09 February 2008

English Period Woody Allen

There are these sorts (perhaps many such sorts) who say Woody Allen has lost it. And in the Jason Biggs-era I had to agree with them. But now I feel something stirring. As things have gone astray on the comedic side, he has just increased the body count. He takes a handsome men or two and one full-lipped beauty that acts at being a terrible actress and makes them murder each other. Watching Match Point, Scoop and Cassandra’s Dream in succession I felt so comfortably 3½ stars about everything. Sometimes it is enough to like films.

The films I’m calling the English Period Woody Allen are more attempts than accomplishments, but I love the ping-pong banter of Johansson and Rhys meyers in Match Point, almost up to speed with Stanwyck and MacMurray in Double Indemnity (a very aggressive game—someone needs a spanking).

And if it doesn’t take we can look at Scarlett again in Scoop going after some young Hepburn gee-gosh-golly.

And a jaw dropper or two. 90% of the dialogue in Allen’s English Period could have been written anytime between the 30’s and the present day, making the images all the more impactful. Some of the anachronisms here are delightful. Scoop is a film that asks the question: in the history of the cinema have there ever been more patently unneeded eyeglasses? I can only think of Cary Grant’s specs in Bringing Up Baby as competition.

Not to focus only on the distaff side I’ll say I found Colin Farrell in Dream and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Match Point both sexy and brilliant. Farrell’s problems mount on his eyebrows, Rhys Meyers’ on his lips.

I took in Cassandra’s Dream (a mediocre name for a film but a hell of a name for a greyhound) with relish—the slightly scratched title music, the left-slanting title O’s. Beforehand I’d heard mostly about how the leads’ accents were “wrong.” This kind of inane criticism vexes me—like when all I heard about Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead was Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke didn’t look enough alike to be brothers. It’s a film for Christ’s sake—it is actually made up for our entertainment and we walk outside into a world where Hoffman and Hawke are not, in fact, brothers. But back to the Woodman’s latest. In the Scarlett (sex) role we have Hayley Atwell who, as it turns out, does not look exactly like Diane Keaton in a tie.

I wish I had more of a full profile view—that tie more closely resembles a toddler’s legs hanging off a high chair. But the first vista of Atwell is sheer classicism from Woody—the woman under the hood of the car on a summer’s day. Everything irresistible. She has less to say than Keaton ever did but this picture could just as well be silent—at this point Tom Wilkinson gets out bed looking like he is devising a murder and McGregor and Farrell emote like they’re trying out for The Passion of Joan of Arc.

But I liked the film for the same reasons I liked the others—pith, English country landscapes, heaving breasts.

And I’ve already heard murmurings of a “Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson sex scene” in Woody’s Spanish venture, which is a strong indicator that I might just find the time to see the film. Though critics will probably say Scarlett’s accent is all wrong (if not Cruz’s and Bardem’s—my God what if they are more Andalusian than Catalan? What will we do??).

But there might also be more of timeless moments, as in Scoop, when Woody tells Hugh Jackman that he heard Scarlett drowning and, “I finished my cup of tea and came right in.” That reminds me of a 40+ Michael Jordan hitting his iconic turnaround jumper for the Washington Wizards. Old masters still move me.

1 comment:

k specialized said...

american woody allen's in the english period (think melinda and melinda) are crap

england is an escape

americans always love england (the inverse is not always true)