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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

Cassandra’s Dream” (2007)
Certainly the nadir of Woody's recent "European period," and possibly the worst film of his entire, decades-long career, "Cassandra's Dream" is a slow, on-the-nose, plodding, wholly unconvincing crime caper that doesn't even crack a smile, let alone have any laughs. The tale of two brothers (Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell) who agree to kill a man for their rich uncle (Tom Wilkinson), the movie is clumsily paced and lacks even the most minimal thrills required for a thriller to actually, you know, thrill. Even with some stellar behind-the-scenes talent (Vilmos Zsigmond shot it and Philip Glass provided a rare original score) and notable supporting performances (this was the first time we ever remember seeing the reedy Sally Hawkins), the movie falls unbelievably flat. It's not a spoiler to say that in the final scene a detective describes a double murder that's central to the plot… and happens completely off-screen. In America it was released at the beginning of 2008. By that same summer Woody had completely redeemed himself, with the much, much better "Vicky Cristina Barcelona." [D-]

“Vicky Cristina Barcelona” (2008)
Don’t mistake “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” for anything more than a delightful trifle, a sensual romp, whatever you want to call it -- and you’re on the right track. A steamy love affair that is content to throw hints and the occasional glimpse of skin your way, Allen’s migration to unfamiliar shores bears filling fruit, even as stakes remain flighty, as neurotic Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and free-spirited Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) cross paths with Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem) and his tempestuous ex-wife María Elena (an astoundingly sexy and funnyPenélope Cruz, who won a well-deserved Oscar for this). It’s all feather-weight fun that would remain so in the hands of a director other than Allen, but Cruz and Bardem have amazing comedic chemistry (no wonder they hooked up afterwards) and a final scene suggests a sadness that obscures the comedic aspects in short time. [B]

“Whatever Works” (2009)
"Whatever Works" came out the same year as Ricky Gervais’ "The Invention of Lying," a vanity picture some took as a latter-day incarnation of one of Allen’s high-concept comedies of the early 1970s. The film was, much like Gervais himself nowadays, a proud bore that asked you concurrently to pity it whilst taking it for the most hilarious thing ever made, evoking Allen’s legacy by stealing his favourite font (Windsor-EF Elongated, typography fans) for its opening titles. Audiences would have done better to check out Allen’s own work, which promised a return to New York after a muddled European caesura, a reworking of a lost script from the 1970s (a screenplay originally intended for Zero Mostel) and one of Allen’s heir apparents in the lead role. Even if it didn’t fully follow through on such a sublime set of circumstances, "Whatever Works" is still catnip for dyspeptic atheists everywhere: pitting the lacerating Larry David as a failed physicist against a world of “submentals” and “inchworms.” The Bible Belt hicks are a little broadly drawn, and a romance with Evan Rachel Wood brings in extraneous autobiography, but its eventual conclusion has a deftness of touch the pretenders (still looking at you, Gervais) have never come close to touching. [C+]

“You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” (2010)
A middling entry, neither as atrociously bad as "Whatever Works" nor as stellar as "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" was largely overlooked, despite its unstoppable cast (Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Antonio Banderas, Freida Pinto, and Naomi Watts are among the actors filmed by genius cinematographer and regular collaborator Vilmos Zsigmond) and glitzy premiere at last year's Cannes Film Festival. The film is largely about faith, which is fitting, considering that many of those that appreciated the film were members of Allen's faithful – those convinced that the auteur, if not cranking out masterpiece after masterpiece like he once did, still has a lot to say about the human condition and the bleak-funny circumstances we often find ourselves in. Despite these sub-textual preoccupations, ultimately 'Stranger' doesn't leave you with a whole lot – it's interweaving stories based on happenstance and faith sometimes just feel like coincidence and cruel irony, which leave you more than a little cold. [B-]

“Midnight in Paris” (2011)
The more we think about Allen's latest, the breezy, romantic ode to the City of Lights, the more we like it. While the movie is, at least superficially, incredibly simple – a struggling novelist (Owen Wilson as the Woody stand-in) and his wife (Rachel McAdams) visit Paris. She spends time with her family and pretentious friend (Michael Sheen), while he goes on long, mysterious walks around the city. But it's in those walks, which serve as the whole middle section of the movie and have a magical, "Purple Rose of Cairo"-ish dimension we won't reveal here, that the movie springs to life in ways that few recent Allen films have. It's a spritely, spirited, often laugh-out-loud hilarious romp that will make you thankful that Allen is back to handling more lighthearted fare, after the occasionally dour "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger" and the downright grim "Cassandra's Dream." [B+]

Clearly, we're now missing "To Rome With Love," "Blue Jasmine" and now "Magic In The Moonlight," but this feature was written back in 2011. But click on those titles and you can get reviews on all of them to see how we felt. 

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


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