New on DVD: Woody Allen Collection

The thing about Woody Allen is you either love him or hate him. That’s been the sentiment on his work and his personal life for decades. And normally one would have nothing to do with the other, but in Allen’s case he effectively uses his films as vehicles to explore his phobias and neuroses. This collection groups together most of Allen’s films from the ‘90s as well as 2006’s Scoop.

Bullets over Broadway stars John Cusack as David Shayne, an idealistic young writer who will do anything to direct his first Broadway play – even if it means giving a mobster’s incompetent girlfriend (Jennifer Tilly) a part in exchange for funding and selling out his ideas for better ones from an inexperienced hired gun (Chazz Palminteri). The addition of Palminteri’s character saves this flick from being a run-of-the-mill backstage comedy.

Celebrity is a string of cameos by some the biggest names in Hollywood, including Charlize Theron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Melanie Griffith, Winona Ryder and Hank Azaria. Freshly divorced, Lee (Kenneth Branagh) explores his newfound freedom by shopping around his script and chasing women who are only interested in his car. Meanwhile, his ex-wife (Judy Davis) makes the improbable transformation from neurotic schoolteacher to high-profile TV talk show host. Allen’s decision to film this in black and white allows the actors and subtleties of the dialogue to take centre stage.

In Deconstructing Harry, Harry Block (Allen) has had three wives, six psychiatrists, dozens of girlfriends and numerous prostitutes. When he transfers his life’s experiences into a best-selling novel, his best friends and family become his harshest critics and worst enemies. As his sister-in-law and former-mistress exclaims, this book “is about us!” This film was one of his most ill received because it was his most self-reflexive.

Everybody Says I Love You is Allen’s first and only musical to-date. In this celebration of love, Joe (Allen) attempts to falsely win the heart of Von (Julia Roberts) while his youngest daughter (Natasha Lyonne) is constantly experiencing love at first sight. Meanwhile, his other daughter (Drew Barrymore) is torn between two men (Edward Norton and Tim Roth) and his ex-wife (Goldie Hawn) and her current husband (Alan Alda) try to manage everyone’s problems. All the actors, with the exception of Barrymore, sing for themselves.

In Mighty Aphrodite, Lenny (Allen) and Amanda (Helena Bonham Carter) attempt to save their marriage by adopting a son, who turns out to be brilliant. Convinced his parents must also be smart, Lenny becomes obsessed with tracking them down. When he discovers the boy’s mother is a dim-witted prostitute (Mira Sorvino), he does his best to marry her off to a similarly equipped boxer (Michael Rapaport). Interspersed is a Greek chorus relating the story to that of Oedipus. The chorus reveals the movie’s deep undertones while the main story remains a cheerful comedy.

Scoop stars Allen’s new muse, Scarlett Johansson as an inquisitive journalist who is given a career-making scoop by the ghost of recently deceased reporter (Ian McShane) at a 1950’s style magic show by the third-rate illusionist Splendini (Allen). Her investigation of a string of murders leads her directly to a handsome businessman (Hugh Jackman) who draws her in with his charm. In comparison to his earlier works, this is widely considered “minor Woody Allen.”

In Wild Man Blues, Allen embarks on a whirlwind tour of Europe with his New Orleans jazz band. He is an accomplished clarinettist and has played regular gigs in New York for over 25 years. The documentary is about the tour but most viewers are more interested in seeing a scandalous depiction of Allen and his adopted daughter and now wife, Soon-Yi Previn, who is less than half his age. While the movie isn’t gossip-worthy, it does reveal a stable and workable relationship.

Some commonalities in Allen’s films are his own participation on-screen as well as at least one character that represents and resembles Allen; it is easy to identify the character, as he or she adapts his mannerisms and speech patterns. Furthermore, his films are consistently star-studded as he continues to be one of the directors most actors want to work with.

Also typical of Allen’s DVD releases: there are no special features.

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