Posts Tagged ‘Woody Allen’

Film: “Irrational Man”

July 24, 2015

Emma Stone and Joachim Phoenix in “Irrational Man”

I don’t think this will be the last film 79- year old Woody Allen will make, but if its is, he’s chosen to go out pitiless and ugly, as Robert Bresson did in L’Argent. A grim affair, the only thing I found amusing about it was seeing how many times he placed the actors in scenic Newport locations, even for one or two lines of dialogue, in order to get all of those cost-saving perks from the city.

His script editor – himself – is as strict as ever. Not one screen moment, not a word, extends a scene past its dramatic function. We follow characters whose lives are meant to embody the living concepts in his by-now familiar philosophy, but it still holds us because he casts his actors so perfectly. They can blithely discuss the meaning of the universe while ordering from a restaurant menu, but they are so particularized that we never hear the author’s voice, only their own.

His theme is familiar, but presented starkly, without the comic trappings he’s used before. But his conclusion is the same: the existence of genuine goodness in this world is as mysterious and unexplained as the existence of evil. At any time, choosing one over the other may be no more than a random act. There is an additional warning, however: it is dangerous to hold back from life because you’re waiting for the exact opportunity to discover your true nature, which will guide you for the future. The danger is, of course, that your “true nature” may be something you – and  the rest of the world – will wish had stayed hidden.

But the bigger story, for me, is the astonishing Emma Stone. As a college student infatuated with her philosophy professor, played  by Joachim Phoenix, she makes her character’s agonizing conversion to disillusionment, and eventual horror, the strongest element in the film. She seems to instinctively avoid falseness and vanity in her performance, which is remarkable in someone so young. Allen could not have chosen someone more sympathetic to his vision.


Review: “Bullets Over Broadway” (the musical)

May 19, 2014

This is a fun show, especially for those who enjoy the frothy-light kind of musical that was popular before the genre was taken seriously by critics. The story was second to the singing, dancing and the laughs, and the composers, even the greatest like Kern and Gershwin, had to accept that.

The cleverest thing about turning Woody Allen’s delightful film into a musical was in recognizing it as the perfect vehicle for that kind of entertainment. This show would have been a Broadway hit in 1929, the year it was set. And in Susan Stroman, we have the perfect match of director-choeographer and material.  The American musical theatre is in her DNA, and she doesn’t hold back. She gets her actors to demonstrate spectacular performance skills in dance, song and comic gesture, and all while staying in character. We can see the enormous respect and love she has for the old-style Broadway “shtick” of the past, especially in the witty choreography for the “Let’s Misbehave” duet, a highlight.

The one caveat I have – and it’s a major one – may only bother those who love the film, as I do.  Part of Woody Allen’s genius is to know, even when writing a film, precisely what qualities in an actor will best serve the story. Mostly, he wants to show how a real human being will credibly behave in certain situations, and that this will make us laugh. Chazz Palminteri was so perfect as Cheech because Allen used this fine actor’s voice and facial gestures to show how even an uncultured, violent gangster could start to think of himself as a serious artist, to riotous consequences. Palminteri was funny because his passion and integrity were shown to be genuine, while the faux-artist, the playwright played by John Cusack, was more than willing to “sell out” for success.

These are the two main roles in the story, and it’s a big order to find two professional actors who can portray them, night after night, and sing and dance too! To be brief, Stroman hit the jackpot, big time, with Zach Braff as the playwright. But the talented Nick Cordero, as Cheech, was a letdown. In the film, Cheech progressed from mere annoyance at Olive’s incompetence to contempt and, finally, to uncontrollable rage, as if she was trying to destroy his newly recognized destiny as a great artist. It wasn’t only that she was so bad, but her total indifference to his pain was a personal assault, and demanded the ultimate response. Palminteri was hilarious, and a total delight. But Cordero started as merely annoyed, which was okay, but then pretty much stayed there. We never got to witness the growth of this delusion in Cheech. Because Cordero, and Stroman, failed to drive this home, the laughs just didn’t come.


Jobs Follow Demand

May 31, 2011

      Paul Krugman’s latest semi-rant in the Gray Lady is no different from his earlier ones — except that he grudgingly admits to the “sin” of innocence.  He should be faulted, he says, for his innocence of the political realities that keep our economy in this prolonged slump; that maintains a jobless rate near ten percent after more than two years.  If only they had listened, he froths.  Ah, but there is till time.

   His solution? Why, another WPA project of government works, he says, one that repairs our fast decaying infrastructure.

   Did I read that right?  Another WPA?  Krugman still believes that because it worked the last time — or almost worked, at least until FDR recoiled and tried to balance the budget — that it can work this time if only we carry out the program fully.  He also seems to believe that the damned obstructionist Republicans are the only obstacle, but that because they are pitifully devoid of coherence and leadership now (no argument there), we might actually get the chance to do it right this time.

   Provided Obama mans up and unifies his own party behind him.

   Is that all there is to it?  I think not.

   What Krugman seems to overlook about jobs created as part of a frantic, jerry-built public program like that is that those jobs give no real boost to the economy at all, and that the increased debt only adds more dead weight.  The marketplace doesn’t need that.  What it needs is something that sharpens the public’s appetite enough so that they are willing to wait in line for the product.  And, yes, I’m am talking about the IPad2.  Only we need at least half a dozen more like it.  Although this country no longer produces the absolute best in consumer goods, we remain the leader in marketing and distribution on a massive scale.  I think we need government to partner with our largest employers, as well as our most promising startup companies, to break into foreign markets at a level of penetration that we haven’t seen for years.

   Stoke the demand first; the jobs will follow.

The New Woody

   Just a brief word on Midnight in Paris.  Yes, it is a delight, and his wittiest script since Deconstructing Harry.  But that Times article on the artists from the 20’s portrayed in the  film slipped up big time.  The mini gaffe was not to mention that hideous, and hilarious, faux Picasso.  Supposedly a portrait of his fictional mistress, this goofy doodle was as witty a parody as any of the pretentious bilge uttered by his imaginary Hemingway.

   But the bigger gaffe made that one a trifle.  The article misidentified the Bunuel film about the dinner guests who couldn’t leave as The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.  It was actually The Exterminating Angel (1962).

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