Café Society Is Woody Allen at his most lazily Allen-ish

Café Society Is Woody Allen at his most lazily Allen-ish

The director’s new film isn’t without resonance, writes Richard Lawson from Cannes, but is too preoccupied with its least interesting character.

There are maybe three different movies fighting against each other in Woody Allen’s new film, Café Society, which opened the 2016 Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday night. It’s part creakily nostalgic ode to Old Hollywood, part satiric appreciation of the Jewish-American male’s romantic neuroses, and part wistful, half-serious rumination on the ephemeral fixations of love.

I like that last movie, Allen in his reflective years revisiting a familiar, old trope—the sexual-social peccadillos of the heterosexual intellectual—with a final huff of “Eh, who knows?” Café Society ends on a pleasing note of bittersweet ambiguity—or perhaps there’s nothing ambiguous about it, Allen arguing that there is certainly some uncertainty in life, always a wondering about what could be, a speculation that never quite merits seeking out answers.

But the other two-thirds of this disjointed movie, which starts in 1930s Los Angeles and ends in the New York City social scene referenced in the title, is Allen at his most lazily Allen-ish, Jesse Eisenberg’s aspiring somebody (what he does to “make it” doesn’t really matter) rattling through scene after scene of fretting dully over women, all of whom are inexplicably attracted to this irksome, self-involved jerk.

Café Society Is Woody Allen at his most lazily Allen-ish

Those women are played by Kristen Stewart and Blake Lively, both giving appealing performances. (Though, Stewart’s cadence is perhaps a bit too modern.) Neither character—the Hollywood assistant Eisenberg’s Bobby courts nor the New York society gal he eventually marries—is very fleshed out, but these two often unfairly maligned actresses do their best at pretending that Bobby is worth anyone’s time.

Buried underneath all of Café Society’s cheap-looking period gloss—the cinematography, by Vittorio Storaro, is oddly lush and intricate and garish for an Allen picture—is a simple story of a young man exploring the sense of possibility he finds in women. The movie treats its female characters as territory to be discovered, resources to be used, in Bobby’s journey toward manhood. There will always be another girl flickering and flaring on the outskirts of a man’s life, roads not taken more than people not known, and there is something a little sad, and a little sweet about that, Café Society suggests.

Which, sure. At 80 years old, Allen is well positioned to look back at the entanglements of youth with a knowing sigh. But much of Café Society is tainted by a cynical, transactional view of (straight) sex and romance, Allen perhaps setting his film in the shimmery past to protect himself from the glare of social consciousness. There’s a truly hideous scene in which Bobby hires a prostitute (played by Anna Camp with her usual despite-it-all dignity) who shows up late, annoying Bobby, and then practically begs him to sleep with her out of a desperate need for validation. Allen used to be somewhat insightful about women—Hannah and Her Sisters at least had a glow of empathy to it—but his view on the sexes has gotten narrower and far less charitable as he’s aged.

Café Society Is Woody Allen at his most lazily Allen-ish

Bobby and his uncle, a high-powered agent played with alarming flatness by Steve Carell, consistently forgive their own loutishness as they go, preventing the film from achieving any truly honest self-assessment. Ultimately, Allen seems not nostalgic for the particular era of his birth—the dread-tinged time between the Depression and World War II—but instead for a certain callowness that is no longer celebrated the way it used to be. Only one man, Bobby’s gangster brother, played by Corey Stoll, gets any comeuppance for his loutishness, but it’s for a number of murders.

Bobby and his uncle—both philanderers and objectifiers of women—don’t need to be punished, of course, but some sense of balance or fairness or perspective would be appreciated here. Especially when the movie is so stocked with talented actresses giving winning performances. There’s Stewart and Lively, but also Parker Posey as a Dorothy Parker–esque friend, Jeannie Berlin as Bobby’s plainspoken mother, and a warm Sari Lennick as his sister.

Still, when Café Society reaches its quiet conclusion, Allen has managed to conjure up some pensive feeling, softening his movie’s jarring pointiness. The film is nowhere near as effective as, say, Midnight in Paris’s murmuring about time, or his earlier dramas’ rueful interpersonal wisdom, but it’s not entirely without resonance. I just wish the film wasn’t so fascinated by the least interesting character wandering around this whole crazy scene called life.

Related: View full production notes for Café Society

Blake Lively brings Hollywood glamour to the White House

Blake Lively brings Hollywood glamour to the White HouseDuring their tenure at the White House, the Obamas have played host to particularly high-profile state dinners with equally buzz-worthy guest lists. And last night saw the first family welcome Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and wife Sophie, ushering in a fresh and spirited energy to the White House. Among the guests at last night’s dinner were Saturday Night Live’s Lorne Michaels and Canadian-born actors Michael J. Fox and Mike Myers. Also gliding across the marble floor? Actress Blake Lively, who was joined by her Vancouver-born husband, Ryan Reynolds.

Together, their polished ensembles demonstrated the power of a refined and elegant union between their two home countries. Reynolds’s midnight tuxedo perfectly complements Lively’s dove gray Ralph & Russo robe dress. Lively is never one to miss making a major fashion statement—remember her asymmetrical Chanel couture moment?—but at last night’s dinner, the 28-year-old’s look was sophisticated yet fashion-forward in a fluid frock with hints of skin. Amping up the star wattage were chandelier earrings from Lorraine Schwartz with simple strappy sandals for a sleek, leg-lengthening finish.

Blake Lively Career Milestones

Blake Lively Career Milestones

Born: Blake Lively
Birth Date: August 25th, 1987
Birth Place: Tarzana, California, USA
Height 5′ 10″ (1,78 m)

The daughter of longtime screen actor Ernie Lively and the junior member of a showbiz-savvy sibling collective that also includes brothers Jason and Eric and sisters Lori and Robyn, Tarzana, CA native Blake Lively possesses just the kind of wholesome good looks that the Hollywood lens seems to love.

Of course, it wouldn’t take a psychic to figure out what line of work the cheery and clean-cut blonde would go for, and even after suffering an early career setback at a Mrs. Doubtfire audition gone bad, Lively was still determined to persevere. It was at the tender age of five that young Lively first had her shot at the big time, and though her parents’ plan to calm her by telling her that she was only going to be auditioning alongside Robin Williams’ twin bizarrely backfired when the aspiring actress was introduced to the real deal, she would later bounce back around the end of the 1990s with a featured performance in the girlish hit The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

A family affair was quick to follow when Lively and fellow family members Robyn, Lori, and Ernie were all tormented by Crispin Glover in the 2006 horror film Simon Says. Also that year, the recently graduated high-school student would venture off to college with her role as the ideal object of a creative-thinking loser’s affections in Accepted.

Lively began her acting career at age 10, when she appeared in the 1998 film Sandman, which was directed by Lively’s father. She describes her role as a “bit part”. She appeared in the film adaptation of the novel of the same name, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, in 2005 as Bridget, one of the four female leads. Lively’s performance in the film earned her a nomination for a Teen Choice Award for “Choice Movie Breakout – Female. In 2006, Lively co-starred with Justin Long in Accepted, and Lively had minor roles in the horror film, Simon Says. While Accepted was not well received by critics, Lively’s performance was, earning her a ‘Breakthrough Award’ from Hollywood Life.

Blake Lively Career Milestones

In 2007, she played one of the two title characters in Elvis and Anabelle as Anabelle, a bulimic girl who hoped to win a beauty pageant. Lively said of getting into character for the role that she had ‘shed serious weight’ for her height. Lively stated that that process was difficult for her because food is “the No. 1 love of my life.” MovieLine.com praised her performance in the film and credited it as having been her “breakthrough role”.

Lively was cast in The CW’s series Gossip Girl, based on the book series of the same name by Cecily von Ziegesar, which premiered in September 2007. She played Serena van der Woodsen in the teen drama until 2012 when the show ended. Her first magazine cover was the November 2007 issue of Cosmo Girl, where she discussed her time in high school and her career prior to Gossip Girl. In 2009, Lively reprised her role in the sequel, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. Similar to the first film, Lively was positively received by critics. As of November 2009, the film had earned over $44 million at the box office. In 2009, Lively appeared as Gabrielle DiMarco, a minor role in the romantic comedy, New York, I Love You, a sequel to the 2006 film Paris, je t’aime. Despite positive critical reception from critics, the film did not fare well at the box office.

One of Lively’s most acclaimed roles to date is her supporting role playing the younger version of the title character in The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009). Paul Byrnes, of the Brisbane Times, described Lively’s performance in the film as being “sensational”. In October 2009, Lively began filming her scenes for her role as Kristina “Kris” Coughlin, in the 2010 film The Town, based on Chuck Hogan’s novel Prince of Thieves. The film, which stars Ben Affleck, was released in the United States on September 17, 2010.

Lively played Carol Ferris, the female lead and love interest of Hal Jordan in the superhero film Green Lantern, which was released in June 2011. The film grossed a worldwide total of $219,851,172. but was considered as a summer disappointment as it “failed to perform to expectations” even though it grossed more than its budget. Lively appeared in the music video for The Lonely Island’s “I Just Had Sex” together with Jessica Alba in December 2010.

In 2011, she was featured in the annual TIME magazine 100 influential people. Additionally, AskMen.com named her the most desirable woman of 2011 and People magazine named her one of 2012’s Most Beautiful at Every Age. In 2012, she starred in Oliver Stone’s Savages alongside Taylor Kitsch, Aaron Johnson, Salma Hayek, and John Travolta. Lively replaced Jennifer Lawrence as Ophelia, the latter dropped out to do The Hunger Games instead. HitFix film critic Drew McWeeny was positive of Lively’s work, which he described as “smart and sad precisely because she plays O as such a broken, needy little soul”.

That same year, she was selected as the face of the new Gucci fragrance titled Gucci Premiere. She appeared in a short film ad directed by Nicolas Winding Refn for the fragrance. In October 2013, Lively was named the new face of L’Oreal, marking her first major makeup campaign. Most recently, Lively starred in the film The Age of Adaline (2015), opposite Michiel Huisman and Harrison Ford, playing a woman who becomes immortal. The film was a modest commercial success, grossing $54.5 million from a production budget of $25–30 million.

Savages: Oliver Stone does it again!

Savages: Oliver Stone does it again!

From its provocative first chapter to its lyrical last page, Don Winslow’s audacious 2010 novel “Savages” captivated and stunned audiences and critics alike. Winslow describes that the genesis of his bestselling book was an unusual one: “I was sitting at my desk one day in a bad mood and I typed these two words, which would become the infamous first chapter of the book. Then I wrote 14 pages in a rush, and I e-mailed them to Shane [screenplay co-writer / executive producer Shane Salerno] and told him, ‘Either these are really good, or I’m just crazy.’ A few minutes later, I got an e-mail from him saying, ‘Drop everything else you’re doing and finish this book while you’re in this voice.'”

Winslow’s novel proved that rules are made to be broken, and he ended up crafting several chapters of ‘Savages’ in screenplay form. “I was trying to bust out of the typical confines of the crime genre as it’s been defined lately,” Winslow shares. “I threw a few elbows and found moments where I thought, ‘This is better read or experienced as a piece of film rather than as a piece of a novel.'”

Salerno, with whom the author has collaborated for more than 13 years, was glad that he had encouraged Winslow to focus his energy into revisiting a world that the author knew quite well. The executive producer explains: “Don wrote what a lot of people consider to be the definitive source on the subject with ‘The Power of the Dog,’ which is the story of the drug war over 30 years—from the formation of the DEA to 2005. He spent six years researching it down in Mexico, Texas and California. This is terrain that he has chiseled his name into, and it’s a world he knows so well. With ‘Savages,’ he was prescient in seeing the business move from the Mexican cartels into California. It’s interesting when real-life events start to mirror your worst fears.”

Savages: Oliver Stone does it again!

Not only was the book critically well received when it was published—Stephen King called the sexy, action-filled drama “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on autoload”—it was fast-tracked into a screenplay. Reflects Salerno: “The normal route for books, and certainly Don’s previous books, is to sell them straight to a studio. “We made the decision to do something different, and we optioned the book to Oliver Stone directly. We felt that this unique material wouldn’t benefit from traditional development, and it needed special handling. We felt that Oliver would get it and began a collaboration developing it and ultimately writing the screenplay together. From the time the script sold to the time that shooting began, it was about three months, which is unheard of.”

“Savages,” laced with the politics and trade of marijuana, areas that have long been of interest to the writer/director, riveted Stone when he read it in galley form. Shane Salerno & Don Winslow & Oliver Stone adapted the novel into a screenplay, and in less than a year, Universal Pictures secured the worldwide distribution rights. Soon after, principal photography began. Of his interest in crafting a film out of the groundbreaking novel, Stone relays: “I thought the book was well done. It’s about power, betrayal, money and questioning current values.”

Savages features multiple themes that recur in Stone’s movies: layered power struggles, shifting loyalties, examinations of the best and worst of human nature, explorations of complex family relationships and a compelling look at damaged people, some of whom find their own kind of heroism.

Stone reflects that this project called to mind Any Given Sunday and “the corporation coming into football.” About the economy of scale, he says: “Above all, it is a power move by the Mexican Cartel into the United States to cut in on the independent distributors and producers. In the movie, the Baja Cartel is more interested in volume than the boutique-sized operations. But wherever you have volume versus independent growers, you’re going to have a clash. Walmart doesn’t want to have competitors.”

Frequent Stone collaborator, producer Moritz Borman offers that there is a natural inclination to search for parallels in Savages with Stone’s earlier films, but that the director isn’t interested in retreads. Borman says: “Obviously, people will try to compare Savages to some of Oliver’s other movies, but the style and message are different, and it’s a different story. But it certainly has some of the intensity of his other pictures. He has always had something to say, and therefore has turned out these films that have survived.”

His fellow producer, Eric Kopeloff, notes that the director is as interested in characters as he is in a geopolitical backdrop: “That’s what excites him about making movies—finding a story where you can go on a ride with the characters. Oliver’s someone who never stops trying, never stops doing different things to stretch the medium.”

The translation of a lauded novel into an engaging movie is often an arduous one. For example, the film’s explosive ending, which Stone likens to a Spaghetti Western, captures the tenor of the book but doesn’t follow it to the letter. That divergence, Kopeloff notes, is part of the process of moving from one medium to another. He says: “There’s a liberty when you adapt a book into a screenplay, from a story perspective, from a time perspective. If we shot every scene in the book ‘Savages’ we would be easily sitting for five hours. We held true to the book in a lot of ways, but we also took cinematic liberties to heighten the story in certain places and give the audience a visual and character ride.”

Winslow expands upon the differences in penning a novel versus a screenplay: “Primarily, as a novelist, you have to become aware that, at the end of the day, these are two different media with a lot of different needs, and that can take a little getting used to. For instance, a chapter in a book can accomplish just one thing, whereas a scene in a film has to accomplish two or three things simultaneously. Screenwriting is an extremely demanding artistic form that has to take so many factors into account at once.”

In the story, the Baja Cartel admires Ben and Chon’s product and process and wants to acquire their business. However, they disdain their lifestyle, especially their unorthodox relationship with O. On the flip side, Ben, Chon and O are as equally repulsed by the Cartel and their methods. At various points, as the contest between the Cartel and Ben, Chon and O becomes increasingly ruthless and violent; just who is the savage becomes blurry and subjective at best. Stone sums: “It’s ironic that both sides identify the other as savages.”

Blake Lively got carried away by the designer

Blake Lively got carried away by the designer

Some women are lucky enough to afford a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes, but “Gossip Girl” star Blake Lively got carried away by the designer himself outside his 20th Anniversary Party at Barney’s in New York City on Tuesday.

Blake Lively: From Gossip Girl to Green Lantern

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Blake Lively was named Breakthrough Performer of the Year at CinemaCon this year. Lively most recently starred alongside Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner and Ben Affleck, in “The Town,” also directed by Affleck. She will next be seen in “Hick,” opposite Alec Baldwin and Juliette Lewis, set for release next year, and will soon start production on Oliver Stone’s new film, “Savages.”

She first gained the attention of critics and audiences with her first starring role, in the 2005 hit “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” for which she earned a Teen Choice Award nomination for Best Breakthrough Performance. In 2008, she reprised her role in the sequel, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.”

Lively’s additional film credits include the comedy “Accepted,” with Justin Long and Jonah Hill; the independent feature “Elvis & Annabelle,” for which she won the Newport Film Festival Award for Breakout Performance; and the indie drama “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” in which she starred with Keanu Reeves, Robin Wright Penn, Julianne Moore and Alan Arkin for writer/director Rebecca Miller;

On the small screen, Lively is best known for her starring role on the popular CW series “Gossip Girl,” which entered its fifth season this fall.

Blake Lively: From Gossip Girl to Green Lantern

All About Blake Lively

Blake Lively was born Blake Ellender Brown in Tarzana, California, to a show business family. Her mother, Elaine Lively (née McAlpin), is an acting coach and talent manager, and her father, Ernie Lively (born Ernest Wilson Brown, Jr.), is an actor and teacher. Her brother is actor Eric Lively, and her half-siblings are actors Lori Lively, Robyn Lively and Jason Lively. She followed her parents’ and siblings’ steps. Her first role was Trixie, the Tooth Fairy in the musical movie Sandman (1998), directed by her father. Her big break came along a few years later, though. Blake was up to finish high school when she got the co-starring role of Bridget in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2005).

Blake was so perfect for the role of Bridget that, with no big references or even auditioning, she landed the role. According to her, all she did was walk in and leave a photo of herself. It was clear that she was the Bridget needed. After the film, Blake went back to high school for her senior year to have the life of a regular teenager — or a very busy regular teenager. She was class president, a cheerleader, and performed with the choir.

Blake Lively: From Gossip Girl to Green Lantern

Blake Lively goes on spending spree

Blake Lively goes on spending spree

Blake Lively buys 40 pairs of very pricey shoes even though she could probably get them for free.

Being a fashion icon isn’t all red carpets and cover shoots. There’s time and effort involved, sweat and tears, etc. Blake Lively — Vogue’s “Best Dressed” cover girl who famously claimed she doesn’t have a stylist — spent over four hours at Christian Louboutin’s invite-only sample sale in New York last week looking through the inventory. She tried on all sorts of shoes and boots “while surrounded by towers of shoeboxes,” a detail which befits Lively somehow.

But while the experience of navigating through a crowded retail space and trying lots of stuff on may sound familiar, that sort of nightmare, for us non-Livelys, typically results in the purchase of one, maybe two, items. Or you text a picture of the shirt in question to your friend and you get a text back that says “Eh :-/” and you decide not to get anything.

But things are different when you’re Blake Lively. The “Gossip Girl” star emerged from the sale four hours later (probably looking effortlessly fresh and smelling like cotton candy) with more than 40 pairs of Louboutins, which could have cost up to $2,000 a pair. Forty. (Which as a recent Vogue Best Dressed Special Edition cover girl, she might have been able to get for free.)

“I have sisters, so I’m getting gifts for them and for friends,” she explained. “Of course, I got quite a few for myself, too.”

This is the difference between Blake Lively and the world’s mortals. She can snare 40 shoes without a second thought. We wouldn’t even be able to fit half that many in our one-bedroom apartment.