Monday, July 31, 2006

Movie / Scoop

"Scoop" (2006)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Woody Allen, Scarlett Johannsen, Hugh Jackman

A fun, light comedy / murder mystery, with a bit of a supernatural element. Not as tightly written and directed as Match Point, last year's well-received Allen film drama. However it is arguably a sequel, which reuses some of the stars of Match Point, and sets things right. This time a murderous aristocrat is caught and brought to justice, by a sweet young thing.

Splendini (Allen), a mediocre American stage magician meets Sondra Pransky (Johannsen) a young American journalism student in London, when she volunteers for one of his magic tricks. Inside the box, Sondra meets the ghost of a recently deceased reporter who gives her the scoop of a lifetime, that an aristocrat has possibly murdered someone. Sondra and Splendini then endeavor to penetrate the inner circle of this rich man, passing themselves off as wealthy Americans under assumed names, with him as her aging father. And she and the handsome young man fall in love.

Allen (now 70) delivers a nice rendition of Being There by acting totally self confident and a total klutz at the same time, and getting away with it. Johannsen (the new, new leading lady?) plays nicely against him, as someone her own age, a cute, clueless college student with glasses.

Unlike some reviewers, I was not blown away by the comedy, and there are definitely some continuity problems. But there are many nice moments to like, and I am considering going back to see it again. Had Allen not insisted on being a one-man band, and brought in a younger collaborator, the writing, continuity, and comedy could have been improved, likely yielding a timeless classic.

PG-13. Sexual situations and threats of violence.

During the the pre-release PR for Scoop, Allen gave some interviews, one of which I read in the Washington Post. I was startled to learn that it's not merely a comedic device that he thinks life is futile and is obsessed with death -- that's his true personality! So for example in Annie Hall when he gives Annie (Diane Keaton) books about death, which cause her to leave him and move to Beverly Hills, this is no joke. He really would do that.

Starting out as a kid in Brooklyn writing one-liners for others, he rapidly became big enough to control his own creative destiny. So far he has created 37 films, more than anyone but Charlie Chaplin. And he does them, one a year, to keep from thinking about the futility of life and the inevitability of death.

Frankly I think he needs to get out of Brooklyn, while there's still time, stop worrying about his Jewish heritage, and move to San Francisco (LA is too vacuous). That would get him to lighten up.

One week later. In the WaPo interview Allen laments that now he has reached age 70 he can no longer pick up 22 year old women and plan a future with them. "All that is lost to me." This seems bizarre given that he is married to Soon-Yi (his former adopted daughter with Mia Farrow) who must be in her 30s. Why does he still want to pick up 22 year olds, or feel that life with a younger woman is lost to him? Perhaps the view (of Farrow et al) that he is some kind of moral degenerate is correct.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Movie / Monster House

This film had a lot going for it. Solid critical reviews, a decent concept that makes sense on all levels and resolves with everyone getting redeemed, a tight and clever script with witty dialog, state of the art animation that conveys the human actors' facial motions, and so on. So why was the theater virtually empty on Sunday afternoon of opening weekend?

Alas despite its technical and creative brilliance, the film is somewhat hard to watch. The soundtrack can be jarring. The horror themes (social and spook) create tension, but without really scaring the heck out of you, so to speak. It's a masterpiece of digital rendering, which for some reason never really becomes culturally or emotionally compelling. Also why release a Halloween movie in mid-July? To have the DVD out for Halloween?

PG animated kid adventure film. Mild sexual innuendo, but plenty of social tension, to say nothing of being terrorized by a majorly haunted house.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Movie / Pirates of the Caribbean 2 / The Dream

Johnny Depp stars as Captain Jack Sparrow, a mythical pirate in a changing world, with co-stars Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and released by Disney. This movie was panned by the critics ("more awful than usual"), yet sold more tickets on its opening weekend than any in history. How can this be?

In my view the film needs to be considered on two levels. While sporting three likeable stars and lavish production, its story line is weak. There are few blatant gaffes, and parts of it are almost coherent, however, alas none of it really makes any sense.

Yet on a different level, it has 2-1/2 hours worth of intensely produced, visually arresting, highly memorable scenes. Thus, even though these do not add up to much, it succeeds handsomely if you regard the whole thing as a DREAM sequence!

You know how in dreams you can have the most vivid, interesting, emotionally involving experiences, none has any real meaning, each is more or less a montage, which flows to the next in a random fashion, and yet the whole experience is quite satisfying at a deep level? Well, that's a pretty fair analogy to this movie.

By invoking an array of mythical creatures and personalities, it sets up the idea that this is another world, and/or an altered state. None of the characters are on drugs, other than rum (except maybe the prophetess), yet the writers and designers might have been.

A highly memorable film. You'll be thinking about it for days, pondering the continuity holes in various places, and trying to figure out what, if anything, was meant by this or that. Proves that the public does not care about plot, but loves a nice, long, vivid dream.

PG. Action-adventure comedy, comic book violence, little or no sex.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Movie / Click

R-rated (sci-fi) comedy. Adam Sandler, a hardworking schmoe (married to a hot Kate Beckensdale with two young kids) puts in long hours at the office to advance his career. Then he receives a highly unusual artifact, a "universal remote control" that can mute, fast forward, or replay any aspect of his life, and much more.

At first this might look like a recipe for forgettable summer slapstick, and indeed the film is laden with slapstick, bathroom humor, bad language, sex scenes, crude behavior, and humping dogs. However the device's power is so great that it moves him to and from many decisive moments in his life, generating an emotionally profound experience! In particular it "learns" (against his later will) to fast-forward him through many years of his life, generating career success at the expense of everything else. From time to time he wakes up and asks, holy cow, what happened during the last X years? This can potentially change your view of life.

A well-earned 5-star rating. Along with its schmoe hero, hot wife, and spiritual depth, the film delivers cutting-edge visual production, as when he and Morty (the angel, well played by Christopher Walken) periodically enter the twilight zone of the device's "menu mode." And towards the end, the scenes of the future (2021) are as elaborately realized as any sci-fi movie.