Annie Hall(C). I am trying to actually watch some of the DVDs that I have bought over the years and never gotten around to watching. I saw this movie once in college and didn’t remember it at all. On this second viewing, 20 years later, I am chagrined that this movie beat Star Wars for the 1977 best-picture Oscar. Although the movie is, I suppose, a romantic comedy, it is neither romantic nor funny. Woody Allen (Match Point) plays a neurotic New York comedian named Alvy Singer, and Diane Keaton (Baby Boom) plays the title character, a ditzy gal who’s apparently an aspiring singer. Perhaps the problem is that Annie is lovable but Alvy is not. He’s pretty much thoroughly unpleasant, and you don’t really want Annie to be with him. Tons of brief star appearances add some interest, such as Christopher Walken (Hairspray) as Annie’s brother and Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park) as a random guy at a lavish Hollywood party. I was surprised in the credits to see Sigourney Weaver (Aliens) listed as “Alvy’s date” in one of the last scenes in the movie, so I rewound, and although the people are too small to be recognizable, she is clearly towering over the diminutive Allen. And according to IMDB, Truman Capote has an uncredited cameo as a guy Alvy refers to as a “Truman Capote look-alike.” Not particularly great. Or good.
They’re Playing Our Song, presented by Irving Lyric Stage. This is a revival of a 1970s musical that was written by Neil Simon and that apparently served as the source material for the recent movie Music and Lyrics (which I had not seen). Vernon is a successful but neurotic song composer in NYC with a great apartment overlooking Central Park. Sonia is a vivacious but scatterbrained writer of lyrics. You can imagine what happens when the two get together–it pretty much tracks the oldest template in theater: boy-meets-girl, boy loses girl, boy wants girl back. The performances are first-rate, and the songs are winsome. My only quibble is that the break-up seems a little abrupt. But it’s an enjoyable night of theater otherwise.
C.S. Lewis in a Time of War, by Kevin Phillips (HarperCollins 2002). The subtitle is The World War II Broadcasts That Riveted a Nation and Became the Classic Mere Christianity, and that pretty well sums up what the book is about. It starts off a little slow, describing where the BBC came from and sort of how it works. But it picks up when WWII breaks out, and it is unfailingly interesting when focusing on the famous C.S. Lewis himself. The book chronicles Lewis’s agreement to try his hand at broadcasting for the BBC, presumably as his way of trying to contribute something to the nation’s war effort against the Nazis, and then summarizes the content of the broadcasts themselves. Eventually, Lewis collected all the broadcasts, modified them a little, and published them as the best-selling book Mere Christianity. The book also includes some interesting tidbits about Lewis’s home life during the war, such as the fact that he took in a teenaged girl as an “evacuee” from London during the Blitz. She even contributes some of her unique perspectives on the famous theologian in this volume. Warmly recommended to anyone with an interest in the man behind The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Persepolis (B+). As I understand it, this movie is based on an autobiographical comic book or graphic novel by a young woman from Iran. It is an animated feature created in a stark, simple style that is both unlike anything I can remember and strangely effective. The protagonist, Marjane, is apparently the only child of a reasonably well-to-do married couple living in Tehran. When she is only about 5, the Shah is toppled from power. Her gentle Marxist uncle predicts a new era of peace and harmony, but of course the new Islamic regime has nothing of the sort in mind. Then the long war between Iraq and Iran rains death and destruction on Tehran. When Marjane is 14, her parents finally decide to send her to Austria for her own safety, but she eventually returns. When the movie focuses on Marjane’s romantic woes, it drags, but when it focuses on Iran itself, as seen through Marjane’s eyes, it is riveting. If there is any justice, this movie will trample Ratatouille and take the animated-feature Oscar.
Classics for Pleasure, by Michael Dirda (Harcourt 2007). This is a collection of short essays about less-familiar classics of world literature by a lover of literature who wants to bring these works to your attention. Dirda is or was literary critic for the Washington Post Book World, and he has read more literature than seems humanly possible. Here he recommends authors as varied as ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse, French Enlightenment figure Denis Diderot, Russian writer Anton Chekhov, and science-fiction author Philip K. Dick. I cannot judge the wisdom of his selections, save a very few (Dick gets thumbs up!), but I can recommend his clear, enthusiastic prose, and he seldom says so much about a book that you feel like he has spoiled it for you. It would also make a great gift for a book lover.
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (B-). How did this random movie find its way into my DVD collection? As I recall, I saw it for sale cheap and thought, “Hey, this was directed by that Time Bandits guy.” It has taken well over a year for me to get around to watching it. It is a lot like Time Bandits, except this time the kid who gets to go on a bunch of extraordinary adventures is a girl named Sally (Sarah Polley, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead). John Neville (The Fifth Element), an actor formerly unknown to me, plays the outrageous Baron Munchausen, who bursts onto the scene in an Austrian town under siege by the Turks in the late 1700s. He promises to bring help and sets off in a makeshift balloon. Sally stows away, and they go from adventure to adventure. Sting (Dune) and Robin Williams (Mrs. Doubtfire) have cameos. It’s visually remarkable, and if you liked Time Bandits you’ll probably like it.
Sydney White (C+). After seeing all these heavy Oscar nominees, I was ready to lighten up with a fluffy little teenybopper flick. This movie, starring Amanda Bynes (Hairspray) as the title character, was it. The premise seemed cute–update Snow White by setting it on a modern day college campus. And so we have down-to-earth, good-hearted, good-natured Sydney trying to get into her (deceased) mother’s sorority as a new college freshman. But lo! The sorority is ruled by an evil rhymes-with-witch who kicks her out. She lands in an eyesore of a house on Greek row that happens to be inhabited by (you guessed it) seven dorks. And there are lots of other parallels to the original Disney film. I had a few chuckles, but there’s really not a whole lot to this movie. And it earns a PG-13 rating for some gratuitous and jarring bad language that could easily have been stripped out to make this a suitable movie for the 12-and-under crowd.