Weekend Preview: Woody Allen’s Great “Blue Jasmine” Leads an Odd Crop of New Releases

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Woody Allen, Steve Jobs, and Ronald Reagan all converge at the box office this weekend, and I can imagine they’d have one helluva conversation.

The key opening of the week is Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine,” a film I had the pleasure of seeing a few weeks ago. I am a Woody-ite, without question, one of those folks who believes he has never directed a truly bad film. (Note that I said “directed”; even I can’t defend some of the films he merely starred in, like “Scenes From a Mall” and “Picking Up the Pieces.”)

Every Woody film — even those I do not love, such as “September,” “Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” and “Scoop” — has its moments, and every one is watchable. But every so often, Allen hits an artistic home run, a movie that even the haters must acknowledge. “Midnight in Paris” was one of those, but with “Blue Jasmine,” he has directed a film that I believe is as strong as any drama he ever made.

Cate Blanchett is a sure-fire nominee, and possible winner, as Jasmine, an unhinged woman who has lost everything. Sally Hawkins is fine as her sister, Alec Baldwin utterly believable as Jasmine’s Madoff-esque husband, and, surprisingly, Andrew Dice Clay is wonderfully effective as her former brother-in-law. He has a scene near the film’s end that is among “Jasmine”‘s best.

There are moments of humor, but “Blue Jasmine” is straight-up drama, an affecting, incisive portrait that should rank among 2013’s finest films. It has received rapturous reviews and very strong early box office; I do not expect it to make as much dough as “Paris,” but it should have no trouble finding an adult audience. It is now playing at Dipson’s Amherst and Eastern Hills theaters.

To tie in with the film’s release, I’m hoping to finally put together my ranking of Woody’s oeuvre from top to bottom. He has, um, a lot of movies, so it will take some time, but I am ON THIS.

After “Jasmine,” things get a little weird. And what every one of the other films opening this weekend has in common is that they do not interest me in the least.

The last month has been crazy for the makers of “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” with a title controversy that garnered a great deal of press. I have not been impressed with the trailers for this one, mainly due to the casting — Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda as Ronald and Nancy Reagan? Liev Schreiber as LBJ?! Robin Williams as Ike??! JOHN CUSACK AS NIXON??!! But I think this will find a sizable audience, and there have been some extraordinary reviews so. Well, better reviews than Daniels’ “The Paperboy,” at least.

As much as I hated to say it at the time, “Kick-Ass” did nothing for me. I found the jokes and story stale, and not particularly clever, although Chloe Grace Moretz was a revelation. She is the only reason I might stumble into “Kick-Ass 2,” a sequel to a film that most certainly was not a hit.

Ashton Kutcher plays Steve Jobs in “Jobs.” Enough said.

“Paranoia” rounds out the majors, and I’m stunned that a film with this oh-so-general title and plot was able to cast Gary Oldman and Harrison Ford. ($$!) This looks only slightly more interesting than “Firewall.”

Note that two popular Bollywood entries are opening: “Once Upon a Time in Mumbai Dobaara” and “Chennai Express.”

Tonight and on Thursday (August 22), The Screening Room offers “A Night at the Grindhouse” with the wonderfully titled “The Horror of Party Beach” and “The Beast Must Die,” while “Murder on the Orient Express” is back for one more screening at 7:30 on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Bacchus goes big with “The Avengers” on Wednesday (August 21); the UB North Campus has two of summer 2013’s biggest hits, “Fast & Furious 6” and “The Great Gatsby,” at 8:45 tonight and Tuesday (August 20), respectively; and UB South Campus features “Gatsby” at 8:45 on Wednesday (August 21).

Photo: Left to right: Peter Sarsgaard as Dwight and Cate Blanchett as Jasmine; photo by Merrick Morton  © 2013 Gravier Productions, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

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