Sunday 13 April 2008

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) - ickleReview (HD)

Woody Allen light comedy set in the early twentieth century. Three couples meet at a country house the day before two of them are to get married. Andrew (Woody Allen) and Adrian (Mary Steenburgen) are the hosts. They are having marital problems and haven't slept with each other for six months. Andrew is a crackpot amateur inventor. The bride and groom are Leopold (Jose Ferrer), a pompous but likeable ass of a philosophy professor, and Ariel (Mia Farrow), a younger woman whom Andrew once knew. The third couple are Maxwell (Tony Roberts), a doctor who seduces his patients - a real ladies' man - who believes that "marriage is the end of hope", and Dulcy (Julie Hagerty - Jane, the air hostess from Airplane! (1980)), a nubile nurse whom he has invited along for the weekend.

One of Andrew's inventions, a spirit ball, appears to upset the couples' relationships and reveal their deeper desires. The inevitable partner-swapping ensues (I would call it "bed-hopping" except that most of the love-making appears to take place outdoors by the brook).

Gordon Willis is the director of photography. The night scenes are shot day-for-night with filters and are pretty unconvincing because of all the sunlight on the leaves and the bright sky (although it's not as bad as those old James Bond movies). There are some clever long takes in the interior as the conversations continue while the characters walk out of shot. In one of them, Andrew and Adrian can be seen talking in the kitchen through their reflection in a mirror. There are some other majestic long shots and a beautiful scene-setting sequence of the countryside flora and fauna in midsummer to the soundtrack of Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 (Scottish) in A Minor. The best laughs are generated by Allen's slapstick: crashing his insane flying machines and falling down the trellis at the side of the house (later repeated by Tony Roberts).

Nugget: a mildly enjoyable light farce, accompanied by the music of Felix Mendelssohn. It has, as far as I can tell, little to do with Shakepseare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (except for the love games, the spirits, and the fact that's it's midsummer in a wood), although Mendelssohn's music of that name does appear on the soundtrack.

The Thin Blue Line (1988) - ickleReview (HD)

Erroll Morris documentary about the murder of a policeman in Dallas County, Texas in November 1976. Morris interviews two suspects from the case, Randall Adams and David Harris, a number of policemen, eyewitnesses, the judge, and the defence lawyers. It's a gripping film. The story of what happened that night keeps changing as new people offer their perspective. There are numerous reconstructions of the murder, slightly adapted to fit each person's account.

Nugget: a grave indictment of the US justice system and a superb documentary.

Shadows and Fog (1992) - ickleReview (HD)

Woody Allen film shot atmospherically in black and white and set presumably sometime in the late nineteenth century. A strangler is committing a series of murders. Woody Allen's character, Kleinman, is co-opted into a vigilante gang to catch the killer. Meanwhile, at the local circus, Irmy, the sword-swallower (Mia Farrow) has an fight with her boyfriend, the clown (John Malkovich), when she finds him making love to the acrobat (Madonna). Irmy runs away and is welcomed into the brothel for a meal. When a group of students arrive, one of them, Jack (John Cusack), persuades her to sleep with him for $700. The other prostitutes include Kathy Bates and Jodie Foster. All the while the killer is on the loose. Also includes brief appearances by John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Julie Kavner (the voice of Marge Simpson), and Donald Pleasance as the doctor who carries out autopsies on the murder victims.

Nugget: mildly amusing, beautifully lit and shot, but not one of Allen's best.

The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) - ickleReview (HD)

Woody Allen film starring Mia Farrow as Cecilia, a movie-loving waitress in Depression-era smalltown New Jersey. Her husband (Danny Aiello) is an unemployed layabout who treats her badly and sometimes beats her. She escapes her dreary life by going to the movies, sometimes watching the same picture over and over again. One particular film, The Purple Rose of Cairo, catches her imagination. She is so lost day-dreaming about the movie world that she is sacked from her job. When watching the picture for the fifth time, one of the characters, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels), steps out of the movie and into the "real" world, having noticed Cecilia in the audience, and runs away with her. This causes an uproar. The cinema manager (Irving Metzman) calls Raoul Hirsh (Alexander Cohen), the film's producer, who then puts pressure on Gil Shepherd (also played by Jeff Daniels), the actor who played Tom Baxter, to find the Tom Baxter who has escaped and get him to go back on screen. Both Tom and Gil fall in love with Cecilia. She has to choose between a perfect fictional person, or the real world.

Nugget: an intriguing scenario that is executed with a light touch. Another one of Allen's period films, capturing the power of the movies as a form of escapism during the 1930s. Quirky stuff. Woody Allen doesn't act in this one.

Sunday 6 April 2008

Charlton Heston's hands are cold and dead (at last)

As is generally the case these days, I learnt of Charlton Heston's death through Facebook a few minutes ago (this also happened with my friends' RIP status updates about Heath Ledger). Wouldn't it have been sweet poetic justice if he had been shot dead by one of those dark-skinned immigrant types? You know, the ones he needed a gun to protect himself against, as he claimed in Bowling for Columbine? "From my cold, dead hands," eh?

Carbon Commentary, issue 9

Chris Goodall has changed the way he writes Carbon Commentary. Instead of publishing six articles together in a newsletter every fortnight, he writes them as irregular blog posts as and when the need arises. This is because he is busy writing another book: Ten Technologies to Save the Planet. The articles are still being collected and sent as a newsletter, and this week I produced the latest issue. It contains pieces on recent trends in UK domestic electricity consumption; the adverse effect that the government's active support for nuclear power is having on the prospects for offshore wind; BT's inaccurate claims about the power consumption of its home phones; the overblown promises of a company raising money to build ethanol-from-wheat refineries; and a report on a presentation given by scientist Roy Spencer to a conference of climate change sceptics.

You can read the newsletter in its excerpted format here; or download the printer-friendly PDF version here.

Friday 4 April 2008

Alice (1990) - ickleReview (DVD)

An on-the-whole serious Woody Allen film starring Mia Farrow as Alice, the wife of a rich New Yorker (William Hurt). Her life is luxurious and comfortable. She has servants, a maid to look after her two young children, never has to worry about money, goes shopping on Madison Avenue whenever she likes, and has a personal trainer to keep her fit. However, one day she meets a striking dark-haired man (Joe Mantegna) when picking the kids up from school and can't stop fantasizing about him. She visits Dr Yang, a China Town acupuncturist, to treat her back pain, but he hypnotizes her and she begins to talk about her feelings for Joe, this strange dark-haired man. Over a number of visits, Dr Yang gives her his infamous herbs, which in turn act as an aphrodisiac, make her invisible, summon ghosts from her past (Alec Baldwin plays the ghost of a former boyfriend, Ed), and cause men to fall in love with her.

On the surface, there's the same old Woody Allen plot line of extra-marital affairs, a sister who has taken a different course in life (Blythe Danner), someone who wants to become a writer, and so on. There is a brilliant short comic appearance by Bernadette Peters as Alice's Muse, who even has a pair of trademark Woody Allen thick plastic black-rimmed glasses.

Nugget: a good example of Allen's ability to make semi-serious films, even if some of the plot mechanics (Dr Yang's herbs) are a little bit of movie magic. Features a cameo by Elle Macpherson as a shopper in the Madison Avenue Ralph Lauren store.