By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist May 20, 2011 at 7:54AM
Woody Allen's latest, "Midnight in Paris," begins its roll-out in theaters today, and with it comes the second part of our complete retrospective on the great writer-director's work. (check out yesterday's Part One here). We pick up in 1992, with "Shadows and Fog."
It's generally seen that the last 20 years have been something of a downswing for Allen: most, if not all, of his worst films have come from this period. But there's plenty of gems below as well, including films that didn't necessarily get the love they deserved at the time. In the meantime, "Midnight in Paris" is one of the director's best films in a while (read our Cannes review here), and we hope that his next film, a Rome-set comedy with Alec Baldwin, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, Jesse Eisenberg and Roberto Benigni and the first on-screen performance from Allen in six years, continues the trend.
“Shadows and Fog” (1992)
Shot in luminous, shrouded black and white by Michelangelo Antonioni cinematographer Carlo DiPalmi, doing his best German Expressionist, G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau impression, the appropriately titled "Shadows and Fog" is an ambitious entry in the director's catalog. Here, Allen takes the starring role in this Kafka-esque comedy of misunderstandings as an especially sniveling and cowardly bookkeeper who is innocently caught up in a vigilante group that is searching for a local serial killer who has thus far eluded the police (major hat tip to Fritz Lang's "M"), in an unnamed European city in the 1920s. A second story, which eventually meets up with the first, revolves around a circus clown (John Malkovich) searching for his sword-swallower girlfriend (Mia Farrow) who gets mixed up in the intrigue happening in a nearby whorehouse and the desolate scary streets of London where a strangler (and angry mobs) currently roams unfettered. Featuring an excellent supporting cast including John Cusack, Madonna, Kenneth Mars, Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, Julie Kavner, William H. Macy, Wallace Shawn, and Lily Tomlin, "Shadows and Fog," is vintage Woody Allen. [B]
“Husbands and Wives” (1992)
If "Husbands and Wives" has a moral, it's that marriage is not the happily ever after -- just the "after." It's Allen's usual cast of Upper East Side residing, bundle of neuroses, waxing lyrical about relationships. The film follows two married couples and best friends -- Gabe and Judy (Woody Allen and Mia Farrow) and Jack and Sally (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis) -- the latter of which have decided amicably to separate, or at least they say it's amicable. Jack and Sally test the dating pool and the limits of their own independence and dependence on each other. Meanwhile Gabe and Judy find the base of their relationship shattered, as Gabe finds himself attracted to a young precocious student (Juliette Lewis) and Judy develops feelings for a man in her office (Liam Neeson). The ensemble all perform brilliantly, in particular Davis, as the brilliant and uber-neurotic Sally who was nominated for a Best Supporting Oscar for her excellent turn in the film (Woody was also nominated for his writing). The film, shot in documentary style with seemingly few lights and effects to pretty things up, does nothing to endear you to the "ugly" characters, but aesthetically it's a very inspired move and a breath of fresh air and B-12 shot to the creative energy of the film. The dialogue as always is on point, and lightens the heaviness of watching relationships decay because they refuse to change. [B+]