WOODY WEDNESDAY Reviews of past Woody Allen Movies PART 5

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Hollywood Ending – Trailer

 


Hollywood Ending (2002)

112 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C + 

Since the early ’80s, Woody Allen has written and directed a film every year. So as the trend of his latest work goes, “Hollywood Ending” is pleasant but uneven and rather weak Woody. 

Here, he stars as Val Waxman, a movie director in desperate need of a hit. His producer ex-wife Ellie (Téa Leoni) gives him a shot, thinking he’ll be perfect for the Manhattan-set script, “The City That Never Sleeps,” but Val is bitter about compromising with the studio head (Treat Williams) who stole his wife. Then when Val all of a sudden becomes blind, he lies about it and makes the picture anyway. 

The psychosomantic blindness situation makes “Hollywood Ending” a one-joke movie, although it is a funny joke, with plenty of sight gags and slapstick bits that hit. Like when an actor asks which prop gun he should use, Val answers with “that one.” Or when he pretends to admire the poster art for his movie, but he’s “looking” on the wrong side. A business student being hired as the translator for the Chinese direct of photography and as Val’s pair of eyes is also a nice touch. One glaring hole is that Val can’t even detect which direction people’s voices are coming from; don’t actors master this? 

Woody just doesn’t do enough with this slight premise, as the blindness ends up never becoming of much consequence and Val gets the girl, even after the film dailies are rendered incoherent. What more, the script runs out of steam with a half hour still to go. And since the filmmaker is back to playing the eccentric, fidgety persona he started with, his neurosis, kvetching, and stuttering delivery are becoming annoying at this point, as is his casting of much younger women (i.e. Tiffani Thiessen) who want to get into the frog prince’s pants. 

All that said, the film still has its fleeting pleasures: funny, well-timed Woody lines, hypocondria, those jazzy Bing Cosby tunes, and sharp insider jokes about agents and art directors (i.e. rebuilding a set rather than using the real Times Square). 

In Leoni, she’s a compatible foil for Allen to play off him comedically, but their romance is sterile. Also, Debra Messing has proven she has energy and comic timing, but here she’s wasted as Val’s dumb, questionably talented girlfriend. Mark Rydell, however, is funny as Val’s agent who never stops smiling, and George Hamilton is just right as a tanned studio flunky. 

This may be less than it should be but “Hollywood Ending” hopefully doesn’t mark the end of the Woodman. Maybe he just needs to take a year off to get re-energized, realize it’s quality over quantity, and write some sharper jokes. 


Anything Else (2003)
108 min., rated R.
Grade: C + 

When the standard white-on-black opening credits come on, cued to Billie Holiday, you get the reassurance that writer-director Woody Allen might be back in top form. In a way he is, but throughout most of “Anything Else,” he’s just coasting and recycling the wonderful “Annie Hall” from 26 years ago. That film had more wit, memorable lines, and more interesting characters, whereas this one’s a minor effort. 

Acerbic and hyper-neurotic Allen stars but fortunately steps out of the lead role, playing nebbish, articulate writer David Dobel, who takes Jerry Falk (Jason Biggs), a disciplined (and just as neurotic) aspiring nightclub-comic writer, under his wing. Allen passes the torch to Gentile Biggs, a younger version of his Jewish self who talks to the camera about his relationship with the most difficult woman on earth, Amanda (cat-eyed Christina Ricci). She tortures her boyfriend with her mood swings and insecurities, whining about how “fat” she is and complaining about their sex life. 

Like anything else Silent Generation’s Woody has written and directed, “Anything Else” is all about the dialogue, and the Generation X actors here are up to the task of the stuttering rhythm of the man’s smart, snappy dialogue without just sounding like marionettes. Allen doesn’t forget to give himself some gem one-liners (“You chose psychoanalysis over real life? Are you learning disabled?”). The men are more anxious and pathetic here than the women, but Jerry and Amanda are both such shrill and abrasive people that you want to slap them silly until they shut up. Notwithstanding a great speech in a restaurant, Danny DeVito is greatly underused as Jerry’s loser agent, but Stockard Channing does funny supporting work as Amanda’s alcoholic, pill-popping mother who comes to live with her and Jerry. (There’s a cocaine scene with Channing that calls back to “Annie Hall” as well.) 

Saying Allen repeats himself would be unfair, even if he gives us more observations on relationships and Allenisms about philosophy, sex, masturbation, religion, jazz music, and every and now then a good joke. Not to forget, New York (photographed by Allen’s new collaborator Darius Khondji) still has that beautifully warm glow. 

So despite the fine work by the actors and some verbal wit, “Anything Else” is more small time Woody. 


Melinda and Melinda (2004)
99 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B –
 
Woody Allen’s return to form is more of a return to the same material and although executed with middling results, “Melinda and Melinda” is still a diverting piece of work from the Woodman. 

Is it comedy or tragedy? Is a funeral funny? You be the judge. As four friends chat over dinner get to talking about how stories can be funny or tragic, the two playwrights (Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn) take turns spinning the same yarn. Woody creates two versions of the same story about Melinda (Radha Mitchell), a draggled woman with baggage. In the tragic story, she drops in unannounced on a childhood friends’ dinner party of a Park Avenue couple (Chloe Sevigny, Jonny Lee Miller). Bored and high-strung, she expects to start her life anew. The lighter comic one finds the offbeat Melinda, having overdosed on pills, busting in on another dinner party of an out-of-work actor Hobie (Will Ferrell) and his indie-film director wife (Amanda Peet), who are in a passionless marriage. Josh Brolin co-stars as a charming, well-off dentist that gets set up with Melinda, while Hobie gets jealous. 

“Melinda and Melinda” has an interesting setup with parallels and opposites connecting both stories, somewhat treading water, but the tragic story is the least interesting of the two with too many self-involved characters. 

Mitchell is the reason to even see “M and M,” as she capably handles the rival tones and plays Melinda with more than one note. Ferrell wouldn’t be your first choice for Allen’s younger surrogate, but he’s a likably dim sadsack and nails more than less of the lines (“The Chilean sea bass lightly dusted with lime!”). Peet is also funny and natural for Allen’s style as Hobie’s all-work-no-foreplay wife, and Brooke Smith just right as a pregnant friend in the tragedy portion. 

“Melinda and Melinda” still has that old-fashioned Allen-y feel, and his written banter isn’t without wit and its tartly amusing moments. Some of the other actors don’t grow into Allen’s comic/intellectual verbal rhythm as well, coming off stilted that you can just feel the puppeteer pulling the strings. 

 

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