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The New Review: Critics: Television & DVDs: HOME CINEMA: This woman on the verge may get Woody a decent headline
[February 17, 2014]

The New Review: Critics: Television & DVDs: HOME CINEMA: This woman on the verge may get Woody a decent headline

(Observer (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) With apologies to Dylan Farrow, who would attach sterner moral implications to this question than those I intend: what's your favourite Woody Allen movie of the 21st century? It's been a slightly painful question for a while now, usually drawing less-than-ringing endorsements along the lines of: "Midnight in Paris was harmless enough", or: "Vicky Cristina Barcelona, if you mute the voiceover bits." At last, however, there's an easy answer: Blue Jasmine (Warner, 12), imperfect as it is in fractious and interesting ways, is something genuinely remarkable.

Much of that comes down to Cate Blanchett's daring, last-nerve performance as the title character, a spoilt society wife experiencing the mother of all Xanax comedowns after her husband is jailed for tax fraud - a tragicomic turn of Gena Rowlands proportions that is all but certain to win her a deserved second Oscar in two weeks' time. But it also boasts Allen's most angular script since Husbands and Wives - one with characters who actually respond to each other, rather than just glassily mouthing Allen's own foibles and intellectual preferences. (They do that too, of course, but with genuine personal vim.) His real-world impressions are still weirdly off-base, and the dive into Tennessee Williams melodrama more a lurch, but it's only half a slight to say this would have been even-par Woody in his golden run of the 1980s: it's a film that feels directly transported from that most brittle, literate, female-fascinated phase of his career.

It also features a pithy shorthand turn from Alec Baldwin, but for those who prefer him flabby and ever-present there's Seduced and Abandoned (Soda, 15), a droll if dauntlessly smug not-quite-documentary starring Baldwin as himself, swanning around the Cannes film festival with his leering writer-director pal James Toback. As they pitch a misbegotten-sounding remake of Last Tango in Paris to a glittering array of bemused/befuddled A-listers, none of whom comes off better than Ryan Gosling reflecting on past audition horrors, the idea is to expose the industry's absurdities, but their own are made equally clear.

Somehow they avoid running into Benedict Cumberbatch, despite his having featured in 78% of all films made in the last year: a great big-screen showcase still eludes him, though he's a playfully frosty, film-saving presence as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate (Entertainment One, 15), Bill Condon's otherwise drab, box-ticking trudge of a WikiLeaks thriller. It's a wonder he hasn't yet been absorbed into the plummy, reptilian ensemble of Game of Thrones (Warner, 15), the third season of which hits DVD shelves tomorrow. I'm a late convert to this particular TV phenomenon, but am now alarmingly hooked on its combination of arch classical dramatics and gleefully trashy, healthily pansexual bodice-ripping.

This week's streaming pick is the last gasp of My French Film Festival 2014, an online collection of recent, lower-profile Gallic cinema now accessible at a bargain rate via Curzon Home Cinema: 12 films for pounds 12. They're a predictably mixed bag: I advise skipping past Louis-Do de Lencquesaing's smarmy Au galop and alighting instead on Alice Winocour's sensually reckless period drama Augustine, which is the film David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method should have been. Those wary of discovery, meanwhile, can fall back on the inclusion of Jacques Demy's evergreen, ever-luminous The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - also recently reissued on gorgeous Blu-ray.

Captions: Oscar-nominated Cate Blanchett delivers 'a tragicomic turn of Gena Rowlands proportions' in Blue Jasmine.

(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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