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MANHATTAN
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Michael Murphy, Muriel Hemingway, Meryl Streep
Director: Woody Allen
Audio: DTS HD Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: MGM
Features: Theatrical Trailer
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: January 24, 2012

You'll think of me as a fond memory.”

Film ****

Woody Allen opens Manhattan with a romantic voiceover, describing the city as always in black and white and pulsating to the sounds of George Gershwin, and delivers a vision that is exactly that. Between the Oscar-nominated photography of Gordon Willis and the unmistakable orchestral jazz classics, Allen has captured perhaps the most perfect vision of New York.

It is the film that makes me most yearn for the big city, even though I've never been, and the film that makes me believe that when I finally do go, it will all seem warmly familiar to me. Allen may have taken his stories to exotic European cities of late and done wonderful things with his classic backdrops, but he remains a quintessential New York filmmaker, and Manhattan is the finest love letter ever offered the city apart from Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York”.

The city is almost a character itself, with no detail missing Allen's keen eye, from a chat under the at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge to Elaine's, the Guggenhiem, Times Square and more, and it is against this pulse of life, culture and art that he delves into his story about love...mostly, the difference between real, meaningful love and idealized, romantic love, which is often sought after at the expense of the former.

Allen plays Isaac. He has a good paying job writing for a mundane television show. He is dating a 17 year old girl named Tracy (Hemingway). He's 42, but if you get past the obvious semantics, it might not be such a bad match. Tracy is very mature for her age, and Isaac...well, not so much.

Isaac is the kind of guy who quits his job in a moment of artistic conscience but has no plans beyond that, so he has to move to a smaller apartment and concentrate on his dream project, his novel. Meanwhile his friend Yale (Murphy), who is married, has taken up with Mary (Keaton), a bright woman who manages to rub Isaac wrong in all the worst ways, not the least of which is her proclamation that Ingmar Bergman, Van Gogh and F. Scott Fitzgerald are all “overrated”.

Yale has no intention of leaving his wife, and almost seems to be looking for an out from his affair, so he practically giftwraps Mary for Isaac. Tracy loves Isaac, but he cannot say the words back to her, and her age difference makes her an easy target. Isaac tends to put up walls, saying obvious things like she's so young, has so much to experience...actual words of wisdom, but said without heart, as Isaac can only really think of his own situation.

Isaac is not a bad character, but like all in this comedy, he cannot quite referee the battle between heart and mind. After all, his last wife (Streep) left him for another woman and is about to publish a book telling the world the intimate details of their marriage.

Mary and Isaac might be a good couple, and we feel the romance in brilliant scenes like getting caught in a rainstorm or walking through an observatory in which they move in and out of shadows in a lovely ballet of light and scenery. Isaac eventually feels the need to let down the innocent and faithful Tracy for a chance at happiness with Mary, but Mary is still hung up on Yale, a man she has no future with.

Why do we do these things to ourselves? Who knows? Not even Woody Allen, who made some of the great cinematic observations about love and unhappiness in his day. He still must not know, because after 70, he's still exploring the same themes.

The combination of Allen's insightful writing...often funny, but often with a sting to go with the wit...and the gorgeous, postcard imagery of New York in black and white have made this one of his most celebrated films. Coming off the triumph of Annie Hall would be a hard act for any artist to follow, but with Manhattan, he came close. DAMNED close.

Video ****

This has been a most-desired Blu-ray release for me, and I was not disappointed. I believe this is Woody Allen's only scope-ratio film, and every corner of every scene is filled with vibrant detail. I would call this one of the most gorgeous black and white movies ever made, and if you don't understand why you should bother buying a black and white movie on Blu-ray, you are in for a real surprise with this offering.

Audio ***

S'Wonderful indeed...the Gershwin music is perfect throughout, and tunes like “Embraceable You”, “But Not For Me”, “Rhapsody in Blue” and more give the film half of it's nostalgic power. It's a mono track, but spread out over your front three speakers, so although there's no panning, there's a more open sense of a listening experience. I loved it!

Features 1/2*

Only a trailer.

Summary:

I've always thought of Manhattan as a fond memory, and I love that I can relive that memory any time I want in glorious high definition. This is a perfect combination of visuals, music and script that will forever be an example of why Woody Allen, comic genius that he is, is also one of the greatest American filmmakers who ever lived.

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