Two Minute Review: Blue Jasmine

Over on Twitter, I gave my quick and dirty assessment of Woody Allen's latest film:

Permit me to elaborate. As I've mentioned before in these pages, I'm a committed admirer of Allen's work. His films over the last fifteen years have been uneven, at best, but there are some beauties sprinkled in there. Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona are fabulous, and 2011's Midnight in Paris compares favorably to anything you'll see from his peers.

The flip side of that coin is that Allen has written and directed some stinkers -- You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, anyone? -- but the best thing about Woody is that you only have to wait a year, and he'll have another movie for you to pick over.

Which brings us to Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett as the title character. Jasmine is a Manhattan socialite who has her world tossed asunder when her husband (ably played by Alec Baldwin) is sent to prison for his role in various financial shenanigans. Broke, and broken, Jasmine moves to San Francisco to live with her working class sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins).

Allen moves the narrative forward in very focused fashion, skilfully weaving flashbacks of Jasmine's previous life (relaxing in the Hamptons, for example) with her struggles to adjust to her new life. It is well-written, with all the hallmarks of an Allen comedy, including very strong performances by an ensemble cast. No performance is stronger than Cate Blanchett's.

Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if Blanchett were to win her second Academy Award next month. (No, I'm not really stepping out on a limb there. Blanchett just won the Golden Globe for this role.) She is engaging from the time she makes her first appearance on screen, seated on an inbound flight to San Francisco, as she bores the woman next to her with a barely-uninterrupted commentary on everything that has gone wrong with her life. Blanchett's Jasmine is never particularly likable, but somehow, she becomes eminently sympathetic throughout the course of the movie. If not a direct homage, the film was clearly inspired by A Streetcar Named Desire. More than once, I saw Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois in Jasmine.

The most surprising performance, as you may have heard, came from Andrew Dice Clay, as Ginger's ex-husband. Clay is legitimately good here, even if he didn't utter a single nursery rhyme in the entire film. Also good was Louis CK, as a seemingly-sweet guy who woos Ginger.

My only quibble is that some of the working-class dialogue didn't seem to ring particularly true, but that's a small criticism. Blue Jasmine is well-executed, and is a worthy addition to the Woody Allen filmography. By almost any measure, Allen remains near the top of his game, a formidable filmmaker still, after nearly five decades in the game.

Ten Second Movie Review: Midnight In Paris

Midnight in ParisDirector: Woody Allen Writer: Woody Allen Stars:Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Kathy Bates

I saw this film one week ago today, in Richmond, VA, and perhaps the best way to describe Midnight in Paris is to say that I haven't been able to quit thinking about it since.

I'm a confessed Woody Allen-phile (to coin a term), but his recent efforts have certainly been mixed. Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Match Point stand up to anyone's best work, but while I enjoyed films such as Scoop, Melinda and Melinda, and Whatever Works, no one is comparing any of those to Annie Hall.

I won't compare Midnight in Paris to Annie Hall, because that's not fair -- Annie Hall is the best romantic comedy that has ever been made -- but Allen's latest is a brilliant film in its own right. Owen Wilson stars and, while I may have made a different casting choice here, he is better than you would expect as the hack screenwriter who dreams of literary success and becomes intoxicated by Paris. Rachel McAdams is lovely, as always, as Wilson's fiance, and Marion Cotillard is perfect as...well, she plays Adriana, and I won't reveal too much about her character.

The most memorable performances are by Alison Pill, as Zelda Fitzgerald, and Corey Stoll, as Ernest Hemingway. That should give you an idea of the direction this movie takes, and it absolutely works. It's a reflection upon nostalgia versus living for the present. That certainly isn't a unique theme, but Allen has put together one of the best films I've seen in a while. It's proof that Woody Allen remains capable of moving work.

Five stars out of five. Must see.