Friday, November 7, 2014

Woody Allen, 4 of his A+ Films

Crimes & Misdemeanors, Woody Allen, Martin Landau, Alan Alda, Mia Farrow
This film saw Allen weighing much more serious matters philosophically along with his usual handling of bittersweet love interests. The start of the movie is very harrowing as Martin Landau, an honored ophthalmologist, has an argument with his mistress (Angelica Huston) who is becoming more and more unhinged. She has played second fiddle for two years and wants him to divorce his wife. If he won't divorce her, she'll make the affair public plus also disclose how he embezzled some charitable money even though he later put it back. Huston is spectacular as this unravelling mistress as is Landau as the aging lothario who sees his life crumbling into dust by straying with this nutty woman.

That is the crime.

 Running parallel to this story is the comic relief, which also has its dark undertones. This is Woody Allen as a documentary filmmaker who has to make a PBS special about his hugely successful yet boorish producer brother in law. This is played by Alan Alda in what certainly is his finest performance ever. Alda pulls out all the stops playing this producer. Naturally both men want the same woman, Farrow. This situation is the misdemeanor. By film's end, both stories come together which is represented by the criminal (Landau) sitting next to the screw-up, Allen, at a wedding and commiserating about their lives. Ironically all the sadness and heartbreak is over on the misdemeanor end, not the criminal end.

 At the time this came out, there were arguments made to the Pulitzer Committee that a screenwriting prize should be added so Allen could win for this screenplay. It is too bad that did not occur.

Broadway Danny Rose, Woody Allen, Mia Farrow
This film has everything. Woody allen plays the title guy, an agent who handles the lost acts of show biz. He has a blind xylophone player, a singing parrot, a one legged tap dancer AND LOU CANOVA, a retro lounge lizard singer. Lou's act begins to catch on because of a nostalgia craze for fifties Dean Martin like acts. The only problem is that Lou is having an affair with a mob widow.

Danny needs to bring her to Lou's show and this sets off Mia Farrow's best role. She is Tina Vitale, a tough Little Italy kind of gal, with big hair, sky high stiletto heels, and crude as can be. The first time I saw this film it took me twenty minutes to figure Tina was Mia Farrow! The film is both hilarious and touching. This turns into one of Allen's very best love stories. It is the very best pairing of Allen and Farrow as both a comedy team and couple. 

One very clever device used is the using of the comedians at the Carnegie Deli to tell Danny Rose's story.

Another Woman, Woody Allen, Gena Rowlands, Mia Farrow

I liked this film on first viewing and I ADORED it on second viewing! I first saw this film when i was a young person. Recently I saw it again as a woman in her mid 60s. I just adore this film now. Gena Rowlands is in the lead role as a university professor who decides to rent an apartment where she can write her book in peace. She is too distracted to write at home where she lives with her cardiologist husband (Ian Holme). In this apartment, it turns out she can overhear a psychiatrist's sessions with his patients. One of these patients becomes very compelling to her (Mia Farrow).

This is a very nuanced and layered peeling back of the personality and life of a woman in later middle age approaching old age. The Farrow problems bring back problems she did not handle so well in her own youth. But she also runs into people who repeatedly bring up the same problems with her, of being too cold and remote towards people who are supposed to be her loved ones. Some of these others are Sandy Dennis, Gene Hackman, John Housemann, and others. T
there is also a deep artistic sensibility in this film, incorporating art work, mythology, psychiatry, theater, language, etc., It reminds me of Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES. That film involved an elderly professor in Sweden reviewing his life.

 Post Script some months later: I am still thinking about this film and I am now not sure that Mia Farrow really exists as a person in this film. Or maybe she exists at the beginning but morphs into being a spirit of the older woman's youthful self. It could go either way. I love it when a film does this, keep me thinking about the possibilities which it presented.

Stardust Memories, Woody Allen, Charlotte Rampling
When this film was released in 1980, both the critics and the public generally did not like it. I loved it. I still love it. It is a very surreal look back on the memories of his past to 1980. It is patterned on Fellini's "8 1/2", his biography. This is another of Allen's largely autobiographical works. The Dorrie character is based upon Louise Lasser, his second wife. He was crazy about her but she did have bipolar disorder at a time when it was not well understood. He uses a line in the film about Dorrie which fits exactly with what he's said in the past about Louise, i.e. you could have two great days a month with Louise but the rest were usually hell. The very strange thing about Woody and Louise is that far from being a shiksa, Woody's favorite film archetype, she was as Jewish as he was.

There are other women in here as well but Dorrie/Louise is the woman involved in his memories the most.

 He puts a sister character in the movie too and he does have one in real life. In 1980 she was not in his professional life. In 2013, she has assumed a huge role in his professional life. When these other personal and business relationships blew up on him years ago in the wake of his scandal, she became his producer. She has done an excellent job as his producer, winning awards herself in that role.

 Some people think this film is not funny. I think it is hilarious. He has some of his funniest lines ever here. If you love the zingers he can throw out, this movie is full of them.

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