I consider his worst movie (not including Tiger Lily) or a very strong candidate for it - Cassandra's Dream. I should have every reason to like this film - it is the only Woody film I saw at a premiere event (2007 Toronto International Film Festival with Woody and the cast in attendance before hand, with a brief speech by Woody preceding the screening).

A morality play revisiting the themes of Match Point, C&M, etc again but this time without anything close to the success of those previous films. Just about everything about this film is just awful. The cinematography, usually something you can enjoy in a Woody film if the film is failing, is completely at odds with Woody's sensibilities. Plus the added use of several crane shots, which descend and move around slowly is just so unnecessary, especially in a film like this. It just feels like whatever modest success Vilmos Zsigmond had in lensing Melinda & Melinda (which looked and felt like an adequate imitation of Sven Nykvist's work with Woody) was completely and utterly lost here. At the moment of truth when the brothers stop Martin Burns on the street
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the brothers quickly build the nerve to shot him and... the camera dollies away to go around the other side of a bush so that we can have a detailed look at some foliage at a critical moment in the film.
.

It is impossible to have any emotional attachment to any of these characters as they are entirely and completely unlikeable - every single one of them. The brother's parents even, which you might think would get a sympathetic portrayal considering the plot of the film about their choices their two sons are making, are miserable, nagging, cold and unpleasant. Maybe that's a British thing, I don't know - but I doubt Woody knows either. The two central brother characters played by Ian McGregor and Colin Ferrell are annoying, shallow and have all the depth of a dried up mud puddle. Hayley Atwell (in her first ever film role, which would lead to giant stardom in many big budget films afterwards) is decent enough but Woody starts out making her character extremely dangerous and full of bad intentions - and then changes his mind at the end and has her become straightforward, simple and devoted to McGregor's character (for no other reason than he carries himself off as very rich? Really? That is going to make a chronically unfaithful woman change her ways that quickly?). The lone exception might be Sally Hawkins' Kate, who is a simple girl but is played with sincerity. Too bad we don't see nearly enough of her. Tom Wilkinson's performance is done well enough, but despite the lengthy speech under the tree
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I can't help but feel he should've been allowed to rot in jail for whatever it is that he did wrong with his business. That's more of Woody's fault in unresolved writing than it is Wilkinson's inability to convince the viewer of why this has to play out this way.
.

Add to the fact that the ominous Philip Glass score completely undermines the narrative by never at any point leaving anything to doubt at all about how this will all play out. The beginning of the third act for a good amount of time there is no music - mercifully - and the film works much better without it ("better" - not implying it was enjoyable, but still). The Glass score undercuts several scenes and seems to contradict everything the narrative attempts to lead the viewer to believe in any kind of alternative outcome or possible coming plot twist. The original soundtrack was planned to be all recordings by Miles' Davis (knowing Woody's preferences for jazz, probably 50's era Miles - In A Silent Way or Kind Of Blue sort of material). While it is tempting to think his original edit and concept with that music might've made for a better film, this film is so bad I can't punish my imagination to wonder what that might have been like.

There are a couple of better moments - specifically one in which
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the brothers break into Burns' home at night and wait in the dark for him to return to murder him - but he arrives home with a woman (presumably a hooker by the looks of it, although it isn't said but he does make a joke about taking her with him when he leaves and it will be a "business trip" for her) and they realize if they kill him now they will have to kill her too. They'd rather not kill him but as we see from our vantage point Burns walks down the hall towards them turning on lights and is about to force their hand... only to stop one foot away from that, realizing his laptop is in the other room, not the room they're in and he turns away. A decent bit of suspense and slight of hand, about the only time that skill Woody had developed over the years shows up here.
Part of what has made this chronological rewatching of all the films interesting is that, with age and significant time between now and the last time I viewed some of these films, is that I've revised my opinion on some films, some for the better (Scoop, Melinda & Melinda, September, etc) and some not. I hoped this might prove more worthwhile after not having seen it in 12 years, but in fact it's worse.

This marks, for me, where Woody's approach to filmmaking really does become a hobby. Previously there was always something at stake in his films - be it working out personal stories related to issues that mattered to him in his own life, philosophy, human concerns or, at least, he was paying homage to films, comedians or music he loved. Say what you will about the DreamWorks films, but at least they were fun, had their moments and he was still enjoying paying tribute to Bob Hope or Lubitsch or whatever. At this point, Woody starts to believe his own deflections in interviews where he played down the significance of his own films to him personally, saying filmmaking was "like a hobby" to keep him busy and distracted. This film comes off as exactly that - completely undercooked, loads of unresolved writing issues regard both character and plot, passive direction, an open disdain for any human being in the film and generally just a gigantic mess of a project slapped together just to get it over with. Like someone who builds, say, model planes, this is like that hobbyist who suddenly decides to try a different kind of model project to amuse themselves, finds they don't enjoy it and don't have the right tools to properly build it, but finishes it anyways just to get it done and move on to the next one. Thankfully - there are some gems still to come from Woody at this point, as he is capable of due to just having the raw talent to get it right every now and then. Vicky Cristina Barcelona (next on my list to watch), Midnight In Paris, Blue Jasmine and Cafe Society all are highlights for me for the filmography from this point going forward. But there are a lot more bumps in the road from this point onward (specifically You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, which I recall disliking as much as Cassandra's Dream and rivalling it for being the nadir of Woody's filmography).

It is a testament to how much I regard the core of Woody's filmography (1977-1999) to have forced myself to sit through this again. I will likely die without ever forcing myself to witness this mess ever again.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#106 Post by AWA » Sun Mar 03, 2019 5:33 pm

Also - for those that might not have had the chance to see this short film (which should count here), it is a minor little piece done for the Concert For New York City shortly after the September 11th attacks. It has a few minor little funny jokes in it and plays on the early days of the cell phone boom. Probably most notable here is that it features numerous major and minor character actors and collaborators from Woody's past, including Tony Roberts, Douglas McGrath, Marshall Brickman, Hazelle Goodman ("Cookie" from Deconstructing Harry) and Ira Wheeler (who appeared in small roles for Woody in nine different films).

Image quality here is awful, but cinematography wise it is nothing special, really, so you're not missing much.

Sounds From A Town I Love (2001)

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#107 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Mar 03, 2019 11:46 pm

Stardust Memories.
therewillbeblus wrote:
Thu Feb 21, 2019 1:12 am
Perhaps Allen's least straightforward work narrative-wise, this may top my list as a new favorite (...) I find it difficult to adequately explain why I love Allen's output so much compared to other filmmakers, but watching this last night I think I have some half-baked idea: he blends the piercing seriousness of the self in relation to the world with passive silliness of existing in the world , all in a light, whimsical manner that seems effortless and yet provokes thought and emotion so strong I don't even know what hit me. Stardust does such a seemingly effortless job at blending themes of existential crises, identity, fear, the difficulty of truly connecting with others in longevity, etc. in such an absurd, yet grounded, and emotional manner that I found myself laughing and smiling, triggered, and captivated with complex emotions all within a 60-second period multiple times throughout my watch.
That’s a pretty good attempt at describing what’s special about this film. When I used to be a bigger fan, this always felt pretty near the top for me, a kind of summing up of his themes and cinematic style at peak form. The funny thing in this really meta film is that Allen keeps satirizing the public’s liking of his “early comedies”, but despite its frequent serious philosophical and generally reflective content this is definitely a return to almost pure comedy, and a pretty funny one at that. I think it casts a spell in no small part because of its wonderful black-and-white photography throughout, superior to Manhattan in my opinion. In the end I might prefer now a few of his more regular narrative films, but that last 20 minutes or so is pretty magical.

Note to self: if you want to test out approaching a new person romantically à la Woody Allen, tell them you find them attractive because they have a strange quality to them.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#108 Post by Dr Amicus » Mon Mar 04, 2019 1:50 pm

Sleeper: A long-time favourite, being one of the first Allen’s I watched, and still holds up as the first really good Allen film, certainly the earliest that will be on my list. Allen’s a fine physical comedian as well as being able to deliver a one-liner, and this film is probably the best showcase covering both of these attributes. True, it runs out of steam about two-thirds of the way in but even here there are enough jokes that actually work to keep the laughs coming. It’s also interesting as a Science Fiction film – it picked up the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation – and is a perfect example of the oft-stated argument that SF is more about the present than the future.

I took the opportunity offered by the project to fish out my unread copy of Marion Meade’s The Unruly Life of Woody Allen. If you’re interested in Allen’s films, this is not the book for you (John Baxter’s biography is much stronger in this regard), she is more interested in his private life, especially the events / court case of the 90s. Nobody comes out of this terribly well in her view (eg Soon Yi is presented seemingly as a predatory minx who snares herself a rich sugar daddy) and it’s all a bit much by the end. It doesn’t help she makes factual errors (the moose routine is recounted incorrectly, Dianne Wiest gains an Oscar for Radio Days) and makes several remarks about actresses being overweight (Manhattan Murder Mystery gets dismissed because Diane Keaton is old and fat…). Readable, but that’s about it.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#109 Post by AWA » Wed Mar 06, 2019 2:43 am

Vicky Cristina Barcelona was better than I remember it. Not to say that I didn't enjoy it initially, but it has gone up the list upon reviewing it the other night and will like make the bottom quarter of my list submitted here. It successfully revisits the themes and territory of A Midsummer's Night's Sex Comedy, except contemplating the idea that what if the love triangle(s) were agreed upon by all parties Well written, well acted (especially by Cruz and Bardem) and well shot .... at least the framing is... whomever was the focus puller for the film needs firing, as there is a repeated problem with focus throughout the film (first and most notably in the hotel room scene between Juan and Cristina, but the problem reappears throughout the film).

Woody received criticism at the time for the narration, but the narration doesn't feel out of place and, in this case, it helps bring the audience up to speed as there is a lot of ground to cover here. Narration is a device that can be used effectively (Husbands & Wives being another example) or ineffectively (later Woody films after this). Using narration though has become a cardinal sin in the past 10-15 years (I can't help but wonder if that's a lot of film savvy people picking up on that from the scene in Adaptation?)
The film moves along with a breeze, the bait-and-switch of
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Vicky being the one with lasting feelings for Juan is a good one
.
The soundtrack comes from recordings by a group that just happened to be slipped under Woody's door works beautifully.
Seeing this again after many years reminds me just how good Bardem was in this and makes me eager to see him in apparently what will be Woody's next film, also to be shot in Spain.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#110 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Mar 07, 2019 12:14 am

Zelig. Original, clever, well-made, but ultimately it’s not as satisfying for me as are his more three-dimensionally rounded-out comedies and dramas (meaning the better ones). I don’t find what he does with the conformism theme that deep or interesting, although I did find myself speculating this time on how much of this was Allen visiting his own apparently painful upbringing with his parents. It’s also interesting to watch as one of the films where he delves more deeply than usual into his Jewish identity.


Image
Interiors. Watching the film on blu ray helps does justice to it because its spare beauty (in that sense recalling that other chamber piece Cries and Whispers) is one of its winning points. It’s interesting to notice that Hannah and Her Sisters reworks this material to some degree: three competitive sisters coping with their insecurities, one sister’s husband hitting on another, a character obsessed with finitude. It’s an intriguing film but it’s definitely not a masterpiece. Even though Allen succeeds in creating a consistent tone I don’t feel the subject of this family’s neuroses coheres into something especially meaningful in the end. There are a few moments also where Keaton’s acting, surprisingly, is a little underwhelming. Still nice to revisit occasionally though.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#111 Post by Lemmy Caution » Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:53 am

I re-watched Interiors about two weeks back and the main takeaway I had was how good Keaton's acting was. Maybe because it's rather different than her usual persona/range. I think there was one somewhat weak scene where the tone/writing seemed a little off -- which I find characteristic of Woody Allen films -- but overall Keaton was very convincing.
Any particular scene(s) you're referring to?

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#112 Post by AWA » Thu Mar 07, 2019 8:42 pm

After seeing Vicky Cristina Barcelona in theatres upon release in 2008, I recall being eager to see what would come next, in that the next film was to be shot in New York, be a comedy and star Larry David. From all reports, it looked like Woody might finally be returning to a more personal filmmaking that we hadn't seen since Celebrity or Deconstructing Harry - a main character more his age, in New York, a relationship based comedy, etc. Early reports indicated it was closer in style to Deconstructing Harry than anything from the previous 10 years, which was even more promising (Harry is one of my favourite Woody films and, IMO, his last truly great film). But Whatever Works was a big disappointment in so many ways. And, re-watching it for the first time in 10 years last night, it still is.

Despite having all the aforementioned ingredients to make a great Woody Allen film, Whatever Works just finds a way to spoil the soup every time. The themes about life / love / politics / society / meaning are all played so bitterly without any charm whatsoever that it just sours your experience. While Deconstructing Harry was an angry, bitter and pessimistic film (stemming from the central character), Woody's persona plays the Harry character better with joke delivery and some romance when required. Harry might've been a self centred jerk, but he was capable of love and still enjoyed parts of life (even if he over indulged in such pleasures sometimes) - required ingredients to keep the audience's emotional investment (although, for some, not enough, but the skill and creative twists of the rest of that film keep it engaging). Here, the Boris character is just a jerk who cares about nothing at all and gives the viewer few reasons to laugh at or with him.

At the time, Woody claimed this was an old script written for Zero Mostel hastily put together to get a film made to beat the looming Writer's Guild strike. However, while there is some evidence to show that might be true, I don't buy that completely. Woody also commented in a mid-2000's era interview with biographer Eric Lax in the Conversations book that he had a script he really liked and wanted to shoot, but Soon Yi talked him out of it as it would inevitably be perceived as being "autobiographical" about their relationship, how it started and how it functions. Clearly, this is that script - at best, it is a combination of whatever Zero Mostel project he had fused with this one.

Some of the elements that might've been from the Zero Mostel script are apparent and are interesting as an example of Woody's writing as it transitioned between the "early, funny films" and into Annie Hall (The Mostel script stems from 1975 / 1976, as Love & Death was being completed and before Annie Hall was begun). They share several elements - the central character breaking the fourth wall for the most obvious example. As previously mentioned in this thread, the Alvy Singer character is incredibly angry, pessimistic and quite often something of a jerk, but is often over-looked by many viewers as the Alvy-Annie relationship adds romance and empathy for the characters, even Alvy. The Boris character shares a lot of Alvy's character traits, but as played by a gimpy old angry man by Larry David, zero of the charm, wit and humour that Woody can infuse into a character like Alvy or Harry is there to pull it back from the brink.

Continuing another problem first seen in Cassandra's Dream, this feels like an rushed first draft (yes, the writer's strike and all, but if he had something actually ready you'd think he'd get a couple passes over it in time). Almost everything before Melody's mother shows up (as poorly written as it was, including how he introduced Melody to the film) could be easily condensed in half or more or removed completely. It picks up a bit more steam when Ed Begley Jr's father character shows up - it suddenly becomes something of an ensemble piece and we spend time with 3 different stories and character. Getting a break from the relentless pessimism and dourness of Boris is a welcome relief - his bantar in response to Melody's father is funny, something he rarely could pull off before.

The southern characters are cardboard cutout caricatures and even if Woody had expanded that portion of the script it is unlikely he would've gotten more out of them - he simply doesn't know that culture nor does he have the slightest interest in bothering to know. The time frame the film depicts is also ridiculously small - only in a New Yorker's self congratulatory fantasy could two southerns visit NYC and within a month become completely different people in every aspect of their lives.

Having Melody pursued by Henry Cavill's character doesn't exactly work either - we, like Melody's mother, by that point are cheering him on to succeed with her. Telling Boris (at a cafe?) that their marriage is over lands with a dull thud. We could've had something more out of Boris there emotionally, finally realizing something about love and companionship in life, but instead Woody refuses to allow his parroting puppet any second guessing, robbing the film of a much needed emotional / tonal / philosophical left turn.

Despite having Harris Savides behind the lens for this, very little of New York means anything to this film, other than supposedly just being New York is enough to make someone change their life radically from top to bottom in less than a month's time. This could've really been shot just about anywhere, really.

A few of these (mostly writing) issues would continue to be a problem going forward in subsequent films over the next 10 years, but a few of these issues would actually seemingly get addressed in future films as well. Unfortunately for me, it would get worse before it got better as next on my list is You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, which I've seen a total of once, when it came out, in theatres, in New York oddly enough and that was enough for me. I hope it might have some redeeming qualities, but I'm not holding my breath. Thankfully, Midnight In Paris is after that...

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#113 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:37 pm

Lemmy Caution wrote:
Thu Mar 07, 2019 11:53 am
I re-watched Interiors about two weeks back and the main takeaway I had was how good Keaton's acting was. Maybe because it's rather different than her usual persona/range. I think there was one somewhat weak scene where the tone/writing seemed a little off -- which I find characteristic of Woody Allen films -- but overall Keaton was very convincing.
Any particular scene(s) you're referring to?
I'd have to run the disc again but I know I had that reaction during the scene where she's fighting with her husband, when he doesn't want to go see her friends at a party. Some of her line readings there seemed unnatural, like she wasn't really into the character. I know I had a similar reaction to at least another moment later on. Maybe I'm being hypercritical though. Speaking of which...


Café Society. This film really didn’t start off well with that early scene where Eisenberg’s character receives the starting hooker in his new L.A. pad and goes into Woody Allen mannerisms. I wondered whether it was the director or the actor who decided to do it this way but it felt like such bad judgment. Luckily he shook those off for the rest of the movie but it didn’t help things much. This was such an uninteresting, nondescript film – a story with so little to offer, and not a single amusing moment to be had. I was just bored throughout. But then I was bewildered with that last scene where it became apparent the director intended this dénouement to have some emotional resonance, whereas it just highlighted how much nothing had remotely succeeded in establishing an onscreen relationship onscreen between these two characters that we would care about in the first place. I actually liked To Rome with Love more than this.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#114 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Mar 09, 2019 12:42 am

Deconstructing Harry. Allen goes dark here, unafraid to plunge into a more unflattering portrayal of his onscreen persona, with whatever parallels the viewer may wish to see in the director’s publicized real life dramas, though the character of Harry is by no means totally unappealing. Beyond the narrative structure of stories within stories and the jump-cut editing, what’s most surprising at first is the vulgarity of the language, which in Allen’s character is really jarring, and which really stands out as unique in his filmography. It’s not a particularly deep film, or a deeply satisfying one, but to me this has some of his funniest writing ever, and the rawness seems to help (the scene near the start featuring Louis-Dreyfus, and the one with Kirstie Alley screaming at Harry as she’s treating a patient, I find hysterical). The sharpness and edge of the material is miles ahead of the laughs in the films that immediately preceded it, like Bullets Over Broadway. (Like Zelig, it's also one of his works where he addresses his Jewish identity the most.) Unlike AWA, in an objective sense I don’t think it ranks among his highest-quality films, but nevertheless I agree it’s easily the front runner in that long stretch between Husbands and Wives and Match Point. And just on the basis of the laughs and the entertainment value, it’s pretty sure to make my list.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#115 Post by AWA » Sat Mar 09, 2019 6:57 pm

You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is possibly worse than I remember it. About the only thing this adds to understanding anything about Woody's process is the answer to the question of "what would a rushed 1st draft that Woody didn't himself care for look like if it was filmed?".

I'm not even sure what this is supposed to be - if it's a comedy, it's exceptionally unfunny. If it's a drama, there is precious little dramatic about. If it's a romance, there is nothing romantic about it. It's just... half way in between all three of those things and Woody is so uninterested in these characters he can't be bothered to push it one way or another.

Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts do admirable enough jobs with what little they have to work with. Frieda Pinto, fresh off that Danny Boyle hit at the time, is wholly inadequate as an acting talent to extend her character into anything beyond being pretty. Woody doesn't give her much to work with either:
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once Brolin's "Roy" character has seduced her, she is reduced to near dialogueless eye candy and a passenger on his arm for the remainder of the film.
.

The concept of the window-across-the-way romance developing is so unlikely to be rendered ridiculous. Further still,
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the way Roy invites Dia to lunch - and how he chooses to "flirt" with her by relating how much he enjoys watching her undress - is ridiculously bad writing, not to mention it torpedos any sympathy the viewer might have for Roy as his lunchtime "flirting" comes off as exceptionally creepy, not romantic at all. What would've been a much better idea would've been to have Dia persue Roy, distracting him from his marriage and preserving the audience's ability to sympathize with Roy - if an attractive woman like that made overtures to him, that's... a little more understandable? And then when he looks back at his window later on and sees the woman he left behind, maybe then we might care about him realizing he might've made a mistake. That would require us to care about anything Sally and Roy together had previously though, which we don't, so...
Roy is a struggling writer with a background in... medical science? And when he decides he can't be a writer he'd... rather be a chauffeur than revisit medical studies? That's so unlikely, it again either appears to be something unsuccessfully transplanted from another idea or, again, a product of a first draft where he wrote what was convenient at the time for a device for Sally and Roy to meet (treating and diagnosing a rollerblading injury?) without bothering to adjust anything later on.

Oddly enough, much of what might come off as mildly romantic or dramatic isn't even written in the film... it's passed over in passing remarks or summarized briefly in a sentence by the narrator (here is an example of why narration can be truly terrible in service to a film):
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Dia baffingly responds in hesitant intrigue to Roy's admissions of watching her through his window... and later, as she arrives home, flirts by asking him to be sure to watch the window at midnight. Subsequent scenes set up the perfect scenario for Roy and Dia as we learn Sally is going to be out that night. And then... we don't see a damn thing that happens between the two of them at midnight through the windows. It's just forgotten and we move on.

or

The narrator informs us in a single line that "Sally announced to Roy that she was starting her own gallery and wanted a divorce". Uh... I think that should definitely be in the movie? What?
Anthony Hopkins does decent work as Alfie making a huge mistake by falling in love with a hooker. Kind of a reversal of the more "successful" (really depends on how you look at that, obviously, but at least on that films' terms it was) May-December relationship in the previous film, Whatever Works, it looks at some of the fears and problems such a relationship might encounter, which is... at least a little more interesting than anything else going on in the film, in that it might stem from Woody's own personal fears / feelings to some degree? But Hopkins does play his lines well, clever bits of spacing and pauses as needed for effect and adds a confidence to his character that at least adds a bit of depth to an underwritten character.

Gemma Jones has the unenviable task of playing a character Woody has absolutely no interest or sympathy for at all - Woody sets up a strawman argument for himself to ridicule here with her blind faith in psychics and whatnot. She's as annoying to us as she is to everyone else in the film as a result. And yet the film starts and ends with her.

Even one of Woody's most reliably steady saviours of his films fails him completely here - the use of music. Perhaps for budget reasons (in line with the previous films made in London, where budgetary restraints restricted what he could do musically, sometimes leading to great success like Match Point and Scoop, othertimes leading to a mess like Cassandra's Dream), there is only one vintage recording used in the film - Benny Goodman's "If I Had You". A recording I love - but find very annoying by the end of the film as the opening parts of Teddy Wilson's piano intro is used several times but wholly without meaning. Say what one will about a film like The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion, it did repeat itself with musical pieces but did so effectively and successfully - Wilbur de Paris' "In A Persian Market" used for the crime montages, Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" used as the romantic / sexy theme for Laura Kensington character, etc. Here the music is all over the map - "If I Had You" just randomly appears and signifies or helps nothing. This would be the start of a new problem that will pop up from time to time in future Woody films (specifically using Ramsey Lewis Trio's "In With The In Crowd" repeatedly in Irrational Man for one example). Newer recordings by the Eddy Davis Trio (with Woody on clarinet on at least one recording, his first musical soundtrack appearance on one of his own films since Sleeper, 35 years prior) don't work nearly as well and neither does the use of Leon Redbone's "When You Wish Upon A Star" in the opening - as a big fan of Leon Redbone, I'd like to think Woody appreciated Redbone's recordings, but I can't help but wonder if this was a case of it being cheaper to use Leon's recording than one he probably would've preferred of the same song, likely by Ukulele Ike / Cilff Edwards if I had to guess. Along with the other songs he had his own band re-record to save on the music budget. Thankfully, he'd make up for this musical misstep in spades in his next film.

Granted, even if this was a first draft that went to production straight out of his typewriter as soon and as fast as he could write it, he did write himself into a good idea for a film at the end:
SpoilerShow
specifically Brolin's Roy character stealing his friend's book and other writings by breaking into his apartment and talking his laptop, manuscripts, notes, etc. Roy initially believes he was killed in the car accident, but then later, after he's submitted his deceased friend's novel to his publisher as his own writing, finds out he was mistaken, but the friend is in a coma and could, or could not, come out of it. Going to see him at the hospital as a friend relays the big success of Roy's new novel starts to generate a reaction from the friend in the coma, Roy leaves knowing what a predicament he's in.
This alone would've been a far better film, either as a comedy or even a drama with black comedy elements. The whole thing could've been extended by Roy fishing through his friend's writing archives, trying desperately to come up with new material based on scraps and recovering deleted files from his laptop, etc etc. Lots of potential there for comedy. Or drama in having to murder his friend once he begins coming out of the coma? Or something. A few minutes that was actually interesting in the film feels like missing your station stop on a train as you proceed unwillingly along with the train to the next stop, wishing you were visiting and exploring that last brief stop on the route. As a writer, one might've looked at that first draft, realized this part is interesting and has a lot of possibilities and went forward on expanding that. But unless Woody revisits that idea or something similar in a future film, that's all we'll ever see of that one.
If Vilmos Zsigmond's photography was capable of imitating Sven Nykvist / Carlo Di Palma's work with Woody on a film like Melinda & Melinda and wasn't up to snuff in Cassandra's Dream, it is really off the mark here in this film. Lots of unusual angles (scenes with people talking - we're often looking slightly *down* at them - why?) and while Di Palma found inventive ways to keep the camera moving and eliminate the need for filming close ups or cutaways as he could do it all in camera with movements, pans, dolly shots, etc - Zsigmond moves the camera for the sake of moving it, as if he's seen what Woody has done before but doesn't quite know why or how those shots worked. As a result the camerawork is inconsistent and again deprives a Woody Allen film of another one of the better attributes that even the weaker films were known to have done well - great photography. Thankfully, working Darius Khondji on the next film (and other subsequent ones) would go a long ways in correcting that. Sadly, this would be Zsigmond's last ever film.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#116 Post by Rayon Vert » Sat Mar 09, 2019 9:27 pm

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Cassandra’s Dream. This is only my second time seeing this. I'm quite at odds with AWA's take on the film. Yes the photography is quite ordinary, there’s nothing aesthetically pleasing as there was in Match Point, but it didn't jump out and scream awful at me at the same time. (That moment panning to the bush was plainly in order to leave it to our imagination to visualize what has happened offscreen - seems like the kind of idea I've seen before in many films, definitely not problematic for me.) I didn't pay attention to the Glass score and what it undercut or announced too loudly - I was just glad that the film was going a different route than the trademark 20s/30s jazz records!

I didn’t at all find the characters here as especially unlikeable either, not more so than in a lot of Allen’s films. The exception being Ian, but the relative shallowness and self-centeredness seems be the point of his character, as it was with Chris in Match Point (and he does genuinely care about his brother). This is the director playing around the same tropes for the third time, but it isn’t as a copy of the two previous films and there is something new about the character Terry’s reaction – kind of an answer to Judah in Crimes. This isn’t an exceptional film, but for most of it it’s a very serviceable, entertaining drama thriller. Until almost the very end. That ending is so abrupt, awkward and unsatisfying in itself that it feels like Allen just didn’t bother to think out a proper one. Wow, what a wrong note. But then, knowing it’s there, I still find myself enjoying the rest of this. Less than half of the director’s films are keepers for me, and this is one of them (and a rare one for that decade).

I really do wish now he’d stop with the ceaseless, largely dissatisfying comedies and delve into this sort of genre more, preferably exploring different themes.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#117 Post by AWA » Sun Mar 10, 2019 3:01 am

Rayon Vert wrote:
Sat Mar 09, 2019 9:27 pm
Cassandra’s Dream.[/size] This is only my second time seeing this. I'm quite at odds with AWA's take on the film. Yes the photography is quite ordinary, there’s nothing aesthetically pleasing as there was in Match Point, but it didn't jump out and scream awful at me at the same time. (That moment panning to the bush was plainly in order to leave it to our imagination to visualize what has happened offscreen - seems like the kind of idea I've seen before in many films, definitely not problematic for me.) I didn't pay attention to the Glass score and what it undercut or announced too loudly - I was just glad that the film was going a different route than the trademark 20s/30s jazz records!

I didn’t at all find the characters here as especially unlikeable either, not more so than in a lot of Allen’s films. The exception being Ian, but the relative shallowness and self-centeredness seems be the point of his character, as it was with Chris in Match Point (and he does genuinely care about his brother). This is the director playing around the same tropes for the third time, but it isn’t as a copy of the two previous films and there is something new about the character Terry’s reaction – kind of an answer to Judah in Crimes. This isn’t an exceptional film, but for most of it it’s a very serviceable, entertaining drama thriller. Until almost the very end. That ending is so abrupt, awkward and unsatisfying in itself that it feels like Allen just didn’t bother to think out a proper one. Wow, what a wrong note. But then, knowing it’s there, I still find myself enjoying the rest of this. Less than half of the director’s films are keepers for me, and this is one of them (and a rare one for that decade).

I really do wish now he’d stop with the ceaseless, largely dissatisfying comedies and delve into this sort of genre more, preferably exploring different themes.
Well, to each their own I suppose, but I haven't found too many people who would rank this in the upper half of Woody's filmography, so that's an interesting and original take. As for the bush pan, I can think of an infinite number of far more interesting possible ways to shoot that scene than to pan and dolly around a bush. I'm glad the camera didn't pan down the stairwell in Match Point at the key moments, I can tell you that :D

Really though the primary problem for me is the writing. I'm watching all of these films in chronological order (whereas you are jumping around from film to film) so it came across as notable to me that this felt very unrefined in the writing, more like a sketch of how something was to play out but never got edited into something better. The crux of the entire thing hinges on Uncle Howard pitching the idea to them and, despite Tom Wilkinson's best efforts at delivering a convincing pitch, the reasoning just isn't there. There needed to be more leading us to believe that was possible. Amongst other things in the film, some of which I mentioned. My opinion, of course, and I welcome your opposing view. But the writing problem seems to have only grown in the last 12 years for him, too many "first drafts" on screen. And while sometimes a first draft can be good, because he's Woody Allen writing it in the end, but most of the time it's going to be problematic. I do, however, recall liking Cafe Society whereas you completely disliked everything about it, judging on your brief review of it. Vive la différence.

He did return to dramatic themes several more times after this film - Blue Jasmine being the most notable (and probably overall the most artistically successful film he's made since the 90's, surpassing MP, VCB, MIP and others. Less successfully there has also been Irrational Man and Wonder Wheel.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#118 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Mar 10, 2019 12:06 pm

I did notice, doing a search on this forum before the write-up, that there's a few people at least on this board who seem to like Cassandra's Dream even more than I do (!). (It's top 20 for me, not top 10 - granted there are more "objectively good" films that just don't strike my fancy or that I now find aspects of them problematic enough that they affect my liking of them more). Btw, Blue Jasmine and Irrational Man are comdrams, not straight dramas. I wish he'd go the suspense root more often.

I agree with you with the general crux of your argument about the decline of Allen's writing in the past two decades, and your insightful analogy earlier about Allen's approach to filmmaking now as a hobbyist doing model planes, say. That sounds exactly right. With that kind of approach, you can only hope that through sheer luck or accident he'll come up with a winner or two per decade.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#119 Post by AWA » Sun Mar 10, 2019 6:27 pm

Rayon Vert wrote:
Sun Mar 10, 2019 12:06 pm
I did notice, doing a search on this forum before the write-up, that there's a few people at least on this board who seem to like Cassandra's Dream even more than I do (!). (It's top 20 for me, not top 10 - granted there are more "objectively good" films that just don't strike my fancy or that I now find aspects of them problematic enough that they affect my liking of them more). Btw, Blue Jasmine and Irrational Man are comdrams, not straight dramas. I wish he'd go the suspense root more often.

I agree with you with the general crux of your argument about the decline of Allen's writing in the past two decades, and your insightful analogy earlier about Allen's approach to filmmaking now as a hobbyist doing model planes, say. That sounds exactly right. With that kind of approach, you can only hope that through sheer luck or accident he'll come up with a winner or two per decade.
Re-reading through the archives on this treasure trove of a forum is what brought me back here - lots of different takes on things here, many valid points that run contrary to my own. I enjoy it for that reason.

I re-read the Cassandra's Dream thread and yes, there are many who really enjoyed the film. Slightly before I became a very active member of the forum, although I make a cameo appearance in the thread to voice my dislike of the Glass score. Interesting to note though that, despite the positive reactions, many of those people praising in the film hedged criticisms of it that are similar to my own - most brought up the writing problems, plot holes and unconvincing reasoning from Uncle Howard to commit murder. I wonder how those people would feel about this film now all these years later without the fresh sheen of "New Woody Allen Film" attached to it. Maybe they'll still enjoy it for reasons similar to yours, perhaps the criticism I had of it (and many of them) will become more apparent now? Then again... that's what this List Project is all about!

I have no problem with Woody doing suspense, as he has a skill at writing it. However, I wish such films didn't always have to be about murder - why not try to establish suspense and drama based on a crime or some transgression that wasn't murder? Ask those same philosophical questions but not relying on the most extreme (and exceptionally rare) scenario of killing another person. I couldn't help but wonder if Cassandra's Dream might've been a better film if Uncle Howard wasn't suddenly asking them to kill for him and instead was asking some other kind of crime (or maybe, if he did, the brothers had some inclination that Uncle Howard was capable of such things and were possibly attracted to the notion of a life of crime with him or something along those lines to better motivate their sudden decision). Reading through the archive thread, one poster noted that the Uncle Howard character seemed a transplant into the script after possibly abandoning Atwell's character becoming the central motivation to commit murder for whatever reason that suited her situation. That comment made me think that could very well be true, as the Uncle Howard character only (clumsily written) appears in a few scenes briefly and Wilkinson is tasked with having to convince his nephews of the most life altering decision possible in a few relatively short conversations. It would also explain why the character traits of Atwell's character are entirely abandoned towards the end of the film, which is another major misstep for the film for me. And in the early advanced description of the film (posted in that thread) it did seem to suggest that she would be something of the femme fatale. Either way, just bad writing all around - if that was another draft, it certainly needed another pass to clean it up more.

I've continued to see his new releases even though they show flaws of someone not doing this out of the need for personal expression any longer (bits of that show up now and then still, especially in Blue Jasmine for one) but out of hobbyist's concern for craft and the small challenges they (occasionally) present. And if there are 2 or 3 more good / great / excellent films in him that we could get in his remaining years, I'm looking forward to seeing them. I hope the recent pause in his output has given him time enough to not only write a few more scripts to get ahead of himself like he used to be (back in the 80's and early 90's he was working on a new script plus revising / new drafts of 2-3 others at a time) as that, perhaps more than anything else, is the problem (and Robert Greenhut as a producer knew how to gently say no or suggest somethings to him, whereas his sister as producer now seemingly doesn't know anything other than how to market his films and isn't going to disagree about or with any of his ideas). For me though, the 1977-1999 period is the core of his work and always will be. My list is going to definitely reflect that, as much as I have enjoyed some films since then (and a few before that period as well, obviously).

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#120 Post by Rayon Vert » Sun Mar 10, 2019 10:58 pm

Love and Death. So the philosophical dilemma of killing someone is actually first treated here! I really like Sleeper but this is its equal in terms of wrapping the gags up in a narrative and superior in terms of the production design and general execution. The satirical references to European literature and film give it an extra layer and the use of the Prokofiev is pretty inspired. But this works most for me because - and I’m with Domino here - the jokes are generally much better and a lot more consistent; in fact until the film starts losing a bit of steam at the end, they’re pretty much all good, and there are quite a few laugh out loud moments. It’s probably the Allen film where I’m laughing the most and that’s worth something.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#121 Post by knives » Mon Mar 11, 2019 7:19 am

I was rewatching it as well and feel likewise. It's probably the Allen I least remembered though that's because it's reference points were well over a teen's head. What I especially liked was the Blazing Saddlesesque joke that besides Keaton and Allen everyone could have been cast in a dramatic Russian version of this.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#122 Post by knives » Mon Mar 11, 2019 5:23 pm

Sneaking some watches in here.
Scoop
Sure, this is no great film (a theme for this post's viewings), but as a silly, little excuse to have ScarJo play Cary Grant in Bringing Up Baby it's about as good as it should be. It's pretty hilarious and weaves in so many of Allen's pet themes in a smallish fashion I loved it. Especially in the midst of this massive rewatch I was expecting some twist about the ghost to come forth, but that Allen chooses to have it play straight is something of a thematic twist. Because of that as well I was constantly thinking of Alice and Oedipus Wrecks, (which I had just seen a few days before) his other two tales where the supernatural is real. This is perhaps it's weakest presence in a film and a show of Allen's evolution over time until we get to the death of mysticism in Magic in the Moonlight. Alen's god, the god of his childhood, is without question dead since Love and Death, but is the unknown dead? He said maybe not with a smile and glee in Alice, with horror in OW, and here it's with a sheepish shrug. Rather it seems to have become irrelevant except as a little parlor trick. In the decade since that's seemed to harden into a firm yet sad no. ScarJo boning Wolverine was god's last chance it seems. I'm a bit surprised that I've landed on more serious topic for discussing the film though since it's one of his silliest in decades with only about a minute of drama for the whole.

Also the film deserves a slap on the back for casting Ian McShane in a role just different enough to be delightful.

Hollywood Ending
This was actually my first Allen film a million years ago catching it on HBO. I knew his reputation so basically convinced myself this must be good. Watching it again it's obviously not the best, but I like it. Allen's theatrical tendencies hurt the film a bit as they go into overdrive, but the basic comedy foundation especially once he goes blind is great. The film could also shave off a good ten minutes and be much improved. The MVP of the whole thing is George Hamilton which came as a surprise. He not only looks perfect for the part, but plays his character with the right amount of obtuseness to make the plot actually kind of work.

Oedipus Wrecks
Well, hello again to this film. This is one of Allen's funniest film for how small he plays it. There's nothing particularly radical in the tortures the mother plays on Allen, but how he impresses the enormity of the feeling has so much truth to it that it's impossible not to laugh even if only in recognition. This also seems the most blatantly autobiographical given that Farrow is plainly playing herself with the kids and many of the tortures of the mother are based in things reflective of Allen's life. That gives a ghostly sense to the glee on Allen's face during the stabbing. The grossness of his naked psyche though is probably what makes this work so well as a comedy. As for the other two segments; the Scorsese is one of the worst things he's done and the Coppola is a fun little Eloise story that is so out of place in this collage that it's not shocking that people have refused to take it for the delight it is.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#123 Post by AWA » Mon Mar 11, 2019 5:43 pm

When it was released, Midnight In Paris was a welcome relief from the previous 3 out of 4 films that preceded it. Upon rewatching it last night for the first time in several years, it still is, especially coming after having sat through Dark Stranger.

Proof positive again (previous recent example to this film were Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona) that when Woody wants to be bold and mix it up, he can be very successful. Unlike MP and VCB though, this one looked and more importantly *felt* like a classic Woody Allen movie for the first time since at least Sweet & Lowdown. It felt that way to me then and still does now.

From the get go, this is boldly trying something new (or, as is often the case with Woody, re-using something he's done before in a different way and successfully making it feel fresh again). The opening montage of beautiful city scenes (sequenced to Sidney Bechet's "Si Tu Vois Ma Mère") is exceptionally well shot and while recycling Woody/Willis' opening montage for Manhattan, it still works incredibly well. It's something of a short film or music video unto itself. As with Manhattan before it, it doesn't try to MTV it by cutting around the beat / measure of the song, it allows some shots to linger in the spirit of the idea and the song itself. If anything, it is slightly cut around Bechet's playing. While Alica Lepselter was dragging down some of her earlier efforts with Woody, she proves she's come a long way in this film (although, as usual, there is lots of cutaways to coverage as is the case with Lepselter and Woody's famous legendary long takes, while still there, aren't as effective with cuts in them). This is followed by dialogue over top of the opening credits - something he's never done before. It is the first time he's used a pre-credits sequence to start the film since Another Woman 23 years prior. The combination of the two makes for a very compelling and interesting start to the film.

Darius Khondji returns behind the camera, seemingly have done some homework on Woody's shooting style(s), specifically his work with Gordon Willis (and to a lesser extent, Carlo Di Palma). The photography in this film is fantastic, certainly the best in any Woody film since at least the late 90's (any one of Celebrity, Deconstructing Harry or Everyone Says I Love You).

Owen Wilson is by far the best "Woody" stand in since John Cusack in Bullets. The dialogue flows out of him naturally, the influence Woody clearly has had on his persona makes this a natural fit and it's a pity he hasn't returned yet to star in another Woody film. There isn't an attempt on his part to imitate the mannerisms of the WoodyCliche but he carries off all those traits in a much more natural and comfortable way. The acting in general here is mostly far, far better than anything that has come before it in the 2000's era, in part due to the nature of the plot and the need to cast more minor names who can act and can be made to resemble the historical figures they are representing. Instead of shoe horning in as many big name stars as possible as had been the norm for Woody's films for a while now, these roles were mostly filled with smaller names (granted, Corey Stoll has gone on to become a much bigger name, but at the time of this release he wasn't - this part as Hemingway helped propel him to stardom in a big way, deservedly so). (However, an exception is definitely the cameo appearance by Adrien Brody, who is absolutely perfect and hilarious as Salvador Dali). Marion Cotillard is also very good as Adriana. But relying on more character based actors for the first time in a while is a welcome return to Woody's heyday, where his stable of stars / friends filled essential roles and knew how to work with his material. Smaller parts were filled with bit parts for actors like Fred Melamed, Wally Shawn, David Ogden Stiers, Philip Bosco, etc etc. The appeal to big name stars to get into a Woody Allen movie is to show you can really act and you're not just a pretty face. These smaller names actually *can* act to start with. Something to be said for that, as that is an element all too rare in post 2000 Woody films.

The concept of time / place and nostalgia is light and breezy, but it doesn't have to be anything too much more than that and it works satisfactorily. Allowing the time travel to take place by way of a simple car ride is simple but brilliant unto itself. Some sharper writing all around from Woody here as he doesn't let mechanics get in the way of the stories and themes.

There are still signs of some editing required here for the script:
SpoilerShow
specifically in the breakup scene between Gil and Inez - it takes all of a couple of minutes for her to admit to having an affair, they're not right for each other, their marriage is off, he's going to move to Paris and the parents are happy he's gone, etc etc. Way too fast, sloppily written to just get it over with and could've been handled much better. But it doesn't sink the ship, so he gets away with it.
There is also, oddly, a timeline error that music fans will pick up on:
SpoilerShow
Josephine Baker is performing in Paris in the 20's, true - but the song is La Conga Blicoti, which is from 1936. Perhaps that's an in-joke though.
It is somewhat amazing to me how much this film has gone on to have a life of it's own. At any given time, someone somewhere in the world is posting about this movie on any social media platform, even defying / deflecting all the recent social media outrage. It is something close to what Annie Hall meant to previous generations of Woody fans. And, of course, some people just love this movie and don't know or realize or care that it was a Woody Allen film. It's just a good film to them. What's strange to me is that you would think the nostalgic appeal of the 20's with Hemingway or Cole Porter or Picasso would be totally lost on a lot of these people, many of whom I doubt could name a Cole Porter song if asked. But it doesn't matter because the delivery is pitch perfect and the concept can apply to their own preferred era and fantasy - some poor unfortunate soul probably wishes they could go back in time and see a KISS concert or something, I don't know. But it works and works well and is destined to go down in history as one of the most popular and well loved Woody Allen films of all time. Good. It isn't the greatest Woody film, but it will definitely make my list.
Last edited by AWA on Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:11 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#124 Post by knives » Mon Mar 11, 2019 5:54 pm

Honestly, I think I now prefer You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Midnight's message about nostalgia and it's look are perhaps more immediately attractive, but the thematic depth and what it means for Allen's evolution make YWMTDS a film I think about far more often. I'd go so far, running with what I was talking about with Scoop above, as to say that's the film where Allen gave up hope in any other nature. Hopkins is sort of the best Allen in that sense as he stands as an intelligent coming to grips with the fact that life will never be as good for him as those without thought. It's a thought that could turn to a gross violence like with Brolin here or Phoenix later, but mostly it seems to sit with a sad wistfullness that fortunately came to fruition with his best film since MMM a few years later.

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Re: Auteur List: Woody Allen - Discussion and Defenses

#125 Post by BrianB » Mon Mar 11, 2019 10:52 pm

I too recently watched Love and Death and I agree that it is Allen’s funniest film. I also think it is one of his most aesthetically beautiful films, especially in some of the homages to Bergman. The spoofing of the great Russian novels lends itself to exploration of some heady themes (death, love, war). Allen’s portrayal of the reluctant (cowardly according to his fellow villagers and family) and accidental war hero Boris is hilarious but also a real indictment of the absurdity of war. One of my favorite Woody Allen films

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