WOODY WEDNESDAY Reviews of past Woody Allen Movies PART 6


Match Point – Trailer (Ponto Final) – Woody Allen

Reviews of past Woody Allen Movies

Match Point (2005)
124 min., rated R.
Grade: B + 

Although there’s no universal truth for the last time Woody Allen made a great picture (his last five or so were enjoyable if not great), “Match Point” marks Allen’s true comeback and full-hearted accomplishment. It’s uncharted territory, meaning it’s not a comedy and he leaves his beloved New York for a literal change of scenery in London. And it’s his longest work to date. 

Sure, this dramatic film still opens classically with the same white fonted credits over black, but it’s all scratchy opera records rather than the old jazz standards. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, not asked to mimic Allen’s fumbly neurosis, plays Chris, a slick Dublin-born fellow who comes to London to work as a club tennis pro. He meets rich good chap Tom (Matthew Goode) and is quickly taken into the high-society family fold that he’s soon in a relationship with Chris’s sweet sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Chris’s attention is instantly absorbed by Nola (Scarlett Johansson), a flirtatious starving actress from Colorado, also Tom’s fiancee. Eventually, he’s welcomed into the father’s business firm, flourishes, and marries Chloe. But when Tom unexpectedly dumps Nola, Chris decides to have his cake and eat it too, as he embarks on a secret affair with Nola and things just get complicated from there. 

Bubbling through “Match Point,” as voiced by Meyers’ Chris, is a metaphor of luck over morality that’s first represented visually by a tennis ball hitting the net. The coolly deliberate story starts with its class distinctions, then has some beats as an adultery drama, and changes gears into a high-stakes thriller but in plausible fashion. Allen covers some of the same themes and philosophies—infidelity, lust, obsession, morality—from his previous work, especially his “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” as he evokes Dostoyevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” and Hitchcock albeit with subtlety and without clichés. The ending is not mechanical either but more of a meditation on crime, chance, and fate. 

Meyers brings the right kind of surface charm and outward composure to the increasingly immoral Chris whose consequences of his actions turn out lucky, not great. Johansson is absolutely enticing and seductive with her throaty, come-hither sex appeal as Nola, although her character becomes more of a nag even after a crucial plot development. Meyers and Johansson smolder on screen together. Mortimer is lovely but her Chloe is so damn naïve and passive-aggressive even when she’s pushy about having a baby (her character and a key scene recall Mia Farrow’s Hannah in “Hannah and Her Sisters”). 

Most unlike any other film the auteur has made, “Match Point” is sexy, smart, serious-minded, and Allen’s most confident, elegantly shot filmmaking in a while. The man’s 70 and this is his 36th feature film, if you’re keeping track, and that’s not just from years of hard luck. 

Scoop (2006)
96 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B 

“Minor Allen” was nothing new before last year’s “Match Point,” Woody Allen’s most original and Hitchcockian piece of work in a good while, but now the auteur is back to his trifling tricks. No matter, Allen’s follow-up “Scoop,” also set in London, is light, beguiling good fun. 

Sondra (a likable Scarlett Johansson), a Brooklyn journalism student visiting the Big Ben city, gets handpicked to go on stage by magician Sid Waterman (Allen). Inside a box, she comes across the spirit of famous reporter Joe Strombel (Ian McShane) who hands his scoop over to Sondra—he knows the identity of the Tarot Card Killer. She decides to go undercover, and together Sondra and Sid contrive to meet the suspect, Peter Lyman (a suave, charming Hugh Jackman), at a private club pool (she’s posing as an aspiring actress and Sid is her father). But of course, Sondra begins to fall hard for Peter even if he’s a murderer. 

The droopy-eyed Allen is really beginning to look his age (70) on screen, last appearing three years ago in “Anything Else,” but his one-liners still pop (“I was born into the Hebrew persuasion, but when I got older I converted to narcissism” or “I never gain an ounce, because my anxiety acts like aerobics so I get the exercise.”). His bug-eyed expression behind the wheel of a European smart car is hilarious. Johansson, still a cutie behind those mousy Mia Farrow glasses and night-time retainer, is a good foil for Allen, like the next Diane Keaton. Thankfully, Allen’s more of a father figure than a love interest for her, but trying her hand at fostering the Jewish kvetch’s mannered-neurotic shtick, the leading lady is not much of a bumbler. McShane, first shown on a ship guided by the Grim Reaper (a nod to Allen’s Love and Death?), is mostly a plot device for the film. 

Music by Peter Tchaikovsky and Johann Strauss Jr., as well as “In the Hall Of The Mountain King,” add to the lark-ish charm. 

A slight effort, borrowing a bit from “Manhattan Murder Mystery,” “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” and “Small Time Crooks,” and the whodunit mystery isn’t really worth solving, but “Scoop” is a silly charmer that simply wins you over. 

Cassandra’s Dream (2007)
108 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C 

Oh, how far the great Woody Allen has fallen. On the British heels of “Match Point” and “Scoop” now comes “Cassandra’s Dream,” an ineffectively weighty thriller about money, class, family, and murder, and it seems the filmmaker’s stuck this time in London without a passport. 

Allen’s fresh new players Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell play two Cockney blue-collar brothers who dream of striking it rich and having a boat to call their own. Terry (Farrell) is a gambling mechanic in a steadily happy relationship and Ian (McGregor) is a would-be entrepreneur who pawns himself off as a rich tycoon to earn the fancy of a self-obsessed actress (newcomer Hayley Atwell). When both run into financial ruins, they ask for help from their well-off Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson). He agrees to assist them but on one condition: whack a colleague who could put Howard away for life. 

McGregor’s Ian is too much of a whiner when it comes to the romance but he becomes more confident than Terry and oddly keeps his cool after the deed is done. Farrell gives the more interesting performance of the two, feeling his head spinning and the sweaty apprehension and then the post-murder guilt. Together, their brotherly chemistry feels relaxed, and their British accents maybe too relaxed. Wilkinson, as usual, is amusingly persuasive in his limited screen time. 

Allen’s reworking a lot of the same morality themes he did in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Match Point,” but the writer-director doesn’t get away with murder here. You wish there was more giddyup in the story and pacing, and less bombast in Philip Glass’s musical score, and this time, Allen’s dialogue has more exposition than it does wit. The leading up to the murder is staged like darkly humorous, mischievous Hitchcock and decidedly bloodless, the right touch by Allen’s pan-left, but the film’s abrupt ending is Greek tragedy or just an ironic shaggy-dog joke. 

Said “Match Point” still wasn’t just a fluke, but the “earlier, funnier ones” are looking real good right about now, as “Cassandra’s Dream” is anything but a dream, especially for Woodyphiles.

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