Tag Archives: Woody Allen

The Set of 400: #168 – My Favorite Orgasmatron

Today! Because I bought Polaroid at seven, it’s probably up millions by now –

Sleeper (1973)

Directed by Woody Allen (x6)

Starring Woody Allen (x5), Diane Keaton, John Beck, Don Keefer, John McLiam, Mews Small (x2), Brian Avery (x2), Jerry Hardin (x2), Jackie Mason (x2), Douglas Rain, Spencer Milligan

To date the only science fiction movie Woody Allen has made, Sleeper came at the apex of his fascination with pure silliness in film. Sure, Bananas is wacky too, as is Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but after Sleeper things would start trending more and more toward realism and relationship comedy. Okay, Love and Death is still pretty crazy, but you can see the shift happening, as that begins incorporating more and more satire. Part of it is certainly just a change in his interests, but also you have to factor in the influence of teaming with Diane Keaton. They appeared in Play it Again, Sam the year before (which Woody wrote but did not direct), and would make five straight films together from ’73 to ’79, over unquestionably Woody’s most successful period. So at least in part, you’d have to guess that the transition to more serious filmmaking was aided by having such a major actress involved in every movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #180 – My Favorite Freedonia Shout-Out

Today! Because what if there is no God and you only go around once and that’s it. Well, don’t you wanna be part of the experience?

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986)

Directed by Woody Allen (x5)

Starring Mia Farrow (x4), Michael Caine (x3), Barbara Hershey, Woody Allen (x4), Diane Wiest (x2), Max Von Sydow (x2), Carrie Fisher (x3), Maureen O’Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan, Daniel Stern (x2), Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lewis Black, Julie Kavner (x2), J.T. Walsh (x5), John Turturro (x2), Richard Jenkins (x3), Fred Melamed (x2), Joanna Gleason, Sam Waterston (x2), Tony Roberts (x2)

With one of the best casts ever assembled, Hannah and Her Sisters in a lot of ways is the perfect Woody Allen movie. He made better ones, and he made funnier ones, but this is the rare hybrid between family drama and neurotic comedy, neatly packaged together as one film. Really, there are two plots running alongside each other, knitted together by featuring the extended family of sisters Hannah (Farrow), Holly (Wiest), and Lee (Hershey). Being a Woody Allen film, the B plot is entirely him – as Hannah’s writer ex-husband Mickey, going through a mid-life crisis where he may be dying of a brain tumor (this is the funny half!). The A plot features Hannah’s current husband – Michael Caine’s Elliot – in his escalating disenchantment with their marriage and his lust for sister-in-law Lee. Even this breakdown isn’t entirely fair, as they split time on these stories pretty evenly, plus a good amount of time spent on Wiest’s hilarious Holly, but the Elliot/Lee/Hannah portion does occupy with the emotional center of things.

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The Set of 400: #203 – My Favorite Inter-Celluloidal Romance

Today! Because I don’t get hurt or bleed, hair doesn’t muss – it’s one of the advantages of being imaginary –

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)

Directed by Woody Allen (x4)

Starring Mia Farrow (x3), Jeff Daniels, Danny Aiello (x2), Edward Herrmann (x2), Deborah Rush (x2), Van Johnson, John Wood, Zoe Caldwell, Milo O’Shea (x2), Dianne Wiest, Glenne Headly, Peter McRobbie

While his early movies had a greater tendency toward the absurd and the extreme, Woody Allen has never really been a director of all-out fantasy. There are partial exceptions, sure – Sleeper, Midnight in Paris, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex…, Zelig – but it is most pronounced with The Purple Rose of Cairo. Figure, Sleeper is a straight science-fiction comedy, Everything You Always Wanted… is a bag of vignettes, some fantastic, some just goofy, but Purple Rose of Cairo is this wholly unexpected, supernatural thing taking place in the real world – much like Midnight in Paris.

This was also the first comedy Woody made that he doesn’t appear in – and unlike his later comedies, there isn’t even a “Woody Allen character” in the bunch -maybe you could stretch it to say Mia Farrow’s Cecilia fits this bill, albeit just barely. Her depressed, 1930’s movie fan frequents the local theater, where one day – while showing the titular movie-in-the-movie (favorite sub genre!), star Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) just walks out of the screen and sweeps her off her feet. And as fun as the fish-out-of-water movie character wandering around the real world is, the reel world section of the film – where the movie inside the theater tries to figure out how to continue after one of the actors disappears – is almost better, and good for plenty of laughs. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #270 – My Favorite Ghost Writers

Today! Because I don’t recognize the right of this committee to ask me these kind of questions. And furthermore, you can all go fuck yourselves –

The Front (1976)

Directed by Martin Ritt

Starring Woody Allen (x3), Zero Mostel (x2), Herschel Bernardi, Michael Murphy (x2), David Margulies, Charles Kimbrough, Andrea Marcovicci, Lloyd Gough, Danny Aiello, Remak Ramsay, Marvin Lichterman, Joshua Shelley

A markedly serious film despite the starring comedians, The Front features Woody Allen in a non-Woody Allen movie, and a drama at that (an extreme rarity), playing a cashier roped in by blacklisted writer friends to submit television scripts on their behalf, to enable them to keep earning, in the McCarthy Communist witch hunt of the early 1950s. And while there are funny bits here and there, the film attempts to explore the subject more or less straight, to devastating effect.

But people have had some tonal problems with the movie over the years – the television programs are largely comedies, and Zero’s Hecky Brown, in attempts to keep making money, does continue to perform live comedy acts. Because of this, some take issue with The Front for not taking the whole matter more seriously, but without this – I propose – you’d end up with Guilty by Suspicion, which is a fine movie in its own way, but a touch too unbearable and infuriating (and equivocating in its message and source facts). The Front works all the better because of the lighter moments – the sad clown is almost always going to be a more impactful character.

Zero!

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The Set of 400: #304 – My Favorite Misspelled Robbery Note

Today! Because nobody wears beige to a bank robbery –

Take the Money and Run (1969)

Directed by Woody Allen (x3)

Starring Woody Allen (x2), Janet Margolin, Marcel Hillaire, Lonny Chapman, Howard Storm (x2), Louise Lasser, Jan Merlin, Jacquelyn Hyde

Woody Allen’s first original feature – following the redubbed mashup masterpiece that is What’s Up, Tiger Lily? – Take the Money and Run has a rawness to it that is pretty endearing, while also being a solid signal of things to come. The loopiness of Woody’s early films progressively tones down with each succeeding movie, before they finally level out solidly balancing jokes with depth and a particular artistic sensibility. This evolution does create pretty distinct periods in his work, and the first – later described as his “early funny ones” in his own Stardust Memories – kicked off with this wacky, gag heavy crime caper.

It’s also an early example of the mockumentary, which really took off across comedy in the ’80s and ’90s, including other Allen films – Zelig, Sweet and Lowdown, etc. With the pervasively grim narrator – reminiscent of cops and robbers TV shows of the ’50s and ’60s – detailing the criminal career of inept bank robber Virgil Starkwell, the slapstick goings-on adopt a contradictory vibe and leave many of the actors playing the wacky scenes straight. The result is as many jokes per minute as any of his pre-Annie Hall movies, while maintaining a relatively straightforward story, avoiding some of the flightier moments of his early ’70s entries Bananas and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*. In a lot of ways it works better than his other early films, by way of its seeming parody of crime story shows, even without a direct source to satirize, unlike a Mel Brooks or Zuckers/Abrahams movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #320 – My Favorite British Theodore Dreiser Tragedy

Today! Because you have to learn to push guilt under the rug and move on –

Match Point (2005)

Directed by Woody Allen

Starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Emily Mortimer, Penelope Wilton, Toby Kebbell, James Nesbitt, Ewan Bremner

The best of Woody’s European/Johansson cinematic excursion of the mid-to-late ’00s, Match Point was the first good movie he’d made in some time, and the first solid straight drama since at least Husbands and Wives in ’92 (and that’s still a funny-ish movie). This Hitchcockian-Dostoevskyian suspense thriller feels reinvigorated by a change of venue from the notoriously NYC-centric filmmaker – a move almost entirely due to British funding more than any desire to leave the Big Apple. The cast is first rate, and the script clips right along – something that Woody’s later comedies have a hard time achieving.

This is the only one of Woody’s pure dramas to make the list – as much as I admire Interiors and Crimes and Misdemeanors, I don’t have great affection for them. It is also one of only two of his films made after 1995 to appear here (again, I’m going to warn there is a lot of Woody Allen coming in the next year. And again, yes, I struggle with this – see #349 Broadway Danny Rose for more details), as his later work has been very hit and miss. For every good-to-great Midnight in Paris or Blue Jasmine, there have been five Anything Elses and Cafe Societys. But hey, at least he keeps making movies. And every four or five years or so, a pretty good one.

If I never see Cafe Society again it’ll be too soon

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The Set of 400: #349 – My Favorite Water Glass Musician

Today! Because the man has an axe, there’s two of us – there’ll be four of us in no time –

Broadway Danny Rose (1984)

Directed by Woody Allen

Starring Woody Allen, Mia Farrow (x2), Nick Apollo Forte, Milton Berle (x2), Sandy Baron, Corbett Monica, Morty Gunty, Will Jordan, Jackie Gayle, Howard Storm, Joe Franklin, Michael Badalucco (x2), Howard Cosell

As intimated way back in #399’s Payback, there is a certain point when a filmmaker/actor/writer’s outside life is going to influence the perception of their work. But what will be a much more prevalent issue on this list is the sheer volume of Woody Allen films, compared to Mel Gibson’s – with which I believe we have already finished. Troubles aside, I’ve been an unabashed fan of Woody’s for most of my life – and didn’t see any of his films until after the early scandal of his imploding marriage to Mia/taking up with Soon-Yi. I know this incident was enough for many people to bail on him entirely, but this was pretty much always built into my knowledge of the guy, given the age I was at when it happened. This, of course, says nothing about the later accusations. Continue reading

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