Random Factoid #575

24 06 2015

I have a problem.

Whenever I take Advil to relieve a headache, sometimes I act like I am Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine from “Blue Jasmine” tossing back a Xanax by way of a Stoli martini with a twist of lemon.

Jasmine 1

I don’t think that being an alcoholic or a manic depressive is something worth imitating, to be clear.  But somehow, I think acting as put up and frustrated as Jasmine will drive away my headache.  Or maybe it provides me some comfort to think that my life is playing out like some kind of scripted tragedy, like there is some grander plan to all these headaches.

Jasmine 2

And generally, I imagine this song is playing behind me:

 





REVIEW 1,000: Annie Hall

8 06 2015

For my thousandth published review on Marshall and the Movies, I thought it would be appropriate to review an all-time favorite rather than just another disposable, forgettable current release. I ultimately settled on what could very well be my #1, Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” I wrote this piece as an application for the Telluride Film Festival’s student symposium last year; the prompt was, “If you were being sent into the distant future, and you could take just one film with you, what would you take, and why?”

If I were sent into the distant future with only one film, there is no question in my mind that I would bring a copy of Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” I cannot think of another film that better encapsulates all the potential of cinema. If film had ceased to exist in this hypothetical future society, “Annie Hall” could single-handedly regenerate the art form and produce a remarkable diversity of movies in the process.

As the late Roger Ebert stated, “Every great film should seem new every time you see it,” and “Annie Hall” can be watched through any number of lenses producing wildly different viewing experiences. Allen brilliantly builds in many layers to his film, allowing it to speak to anyone who approaches it.

“Annie Hall” is not so esoteric as to preclude it from functioning as entertainment; someone would have to be quite a stoic not to enjoy the misadventures in love of Allen’s Alvy Singer and Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall. Watching Annie swerve dangerously through traffic or Alvy sneeze away cocaine is undeniably enjoyable when seeing it for the first or fiftieth time.

Yet “Annie Hall” is most certainly not limited to this dimension of pure diversion. Allen, like many before him, recognizes that the possibilities for film to exist as art are manifold. Rather than confine his film to one narrow definition of what he believes cinema to be, Allen experiments with how they can interact in a brilliant pastiche that serves as a valentine to all the pioneers before him and a template for all those after him. “Annie Hall” explores many different styles of filmmaking, employing each when appropriate to convey his message and somehow maintaining cohesiveness.

Annie Hall (2)

What Allen pieces together in “Annie Hall” is not merely the story of Alvy and Annie but also the story of how cinema can satisfy the creative impulse. To him, film can function as a second draft of history, a way of commenting on the clarity that can be achieved through art but proves unattainable in life itself. Throughout “Annie Hall,” characters literally revisit their past in their present states, both as passive observers and active participants. By employing this technique, Allen explicitly demonstrates the retrospective qualities of film, exposing it as a tool for grappling with our own histories.

He further reveals the abstract qualities of film by visualizing that which is often relegated to the realm of the conceptual. “Annie Hall” subversively undermines the notion that film can only present the visible surface of photographic reality. Rather than telling us that Annie is having an out-of-body experience during sex, Allen shows us by literally having Annie’s “spirit” leave her physical body and observe from outside the act.

Moreover, he transforms the cinematic image of Alvy to represent the Hasidic Jew that he believes Annie’s family sees when they look at him and turns Annie herself into the animated Wicked Queen for whom Alvy subconsciously perceives himself to be falling.

Perhaps most strikingly, Allen presents subtitles that contradict the words uttered by Alvy and Annie, instead expressing their hidden innermost emotions. Film, in the hands of an astute observer like Woody Allen, becomes an incredibly powerful tool to comprehend the complexities of human communication and interaction.

However, for all the technical and intellectual proficiency present in “Annie Hall,” its greatest strength might very well be the simplicity of its story. It wields some of cinema’s greatest artistic weapons dexterously, but the film is also a beautiful tale about two fully realized characters navigating the treacherous straits of life and love. Humans have always told narratives to make sense of the world, and film is just the latest means to express that need. “Annie Hall” is a brilliant manual for grappling with reality, making its case so effectively through creative exploration of film’s capabilities as a medium.





LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Films of 2015

2 01 2015

Well, time to usher in 2015.  It certainly looks to be another good year of movies with plenty of great actors and directors gearing up with compelling new projects.  And, if you’re a franchise lover, this year ought to be nirvana.

So, here’s a year-beginning top 10 list.  Normally, these do not even come close to lining up with my year end list.  In both 2013 and 2014, only two films from the list were in my final top 10.

It is entirely likely that one or more of these films will not be finished in time for release in 2015 – I mainly worry about “Silence,” which has yet to begin production and will likely be a massive endeavor – so I’ll offer up a few honorable mentions and some 2014 festival holdovers that have yet to be released.

2014 HOLDOVERS: I’m not quite sure what year to file “Maps to the Stars” under given that Julianne Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe this year, but I’ll certainly be glad to see it on VOD (February 27). “While We’re Young” (March 27) looks like an incredibly promising follow-up to “Frances Ha” for Noah Baumbach.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Just outside the list is Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans” (TBD), which teams the director of “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” with perhaps the most exciting working actor, Michael Fassbender.  The McConaissance looks to continue in “Sea of Trees” (TBD), a collaboration with Gus Van Sant.

I am sure in a year with two Pixar movies, “Inside Out” (June 19) and “The Good Dinosaur” (November 25), one of them will be decent. And ok, fine, I guess I’ll get somewhat excited for “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (December 18).

That's What I'm Talking About

#10
“That’s What I’m Talking About” (TBD)
Written and directed by Richard Linklater

Despite all the adoration being heaped upon Richard Linklater after “Boyhood,” the director churns out a “Me & Orson Welles” about as often as he churns out a “Before Midnight.”  I remain cautiously optimistic about his next film, a spiritual cousin to “Dazed and Confused,” which is set in a Texas college in the 1980s and somehow involves a baseball team.  I’m not the biggest fan of “Dazed,” but I’ll definitely be awaiting this one.

Knight of Cups

#9
“Knight of Cups” (TBD)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman

How can any film lover not eagerly anticipate whatever Terrence Malick has cooked up next?  The trailer for “Knight of Cups” was certainly … interesting.  This could be a profound meditation on fame or a Sofia Coppola film made on quaaludes.  Either way, I’m excited to see him work with Oscar winners like Bale, Blanchett, and Portman.  (No offense, Olga Kurylenko.)

The Intern

#8
“The Intern” (September 25)
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Anne Hathaway, Robert DeNiro, and Rene Russo

Make fun of me all you want, but I absolutely adore all of Nancy Meyers’ movies.  My family stops to watch “Father of the Bride” and “The Parent Trap” each time they are on TV, and I thought “It’s Complicated” was a laugh riot.  That was six years ago, so it’s time for her to make a new movie.  The concept of an adult intern seems a little beneath her (not to mention kind of taken by “The Internship“), but I have faith that she’ll provide a potent blend of humor and heart like always.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler acting during film of their new movie The Nest

#7
“Sisters” (December 18)
Directed by Jason Moore
Written by Paula Pell
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph

TINA FEY AND AMY POEHLER IN A MOVIE TOGETHER AGAIN.  This is not a drill, people!  Sure, they’ve hosted the Golden Globes and both cameoed in “Anchorman 2.”  But this is them co-starring in a movie together.  I’m just going to have to watch “Baby Mama” ten times this year to mentally prepare myself.

Revenant

#6
“The Revenant” (December 25)
Written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson

I did not drink the “Birdman” Kool-Aid quite as much as others, but there is no denying that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is making bold, risky cinema.  His next film, shot this fall, brings together Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.  That pairing just needed to happen, first of all.  Iñárritu also requested additional funding so he could shoot the film in sequence, a somewhat odd insistence that has me wondering why it was necessary.  Perhaps to procure that first Oscar for DiCaprio?

Macbeth

#5
“Macbeth” (TBD)
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and David Thewlis

I am not necessarily a big Shakespeare dork, but Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two of the meatiest characters in all of fiction.  Watching Fassbender and Cotillard inhabit them should be nothing short of thrilling.  (They are also directed by Justin Kurzel, whose last feature, “The Snowtown Murders,” needs to be placed at the top of your Netflix queue immediately.)

Midnight Special

#4
“Midnight Special” (November 25)
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver

A big-budget studio sci-fi film directed by the guy who gave us 2013’s indie smash “Mud.”  Hmmm.  I think this could establish Jeff Nichols as the next Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg if all goes well.

FFN_IMAGE_51471858|FFN_SET_60081353

#3
“Untitled Woody Allen Project” (TBD)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Parker Posey

A new Woody Allen film is always reason to rejoice.  But this year’s installment features an odd yet intriguing pairing: Joaquin Phoenix and  Emma Stone, Allen’s new female muse.  There is some kind of teacher-student relationship at the heart of the film, which does sound a little clichéd.  Still, to watch those two act opposite each other ought to be a show.

Silence

#2
“Silence” (November)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

For decades, Scorsese’s work has dealt both directly and indirectly with his Catholic heritage.  With his passion project, “Silence,” religion takes center stage with a story about Jesuit priests in Japan.  Shockingly, Scorsese had to come beg for funds at Cannes for the film; you would think by this point, he could just get a check to make whatever he wants.  It has still yet to shoot, so hopefully the final project is not so rushed that it turns out as sloppily self-indulgent as “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Joy

#1
“Joy” (December 25)
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Annie Mumolo
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro

At this point, David O. Russell could direct Jennifer Lawrence reading a calculus textbook, and I would still buy a ticket.  (And it would probably get her an Oscar nomination.)  I’m not quite sure what they see in the story of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, but I am excited to see how they simultaneously find laughter and drama in it.

What movies are YOU excited to see in 2015?  Any of these?!  If you’re just dying to see “Avengers 2,” I guess we can still be friends…





REVIEW: Fading Gigolo

29 07 2014

Fading GigoloOn paper, “Fading Gigolo” sounds like the kind of movie Woody Allen would have made in the ’70s or early ’80s.  The bored Murray (Allen) facing the obsolescence of his current job decides to pimp out his unconventionally virile buddy Fioravante (John Turturro) to jaded women.  The concept is ripe for laughs and some good character development.

Sadly, Woody Allen didn’t direct “Fading Gigolo.”  That position belongs to John Turturro, who can’t quite recreate the magic of the acclaimed director he managed to cast in a key role.  Whereas even the minor films of Allen manage to provide a unique experience, Turturro’s film is rather bland.

Allen’s character is firmly supporting, which is a shame since he’s the best thing “Fading Gigolo” has going for it.  Even though it’s a little bizarre to hear him speaking someone else’s dialogue, there’s a certain vitality his trademark persona brings to the screen.  The same could not be said for Turturro, who seems to be sleepwalking through the film.

Fioravante is supposed to be entrancing these women, but I’ll be darned if I could tell you what exactly was capturing their imaginations.  Either Turturro was on downers the entire shoot, or he just actually lacks the charisma to hold the screen as a leading man.  He’s been great as a character actor for the Coen Brothers in the past, so I don’t quite know what to think.

In the director’s chair, Turturro is every bit as colorless.  He could certainly have learned the economy of comedy on set from Allen, but he proceeds with making a bloated film that lacks a pulse.  Everything from the way Turturro directs the actors to the elevator music he chooses to score the film feels drained of energy.

And I don’t mean to imply that Turturro is some kind of an anti-Semite, but I felt ill at ease with the way he portrayed the Jewish community in “Fading Gigolo.”  Much of the plot centers around Murray trying to convince a Hasidic rabbi’s widow to see Fioravante for some healing sessions, creepily against her strict religious vow of modesty.  His presence brings about the curiosity of a particularly zealous Hasidic neighborhood watchman played Liev Schrieber, complete with fake sidelocks.  The whole community seems to be constructed as rather exotic by Turturro, almost to the point where their differences are the butt of jokes.

Perhaps it’s just me who found that troubling, but I can make other assertions about flaws in “Fading Gigolo” with confidence.  It’s a film conspicuously lacking in humor as well as in panache.  C+2stars





REVIEW: Magic in the Moonlight

23 07 2014

Magic in the MoonlightAt a Cannes Film Festival press conference back in 2010, writer/director Woody Allen opined rather extensively about his views on life.  Among the misanthropic murmurs, he remarked, “I do feel that it [life] is a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience, and that the only way that you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself.”

Four years later, “Magic in the Moonlight” arrives in theaters to once again hammer home Allen’s personal philosophy as expressed in the quote above.  You know, just in case we happened to miss it in any of his other four dozen or so films.

This pessimistic fatalism goes down, however, quite palatably here because Allen casts two leads far more charming than himself: Colin Firth and Emma Stone.  Though they’re spouting lines that could make Nietzsche chuckle, the film never loses its mirthful mood thanks to the effervescence that the duo radiates.

“Magic in the Moonlight,” similar to 2009’s “Whatever Works,” has the feel of an undeveloped comedy from Allen in the ’70s.  That tenor is achieved by the nature of the concept, yet it’s also due in large part to the spell that Stone casts over it.  Allen clearly sees in her the same kind of alluring wit and personality that Diane Keaton immortalized in his films; it’s simply delightful to watch a wide-eyed Stone revel in one of his creations.

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REVIEW: Blue Jasmine

12 08 2013

Woody Allen’s latest feature shows our most prolific filmmaker access a side of his writing seldom seen: dark and unsparingly grim tragedy.  I’ve seen all of his 48 films, and perhaps not since 1992’s “Husbands and Wives” has he taken such a bleak and hard-hitting look at the demons we battle and the struggles we face.  His “Blue Jasmine” is a modern “A Streetcar Named Desire” mixed in a cocktail with the Bernie Madoff scandal and washed down with a toxic mixture of alcohol and antidepressants.

It’s no stone-faced drama like “Match Point,” though.  There are still plenty of laughs to be had here, although they definitely don’t resemble the kind of humor you’d find in Allen’s early farces like “Bananas.”  Nor do they even take the shape of the clever wit of “Annie Hall” or even “Midnight in Paris.”  In “Blue Jasmine,” we chuckle as we cringe.  Almost all of our laughs are muffled as they come while we grit our teeth.

That’s because his protagonist, Cate Blanchett’s Jasmine (formerly Jeanette, but that name wasn’t exciting enough), is slowly charting her own way to another complete mental breakdown.  She suffered her first one after her husband’s vast fraudulent financial empire collapses, leaving her penniless to fend for herself in the world.  Lost and not placated by her Xanax, she journeys cross-country to San Francisco to stay with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in the hopes of getting back on her feet.

But Jasmine quickly finds that she’s woefully underprepared to enter the workforce since she has no degree, dropping out of Boston University with a year left to marry Hal (Alec Baldwin).  Despite offers from Ginger’s circle of friends to help her find secretarial or wage labor, Jasmine remains defiant, unable to accept the reality that she is no longer among the privileged Park Avenue lot.  Her half-hearted effort to come to terms with her new social standing leads to clashes with her eventual employer, Michael Stuhlbarg’s genial dentist Dr. Flicker, and Ginger’s boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale’s unabashedly honest Chili.

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REVIEW: To Rome With Love

31 07 2012

So maybe it lacks the timely thematic punch of “Midnight in Paris,” but that doesn’t mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy Woody Allen’s latest, “To Rome With Love,” thoroughly and completely.  Sure, it’s not going to be rise to the top of his filmography.  Yet it’s a solid reminder of just how much of a comedic master Allen really is and just how effortlessly the laughs flow.

Part of my love of this movie could just be that I was in Rome a month before seeing it, though I will admit Rome gets a far more shallow portrayal than Paris.  Nevertheless, while we miss out on the Eternal City, we are treated to generous helpings of Woody Allen.  Since the story consists of four vignettes (which are really totally unrelated aside from their setting), we are treated to not one, not two, not three, but FOUR neurotic Woody Allen surrogates in one movie!

Now, if you hate the archetypical Woody Allen character with his nebbish misanthropy and his self-deprecatingly intellectual wit, then “To Rome With Love” will sound a lot like nails on a chalkboard to you.  However, if you are like me and willing to sit through something dreadful like “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” in the hopes of one classic Allen moment, then you could probably care less about a statement on nostalgia or beautiful, city-encapsulating ambiental cinematography.  You’re just happy to see another Woody Allen movie.  And for me, that’s enough.

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