Tag Archives: Philip Glass

Cassandra’s Dream (2007, Woody Allen)

It’s getting increasingly difficult not to talk about Woody Allen’s films in the context of his body of work. While on one hand, Cassandra’s Dream does feature what could be construed as a Jaws reference, it’s also rather similar in pacing to some of Allen’s late 1970s, early 1980s films. The film’s first act is a purposeful character study. I almost thought–not having read any reviews in depth and only barely remembering the preview–Cassandra was a character study, devoid of any epical narrative.

When the narrative does kick in–and the film becomes a dreary examination of choices–it’s got to be more than a half hour into the film. The tone changes, as it has to due to content, immediately. Allen makes that move intentionally and life changing due to things said and done is one of the film’s recurring themes.

And Cassandra’s Dream having themes is its undoing. Occasionally (see, I’m placing it in his body of work again), Allen gets the idea doing a film with a constraint would be a good idea. Usually, it results in the film going wrong as he’s got to force it to fit the constraint. Cassandra is no exception. At some point, the script makes a wrong turn and there’s no way to recover. The end is inevitable for a lot of reasons and is uninteresting for just that reason. After spending two hours creating these complex brothers, Allen cheats them out of a real conclusion.

As the brothers, Colin Farrell and Ewan McGregor quickly overcome their lack of physical resemblance–I think Cassandra’s Dream is the first time Allen’s ever done a two brothers film. Both actors get to go through enormous changes through the film. At the start, they’re about even quality-wise. They don’t go anywhere unexpected, so McGregor’s failure to shine in the end is more because Farrell is just so fantastic, there’s no room for anyone else. Farrell’s performance in the last half hour is mesmerizing. It just keeps getting better.

Past his narrative choices, Cassandra’s Dream frequently feels like something utterly different from Allen. Stylistically–in no small part due to the Philip Glass–it’s as though he’s going for a French feel, but set in Britain. The occasional character mentions of their dreams harks back to Allen’s greatest works. Vilmos Zsigmond’s photography is perfect, making the muted London skies lush. As usual, it’s a technical achievement.

Thanks to Farrell and the majority of the film, Cassandra’s Dream is a success. I don’t like when Allen’s films are so contingent on ending well. As Cassandra does need to end well and does not… it’s somewhere between a qualified success and a superior failure.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Alisa Lepselter; music by Philip Glass; production designer, Maria Djurkovic; produced by Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaum and Gareth Wiley; released by the Weinstein Company.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Ian), Colin Farrell (Terry), Hayley Atwell (Angela), Sally Hawkins (Kate), John Benfield (Father), Clare Higgins (Mother), Phil Davis (Martin Burns) and Tom Wilkinson (Howard).


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The Illusionist (2006, Neil Burger)

I don’t know where to start talking about The Illusionist. I mean, I only have two choices, so it’s really just a coin toss. I’ll start with Neil Burger. Burger adapted the script from a short story, which means he was probably confined to some degree. The Illusionist is not a “wow“ of a film in its story. It’s a fine, predictable, enjoyable magician movie with some nice special effects. So I don’t want to talk about Burger and the film on those issues. The writing ones. Burger’s direction is something special. It’s a very geeky approach to cinema–I was reminded of The Call of Cthulhu, the recent film, not the short story–because Burger directs the flashbacks and most of the romantic scenes between Ed Norton and Jessica Biel like a silent film, in terms of lighting, framing, editing and transitions. It works to an okay effect. It’s more impressive in its competence initially than anything else. Then Burger transitions to the present action of the story and he films a lot of the establishing scenes much like a Universal horror picture of the 1930s. The Vienna scenery lends itself perfectly to that approach. Then he goes on. The silent film techniques are still there for certain scenes, but Burger immerses the audience in historical Vienna–to the degree I even believed Biel lived there too. I didn’t quite believe Norton would love Biel or even that Rufus Sewell’s Prince Revolting would tolerate her even for political gain, but I did believe she was in 1800s Vienna.

Now for the second part. Paul Giamatti. His performance in the film is something singular. It’s a privilege to see Giamatti perform. He manages to chew scenery in a reserved manner, making his performance wholly believable but also joyous to behold. His performance is so good, it’s like the rest of the film doesn’t matter–it’s gravy the rest of the film is a perfectly reasonable diversion. The Illusionist wraps a piece of escapist storytelling in Burger’s masterful direction (which is in Dick Pope’s sumptuous lighting–sumptuous is the only word for it, absolutely stunning to look at), and a good Philip Glass score. Some of the Glass score seems redundant and repetitive of his previous work, but it’s fine.

I’ve only mentioned Norton in passing, but he’s real good here. Even if the only time he gets to act is in the scenes with Giamatti. Watching the two of them work together is wonderful. Like I said, Biel isn’t unbelievable and there are only a handful of moments when she’s ridiculous (I had assumed it’d be every minute she was on screen). Rufus Sewell’s evil prince is a lot of fun for a couple reasons. First, Sewell plays the perfect hissable villain (hard to believe, ten years ago, he was the best up-and-coming leading man Hollywood). Second, it’s like he’s doing a Freud impression. Loads of fun.

I was shocked to see Burger’s only done one film before this one, I have unrealistically high expectations of him now. As for Giamatti, I’m even considering seeing Lady in the Water, blasphemy of a considerable level.

I do wonder if the film could have been done without the red herrings and the twists, but I doubt it. There’s not much of a story in the end (for example, is Giamatti’s police inspector married?). So, it’s just a diversion and a better one than most.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Neil Burger; screenplay by Burger, based on a short story by Steven Millhauser; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Naomi Geraghty; music by Philip Glass; production designer, Ondrej Nekvasil; produced by Michael London, Brian Koppelman, David Levien, Bob Yari and Cathy Schulman; released by Yari Film Group.

Starring Edward Norton (Eisenheim), Paul Giamatti (Chief Inspector Uhl), Jessica Biel (Sophie), Rufus Sewell (Crown Prince Leopold), Eddie Marsan (Fischer), Jake Wood (Jurka), Tom Fisher (Willigut), Aaron Johnson (Young Eisenheim) and Eleanor Tomlinson (Young Sophie).


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