Magic In The Moonlight”, another New Film from Woody Allen. Yeah…

Magic in the moonlight.

Mag­ic in the moonlight.

The lead sin­gle off the sec­ond, best and alas last album from Girls Father, Son and Holy Ghost was called “Vom­it” (reviewed ear­li­er here). The title refers to a Bible sto­ry where a thief’s need to return to the scene of his crime is com­pared to a dog’s com­pul­sion to exam­ine its own vomit.

This seems to be the only pos­si­ble expla­na­tion as to why it is that Woody Allen keeps going back to make yet anoth­er film. It would all make sense if the rea­son he were in such a hur­ry to pro­duce a new film every year was because the last few had been so disappointing.

That’s what made his last film, Blue Jas­mine (reviewed ear­li­er here) so refresh­ing. It sug­gest­ed the begin­ning of a new phase. His lat­est, Mag­ic in the Moon­light is sad­ly more of the same, and we’re back where we were.

Vicky Christine Barcelona.

Vicky Cristi­na Barcelona.

Since his last gen­uine­ly fun­ny com­e­dy, Bul­lets Over Broad­way in 1994 Allen has made 20 films. That’s one a year. And the only two that mer­it­ed watch­ing all the way through were Sweet and Low­down in 1999 and Match Point in 2005 – Vicky Cristi­na Barcelona (’08) doesn’t count. You could film Javier Bar­dem, Scar­lett Johans­son and Pene­lope Cruz pair­ing their toe­nails and it would still be electrifying.

What you think of his lat­est film will depend on whether you’re old enough to remem­ber how excit­ing the prospect of a new Woody Allen film used to be.

Annie Hall (’77), Man­hat­tan (‘79), Zelig (’83), The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo (’85) and Crimes and Mis­de­meanors (’89) are all seri­ous, sub­stan­tial, sig­nif­i­cant films. And they’re fun­ny. The last time I laughed dur­ing a Woody Allen film was Bul­lets Over Broad­way.

It’s not as if they’ve become more seri­ous. On the con­trary, they’re ever lighter and more and more insub­stan­tial. And they’re less fun­ny. All of the themes that were once explored, painful­ly, are now breezi­ly ticked off, as if on some sort of exis­ten­tial shop­ping list.

Poor old Colin Firth and Emma Stone doing their best.

Poor old Col­in Firth and Emma Stone in “Mag­ic in the Moon­light” doing their best.

Iron­i­cal­ly, the only thing that make his films watch­able these days are the cast he still man­ages to attract. Every­body used to fall over them­selves to be in the new Woody Allen film because the scripts were so good. They still do. But the scripts are so slop­pi­ly cob­bled togeth­er these days that were it not for their stel­lar casts, they’d be unwatchable.

None of which will both­er you if all you are look­ing for is a poor man’s Down­town to watch on your new iPhone, as you keep your eye on Strict­ly leaf­ing through the Sun­day papers as you check your mes­sages. As ever the cast are all exem­plary, con­sid­er­ing. But for the rest of us, Mag­ic in the Moon­light makes for decid­ed­ly depress­ing viewing.

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Blue Jasmine; Finally A New Woody Allen film Worth Seeing.

Cate Blanchett in "Blue Jasmine".

Cate Blanchett in “Blue Jasmine”.

After mak­ing a hand­ful of genial come­dies in the ear­ly 70s, Woody Allen shot Annie Hall in 1976. Which was sup­posed to have cen­tred around the comedic fig­ure of Allen. But when test audi­ences respond­ed so warm­ly to the roman­tic chem­istry between he and Diane Keaton, they sched­uled sig­nif­i­cant re-shoots and the whole film was re-edit­ed as a roman­tic comedy.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in "Annie Hall".

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in “Annie Hall”.

And for the next 20 years, Allen made a suc­ces­sion of intel­li­gent, per­son­al, warm and occa­sion­al­ly poignant per­son­al dra­mas, the vast major­i­ty of which were roman­tic come­dies, with the empha­sis, as it always should be, on the Romance. These were inter­spersed with the occa­sion­al pure dra­ma, cen­tred around a series of female protagonists.

Films like Zelig (’83) The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo (’85), Han­nah and Her Sis­ters (’96) and Bul­lets Over Broad­way (’94), and then Sep­tem­ber (’87), Anoth­er Woman (’88) and Alice (’90). Near­ly all of them were won­der­ful. Man­hat­tan (’79) was a mas­ter­piece. And Crimes and Mis­de­meanors (‘89) a minor one.

But from Mighty Aphrodite in 1995 on, his muse desert­ed him. Sure there was Sweet And Low­down in 1999. And Vicky Cristi­na Barcelona is love­ly to look at.

Vicky Christine Barcelona.

Vicky Cristi­na Barcelona.

But for the last 20 years or so, we’ve all been wait­ing in the vain hope that it might, just might belat­ed­ly return. Or that at the very least, he might slow down and think a bit more clear­ly and care­ful­ly before embark­ing so point­less­ly on his next film.

Incred­i­bly, and to pret­ty much everyone’s com­plete sur­prise, he’s done exact­ly that. Blue Jas­mine isn’t just the best thing he’s done in 20 years, a barbed com­pli­ment if ever there were one. This could com­fort­ably sit with any of those films he was mak­ing in the mid 1980s.

It’s an occa­sion­al­ly rye but most­ly poignant por­trait of a soci­ety woman, Cate Blanchett, who has fall­en spec­tac­u­lar­ly from grace. We move back and forth between the present, and the events that led to her fall in the past, as she tries to pick her­self back up off the floor and start all over again.

Blanchett and Baldwin in Blue Jasmine.

Blanchett and Bald­win in Blue Jasmine.

Whilst not an actu­al adap­ta­tion of A Street­car Named Desire, the film shad­ows Ten­nessee William’s icon­ic play almost scene by scene. And yet curi­ous­ly, far from detract from the film, this mere­ly serves to fur­ther add a sense of doom and foreboding.

All of the cast are foot per­fect. Blanchett, obvi­ous­ly. But Alec Bald­win too, as the Bernie Mad­off type that she was mar­ried to, Sal­ly Hawkins as her sis­ter and Bob­by Can­navale as the latter’s lat­est beau.

Very unusu­al­ly, this is a film that actu­al­ly deliv­ers on all the hype it’s been generating.

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Frances Ha” a Hopeless Bore.

Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha

Noah Baum­bach’s Frances Ha

Poor Brook­lyn. What­ev­er did it do to mer­it the sort of musi­cians and film mak­ers that have late­ly come to sul­ly its streets with such stud­ied insou­ciance? And so lit­tle to show for it.

Noah Baum­bach is part of that group of ter­ri­bly clever indie film mak­ers that includes Wes Ander­son, Spike Jones and a cou­ple of the Cop­po­las. After his fourth film though, the gen­uine­ly charm­ing The Squid and the Whale (’04) it looked as if a seri­ous film mak­er had arrived on the scene.

But the three films he fol­lowed that up with, Mar­got at the Wed­ding (’07), Green­berg (’10) and now Frances Ha all have that irri­tat­ing air of being far too clever by half.

Jesse Eisenberg and Anna Paquin in "The Squid and the Whale".

Jesse Eisen­berg and Anna Paquin in “The Squid and the Whale”.

You can see what’s he done. He’s tak­en three clas­sic, indie film sce­nar­ios, but instead of then pro­duc­ing the sort of whim­si­cal, off­beat but qui­et­ly charm­ing sto­ry that the set up sug­gests, he’s tak­en the pro­tag­o­nists and work­shopped them to death. Every time you expect them to go one way he forces them in the exact oppo­site direc­tion. It’s a sort of test, to see how far the audi­ence will go along with it, and how much they’ll put up with.

So Frances Ha is the sto­ry of a late 20 some­thing who is forced to make the jour­ney from ado­les­cence into adult­hood. But instead of in any way mov­ing on, roman­ti­cal­ly, job-wise or on any lev­el, by the end of the film she’s in exact­ly the same place. And instead of any scenes that might be deemed either charm­ing or humor­ous, they’re all just qui­et­ly embar­rass­ing. Geddit?

If he wants to alien­ate the audi­ence, as Todd Solondz does, bril­liant­ly, then he should do so prop­er­ly. But he clear­ly has a gift for mak­ing roman­tic come­dies that man­age to be gen­uine­ly engag­ing. And that deal seri­ous­ly with the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of adult life in a sophis­ti­cat­ed and nuanced way.

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in "Annie Hall".

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in “Annie Hall”.

Baum­bach needs to go back and have anoth­er look at Annie Hall and Man­hat­tan. And espe­cial­ly at the way in which the for­mer was re-shot and edit­ed when Woody Allen saw how much more inter­est­ed the audi­ence were in the rela­tion­ship between Allen and Diane Keaton.

Because if you can make films on that kind of lev­el – and he seems to be able to – then that is not a gift to be squan­dered light­ly. When you sac­ri­fice warmth for spe­cious clev­er­ness like this, all you end up doing is annoy­ing the audi­ence. And that’s not fun­ny or clever.

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