Thursday, December 30, 2010

Hannah and Her Sisters

I didn't really care too much for the main plot of this movie. Who is Hannah anyway? Well, it's Mia Farrow, isn't it? But I mean, really, she doesn't seem to be much of a titular character. But she's got these sisters, see, and a husband and an ex-husband and they seem to be of much more interest than Hannah.

What is interesting is that Woody plays Mia's ex. I figure that in real life they were still together at this point. But even Michael Cane who plays Mia's current husband is adultrous after four years of marriage. Four years, incidentally, is how long Woody and Mia have been making movies (euphemistically?) together.*

Mia's husband has an affair with her sister. Another sister is struggling to make it on her own. These all sound like recycled plot devices. And they are.

But what I did find compelling about this movie was the secondary plot, which also is a recycling of old material. It centers on Woody's character called "the hypochondriac" who, after a series of false alarms, thinks he finally actually has a brain tumor. To come to terms with his imminent death, he joins a series of religions unsuccesfully. Finally he decides to kill himself. Guess what? He doesn't. But what he does do is go and see a Marx Brothers movie and makes this statement:

"I should stop ruining my life searching for answers I'm never gonna get and just enjoy it while it lasts."

A classic Woody Allen-ism. But what it has to do with the rest of the movie, I don't know.

I give it maybe just shy of three stars.

*Some other facts of possible interest are that Mia Farrow did have twins with her first husband, and the adopted children in the movie are played by her actual adopted children. So, it makes you wonder, when Hannah gets upset over her sister lifting aspects of her private life for a play, if some of that isn't how Mia actually feels re: Woody.

Purple Rose of Cairo

It's the Depression and Mia Farrow is having a bad time of it. Her husband is lousy to her, she's no good at her job and the only solace she finds is at the movie theater.

It is there that she goes to lose herself. But one of the characters of the film is so drawn to her that he leaves the screen and enters the real world.

She wants to leave behind her real problems and he wants to leave his fake world. They meet somewhere in the middle.

But then the movie can't go on and the actor who played him gets involved and tricks Mia into falling in love with him.

She has to make a decision: stay in the perfect world of the movies with a fictional character or take a chance on a real person. She chooses the real.

The movie character goes back into the film and is destroyed and the actor leaves Mia.

She is left alone and her husband tells her: "It ain't the movies. It's real life."

And so what does she do? She goes to the movie theater.

This was the first movie I associated with Woody Allen before I knew who he was. And for a while (right up until I watched it just now), I thought it was boring.

But I think it's a really great homage, not just to movies, but to the act of watching movies.

I think this film goes a little further into Woody's idea about the nature of film being a place to right the wrongs of life. Because it offers the flip side of that coin. That no matter how perfectly you might fix things in a movie, you can't live there.

But it is always there as a consolation.

I think I might give it four stars.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Broadway Danny Rose

I've been remiss in my reviewing duties by not mentioning Mia Farrow.

Her character in this movie is probably my favorite of her roles, mostly because she plays against type.

At some point, I might like to do a comparison of Diane Keaton vs. Mia Farrow. But not now.

Broadway Danny Rose feels like a subtly different kind of movie for Woody Allen. It has the same humor and the same aesthetics, the same themes. But something about it feels different.

Danny Rose is a personal manager, not to the stars but to acts such as a one-armed juggler, a balloon folder, a bad ventriloquist, and a has-been crooner.

It is with the latter that this movie concerns itself. Danny Rose does everything for his clients. His faith in them is off the charts and he would do anything to further their careers. So when the crooner asks that the woman he is having an affair with be brought to an important gig, Rose agrees to be his "beard."

Hijinks ensue.

Danny Rose gives Mia his philosophy, but I think it is also Woody's to us. "We all want what we can't have," he says, which is definitely a theme of most of his movies. But why do we do that? He has a theory on that too. "It's important to have some laughs, no question about it. But you got to suffer a little bit too, because otherwise you miss the whole point of life."

The final scene is similar to the final scene in Manhattan: he's literally chasing after the girl. But unlike in Manhattan, he gets the girl in the end. It's one of the few happy endings in Woody Allen's career.

I like this movie. I think it's one of Allen's overlooked films, but I'm not sure why. I give it 3 3/4 stars.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Leonard Zelig is a man who can apparently change his physical appearance and mannerisms to mimic those around him. He is known as the chameleon who wants so badly to be liked and to assimilate that he transforms himself over and over. And then there is a backlash against him but he proves himself.

It isn't a stretch of the imagination to see this movie as a metaphor for Allen's career. He mimics great directors in order to become one. After all, in Zelig, Allen has literally inserted himself in pre-existing stock footage. He continually reinvents himself on the screen and uses the template of those who have gone before him. He is celebrated and criticized, but as Saul Bellow says in his interview, "It is his disorder that saves him."

I think Zelig is an interesting idea but not a very good movie. It gets a little boring even running at 80 minutes. It probably would have been better as a short.
I give it three stars.

Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy

This is Shakespeare by way of Woody Allen. I've never read the play, so I don't know how far afield Woody goes, but it seems to be fairly well appropriated. It feels like a Woody Allen movie.

A trio of couples are spending the weekend at a house in the pastoral countryside. One of the couples is married, another is about to get married and the third aren't even considering it. Hijinks ensue. This is probably one of my least favorite movies from the 80's of Woody's.

So, in lieu of delving into what all maybe delvable in this film, I give you this nifty chart:

Stardust Memories

It's the 1980's and Diane Keaton has been dropped like a hot potato that has been held for six years.

Stardust Memories is filmed in the style of Federico Fellini's 8 1/2 and Allen uses the form as a mirror. In the movie, Allen plays a director going to a screening of his earlier, funnier works. There are a lot of sound bytes that could easily have been lobbed at Allen himself. They are either self-criticism or the recycling of media critics. He is pretentious, he is narcissistic, he doesn't know what he's doing, he's a genius. And then also the romantic aspect where his character is caught in a revolving door of women.

"Should I change my movie? Should I change my life?" Woody asks toward the middle of the film. And it does seem, more than almost any other director, that Woody Allen lives his life through his films. He can't seem to escape the fact that he keeps repeating -- that art is the chance to control what you can't control in life.

I don't know how much the failed relationship in the movie reflects his failed relationship with Diane Keaton, but it is clear that Woody has no intentions of letting failure keep him from moving on.

In Manhattan, Mariel Hemingway gives Woody a harmonica, and in this movie, Charlotte Rampling gives him a flute. I wonder if this is supposed to be symbolic. But I have to be careful with reading into things too much lest I become like the snobs analyzing his films in the movie:
"What do you think the significance of the Rolls Royce was?"
"I think it symbolized his car."

Sometimes you just have to appreciate something for what it is, without trying to dig around in its psyche for hidden meanings.