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“Cassandra’s Dream”

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By Matt Singer

IFC News

[Photo: Colin Farrell in “Cassandra’s Dream,” Weinstein Company, 2007]

Each new Woody Allen movie should be looked at as if it were a cinematic Venn diagram. His latest film always lies at the intersection of two or three of his older ones. In the case of “Cassandra’s Dream,” it’s a mix of “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and the first picture from Allen’s English excursion, “Match Point.” From the former, Allen reexamines the morality of murder, as well as the nature of God and punishment; from the latter, Allen returns (just two years later) to the debate over luck versus fate and the violent pursuit of upward mobility. In standup comedy terms, he’s not really writing new material, he’s just reshuffling how he delivers his old stuff, and his delivery, in this case, is agreeable, if fairly predictable.

The title derives from the name of a boat, owned by two lower class English brothers Ian (Ewan McGregor) and Terry (Colin Farrell), which was itself coined from a 60-to-1 longshot that came in for Terry at the horse track. Ian’s a gambler too — though he works at their father’s restaurant, he’s constantly meeting with investors about high-risk, high-reward ventures. As the film begins, Terry’s on a wild streak of luck, but it ends along with the first act and suddenly, he’s deep in debt and goes to Ian for help. But Ian needs money too — to finance a move out to California with his new actress girlfriend Angela (Hayley Atwell) — so both look to their rich Uncle Howard (Tom Wilkinson) to bail them out of trouble.

The true nature of Uncle Howard and the details of his offer are too crucial to the plot to spoil here; suffice it to say, they don’t involve a low interest loan. What Terry and Ian actually do is probably less important, anyway, than what they are willing to do and why they’re willing to do it. Money is the quick, obvious answer, but Allen’s themes go deeper than that. In “Cassandra’s Dream,” characters repeatedly refer to having a life here, but wanting to do something in a non-specific there. Terry and Ian’s day-to-day are full of obligation to marker holders or loved ones. “Cassandra’s Dream” represents a sort of symbolic release from that world, but Uncle Howard’s proposal, distasteful as it might be, gives them the chance for real freedom.

It’s possible to read that sort of desire into Allen’s own move to England in 2005 after almost 30 years of shooting exclusively in New York City. Maybe he was truly stuck in Manhattan — certainly, the transatlantic change has done his reputation and commercial reputation well. Still, I’m not entirely sure why he’s stayed this long. Is it callous to assume that he’s still working in Europe only because that’s where people still go see his movies in large numbers? Who knows? Regardless, McGregor and Farrell’s working class accents sound totally flimsy (though that could just as easily be a product of Allen’s flimsy working class dialogue). Given that, and Allen’s occasionally contentious relationship with the critical community, it’s difficult not to see something in one character’s line about how looking closely at something will always “reveal all its nasty imperfections.”

The imperfections are there whether Allen wants us to see them or not. So are the obvious parallels to Allen’s earlier work. Whether that’s a good or bad thing will depend upon your viewpoint — young viewers who are just learning about Allen and haven’t seen his 1980s work might find “Cassandra’s Dream” refreshing; devoid of a larger comparative context, it works pretty well. Auteurists looking for overarching themes will find plenty to work with here as well; to them, the obvious repetitions of theme and subject matter will be a plus rather than a minus.

But a less macro-minded Woody Allen fan — one wise enough to accept the director whether he’s working blue or blue blood — might want a little more originality, particularly because prior knowledge of the director’s filmography spell out some of the story’s twists well before they’re revealed onscreen, which takes some of the wind out of “Cassandra’s Dream”‘s sails. Some level of repetition is probably inevitable for any director working as long as Allen, but some level of freshness is desirable regardless of a filmmaker’s decades of experience. You could make a Venn diagram out of this as well — authorial voice in one circle, innovation in another, and in the middle, the ideal movie.


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…


A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.


Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.