Tag Archives: New York City

Top 100 Films #3 – Annie Hall (1977)

 

annie-hall#3. Annie Hall (1977)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Tony Roberts, Carol Kane

Woody Allen is a writer-director who I’ve always revered – his incredibly amount of output and passion for the arts is a great source of inspiration for me as a writer and film enthusiast. Even when his films are bad or mediocre, there’s passion and heart to them. His 1977 film Annie Hall is arguably the greatest film he’s ever made, featuring a great love story, hilarious Woody Allen dialogue, and terrific performances. Annie Hall stars Woody Allen as Alvy Singer, a neurotic comedian reflecting on his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton), which we find out has ended a year ago. Alvy chronicles his childhood in New York, where he obsessed over the meaning of his existence, and was punished for his early sexual curiosity. Through a series of flashbacks, Alvy and Annie meet after a doubles tennis game with friends, and the two awkwardly hit it off. Things progress wonderfully until Annie moves in with Alvy, which creates tension in the relationship. The two eventually break up, date other people, and reconcile shortly after when Annie needs Alvy’s help with killing a spider in the middle of the night. Soon after their reconciliation, the relationship once again falls apart, this time permanently – both characters are glad to have loved one another, even if it wasn’t always filled with good times. Annie Hall is one of the most beloved romantic comedies in Hollywood history – it even beat Star Wars for Best Picture at the 1978 Academy Awards. The screenplay by Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman is highly intelligent and often morbidly hilarious, playing on Woody Allen’s fascinations with death, existence, and the creative process. Even through the script’s intellectual and neurotic nature, Allen and Brickman manage to create one of the most genuine and heartfelt romantic stories ever told on film – one that doesn’t just focus on the best moments in a relationship. The use of flashbacks and non-linear storytelling allows for Allen and Brickman to explore the past of Alvy Singer, including the failed marriages and relationships that have shaped his views on romance. Both Woody Allen and Diane Keaton shine throughout Annie Hall, carrying dramatic and comedic weight like no other on-screen pairing could. Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer is his usual highly neurotic and obsessive, but still confident and arrogant, self, while Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall is adorably goofy, strong-willed, and highly intelligent. The two had such obvious on-screen chemistry in their many collaborations, undoubtedly aided by their brief real life romantic relationship. Annie Hall is Woody Allen at his absolute funniest as a writer and a performer, somehow managing to make both Ingmar Bergman and holocaust documentary The Sorrow and the Pity humorous. The writing and storytelling feels personal and genuine, and the film’s ending feels groundbreaking for the time – not giving the audience the “fairy tale”-esque ending they might be asking for. Annie Hall is Woody Allen’s greatest achievement as a writer and director, and may even be the film where he finally found his voice. It’s hilarious, romantic, heartbreaking, genuine, and smart – everything a Woody Allen movie should be.

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Top 100 Films #62 – Dog Day Afternoon (1975)

 

dog_day_afternoon_5#62. Dog Day Afternoon (1975)
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Frank Pierson (based on The Boys in the Bank by P.F. Kluge, Thomas Moore)
Starring: Al Pacino, John Cazale, James Broderick, Charles Durning, Chris Sarandon

Dog Day Afternoon is Sidney Lumet’s intense standoff film loosely based on the true story of two bank robbers in early 1970’s Brooklyn.  Al Pacino and John Cazale star as Sonny and Sal, two men who walk into the First Brooklyn Savings Bank and hold it up for all the money in the vault.  Unfortunately for Sonny and Sal, they’ve arrived after the daily cash pickup and turn up nearly empty-handed. On top of this, their already lousy luck is about to run up – neighbouring businesses have reported suspicious activities to the police, who are on their way to the scene of the ongoing holdup. Before they know it, the bank is surrounded by police officers and their plan has been foiled.  Dog Day Afternoon is an essential New York movie, painting the city in a hot, muggy light that I’ve seen matched by few films.  Lumet and writing Frank Pierson create two erratic, flamboyant characters in Sonny and Sal, but one could argue that the film’s most compelling character is New York City itself – the passersby on the street wondering what’s going on inside, the police officers surrounding the building, those being held hostage in the bank – everything about it feels right.  Lumet and Pierson inject the film with intensity and just the right amount of dark humour – their situation is bizarre and unfortunate, but it always feels like there might be a way out for Sonny and Sal.  Dog Day Afternoon perfectly captures the newfound cynicism of the early 1970’s, leaving the romanticism of the 60’s far behind. Gone are the idealized and unrealistic characters, replaced by far more believable, flawed, and reflective modern characters.  Al Pacino’s Sonny is a great example of this dramatic shift in Hollywood and the rest of America – his character becomes something of an antihero in the eyes of the pedestrians surrounding the bank, his struggle and frustrations represent many of their own. Pacino is terrific in the film, leading John Cazale’s reluctant Sal through the ordeal, holding negotiations with officers, interacting with hostages – he commands the scene through every minute of the movie.  The always wonderful John Cazale is another highlight of the film, serving as Sonny’s more impulsive, easily panicked partner in crime.  It’s a shame that Cazale wasn’t long for the world, because he was and incredibly versatile and assured actor.  Dog Day Afternoon is essential watching for fans of crime movies – especially involving hostage negotiations or siege-like conditions.  It’s tense, it’s bizarre, it’s well-acted, and its atmosphere just can’t be beat by modern films.  

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Top 100 Films #81 – Manhattan (1979)

 

woody-allen-movies-wallpapers-hd_1#81. Manhattan (1979)
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen, Marshall Brickman
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Mariel Hemingway, Meryl Streep, Anne Byrne

Woody Allen’s best years came between the late 1970’s and throughout the majority of the 1980’s, with the occasional classic being released afterward. Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan uses the winning romantic comedy formula that saw Annie Hall win Best Picture in 1977, creating a funny, charming, and highly intelligent film in the process.  While Manhattan never quite reaches the highs of the aforementioned Annie Hall, it easily places second among Woody’s prolific career.  Starring Woody Allen himself as Isaac, a TV writer obsessed with New York City who is dating a 17-year old girl named Tracy (Mariel Hemingway). Things become complicated when Isaac begins seeing Mary (Diane Keaton), the mistress of his best friend Yale (Michael Murphy).  The love triangle dynamic is a classic trope in the romantic comedy, and one that Allen has used throughout his filmography.  The difference here is that Manhattan feels much more genuine and heartfelt than many other Hollywood rom-coms, doing its best to avoid falling into cheap cliches.  The way Woody Allen portrays forbidden romance in a place like New York City comes straight from the heart, with the writer-director turning the bustling city streets into a romantic figure of its own.  Allen uses black and white photography to its full effect here, supported by the legendary cinematographer Gordon Willis.  The pair would create one of the most famous and enduring images of Woody Allen’s entire career (pictured above).  Mariel Hemingway’s Academy Awards-nominated performance is the standout of Manhattan, driving the film’s main theme of bittersweet romance almost singlehandedly in moments.  Familiar comedic turns from Woody Allen and Diane Keaton certainly don’t hurt the film, using their famous chemistry to play off one another in performances that rival those found in Annie Hall.  Manhattan is one of Woody Allen’s most beautiful films, which in a career spanning fifty years is saying a great deal.  

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Black Directors Feature #2 – Super Fly (1972)

Superfly_posterSuper Fly (1972)
Directed by: Gordon Parks Jr.
Written by: Phillip Fenty
Starring: Ron O’Neal, Sheila Frazier, Julius Harris, Charles McGregor, Carl Lee

If nothing else, 1972’s Super Fly shows off the great amount of potential and passion in director Gordon Parks Jr.  Taking a page out of his father’s book after the massive success of Shaft, Gordon Jr. immediately jumped into the growing blaxploitation sub-genre that was blossoming in the years following.  With Super Fly, Gordon Parks Jr. attempts to make a name for himself, while also staying true to the formula established by his father’s highly-influential style and formula.  Coming just one year after Shaft, Super Fly’s most notable elements were its highly acclaimed and successful soul soundtrack, its drug dealing protagonist (becoming almost the antithesis of Shaft’s mostly law-abiding private detective), and the film’s mostly serious look at the drug underworld of 1970’s New York City.  Though the film didn’t fare quite as well critically or at the box office as his father’s movie did, Super Fly accomplished just as much.  It’s budget was a meager $58,000, and yet it managed to make more than $6 million at the box office and in later video rentals.  Its soundtrack was even more successful than the actual film, out-grossing the film in sales and going on to live as its own separate entity.  Soul and funk artist Curtis Mayfield wrote, composed, and performed every track on the film’s soundtrack, creating multiple legendary funk songs like “Pusherman”, “Freddie’s Dead”, and the titular “Superfly”.  Super Fly’s soundtrack sat at the top of the United State’s pop charts for four weeks straight, and even charted two of its singles on pop and black music charts.  Both the album and the film were praised for their critical look at the poverty and drug abuse situations that many black New Yorkers were facing at the time, and have both gone on to live in the minds of audiences and critics decades later.  Unfortunately, director Gordon Parks Jr. was tragically killed at age 44 after an airplane crash in Kenya, just seven years after the release of Super Fly.  He directed three relatively successful blaxploitation films before his passing – Three the Hard Way featuring stars Jim Kelly, Jim Brown, and Fred Williamson, a crime film in the vain of Bonnie & Clyde titled Thomasine & Bushrod, and a soul film called Aaron Loves Angela – and was working on a fifth film at the time of his death.  The film’s success spawned two sequels, one in 1973, and one much later in 1990.

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Super Fly tells the story of a young New York City coke dealer called Youngblood Priest (played by Ron O’Neal).  After being jumped and mugged by junkies, he pursues them and beats them both up until they return the money that was stolen from him.  This seems like a regular occurrence for Youngblood, as he quickly shakes it off and goes about his daily business.  Priest collects money from his dealers, sells cocaine to high-ticket clients, and does business with colleagues Fat Freddie (Charles McGregor), Scatter (Julius Harris) and Eddie (Carl Lee).  Youngblood’s plan is to execute one last large scale drug deal and to retire early.  He’s become jaded to the ways of drug pushing in the streets, and looks to get out while the going’s good.  After the murder of his close friend and business partner, Priest gets involved with the local mafia to eliminate the detectives responsible.  Youngblood suspects a police conspiracy taking place to benefit directly from his and Eddie’s operations, and looks to solve the problem once and for all.  Can Priest get out of the game safely and stick it to the man, or are the forces working against him and his small empire going to prove too much to handle?  Find out in Gordon Parks Jr.’s groovy Super Fly.

It’s impossible not to compare Gordon Parks Jr.’s Super Fly to his father’s breakout film Shaft.  Both were made on incredibly low budgets and made the best of what little they had to work with, both were breakout successes critically and commercially, both films feature the underworld of 1970’s New York, and the soundtracks for both films went on to achieve as much fame and success as the actual films themselves.  That being said, I have to acknowledge here and now that Super Fly unfortunately isn’t half the film that Shaft is.  While I can understand its cultural influence and the pretty groundbreaking nature of its drug dealing elements, as well as the idea of crooked cops looking to make a quick penny on the side, but it just feels minor once it’s all said and done.  The film looks and feels lower in budget than Shaft, which sometimes works to its benefit and achieves an underground “grungy” atmosphere.  At the same time, much of Super Fly’s script feels too disconnected and unnecessary.  Large portions of the film do nothing to move the film ahead, and instead serve only as pretty cool, but pointless, set pieces.  The biggest offender is the awkward bathtub sex scene in the film’s first half, running far longer than it had to and doing nothing to come off as provocative, interesting, or sexy in any way.  The editing in many scenes is jarring and clumsy, making some pretty dramatic scenes look almost comedic because of how quickly they jump to and fro.  Fortunately, there are some really great elements to Parks Jr.’s film.  The action scenes are hard hitting and effective, the film’s antagonists are perfectly scummy and never too over-the-top or hammy, and Ron O’Neal’s Youngblood Priest is surprisingly cool and easy to sympathize with.  While there’s no doubt that he’s doing his best impression of Richard Roundtree’s John Shaft, O’Neal does enough to set himself apart from that character in the film’s heavier moments.  He really does come across as a desperate man who wants to get out, but knows no life other than the drug-pushing one he’s been living for so long.  The editing isn’t all bad, as the film features a montage of still images of Youngblood and company pushing coke in the streets.  It’s ambitious, unique, and gets the point across while remaining interesting and pushing the film’s plot along.  The film’s soundtrack is undeniably great, especially the uses of Curtis Mayfield’s “Pusherman” and “Freddie’s Dead”, both of which I’ve been whistling and humming the entire time it’s taken me to write this review.  I appreciated the moral grey areas found throughout Super Fly’s story, and really liked that Parks Jr. and writer Phillip Fenty ensured that both their protagonists and antagonists were often playing in the same proverbial ballpark.  Nobody in Super Fly is perfect or even enviable in their moral ambiguity, and it helps the film feel like a genuine portrait of real life issues.

superfly-priest

While it may not be perfect, Super Fly is a very charming early blaxploitation flick that did its best to capitalize on the success of Shaft.  The low-budget film-making is evident in many areas, but it still does its best to feel genuine in its themes of poverty, drug addiction, and corruption.  Ron O’Neals portrayal of Youngblood Priest is impressive in its moral complexity, and the film’s soundtrack is incredible and groundbreaking for the soul genre.  It may be best for new viewers to see it before they move on to films like Shaft, otherwise they run the risk of directly comparing the two admittedly very similar films.  Super Fly definitely proves that Gordon Parks Jr. had a great deal of talent behind the camera, and a very ambitious eye for editing and atmosphere.  I wish he had lived long enough to make a truly great film, but there are far worse things than having Super Fly as his legacy.  When his film is good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad, it’s usually a result of its micro-sized budget.  Despite this, there’s a lot to like about the little film that could.  Super Fly is recommended.

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