Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Annual Summer Treat from Woody Allen

And it's as welcome as the Good Humor Truck bells you can hear several blocks away.

I think it's very smart marketing for Allen to have his annual movie (yes, he does one a year) come out in the middle of the summer.  I mean, all of his films are always targeted to smart adult moviegoers who are, by mid July, dying for any reason to go to a movie that doesn't feature comic book super heroes, end-of-the-world scenarios, and/or Zac Efron.   Hallelujah, that July day, 2016 version, has arrived with "Cafe Society."

As Woody Allen movies go, this is not his best.   It's certainly not his worst.   "Cafe Society" falls somewhere in the middle and that's just ducky with me.   Because even mediocre Woody Allen is one hundred times better than the latest production from Judd Apatow or any of the other alleged comedic "geniuses" working in Hollywood today.   

On stylistic points alone, "Cafe Society" scores big time.   Set in both Hollywood and New York City of the 1930s, Allen exquisitely shows us a world that we have only seen in photo books and paintings.   Never has Tinseltown and Central Park looked so inviting and romantic.   To wit, the movie was shot in both places as opposed to some productions who try to show us Brooklyn but really film those streets in Montreal.    

But, while serving well as a painting, "Cafe Society" is also a captivating story.   Young Bobby from the Bronx is sent out to Hollywood for a better life working with his uncle, a powerful agent named Phil, who always seems to have Ginger Rogers on hold.   But, just as you think this is going to be a satirical look at the movie business, Woody steers us in a completely different direction and plunges us in the middle of a most odd romantic triangle.  And, as a result, the light comedy comes a bit deeper and even more interesting.

As per usual, Woody's casting is on par.   I especially want to mention Jesse Eisenberg as Bobby, Kristin Stewart as his California girlfriend, and the always-invited Jeannie Berlin (Elaine May's daughter) as Bobby's hapless mom back somewhere on the Grand Concourse.  And, for this fan of the Sopranos, it's always great to see Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico on the screen, even if it's just for two minutes.

There is, however, one sour note in the casting as far as yours truly is concerned.   Steve Carell plays the pivotal role of Uncle Phil and I really, really don't think he has the acting chops to pull off any sort of comedic role.   It's a mystery to me how this guy earned not one, but two Oscar nominations.   His choices are always wrong and his delivery is wooden.   He always seems to be screaming "look at me, I'm acting."  As Bobby's relatives in the Bronx might say...oy.

But that's one quibble in a film that is a welcome relief to the rest of the junk playing in the multiplexes this summer.   If you've got a brain in your head and you're dying to see at least one film that doesn't feature the Marvel Comics logo, give "Cafe Society" a try.

LEN'S RATING:  Three stars.

Dinner last night: Taylor ham on English muffin with salads.

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