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André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films Blu-ray Box Set (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 21, 2015 by  



3films

While each of the three films might not be for the masses who are used to traditional Hollywood cinema, for those who appreciate intelligent, verbose, contemporary cinema with a strong connection to the theater, will find “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” to be a Criterion Collection Blu-ray box set worth owning.

Image courtesy of © 2015 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.


TITLE: André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films

YEAR OF FILM: My Dinner with Andre (1981), Vanya on 42nd Street (1994), A Master Builder (2014)

DURATION: My Dinner with Andre (111 Minutes), Vanya on 42nd Street (119 Minutes), A Master Builder (127 Minutes)

COMPANY: THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: June 16, 2015


When André Gregory and Wallace Shawn—theater directors, writers, actors, and longtime friends—sat down for a stimulating meal in 1981’s My Dinner with André, they not only ended up with one of cinema’s unlikeliest iconic scenarios but launched a film collaboration that would continue to pay creative dividends for decades. The subsequent projects they made together for the screen—1994’s Vanya on 42nd Street, a passionate read-through of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, and 2014’s striking Henrik Ibsen interpretation A Master Builder—are penetrating works that exist on the boundary between theater and film, and that both emerged out of many years of rehearsals with loyal troupes of actors. Gregory and Shawn’s unique contributions to the cinematic landscape are shape-shifting, challenging, and entertaining works about the process of creation.

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Featuring one of the unique collaborations in contemporary cinema and theater, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn have delighted audiences with such films as “My Dinner with Andre”, “Vanya on 42nd Street” and “A Master Builder”.

And to honor the collaborative work of both men, the Criterion Collection will be releasing a Blu-ray box set featuring all three films.  The first two, which are directed by Louis Malle and the third, directed by Jonathan Demme.

Please click on the following titles to read the Blu-ray reviews of:

My Dinner with Andre

Vanya on 42nd Street

A Master Builder


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It is truly wonderful to have a collection with three Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn films by the Criterion Collection.

With “My Dinner with Andre” being essential, the other two films “Vanya on 42nd Street” and “A Master Builder” may be adaptations of plays over a century old, but yet storylines with a contemporary adaptation featuring powerful performance and fascinating storylines.

With “My Dinner with Andre”, back when I was watching Eric Rohmer films heavily and praised his films especially for his film “My Night at Maud’s” for its use of intellectual conversations, a friend recommended to me a film by Louis Malle titled “My Dinner with Andre”.

Louis Malle (“Au Revoir Les Enfants”, “Elevator to the Gallows”, “Atlantic City”, “Lacombe, Lucien”) who wanted to direct this film after reading the script, was interested in taking the screenplay written by writer/actors Andre Gregory (“The Last Temptation of Christ”, “Demolition Man”) and Wallace Shawn (“The Princess Bride”, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”, “Crossing Jordan”) and making it into a film.

As Rohmer’s “My Night at Maud’s” has a long stretch of conversation throughout the film, “My Dinner with Andre” is a film primarily about the discussion between two friends.

The fact that a film about a discussion between two men was even made and many people would go to the theaters after the film was championed by film critics such as Siskel & Ebert, would no doubt be a unique moment in American cinema.

I found “My Dinner with Andre” to be a fascinating film but one that required multiple viewings because it’s a long discussion which doesn’t allow you to settle down and get ready for a new scene, because the discussions are continuing, flowing in a smooth path but without many scene transformation to a next day, a new location aside from the first and last minutes of the film .  It’s literally two men sitting down and having an intellectual conversation, but also a debate of two viewpoints.

And in many ways, it’s a common theme between one who has had worldy experiences and one who has not and is still restricted within a paradigm of banality.

Wallace Shawn is a man who works in a career that he loves, but he doesn’t make much money as his scripts are turned down and he chose to work in the theater and has dedicated his life to it, despite no success or any new cash flow, thus his girlfriend is the breadwinner.

And as Wallace  tries to understand why Andre would leave the theater, the answer is not cut and dry, nor simple or farfetched.  Andre is a man who has had a significant life changing moment and while those who never had experienced what he has, may not understand him, Wallace at least listens and is able to touch upon areas that can lead to debate.  While viewers who gets the film, will probably have a big smile as I have, because the discussion is quite intriguing.

With Louis Malle’s commitment to bringing theater to the big screen, “Vanya on 42nd Street” is rather intriguing because it originally was a project started by actor/director/writer Andre Gregory of bringing his acting friends together and working on Anton Chekhov’s 1899 play “Uncle Vanya”.

A play about the wasted life of individuals and discovering it too late, the film is actually the group of actors working on the play but for the camera.  While the performers act, you can watch Andre Gregory and the audience watching on stage while they perform and  watch the amazing performance of Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, George Gaynes, Jerry Mayer, Lynn Cohen, Brooke Smith, Madhur Jaffe and Phoebe Brand.

Of course, Louis Malle’s version is much more modern than its Russian intellectual counterpart from the late 19th century.

For those who appreciate theater will find “Vanya on 42nd Street” to be entertaining but the storyline which was published in 1897, remains relevant today as many people get caught up with their work or problems and are unable to live their lives and realize things a little too late.

Vanya, who loves Yelena, can’t understand why he didn’t pursue her ten years ago, before she married the elder Serebryakov. All he has done is raise the estate for his friend, the professor Serebryakov but becomes more angered at himself for not pursuing love, but then to find out that the man he once looked up to, is now planning to kick them out by selling the estate.

The professor’s daughter from his first wife, Sonja, has dedicated her whole life in raising the estate, alongside with her Uncle Vanya but not once has her father said “thank you” or shown her any love.  All he does is anger her and not understanding her feelings.

As for Dr. Astrov, like Vanya, being the cultured men of their area, their bitterness towards life have made them focus on work and nothing else, until he is also attracted to Yelena.

And as for Yelena, she knows that by being with the cultured and wealthy professor, despite that she has no love for the elderly man, she had always loved Dr. Astrov, but because of his work, she was never important to him and now it’s too late.

Louis Malle’s final film “Vanya on 42nd Street” shows his love of theater and his desire to show it on the big screen, but also a film that shows a dedication of friends coming together for their love of theater and seeing their small project turned into a film.  Featuring wonderful performances and a story that is relevant today, “Vanya on 42nd Street” is a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection’s “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” Blu-ray box set.

“A Master Builder” is a fascinating look in the life of a master builder and his life full of regrets.

The phrase “the grass is not always greener on the other side” applies to the main character of the film portrayed by actor Wallace Shawn.

While the original play deals with a subject matter about the troubled relationships of the Master Builder with his wife and the people close to him, the finale differs from the original play and the movie, both with finality but both with different approaches to a primary character seeking redemption.

Director Jonathan Demme and Writer Wallace Shawn were able to modernize Henrik Ibsen’s play and give a contemporary spin and similar to “Vanya on 42nd Street”, it’s a story that easily can be relevant in today’s world and a relevant topic that even audiences can sympathize with.

Things from our past can easily haunt us later in life but how one confronts those demons is important and in this film, the way the Master Builder is able to confront the dark areas of his life but also seeing the light thanks to a younger woman who is able to talk to him and also revitalize him and his mindset.

And in order for this film to work, you need wonderful performances and over 30-years later since “My Dinner with Andre” and over 20-years later after “Vanya on 42nd Street”, Wallace Shawn’s performance continues to shine.  His role as the sick, aging, egotistical, defiant older man (which many could compare to Ebenezer Scrooge), while Lisa Joyce provides synergy as the young woman Hilde Wangel that changes the Master Builder’s life and mindset.  Shawn’s ability to feed off of Joyce’s enthusiasm and emotions works amazingly well in the film.

While Andre Gregory is not featured in the film prominently (as he was not seen prominently in “Vanya on 42nd Street”), behind-the-scenes, especially leading up to the making of the film, it was Gregory who recommended “The Master Builder” and it was due to the collaboration between Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, who worked on “A Master Builder” a year after “Vanya on 42nd Street” in developing the script, before the film began pre-production in 2012 with Jonathan Demme set to direct the film.

If you are passionate about theater and seeing film adaptations based on plays, but also being a fan of Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn’s work, “A Master Builder” is another recommended film on Blu-ray but also another recommendation of why one should purchase the “Andre Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” Blu-ray set.

Overall, each of the films presented in the Criterion Collection Blu-ray box set release of “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” are recommended for those with an appreciation of dialogue-heavy, smart yet captivating films.

And while the primary focus of these films are the collaborative effort of Gregory and Shawn, the first two films are directed by Louis Malle, “My Dinner with Andre” being his first foray of bringing a long conversational film shot in the same setting to the big screen, while “Vanya on 42nd Street” being his final film before his death.

While each of the three films might not be for the masses who are used to traditional Hollywood cinema, for those who appreciate intelligent, verbose, contemporary cinema with a strong connection to the theater, will find “André Gregory & Wallace Shawn: 3 Films” to be a Criterion Collection Blu-ray box set worth owning.

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