Adventures In Celluloid

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things film.

Dominic Corry: Catching up on Woody Allen

5 comments
Blogger Dominic Corry looks over the work of divisive filmmaker Woody Allen.

Cate Blanchett, director Woody Allen and Alec Baldwin on the set of Blue Jasmine. Photo / AP
Cate Blanchett, director Woody Allen and Alec Baldwin on the set of Blue Jasmine. Photo / AP

In April last year, I wrote about how the broad success of Midnight In Paris was helping to thaw divisive filmmaker Woody Allen's pariah status amongst general cinemagoers.

Since then, two Woody Allen films have come out in cinemas here, and next week sees the New Zealand release of what is fast becoming his most critically-acclaimed film in years - Blue Jasmine - starring Cate Blanchett.

I've seen Blue Jasmine and it's freaking amazing. I'll be writing about that more when it comes out on September 5, but in anticipation of the film's release, I wanted to chime in on Allen's work leading up to it.

Beyond the - admittedly diminishing - social ostracisation that comes with being a vocal Woody Allen fan, Kiwi followers of his work have had a rough time of it in the past decade or so.

While almost all other types of movies accelerated their global rollout schedule, Woody Allen films took longer than ever to get to New Zealand, and even then there was no guarantee of a theatrical release.

By the time Kiwis got to see any particular Woody Allen film during this time, he had invariably already written, directed and released two more in the time since it had come out overseas.

It was a tough time for dedicated Woody Allen fans, and we were denied the chance to view on the big screen works like Celebrity (which I loved!), The Curse of the Jade Scorpion (which I liked!), Hollywood Ending (which I hated!), Anything Else (which was underrated!) and Cassandra's Dream (which was pretty terrible in the final assessment).

Every few years though, a Woody Allen film goes someway to capturing the zeitgeist, and public interest spikes - recent examples include Match Point (2005) and Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008).

Although neither film was exactly sold on Allen's involvement, audiences were lured by the A-grade casts he still manages to attract.

The most recent example of a breakout Woody Allen film was Midnight In Paris, which has gone on to become his highest-grossing movie ever.

It help ensure that his subsequent film, To Rome With Love, would enjoy a wide release in New Zealand. Although I relished many aspects of To Rome With Love (which is newly available DVD), it highlighted an issue with modern day Woody Allen.

The filmmaker has been open about how funding for his films comes principally from Europe these days, where the commerically variable work of a major auteur with final cut is still considered worth investing in. A side affect of that has been a European setting for seven of his last eight movies - not including Blue Jasmine, which takes place in New York and San Francisco. The one exception to those eight was the 2009 Larry David vehicle Whatever Works, which I really dug, but which struggled to find much of an audience outside the Woody Allen fanbase.

Anyway, I have mostly enjoyed Woody's European era - I really loved the French parts of of 1996's Everyone Says I Love You, and he has often recaptured that sense of die-hard, old world romanticism that most modern filmmakers simply can't pull off.

However, more so than any other of his European-set films, To Rome With Love felt like a postcard more than a story. The portmanteau nature of the narrative doesn't help, especially as two of the four vignettes being told are founded on one-note jokes that can't sustain even a twenty minute farce.

I would've happily watched a whole movie centred around the Jesse Eisenberg/Ellen Page/Greta Gerwig love triangle section, but that's probably just because it was such classic Woody Allen material. The stories being told in this film felt like a distant second priority to displaying Rome in all its visual splendour.

It's no secret that tourism hot spots subsidise film production costs in the name of showcasing their locales - just look at, erm, us - but when the films start resembling an actual tourism video, something has gone awry. Still, I was glad to be able to see To Rome With Love on the big screen.

It must've done okay as well here, because the next Woody Allen film released in cinemas in New Zealand was You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, the film he made BEFORE Midnight In Paris, which enjoyed a global release in late 2010, and had been sitting in New Zealand release limbo ever since.

I had been diligently awaiting a DVD release of the film, which in the pre-Midnight In Paris era was clearly not deemed worthy of a theatrical release in New Zealand, so I was very happy to get a chance to see it on the big screen here in April this year, even if it was two and a half years (and two films) after the rest of the world.

The London-set You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger is not one of Allen's better films, but it definitely doesn't feel like a travelogue. It does, however, feel like he dusted off an old script from which he'd already pilfered various ideas.

Allen's films have for a while now existed in a long-extinct world of declarative wit and intellectual formality, but Stranger more than most seems like a movie out of time.

The relationship between Anthony Hopkins' rich divorcé and Lucy Punch's airhead trades on exactly the same dynamic as the one explored by Sydney Pollack and Lysette Anthony's characters in 1992's Husband & Wives, and the earlier film did it better.

Plus Josh Brolin's central philanderer is probably the least sympathetic lead character Allen's ever written, which is saying something considering how many endearing bastards he's created.

But still, I got pleasure out of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger. Please forgive the crude analogy, but to me Woody Allen films are like pizza - even when they're bad, they're still pretty good. His mastery of language, old-fashioned sense of social impropriety and unmissable artistic voice always deliver something of value.

Woody Allen has made more than a film per year since 1977. He's the world's most prolific living director, and has arguably directed more great films than any filmmaker from any era - his only challenger possibly being Alfred Hitchcock.

So I'm perfectly willing to forgive a couple of less than awesome examples of his work in a row, especially if they precede the stunning return to form that is Blue Jasmine.

Although not set in Europe, it's not exactly a homecoming for New York's favourite son, as most of the story takes place in San Francisco.

The city looks gorgeous, but unlike To Rome With Love, the setting supports the narrative rather than the other way around.

Blue Jasmine is proof that, even at 77, his abilities as a filmmaker are in no way impaired - in fact they appear in better shape than ever. It's Allen's most confident and devastating movie in years.

I laughed out loud a lot, but this is a dark film. And gloriously so.

While Blue Jasmine isn't quite making Midnight In Paris money yet in its limited American release, it is generating Allen's best buzz in years and is continuing to draw in audiences.

A well-deserved Oscar nomination for Cate Blanchett seems completely assured.

Don't miss the opportunity to see this modern masterpiece on the big screen next week, when I'll also be posting a blog about Woody Allen's best movies.

* Do you consider yourself a Woody Allen fan? Do you like the recent stuff discussed above? Looking forward to Blue Jasmine?

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 22 Aug 2014 20:58:47 Processing Time: 704ms