Film Review Of Woody Allen’s CAFÉ SOCIETY (2016)

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Woody Allen's Cafe Society Jesse Eisenberg Kristen Stewart

Woody Allen’s Cafe Society. Image via StarTribune.

Woody Allen’s Café Society opened in New York City at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas 6, a tiny movie house off of 62nd and Broadway which dedicated just one screen and two show-times to the film on its first night. A week later, it’s getting three screens at once in order to accommodate ticket sales that, while snowballing, yes, seem to still be coming from the pockets of an older crowd. There are married couples, mostly, old friends, and five or six young people in a room at capacity. The laughs, from what I could tell, come strictly from the first two. Oh, the last smiles, sure, if so goaded by the others, but does not quite share the first group’s humor. One knows what to expect. The other, likely having heard of Woody’s brilliance, once, sees a disconnect between this information and what is now on screen. One group’s smiling, holding hands, as if on the same date they were on forty years ago…and perhaps in fact are. The other, however, has no past here; has, to be sure, only Now, and thus cannot personalize Woody; cannot judge this film on the strength of masterpieces gone. One shakes its head – rightly! – at the ignorance of the first. But the other- ah, but the other can’t quite believe how much the past discolors the future, even as they, themselves, will eventually do the same, and denounce those too distant, too late to share their own peculiar bias.

To be fair, Café Society is a solid work, with some good moments and overarching artistic decisions. Yet it suffers, overwhelmingly, from what most of Woody’s films have suffered in the last two decades: massive self-borrowings that, instead of offering some new angle, tone, or shading of an old idea, merely repeat the thing with slight cosmetic differences. There are many – too many – examples of this, but perhaps a mere sampling is enough. The film opens with Woody narrating in trite terms, a la Manhattan, what the city – in this case, Hollywood – is ‘really’ like. But while Manhattan used these clichés subversively, developing Isaac’s character in a way that exposed his superficiality, Café Society’s narration is to be taken at face value, even when (as with the lesser portions of Vicky Cristina Barcelona) it is needlessly recapitulative. Other borrowings include the archetype of Bobby’s (Jesse Eisenberg) thug brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), a dilution of Crimes And Misdemeanors and the lighter portions of Bullets Over Broadway. Another is with one of the film’s primary arcs, wherein Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) transforms into a person she’s always hated, a twist that’s right out of Celebrity, despite lacking Celebrity’s deeper comments re: happiness and wisdom, and how different the two really are. Yes, viewers might fill in the blanks, as they’re used to these concepts, but isn’t that a flaw: that an artist’s moves, techniques, … Continue reading →

The Freddie Gray Verdict: A Few Words Out Of Season

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freddie gray verdict

Image via DW.

A week ago, the first ‘true’ Freddie Gray verdict came back as expected: Not Guilty. The result? Three officers are now free. Three are still left, perhaps a touch emboldened. On some level, of course, it does not matter, since the acquittal of one – as history shows – is the acquittal of all. Yet the reverse is not true, for the guilt of someone in power is never (so it’s said) to be extrapolated to power itself: what it does, what it cannot do, and where the rest of the world must go when the thing’s exercised. There are, as far as I can tell, two reasonable narratives here, but in Freddie Gray’s case – as in all similar narratives – only one has really been discussed. It is truthful, yes, and quite damning of the forces involved, but also somehow less adamant. It is less whole. It is, in a word, less dangerous. And it goes thus:

A black Baltimorean with a string of drug offenses sees 2 cops riding their bikes, makes eye contact, and flees. Perhaps he was expecting this. Perhaps he has something illicit on him. Or maybe he’d already done it so much and without penalty that it is merely the ‘thing’ to do. At any rate, he is chased, arrested, and according to the police report, is “taken into custody without incident.” It is impossible to say why he ran, exactly, since only a pocketknife is found on him: a source of controversy given that Maryland law states Freddie Gray’s spring-assisted knife was legal, whereas Baltimore law says that it was not. Once inside the van, the trip to the police station involves 4 stops, including one which brings another suspect on board, while Gray – against official policy – is never buckled in. An hour later, he is in a coma with a severed spine and fractured vertebrae, and dies the following week.

Naturally, there are problems with the official narrative. First, it is odd for a seasoned drug dealer to run without provocation, especially at a time when he was simply visiting a friend rather than making a ‘business trip’. More likely there was some sort of altercation, or an unofficial policy of harassment targeting Gray and others. Yes, it’s possible he simply feared being searched, due to the knife, but that would only be to a non-consensual search which, given the circumstances, would have been illegal in the first place, a fact the cops would likely ignore, anyway, leading to a chain of events with a similar outcome. And while flight might have been a bad move on Gray’s part, the courts have always been ambiguous on whether the act of mere running from an officer is reasonable suspicion, while Baltimore’s police commissioner claims there is no explicit law against such to begin with. Moreover, the assertion that Gray was “taken into custody without incident” is a lie, and an important one, since … Continue reading →