Archive for October, 2011

Stardust Memories (1980) Woody Allen

Posted in S, Woody Allen Retrospective on October 20, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $10 million+

US Gross: $10 million (unknown foreign numbers)

The things you learn with hindsight and the help of the internet.  Anyway, after doing what little research I usually do, I find that Stardust Memories is a real love it/hate it experience with many fans.  Some hate it so much that seeing it in 1980 was their straw that broke the back of their relationship with the filmmaker.  This was the first Allen film that was at least a dissappointment and at worse a bomb and some of those former fans have never looked back.   To those that love it will call it a masterpiece and some will say it is their favorite.  I say that while I also read a true quote that every Woody Allen film is someone’s favorite Woody Allen film.

Stardust Memories is the American remake of Fellini’s 8 1/2.  I am sticking with the term “remake“ and not “huge fucking rip off“ for the sake of this review.  The original film was a semi-autobiographical film about Fellini.  Film director Guido is going to a retreat to relax after the filming of a movie.  People all over are hounding him for what his next big project is.  Despite all his talk though, he has absolutely no idea what he is doing.  During this time he is remembering/fantasizing about the women who were in his life.  In Stardust Memories we have director Sandy (Allen) is attending a retrospective during a weekend as the editing/finishing touches are being put on his latest film.  He is having a crisis because he no longer wants to do comedies anymore but that is all the fans and the studio wants.  He is also having issues with women as he has to choose between a seductive neurotic woman and one who is more mature.

Woody Allen has always said his trademark nebbish persona is all an act and that Stardust Memories is not autobiographical.  This leads you to think Woody is either full of it, or one of the leading innovators in trolling; edging out Joaquin Phoenix by about 30 years.  If you look even passively you can see characters and their real life couterparts, similar events, or just look at the guy and how he acts in real life.  Now in my limited reading mind you I have heard people who are more knowledgable state that the thoughts of the characters are not Woody.  I can certainly buy that the framework of the story is semi-autobiographical and the characters are hyper-charged versions of him.  Point is while I can see Woody is not putting his whole brain out there for everyone to examine, I at least think he lays the foundation with some truth.

One last point I want to knock down before moving on to my thoughts.  Apparently one of the things fans (or former fans to be more precise) had a problem with was Allen’s portrayal of his fans in the movie.  All of the fans in the movie are ugly annoying people who hound him constantly over autographs, pitching scripts, and criticising him that he should return to his “earlier, funny films“.  Allen has even gone on to say he regrets maybe going too far but says the fans in his films do not represent how he actually feels about his real life fans.  I will defend Woody Allen on this one.  I did not feel like he was saying all of his fans were like this.  I just saw this as a joke about what all celebrities probably deal with.  This is not ALL fans but there are certainly some rabid fanboys who give everyone else a bad rap.

Where the hell was I?  Oh yeah, my actual thoughts on the film.  I think while the films I have reviewed so far have been accesible to everyone, I think this is the first one I have to give a reserved recommendation to.  I think that so many more people can connect with 8 ½ is because the issues being dealt with can be understood by everyone.  Guido has an unabashed love of art but is struck by the worst case of writers block.  And the women he fantasises about are women like his first crush.  This is all done in a fun circus like dream world.  Allen’s problems are, how shall I say, a little more layered.  Allen has no problem making art but simply doesn’t want to be brow beaten into making wacky comedies anymore.  He has problems with making comedies when there is suffering in the world.  He has questions like what is the purpose of living and why is he compelled to make art?  His relationships are more problematic as one is a psycho five days out of the week, and the other he doesn’t love as strongly but is more mature.  While Stardust tries for the same comedic tone, it can get bogged down with some darkness and existential angst.  It resonates more for people who are familiar with Woody Allen’s work where I think people going in cold will be wondering “what the hell am I watching?“.

While Allen borrows a lot from Fellini, you do feel that Allen makes this his own movie by the end.  The structure may be the same, but everything that is inside is out of Allen’s head.  For the most part, he is able to get his points out in funny and amusing ways.  One of the funnies parts is when he makes contact with superintelligent aliens and ends up asking him what woman he should end up with.  Sometimes Allen can go a little overboard with his angst which makes things a little unbalanced.  And no, this is not someone asking he only do his funny earlier films.  At times, the tone can just be awkward.  The acting in this film is very good.  Charlotte Ramping, who plays Sandy’s neurotic girlfriend, gives a great performance which makes me wish she were in more of his films (I may be wrong, I’m not sure if she appeared in any others).

So in the love it/hate it question I have to chicken out and say I just liked this movie.  There were some things which kept me from really embracing the movie.  I am told this is something of an acquired taste and I do intend to see this a few more times (although not any time soon after watching all the movies in this retrospective) to get a more concrete opinion.  If you love Woody Allen’s work, then you should check it out and see if it is up your alley.  If you haven’t seen any of his films, this is really not the best place to start.  And if you hate him, then this will certainly not be the film to win you over.  Next up is A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy.

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Manhattan (Woody Allen) 1979

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on October 19, 2011 by moviemoses

It has been said that Woody Allen did not want this film to be released.  He supposedly offered to make another movie for free if they kept it on the shelf forever.  Now there is still speculation as to why he feels that way and Woody has never really given an adequate explanation beyond saying he didn’t like his acting in it.  Not only is this odd because Manhattan is the highest grossing Allen film ever (also many people’s favorite), but you figure out of the forty something films he’s made that he would feel a little more embarassed about some of the others that may come later in this retrospective.  But anyway, onto the review.

In Manhattan, Woody plays Isaac who is an author and writer for a television show.  He is currently dating a 17 year old named Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) but things soon get more complicated.  His friend Yale (Michael Murphy) is having an affair with the intellectual Mary (Diane Keaton).  Isaac soon falls for Mary and tries to have a relationship with her.

Obviously I haven’t yet seen all of Woody Allen’s movies, but I doubt I will find one as beautifully made as this one.  This is all of his creative talents coming together.  The look of the movie and the black and white photography is gorgeous.  No matter what your opinion of New York is, he manages to make it look like one of the most romantic places on Earth.  Allen was experimenting with teh black and white and the Gershwin soundtrack but it completely works.  It further adds to the tone and the romanticism of everything that is going on.

Despite all the romance for the city, there is more melancholy in the human relationships.  The characters, despite bemoaning the fact their relationships stink, do not have a problem having affairs with others.  Yale is even shown to be content with dicking around his best friend.  Mary is someone who, despite being intellectual, admittedly has problems and does not plan further than a week or so.  Seemingly the only reason Issac is with Tracy is for some kind of ego boost.  Tracy looks up to Isaac and his intellect but he has no use for her as she gets quickly ignored in conversations.  When things go wrong, you can’t help but feel the characters dug themselves into those holes.

This movie is obviously also funny.  In addition to the witty dialog you have some other funny moments such as when we meet Mary’s ex (who was built up as a hearthrob/stud) is none other than Wallace Shawn.  Another is a subplot which involves Isaac’s ex writing a tell all book about Isaac and their relationship.

As I mentioned before, this is one of Woody Allen’s most popular films and there is good reason for it.  This is a movie which has top notch artistry along with a good blend of romance, drama, and humor.  If you have seen any of the other typical Allen films and liked them then you should go and check this one out (I don’t know why you wouldn’t have checked it out by now if that were the case).  Manhattan is one of the greats and worth a shot.

The Ledge (Matthew Chapman) 2011

Posted in L on October 19, 2011 by moviemoses

WARNING: This review comes with strong religious discussion.  If you don’t care for that sort of thing you were warned.

I really don’t want to take the piss out of this movie because I really believe in what the director wants.  However I do have to be honest and if there is any consolation is that I am giving criticism and not straight up hating on this movie.  Okay, time for my usual pre-review tangent.

I remember Kevin Smith talking about how he came to make Chasing Amy or more specifically about making a movie for homosexuals.  Smith has a brother who is gay and who told him how crappy it was that 99% of all movies had hetero romantic relationships and Smith remarked on how lousy that was for him.  Well in the same way, you really don’t know how crappy it is to be an atheist and have the majority of movies that in some way cater to the religious crowd.  It is not that religious people have movies.  I understand that theists are the majority so I don’t have a problem with people catering to that market.  I have a problem that Hollywood has a problem with catering with the atheist demographic.  Why is it the only atheist protagonist I can think of on TV is House?  Why is it the only characters in films that are atheists (at least that I can think of) are Woody Allen characters?  I think what bugs me the most is not just the fact Hollywood doesn’t cater to our demographic, but that there is such a negative stereotype associated with us.  Movie atheists are usually bitter and angry.  They don’t believe in God, not because they just don’t believe, but because they are angry with God.  It’s just so condescending.  Awwww, these atheists don’t believe because they lost a family member or because God didn’t answer a prayer.  Give me a freaking break.  I could go on for much longer but I will spare you of this for the sake of this movie review.

I guess I should temporarily stop this tangent to explain what I mean by making atheist friendly characters.  I know it is hard to make characters that are based on a non-belief.  It is like making a protagonist who is a non-stamp colector.  I guess what I mean is someone who is a skeptical thinker and skepticism does naturally extend to people’s theological beliefs too.

Anyway, back to my tangent.  So I really like where Chapman is coming from when he makes a movie for atheists.  Much like how Sweet Sweetback opened the door for black filmmakers, I would love to see a film come out that opens the door to a whole new market.  Science and reason FTW!  So with all that out of the way, let’s get to The Ledge.

The Ledge is about Gavin (Charlie Hunnan) who one day gets up on the ledge of an office building.  Det. Hollis (Terrence Howard) is sent to talk him down.  Gavin tells Hollis  that he is forced to stand out on that ledge for two hours then he has to kill himself.  This leads the movie to a series of flashbacks about how he got there.  The flashbacks explain how Gavin fell in love with Shana (Liv Tyler) despite being married to her fundamentalist Christian husband Joe (Patrick Wilson).  Joe naturally hates Gavin who is an outspoken atheist.

Director Chapman explained in an interview that he wanted this film to be the Brokeback Mountain for atheists.  While I can understand the comparison in how Brokeback opened the door for homosexual romances, it also shows how Ledge fails in actual execution (unlike Brokeback).  In Brokeback Mountain did you ever see the characters stop and have an extended discussion about whether gay marriage should be legal or not?  Did you ever see them have any real discussion about homosexuality?  No.  The movie did not need to go into some kind of logical debate because it was able to strike the audience on a core emotional level.  We knew the characters love each other but that society was being cruel/potentially violent because of their prejudices.  While it may not be intellectually stimulating it worked emotionally and for the purposes of showing a great movie.

So believe me when I say it really interrupts the flow of the movie when every so often, the characters get together to have a long disussion about belief in God.  It grinds the story to a halt and is not as intellectually stimulating as reading a book or even seeing a theological debate on YouTube.  I mean, there is a lot of emotional things you can highlight about being an atheist.  How about the fact I have had relationships end on a dime simply because they learned I was an atheist.  Not to mention all the marriages that end because over problems like that.  How about discrimination?  Atheists are currently the most hated minority in America.  How about people like Christian scientists who don’t give health care to their kids who eventually die because it violates their faith?  Those are just a few examples which I think are more effective than what was in The Ledge.

There are things I like about the film.  For one the performances are enjoyable.  Terrence Howard only has a small role but as usual he makes the character very endearing.  Patrick Wilson also does a good job with the extremely fundie Christian.  I’m sure there are those that would say his character is too much.  I will simply say I have a friend from high school whom I have debates with who sounds just like him.  He thoroughly believes I cannot be good because I’m atheist and that it is perfectly moral that I am going to hell forever.  But I’m not going to name names nor is this movie about him.  This character is not representative of all Christians but is simply a character representing one belief structure.

The Ledge isn’t a bad film.  It is horribly horribly mediocre.  As I mentioned before the acting is good, the story is servicable, and the movie is even handed with the characters.  For example the atheist in the movie has his problems, and other characters in the movie who are religious are not bad people.  The debate is what matters and not necessarily the people that represent them.  With that being said though, there just isn’t that much enjoyment to be had with this film.  The debates grind the pacing of the movie to a halt and the story doesn’t have as much resonance as you would like.  Overall it feels bland.  It is a movie that to which there is not much for either theist or atheist.  I appreciate the effort and I wish there are more movies (I paid my $15 dollars for this DVD anyway), but I found this was a failed experiment.

World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait) 2009

Posted in W on October 18, 2011 by moviemoses

I finally got this because I was hearing such high praise for this movie its unbelievable.  This movie is about a gifted (although unsuccessful) writer who is eeking out an existence as a crappy high school teacher (who is played by Robin Williams).  He has a son who is a complete and total cockfag.  Picture Jay (from Jay and Silent Bob) who is not redeemable or likable or charming in any way shape or form.  Everyone in school hates him as this kid picks fights with everyone.  The kid dies accidentally and his father makes it appear like a suicide (to kind of protect the kid’s dignity) and writes a suicide note basically stating he was a misunderstood artist and no one knew him.  An unforeseen event happens when the note becomes public, everyone reads it, and it is so brilliant that everyone does see him as misunderstood and now love him on like Ferris Bueller levels.  Williams then gets like his 15 minutes of fame for his son.

This is a dark comedy folks.  This is very dark and I have no idea really how to relate this to you.  Comedy is so subjective it’s hard to say whether you will get into this or not.  This has the potential to either have you laughing or to get you seriously pissed off.  My recommendation to Spoony when all was said and done is to watch the first 10 minutes.  If you don’t like it by then you will f*cking hate this movie by the end.  But I found myself seriously chuckling through this whole movie.

This has the same taste at laughing at a funeral but for some reason it works here.  Robin Williams FINALLY has returned with a great role.  He perfectly plays this guy who is just shuffling through dealing with the stupidity around him with the trademark Williams one liners.  He is not over the top at all.  In fact, he is very grounded and his throw away lines are not pandering to the audience but jabs at the people he is dealing with.  The humor may be dark, but everyone is kind of a bastard so you don’t mind when they get their comeuppance in one way or another.  And while Williams may do bad things, he also makes a realization in the third act which changes him around.

I don’t want to go too much because I don’t want to spoil the movie.  But that being said, I really liked it and think it’s worth a shot.  I say rent it, and like I said before, check out say the first 10 minutes and that is the real test of if you will like the humor or not.  Or if you know you like dark humor or not.  But this was a good small movie from Goldthait and Williams and it was funny for me.

Interiors (Woody Allen) 1978

Posted in I, Woody Allen Retrospective on October 16, 2011 by moviemoses

Finally got back to my Woody retrospective.  When last we left, he just got an Oscar for one of the all time classic comedies in Annie Hall.  How does he follow up?  Why a love letter to Ingmar Bergman of course.  Looking at it now we are used to Woody easily transitioning between the comic and the tragic but back when this movie came out it was a gamble.  Up until this point, we only knew him as an extremely talented comic writer/director/actor.  Seeing people’s reactions to this I’m sure is akin to the movie trailer cliche of a record scratch in the music followed by the characters awkwardly looking at one another.

Annie Hall was an obviously big moment in the career of Allen.  First off, it gave him a blank check to make whatever he wanted since he more than proved himself to the studios.  But more internally, Woody was disappointed.  He wanted to make something more serious and thought Annie Hall, despite its groundbreaking nature, was a compromise.  Allen wanted to make something more like one of his film idols in Ingmar Bergman.  Allen put a lot of his new found cred on the line in making this movie that was so out of form and it was showing in his behavior.  Allen was desperate to save the film and fearful of Interiors bombing.  Through a lot of hard work, he later boasted he pulled it (the movie) out by the “short hairs“.  Interiors received many positive reviews however Allen was ultimately disappointed by the end result of the picture.

I am finally getting into some undiscovered country.  I have seen a good portion of Woody Allen but it was mostly his influential work from the beginning and end of his career.  I missed much of the middle of his career.  I mentioned this before with Tiger Lily but it is strange when you see a film that gets no strong reaction.  Most of the time you see people’s reaction to a Woody Allen film is that they either love it or hate it but strange when they are ‘meh‘ to it.  Once again, I get caught rambling so I should get to actually reviewing the movie.

Interiors is about a family composed of mother Eve (Geraldine Page), father Arthur (E.G. Marshall) and their three daughters Renata (Diane Keaton), Joey (Marybeth Hurt), andFlyn (Kristin Griffith).  Eve is domineering and feels she has to control every aspect of her life.  After their children are all grown up, Arthur separates from Eve causing her life to go into a tailspin.  The daughters are having their own troubles which are made worse by their mother sinking to suicidal levels.

Allen went all in with the drama so as to not have any confusion with the audience.  This is the first time Woody does not appear in the film, not to mention the fact there are no jokes in this movie.  A character laughs once which I’m sure he was pissed about not finding out some way to write out all good emotions.  I kid Woody Allen of course.

Truth is I enjoyed Interiors.  Interiors is about the psychology of the characters and how they deal with the reality of their lives but mostly with death.  Renata buries herself in her art trying to create a lasting legacy while Joey is someone who has unlimited artistic ambition, but no natural talent.  The real focus is with Eve.  Eve tries to make a world for herself so she doesn’t have to face reality.  She is so controlling whenever she goes to her daughter’s apartment she has to tell her how to design the place as well as physically moving furniture around.  Usually when someone leaves a marriage you may naturally tend to think he is being unreasonable not to try to work it out.  In this case, you almost want him to leave the country to get away from her.  Arthur waits until the kids are all grown up as to not damage them and then goes off to find some happiness of his own.  The separation though, completely shatters her world.

Geraldine Page gives an absolutely spot on performance here.  I’m sure many actresses would read Eve as a  ‘psycho mom‘ and completely chew the scenery.  Page though is very subtle both in her maniupulation of her family and in the storm that is raging inside of her.  There is so much tension in the scenes where Eve is visiting with her daughters.  The daughters know the reality of the situation.  They know that Arthur is never going back with Eve but never had the heart to fully tell the truth.  There is always this tension in the air as you feel Eve is always on the verge of exploding even though her face is always stern.  The daughters don’t know whether to keep feeding Eve the lie that Arthur will come back or give her the bitter truth.  Whenever Joey gets fed up, you see Eve push every subtle psychological button and work every manipulative trick in the book to get her way.  There is just so much about the family dynamics that are spot on that I can’t believe there is so much tension in a story about an upper class family going through a divorce.    This movie is very thought provoking in the ways you see the characters all trying to find meaning in their lives but looking in the wrong places.

I can see several reasons why people might not enjoy this movie.  This movie is Woody Allen going in an extreme.  There is a lot of drama, a lot of dense dialog, and a good portion of angst and depression.  I can understand this movie not being someone’s cup o‘ tea.  I think that this movie isn’t brought up in many Woody Allen film conversations, not because this movie is a bad film, but because he has made a ton of films.  There are so many great comedies and dramas that it can easily get lost in the shuffle.  I personally found this very interesting and a great first attempt at a dramatic picture.  Next up on the retrospective is Manhattan.

Whiteout (2009) Dominic Sena

Posted in W on October 13, 2011 by moviemoses

Production Budget: $35 million

Worldwide Gross: $12 million

Whiteout is based on a graphic novel (which I haven’t read or even heard of) about US Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) who is working at a research station in Antartica.  There are only two days before the station closes for the winter and everyone has to go home when a dead body is discovered.  Carrie has to find out why this person was killed and who the killer is before she is stuck there for the winter.

I like you Kate Beckinsale, but you seriously need to fire your agent.  Pearl Harbor, Serendipity, The Underworld movies, Van Helsing, Vacancy, and now this?  Are you in a competition with Jessica Alba over who can churn out the most shit movies?  Well, to the movie’s credit this movie isn’t complete dogshit.  It’s crap, but it is those dry pellets you can easily clean off your carpet when you are potty training them and not some fluid diarrea.  Okay I am moving off that comparison.  The thing is this movie isn’t aggressivly bad or annoying.  It’s just there.  This was a movie where I was like, catching up on my Spanish lessons or reading about TE Lawrence and when I look up I realize I hadn’t missed anything.  There is nothing to get involved with in this thriller.

The main plot is a mess because right off the bat it has no idea where to go.  You may get the idea this is some Agatha Christie whodunnit or maybe like The Thing (fitting with the arctic theme) of having a cast of about ten people and trying to discover who is the villain.  Both you and I would be wrong in this case.  This is not some small ensemble we get to know about because this is apparenlty a huge research station housing a few hundred people.  We get to know (know being a rather loose term) about three characters and the rest of them might as well be mannequins.  Imagine the shock and horror to learn that Wally who runs the test tubes between Labs 3 and 5 is one of the people involved in the conspiracy.  OMG!  That is really the reaction we are supposed to have to such a bland revalation.

It doesn’t even seem like the movie has a clue as to where to go next in the mystery.  In most of these movies, there are clues in the crime scene which gives our protagonist a place to go next.  It is just a natural way to drive the plot.  But in Whiteout, for long stretches Carrie is just sitting around almost like she is waiting for the writers to plant the next plot point in her lap.  There were moments when I was really asking „Is anything going to happen?“ only to have the killer attempt to kill Carrie for no reason whatsoever.  And just when you think this movie can’t get any more lame, then there is the twist.  Because movies like this ALWAYS has to have one.  Trust me, if you can’t deduce from the whole whopping three characters in this movie who the bad guy is then you need to watch more movies.  The end reveal doesn’t even make a damn lick of sense because it doesn’t match at all the character they have built up the majority of the movie.  I swear it almost seems like the character is apologizing to the audience for how crappy the twist is right after it is revealed.

The movie tries to spice up the bland main plot by throwing in two bland mini mysteries.  The first has the characters questioning what is in this package that has the characters killing themselves.  I would have thought a screen writer with even half a brain would recognize it doesn’t matter what a macguffin is.  Seriously, it doesn’t matter if the package had diamonds, or a nuclear bomb, or a priceless work of art, or the world’s funniest joke.  The macguffin doesn’t matter in a movie like this, the journey is what matters.  The second mini mystery involves what happened to Carrie prior to coming to the station.  Something happened on the job which made her want to give up her career but instead chose to live in this Antartic substation.  I’m not saying a character can’t be mysterious and have things revealed later on in the movie.  But this movie has no interesting characters to start with and they do nothing to make them all that compelling.  The movie actually needed to tell us this “secret“ from her past right up front.  It tells us something important to her character.  It makes her vulnerable and therefore makes her a more compelling character.  By making that story some tight lipped secret, all you have done is keep the main character at arms length from the audience so as to not give too much away.  You make her bland for the sake of a payoff that isn’t even worth it.  That’s how ass backwards this movie is.  It tells you things to make you care about the characters at the end of the movie when you have long since stopped giving a crap.

This movie also feels poorly produced.  When we get poorly rendered CGI planes, storms, and even normal snow then you know you are in for a poor movie overall.  Kate Beckinsale is bland but, as mentioned before, that is more a problem of bad writing rather than anything else.  Tom Skeritt is a welcome addition as he is the only one allowed to have any fun on this shoot.  The rest of the cast is just as unremarkable as the rest of the movie.

Again, I didn’t HATE this movie.  But this movie was in planning hell for about eight years before production and sat on the shelf for another two.  How do you think it will turn out?  While there is nothing in this movie to hate, there is also not anything to like either.  The plot is dull, the production is piss poor, the acting is bland, the action is non-existant, and the mystery is damn near laughable.  This movie has already largely been forgotten by everyone and it should stay that way.