January 14, 2008

Cassandra's Dream.

Cassandra's Dream "If it can't be determined which [Woody] Allen has shown up - the Greek dramaturge or Borscht Belt shtick-meister - then the film that follows is bound to be a tedious affair," warns Chris Barsanti in Film Journal International. "In a nutshell, this is the first and most serious problem with his newest London effort, Cassandra's Dream, an alternately portentous and trivial drama about a couple of scheming brothers who get in over their heads when a morally compromised relative makes them an offer they can't refuse."

Updated through 1/18.

"The third entrant in Woody Allen's now ended European sojourn, Cassandra's Dream proves the weakest thus far of the de facto quadrilogy that also includes Match Point, Scoop and next summer's Vicky Cristina Barcelona," writes Robert Levin at cinemaattraction. "This past summer Allen eulogized Ingmar Bergman in a New York Times Op-Ed, and it may be no coincidence that his latest feels like a warmed-over, superficial version of one of the Swedish master's morality plays. It's a stern, serious movie that explores weighty themes regarding death and moral turpitude, but it weaves through them hastily and without the nuance usually characteristic of the director."

David Denby, writing in the New Yorker, finds it "stalled by overexplicitness and chattiness, and, as in the past, I'm not convinced that [Allen] has a good ear for British speech. Londoners tend to talk glancingly, but these two brothers, like anxious New Yorkers, spell everything out, argue over every point—the same scene seems to be playing over and over in different locations. Still, Cassandra's Dream has some fine moments."

"Would that Allen stopped playing by his own presumptuous and unimaginative training book," writes Ed Gonzalez in Slant. "Another retread for the filmmaker, Cassandra's Dream may as well have been called Match, Point, Set, only this one has Allen evincing an even shoddier backhand."

At Cinematical, Ryan Stewart passes along news that Allen and Scarlett Johansson will be teaming up again, this time for a segment in the omnibus film New York, I Love You.

In Variety, Ed Meza reports on Constantin Film's decision to skip a theatrical release in Germany and go straight to DVD.

Online listening tip. Scott Simon talks with Allen on NPR.

Earlier: Reviews from Venice and Toronto.

Updates, 1/15: "Cassandra's Dream isn't an aggressively bad movie like the tone-deaf Scoop and Hollywood Ending (2002); it's merely a monotonous one that lacks the mordant humor, Highsmithian intrigue, and rippling sexuality that made Match Point his strongest work in a decade," writes Scott Foundas in the Voice.

"In standup comedy terms, he's not really writing new material, he's just reshuffling how he delivers his old stuff, and his delivery, in this case, is agreeable, if fairly predictable," writes Matt Singer at IFC News.

Update, 1/16: "While [Ewan] McGregor and [Colin] Farrell both give terrific performances here, all of their scenes for the latter half of the movie boil down to some variant of 'We have to do this' / 'I don't think I can do this' banter that quickly grows tiresome and repetitive," writes Alonso Duralde for MSNBC. "[Tom] Wilkinson's appearance in the film is all too brief, but the intense scene in a rainy park (wonderfully shot by Vilmos Zsigmond) in which he lays the facts for his nephews and demands their allegiance gives the film a much-needed jolt of adrenaline."

Update, 1/17: "The ideas at play here are less interesting and less developed than those of a film like Match Point, whose distinctly earthbound, morally disordered and completely random universe had no room for anything as hackneyed and high-flown as hubris or karmic retribution," writes the Reeler. "What holds the shaky girders of this film - which itself seems to reach beyond its means - together is the development of the rift between Ian and Terry, largely driven by Farrell's increasingly tormented performance."

"It's wearying to watch Allen's murder obsession when he doesn't know how to dramatize morality," sighs Armond White in the New York Press.

"[T]ake a step or two back from Allen's overfamiliarity, plus the unevenness of his recent films, and it becomes clear that taking him for granted is foolish." Dennis Harvey writes up a top ten for SF360.

"MTV recently spoke to Allen about the rumors regarding another possible project with muse-of-the-moment Scarlett Johansson," writes Jessica Barnes at Cinematical. "Turns out Page Six had it all wrong and there is no New York, I Love You film that will reunite the actress and director for the third time in a row." Well, actually, the film is in the works, but maybe without Allen's participation.

Online listening tip. Allen's a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates, 1/18: "Cassandra's Dream, Woody Allen's latest excursion to the dark side of human nature, is good enough that you may wonder why he doesn't just stop making comedies once and for all," writes Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Like Mr Allen's instrumental visual style - lots of two-shots, simple moves - Mr McGregor's easygoing turn takes time getting used to, partly because, as is almost always the case with this director, the actor seems to have been left to his own devices. But the performance sticks like a knife. It delivers force and feeling, as does Mr Farrell, whose gentleness has rarely been used so effectively."

"It has gotten to the point where it's almost impossible to review Woody Allen's movies," writes Salon's Stephanie Zacharek. "They've become practically forces of nature, dreary, drizzly affairs that show up unbidden on the landscape. I know no one who looks forward to them; I know few people who even bother to see them....Pictures like the preachy Match Point and now Cassandra's Dream leave a medicinal, metallic aftertaste. I sometimes suspect Allen's true aim is to leave us either feeling punished and ground down or comfortably superior to the characters on-screen. Neither makes for great art, or even for piddling art."

"[L]ove it or hate it, Allen has crafted something unique," argues Bilge Ebiri in Nerve. "Cassandra's Dream is not a realistic film, but it's not trying to be.... [E]ven in the twilight of his career, Allen remains a master of tone."

"Perched uncomfortably between thriller and melodrama, it's a film that hints at possibilities that are left unfulfilled," sighs Kevin Crust in the Los Angeles Times. "It follows a fairly predictable plot that at times threatens to be energized by the introduction of a twist, only to return to a narrative path so straight that it signals its intentions scenes in advance."

For the AV Club's Scott Tobias, "the Allen of today is a husk of his former self, and his apathy and disengagement are painfully apparent."

"The relentless monotony of the film's inevitable conclusion leaves the audience to hope that the film's one relief - the final credits - will come sooner than it seems," writes Meghan Keane in the New York Sun.

"One of the surprises is the presence of an original score by Philip Glass," notes the LA CityBeat's Andy Klein. "Since the mid-70s, Allen has almost always used preexisting music on his soundtracks, occasionally supplemented with incidental music from longtime collaborator Dick Hyman; he has never used a composed, orchestral score before. Glass's work is creepy and ominous from the beginning; it helps keep the tension up through the film's first third."

"There was a time in his career when Allen's lurches toward seriousness seemed to a lot of people unearned," writes Richard Schickel in Time. "He himself satirized that take on those films as early as 1980's Stardust Memories. But he's over 70 now - difficult as that is for some of us to believe - and he has fully earned the right to address us in any voice he chooses. Here its volume is turned down low. But if you lean in a bit you can hear it saying intricate and interesting things about the way class, character and morality operate in a realistically rendered milieu that is new for him and, in the context of this movie moment, quite gripping for us."

"Allen's text may be coroner-cold, but his camera is having a lot of fun," writes Steven Boone at the House Next Door. "The prowling, watchful, slightly mocking eye that he perfected long ago in Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Husbands and Wives (one of the great 'handheld' movies) is still kicking here. Thankfully, Allen's cast appears to be having just as much fun - or at least meeting the challenges he presents in several virtuoso ensemble scenes with sleeves rolled up."

"Cassandra's Dream is not unredeemably bad," writes Slate's Dana Stevens. "MacGregor and Farrell hack away at their implausible dialogue with admirable intensity (though when Terry starts to descend into mental illness, Farrell touches his limits as an actor)." Still, "These characters not only don't talk like working-class Londoners, they don't talk like anyone, except maybe a sententious drunk spinning theories about 'life': 'It's funny how life boils down to this.' ' Life is nothing if not totally ironic.' 'The whole of human life is about violence.' ' Funny how life has a life of its own.'"

For Eric Alt, writing in Premiere, this is "an experience that not only feels nothing like Woody Allen, it feels like nothing at all."

Cineaste has gone ahead and posted Cynthia Lucia's interview with Allen from its forthcoming Spring issue.

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Posted by dwhudson at January 14, 2008 7:17 AM