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Hey boys and girls, MG here. I'm thrilled to submit for your delectation and utter delight, the first film review of 2008 by our preternaturally fabulous correspondent, Miss Dollie Banner. Her gifts to the shrine bless us with their awesomeness. Dig up, babies.

 

Admission # 1: I'm a big Woody Allen fan, but shamefully haven't seen any of his films since 1996 ode to movie musicals, "Everyone Says I Love You". No excuses really, I just kept missing one after the other. When even the delightful visage of Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Match Point wasn't enough to sway me, Allen must have thought, "What will bring Dollie back into the fold? What if I cast Ewan McGregor in 'Cassandra's Dream'?"  Admission #2: I could watch Ewan McGregor just sleep for 2 hours, so spot on, Woody, you know me so well.  I just wish the collaboration lived up to my expectations.

  Allen's 36th feature film as writer-director is a morality tale about the efforts of two brothers to enhance their lower middle class lives. McGregor stars as Ian, a charmer pretending to live above his station to impress his new lady, actress Angela (newcomer Hayley Atwell). His brother Terry (Colin Farrell) is more content with his lot. He's a got a great girl, Kate (Sally Hawkins "Vera Drake") in his corner and a steady mechanic job, but struggles with a gambling compulsion. The film takes its name from a modest sailboat the brothers purchase during one of Terry's hot streaks, christening it with the moniker of the dog that came in for him. When Terry's luck heads south, the boys hit up their well-off Uncle Howard, a suitably skeevy Tom Wilkinson, who demands they earn their rewards with the ultimate show of loyalty.

   Despite my rustiness, it became quickly apparent (after the requisite Windsor font white on black credits) that Cassandra's Dream was not a typical Woody Allen picture. No Manhattan, London, England is again the location for his third consecutive film. No upbeat jazz, instead Philip Glass has composed a restrained but effectively intense score. No lush cinematography, director of photography Vilmos Zsigmond has drained the film of saturated colors achieving a pallid and dreary atmosphere. Allen forgoes the posh locales and zippy dialogue that usually earmark his films in favor of his own brand of realism. These characters yearn for, yet never quite achieve the sumptuous charm that flows so effortlessly in Allen's previous films. Unfortunately, Allen suffers the same fate, never fully realizing his vision for "Cassandra's Dream". In opting for grit over style, Allen forgot to include the heart, or for this film the guts, ultimately fashioning a bland film that is more surface than substance.

   The cast does its best with a weak script. Colin Farrell makes a credible working class guy whose moral struggle is both believable and empathetic. McGregor is saddled with the more difficult role, and though I love him I'll admit his performance is not wholly successful. He portrays Ian's falseness so completely that his character feels inauthentic. Even so, McGregor remains a compelling and likable screen presence. Atwill acquits herself well for her first film, but her limited story line doesn't amount to much more than pretty stage dressing. I was more impressed with Hawkins in one of those unsophisticated roles like Mia Farrow in "Broadway Danny Rose" and Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite" that sometimes pop up in Allen's films. Perhaps it's the contrast from her recent lead performance in Masterpiece Theatre's "Persuasion," but Hawkins stood out as the one cast member who was able to cull real depth and warmth from the script.

   Disappointing as my re-acquaintance with Woody Allen turned out to be, I have to give credit to any 71-year-old with nearly four decades of films behind him to attempt new styles and stories. Hopefully, the next one I get out to will be a bit more satisfying. So Woody, what do you think of Ryan Gosling?

 

~ Dollie Banner

January 18th, 2008

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of The Weinstein Company)