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Woody Allen
Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, Patricia Clarkson, Ed Harris, Adam Brooks, Lyle Kanouse, Michael McKean, Clifford Lee Dickson, Yolonda Ross, Carolyn McCormick
Writing Credits:
Woody Allen

Woody Allen's cynical sensibility so superbly dovetails with Larry David's acerbic misanthropy, it's a wonder they haven't worked together before. But no matter: fans of Allen, David, and especially David's Curb Your Enthusiasm will delight in the ability of Whatever Works to find humor in the darkest and most abrasive of life's corners.

The crux of this odd love story involves the unlikely friendship between David's character (the brilliant, kvetchy Boris) and the Southern beauty queen with a heart of gold and a brain of wide-open spaces, Melodie (the always-surprising Evan Rachel Wood). Boris takes on Melodie as a tutorial project, showing her the bleak ways of the world, and Melodie takes care of Boris with crayfish and Fred Astaire movies. There are other memorable performances by Patricia Clarkson, as Melodie's deeply religious and tightly wound mama, and Ed Harris, as her husband, a Southerner slightly to the right of George Wallace. The parents come to the big city to reclaim their wayward lamb, and when the Southerners meet the New Yorkers, sparks fly - in ways both good and slightly scary.

Box Office:
$15 million.
Opening Weekend
$266,162 thousand on 9 screens.
Domestic Gross
$5.294 million.

Rated PG-13

Widescreen 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 10/27/2009

• Trailer
• Previews


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Whatever Works (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 15, 2009)

For years, if Woody Allen didn’t step before the camera in his movies, he cast younger, more attractive actors as his doppelgangers. With 2009’s Whatever Works, Allen does something unusual: he casts a much older, arguably even less handsome actor in the de facto “Woody role”.

And thus ends the main difference between Works and other Allen comedies, as everything else about it screams “typical Woody”. Not exactly a “people person”, Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) pretty much hates everyone and everybody. Due to his misanthropy, he bails on his marriage and lush lifestyle so he can become better ensconced in his intentionally miserable existence.

On the way home one evening, he encounters a young runaway from Mississippi named Melody St. Ann Celestine (Evan Rachel Wood). She begs for food, so against his better judgment, Boris takes her to his apartment and feeds her. For reasons unknown, he allows her to live with her, and the pair get to know each other pretty well.

Well enough, as a matter of fact, that Melody develops a crush on Boris. He rejects her advances, though, and declares that he just wants to be left alone. Nonetheless, he lets Melody continue to live with him even after she gets a job as a dog-walker. We follow their relationship and the way it evolves – a relationship that becomes more complex when her parents (Ed Begley, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson) come to find her.

Going into Works, I had reasonably high hopes it might overcome the mediocrity of Allen’s recent comedic works. He scored a nice dramatic hit – well, a hit for Allen – with 2005’s Match Point, but it’s been a while since Allen made a satisfying comedy.

Normally I wouldn’t have anticipated anything much from Works, but I thought David’s presence might add some bite to the proceedings. In truth, his comedic persona and Allen’s are quite similar, but Allen has always seemed more like a lovable nerd, while David is more aggressive and unlikable. That side of things becomes a major character trait in Boris, as he’s painted as unpleasant and curmudgeonly right off the bat.

Still, even with David’s sourness, I can’t help but see Boris as Yet Another Version of Woody. As I watched the film, I tried to imagine Allen saying all of Boris’s lines, and I found this very easy to do. Unlike the many other Woody-gangers we’ve seen, David doesn’t do an Allen impersonation, but I still could easily envision Allen in the part. Boris may be a little nastier than the usual Allen character, but he remains cut from the same cloth.

While Allen may present the same personality in most of his movies – whether player by him or someone else – this doesn’t mean all of these flicks boast the same comedic value. In terms of this sort of movie, Allen really peaked with 1977’s Annie Hall. Since then, Allen’s made some good flicks, but very few have mined the same territory. Allen has done better with either dramas like Crimes and Misdemeanors or with nostalgic comedies such as Radio Days. Heck, with Match Point, Allen even managed to produce a satisfying thriller.

The character-driven comedies that accentuate the Allen personality have become awfully tedious, and Works reminds me why I dislike them. Allen’s pretensions and snobbery come to the fore in these flicks. Works finds him back in New York for the first time in a few years, but I don’t see that as a good thing. It just means he can indulge in his usual snooty nonsense.

The inclusion of intensely “Red State” characters makes matters worse. Allen’s contempt for those outside his preferred metropolitan climes seems palpable, and as depicted in Works, he clearly believes that only exposure to “sophisticated” settings can “cure” these people. As portrayed here, Melody and her parents are intensely unhappy folks due to their uncultured southern existence. However, when they come to the Big Apple, they magically manage to fulfill their hopes and dreams and turn into the perfect people they always longed to be.

Oh, puh-leeze. If Allen treated this claptrap with any sense of irony, I might be able to stomach it, but he clearly believes the slop he shovels. Melody and her family are dim-witted morons when they come to New York, but the city quickly makes them smarter, more sophisticated and clearly superior human beings. Why? Because they reject their prior beliefs and take on certain views – views to which I’m pretty sure a certain W. Allen subscribes.

I’m from a major metropolitan area and I’m insulted by Allen’s snobbery – I can’t imagine how poorly this crap plays in the locales that he slanders. Not that anyone from those sad, benighted places will see Works. Allen hasn’t appealed to anything that approaches a mass audience since the 70s, and at this point, his audience consists of The Converted. I’m sure those folks love to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their own superiority as they watch this condescending nonsense.

I think Allen still boasts talents as a filmmaker; like I noted, I enjoyed Match Point quite a lot. However, Works shows the writer/director at his worst. Once again he indulges his own romantic fantasies and reminds us of his own intellectual/cultural arrogance. Chalk up Works as a major disappointment and a waste of time.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio C/ Bonus D-

Whatever Works appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was a decent transfer but not one that excelled.

Sharpness was erratic. In particular, interior shots tended to be a little soft and fuzzy. Those didn’t become a big distraction, but they gave the movie a more tentative look than I expected. Exteriors worked better, though, as those tended to be concise and well-defined. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and no edge enhancement appeared. In terms of source flaws, the movie usually seemed clean. Grain was a little heavier than expected, and I saw a few streaks, but the majority of the flick looked fine.

Colors worked well. Like other recent Allen movies, this one favored a golden tint and warm hues. Those appeared rich and full. Blacks looked tight and dense, while shadows were decent. Again, interiors were a little unsatisfying, but they weren’t bad. Overall, this was a perfectly acceptable transfer, but the mix of minor concerns left it as a “B-“; I simply expect more from Blu-ray.

Until recent years, all Allen films came with monaural audio. The Woodman’s branched out over his last few flicks, but you probably shouldn’t expect the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Whatever Works to provides Transformers-style material.

Indeed, the focus remained quite restricted, even for a character-based comedy. I don’t expect films like that to boast dynamic soundfields, but Works was more subdued than most. The majority of the film remained essentially monaural. A little environmental ambience came from the sides, and a few scenes opened things up a little better; for instance, when Melody and Perry went to the rock club, the music filled the side speakers. The surrounds didn’t have much to do – or really anything to do. Whatever material came from the back was insignificant.

Audio quality was fine. Speech was a little brittle at times but usually seemed reasonably natural and concise. Music seemed somewhat thin, but that stemmed from the nature of the material. Allen favors tinny old recordings, so there wasn’t much that could be done with them. Even when newer recordings emerged, they remained subdued and lackluster, though, so I can’t blame the source recordings for the bland quality of the audio.

Effects were a non-factor. Only minor environmental material emerged here, so nothing stood out as memorable or dynamic. These elements were fine for what they were. This wasn’t much of a mix, so it deserved a “C”.

While Allen has finally succumbed to the charms of multichannel audio, he remains allergic to supplements. On Works, we just get the trailer for Whatever Works and a Preview for An Education. Exciting, huh?

With the presence of kindred spirit Larry David in the lead role, I had hopes that Woody Allen would create a vibrant, biting comedy with Whatever Works. Instead, I found more of the usual arrogant, condescending claptrap devoid of more than one or two minor laughs. The Blu-ray provides decent picture, mediocre audio and virtually no supplements. Maybe Allen diehards/apologists will find something appealing here, but I think Works is a depressing dud.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.875 Stars Number of Votes: 8
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