Judge Patrick Naugle operates on a much higher frequency.
Our review of Radio Days, published December 11th, 2001, is also available.
Like it was just yesterday.
Told from the perspective of the present, Radio Days recounts (with voice over by writer/director Woody Allen) the story of youthful Joe (Seth Green, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery) and his formative years growing up in New York City with his large and rather boisterous family. Joe spends his days around the radio listening to tales of superheroes and criminals, while the rest of his family attempts to live day to day during the 1940s. Joe must contend with his mother (Julie Kavner, The Simpsons) and father (Michael Tucker, For Love or Money), his mother's ditzy sister Aunt Bea (Dianne Wiest, Little Man Tate), his bigger-than-life Uncle Abe (Josh Mostel, City Slickers), and Aunt Ceil (Renee Lippin, This is My Life), among others. Through both real life and the static filled radio waves, the 1940s come alive like never before in Woody Allen's ode to the past, Radio Days.
Has there been a filmmaker as prolific as Woody Allen? Since 1982, Allen has released a film a year. Let that sink in for a moment: while most filmmakers need at the least a few years between projects, Allen has been able to release a new movie every year for the past thirty-two years. If ever there was a person born who was clearly made to tell stories, Allen is it. Through the years Allen's career has taken many twists and turns. His output in the 1970s was often silly and comedic (Love and Death, Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask) with moments of pathos and emotion (the Oscar winning Annie Hall). The 1980s brought out Allen's contemplative side with films like Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors. The 1990s were a mixed bag of oddities, including the musical Everyone Says I Love You, the film noir-ish Shadows and Fog, and the jazzy Sweet and Lowdown. Since 2000 Allen's films have garnered mixed reviews, and around the mid-2000s Allen moved many films from his native New York overseas to Paris and London (Match Point, Midnight in Paris). In-between all his films Allen has begrudgingly defended various scandals and allegations lobbed against him, including marrying his partner's adopted daughter and reports of sexual abuse by both his daughter and ex-wife (and former film star) Mia Farrow. In short, Woody Allen's life has had enough drama for three of the bespectacled filmmaker's movies.
While I'm not happy about some of the things Allen has been accused of in his personal life, I have to admit to being a fan of his work. Although I haven't seen all of Allen's films (especially his newer movies), I find that the filmmaker puts a lot of ideas in his screenplays, a breath of fresh air for those who like to laugh and think when they go the movies. One of the films I never had a chance to see was 1987's Radio Days, which treads a lot of a familiar ground for Allen; mainly nostalgia, religion, and the east coast (specifically New York City). Set in the 1940s, Radio Days follows the exploits and misadventures of young Joe (Woody Allen in voice over, Seth Green as a child) and his boisterous, eccentric family of aunts, grandparents, and other related oddities. It's a strong film that will connect with older audiences who recall this time period with vivid clarity.
One of Woody Allen's strong suits is finding talented actors to inhabit the characters he creates. Radio Days is no exception; this is a film filled with amusing character actors. A very innocent looking Seth Green—in one of his earliest roles—plays Joe, which is really just a slight variation on the real Woody Allen. Joe is adorable and amusing, always being flanked by his parents, played by Julie Kavner and Michael Tucker (who fight over anything, including which ocean is the best ocean). Dianne Wiest is ever amusing as the batty Aunt Bea, while Kenneth Mars gives a grand performance as a local Rabbi who wants nothing more than to beat little Joe when he collects coins on the street to buy a secret decoder ring under the guise of collecting for a Jewish charity. Eagle eyed viewers will also spot a lot of famous faces in blink-or-you'll-miss-them cameos, including Jeff Daniels (Dumb and Dumber), Larry David (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Allen regulars Diane Keaton (Baby Boom) and Tony Roberts (Annie Hall), and Wallace Shawn (My Dinner with Andre) as the most unlikeliest of superheroes.
What Radio Days boils down to is a bunch of vignettes, each told by various family members (and, of course, through the airwaves coming into everyone's apartments). Are the stories that the characters tell real or myth? It doesn't much matter, because each of them is amusing and well written. Allen's screenplay is filled with moments of goofiness punctuated by pithy, dense dialogue ("Religion is the opium of the masses"). Wrapped around the film is Allen's behind-the-scenes dialogue, offering up the iconic director's voice, if not his face.
A viewer's enjoyment of Radio Days will depend on much they like characters that are exaggerated and often kvetching. Is it on par with the best of Woody Allen's films? No. Then again, many of Woody's films are so great that even when it isn't the best, a film like Radio Days is still marvelous entertainment. This film is highly recommended for those who want a peek into the past, and Woody Allen aficionados alike.
Radio Days is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. This Twilight Time release (licensed from MGM) is in very good shape. The image has a warm, nostalgic feel to it. Although there's some light grain, it feels appropriate to the transfer. The colors are slightly dulled, but this feels more like a choice by Allen than a problem with the transfer. Overall, Woody Allen fans will be happy with how good this nearly thirty-year-old film looks. The soundtrack is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 Mono in English. This lossless soundtrack is appropriate for the proceedings with the bulk of the mix being front heavy (and filled with old classic songs form the 1940s). Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
On par with most other Allen films, this first ever Blu-ray of Radio Days (released in a limited run of only 3,000 units) only includes as extras an isolated score track and a trailer for the film.
Radio Days is a funny, sweet, and nostalgic look back at an era that is now long since past in American history. Woody Allen's films always find the right balance between bittersweet melancholy and ribald humor, and Radio Days is no exception. Twilight Time's work on this disc is above average, though as usual the price of the disc is almost double that of most studio catalog titles (and in a limited run of only 3,000 units, no less).
Worth tuning in.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Twilight Time
• Isolated Score
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