Movie Diary 10/25/2021

A Rainy Day in New York (Woody Allen, 2019). Unreleased in the U.S., as you may have heard. It takes place over a weekend, as an Ivy League smartass (Timothee Chalamet) squires his girlfriend (Elle Fanning) to Manhattan, where she comes into the orbit of a movie director (Liev Schrieber) and screenwriter (Jude Law). TC also has free time to get involved with an old acquaintance (Selena Gomez). Vittorio Storaro’s camera sometimes spins pleasantly around the characters (even if there’s a sense that he’s working too hard to jazz things up), and every now and then an actor will really hit a nice patch. In general, I had the same reaction I’ve had to most of Allen’s pictures of the last 25 years, which is that it would have been advisable if he’d done a rewrite, and rehearsed the actors, and developed an ear for the way that rim-shot one-liners have gone the way of the passenger pigeon. (He’s still writing stuff for the Sid Caesar show.) Having said that, the film does engender an agreeable hang-out quality, enhanced by the fantasy New York locations – like a movie made by a young person who’s read too much Salinger in a short period of time. One might also note that while Allen’s work has tended toward the baldly misanthropic lately, with a special cynicism about his female characters (Blue Jasmine comes to mind, and Wonder Wheel), this film seems empathetic to its women, including Fanning’s giddily straying cub reporter – and also Chalamet’s mother, impeccably played by Cherry Jones, who delivers a late revelation that would be hopelessly trite if it weren’t for the actor’s dedication to it. (The exception is a one-scene appearance by Rebecca Hall, who sounds a shrewish note for reasons I’m unclear about, except to have a nag around.) Does Allen believe in anything on screen, other than the pleasant re-creation of a night at the Carlyle? It’s hard to tell.

Storm Journey Magic (This Week’s Movies)

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Woody Allen's Magic in the Moonlight

Emma Stone and Colin Firth in Woody Allen’s Magic in the Moonlight

Links to reviews I wrote this week for the Herald and Seattle Weekly, and etc.

Into the Storm. “Sadly, the mayhem is periodically interrupted by scenes of people talking, although I use the terms ‘people’ and ‘talking’ loosely.”

The Hundred-Foot Journey. “As premeditated as a Marvel Comics blockbuster.” (If you have Herald paywall issues, the Seattle Weekly version is here.)

Magic in the Moonlight. “Allen’s job these days is creating fantasies that lead to some kind of truth.”

What If. “The wisecracking zingers and cascading conversations rarely pause.” (Seattle Weekly version here.)

Double Play: James Benning and Richard Linklater. “Watching two directors play catch is not a guarantee of interest.” (Seattle Weekly version here.)

At the Overlook Podcast, Steve Scher and I talk about the levels of magic moonlit in Woody Allen’s latest film. Listen here.

Thursday August 14, join us for a “Summer at SAM” event at the Olympic Sculpture Park. At the “Art Hit Tour” at 6:30 my wife and I will lead a stroll as we cover two aspects of the park: its cinematic possibilities and ecological awareness. The event is free and there’s lots of other stuff going on to sample. Read more about that night and the other “Summer at SAM” events here. Check the environmental blog Present Occupant here.

First Class Midnight (Weekly Links)

Links to movies I reviewed for the Herald:

X-Men: First Class. “Doesn’t get overblown.”

Midnight in Paris. “An unabashedly rapturous glow.”

True Legend. “The crazy adds up.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, and callers chime in on whether any of the Woodman’s films since Hannah and Her Sisters can stand with the Seventies run. Plus, a few picks for the Seattle International Film Festival. It’s archived here; the movie bit kicks in at the 18:20 mark.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, we hit a particular quintessence of Eighties cinema with a review of Heavenly Bodies, Canada’s answer to Flashdance.

1979 Ten Best Movies

Much of 1979 is clearer to me than stuff that happened last week, so sorting through the movies of the year is easier than usual. Maybe it’s the influence of having just read David Thomson’s piece on movies that time forgot (a critic I first read in 1979, for a film class), but there’s a load of splendid 1979 films that have fallen off the grid, although they seemed really vital and important at the time: Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack (a warmer and more organic film than his official classics), Joan Micklin Silver’s Chilly Scenes of Winter (stupidly re-titled Head Over Heels but then re-discovered through some smart marketing), Franc Roddam’s Quadrophenia, Philip Kaufman’s The Wanderers.

Those were small movies, but even somewhat bigger titles such as John Badham’s Dracula (with Frank Langella) and Martin Brest’s Going in Style (a serious comedy about old age, despite a gimmicky-sounding premise) seem to be unmentioned now. For that matter, it’s odd to me that big hits of the year, Blake Edwards’ 10 and Don Siegel’s Escape from Alcatraz, aren’t considered classics.

For all that, it’s a nice year for movies. My #1 is Woody Allen’s best film, which meant a lot to me then and still does. But the other stuff is good, too: 10 is eminently civilized (and has Dudley Moore in his groove), The Marriage of Maria Braun is a feisty director working at full power, and Dawn of the Dead is monumental, and needs no apologies. And Life of Brian is sublime and scathing. The ten best movies of 1979:

1. Manhattan (Woody Allen)

2. 10 (Blake Edwards)

3. The Marriage of Maria Braun (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)

4. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero)

5. Winter Kills (William Richert)

6. Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton)

7. Life of Brian (Terry Jones)

8. Ways in the Night (Krzysztof Zanussi) and Camera Buff (Krzysztof Kieslowski)

9. The Wanderers (Philip Kaufman)

We’ll play fair and keep it to ten titles this time, with the two Poles tying. Movies I like for #10: Escape from Alcatraz, Bertolucci’s Luna, Hal Ashby’s Being There, Shohei Imamura’s Vengeance is Mine, Cronenberg’s The Brood.

Where are Apocalypse Now (Coppola) and Alien (Ridley Scott)? Right here. Redux or otherwise, Coppola’s film is still a very confused (if undeniably spectacular) proposition, with some hypnotizing aspects; for Alien, I still think my opening-night disappointment holds, but credit to Scott for creating a scene that, on an opening night, rivaled the Psycho shower sequence for sheer chair-climbing surprise: John Hurt’s torso etc.

Other worthies: Time After Time (Nicholas Meyer), one of the many of this era’s films that seemed to get rescued in a theatrical-run second chance; The Tin Drum (Volker Schlondorff); Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting (Raul Ruiz); Hair (Milos Forman), a nice match of material to a basically counterculture filmmaker; Breaking Away (Peter Yates); All That Jazz (Bob Fosse), which is one of those pretentious movies that manage to be hugely entertaining; The Human Factor (Otto Preminger); Real Life (Albert Brooks); North Dallas Forty (Ted Kotcheff); Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (Allan Arkush); Butch and Sundance: The Early Days (Richard Lester), which has much more grace than a cash-in movie ought to have; and the aforementioned Chilly Scenes and Quadrophenia. And of course there was the Roger Ebert-scripted Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (Russ Meyer), a career culmination for a director with a specific vision.

Movie Diary 12/28/2008

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (Woody Allen, 2008). When I miss a press screening, it usually means the movie slips by completely. But I wanted to see this one for possible ten-best accountings, so a nearly-empty Sunday matinee was just the ticket. As rumored, it is the director’s best in a while; the slack moments of latterday Allen are gone, and the tone is winningly droll rather than comic. It seems lazily convenient to shrug Scarlett Johansson’s character offscreen in the final twenty minutes or so, but the cast is engaging and the outsider’s fresh view of a city — Woody as Henry James, peering into the lives of the Europeans and their American visitors — is a profitable vein for the director.