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The problem with Woody Allen is that he has made great films, a lot,
and that expectations for his work are always high. With 'Celebrity' it
was not different and therefore it is a little disappointing. If
another writer director would have made this film I think I would have
liked it better. Maybe that is strange, to compare it with his other
films simply happens.
In 'Celebrity' we follow Kenneth Branagh who plays Woody Allen, although he is named Lee Simon. A movie without Woody Allen himself is nice, but with a character that basically is Allen, why not play it yourself? On the other hand, Branagh does a terrific job. We see how Branagh divorces his wife and after that we have single episodes of his life where he meets women, tries to make them his, fails or succeeds, only to enter the next episode. At the same time we follow his ex-wife, Robin (Judy Davis), who meets a new man Tony (Joe Mantegna) and does settle.
Branagh is a writer. He writes a novel, has written two novels with bad reviews and now he finished a screenplay. In the episodes he tries to offer his script or new novel to people who can change it into a movie or book. We have Melanie Griffith and Leonardo DiCaprio as spoiled actors, Famke Janssen as a girl who really likes him and could help get his story into a book, Winona Ryder as the girl he has some real chemistry with and Charlize Theron as a supermodel.
The problem is that every episode feels like an episode instead of everything combined as a movie. The Theron and DiCaprio episodes are great, the Winona Ryder episode is sweet, the others are pretty standard. The intercuts of the ex-wife's life are pretty good as well, but still feel as single episodes.
Although the film as a whole is not that great there are enough moments to enjoy it. You will not be bored. The black and white photography looks terrific and that is something that makes the movie more pleasant. It is well acted and of course directed, but for a Woody Allen comedy it is not my first choice.
As Woody Allen is too old for the lead, Kenneth Branagh literally steps into
his shoes and does such an effective job at playing Woody that he must have
watched every Allen movie at least six times. The film is hilarious but
deep--like his best films. It explores our obsession with celebrities and
the media's obsession with them, and I wonder how much "acting" Leonardo
DiCaprio did for this film. But the more I thought about it afterwards, the
more I realized how sad the movie is at its core--the word "help" being
written in the sky may be what Allen is thinking--is this what we have
become? So obsessed with fortune and fame that we literally prostitute
ourselves and become someone we aren't (i.e. Judy Davis' character)?
The movie seems more timely now than in 1998. Americans seem to be more interested in what Paris Hilton does on TV, or what J-Lo and Affleck are up to, than what's going on in the world. "Celebrity" nails it, and like Deconstructing Harry, does it in a rather vulgar manner. But you have to wonder how much of this is based on real events (again, I cite Di Caprio). This was the second movie (after 2 Days in the Valley) that made me aware of the statuesque beauty of Charlize Theron. I didn't think she could act worth a hoot (that opinion recently changed), but she sure looked like a rich runway model to me. This movie is one of my favorite Woody films of the '90s, and one of his most underrated. It's also visually beautiful, in black & white that recalls the photography of Manhattan.
A lot of the reviews have said that this film is one of the weaker
recent Woody Allen movies, but I actually thought it was his best since
Husbands and Wives. It's much more subtle but every bit as scathing as
Deconstructing Harry. Everyone says Woody's films just aggrandize
himself, but I feel that his latest few have been exercises in
Certain people (in these very pages) have felt that one is supposed to sympathize with the Branagh character. Certain people, we must remember, are on crack. Branagh plays a low-life louse who gives the word narcissim a whole new meaning. He is looking to revitalize his life by entering the world of celebrities. He is contrasted with his ex-wife (the always amazing Judy Davis... who doesn't she do more films?) who is also looking to change her life, but not necessarily by becoming famous. She does become famous, and near the end she says what I think is the key line: "I've become the kind of person I've always detested, but I'm happier." My friend and I had an argument later about what the film was saying: a) that Judy has given up on seriousness and meaning by becoming a celebrity, but now she's happier, or b) that the "entertainment products" that these people turn out don't matter at all, and that if one can find personal happiness (Judy eventually becomes much more social and comfortable with people) by doing them, then that's great. I don't know, but this is a far more interesting treatise on finding happiness than the dreary "Happiness" was.
This is also the funniest Allen film in years, with two total laugh-out-loud lines which I won't spoil here.
Overall, I felt the celebrity part, and all the walk-ons we not at all the focus of this movie, it just uses that world as a backdrop. This film is also very sweet and real, with the scene in which Judy Davis visits a psychic being one of the most intimate and touching I've seen.
One last thing, it's fun to see a Woody Allen film in New York City, because you can watch the audience trying to identify all the places where the scenes are set.
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One of the most brilliant Woody Allen's 90s' pictures, such a mockery
of the "beautiful people" with some traces of a romantic comedy and
some reflexions about couple troubles made in Woody. But there's an
objection and that's Kenneth Brannagh. He's a great actor (no doubt
about it) but in "Celebrity" you can't help thinking that he's
imitating the character that Woody should've played. It's quite clear
that Woody wrote this for himself, but he was too old to play a man
that conquers Winona Ryder or Famke Janssen.
Last but not least, what about Judy Davis?? God, she's magnificent, one of the best actresses ever, and that scene with the prostitute is totally hilarious. Woody should've married her instead of Mia 30 years ago!!
So, if Woody would've played the role that eventually played Brannagh this could've been one of his best works. But Brannagh is not Woody, and that's noticeable.
*My rate: 7/10
Judged against other movies, Celebrity rates higher than it does when judged against Woody Allen movies. In other words, the director's consistent pace and huge body of work virtually begs for critics to keep ranking each of Allen's films against past efforts and so on. Celebrity is not as good as Deconstructing Harry or Everyone Says I Love You (to cite just two of Allen's recent pictures), but it still bears the hallmarks of Allen's success: great ensemble work, witty and intelligent writing, amusing set-pieces, and excellent photography. Kenneth Branagh fills in as the Woody character, and channels Allen's vocal tics and mannerisms to the point of perfection or distraction, depending on one's point of view. Judy Davis, a welcome sight in any movie, captures Branagh's ex-wife perfectly. The remainder of the cast aids in Allen's dissection of modern media celebrity, and does what it can with this good, but not great, material.
I must give Woody Allen credit for one thing: At least he seems to have stopped pretending that every gorgeous woman on earth is standing in line to throw herself at his protagonist. But what has he done instead? He has simply cast Kenneth Branagh in his place as a somewhat younger and more handsome substitute, but one who is, alas, no less frumpy, neurotic, unaccomplished and ultimately dislikable as Allen´s now-stock character has become in recent years. Really, watching Branagh imitate Allen to a "T" may be an interesting idea for a skit, but after about 25 minutes it is painful, and by the end of the film it is downright embarrassing. The Allen theme of "womanizer gets his comeuppance" is by now quite predictable, and this film does not deviate from it one bit. Some of the social satire is clever, as usual, but "Celebrity" ends up dying on the vine because of its wildly improbable insistence that nymphomaniac supermodels and barely-legal literary beauties cannot keep their hands off of a male protagonist who neither exhibits any sort of charisma nor has any kind of achievements to his credit. At least in many earlier Allen movies--and despite this and other recent efforts I am still a big fan of his work as a whole--there was a certain charm and allure to that one-note character of his. But merely inserting Kenneth Branagh to talk and act exactly like Woody Allen was definitely not the solution to the creativity problems which have plagued his films lately.
Celebrity (1998) Woody Allen accomplishes what Bob Altman attempted in Ready to Wear: showing lots of movie stars and model types acting like, well movie stars and model types. Pretty boy Leo DiCaprio has a good turn as a hotshot, teen throb amidst orgies and dramatic posturing. Lots of selfish, crude behavior on the part of everyone makes this a veritable "How to Succeed in Hollywood" movie, though I wonder if that was Woody's intention.
One of Woody Allen's worst films, a brilliant defense for anyone who considers Allen out-of-touch, self-indulgent, and irrelevant. A storyless mishmash of tired, unfunny gags, Woody has absolutely nothing to say and takes forever to say it (uncharacteristic for Allen, who's films have been the last bastion of auteur-brevity, the movie is a trying two hours-plus). Sure, the movie looks dynamite, and sure it's got a great cast trying its best, but can anyone honestly tell me that this movie's humor wasn't musty, it's narrative wasn't rambling, it's attempts at satire weren't annoyingly weak? A real disappointment, especially following last year's wonderfully vulgar, honest, and funny "Deconstructing Harry." This has to be the worst fall-winter film season in years.
Nice to know he's there. Woody Allan does it again. It's funny. It's great. It's real. Actors act. Kenneth Branagh does a great Woody Allan. It's a love story with a twist. Big issues rounded up in the circle of celebrity. How do we choose our idols? Why do we worship them? And how can we become celebrity? It's all done with Altmania, but it's everything Prêt-à-Porter isn't. If you're a Woody Allan fan and you haven't seen this one yet there is something to look forward to...
As once said about Beetlejuice, "Without Noni, the film would have floated off into the stratosphere." Sure, this film is somewhat believable - another Woody Allen masterpiece - but Winona Ryder's interpretation and presentation of her character, Nola, seems most believable. She's a desperate movie extra, accepting of any role that comes her way, even if it means lying in bed with another woman... that was hilarious! She's the most realistic, the most in-tune with reality... definitely the girl next door - or the girl I'd want next door, anyway.
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