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Non-Review Review: Blue Jasmine

Blue Jasmine is Woody Allen’s irreverent modernised take on A Streetcar Name Desire. Sure, some of the finer details have been changed to protect the not-quite-innocent. The story is relocated from New Orleans to San Diego. (“This is such a European city,” our lead notes, as if to suggest it isn’t such a significant change.) The character of Stanley Kowalski has been divided across several different supporting characters – the Polish Augie and the car mechanic Chili. (“He’s just another version of Augie,” Jasmine suggests of her sister’s later boyfriend, drawing attention to the fact that they are both other versions of another character.)

Allen plays of the structure and the beats of Tennessee Williams’ hugely iconic play, even playfully branding his Blanche Dubois stand-in as the movie’s “blue” Jasmine French. The result is enjoyable and intriguing, anchored on a fantastic central performance from Cate Blanchett as the Southern belle who might not be quite the victim that she claims to be. As with so many Allen films, there’s a rich ensemble at work here, but Blue Jasmine works beautifully by riffing cleverly on a classic of American theatre.

"... the kindness of strangers..."

“… the kindness of strangers…”

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Non-Review Review: Frances Ha

Frances Ha is Noah Baumbach’s tribute to early Woody Allen. Shot in black-and-white and set mostly in New York (although with two brief adventures elsewhere), the film seems like a genuinely affectionate homage to one of the greatest comedians to work in film. However, Frances Ha can’t help but feel like a pale imitation of a master filmmaker. Frances Ha is occasionally charming and clever, but it suffers from too much pretension. It lacks the strange charm of Allen’s best work, the sense of empathy the director can generate for his listless and often self-absorbed leads.

The biggest problem with Frances Ha is that it feels like a knock-off of a much stronger director.

Out in the cold...

Out in the cold…

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Non-Review Review: Sleeper

Sleeper is an enjoyable Woody Allen film, coming from relatively early in the director’s career. He had yet to direct either Annie Hall or Manhattan, arguably his two most popular works, but was coming off a string of well-regarded movies. Sleeper is an affectionate look at many of the science-fiction movies that Hollywood was producing in the late sixties and early seventies, to the point that Allen himself actually sat down with Isaac Asimov to make sure the science-fiction elements of the script were kosher. However, Sleeper is remarkably fluid, allowing room within that framework for Allen to really explore any and all ideas that might possibly have occurred to him. The result is, to borrow a quote from the poster, a highly enjoyable and almost whimsical “nostalgic look at the future.”

Robot in disguise…

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Non-Review Review: Crimes and Misdemeanors

I have to admit a special fondness for Crimes and Misdemeanors. It isn’t my favourite Woody Allen film, but it does sit somewhere near the top of my ranking of the director’s extensive filmography. More than that, though, it’s interesting to revisit Crimes and Misdemeanors in light of the director’s more recent work in films like Cassandra’s Dream or Match Point. Indeed, reflecting on it today, Crimes and Misdemeanors seems to occupy a strange middle-ground, literally positioned half-way between the director’s observational comedies and his more sombre meditations on the human condition. Anchored in a fantastic lead performance by Martin Landau, Crimes and Misdemeanors is an intriguing moral dramedy.

Well suited to each other?

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My Best of 2011: Midnight in Paris & “Diet” Woody Allen…

It’s that time of the year. To celebrate 2011, and the countdown to 2012, I’m going to count down my own twelve favourite films of the year, one a day until New Year’s Eve. I’m also going to talk a bit about how or why I chose them, and perhaps what makes this list “my” best of 2011, rather than any list claiming to be objective.

Midnight in Paris is number four. Check out my original review here.

I’ve been mulling this over since I had the chance to see the film back in August. I think that Midnight in Paris might (just might) be my own favourite Woody Allen film, without any of the usual qualifiers attached. It is my favourite Woody Allen film of the decade, and my favourite one set in Europe, but I’m growing increasingly comfortable just stating that as an absolute. I, personally, prefer it to Manhattan or Annie Hall. I can’t explain it. As I noted in my piece covering True Grit as my eighth favourite film of year, perhaps it’s just that my internal “quality Woody Allen film detector” is broken. After all, I liked – rather than lovedVicky Christina Barcelona, so what do I know of Woody Allen?

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Best Indecision Ever! Movie Reviewers & Fear of Absolutes…

I had the pleasure of catching Midnight in Paris at the weekend, and I liked it. I really liked it. I confessed in my review that I thought it was Woody Allen’s best film of the past decade, and – as I left the cinema – I found myself wondering if perhaps it was the best of Allen’s films that I’ve seen. I’ll freely concede that I have yet to work my way through the director’s extensive filmography, but I have been a lot of his more famous and celebrated films like Annie Hall or Manhattan. Still, I feel reluctant to say that, which is admittedly quite strange. I am a movie reviewer (or, if you’ll allow me a hint of pretension, a “critic”) why am I so scared of superlatives?

Simply the best?

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Non-Review Review: Midnight in Paris

A special thanks to the IFI for sneaking us into an advance screening. If you’re interested, they’re hosting a season of actors-turned-directors through October, with Woody Allen’s Purple Rose of Cairo among those screening.

“You inhabit two worlds. So far, I see nothing strange.”

“Of course, you’re a Surrealist.”

– Man Ray takes Gil’s time-traveling confession quite well

Woody Allen has, to a greater or lesser extent, been heavily influenced by Europe in the past few years. Ignoring Whatever Works, he’s clearly been inspired by the great European cities. Vicky Christina Barcelona is perhaps the most obvious, if only because it was perhaps the most critically and commercially successful, but London has also produced works as diverse as Match Point and You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. Still, if you’re going to work with the major European cities, it seems pointless to avoid Paris, the city of lights and lovers, home to generations of artists for decades upon decades, it has earned a reputation as one of the most powerful and inspiring locations on the face of the planet. Allen does his subject proud, producing what is certainly his best film since his trip to Barcelona, and one I’d rank considerably higher in my own estimation. It seems that even the cynical Woody Allen can become something of a romantic in Paris.

The importance of being Ernest...

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