Film Review – A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK (2019)

Elle Fanning and Timothée Chalamet in A Rainy Day in New York (2019)A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK (USA, 2019) **½
      Distributor: Signature Entertainment (UK); Production Company: Gravier Productions / Perdido Productions; Release Date: 26 July 2019 (Poland), 5 June 2020 (UK – internet); Filming Dates: began 11 September 2017; Running Time: 92m; Colour: Colour; Sound Mix: DTS (DTS: X) | Dolby Atmos | Dolby Digital; Film Format: D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (4K) (master format), F65 RAW (4K) (source format); Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Woody Allen; Writer: Woody Allen; Executive Producer: Ronald L. Chez, Howard E. Fischer, Adam B. Stern; Producer: Erika Aronson, Letty Aronson; Director of Photography: Vittorio Storaro; Film Editor: Alisa Lepselter; Casting Director: Patricia DiCerto; Production Designer: Santo Loquasto; Set Decorator: Sarah Dennis; Costumes: Suzy Benzinger; Make-up: Stacey Panepinto; Sound: Robert Hein.
      Cast: Timothée Chalamet (Gatsby), Elle Fanning (Ashleigh), Selena Gomez (Chan), Jude Law (Ted Davidoff), Liev Schreiber (Roland Pollard), Diego Luna (Francisco Vega), Suzanne Smith (Roland’s Assistant), Olivia Boreham-Wing (Roland’s Assistant), Ben Warheit (Alvin Troller), Griffin Newman (Josh), Gus Birney (Student Film Crew), Elijah Boothe (Student Film Crew), Will Rogers (Hunter), Annaleigh Ashford (Lily), Frank Marzullo (Screening Room Tech), Kirby Mitchell (Bartender), Rebecca Hall (Connie), Mary Boyer (Aunt Grace), Ted Neustadt (Uncle Tyler), Dylan Prince (Studio Guard).
      Synopsis: Two young people arrive in New York for a weekend where they are met with bad weather and a series of adventures.
      Comment: Allen returns to modern-day New York for his latest romantic comedy, but the setting and the characters are at odds. The movie plays like it should be set in the 1940s or 1950s, with its references to the great American songbook and the ideals expressed an anachronism coming from its college student lead characters. The themes explored are nothing new for Allen, who looks at self-obsessed individuals trying to find a romantic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The story fails to come alive as we cannot buy into the characters as anything but a contrivance to work on their angsts. Along the way, there are witty lines and Fanning has the charm of a Diane Keaton. Chalamet also does his best to breathe life into his character, but we can never really buy into his emotional baggage. At 84 years old and with more than 50 movies under his belt maybe Allen has likely said all he has to say and therefore repetition of themes and stories is inevitable. Here, however, in his attempt to freshen up his approach his use of young characters is a mistake. Allen cannot write dialogue that feels authentic spoken by the modern generation. He would be best to stick to either using older characters or choosing a period setting.

Film Review – MIGHTY APHRODITE (1995)

MIGHTY APHRODITE (USA, 1995) ***½
      Distributor: Miramax; Production Company: Sweetland Films / Magnolia Pictures; Release Date: 1 September 1995 (Italy), 27 October 1995 (USA), 12 April 1996 (UK); Filming Dates: 3 October 1994 – 16 December 1994; Running Time: 95m; Colour: Technicolor; Sound Mix: Dolby SR (Mono); Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: 15.
      Director: Woody Allen; Writer: Woody Allen; Executive Producer: J.E. Beaucaire, Jean Doumanian; Producer: Robert Greenhut; Associate Producer: Thomas A. Reilly; Director of Photography: Carlo Di Palma; Music Supervisor: Dick Hyman; Film Editor: Susan E. Morse; Casting Director: Juliet Taylor; Production Designer: Santo Loquasto; Art Director: Tom Warren; Set Decorator: Susan Bode; Costumes: Jeffrey Kurland; Make-up: Fern Buchner, Romaine Greene; Sound: Robert Hein.
      Cast: Woody Allen (Lenny), Mira Sorvino (Linda Ash), Helena Bonham Carter (Amanda), Michael Rapaport (Kevin), F. Murray Abraham (Leader), Olympia Dukakis (Jocasta), David Ogden Stiers (Laius), Jack Warden (Tiresias), Peter Weller (Jerry Bender), Danielle Ferland (Cassandra), Claire Bloom (Amanda’s Mother), Donald Symington (Amanda’s Father), Steven Randazzo (Bud), J. Smith-Cameron (Bud’s Wife), Jeffrey Kurland (Oedipus), Jimmy McQuaid (Max), Paul Giamatti (Extras Guild Researcher), Yvette Hawkins (School Principal), Jennifer Greenhut (Lenny’s Secretary), Kenneth Edelson (Ken).
      Synopsis: When he discovers his adopted son is a genius, a New York sportswriter seeks out the boy’s birth mother: a prostitute.
      Comment: Allen is a sportswriter married to Bonham Carter, an art curator. When they decide to adopt a baby boy who grows up to be a highly intelligent boy, Allen resolves to track down the boy’s mother. When he discovers Sorvino is a porn star, Allen resolves to put her back on the right path, but meanwhile, his own marriage is in trouble as Bonham Carter is wooed by Weller. In one of his most adult comedies, many of Allen’s typical tropes are evident – fragile relationships, personal insecurities, the need to educate and mentor – but there is a freshness in the way they are presented that makes the film a pleasure to watch. A witty narration is provided by a Greek chorus and the story whistles along to its ironic finale. Sorvino is wonderful as the porn star totally lacking in self-awareness and whose naivety charms Allen. The actor-director delivers many funny one-liners as he takes it upon himself to mentor her. The supporting cast is strong with Abraham the leader of the Greek chorus and Rapaport as a dim-witted boxer suckered by Allen into a blind date with Sorvino. Yes, the ending feels a little overly-contrived, but the piece is styled as a parable and largely works in this format. Look out for the many trinkets in Sorvino’s apartment. Dick Hyman acts as music coordinator and arranger presenting a number of standards on the soundtrack. Sorvino was awarded an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress with Allen’s screenplay also nominated.

Book Review – APROPOS OF NOTHING (2020) by Woody Allen

APROPOS OF NOTHING (2020) ****
by Woody Allen
This hardback edition published by Arcade Publishing, 23 March 2020, 392pp
© Woody Allen, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-951627-34-8
Apropos of Nothing by [Woody Allen]     Blurb: In this candid and often hilarious memoir, the celebrated director, comedian, writer, and actor offers a comprehensive, personal look at his tumultuous life. Beginning with his Brooklyn childhood and his stint as a writer for the Sid Caesar variety show in the early days of television, working alongside comedy greats, Allen tells of his difficult early days doing standup before he achieved recognition and success. With his unique storytelling pizzazz, he recounts his departure into moviemaking, with such slapstick comedies as Take the Money and Run, and revisits his entire, sixty-year-long, and enormously productive career as a writer and director, from his classics Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and Her Sisters to his most recent films, including Midnight in Paris. Along the way, he discusses his marriages, his romances and famous friendships, his jazz playing, and his books and plays. We learn about his demons, his mistakes, his successes, and those he loved, worked with, and learned from in equal measure. This is a hugely entertaining, deeply honest, rich and brilliant self-portrait of a celebrated artist who is ranked among the greatest filmmakers of our time.
      Comment: Woody Allen’s autobiography is a fascinating insight into the life of one of modern cinema’s true geniuses. But, like some of his films, it feels like it could have been even better. Caught between two stools – 1. Giving an honest and witty account of his life and his films and 2. Finally taking the opportunity at length to give his version of the molestation allegations made against him by Dylan Farrow. Allen says that he hopes no-one has bought the book simply on the back of point 2 and regrets having to devote so much space (more than 80 pages) to that issue. That he does so is a necessity, however, as much of the publicity around the case has been based on one side’s account – which was proved to be heavily flawed by a thorough investigation and is further questioned on reading Allen’s plausible version of the whole sorry tale that has likely unfairly tarnished one of America’s greatest filmmakers. It has done so to such an extent that his films can no longer be funded in his own country where there have been vigorous attempts by the Farrow family to prevent publication of this book – Ronan Farrow taking the highly dubious moral high ground view that in such allegations only the point of view of the accuser is to be heard. If those too eager to jump on the accusatory bandwagon would only take the time to read Allen’s account of events they will no doubt reflect on their initial judgement and come to doubt the motivation behind a campaign against Allen led by his manipulative former partner (although importantly not co-habiting partner), Mia Farrow, whose own behaviour is remarkably questionable. Allen’s indifference to his predicament is perhaps the most frustrating element. His philosophical attitude, whilst dignified has also not helped his case. My advice is to read his account and judge for yourselves.
Despite my own inclination –  having read accounts from both sides and considered the judgement of the investigation into the allegation that took place at the time  – that Allen has been falsely accused by a vindictive former partner with highly questionable parenting techniques, there are elements of Allen’s life story that leave the reader a little uncomfortable about his partner choices. It is ironic that his happiest relationship, and a marriage that has lasted 25 years, is with Soon-YI the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow, who was twenty-one when Farrow learned of their affair. Allen has made his partner choices on impulse and little rationalisation and suffered the consequences of those choices. But that shows he is only human in his naivety and he is certainly not unique in having naivety as one of his flaws.
On his career, both as a filmmaker and part-time musician, Allen remains winningly self-deprecating. In his own view, he has never made a great movie. There will undoubtedly be many who agree, possibly based on preconceptions or just a sheer divergence of taste. Most authoritative commentators and scholars of film history would put a strong case for at least four masterpieces in his filmography. For me, Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanours stand with the very best American cinema has to offer. Many of his other films come close. he has also made his share of average movies, or movies that do not achieve his ambition. Allen firmly lays the blame for any quality divergence at his own door – acknowledging his lack of perfectionism as a director or his inability to convert his writing vision to celluloid. He looks to surround himself with the best people he can get. His choice of legendary cinematographers and top-class actors is unquestioned. The freedom he gives these artists to explore their craft is his real skill. Allen will only pull them up if their interpretation of his script or direction is off-key.  He has been known to wholly re-shoot movies or re-cast parts. Again he does not blame the actor or artist’s skills, merely that his own initial judgement in the choice was wrong.
Where the book may disappoint is in the insight Allen offers on his own body of work. We rarely get to scratch beneath the surface of the themes he explores in his movies. Allen’s way is to write film, edit, release and move on. he never looks back and never rewatches any of his movies once they have been completed and released. he no longer reads critiques and has never accepted awards. Many of his movies are covered in 1-2 pages, which to some extent in a sizeable filmography is understandable, but offers nothing to the fan or scholar wishing to get further insight into his films or the creative process in their making.
Hopefully, before he leaves this world the truth around the allegation that has dogged his career since the early 1990s will win out and Allen’s stature in motion picture history will be rightly acknowledged. In the meantime, this autobiography at least enables him to state his case and for those who retain an open mind, it will help them arrive at their own balanced judgement.

Film Review – LOVE AND DEATH (1975)

LOVE AND DEATH (USA, 1975) ****
      Distributor: United Artists; Production Company: Jack Rollins & Charles H. Joffe Productions; Release Date: 10 June 1975 (USA), October 1975 (UK); Filming Dates: 21 September 1974-late February 1975; Running Time: 85m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Mono; Film Format: 35mm; Film Process: Spherical; Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: PG/PG.
      Director: Woody Allen; Writer: Woody Allen; Executive Producer: Martin Poll; Producer: Charles H. Joffe; Associate Producer: Fred T. Gallo; Director of Photography: Ghislain Cloquet; Music Composer: Sergei Prokofiev; Music Supervisor: Felix Giglio; Film Editor: Ralph Rosenblum, Ron Kalish; Casting Director: Miriam Brickman, Juliet Taylor, Blanche Wiesenfeld; Art Director: Willy Holt; Costumes: Gladys de Segonzac; Make-up: Anatole Paris, Marie-Madeleine Paris, Renée Guidet; Sound: Dan Sable; Special Effects: Kit West.
      Cast: Woody Allen (Boris), Diane Keaton (Sonja), Georges Adet (Old Nehamkin), James Tolkan (Napoleon), Harold Gould (Anton), Olga Georges-Picot (Countess Alexandrovna), Beth Porter (Anna), Zvee Scooler (Father), Jessica Harper (Natasha), Féodor Atkine (Mikhail (as Feodor Atkine)), Despo Diamantidou (Mother), Yves Barsacq (Rimsky (as Yves Barsaco)), Yves Brainville (Andre), Brian Coburn (Dimitri), Tony Jay (Vladimir Maximovitch), Howard Vernon (General Leveque), Alfred Lutter III (Young Boris), Georges Adet (Old Nehamkin), Sol Frieder (Voskovec (as Sol L. Frieder)), Lloyd Battista (Don Francisco).
      Synopsis: In czarist Russia, a neurotic soldier and his distant cousin formulate a plot to assassinate Napoleon.
      Comment: Woody Allen channels Bob Hope (with nods to Chaplin and Groucho) and European cinema (notably Ingmar Bergman) in this very funny parody of Russian literature. Allen is the youngest of three brothers and is in love with the intellectual Keaton, but she is in love with Allen’s macho older brother. Allen and his brothers go off to fight in the war against Napoleon and after inadvertently becoming a hero, Allen gets to marry Keaton, who expects him to be killed in a duel with Gould. The whole thing then turns into an assassination plot against Napoleon (Tolkan). Yes, the plot is as convoluted as all that, but it is also a great vehicle for Allen to deliver his one-liners with zing and some visual slapstick. His targets include his favourite neuroses about sex and death. Keaton is again a great foil for Allen who directs with more assuredness than in any of his efforts up to this point. He was one film away from his breakthrough hit ANNIE HALL. Shot on location in Hungary and France.

Film Review – TO ROME WITH LOVE (2012)

Image result for to rome with loveTO ROME WITH LOVE (USA/Italy/Spain, 2012) ***
      Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics; Production Company: Medusa Film / Gravier Productions / Perdido Productions / Mediapro; Release Date: 22 June 2012 (USA), 14 September 2012 (UK); Filming Dates: 11 July 2011 – 31 August 2011; Running Time: 112m; Colour: DeLuxe; Sound Mix: Dolby Digital; Film Format: 35 mm (spherical) (Kodak Vision 2383), D-Cinema; Film Process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format), Super 35 (source format); Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1; BBFC Cert: 12.
      Director: Woody Allen; Writer: Woody Allen; Executive Producer: Jack Rollins; Producer: Faruk Alatan, Letty Aronson, Giampaolo Letta, Stephen Tenenbaum, David Nichols, Helen Robin; Director of Photography: Darius Khondji; Music Supervisor: Michelle Dickson Fine; Film Editor: Alisa Lepselter; Casting Director: Patricia DiCerto, Beatrice Kruger, Juliet Taylor; Production Designer: Anne Seibel; Art Director: Luca Tranchino; Set Decorator: Raffaella Giovannetti; Costumes: Sonia Grande; Make-up: Alessandro Bertolazzi; Sound: Maurizio Argentieri; Special Effects: Daniel Acon, Stefano Corridori; Visual Effects: Fabio Bianchi.
      Cast:Hayley’s Story“: Alison Pill (Hayley, Michelangelo’s fiancée), Flavio Parenti (Michelangelo Santoli, Hayley’s fiancé), Woody Allen (Jerry, Hayley’s father and Phyllis’ husband), Judy Davis (Phyllis, Hayley’s mother and Jerry’s wife), Fabio Armiliato (Giancarlo Santoli, Michelangelo’s father). “Leopoldo’s Story“: Roberto Benigni (Leopoldo Pisanello, a clerk and temporary celebrity), Monica Nappo (Sofia Pisanello, Leopoldo’s wife), Cecilia Capriotti (Serafina, a secretary), Marta Zoffoli (Marisa Raguso, an interviewer for Leopoldo). “Antonio’s Story“: Alessandro Tiberi (Antonio, Milly’s husband), Alessandra Mastronardi (Milly, Antonio’s wife), Penélope Cruz (Anna, a prostitute), Simona Caparrini (Joan, Antonio’s aunt), Ornella Muti (Pia Fusari, a famous actress), Antonio Albanese (Luchina “”Luca”” Salta, a famous actor), Riccardo Scamarcio (hotel thief), Roberto Della Casa (Uncle Paolo), Giuliano Gemma (hotel manager). “John’s Story“: Alec Baldwin (John Foy, successful architect and Jack’s acquaintance and adviser), Jesse Eisenberg (Jack, Sally’s boyfriend), Greta Gerwig (Sally, Jack’s girlfriend and Monica’s best friend), Ellen Page (Monica, Sally’s best friend), Lino Guanciale (Leonardo).
      Synopsis: The lives of some visitors and residents of Rome and the romances, adventures and predicaments they get into.
      Comment: Uneven but fun collection of four distinct, but interwoven stories. Allen’s gift for comic absurdity is exemplified by the opera singer who can only perform in the shower (“Hayley’s Story”) and the Italian clerk who wakes up one morning to find he is famous and hounded by the press and public (“Leopoldo’s Story”). “Antonio’s Story” is more of a bedroom farce, whilst “John’s Story” is a typical Allen tale of lust and regret. Taken in isolation each has its merits, but as a whole, they fail to hang together in a cohesive way, although themes of the effects of fame, manipulation and surrender to one’s baser instincts are a clear thread. Allen and Davis spar wonderfully as parents meeting their daughter’s fiancée for the first time. The Eisenberg/Page segment, however, comes across as forced and contrived. A mixed bag then, but enough to satisfy Allen’s fanbase.

Film Review – THE CURSE OF THE JADE SCORPION (2001)

Image result for the curse of the jade scorpionCurse of the Jade Scorpion, The (2001; USA; Technicolor; 103m) ***½  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Fei Zhao; m. Jill Meyers (clearances).  Cast: Woody Allen, Dan Aykroyd, Helen Hunt, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Berkley, Wallace Shawn, David Ogden Stiers, Brian Markinson, John Schuck, Peter Linari. An insurance investigator and an efficiency expert who hate each other are both hypnotized by a crooked hypnotist with a jade scorpion into stealing jewels. Lightweight Allen film has some nice touches of parody on 1940s film noir and Raymond Chandler. The verbal sparring between Allen and Hunt is also reminiscent of screwball comedies from the era. High production values and a good supporting cast add much to the mix. Notable amongst them is Theron as a spoilt rich floozy. This was Allen’s most expensive film to date. [12]

Film Review – RADIO DAYS (1987)

Image result for radio days blu-rayRadio Days (1987; USA; DeLuxe; 88m) ***½  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Carlo Di Palma; m. Dick Hyman (supervisor).  Cast: Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Jeff Daniels, Tony Roberts, Dianne Wiest, Woody Allen, Seth Green, Julie Kavner, Michael Tucker, Wallace Shawn, David Warrilow, William Flanagan, Mick Murray, Paul Herman, Mike Starr. A nostalgic look at radio’s golden age focusing on one ordinary family and the various performers in the medium. Allen’s affectionate tribute to the 1940s is a series of vignettes based around a family of Jewish New Yorkers living in Brooklyn. Along the way we meet vulnerable characters encountering the challenges of poverty and life who get their pleasures from the radio programmes of the time. Warm and funny, its lack of a central plot is compensated by its strong ensemble cast of characters. [PG]

Film Review – BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984)

Broadway Danny RoseBroadway Danny Rose (1984; USA; B&W; 84m) ∗∗∗∗  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Gordon Willis; m. Dick Hyman (supervisor).  Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Nick Apollo Forte, Sandy Baron, Milton Berle, Craig Vandenburgh, Herb Reynolds, Paul Greco, Howard Cosell, Corbett Monica, Jackie Gayle, Morty Gunty, Will Jordan, Howard Storm, Jack Rollins. In his attempts to reconcile a lounge singer with his mistress, a hapless talent agent is mistaken as her lover by a jealous gangster. Delightful comedy with Allen is superb form as agent Danny Rose and farrow delivering an atypical performance as the gangster’s moll. It’s all wonderfully photographed in black & white by Gordon Willis. The character driven jokes work well in a charming tale. Many old comics appear to recount their favourite Danny Rose stories. [PG]

Film Review – SHADOWS AND FOG (1992)


Related imageShadows and Fog
(1992; USA; B&W; 85m) ∗∗∗  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Carlo Di Palma.  Cast: Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, Madonna, Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, Kate Nelligan, Donald Pleasence, Lily Tomlin, John Cusack, Michael Kirby, Camille Saviola, David Ogden Stiers, Dennis Vestunis, Katy Dierlam. With a serial strangler on the loose, a bookkeeper wanders around town searching for the vigilante group intent on catching the killer. Allen mimics German Expressionism whilst channelling Bob Hope in this dark comedy. The cinematography and production design (by Santo Loquasto) is outstanding. There are star cameos throughout, which sometimes distracts from the story. Ultimately, the main plot goes nowhere and is a mere cypher for character interactions, which lack depth. An interesting, but flawed, experiment. Based on a one-act comedy play called “Death”, published in Allen’s “Without Feathers” (1972), the play and movie are themselves a pastiche of Franz Kafka’s work in general, and of his novel “The Trial” in particular. [15]

Film Review – CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989)

Image result for crimes and misdemeanors blu-rayCrimes and Misdemeanors (1989; USA; DuArt; 104m) ∗∗∗∗∗  d. Woody Allen; w. Woody Allen; ph. Sven Nykvist; m. Joe Malin (co-ordinator).  Cast: Alan Alda, Woody Allen, Martin Landau, Claire Bloom, Jerry Orbach, Mia Farrow, Anjelica Huston, Dolores Sutton, Sam Waterston, Joanna Gleason, Stephanie Roth Haberle, Gregg Edelman, Daryl Hannah, Kenny Vance, Joel Fogel. An opthamologist’s mistress threatens to reveal their affair to his wife, while a married documentary filmmaker is infatuated by another woman. Allen’s examination of the moral dilemma is played out over two intertwining stories – one deadly and darkly serious, the other satirically comic with Allen delivering incisive one-liners. That the cocktail works beautifully is a credit to Allen’s skills as writer and director. Landau and Huston deliver scintillatingly real performances. Alda is also superb as a pompous TV producer. [15]