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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Happy Birthday Woody Allen!

I feel just a tad wicked for using a birthday-post as my return to this place--the blog, that is. Yes, I am aware that it has been quite some time since I've shared my thoughts, including promises I've made to write something also. I have to additional posts in drafting status at the moment, though there is no way I can prove this slight demonstration of progress. It's been almost three weeks, a day before actually, and I must say: I am more than glad to be back. This prodigal return of mine is enhanced by the center of attention on this lovely morning of December first, and that man is Woody Allen. This magnificent filmmaker is just as recognized for his directing as he is for his writing, therefore the following films are generally both written and directed by him. This simply emphasizes his ingenious talent. Ingenious is properly used there, isn't it? Here are just a few of my personal highlights. Of his work.

Annie Hall - Oh, big surprise this would be named first. That's what you're all thinking, I'm sure, and for those who admire Woody Allen's work as much as I, it is completely rational. The film follows neurotic Alvy Singer (played by Woody Allen, who happens to star in a number of his own movies, most of the time playing a version of himself) and his tumultuous relationship with bright-eyed, though also neurotic and insecure, Annie Hall (played by Diane Keaton). What we have here, to begin with, is the timeless yet unconventional romantic-comedy screen couple. Woody Allen's hilariously deranged portrayal of Alvy Singer mirrors Diane Keaton's affable, self-conscious, impulsive embodiment of Annie Hall. Throughout the film, their relationship feels so real and, in some cosmic way, personal. It is as if the happenings on the screen are of, hypothetically, me and my significant other--I feel it applies only to non-marital commitments, that is boyfriend-girlfriend only. Annie Hall runs smoothly from the moment Annie says "la-dee-da" to its non-idyllic, realistic end. Sheer brilliance. Prior to this cinematic feat, no one has ever come close to imagining how good conversation can be integrated into a film, and if it would even work. Movies, more often than not, require steady, constant action; audiences need something to follow when they watch the movie, otherwise they would feel as if they are watching a documentary. With Annie Hall, Woody Allen achieved this by making dialogue the center of his production, and by making that back-and-forth conversation entertaining and engrossing. The film itself is remarkably short, and the entire thing is talk between the characters. From the sound of that, one would think the time drags by, but they would be making an incorrect assumption. (I wanted to incorporate the word "incorrect" somehow. And "incorporate".) The film moves gracefully and quite fast as well, for I, as a small part of the captivated audience, am enthralled from beginning to end. Now, the enthralled feeling may be a bit intensely exaggerated, but it speaks in manners of cinematic experience, as opposed to vivid scenery and action. Just thought I should make that clear. The perfect midnight classic which will be sure to keep you up at night--in a good way.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion - Typically, among so-called true Woody Allen admirers, transitioning from a film as remarkable as Annie Hall to one as, let's say, critically attacked as The Curse of the Jade Scorpion would be frowned upon. Whether this makes me an artificial admirer of Mr. Allen or simply a unique one, I happen to love this slice of filmography. This is probably the first Woody Allen picture I've seen, for it is my dad's personal preference as well, which may give the film a nostalgic quality that allows me to put it above the rest, or consider it just as good. Based on its detrimental visit to the box office during the time of release, it seems that not many of watched or even heard of Jade Scorpion. Let me fill you in. (Nothing disgusting about it, I'm just giving you a brief summary.) Woody Allen plays C.W. Briggs, an insurance investigator (neurotic, of course), whose work environment is disturbed by the arrival of a controlling, assertive efficiency expert named Betty Ann Fitzgerald, played by Helen Hunt. What ensues is pleasant love-hate hijinks between the characters, which resolves with a declaration of love. To top it all off, the film takes place in the 1930s, which implies an excellent swing-jazz soundtrack and pleasing scenery. Charlize Theron makes a short appearance as a gorgeous femme fatale, common in the 1930s, and her seductive conversations with Woody Allen are simply worth the watch alone. That is, if you do believe a lousy box office constitutes a lousy picture. Again, incorrect assumption. Terrific late-night comedy by Woody Allen.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona - Of the more modern films of Woody Allen, where he ventured across the ocean to Europe, this was my first taste. For me, Vicky Cristina Barcelona represents the milestone of Woody Allen's filmmaking career--a new era, if you will, where the ingenious writer/director gives himself an entirely different identity in addition to his previous, conversational New York pieces. To sum up my reaction of the film, set in the picturesque city in Spain (if you can't guess which city, there may be something wrong with you), it was disappointingly short. There could be no better compliment than that, quite frankly, because it indicates my immense enjoyment from watching it. Apparently, I liked it so much that I wished it were much longer than it was. When the narrator (who wasn't Woody Allen, which took some adjustment on my part) began to reflect on Vicky and Cristina's visit to Spain, I welled up with a sense of abrupt, premature resolution. It wasn't that I was angry that it ended so quickly, but rather forlorn and even reminiscent. Remember when Javier Bardem approached Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall in the restaurant, so full of irresistible confidence? And when Penelope Cruz made her first, chaotically passionate appearance? Indeed, I have my fond memories. After four years, I finally rewatched it for a second time, saving it as my last film of the summer. It was just as good, and I am just as tranquilly despondent. Relaxing film for a preferably warmer day.

Match Point - As unconventional a film this is for Mr. Allen, I must include it to provide some variety in his filmography. I almost didn't include this on account of how startlingly unlike Woody Allen this picture is. However, the writer/director himself states that this is one of his preferred films of his own, if he were feeling vain enough to choose one among the many. I was truly taken aback at how much I fancied the film. (Yes, fancied. I felt "enjoyed" would have been hackneyed considering. Considering.) I wasn't aware until after I watched Match Point, but it very much resembles the tale of Theodore Dreiser's American Tragedy, in which the protagonist finds love then abandons it when the potential of success comes into light. Jonathan Rhys Meyers portrays the charming protagonist, Chris Milton, keenly projecting an eagerness for passion with the luscious Nola Rice (perfectly portrayed by Scarlett Johansson, Woody Allen's muse at the time) while also showing desperation when he favors success over physical lust. The actions he takes in order to keep his wickedness concealed are that of a blatantly reckless fool. When you find yourself rooting for or against him--and believe you me, you will--that's when the sheer brilliance of Woody Allen's most unconventional film surfaces and manifests into yet another valuable slice of the veteran director's esteemed collection. Is it me, or was there an overabundance of adjectives in that sentence? Ideal rainy day film for Woody Allen admirers.

Considering the late hour, I must be getting to bed. I have to climb a flight of stairs to actually get into bed, you know. Well, three steps, which I take two at a time. One final bid to Woody Allen on his seventy-seventh birthday: May you continue to express your own charming, idiosyncratic, mellow style in films, and how I hope--if there is ever a chance you may read this, unlikely as it definitely is--that this was not overly flattering. Because I wouldn't want you to scoff at my overt admiration of you, Mr. Woody Allen. Happy Birthday. I won't recite a quote or anything.

P.S. Once again, I am a day late in posting. Never fear, for I deviously changed the postmark.


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