ANYONE WHO IS ANYONE WILL BE SEEN AT CAFÉ SOCIETY.
In the 1930s, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) moves to Hollywood where his powerful uncle (Steve Carell) gives him a job at his agency; he falls in love with a secretary (Kristen Stewart), without realizing that she’s having an affair with his uncle. A pleasant but unremarkable romantic comedy-drama from Woody Allen who tries to conjure some old-fashioned Tinseltown magic. He is greatly helped in that department by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro who provides the film with a lush look. The story follows an ill-fated romance, but remains fairly shallow. Still, the movie as a whole benefits from the cast, its humor and the traditional Allen atmosphere.
2016-U.S. 96 min. Color. Written, directed and narrated by Woody Allen. Cinematography: Vittorio Storaro. Cast: Jesse Eisenberg (Bobby Dorfman), Kristen Stewart (Veronica ”Vonnie” Sybil), Steve Carell (Phil Stern), Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll… Sheryl Lee.
Trivia: Bruce Willis was first cast, but replaced by Carell.
Today, Woody Allen turns 80 years old. There is every reason to congratulate this outstanding director even though he’s far from at the top of his game right now. Allen remains incredibly prolific, turning out a new movie every year. Once a year, we take our seat in a movie theater hoping to be dazzled just one more time – and surprisingly often, we are.
Not all of us, granted. There was a brilliant column in Haaretz this summer where writer Adam Langer explained why he stopped taking Allen seriously. Even though I disagree with him, he had this example that really stuck – a couple at a café talking about Allen where their age difference became painfully obvious, because he adored the filmmaker, and she didn’t. The older guy thought of Woody Allen as the man behind Annie Hall (1977), but the younger girl had seen movies like Anything Else (2003). The date didn’t end well.
But let’s be fair – Allen has made good and bad films in the first two decades of this century. Here’s the top and bottom three:
The three best:
Match Point (2004) – A tragic thriller set in London, where the best part is how Allen uses symbolism. Great effort by Scarlett Johansson.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona(2008) – Heartfelt, young and vibrant, this film plays out in Barcelona, with first-rate performances by Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz.
Blue Jasmine(2013) – Much darkness behind the surface in this San Francisco-set film, with a no-holds barred performance by Cate Blanchett.
Anything Else(2003) – Allen has a few funny lines, but other performances are too loud and Jason Biggs has a little too much of Allen in him to be credible.
To Rome With Love(2014) – Set in Rome (of course), this comedy is pleasant but very contrived.
As for the future, Woody Allen is currently in post-production on a new movie starring Kristen Stewart, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg and Steve Carell. He’s also working on a TV series for Amazon, reportedly regretting “every second” of it. In other words, he’s staying youthful, but also true to himself – and also still knows how to attract talent.
Just look at Jennifer Lawrence in the clip above, from Late Night with Seth Meyers from last year. She’s funny, incredibly charming and really knows how to work a late-night audience. Today she turns 25 years old.
In what seems like no time at all, Lawrence has become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars. This fall she’s ending the franchise she’s become synonymous with, The Hunger Games, with the fourth and last chapter. But she’s certainly a lot more than Katniss Everdeen. While Kristen Stewart has struggled to be taken seriously after the Twilightmovies – unfairly since she has done a lot of good work since – Lawrence has garnered a lot of attention and praise for her performances in Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and American Hustle(2013), films she’s won several awards for, including an Oscar. She’s also won the love of fanboys for her effort as Mystique in X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and the upcoming X-Men: Apocalypse (2016).
Lawrence has an energy and passion for her work that is pretty irresistible; she knows how to make it look easy. She’s also that rare thing, a huge star one can imagine in big blockbusters as well as intimate independent productions. Lawrence is also a feminist icon because of her work in the Hunger Games films. I hope she recognizes her power and the potential of her future, as someone who can help break Hollywood’s traditionally sexist ways. I look forward to seeing her in Richard Linklater’s next movie, The Rosie Project.
After having been rescued by Edward (Robert Pattinson), Bella (Kristen Stewart) is trying to get used to her new life as a mother and a vampire… but her family is threatened by the Volturi. The fifth and final film in the Twilight series covers the last part of Stephenie Meyer’s novel and some aspects of it may confuse non-fans of her work. It is essentially more of the same, with a final confrontation with the Volturi that features a lot of decapitations (but in an odd PG-13 way) and a deliciously hammy performance by Michael Sheen. Still, a silly twist undermines the whole sequence.
2012-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Bill Condon. Novel: Stephenie Meyer. Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Cullen), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser… Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning, Maggie Grace.
Razzies: Worst Picture, Director, Actress (Stewart), Supporting Actor (Lautner), Screen Ensemble, Screen Couple (Lautner and Mackenzie Foy), Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel.
When Princess Snow White (Kristen Stewart) escapes from the prison cell where her now dead father’s wicked wife (Charlize Theron) put her, the new queen sends a troubled huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) out to catch her. The old fairy tale gets a makeover (released the same year as another version, Mirror Mirror) that should send audiences away with a yearning for Disney. This preposterous take has its visually attractive moments, but they drown in relentless darkness, militaristic nonsense and Theron’s (admittedly amusing) overacting.
2012-U.S. 127 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Rupert Sanders. Song: “Breath of Life” (performed by Florence + The Machine). Cast: Kristen Stewart (Snow White), Charlize Theron (Ravenna), Chris Hemsworth (The Huntsman), Sam Claflin, Sam Spruell, Ian McShane… Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones.
Trivia: Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder were allegedly considered for the role of Ravenna; Viggo Mortensen as the Huntsman. Hoskins’s last film. Followed by The Huntsman: Winter’s War (2016).
After finally walking down the aisle, Bella and Edward (Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson) go on a honeymoon that is abruptly interrupted when she falls critically ill… The fourth part of the Twilightfranchise takes the romance to a more mature level, but still remains simplistic and dreamy enough to keep its fan base happy. Covering only the first half of Stephenie Meyer’s book, the movie pretty much achieves what it sets out to do. Gorgeously shot by Guillermo Navarro, but it’s a shame that the brilliant Bill Condon has such mediocre material to work with.
2011-U.S. 117 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Bill Condon. Novel: Stephenie Meyer. Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro. Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Billy Burke, Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser… Michael Sheen, Anna Kendrick.
Trivia:Sofia Coppola and Gus Van Sant were allegedly considered for directing duties. Followed by Breaking Dawn – Part 2 (2012).
The story of the rise and fall of the first successful all-girl hard rock band, The Runaways, focuses on its most colorful and famous members, Cherie Currie and Joan Jett. They’re convincingly portrayed by Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart (who’s clearly looking for something a bit more challenging than Twilight) and the movie also gets a boost from Michael Shannon as the producer who tries to educate the girls in the art of being badass. The filmmakers offer nothing new to the rock band bio formula, but it’s a compelling story, with nice use of period details and music.
2010-U.S. 106 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by Floria Sigismondi. Book: Cherie Currie (“Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story”). Cast: Kristen Stewart (Joan Jett), Dakota Fanning (Cherie Currie), Michael Shannon (Kim Fowley), Alia Shawkat, Scout Taylor-Compton, Riley Keough… Tatum O’Neal.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Jett. Evan Rachel Wood was allegedly considered as Jett.
As Bella (Kristen Stewart) tries to choose between the vampire and the werewolf (Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner), Seattle is plagued by a series of killings. The 30 Days of Night (2007) director was picked for the third chapter of the Twilight saga, which garnered a few positive reviews… but all I can see is a good filmmaker try to fit into a formula set two movies ago. David Slade plays a minor part; what matters is the cast, the visual effects and the moody atmosphere. If only the drama between the three leads would rise above its annoying high school level.
2010-U.S. 124 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by David Slade. Novel: Stephenie Meyer. Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Xavier Samuel, Bryce Dallas Howard, Dakota Fanning… Anna Kendrick.
Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) realizes that he poses a threat to Bella’s (Kristen Stewart) life and leaves her; as she tries to deal with her loss, Bella becomes more attached to Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). The sequel to Twilight (2008) was frowned upon by critics and unconditionally loved by Stephenie Meyer’s teenage fans. Chris Weitz maintains the look and style of the first chapter and it’s fun watching Michael Sheen reconnect with his monster roots in Underworld… but the story and romance will put everyone but die-hard fans to sleep.
2009-U.S. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Chris Weitz. Novel: Stephenie Meyer. Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Taylor Lautner (Jacob Black), Ashley Greene, Rachelle Lefevre, Billy Burke… Anna Kendrick, Michael Sheen, Dakota Fanning.
Trivia:Catherine Hardwicke, who made the first movie, had to back out of this one due to scheduling conflicts. Followed by Eclipse (2010).
This movie, which chronicles a Hollywood producer’s harried life as he’s trying to please studio bosses, egotistical movie stars and two ex-wives is easy to believe as it was based on real-life producer Art Linson’s book. Everybody involved here must have had plenty to bring to the table; Robert De Niro (who plays the producer) has worked behind the camera plenty of times before and it is especially fun to watch Bruce Willis do an almost psychopathic version of himself. Entertaining odyssey of a man’s quest to douse small fires everywhere, but still a little short on surprises and depth.
2008-U.S. 104 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Robert De Niro, Barry Levinson, Art Linson, Jane Rosenthal. Directed by Barry Levinson. Screenplay, Book: Art Linson. Cast: Robert De Niro (Ben), Sean Penn, Catherine Keener (Lou Tarnow), John Turturro, Robin Wright Penn, Stanley Tucci… Kristen Stewart, Bruce Willis.
Trivia: The beard incident was allegedly based on a conflict between Linson and Alec Baldwin during the shoot of The Edge (1997).
17-year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) moves to a small Washington town to live with her father; she falls in love with a boy (Robert Pattinson) who turns out to be a vampire. This film adaptation was much appreciated by the teenage girls who had turned Stephenie Meyer’s novels into a phenomenon. The story may seem unremarkable to non-fans, but Catherine Hardwicke (who portrayed teens in Thirteen) finds the right tone; the dreamlike visual effects and the autumnal look of the Washington and Oregon locations also help. Stewart and Pattinson are effective in their breakthroughs.
2008-U.S. 121 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke. Novel: Stephenie Meyer. Cast: Kristen Stewart (Bella Swan), Robert Pattinson (Edward Cullen), Billy Burke (Charlie Swan), Peter Facinelli, Elizabeth Reaser, Cam Gigandet… Anna Kendrick, Taylor Lautner.
Trivia: Followed by four sequels, starting with New Moon(2009).
The story of Christopher McCandless continues to be controversial. Jon Krakauer’s book, the documentary, and now this film by Sean Penn all address the positive aspects of the young man who ended up starving to death in 1992 in the Alaskan wilderness. But, as a friend of mine told me, everybody she knows who have seen the movie end up taking sides for or against him. Was he foolish and arrogant or simply a dreamer seduced by the call of the wild? The truth encompasses all of those things.
In 1990, Chris (Emile Hirsch) graduates from Emory University in Georgia. His relationship with his parents (William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden) is not good for several reasons, one of them being Chris’s perception of them as cold and materialistic. He doesn’t want to follow in their footsteps and decides to make a clean break, donating the rest of his college funds to Oxfam, cutting his credit card in half and destroying his ID documents. Chris disappears without telling his parents or sister (Jena Malone) where he’s going. The plan is to head to Alaska and live in the wilderness, off the land. It’s a long journey though, taking Chris through a few adventures and to beautiful places. He also meets many different people, some of whose lives he touches, including those of a hippie couple, a 16-year-old girl (Kristen Stewart) who develops a crush on him, and an old man (Hal Holbrook) who comes to regard him almost as a son. Eventually, Chris ends up right where he wanted to be, far away from civilization… and from his parents whose hearts he has broken.
Penn’s fourth movie as a director became his best so far, an overwhelmingly emotional and exceptionally skilful portrayal of a bright kid who fell in love with the romanticized idea of nature as a peaceful place where one can live like a hermit, forever protected from the evils of mankind, in complete harmony with the surroundings. It is unclear though whether or not he truly understood how foolish his venture was; he didn’t even bring a compass or a map. His journey and all the encounters he has with strangers who become close friends are divided by Penn into chapters that are named after the parts of a person’s life, from childhood and onwards, indicating that McCandless is maturing, but it’s also a way of taking us closer to him. The relationships bring some meaning to his life, a contrast to the utter pointlessness of his death in that abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere. Penn also balances the charm of Chris’s impact on his new friends with the stark reality that he hurt his parents in the cruelest way possible, underscoring the dark selfishness of his behavior. The acting is peerless; it is a joy to watch Holbrook as the old man who has settled for something lesser, but is made to reconsider. The cinematography and Penn’s direction give the film a feeling of being shot by someone who decided to tag along and capture the trek on camera, which is highly effective. So is the soundtrack, a collection of songs performed (and in most cases also written) by Eddie Vedder; the standout is “Guaranteed”, likely to be stuck in your head when the end credits have rolled.
In 2006, an Alaskan Park Ranger wrote an essay deploring all the young men who come to his state looking for a romantic, isolated life in the wild. I understand him; he probably has to rescue them after a couple of weeks. It is easy to admire the dream; a part of me certainly does. But the sad truth is that in order to follow in Chris McCandless’s tracks one needs to pair the dream with a death wish.
Into the Wild 2007-U.S. 148 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Art Linson, Sean Penn, Bill Pohlad. Written and directed by Sean Penn. Book: Jon Krakauer. Cinematography: Eric Gautier. Song: “Guaranteed” (Eddie Vedder). Editing: Jay Cassidy. Cast: Emile Hirsch (Chris McCandless), William Hurt (Walt McCandless), Marcia Gay Harden (Billie McCandless), Jena Malone, Catherine Keener, Vince Vaughn… Kristen Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Zach Galifianakis.
Golden Globe: Best Original Song.
Last word: “I read the book when it came out. I read it twice in a row. I started to get the rights to it the next day. The impression that Jon Krakauer’s book made on me and Chris McCandless’ story made on me was the movie that I made. That’s what I read. I then embellished [with] my collaborators later. But the structure, the skeleton of this thing, was… Jon had me 75% of the movie that you saw already, and I had 25% of making cinematic in what he’d made in literature, to do that with my partners.” (Penn, About.com)