Review: Crimes and Misdemeanors

“You’ll find out later in life that great depth and smoldering sensuality don’t always win”

Advertisements

As someone who prefers Woody Allen’s stand-up comedy to his films, Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989) gave me new-found respect for his work. The film begins with a banquet celebrating Judah Rosenthal (Martin Landau), a successful ophthalmologist and a highly respected man in his Jewish community. He has worked hard to secure a privileged position in life, so when he finds his equilibrium threatened, he is faced with a moral and philosophical dilemma.

A 2-year love affair with flight attendant Dolores (Anjelica Huston) becomes problematic when he comes across a letter from her addressed to his wife, revealing their affair and threatening to destroy his carefully constructed image. She is done waiting, has “put off business opportunities” and turned down other men for him according to her. She deserves to get what she claims was promised: marriage, security, and basic acknowledgment. The viewer sympathises with her character, growing more desperate with each scene she plays in.

Dolores makes the tactical mistake of reminding Judah she is aware of his “financial improprieties” and illegal moving around of funds to maintain his comfortable situation. It is at this moment he feels truly threatened, not only menacing to ruin his private life but also his professional one.

Presented with the opportunity to arrange her murder, it soon becomes the only viable option in Judah’s mind to put an end to his misery. This is a constant trait of this man of so called morals – he is perpetually concerned with his image, his life, his comfort. Where this is an immoral thing to do, his choice is very simple: to allow Delores to destroy his life completely or to eliminate her and carry on with his life unaffected. Judah Rosenthal is a man of probity, and due to his long-standing reputation is therefore exempt from any association to this crime –  he is a man beyond suspicion.

Running parallel to this storyline is that of Cliff (Woody Allen), a now out-of-work newsreel editor who also is also involved in a passionless marriage and adultery. As Roger Ebert pointed out in his review, the film’s format is Shakespearean: “The crimes of kings are mirrored for comic effect in the foibles of the lower orders”, and Cliff certainly brings comedy in this tragedy. Both him and his wife Wendy (Joanna Gleason) are clearly fed up with each other, but unlike Judah, he does not have any appearances to keep up.

It is through Wendy’s two brothers Lester (Alan Alda) and Ben (Sam Waterston) that Cliff’s and Judah’s lives intertwine. Ben’s character is intriguing, he is a Rabbi who, going blind, is treated by Judah. Underlined by Judah’s growing guilty conscience of getting away with murder, Ben’s presence and loss of eyesight evokes the possibility that God, who’s “eyes are always on us”, may have a tendency to turn a blind eye to evil. Throughout Crimes and Misdemeanors, Woody Allen does a brilliant job of suggesting that God merely exists if one lives in the fear of Him, basing all of one’s actions and decisions on the fear of a vengeful God.

Lester is the polar opposite to Ben, a charismatic TV sitcom producer. The embodiment of everything Cliff despises, he is less than thrilled when, as “a favour to Wendy”, Lester gives him the opportunity to work on a documentary about Lester himself. “You weren’t my first choice” he matter-of-factly tells Cliff – neither of them want this to happen. Whilst on the production of Lester’s documentary, Cliff meets Halley (Mia Farrow), becomes infatuated with her after multiple instances of watching and working on film together, yet of course looses her to Lester.

Cliff’s comparison of Lester to Mussolini is his step too far and seems genuinely surprised as to why this should get him fired, this was his way of using the cinematic lens as a tool to expose someone’s true nature. Lester’s character comes across as the continuation of Alan Alda’s famous role as Hawkeye Pierce in M*A*S*H (1972-1983). He is the same endearing, delightful character we watched for 11 seasons, making it not seem impossible that this is the post-war life of the talented surgeon. His hair may have grayed, but certainly not his charm and natural magnetism.

At Ben’s daughter’s wedding, the two protagonists end up “plotting the perfect murder” for a film scenario. Inconspicuously, Judah tells his story in the form of a potential movie plot, and reveals that after a lot of rationalizing, he feels no remorse and is now at peace with his actions. Cliff disagrees with this ending, “how could he live with himself?” he asks Judah. Cliff is a man of morals and philosophy, who ironically by the end of the film has suffered professionally, romantically and ideologically. Judah has abandoned his morals and has thus been able to continue his life of wealth and privilege, he has stopped living in fear of a higher power.

Allen therefore displaces the punishment immoral characters deserved but never received: the wicked are rewarded, the guilty left to languish, and the believer blinded.

crimes and misdemeanors

Review: Horrible Bosses

Life is a marathon and you cannot win a marathon without putting a few bandaids on your nipples!

Horrible Bosses is really not a good movie. At best it’s passable but even then that is perhaps too kind. If you are looking for a good movie then look away. However if you’re looking for a recycled comedy with bland characters and tasteless humour then congratulations, because you have come to the right place.

The plot is simple, maybe too simple to justify a feature length film. Three best friends (played by Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) enjoy their jobs except for one major problem, their bosses. Each, played by Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell respectively, make their individual lives so unbearable that they decide the ONLY way to be happy is to murder them. These white collar workers obviously have no idea how to go about this and seek help from a ‘professional’ (Jamie Foxx).

Now there are issues that can be gleaned straight of the bat from the synopsis alone without actually watching the film. For example the only black actor in the leading seven is playing the role of an ex-con. Obviously anything else would be a stretch of the imagination and not one the producers thought the audience could manage. It must be said though that there are two other black characters in the film in the roles of police officers. You know, because having double of those makes up for it, right? With Charlie Day in the cast as well you are sure to get lots of weak sexual and generally vulgar gags masked as ‘funny’ by his constant shouting.

Having six (seven if you count Jamie Foxx) main characters makes it difficult to explore any in real depth. We find out the odd detail like Day’s character being engaged but for the most part we know nothing about them. If the writers don’t care enough about them to add any backstory then how am I supposed to care about their troubles.

hero_EB20110706REVIEWS110709993AR

The ‘villains’ of the film feel like nothing more than exagerrated stock characters. Kevin Spacey plays the overused role of a pretentious office manager, but taken so far that it is almost like a pantomime. Jennifer Aniston is nothing more than eye candy in her nymphomaniacal role and Colin Farrell is just a homophobic cokehead. All three are great actors who are not utilised in any way, shape or form which was incredibly disappointing.

The worst aspect of the film though is without a doubt the humour. It attempts to follow the success of crude films like ‘The Hangover’ but fails dramatically through the severe over-reliance on crass sex jokes. It’s like the writers threw a bunch of sexual, homophobic, racist and drug related gags in without any real aims whatsoever hoping some would receive cheap laughs.

The only feeling I have towards this film is sympathy. Sympathy to the actors who did their best with an empty plot and weak script. Sympathy for the audience who hoped for a good movie, and sympathy to the people who get dragged along to the sequel.

Manchester Lift-Off 2017: Spaceman

You never know when NASA will come knocking

Rupert Madurski is a young man with a dream. To become an astronaut and go into space. Except there is no manned space shuttle program anymore, and hasn’t been for some time. This does not dampen his spirits however, if anything it spurs him on to be the reason they bring back the program. In his mum’s garage we watch as he endures a ‘rigorous’ training regime of lunges and curls, in order to be ready the exact moment NASA requires him. It is for this reason that he, apparently 24 hours a day, dons several dubious looking jumpsuits, as he never knows when his time will come.

After filming his own training video, he somehow manages to convince Lucille, a school teacher, that he is indeed an astronaut in training and to let him speak to her students. Whilst some believe him, most, rightfully, do not. This leads to mockery when he tries to assert his ‘first-hand’ knowledge on a film set he again manages to blag his way into.

Spaceman

Scott Nelson is a revelation in this it seems, his first role of any kind in cinema. It would be a crying shame if this was his last venture into and I hope we see more of him soon. The opening scenes where we watch Rupert’s fantasies acted out before soberingly returning back to reality as his mum shouts him were hilarious. One of the more realistic portrayals of human fantasy seen in recent times.

There is a clear influence from Wes Anderson in several parts of the film. The art style of his fantasies, the jumpsuits he wears and fast paced dialogue are all reminiscent of Anderson. Spaceman is a highly original short but at just 18 minutes in length, it is just a little too short.

Directed by Christopher Oliva

Click here to go back to the Lift-Off Homepage to check out more reviews and interviews

Review: The Kind Words

Shemi Zarhin’s sixth feature is an unfortunately generic one

With his sixth feature-length film, director Shemi Zarhin doesn’t break new cinematic ground, although there is a certain charm to his storytelling. The Kind Words follows the journey of 3 siblings trying to uncover their mother’s hidden past, and the shocking revelations that come with it.

After it is discovered that Yona (Levana Finkelstein) has a tumour, her whole family comes to the hospital to comfort her. Here her adult children Dorona (Rotem Wissman-Cohen), Netanel (Roy Assaf) and Shai (Assaf Ben-Shimon) make contact with their estranged father whose remarriage to a much younger actress is met with contempt. Whilst Yona undergoes an operation to remove the tumour we see their father unsuccessfully attempt to reach out to the children multiple times, however even through the feelings of disdain the siblings show their inherent kindness with the offering of food as they all wait nervously for the results of the operation. It is not until after the tragic death of her mother does Dorona begrudgingly agree to hear him out and what she learns will change her and her brother’s lives forever.

Initially when her father reveals his infertility Dorona scoffs but seconds later the reality of what has been said begins to slowly sinks in. If he is infertile she can’t be his daughter, nor can Netanel and Shai be his sons. Here starts a voyage of discovery which will take the siblings away from their home, Jerusalem, to Paris and then Marseille in hopes of learning the truth. There are pacing issues though which sometimes cause the intended sense of urgency on their quest for the truth to come off as nothing more than comedic hijinks.

The serious heart of the film is balanced with light-hearted humour to bring the family closer during times of grieving often in the form of bickering and sarcasm. This adds another layer to the characters as we learn more about their lives such as Netanel’s exaggerated religious beliefs to please his wife and the views they share on their homeland. In the latter stages of the film the humour endangers the harsh nature of the plot undoing the complexity preceding it nevertheless the film hits the mark for the most part.

Fertility is a major issue tackled throughout the film by Shemi Zarhin, who also wrote the script, with Dorona becoming isolated from the rest of her family. After a series of miscarriages she has seemingly given up hopes of raising children opting to also stop the adoption process. All around her are reminders of what could be, Natanel with triplets, Shai even has a child before an awakening in sexuality and their mother Yona joked about looking pregnant whilst denying the existence of the tumour. Her only equal is her ‘father’, whose inability to have children offers her slight comfort as she tries to uncover her mother’s secret life.

The climax to The Kind Words is messy yet generic, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. Whether or not the film will strike enough of a cord to make you ponder those questions remains to be seen. Zarhin is a distinguished director deep into his career but you can’t help feeling disappointed by the somewhat bland and worn formula he uses.