Happy Thanksgiving!

Spend it with the people you love or the movies you love.

Have a great day!

Review: Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

The release of a Woody Allen movie is something of an annual occurence. But always remember that when discussing the life and career of Woody Allen you should choose your words carefully. It is best to say that you strongly appreciate his work but his personal life disturbs you. This will earn you the respect of countless pop culture snobs and Annie Hall-aholics alike. Admitting to having a thing for Woody Allen will most likely have others questioning your state of mind. Considering the fact that Woody Allen releases approximately one film per year, this is valuable information to remember, especially if you ever find yourself defending his films to a Mia Farrow fan.

Allen’s latest effort is Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the director’s fourth consecutive film shot outside of the United States and his forty-first film overall. Following the not-so memorable features Scoop (2006) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007), Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a much welcomed and appreciated return to the quality filmmaking that Woody Allen is celebrated for. Much like his most celebrated features such as Annie Hall (1977), Manhattan (1979) and Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) during which New York City becomes a character into herself, Vicky Cristina Barcelona is a celebration of the Spanish city and Catalan culture.

Like most Woody Allen films, Vicky Cristina Barcelona addresses matters of heart. Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) are two American friends spending the summer in Barcelona. Aided by a narrator we learn the innermost thoughts of the characters. Vicky is working on her Master’s degree in Catalan identity, and knows what she wants from life. The following autumn, she plans to marry her boring fiancé Doug (Chris Messina). Cristina is her opposite; she is spontaneous and unsure of what she wants. She just made a twelve-minute film about love but is still no closer to finding it.
Enter Juan Antonio, played by Javier Bardem, a passionate painter who is known in the art world for his violent relationship with his ex-wife Maria Elena (Penélope Cruz). After he spontaneously invites the pair to spend the weekend with him in Oviedo, both women are seduced by this Latin lover. This chance weekend in Oviedo disrupts both women’s lives and sends the film down a path of passion, intrigue and interesting scenarios.

But the heart and true beauty of Vicky Cristina Barcelona belongs to Penélope Cruz. As Maria Elena, Juan Antonio’s crazy ex-wife, the Spanish actress steals the limelight from the presumptive lead actresses. Unlike Johansson who offers nothing more than pouty lips, blonde hair and blank stares, Cruz plays a dynamic character that is full of fire, humor and pure fervor. In scenes where Juan Antonio and Maria Elena’s arguments are so intense you can feel their emotions prickle under your skin, Cruz effortlessly transitions from Spanish to English, never dropping the scene’s quick pace or losing Maria Elena’s fieriness. And you’ll forget to read the subtitles. It may only be September, but Cruz is already being mentioned as a likely Oscar-nominee.

With Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen once again proves why his films are often the most anticipated releases each year. Allen’s superb writing and direction, as well as the beyond exceptional acting of Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz, make Vicky Cristina Barcelona a film worth seeing.

Published: September 11, 2008
The Mount Holyoke News

An Interview with Woody Allen

Thought I’d share this interview from Premiere Magazine. I believe it is from the December 2005 issue. Woody Allen is by far one of my favorite directors/actors/writers and I love anything he does. Some excerpts:

Woody Allen Speaks!

The enigmatic director on Match Point, and which of his films are his favorites. By Jason Matloff

Haven’t comedies always been easier to get made?
Serious films are less commercial and comic films are more acceptable to audiences. But to the degree that the business is so box office–driven, I’ve been able to really tap-dance around that over decades, but if you get a little help there, it greases the skids. I think I’ve proved if nothing else that you can survive outside the system without films making much or any money. But it makes life easier, and it makes artistic life easier, if you could get a little help.

Much like Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point deals with infidelity and violence. Do you feel the films are very similar?
Crimes and Misdemeanors was first of all fifty percent comedy—the half with Mia [Farrow], Alan Alda, and myself. In the other part, the important thing for me was that people commit crimes every day and get away with them, and if it doesn’t bother the perpetrator, there’s no justice or retribution of any kind that’s going to catch up with them. And that was an intellectual point that I wanted to make. In Match Point I was more interested in the emotions and passions of the characters. It’s less doctrinaire, less intellectual.

How do you think fans will react to Match Point’s lack of comedy?
I have no fans. [laughs]

Now you’re just being humble.
I feel that I never have had, at any point in my life, a really big fan base that supports me and makes my films profitable or break even, actually. And I understand that because I’ve never thought of them, and they in turn don’t think of me. I’m going to do the films I want to do—whether they are in black and white, dramas or comedies with sad endings—and just hope and root for a big audience to come. And of course a big audience just about never does. I have a healthy worldwide audience, but in the United States, I think I have a small audience, so there’s never any big burst of profit.

You’re notoriously hard on your own films. What do you think of Match Point?
I think it turned out to be the best film I’ve ever made. Everything just fell in for me: I needed Scarlett Johansson, I got her. I needed Jonathan Rhys Meyers, he was available. I needed a young guy to play the [Tom Hewett] part, Matthew Goode walked into my life. Brian Cox was available. Emily Mortimer was available. I needed it to rain, it rained. I needed a sunny day, it was a sunny day. It was just incredible. It was like I couldn’t screw myself up no matter how hard I tried.

Which other films do you consider your best?
Probably Husbands and Wives and The Purple Rose of Cairo; then it becomes a question of personal favorites. I like Zelig but someone else who’s a fan might say they liked Annie Hall better.

I’m surprised you didn’t mention Annie Hall, which of course won the Best Picture Oscar and is probably your most adored film.
I enjoyed making it, but I have no special feeling toward any of [my films]. The fact that the public embraces one film over another doesn’t mean anything to me, because for me the test is, did I fulfill my idea. Very often I see the film I’ve made and I’m very disappointed and I think I’ve screwed up the idea or gotten fifty or ninety percent of what I wanted to do but not one hundred.

How successful would you say you were with Annie Hall?
I got a good percentage but not one hundred. I must say I was surprised at the enormous affection that the public had for it. I’m not surprised they enjoyed it; I mean, I think it’s an enjoyable film, but they took it to their bosom very emotionally and affectionately. But the person who makes a film is probably the worst judge of how other people see it.

Any plans to cast yourself as a romantic lead again?
If I wrote a script where it felt right despite any kind of chronology, I would do it. But it’s practically impossible for me to play the romantic lead in a movie because I am about to turn seventy. So it’s just not good casting. I mean, people don’t want to pay to see me play the romantic lead when they can see Hugh Jackman or Brad Pitt.

In Match Point, luck is a key concept. Do you consider yourself lucky?
I’m very lucky, for many reasons. I was lucky to have a talent, because I was not really very good in school and I don’t know what I would have done. I had a good family growing up, and my parents lived to very ripe old ages. When I first started in show business, and films especially, all the things written about tended to overlook my faults and emphasized my strengths. I played baseball with Willie Mays at Dodger Stadium during a celebrity game, I’ve played jazz in New Orleans clubs, I’ve dined at the White House and traveled all over the world. I’ve done all those things that I could ever have imagined doing in my life.

Review: Match Point (2005)

Seeing Woody Allen’s latest feature yesterday confirmed that he is indeed back, returning to his top director and screenwriter form. Match Point exceeded my expectations and kept me guessing until the film’s last moments.

Jonathan Rhys-Meyers stars as Chris, a tennis-pro turned social climber. He is married to Chloe (Emily Mortimer) whose brother, Tom (Matthew Goode), is engaged to Nola Rice, a struggling American actress. Nola (the magnificently Scarlett Johansson) is the femme fatale who quickly becomes the object of Chris’s desire.

If you are expecting a typical Woody Allen picture, that is a comedy full of quirky and neurotic characters, you have been warned. This is a drama about lust, passion, love, dec ption, truth, anger, and crime. It is a story only the brilliant Woody Allen could concoct.

I by no means consider Match Point to be a Woody Allen masterpiece, not with Annie Hall and Manhattan apart of his repertoire. But this is a pretty damn good film and it is absolutely worth seeing.