a recurring theme in Woody Allen’s work over the past twenty years—“the heart
wants what the heart wants.” The writer/director (and, now, only occasionally
an actor) has lately tackled this topic with varying results. You have to hand
it to him, though—the guy has consistently made more or less a movie a year
since 1969. There have to be a few clinkers in there—even Hitchcock had some.
Luckily for us, though, Café Society is a pretty good entry in Allen’s canon—not
one of the masterpieces of yesteryear, but it’s probably the best thing he’s
done since the excellent award-winning Midnight
Café Society is a period piece that takes place mostly in
Hollywood in the 1930s, and therein lies much of its charm—the production
design and costumes, along with Vittorio Storaro’s cinematography, immediately
provides eye candy that looks fabulous in high definition. Fans of American
cinema history will find a lot to admire in the picture’s references to old
story is familiar territory. Jesse Eisenberg is the Woody-surrogate this time
around, playing New Yorker Bobby, who goes to L.A. to get a job at the studio
run by his Uncle Phil (Steve Carell). There, he meets a secretary, Veronica
(Kristen Stewart), and falls in love. Little does he know that she is involved
with Uncle Phil. Another woman named Veronica (Blake Lively) enters the tale a
little later, when Bobby is back in New York. In short, Café Society is a love story that
spans several years with a boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-meets-another
girl, boy-runs-into-first-girl-again plot structure.
are laughs, to be sure, but overall the film projects a bittersweet,
melancholic mood that is disarming for a Woody Allen film. Is the ending a
happy one? That’s not a guarantee; in this case what the heart wants may not be
what’s best for the heart.
performances are of high caliber, especially those of Stewart and Lively. The
former creates a deeply conflicted character in Veronica 1, while the latter
lights up the screen as Veronica 2. Parker Posey is always a welcome addition,
and Corey Stoll, as Bobby’s mobster brother, is hilarious.
a solid 3-out-of-4 stars Woody Allen flick. The one thing that definitely could
have been deleted was the voice-over narration (delivered by Woody himself),
which is unnecessary and, at times, annoying.
with most home video releases of the director’s pictures, the Lionsgate Blu-ray
(packaged with a DVD and digital copy) comes with little in the way of
supplements. In this case, there’s only two-minutes of “red carpet footage” and
a trailer—but the feature film is a little gem.
Film noir was still a valid Hollywood
commodity in 1951, and director Nicholas Ray was one the style’s star
practitioners. He had begun his career with the classic They Live by Night, and just the previous year he had brought us In a Lonely Place (see Cinema Retro’s
review here). On Dangerous Ground, which stars Ida Lupino (who reportedly
directed some scenes when Ray was ill) and Robert Ryan, is a fair
representation of the movement—it’s not bad, but it’s not particularly great,
it comes across as two different movies. The first forty minutes or so are deep
in film noir territory—it has an urban
setting, a cynical and violent protagonist (Ryan, as a police detective in the
city), night scenes, hard-boiled dialogue, harshly contrasting black and white
photography (by George E. Diskant), and sultry dames. Then, the story shifts
“up north” to snow-covered landscapes and mountains, a bright sky, and a completely
different plot than the one we started off with. Ryan, after chasing after
mobsters in the city, is sent upstate to help out with a murder investigation
in a rural area (which also doesn’t make sense, jurisdiction-wise). There he
meets a lovely blind woman (Lupino) and abruptly softens his tough guy act. His
affection for her affects the way he treats her younger, mentally challenged brother,
who of course is the killer. At this point the movie doesn’t know if it wants
to be a crime thriller or a love story.
performances are fine, although Ward Bond as the father of the slain victim is
ridiculously over-the-top. The direction is competent, and the cinematography
is striking. The problem is the script by A. I. Bezzerides—it’s weak enough to
sink the entire picture. Fortunately, the film is saved by another member of
the production team—the inimitable Bernard Herrmann. He provides the exciting score, and fans will immediately recognize motifs that
sound as if they could be practice riffs for his music in Vertigo and, especially, North by Northwest. Bernie’s work makes On Dangerous Ground completely worthwhile
and a lot of fun to watch.
restoration and transfer of the Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray disk looks
darned good. The images are sharp and clear, and the blacks and whites are
vivid—the snow sequences are notably gorgeous. The movie comes with a commentary
by film historian Glenn Erickson. The theatrical trailer is the only
of film noir should consider picking
up this release—and Bernard Herrmann enthusiasts should grab it without
thinking about it.