20 September 2019.
A RAINY DAY IN NEW YORK ****
As a steadfast Woody Allen fan, for his continued genius and imagination in over fifty years of annual gifts to his devoted cinephiles, I was overjoyed at the release – finally – of his latest opus. It is nostalgic, funny, melancholy and so Allen-ish astute.
Of course it is typical of much of his work – full of angst-ridden characters, spouting with references to his intellectual idols, scatterings of witty repartee, and beautiful cinematography (by his regular cameraman, Vittorio Storaro) in a tongue-in-cheek reverie which will have you longing for this luminous, illusory Big Apple seen through Woody’s mature eyes.
Typical yes, but as I have written before – Allen’s work is exactly that – a repetitive diamond, with each new film simply another facet of that diamond. The same tone, along with bits and pieces of his own life, his own musings, but each time with a new angle. A few have been duds, but that’s inevitable with such a large body of work, though this latest is back in his hometown and one of his most delightful.
It’s the story of a weekend in New York… The tale is simple yet intricate, like a giddy maze, with an array of amusing characters jumping into the scenario along the way.
A college couple have planned a romantic weekend in New York City. The girl (Elle Fanning) is an amateur journalist excited about interviewing a top film director, while her partner (Timothée Chalamet) has planned to wine and dine her in style, for he is from a rich family and keeps winning high at poker games. But she keeps him dangling as she becomes fascinated by the director (Liev Schreiber), his scriptwriter (Jude Law) and a bonafide Latino movie star (Diego Luna).
In the meantime her supposed partner, who is the narrator of the story, is questioning his existence and his future, a both Allen-esque and Holden Caldwell figure. Played by a charming Chalamet, he is the philosophical crux of this romantic comedy which sets you on this carousel of characters and their hangups. It’s an enthralling ride.
And all this in a blissful 92 minutes.
A few words about Allen’s personal problems, beyond his professional genius: A man is innocent until proven guilty. Remember, “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…”. And a person’s art should not be judged by his life, otherwise we’d be throwing out Caravaggios along with many other great artists’ works.
AD ASTRA **
Director James Gray started off making gritty, somber crime films about his hometown New York City – “Little Odessa”, “TheYards”, “Two Lovers”. They were relationship dramas that created an intense mood of family ties, along with tragedies in the stark differences between the siblings.
Now that he’s gone off into this futuristic space adventure starring (and produced by) Brad Pitt, there is that lingering notion of family, this time between an estranged father and son, both astronauts. But the intensity is lost, replaced by this cold tale of a mission gone wrong by the father (Tommy Lee Jones) some decades ago, and the son being sent out to not only resolve the problem, but save the world which is under cosmic shocks from outer space. Don’t ask…
Closer to the static feel of “2001 A Space Odyssey”, rather than the gripping excitement of “Gravity” or “The Martian”, this film, which had its international opening at the Venice film fest, seems a mishmash of Malick-ian narration, filial loyalty and unexplained ease in future space travel to the Moon, Mars and Neptune, where the father may still be alive.
There are a few incidences along the way, which feel contrived (the inexplicable chase on Mars, and those apes on the Swedish spaceship?!) rather than exciting or inevitable. And the space rescue looks far too easy after three decades rather than heroic. It just feels dull and tiresome. No, this should not be Oscar material.
THE GOLDFINCH (Le Chadonneret) *1/2
I have not read the book, but this mess of an adaptation certainly cannot be worthy of the best-selling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Donna Tartt.
Neither Nicole Kidman as the adoptive mother, nor Ansel Elgort (who was electrifying in “Baby Driver”) as the grownup Theo, can save this convoluted melodrama about a boy who loses his mother at a bombing in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and escapes with the priceless Goldfinch painting.
His many trials and tribulations are piled on heavily, and too many threads are woven together here, few of them really relevant to the sweet thirteen year-old, played by Oakes Fegley, the only shining light in this tale.
How could John Crowley, the director who made the superlative film “Brooklyn” back in 2015, make such a dud this time? The culprit here, along with a few miscast characters, is mainly the badly written and conceived screenplay, which is after all the vertebrae of any successful film. A pity indeed.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.