A few thoughts on the whole Woody Allen situation.

For over two decades now, my official second-favorite film of all time has been The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). An image from the film’s final scene is embedded in the banner at the top of every post on this blog. Thirteen months ago, I selected this film for a screening and discussion group at a film festival in Texas. Six weeks ago, on Boxing Day, I even got to see the film on the big screen for the first time ever — a 35mm print, even! — as part of the VanCity Theatre’s year-long Woody Allen series.

So I’m something of a fan — not just of this particular film, but of Woody Allen’s films in general, at least for the first two decades or so of his directing career. In truth, the last film directed by Woody that I really enjoyed was Bullets over Broadway (1994), and the last film to star him (or at least his voice) that I really enjoyed was the DreamWorks comedy Antz (1998). Since then, it has seemed to me that most of his films recycle themes that he did a better, more interesting job of exploring in his earlier films; and it has sometimes seemed to me that the moral urgency he brought to films like Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) has given way to a more cynical complacency in similarly-themed films like Match Point (2005).

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The Monuments Men and the value of human life and art

Sixteen years ago, Matt Damon starred in Saving Private Ryan, a World War II movie that raised the question of whether it made sense for several solders to risk their lives just to save one ordinary man. Now he’s starring in The Monuments Men, a World War II movie about a bunch of soldiers who risk their lives — and, who knows, maybe the lives of others — to save classic works of art. And a question I’ve been wondering lately is whether the new film will even raise the question of whether it makes sense to sacrifice human life for inanimate objects of this sort.

The question isn’t really raised in any of the film’s promotional videos, which spell out the heroism of the main characters and the justification for their cause. As Damon puts it in the featurette below: “Ultimately, it’s a movie about people who are willing to sacrifice everything to save what is the very best of us, of humanity.”
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Interview: Armie Hammer (Billy: The Early Years, 2008)

Armie Hammer came very close to playing Batman, in George Miller’s apparently now-defunct Justice League movie. But he got to play a superhero of a different sort when he took on the role of Billy Graham, one of the best-known and most widely-respected evangelists in history, in Billy: The Early Years, which opens Friday.

Hammer, who turned 22 in August, plays Graham from the ages of 16 to 31, before he became the world-famous preacher that he is today. The film covers Graham’s conversion at a revival meeting in 1934; his courtship of Ruth Bell (Stefanie Butler), who he married in 1943; and his crisis of faith when his fellow evangelist Charles Templeton (Kristoffer Polaha) became an agnostic in the late 1940s.

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Review: Match Point (dir. Woody Allen, 2005)

Ever since Match Point premiered at the Cannes film festival eight months ago, Woody Allen has been receiving some of his best reviews in years. His new film has been lauded as a much-needed change of pace for a director who has long been stuck in his ways, and in some ways it is that. It is set in England, not in New York (though earlier films like Love and Death and Everyone Says I Love You also took place, at least in part, outside the United States). It is a mostly serious dramatic feature, not a comedy (though earlier films like Interiors and Another Woman were even more explicit in their emulation of Ingmar Bergman’s sobering style). And it dwells just a little more than usual on the actual eroticism of sex, whereas earlier films tended to focus on the social ramifications of adultery rather than the sexual activity itself (though a few, like Husbands and Wives, were a tad more graphic).

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Where sibs are a sin

For the haziest of reasons, there is a near taboo on the portrayal of adult brothers and sisters in film

In When Harry Met Sally, Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan famously argued over whether men and women could be friends without one of them wanting to have sex with the other. When I first saw the film 11 years ago, I found it funny, entertaining and a good conversation piece, but I couldn’t help thinking that Crystal and Ryan — neither of whom seemed to have any family beyond their fellow single New Yorkers — had overlooked something. I could certainly think of a few women in my own life for whom this was a non-issue, and one of them was sitting right next to me in the theatre. I refer, of course, to my sister.

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Interview: Darren Aronofsky (π, 1998)

Darren Aronofsky shot his brilliant debut feature film Pi for a paltry U.S. $60,000, a sum he raised partly by asking everyone he knew to give him $100 in exchange for a place in the film’s credits.

The film concerns a brainy mathematician named Max who is convinced that there is a pattern — perhaps of divine origin — underlying the apparently chaotic universe. Wall Street brokers and Kabbalistic Jews agree, and they want to use the secrets locked inside Max’s brain.

Inventive imagery, creative montage and, above all, some truly interesting ideas raise this film above the more pedestrian flicks that fall under the “independent film” umbrella these days. Aronofsky discussed some of those ideas with Two Chairs during a phone interview shortly before his film opened at the Fifth Avenue theatre.

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