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Woody Allen
John Cusack, Dianne Wiest, Chazz Palminteri, Jennifer Tilly, Mary-Louise Parker, Jim Broadbent, Jack Warden, Tracey Ullman, Joe Viterelli, Rob Reiner, Harvey Fierstein
Woody Allen

A killer comedy!
Rated R for some language.

Academy Awards:
Won for Best Supporting Actress-Dianne Wiest.
Nominated for Best Director; Best Actor-Chazz Palminteri; Best Supporting Actress-Jennifer Tilly; Best Screenplay; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration; Best Costume Design.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Digital Mono
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 4/20/1999

• None

Score soundtrack

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Bullets Over Broadway (1994)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Some of Woody Allenís best work dealt with then-current times. 1977ís Annie Hall earned lots of acclaim - including an Oscar as Best Picture - and remains one of his strongest films. In addition, 1989ís Crimes and Misdemeanors stands as probably his top dramatic effort.

However, most of Allenís finest flicks traveled back through the mists of time to bygone eras. Whether the Russian wartime setting of 1975ís Love and Death or the Depression-era antics of 1987ís Radio Days and 1985ís The Purple Rose of Cairo, Allen seems in his element when heís out of the present.

The Nineties offered few good flicks from the Woodman. Not surprisingly, his two best dealt with the same classic period of the Thirties: 1999ís Sweet and Lowdown and 1994ís Bullets Over Broadway. While I liked Lowdown to a moderate degree, Bullets seemed to be the stronger piece, and it may well be the only Allen film from the Nineties that can stand up next to his classics.

Bullets concentrates on a struggling playwright named David Shayne (John Cusack). He obtains backing for his latest work but has to pay a price: in order to get the money, he has to include the tacky girlfriend of mobster Nick Valenti (Joe Viterelli) as part of the cast. As such, the playís off to a bad start before it begins, since Olive (Jennifer Tilly) doesnít suit the role of a psychiatrist well. Otherwise, David seems to get most of what he wants, including fading diva Helen Sinclair (Dianne Wiest) in the starring role. He also recruits dieting Warner Purcell (Jim Broadbent) and goofy, dog-toting Eden Brent (Tracey Ullman) to round out the lead cast.

However, problems start almost immediately. So Nick can keep an eye on Olive, he sends tough guy Cheech (Chazz Palminteri) to be her constant chaperone. David doesnít like the attention, but he has no choice but to accept it. In addition, Warner quickly goes off of his diet, and Helen uses her feminine charms to influence David to rework the play in her favor.

Adding his voice to the group, Cheech starts to chime in with his own ideas about how to improve the play. David initially combats against these proposals, but it quickly becomes clear that Cheech knows what heís talking about, and the production really starts to catch fire when these notions get incorporated into the play. Essentially the film follows the antics of this crew of characters. It largely revolves around the triad of David, Helen and Cheech, as the latter two work their influence over the former.

Allen creates a fun screwball comedy in which the actors ham up a storm, but they do so in a wonderfully engaging and delightful manner. Palminteri serves as the prototypical tough guy, but that makes his burgeoning creative side even more fun to watch. Wiest also clearly has a blast playing the Norma Desmond-esque star past her prime, as she revels in her prior glory while she constantly contrives to get back to prominence. Ullman also is a riot in her over-the-top presentation of ditzy Eden.

As David, Cusack does something almost unprecedented: he portrays a stand-in for Allen without actually mimicking the Woodman. I canít think of any others who pull off this feat; even a fine actor like Edward Norton produced nothing more than a mannered impersonation in Everyone Says I Love You. Cusack clearly displays the Allen influence, but he never becomes a simple copycat, and this makes his work much more effective.

Overall, Bullets Over Broadway isnít the best film produced by Woody Allen, but itís definitely the strongest piece he released in the Nineties. Itís a consistently witty and engaging flick that has many more positives than negatives, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The DVD Grades: Picture B- / Audio C- / Bonus F

Bullets Over Broadway appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Despite the non-anamorphic nature of the transfer, Bullets provided a flawed but reasonably watchable presentation.

Sharpness largely looked quite good. The movie remained reasonably crisp and distinct throughout the movie, and it offered few instances of any noticeable softness. However, some light edge enhancement cropped up along the way, and I also witnessed a few examples of jagged edges and moirť effects. These remained pretty minor throughout the film, but they could be a little distracting nonetheless.

Print flaws provided a moderate level of concerns. I detected a few blotches and some grain as well as a couple of nicks and some grit. Speckles caused the most problems. These started off innocently enough but they became more pervasive as the film continued. These spots were never horribly intrusive, but they did seem a bit problematic.

Allen featured a nice golden tone for much of this period piece, and the DVD replicated those hues well. Colors consistently came across as natural and warm, and they seemed devoid of any concerns. They always looked appropriately balanced and clean and complemented the action well. Black levels also appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail presented clear low-light scenes that lacked any excessive opacity. Overall, the transfer had some definite concerns, but it was fairly good as a whole.

Virtually all Allen flicks offer only monaural sound, and this was also the case for Bullets. The DVD provided another decent but bland mix. Speech occasionally seemed a little constricted and edgy, but for the most part, dialogue was acceptably natural and distinct, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility. Effects were somewhat thin and flat, but they displayed reasonable accuracy and lacked distortion or other concerns.

As with many Allen movies, Bullets mixed newly recorded versions of old music with vintage takes. Not surprisingly, the latter lacked much dynamic range, but they were clean and replicated the source materials fairly well. The new stuff - most of which manifested itself during live production numbers - sounded significantly brighter and richer, though the nature of the mono track meant those elements remained somewhat bland. Overall, the soundtrack seemed acceptable but unspectacular.

Allen reportedly doesnít endorse bonus materials, and none of the DVDs of his flicks include any substantial extras. As with fellow Buena Vista-issued packages like Everyone Says I Love You and Mighty Aphrodite, Bullets tosses in absolutely nothing. No trailer, no production notes - bupkus!

Combined with the fairly lackluster nature of the DVD presentation, this makes it harder to recommend Bullets Over Broadway. To be sure, the film itself is a pretty entertaining piece that stands as the only true joy among Woody Allenís releases from the Nineties. The movie warmly satirizes the past and creates a witty and consistently amusing experience. However, the DVD itself provides pretty mediocre picture and sound, and it lacks any supplements. As such, Bullets Over Broadway lands into the ďrentalĒ category.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2352 Stars Number of Votes: 17
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