In Woody Allen’s new film, To Rome With Love, characters describe an “Ozymandian melancholy.” That is a reference to the poem “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. It is the story of a man who describes an enormous ancient statue that is all broken and decayed. Hundreds, maybe thousands of years before, an arrogant king had the statue erected to show that his power and fame would never die. But today, he is not even remembered. The “Ozymandian melancholy” refers to the sense that all accomplishment, all happiness, all existence is fleeting. Setting the film in a city that is filled with ancient artifacts underscores this theme.
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
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Fans of Seth MacFarlane are familiar with the politically incorrect humor that has made him the world’s highest-paid television writer (“The Family Guy,” “American Dad,” “The Cleveland Show”) and a popular emcee at the raunchy Friar’s Club roasts. They should strap on their seat belts for his first movie, which takes full benefit of the R rating to include outrageous and offensive humor in every category plus a lot of pop culture references. Nothing is sacred here, except the need to make jokes about anything anyone has ever thought sacred. The “oh, no, he didn’t” factor may have them falling out of their seats. Or maybe just the laughter.
Mark Wahlberg, who deserves acting and good sportsmanship awards for this film, plays 35-year-old John, a guy who spends his life smoking weed with his talking teddy bear, Ted (voice of co-screenwriter MacFarlane). This is not a pull-the-string-hear-the-recording talking teddy bear. This is a teddy bear that talks because when John was a bullied, friendless eight-year-old, he made a Christmas wish that came true and promised Ted that they would be best friends for life.
John and Ted are very adult — as in “for adults only,” not as in “mature” when it comes to their pleasures and vocabulary but perpetually juvenile when it comes to things like responsibility and downright childish when it comes to thunderstorms. John’s one brush with actual adulthood is his relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis). He loves her dearly. She loves him, too, and does not mind that he has no education or ambition. But living with the bear is getting on her nerves, especially when she comes home to find him surrounded by hookers.
Most of the movie is repeated jokes about the incongruity of a cute teddy bear with a foul mouth and an flurry of pop culture references and surprise cameos. But some of them are truly hilarious, especially two people named Jones. If there was an Oscar for being a good sport, they’d both win. (more…)
The quality of Woody Allen’s films is incidental, even coincidental. Woody Allen and Adam Sandler may occupy opposite ends of the comedy spectrum when it comes to their audiences and cultural touchstones. Sandler’s touchstones are “I Love the 80’s” faded celebrities and Allen’s are philosophers, New York, and jazz musicians. But they have more in common than their mutual fixations with nostalgia, male characters afflicted with arrested development, and sex. Both, thanks to the enabling devotion of their dedicated audiences, are enabled to make movies that are closer to conceptual art than fully-realized story-telling.
For Allen, who averages a film a year, his real art form is the perpetual production schedule. The prestige factor means that he can get top actors — both in ability and box office appeal to reassure the budget guys — for microscopic fractions of their usual fees. He keeps the same crew. All he has to do is provide a script. But because his priority is getting the film made rather than awards, critical reception, or selling tickets, movies like “To Rome With Love” feel like they came out of the oven without being fully cooked. It plays like a first draft, or even a handful of random notes grabbed at random from a drawer because the cameras were ready to roll.
Allen continues his tour of the capitals of Europe by setting his story in Rome, or, I should say, stories. A stunningly unoriginal opening shows us an Italian traffic cop, who advises us that Rome has many stories. Like an episode of “The Love Boat” he combines four stories, and these are variations on the themes of love, sex, music, aging, and what one character calls “Ozymondian melancholy,” a nostalgic pre-occupation with the past.
A successful architect (Alec Baldwin) confronts a younger version of himself (“The Social Network’s” Jesse Eisinberg), or perhaps himself as a younger man, to try to prevent him from making a disastrous mistake by betraying his lovely, stable, devoted girlfriend (a criminally underused Greta Gerwig) with her high-maintenance friend (a criminally mis-cast Ellen Page, who is supposed to be seductive and neurotic). A naive newlywed couple from the country come to the big city on their honeymoon. As they prepare to meet his very conservative relatives, who have offered him a high-paid job, they get tangled up in deception that includes a fetching prostitute (Penelope Cruz, one of the film’s highlights) and a predatory movie star. An ordinary man (Oscar winner Roberto Benigni) finds himself inexplicably a celebrity, hounded by paparazzi and fans who are fascinated with the most mundane details of his very mundane life. At first, he enjoys the attention and takes advantage of his fame, but then it becomes tiresome. And Allen himself plays a retired opera director who is visiting his daughter (Allison Pill, who was Zelda Fitzgerald in “Midnight in Paris”) and meet her Italian fiancé He discovers that the fiancé’s father, an undertaker, has a magnificent tenor voice, but only in the shower. There is a lot time spent on extraneous conflicts with the Allen character’s wife (Judy Davis) and the lefty politics of the younger couple that never goes anywhere.
There are some very funny lines and some mild humor from the situations, but the best that can be said of it is that just as not much energy was expended in making it, not much will be required to enjoy and then forget it.
You might expect a movie about strippers to be either a glossy Hollywood fantasy or a gritty, sour, documentary. The surprise of “Magic Mike” is that it avoids both extremes with an appealing naturalness and intimacy that softens but does not glamorize its setting.
It is inspired by the experiences of co-producer and star Channing Tatum as an exotic dancer before he broke through as an unexpectedly versatile actor (“Step Up,” “G.I. Joe,” “Dear John,” “21 Jump Street”). Equally versatile director Stephen Soderburgh (“Traffic,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” “Oceans 11”) gently bumps the story a couple of degrees away from the sordid to keep things fun and even romantic. The big musical numbers are grander and more elaborate than anything you might actually see in a small Tampa club catering to sorority girls and bachelorette parties. But even when it gets debauched and dangerous, it is still kind of sweet. It has a bit of the sense of discovery of Robert Altman’s “The Company.” Plus, those guys have some moves. The dance numbers are a blast, witty, sexy, and very wooo-worthy.
Tatum plays Mike, a would-be entrepreneur who does a little of this and that (and wears very little of this and even less of that) as he tries to straighten out his financial situation so that he can pursue his dream of designing furniture. He meets a young college drop-out named Adam (Alex Pettyfer), and introduces him to the world of exotic dancing, from trolling bars to entice girls to come to the show to turning himself into the fantasy lover they love to be scandalized by. The owner is Dallas (Matthew McConaughey), who has promised Mike he will open up a big club in Miami and make Mike his partner. (Drinking game: take a shot every time McConaughey says “all right.”)
Adam lives with his sister Brooke, played by the very appealing Cody Horn, who has a wonderful easy chemistry with Tatum. So there is a classic structure, with Mike in the center between the hardened and cynical Dallas and the naive kid in a candy store Adam, drawn to the dream of a different life with Brooke. What takes this out of the category of fluff is the way the story is unaffectedly located in the reality of the economic struggles of the area and our time. Mike tries to persuade a bank loan officer to give him some money, shoving stacks of bills across her desk and not quite understanding that even though he is still selling, this transaction differs from the easy and sleazy environments he frequents. But she sees who he is. So does Brooke, and that helps him to see himself beyond the breakaway pants.