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.
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
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
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
Inspired by The Authoring Auctioneer’s recent article found here.
Given the opportunity, people getting paid to do something for you will invariably let you down in some way. Whether it’s a movie theater usher or a barista (which is destined for inclusion on a list of words I hate) or your run-of-the-mill waiter or waitress, if you are forking over bucks for virtually anything, you are thusly entitled to find fault with their performance. It’s part of the transaction, really. You get a cup of coffee or 3D glasses or a foot massage, and you get the right to bitch and complain about this servant of yours. And they should suck it up and enjoy it, that’s there role in things, right?
My tale comes straight out of the bowels of history, stretching back to that distant memory that is Saturday, in the month known as This in the week remembered fondly by those who lived it as Last. I was with the girlfriend and the Munchagogo at a bar/pizza place watching the Olympics in a hurried rush before trying to catch the midnight showing of the 1984 classic Ghostbusters, which we wouldn’t end up making it to before the Sold Out sign was hung in our faces by the management. Continue reading