anything else1anything else2

1-5s tar | Dir: Woody Allen

“I couldn’t decide between giving you Sarte or O’Neill. Whose nihilistic pessimism would make you happiest?”

Despite the younger star appeal and a marketing campaign that promoted a return to the Annie Hall style romcom, Anything Else became Allen’s lowest grossing film since 1990’s Shadows and Fog. His 2003 effort concluded Allen’s DreamWorks era of slight comedies, where the former auteur languished in a mediocre rut founded on recycling old material and worn-out ideas. This trend of  middling ‘comedies’ damaged his short-term box office appeal. It’s one of Woody Allen’s worst films and probably deserves to be one of his worst grossing pictures.

Anything Else (a title originally considered for 1989’s Crimes and Misdemeanours) evolved from a draft novel which Allen had been writing in the preceding years with effectively the same story. A neurotic young man falls for a beautiful but even more neurotic young woman and needs to take guidance from an older but not so wiser artist. “There were many funny things in the book but it wasn’t really good enough”, noted Allen honestly. Yet its reworking into a screenplay still feels like a laboured effort.

The Annie Hall throwback which Allen is seemingly going for here, unconsciously or not, hardly replicates the poignancy of the eggs. Told in a non-linear fashion with an assortment of retreaded storytelling devices, this romance about failing comedy writer Jerry (Jason Biggs, hot off the American Pie film series) and destructive young actress Amanda (Christina Ricci) feels like an unofficial spiritual sequel to Allen’s breakthrough, pioneering hit. At best, you could liken it to Alvy’s play at the end of Annie Hall where he manipulates the unwelcome harshness of reality for younger surrogates to achieve his desired outcomes as fantasy. The title of the film is explained by Jerry:

“I was pouring my heart out to the cab driver about all the stuff you were prattling on about a minute ago. Life, death, the empty universe, the meaning of existence, human suffering. And, uh, the cab driver said to me: ‘Y’know, it’s like anything else. Think about that.’ How strange life is. Full of inexplicable mystery.”

However, we’ve heard it all before and the only inexplicable mystery is in deciphering Allen’s perception of the finished product. After some surprisingly positive comments regarding Hollywood Ending, Allen reflected that he thought Anything Else “was a good movie…I think it came off fairly well.” His voice as an artist is a valued and unique one; it has enlightened and entertained cinema-goers for decades. 37 years on, however, he offers no fresh insight into the murky and complex web of relationships.

It’s a misogynistic film where the faults of the females are amplified and the obvious psychological maladies of the males are treated as benign. There’s a couple of decent laughs (Of course she’s crazy. The Pentagon should use her hormones for chemical suicide.”, “Do you love me?” / “What a question! Just because I pull away when you touch me?”) buried in almost two hours with truly unlikeable and uninteresting human beings. Add in poor casting, forced performances and an arrogant on-screen Allen on auto pilot with some false narrative notions – this is probably his first outright bad film in his 37 year career (to this date) as a filmmaker. There’s also the latest of many rather uncomfortable lines about incest, child molestation and Oedipus in his work, from Jerry to Amanda, which can either be viewed as purposefully provocative or willfully ignorant to how the world views the allegations embroiled in his legacy:

“You once told me that you thought your father was sexually attractive.”

“Now she’s difficult. Soon she’ll be impossible” proposes Jerry about Amanda. You hope that this isn’t a prophetic trajectory for Woody Allen himself – his filmography, his career and his personal life.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.


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hollywood ending1hollywood ending2

2 star| Dir: Woody Allen

“I’m tired of all the talk of how big you were ten years ago.”

Allen’s output – no matter the artistic quality, the star power or the subject matter – has always received a reliable reaction in Europe. Many times his American box office losses are sustained only by the success of his films in European markets where audiences routinely appreciate, accept and welcomed Woody’s work. The ultimate punchline to Hollywood Ending plays off this reality: Allen’s character, over-the-hill Hollywood director Val Waxman, directs a $60 million feelgood New York picture to resurrect his career, only he is struck blind before filming commences. It’s a resounding flop domestically, but his one consolation is that the French hail it as the greatest American movie in 50 years. “Here I’m a bum, there I’m a genius”.

But Hollywood Ending was not enjoyed by the French, or the Americans, or any country’s audience and critics. It even went straight to DVD here in the UK for the first time ever. It’s the type of bad luck that that would fall upon washed up Waxman, rather than the more resilient Allen. This coincidence is a sad reflection on the failing and fading filmmaker in this out-of-touch attempt to have his art imitate life once again. In the end, you could argue that the reality began to imitate the art.

Their dichotomy ends there, as is the same for so many of the characters which Allen portrays. “The streets of New York are in his marrow” is used to describe Waxman at one point but could easily be written by any critic, journalist or biographer on Allen. It almost reads as a line cut from Isaac’s opening monologue in Manhattan about the male character in his novel, who is a cover for Isaac himself, who is a cover for Woody Allen.

Waxman and Allen both want to re-shoot dailies, both want obsessive control over their art from studios, both work with foreign cinematographers to get a ‘different texture’ (Zhao Fei shot his previous three films and Wedigo von Schultzendorff replaced the highly regarded Haskell Wexler – who shot the likes of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, American Graffiti, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Days of Heaven – on this picture after he was fired only two weeks into production), both deliver artistic outcomes to their crew through somewhat of a dictatorship, both are Oscar winners who preferred to travel in more artistically experimental directions and lose their commercial audience, both can make New York sing and, indeed, both were a much bigger deal ten years ago. Both even professes that the public and critics are narrow-minded for assuming that the characters they play in their movies represent the man playing them. Colour me narrow-minded with permanent markers and colour Allen with a distinct lack of self-awareness.

Allen regularly defends his self-casting in what he knows he can play convincingly. He is a director and can thus realistically play a particular type of director on screen, as he does here. Allen is also married to a much younger woman and of course is notorious for dating attractive younger women that could certainly be assessed as out of his league. He’s so accustomed to this blinkered lifestyle that it seemingly gives him the artistic validation to depict this on screen when he’s well into his 60s and looking every bit of it. You simply can’t accept him dating Debra Messing, having married Téa Leoni (who is very good here and a real saving grace) or being the attraction of Tiffani Amber Thiessen. Let along all three sequentially. It’s uncomfortable, nasty and sad to see him like this. He has tried to rationalise this in more recent efforts (manipulation in Everyone Say’s I Love You and prostitution in Deconstructing Harry, for example). But here it completely undermines the film’s innocent playfulness.

This would thankfully mark the final time that Allen presented himself as the leading man in a romance. Opportunities were given to the likes of Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Jason Biggs and Larry David (in equally misguided casting) to bring their own interpretation of the Woody Allen persona – to mixed results as we will shortly see.

Val the director may suffer from temporary blindness, but Woody the director was metaphorically blinding himself to reality in his lack of foresight in anticipating the reception of Hollywood Ending. Hindsight offers little more clarity for him either. Speaking a couple of years following its release, he could not fathom its failure:

“The biggest personal shock to me of all my movies that I’ve done is that Hollywood Ending was not thought of as a first-rate, extraordinary comedy. I was stunned that it was met with any resistance at all. … I thought it was a simple, funny idea that worked, and could have been done by Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau. … I don’t generally love my own finished product, but this one I did. … I don’t think many people would, but I would put it toward the top of my comedies.”

As a comedy it has its rare moments that float to the sluggishly paced and lazily edited surface. What you’ll mostly find is outdated references, stale gags and cheap physical comedy in its one-joke premise as a satire of the Hollywood industry and Woody’s incessant malice for California: “I gotta run. I’m getting another skin cancer removed”, “That other pill I take keeps me dry when it’s raining out”, “I would kill for this job, unfortunately the people I want to kill are the people giving me the job”. There is, however, one pretty funny exchange between Val and Lori (Debra Messing):

“This whole thing is creepy Lori. For goodness sake, this is a woman I was married to for 15 years. We made love. I held her head over the toilet bowl when she threw up.”
“From making love with you?”

Hollywood Ending is somehow one of Allen’s longest films. It, finally, clocks in at 35 minutes longer than the 79 minute masterpiece that is Zelig. Now there is a first-rate, extraordinary Woody Allen comedy.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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3-5 star | Dir: Woody Allen

“It’s such a shame that you’re going to have to wake up from this fabulous illusion. Just once, before the ugly curtain of reality drops on both of us.”

Such is the function and attraction of cinema. Cue the laughably orchestrated indoor fireworks display to illustrate and celebrate the sparkle that it has brought to your life.

The Curse of the Jade Scorpion was the first film following the fairly acrimonious split between Allen and his longtime close friend, confident and recent producer, Jean Doumanian.  Part of this was related to Woody requesting a larger downside than the low seven figure sum that Sweetland Films, Doumanian and her partner Jacqui Safra’s prodoction studio, could provide (and far more than he was getting 10 years ago with the supposed trade minimum under Orion).  The far more significant part, however, was Allen suing the company for defrauding him of $12 million and much publicized trial.

Like he did with Manhattan Murder Mystery following his split and custody trial with Mia Farrow, Woody rebounded and distracted himself with a tonally muddled screwball comedy-mystery-noir-romp from the 1940s. Under a state of hypnosis by a criminal stage magician, C.W. Briggs (Allen) is instructed to orchestrate a strong jewel robberies from New York’s elite. The comedic set up comes from Briggs being the insurance inspector assigned to solve these crimes that he has no recollection of committing.

This was the second of his “amusing ideas” scraped from the back of a dusty drawer and this came in at a total budget of $26 million. What the most expensive Woody Allen film to date led to is, for me, a pleasant and pleasurable farce with a final arc that, against my better judgement, really charmed me. Dramaturgically it’s one of his most solid works of this era – the plot is lively and rolls along at a nice pace with good humour. It outstays its welcome with a dip of energy in the middle, but it’s a fun ride if you invest in this magical space where Woody operates in. Some of his finest work comes in exploring the ecstasy of fantasy to abandon the cruelty of reality: Alice, Everyone Says I Love You, Oedipus Wrecks, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Midnight in Paris and so on. That Woody is escaping his own harsh reality through his work adds an unintentional potency.

It is, however, as rapid in one liners as any other Allen creation, even if the batting average is much lower. Some are definitely home runs: “The place is a mess. If I had known you were coming I’d have had the maid rearrange the dirt.”, “I made a duplicate of your key, which you can have for no extra charge.” Sometimes, the best laughs come from the simplest and most formulaic of set ups:

Betty: “I was aware that you sneaked out to the office mysteriously in the middle of the night and the lobby guard saw you. I know you have Laura Kensington’s stocking and she swears you kicked her our of bed to take care of some sudden business, which your super corroborates. They have a footprint, a matchbook with your fingerprint and still I believed that you didn’t do it. But now the actual stolen property turns up hidden in your bedroom”
C.W.: “So what are you saying, this makes you suspicious of me?”

However, one joke is more memorable than all for the wrong reasons: “My clergyman, who happens to be wanted to pederasty, will vouch for me.” While the many jokes of this nature before the early 90s continue to suggest thinly veiled personality traits, the jokes following the allegations are connotative of pure hubris. Or a complete lack of self-awareness and basic common sense decorum. None of that is why he is so harsh on the box office flop, released by DreamWorks in a staggering 900 screens, that the film became:

“I have great regrets and embarrassment. I feel that maybe – and there are many candidates for this – but it may be the worst film I’ve made. I let down an exceptionally gifted cast. It kills me to have a cast so gifted and not be able to come through for them. … I went wrong in playing the lead. I would have been better off if I had less laughs and has a straighter, tougher leading man…And I felt it as I was getting dailies every day. I didn’t know how to get out of it.”

He’s certainly not far off. Allen, in his mid-60s, does not carry the same affable charm as he did in the similar throwback hardened romantic lead role in Pay it Again, Sam. In fairness, while he didn’t exhaust the casting process, Tom Hanks and Jack Nicholson did decline the role. You also can’t fault Charlize Theron’s conviction in playing femme-fetale Laura Kensington (what a lovely homage to Lauren Bacall), but the character leaves a lot to be desired. She is a dated caricature within a caricatured world where women like her are aroused by the advances of the elderly Mr Briggs.

This is light, escapist entertainment – but it also doesn’t challenge you to confront its messages like the films listed prior. Viewing it in the context of 2001, let alone 2016, leaves it feeling awkwardly positioned. Yet some fans can still be intoxicated by the withering fumes of an older artist playing the same predictable cards. Not for much longer, however.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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3-5 star | Dir: Woody Allen

“Yeah he’s street smart. His brain’s got pot holes.”

Allen has done, and continues to do, many things very well as a filmmaker. Yet what got him his start in the industry, and what arguably made him famous enough to showcase his assorted mastery, was his razor sharp wit and hysterical one liners. Reuniting with legendary comedian Elaine May, one of his nightclub scene touring partners in the 1960s, Small Time Crooks is the first throwback to a pure Woody Allen laugh-a-minute lighthearted comedy since 1995’s Mighty Aphrodite, and arguably 1973s Sleeper. As a modern ‘early funny one’ cousin to Take the Money and Run it’s a minor work among Allen’s more accomplished and resonant pieces in the last two and a half decades. He refers to as a “trivial picture”, which is accurate, but it’s harmless silliness.

Minor as it may be, the story of Tracey Ullman as disenchanted wife Frenchy, to Allen’s lowlife criminal Ray, is an empathetic one. She wants to better their life not by securing money as a means to an end (whether through bank robberies or an unexpectedly booming cookie business as the front for the robbery), but to become a more cultured, civilized and refined couple. The money enables them to enter high society, become a patron of the arts, fit in at a swanky fundraising dinners, embrace international opera houses and cultivate new friends of privileged social stature. Yet this wealth and social status doesn’t make them happy and they begin to miss the simple pleasures of their pastlife. It’s a film about integrity and who we truly are as humans; what our instincts resort to, at our core, in our natural state, no matter how much we seek change and growth and development. And owning that.

Notch up another slew of award-nominated and award-winning female performances for Allen: Ullman was nominated for a Golden Globe, losing out to Renée Zellweger in Nurse Betty, while Elaine May won Best Supporting Actress at the National Society of Film Critics Awards. Ullman, who was a treat as the giddy Eden in Bullets Over Broadway, is superb as Frency, with Allen describing her as “limitless in her ability”. She moves beyond caricature to embody a genuine person with nuances who’s working through her insecurities and vulnerabilities. It’s a skillfully measured performance with conviction and precise comic timing that give Allen’s classic one liners real pizzazz. She and her smarmy art dealer David (Hugh Grant) have some histrionic, hilarious and highly energetic scenes. It’s quite shrewd casting in that Grant someone you usually want to hate yet is often portrayed as a (faux) charming protagonist. Allen, however, facilitates your hate to be unleashed. It’s also nice to see Elaine Stritch return after her strong performance in the disappointing September.

It’s really fun to be back in this world of sight gags and cracking jokes: “You know you’re working with a genius, right? I mean, we’re all smart, but he wears glasses.”, “My accountants. Ray said to trust them as the whole firm had moustaches.” Yet despite the sweet and clever conclusion, including a satisfying wrap up of a story arc involving a Duke of Windsor flask, it always feels like it’s in too much of a rush to move onto the next joke or set up. This renders a lot of the jokes, and the film itself, fairly forgettable.

This foray back to trivial laughs would be the first of a four picture comedy deal with DreamWorks, following Allen contributing to the huge success of their animated release Antz a couple of years earlier. All were written at the same time after mining his drawer of archived draft ideas: “I’m getting older and who knows what could happen to me? I don’t want to have them lying around in my drawer as unrealized, unattempted great comic ideas that I never got to.” Most find the four films a comic low point for Allen, but there’s some charm to the first two amidst an artist surprisingly working to prioritise pleasing his financers within a confined creative space for the first time.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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3-5 star| Dir: Woody Allen

“Any woman would be second to his music. He wouldn’t miss me any more than the woman he abruptly left. He could only feel pain for his music. “

Following his successful foray into filmmaking with Take the Money and Run, a farcical audience pleasing mockumentary which showed Allen as a more than capable filmmaker, his desire to invest in serious work first emerged. In 1970 he pitched United Artists a script titled The Jazz Baby; a 1930s drama about an ethereal jazz guitarist. While Woody had full authority to pursue whatever creative outlet he wanted in his films – a freedom has has maintained and enjoyed his entire directorial career – the studio had understandable qualms about a man famous for his comedy pursuing such dramatic and esoteric work this early in his vocation. Allen empathised and gave us the rollicking Bananas instead. It would take 29 years for Allen to have the inclination to revisit and rework this early draft, even while dabbling with more serious work in Interiors, September and Another Woman.

Working with new editor Alisa Lepselter (who is still with him to this day 18 years later), Sweet and Lowdown (named after the George Gershwin song, which ironically doesn’t feature in this fabulous soundtrack) keeps the same narrative structure as The Jazz Baby – a well-rooted period mockumentary (clearly an early theme for Allen) using dramatisations stemming from anecdotal, fabricated and oddly-selected talking-head interviews (Douglas McGrath and Allen himself are the best people to inform this story of jazz guitar virtuoso, Emmet Ray, second only to his idol Django Reinhardt?). Allen’s proximity to this fictional story mirrors his own Allen’ modesty in feeling like he can never match the icons of cinema which he idolises himself – Fellini (La Strada acts as inpsiration here), Bergman, the Marx Brothers, Keaton and so on.

In its modification, Woody added some “spirit” and lightened the tone to bring more humour to the piece. This helped change Emmet from a purely a masochistic monster so that his descent becomes a less sad and bleak one. Johnny Depp and Nicolas Cage were considered for role but final choice Sean Penn is superb as the “self-centered, egotistical, highly neurotic, genius guitar player”, as Allen describes his creation; a deeply flawed, deeply self-destructive, deeply selfish, deeply troubled, deeply fearful, deeply narcissistic and deeply talented musical maestro. He loves the music but loves living the life of a musician more, to the shameful neglect of his mute partner Hattie (Samantha Morton).

There’s no shortage of heralded performances in Allen’s filmography, yet Sweet and Lowdown boats the strongest pair of performances in Allen’s work since Crimes and Misdemeanors a decade earlier. Both Penn and Morton were nominated for Oscars and they really are quite magical together. Morton appears right out of the silent movie era, leaving an incredibly touching and stunning impression. Allen instructed her to study the performances of Harpo Max, of whom she had never heard of before, which catalysed one of the most impressive and unforeseen performances in Allen’s work. Some of the comic sequences even play into the silent movie realm in their construction and execution, particularly Emmet’s set fiasco with the crescent moon entrance.

There’s a lot of fun to be had on the ride, with Penn’s criminal shenanigans and debauchery being played as sublimely as the music of Emmet Ray. Yet the films two best scenes happen towards its conclusion, bringing a welcome and bittersweet poignancy to the generally insufferable Ray.  After leaving Hattie for socialite Blanche Williams (Uma Thurman), he’s humbled in his naive and conceited expectations of being reunited with his former love with open and fawning arms. His discovery that she’s moved on, as if everyone centers their world around him as much as he does for himself, leads to Ray’s greatest work being produced by allowing all his regret, angst and sorrow into his playing.

This art vs. artist theme has taken an acidic turn in this 1990s period with Allen depicting toxic, parasitic and problematic artists. Bullets Over Broadway, Deconstructing Harry and Celebrity are among the others which plays off Allen’s own conflict of balancing artistic dreams and a satisfying personal life during a time of public scrutiny, which has not lost its fervor in today’s climate. Tom Shone in Woody Allen: A Retrospective summarised this brilliantly: “balancing his tone between admiration for the art and disappointment in the artist suggesting a candor only made possible by dramatic proxies.”

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing.

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 | Dir: Woody Allen

“From you, I’d be willing to catch terminal cancer.”

Woody Allen’s fame is inconceivable to the man himself. It’s habitually unwelcome and fiercely rejected, both when there are glowing accolades for his work and scathing anger at his domestic drama. He has never attended an Oscars ceremony to formally collect any of his awards. He wanes against interviews, a real shame as the Woody Allen on Woody Allen conversations with Stig Bjorkman are terrific. He would not have even reached the level of success and notoriety he has if his managers Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe didn’t force the timid young gag writer to tell his own jokes on stage and persevere with his squeamish act for over a year until he unearthed his now famous nebbish neurotic New York intellectual persona. The toxic culture of the celebrity has routinely perplexed this modest and content man, with Annie Hall memorably communicating his dislike towards its hotbed of Los Angeles. So it’s unsurprising that he would eventually fashion a film around mocking the cult of celebrities and the stars themselves.

Celebrity offers something of a throwback to Allen’s early work in the sense of it being a loosely connected series of escapades riffing on the attention we pay to, as Allen called them, “the oddest people.” It’s a decent premise with some witty showbiz satire, but it is disappointingly taken in a one dimensional and conventional exploration of the “self-obsessed, sophmorish and solipsistic.” Half baked and underdeveloped, it descends into an empty film devoid of any real meaning. It has little to say and fails to articulate what it does actually want to. All this becomes more remarkable when you see the running time of 113 minutes, which seems lazy for Allen (and longtime editor Susan E. Morse, here in her final collaboration with the director which runs from 1979s Manhattan) who can make a masterpiece like Zelig in 79 minutes.

Judy Davis reveals herself as one of the film’s sole saviours, despite some cringeworthy moments. The one line she delivers as Blanche DuBois makes for a wonderful pairing with Diane Keaton’s impersonation of Marlon Brando from Love and Death two comic giants in their timing and physicality. There’s also some fun cameos from movie stars (then and now) including Winona Ryder, Sam Rockwell, Melanie Griffith, Charlize Theron, Hank Azaria, J. K. Simmons, Joe Mantegna and even the transcendent celebrity himself, Donald Trump.

Allen began to recede from the front of the camera with Bullets Over Broadway, where John Cusack took the reigns and did a solid job in the Woody Allen surrogate role. Many would go on to become Allen 2.0; Owen Wilson, Larry David, Will Ferrell, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Biggs. All had mixed success, but none have failed in their performance so spectacularly as Kenneth Branagh as the disillusioned celebrity journality. That an actor the calibre of Branagh is reduced to not merely an impersonation, but a pure facsimile of Allen (the timing, intonations, stammers, tics, neurosis, shrewdness, anxiety, ignorance to social contexts) is unfortunate and, quite frankly, rather embarrassing. His character is a wholly terrible and insufferable person with poor judgement that makes it difficult to invest in any of his escapades.

This is merely just one of Allen’s many motifs that are emerging as stale. There is even an explicit carbon copy of the same joke in Annie Hall where Alvie reduces Allison Portchnik to a series of cultural stereotypes as form of flirting. Branagh doesn’t do it as charmingly as Allen and, equally, Allen the filmmaker doesn’t do anything here as effectively as his 1977 counterpart. Even his many attempts at homaging his own faourite celebrity filmmakers begin to lose their integrity, with Fellini’s La dolche vita here appearing as more of a parody. Allen commented on the film after it’s release:

“I had no tremendous insight into it, only to record that it was a phenomenon that permeated my culture at that point, that everybody had such a reverence for celebrity and that it meant so much. That was what I so was trying to do. To what degree I succeeded I don’t know, but I tried.”

Even in 2017, nobody questions Allen’s effort as his key detriment. But Celebrity marks the first sign of the auteur’s artistic decline and arguably his first outright bad feature film. His early films suffer from inexperience and composure but have many humourous merits. A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy may be trivial but it’s a visual treat (as, to be fair, is Celebrity in all its monochrome glory, in Sven Nykvist’s final film with Allen) and well performed. September, for all its turmoil, has ambition and displays skilled craftsmanship. This is simply Woody Allen operating at a significantly lower level than he is capable of for the first time. This was the first film released following Titanic featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and, as Allen amusingly notes, “it doesn’t make a dime.” Most Allen films don’t, but unlike the majority, this didn’t deserve to.

Part of Woody Wednesday. First viewing

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| Dir: Tom Ford

“Our world is a lot less painful than the real world.”

Fashion designer Tom Ford transitioned into movies with 2009’s visually striking and emotionally resonant A Single Man. It looked, spoke and felt like what many would expect a Tom Ford creation to be. Yet his much anticipated follow up shifts into a much darker area – a tense meta noir-thriller that surely takes inspirations from the likes of David Lynch and Nicolas Winding Refn. As ambitiously stylish as you would expect but with an aesthetic doesn’t overshadow the substance; it merely colours the rich emotional complexity. It’s an intelligent, elegant and gorgeous piece that establishes Ford as a diversely skilled artist in two sectors.

What a consuming, arresting and intoxicating experience this becomes. The novelistic narrative stream is certainly the more immediately engaging and thrilling, with Ford fluently tying its entertainment value around deeper melodramatic wrappings. But this unevenness is minor when the fictional revenge erupts just as devastatingly as its present day reality revenge does.Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings (both Jake Gyllenhaal) both prove to not be weak men in parallel worlds. There’s also a nice moment where Hastings’ regret at his choices reflects Susan’s (Amy Adams) own.

The performances themselves are certainly major – Adams, Gyllenhaal, Fisher, Linney, Shannon (very unsurprisingly) and Taylor-Johnson (very surprisingly) play their individual notes with such quality. The often times unflattering close ups expose some brilliant work from Adams in particular, while Shannon is as effective as ever. Any film that casts Isla Fisher as a surrogate or ersatz for Amy Adams (in the films strongest sequence) deserves appreciation – that it did so and didn’t even make me notice the difference until the credits deserves adoration.

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