Tag Archives: Woody Allen

When Fashion Becomes a symbol for the irresistible feminine to Manifest itself: a (Humble) attempt to understand Luca Guadaguino’s THE STAGGERING GIRL

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One of the reasons I love the short form is that it allows for a director or writer to paint scenes that don’t aim to expound on a topic In a detailed, didactic manner, but instead prefer to dispense enough information to allow you, the viewer, to still follow a (somewhat cohesive) story, a character’s journey, and arrive with that character to a moment of recognition. It doesn’t have to satisfy as a whole, but it should make one feel as though one saw an experiment, a dream, perhaps time blended into and outside of itself.

Guadagnino, the Call Me By Your Name director, teams up with fashion designer Valentino to use the famed designer’s 2018/2019 collection of sumptuous, dreamy gowns as a motif for memory, loss, and the reconciliation with a woman’s inner goddess. He focuses on two opposing characters linked by a fragile whiff of sensuality that comes in the form of a stranger’s confession overheard through the thin walls of a New York apartment. Francesca Moretti (Julianne Moore) becomes the witness to this confession in which she eavesdrops on a woman (played by Kiki Layne) telling a story to an unseen (listener? therapist?) person. Disturbed, perhaps haunted by this confession as it stirs images of a large blue and red fabric she wore once as a girl, a fabric that becomes almost a character in itself, Francesca starts her own voyage of exploration.

That voyage lands her in Italy, where her ailing mother, renowned artist Sophia Moretti (Marthe Keller) lives. Sophia has been having eyesight problems and is at an age where she cannot oversee the house where she basically grew into, and created roots. The mother/daughter reunion is prickly at best with references to Ingmar Bergman’s see buy viagra online clinic go site viagra over the counter in mexico viagra india globalization advantage essay 120mg Viagra online source cheap research paper writing service ksa writing service go here art history essay follow link what to write a compare and contrast essay on http://jeromechamber.com/event/need-a-research-paper-written/23/ go to link prednisone for dogs dosage source link thesis antithesis synthesis analysis college thesis writing watch climate change essay topics introduction essay samples cheap synthroid online jual viagra online indonesia popular custom essay writing sites for phd buy viagra asda custom dissertation hypothesis editor service for phd go to site asthma prednisone http://technology.swbts.edu/faculty/read-ielts-essay/18/ see url Autumn Sonata or Almodovar’s High Heels. Francesca feels Sophia should move into a smaller location, or (unstated but inferred) an older person’s home, or to New York with her. She could still paint as much as she’d like. Nothing, other than location, would change.

But what is a person, if not the location, the place where they grew up in? I consider myself a staunch New Yorker, born and raised, and of course the opening scene in which we see Moore judiciously cast as Francesca, clad in black, making her way across the Upper East Side neighborhood where she lives, gave me an immediate sense of memory, identity, down to her small, spartan apartment that has next to no decor, no signs of renovation, and incredibly for 2020, a beige rotary phone. Just seeing this short opening scene in which Francesca both grapples with a husband (voiced by Kyle McLachlan) who wants her back and the aforementioned stranger whose voice seeps through the walls of her old apartment, gave me a sense of familiarity.

Then we have Sophia, tied as she is to her own surroundings. Guadagnino never explicitly resolves the budding drama if Sophia manages to remain in Italy, but when we hear her plead, “But this is my home!”, the emotions hit hard because we infer she will not remain there. It would be difficult for someone like Sophia, with her failing eyesight, to adapt to a new location. The house used for Sophia’s home, as old as it looks, surrounded by lush vegetation and fountains, is her place, for better or worse.

But what if all this push and pull is merely a MacGuffin? I kept wondering about this after a second, then a third viewing.

Throughout the short movie, Francesca as been unable to write her memoirs. Her memories of her father, her lover, and the man who takes care of Sophia seem to have become a blur who comes in the form of Kyle McLachlan. In every case, this male figure departs, and only one, Bruno, the man who selflessly (and with hints of unrequited love) takes care of Sophia, remarks, upon discussing Sophia’s paintings of swans which have become abstractions, “I suppose this is the journey we are all on, from the literal to the abstract.” In a way, Francesca has become just as blind as her mother. This is why “everything seems so different!” when she arrives to her mother’s home, why she can’t quite connect with herself. And it’s the sole reason why, that omnipresent cape will become the symbol that will link Francesca to her own goddess-self.

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This is the kind of film that could pass as too artsy for its own good. You have a blatant Woody Allen homage in the opening titles and an entire scene almost lifted verbatim from Allen’s Another Woman. The plot is maddeningly confusing and requires at least a second viewing, but perhaps that is Guadagnino’s intention. One view is not enough to appreciate the density and depth of the story that seems both a sketch and a fully finished work of art flanked by Ryuichi Sakamoto’s stirring, transcendent score. I’m one of these people that don’t need everything to explained to me in bullet points. To watch The Staggering Girl was both a challenge for me to interpret it to the best of my ability, or to take it as it is, and leave it at that without too much analysis (and that’s also, not including spoilers). However, haunted I was by these dreamy images of Kiki Layne pouring her heart out and being almost a ghost, or Mia Goth and the great Marthe Keller playing two different versions of themselves when Goth is British and Keller is German. Even more daring, to see Moore playing herself as a girl and practically making you believe it. I don’t think it all quite comes together as a whole, but that’s not the intention. Dreams are never complete, memory can be failing, but impressions of a life lived and enjoyed are timeless.

It is safe to say for me that The Staggering Girl, surrealist, ambitious, and one that also pays homage to womanhood in all its ages (especially in that soaring, ecstatic finale! The image of a warrior-like Marthe Keller, a vision in magenta and flowing, white hair, charging towards a group of women remains burned in my mind) will be studied and talked about. I’ve already been touched by its magic, it’s sheer canvas of emotion, of impressionist memory, and Julianne Moore sitting regally in her mother’s garden, joyously opening, giving in, and finally, celebrating the rediscovery of her own heart.

The Staggering Girl is available on MUBI, Amazon Prime Video, and iTunes.

CAFE SOCIETY

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

 

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Going to see a Woody Allen movie has become something like a tradition you can’t escape, not that you’d want to. Ever since Match Point brought him back to international acclaim and made his early 00s period one that should be best kept in a vault and forgotten, forever, I’ve managed to catch almost all of his pictures, and while some have been blatant misses (Irrational Man, Whatever Works), others have been the best of his late period and deserve to be placed side by side his rather extensive list of now-classic pictures from the 70s, 80s, and 90s.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Allen’s style is perfectly suited for pictures based in previous times. There’s something about the cadence, the enunciation, the segues into quirk that is slowly becoming a relic of a time gone by, the allusions of literary figures that today seem obscure, that fit better in stories set in warm melancholia. This is probably why all the psychoanalyzing that was all over the place in Irrational Man completely bombed and left a story with so much potential to become a study of guilt and consequences in an act of violence (even if the intentions were to do some tangential good) as a failure to launch off the ground, fizzling before the countdown had even ended.

Cafe Society is a return to the past, of young Old Hollywood just before it’s peak in 1939. It’s the story of people walking into life with ambitions and then getting turned into a very different path, of dreams that could have been, but weren’t, and the golden aura of romanticism that always tints a moment of regret with something deeper, longer lasting. Urged by his Aunt Rose (Jeannie Berlin),  Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) has arrived to Hollywood to escape a life alongside his gangster brother Ben (Corey Stoll), and is seeking employment through his uncle Phil (Steve Carell), a Hollywood exec. At first it seems as though Bobby may never get to meet his uncle who keeps being a no-show (in a sequence of scenes reminiscent of A Holograph for the King), but he finally gets his foot in the door, a chance to prove himself, and there he meets Phil’s beautiful secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), to whom he takes an immediate liking.

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Vonnie and Bobby start hanging out in smaller bars and restaurants, but while he would very much like to date her, she makes it clear she’s involved. And then things get a little complicated for him and her, so much that a series of situations and revelations force Bobby to go back to New York and rebuild his life as a nightclub manager for Ben (who still conducts shady businesses on the side, because hey, why not?). There he rekindles a friendship with a couple he met while on the West Coast (Parker Posey and Paul Schneider) who introduce him to the woman that is to become his wife (and no, this is not a spoiler), who also happens to be called Veronica (Blake Lively).

It seems as though Allen is setting his audience up for some rather important denouement: the situation is pregnant to the gills with all of the elements of big revelations, scenes — basically, the stuff of soap. It’s not that he hasn’t done this before. He has, for example, in Husbands and Wives, incurred into that same territory while not turning into a cheap melodrama. What becomes clear is that Allen’s story (which as narrated by Allen himself in a slower, thicker pace that contrasts his trademark staccato rhythms) makes it sound something of an observed chronicle, and seems to be more focused into presenting a multi-character arc that goes full circle, from innocence to jaded. If at the start he gives us scenes full of chuckles, he starts to turn wistful and by the end, it’s all there, glowing in Kristen Stewart’s and Jesse Eisenberg’s faces, who do a remarkable work as a duo (she presents a character that while  on paper may have been written as one of many brunettes in Allen’s repertoire, she makes her own; Eisenberg is all jerky awkwardness and nervous behavior that is the almost requisite stand-in for Allen himself).

However, Cafe Society is not a perfect picture — far from it. For a man who makes a movie a year it must be grueling trying to make his own deadlines  while still maintaining a sense of artistry visible in the final product. I felt as though much of what happened had a rushed feel, as if though one were merely skimming through a book rather than really diving into it and savoring the words as he did with Hannah and Her Sisters, another story that transpired in a long time frame, divided into chapters. Because of this, despite all its aura of old beauty with a hint of decadence, Allen falls just short of another masterpiece, instead creating an impressionistic glimpse into an era gone by through the guise of a comedy of manners.

And last but not least, there are the many, many references to other Allen pictures: the iconic Manhattan Bridge from Manhattan makes its appearance; Bobby’s parents (Sari Lennick and Stephen Kunken) have a vague resemblance, personality-wise, to the actors who portrayed Allen’s parents in Annie Hall; there’s the unstable brunette and the more stable, maternal blonde; there’s a comical scene of a seduction gone horribly wrong also reminiscent of Annie Hall.






New on DVD: Irrational Man

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Emma Stone falls head over heels for Joaquin Phoenix in Woody Allen’s clunker Irrational Man, now on DVD.

Hooked on Film rating:

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

I’m going to go out on a limb and defend Woody Allen for having made this oddity of a film rife with potential but flat as Kansas in tone and overall delivery. Allen makes a movie a year, and has done so since the late 60s. Ever since he gained status as the giant he became in the late 70s and throughout most of the 80s, the quality of his output starting with 1993 (a year Allen would rather forget) has slowly morphed into what I call diminishing returns that on occasion hold a spark of the wit and cynicism the man’s movies once held. This is the man who, ever since Match Point –widely considered to be his comeback film after having been all but forgotten (even as he relentlessly forged ahead, movie after movie)– went back into something of a valley of creativity peaking with the sublime Blue Jasmine (and gave Cate Blanchett another gold statue while also bestowing Sally Hawkins her first nomination for supporting actress). Magic in the Moonlight was a delightful farce that revisited, to a degree, the magician sequence from Shadows and Fog, and not only gave Emma Stone and Colin Firth well-rounded, amoral characters, but also gave veteran British actress Eileen Atkins a juicy part to sink her teeth in, and boy, did she.

There’s the often quoted saying that after a while writers tend to tell the same story over and over again. That isn’t such a bad idea, but when it becomes so self-referential as to resemble parody, then it poses a problem of either storytelling or focus. But far from me to tell Allen how to direct and write a film. The man has, as I said, made a film for nearly every year since 1970 and has himself stated profound dissatisfaction with their results.

Irrational Man falls under this category, and I’ll tell you why. In this movie Allen presents Abe Lucas (who is almost always referred to by first and last name), a philosophy professor who seems to have lost his sense of purpose in the world. When he meets Jill Pollard, sparks don’t exactly fly, but she is smitten. Why, we don’t know. The movie won’t tell us, and here she begins to talk non-stop about Abe Lucas as if he were some sort of god that she’d encountered. While doing this, she estranges her boyfriend, but then again, I’d walk out of the beating of a dead horse, if at all to conserve the peace, and either do so permanently or let this folly play itself out and return once the crazy was back to normal.

Jill doesn’t return to normal. She and Abe initiate a relationship that seems as platonic as it s uncomfortable, and while he’s at it, he throws Heidegger, Dostoevsky, and other Allen go-to existentialists for good measure with the enthusiasm of a man wishing death would just come and take him away. Jill, of course, fawns.

And then — the moment the plot turns into high gear. I think. Jill overhears a conversation at a restaurant and has Abe come over to her side to listen in. The people in the booth behind them –a woman and some friends — are discussing a nasty custody battle. It’s here that Abe’s light-bulb goes off, and he gets an idea as dark as anything presented on Discovery ID. He decides to kill the judge that would rule against the woman.

This in itself under a director more accustomed to suspense stories would have made an excellent story about moral choices and people who look into the abyss. The problem with Allen presenting it, is that he continually leaves his story as casual as a car commercial featuring cool people. His constant use of Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” seems to punctuate this off-handedness. It’s appropriate during the opening part of the movie, but like a joke that gets told too often, it runs itself to the ground or morphs into a swinging cocktail party. And then, that voice-over narration. Talk about committing an act of self-mutilation: that in itself becomes a fatal blow to the movie. Car crash. Bodies all over the place. Bring in the yellow tape; we have a crime scene masquerading as a comedy-thriller. The part of Annie Hall Allen (wisely) left out. Remember that?

And while I’m at it, to call the second and last act Hitchcockian (as some reviewers have) is an insult to the Master of Suspense. You just don’t care enough for any of the characters and there is no sense of dread, of a darkening of the plot, of a man even aware that he is having a repressed breakdown and will rationalize taking a few with him. And on and on, Ramsey Lewis winks at the audience. The audience? Not so much.

Parker Posey makes her first appearance in Woody Allen's Irrational Man.
Parker Posey makes her first appearance in Woody Allen’s Irrational Man.

Irrational Man is a colossal misfire that never  takes off or develop as a whole. Its schizophrenic scenario makes it seem like a disjointed, haphazard puzzle where all the pieces are there, but neither make an effort to try and fit.  Joaquin Phoenix is okay in his miserable character — at least he makes the part of Abe Lucas his own, kind of. Emma Stone and Parker Posey? They fare much worse, delivering two egregiously wasted  performances. They are interchangeable mannequins, stand-ins for the small roles that Shelly DuVall, Janet Margolis, and Carol Kane played in Annie Hall as women fawning head over heels over Allen the actor/director (who could be less interested in them, but morbidly fascinated with his own crumbling ruminations). Yes, they serve a purpose in the story, but seeing how Irrational Man took a backseat from entertaining to being on autopilot, the only question remains, what for? That, I will state, is a mystery this bland movie will not answer. Stick with Match Point for a good mystery. This, sadly, is throwable, recycled, half-baked, late-period Allen juggling for a plot.