Sunday, March 26, 2017

Café Society

Year 9, Day 85 - 3/26/17 - Movie #2,579

BEFORE: I ran out of Michael Caine movies, and I can't hold out for "Going in Style", even though that would have made some sense, with both Caine and Morgan Freeman carrying over.  So I'm following the Jesse Eisenberg link - I already watched one movie this year with him and Kristen Stewart ("American Ultra") and I guess I had hopes that this recent Woody Allen film would have run on cable by that point - only that was pre-Oscars, and I think mostly films that are in contention for Academy Awards don't premiere on cable until after the ceremony, just in case they might win, in which case they take longer to appear on premium cable, and probably get to negotiate a higher price for that.

As it is, I needed to borrow an Academy screener from one of my bosses (both of whom are Academy members).  I'm trying not to make a habit out of this, because it takes some of the sport out of tracking down movies, but I can do this on occasion, especially if a film takes too long (in my opinion) to air - where is "Spotlight", for example?  That won Best Picture over a year ago, and hasn't been on premium cable yet.

I haven't seen Woody Allen's last two films yet, and I hate to watch them out of order, but the linking is telling me to watch this one now, and maybe save "Irrational Man" for later in the year.  I can't be sure this is the right move, only time will tell.

THE PLOT: In the 1930's, a Bronx native moves to Hollywood and falls in love with a young woman who is seeing a married man.

AFTER: Well, I said I wanted to watch more modern films, and although this is a more RECENT film, there's scarcely anything modern about it - mostly because it's set back in the 1930's.  We get it, Woody Allen, you like jazz - I guess he ran out of ways to incorporate jazz into the background, so he had to make a whole movie set in the Jazz Age.  In fact, it seems weird to hear a character in the 1930's say something like "I love jazz!" because wasn't that the only music that they had?  It would be strange for someone back then to NOT like jazz because they'd essentially be saying that they hated music, and that's just not possible, right?  So why would anyone proclaim "I love jazz!" when it would, more or less, go without saying?

It's kind of odd that I recently finished a long chain with Fred Astaire, and then in this film, the lead character leaves New York to get a job with his uncle, who's an agent in L.A. and the first thing he does in town is go see the movie "Swing Time".  And then the central plot concerns a love triangle that feels like it's straight out of an Astaire/Rogers film.  I won't say here who's involved in the triangle, because many people may not have seen this film yet, and these are facts that the movie slowly reveals - over a loooonnnng period of time.  It's almost agonizing that one character figures it out, then a second - it's like pulling teeth.

Then I watched a Michael Caine chain, and of course Caine starred in my favorite Woody Allen film, "Hannah and Her Sisters", and this chain included "Sweet Liberty" with Alan Alda, who starred in another of his films, "Everybody Says I Love You".  Maybe this is what made me feel like the time was right to get to Woody's most recent film.

I also couldn't help but notice callbacks to earlier Woody films - the Jewish NY family reminded me of the one from "Radio Days", and the man deciding to convert from Judaism to Christianity just so he could believe in an afterlife sort of mirrored a similar crisis of faith seen in "Hannah and Her Sisters".  I guess once you direct over 45 features, you've got no choice over whether you start repeating yourself.

But there's something about this film's pacing that's way off - there are strange pauses in the lines, especially the ones spoken by Kristen Stewart.  Example: "I'm going to come over and cook you some (large pause) spaghetti." What the hell was that pause doing there?  Did she forget what her character wanted to cook?  Were they unable to do another take so she could complete the line in a timely fashion, so it would resemble human speech?  Or was that the best take that existed, God forbid.

I'm not convinced that she even belongs in a Woody Allen film, she doesn't seem to fit in.  Jesse Eisenberg sure seems at home, and Steve Carell I'll allow, but Stewart just seems all wrong in this setting. I heard he directed some Amazon series with Miley Cyrus too, I think he just likes working with younger and prettier, but kinda screwed-up women.  And there's just no way THAT could go south...

The overall pacing's also off, because there are two stories running concurrently, the adventures of Bobby Dorfman in Hollywood, and his brother Ben's criminal activities in New York.  Now, editing logic demands that eventually these two plot lines are going to converge, but again, the film takes its own sweet time in getting there - I was starting to question whether the storylines were ever going to have any relationship to each other at all.

Look, who am I to tell Woody Allen who to work with, or how to structure a film?  The guy's got an amazing track record, but I'm just not feeling like this is one of his best.  His filmography has gone through highs and lows before, and of course that's all subjective and different people may have different opinions about which are which, but this is no "Annie Hall" or "Radio Days" - hell, this isn't even as good as "Small Time Crooks".  Which makes me wonder how much longer Woody's going to keep making films, since he's 81 now and his filmmaking magic seems like it might be on the decline again.

NITPICK POINT: Oddly, both "Now You See Me 2" and this film feature scenes set on New Year's Eve, and they both made the same mistake.  It seems like film directors don't understand the world's time zones, because in "Now You See Me 2" they cut from 12:00 midnight in London to Sydney, Australia, where the sky was also dark.  But it should have been daytime in Sydney when it's midnight in London.  "Café Society" similarly shows two people celebrating New Year's Eve, but one's in New York and the other's in L.A.  They just wouldn't be experiencing midnight at the same time, one would celebrate it three hours ahead of the other.

Also starring Kristen Stewart (last seen uncredited in "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas"), Steve Carell (last heard in "Minions"), Blake Lively (last seen in "Savages"), Parker Posey (last seen in "The Sweetest Thing"), Corey Stoll (last seen in "Ant-Man"), Jeannie Berlin (last seen in "Inherent Vice"), Ken Stott (last seen in "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"), Anna Camp (last seen in "Pitch Perfect 2"), Paul Schneider (last seen in "The Family Stone"), Sheryl Lee (last seen in "Wild at Heart"), Stephen Kunken (last seen in "Still Alice"), Sari Lennick, with cameos from Richard Portnow, Don Stark (last seen in "Maverick"), Tony Sirico (last seen in "The Pick-Up Artist"), and narration by Woody Allen (last seen in "To Rome with Love")

RATING: 4 out of 10 menial errands

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