Review of: Café Society

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On October 19, 2016
Last modified:October 19, 2016


Woody Allen's "Café Society" is a love story wrapped in a wry comedy of celebrity and glamor in 1930s Hollywood and New York City. Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Steve Carell star. PG-13.

Café Society (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD)

You never know what you’re getting with a new Woody Allen film. His career is as erratic as ever. So it’s a pleasure to note that Café Society (2016), while well short of masterpiece, is Allen in fine form. Set in 1930s Hollywood, where East Coast kid Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) flees from the family jewelry business in search of excitement, and New York City, where he returns after discovering he’s an East Coaster at heart, it’s a love story that dances through the show-biz name dropping of Hollywood, the gangsterism of Bobby’s New York uncle Ben (Corey Stoll), and the kvetching and caring of his Jewish family gathering in the Bronx.

It’s Bobby’s Uncle Phil (Steve Carell), the hustling agent turned show business power player, that sends him East, hoping to cash in on that famed Hollywood nepotism, and after knocking around the city waiting for a meeting it finally pays off: he’s an errand boy, gopher, and eventually even groomed to move up in the family business, but along the way Bobby falls for Phil’s young secretary Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), a Midwest girl unaffected by her show biz surroundings. They are such natural couple with a palpable attraction that they seem inevitable… but it’s complicated. She’s seeing another man and he’s married and… well, there’s nothing too surprising in the way things work out but Bobby heads back to partner with Phil in a nightclub, which Bobby classes up and transforms into the place to be in the Big Apple, where the glamour meets the power and high society rubs elbows with underworld characters.

cafesocietyThis is familiar territory for the Woodman—the bickering and banter of family, the moral and philosophical debates of Bobby’s left wing intellectual uncle (Stephen Kunken) failing to make his idealism work in the real world, the novelistic narration that Allen weaves through the film. He falls back on familiar shtick and recycles old jokes, and there are sloppy moments that suggest Allen should have gone for another take (Carrell stumbles over a couple of lines, absolutely out of character for his fast-talking, name-dropping power agent). But it looks beautiful, shot by the three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro with a golden glow and sepia warmth, and there is an easy pacing through it all. If Allen is coasting on comic reflexes, he also gives us time to take in the stops of his nostalgic tour that, for all the satirical barbs, is an affectionate portrait of this golden age of bygone society. Even underworld “businessman” Ben loves his neurotic sister and his nephew and is so generous with advice, money, and opportunities that it seems beside the point that he drops his enemies into cement foundations, scenes that Allen delivers as screwball punchlines in a gangland comedy.

But what really warms the film is the wistful undercurrent of a powerful love affair that leaves its emotional mark even after Bobby and Vonnie have moved on to happy marriages and satisfying loves. The feelings of the potential of a romantic future and the regret over what was left behind never completely leave as an unexpected third act reunion reminds them. It’s a serious note that Allen never pushes into melodrama or tragedy. Rather, he lets it as a bittersweet reminder of how our past loves remain with us, an observation that perhaps feels more profound given the modesty of the rest of the film but nonetheless resonates long after the credits roll. Jeannie Berlin, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Anna Camp, and Ken Stott co-star.

Blu-ray and DVD, with the featurette “On the Red Carpet” and a still gallery. The Blu-ray includes bonus DVD and UltraViolet Digital HD copies of the film.
Cafe Society [DVD + Digital]
Cafe Society [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD]

ourtraitorOur Kind of Traitor (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD), based on the 2010 novel by John le Carré, drops a civilian couple in the midst of international intrigue involving Russian mobsters and British Intelligence. Ewan McGregor is a professor of poetics trying to salvage a petrified romance on a vacation trip in Morocco with his girlfriend Gail (Naomie Harris), a corporate lawyer constantly juggling phone calls and deadlines. The name of McGregor’s character is Perry Makepeace, as symbolic as they come, and when he steps in the middle of a spat between a young woman and a beefy Russian thug he attracts the attention of Dima (Stellan Skarsgård). Dima comes off as one of those boisterous, larger-than-life crime family figures—he invites Chris to knock back a few shots with his crew and later takes him into his lavish palace of a home—and then slips him a message to bring to MI6. He wants to get his family out of the reach of the mob and he’s got information to trade. Damian Lewis is the MI6 agent obsessed with stopping the Dima’s boss, a ruthless oligarch who retires his former employees permanently, but with corruption in British Intelligence so pervasive he persuades Perry and Gail to continue playing go-between, landing them in the crosshairs of the gangsters Dima is trying to free his wife and gaggle of kids from.

This is a smaller, simpler story than the other 2016 le Carré production, the TV miniseries The Night Manager, and Susanna White, a British TV veteran, matches the more intimate scope with quiet, low-key direction, a spare canvas, and a palette of somber colors that leans toward the nocturnal. It’s more about the people than the politics, the information a maguffin to drive the defection caper, the thriller a crucible that bond Perry and Gail in a shared commitment to save a family they grow to care for. John le Carré’s disillusionment in intelligence agency priorities and government compromises is handed to Lewis’s driven agent while the civilians put a human face on the lives tangled in the spy movie plot and criminal conspiracies. There’s no righteous anger here, but there is a spark of hope.

DVD and Blu-ray, with the featurettes “The Making of Our Kind of Traitor” and “The Story,” cast interviews, and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray includes a bonus Ultraviolent Digital HD copy of the film
Our Kind Of Traitor [DVD + Digital]
Our Kind Of Traitor [Blu-ray + Digital HD]

Also new and notable:marxbrosbd

The Marx Brothers Silver Screen Collection (Universal, Blu-ray) presents the respective Blu-ray debuts of five classics films starring the four original Marx Brothers: Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Zeppo: The Cocoanuts (1929) and Animal Crackers (1930), both produced in New York City and adapted from their Broadway hits, their Hollywood debut Monkey Business (1931), the shaggy college comedy Horse Feathers (1932), and their anarchic masterpiece Duck Soup (1933). New to this release are commentary tracks for all five films and the feature-length documentary The Marx Brothers: Hollywood’s Kings of Chaos, plus a booklet with an essay. Carried over from the earlier DVD are clips of interviews with Harpo, Groucho, and Harpo’s son William Marx from The Today Show. Review to follow.

crouchingtiger4kGregory Peck Centennial Collection (Universal, Blu-ray, DVD) – Gregory Peck delivers one of his greatest performance in To Kill a Mockingbird (1963), winning an Oscar in the powerful adaptation of Harper Lee’s novel, and stars opposite a dangerous Robert Mitchum in the dark, edgy thriller Cape Fear (1962) in this two-disc set. Also features commentary on Mockingbird, featurettes, and archival supplements. Review to follow.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (Sony, Blu-ray, 4K UHD), Ang Lee’s high-flying, Oscar-winning international hit starring Chow Yun-Fat, Michele Yeoh and Ziyi Zhang in a star-making performance as a feisty young princess, is remastered for Blu-ray and makes it 4K UHD debut in a new edition with featurettes and deleted scenes never before seen on disc, along with commentary carried over from earlier releases.

Pan’s Labyrinth (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD), Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 fantasy thriller, is an elemental Alice in Wonderland set in Francisco Franco’s reign of terror in 1944 Spain. It gets the deluxe edition treatment on Criterion, with new and archival interviews and features. Criterion also boxes the film up with previous releases of del Toro’s Cronos (1994) and The Devil’s Backbone (2001) in the box set Trilogía de Guillermo del Toro (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD).

Classics and Cult:panslabcriterion

Short Cuts (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD)
Child’s Play: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Nighthawks: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray)
Waxwork / Waxwork II: Lost in Time (Lionsgate, Blu-ray)
The Laughing Policeman (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
Fuzz (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray)
The Return of Dracula (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
Special Effects (Olive, Blu-ray)
Strategic Air Command (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)childsplay
Gas-s-s-s (Olive, Blu-ray)
The Return of Dracula (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD)
9 to 5 (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Eye of the Needle (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Bobby Deerfield (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
From Noon till Three (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Murphy’s Law (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)
Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (Twilight Time, Blu-ray)

TV on disc:nightof

The Night Of (HBO, Blu-ray, DVD)
Bates Motel: Season Four
(Universal, Blu-ray, DVD)
Teen Wolf: Season 5, Part 2 (Fox, DVD)
Downton Abbey: The Complete Collection (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)
Mr Selfridge: The Complete Series (PBS, Blu-ray, DVD)

More new releases:

Alice Through the Looking Glass (Walt Disney, Blu-ray, DVD)whatwebecome
Independence Day: Resurgence (Fox, Blu-ray, 4K UHD, DVD)
What We Become (Shout! Factory, Blu-ray+DVD)
Ghost Team (Orchard, DVD)
The Good Neighbor (Lionsgate, DVD)
A Beautiful Now (Monterey, Blu-ray, DVD)

Woody Allen's "Café Society" is a love story wrapped in a wry comedy of celebrity and glamor in 1930s Hollywood and New York City. Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, and Steve Carell star. PG-13.
  • 4
    editor rating