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Woody Allen
Kenneth Branagh, Judy Davis, Joe Mantegna, Winona Ryder, Charlize Theron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Melanie Griffith, Famke Janssen, Bebe Neuwirth
Woody Allen

A funny look at people who will do anything to get famous... or stay famous.
Box Office:
Budget $800,000. Opening weekend $1.588 million on 493 screens. Domestic gross $5.032 million.
Rated R for language, sex and some drug use.

Widescreen 1.85:1
English Digital Mono
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 8/10/1999

• None

Music soundtrack

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Celebrity (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

After years as the lowest of low-key personalities, Woody Allen found himself thrust into the public eye during the 1990s. Through a very bitter split with former lover - and frequent cinematic collaborator - Mia Farrow and his subsequent - and creepy - romance and marriage with Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, the Woodman became tabloid fodder and the butt of many jokes.

Considering the personal nature of so many Allen films, it seemed inevitable that he’d eventually strike back through his work. 1997’s Deconstructing Harry offered the first salvo, as it showed an Allen who didn’t seem terribly enamored of women; who ever expected to hear Woody refer to females as “cunts” with such abandon?

1998’s Celebrity seems less misogynistic but not less barbed. Allen himself starred in Harry, but for Celebrity he took the same route seen in flicks like 1993’s Bullets Over Broadway and 1996’s Everyone Says I Love You: he cast another actor in the Woody role. Here we find Lee Simon (Kenneth Branagh), a struggling writer who churns out celebrity stories for a periodical. This doesn’t satisfy him, and he longs to return to his roots as a novelist. The terrible critical reception of an earlier work scarred him, though, so he seems reluctant to do this. Instead, he works on a screenplay, and during parts of the movie, we watch as he tries to get it made.

The film follows Lee as it does this, and we also see his bitterness over his split with ex-wife Robin (Judy Davis). She gets her own section of the story, though it’s clear Allen’s passions remain with Lee, his own alter ego. Robin has her own issues but her life picks up after an improbable encounter. A friend encourages her to get some plastic surgery from a famous doctor. While waiting for a consultation, a local TV crew comes in and the producer - charming Tony Gardella (Joe Mantegna) - compliments her. This starts an on-again, off-again romance and also leads to a TV career for Robin, something that occasionally brings her into contact with angry Lee.

He bops from woman to woman throughout his own quest, though his thoughts often return to Nola (Winona Ryder). They nearly got together once, but the moment passed and eventually Lee hooked up with Bonnie (Famke Janssen). That relationship becomes serious and seems successful, but just as Bonnie’s moving in with Lee, he dumps her to pursue Nola.

All while this occurs, Lee still flits from career to career. He remains lost and uncertain what to do. During some of the film’s best moments, he totally lowers himself to try to attract a hot actor named Brandon Darrow (Leonardo DiCaprio) to sign onto his film. Will Lee and/or Robin eventually find any form of happiness and satisfaction?

Maybe, but that’s not my primary concern. The bigger issue relates to whether or not Celebrity is worth a look. My feelings toward Allen’s work run pretty hot and cold. Actually, they veer closer to warm and cold. I like a fair amount of his material but rarely really adore any of it. On the other hand, I openly dislike more than a couple of flicks.

Celebrity has quite a few flaws, but it falls somewhere in the middle of his repertoire. On the negative side, it seems very scattered and unfocused. Allen appears to want to take on the whole culture of celebrity, and he tosses out occasional barbs in that direction. The DiCaprio scenes do this best, as schlubby Lee gets caught up in some wild scenarios. For the first film he shot after the enormous success of 1997’s Titanic, DiCaprio seems more than willing to poke a few holes in his burgeoning mystique; as a drug-abusing, girlfriend beating jerk, it seems almost impossible for him to take on a less likable part, and he really sinks his teeth into it.

Branagh received much criticism for his Allen impersonation as Lee, but I think a lot of this was misguided. Allen often uses doppelgangers in his flicks; from Mia Farrow in Alice to John Cusack in Broadway to Ed Norton in Everyone, if Allen himself doesn’t appear in a movie, he usually has someone else fill in for him.

Admittedly, Branagh does rely a little too much on Woody-esque mannerisms, but I thought he integrated them in an acceptable manner. Norton offers the worst example of a Woody caricature. While Branagh seems a little forced at times, he provides enough depth to the role to allow us to ignore the more problematic elements. He’s not as effective as Cusack, but Branagh works fairly well.

Though not as star-packed as the overstuffed Deconstructing Harry, Celebrity follows the Allen MO for the era in that it throws a slew of famous people on screen and sees who sticks. This technique can be somewhat distracting at times, as the film becomes too much of a game of “spot the star”.

Still, despite a scattered focus and a lot of distractions, Celebrity had its moments for Woody Allen fans. I felt somewhat unenthused about the flick, and it definitely won’t qualify as the best of his repertoire. Nonetheless, the Nineties provided a lot of bad work from Allen, and Celebrity came across as a reasonably engaging semi-return to form for the director. It ain’t Annie Hall but it had its moments.

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

Celebrity 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 that omission, the picture for Celebrity largely looked quite solid.

Sharpness seemed consistently terrific. The movie always appeared crisp and detailed. Virtually no signs of softness cropped up, as the movie remained tight and distinct from start to finish. I saw no evidence of edge enhancement, but some light shimmering occurred at times, and some jagged edges made a few elements seem a little ropy. Print flaws remained minor most of the time. A little grit and a few speckles appeared, and one large blotch marred the presentation, but otherwise the picture stayed clean and fresh.

Throughout the black and white film, contrast looked excellent. Black levels seemed deep and rich at all times, and shadow detail appeared appropriately heavy without excessive thickness. Low-light situations displayed solid depth and accuracy. Overall, the image looked very good, with only some moderate print flaws to lower my grade to a “B+”.

Woody Allen doesn’t favor multi-channel audio, so Celebrity offered only a monaural soundtrack. The mix seemed typical and greatly resembled the audio for many other Allen movies. Dialogue was consistently intelligible and reasonably natural, and I heard no concerns related to edginess. Effects came across as acceptably accurate and distinct, and they occasionally showed decent low-end response. Music fell into the same category, as the score was fairly bright with reasonable fidelity; bass response stayed decent but unexceptional. It was another satisfying mono mix, but it lost points for its lack of ambition; Celebrity sounded good, but by default, a single-channel track from 1998 doesn’t deserve a grade above “C-“.

Allen fans know that the director doesn’t care for supplements, which is why we never find much on the DVDs for his films. Celebrity is sparser than most. Usually we at least find a trailer or some production notes, but Celebrity provides absolutely nothing.

As a film, Celebrity stands as one of the better Allen flicks in a poor era for him. He created a lot of trash in the Nineties, so while Celebrity is unfocused and erratic, it still works much better than most of its competition. The DVD provides a solid picture with clear monaural sound and no extras. The film offers just enough provocative and interesting material to merit a look from Allen fans, but those less enchanted with the director should probably inspect his more successful works instead of Celebrity.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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