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4.7 out of 5 stars
A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 2001
Have to agree with Mr. Terry Lane--this is a fabulous movie. It's my sentimental favorite of all Allen's films. I've seen a lot of mediocre reviews of this film and that's a shame. I guess I couldn't rightly say that this is his "best" film, but I do believe it is his "best executed." The setting, the characters, the cinematography just all click. Sure, it isn't his deepest film, it is probably less cynical than most of his other films, but folks, that's not the point of this little gem. In spite of the Smiles on a Summer Night inspiration, this film really owes more (and owes it more directly) to Shakespeare's fantasy comedies like A Midsummer Night's Dream.
As one review mentioned, this is a piece of Impressionism. It isn't about meaning or message specifically--it's about mood. And let me tell you, this film captures the mood of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream better than any production of the play I have ever seen--and I'm not exaggerating. Critics of Woody Allen's "Sex Comedy" have no right mouthing off unless they are open to and can appreciate the whimsy that makes Shakespeare's comedies so affecting. That, it seems to me, was the point of the originals, and that is also the point of this movie. We, the audience, like gods are peering in on the mere mortals as they haplessly play at the game of life. We laugh at and with them because we are so far removed, but really, they reflect us, and this draws us in where we can also be happily implicated. In true comedy we recognize our own humanity--it is the art of comedy to show us these things that could be painful, this suffering that defines our existence, in a way that we can do nothing but laugh and simply accept it. That is a subtle art and one worthy of respect. A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy is a perfect example of this art of whimsy and is a perfect amalgam of Shakespeare and Allen. This is probably unfair to say, but the film also captures a feeling that American films just don't do well--it can seem very European and is maybe, for this reason, harder to relate to for many Americans.
And, oh yes, by the way, this film is filled with some of the most beautiful shots, music, and locations I've ever seen. What a fabulous place to escape to! I've been chomping at the bit for years for this to come out on DVD. Whenever I watch this film I can't help but be overcome with joy--and believe me, I'm not a light movie flake. If I could pick two movie characters I identify with the most it would be Shrek and the Grinch (although maybe I just have a green thing going on). But even a grumpy old coot needs to let his inner soft side out every once in a while.
If anybody I know is listening, please, get me this for Christmas!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 20, 2001
At last, Woody's finest film on DVD. And it has never looked so good. Neither in the cinema nor on VHS has justice been done to this beautiful film, looking for all the world like an animated impressionist painting.
This is Mr Allen's most sentimental, romantic and least cynical work. The location, the light, the cinematography, Mendelsshon's music and Jose Ferrer's acting all work together to make a funny, charming, gorgeous film. And now we can see it widescreen, framed as Allen and Willis intended.
I have been waiting since DVD was invented for this film on disc. It is not a disappointment.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
`A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy' and `Shadows and Fog' are two of Woody Allen's `second tier movies, less highly regarded than `Annie Hall', `Manhattan', and `Hannah and Her Sisters', but nonetheless a great pleasure to watch over and over again for anyone who has a taste for Allen's movies. The fact that Allen's movies, even these parodies of classic works and genres are primarily about characters and their personalities, passions, and foibles rather than about story, so you don't loose the primary reason for watching the movie as you do when you watch `The Maltese Falcon' or `Die Hard' or even `The Terminator' for the first time. I have seen both of these movies several times and I constantly find new pleasures in the dialogue.

Aside from their both being genre parodies, both movies share several other aspects, not the least of which is Allen's usual well oiled crew plus great `visiting' Director of Photography. I am constantly amazed at the consistently high level of quality in the filming of Allen's movies, since he has a great reputation for bringing his works in within schedule and under budget. Part of his economy is probably due to the fact that while Allen as director is not in the same league as Martin Scorsese or even Clint Eastwood, lots of actors drop what they are doing to be able to appear in the next Woody Allen film. And, they probably appear for a lot less money than they would for Marty or Clint. I also sense in some scenes that Allen lets little flubs go to the final print which Scorsese, for example, would reshoot until it was perfect.

The casts on these two films are fairly evenly balanced between Allen's ever evolving stock company with Mia Farrow appearing in both films along with Allen regulars Tony Roberts in `Midsummer's Night' and `David Ogden Stiers' and Wallace Shawn appearing in `Shadows and Fog'. Since the latter movie has a much larger cast, it is liberally peppered with currently famous or near famous actors giving cameo appearances such as Kathy Bates, John Cusack, Jodie Foster, Fred Gwynne, Julie Kavner, Madonna, Kate Nelligan, Donald Pleasance, Lily Tomlin, Kenneth Mars, William H. Macy, and John C. Reilly. John Malkovich contributes an excellent performance as the second most important male character in the movie.

The 1982 `A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy' is certainly the lighter of the two as a parody on the theme of `A Midsummer Night's Dream'. Allan borrows Shakespeare's romantic mix-ups plot element on top of the idyllic forest venue to bring together two guest couples to the country home of Allen and Steenburgen. Jose Ferrer plays a polymath professor brother to Steenburgen's character. Ferrer is to marry Mia Farrow, many years his junior, on that Sunday at the country house. Tony Roberts plays a randy bachelor doctor brother to Allan's character. Hagerty is Roberts' office nurse of five weeks who comes along fully expecting a weekend of erotic experiences with her boss. It turns out that Allen knows Farrow and the romantic mix-ups take off from there.

The 1992 `Shadows and Fog' is an intentionally heavy parody of a mix of German impressionistic movies and Franz Kafka story lines with what seems like a cast of hundreds. It all takes place in what seems like pre-World War I Vienna, Berlin, or Prague or some other central European Germanic city. At the outset, it seems like a remake of the German film `M' starring the young Peter Lorre as a murderer. Unlike the `...Sex Comedy', the plot is much more involved. The first line involves Allen as a Kafkaesque cipher awakened in the middle of the night by a crowd of vigilantes with a plan to find a killer roaming the fog laden nighttime streets. The driving force of the plot involving Allen and the mob is that the vigilantes never tell Allen what his role is to be in this plan. They assume he knows his part and are irritated to the point of violence when Allen questions what it is he is supposed to be doing. The second major plot involves a dispute between circus performers Farrow (sword swallower) and Malkovich (clown) which breaks open when Malkovich is caught in a rendezvous with trapeze artist Madonna, the wife of the sleeping strongman. Allen and Farrow meet about half way through the film that brings Allen back to the circus after Farrow does a stint in a whorehouse and Allen comes close to being accused of being the murderer.

Both movies are primarily comedies, yet the humor in the first movie is based more firmly in the situation. The humor in the second movie seems to be more a relief from the perils faced by the two main characters. Although, the image of the positive side of having sex with a sword swallower is a very nice gag created by the characters' situations. On the other side of the coin, `Shadows and Fog' seems to have deeper observations about the human condition. Since I seem to be noticing some of these lines for the first time, after several viewings over the last 14 years, I feel even stronger about the durability of Allen's films.

Allen has always been a master of making very good use of familiar music in his movies. All the `incidental' music in `Midsummer Night' is from the works of Mendelsohn, including the music he composed for Shakespeare'' play to be performed in German. The music in `Shadows and Fog' is almost all taken from instrumental performances of works by Kurt Weill, primarily from `The Threepenny Opera' and the song `Whiskey Bar'.

Since I am a long time fan of Allen's movies, the only thing which disappoints me about these and all other of his DVDs is the fact that there is no director's commentary. This makes the difference between four and five stars for the DVD.

Recommended to any fans of Allen or comedy in general.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 14, 2011
"MSNSC" is my one of my favourite Woody Allen films. I enjoy watching it every year. Its genuinely witty dialogue is delivered by one of Allen's best ensemble casts: Jose Ferrer as the stuffy Academic Philosopher, who refuses to believe in magic; Mia Farrow as his intended, Ariel, whose etherial appearance belies her salty past; Tony Roberts, as the perennial best friend, Maxwell, a doctor who specialises in philandering; Julie Hagerty, as his wide-eyed but willing nurse, Dulcie, who is extremely well-read in the Katzenjammer Kids; Mary Steenbergen, as Allen's repressed wife, Adrian, who conceals a secret; and Allen who takes his neurotic city-schlub character a charming step further in his role as Andrew, an inventor of wildly impractical wonder machines.

Allen's setting of the film in the early 20th century allows viewers to suspend their collective disbelief. The guests, who arrive for their country weekend in jaunty roadsters, are clad in head-to-toe dusters; the women with their long wasp-waisted skirts and lacy blouses look as if they have stepped out of a Gibson Girl calendar. Adrian's repression, in fact, is emphasised by her tightly-strung corset, and the trouble in her marriage to Andrew is made evident by the camera's focus not on husband and wife but on their mirrored image
on the wall of their empty bedroom, with its striped wallpaper and old-fashioned framed sentimental prints of blissful couples.

Andrew and Adrian's white wooden Victorian gingerbread house is set in a New York meadow surrounded by lush woodlands in which the light dances as it filters through the leaves, constantly altering our perspective. Andrew and his guests participate in badminton and archery contests; the Professor discovers that there is more to Dulcie than meets the eye over a leisurely game of chess; Adrian learns (surreptitiously) that there has been far more to Andrew's life than met her eye from Ariel, as the two women rock back and forth on a white face-to-face garden swing. The Professor entertains the company with one-too-many Schubert lieder, accompanied by Adrian on an old rosewood upright piano, illuminated by the glimmering light of glass-chimneyed oil lamps. A soft-focused ambience of nostalgia--like peering into a stereoscope or at an old picture album--seduces the viewer into accepting the delightful absurdities of the scenario.

Allen uses Shakespeare's comedy as a point of departure. For example, the Shakespearean quotation, with which I have entitled my review, could well represent the state of Andrew and Adrian's marriage, which has been reduced to one of enforced chastity. As in "A Midsummer Night's Dream", "MSNSC" begins with an impending wedding, that of the elderly pontificating Professor and Ariel. Like Shakespeare's comedy, Allen's pastiche focuses on benighted lovers chasing each other to no avail through the woods, and just as Shakespeare's enchanted woodland held room for low comedy with lots of belly laughs, so do Allen's. One could even envision Andrew with his preposterous flying machines and spirit lantern as a wacky Oberon (or, since he has borrowed Ariel's name from "The Tempest," an equally wacky Prospero). By combining the elements of Shakespeare's comedy--the rushing brook, the creatures of the forest, the shadows, the moon slipping in and out of wispy clouds (all captured by splendid cinematography)--with Mendelssohn's magnificent music, not only "A Midsummer Night's Dream" but also his sublime violin and piano concertos, Allen has conjured up cinematic magic that keeps the viewer suspended between laughter at the antics of his mortal fools and tears at his spirits and shadows, which, by no means, offend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
ingmar bergman made a film called SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT which stephen sondheim later adapted into the musical A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC. it is a house party at a summer house where old loves are reawakened. it is set at roughly the turn of the century. the famous song SEND IN THE CLOWNS came from the musical. this film is the third incarnation of that work. i like it but i don't like it quite as much as the originals.

however, there is quite a lot to like to this film and allen has certainly reworked the idea enough so that there are new twists. this was his big first movie with mia farrow. it is set around the turn of the century and the action takes place at a summerhouse in new york state. there are three couples all of whom aren't sure they want to stay with the same person with whom they start the movie.

the cinematography is gorgeous. this is one of allen's most beautiful films and the period costumes, cars and paraphenalia enhance the magical mood. allen also is a part time inventor but some of his inventions are magical which preserves his fascination, as always, with magic.

jose ferrer plays the totally obnoxious older professor. i can now see where this character was reprised in CRIMES & MISDEMEANORS as the alan alda movie producer. ferrer is hilarious as this pompous toad.

mia farrow would stretch herself in later roles with allen. in this one she is just playing the usual role she was known for before metting allen, i.e. as a beautiful woman who men adore. all three men in this film do.

it was great seeing allen play around with his flying machine and his magic ball too. it reminded me of his zany moments in SLEEPER.

all in all, this is a very enjoyable summer movie but i don't personally find it to be one of his perfect balancing acts of high comedy with drama masterpieces.

Visit my blog with link given on my profile page here or use this phonetically given URL (livingasseniors dot blogspot dot com). Friday's entry will always be weekend entertainment recs from my 5 star Amazon reviews in film, tv, books and music. These are very heavy on buried treasures and hidden gems. My blogspot is published on Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 27, 2008
Following closely on "Stardust Memories," "Midsummer" seems to be a compromise piece of sorts: comedic enough to satisfy the fans of his earlier slapstick, but sweet and reflective enough to feed his own artistic hunger and satisfy the fans of his more serious cinematic turn. This is one of Allen's better films, although not of the first quality. In it, themes and comedy nicely complement one another, instead of the latter stepping all over the former.

I think that human yearning is the central theme explored in the film: yearning for deep meaning in life that transcends the here-and-now (everything that the hard-nosed materialist Leopold deplores), creative yearning (Andrew's inventiveness, Ariel's curiosity, Maxwell's love of nature), nostalgic yearning for lost opportunities (Ariel and Andrew's moment in the woods years earlier), for human intimacy (Adrian's frigidity), for mystery (the magic lantern), and most of all, yearning for love. None of these are exclusive of the others, and in "Midsummer" they cleverly twist and twine into one another to create a pleasing comedy of manners (and errors). The acting is exceptionally fine except for Mary Steenbergen's strangely subdued--as in drugged--performance. She's a good actor, but just can't get find her groove as Adrian.

In addition to its artistic merits, "Midsummer" is an interesting film for several reasons. Allen isn't the centerstage star he's been in most of his straightforwardly comedic pieces, but is now a member of an ensemble. The notoriously cosmopolitan Allen sets the film in the country around the turn of the 19th century. And it's the first (of many) of his movies in which Mia Farrow stars.

Enjoyable, sweet, soft, tender, happy, visually beautiful: these are the words that come to mind when thinking about "Midsummer."
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 18, 2002
I think this is one of the best film comedies ever. It's surely one of Allen's best. It plays all his themes, from being a jerk to winning the girl, from love triangles to silly human foibles. It's fast-paced at times and at other times idyllic and lyrical. And it's an excellent version of Midsummer Night's Dream, which is an intellectually-satisfying bonus.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 14, 2009
Light hearted and whimsical....lots of fun to watch over and over. Late Victorian era set in the East Coast.... great costumes and location.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2007
Woody Allen is at his best in the charming comedy about a neurotic (of course)Victorian era New York (of course)stock broker/crackpot inventor, who owns a summer farm house in a magical and mystical area of upstate New York. He invites several friends to join him and his sexually cold wife for one of the final weekends of the summer. Invited are a philandering doctor, a sexually knowledgable nurse, as well as an insufferably aloof academic with his fiance on the day before their marriage. The situation builds as Woody, who is having intimacy issues with his wife, realizes that the academic's fiance is a former love interest of Woody's. Liaisons abound and trists are everywhere. Woody Allen uses his "off screen" dialogue techniques better in this film than in any of his others and his sense of whimsey makes this movie a sheer delight.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2002
I have always loved this movie and I was tremendously happy when it came out on DVD. It is a bit of a departure for Woody Allen, in that his character actually believes in a spirit world, whereas Woody Allen is always an atheist/agnostic in his movies, as he is in life. There are some genuinely hilarious moments, as well as a fine exploration of interpersonal relationships and marital fidelity.
Highly recommended!
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