Woody Allen: A Documentary * * * *
Cert 15, 113 mins
Woody Allen once went toe-to-toe with a kangaroo in a boxing match.
“Nothing was beneath me,” he says.
“I took up boxing so I could take on my mother. I used to knock her teeth out all of the time.”
Today, still churning out a new film every year at the age of 76, it turns out there’s a method in Woody Allen’s madness.
The screenwriter, actor and director works on the principle that if he throws enough verbal punches, some will hit the target – and Allen has won three Oscars from 23 nominations to inadvertently prove it.
Martin Scorsese says of him: “Not everybody has the staying power, not everybody has the tenacity, not everybody has so much to say about life continually.”
Allen himself says: “The achievement I’m going for is not longevity, but to make the great film that has eluded me all these decades.”
The really interesting thing about this film is that he claims to have no idea about the merits of anything that he is making at any one time.
He even wanted United Artists to agree to his request to make his next film for nothing if they would scrap the release of Manhattan (1979) – which went on to have two Oscar nominations in 1980.
“I get more pleasure out of failing in a project I’ve enthused over than succeeding in a film I know I can do well,” says Allen.
“You have to disregard the compliments, they don’t mean anything.
“The only thing standing between greatness and me is me. There’s no excuses.”
He recalls turning grumpy at the age of about five, when he realised that life was finite.
Born to parents who wanted him to become a pharmacist, he was soon running to a cinema screen showing Snow White because he wanted to understand the process of what was happening in front of him.
But it was only after meeting Diane Keaton, that he ‘started writing for women and found that more interesting’.
Showing for a week at the Electric Cinema, Station Street, Robert D Weide’s fascinating film opens with Allen at work in his bedroom and using a $40 Olympia typewriter which “still works like a tank... the guy told me it would still be around long after my death...
“My relationship with death remains the same. I am strongly against it.”
The documentary might not offer anything new about Allen for real fans to discover.
Nor does it ever pretend to probe deeply into his controversial private life, which includes his potentially career-ending relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, former wife Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter through her previous marriage to André Previn.
“People could sympathise with me, not sympathise with me,” says Allen. “Dislike me, like me. Never see any of my films ever again. None of that mattered to me.”
But for film lovers with a general awareness of Allen’s work, this is a richly-rewarding, insightful documentary which can only make more of them want to become super fans. GY
Rock Of Ages * * * *
Cert 12A, 123 mins
So you quite liked Mamma Mia!, though you won’t admit it.
Cheesy, OTT musicals where the cast break into incongruous song and dance routines are a guilty pleasure of yours.
But if you fancy more of the same with a harder edge, then Rock of Ages is the movie for you.
A hit musical on Broadway and in the West End, it now reaches the screen with a mostly brilliant cast.
Tom Cruise has huge fun – so audiences will too – as rock god Stacee Jaxx, all leather chaps, tattoos, sexual magnetism and a pet monkey pushing a drinks trolley.
He’s the headliner at the famous Los Angeles bar and venue The Bourbon Room, where smalltown girl Sherrie (Julianne Hough) works as a waitress, though she really wants to sing. As does fellow barman Drew (Diego Boneta), with whom she falls in love.
Owner Dennis (superb Alec Baldwin) needs the gig to go well as he’s on the verge of going out of business, but Stacee’s oily manager Paul (Paul Giamatti) might throw a spanner in the works.
In a rather superfluous plot line, Dennis also has to contend with Mayor’s wife Patricia (Catherine Zeta Jones), who vows to clean up Sunset Strip and close The Bourbon Room as it’s corrupting the city’s youth.
Hough is pleasant enough, although her breathy voice is underpowered. And I’m not sure about the casting of Zeta Jones, or Mary J Blige’s dubious message that pole dancers have respect.
But Malin Akerman is fun as Rolling Stone reporter Constance, and we’re more than compensated with the genius casting of Baldwin, Cruise, Giamatti and Russell Brand (even with an odd Brummie accent). Two particular scenes, between Baldwin and Cruise and Baldwin and Brand, are hilarious.
Ultimately it’s the music that lifts this film, and there are plenty of rousing toe-tapping numbers from the likes of Def Leppard, Guns n Roses, Foreigner and Whitesnake. It all ends with an uplifting rendition of Don’t Stop Believing, though stay tuned for a nice blast of Black Country Slade over the end credits. RL
A Fantastic Fear of Everything * * *
Cert 15, 100 mins
A Fantastic Fear of Everything has its origins in a short story by actor, director and writer Bruce Robinson, called Paranoia in the Laundrette.
It has been expanded into a feature film by Crispian Mills – best known as the lead singer of Kula Shaker but boasting impeccable cinematic credentials as a member of the Mills acting clan and son of director Roy Boulting.
Protagonist Jack (a game Simon Pegg) was once a functioning, if disillusioned, children’s writer. Following the break up of his marriage he is trying to crack the adult market by writing about Victorian serial killers. However, it is his fragile psyche that has cracked and, agoraphobically cowering in his fetid, ill-lit apartment (a hovel that Withnail and his mate I could have happily cultivated), he is seeing assassins in every gloomy corner and checking his milk delivery for evidence of lethal injections.
When his cosseting agent (Claire Skinner) fixes up a meeting with an American big wig to discuss his book, he is still cogent enough to realise his rank and soiled clothes won’t make the right impression.
After an aborted and explosive attempt to get them quickly washed and dried using a gas oven, Jack is forced to confront his deepest, most long held fear and visit the laundrette.
In the grip of sleep-deprived paranoia and with a kitchen knife accidently glued to his hand, calamity and misunderstanding await.
Fans of Robinson’s original story describe it as laugh out loud funny, however, this sticks too closely to its own description of being a semi-comedy. AJ
Red Lights * * *
Cert 12A, 114 mins
Like our waterlogged gardens, there’s only so much paranormal activity I can take before reaching saturation point.
Sigourney Weaver plays veteran paranormal researcher Dr Margaret Matheson, with Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) alongside.
She believes there’s an explanation for everything, but when blind psychic Simon Silver comes out of retirement after 30 years things change quickly.
Red Lights has an interesting premise and Weaver is on top form at the start.
Leaving too much of an increasingly contrived film in Murphy’s hands when he’s not a leading man ensures that neither Weaver’s nor De Diro’s even more fitful presence is sufficient to save the day.
Fast Girls * * *
Cert 12A, 91 mins
Set during the 2011 World Championship, this is the story of a group of female athletes vying for individual glory and, possibly, a place in the 200m relay team.
Directed by unknown Kiwi filmmaker Regan Hall, there’s a lack of emphasis on the exacting standards required to reach the pinnacle of sport and the races are dazzlingly over-edited.
It’s also as predictable as the day is long, but it certainly makes a massive change from the usual crime-infested gangster movies set in London.
ill Manors * * *
Cert 18, 121 mins
Set in similar territory to Fast Girls, iIll Manors is the directorial debut of Ben Drew, aka Brit-award winning rapper Plan B.
Given the usual depressing cocktail of estate ingredients – knives, guns, prostitute, drugs and gangsters – the title alone gives you hope that this might be something a little bit different. And it is. Low budget director Drew has an eye for cityscapes and a finely-tuned feel for the mostly untrained cast.
On this form, the 28-year-old Drew has the world at his rapper’s feet.
Not bad for a lad who was expelled from school and who grew up in a not dissimilar environment to the one he unceremoniously dumps us in here.
A Thousand Kisses Deep * *
Cert 15, 84 mins
While the likes of Keira Knightley and Emily Blunt get lots of publicity, the star I keep hoping will take off in her late twenties is Yorkshire-born Jodie Whittaker.
Here, in a psychological drama showing at Dudley Showcase, she proves she can do the serious stuff just as well.
But the initially-promising story about a haunted woman who travels back in time to reveal the truth is as unconvincing as they come.
And, long before the end, as tedious as Eric Bana’s equally misguided flop, The Time Traveller’s Wife (2009). GY