Bullets Over Broadway

(USA 1994)

“The world will open to you like an oyster. No, not like an oyster. The world will open to you like a magnificent vagina.”

—Helen Sinclair

Apparently, I’m not the only one who holds 1994 in very high regard as a landmark year for film: http://wtop.com/movies/2016/01/best-years-ever-movies/;
http://www.killcure.com/2009/12/05/the-5-best-years-for-movies/;
http://ew.com/article/2009/08/05/which-was-the-best-year-for-movies-1977-1994-or-1999/; http://www.maxim.com/entertainment/10-movies-prove-1994-was-best-year-film-history; http://twoguysonemovie.com/editorial-1994-the-best-year-for-movies-ever/; https://www.quora.com/Was-1994-the-best-year-in-the-history-of-film-making-in-Hollywood; http://luminarydaily.com/no-huffington-post-1993-wasnt-the-best-year-for-movies-1994-was/. Seriously, here’s what I saw that year: Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show, Heavenly Creatures, Ed Wood, Shawshank Redemption, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Killing Zöe, and of couse Bullets Over Broadway. I think I saw Schindler’s List that year, too—at least, by the time it opened where I lived. Fuck yeah, what a year! If this were a report card, I’d have straight A’s.

Now for Bullets Over Broadway: I suspect that once we as a culture got to the ’80s, complete artistic control became a pipe dream. This is because by that point, entertainment already was a bona fide industry with backers, lawyers, trademarks, and a human resources department—a mix of commerce that sometimes can but most of the time just doesn’t mix with art. Let’s be honest: how could it?

This is what makes Bullets Over Broadway so much fun! Set in 1920s Manhattan, Woody Allen—himself an artist by this point in his career—is making fun of, well, artists. And commerce. And you know what? The whole thing is fucking brilliant! I mean, if anyone knows how that works…

John Cusack is David Shayne, the Broadway playwright du jour. His agent (Jack Warden) gets his play produced—but it requires a series of concessions, some of which literally are do or die. You see, a mafia kingpin (Joe Viterelli) agrees to finance the play as long as his girlfriend, Olive Neal (Jennifer Tilly), is cast as the lead. OK, but…Olive has no talent. And remember: this is Prohibition. Who’s going to say anything—especially when Olive arrives to rehearsals with a bodyguard (Chazz Palminteri)? Bueller?

You’d be surprised—like an asshole, everyone has an opinion. Some, particularly those with artistic credibility (but not necessarily looking out for the best interests of the play), get David’s attention more than others—lead actress Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest), for one. Never mind that she pretends she wants to sleep with David—she’s got his ear. Too bad David writes off the ones with the best ideas—and the best intentions. Who’s the artist now?

With excellent appearances by Jim Broadbent, Rob Reiner, Mary-Louise Parker, Harvey Fierstein, and Tracey Ullman, Bullets Over Broadway is one of Allen’s best films. For some strange reason, it’s damned near impossible to find on home video—DVD maybe, if you get lucky; but definitely not a download. I don’t understand why.

98 minutes
Rated R

(Home via DVD) A-

http://www.woodyallen.com/filmography/directed-by/

Bridge of Spies

(USA 2015)

I watched this movie twice because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t unduly harsh on it. I really hated it the first time I saw it, but I must confess that I was drunk and really didn’t pay attention to it. Upon my second (and sober) viewing, I’ve reconsidered my position.

Let’s get this out up front right away: I can’t stand Tom Hanks, and Steven Spielberg hasn’t grabbed me with anything since maybe Schindler’s List. Both have done interesting things in the past, but it’s been a long time since I’ve seen either of them put out anything interesting (they’re so soft now). For the last 20 years, their work has been exactly what deters me from most mainstream Hollywood movies: formulaic feel-good stuff with a tidy ending.

Bridge of Spies is all of that. Based on true events, it’s actually two stories in one movie. During the Cold War era, Brooklyn insurance defense attorney (egads!) James Donovan (Hanks) is asked—no, coerced—by his boss (Alan Alda) to defend a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), in a pro bono criminal case. Donovan notices defects in the warrant that led to Abel’s arrest, but no one, including the judge (Dakin Matthews), wants to hear it. All hell breaks loose when Donovan goes full throttle on his defense—all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He loses. Abel goes to jail.

Donovan is then asked by the CIA to negotiate a prisoner exchange of Abel for an American spy (Austin Stowell) captured by the Soviets. While in Berlin, Donovan learns of an American student (Will Rogers) held in East Germany. He unilaterally deals for the release of both Americans—much to the dismay of the CIA agents on the case.

Bridge of Spies might not be schmaltzy, but it’s got no edge to it: it’s a straightforward (though liberal with reality), standard-issue Law and Order type drama. The film is classified as a thriller, but it’s not really; it’s neither particularly intense nor suspenseful. It has its moments, and Rylance is easily the standout performance here. However, the pace is uneven and the story gets dull at points. Donovan’s need to do the right thing in the face of adversity drives the dramatic tension. His “argument” before the Supreme Court is an eyeroll-inducing pitch for an Oscar. Whatever. The ending is typical Spielberg. I didn’t love Bridge of Spies, but I’ve seen much worse.

Side note: I’m surprised to see the Coen brothers attached to this project; it’s not their speed.

(Home via iTunes) C

http://bridgeofspies.com