Call me crazy, but I revisit Hollywood Ending far more often than his other Dreamworks fare. It can be glossy and fluffy and broad, but I think that's precisely why I find the film comforting. I think it's well-cast and well-performed for what it is, as well.
You're not crazy - for that and reasons I mentioned, it has aged better. Critics often, especially post 92, fail to swing at Woody's strikes he pitches - Deconstructing Harry being one of his absolute best films he's ever made IMO and the critics hated it - but poll Woody fans now and that film is going to rank Top 10 high on any list, which, considering Woody's achivements, other solid film and standing as an American filmmaker, is indeed very high praise. Hollywood Ending is definitely not that calibre but it is a lot better than it has been given credit for.
Whereas Jade Scorpion, despite its lovely period detail, unwisely used Helen Hunt who, in a cringe-inducingly unfunny, strident, and far too contemporary way, gives what is for my money the worst lead performance in a Woody Allen film, ever. And more, Woody, too, seems to be phoning it in. I think the script is fine, but the two lead performances killed it. Incidentally, that these two consecutive films use actresses from Saved by the Bell is a bizarre, not-unpleasant surprise to this 80's kid.
Jade Scorpion featured (and suffered from) a TV star cast. Dan Ackroyd was no better than Hunt in it. The film also should've been in B&W, alo IMO but it would've helped the film and the comedy in a way that it did with Broadway Danny Rose. Dreamworks contract though stipulated colour only. And I agree completely about Hunt - as big a Woody fan as she was / is, she was the absolute worst choice for that role and it makes you wonder why cast her and kept her. Michael Keaton was fired part way through filming Purple Rose of Cairo for similar reasons - he just seemed to contemporary of a man.
And in defence of Woody's role in the film, you can clearly tell he made the film while fighting one helluva cold. You can see it on his face in some scenes and, if you listen to the tone of his voice, clearly hear it. It is evident enough in his voice that you could re-edit the film to see what order the film was shot in by how Woody's cold develops.
He also wanted Tom Hanks to play that role, but Tom had a prior commitment. Tom might've helped the film a bit in some respects but some of those Bob Hope-ish one liners could only be delivered that effectively by Woody. I have a soft spot of the film, flaws and all.
What's the story about replacing the cameraman in HE? Am I wrong in remembering that it was supposed to be Di Palma but his failing health caused him to step aside?
Woody replaced Haskell Wexler with the incredibly named Wedigo von Schultzendorff.
DiPalma's ill health story is for the next film, Anything Else. After Jean Doumanian and her sharp axe and heavy purse left town in a legal hurry, DiPalma felt maybe he could now return to the action with Woody - everything was set to go, he even did location scouting for the film but his health started getting bad and the insurance company had him take a medical exam, which he failed. He went back to Italy and died before the film hit theatres. He might've really been able to help that film out to be better than it was - Darius was completely thrown in the deep end with under 2 weeks to prepare. He did ok, but clearly he is guessing and imitating "Woody Allen films" half the time without understanding why he's shooting a certain scene a certain way. I like his work so, as I said before, I maintain some hope he'll come around a bit better with this new film.
While I don't want to get completely off track, another reason the DreamWorks films are sketchy could be that Susan Morse was out of the editing chair (another, more bitter, Doumanian chopping legacy) and and Alisa Lepselter, her assistant, was in. Lepselter doesn't have the edge to her work that Morse did, and the DreamWorks pictures are a bit chubby for Woody films. A better editor might've been able to get things in tighter shape - Woody's films don't play well if they run longer, part of what makes his best films his best films is how snappy they are - taught, well crafted films that use every second afforded to them. Woody usually gets the credit for that as a writer, but considering how many of his films have taken on completely new shapes in the editing room, that is an equal credit to Morse (and Woody, who works with her side by side obviously). Lepselter's first run, Sweet & Lowdown, pretty much followed the script (outside of cutting one scene - the bear attack) but her lack of viciousness in the editing room shows up in a big way in Small Time Crooks, which could've used some sharper editing. She has gotten better but her editing, especially compared to Morse's, is pretty pedestrian and very safe.
Cassandra's Dream for me is both his worst film, and the most boring film he has made to date. The actors looked embarrassed to be delivering the lines, and I recall accents being unintentionally funny.
Deconstructing Harry was his last great film, and that is quite some years back.
Cassandra's Dream has it's moments but the english setting was a truly bad idea. Had it been American, things might've been a lot better - but Woody clearly doesn't understand english working class and you can clearly tell the film was written for Americans. The murder scene was really good though. Not really sure why he bothered to film that after Match Point had hit all those notes and did it far better.
I would also agree that Deconstructing Harry was the last film he's made that can stand with the absolute best of his output. Oddly enough, it is also the second to last time he really has anything to say about the characters / age group / Upper East Side world since - he has only recently began to flirt with the idea of dealing with characters his age again (Whatever Works, Tall Dark Stranger) but hasn't really stretched the characters out very much. Larry David's Boris ranting some medicore Woody writing (how many times does he say "inchworm" in that film anyways? Rhetorical question - too many) that was better more for the spirit of Woody trying to say something finally than writing some cardboard cutouts of young people.
And as for the Farrell discussion - I think he's referring to Farrell making a comeback after some of the bad press about his lifestyle staled his career a bit there, but Cassandra's Dream certainly wasn't the film that did it - In Bruges was, which was, IMO, an excellent film.
Just to be clear, when I said "recent" - I was thinking Melinda & Melinda forward....the last 6 or 7 films. None of which, for me, have worked, though I didn't see Cassandra's Dream.
And I think Scarlet Johansson is a gift sent straight from heaven, but both Scoop and Match Point were just, well, strange. They, like the rest of his recent work, just all has felt half-hearted to me....they aren't awful - just miss the target - whatever that may be. His greatest sin seems to be miscasting people. Jason Biggs and Cristina Ricci? Helen Hunt mentioned above is the best example...but it seems every film has a big "huh?" in the cast.
I enjoyed Match Point as a strong bit of filmmaking, as stiff as it might be sometimes. Woody thinks it is possibly his best film, but C&M, the obvious comparison, is much better in that it has more dynamic tension to make the film work - Match Point is an exercise in technique, a technically sound film. It's successful IMO but limited. Scoop is just a mess of a film, memorable only for being what may be Woody's last ever acting role in his own films and for getting one last look at some of his one liners as delivered by the man himself in that Danny Rose revival style. The script is poor (Woody himself refers to it as a kleenex) and reeks of 1st draft. The ending itself is moronic.
Biggs and Ricci were miscast, especially Ricci, who looked like she had never held a cigarette a day in her life previously and completely misread the character's lines to give her absolutely zero charm or allure that Woody's complicated women characters have that keep men coming back for more punishment. She just read the lines as annoying as she possibly could, over emphasizing one aspect of her character and drowning all other potential. Both characters should've been 10-15 years older, that would've helped immensely as well.
And to end this posting back on topic, hopefully the "huh?" casting in this new film is not the lead itself, Owen Wilson, which many are fretting could be the case. Another one of Woody's biggest problems of late is not working with the same cast (aside from three films with Scarlett and two with Brolin) - he's getting fresh faces every time, which means everyone is learning on the job every single film. Plus, as mentioned previously, some of the casting seems more about box office assurances than it does artistic reasons. The last time Woody cut someone out of a film entirely was, I believe, Glenn Close in Anything Else (her character must've had something to do with the apparent time travel aspect that was cut from the film I assume... or she was replaced by Stockard Channing, I can't remember). It would be hard to see him doing that these days. And of course, there is the old talk that Freida Pinto got $3m for Stranger, which would mean the rest of the cast also got paid significantly more than scale as per the norm for Woody films... what a mistake that was. Slumdog Whatnow?