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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Carnage” – Roman Polanski

I defer in almost all mat­ters to the New Yorker’s film crit­ic Antho­ny Lane. But I have to gen­tly dis­agree with his huffy dis­missal of Car­nage

Our con­trast­ing reac­tions to the film stem from our very dif­fer­ent expec­ta­tions of the the­atre. Lane is as polite as he is effort­less­ly eru­dite, and hav­ing been brought up to respect the the­atre, he clear­ly finds it dif­fi­cult, not with­stand­ing the end­less dis­ap­point­ments he must have expe­ri­enced there, to see it for what it is. It’s where writ­ers who aren’t quite good enough for tele­vi­sion or cin­e­ma go to hide. 

That sign that met Nicholas Ray when he arrived in New York from Wis­con­sin in the 1930s, which read “the the­atre is dead; let’s give it a decent bur­ial” stood, and stands as an appro­pri­ate headstone. 

So the play that this is based on, The God Of Car­nage by Yas­mi­na Reza is exact­ly what one should have expect­ed. As a piece of seri­ous writ­ing it will of course dis­ap­pear into the ether, and will only ever be of use to am dram socs and sec­ondary schools. But that’s hard­ly the point. It’s just a bit of fun, that’s all!

A pair of upward­ly-mobile, New York cou­ples spend a day togeth­er dis­cussing what’s to be done about the bois­ter­ous behav­iour of their respec­tive chil­dren. Inevitably, the veneer of respectabil­i­ty is soon scraped clean, and they are prompt­ly tear­ing strips off of one anoth­er. The film is every bit as pre­dictable as that makes it sound, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

It’s the kind of thing Woody Allen used to make in order to raise the mon­ey for his more per­son­al films. In exchange for get­ting his more seri­ous come­dies fund­ed, he’d pro­duce some­thing light and frothy to keep the mon­ey men hap­py. So for every Man­hat­tan, The Pur­ple Rose Of Cairo and Crimes And Mis­de­meanours, there’d be a Han­nah And Her Sis­ters, a Bul­lets Over Broad­way and a Vicky Christi­na Barcelona. Devoid of sub­stance and made entire­ly of sug­ar, they’re an instant pick-me-up, but are per­fect­ly charm­ing nonethe­less. That’s what this is. 

I would though chal­lenge any­one to guess that it’s a Roman Polan­s­ki film if they hadn’t been told so before­hand. It’s not so much direct­ed as it is a filmed play. But con­sid­er­ing that Polan­s­ki hasn’t made any­thing of sub­stance since Tess in 1979, per­haps that’s not such a bad thing.

Any com­pe­tent direc­tor would be flat­tered when work­ing with actors of this cal­i­bre, all of whom deliv­er won­der­ful­ly. Though a bet­ter direc­tor would have insist­ed on impos­ing an end­ing, which the play plain­ly lacks, and which is exact­ly what Polan­s­ki him­self had done on his best film, Chi­na­town. I don’t know. Per­haps he has oth­er things on his mind these days.

Not with­stand­ing all of which, Car­nage should be seen for what it is. Quite sil­ly, and huge­ly enjoyable.