This Week in Geek (22-28/09/14)


Got a couple of DVDs this week (been DVD-waiting these shows, because I can't be trusted to watch weekly TV): How I Met Your Mother Season 9 and Castle Season 6.


DVDs: In Woody Allen's most recent period of film making, there's definitely a sense that half the films at least are part of a series, and I understand them as exploring the same themes. I watched three of these this week, which I'd put in the same "series" as Midnight in Paris and perhaps even Magic in the Moonlight. Essentially, each film is shot in a different European city/region, and that place's romantic qualities - its spirit, if you will - becomes part and parcel of the action. At the very least, these films are a cinematic travelogue of beautifully-photographed places, but the locations inspire characters, themes and elements of fantasy as well. Another theme that runs throughout is infidelity - sometimes disastrous, others harmless - which may prove an annoying fascination for some viewers. In order of release then... Match Point (2005) isn't typically "Woody Allen" because it doesn't trade as much on charm and humor as most others; it's a drama/romance that takes a sharp, cynical turn at the end. But then, it's shot in a cynical modern London, where the prettiness is all outside of town, and modernity cold and incongruous. It makes sense for the lead character, a tennis instructor with lofty ambitions and the opportunity to marry into money, would so ruthlessly pursue progress. He is his city. The greater theme is luck, and how much it plays a part in one's success (or lack thereof), with a tennis metaphor well used to bring about the lead's final fate. Is London also a city on the tipping point, between ancient romanticism and amoral modernity? The ball is still in the air. As usual, Allen assembles an all-star cast, including Matthew Goode, Brian Cox, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer and Penelope Wilton (is it wrong of me to be so distracted by a Mark Gatiss cameo though?), so expect strong performances. Is it a likable film? No. Is it a respectable effort? I think so.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) takes us to Spain, where Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) meet a real live Casanova (Javier Bardem) who invites them into his bed, one where his disturbed ex-wife (Penélope Cruz) could show up in with a knife any time. The sense of place is again flawless, trading on Spain's most romantic qualities. How will these impact women of a different temperament? Vicky, who seeks comfort and stability, and Cristina, who favors spontaneity and novelty. Both will find something to love in this man, and both will find their world view distorted into a new shape, which is really the point of setting most of the film in Gaudi's Barcelona. To an outsider, like Vicki's husband, the women's feelings are incomprehensible. They make no sense. One must have Gaudi's eye to accept these illogical permutations. Cruz steals the show however, with a visceral performance well worthy of the Oscar she got for it. Fierce and sexy.

To Rome with Love (2012) is more haphazard, but again, I want to go back to the city itself and what it's particular mystique is. We're told from the outset that everyone in Rome, natives, tourists and students alike, have a story, and we're told four of these. They never connect, and one gets the impression Allen could have released them as shorts. But we're told Rome is too big, both spatially and temporally, to really be abbreviated to a single element, which perhaps led to this exploration of several facets. It's also the most "Woody Allen" movie I watched this week, with several comic neurotics vying for time, one of them he plays himself. Of the four tales, my favorite has Alec Baldwin visit a version of himself (Jesse Eisenberg) in the past (I love the magical realism of it still taking place in modern Rome, because the city is timeless) about to make a mistake with his girlfriend's best friend (Ellen Page). I think it needed a button to get Baldwin back to normal life though. Maybe. I'm not sure about that. The other stories include a mortician who would become an opera singer if only he could sing it in the shower, newlyweds separated in the bustling city who come across temporary lovers, and Roberto Benigni as a boring ordinary man who absurdly becomes the prey of paparazzi, famous overnight. The last two stories are entirely in Italian; it's not all "tourists in Italy". The comedy will bring smiles more than laughs (though Judy Davis' psychologist humor is pretty funny), but ultimately, To Rome with Love feels a little patchy and unfinished. That may be the point, but it doesn't make it entirely satisfying. Still a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours though. The DVD includes a short making of that talks to a number of people in the cast and crew, illuminating how Allen works with actors (or really, gives them a lot of liberty), but he won't speak to the camera himself.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All


Toby'c said...

How I Met Your Mother season 9 was pretty consistently excellent, especially when The Mother was in the episode. The finale will probably make you angry, though.

Siskoid said...

That's what I hear, and why I slipped a mention of spoilers in there before people piled on with their criticism or defenses :)

Siskoid said...

See my capsule review out today, Toby'c, to see how I was NOT AT ALL angry.


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