Archive for September, 2012

Don’t Drink the Water (Woody Allen) 1994

Posted in D, Woody Allen Retrospective on September 12, 2012 by moviemoses

*sigh *

Okay I can’t have a review consisting of just an exasperated sigh but it seemed to come every ten minutes of this 1 hour and 30 minute television movie.

Don’t Drink the Water is Allen’s 1960’s stage play which was adapted again for television in 1994.  The movie is about the Hollander family (Woody Allen, Julie Kavner, and Mayim Bialik) who is on vacation in a Eastern European country and who have to flee to the American Embassy after being wrongly accused of being spies.  Their only hope of freedom relies on the son of the Ambassador who is a bumbling failure Axel (Michael J. Fox).

Now I’ll go ahead and say Don’t Drink the Water is not a bad film.  I’m not one of those people who say there is no such thing as a bad Woody Allen film (there are quite a few stinkers) but I recognize this is nowhere near the lowest.  Maybe I was admittedly not in the mood for such a wacky farce.  But so much of this movie is (excuse the unintentional pun) watered down Allen and lame bits.

I am going to jump a bit and talk about one member of the supporting cast.  I’ll straight up admit I flat out don’t get Dom DeLuise.  Seriously, I don’t get it.  I don’t get why people love him so much.  You know that tired joke about how French people think Jerry Lewis is a genius?  While I don’t think Americans consider Dom DeLuise a genius, I have no idea why everyone thinks he is so gut bustingly hilarious.  Maybe that is why the movie seemed to drag for me.  Every ten minutes, Allen decided we needed another “hilarious“ bit with Dom playing a priest who sucks at being a magician.  His bit sucks, Dom hams it up like he’s telling the greatest knock knock joke ever, and another part of me dies a slow painful death.

Moving on to the rest of the supporting cast, they are fine but underused.  Mayim Bialik, whom you may know as TV’s Blossom, is pleasant enough although she is delagated to love interest to Axel.  I would have liked to have seen more of her but she was pushed to the background.  Edward Herrmann is usually very charasmatic but his character is non-existant.  Julie Kavner was funny as Allen’s wife although it is still bizarre to hear Marge Simpson talking to Woody Allen.  Finally we get to Michael J. Fox.  Fox has always been a charming actor but he is constantly being overshadowed by the over the top Allen.  Whenever he gets scenes by himself, Fox is very funny, but he struggles when he has to yell over Allen’s nebbish stuttering.

Speaking of yelling, that was a big part of my frustration.  There were scenes that were absolute clusters of people fighting to get their line in or to have their character be the center of attention and I just wanted them to shut up.  I could not understand why the usually sharp Allen would have things be so aggressively annoying.  Reading up there were two points that stood out.  One was that the stage play did have sharper dialog and two was the fact this was a very rushed production.  And looking back those points are valid.  I would be frustrated watching it and all of a sudden get an exchange of dialog that was very funny and witty.  I’m sure looking at a better directed stage play I would be able to appreciate the dialog a lot better than this rushed production where you obviously aren’t getting the best take.  It is strange that we aren’t getting the best version of the play from the person who did the play.

Don’t Drink the Water is frustrating.  There are times when the play is very funny and you can see why people like it.  I think Allen is surprisingly the thing that hurts this movie as sometimes he can overshadow the other players in the film and his direction is substandard here.  All in all it is an okay movie but not one I would ultimately recommend.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (Woody Allen) 1993

Posted in M, Woody Allen Retrospective on September 11, 2012 by moviemoses

I know to many this is their favorite Woody Allen comedy.  To me this seemed like a safe diversion in light of Allen’s marital scandal and ill timed movie about infidelity.  It feels like Allen is falling back on his reliable schtick ala Broadway Danny Rose in order to remind people of why they liked him in the first place.  MMM is kind of a spiritual successor to Annie Hall since it is a reteaming of Allen and Keaton and this was the cut out subplot from Hall about a murder mystery.  Here you have Larry (Allen) and Carol (Keaton) who have kind of settled into the dulldrums of their marriage.  Carol suspects their boring neighbor of murdering his spouse (who seemingly had a heart attack).  When Larry is hesitant to play along with Carol, she asks Ted (Alan Alda) to help her which makes Larry jealous.

Seeing Keaton and Allen together again I am reminded of how much more I prefer the Keaton collaborations.  It is not that I think Mia Farrow was a bad actress.  It is just that I thought Allen did a good job of writing for Farrow, while Keaton had a presence all her own.  The banter back and forth feels effortless and the chemistry still feels genuine.  Like my review of Broadway Danny Rose, I struggle to really stretch out this review because as I said, this is the reliable Allen formula you know and love.  Allen and Keaton bicker back and forth under the thin plot of a murder mystery.  There is not much else to be gleaned from this but as I said, the lead is in top form and haven’t missed a beat since their absence.  I still have no idea how the hell this would have ever fit with Annie Hall as Hall was a more intelligent yet funny look at relationships while MMM is a wacky almost buddy comedy.

The supporting characters are also very fun to watch.  I always appreciate seeing Alda outside of MASH as I think he was an underused actor outside of TV.  While a semi rival to Larry, he is not the over the top smarmy jerk from Crimes and Misdemeanors.  He and Anjelica Huston do a great job of being both potential love interests and fun people along for the ride of this interesting thing going on in their neighborhood.

My feelings still mirror that of Danny Rose.  This is a very funny a light comedy from Woody Allen.  It doesn’t reach the ambition or the enjoyment of his best works, but they are enjoyable on their own.  The cast is having fun and work extremely well together and the dialog is sharp and witty.  It is obvious that if you enjoyed the pairing of Allen and Keaton you should definitely check out Manhattan Murder Mystery.