Woody Allen – A Documentary

Robert Weide, who is better known as a producer and director of Curb Your Enthusiasm has directed a charming documentary “Woody Allen: A Documentary”.

This is essentially a pleasant hagiography for all of us Woody Allen friends, to revel in his genius. It features multiple interviews from the man himself and lots of behind the scenes footage of him directing. But mainly it’s a collection of “greatest hits” of Woody from his young days as a –very very funny – gag writer for people like Dick Cavette (who knew, Woody wrote “What’s New Pussycat”?) to excerpts from some of the best of the 48 movies he’s written and directed.

Yes that’s right 48 movies (he actually wrote 70!), some of them of course, pretty forgettable (“Cassandra’s Dream” in 2007? “Anything Else” in 2003? “Sounds From a Town I love” in 2001???), but so many many others that were pure cinematic gems. Remember “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan”, “Hannah and Her Sisters”,  “Crimes and Misdemeanors” from his classic period and Woody’s wonderful rebirth in Europe with “Match Point”, “Scoop”, “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and his most successful film, “Midnight in Paris”.

They’re all there, with just enough of them to make you long for more.

The documentary bypasses some of his more troubling episodes, such as his affair with his step daughter, which Mia Farrow discovered while she was actually shooting a movie with him. We see nothing of the mess that took place with him and his old time producer, where each accused the other of embezzlement. It’s also not big on insight and focuses instead on small time incidentals, like the fact that Woody writes all his stuff on an old fashioned typewriter.

No matter, if its purpose was to remind us of what a prolific, mainly good, often great director Woody is (who can you compare him with? Scorsese? Spielberg?), it does so very well. Woody was one of the very few directors who, after just his first movie,  insisted on and got full control. He controlled what he wrote, shot and edited. Just as well. I can’t see the geniuses at Hollywood ever giving the green–light to his heavily philosophical conversations and his peculiar funnyman take on existential angst.

Snow White and the Huntsman

“Snow White and the Huntsman” has been so successful after its first week that, apparently, the sequel has been green-lighted to begin production. We’re hopeful that be the time production begins, Kristen Stewart as the eponymous heroine (and better known for her roles as the love-struck Bella Swan in the “Twilight” series) will have taken a few acting lessons. Of all the feisty action heroines to have leapt, kicked and sweated their ways onto our screen recently, Kristen’s Snow White is the least persuasive of being able to do anything more active than to lounge around a pool in LA (under a wide umbrella), sipping mai-tais or whatever they sip in LA.

No matter, this retelling of the Brothers Grimm story is an action-packed saga that’s a far cry from the Disney version; though the elements of the basic tale (you know, mirror mirror… evil queen; poisoned apple; haunted woods etc) are all there. The good news is, despite Kristen’s vacuousness, this version has Charlize as the wicked queen, Ravenna. She clearly relished this role and pretty much commands every scene she’s in. She also essentially turns the mirror into a liar. In that land, hell, in any land, ain’t no-one fairer than her.

“…Huntsman” was director Rupert Sanders’ first major movie – it augers well: though the movie sagged a bit here and there (it’s over two hours long), generally he keeps the story flowing at a fast clip, propulsively aided by James Howard’s notable musical score. This ex-roadie for Elton John, who also worked on “The Sixth Sense and “The Fugitive” gives us the kind of edgy nervous violins that are reminiscent of the Bourne trilogy.

And, clever man, what’s notable with “…Huntsman” is that we’ve sort of seen it all before. Sanders gives us a fresh take on an old story through a lens we’ve looked through before. With production designer, Dominic Watkins (a master cheese-maker turned production designer, who also did “The Bourne Supremacy”), these two bring a visual energy that sometimes simply steals, but often improves on work from masters of the craft. The movie is visually a nice mash up of “Lord of the Rings” (lots of it… Peter Jackson should earn a royalty), early Disney, Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula” and “The Game of Thrones”.  I guess if you’re going to steal styles, might as well steal from the best.

And as for “Huntsman, part two”, we’re left dangling with the real…deeply existential… questions the movie offers us: will she make out with the sapsy prince or will the rugged huntsman (Chris Hemsworth, of “Thor” fame) steal her innocent heart?

Prometheus. Ridely Scott as philosopher. Not.

There can be no faulting the exquisite craftsmanship of Ridley Scott’s directing, the stunning and awe inspiring production design (Arthur Max the designer also gave us “Gladiator”) and the class acting of the principals (Noomi – ‘Lisbeth Salander – Rapace, Michael – busiest actor this year – Fassbender and Charlize – playing nasty again – Theron); but “Prometheus” is portentous, pretentious piffle.

“Alien” (“Prometheus” started out, apparently as a prequel) was the antidote to “Star Wars”. One was a nice light fantasy, despite its later mythologizers, with nice, clearly identified heroes; the other was dark and scary with the emergence of one of the first women to eclipse the role of masculine action heroes – Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. But part of the success of “Alien” was that the theme of contagion and Scott’s ability to tap into our communal fears of ‘the other’: the snake/lizard, slithering, head horned like a devil, oozing, body inhabiting force of destruction.

In “Prometheus”, meet Ridley Scott, philosopher and apologist for his version of Intelligent Design. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi) makes it known that she’s a Good Christian (she wears a cross) and is a Faithful Believer. But she believes, based on the similarity of a series of ancient paintings discovered in a variety of deep, hidden, caves, that WE were all created by alien beings (“but who created them?” questions Ms Shaw, ruminating while all hell breaks loose). This is of course Erich von Daniken, whose book, “Chariots of the Gods” published some time ago theorized the same thing: Aliens came down, levitated the stones that created Stonehenge, criss-crossed the world (or the UK at least) with magnetic lines which were used as the routes the Druids took to build their places of worship.

Von Daniken at least suggested that man had already evolved (you now, that Darwinian conceit that Romney voting Americans want to deny). Not so, for deep thinker Scott. His original man (it’s a man… the original, uber Adam), who looks like a giant Mr. Kleen (after all this… it’s come down to the fact that for all these centuries, we’ve been worshipping a detergent!) was the primordial creative force. That is, before he fell into some sort of waterfall and presumably drowned, except that he, or maybe his twin brother was actually decapitated by large octopodia on that distant planet where the hapless crew of the Prometheus, and the audience looking on, find themselves.

Men in Black 3

Barry Sonnenfeld’s “Men in Black 3” is a far cry from the disappointing, vapid MiB2. The usual players are there – Will Smith (who continues to be one of the more watchable actors around) as Agent J; Tommy Lee Jones, as craggy and emotion-less as Mount Rushmore as Agent K; Josh Brolin as the young Agent K, wonderfully channeling Jones; and Emma Thompson as Agent O. (The names nicely set up a joke that when you saw Tommy and Emma together, the pair was OK)

The movie has its fair share of all the good action stuff, with Boris the just-don’t-call-him Animal (Jermaine Clement from the sporadically interesting TV series, “Flight of the Conchords” ) as the bad guy and lots of whiz bang effects. It grippingly swooshes you along. But, unlike 2, this one is built around lots of funny gags and nice set-piece comedy routines that play to the goofy side of Will.

Essentially Sonnenfeld lets Will play funny man to everyone else, all of whom are his straight side-kicks. The stichk works marvelously well; Agent J is presented as really the only human in a team for whom humor, or even human emotion is, you could say, an alien idea.

The story centers around Agent J’s need to go back in time to change the course of events to prevent Boris destroying the world. And along the way, we meet Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg), a choric figure who can see all eventualities of the multiverse unfolding at all times, and who offers a sort of dead-pan sports commentator’s running description of what’s happening, could happen and had happened.

It’s “Run Lola Run” with aliens attached.