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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 9/4/01



The Woody Allen Collection,
Volume 2


reviews by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

The Woody Allen Collection, Volume 2

September

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

September
1987 (2001) - Orion (MGM)

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D

Specs and Features:

82 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned



Another Woman

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Another Woman
1988 (2001) - Orion (MGM)

Film Rating: B

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C+/D

Specs and Features:

81 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned



Crimes and Misdemeanors

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Crimes and Misdemeanors
1989 (2001) - Orion (MGM)

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B-/D

Specs and Features:

104 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned



Alice

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Alice
1990 (2001) - Orion (MGM)

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/D

Specs and Features:

106 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned



Shadows and Fog

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Shadows and Fog
1992 (2001) - Orion (MGM)

Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B-/B/D

Specs and Features:

85 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English, Spanish and French (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles: French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Woody Allen has the distinction of being a well-recognized and highly respected filmmaker. On the flip side of that, he also has the bad fortune of being more recognizable than even his greatest works. His heady, existential material has always appealed to a certain type of moviegoer, and he's never been a blockbuster-type filmmaker that makes films for general consumption. In the early-to-mid 1990's, most of the attention he received was focused on his personal life and his failing relationship with Mia Farrow. With celebrity comes scrutiny and Allen's budding relationship with his adopted stepdaughter Soon-Yi, for the first time, took the focus off his films and into his personal life.

MGM has released just a 5-disc box set of the films he made just prior to this point in his life. Almost all of them are completely satisfying, and they all explore (with hysterical lightheartedness and dead seriousness) the consequences of marital infidelity. But even when his films fail, they're worth seeing at least once for Allen's singular comic insight into the psyche of personal human relations.

September

September is a somber, heart-breaking tale of a woman who's spent so much of her life taking care of others that she has not had the opportunity to tackle the problems that have prevented her from fully developing as a functional adult. Mia Farrow stars as Lane, a woman who has recently suffered a nervous breakdown and has returned, along with a few people close to her, to the family home in Vermont for rest and recuperation. Lane is the daughter of Diane (Elaine Stritch), a former Hollywood star who still basks in her glory days as a sex symbol. Diane is sharing her memories with Peter (Sam Waterston), a columnist who is trying his hand at writing a more substantial piece. Lane has also brought along her best friend and confidant Stephanie (Dianne Wiest). Stephanie can see what Lane cannot - that Lane's feelings for Peter are not reciprocal and that he'd much rather be spending time with Stephanie.

September is pure drama and marks a departure from Allen's usual distinct brand of neurotic humor. There's no comic relief in the film, and as the film draws toward its conclusion, and as everyone's secrets are divulged, it becomes markedly more disturbing. Farrow's performance is one of the strongest of her career, and her onscreen time with Stritch creates some of the film's more powerful moments. My feeling is that if you're a fan of the theatre, you may also like September. It feels a lot like a stage production, with its small cast of performers and a one-set location. It's slow to build and will test your patience in parts, but every scene in the film serves a purpose, and each segment builds upon the strength of the previous scene. Allen and his longtime cinematographer, Carol Di Palma, effectively create a sense of claustrophobic realism and allow the actors, not the camera, to provide the movement. They've constructed an environment that exacerbates the inevitable - things can only get worse before they get better.

Of the discs in this box set, September sports one of the better-looking pictures of the bunch. It's ironic when you consider that it's also the oldest film in this collection. The anamorphic transfer is taken from a mostly clean print that shows very little signs of age-related wear and tear. Color reproduction and flesh tones are richly detailed and accurate, and I was surprised to see such a high level of detail in the blacks. The film alternates between warm, sunny shots and dark stormy ones, and the DVD image makes the transition from light to dark with no problems. Thankfully, edge enhancement and digital artifacting never present themselves as distractions to the picture. The predominant drawback to the picture is a graininess that makes itself evident in some of the brighter sequences, but otherwise this is an above average transfer. The audio is a serviceable mono track that keeps the focus on the dialogue. It has a tad more pep to it than the other tracks on the discs, but aside from a few sound effects (thunder mostly) the audio is almost completely dialogue. It's not going to knock your socks off, but then again, will the audio in any Woody Allen film do that?

This is a minimalist film, and the same goes for the disc - its only extra is the theatrical trailer. It's in full frame and exhibits quite a bit of grain and age-related defects. It's actually a pretty nondescript trailer that shows you virtually nothing about the content of the film. With a promotional trailer like this, it's no wonder the film did poor box office business. This is one of the more low profile of Allen's films and the disc provides nothing to make it stand out from any of the others.

Another Woman

Another Woman starts with one of the most reliable of script conventions - a conversation overheard through a heating vent. The heating vent is in a room rented by Marion (Gena Rowlands), a professor of philosophy who is taking some time off to write a novel. Through the vent, she hears Hope (Mia Farrow) confiding to her doctor that she feels her life reaching an uncomfortable level of stability. Marion, recognizing a lot of herself in Hope's comments, begins to reevaluate her marriage to Ken (Ian Holm). She married not for love and romance, but for the stability and dependability it brings to her life. She's a woman who is so detached from her emotions and the uncertainty associated with romance, that she sacrificed the chance for a meaningful, passionately fulfilling relationship with Larry (Gene Hackman). Larry has true, deep feelings for her and expresses no hesitance in showing it, but ultimately draws a line when Marion insists that she wants to make things work with Ken. Ken's existence, inversely, revolves almost completely around artifice, manners and the illusion that all is well in their marriage. This despite the fact that they share zero intimacy with each other and that their relationship began while he was still married to his previous wife Kathy (Betty Buckley, in a strong cameo).

There's a great deal of revelation on the part of the writer and stars in Another Woman. The movie deals with an abundance of issues that have come to be known as "mid-life crises." At what point do we stop being satisfied with our lives, and when is it too late to make a difference? These issues effect us in our 20's and 30's, so why should they become a non-issue after that point? Gena Rowlands is the perfect embodiment of a woman who, in the prime of her life, is just now trying to understand how her childhood, career and marriages have formed her life experience. She's very good here, particularly in the flashback sequences where she talks with her father and younger brother. My only qualm with this film was the voice-over narration. The film relies too heavily on it to tell some of the backstory, and at a tidy 81 minutes in length, the film wouldn't have suffered any had the narration been produced as sequences in the film.

MGM has prepped a fairly good-looking print of Another Woman for DVD. The transfer has been anamorphically enhanced and is taken from a source print that shows only a few signs of aging in the form of speckles and a few minor tears on the print. There's also some visible grain to the film and detail isn't as strong as it should be, but otherwise, it looks good. I didn't notice any edge enhancement and artifacting (digital or otherwise) is kept at a bare minimum. Flesh tones are rendered smoothly and accurately and color saturation in general was very well done. I was disappointed with the audio mix. Most of it sounds fine, and the bulk of the primary dialogue is problem-free. However, my main gripe was with some of the high frequency audio. It's not as pronounced and makes some of whispering and hushed voices (which are very important in this film) difficult to understand without overcompensating on the volume.

Again, the only extra feature on the disc is the film's theatrical trailer. It's here in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen. As with the other discs in the set, there's also a fairly extensive set of trivia notes and recollections on the DVD insert. If you're looking for anything else, tell it to MGM.

Crimes and Misdemeanors

"Comedy is tragedy plus time. The night Lincoln was shot, you couldn't joke about it. You just couldn't do it. But now, time has gone by, and now it's fair game. See what I mean? It's tragedy plus time."

In Crimes and Misdemeanors, Martin Landau stars as Judah, a married man who is having an affair with Dolores (Anjelica Huston). She's a volatile woman who's determined to expose his financial and marital improprieties if he doesn't follow through on what she perceived to be a promise to leave his wife (Claire Bloom). He devises a plot with his brother, Jack (Jerry Orbach), a "reformed" mobster, to help silence Dolores by any means necessary. Meanwhile, out of work film producer Cliff (Woody Allen) is faced with the toughest assignment of his career: filming a documentary on his brother-in-law, Lester (Alan Alda), whose success at producing is eclipsed only by his egomaniacal attitude. His assignment proves to be even more difficult when he develops feelings for Lester's assistant, Halley (Mia Farrow). Cliff is not particularly unhappy at home, but the temptation is there, and Halley is a good confidant for him when he needs one.

One of the greatest strengths of Crimes and Misdemeanors is the depth to which Allen is able to explore the extremes of the conscience and human emotion. In a movie that's little longer than an hour and a half, that's quite an accomplishment. These are characters who, right or wrong, make choices that would otherwise go against their own morals and are forced to deal with the consequences of those decisions. In that respect, it plays a lot like a condensed version of the best of Altman films that create well-rounded characters of great depth. There's also a chance, in a movie that blends comedy and drama, for one genre to dilute or overpower the other. That's never an issue in Crimes and Misdemeanors, and in fact, they each accent the other nicely. Landau and Huston (in a role that's unusually potent given its small share of screen time) are standouts among a stellar cast that, in combination with a great script and impeccable direction, combine to make one of the best films of Allen's career.

MGM's image transfer this go-around presents a fairly good picture. The new transfer one-ups the previous Image release by giving it an anamorphic treatment. The picture is mostly clear of age-related defects, but exhibits some minor grain. Some of that can be attributed to the film stock, but some, I presume, is from the transfer. Black level and shadow detailing are also adequate, but could have used a bit more richness to give the picture more depth. Flesh tones are accurately rendered and look very natural. As is common with many of Allen's films, Crimes and Misdemeanors is shot in a very naturalistic style that reflects some of the dull, gray side of New York City. The picture on the whole looks sort of flat here, but much of that is due to the way the movie was filmed, and not the actual transfer to DVD. The audio, as is typical with Allen films, is the original mono track. Needless to say, you're not going to hear a whole lot outside of the dialogue track in this film. It's mostly good, but seemed a bit more on the quiet side than I would have liked. Outside of the dialogue, it's a very flat sounding mix with the natural limitations that are inherent to a monaural presentation.

The only extra on board this disc is the film's original theatrical trailer, shown in full-frame format. It has a grainier look than most newer trailers, but it's there if you want to see it. There is also a sizable amount of revealing, text-based production notes in the DVD's insert. For ease of viewing's sake, it would have been nice to have these on the disc itself, but I will not complain too much about that.

Alice

"I've been one of those women who shops all day and gets pedicures, but I want to be more. There's more to me."

Alice (Mia Farrow) is a thoroughly modern woman. She's into chemical-free meat products, alternative medicine, shiatsu and all the other conveniences that wealth can provide. She's in what she perceives to be a good marriage and loves her husband, Doug (William Hurt) and her two children. One day, while picking up her children from school, she meets a charming jazz saxophonist named Joe (Joe Mantegna), and immediately reports to her gossipy socialite friends at the spa that she's considering having an affair with him. Her marriage hasn't been exciting lately and the thought of an encounter with this exceptionally more tempting man has her tied up in knots. Unsure of what to do, she takes the advice of friends and visits an herbalist (Keye Luke) for advice and healing. She has a lot to sort out with him - career advice, family relations and back pains. Alice's visits to the herbalist provide her with a couple of potions that give her the ability to transcend reality and consciousness.

Some of the most irrepressibly fun moments of Alice are the scenes that are not afraid to surrender to the absurd. At one point, Alice drinks a mixture that makes her invisible and allows her to see if Joe is as withdrawn from his wife as he says he is, and also to eavesdrop on her friends' conversations. Becoming invisible is the easy part. The tricky part is staying that way while you're sitting on the couch next to a couple in the midst of a passionate throw down. Alice also has a few references of the Dickens variety as she receives a few ghostly visitors during the late hours of the night. Ed (Alec Baldwin), an ex-boyfriend who has since passed on, returns to give Alice some advice on finding and keeping romance in her life. It's a sequence that's just as touching as it is funny. She also gets a visit from a muse (Bernadette Peters), to prod her along in her pursuit of a career in writing and to lend a little advice about the her choice of friends ("Yeah, Nancy… haven't you ever noticed she keeps checking her watch when you talk to her?"). Alice is fun, and is a little more flighty and whimsical that your average Woody Allen film. It has a genuine admiration for romantic comedies from the golden age of Hollywood, and is enjoyable from beginning to end.

As far as presentation goes, Alice is the best of the bunch here. MGM did a nice job with the film transfer and created a notably good picture. The anamorphic transfer is culled from a dust and speckle-free print and produces an image with solid color reproduction. This film has the broadest range of colors of any of the movies in the box set, and they make the transfer with no distracting color bleed. Reds are strong and properly saturated and flesh tones are soft and expressive. Black level is also a strong point and whites are bright, but not so intense that they create a halo effect. There's some minor grain, but it's not an intrusion and is most likely a result of the film stock. Once again, there's not a hint of edge enhancement and artifacting is in check. The mono audio also does justice to this dialogue-heavy film. There's quite a bit of music to the mix this time and the soundtrack creates a nice balance - one is never compromised by the other. The principle shortcoming to the mix, as with virtually all the discs here, is that the soundtrack is mixed very low. It's a distraction, but is easily fixed by simply adjusting the level of volume.

Any guesses on what the features may be? If you guessed the film's trailer, you just won the golden ticket, Charlie! That's the only thing on this puppy, though it looks nice and tidy in anamorphic widescreen. If you're expecting anything else this late in the game, you've got another thing coming. The upside of this all is that MGM has reduced the price of these discs to reflect their lack of extra features should you choose to buy them on a singular basis.

Shadows and Fog

Irmy (Mia Farrow) and her boyfriend the clown (John Malkovich) are performers in a traveling sideshow. When Irmy catches him in an unannounced solo performance with Maria the trapeze artist (Madonna), she leaves him and the show, and storms off into the foggy night. Unbeknownst to her, there is a vicious strangler walking the streets preying upon hapless victims on nights when the fog is at its thickest. When Irmy runs into a do-gooder prostitute (Lily Tomlin), she takes temporary shelter in a brothel where, during a roundtable discussion, she gets an earful about the ups and downs of prostitution. The only thing more frightening than the strangler is the team that's been assembled to capture him. The wimpy Kleinman (Woody Allen), a man who's more afraid of his own shadow than anything else, heads the team to take down the strangler. When Irmy leaves the brothel, she has a chance encounter with Kleinman, and they take it upon themselves to walk the shady streets and alleys of the city to find the killer.

Shadows and Fog is one of Woody Allen's best looking films. It's filled with, as coincidence would have it, long shots of dark, shadowy streets and fog-filled alleys. It's very reminiscent of films from the noir period and has lots of fun toying with some of the clichés of that genre. It also has a host of cameos and small supporting roles by stars such as Kathy Bates, Jodie Foster, John Cusack, William H Macy and Fred Gwynne among others. It's just a shame the film's writing isn't as enjoyable as its visual texture is. Shadows and Fog is part murder mystery, part existential drama and part farce, but Allen caters mostly to the film's comic tones. The downside of this is that he never fully commits to developing the other aspects of the film. As the film progresses, those aspects of the film begin to feel out of place amongst the comic sequences and essentially become inconsequential. Shadows and Fog also has a tendency to meander too much for its own good, and the film suffers because of it. It's not completely unenjoyable, but we're given such a good start to the film, that it ultimately ends up being a disappointment.

The video on Shadows and Fog is an anamorphic transfer of the original 1.85:1 black and white theatrical print. On DVD, there is the opportunity for two potential hindrances to the overall quality of the picture - shadows and fog (I could go on and on with these references!). There's a tendency for foggy sequences in films on DVD to take on a grainy or muddy look when not transferred carefully. By and large, this is not an issue in this transfer - the intended look is captured without a digitized feel. The shadowy shots are also adequate, but the picture in general lacks the true depth provided by solid blacks. The darkest colors sometimes come out as a heavy gray at best. The results are mixed, but they're mostly positive and the source print is nearly flawless. Yet again, the audio track is the original mono mix. This one sounds a little more robust than the rest of the discs, and dialogue dropout never presents itself as a problem. There is no hissing or static in the mix at all, and all parts of the track seemed nicely balanced.

If I sound like I'm repeating myself when it comes to the features, it's because I am. The full-frame theatrical trailer is the only feature making an appearance on the disc. What… you were expecting that would change by now? I have to admit, it would have been nice to have at the very least a little featurette about the making of the sets for Shadows and Fog. As the DVD insert tells us, this was the largest set ever constructed in New York for use in a film. The detail that went into the making of the set is obvious from beginning to end, so I'd think that alone would warrant some extra attention. MGM apparently begs to differ with me.

So that's the Woody Allen Collection, Volume 2 on DVD. My guess is that most consumers are going to want to skip the box set entirely and purchase the discs on an individual, to-your-liking basis. Even Allen's controversial best cannot please everyone, and outside of the plain, cardboard packaging, you won't get anything from the box set that you can't get with the individual discs. There are no additional extras in the set, no bonus discs and each disc's packaging is exactly the same. Woody Allen has never been one to revisit his films. Once they're done, they're done, so I guess participation from him on the box set was a moot point. It's nice to have them all in one place in your collection, I guess, but you'd have to be a highly dedicated fan to want to own all of these bare bones discs. They're each worth a viewing at least once (particularly Crimes and Misdemeanors), but Allen's films sometimes require a little more work of the viewer than the average audience member is understandably willing or able to commit. But if you love everything Woody Allen and aren't too demanding of a DVD's extra features, by all means pick up the box set.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com


The Woody Allen Collection, Volume 2


September


Another Woman


Crimes and Misdemeanors


Alice


Shadows and Fog


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