Saturday, February 16, 2008

What's Up, Tiger Lily? (1966)/ Cassandra's Dream (2007)

Woody Allen's directorial debut (sort of) and his most recent film, neither of which are completely satisfying. I was a big fan of Woody back as a kid and in high school, where discovering his style and comic persona for the first time in movies like Love and Death and Radio Days were revelatory, even without getting the Bergman references (I also got the lead in our high school production of Play It Again, Sam - my one major theatrical experience). It's been a long time since those days, though.

What's Up Tiger Lily? was the first film Woody Allen directed, a Japanese spy movie re-edited with concert footage of the Lovin' Spoonful and overdubbed with new, comedic dialogue about the hunt for a secret egg salad recipe. It's cute and sporadically funny (it helps that the spy movie is pretty campy on its own) and it sort of works as an attempt to extend Allen's comic persona into a feature-film, loaded with Jewish references, lousy puns, and sexual innuendo. Today it all seems fairly dated and half-baked (most episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are both funnier and more wide-rangingly deconstructive), and the original Japanese movie is kind of sluggish in spite of being truncated.

Cassandra's Dream is Match Point all over again with the pieces rearranged. This time Ewan McGregor is the detached, ambitious social climber instead of Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and instead of an absurdly bitchy Scarlett Johansson we have a mopey Colin Farrell as the hesitant, remorseful brother who's In The Way. Match Point was at least entertaining and slick even if it didn't live up to its own pretentiousness, but this one is predictable and boring, with incredibly stiff, stagy performances that suggest that Woody limited his direction to 'stand here' and 'say this'.

I give credit to Allen for insisting on investigating the same moral question over and over again (how do people justify committing immoral deeds to themselves?) but he's got to think of something interesting to say on the subject that he didn't already say twenty years ago in Crimes and Misdemeanors, in half the running time (to wit: they just do). Special notice goes to Haley Atwell, as McGregor's ambitious, blithely horrible girlfriend. She's either a very good actress or a truly awful person playing herself.


Noah said...

I think the interesting thing about Cassandra's Dream (as well as Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point) is that all the characters get exactly what they want. In C&M and Match Point, though, the punishment is the guilt they must live with forever because of their crimes. Whereas in this film, it's a bit more of a modern take, where the guilt of Colin Farrell's character becomes clinical depression.

This is the first film (in this crime trilogy) where one of the characters who committed a crime allows the remorse to eat away at him to the point where he'd rather be in jail. McGregor, Landau and Rhys-Meyers all would be happy to just move on and let it haunt them at night. Farrell is the only one that doesn't want to deal with those nightmares anymore.

ziipp said...

I agree with most of your review. As a Woody Allen fan I was really disappointed with Cassandra's Dream. Not only he doesn't add anything better to what he had done on the subject, but he makes his two leading characters look completely dumb (sometimes you find yourself wondering if you're watching Allen's Dumb & Dumber). I think this makes the plot and the characters motivations completely inconsistent, so the whole movie sinks.