Stephen Tenenbaum

Stephen Tenenbaum

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Magic In The Moonlight Review


Very Good

After the high of last year's Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen is back in playful mode for this rather goofy comedy, which only works for audience members willing to abandon their cynicism and just go with the flow. A solid cast makes the most of Allen's cleverly barbed dialogue, even if the performances and filmmaking sometimes feel a bit slapdash. And Allen's deeper existential themes add a hint of depth to the silliness.

It opens in 1928 Berlin, as the magician Stanley (Colin Firth) is convinced by his friend Howard (Simon McBurney) to travel to the South of France to debunk a young American mystic named Sophie (Emma Stone), who has a wealthy family in her thrall. Not only has Sophie convinced the matriarch (Jacki Weaver) that she can communicate with her dead husband, but she has also attracted the puppy-dog devotion of Brice (Hamish Linklater), the sweetly dim heir to the family fortune. But no matter how hard Stanley tries, he can't prove that Sophie is a fraud, and accepting her supernatural powers completely upends his relentlessly pessimistic view of humanity. Although it's even trickier to convince himself that he might be falling for Sophie.

Allen sets all of this up in a very simple way, prodding Firth to a hilariously ridiculous performance as a repressed Englishman for whom life has to be completely rational. Facing him off against Stone's young, free-flowing American is a bit obvious, but the script makes sure that their barbed banter overflows with witty repartee. This includes astute commentary on Allen's favourite theme: exploring the meaning of life through the contradictory blending of science, religion and human emotion. So even if the performances are rather oddly matched, Firth and Stone find some superb chemistry along the way. Although the snappiest role belongs to Eileen Atkins, as Stanley's beloved aunt, who has a wonderfully dry way of speaking the truth.

Continue reading: Magic In The Moonlight Review

Blue Jasmine Review


Extraordinary

With a riveting performance, Cate Blanchett creates one of Woody Allen's most memorable movie characters in years. And it's also the writer-director's strongest film in recent memory, as it balances comedy and drama in an engaging story that has a kick of resonance as it explores fall-out from the current economical recession.

Blanchett is Jasmine, a New York socialite who has fallen from grace after her husband Hal (Baldwin) lost control of his dodgy financial empire. So Jasmine is forced to move across the country to live with her sister Ginger (Hawkins) in San Francisco. Although she misses her high-society lifestyle, Jasmine gets on with things, finding a job with a local dentist (Stuhlbarg) and a flicker of romance with a rising-star politician (Sarsgaard). But living in Ginger's small apartment with her two kids and her blue-collar boyfriend Chili (Cannavale) takes its toll. And while smoothing the edges with alcohol and Xanax, Jasmine begins to lie to herself and others about her past.

All of the characters here are jaggedly complex, interacting with hilariously observant dialog as their relationships get increasingly messy. But while Jasmine is snobby and prickly, Blanchett also reveals her fragility as she tries to get back on her feet. And Hawkins is just as revelatory as the tenacious and much more generous Ginger. The men around them are just as complicated: Cannavale is hot-tempered but charming, Sarsgaard is kind but a bit slippery, Baldwin is charismatic and over-confident. No one fits into a simple box, which keeps us on our toes and lets the characters worm their way deep under the skin.

Continue reading: Blue Jasmine Review

To Rome With Love Review


Very Good
After Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen remains in a cheery European mode for another breezy comedy tinged with magical realism. This one's actually four separate stories that are very loosely interwoven as people struggle with the unpredictability of romance and fame. And like Midnight in Paris, it shows off Rome in the most beautiful light imaginable.

Baldwin plays an architect who returns to his student stomping grounds and meets Jack (Eisenberg), who seems to be living his old life, even as he falls for a friend (Page) of his girlfriend (Gerwig). Meanwhile, there's Leopoldo (Benigni), a dull businessman who suddenly becomes a celebrity for no reason he can see, is pursued everywhere by the paparazzi and starts to enjoy the high life. Across town, Jerry and Phyllis (Allen and Davis) arrive to meet the fiance (Parenti) of their daughter (Pill). Then Jerry pushes a future in-law (Armiliato) into becoming the latest opera sensation. Finally, a young couple arrives from the country to start a new life in the city, but the husband (Tiberi) ends up having a farcical day out with a sexy prostitute (Cruz) while the wife (Mastronardi) meets her favourite actor (Albanese).

Continue reading: To Rome With Love Review

Midnight In Paris Review


Excellent
After a run of loose, uneven films, Allen hits the right notes in this funny, astute comedy about artistic creation and personal dreams. And Wilson turns out to be one of the best on-screen Allen surrogates in years.

Blocked writer Gil (Wilson) is visiting Paris with his wife Inez (McAdams) and her high-achieving parents (Fuller and Kennedy). When they run into Inez's know-it-all ex (Sheen), Gil starts having second thoughts about everything. He also begins to wish he'd lived in Paris in the artistic heyday of the 1920s, and is stunned one night to find himself in some kind of magical time-warp, rubbing shoulders with F Scott Fitzgerald (Hiddleston), Gertrude Stein (Bates) and Ernest Hemmingway (Stoll). He also begins to fall for Adriana (Cotillard), a muse for Picasso and Modigliani.

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona Review


Good
Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the venerable director's fourth consecutive film made outside of the U.S. (and more importantly, outside of New York City), is made up of scenes featuring well-spoken, awkwardly-placed rich people drinking wine, eating excellent Spanish cuisine, and visiting beautifully-aged sets that range from odd museums to classic villas to an amusement park that looks too gorgeous to run electricity through. As if one needed more reason to love Barcelona, it now turns out they have a Tilt-A-Whirl.

When previously in London, Allen used all sharp tones, imagery wise. Even the shopfronts had perfect diction. At first, this yielded excellent results (Match Point) and the stage was set for a resurrection of the eternal Kvetch. Allen's two follow-ups, Scoop and Cassandra's Dream, debunked those hopes, proving that very same sharpness can lead to the visually mundane. In Spain, however, everything already has a built-in romance to it. The old-style Spanish houses, the Gaudi architecture, the auditory splendor of Spanish guitar playing: You're supposed to swoon on cue and you do.

Continue reading: Vicky Cristina Barcelona Review

Scoop Review


OK
Maybe it was just too soon. Maybe after coming back so strongly with last year's bracing morality thriller Match Point, Woody Allen should have taken a year or so off. Caught up on his reading, taken care of the garden, whatever. But, being the manically productive filmmaker that he is, he had to follow up his best film in years almost immediately after with another one, Scoop, featuring his newest favorite leading lady Scarlett Johansson (we are many years removed from the Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton phases), and a 180-degree turn in mood. No icy tension or investigations of ethical behavior this time, just hijinks and one-liners -- though for the second time in a row, the most famously New York-centric filmmaker sets the action in London. As Allen's character in Scoop notes, the restaurants are great, and the theater's better.

Taking a page from his last truly funny frivolous comedy, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Allen puts a pair of fairly clueless but nosy characters in the middle of a murder mystery and hopes that their bickering will carry the day. It almost does. Johansson is a long way from her previous Allen role as a soulless social-climber, playing this time American journalism student Sondra Pransky, who's so awkward and out of her element that, in order to get a story, she sleeps with a famous actor, and then forgets to get the interview. Johansson's better at playing daffy than one might expect, and unlike films like The Devil Wears Prada -- where a bad sweater and bangs are supposed to make Anne Hathaway some sort of hideous ogre -- this one doesn't pretend that she's unattractive behind the big glasses and careless hair.

Continue reading: Scoop Review

Scoop Review


OK
Maybe it was just too soon. Maybe after coming back so strongly with last year's bracing morality thriller Match Point, Woody Allen should have taken a year or so off. Caught up on his reading, taken care of the garden, whatever. But, being the manically productive filmmaker that he is, he had to follow up his best film in years almost immediately after with another one, Scoop, featuring his newest favorite leading lady Scarlett Johansson (we are many years removed from the Mia Farrow and Diane Keaton phases), and a 180-degree turn in mood. No icy tension or investigations of ethical behavior this time, just hijinks and one-liners -- though for the second time in a row, the most famously New York-centric filmmaker sets the action in London. As Allen's character in Scoop notes, the restaurants are great, and the theater's better.

Taking a page from his last truly funny frivolous comedy, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Allen puts a pair of fairly clueless but nosy characters in the middle of a murder mystery and hopes that their bickering will carry the day. It almost does. Johansson is a long way from her previous Allen role as a soulless social-climber, playing this time American journalism student Sondra Pransky, who's so awkward and out of her element that, in order to get a story, she sleeps with a famous actor, and then forgets to get the interview. Johansson's better at playing daffy than one might expect, and unlike films like The Devil Wears Prada -- where a bad sweater and bangs are supposed to make Anne Hathaway some sort of hideous ogre -- this one doesn't pretend that she's unattractive behind the big glasses and careless hair.

Continue reading: Scoop Review

Match Point Review


Extraordinary
I'm tired of apologizing for Woody Allen. I've rated his recent films higher than most critics. Not sure why, but I probably gave Celebrity a higher rating than anyone else who saw it. (There are, of course, exceptions to this.) I just like Allen's sensibility. He was Seinfeld before Seinfeld.

I like almost all Woody Allen movies: When he's in them, when he's not in them, when he's being funny, and when he's being serious. But aside from a couple of classic straight-up comedies -- Annie Hall and Hannah and Her Sisters -- Allen is at his very best when he's being slyly funny and deadly serious at the same time.

Continue reading: Match Point Review

Anything Else Review


Good
You can judge the current state of Woody Allen in the cinematic world by the fact that the advertising for his newest film, Anything Else, doesn't even mention his name. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a wee little romantic comedy starring Jason Biggs and Christina Ricci, the kind of thing that comes and goes from the multiplex in about three weeks and lives forever after on a Blockbuster shelf with Maid in Manhattan and Two Weeks Notice. On the poster, Ricci's face is in a big heart and the title is written in pink. It's a sneaky piece of subterfuge that might just allow Allen to do something he hasn't been able to for quite some time: connect with a younger audience.

The big schlemiel at the heart of the movie is actually not Allen, it's Biggs, who plays Jerry Falk, a young comedy writer with a chronic inability to say no to anybody: not his useless shrink or his clinging, laughable manager (Danny DeVito), and especially not his neurotic (on a good day) girlfriend, Amanda (Ricci). Falk's best friend is another comedy writer, David Dobel (Allen), who has all the usual Allen characteristics, but seems to have been taking steroids for his paranoia and misanthropy.

Continue reading: Anything Else Review

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Stephen Tenenbaum Movies

Magic in the Moonlight Movie Review

Magic in the Moonlight Movie Review

After the high of last year's Blue Jasmine, Woody Allen is back in playful mode...

Blue Jasmine Movie Review

Blue Jasmine Movie Review

With a riveting performance, Cate Blanchett creates one of Woody Allen's most memorable movie characters...

To Rome With Love Movie Review

To Rome With Love Movie Review

After Midnight in Paris, Woody Allen remains in a cheery European mode for another breezy...

Midnight in Paris Movie Review

Midnight in Paris Movie Review

After a run of loose, uneven films, Allen hits the right notes in this funny,...

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Vicky Cristina Barcelona Movie Review

Vicky Cristina Barcelona Movie Review

Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the venerable director's fourth consecutive film made outside of the...

Scoop Movie Review

Scoop Movie Review

Maybe it was just too soon. Maybe after coming back so strongly with last year's...

Scoop Movie Review

Scoop Movie Review

Maybe it was just too soon. Maybe after coming back so strongly with last year's...

Match Point Movie Review

Match Point Movie Review

I'm tired of apologizing for Woody Allen. I've rated his recent films higher than most...

Anything Else Movie Review

Anything Else Movie Review

You can judge the current state of Woody Allen in the cinematic world by the...

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