Category Archives: Woody Allen Films

Wonder Wheel-2017

Wonder Wheel-2017

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Kate Winslet, James Belushi

Scott’s Review #709

Reviewed December 31, 2017

Grade: B+

Woody Allen typically churns out a new film release each year and 2017’s project is a film called Wonder Wheel. Set in 1950’s Coney Island, a seaside beach in Brooklyn, New York, the film is an authentic looking period drama, with lovely costumes and legitimate New York accents from all principal actors. The story itself is overall quite depressing, though, as a likable character is tough to find, but Wonder Wheel contains fantastic acting, mainly on the part of star Kate Winslet, whose troubled character is the films focal point.

Winslet portrays Ginny Rannell, a struggling forty year old woman living in the seaside neighborhood and working as a waitress at a dingy Clam House. She despises her life and longs for a way out of the doldrums- yearning for the life she had years ago as an aspiring actress. Her husband, Humpty (Jim Belushi), a carousel operator, is an alcoholic. Together they raise Ginny’s son, Richie, a young boy who loves to start fires. When Humpty’s estranged daughter, Carolina (Juno Temple), shows up on their doorstep, having provided information about her mobster husband, and subsequently “marked”, Ginny’s life slowly begins to unravel as she and Carolina pursue the same man, hunky lifeguard, Mickey (Justin Timberlake).

The New York setting of the film is an enormous plus and a standard of many Woody Allen films- the authenticity is clear. The summer mood of the beach, sand, and the sunny boardwalk and beach scenes make the viewer feel like they are transported in time. The 1950’s period works as beachwear and the amusement park sets are used to their advantage. The New York accents of the actors and the language and sayings are appropriate for the times. The apartment that the Rannells rent is a great treat to the film- the set is used with a wonderful beach landscape that is featured during daytime scenes and nighttime scenes so that the change of mood can be noticed-these are all enticing elements to Wonder Wheel.

Enough cannot be said for the talents of Winslet, who makes the character of Ginny come to life. Undoubtedly a tough role for her to play, Winslet, who can make reading the phone book sound interesting, tackles the complex part and arguably gives one of the best performances of her career- my vote would still go to her portrayal of Hannah Schmitz from 2008’s The Reader. Initially a sympathetic character, she longingly desires to return to the stage and perhaps find stardom as an actress and sees Mickey as her last chance. When events curtail her dreams, her character takes a sharp turn and does an unspeakable act.

I love the acting talents of Justin Timberlake and by 2017 he has successfully proven himself a major star in the film world as well as the music world. As the hunky, charismatic, yet studious and intelligent lifeguard, Mickey, he teeters between womanizer and earnest, love-stricken, young man. Timberlake has taken on more interesting film roles beginning with 2010’s The Social Network and let’s hope there are more to come.

Juno Temple is just perfect as the naive Carolina. With an innocent, sweet, personality, all she yearns for is love and a fresh start. Temple, largely known for quirky independent film roles, fits perfectly in a Woody Allen creation. Finally, legendary actor James Belushi fills his character of Humpty with dedication, loyalty, and alcoholic rage. He adores Ginny, but sometimes takes her for granted.

What a treat for fans of The Sopranos to see a couple of familiar faces appear as (what else?) mobsters. Tony Sirico and Steve Schirripa make cameo appearances as Angelo and Nick, henchmen for the unseen husband of Carolina, who are intent on tracking down and killing her. Despite very small parts, the actors seem to have a ball reprising similar roles that made them famous.

Wonder Wheel, certainly shot in similar tone to a stage production, draws comparisons to A Streetcar Named Desire, both with four principal characters- two male and two female, Ginny, Carolina, Mickey, and Humpty, all with some similarities to and some differences with storied characters Blanche, Stella, Stanley, and Mitch. But the comparisons can easily be studied and analyzed.

Woody Allen creates a film that can be appreciated mostly for its top-notch acting talent not surprising given the actors cast, and a compelling, never boring story. The film is a downer, however, with no heroic characters to speak of. Thankfully, this is counterbalanced perfectly by a great New York setting, which is a high point of Wonder Wheel and cheers up the otherwise dour tone of the film.

Sleeper-1973

Sleeper-1973

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Scott’s Review #631

Reviewed April 5, 2017

Grade: B

One of the earliest of Woody Allen’s enormous list of film’s that he both directed and starred in, 1973’s Sleeper is a comedic, science-fiction film, and a blueprint for future Allen masterpieces, such as Manhattan and Annie Hall. While this film has it’s moments of intelligence and clever dialogue, it too often teeters into straight up slapstick and silliness to be held in the same esteem as the aforementioned richer films. Rather it is a juvenile effort as compared to masterpieces to follow, but admittedly with some laughs and creative moments. Sleeper is the first of several to pair Allen with longtime co-star, Diane Keaton.

Allen portrays Miles Monroe, a nerdy jazz musician and owner of the “Happy Carrot” health-food store in Greenwich Village, New York City sometime in the then present time of the 1970’s. In the hospital for a routine surgery, he is cryogenically frozen for two-hundred years, waking up in an otherworldly police state and frazzled beyond belief. The scientist’s who revive him are part of a rebellion and beg Miles to assist them as they are taken into police custody, pleading with him to search for a secret plan known only as the “Aries Project”. Miles then poses as a robotic butler and goes to work for Luna (Keaton), a spoiled, bitchy, socialite. The duo ultimately bond together and spend the rest of the film outrunning and outsmarting their pursuers.

Sleeper succeeds as a novel story, one filled with unique and interesting gadgets from a futuristic world, with clever, witty, crisp dialogue and odes to the past world, now deemed irrelevant. Amusing are scenes when scientists explain that natural foods and products, at one time thought to be healthy and natural, are actually not so much. This makes the world that Miles is used to seem silly and superfluous in their minds.

I also enjoyed the physical humor that the film contains, as when Miles (as his robotic persona) serves dinner to a sophisticated group of Luna’s friends, accidentally destroying their expensive outerwear in a garbage incinerator as well as botching dinner. As all of the attendees are high on hallucinogenic drugs (including Miles), they fail to realize that he is a human being- they dance with glee and stumble around in a haze, largely unaware of their surroundings. This is one of the best scenes in the film.

The plot itself is fairly predictable though and almost forced. Certainly, as Miles and Luna are the couple we root for in the film, the introduction of handsome rebel leader, Erno Windt (John Beck) doesn’t stand a chance and is somewhat of a foil for Miles and Luna. Much of the time, the pair are on the run and sparring with each other. The actors involved have wonderful chemistry with each other, but the central story is not the strongest suit- rather, the weird and unique gadgets and intricacies of the film, are.

Albeit, an introduction for anyone intrigued by the comic genius that is Woody Allen, other polished Allen gems are a better start than this early offering, but that is not to say Sleeper is not a good, entertaining film, with imagination, merely that it lacks all of the elements to rank it among other Woody Allen greats.

Café Society-2016

Café Society-2016

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Jesse Eisenberg, Steve Carell

Scott’s Review #462

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Reviewed August 11, 2016

Grade: B+

Having received sub-par reviews, but nonetheless wanting to see this film for myself, as it is a Woody Allen film, and I have yet to see an Allen film I did not like, I traversed to my local theater to see this flick. I was not disappointed, though others clearly did not share my opinion.

To love Woody Allen films is to love quirky characters who are either neurotic, damaged, or more often than not, both. Also notable to Café Society is the stellar cast of who’s who- many in small cameo roles, but which is a another trademark of Woody Allen films. Marisa Tomei, Daniel Radcliffe, and Anna Camp (True Blood) have very small roles as do forgotten stars such as Sheryl Lee (Twin Peaks), and Tony Sirico (The Sopranos). Additionally, Woody Allen himself narrates the film- a highlight.

The main stars of Café Society, though, are Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart, both perfectly cast. The setting (which I adored) is 1930’s Hollywood and the action traverses between California and New York City- another common bond of Allen films. Eisenberg plays Bobby Dorfman, a Jewish son of a working class jeweler, and has many siblings. Tired of New York, he flies to Los Angeles to obtain work with his hot shot Uncle Phil, played by Steve Carrell, who knows every celebrity under the sun. There, he meets Vonnie (Stewart) and they fall in love, Bobby unaware of her on and off love affair with Phil.

The set and costume designs are to die for and, being a fan of this glamorous time in history, is a wonderful treat from a visual perspective. Café Society is a prime example of a film that feels authentic and true to its time period rather than appearing staged with actors merely dressed in appropriate attire. This is tougher to achieve than one might imagine.

Despite opinions of the contrary, I enjoyed how most of the characters were wishy washy and unsure of their motivations or feelings toward other characters. Vonnie loves Phil, then she warms to Bobby, who has been in love with her since their first meeting as she innocently showed him around the palatial mansions of Hollywood.  She is real to Bobby, but then makes a decision and becomes everything that she once despised about Hollywood- a shallow trophy wife.

Ironically, back in New York, Bobby then becomes involved with a stunning new woman with the same name as his ex. The importance of this coincidence is crucial to the film’s point. He transfers his feelings to another woman, but is he really happy?

It did not bother me, though perhaps it should have, that several characters were introduced for a scene or two and then mysteriously dropped.  For instance, the novice hooker, Candy, having tried to make it as an actress and failed, has a heart of gold. But after her awkward attempt at a tryst with Bobby, the character is never seen again.

Another characteristic of the film that I enjoyed is the natural, overlapping dialogue between the characters. It makes them that much more genuine and harkens back to my fondness for Robert Altman films, who used a similar technique with his actors.

The point of Café Society is that nobody really ever gets what they want or, the film is making  a point of, nobody ever really knows what they want. Containing elements common to other Woody Allen films, Café Society is intended for fans of his lengthy body of work.

Blue Jasmine-2013

Blue Jasmine-2013

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Cate Blanchett

Scott’s Review #92

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Reviewed July 3, 2014

Grade: A

Blue Jasmine is the latest offering by Woody Allen and one of his best in my opinion. I have heard from several people how they are not typical Woody Allen fans, but loved this film and I ponder why that is. My theory is that Cate Blanchett, who stars as neurotic Jasmine, is the heart and soul of this movie.

Allen’s films usually center on neurotic characters and this film is no different. Set primarily in San Francisco, it tells the story of how Jasmine has lost all of her money thanks to bad investments by her ex-husband (played in flashbacks by Alec Baldwin). She is a socialite and used to the best life has to offer her in both excess and extravagance. Now Jasmine is reduced to making a clean start of it by rooming with her blue collar sister, played by Sally Hawkins, and trying to scrape by. Jasmine struggles to find success and means to survive.

The film is hysterical at times, heartbreaking at others, even a downer at moments. Jasmine, through the assistance of pills and martinis, is snobbish and ego-centric, yet the audience falls in love with and roots for her. She is high class yet broke. She keeps up appearances, and her wit, usually at the expense of others, never falters. Blanchett is responsible for the love of this character and, thankfully, won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal. Thanks to Allen, the dialogue is sharp, witty, and filled with laugh out loud moments. Thanks to much of it taking place in flashbacks, the audience sees Jasmine’s life as it once was, having everything and then some, then back to her current reality and back and forth. This is a wise decision to show both of her lives.

This film will go down as one of Woody Allen’s best.

Annie Hall-1977

Annie Hall-1977

Director-Woody Allen

Starring-Woody Allen, Diane Keaton

Scott’s Review #48

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Reviewed June 19, 2014

Grade: A

Annie Hall is Woody Allen’s finest work and that is says something as his list of wonderful films goes on and on (Manhattan, Blue Jasmine, and Interiors) are gems. Annie Hall is a witty, intelligent, great comedy. It is sharply written, quirky, and neurotic all rolled into one. Comedy is a tough genre. Romantic comedies are even tougher to get right.

My favorite part of the film is Woody Allen himself. Some might say he plays himself, but he is engagingly hysterical as the neurotic, skeptical, Jewish, cynical New York man named Alvy. He meets and falls in love with equally neurotic Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton. They quarrel, love, and traverse from New York to California and back.

There are some very funny scenes (lobster, movie theater line, and the drive through Manhattan), and the intelligent, crisp dialogue makes this a top notch comedy.