Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Poster for Cannes 2012

Now that the Oscars are over, we can focus on good films and not some silly contest. Only 76 days until Cannes. Here's the poster for this year's festival, released yesterday....


Gorgeous...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Post-Oscar Quickies


Well, I went 3 for 5 in my Oscar predictions, not very good considering how obvious the pickins' were this year. I feel sorry for Viola Davis, she really got robbed. Meryl Streep needs another accolade like I need another peanut butter and bacon sandwich, or the world needs another song from Billy Crystal.


This was a dreadful year for the Academy Awards, with all sorts of nasty politickin' and, I suspect, some leakage of info. No one expected Streep to win until late last week, when rumors began to surface and suddenly all the big smart pundits picked her for their fantasy ballots; often using the same verbiage about her "not being denied". And the fact that The Tree of Life won, ummmm, nothing, just points out the organization's bloated moral bankruptcy. In all, this year's Oscars did a fine job of promoting Cannes as the world's leading purveyor of meaningful awards.

Now, how about some REAL French films?




The 15 Year Old Girl (1989)***1/2

A romantic triangle ensues when a 40ish divorced dad (Jacques Doillon, who also wrote and directed) invites his estranged teenage son (Melvil Poupard) to accompany him to one of those fabulous Mediterranean beach houses for the summer. Poupard refuses to go unless he can bring his girlfriend Juliette (Judith Godreche), who’s a mature 15 and bustin’ out all over. Well, you can imagine what happens during the long lazy days of summer, and before long Godreche has cast a romantic net that ensnares all of her housemates. While this idea would be recycled a couple of years later in Louis Malle’s excellent Damage, here Doillon directs in a very slow and deliberate style, building romantic tension with fleeting glances and quiet narrative spaces. The film has no profanity and minimal nudity, and defuses the situational ick in a thoughtful manner that seems normal and organic.



Fissures (2006)***1/2 (aka Ecout le temps) 
Emilie Dequenne has one of those faces the camera loves, and she lends her exquisite jaw line to this mystical thriller. Dequenne plays a sound engineer who returns to her hometown – a damp and muddy farming community in the north of France – to investigate her mother’s untimely death. When the yokel constables come up empty, Dequenne discovers that in this case walls really can talk – at least to her high tech microphone – and finds clues in fragments of voices from the past. Part police procedural, part ghost story, Fissures is one of those movies you really have to give your full attention, or you’ll be quickly lost. But Dequenne makes it easy to remain alert.




Leaving (2009)***

These days, Kristin Scott Thomas seems to make a new movie every couple weeks. And amazingly, she’s pretty great in all of them. Here she’s the bored wife of a doctor (Yvan Attal) who’s never at home. When a studly Spanish carpenter (Sergi Lopez) is hired to renovate her garage, passion blooms amid the drywall dust and Thomas decides to pursue one last chance for happiness. But it’s tough sledding to be suddenly among the 99%, and too much of the film is devoted to Attal’s angry – and justifiable – financial warfare. Leaving is well paced, beautifully filmed and Thomas, Lopez and Attal are all terrific. But somehow it doesn’t quite gel and never becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Definitely worth watching but a magical something was left on the table.




A Single Girl (1995)****

Virginie Ledoyen, who is not good looking or anything, carries this tale of a young woman starting a new job as a waitress at a snooty Paris hotel. The story unfolds in real time, and along the way we learn all about Ledoyen’s life struggles and personal issues, the majority of which are self-induced. Directed by the perpetually underrated Benoit Jacquot, A Single Girl paints an involving existentialist portrait of a quietly desperate life, and ultimately makes a compelling case for traditional values of family and responsibility.



Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dude, Where's My Karma?: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)****


Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives is the latest in director Apitchapong Weerasathakul’s series of highly personal abstractions. Challenging and eccentric, to put it mildly, the film is an attempt to capture the fevered visions and visitations of a dying man over the last few days of his life. It also deals with the aftermath of his passing, and a return to the banalities of earthly existence by the grieving survivors. Told with Weerasathakul’s patented meek passivity, Uncle Boonmee confounds expectations at every turn, and uses a mosaic of past and present, flesh and spirit, to contrast the mystical with the mundane.


As Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) struggles with organ failure at his farm in remote northern Thailand, he is visited by a number of family members, both living and – somehow “dead” is not the right word – long departed. As a scrawny cow humorously demonstrates sentient characteristics, even the trees, bushes and livestock at Boonmee’s estate seem to sense an imminent date with the ultimate. A group of ape-ish humanoids with glowing red eyes skulk about the jungle like shy Sasquatches, preparing to escort Boonmee on his upcoming journey. This hairy band is led by a reconstituted fellow named Boonsong (Geerasak Kulhong) Boomee’s son who has been missing for years.


Meanwhile, Boonmee’s mind begins its own meditative walkabout, attempting to sort and define a life that is drawing to conclusion. At an ancient waterfall, a beautiful princess is seduced by a smooth-talking catfish; their tryst bathed in poetic blue-green moonlight. At Boonmee’s insistence, his family embarks on a spelunking expedition, where deep recesses of solid rock serve as a launch point to a vaporous new dimension.

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life deconstructed the boundaries between time and space, while Uncle Boonmee connects planes of existence, creating a reality where people and poltergeists freely intermingle. But Weerasathakul turns the horror film dynamic upside down: his spirits are kindly, but in a condescending sort of way; their temporary return to the physical world a dreaded chore, like a trip to the dentist. But eventually, the goblins depart and life goes on. After a brush with mortality, television shows and hot showers provide solace and a reminder of life’s necessities. Weerasathakul once again uses a Buddhist monk as an unlikely source of comic relief, this time as foil for the glories of hamburgers and karaoke.


Compared to 2007’s Syndromes and a Century, Uncle Boonmee seems a lesser work; its palette not quite in Weerasathakul’s comfort zone of quirk. It lacks the absurdist set pieces that made Syndromes such an enjoyable blend of high art and low comedy. But comparing Weerasathakul’s films to each other is a silly enterprise, almost as silly as comparing him to any other director. His mind simply does not work like any other filmmaker's. His ideas are not conceived over long lunches at fashionable L.A. eateries. He doesn’t calculate, or particularly care, how audiences will react to any given scene. He simply proceeds in his quiet, gentle way; reveling in the wonders of existence, the splendors of creation, both in this world and beyond.  He does so in ways that often hold deep meaning only for him. And he’s OK with that. Artistically speaking, Apitchapong Weerasathakul has balls the size of your head.




Monday, February 20, 2012

They Can Give The Artist 10,000 Awards, It Still Blows: My Oscar Predictions 2012



We’ve endured the Golden Globes (a totally meaningless award), The SAG Awards (the Pro Bowl of award shows), The Directors Guild and Writers Guild Awards (these shows are not on television because most guild members don’t own tuxedos) and the only one that really counts: The Online Film Critics Society Awards (held every year at the Chilis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but they make good choices and the fajitas are awesome).

Soon it will be Oscar night and, according to custom, here are my predictions for this year’s fete. My track record is pretty good, although picking The King’s Speech last year was hardly an act of courageous genius. This year is tougher because there are two really good films, Tree of Life and The Descendants. Of course they may not win anything because The Artist has sucked all the air out of the room. And sucked is the proper verb. It's a classic anti-intellectual backlash; people who didn't get Tree of Life - and there are a lot of them - are jumping on The Artist's bandwagon to prove they are hip and edgy. They know nothing about REAL silent films, but it had James Cromwell and a dog and some French guy so it must be cool.

Anyway here are my picks…along with what SHOULD win:

Best Picture

Will Win: The Artist (Because it will really piss me off)

Should Win: Either Tree of Life or The Descendents would be OK. The Artist isn’t fit to lick the sprocket holes of either one.

Actor in a Leading Role

Will Win: That clown from the Artist. Actually this makes sense; his English is so terrible he’s no threat to the other actors. My theory has long been that Academy members vote for people unlikely to take work from them.

Should Win: I’m equally split between Clooney and Pitt. Clooney was great in The Descendents but Pitt had two awesome projects in theaters this year. Unfortunately, the two guys will likely cancel each other out.

Actress in a Leading Role

Will Win: Viola Davis, The Help

Should Win: Viola Davis. Yea! They get one right!

Actor in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Christopher Plummer, Beginners. I slept through this movie but Mrs. Undies liked it.

Should Win: The dog from The Artist. Best actor in the whole stupid mess.


Actress in a Supporting Role

Will Win: Octavia Spencer, The Help (and I’d be OK with that)


Should Win: Melissa McCarthy. Bridesmaids should get something, don’cha think?

Cinematography

Will Win: Emmanuel Lubezki, Tree of Life

Should Win: Emmanuel Lubezki. Hopefully the cameramen have not lost their minds. If they have  Hollywood is in deep dookie.

Directing

Will Win: The DGA threw me a major curve by giving it to The Artist (Dude, WTF?) so expect the Academy to follow suit.

Should Win: Terrence Malik

As for the other categories, don’t really care.

The good news is, by this time next week movie award madness for 2012 will all be over. And there was great rejoicing.

In fact, when it comes to the Academy Awards, Clair says it best:

Molly Sez, animation


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Multi-Plot Blacktop: Road to Nowhere (2010)*****

Reviewed by Shu Zin


Monte Hellman's ROAD TO NOWHERE is an elegant, original, movie that will thrill lovers of great technique who can stand being led somewhat by the nose. It is important to watch this film with your mind fully engaged. In addition to being a movie within a movie, it is a plot within a plot…within a plot; in the end, everything comes together in a totally surprising revelation. 


The story is about a young director making a film about a real event that took place in the Smokey Mountains in North Carolina, involving a politician, his young mistress, a plane crash and a big hunk of money gone missing. As the making of the film progresses, reality begins to blend with and change the story. Halfway through, you may find yourself questioning which is which, but the elliptical structure will ultimately reward you with understanding and a sense of continuity, no matter how elusive they seem earlier in the film.


First rate cast and direction, and the cinematography is stupendous, with beautiful, lush exteriors and a colonial looking hotel, dramatically lit and softly colored, with a lot of long, slow shots. This is a movie that invites you to luxuriate in its sheer beauty while seducing you into its magic. An absolute must see for movie lovers with patience and an interest in the craft.


 Reviewed by Shu Zin

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Mission Irresistible: Notorious on Blu-ray ****


Those looking to curl up with a sleek and stylish thriller could do a lot worse than Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious from 1946. Newly released on hi-def by Fox, Notorious is an engrossing and - at 101 minutes - efficient piece of moviemaking that artfully avoids spelling out every iota of backstory; often substituting mood and nuance for conventional plotting. It’s a film that feels very modern, despite its shaggy vintage, and incorporates enough noir elements to remain true to its lineage, while charting a narrative course for the legions of spy flicks that followed.

Written by the legendary script doctor Ben Hecht – winner of the first ever writing Oscar for Underworld in 1927 - Notorious is as lean and spare as a haiku. Through just a few laser focused scenes, Hecht and Hitchcock establish their characters’ histories, tendencies and motivations without a single wasted word or gesture. The sprawling plot will involve complex schemes with international implications, yet not a moment feels false, rushed or over simplified. The story gives us only the necessary and savory tidbits, perfectly reduced to the elemental, and Hitchcock commits nary a fumble in its deceptively simple execution.


Set in Miami, Notorious is all about Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of a convicted Nazi spy, who has decided that oblivion drinking and easy virtue are fine methods of forgetting her troubles. During a sloppy party one night at her beachbox bungalow she meets a handsome friend-of-a-friend named Devlin (Cary Grant) and, several bottles later, Alicia finds herself reeling, both from lust and too much wine. But Devlin has designs greater than a quick roll in the hay. His employer, a nameless U.S. spy agency, has determined that Alicia has the perfect resume for a secret mission to save the world from nuclear destruction, and it’s Devlin’s job to transform this hollow-legged floozy into a competent spook.


Notorious features a cast of such stalwart talents its reductive story takes on larger and richer dimensions. Claude Rains is fun to watch as an architect of evil undone by his own mushy lapses, and makes a superb foil for Grant. The great Louis Calhern, as Devlin’s boss Prescott, reprises his sleazy diplomat role from Duck Soup - and a dozen other pictures – and it’s a joy to watch this consummate character actor ply his craft. Bergman’s apparent effortlessness is impressive, and few leading ladies could pull off her transformation from Florida party girl to reserved hausfrau as convincingly. And Grant, despite the gravity of his role, glides through with his patented elegance and beguiling sense of imminent wit.


In the Hitchcock filmography, Spellbound precedes Notorious by a year, but the stylistic differences between the films seems like decades. Spellbound, a Selznick production, feels stogy and stagebound, its sets clunky and overdecorated; brimming with an insecure person’s idea of good taste. Notorious, produced by Hitchcock himself, feels fresh and contemporary and it’s a fitting battlefield for this tale of entrenched European privilege versus the ideals of a New World. While Spellbound wallowed in shadowy plot contrivances, Notorious attacks its narrative with straightforward, determined vigor. Here, Hitchcock tells a tight, muscular story in a tight, muscular style, and provides both a model and a standard for countless Cold War spy thrillers still to come.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Freud and Dali and Hitchcock, Oh My!: Spellbound on Blu-ray ***


Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound is an aptly named motion picture. Recently released on blu-ray by Fox, this David O. Selznick produced thriller features twists and turns aplenty, and audiences will find themselves entranced by the time all is said and done. From the crisp formality of its acting, to the famous Salvador Dali designed dream sequence, Spellbound often seems to exist in a dimension other than our own. While the rational mind attempts to impose order on Hitchcock’s tantalizing clues and fragments, the narrative quietly expands to surprising proportions and pursues unexpected avenues, creating a sense of the hypnotically surreal.

READ MORE

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Traces of Love: Certified Copy (2010)****

Reviewed by Shu Zin

The central question in Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami's enigmatic CERTIFIED COPY is never answered, and that is: what is real, and what is a copy? But this is nonetheless a deeply affecting film that fascinates and compels. There are two central characters and a son, who may or may not belong to them. The boy is the liveliest character in the film. He is also believable, and the one with the least power. 


Juliette Binoche and William Shimell appear to meet at a talk given by Shimell, who plays an English writer. He is in Florence to speak about his new book, addressing his theory that in art, a copy is as good as an original; it's all in the perception, totally subjective. He meets the beautiful antiques store owner (Binoche) and they spend the day together wandering from Fiesole to Arezzo together, discussing art and their lives. 


I don't want to spoil the story, but a case could be made for this film being an Iranian take on a French/English relationship in Italy with WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF overtones. Whatever else it is, this beautifully sad film is a realistic treatise on marriage. But for the awkward question of their relationship's authenticity, I would have given this 5*. It left me pensive. Your call.

Reviewed by Shu Zin





Monday, February 6, 2012

Rhapsody in Gray: Manhattan (1979) on Blu-ray*****




With 1979’s Manhattan, Woody Allen completed an unofficial trilogy of sorts. Along with preceding releases Annie Hall (1977) and Interiors (1978), the three films announced Allen’s arrival as a formidable cinematic force. No longer concerned solely with delivering jokes, each film represented a significant creative advance for the director. Annie Hall saw Allen seamlessly integrate experimental and European influences to create a delightful film as inventive as it was entertaining. Interiors, a grim and boldly unapologetic homage to Ingmar Bergman, proved Allen’s chops at skillful direction and the evocation of icy, angst ridden moods. Manhattan follows as a stylistic hybrid, returning to Allen’s comfort zone of satirical wit and sight gags, presented in a visually poetic package.

Manhattan aesthetically ups the ante by incorporating formal elements that conjure the dynamic muscularity of the American experience. From the intensity of the Gershwin orchestral pieces that adorn its track, to the raw, biting textures of DP Gordon Willis’ black-and-white images of the city’s bustle, Manhattan celebrates the energy and drive that carved the world’s most famous skyline out of sweat and dreams. The leafy environs of Central Park surrounded by an Art Deco canyon, a determined delivery truck on a narrow street covered in new fallen snow, and the misty splendor of sunrise at the Brooklyn Bridge all serve as visual couplets in Allen’s epic tome. While Interiors is a descendant of Bergman, Manhattan evokes the legacy of John Ford; its exultations a steel and brick cognate to Ford’s magnificent western vistas from films like The Searchers.

But today Monument Valley is inhabited mainly by cheerful Navajo tour guides, while Allen’s New York City has been overrun by a neurotic creative class, and Manhattan’s razor sharp narrative is all about their fallacies and foibles.  Allen stars as a comedy writer named Isaac Davis who, in a brief fit of artistic integrity, quits his cushy job on a hit TV show and is immediately hip-deep in  regret and financial insecurity. Adding to Davis’ woes is his ex-wife (Meryl Streep), who is about to publish a nasty tell-all book about their dysfunctional marriage. Meanwhile, Davis’ best friend Yale (Michael Murphy), a deluded academic permanently lodged in his ivory tower, is cheating on his devoted wife (Anne Byrne) with an unstable, high maintenance book editor (Diane Keaton). Davis’ only solace is in the barely legal arms of his girlfriend Tracy (Mariel Hemingway), a 17 year old high school student who ironically seems the most mature of the lot. 


Through vignettes laced with bull’s-eye observational humor, Allen skewers the misconceptions and warped priorities of the self proclaimed intellectual elite. Contrasting the impressive achievements of New York’s builders with the wobbly self absorption of its current residents, Manhattan is a full immersion in the cloudy rivers of Solipsism. While Davis and his friends wallow in self aggrandizement and chimerical crises, Allen fills his frames with constant reminders of man’s ultimate miniscule ranking in the universe. In the film’s most memorable scene, shot at the old Hayden Planetarium, Allen and Keaton discuss their romantic complications while wandering amid surreal heavenly grandeur. In a hilarious metaphor, Allen’s friends drip with cultural sophistication, but they are easily undone by the mysterious dingy brown water that drips from his rusty faucet. In a scene that builds to the film’s climactic confrontation, Allen tries to catalogue real things of transcendent permanence, a lofty process rapidly derailed by memories of his romance with young Tracy.


Current knowledge of Allen’s controversial personal proclivities adds a layer of ick to the Isaac/Tracy relationship not present – or at least not as pronounced - in 1979. The degree of distraction will vary from viewer to viewer, but suffice to say Allen’s subsequent issues with adopted offspring will likely prevent the full appreciation of Manhattan’s brilliance by today’s audiences. But also there are reassuring reminders of society’s advancements in shielding children from sexual situations. In a scene at the Russian Tea Room, Isaac jokes in a hushed tone about picking up a couple of girls with his 5-ish son (Damien Scheller). This exchange was innocently amusing in 1979, but today it seems wildly inappropriate, even for an actor without Allen’s tortured history on the subject. 


In more recent films, Allen has shown an annoying tendency to make his actors all Sound Like Him. Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson and Judy Davis are but a few examples of gifted talents who have abandoned their personalities to the staccato allure of Allen-esque line readings. In Manhattan, Michael Murphy does a fine job of retaining his persona amid a sea of whiney hemming and hawing. Murphy’s neurotic naturalism is a display of exquisite control, both of timing and timbre, and he interprets rather than parrots. The scenes with Allen and Murphy rank as the film’s most effective and believable, and it’s both unfortunate and puzzling that Manhattan stands as their only collaboration.

Disc Review 

In 1979, it had been a generation since anyone had seen a new black and white film in 2.35:1 – projected large in a theatre anyway – and Manhattan’s starkly glorious imagery was a revelation. I’m happy to report cinematographer Gordon Willis’ compositions still resonate with beauty and superb balance. His effective use of the frame’s challenging width has never been surpassed, and this film features several skillful examples. A night scene in Isaac’s apartment essentially features two pools of light – one on a sofa and another illuminating a spiral stairway – on opposite edges of the frame, creating a perfect tableau for the scene’s casual intimacy. In a day exterior, a discussion of car buying between Allen and Murphy is staged uncomfortably extreme camera right, but trees and an antique Porsche provide perfect visual counterweight. 

The transfer generally does justice to Willis’ artistry, although there is a bit more grain than most viewers would prefer. The gammas are just about perfect though, with shadow detail comparable to the original theatrical prints. Sharpness is good without excessive enhancement and cleanliness is excellent. In all, this edition does not diminish Manhattan’s reputation as a gorgeous film to look at.

The audio is presented in mono, and it’s well mixed with dialogue front and center at all times. Fortunately, Gershwin’s music still shines, and the clarinet intro to Rhapsody in Blue will produce a few goosebumps. One issue: my normally trusty Onkyo receiver kept trying to interpret the track in stereo, resulting in crazily uneven levels. I had to manually select mono a few times during the screening to keep things on an even keel. Whether this was the fault of my equipment or improper coding from the disc, I do not know.

Other than the original trailer, which oddly seems much more dated than the film; the disc contains no bonus material. 

Final Thoughts

Despite the modern day infliction of Allen’s personal baggage, Manhattan remains an artistic triumph, and deserves its ranking among Woody Allen’s best films. Manhattan’s clever contrast of gutsy Greatest Generation aesthetics with Me Generation navel gazing creates an entertaining and thought provoking cinematic meditation that can be appreciated on a number of levels. While Allen is hardly a conservative moralist, his film shines a light on the creeping decay in the American psyche, and humorously reflects a growing national uneasiness that would manifest itself with Ronald Reagan’s election a year later. The brave and industrious visionaries who built New York have been replaced by a pampered, self absorbed set, concerned only with sex and fashionable places to have lunch. And ironically, in the years hence almost nothing has changed. You may not agree with Allen’s thesis, but Manhattan’s flawless execution makes for a compelling case.








Friday, February 3, 2012

Deeply Damaged in Denmark: Submarino (2010)*****



                                                          Reviewed by Shu Zin

My guess is that SUBMARINO here means "under water" and describes characters flailing about just below the surface, all of them desperate for something to hang onto for dear life. This is a simple, realistic and extremely affecting slice of the lives of two damaged brothers living in Copenhagen. They can't even see the brass ring, and they have little inspiration and no idea about how to go about grabbing it.



Danish director Thomas Vinterberg embraces sensitive material with unpretentious brilliance, highlighting kindness where he finds it. Actors Jakob Cedergren and Peter Plaugborg deliver nuanced, shattering performances as the two brothers. One of these appealing men has a young son and a big monkey on his back. The older brother has served time in prison for assault; when he comes out, he moves into a grim little room in a government-sponsored halfway house. Here, he drinks prodigiously and lifts weights to augment an empty life. He can barely tolerate the advances of a comely female neighbor.


These two brothers, now estranged, had a neglectful, drunken mother, and they share a horrifying experience as children that has shaped their lives. The supporting cast in this quietly powerful film are perfect, and the writing is intelligent; guilt, love, disenfranchisement and addiction are treated in a subtle, sympathetic and credible way. There are children in this film who will break your heart, as will most of the adults.


SUBMARINO takes a postmodernist view in that this film takes care to remain aloof from any value judgments. This excellent film will find a place in your memory. The characters might sneak into your dreams and haunt you when you least expect it. Not all questions are answered. Like life.

Reviewed by Shu Zin

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I Sing the Body Neurotic: Annie Hall on Blu-ray*****


In what will be news to no one, Woody Allen’s Oscar winner Annie Hall is an absolutely marvelous motion picture. Available in a newly minted blu-ray from Fox, Allen’s tale of neurotic love in gritty Gotham remains a witty and vital entertainment; not aging a day since its initial release in 1977. The film, despite a thick stew of European influences, stands as an icon of the Great American Romantic Comedy and indeed both enlarges and transcends the genre’s conventions. 

Annie Hall was originally conceived as a rather dark murder mystery with a minor comedic subplot, directed by Allen under the full imitative sway of the European auteurs he so admired. As Editor Ralph Rosenblum recounted in his superb book When The Shooting Stops, the Cutting Begins, Allen’s footage consisted of such a chaotic clash of styles a coherent assembly was impossible. By retooling the script with co-writer Marshall Brickman, Allen was able to pare down his sprawling narrative to a relatively simple romance, told in a highly inventive way. 

Within Annie Hall’s hilarious sight gags and slicing witticisms, viewers will note distinct flourishes of Bergman, Fellini and Truffaut. But Allen himself was becoming a more confident and assured filmmaker, no longer relying solely on his nebbish persona for laughs. Annie Hall was the first Allen film set squarely within his personal world: the excitingly grungy Manhattan of the 1970s, when the city was still a funky ethnic and economic smelter rife with avant-garde and dangerous possibilities, and not the glossy haven for well-heeled tourists it is today. 

Simply put, Annie Hall is about the ill-fated relationship between a successful stand-up comic named Alvy Singer (Allen) and the title character, a charmingly scatterbrained Wisconsin-bred singer and actress (Diane Keaton). They meet through mutual friends one day at a tennis court, and a tender, if somewhat erratic, romance evolves. Over the course of the film the couple will endure all the transitions - both joyous and agonizing - that imperfect love typically inflicts on its victims.

Along the way, Allen and Keaton generate moments of hilarity laced with melancholy. But the film’s poignancy is counterbalanced by perfectly timed insertions of comic abstractions left over from Allen’s original, darker vision. In a scene that looks like a discard from Fellini’s Amarcord, viewers meet a few of Allen’s grammar school classmates. Through direct address, these innocent youngsters reveal their adult fates; an array that includes heroin addiction and kinky fetishes. In a famous segment that only gets funnier with repeat viewing, Allen produces renowned media theorist Marshall McLuhan for a classic beatdown of an overbearing film critic. But these blackouts are more than mere comedic cutaways; they cleverly enhance exposition and momentum. Allen’s hilarious encounter with two unibrow Mafioso types outside a movie theater establishes his characters’ fame and success, while the scene’s coda – Keaton’s late arrival from psychotherapy – adds a frothy layer of fashionable neurosis. Profound insights are delivered with economy and brutal efficiency. A magical scene with Keaton involving a runaway lobster is reprised with Alvy’s new girlfriend (Wendy Girard), with heartbreakingly different results, while young Jeff Goldblum, with one line of dialogue, perfectly sums up L.A. in the 70s.

But the film’s greatest strength is the utter believability of Allen and Keaton as a couple. While hardly an earth-shattering observation, this new edition is a stark reminder of an extraordinary on screen chemistry, and their highly deserved ranking among the greatest cinematic teams. It’s sobering to think of all the great films left on the table by the pair’s eventual dissolution. Mia Farrow, Scarlett Johansson and Helena Bonham Carter, to name a few of her later substitutes, are all fine actresses, but they are not Diane Keaton.

Disc Review
The look of this hi-def version is a little disappointing, in that it’s not a significant upgrade from the standard DVD. This is at least partially due to the original cinematography. The legendary DP Gordon Willis was known for his diffuse top lighting, which rendered an effect generally more realistic than dramatic. And, as his work for The Godfather series and All the President’s Men attests, he was not averse to working in minimal footcandles. Still, there are some sloppy moments that would have benefitted from more attention. The night exterior where Allen and Keaton share their first kiss is excessively packed; the shadows are devoid of detail and actually appear discolored. There are also a few instances of dirt that should have been painted out. While true to the original 1.85:1 framing, those expecting the eye-popping detail we’ve come to expect from blu-ray will find the transfer lacking.

The audio is in the original mono, and its crisp simplicity is perfect for this production. 
Annie Hall is a film of almost constant dialogue, and its subtle verbal gems deserve the track’s full focus. Avoid using the English subtitles unless absolutely necessary, for they will interfere with a wonderful joke about 20 minutes in. 

Surprisingly, other than the film’s trailer, the disc contains no supplemental material. One gets the nagging feeling that this blu-ray edition may have been hurriedly thrown together to capitalize on Allen’s current success with Midnight in Paris.

Final Thoughts

Through caustic wit and stinging observations, Annie Hall delivers a perfect snapshot of 1970s America; a time when leisurely navel gazing and wacky self-help regimens determined a generation’s cultural legacy. It also offers a frozen-in-time capture of an assortment of extraordinary talents at their creative peaks. While Allen, Keaton, Willis and Rosenblum would all go on to make many more films, their brilliant collaboration on this production has never be exceeded. The intervening 35 years have not diminished Annie Hall’s sparkle, but given its sharply-hewn facets and fanciful dimensions deeper beauty and value. And we are all the richer for it.




Reviewed by David Anderson