Saturday, January 19, 2008

Movies: Cassandra's Dream

I've tried to come up with a witty way to say it, but ultimately, I think it's better to be straightforward: this movie is bad. Woody Allen, not only one of my favorite filmmakers of all time, but one of my top three people (in the odd company of Andy Warhol and Thom Yorke) has created so much brilliance (Stardust Memories, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan) that no matter how many cubic zirconia he adds to the top of his IMDB tennis bracelet (and no matter how many wives he overthrows for adoptive children), he will remain firmly entrenched within that top three. And yet, I wish he would knock it off with the shitty films.

The first problem here is the script. Right from the opening scene, in which brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell) exchange campy See-Dick-Run grade banter about buying a sailboat, there is an intense staginess, reminiscent of a the stilted dialogue you might find in a high-schooler's first one-act written for a scene study class. The audience is tempted to pin their dread on Farrell, whose inability to act becomes more and more apparent as the film wears on (McGregor, working with the same stale bread, somehow manages to whip up some decent french toast). We start to wonder whether Woody really wrote this screenplay; what happened to the (hyper) self-conscious depth his characters used to have? I want to blame this on his weird new obsession with the British (whom he's aped in his last two movies—Scoop and Match Point—with equal unsuccess). In a scene set around the family table at mealtime (which he's done to brilliant effects so many times before), Ian and Terry sit with their mum and dad, who have an argument about wealthy Uncle Howard, and even though mum and dad speak with British accents, their attitudes are far from goyische—a strange dubbed version of Alvy Singer's Passover meal in the flashback from Annie Hall.

I won't criticize Woody for stacking up a tenuous plot in order to get across his philosophical communication; that's long been his m.o., and it worked just fine, from What's New, Pussycat? and Sleeper to Crimes and Misdemeanors and Deconstructing Harry ("Daddy's out of focus" is probably the most brilliant of the comedic literal metaphors that typify Woody Allen at his best.) What I will criticize him for is a) not being true to himself (dude, you're not British, so knock it off and go back to making movies about New York Jews), b) casting shitty actors (Colin Farrell needs to just go away and stay there), and c) being shallow (Colin Farrell's "guilt" gets about as deep as the cheapest inflatable pool at Wal-Mart). What I love so much about old Woody Allen is not, as one character says in Stardust Memories, "the old funny ones," but the very self-consciousness that led him to write that movie and have a character say that. And that has been completely lacking for quite some time. Woody, I like the old self-conscious ones.

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