Reviewed by: Mark Geraghty Review date: October 18, 2016
Screen Fantastique rating: 3 stars
Woody Allen’s Cafe Society effect on the viewer can be summed up much like its lead characters; enthusiastic to start but, ultimately, less interesting the longer the relationship goes on. The film is not a complete misfire, but the moral ambiguity that works its way into the lead character’s motivations in the film’s second half makes Cafe Society one of Allen’s less appealing recent efforts. (For those looking for a comparison, it’s on par with last year's Irrational Man.) It’s fair to suggest that Allen believes that he’s simply holding a mirror to anybody and everybody, and that people find themselves conflicted about past loves. In his world this may be true, but for those not familiar with the predicament of Jesse Eisenberg’s Bobby and Kristen Stewart’s Vonnie, there’s little to relate to and the ponderous contemplation of “what could have been” sucks the energy from Cafe Society’s second half.
Allen opts to set Cafe Society in 1930s Hollywood and New York, populating his story with larger-than-life Hollywood players and New York gangsters. Against this background of glitzy artifice, Allen thrusts Bobby, a young Jewish boy from the Bronx who heads to Hollywood looking for an opportunity with his successful Uncle Phil (Steve Carrell), a major talent Agent. The story skips along at great pace early on, matching the wincing, blinking, toe-tapping energy of Bobby as he persists in getting an audience with Uncle in an effort to crack the big time! The film's best exchange takes place early on, as Bobby’s Jewish guilt crashes into his need for a good shagging with a “working girl”. The story turns toward a more straight forward romance with the introduction of Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), with whom Bobby literally falls in love with at first sight. There’s an initial feeling that Cafe Society could be something special, but, as it turns out, Stewart’s first scenes are her best. Neither Stewart nor Eisenberg sustain their performances and he ends up looking like a cad and she ends up looking like a trouble maker.
While Woody Allen films aren’t generally feted for their technical achievements, Cafe Society sees the collaboration between Allen and award-winning Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. The Italian had drifted from the American film scene and had not worked on a Hollywood feature film since 2005, when he photographed Paul Schrader’s largely forgettable Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist. While Allen’s films could never be described as being “Hollywood”, Storaro’s re-entry onto the American film scene is welcome and Cafe Society is one of Allen’s best looking films. The film’s Art Direction, Set Decoration and Costume Departments are all worthy of mention, as Cafe Society relies on all of these elements to help sell the story and they all pass with flying colours. Long-time Allen collaborator Production Designer Santo Loquasto does a great job of bringing all of the production elements together, but, ultimately, none of them can counter the fact that neither Bobby or Vonnie are especially likable. Allen relies too much on the emotional weakness they have for each other and, not the first time, leaves the viewer with a feeling of contempt for both as others around them become victims of a romance that never seemed quite right in the first place.
Cafe Society is in cinemas around Australia from October 19, 2016.
The Girl on the Train - Screen Fantastique film review
Reviewed by: Mark Geraghty Review date: October 6, 2016
Screen Fantastique rating: 3 stars
The Girl on the Train has pulled into cinemas, delivering an adaptation of the namesake novel that successfully entertains but doesn’t really do much to inform. For the unaware, Tate Taylor’s film is based on the hugely successful 2015 novel by Paula Hawkins. To suggest that Hawkins’ novel rode on the coattails of public interest surrounding Gillian Flynn’s similar Gone Girl may be an over-stretch, but there’s no doubt, the two stories share a tone that flows into their feature film off-shoots. Where Gone Girl benefited from the superior talent of David Fincher, The Girl on the Train is more workmanlike in approach and Taylor is still early in his directing career and is not in the same league as Fincher. That said, The Girl on the Train benefits from a strong cast; headlined by Emily Blunt, whose character Rachel, is not so much a girl on a train, but a trashy, tragic figure whose descent into alcoholism stems from the pain of her failed marriage.
The story is relatively slow moving, opening with Haley Bennett’s Megan recounting her relationship issues with her therapist, Dr. Kamal Abdic, played by Edgar Ramirez. Megan tells the Doctor of how she struggles in her job as a nanny and can’t wait to get home to wash the smell of the child from her. The viewer becomes part of Megan’s story, partaking in the child’s care and meeting the child’s somewhat distant mother, Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). Megan’s decision to quit her job as a nanny shifts the focus of the story to Anna and her husband Tom (Justin Theroux), who seems a much more down-to-earth and easy-going fellow than his somewhat uptight wife. Anna’s behaviour is in reaction to the ongoing distraction of Tom’s ex-wife Rachel (Blunt), whose unpredictability has thrown Anna’s life into turmoil; so it would seem. Rachel is battling alcoholism and her disturbing behaviour is carefully deconstructed throughout the course of the film’s 112 minute running time to ensure the Final Act can play out in a satisfying fashion. However, before all of that, the viewer learns that Anna and Tom had an affair when Tom was still married to Rachel, so Rachel has some justification for being pissed about what has transpired over the last two years of her life.
While Erin Cressida Wilson’s screenplay adaptation of Hawkins’ novel takes some liberties with location (moving the story from London to New York), the core of the narrative remains. She and Taylor choose to focus primarily on Rachel’s fractured point-of-view of events, jumping back and forth in time to reveal events that have led Rachel, Anna and Megan’s paths to cross. There’s more than a fair dash of contrivance that has gone into The Girl on the Train to make the plot fit the narrative. Viewers who prod at the story hard enough after walking out of the cinema will suddenly find themselves questioning the how and when certain events could have taken place. There’s a distinct benefit in NOT trying to deconstruct the story after the credits have rolled and simply remain immersed in the film based on what the Director and his talented cast have presented. To do otherwise will result in a real-life clarity that equals the fictional epiphany Emily Blunt’s titular “Girl” undergoes in this engrossing, slightly above-average psychodrama.