Film Review: ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE (USA 2018) ***

The iconic Carlyle hotel has been an international destination for a particular jet-set as well as a favorite haunt of the most discernible New Yorkers.


Matthew Miele


Matthew Miele

Documentaries are made for varying reasons. They could be for education, to inform the world of some little known subject, to celebrate a famous person, to whistle blow or to honour a person in a biography.  ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE, the new documentary written and directed by Matthew Miele celebrates a famous hotel – the famous hotel called the Carlyle.

The iconic Carlyle hotel has been an international destination for a particular jet-set as well as a favourite haunt of the most discernible New Yorkers.  This documentary celebrates glamour – the glamour of the hotel (the cost of a suite could go for as high as $22,000) and the glamour of the guests that have stayed there.  The list of guests includes stars Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Anthony Bourdain, Naomi Campbell, George Clooney, Sofia Coppola, Alan Cumming and Jon Hamm as well as Presidents and dignitaries like John F. Kennedy and Ted Roosevelt.

The Carlyle Hotel enjoys the reputation popularized by recent movies like the JOHN WICK films and HOTEL ARTEMIS with Jodie Foster.  In these films, a hotel would service any client no matter what background with everyone treated fairly and equally despite any shadiness. At the Carlyle, the management declined to tap the rooms of any suspicious clientele as all hotel guests are treated with respect.  The example given is the request by the government agency to  tap the Iraqi delegation that stayed there during the Gulf War.  No was the answer.

Whatever happens at the Carlyle stays at the Carlyle.  That is the saying and understand of both the staff and guests of the plush expensive hotel.  Even the names of the celebrities are not disclosed by the staff.

Director Mile has assembled a varied cast of interviewees to shed light on the hotel.  Besides the stars mentioned, the hotel staff, many of whom have spent their entire lives working there.  These include Kim of Room Service, Ernesto the doorman, Helal the waiter and several of management from sales to decor designer.

The film reveals the uniqueness of the Carlyle, in the words of both sides, the clientele and staff.  The art decor, the personal friendliness, the class, the care taken and style are a few of the factors.  The staff also speak of their favourite encounters.  George Clooney (who also speaks to the camera in an interview) and John F. Kennedy top the list of the staff’s favourite guests.

What is a hotel without some wicked scandal?  The hotel staff is asked about Marilyn Monroe and Kennedy and about many young and super gorgeous twenty-somethings that enter the hotel doors.  Fortunately, the staff is discreet.

The film’s highlights are the performances that take place at the hotel’s cafe.  A seat is reputed to cost at least $150 with a minimum of a $75 order.  One of the most popular performers is Bobby Short who is shown performing in a brief clip.  His performance and the hotel are also featured in Woody Allen’s film HANNAH AND HER SISTERS.  Woody Allen is also featured playing the clarinet in the cafe.

ALWAYS AT THE CARLYLE is entertaining fluff.  The film celebrates celebrities.




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Wonder Wheel Poster

On Coney Island in the 1950s, a lifeguard tells the story of a middle-aged carousel operator and his beleaguered wife.


Woody Allen


Woody Allen


There is a slight hint that the film ’s central character is Woody Allen when the voiceover narrative claims to be a budding playwright, Mickey (Justin Timberlake), who later has an affair with a married woman, Ginny (Kate Winslet) but after falls in love with her step daughter (Juno Temple).

WONDER WHEEL is set in the Coney Island of the 50’s.  The film opens impressively with a panoramic shot of the beach filled with swimmers and sunbathers, all in the 50’s swimming garb.  The film then moves on to the main characters.

The two main characters in the Woody Allen story are the writer Mickey and Ginny caught in a loveless marriage with Humpty (Jim Belushi).

If the characters feel close to home, Mickey is Woody Allen the writer and Ginny the actress Mia Farrow.  Allen and Farrow were married and in love before Farrow brought him and adopted Soon-Yi, the Carolina character.  (Allen is now married to Soon-Yi with two children.)  Just as Mickey ditches Ginny and falls for Carolina, Allen did the same thing.  There is an odd feeling that Allen is trying to gain acceptance in the Mickey character for all his past deed.  Art copies life instead of imitating it.

In an interview with Woody Allen, Allen claims all his movies are based on the same identical premise, a cheating male who looks for better and younger sexual fulfillment.  At first glance, one would think that the character is now female, with Ginny intent of leaving her husband for the younger, attractive lifeguard, Mickey.  Upon closer examination, one finds that it is still the male, Mickey who is dissatisfied with the older Ginny and leaves her for Carolina.  

Allen’s films are getting more serious lately and WONDER WHEEL is one of his most serious of his recent works.  The humour is less prevalent and at times more subtile.  Carolina’s father describes the daughter’s gangster husband at one point after she declared that she and loved him: “He was not even good-looking.”  That is the film’s funniest joke.

WONDER WHEEL contains the traits of the Allen films, first and foremost being the stunning choreography by an Award Winning cinematographer, this film done by three-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro (THE LAST EMPEROR, REDS and APOCALYPSE NOW) who uses shifting blues and golds, often reflected on the characters’ faces from the revolving 

Wonder Wheel ride outside the apartment window.  Falling in love while being drenched in the rain (ANNIE HALL and many other Allen films) is also typically found in many of Allen’s films as in this one.

Allen often elicits superior performances from his all-star cast, many winning Oscars in his previous films (Michael Caine, Jim Broadbent, Diane Keaton to name a few).  Kate Winslet and Belushi deliver standout performances here while Timberlake shows too, that he can carry a movie on his own.

The subplot of Ginny’s troubled pre-teen son (Jack Gore) from her first marriage is an odd one.  He is obsessed with setting up fires for no apparent reason.  The jokes on the uselessness of psychiatrists appear the only reason that subplot is in the film.

WONDER WHEEL can be considered a disturbing film, being one that reflects too closely on Allen’s life – unless one wishes to dismiss the coincidences.  It is nevertheless, a well-made film well acted and executed that Allen needed to make to exorcise his demons.


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1977 Movie Review: ANNIE HALL, 1977

Movie Reviews

Directed by Woody Allen
Starring: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton
Review by Eli Manning


Neurotic New York comedian Alvy Singer falls in love with the interesting Annie Hall.


First lines of film:
Alvy Singer: [addressing the camera] There’s an old joke – um… two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of ’em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.” Well, that’s essentially how I feel about life – full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.</br

That is the overall theme of this movie and Woody Allen tells us about it straight up.

There’s been a lot written about this film and many of the film’s core ideas are in other people’s films because this is just one of those films! It triggered a great emotion in the world and is considered the Classic Comedy film of all-time.

Woody Allen is a master of the art of laughter and sadness. When he is in his own films he always plays a man who loves himself and hates himself at the same time. His self-love and confidence puts himself in great spots and situations until his self-hatred brings him down and out of those good situations. And that is the grammar of Woody Allen. These are the films he makes: then, now and in the future.

Allen plays moderately successful comedian Alvy Singer. He’s been married before and is seasoned in the world of relationships. Seasoned but really a failure in it. He falls for the woman Annie Hall, a young idealist with different core values than himself – played brilliantly by Diane Keaton (who picked up an Oscar for Best Actress). Annie Hall likes Alvy because he’s the type of guy that she can learn a lot from and has been in situations where she wants to be.

Right from the start it becomes a mentor/protege relationship and the madness of this situation is that Alvy can learn a whole lot more from Annie than vice/versa. But Alvy is too much into Alvy and his own love/hate of himself. It’s just too hard for him to really see or understand this.

Of course this is a comedy and it’s a very funny film. So funny in fact that I believe that someone who watches this film 100 years from now will laugh just as much as we do now and when they did in 1977 when it opened. It has universal appeal as we all want to find love but the trick is that you need to love yourself first in order to love someone else.

Emotionally most of us attach ourselves to Annie Hall because she carries this genuine kindness for herself and humanity. And we want her to get far away from Alvy because he’s a selfish jerk, even though we can’t help but like him. Avly (and Woody Allen) has charm and charm seems to go a long way in life.

A film everyone needs to watch and see. Some will hate it I understand because it’s just a film that hits too close to home for some people to really laugh at. Or they just hate quirky comedies. In my opinion it’s the best comedy of all-time.

annie hall.jpg

Movie Review: Café Society (2016) Directed by Woody Allen

cafe_societyCAFE SOCIETY (USA 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Woody Allen

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Steve Carell, Corey Stoll

Review by Gilbert Seah

In Woody Allen’s new romantic comedy, Allen transforms into Humphrey Bogart through Jesse Eisenberg. The famous CASABLANCA story is retold, Allen style with the hero falling in love with two women but giving his first love up as Bogart gave up his love for Ingrid Bergman in the famous closing scene.

CAFE SOCIETY is Allen’s tribute to old Hollywood, its people and its glamour. The tribute takes the form of the coming-of-rites passage story of young Jewish NYC boy, Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg). Bobby leaves his family in NYC hoping to find a new life in Hollywood with the help of his successful Uncle Phill (Steve Carrell) – the hottest talent agent around. In the process he falls in love with his Uncle Phill’s secretary, Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) who is having an affair with Phill. Vonnie finally decides to marry Phill (the older gent always gets the younger girl in Woody’s films, e.g. MANHATTAN and in his real life). Bobby discovers he prefers NYC and returns home, eventually settling down by looking after his gangster uncle Ben’s (Corey Stoll) nightclub. He falls in love and marries Veronica (Blake Lively). An unexpected visit from Phill and wife Vonnie stirs up memories just as Ingrid Bergman’s visit to Bogart’s nightclub in Casablanca did.

CAFE SOCIETY is not the best of Allen’s films but it is not without its delights. For the especially Allen fan, there is much to enjoy in terms of film references. For one, this is Allen’s second tribute to Bogart after his play and film PLAY IT AGIAN, SAM. Allen gets to narrate his own film, putting a good perspective of where everything is going. He is s too old to star in his films and he knows it. Eisenberg makes a new younger Allen, complete in diminutive stature, manners and outfits.

Bobby’s belted baggy Khaki pleats are similar to those often worn by Allen in his films like ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN. In one scene where Eisenberg says, “I am opening a bottle of wine to let it breathe,” he even sounds like Allen. Though CAFE SOCIETY is less subtle at times, for example in the use of the melody of “I Only Have Eyes for You,” during the last meeting between Bobby and Vonnie, CAFE SOCIETY still succeeds as one of Allen’s romantic comedies.

Allen attracts the best cinematographers like Oscar winners Gordon Willis Jr. and Janusz Kaminski. CAFE SOCIETY is beautifully shot by 3-time Oscar winner Vittorio Storaro (THE LAST EMPEROR, REDS, APOCALYPSE NOW) as evident in the ceiling view of a New Year’s party and in all the exterior shot segments.

CAFE SOCIETY is Allen in comedy mode though the humour is less manic or absurdist but more subtle, more profound. Some examples include a Hollywood writer introducing himself to Bobby at a party: “You have never heard of me, I am a writer”, or “Timing is everything in life!” But the key quote of the film is Allen’s description on life: “Life is comedy but written by a sadistic comedy writer.” The film’s funniest line is as in his other films, one that pokes fun at being Jewish. Bobby: “I’m a bit drunk. I don’t usually mix champagne with bagels and lox.” Yes, if everything else fails in Allen’s film (which doesn’t here), there is always his humour.

CAFE SOCIETY, though not Allen’s best, still comes with high recommendations.