#229: Deconstructing Harry (1997)

With Woody Allen’s 43rd(!) feature film To Rome With Love soon hitting the cinema screens, it’s always great to go back and see some of his former glories and forgettable duds. Producing, writing, directing, and often starring in one film every year, the prolific comedian’s real-life is deeply rooted in his creative output, and the brutal satire Deconstructing Harry is no exception.

Allen stars as Harry Block, a neurotic creative going through a phase of writer’s block ahead of picking up a prestigious award from his former university. Before he gets there, Block spends time with his psychiatrist trying to pinpoint the reason for his creative. Together they release that, as with all Woody Allen films, the blame is on Harry’s borderline psychotic fixation with women. Telling all, he reflects on ex-wives and girlfriends, the love, the lies, and all the characters’  in his book who stem from Block’s real world. Truth be told, Allen Block is a nasty piece of work.

From thereon, the film gets a little confusing. A master writer, just about every person in Harry’s world has a fictitious doppelgänger in his writing. Recalling the revue style of his early days, these are all explored in fantasy sequences and surreal sketches, culminating in a tawdry “Welcome to Hell” skit.

What is most instantly surprising about this inflated nineties flop is the crass language. Woody is angry, dropping f, and even c-bombs like there’s no tomorrow. It is initially jarring, but Woody’s potty mouth is a rather welcome shift from the Allen we’ve seen in previous films. That is until he puckers up for an unrelenting, deplorable kiss with Elisabeth Shue (that’s her up above, the poor lady).

Always able to pull in a crowd, Deconstructing Harry has a producers’ wet dream of a cast list, with the likes of Robin Williams and Julia Louis-Dreyfus putting in measly performances as the people that make Harry’s life so self-loathing. Evidently making appearances just for the Woody Allen credit, they pitch in on a plot which is as convoluted and multifarious as the film’s title suggest. At the crux, Harry, and ostensibly  Allen, is wrestling with the blurred boundary between real life and fiction, and how the two can be detriment to each other.

For all it’s bawdy humour, Deconstructing Harry is surprisingly mournful. A story of an isolated man who pushes away any compassion thrown at him. Failing to convince anyone to come by their own accord, Harry captures his son Hilly (Eric Llloyd), a distant dying friend Richard (the hilariously understated Bob Balaban) and on-the-clock prostitute Cookie (Hazelle Goodman) to accompany him to the alma mater honouring. A career defining event, Allen suggests that the shoulder-rubbing highs of artistic life are also the most lonely.

Even more selfish than Isaac Davis in the timeless Manhattan, Harry is a little too loathsome to spend ninety minutes with. Deconstructing Harry sees Woody as an angry middle-aged man who really doesn’t give a fuck what you think. A nasty, perplexing and philosophical comedy which sees Allen exercise his demons. Considering he married his adopted daughter, it’s no surprise Allen’s got some shit going on.

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

126: Margin Call (2011)

Quit saying that Mufasa is better than Scar, or I’ll eat your budgie. Don’t blame me, it’s the circle of life.

In these grave times of austerity, it’s always great to remember how we got into such a colossally swirling shit-storm of monetary pain. Bringing in day-old food for thought, the filmmaking debut from J.C. Chandor punches above its weight with the egregious subject of the financial meltdown of 2008.

With an all-star cast working for paradoxical peanuts, as well as an Oscar nod in tow, it’s a loaded, insidious and pejorative drama. But the black-hearted Margin Call forgets to be entertaining along the way.

Review done, let me tell you about this hot new thing called a pyramid scheme…

★★★☆☆☆
IMDb it.

090: The Hunger Games (2012)

Unless you’ve been competing in some sort of fight-to-the-death contest, you’ll be well aware of Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games. The biggest film of the year so far, it’s questionable whether such successes are worthy testament to the film itself or a by-product of the tweenie fandom for the lauded trilogy of novels from which it is adapted.

Although it may be beguiling, the plot of The Hunger Games is relatively simplistic. Set in a singular dystopian realm, twenty four children are chosen at random by the ruling capital to battle to the death live on television, with the last man or woman standing becoming a worldwide celebrity and beacon of hope.

Desperate for the 12A certification in the UK, the brutality and viciousness of the novel is underplayed in the film, meaning that the games themselves are more character explorations rather than fast-paced action. This also means that the love story, which is introduced half way into the film, feels like an overwrought and contrived plot continuum; sentimentalising the sadistic games and in the process humanising the cold nature of the story.

If there’s one element of The Hunger Games that is deserving of acclaim is Jennifer Lawrence’s striking take on heroine Katniss. Already developing a strong screen presence in the exceptional drama Winter’s Bone, the young actress grabs the character’s ruthless independence with both hands, yet still with an admirable poise. You better get used to seeing her beautiful face, it’ll be gracing multiplex screens for many years to come.

Regardless of it being a tad too long and the ending relying too heavily on the next instalment of the story, The Hunger Games is a remarkable, unconventional blockbuster. The film is likely to be a Hollywood game changer too. Proving that teenage audiences aren’t as infantile as their pimpled complexions imply and film financiers need not rely on formulaic tales of vampires to get them to fork over their pocket money.

★★★★

IMDB it.