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Just as I've found a newfound appreciation for Elvis Costello, I've likewise
opened my heart to Woody Allen (my New Year's resolution: be nicer to nerdy
art-types). I even saw Deconstructing Harry twice, (after which I read a
Woody Allen collection of short pieces and rented both Bananas and
Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex). Hey, what can I say I
thought The Purple Rose Of Cairo might've been a fluke, but I guess I'm just
a Woody Allen fan now.
Deconstructing Harry is laugh-out-loud funny, tracing the steps of Harry Block, a neurotic, foul-mouthed, Jewish, self-hating, pill-popping, womanizing alcoholic (three wives and six therapists later) that oddly enough, resembles Woody Allen and his own life (give or take a few things). Block has (giggle) writer's block, and can't write about his life. As a result, he becomes `unfocused,' entangling himself in fact and fiction (i.e. he interacts with his own characters). `You expect the world to adjust to the distortion you've become,' Harry's analyst tells him. What follows is a series of skits that interact with the past and present and the real and imagined it's kind of like watching a Kurt Vonnegut story edited by Quentin Tarentino.
The all-star cast is phenomenal: Robin Williams is hilarious, Kirstie Alley is hysterically funny, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is super-sexy and Elizabeth Shue is as sweet as sugar. Billy Crystal even pulls off a good role as the Devil. But other than the characterization, Woody's new flick is witty, cold-hearted, extremely vulgar, often tasteless and perfectly profane with enough catch-lines to keep film buffs cracking for years (`I always keep a little hooker money around'). Hannah And Her Sisters this ain't!
Regardless of what Woody Allen may do in real life, he surely shines
his films. Just like the main character in this film who can't seem to get
personal matters resolved, Allen faces the same predicament each day. He
lets his films do the talking and stays away from the limelight.
Deconstructing Harry does him justice in a few sequences as to what he
and how the media treats him.
This film showcases some of Allen's better quirks when it comes to storywriting and directing. The much used "jump cut" effect helps to create a world that is disjointed from all else. When things are going fine, there are no jump cuts. However when things are less than opportune jump cuts add confusion to the scene and are used more often as the tension increases. The "out of focus" effect is the first of its kind and is very funny. The Robin Williams cameo didn't have much meaning, but his scene was one of the funniest due to him losing his touch. The same effect is used on Allen himself later in the film in another hillarious scene.
The storyline has many layers and isn't at all confusing (as others may have you believe) to the viewer. The use of actors portraying actors in this film is pure Allen genius and is another way that this film differs itself from the crowd. It is not so much that one follows along to see what happens to Harry, but rather to see what is going to happen next. When Allen needs an entourage to go to his alma mater honouring, he ends up taking a very unlikely group. The humour is at times crude and pokes fun at his usual groups (ie - ultraorthodox jews, hookers, WASP's and just about everyone else).
Allen uses his interesting techniques and smart plot to make this such a good film. One can only wonder how he always gets the foxes. At least he got Billy Crystal to play the devil. How fitting.
Woody bares his soul--again--and if the introspective vision of the sad
clown (growing old) isn't what you're expecting, the film is likely to be a
disappointment. The film is funny, of course, and vulgar (as most Allen
movies are), but it's also bitter and cynical, and rather
The jerky jump-cuts might be a stylized editing cover-up for jumping from take to take to utilise the best performances of a pantheon of actors, or they might be planned...I don't know. I had to see a few of them before I settled into accepting them as "the style", but I decided they work in this film.
Other "user comments" complain about Woody and the sexy young women. That bothers me in some films, but not here. Here it's part of Harry's character--part of Woody's "character"--and is clearly part of his problem.
I think this is an honest film, a sad and revealing film about one of the most clever and creative writers in America. It's funny, it's witty, and it's also depressing. It has moments of pure, laugh-out-loud humour (eg. the elevator going down to the bottom floor of hell; Harry arriving at the honouring ceremony with a dead body, a prostitute, and his "kidnapped" son in the car), but underneath it's the story of a man who cannot function happily in real life, only in the fictions he creates. Although fantasy plays a major role in the story, the story is not a fantasy. The parallels between Allen himself and the character and plot he's created here are obvious.
I enjoyed watching this video, and would recommend it-- selectively--to friends. If you like the Allen sense of humour, want to see a fairly unusual editing style used effectively, want to see some superb acting cameos by some very talented actors, or have an interest in the torments of a neurotic middle-aged genius and how they might be revealed on film, then you'll like this movie. If this doesn't sound like your kind of thing, watch something else.
It isn't as lovable as "Annie Hall" or "Hannah and Her Sisters," and it's not as overtly philosophical as "Crimes and Misdemeanors." And that's probably why "Deconstructing Harry" is underrated by film/Allen fans. Still, it ranks among the Top 5 Allen films. Woody plays a Philip Roth-like fiction writer who is lecherous, unlikable, and disloyal; in dropping his "cute loser" shtick, the performance rings with more honesty than he's had in years. In a nod to Bergman's "Wild Strawberries," Allen's character has a chance to reflect on his life as he travels to a university for an honor. Memories mix with scenes this writer's fiction, providing opportunities for the large and excellent ensemble cast. Many of Allen's later films seem tired, but the neurotic jumpiness he brings to "Deconstructing Harry" reinjects energy into his work. If you loved "Husbands and Wives," try this. I rate it 9.
In a string of films that recapitulate familiar themes, this one stands out
as perhaps the loudest cry of anguish and self-loathing, and it's a comedy.
Where Woody Allen has paid serious hommages to other artists' bleak "heaviosity" (his word) and inevitably come up short, here he does a blistering comic riff on two of the greatest films of the 20th century, Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" and Fellini's "8½."
The parallels to the Bergman film are obvious and much discussed. The bits of Fellini are less often recognized, including the complaining wife, the impossible mistress, other people's demands creating a totally chaotic existence, closing with a yearning fantasy of getting everybody in his life together in one place and time to create harmony and wholeness. In Woody's version, we even have a double for Mia in the reunion, as if some kind of healing reconciliation were possible.
So Woody hits the wall, looks at his life, can't stand any of it and rips the bark off his own skin. What can seem like self-indulgence in other films is not forgiven here. He writes scathing, vituperative attacks on himself for other character's mouths and the viewer can only gape.
Lots of fun, but not for the whole family.
The only mystery is why, at the time I write this, Imdb singles out such a lame misfire of a slam for the first page of this movie's entry. Just about anybody else who has posted has a better understanding of the film.
I'm sure some people wouldn't agree with me, but this movie is a great
piece of art on film. Like Hitchcock, Coppola, and others, Woody Allen
is a real cinema artist. He makes great use of the possibilities of
cinema without losing himself in expensive special effects.
Of course cinema is a medium to create a near-perfect realism on a fictional story. But it can also be an artistic medium. Playing with the possibilities. An example in this film is Robin Williams. A men who is 'out of focus'.
The story is, like most films, not very original. A character that struggles with his personality and social life. But unlike most movies, you can see an artist made this film. It's a Woody Allen creation. His own style, his own characters, his own humor. Not a collection of an expensive scriptwriter with an expensive director, an expensive special effects team , an expensive director of photography etc. to make a total non-personal creation for the big public. Of course the whole crew did a perfect job, but it is surely a Woody Allen film!
A great movie with a nice plot. Some nice switching in timeline and fiction / reality (for the story that is) makes it more interesting then the story really is. Also the jumpcuts, the camera movement, the cast and the humor are making this film a must see! Even if you are not a Woody Allen fan you will like this movie. If you are a fan of big blockbuster movies (standard Hollywood confention movies) this movie is a must see as well! Not only to see the real art of cinema (something different then perfect special effects) but also just for a nice evening and some good humor.
Very funny, very coarse, very Woody Allen. This movie not only has autobiographical elements, Harry Block to a large extent is Woody Allen himself. I think never a director exposed the weaknesses of his own "ego" as mercilessly as Woody did in this film, descending into the deepest layers of the "id", into the very depths of hell (literally, with all the molten lava and sulfur smoke that go with it)! But Woody Allen covers this merciless exercise of psychoanalysis with a thick cover of humor. It is also a very funny movie!
Deconstructing Harry is Woody Allen's masterpiece. The editing is
unlike anything else Allen has done, full of little cuts which give the
movie a level of abstraction that raises you above the narrative
thread. It was instantly my favorite Allen film and has remained so
ever since. Praised when it came out for its unflinching honesty, it
eschews the self-glorifying cuteness of his other
quasi-autobiographical movies such as Stardust Memories and Annie Hall
and even Manhattan.
The main conceit of this movie is that Allen's character, writer Harry Block (get it?), meets his alter egos and other characters from his writing as though in real life. Block's characters have been modeled with almost no attempt to disguise them on his relatives and ex-relationships, which infuriates and sometimes devastates them. You have to follow very carefully to distinguish the "real life" relatives from the alter egos who spring to life from the pages of his books.
Block has many very seamy weaknesses and peccadilloes which he readily admits and indulges without remorse. His "real life" relatives and exes submit him to scathing criticism and resentment, while their "fictional" counterparts contribute a more dispassionate and omniscient commentary on Block's misdeeds and poor judgment. The cast is among Allen's most star-studded and uniformly brilliant. It's always fun to watch actors appearing in their only Allen film, and there are many here. My favorite is Billy Crystal, who plays a friend of Block's who stole his lover--and also appears as the devil giving Block the cook's tour of the tenth circle of Hell.
To maintain this complexity of voices requires brilliant writing, and Allen does not disappoint. My favorite quote is:
Doris: Your whole life, it's nihilism, it's cynicism, it's sarcasm and orgasm.
Block: You know, in France, I could run on that slogan and win.
If I were one for condescendingly dogmatic assertions, and I'm not, but if I were, I would tell you that if you do not love this movie, you are watching Woody Allen movies for the wrong reasons.
For the record, rounding out my top five Allen movies are: Mighty Aphrodite, Bullets Over Broadway, Small Time Crooks, and Stardust Memories, with honorable mention to Shadows and Fog.
It's a shame that so much negative criticism focuses on Deconstructing
Harry's bad language, because this is one of Allen's funniest, smartest
and most perceptive films. In fact, it may actually be his best film
full stop only Manhattan and Crimes and Misdemeanours can challenge
Harry. But although the bad language and crudity may affect some
people's enjoyment of the film, for me, as someone who loves bad taste,
it's a major benefit, especially as it's a side of Allen we rarely see.
I mean, we're used to the romantic Allen and the neurotic Allen, and
we've even had serious Allen, but here you have Allen almost becoming
Philip Roth. It's very enjoyable to watch.
In this film, Allen's alter ego is Harry Block, a writer in the mould of Philip Roth who, in the words of one his exes, turns everyone else's suffering into literary gold. And this assertion is corroborated by the opening scene, a section from one his books where a man and a woman who are having an affair, during a barbecue, decide to have sex in a bathroom while their spouses are eating in the garden. It's a very funny scene, especially as an attempted blow-job is interrupted by a false alarm (the woman grinds her teeth when the man spots his wife) and as some doggy-style sex is interrupted by the woman's blind grandmother coming into the room (when asked what's happening, the woman tells her grandmother that she's making Martinis while they continue banging away). But while the scene is absolutely hilarious, it does also have a point. This is a scene from Harry's life. He's using it in his work. Therefore his ex isn't too happy to find this episode in his book. Of course, Harry tries to explain that it was 'loosely based' (the grandmother was an embellishment), but that doesn't cut much ice with his ex, who's having all of the sordid details of her affair revealed to friends and family. So the film touches on ideas of a writer's responsibility. What's exploitation and what's inspiration?
One of the most revealing sections of the film is when Harry talks to his therapist. He discusses his attitude to women. "I'm always thinking of f****** every woman I meet I see a woman on a bus. I think what she looks like naked. Is it possible I might f*** her?" Essentially Harry is a man who has never grown up. He can't commit and he can't sustain a relationship with a woman, a fact backed up by his string of exes and his affection for prostitutes. Indeed, for him, whores are perfect. You don't have to woo them, they don't nag you and they do whatever you want; all you've got to do is pay them. And in the film, Harry takes Cookie, a black prostitute ("Do you know what a black hole is?" Harry asks her. "Yeah, that's how I make my living.") with him to an honouring ceremony at his old school.
Harry also takes a friend along with him and his young son well, he actually 'kidnaps' his son. And the whole journey, the whole act of going back to remember the past, brings back memories of stories he wrote, stories that are thinly veiled versions of actual events. One of the funniest is a story of a man who married his therapist. At first everything is great, the woman understands the man like no other woman in the world. But once they have a child she becomes "Jewish with a vengeance". No longer is she smart and funny and sexy; all of a sudden she's a dowdy nag who's rediscovered her religion. And in one hilarious moment she even prays before administering a blow-job. Again it's highly amusing, but again it has a point; Harry wants everything to remain perfect. He can't understand why people have to change. I mean, even having a child doesn't change him. He talks to his son about naming his penis. He may be getting on, but he's still really just a kid.
Harry's whole life philosophy is neatly summed up by his half-sister: "You have no values. With you it's all nihilism, cynicism, sarcasm and orgasm." To which Harry quips, "Hey, in France I could run for office with that slogan, and win!" But although Harry may be deemed to be juvenile, he's entirely correct about religion. He tells his devout sister that they're clubs and that their function is to exclude people. And then he asks her whether it bothers her more when a Jew gets killed or a gentile. She says a Jew death bothers her more "They're my people." "They're all our people," he replies. I'm with Harry. Religions are nothing but divisive. Plus they encourage people to prove how devout they are as if you can be more Jewish than someone else, or more Catholic etc. It all becomes a competition.
But amongst all this, the only thing that Harry can do to remain sane is to write. Somehow life doesn't make any sense but fiction does. I guess it's a problem most writers have. To able to write you have to observe, but the more you observe the less you understand why people behave the way they do. Plus the more you observe the more you actually remove yourself from life. However, self-examination does allow Harry to become more perceptive as regards himself. In fact, his characters help him out a lot, as they offer insights that he couldn't possibly come up with alone. So although the film's coarse, it ends up being quite optimistic. Salvation lies within.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Woody Allen's vainly revealing, yet mostly unflattering
self-portrait-film succeeds by remaining increasingly challenging,
surprising and offensive throughout its 1.5 hour runtime. With a large
all-star cast of A-listers entertaining in supporting roles, Allen
deftly blurs the lines between his real-life self and his on-screen
character, between reality and fiction, between confabulation and
recollection. His charming artistic talents and disturbing character
flaws are on full display with equal transparency, finished off with a
touch of his trademark cynicism. Allen's concluding self- assessment is
both poignant and relevant for those of us privileged enough to live in
the developed world.
Not to be overlooked is the sometimes shocking black and blue comedy: a mixture of tasteless sight gags, crude language and hyperbole that culminates in a perfectly outlandish final sequence that may or may not take place outside of our universe. The original and disoriented editing reinforces the dream-like quality of the picture and also charges viewers to confront the ways in which we voluntarily distort our own perceptions of reality. It is this insight that separates Deconstructing Harry from Allen's other pictures, which are generally shallow (albeit entertaining), self-serving examinations of love, lust and the "meaning of life." Those who say that this film is mainly recycled material or that this is just an unapologetic attempt by Allen to repair his image have sadly missed the point.
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