Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Woody's back -- with the impeccably cast, acted and photographed CAFE SOCIETY

Woody Allen's final-period movies (I am guessing here, of course, but really: He'll reach 81 this December, so how much longer can the guy go on?) continue to grow more assured, pleasurable and (TrustMovies thinks so, anyway) mature. Mr. Allen, below, has finally grown up in ways, movie-wise and maybe otherwise, that he hadn't achieved till now. Less interested in being profound or super witty/nerdy/brilliant, he's finally willing to let his characters behave and learn and grow, rather than merely being mouthpieces (often very clever or crazy ones) for his own neuroses.

This has lent a distinctive autumnal feeling to all his recent work -- whether it's an odd murder mystery like Irrational Man (a better film than was generally acknowledged), a surprisingly sweet love story complete with maybe-the-other-worldly such as Magic in the Moonlight, and now something like his latest, an alternately dark and endearing coming-of-age tale called CAFE SOCIETY. Allen (along with ace casting director Juliet Taylor) has long had a knack for fitting the actor to the role. He fills his movies with fine actors, lets them do their thing, and so -- even with
sometimes middling screenplays -- the movies come together surprisingly well. This casting-coup works as well in his latest film as it ever has. I'd say every role is filled just about perfectly (we'll get to the details in a bit), but there's something more here, too. For the first time Allen is working with the great Italian cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (shown at right), and the result is -- whew! -- something wonderful. Because the film takes place in 1930s New York and Los Angeles, we get the bonus of nostalgia, of course, and handled, as it is, with Storaro's mastery of light and composition, everything from the interiors to exteriors, faces to fabrics glow and resonate. Yes, we're mostly with the wealthy upper-crust, but watch how this master handles the scenes involving the lower-middle class New York family at the center of the film. These scenes resonate cinematically in their own dark, quiet manner.

The story -- of a young man named Bobby (a just-about-perfect Jesse Eisenberg, above, left) who must break away from his family for awhile and so ventures out to Hollywood, where his uncle (the ever more versatile Steve Carell, below) is a big-time agent, then falls in love with the uncle's secretary (Kristen Stewart, above, right, adding another smart feather to an already full cap) -- is serviceable and malleable. And, my, how these actors bring it to splendid life.

Speaking of versatility, there's Corey Stoll (below, whom I didn't even recognize in his role of Eisenberg's older brother, Ben, until the end
credits rolled). I find it amazing how Allen gloms on to new and special talent, always making such good use of it. This is as true with his use of Stoll as it is the way he uses Blake Lively (below, center) in the role of  Bobby's other love interest. Ms Lively brings genuine caring and concern to a part that could easily seem little more than secondary. Ditto Jeannie Berlin, who plays the brothers' mama, Rose, with enough depth and passion to help disguise and rise above a screenplay that is, at best, serviceable and often flits a little too close to cliché.

Good work also comes from the likes of Anna CampParker Posey and Ken Stott. By the finale, we've come, along with Eisenberg's Bobby, through enough incident and revelation to reach a level of maturity that allows us to look back in some sadness, yes, but also with the wisdom to appreciate what we have, as well as better understand what we've lost.

Cafe Society -- from Amazon Studios by way of Lionsgate, and running 96 minutes -- after opening in New York and Los Angeles, hits much of the rest of the country this Friday, July 29. Here in South Florida, it plays the O Cinema Miami Beach, the AMC Sunset Place 24, Coral Gables Art Cinema, Muvico Broward 18 in Pompano Beach, and the Movies of Delray in Delray Beach. To view playdates, cities and theaters elsewhere around the country, simply click here.

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