WOODY WEDNESDAY Reviews of past Woody Allen Movies PART 3

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Reviews of past Woody Allen Movies

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Bullets Over Broadway (1994)
98 min., rated R.
Grade: B 

Woody Allen’s first stint since “Alice” behind the camera without being in front of it is “Bullets Over Broadway,” an entertaining Roaring Twenties-period comedy. 

Subbing for Allen is John Cusack as an earnest, nervous playwright, David Shayne, who thinks he’s a real artist and gets his latest play financially backed from a Mob boss (played by who other than Joe Viterelli). There’s a catch: David has to find a part for the gangster’s moll, a helium-voiced, untalented flapper named Olive (Jennifer Tilly). He assembles a flaky crew of thespians, who all put in their two-cents whether David takes them or not, but Cheech (Chazz Palminteri), a glowering gangster that acts as Olive’s bodyguard, ends up influencing David because, hot damn, he knows how people speak in real life. Naturally, as David begins taking Cheech’s suggestions, the play improves. 

The period flavor is tasty from the golden oldies on the soundtrack (Cole Porter’s “Let Misbehave”) to the sumptuous costume design to the art direction, and the dialogue is smart and funny, if not the Woodman’s most memorable (co-written by a new collaborator, Douglas McGrath). It’s the cast that really gooses things up: Dianne Wiest, hilariously over-the-top, as an over-the-hill, pompous Broadway prima donna Helen Sinclair (who sells her catchphrase “Don’t speak!” with theatrical verve); the blowsy Tilly nailing the shrill sex-bomb; Tracey Ullman as a hyper-perky actress with her yippy dog in tote; Jim Broadbent as a gluttonous Englishman who’s always feeding his face; and Palminteri, though playing another gangster, charges his Cheech with charisma and surprising intellect and brings on the darkest laughs. 

“Bullets Over Broadway” isn’t guns-blazing Woody Allen (some praise it as one of his best), but it’s juicily acted and good fun.


Mighty Aphrodite (1995)
95 min., rated R.
Grade: B 
Writer-director Woody Allen’s “Mighty Aphrodite” starts out as a Greek tragedy, with a Greek chorus in a stone amphitheater, but we soon realize it’s Allen’s new device in lieu of his narration. 

Allen is back in frame with his one neurotic personality in New York playing a sportswriter named Lenny. Helena Bonham Carter, obviously in the Mia Farrow role with her lamblike voice, is his art-dealer wife Amanda who wants a baby, so against Lenny’s wishes, they adopt a son. After a bit of detective work, he finds his adopted son’s biological mother, Linda Ash (Mira Sorvino), a flighty hooker and porno actress with a lot of different names including her stage name “Judy Cum.” Sorvino shines as the towering, Mickey Mouse-voiced Linda, who’s more than just an airhead or the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype. 

Winning an Oscar for her work, Sorvino showcases her daffy timing and on-screen warmth. The joke is that upon meeting Linda, Lenny squirms at every kitschy knickknack in her apartment to every innocously delivered raunchy lick of dialogue that comes out of her mouth. And Lenny’s conversation with Linda about setting her up with a dumb boxer (Michael Rapaport), also an onion farmer, is hilarious. The editing is sometimes disjointed and the Greek-parody segments, while amusing, get in the way. 

More vulgar and lighter than most of Allen’s work, “Mighty Aphrodite” is still funny and entertaining. Although it’s refreshing Allen doesn’t write himself ending with Linda, the Greek-like deus ex machina is ironic without ever getting too messy.



Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
101 min., rated R.
Grade: B + 

Where else are you going to find hospital orderlies and patients dancing around and singing “Makin’ Whoopee”? A Woody Allen movie, that’s where! His charming and contagiously happy fantasia “Everyone Says I Love You,” his first musical on celluloid, is hard to resist. 

Allen’s character Joe is a divorced writer living in Paris who contemplates suicide after being dumped by his French girlfriend. Instead, he returns to New York, where he’s still on good terms with his charitable ex-wife Steffi (Goldie Hawn), now married to Bob (a very funny Alan Alda), but still loves her. Of course, this is Allen’s movie, so that doesn’t stop him from tailing other *cough* (younger) women like Julia Roberts. Bob’s daughter, Skylar (Drew Barrymore), is about to be engaged to Holden (Edward Norton), a nice schnook in love. She accidentally swallows her Harry Winston ring. 

There’s a lack of story, though told from the point-of-view and narration of Joe and Steffi’s daughter DJ (Natasha Lyonne) telling us about her politically diverse Upper East Side family, but it’s mostly an excuse for Allen to put on a show! 

Everyone seems to be having a good time being in love, gamely breaking into a ditty of ballads from the ’30s and ’40s (the one exception is Barrymore, whose voice was dubbed and it shows) and fancy footwork. Even if the cast wasn’t aware they’d be in a musical until after they signed up, they try their best modestly. Only Alda, Hawn, Norton, and Tim Roth (as an animalistic ex-convict smitten with Skylar) have the most confident pipes, but that doesn’t stop the rest, most of all Allen who’s no Fred Astaire. With very few cuts during the music numbers, the actors (usually surrounded by back-up dancers) show their stuff like in a Broadway show. One quibble: the camera has a tendency to drift away from those singing for no reason other than to get reaction shots from those watching. 

One fun, cleverly upbeat song-and-dance sequence at a funeral home, “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think),” has a bunch of ghosts shaking their groove thing. In the closing number “I’m Thru With Love,” preceded by a Groucho Marx party in Paris for New Year’s Eve, Allen and Hawn’s flight of fancy at the Seine banks is lovely, romantic magic. Allen’s cinematographer Carlo DiPalma (since “Hannah and Her Sister”s) captures the enchanting beauty of Italy and New York in the winter. 

Though not his most thematically daring, “Everyone Says I Love You” is Woody’s most delightful.

Deconstructing Harry (1997) 

96 min., rated R.
Grade: B –

Writer-director Woody Allen’s 28th film, “Deconstructing Harry,” is certainly his most ambitious and personal autobiographical opus about self-analysis, but also his most sour, profane, and narcissistic work. Or, his confession of being self-obsessed and unable to love. Even in the end, his creations applaud their maker. It’s like his first really R-rated movie, as Woody makes his alter ego vulgar, charmless, and unlikable. 

Allen plays Harry Block, a writer suffering writer’s block (get the joke?) and depression. He pops pills and chases them with booze. He cheats. He sleeps with whores. He’s not winning any Man of the Year Award anytime soon. Harry wrote a thinly disguised fictionalization about his own life, including an affair with his ex-wife’s neurotic sister (Judy Davis), who’s in an outrage (not too unlike Dianne Wiest’s Holly in Hannah and Her Sisters). 

Being cast in a Woody Allen film must feel like a privilege. It’s certainly audacious for its cornucopia of actors (Caroline Aaron, Kirstie Alley, Bob Balaban, Richard Benjamin, Eric Bogosian, Billy Crystal, Judy Davis, Hazelle Goodman, Mariel Hemingway, Amy Irving, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Demi Moore, Elisabeth Shue, Stanley Tucci, Robin Williams) that parade around the film. The cast is good but the mishmash of fictional characters as a template for the “real” people distracts at times. Davis and Alley, as his second wife, act up a storm in rage, while Louis-Dreyfus and Moore amusingly play these women in the novel (Benjamin and Tucci stand in for Harry). Goodman has a surprisingly winning perormance as patient black hooker Cookie. Hemingway, far removed from her tender role in “Manhattan,” is wasted. 

Frequent Allen editor Susan E. Morse makes a lot of jump cuts, obviously a choice like in “Husbands and Wives,” but it feels more sloppy and overly indulgent. 

“Deconstructing Harry” has some great moments and performances, and the old Jew’s darkest, most caustic humor about Judaism, sex, women, and the F-word, but it’s a rambling psychiatric-session stunt. The most hysterical vignette involves Robin Williams as an actor who’s always “soft” (out of focus) on film. (“Get some rest and just see if you can sharpen up,” the confused director tells him.) 

The last vignette includes an elevator ride to Allen’s erotic fleshpot version of Hell that Billy Crystal makes fun as the wisecracking Devil. Harry won’t win Woody any new fans, but Woodyphiles might call it his most brutally honest film since 1992’s “Husbands and Wives.”

 

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