When did “late-period: Woody Allen start? Was it with Match Point (when he finally left New York for some new scenery)? Or should we consider these last ten, globe-trotting, years as late‑r Woody? The last ten years have certainly been up and down in terms of quality. Scoop was all-but diabolical. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was robust and surprising. Midnight in Paris was genial but disposable (despite being a massive hit) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was barely even a film.
Now, Blue Jasmine, in which Mr. Allen uses the notorious Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi crimes as inspiration for a story about the fraud’s victims as well as the collateral damage inflicted on a woman oblivious of her own complicity. As the eponymous Jasmine, Cate Blanchett plays the wife of Alec Baldwin’s shonky NY businessman, their relationship told in flashback while she tries to rebuild her life in her adopted half-sister’s (or something – the relationship seems unnecessarily complicated for something that has no material impact on the story) apartment in an unfashionable area of San Francisco.[pullquote]As they used to say on television about kittens, “a child isn’t just for Christmas, a child is forever.”[/pullquote]Blanchett unravels beautifully and almost maintains our sympathy despite the repeated evidence that she doesn’t really deserve it. In support, Sally Hawkins as the sister is more watchable than usual and others – notably Andrew Dice Clay, Michael Stuhlbarg and Louis C.K. – get moments to shine even though some of those moments can seem a bit repetitive. Mr. Allen’s ear for dialogue seems to have entirely deserted him – these people talk like they’re being quoted in New Yorker articles rather than conversing like living, breathing humans – but the structure is satisfying and Blanchett takes the entire project by the scruff of the neck and makes it her own.
For all the digital glitter and anachronistic hip-hoppery that signifies our latest re-entry into Luhrman-land, The Great Gatsby itself takes fundamental inspiration from a black and white classic from 1941. Featuring a flashback framing device, a lonely and heartsick tycoon staring out of the window of a grotesque castle, and even a breathless deathbed “Daisy” uttered as if it summed up an entire life (like “Rosebud”), Gatsby is no less than Baz Luhrman’s Citizen Kane. Even his star, Leonardo DiCaprio is starting to resemble a Wellesian hero, at least in the jowels if not the girth.
So, no pressure, then, Baz – you’re only merging the great American novel and the greatest movie of all time. Of course, he can’t possibly succeed on his own unimaginably ambitious terms, but he falls a bit short on the basic “tell a story” level too – even if he manages to make some sequences sing.
Set in 1922 (and written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1925, well before the Jazz Age came crashing down into the Great Depression), Gatsby is the story of one man’s reinvention out of the trauma of World War One and into the longest, biggest (and most illegal) party the world had ever seen.[pullquote]Fast & Furious is vast and curious[/pullquote]DiCaprio’s Gatsby has built a business empire out of the drug stores and speakeasies of Manhattan and a Xanadu on the shores of Long Island, all the while gazing longingly across the water at the house where Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) lives. Daisy is the last piece of his puzzle, she will make him whole and she will help him gain acceptance into the high society that scorns his dubiously-earned new money. He may also genuinely be in love with her, of course.
There are two mainstream comic book publishing houses, DC and Marvel, and choosing between them as a kid was a bit like choosing between The Beatles and the Stones. They had different styles and sensibilities (and philosophies) and after a little bit of experimentation you could find a fit with one or the other.
DC had Superman and Batman – big, bold and (dare I say it) one-dimensional characters with limited or opaque inner lives. When Stan Lee created Spider-Man, a teenage photographer with powers he neither asked for nor appreciated, he created a soap opera – a soap opera with aspirations to high art. As you might be able to tell, I was a Marvel kid.
I’ve been grumpy all week for all sorts of reasons and the last thing I needed was a weekend of crappy films but that’s what I got. I mean, I’m spending longer writing this review than the writers of Fast & Furious or 17 Again spent on their scripts – put together, probably.
The improbably named Burr Steers is the director of 17 Again but that’s where the fun stops. Matthew Perry plays a 37-year-old former high school basketball star who chose the love of his pregnant girlfriend instead of a college scholarship and dug himself deep into a dowdy life of failure and regret. A mysterious bearded janitor, a bridge (a frankly insulting homage to It’s a Wonderful Life) and an unspecified magical event put him back in his buff 17-year-old body which he uses to re-engage with his children and get to know his wife again.
I’ve got some time for the television version of Matthew Perry (did you see “Studio 60”?), and despite his tragic cinema career choices he remains a comic actor who is unafraid of (or unable to suppress) the sadness behind his eyes. Unfortunately, he disappears after 15 minutes to be replaced by High School Musical ’s Zac Efron, a smug pretty-boy with some dance moves and no charisma and it is he who carries the film to its desolate conclusion.