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velvet goldmine

I'm glad to see your take on this. It SEEMED dreadful when I half-watched it during a Christmas Eve wrapping frenzy, but that obviously wasn't the optimal time to gauge a good movie. It's one of those rare Woody flicks that isn't a watchable failure -- it's just a disaster all the way around.


It is pretty flat beer, at that. It was one of the rare movies I saw in the theater last year, and still it was so dull I couldn't blog about it. I really do not get the Johansson phenomenon. She is gloriously pretty but has failed to strike sparks off a single leading man, so far as I can tell, and hasn't exhibited much depth of emotion or breadth of range (I am judging by Lost in Translation, Match Point and Scoop). She indicates all over the place and hasn't a clue what to do with her limbs most of the time. Of course she is so young that she has time to learn, but for now I groan when I find her name in the credits of a movie I am interested in seeing.

M.A. Peel

I haven't seen Scoop but I am a HUGE fan of both Cary Grant and Northrop Frye. What a thrill to see them in the same post. "Oh Jonnie, tell me again why the milk is glowing . . . . " More Cary, please, any time, any post. (I like to imagine that Cary was a secret tinker.)


I'm with the Siren on Scarlet Johansson--I find her unwatchable. I have yet to see Scoop, but I'm not in a big hurry. I really disliked Match Point, but have been rewatching Woody's movies in reverse order and have found them mostly worthwhile. I was especially surprised to have a less harsh opinion of Sweet and Lowdown and Deconstructing Harry than I did at the time of their release.


If it's a Woody movie I'm not enjoying and he's in it, I start thinking too much backstory.
My theory based on nothing --- I think he fell in love with Scarlett while they were filming Matchpoint and she was thrilled to be starring in a Woody Allen movie and was kind of fun and light flirty with him then he lost interest in her when he realized she really wasn't into him and that he is 71. I think I'm basing this on Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren in The Birds followed by him losing interest in her in Marnie and losing interest in the whole movie....

Was Grant a bad guy in Suspicion? I thought I read they had to make him not kill Watson (whatever his name is) because the audience wouldn't stand for Cary being bad but maybe I imagined that. I so love that movie but I really could never get a grasp on his character and this has helped the end - would you say he was a bad guy/good guy - ?


jillbryant -
You read right about Grant in Suspicion. I always thought he was an ambiguous character, and his exoneration didn't quite remove the feeling that even if he wasn't THE killer, maybe he wasn't a good guy, either. Truffaut (in one of his Hitchcock homages) went all the way to making Catherine Deneuve the killer in Mississippi Mermaid, but the movie wasn't really much good.

Scarlett Johansson doesn't do much for me except in the hubba-hubba department. She's certainly a star (and exceptionally pretty), but her acting still doesn't make me sit up and notice, let alone applaud.

Kevin Wolf

Not too long ago Wolcott had some interesting comments about Scarlett's - basically - non-acting. I could see what he meant, even though I had enjoyed Lost In Translation.

I thought Match Point was a waste of time. Not poorly done but not worth the effort as it seemed to me a rewrite of one of the two stories in Crimes and Misdemeaners with absolutely nothing new to say.

I may never get around to seeing Scoop.

Exiled in New Jersey

How sad that no one remembers Francis Iles, nee Anthony Berkeley. Read Before the Fact; you'll find Hollywood did keep Grant's never having to play a villian reputation intact when they made Suspicion. Better read Malice Aforethought and wonder why it never became a successful film, or read Berkeley's The Poisoned Chocolates Case for a wonderful satire on the almighty detectives. There was a charming version of Aforethought on BBC with Hywel Bennett playing a renamed Dr. Bickleigh, but that was BBC. The closest to true Iles or Berkeley was the wonderful A Shock to The System with Michael Caine, made about 1991.

Someday someone will write a parallel of two men who began in the Fifties, one as a truly funny writer and comedian and the other as the star of some TV oater, and compare their careers. Who could have said then that the comedian/writer would be largely irrelevant by the time he was seventy, and the other be Clint Eastwood, whose body of work just gets better and better.

James Wolcott

Regarding Woody's next outing: At this point it's fair to wonder if any movie co-starring Colin Farrell isn't a touch cursed, guilty-until-proven innocent, down two strikes as soon as it stands in the batter's box, etc. He was so glumly negligible in Miami Vice, though in that case there was more than enough mumbly, sulky moodiness to go around.

Haven't seen Scoop yet, but Miss Scarlett was quite embarrassingly mannered and unconvincing in The Black Dahlia--but there again, the entire cast seemed sunk. All of those actors playing forties characters--the recessive, flat browed Josh Harnett, the hopelessly wigged Hillary Swank, the completely lost Aaron Eckhart (sp?), whose hollow tantrums and hollering reminded me of Nic Cage in Snake Eyes--waved their cigarettes around and struck "knowing" poses as if they were in a bad college production of a Lillian Hellman play.

If Ian McShane was lost in Scoop, it was probably he *hadn't* seen the script until only just before shooting because of Woody's longtime policy of not letting actors see the scripts except a page or two at a time. Woody's claimed in interviews that it's to keep actors fresh and on the their toes, but I think it's sheer anal autocratic control--he doesn't give actors complete scripts because he doesn't want them questioning their characters' behavior ("Roger says this on page 23, but then on page 72, near the lighthouse, Rogers brushes aside Audrey's complaint,") or creating back stories; he just wants them on time, knowing their lines, and ready.

And isn't time for Woody to drop the whole minor-league magic-act routine? Talk about old!

Kate Marie

I've read that about Cary Grant in Suspicion, too, and I remembering reading or hearing something similar about Grant in Talk of the Town -- that the audience wouldn't accept Grant losing Jean Arthur to Ronald Coleman, so they tailored the ending to audience expectations. Cary Grant *is* the best actor in the history of cinema, by the way.

Why is comedy still so undervalued, though? When I think of my all-time favorite performances, many of them end up being comedic ones that are every bit as brilliant and difficult as a "dramatic" performance.

Count me as one who doesn't understand Johannson's appeal, beyond the beauty. I didn't mind her in Ghost World, though, which used her awkwardness to good effect and didn't require her to carry the film.


"All of those actors playing forties characters--the recessive, flat browed Josh Harnett, the hopelessly wigged Hillary Swank, the completely lost Aaron Eckhart (sp?), whose hollow tantrums and hollering reminded me of Nic Cage in Snake Eyes--waved their cigarettes around and struck "knowing" poses as if they were in a bad college production of a Lillian Hellman play."

HA! That's what I thought when I saw BD. I couldn't get past the *serious acting*. I kept wondering if I was just being a bitter older person. No, I was not alive in the 40's, but it was quite apparent this set of actors felt they had been and were going to show us what it was like... I kept thinking bad high school play. It would have been perfect if they had on the usual *bad high school play make-up* to boot.

Exiled in New Jersey

Nine years ago a dear friend kept telling me about a film that she had to see three times to understand the plot, but which once she did, thought it a masterpiece. As she started telling me the plot I knew it was LA Confidential. I'd mentioned being an avid reader of Ellroy. I explained the foreshortening of books two and three of the trilogy, and also told her about Black Dahlia. She emailed this fall to say she saw it, did not understand it, but would not be dragged back in the theater again to try.


Kate Marie -
Ghost World made me like Scarlett, but I had no idea then she was Not all beautiful women need to be great actors to be popular stars, although her acting I find distracting recently. As far as comedies go, most of my favorite movies are comedies, and old ones at that. I wonder why people have such contempt for humor, too. Just recently, I watched a lot of Joan Blondell's old films (many comic), and I was amazed how good she was. Now as for Cary Grant, I like him a great deal, but I can't say I consider him the best actor I've seen. Within certain type of roles, yes, there would be nobody better, but beyond them I doubt he could be convincing.

Kate Marie


You're certainly right about Scarlett Johannson -- and thanks for the tip about Joan Blondell. I haven't seen many of her movies; I'll have to put some in the Netflix queue.

But I must respectfully disagree about Cary Grant. Yes, it would be hard for Cary Grant to be convincing as Travis Bickle, but it would be equally hard for Robert De Niro to be convincing as Roger Thornhill or Walter Burns. And when it comes down to it, between De Niro as Roger Thornhill and Grant as Travis Bickle, my money's on Cary Grant (or at least on Archie Leach). No actor has an unlimited range, but what Grant did within his range was a wonder to behold.

It's interesting to think about good comedic actors, though. Who are the best ones out there nowadays? And why is it so hard for me to think of any? Kevin Kline comes to mind, I suppose.

Exiled in New Jersey

Kate Marie: No one will be Walter Burns but Grant, just as no one could be Max Cady but Mitchum, not DeNiro. Yet get a copy of 1939's Love Affair with Boyer and Irene Dunne and watch Boyer act rings around Grant, who played the same role 18 years later, and this as a romantic lead in the same story with the same director, who for some reason added 20 minutes to the film and had the gall to change the song that the grandmother plays. Grant is somewhat handicapped by the fact that McCarey kept his character French, but watch Boyer in the quiet final scenes. While you are at it, curse the fact that Irene Dunne was too old to take Deborah Kerr's part also.

Billy Wilder wanted Grant for Love In The Afternoon but had to settle for an aging Gary Cooper, but in that film I cannot see Grant playing the scene where the dictaphone plays the list of Audrey Hepburn's 'lovers' with the same reflective sadness that Cooper portrays with his face.

btw, watch George Clooney channel Cary Grant in Intolerable Cruelty.

Kate Marie

Hi Exiled in NJ,

I've seen Love Affair, and while I *love* Irene Dunne and think the original is probably the better movie, I still prefer Grant to Boyer.

I haven't seen Love in the Afternoon, but I have to confess that, while I've always found Gary Cooper likeable, he's never done much for me. I've always kind of felt like all he *had* was his face, but I suppose in some instances, that's enough.

I *have* seen Intolerable Cruelty . . . and as for your suggestion that George Clooney channels Cary Grant there, all I can say is, "Blasphemer!" :)

He did a somewhat better job trying to channel Clark Gable in O, Brother, Where Art Thou?

I mourn the disappearance of movie stars. All we're left with nowadays is actors.


I greatly enjoyed this post, Mr Mannion. As always, it's very interesting to read your observations. I watched Mr Blandings Builds His Dream-House yesterday, with Grant, and I was very pleasantly amused. Quite a sense of timing on Grant's part in regards to the comedy on his part.

Kate Marie, on "the disappearance of movie stars. All we're left with nowadays is actors", I agree in parts, there are fewer larger-than-life figures in Hollywood, but I still think you have a few who are close to the old guys, one just has to look at Tom Hanks, who to me is a modern day Jimmy Stewart. Might this be because of our modern day ephemera and very narrow sense of sex-appeal? It would be interesting if Mr Mannion had some thoughts on this, and was willing to share his take on actors of yesteryear compared with those of today.

Clooney seems to me to be more of a Warren Beatty (I'm thinking here more of lady's man turned interesting and eclectic film-maker than on politics), where even O Brother seems to me to be a slight but whimsical companion-piece to Bonnie & Clyde.


Cooper would have been terrific in the silents--in fact, I really like him in the early talkie "Morocco" with Dietrich and directed by Von Sternberg, which is practically a silent. I would also vote for Gable as Clooney's model in O Brother, not just because of the period, but the vocal rhythms. As for current comedic actors, I have to go with Matthew Broderick off the top of my head.


Now I wished I had watched O Brother more closely. I threw it on the player while doing laundry and washing dishes and didn't really follow it. I guess I had been so irritated about Hudsucker Proxy (where I wanted to throw things at the screen). that even though I rented it, it sat until it was either watch or return. The idea of Clooney channeling Gable strikes me as very strange. Gable always seemed like a supercompetent roughneck, even when an executive, and especially with women. He had the look where he sizes up a woman, and you know he's offering her a night (or several) of bed-breaking fun. Who'd expect Gable to cuddle in bed? It's one reason he worked so well with Jean Harlow. Somehow Clooney (even with his RL reputation) doesn't come off that..directly on the screen for me. He seems too smooth for that kind of persona.

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