Friday, January 9, 2015

Woody Allen, More of His Best Films

Husbands and Wives was made when Woody Allen and Mia Farrow went through their explosive real life breakup where he left her for her adopted daughter. It was popular for precisely this reason. But there are two breakups going on in this film. The one i found most fascinating was between the late Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis. Most people don't realize that Pollack started out as an actor. He transitioned to being a director and there found great success both commercially and artistically. However, he also acted in a few films and it was always a treat to see him do that. this role and the one in Kubrick's EYES WIDE SHUT were his very best.

Pollack is married in the film to Judy Davis and they are a perfect pairing. They split up at the start of the film and he takes up with a young yoga instructor. Pollack and Davis sling all of their emotions out there for public consumption in their break up. It is wild and passionate, even verging on violent. This is indeed the way some people breakup and it is probably the more cathartic way to do so.

Another mode of breakup is the one between the characters played by Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. They compartmentalize one another and each gradually freezes the other out while scouting out possible new love interests. He considers his student since he is college prof and that is the easiest way to find someone new. The student he picks has a slew of older men in her wake and she is played to perfection by Juliette Lewis. Liam Neeson works at the same publishing house as Mia Farrow and she gradually becomes more and more interested in him. This pretty much mirrors the way Allen did break up with Farrow. He was so compartmentalized, with his emotions already over, now that he had a new love interest, that he assumed they could continue acting together. She did not share this view and was more like the characters played by Pollack and Davis, enraged (but to this very day).

It is a fascinating portrait of marital breakups. It is well observed, well nuanced. It is Pollack and Davis who really knock it out of the park though. They are sensational.

Deconstructing Harry is perhaps Allen's most scathing movie and its rapier wit is turned exclusively on himself. If you already hate him, you will probably hate him even more for getting in the great digs against himself first. Bob Fosse also did this in his film ALL THAT JAZZ, thereby destroying anyone's else's chances of ever skewering him as effectively after his death. Allen, of course, has made other biographical movies but this one is ripped right out of his own personal life story. He is a very successful and honored writer in the film. He creates great real life and imaginary sequences, blending them together to make his novels. His real life subjects hate him for this as does everyone who has had ever had the misfortune to be in his personal life. He has been married and divorced many times. He is constantly unfaithful. He has messed up others' lives. He even has a great imaginary sequence where he goes down to hell to speak with the devil, played by Billy Crystal. This film also has the most graphic sex, nudity and swearing of any Woody Allen movie. He has never repeated this but be warned that if these things easily offend you, you may have a problem with it. Assuming you like it though, you will be howling throughout. It is that funny.

The moral underlying all of this is that if you are given great talent in the arts, expect to pay dearly for it. Everything that is not an exercise of your art talent will probably be a complete mess as you don't have a clue as to how to lead a life outside of creating your art work.

I really love this film. It combines all the best of his early work with his later work and he skewers himself with it. It is a real treat.

In Match Point Allen has gone back to his earlier dilemma from "Crimes and Misdemeanors" where he wondered whether someone could commit a great crime and then go on with his life as if nothing had happened. The step further is his exploration of random chance and luck in one's life. He posits that if one is lucky in life, one can live the good life even though he shouldn't be able to do so.

His characters for this exposition are Jonathan Rhys-Myers as a handsome, charming and cultivated man who sets out to marry a very wealthy bride. He is an excellent tennis player and that is his way of meeting the family and worming his way into it. His target woman has a brother and this brother has a fiance played by Scarlett Johanssen. He is very attracted to her but he cannot "waste" himself on her as she has no money.

That is the set up and we do indeed go back and forth with these characters, just like a hotly contested tennis game. It becomes very Hitchcockian, the most so of any Allen film. Thus this is not a comedic film. Although most of his films have some comic element, this one has none, so as to keep the suspense and tension up for the Hitchcock like exposition.

I really liked it but it is definitely a change of pace for Allen except for his musings about the factor of luck in living our lives.

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