Review – Café Society, Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton, 19th September 2016

Cafe SocietyHere’s the second of two movies in one week because I basically forgot to redeem my final two free visits to the Errol Flynn Filmhouse and I didn’t want to lose them before my “Friends” year ends. The first was The Shallows, not perhaps an obvious choice for us, but exciting to watch and it hugely exceeded our expectations. Again, I’m not sure if Café Society is a film I would have otherwise chosen to see, but it’s been an awfully long time since I’ve seen a Woody Allen film and so this was a good opportunity to put that right.

Jesse EisenbergI was a big admirer of Mr Allen in my youth. As a way-ahead-of-my-time youngster in the 1960s, I loved the trendy glamour of What’s New Pussycat and the trendy slapstick of Casino Royale, which was one of the first films the late Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle took me to see at the cinema. I adored Annie Hall and was moved by Manhattan, enjoyed Zelig and took the young Miss Duncansby – before she became Mrs Chrisparkle – to see Hannah and her Sisters. But I don’t think the young Miss D was anything like as keen on Woody Allen as I was. And consequently I think that might have been the last time I saw one of his films!

Kristen StewartIt’s a relatively simple and agreeable tale of Bobby, a young Jewish guy, who leaves New York to try to find some kind of fame and fortune in Hollywood, spurred on by the fact that his uncle is a massively successful agent, on whose coat-tails he hopes to ride for a bit, to get some contacts and make a life for himself. The uncle’s secretary, Vonnie, is tasked with the job of showing Bobby around the town, and, being a Woody Allen film, Bobby falls in love with her. However – naturally – she has a boyfriend. Relationships come and go – the secretary falls in and out of love with both Bobby and her boyfriend, and, several years later, both Bobby and Vonnie are married – although not to each other – and an uncertain ending leaves you hanging as to how things might get resolved – or not.

Steve CarellIt’s a very enjoyable film, although, despite the relationship difficulties depicted and the personal sadness experienced by some of the characters, not remotely challenging. I thought more could have been made of the difference between Bobby’s tough working class NYC home life and the glitzy glamour of his Californian Lifestyle, but I guess that wasn’t the film Woody Allen wanted to make. Cinematographically, it looks lush throughout, although a tendency to over-sepia-ise some of the scenes (presumably to help with setting the 1930s vibe) got on my nerves a bit once I had identified why everything was appearing so orangey. There’s a very classy jazz soundtrack – primarily, but not exclusively, piano – which really nails the vibe, even though it was a little repetitive for Mrs C’s taste.

Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen StewartIt’s 1930s New York, so there has to be a gangster – and he comes in the form of Bobby’s brother Ben, ostensibly a decent family man but with a predilection for handing out summary executions with comedic brevity. Bobby’s background family are very credibly realised, with a fine pair of performances from Jeannie Berlin and Ken Stott as his rather downbeat parents – think Caroline Aherne’s The Royle Family set in the Bronx. And there’s a hilarious scene early on with a beautiful cameo performance by Anna Camp as the willing but rather unprofessional prostitute Candy, that gives you an excellent insight into both the irascible side of Bobby’s character and the shallowness of the Californian way of life.

cafe-society-distinguished-guestsBut the film succeeds most in telling the general awkwardness of the ménage à trois that is Bobby, Vonnie and her boyfriend, “Doug”. (He’s not really Doug.) Kristen Stewart gives a really thoughtful performance as Vonnie, totally Torn Between Two Lovers as the old song goes, trapping her whirlwind of emotions beneath a calm façade that never takes anything for granted or even insists on being treated fairly. Steve Carell gives a good performance as the spoilt and over-successful agent Phil, flourishing under professional pressure but falling apart when it comes to personal relationships. And Jesse Eisenberg is excellent as the gently neurotic, sexually confident and eventually nightclub owning Bobby, in a role that – having missed out on seeing Woody Allen’s gradual development throughout the decades – I see as being precisely the same kind of role that Mr Allen would have written for himself back in the 70s. Talking of which, I only realised afterwards, when doing a little research before writing this post, that Woody Allen is the narrator of the film. I certainly didn’t recognise his voice. But he does a good job, with some nice levels of understatement and comic timing.

Blake Lively in Cafe SocietyThis isn’t a film that’s going to shake the world, but as a gentle and attractive snapshot of America in the 30s, it’s 96 minutes spent in the company of entertaining characters in a privileged environment that balances fantasy with reality – and comes down on the side of a comfy cushion somewhere between the two.

Another Film Seen (well a DVD actually) The Social Network

The Social NetworkIt was our anniversary a few weeks ago. Not a major one, just an in-between one. So I bought Mrs Chrisparkle everything you needed for a night in. A box of chocolates, a bottle of champagne, a bottle of Saint-Emilion (sheep as lamb syndrome) and a DVD. I say “DVD”, but in fact it was our first ever blu-ray purchase, as our new “Sound Bar” (so trendy) is also a blu-ray player. “You’ll notice such a difference”, said the salesman.

Well the chocolates were eaten in pretty short order, so I thought I’d better buy another box. That too got consumed rapido, and the Saint-Emilion went the way of all flesh last Sunday. But that left the champagne (really nice) and the DVD. I bought “The Social Network” because a) we’d heard of it; b) I use Facebook a lot; c) it was up for a number of Oscars; d) it was in the blu-ray charts; and e) it was the only film in the charts that wasn’t either violent or for kiddywinks. Ergo, The Social Network was the recipient of my purchasing power.

It was pretty early on in the proceedings that we both agreed we really didn’t care one iota what happened to any of the characters. Mrs Chrisparkle was prepared to bale out about twenty minutes in, I urged caution in the hope that it might improve. It didn’t really, but we did stay to the bitter end.

Jesse Eisenberg Did you ever see Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus”? One of the criticisms of the older generation of the young upstart Mozart was that his music had “too many notes”. Well here is a film that has too many words. Far too many. From the start to the finish you are subject to a verbal assault that bombards the senses and leaves you drained. I have no doubt that Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is an accurate depiction of someone with Asperger’s Syndrome or Narcissistic Personality Disorder or whatever it is that he has, but I found the constant pounding of the words out of his mouth intensely tiring.

Armie Hammer It’s certainly a clever cinematic trick that one actor (Armie Hammer) played both the Winklevoss twins. In fact I didn’t realise it until I came to research this blog post. Presumably that’s why it won the Oscar for Best Film Editing. Well I can’t argue with that. The scene where the twins were complaining to the President (was that his title?) of Harvard was probably the most entertaining of the whole film. As usual, I hadn’t seen any of these actors before. I didn’t think any particular role was performed in a knock-out excellent way.

The big problem though for us was that there was no feeling of suspense at all in the film – we knew about the court case over the “ownership” of Facebook, so we knew where it was all heading; most of the characters were either unpleasant or one-dimensional so there was no identifying with anyone; and the script struck me as remarkably unwitty – perhaps I’m too old to laugh at rowers with their pants down or a guy being accompanied by a chicken. The whole effect was to make me want to use Twitter more.

Reviews So I’m reading the reviews on the front of the dvd box: “Masterpiece” (The Times); “An American Landmark” (Rolling Stone); “One of the truly defining films of its era” (Radio Times); “Inspiring” (Daily Mail); “Smart, exciting and thought-provoking” (The Sunday Times) and I wonder which film’s screening they actually attended. Remind me to take no notice of these organs’ arts reviews in future.

And how was the blu-ray aspect? It was fine. I guess I was expecting something more though. I didn’t think it made that much of a difference. Still, the champagne was nice.