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The Complete Woody Allen: A Retrospective Pt. 2 (1992-2011)

The Playlist 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."
20

“Hollywood Ending” (2002)
When you shoot a movie a year, there’s no level of genius that can keep their inspiration that strong every time out. So yes, you get the occasional “Hollywood Ending,” a remarkably tone-deaf Hollywood satire that is both too inside-baseball and overwhelmingly broad and useless. Allen plays a celebrated director well past his prime (hmm...) who gets back into the industry by teaming with an ex-wife, a high pressure situation that causes him to become psychosomatically blind. Did you guess that the punchline involved him directing the film anyway? “Hollywood Ending” isn’t helped by the fact that Allen is working with one of his least-qualified casts, giving major screen time to the manic Tea Leoni and the bronzed, oblivious George Hamilton, resulting in a film that wants to take advantage of the lower standards of today’s yuckfests while also maintaining that classical Hollywood vibe. [D+]

“Anything Else” (2003)
There are a lot of things wrong with "Anything Else." Jason Biggs halts his speech more than Jerry Stiller after root canal surgery, and often looks blankly off-camera like he’s after a batch of pastries to hump. His girlfriend, Christina Ricci, seemingly cast to type as a pathological neurotic with body dysmorphia and an “offbeat sexual quality,” is largely awful too. Only Stockard Channing‘s Paula -- an outrageously volatile former interior designer desperate for Biggs to write her new “nightclub act” – can inject this leaden affair with any life. A couple of one-liners fly by (“I should have known something was wrong on the wedding night when her family danced around my table chanting, 'We will make him one of us!'”), but Allen casts himself as reckless, apocalyptic grouch who drops in for random acts of opprobrium about rampant anti-Semitism, the meaninglessness of our daily existence, and is prone to increasing acts of violence against suedeheads that give him grief. Far from perfect, the film’s unrelenting and mirthless post-911 anhendonia is nonetheless compelling; one of Allen’s angriest films that uses the futility of romance as a sideshow to flirt with what Philip Roth called “the indigenous American berserk.” Simultaneously flawed and underestimated. [C+]

“Melinda and Melinda” (2005)
Conceptually, “Melinda and Melinda” is a charming doodle – the titular character (played by the perpetually underrated Radha Mitchell) goes through mirrored storylines, both romantic, with one played as a comedy, while the other is a tragedy. So far, so good, right? Well, it’s much more tedious than it sounds, and besides some occasionally sparkly performances (Will Ferrell makes a better Woody Allen surrogate than you’d think, his nervous tics blown to oversized proportions), it’s mostly a drag. Before the second half of the movie concludes, you’ve already grown weary of its conceptual trappings, and the rest is just sort of boring, this despite supporting turns by Amanda Peet, Steve Carell and, in the rare instance of an ethnic actor in a Woody Allen movie, the wonderful Chiwetel Ejiofor. His velvety smooth performance is almost enough to save this movie from banality. We said almost. Fun fact: the Ferrell and Mitchell characters were written for Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder, both of whom were uninsurable at the time. [C+]

“Match Point” (2005)
Woody Allen's first foray into Europe in 2005 marked a decidedly different kind of Woody Allen movie, demonstrating that he could come out of his wheelhouse and deliver a straight up, juicy genre sexual thriller. It's also a relief that Allen's hyperneurotic id has no direct stand-in here -- of course it is present in the themes of sex, infidelity and control, but there's no Allen himself fretting and pondering out loud, just the dangerously sensual Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. As opposed to Allen, who as a performer wears everything on his sleeve, Rhys-Meyers is a placid lake simmering with sex and intrigue right below the surface. The audience never knows what he's going to do, and the actor achieves a performance that leads us to believe he doesn't know what he's going to either, until the moment he does it. Allen creates a world filled with beauty and money and class that never feels comfortable -- there is a constant tension vibrating throughout. Some have muttered about Scarlett Johansson's performance, but she's ideal for the beautiful, fragile vessel on which Rhys-Meyers' Chris projects his visions and fantasies of another life. Emily Mortimer and Matthew Goode are excellent as the foils to the leads, but this is Rhys-Meyers' film; he's rarely been as good. While some may argue it's the poor man's version of "Crimes and Misdemeanors" (and they might not be totally off base) Allen skillfully creates such a taut suspension in "Match Point" that it isn't until the credits roll that you remember to breathe. [B+]

“Scoop” (2006)
Coming after what many considered a late-career triumph in “Match Point,” most with short memories were disheartened to see Allen return to madcap slapstick. And while the story -- involving a junior reporter tailing a handsome potential serial killer thanks to clues from a ghost -- seems pretty slinky, “Scoop” is actually surprisingly winning. Among Allen’s films, there haven’t been a more attractive pairing than Scarlett Johansson and Hugh Jackman, and Johansson’s beleaguered, somewhat dimwitted turn is matched in comic anarchy from a spirited supporting turn by Allen as a likely-doomed magician. “Scoop” never feels like there’s a clean balance between the chaotic supernatural elements of the story and the main serial killer narrative, but the whodunnit structure is carried by the comic work from the strong cast and Allen’s light, typically-bouncy direction. [B-]

This article is related to: Feature, Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen


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