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Arts & Entertainment

Ed Blank's Reviews

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001

You'd think that Woody Allen, one of a handful of the most articulate people writing for movies, would contribute analog commentaries to the DVD releases of his movies. To date, he hasn't done one.

The newest batch of six Allen movies to make their debuts on DVD do contain the trailers and a choice of foreign subtitles, but nothing additional from Allen. There's no film scholar to fill in for the reticent writer-director-actor?

At least the pictures speak for themselves.

Available separately or as the latest "Woody Allen Collection," the six are:

  • "Hannah and Her Sisters" (Rated PG-13; 1986)
    The only Allen film to do even better at the box office than "Annie Hall," "Hannah" is also one of the most honored Allens. Nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture (losing to "Platoon"), it won for the supporting performances of Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest and for Allen's original screenplay.

    Three adult sisters (Wiest, Mia Farrow and Barbara Hershey), their parents (Lloyd Nolan and Farrow's late off-screen mother, Maureen O'Sullivan) and the men in their lives (Caine, Allen, Max Von Sydow) grapple with relationships between and during holiday gatherings. Their friction is the sort common to people who know each other all too well or who look without seeing.
    Three and a half stars

  • "The Purple Rose of Cairo" (Rated PG; 1984)
    A fable set among the working class during the Depression. Farrow acts the mousy, abused wife of Danny Aiello. She takes refuge in Hollywood's impossibly upscale '30s frolics. One day, as if they were in a play, the film actors begin interacting with the audience. Jeff Daniels walks off the screen and befriends Farrow, who begins an epiphany. Just as she's falling in love, she encounters the abyss between the actor and the character he has been playing.
    Three and a half stars

  • "Broadway Danny Rose" (Rated PG; 1984)
    Arguably Allen's funniest. He acts a veteran Broadway press agent who becomes involved with a Mafia princess (a hilariously unsophisticated Farrow) and with a comedian of little class (Nick Apollo Forte in a performance that should have copped the supporting Oscar).

    The scenes featuring real comedians hanging out at the Carnegie Deli have been copies but not duplicated.
    4stars

  • "Zelig" (Rated PG; 1983)
    Like no other movie, but one that clearly influenced certain scenes in "Forrest Gump" and may itself have been influenced by "Being There." Zelig (Allen), a thoroughly vapid nobody, becomes an international dignitary through random circumstances. The whole picture is shot ingeniously as if it were newsreels in which Zelig interacted with 20th Century historical figures. Farrow co-stars.
    Three and a half stars

  • "A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy" (Rated PG; 1982)
    Not so much adapted from Ingmar Bergman's "Smiles of a Summer Night" (which did become the musical "A Little Night Music") as inspired by it. Several couples rendezvous at a country estate for mix 'n' match escapades that lead to the sorting out of priorities. The ensemble includes Allen, Farrow, Jose Ferrer and Mary Steenburgen. Relatively minor in the Allen canon.
    Three stars

  • "Radio Days" (Rated PG; 1987)
    Wistful nostalgia that wears even better today. Inspired by Federico Fellini's "Amarcord," it's a kaleidoscopic memoir of childhood impressions, fueled by the magic world that spilled from the radio daily and found its ultimate dream at a Manhattan nightclub that appears to be the old Latin Quarter.

    It's like Allen's take on Neil Simon's "Brighton Beach Memoirs."
    Three and a half stars


    Two military dramas made 32 years apart with vastly different approaches detail the battle of Midway, the turning point of World War II in the Pacific:

  • "Midway" (Rated PG; 1976)
    Though boasting an all-star cast (Charlton Heston, Glenn Ford, James Coburn, Toshiro Mifune, Robert Wagner) intended to suggest another "Longest Day" and an historical context reminiscent of "Tora! Tora! Tora!," "Midway" is a major-budget, minor-league Naval war picture.

    Henry Fonda scoots in as Adm. Chester Nimitz, and Robert Mitchum acts Adm. Bull Halsey from a hospital bed, but the film feels synthetic, and the clips dropped in from other sources, such as "Away All Boats," don't help. It's too obviously an attempt to do an epic on a tight budget with a screenplay whose only subplot, involving Heston and son Edward Albert, plays like a rewrite of a better father-and-son officers angle played by John Wayne and Brandon de Wilde in "In Harm's Way."

  • "Wing and a Prayer" (PG in nature; 1944)
    A U.S. aircraft carrier, loaded with fictional characters champing to get into the war, is ordered to play a diversionary role to mislead the Japanese during the weeks leading up to the battle of Midway.

    The characters are military stereotypes of the period, including William Eythe as a Hollywood star who brings his ego into the classroom and the cockpit. But it's played with heart by a solid cast (Dana Andrews, Don Ameche, Richard Jaeckel, Charles Bickford, Cedric Hardwicke), and the losses matter more here than they do in "Midway."

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