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Woody Allen has an unwavering work schedule of one movie per year, no ifs, ands or buts.  He hasn’t gone a year without releasing a movie since 1981.  That’s the cinematic equivalent of not calling in sick for 32 years.  You kind of feel like a heel for calling in sick last week when you had that hangover now don’t you?  This year’s release, Blue Jasmine, will be his 41st movie.  Diligent though he may be this clockwork like schedule has lead to the iconic director creating an entire library of forgotten efforts no one expends effort worrying over.  So I will.  There’s nothing playing in theaters right now so why not?  For every Match Point or Midnight in Paris there are 4 other films which come and go like a neurotic waft of air floating on the wind.  Over the next few weeks I will partake of several of Allen’s lesser efforts, mostly recent, and attempt to find some merit in the minor works of the icon that Europeans love and American’s long became indifferent to.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJ6nOkkuJtI%5D

Cassandra’s Dream (2007) – Long story short, Allen took a stab at a Greek tragedy with contemporary trappings and wound up with his most avoided movie in 20 years.  How avoided?  It made less than $1 million bucks.  Long known being humorously morbid at times, Woody does not often wonder over to the truly dark side of life.  When he does find himself in the territory it has produced some of his finest work.  Crimes and Misdemeanors and it’s pseudo remake Match Point are fantastic morality plays.  Each demonstrating the flexible and elastic nature of what we consider good and evil.  In each story we watch an everyday man dispatch his extra marital lover for the sake of saving his respectable, straight-laced life.  In each story the man gets away with it, and is left to deal with the consequences, of which in the long run there are few.  Not something our black and white morality codes really appreciate, both stories thrive on this contradiction of punishment, or lack there of.  Cassandra attempts to observe these themes again from the other side, focusing again on the lack of punishment for murder but this time including a raging case of guilt that takes its place.

Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell play a couple of brothers each trying to break through their prospective glass ceiling in life.  McGregor works for his father helping to keep a restaurant on its feet while Farrell is a grease monkey who gambles too much.  Both keep reaching a cusp of success only to see it slip away time and again.  When Farrell loses a fortune in a poker game and McGregor needs backing for a major investment opportunity, they turn to their rich uncle, played by Tom Wilkenson.  A family savior of sorts who always comes up with dough when times are tough, this time the uncle wants more than simple gratitude for the trouble.  He wants a man who intends to send him to jail dead.  He’ll fix up both brothers, but only if they dispatch his problem.  You can probably see where this is going and that’s the snag.  Cassandra quickly establishes a feeling of being dramatically transparent, overly melodramatic and way too much of a forgone conclusion.

Every scene of Cassandra is made up of pointed, on the nose dialogue which foreshadows everything about to happen from miles away.  The heavy handed script smacks of being a first, or at best second, draft effort that needed more than a little polishing to smooth out it’s jagged edges.  An effort the elder statesman writer/director probably doesn’t indulge in at this late stage of the movie making game.  If I were 77 I doubt I’d re-write a grocery list much less a screenplay, but I’m not asking people to pay $10 to read my grocery list. Circumstances are stretched beyond the breaking point and the ripe potential for tragedy goes unfulfilled because we know immediately that these two fools are screwed.  Every little gesture, snippet of dialogue and character beat in the movie is boldly pointing the way towards Hell and all of us can see it, except them.  If it ever felt for one second like Farrell and McGregor’s brothers weren’t totally f’ed from the get go, something richer may have developed.  But like I said, the is Allen doing Greek Tragedy.  Maybe the clear, unavoidable oblivion lying at stories end was what he wanted.  

Despite the crippling screenplay issues with Cassandra’s Dream it does benefit from a sense of swiftness. It’s hurried pace and rapid dialogue keep some of its more brazen deficiencies from stinging all that harshly.  It has determined performances from McGregor and Farrell and one wishes that the material had matched their zeal.  Though I’m sure he’s cut all the slack in the world at this point Allen doesn’t dwell on what isn’t necessary or waste time with subplots or lollygagging.  As a director he’s still fleet of foot and clearly hates wasted cinematic space.  It’s his overly hasty, thick fingered screenplay that fumble the effort.

Overall Cassandra is still a somewhat passable movie and not hard to watch despite being a bit of a clunker, but it’s not hard to see why Allen’s audience didn’t bother to show.  The fact that no one materialized is a little extreme.  How could the faces of McGregor, Farrell and Wilkinson not get a single butt in a seat anywhere?  There are worse fates than being stuck with it on the tube for two hours but really, just watch Crimes and Misdemeanors instead.  It’s a vastly superior variation on the same thing.

cass

Next up: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger.

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