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Blue Jasmine (2013)
Among Allen's Best
I rarely put out reviews here on IMDb and instead read many user reviews to make judgments about if a film is worth seeing or not. Blue Jasmine is one of those films that deserve the time in order to provide an excellent critique.
In the trope of "A Streetcar Named Desire," Woody Allen presents his female protagonist, a wealthy socialite called Jasmine (Cate Blanchett), who is forced to move in with her sister after her and her husband's financial assets have been liquidated. The story flashes back and forth between the past and present, conveying how Jasmine fell into the predicament she currently faces. Her reality also falls apart as she begins to talk to herself and create delusions. The final scene, however, is the most powerful scene of any Woody Allen film, in which the audience generates a fair amount of sympathy for her character.
Cate Blanchett gives a stunning performance, and most likely the best of her career. I've seen quite a few of her work, but her performance in Blue Jasmine deserves all the attention she has been receiving. I predict the next Best Actress race to come down between her and Julia Roberts for August: Osage County.
The Letter (2012)
The Descent of Winona
While "The Letter" is certainly a film that thankfully didn't hit theaters (despite its $10 million budget), that's not to say that it's complete trash.
The film, which stars Winona Ryder as Martine, a playwright who slowly begins to lose her mind and descend into madness. The film primarily takes place in the theatre, and things begin to change when Tyrone (James Franco), joins the group and displays hostile behavior to those surrounding him, while Martine develops a growing attraction toward him. Sound familiar? The film is very reminiscent of "Black Swan," Ryder's comeback role in which she played the fading ballerina. While that film garnered critical acclaim and box-office success, its safe to say that "The Letter" director Jay Anania was attempting to do the same. And that's where Winona Ryder came in. Her casting was probably one of the strategies Anania used in order to attract art house audiences. (Too bad the film went straight to DVD.) "The Letter" isn't a film that's complete trash, rather, there were quite a few perks in it that made it interesting. For one, Ryder never fails to impress me. Despite the unusual camera angles and amateur lighting, she still manages to shine through and deliver a solid performance. I'd also like to mention that she's Forty ONE and still looks good! While the lackluster script prevents her from flaunting the acting skills she's capable of, Ryder nevertheless convinces the audience that someone (in the five person cast) is trying to poison her character and kill her. And as the relationship between her and her thespian boyfriend begins to disenigrate, she changes the fictional names of the characters in the script to the respective names of the actors portraying them. Her character also includes actual dialogue that has recently happened in her life. This was also one of the techniques used by Anania to convey Martine's descent into madness.
Franco, on the other hand, had no purpose of being in the film. Anania, who heads the directing program at NYU, is also one of Franco's professors, which most likely explains his involvement. I'm sure Franco got a few extra credit points for his (probably unwilling) participation in this 'little film that could.' Toward the end of the film, it is revealed that Martine is just plain crazy, and that was the reason for her bizarre actions and behavior. This ultimately took away from what could've been a great ending that makes the audience think about what was really going on. Here, her sickness was explained, whereas in "Black Swan," Natalie Portman's character isn't diagnosed schizophrenic, and lets the audience decide that for themselves. In "The Letter," Mr. Sound Effects decided to include the sound of an abrupt braking of a truck after every change in behavior Martine displays. What could have made this effect better was a fluid dramatic score that conveyed her madness.
So yes, "The Letter" isn't the greatest film of Ryder's career, however, it stands as a test of her acting skills, and she succeeds. She compensates for the lackluster script and plot, while managing to convince us of her character's madness. As a fan of psychological thrillers, I was a bit disappointed with this film, and even though it lacks originality, it's definitely worth seeing.