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Whom, but my editor, Ernie Grimm, was seated inside Cosmo's in La Mesa, frantically pecking at his laptop, when I dropped in for my morning dose of Joe?

"Did you call the new Woody Allen film 'artless?'" he asked, stopping just long enough to glance up from the screen.

Guilty as charged.

"Someone wrote a letter complaining about your review of his new movie," Ernie said with a grin.

Immediately going on the defensive, I shot back. "How bad is it? Did they make it personal?"

His reply, "Nothing you can't handle," put my mind to rest. Here is what Judy Sarap had to say:

"I appreciate the variety of subjects covered and the fine writing in your publication. The one section that irritates me is the movie reviews. After having read so many of your highly critical movie reviews through the years, it comes across to me that your reviewers feel compelled to find major faults in high-quality movies (to ensure job security, perhaps).

"I just saw Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine tonight, and I wholeheartedly disagree with the reviewer’s comment about Allen’s 'artless' incorporation of a flashback structure. The 'artless' comment is ironic. If there were anything “artless” about Allen’s pictures, why have art house theaters been the primary ones screening Allen’s films through the years?

"Allen’s use of the flashback structure is a highly artistic feature of his films; he employs skillful application that becomes an integral element of the movie, even with flashback moments sort of standing alone as vignettes and reminding us that history repeats itself, not just in the history books but within our own lives.

"Okay, on to the review that has irritated me most: Up, the animated feature reviewed previously by Duncan Shepherd, in which Mr. Shepherd referred to the movie’s music as 'insipid.' His comprehension was shortsighted because the carousel-like quality of the music fit perfectly into the story and punctuated the emotions and experiences of the characters so well."

Judy Sarup via email

I happened upon my first Woody Allen movie, Take the Money and Run, at the tender age of 15. Even then, one of the film's biggest laughs had to be the jarring, 3 Stooges-worthy insert shot of Woody yelling, "Let's get outta' here" during the final bank robbery. The subsequent years have seen a remarkable display of growth as far as Woody the writer and actor goes. When it comes to screen direction and what to do with a camera, I'm reminded of a crack made by Virgil Starkwell's fictional music teacher concerning his student's ability to master the cello: "He had no conception of the instrument. He would blow into it."

I've made it my business to see every Woody Allen film on or before opening day. He's my rabbi, my mentor, and Groucho's heir apparent. What he is not is a great filmmaker.

Remember the famous "Jew eat?" sequence in Annie Hall? This should refresh your memory:

Funny stuff, right? Now watch it again, once without the sound and then with the picture turned off. What is it about the visuals that add to or inform the scene? Nothing. If anything, the static shot distracts from the dialog as we momentarily phase out to scour the frame in search of exactly what it is he wants us to be looking at. Where I come from, we call this dialog-driven, visually bankrupt style of filmmaking "radio."

It's not like Woody's incapable of turning out a masterpiece or three -- Zelig, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Cassandra's Dream come to mind -- nor do I expect him to hit a grand-slam every time he steps up to the plate. Somewhere around A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, the misses began to outweigh the hits. It's been ages since Allen, who, to his credit and many's disbelief, still averages a film a year, has been able to string together back-to-back hits.

Your comment about "flashback moments sort of standing alone as vignettes" in Blue Jasmine only helps to further bolster my assertion that one of the film's major problems is its slapdash structure. We're talking about a Woody Allen picture, not another Lorne Michaels-produced parade of SNL sketches strung together to resemble a feature. Woody inserts flashbacks with the same degree of calculation as a magician's helper returning a card to the deck.

I cannot speak for Duncan, but from what I gather, since his departure from The Reader, there really hasn't been a drastic change in the way things are run here. Every Monday morning Matthew and I receive an email from publisher Jim Holman reminding us that our continued terms of employment hinge solely on our abilities to disparage.

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Comments

monaghan Aug. 8, 2013 @ 4:34 p.m.

Marks, you are a funny guy. It is true that Duncan regularly obfuscated and disparaged, though we always thought it an expression of free will, not divine direction. And we enjoy your hyper-kinetic ADHD style, when we can find your reviews in the system.

As for "Blue Jasmine," I think your criticism of the very confusing flashbacks is right-on. I also didn't appreciate old Woody Allen misogyny toward both Jasmine and her sister Ginger. He expressed no empathy for anyone in the film, really, and the whole thing seemed depressing, devoid of life or trademark levity. Acting carried the film, not the writing.

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Scott Marks Aug. 8, 2013 @ 6:23 p.m.

Does the fact that I'm not in the system even at my home base tell you something?

And I am in the system, dammit! I reviewed 4 of this week's openings and I'll slam "Elysium" on the blog tomorrow.

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dwbat Aug. 8, 2013 @ 5:35 p.m.

Woody has never referred to himself as a great director. In fact, he said he gives himself an overall grade of B for his directing. But not a "great filmmaker," you say? I noticed you didn't mention 2011's "Midnight in Paris," one of the best Woody Allen movies ever. I give it an A+ rating.

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Scott Marks Aug. 8, 2013 @ 6:20 p.m.

My Pantheon of (live-action) comedy directors (in no particular order): Buster Keaton, Ernst Lubitsch, Luis Bunuel, Frank Tashlin, Jacques Tati, Albert Brooks, Preston Sturges, Jerry Lewis.

Woody can't hold a candle to any of them. I love Mel Brooks, too, but on his best day he couldn't get arrested as a great director. They are both funny, extremely gifted writers and performers, but directorial artists they ain't.

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dwbat Aug. 8, 2013 @ 6:48 p.m.

Jerry Lewis is among the truly great talents of Hollywood as an actor and comic. But as a director, not so much. I think only the French rave about his movie directing. Have to agree on Jacques Tati, though. "Mon Oncle" was one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

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Scott Marks Aug. 8, 2013 @ 7:13 p.m.

JL was the best thing movie comedy had going for it in the early '60's and several of the films he (and Tashlin) directed withstand countless viewings. Go watch "The Nutty Professor" again and look at the man's uncanny flair for knowing exactly where to stand in the frame to maximize comedic impact. I cannot praise his work behind the camera enough.

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MrWolf Aug. 8, 2013 @ 10:10 p.m.

It amazes me how many of my friends and how many other critics loved Blue Jasmine. It wasn't very good. Midnight in Paris WAS good, but not great.

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Yankeedoodle Aug. 8, 2013 @ 10:49 p.m.

Decided not to see it. We went to the honeybee movie at the Ken Cinema instead. Really good. Tonight was the last night.

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Scott Marks Aug. 9, 2013 @ 5:01 a.m.

Something tells me that you and a lot of people will wind up seeing it after Cate wins her Oscar. The Academy loves Woody almost as much as they do honoring damaged female characters. Her performance justifies the ticket price.

This week, check out "Fecha de Caducidad" at the Digital Gym. It will put a dark smile on your face.

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Zoo Aug. 9, 2013 @ 10:35 a.m.

This movie has a lot of depth and addresses real social issues not often seen in movies. I refer to class, of course. That is the subject of this movie. The two non-sisters demonstrate the patterns and styles of two different social classes as well as the attitudes of the classes to one another. Allen is concerned with moral issues, as well. That the "higher" class is morally empty and exploitive is the tragedy of this movie. Yes, tragedy, since tragedy includes the fall of an elevated person, so say the Greeks (and also Tennessee Williams in Woody Allen's source material, Streetcar Named Desire.

The women are both more sympathetic than comments suggest. The audience really feels for Jasmine, despite her flaws, and that feeling was palpable in the theatre audience at the end of the movie.

The guys in the movie, c'mon now, are they more honorable, humanitarian or even interesting? Self-centered, greedy and childish overall, I have to say.

One cool touch was the kids. Their incredulous and often reasonable gaze upon the adult world added a wonderful, subtle humor to the human "adult" predicament.

Overall, the movie provoked more thought, stimulation and interesting complexity than most movies we have the opportunity to see.

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Scott Marks Aug. 9, 2013 @ 4:26 p.m.

Five minutes of exposition accompanies every character introduction. This is not quality dialog writing.

Everything you mention is covered in the script, not with a camera. We're watching a movie, not reading a treatment. Shut up for three minutes and show me something!

And don't get me started on his use of 'Scope! Teeter-totter or clothesline? Which composition would you refer? Woody Allen knows how to cover action not structure stories.

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Zoo Aug. 10, 2013 @ 7:27 a.m.

Yes, it was more like a play and it was founded in a play. Allen took a great play and added depth and currency. This movie "showed" us much about people and about American life. He "showed" the lives of the characters in the ways they live--the apartments/houses--and in the relationships with the children and with lovers.

This is an important reason for many of us to attend dramas--the most important reason. Maybe it is not your reason, but as a critic, you may want to open up to the many ways that people can appreciate movies. I read a lot so a film is more compressed for me than my usual experience of stories and information.

As for the structure of the story, I can see how it was oddly jumpy. The narration was intrusive at first, but less so as the film rolled and became part of the total story. That, too, is a old literary technique, e.g., Greek chorus or voice of the narrator, that is employed to raise the awareness of the viewer, stimulate reflection through a layer of distance from the events unfolding. This is the opposite of being bombarded by explosions, asteroids, etc.

The jaws of the entire house dropped when the pivotal scene of the downfall was revealed. And one way to evaluate stories is their impact -- the impact was undeniable.

Often when a person is educated or focused on technical considerations, this very sensitivity can get in the way of the lens that many "regular" filmgoers bring to the experience. Critics may bring their own opinions, plus, hopefully, they will bring to the audience greater understanding of how the film experience was created. My favorite critic is Anthony Lane in the New Yorker whose reviews themselves are not just insightful, but so witty and well crafted as to be an aesthetic experience in the reading.

I suppose anyone who creates for the general public might keep that public in mind.

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