Archive for VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

WHATEVER WORKS. Sadly, Larry David Doesn’t

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2009 by halmasonberg

whatever_worksI’ve always been a big Woody Allen fan. Yes, even through his period of being publicly crucified for Soon-Yi and allegations of pedophilia (which I simply never believed). Woody Allen’s always been an easy target: an intellectual who makes films that a large portion of the population just don’t “get”. Add to that the fact that he’s not attractive in any classic sense (unless you’re attracted to intellect) and you have a recipe for harsh criticism and judgment. People have historically always been afraid of what they don’t understand. And it’s been my experience that when people are afraid, they tend to turn that fear into resentment. And that resentment is only a fine line away from outright hatred and hostility.

But luckily, the folks who get Woody Allen really get Woody Allen. He is, in my opinion, a brilliant writer, a brilliant comedian, and a brilliant filmmaker. He is also one of the most prolific. And as a result, not every film is a masterpiece. But they almost ALL have something to offer. And so many are downright masterful, in my opinion; MANHATTAN, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, HUSBANDS AND WIVES, ANNIE HALL, HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, LOVE AND DEATH, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO… And there are so many more to add to that ever-growing list. And despite the fact that Mr. Allen claims his films are in no way autobiographical, many of us still tend to believe that his films are, at the very least, a deep reflection of the man and his psyche. 

His newest film, WHATEVER WORKS, while not one of his greatest endeavors, is still a smart and entertaining film with some wonderful performances. Particularly from Evan Rachel Wood. Unfortunately, what keeps the film down, in this viewer’s opinion, is its star and Woody-Allen-alter-ego, Larry David (in a role originally written for the late Zero Mostel). Brilliant in his own series CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, David is out of his element here. And that is odd because, on the surface, he seems the perfect choice. Ironically, David’s character in the film discovers that things which seem great on paper–Picture 3communism, capitalism, his own marriage–don’t necessarily work in the real world. And so it is with Larry David in a Woody Allen film. Uncomfortable, detached, wooden are all words that come to mind when I think of David’s performance in this film. In many ways, it feels like these takes were rehearsals where David was saving himself for the real mccoy and therefore only giving 25%. Now whether the fault lies with David or Allen, I couldn’t say. What I can say is I never bought the character for a second. Now part of the problem David faced here was that he was, essentially, standing in for Allen himself. And for those of us who love Woody Allen and that persona, well, we’d just rather see Woody Allen do it. But Mr. Allen is older than Mr. David and, since this character ends up on the receiving end of the affections of a much younger, quite beautiful woman, Mr. Allen would have only been welcoming more of the criticism and public beatings he has worked so hard to move beyond. 

I’ve also been told that Mr. David did not initially want to do this role. If true, perhaps he was afraid that he would not be up to the task and that his performance would end up much as it has. Or perhaps his fear of failure became somewhat of a destructive self-fulfilling prophecy. Who knows? What is clear is that Larry David is not an actor. And I’m guessing he’d be among the first to say so.  

Whatever-Works-premiere-W-015WHATEVER WORKS made me yearn for Woody Allen’s physical presence. Had Larry David managed to enter the skin of the character and make it his own, I would have been overjoyed and not missed Allen at all. But that is not the case. Even in recent Allen films like VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, we find ourselves in the world of Woody-speak, the rhythm, the words, the phrasings… But that’s a good thing. Mozart sounded like Mozart, Michael Jackson like Michael Jackson, Martin Scorcese like Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen like Woody Allen… It’s a stylized approach. People don’t necessarily sound in art the way they do in the real world. But this is how people sound in the world of a Woody Allen film. And it’s a world I love being in. And some actors just slip in there effortlessly.

Sadly, Larry David does not. And while he seemed like a great idea on paper, he is not able to take Allen’s words and make them his own in any way. He’s a stand-in, a distant second. And a very weak link in an otherwise entertaining film.

Favorite & Least Favorite Films Of 2008

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 23, 2009 by halmasonberg

elegy-poster-bigA little late, you say? Hogwash! I usually wait till long after Awards Season to make my picks as it usually takes me that long to catch up with most (though sadly not all) of the films released in any given year that I really want to see. As such, I reserve the right to add films to this list as I view them. I’m sure there are a few that I missed and will discover as the year progresses.

I don’t do “Best” and “Worst” as I don’t think I’m qualified to make such statements, but instead I prefer “Favorites” and “Least Favorites”. I also don’t limit myself to 10 films in each category. There are as many or as few as feel appropriate. There are some other categories as well and they are, I believe, self-explanatory.

As always, there will be those who will vehemently disagree with my choices, but that is one of the reasons I have made the categories “personal” and not “absolute.” It is not unusual for me to find disappointment in films that many others rave about or award statues to. By the same token, it is not uncommon for me to cherish films that either slipped under the radar or were considered “too slow” by many. I am therefore thankful that filmmakers of different visions get to express themselves in today’s world. Granted, this happens far more outside the industrial machine that is Hollywood (with so many cookie-cutter formulas and all-powerful CEO’s), but I am simply thrilled it happens at all. Here’s to different styles, visions and tastes!

Favorites:

ELEGY

HAPPY GO LUCKY

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN

RACHEL GETTING MARRIED

I‘VE LOVED YOU SO LONG

MILK

THE BAADER MEINHOF COMPLEX

THE VISITOR

VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA

THE READER

PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND

Also Recommended:

CHE (Parts 1 & 2)

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE

THE WRESTLER

TRANSSIBERIAN

THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON

PARANOID PARK

DOUBT

THE DARK KNIGHT

THE WACKNESS

WALL-E

Least Favorites

10,000 BC

HANCOCK

THE RUINS

SPEED RACER

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

Disappointments:

THE HAPPENING

HELLBOY II

INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL

IRON MAN

QUANTUM OF SOLACE

W.

THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

DEFIANCE

Indy Spirit Award Winners

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , on February 22, 2009 by halmasonberg

BEST FEATURE
The Wrestler

BEST DIRECTOR
Tom McCarthy, “The Visitor”

BEST FIRST FEATURE
Synecdoche, New York

JOHN CASSAVETES AWARD 
In Search of a Midnight Kiss

BEST SCREENPLAY
Woody Allen, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

BEST FIRST SCREENPLAY
Dustin Lance Black, “Milk”

BEST FEMALE LEAD
Melissa Leo, “Frozen River”

BEST MALE LEAD
Mickey Rourke, “The Wrestler”

BEST SUPPORTING FEMALE
Penelope Cruz, “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”

BEST SUPPORTING MALE
James Franco, “Milk”

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Maryse Alberti, “The Wrester”

BEST DOCUMENTARY
Man on Wire

BEST FOREIGN FILM
The Class

ROBERT ALTMAN AWARD
Charlie Kaufman (Director), Jeanne McCarthy (Casting Director), Hope Davis, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Tom Noonan, Emily Watson, Diane Weist, Michelle Williams, Synecdoche, New York

 

PIAGET PRODUCERS AWARD
Heather Rae, “Frozen River”

ACURA SOMEONE TO WATCH AWARD
Lynn Shelton, “My Effortless Brillance”

LACOSTE TRUER THAN FICTION AWARD
Margaret Brown, “The Order of Myths”

A Cruz, Kingsley, Clarkson Weekend Movie Extravaganza!

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 8, 2008 by halmasonberg

This past weekend I ventured out to the Writers Guild Theater three times to basically watch three great actors bounce around from movie to movie. It was almost as if they were part of some magical ensemble actors group making terrific films back to back. I started on Friday night with Woody Allen‘s new film VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA. Once again, I’m thrilled the European muse is still working its magic on Mr. Allen (see my review of CASSANDRA’S DREAM below). VICKY CRISTINA is one of Allen’s more charming films, funny and beautiful with just the right amount of poignancy thrown in. The international cast is made up of Allen’s current favorite, Scarlett Johansson, along with the enticingly beautiful Rebecca Hall who captures Allen’s dialogue as if she were Allen himself, and Javier Bardem, easily shedding his popular psychopathic introduction to a large percentage of Americans who somehow missed his earlier powerhouse performances in THE SEA INSIDE and BEFORE NIGHT FALLS. Add to that the stunning and extremely talented Penélope Cruz and the extraordinary, versatile and also beautiful Patricia Clarkson. Both these actresses reappeared for me in the same theater just two days later. But I’ll get to that in a moment. First, Saturday. 

Saturday we switched genres from romantic comedy to thriller. Or should I say “train” thriller. TRANSSIBERIAN belongs to that particular sub-genre that I admittedly have a weakness for. I love a good thriller, but set it on a train and I can’t stay away.

TRANSSIBERIAN was financed through various different European financing institutions and is easily the best film Writer/Director Brad Anderson (SESSION 9, THE MACHINIST) has made to date. It’s a great ride with well-developed characters and a stunning, ominous setting. The film hosts a multi-national cast that includes one of my favorite actresses, Emily Mortimer (finally getting some broader recognition) as well as Woody HarrelsonKate Mara and Spanish heartthrob Eduardo Noriega. It also stars one of the greatest, most diverse actors working in the field, Sir Ben Kingsley. Out of this wonderful lineup, Kingsley was the one who had more in store for me as he also starred in Sunday’s film, ELEGY, along with the aforementioned Penelope Cruz and Patricia Clarkson. 

ELEGY is easily one of the most powerful films I’ve seen so far this year. All three performances are absolutely stunning, as is Peter Sarsgaard’s contribution as Kingsley’s son, and Dennis Hopper’s as Kingsley’s closest friend. The film is beautifully paced, lilting and somber under the graceful hand of Canadian director Isabel Coixet (MY LIFE WITHOUT ME, THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS, the “Bastille” segment of PARIS, JE T’AIME). Based on the Philip Roth novel “Elegy: Dying Animal”, this intimate and deeply touching journey was meticulously and sensuously adapted by veteran writer Nicholas Meyer, a talented director in his own right. ELEGY is a film that captures both beauty and pain simultaneously and this delicate blending of the two is attributed to everyone involved. One weak link and it may all have come apart. Kudos to all involved for creating such a wonderful, emotional, cinematic journey.

And thanks to the Writers Guild for their Cruz, Kingsley, Clarkson tour de force. Even if wasn’t planned as such.

 

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