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WOODY’S BLUE PERIOD
It seems that every time there’s a new Woody Allen film out, there are clamours that it is a return to form. His form has been very inconsistent over the past twenty years. Midnight in Paris was very good but To Rome With Love and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger were very weak indeed. Blue Jasmine, his latest effort, has been getting some phenomenally positive reviews and I admit that I was skeptical before I saw it. But I am pleased to say that this is his best film in quite some time. Cate Blanchett plays the Jasmine of the title, a New York socialite who is left adrift when it comes to light that her conniving husband Hal (Alec Baldwin) has been pulling a Madoff and scamming everyone. So with her spouse in prison, she is forced to throw herself on the mercy of her lower class sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) who lives in a crowded flat on the other side of the US in San Francisco. After a life of parties in the Hamptons and Park Avenue apartments, this is quite a comedown for Jasmine. But as the film progresses, you realise that Jasmine is a fantasist, refusing to accept the truth of her predicament. She takes up with a new man friend Dwight (Peter Sarsgaard) but this is doomed to fail. Blanchett is exceptional, displaying a rare emotional depth and range to her performance, and she is assisted by a very strong cast. Andrew Dice Clay as Ginger’s ex husband Augie is a real surprise – who knew he really could act – and Bobby Cannevale (Boardwalk Empire) as Ginger’s current on-off boyfriend pulls off the thuggish unsophisticate that he does so well again here. It has been suggested that Blue Jasmine owes a little something to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire and perhaps there are echoes of that here but Blue Jasmine is more measured and less melodramatic than Williams’ play. Also, Jasmine is a different sort of tragic figure to Blanche DuBois. You do have to hand it to Woody Allen: every time it seems you can write him off, he occasionally pulls it out of the bag. It doesn’t hurt that the director has chosen two city settings that he understands. Blue Jasmine is a return to form (there, I said it) for Woody Allen and Blanchett should be a good bet for next year’s Best Actress oscar. She is easily the best, most accomplished actress working in modern Hollywood. What will be interesting to see is if he has raised the bar permanently or whether it is one of his occasional works of genius…

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JUST A LOAD OF BALLS?
42 is a film that recounts the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the major baseball league in the US. And while he was a significant part of American sporting history, here director Brian Helgeland (best known as screen writer on films like Robin Hood, LA Confidential and Mystic River) has gone for the cheesy mythologising approach. It’s not that 42 is a bad film per se (Chadwick Boseman makes a decent fist as Robinson) but it feels like a made for TV film that just happens to have Harrison Ford in it. Ford plays Branch Rickey, head of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the man who brought Robinson to the team, like a cross between Foghorn Leghorn and Richard Nixon, who seems in danger of chewing up anybody who comes near him as well as the scenery. There is an interesting story hiding here somewhere, with racism rife in baseball at the time,  but it’s all so hokey and hackneyed that it just doesn’t feel like we’re getting any of the real tale. It’s pleasant enough but it’s a film that won’t stay with you once you’ve left the cinema. Bland and inoffensive, it will only play well in the US and perhaps a few other countries obsessed with baseball. In fact, it already came out in the US earlier this year, so it’s getting a token release elsewhere in the world…

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A BAD CALL?
Halle Berry’s career has taken rather a downwards turn. She appeared in the three X-Men films and she even got an Oscar for her performance in Monster’s Ball back in 2002. But since then she’s made some rather poor choices. The Call is her latest, a very pulpy affair where she plays 911 operator Jordan Turner, who takes a call from a distraught girl who has an intruder in her house. The intruder turns out to be a murderer and Turner feels that she is to blame for the girl’s death. Fast forward a few months and the murderer resurfaces, kidnapping another girl, this time from a shopping mall. So the race is on to locate the girl and stop the killer from killing again. It’s pretty basic fare, we’ve seen it all before and it has a particularly silly ending but Berry is decent value on screen and it doesn’t outstay its welcome in terms of its running time. The rest of the cast including a cameo from Michael Imperioli as a hapless motorist who gets caught up in the murderer’s orbit don’t have a great deal to do. The Call is a competent but ultimately forgettable film…
It passes ninety minutes pleasantly enough but leaves no impact on the viewer and you forget it almost as soon as you vacate the cinema. Berry seems trapped in these sort of films.