WOODY WEDNESDAY Reviews of past Woody Allen Movies PART 7

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Whatever Works – Monologo Inicial de Larry David Sobre la Raza Humana [Sub.Español]



Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)
96 min., rated R.
Grade: B 

Shaking off his love for Manhattan, the witty and sexy concoction that is “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” is writer-director Woody Allen’s fourth consecutive European project. The title refers to the names of two American women traveling in Barcelona, Spain for a summer vacation. 

Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson, Allen’s newest muse) are completely diverse best friends, who meet and are offered to be seduced by a suave painter/Casanova, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), for a weekend full of wine and lovemaking. The strait-laced Vicky is married to a boring white man, while Cristina is the more adventurous one. Soon, Cristina settles into a lusty three-way relationship with Juan and his unpredictable, loose-cannon ex-wife, Maria Elena (Penelope Cruz, who won an Oscar for her fiery performance). 

Allen’s breezy and perhaps “Frenchiest” piece of work is cast to perfection and the attractive stars are engaging in their performances, heightened by a palpably laid-back atmosphere, but it’s not without its flaws. Christopher Evan Welch’s narration is way too obvious, an unnecessary and condescending device used rather than allowing the images and performances to speak for themselves. Even the exotic Spanish country is a character in itself, and Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography gorgeous. 

And even if this trifle ultimately doesn’t add up to a lot, the writing is smart, the music charmingly quirky, and the characters richly written. 
Whatever Works (2009)
92 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B
 
Woody Allen dusted off an old script once intended for Zero Mostel and re-wrote it to suit the talents of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”‘s Larry David. Behind the camera, Woody is in fine fettle with “Whatever Works,” the auteur’s first comfort-zone return to New York City in five years after going European. In fact, it works as a time warp to earlier Woody. 

David is the right replacement for Allen’s archetypal nebbish, eccentric persona, playing Boris Yellnikoff, a limping, crotchety, cynical old Jewish misanthrope who talks down to everyone, including us directly. Right off the bat, Boris breaks the fourth wall and bitter Boris makes it loud and clear that he’s not a likable guy. And this is not “the feel-good movie of the year,” so if we want to feel good “go get a foot massage.” A self-absorbed, self-professed genius who thinks all children are imbeciles and a germaphobe who sings the “Happy Birthday” song twice when washing his hands, Boris attempts suicide by jumping out his apartment window but hits the canopy. He shows a hint of humanity (after a while, of course) when taking in Melodie St. Ann Celestine (a beguiling Evan Rachel Wood), a Mississippian runaway waif begging for food. Melodie develops a crush on him, Boris thinks it’s inappropriate, but whatever works. 

The Boris character is off-putting, but he warms up, and his courtship with Melodie is happily treated with charm, not smarm. David (seeing his chicken legs in shorts) and Wood are excellent, as are Patricia Clarkson and Ed Begley Jr., as Melodie’s divorced parents, who evolve their characters into interesting directions. 

“Whatever Works” may not be quintessential Woody, as it’s scraps of his other work, but still a sharply written, enjoyable diversion with New York flavor, so whatever works. 



You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010)
98 min., rated R. 
Grade: C

Woody Allen rejuvenated himself five years ago with “Match Point” in London, and now returns to the European city, filling his yearly quota. Like the film points out from the start and at the end, Woody’s trifling “You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” is just like the old Shakespeare quote, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Although Allen is no idiot, this entry is more of a meaningless exercise filled with a talented cast reading his Allen-y dialogue in a poorly used London. 

As this joyless tale of marriage foibles and extramarital lust would have it, everyone desires something in their unfulfilled lives, but hasn’t Allen said enough on the subject? The daffy Gemma Jones and Anthony Hopkins play a newly separated older couple when the old guy, working out, tanning, and teeth-whitening to seek his lost youth, marries a flashy ex-prostitute (Lucy Punch), while she listens to a fortune-telling friend who tells her she’ll meet someone great. The couple’s daughter (Naomi Watts) has her own marriage unravelling with her self-absorbed novelist husband (Josh Brolin), who’s attracted to their soon-to-be-married neighbor/muse (Slumdog Millionaire’s Freida Pinto) while said wife’s tempted by her handsome boss (a wasted Antonio Banderas). 

Most of these characters are unlikable whiners that we don’t care about, don’t deserve what they want, and stay the same throughout. 

“You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger” has its moments and has the tone of a feather, but it’s a shruggable effort from Woody Allen of all people. The narration is grating by Zak Orth, sounding a lot like Allen himself, and feels more like a demonstration. And Brolin has to be the most misguided candidate to impersonate Allen’s neuroses or call his love object “a hot little number.” Pinto, loved by the camera, and Punch, an absolute floozy hoot, land the most impression. 

Allen tries to say that illusions work better than the medicine, but his new movie is only an illusion of his earlier, better work. 

 

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