The Films of Woody Allen
Take the Money and Run
Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex
Love and Death
Annie Hall (May 5/15)
Written and directed by Woody Allen, Annie Hall details the ups and downs of a tumultuous relationship between Allen's Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton's title character - with the movie boasting a number of oddball cutaways and absurd moments of comedy. (There is, for example, an entire sequence that transpires in animated form.) Allen's imaginative, often avant-garde approach to the material goes a long way towards compensating for a decidedly uneven atmosphere, to be sure, as the filmmaker infuses the proceedings with several justifiably-iconic images and moments (including Marshall McLuhan's almost inexplicable cameo as himself). It's just as clear, unfortunately, that Allen's emphasis on uniformly (and lamentably) unfunny jokes and gags wreaks havoc on Annie Hall's already-tenuous momentum, with the total lack of laughs ultimately ensuring that the film simply doesn't work as a comedy. There is, however, little doubt that the movie's love-story narrative generally compensates for Allen's questionable sense of humor, and it's impossible to deny that the tremendous chemistry between Allen and Keaton plays a significant role in confirming Annie Hall's mild success. The end result is an effort that continually falls short in terms of its comedy elements, and yet the superb performances and genuinely moving romance generally keep Annie Hall afloat from start to finish.
Manhattan (June 27/15)
Manhattan details the comings and goings of several New York City-based friends, with the emphasis placed on the romantic exploits of Woody Allen's Isaac (especially his affairs with Mariel Hemingway's Tracy and Diane Keaton's Mary). In typical Allen form, Manhattan is a thoroughly verbose piece of work that boasts stunning visuals and some seriously strong acting - with, in terms of the latter, Keaton's turn as the intellectual but insecure Mary certainly ranking among her very best performances. The plotless atmosphere does, however, ensure that the movie is only engaging in fits and starts (ie certain sequences fare much, much better than others), and it's ultimately clear that the film is at its best when focused on Isaac's relationships with Hemingway and Keaton's respective characters. Manhattan's arms-length atmosphere is perpetuated by the deliberateness with which everything unfolds, with the movie's 96 minute running time suffering from a padded-out feel and often feeling a whole lot longer than it actually is. The wish-fulfillment finale doesn't ring true in any way, shape, or form, which does, in the end, cement Manhattan's place as a film that one admires more than anything else.
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
Zelig (July 16/01)
Zelig takes a one-note premise and succeeds in turning it into a fairly entertaining little movie. (For a little while, anyway.) Woody Allen stars as Leonard Zelig, a man with the unusual ability to literally usurp the characteristics of anyone that happens to be nearby (if he's in the presence of a shrink, he'll soon believe he's a psychiatrist; if a black man stands next to him, he'll quickly sport black skin and an afro; etc). Allen, of course, writes and directs Zelig, and he's chosen to present the material through old news footage and newspaper clippings - with the idea being that we're watching a documentary assembled from various real-world media. At 82 minutes, however, Zelig is short but not short enough. While this gimmick initially seems fresh and interesting (and it is undeniably very well done; it's nearly impossible to tell new footage from old footage that has been altered to fit Allen into the frame), the movie naturally becomes a little tiresome after a while. A running time of no more than an hour would have been far more appropriate (and far more palatable). But nevertheless, Zelig is still mostly quite entertaining and often very funny (eg it's difficult not to get a kick out of the pronouncement that the Jewish Zelig, as a cross between an Indian and a black man, would pose a triple threat to the Ku Klux Klan).
Broadway Danny Rose
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Hannah and Her Sisters
Crimes and Misdemeanors
Shadows and Fog (June 30/02)
Here's a hint as to how forgettable Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog is: I just watched it last night and it's already mostly slipped from my memory. Set sometime in the 1940s, Shadows and Fog transpires over one very long night as Allen's character stumbles from one part of town to the next. A killer's on the loose and everyone's on edge, but that doesn't stop the nebbish Allen from falling in love with a circus performer (Mia Farrow). There are a lot of cameo appearances - everyone from Madonna to Jodie Foster shows up - but very few make an impact. John Cusack, as an intellectual, is certainly the standout, while John Malkovich, in one of his rare non-psycho roles, is just as effective. But the whole thing never really amounts to much, though it does look great (the black and white photography, constantly shrouded in fog, screams out for a good quality transfer).
Husbands and Wives
Manhattan Murder Mystery
Bullets Over Broadway
Don't Drink the Water
Everyone Says I Love You
Sweet and Lowdown
Small Time Crooks
The Curse of the Jade Scorpion
Hollywood Ending (May 2/02)
Woody Allen once said that the ideal length for a comedy is around 90 minutes. Given that his latest movie, Hollywood Ending, purports to be a comedy and in fact runs close to 110 minutes, it's easy enough to wonder why he's begun to disobey his own rule. The film - which stars Allen as Val, a filmmaker who is stricken with a case of psychosomatic blindness on the eve of a pivotal shoot - is undoubtedly an improvement over last's year's mediocre The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, yet one ultimately can't help but wonder if the strain of making a movie a year has finally gotten to the reclusive director. That's not to say Hollywood Ending is awful - it's still far better than a lot of other movies that have been released thus far this year - and there are undoubtedly a few things worth recommending about the film (eg Treat Williams' stellar turn as a studio head). The inclusion of several head-scratchingly needless elements - a subplot revolving around Val's strained relationship with his rebellious son, for example - effectively compounds the film's various problems, and it seems obvious that an unsentimental editor probably should have been hired to judiciously take out unnecessary sequences and trim down the rest. In the final analysis, Hollywood Ending doesn't really offer any good reason for plunking down over $10 when you could just as easily rent something like Manhattan or Annie Hall (and it's cheaper, too).
Melinda and Melinda (March 15/05)
Unlike the majority of Woody Allen's recent efforts, the failure of Melinda and Melinda can't be attributed to an outwardly obvious source. The film is well made and well acted, and Allen seems content to just let his characters talk - something he's been reluctant to do as of late. Yet the movie never quite becomes anything more than a mildly engaging comedy/drama, primarily because none of this is terribly interesting (which is the bottom line, really). The movie, which follows a dual storyline involving one shared character (Radha Mitchell's Melinda), is nowhere near the worst that Allen has to offer - that'd probably be Curse of the Jade Scorpion - it's still a far cry from the sort of flicks the filmmaker used to crank out on a regular basis. Allen's last movie, Anything Else, seemed to indicate that he was eschewing the plot-heavy vibe that's dominated his work as of late, but Melinda and Melinda veers off too heavily in the other direction. Completely devoid of anything resembling a concrete, cohesive storyline, Melinda and Melinda runs out of steam almost immediately - a situation exacerbated by the lack of compelling characters. This is despite a surfeit of extremely capable actors in the film's various roles, with star Mitchell delivering an affable turn and effectively turning the two Melindas into unique, distinct characters. Mitchell is so good, in fact, that it's fairly disappointing that Allen doesn't allow either of her characters to become more than a typically verbose Allen heroine (ie she's just not given anything to do). The eclectic supporting cast keeps things interesting for a little while - Will Ferrell is in a Woody Allen movie, for crying out loud - but the novelty soon wears off, and we're left with nothing more than an unusually dull Allen flick.
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Vicky Cristina Barcelona (August 14/08)
There's little doubt that Vicky Cristina Barcelona marks another step on the road back to relevance for filmmaker Woody Allen, as the movie - though no great shakes in terms of plot or character development - boasts several engaging performances and dialogue that's as effortlessly authentic as one might've anticipated. The thin and admittedly far-from-fresh storyline - which follows American friends Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) as they embark on a Spanish vacation and subsequently fall for a charismatic painter (Javier Bardem's Juan Antonio) - essentially serves as a springboard for a series of low-key, conversation-driven sequences, with the film's comfortable rhythm only heightened by the cast's uniformly strong work (Bardem's expectedly compelling turn is undoubtedly matched by relative newcomer Hall). The movie's momentum does take a hit following Penelope Cruz's arrival at around the one-hour mark, however, as the actress - playing Juan Antonio's volatile ex-wife - offers up a fiery performance that sort of feels at odds with the exceedingly laid-back atmosphere. Still, this is surely a minor complaint for a breezy effort that generally feels like classic Allen - with the predictably melancholy conclusion certainly cementing this vibe.
Woody Allen's long-awaited return to New York, Whatever Works boasts a plotless atmosphere that's initially easy enough to overlook thanks primarily to star Larry David's thoroughly engrossing work as the central character - yet it's just as clear that the movie does begin to run out of steam somewhere around its midsection (with the inclusion of several downright pointless third-act interludes only exacerbating this feeling). The movie follows grouchy curmudgeon Boris Yellnikoff (David) as he meets (and eventually marries) a sweet Southern girl (Evan Rachel Wood's Melodie), with the bulk of the proceedings generally detailing the specifics of their oddball union and its effect on their friends and family. There's little doubt that Whatever Works, at the outset, comes off as one of the more promising Allen comedies in recent memory, as the film features an exceedingly amiable vibe that's perpetuated by the efforts of the various actors - with David's surprisingly strong performance at the forefront of a uniformly stellar cast (which includes Michael McKean, Patricia Clarkson, and Ed Begley, Jr). Though essentially playing a mean-spirited riff on his Curb Your Enthusiasm persona, David effectively transforms Boris into a figure worthy of the viewer's sympathy - which is, given his relentlessly misanthropic actions and behavior, is certainly no small feat. It's consequently not surprising to note that the movie demonstrably suffers whenever Boris is off screen, with the increased emphasis on supporting characters in the film's second half ensuring that one's interest slowly but surely dwindles. The inclusion of several head-scratchingly needless interludes - ie Begley, Jr's tedious encounter with a gay man at a bar - within its home stretch cements Whatever Works' place as a sporadically watchable yet hopelessly uneven piece of work, and - given the strength of such recent endeavors as Cassandra's Dream and Vicky Cristina Barcelona - it would appear that Allen is better off working overseas.
You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger
A consistently underwhelming effort, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger follows several characters - including Naomi Watts' Sally, Antonio Banderas' Greg, and Anthony Hopkins' Alfie - as they attempt to navigate the thorny landscape of relationships. Filmmaker Woody Allen has infused You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger with an almost aggressively low-key sensibility that ultimately prevents the viewer from wholeheartedly connecting with the characters, as the movie's subdued atmosphere often ensures that the whole thing comes off as the cinematic equivalent of elevator music. And while the less-than-enthralling vibe is often alleviated by the uniformly likeable performances, there's little doubt that the lack of stand-out sequences results in a loss of momentum that grows increasingly problematic as time progresses. (Having said that, there's one interlude, a single-take scene in which a trio of characters engage in an argument, that's as brilliantly conceived and thoroughly enthralling as anything within Allen's rocky body of work.) It's subsequently not surprising to note that the movie peters out in a rather demonstrable way as it nears its anticlimactic finish, which effectively cements You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger's place as just another in a long line of underwhelming misfires from Allen.
Midnight in Paris (June 15/11)
Woody Allen's most entertaining comedy in years, Midnight in Paris follows an American screenwriter (Owen Wilson's Gil) as he's magically transported back to the roaring '20s - with the film subsequently detailing Gil's attempts at balancing his time in both the present and the past. There's little doubt that Midnight in Paris, in its early stages, comes off as a fairly typical Allen effort, as the movie initially details the back-and-forth dynamic between Gil and his seemingly incompatible girlfriend (Rachel McAdams' Inez) - with an ongoing (and anticipated) emphasis on Gil's neurotic exploits (eg Gil worries about Inez's friendship with a pompous professor, Gil contemplates moving to Paris permanently, etc, etc). Wilson's charming performance and the picturesque atmosphere ensure that the movie fares well enough in its early stages, although, as inevitably becomes clear, Midnight in Paris improves considerably once Gil takes his first trip through time - as the inherently compelling nature of the character's fish-out-of-water exploits are heightened by the irresistible presence of several familiar historical figures (eg F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, etc). The pervasively pleasant atmosphere effectively compensates for the few lulls within the narrative - eg Gil's encounter with an almost unreasonably quirky Salvador Dalí (Adrien Brody) - which ultimately cements Midnight in Paris' place as a crowd-pleasing, consistently engrossing effort from a far-from-reliable filmmaker.
To Rome with Love (August 13/12)
To Rome with Love marks Woody Allen's first film since staging a comeback (of sorts) with the vastly entertaining Midnight in Paris, and it is, as such, disappointing to note that the movie, which admittedly does start out with some promise, ultimately becomes just as aimless and tedious as such recent Allen failures as Whatever Works and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Set, of course, entirely in Rome, To Rome with Love details the exploits of several disparate characters as they confront a variety of issues in and around Italy's famed capital city - with, for example, the movie following Roberto Benigni's Leopoldo as he becomes an overnight celebrity for no discernable reason and Jesse Eisenberg's Jack as he's forced to choose between his girlfriend (Greta Gerwig's Sally) and his girlfriend's best pal (Ellen Page's Monica). There's no arguing that Allen does a terrific job of instantly drawing the viewer into the lighthearted proceedings, as the filmmaker offers up a fast-paced and jaunty feel that's reflected in, among other things, the uniformly charismatic performances and irresistibly animated score. The easygoing vibe persists right up until around the halfway mark, after which point it does become more and more difficult to comfortably swallow the increasingly surreal nature of some of these subplots - with, especially, the entire Benigni tale wearing out its welcome to an almost astonishing degree (ie it's just silly). It doesn't help, either, that the movie suffers from a midsection that is, for the most part, meandering to the point of distraction, with the spinning-its-wheels atmosphere paving the way for a final third that is, to put it mildly, somewhat anticlimactic (ie it's impossible to work up the slightest interest in the exploits of a man who can only sing well in the shower). The end result is as uneven and erratic an effort as Allen as ever released, which is a shame, certainly, given the strength of its opening half hour.
Blue Jasmine (August 1/13)
An uneven yet engaging effort from Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine follows Cate Blanchett's Jasmine as she attempts to start her life over after the sudden dissolution of her marriage to Alec Baldwin's wealthy financier. Writer/director Allen has infused Blue Jasmine with a typically low-key feel that does, at the outset, prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the narrative, with the subdued atmosphere compounded by a narrative that almost seems too simple and underdeveloped. It eventually does become clear, however, that Allen has more in mind than just a typical fall-from-grace story, with the impressively unpredictable arc of Blanchett's layered character lifting the film out of its doldrums on a continuous basis - as the character, anchored by Blanchett's frequently stunning performance, becomes a far more engrossing and complex figure than one might've initially suspected. It's just a shame, then, that the narrative is, for the most part, unable to lift itself up to Blanchett's level, although Allen admittedly does a nice job of offering up a few compelling stretches within the lackadaisical midsection (eg Jasmine meets Peter Sarsgaard's charming, affluent Dwight). The end result is a better-than-average contemporary Allen effort that benefits substantially from Blanchett's tour-de-force turn as the title character, as the movie is otherwise exactly the sort of aimless and underwhelming endeavor that one has come to expect from the aging filmmaker.