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Essential: ANNIE HALL (1977)

 

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The first time I watched ANNIE HALL was about twenty years ago. It was the only time I watched it, too…until this week. There were things I had remembered, like Diane Keaton’s tennis playing; the riotous coke snorting scene; and the jabs about life in Los Angeles. Plus there were things I had forgotten, like the crazy way she drove; and his bumper car past. All the old feelings I had about Annie & Alvy returned along with other stuff that suddenly came to the surface.

 

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I wonder what Woody Allen must think when he watches this film now. He’s changed as an artist and as a human being since 1977. I hope he sees how free and experimental he was as a filmmaker; and what a character he truly was; before he became a little more tired with the world. I can only imagine what kind of child he was during his formative years– the child is very much at play in ANNIE HALL, creating and formulating a unique cinematic text.

 

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Something that helps the film stand out is the sheer spontaneity of its cast. Allen, Keaton and costar Tony Roberts had worked together on the stage and movie versions of Play It Again, Sam. They have a good collaborative energy together, where they seem to ad lib yet are able to stay within the parameters of the story. As a result, there are some genuinely effective scenes like the aforementioned tennis and a bit where they’re driving around L.A. going to a party at some important person’s home. And since the film has a lot of semi-autobiographical elements, it’s like a neatly mapped out reality show. I say the word ‘neatly’ because Alvy doesn’t like the word ‘neat,’ but Annie and I both do. (She and I are both from Wisconsin–Annie’s from Chippewa Falls, and I grew up in Fairchild, an hour away.)

 

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The experimentation sometimes interferes with the story, but mostly it’s of great assistance. Split scenes with characters at separate dinner tables contrast the different family backgrounds of Annie and Alvy. Also, simultaneous therapy sessions seem to be mirror a conflicted sexual relationship that threatens to divide the couple. And the two are with Roberts in a scene where an outspoken relative talks about her youthful carefree days, as they observe and talk ‘directly’ to her from behind. It’s like a cinematic tableau with impressionistic dots of theatre. Allen also finds time to inject references to other films that have philosophical angles which merge into the realm these characters inhabit.

 

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It’s all very interesting, and yet the final scene where Annie and Alvy meet up again and part company gives itself over to sweet nostalgia and a sincerity that I think is a real reflection of Keaton and Allen’s feelings of friendship towards her. As I listened to her sing, and the traffic flowed and the credits came up, I got this feeling that Alvy and Annie live beyond the final fadeout. It doesn’t matter if another twenty years go by before I see them again. They will still be there.

 

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ANNIE HALL can be streamed on Amazon Prime. It is also airing on TCM Sunday January 8, 2017.

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Some movies (and TV shows) define the period they were made. ANNIE HALL is as much a product of the seventies as the earlier 1930-50s set THE WAY WE WERE and the later contemporary AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and KRAMER VS. KRAMER are, focusing on strongly independent people trying to succeed at relationships. This is the core of the ME Decade. The sixties AND seventies was a period when many were fighting to have an identity: women who didn't want to be just housewives and mothers, the oppressed blacks and Native Americans, gays and lesbians fighting against the derogatory "deviant" accusation, etc. By 1976 Bicentennial Year, you saw how popular culture had no specific "fashion trend" apart from women wearing pants like men and sporting their own unique hair styles... and Diane Keaton wearing a tie. She was clearly a woman who was not identifying herself THROUGH a man like her mother and others of the previous generation. In the infamous sex scene when she has a "out of body" experience, the two are so focused on themselves that they struggle relating to each other and what the other wants. Of course, both have shrinks helping them learn more about ME.

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Some movies (and TV shows) define the period they were made. ANNIE HALL is as much a product of the seventies as the earlier 1930-50s set THE WAY WE WERE and the later contemporary AN UNMARRIED WOMAN and KRAMER VS. KRAMER are, focusing on strongly independent people trying to succeed at relationships. This is the core of the ME Decade. The sixties AND seventies was a period when many were fighting to have an identity: women who didn't want to be just housewives and mothers, the oppressed blacks and Native Americans, gays and lesbians fighting against the derogatory "deviant" accusation, etc. By 1976 Bicentennial Year, you saw how popular culture had no specific "fashion trend" apart from women wearing pants like men and sporting their own unique hair styles... and Diane Keaton wearing a tie. She was clearly a woman who was not identifying herself THROUGH a man like her mother and others of the previous generation. In the infamous sex scene when she has a "out of body" experience, the two are so focused on themselves that they struggle relating to each other and what the other wants. Of course, both have shrinks helping them learn more about ME.

 

Great comment. Don't you think in a way Allen is spoofing the on-going process of psychoanalysis? That's the impression I get. Also, I found it quite revealing when we saw the families in the dinner table scene(s)-- showing us how the combined neurosis of Alvy & Annie is probably a product of their respective environments. Incidentally, Chris Walken was perfectly cast in an early role as Annie's deranged brother. I almost wanted to see a whole movie with that guy!

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Great comment. Don't you think in a way Allen is spoofing the on-going process of psychoanalysis? That's the impression I get. Also, I found it quite revealing when we saw the families in the dinner table scene(s)-- showing us how the combined neurosis of Alvy & Annie is probably a product of their respective environments. Incidentally, Chris Walken was perfectly cast in an early role as Annie's deranged brother. I almost wanted to see a whole movie with that guy!

 

Ha ha! Woody used movies to help his psychoanalysis, not unlike many of us.

 

 

 

This was the ME decade. All about ME. The guy behind them is all about MY opinion ("It's a free country!") even when it conflicts with Alvie's opinion... and Marshall McLuhan's.

 

However I was always a bit confused about how THE SORROW & THE PITY fit in. The title pops up after "If only life was like this". That great documentary covers a France in 1940-44 that had two conflicting personalities: one that obeyed the country (Nazi Germany) in power and one that rebelled (with the Resistance). The French citizens AFTER the war recreated their own pasts. Many who were on the former side insisted they "helped" the latter when it was no longer kosher to admit the truth. Maurice Chevalier talks all "innocent" in the beginning and end of that film, making you wonder which side he was really on. This duality of personalities in each character does carry through ANNIE HALL I guess... like the way dirty New York contrasts with sanitized Los Angeles... and we see Diane/Annie and Woody/Alvie often splitting into two "halves" in conflict with each other.

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...I was always a bit confused about how THE SORROW & THE PITY fit in. The title pops up after "If only life was like this". That great documentary covers a France in 1940-44 that had two conflicting personalities: one that obeyed the country (Nazi Germany) in power and one that rebelled (with the Resistance). The French citizens AFTER the war recreated their own pasts. Many who were on the former side insisted they "helped" the latter when it was no longer kosher to admit the truth. Maurice Chevalier talks all "innocent" in the beginning and end of that film, making you wonder which side he was really on. This duality of personalities in each character does carry through ANNIE HALL I guess... like the way dirty New York contrasts with sanitized Los Angeles... and we see Diane/Annie and Woody/Alvie often splitting into two "halves" in conflict with each other.

 

I didn't read too much into his inclusion of this film. I thought it was an homage to the times he and Keaton went to see European films. He said she was like a muse to him, a film teacher almost, exposing him to directors and styles he had not really considered before. So when we have Annie & Alvy attending these screenings, we're getting a more 'refined' aspect of their relationship.

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In HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, the movie DUCK SOUP plays into his overall theme of life.

 

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS is also airing tomorrow night on TCM. I will be reviewing it later this month. I've never seen it and am looking forward to it.

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It isn't as good as ANNIE HALL, but it is still fun and invites comparisons. Especially for TCM fans with a LOT of familiar stars involved. Lloyd Nolan has his final (or near final) appearance.

 

Maureen O'Sullivan (Mia Farrow's mom) is also in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS.

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Essential: INTERIORS (1978)

 

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INTERIORS marked a turning point in the career of its director, Woody Allen. Until he made this film, he primarily focused his efforts on comical situations. But INTERIORS and its subject matter are no laughing matter; and Allen’s work, inspired by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, pushes him into a new realm. He does not act in this picture; and he has hired some of Broadway’s best for the main roles. These include E.G. Marshall and Geraldine Page as a divorcing couple; Maureen Stapleton as the new woman Marshall meets and marries; and three grown daughters with their own problems, played by Diane Keaton; Mary Beth Hurt; and Kristin Griffith.

 

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In many respects, it’s Page who drives the narrative– sending the material into a deep emotional abyss. Only a very skilled actress can go into such a despairing pit with the full confidence that someone else will lift it up at the end. Ultimately, Stapleton is the one who does that, since she portrays the antithesis of Page’s character. Throughout the film, Page and Stapleton both work at cross-purposes.

 

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Allen spends a fair amount of time setting up the basic situation, and it isn’t until a third of the way into the film when we experience our first real jolt. It comes when Page learns her husband is bailing on the marriage, and she is forced to accept a life alone. One evening she turns the gas oven on, and puts masking tape around the windows. She intends to kill herself, but somehow she doesn’t quite succeed and survives. The scenes that follow show how the daughters deal with their mother’s instability which can no longer be hidden or denied.

 

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Despite such a tragic turn of events there will be no reconciliation between Page and Marshall. He is moving ahead with plans to marry Stapleton. Page goes missing for the next part of the story, as the daughters adjust to their father’s remarriage and the need to get to know his new wife. But at the family’s beach house, another jolt is about to occur when Page shows up.

 

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The last sequence is particularly powerful. Page again attempts suicide and this time she succeeds. The youngest daughter (Hurt)– the one who was the most disapproving of the stepmother– goes down to the beach to try and prevent Page from drowning. She’s too late and almost drowns herself. In the next scene, we see Stapleton rushing down to the water to help. She performs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. We’re left with the realization that one mother took every last bit of energy out of the family; and the other one gave it new life.

 

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INTERIORS can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

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Essential: HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

 

We were visiting my grandparents in Chicago one year, and this was the first movie I remember my family renting at a video store. It was my grandmother’s idea; she and my aunt had heard from one of their friends it was supposed to be a good film. My mother who had fled Chicago years earlier for life as a farmwife in Wisconsin had no real interest in it. However, she was stuck watching it and spared us kids from having to sit through a similar fate by sending us out to play in the backyard. I wish I had been allowed to watch it, just so I could see what women like my grandmother and aunt would have liked about it. At any rate, I did not finally view it until just this week.
 

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An interesting thing about having to wait over thirty years to see a movie is that you do see it with wiser eyes. All the 80s-isms are there, and if I had seen it when it was new, it would have been too contemporary. Looking at it now and seeing Woody Allen mention Reagan, nuclear weapons and Catholics who want prayer in school kind of makes me nostalgic for life in 1986. Also, it’s ironic when he talks about things being made to serve an audience that will someday be dead– in this movie, several of the performers are already gone (most recently Carrie Fisher). Probably a lot of the people who saw it back then are now dead.
 

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The characters and what they represent will never die. Of course Hannah is really Mia Farrow and the sisters (played by Dianne Wiest and Barbara Hershey) represent Mia’s own real-life sisters. Not only is today’s viewer glimpsing a time capsule from the mid-80s, he/she is also seeing this particular family (the Farrows) being depicted at a certain time in their own unique history. Adding to the pseudo-documentary aspect of the “story” is the fact that Maureen O’Sullivan, Mia’s own mother, is cast as her character’s mother in the film. Of course, they had all read Allen’s script before they consented to being in a “reality” tale about their own off-screen lives– so they knew what they were getting into, right?
 

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While Mia is playing herself as Hannah, we have Michael Caine playing her husband. Obviously, this is a stand-in for Allen himself, though technically he never married Mia Farrow. He’s lusting after one of her sisters, which is probably confessional on some level, since I would imagine Allen lusted after or even possibly had an affair with one of Mia’s own sisters (it gets complicated when you factor in his later relationship with Mia’s adopted daughter). On top of all this, Allen is playing a guy named Mickey, who is probably himself in the future, since he’s playing the ex-husband of Mia/Hannah. Allen did not eventually marry one of Farrow’s own sisters (represented by Wiest’s character), so we can say this story did not ultimately come true. At some point it was only an exercise in Allen’s imagination.
 

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Putting it all into some sort of cosmic perspective, we get Allen on screen playing out scenes where he thinks he might have a brain tumor. Later he learns he is not dying, yet ironically, after he is home free, he contemplates shooting himself. I would guess these were real things from Allen’s own life, where it’s a fine line between frenzied comedy and actual neurosis playing itself out. His related search for meaning in alternate religions, besides Judaism, are very likely a seriocomic grappling of his own crises of faith. With Woody Allen, we get a fantastic sense of make-believe but reflecting on the surface are easy-to-see truths that betray the fictionalized elements.
 

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I think what this film has going in its favor is the way it celebrates family. The Thanksgiving scenes with Lloyd Nolan and Maureen O’Sullivan exemplify this best. And so do the occasional get-togethers the sisters have throughout the year. In this regard, the motion picture is very transcendent. Also, I think the reason the film did so well with moviegoers (it was one of Allen’s biggest hits) was that it reinforces life. Allen and the character he plays seem to be plagued with the idea there is no afterlife. Yet after a botched suicide attempt, he reconnects with an old friend and by the end, he learns he’s going to be father. It’s kind of like what Frank Capra’s films accomplished for Depression era audiences. Like Allen’s character the audience, many of them gone now, needed to know their struggles and their existence had been worth something.
 

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HANNAH AND HER SISTERS can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

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I have only seen this, perhaps, three times. Yet the most recent was only a month ago when I was going through some old DVDs and... yeah... it is a time capsule of the era. I am not terribly fond of the 1980s for very personal reasons, but this movie reflects some of my better memories. I like the city used book stores pre-Amazon. All of us read books back then and often out-of-print ones instead of just surfing the internet. Romances and long term relationships began because two of you read the same thing... in a book.

 

Also his reference of Duck Soup was interesting because I probably watched it all the way through sometime shortly before I saw this and I immediately recognized it at the time. This was a period when I saw both old movies in revival theaters and on the new VHS. I can't remember what my first VHS rentals were, but I was roughly 14 or so when I first watched Anthony Spinelli's Nothing To Hide (1981) and Alex De Renzy's History Of The Blue Movie (1970) and finally learned "oh... so that is how it is done!" My parents insisted on keeping the bedroom door locked.

 

(All joking aside and going off topic: I think that second movie might be an interesting one to compare and contrast with Roger Leenhardt's landmark 1946 The Biography Of The Motion Picture, Robert Youngson's The Golden Age Of Comedy, the trio of That's Entertainment! musicals, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's Hollywood mini-series, Visions Of Light and The Celluloid Closet. Movies about the history of movies are quite "essential" since they evolve over time in interesting ways.)

 

I do think Annie Hall is a superior film, but this one is also highly enjoyable. I think many of Woody's films started to become a little predictable around this time although they were still very well made and winning many awards. Yet the characters are all talkative and overly analytical. It was as if he purposely cast with modern day versions of the Algonquin Round Table. Remember how Paul Newman's Mr. Bridge in Merchant-Ivory's Mrs. And Mrs. Bridge was dragged into that late 1930s social party of intellectuals and seemed so out of place? Woody's character is super fussy about everything from popular authors and philosophers up through the meaning of death as viewed by opposing religions.

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I have only seen this, perhaps, three times. Yet the most recent was only a month ago when I was going through some old DVDs and... yeah... it is a time capsule of the era. I am not terribly fond of the 1980s for very personal reasons, but this movie reflects some of my better memories. I like the city used book stores pre-Amazon. All of us read books back then and often out-of-print ones instead of just surfing the internet. Romances and long term relationships began because two of you read the same thing... in a book.

 

Also his reference of Duck Soup was interesting because I probably watched it all the way through sometime shortly before I saw this and I immediately recognized it at the time. This was a period when I saw both old movies in revival theaters and on the new VHS. I can't remember what my first VHS rentals were, but I was roughly 14 or so when I first watched Anthony Spinelli's Nothing To Hide (1981) and Alex De Renzy's History Of The Blue Movie (1970) and finally learned "oh... so that is how it is done!" My parents insisted on keeping the bedroom door locked.

 

(All joking aside and going off topic: I think that second movie might be an interesting one to compare and contrast with Roger Leenhardt's landmark 1946 The Biography Of The Motion Picture, Robert Youngson's The Golden Age Of Comedy, the trio of That's Entertainment! musicals, Kevin Brownlow and David Gill's Hollywood mini-series, Visions Of Light and The Celluloid Closet. Movies about the history of movies are quite "essential" since they evolve over time in interesting ways.)

 

I do think Annie Hall is a superior film, but this one is also highly enjoyable. I think many of Woody's films started to become a little predictable around this time although they were still very well made and winning many awards. Yet the characters are all talkative and overly analytical. It was as if he purposely cast with modern day versions of the Algonquin Round Table. Remember how Paul Newman's Mr. Bridge in Merchant-Ivory's Mrs. And Mrs. Bridge was dragged into that late 1930s social party of intellectuals and seemed so out of place? Woody's character is super fussy about everything from popular authors and philosophers up through the meaning of death as viewed by opposing religions.

 

Excellent comment. I like what you said about bookstores. Someone on the IMDb complained about him shooting scenes in dirty streets, claiming it did not make New York City look very good or clean. I don't think it was a goal of his to show a perfect city, not even a perfect bookstore.

 

I know he likes to include clips of other movies but these little cinematic allusions (intrusions) seldom work for me. I thought the DUCK SOUP bit could have been left out. Interestingly, this was an Orion production and the Marx Brothers clip would have been obtained from Paramount. Now, we hardly see one studio lending a clip to another studio not even for something as brief as this.

 

Something I wanted to mention which I did not include in my review-- Michael Caine supposedly was the one who had first introduced Allen to Mia Farrow. He was (still is?) close friends with the two of them. So there's an authentic extra-filmic aspect related to the casting of Caine, who is essentially/ironically playing Allen, paired off with Farrow in the movie. And while Caine's work was more than adequate, I did not think it was exactly an Oscar-caliber performance. I also was surprised to see Wiest had won for her role; she was good but it just didn't seem as strong as Oscar performances tend to be. It probably goes to the fact that Woody's films were highly praised by critics, even if some of the mid-career and late-career output wasn't exactly as groundbreaking as his earlier stuff.

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I think the reason Diane Wiest won was because she was very popular as a movie "mom" in this era (think the earlier Footloose and the later Parenthood) and this was a different kind of role for her. In fact, that was the overall theme of the 1980s Oscar ceremonies. If you played against "type", you had a stronger chance of winning even if the performance wasn't all that spectacular. I also think that Caine was less interesting than Max Von Sydow, who at least showed a temper. Nothing wrong with Barbara Hershey though. Her performance was quite natural and less talky-scripty than the others.

 

I also think Hannah And Her Sisters was a much better film than Platoon, but I understand why the latter won the Best Picture award. As profiled in those "Year In Hollywood" posts, everybody was obsessed with anything Vietnam related during the second half of the decade.

 

Regarding Duck Soup being included. Not much logic there. A few years earlier, the Columbia produced musical Annie featured clips from Camille, an MGM film made in 1936 but shown in a 1933 setting. Go figure.

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I think the reason Diane Wiest won was because she was very popular as a movie "mom" in this era (think the earlier Footloose and the later Parenthood) and this was a different kind of role for her. In fact, that was the overall theme of the 1980s Oscar ceremonies. If you played against "type", you had a stronger chance of winning even if the performance wasn't all that spectacular. I also think that Caine was less interesting than Max Von Sydow, who at least showed a temper. Nothing wrong with Barbara Hershey though. Her performance was quite natural and less talky-scripty than the others.

 

I also think Hannah And Her Sisters was a much better film than Platoon, but I understand why the latter won the Best Picture award. As profiled in those "Year In Hollywood" posts, everybody was obsessed with anything Vietnam related during the second half of the decade.

 

Regarding Duck Soup being included. Not much logic there. A few years earlier, the Columbia produced musical Annie featured clips from Camille, an MGM film made in 1936 but shown in a 1933 setting. Go figure.

 

I kept expecting Wiest to knock my socks off, but it just wasn't happening here. She has very little screen time in the first half of the film. So I thought, okay, she's got some powerful stuff coming up at the end-- but not really. I did love her performance in BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (a real tour-de-force), but in HANNAH I got the impression she was vaguely imitating Diane Keaton-- and I think the scenes where she's on coke in the flashbacks were definitely based on Allen's relationship with Keaton in the mid-70s.

 

Conversely, I felt Barbara Hershey did an extraordinary job. The part where her character breaks up with Von Sydow could not have been played better by anyone. I also thought Maureen O'Sullivan was great as a boozy trash-talking mama. She seemed to be in on the joke that this character was based on her (or at least how Allen saw her). She was having fun and should have been nominated.

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Jarrod -

 

I did enjoy your movie review.

 

I do like the film, too.

 

But, compared to the finesse of "Cafe Society", which did have its' flaws, "Hannah and Her Sisters" is a very crudely-made film.

 

Thanks Ray. What portions of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS did you find to be crude? Are you talking about some of the performances or the overall production values..?

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Thanks Ray. What portions of HANNAH AND HER SISTERS did you find to be crude? Are you talking about some of the performances or the overall production values..?

Jarrod -

 

The overall production values, I'd say.

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Jarrod -

 

The overall production values, I'd say.

 

Most of the stuff with Mia Farrow and Michael Caine, including the Thanksgiving dinner scenes, was filmed in Mia's own apartment. She had all those kids (they appear as extras) and she was taking care of them in the other rooms, when she wasn't needed for filming. So in a way, it's a very independently made production-- a real "home movie" in more ways than one!

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I just watched the trailer for that one. It resembles more of a 1990s Merchant Ivory production or a more recent Coen Brothers than a typical Woody film even though there is that trademark analytical talk-talk-talk we are used to. Then again, the other two directorial teams were clearly influenced by Woody himself. Zelig, The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Radio Days helped pave the road (and the art house market) for Mr. And Mrs. Bridge, Remains Of The Day, A Serious Man and Hail, Caesar!

 

One characteristic that separates many recent films such as Café Society from the 1980s output is an overall slickness that wasn't considered necessary in the pre-internet era. Some of us knew, obviously, that Dirty Dancing had too many mid-eighties hair styles for a Kennedy Era set musical romance but most movie goers weren't as fussy back then. (One can also argue that Grease was hardly representative of the fifties a decade earlier or Greta Garbo's masterpiece Queen Christina all that historical.) Now we have the "goofs" section on the imdb.com site and even a big budget blockbuster like Jurassic World gets more attention there than Plan 9 From Outer Space. Thus, any historical picture today is especially fussy with details. The way the stars talk in that Café Society trailer, however, sound more contemporary to my ears than what I would expect from late '30s every day people.

 

Going back to Hannah And Her Sisters, my only primary criticisms are twofold:

 

a.) There are too many famous stars hamming it up and I feel like I am watching "performances" rather than realistic people. The exceptions are Barbara Hershey and Mia Farrow who pretty much act as themselves. However I struggle seeing actual sisters here because they not only don't look alike, they all talk as if raised in separate households. As much as I love Maureen O'Sullivan (and her relationship with daughter Mia is enjoyable), she and Lloyd Nolan are a rather weird pair as well and it is obvious nobody is a Daddy's Girl here. I have the same problem with other critical darlings of the decade such as Moonstruck though.

 

b.) Also a major flaw in many 1980s films that resembles the pre-WW2 period to some degree is a too strong of a reliance on Happy Endings. The major companies and directors were trying to get away from all of that Taxi Driver seventies pessimism and, post-Heaven's Gate, were fussier than ever about making a profit with what has worked before. This was especially true with romantic comedies. We are supposed to respond to Woody's Mickey hooking up with daffy Holly (Diane Weist) as this sort of "ain't that something?" situation after all of his deep death-search analysis. Also he suddenly discovers he is no longer impotent. OK... I did find that part amusing. Yet it doesn't come off all that sincere and believable. Although it too went the Happy Ending route, the later When Harry Met Sally (among the best Woody comedies of the eighties not directed by Woody) had a much simpler conclusion that worked better.

 

I don't know... this is just my overall feel. I still think this was a better film than either Platoon or A Room With A View which were competing against it in the Oscar race that year. It has been a long time since I saw Crimes And Misdemeanors but I recall that one being a bit better. I do like the overall structure and editing of Hannah though and do think it was rather innovative in its day.

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I just watched the trailer for that one. It resembles more of a 1990s Merchant Ivory production or a more recent Coen Brothers than a typical Woody film even though there is that trademark analytical talk-talk-talk we are used to. Then again, the other two directorial teams were clearly influenced by Woody himself. Zelig, The Purple Rose Of Cairo and Radio Days helped pave the road (and the art house market) for Mr. And Mrs. Bridge, Remains Of The Day, A Serious Man and Hail, Caesar!

 

One characteristic that separates many recent films such as Café Society from the 1980s output is an overall slickness that wasn't considered necessary in the pre-internet era. Some of us knew, obviously, that Dirty Dancing had too many mid-eighties hair styles for a Kennedy Era set musical romance but most movie goers weren't as fussy back then. (One can also argue that Grease was hardly representative of the fifties a decade earlier or Greta Garbo's masterpiece Queen Christina all that historical.) Now we have the "goofs" section on the imdb.com site and even a big budget blockbuster like Jurassic World gets more attention there than Plan 9 From Outer Space. Thus, any historical picture today is especially fussy with details. The way the stars talk in that Café Society trailer, however, sound more contemporary to my ears than what I would expect from late '30s every day people.

 

Going back to Hannah And Her Sisters, my only primary criticisms are twofold:

 

a.) There are too many famous stars hamming it up and I feel like I am watching "performances" rather than realistic people. The exceptions are Barbara Hershey and Mia Farrow who pretty much act as themselves. However I struggle seeing actual sisters here because they not only don't look alike, they all talk as if raised in separate households. As much as I love Maureen O'Sullivan (and her relationship with daughter Mia is enjoyable), she and Lloyd Nolan are a rather weird pair as well and it is obvious nobody is a Daddy's Girl here. I have the same problem with other critical darlings of the decade such as Moonstruck though.

 

b.) Also a major flaw in many 1980s films that resembles the pre-WW2 period to some degree is a too strong of a reliance on Happy Endings. The major companies and directors were trying to get away from all of that Taxi Driver seventies pessimism and, post-Heaven's Gate, were fussier than ever about making a profit with what has worked before. This was especially true with romantic comedies. We are supposed to respond to Woody's Mickey hooking up with daffy Holly (Diane Weist) as this sort of "ain't that something?" situation after all of his deep death-search analysis. Also he suddenly discovers he is no longer impotent. OK... I did find that part amusing. Yet it doesn't come off all that sincere and believable. Although it too went the Happy Ending route, the later When Harry Met Sally (among the best Woody comedies of the eighties not directed by Woody) had a much simpler conclusion that worked better.

 

I don't know... this is just my overall feel. I still think this was a better film than either Platoon or A Room With A View which were competing against it in the Oscar race that year. It has been a long time since I saw Crimes And Misdemeanors but I recall that one being a bit better. I do like the overall structure and editing of Hannah though and do think it was rather innovative in its day.

 

So much to reply to here. First, Ray and I had a lengthy discussion a month ago in another thread about CAFE SOCIETY. I looked forward to it and watched it eagerly, hoping it could be one of my four choices this month. But I found too many problems with it. Instead, I will be doing BROADWAY DANNY ROSE next week as my final (for now) Woody Allen selection.

 

I agree about these gals in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS not exactly seeming like they would be biologically related. I can overlook it though. At first, I thought Carrie Fisher's April was a sister then quickly realized she was just a frenemy of Wiest's. I feel Mia is very good in this picture, but people don't consider her a powerhouse actress so she fails to earn nominations. She's also put in these pictures with tons of scene stealers and she is often cast as the more serious, less zany one. 

 

As for the pairing of O'Sullivan and Nolan, I sort of saw him as her "plan B" guy. Like when she was younger, she would have had red hot affairs with more attractive men but ended marrying the sensible all-purpose guy who would always bail her out of a jam. 

 

Re: the happy ending. I think I read somewhere that Allen had intended a bleaker or at least more downbeat ending, but Orion wanted to ensure profitability and insisted on Mickey & Holly hooking up. If he had actually succeeded at killing himself, we wouldn't have had such nice dramatic irony at the conclusion of the story (how he botched the suicide and how he was really not impotent). Also, if he had died, then this would probably have affected the Caine-Farrow marriage and we would have had a different movie.

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I am probably just being nitpicky here. After I posted that, I re-thought about the O'Sullivan/Nolan relationship. I know of many marriages resembling that one.

 

Yet I do feel that even O'Sullivan is doing a bit too much "acting", much like most of the others. Then again, that may be the point. They are a theatrical family.

 

I really did like Carrie Fisher too. She should have been cast as a sister since she blends better than the others do with each other. Poor Sam Waterson! My guess is that he went into this one shortly after The Killing Fields.

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