HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Cafe Society
HTS Overall Score:78
Woody Allen has had a long and varied career in his lifespan. He’s made such classics such as “Annie Hall”, “Manhattan” and “Radio Days”, but the man has also had just as many misses in his career. In fact, he’s almost defined by that paradox. He either creates a wonderfully brilliant film, or makes a mediocre movie that makes one say “meh, that was ok”. There is no in between. “Café Society” is one of the latter efforts by the venerable film maker. Probably his most visual and lavishly done film to date, “Café Society” suffers from a meandering storyline that feels almost like a slice of life drama more than an actual effort in making a point (although there IS a point to the film. Something that gets lost along the way until the last few minutes of the movie). It’s neither good nor bad, but exists as an interesting curio with traditional Woody Allen verbose dialog.
The plot for “Café Society” is a kind of a hulking and shambling beast. It begins simply enough with young Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg) moving from New York to try and make something of himself in Hollywood with his uncle, Phil Stern (Steve Carrell) during the 1930s. A producer for film stars, Phil is your typical Hollywood elite. Blustery and busy with the day to day façade of living with high society folks, he brings Bobby into his world and gives him a taste of the high life. While Bobby is getting accustomed to the life he falls in love with his uncle’s beautiful young secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), and heads off on a whirlwind romance. The problem arises when Bobby finds out that he is vying for her affection with his uncle Phil, who has been slyly dating the young vixen behind his wife’s back. Tensions rise high as Vonnie is forced to choose between the two men and Bobby is sent back home to New York in despair.
While there he ends up working for his gangster brother, Ben (Corey Stoll), as a nightclub manager, and soon becomes the high society piece of fluff that he despised in California. Meeting a young lady by the name of Veronica (Blake Lively), Bobby is soon happily married and at the top of the New York social life until he once again runs into his uncle Phil and Vonnie. An encounter that causes the two young “ex” lovers to ponder upon what might have been, and the life that they could have had.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=82425[/img]“Café Society” is a lumbering beast, as I mentioned. While simple in concept it seems to meander and lose focus and direction as the film progresses. When we’re in the first half of the movie the focus is tight and controlled. We have Bobby, Vonnie and Phil all involved in a romantic triangle, and the fight for the love of the woman is the main focus. However, once Bobby heads back to New York the plot seems to just flutter in the breeze and leave one wondering if there is a point to the experience. It’s not until the final moments of the film that Woody actually starts to bring the loose points together in a cohesive meaning. Unfortunately by that time it feels like too little, too late with the final few moments of the movie leaving the viewer with the sense that Allen was trying to make the theme about “what might have been”, but the execution just feels “awkward”.
One thing that defines “Café Society” is the narration. Narrated by Woody Allen himself (much like “Radio Days”) it tends to unfold its story with the assumption that the characters already know what is going on. They are never really shown on screen discovering certain plot points, but they will make references to them as if they had already discovered at them at some point off screen and brought that knowledge into the next scene. It’s an interesting technique, and once that really works because of the stereotypical dance with dialog that Woody is known for. However, that same quick witted dialog also sounds a bit pretentious and obnoxious, but that may have been what he was going for as the characters themselves can be a bit obnoxious.
Allen deftly weaves a whole TON of characters together, with at least 10-15 named stars coming in and out of the plot. Parker Posey and Ben Stoll play small bits, but the main characters seem so oddly matched that they bizarrely fit together. Carrell as Phil Stern just feels OFF, and Eisenberg plays his panache and style version of Bobby with the same spastic acting as he did for Lex Luthor in “Batman V. Superman”. Stewart was oddly the most realistic of the people on screen, and this coming from someone who LOATHES the woman’s acting ability. Vonnie felt both vulnerable and despicable at the same time, which really suited Stewart, and I have to say that she really felt the most fleshed out and 3 dimensional in the film.
PG-13 for some violence, a drug reference, suggestive material and smoking
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=82433[/img]“Café Society” is presented on Blu-ray with a fabulous looking 2.00:1 AVC encoded image that really dazzles with the 1930’s era trappings. The fine details is superb with every facial hair and line looking absolutely magical, and the richly decorated backgrounds in the nightclub showing amazing clarity. The color grading varies from location to location with the Hollywood scenes drenched, nay BATHED) in honey colors and rich oranges and yellows. The facial tones look a bit ruddy and overly burnished here, but it is stylistically so. Back home in New York the look is more natural, with the brilliant colors of the dancers in the club standing out sharply against the black and grey New York skyline. There are a few scenes that look a bit more desaturated and grey (especially in the facial tones), such as when Bobby and Vonnie are having lunch in the diner, but otherwise the New York scenes tend to look more balanced and natural than anything. Blacks are impeccably done and show no visible signs of crush or being washed out. Well done Lionsgate, well done.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=82441[/img]Lionsgate has put on a single 5.1 DTS-HD MA track for us to enjoy, and it is a great experience within the confines of a dramatic movie. As you would have guessed, “Café Society” is a very dialog centric film with some mild surround activity and LFE support to keep it from being a 3.0 track. Vocals are crisp and clean, centered up front with the center channel, while the front soundstage is given activity with the jazzy music and the rumbling of the nightclub patrons, or the guests at one of Phil’s parties. The surrounds utilize those same rumblings and mumblings, adding a little bit of rear support to the movie, but overall it’s a fairly front heavy mix. LFE is a welcome addition to the score, but it doesn’t really come in to play outside of the music and a few mild ambient noises. A great sounding track, it is just a simple mix that works to the strengths of Woody. Namely to say his excellent use of dialog.
• On The Red Carpet
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“Café Society” is Allen’s love letter to 1930’s Hollywood, and the lavish set design and costuming really show his love for the era. In fact, “Café Society” may be his most visual and “stuffed” film to date. Every second of the film feels drenched in that 1930’s period piece flair and you the roaring 20’s influences on the movie are blatantly obvious. This is what makes the movie so visually appealing, but it cannot overcome some of the awkwardness and randomness that occur with a script that seems poorly anchored. It’s not a horrible film by any stretch of the imagination, and is one of the most visually attractive Woody Allen films I have ever seen, but not one I would go seek down as the greats of his library. Audio is great and the video is utterly superb, making it a solid rental (especially for fans of Woody).
Starring: Steve Carrell, Parker Posey, Blake Lively, Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by: Woody Allen
Written by: Woody Allen
Aspect Ratio: 2.00:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: October 18th, 2016
Buy Cafe Society On Blu-ray at Amazon
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