Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger

An older couple going through their 3/4-life crises turn to spiritual and physical respites. She turns to a psychic and he marries a girl half his age. But the spirituality is occultic hocum and the girl ends up sleeping with men her own age.

Meanwhile, one generation down, they are having their own 2/5-life crises. But this time they both dabble in the hopes of love outside of marriage with the addition of literature and art. He struggles to make good on the promise of his first successful novel and she wants to open her own gallery. But neither one succeed.

It's like there are no solutions.

"Sometimes the illusion works better than the medicine," the narrator says at the end of the movie. But in the end, the illusions fail as well. The writer thought that by being with the girl next door and stealing a dead man's novel, he could have it all. But he ends up looking back across the way at his own wife, and the dead man turns out not to be dead. The artist thinks that all she has to do is express her desire for her boss and borrow money from her mother, but her boss doesn't reciprocate her feelings and her mother doesn't loan her the money.

It was all an illusion: eternal youth, spirits or stars guiding the future, the notion of romantic love, the ability to express oneself through art. And how much good did any of it do them?

It's kind of a cynical message, given the bulk of Woody Allen's work.

Whatever Works

"You gotta take what little pleasure you can find in this chamber of horrors," Larry David says for Woody Allen at the beginning of the movie.

The solution to the silence of god and the terror of death is love, or sex, whichever you can manage.

The problem with this movie is the jokes. They're just not funny. They are either throw-away quips that are only funny on paper, like when Larry gets a panic attack and Evan Rachel Wood turns on the television to calm him.
"I saw the abyss," Larry says.
"Don't worry, we'll watch something else."
Whereas the other jokes get hit repeatedly on the head with a dead fish.

This isn't my favorite movie of Woody Allen's. Usually when he returns to older material it is during a period of stagnation. But he'd just been putting out some really mature and worthwhile movies. So it's suprising this vehicle originally written for Zero Mostel flopped so badly.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Vicky has normal values, Cristina pursues the alternative lifestyle and Barcelona is the place that offers the opportunity to remain exactly the same.

"[Cristina's] contempt for normal values is boring and cliche," Vicky's husband says. But it is he who is boring, talking trivially over the beautiful Spanish guitar.

It's ironic that Woody Allen uses a narrator who just sounds like he is saying: "Blah blah blah." I mean, why was it necessary for him to narrate that they walked around taking photographs, when it is clearly depicted by the scene? The use of narration was over-bearing and might have been the things keeping me from truly enjoying the film.

It's ambivalent what the moral is supposed to be. I'm tempted to say "whatever works" because it's a line from not just this movie but a couple of Woody Allen's others. But what is working in this movie? Does it mean whatever is working in this particular moment? Ignoring the inevitable ruin that is being driven towards? Because none of the relationships that arose were really working or could have worked for a prolonged period. And so everyone just goes back to status quo. Maybe that is what works. Some people live according to social structures, some pursue romantic passion and others are chronically dissatisfied no matter what they try.

"We are alive," Javier Bardem says, which seems to be the only common bond. Life is too short to worry about how other people choose to pursue happiness. It is too fraught with pain and the fear of death. This moment is the one in which we live. And yet most of us are too scared to be alive in that moment.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Cassandra's Dream

There is a different feeling to Cassandra's Dream that I couldn't quite identify at first. Something new for Woody Allen. I thought it was the English locale, but this was his third movie there. I finally figured out what it was: the score. I'm pretty sure this was his first film with new music scored for it, and by Philip Glass no less.

"I think it's a very moral play [or film]... about evil, about fate. I do think that the writing is very pessimistic. And all that stuff about life being a tragic experience."
"I think we make our own fate," Ewan McGregor says. "I believe that."

Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell are two sides of the same coin. They're both in need of help. But where Ewan wants to springboard a new career and love life, Colin needs to dig himself out of bad gambling debts. The themes of chance, luck and fate are all tightly interwoven so that the seemingly only window for freedom is the very means of entrapment.

Their uncle is the family benefactor who is always at hand to improve the lives of his family. And now, when they need him more than ever, he needs them as well to get himself out of some very serious trouble. It's a kind of Hitchcockian quid pro quo scenario.

But because Colin is the dark side of the force, his brooding undoes him. He is racked with guilt until he forces a confrontation, pitting the sides of the coin against each other.

This seems a companion piece to Match Point. It is tonally and thematically similar with the lighter, creamier Scoop sandwiched in the middle.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Joe Strombel is a journalist who's just gotten the scoop of a lifetime. The only problem is, he's dead.

On the other side of the grave he gets a tip that Peter Lyman, famous and politically-aspiring son of Lord Lyman, may very well be the as-yet-uncaught Tarot card killer.

This movie may be full of improbabilities, but I still like it. I'm not just talking about the beyond the grave stuff. First: why is Scarlett Johansson hanging out with a magician? Second: besides that it's Scarlett Johannsson, it is a little unlikely that Peter would just happen to fall in love with her.

This isn't one of Woody Allen's serious movies, nor does it plumb his personal relationships or neuroses. It's just a good old fashioned murder mystery.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Match Point

Woody Allen returns to the theme of Crimes and Misdemeanors: a man kills his mistress because he can't leave a wife he doesn't love. "Despair is the path of least resistance."

Every flaw I saw in Crimes and Misdemeanors was tightened for Match Point. It was more subtle if maybe a little too drawn out.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers never made it successfully as a tennis pro because, as one of his opponents pointed out, the ball fell too often on his side of the net. Luck, Jonathan would call it, or the lack of it. But it is this very failure of his that makes the difference in the end. What is unlucky in one situation might be lucky in another. Coming right after Melinda and Melinda, Match Point seems a much better contemplation on how one moment could be considered either tragic or, if not comic, at least lucky.

This is Woody's first serious movie in thirteen years and I think he really made the most of it.