Tag: jesse eisenberg
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.
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.
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.
30 Minutes or Less was shot on location in Grand Rapids, Michigan. “It’s a quiet town, and there were no other films being shot. We got a real sense of the community. They really wanted us to be there, and the state and the city were both very welcoming to us,” says executive producer Monica Levinson.
Though the film is loaded with comedy, the comedic centerpiece is the bank robbery. “There were definitely high expectations for the bank robbery: it had to be awesome,” says Fleischer. “It was also the most fun to shoot – it’s so well-written and all the moments played out perfectly. Jesse and Aziz were both at the top of their game, the supporting cast nailed it. You’ve seen a bank robbery in a movie a million times, but this one is full of unexpected moments and big laughs, and it’s the most memorable scene in the movie, that’s for sure.”
That scene is followed closely by the car chase through the streets of Grand Rapids. The director says that shooting a car chase is more than a bit like being a little boy playing with toys. “You get to drive fast, flip cars, and do all sorts of things you don’t get to do in daily life,” says Fleischer. “Grand Rapids was really accommodating – they shut down about 15 blocks and it became our own race track, weaving cars in and out of traffic. We ran a dump truck into a cop car!”
“I mostly act in independent movies, where car chases are at 10 miles per hour into a driveway,” says Eisenberg. “In this movie there are some very intense chases with very imprecise but very powerful sports cars. We’d have a long strip of road and 20 stunt drivers were all driving around me, and I was weaving in and out of them. I’m not such a great driver, but they allowed me to do it.”
Ansari agrees that Eisenberg’s driving skills will not challenge Mario Andretti’s any time soon. “Yes, they actually let Jesse drive a real car – no green screen – and I was in the passenger seat next to him. I ended up doing a lot of screaming – not just as Chet, but me, personally,” says Ansari.
Eisenberg wasn’t as bad as all that – in fact, he acquitted himself quite well, says stunt coordinator Rick LeFevour, who was responsible for plotting and pulling off the action sequences. “He had a heavy lead foot – I had to reel him in a little bit,” says LeFevour. “I told him to come through at a certain speed, and I think he was enjoying it – he got fairly confident and that right foot got a little heavy. But he picked up on it fairly quickly. I took him out driving for three or four days, just prior to shooting, to get him used to that 5.0 Mustang that he drives at the beginning of the movie, and I had him throwing it into 90-degree slides and smoking wheels around corners.”
When it came time to film the chase in the Datsun 280Z, LeFevour says, “We were able to get a lot of nice close-ups of him driving through the chase traffic.”
The overall goal for the sequence was to make a real, thrilling action sequence, but to always keep in mind that 30 Minutes or Less is an action comedy. “There are definitely comic elements to the chase – it’s not just another car chase that’s been done before,” says LeFevour. “For example, when we were looking through the locations where we were going to shoot, we’d find a certain turn or a park they could drive through that would dictate the dialogue in the scene – we could enhance it that way.”
Another comic enhancement was the choice of cars. “Ruben could have picked brand new cars, but he picked the Datsun 280Z and the 5.0 Mustang, which is probably the ugliest Mustang they ever made,” says LeFevour. “Instead of a sleek, hot-looking car, he has a boxy thing where you don’t know if it’s a sports car or more of a utility car. The biggest challenge was that the cars were antiques; we had to keep them running through the whole chase. It was challenging, but we had a lot of fun.
In filming the climax, LeFevour and his team – and the actors as well – got to play with fire, courtesy of a flamethrower held by Travis (Nick Swardson). The first and most important step, of course, was to find a way to safely put a flamethrower into the actors’ hands. “I’ve seen some flamethrowers that throw off so much radiant heat that I was worried about the actors handling it,” says LeFevour. “But the rig he came up with was as safe as it could possibly be and it enhanced their performances. When the actor feels the heat and has that power in his hands, it leads to some very funny scenes. Ruben gave us a template to start with, and we gave him as much fire as we could that we thought was safe enough for the actors. All of the actors ended up having fire on them and they all did a great job with it.”
Related Link: Read full production notes for 30 Minutes or Less >>
Isla Fisher is in talks to join the cast of Summit Entertainment’s magician heist story, Now You See Me.
The actress would play Henley, a master technician who builds contraptions to aid in the illusion of the heists. Amanda Seyfried was eyed for the role but her deal never expired.
Mark Ruffalo is starring as the leader of a team of FBI agents who are investigating the Four Horsemen, a squad of the world’s greatest illusionists who pull off a series of daring bank heists during their performances, then shower the profits on their audience. Jesse Eisenberg will play the arrogant leader of the Four Horsemen, alongside Morgan Freeman and Mélanie Laurent who co-star as ex-magician and a federal agent.
Now You See Me comes to theaters in 2012 and stars Jesse Eisenberg, Mélanie Laurent, Mark Ruffalo, Amanda Seyfried, Morgan Freeman. The film is directed by Louis Leterrier.