MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: The Film Babble Blog Review

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (Dir. Woody Allen, 2011)

At first glance, Owen Wilson looks like an unlikely Woody Allen surrogate.

Yet in Allen’s best film since VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, it’s an inspired piece of casting that works. Wilson puts real effort into the character of Gil Pender, a Hollywood hack screenwriter who wants to give real writing a try, and finish that difficult novel he’s been tinkering with for months.

On vacation in France, Wilson’s fiancée (Rachel McAdams) accuses him of romanticizing the past – particularly Paris in the ’20s, an era he would most like to live in. Wilson clashes with McAdam’s conservative parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy), and her friends including a wonderfully snobby Michael Sheen, so he takes off on a walk around the city taking in the sights.

At the chimes of midnight, an old timey car pulls up him, and the drunk passengers plead with him to get in. After some hesitation, he joins them.

Somehow this takes him back to, you guessed it (or saw the trailer), Paris in the ’20s. It’s a rollicking party of an era where everybody he meets is famous figure of the arts. At a party, with piano accompaniment by Cole Porter (Yves Heck) no less, he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife Zelda (Alison Pill).

There’s also Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway, Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Marcial di Fonzo Bo as Pablo Picasso, and the best one of all: Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali.

Wilson meets a fetching model (Marion Cotillard) who he falls for on the spot. So every night back in the present, he makes the excuse to McAdams that he wants to go out on a walk, and goes back to hobnob with history. The predicament of choosing the past over the present becomes a sticky one, as there’s the possibility of another love in the form of Lea Seydoux as an antiques dealer “in the now.”

There’s a wonderful wit and whimsy to how Allen plays this all out. It’s his warmest film since, uh, I can’t remember when.

In other words, it’s the most satisfying Woody Allen film in ages.

Wilson’s delivery of Allen’s choice one-liners is infectious, and he quotes from the greats, such as Faulkner’s “The past is never dead, It’s not even past.” convincingly enough to make one forget the man-child of “Hall Pass” from earlier this year.

The film is at its most radiant when it’s in those sequences set in the past. In a neat little twist, Cotillard dreams of living in the 1890’s; turns out everybody has their dream era.

One personal thought is that I wish the Woodman would’ve filmed this in black and white. It’s not just because the opening montage of shots of Paris was strongly reminiscent of the opening of MANHATTAN, I feel like B & W would’ve brought out something more in the photography, the depictions of both present and 20’s Paris, and the performances of the people playing historical personalities.

As I said that’s just a personal quibble. I’m just an aficionado of the man’s B & W work so don’t mind me.

MIDNIGHT IN PARIS isn’t gonna to make me rearrange my top 10 Woody Allen movies, but it’s a lovely lark that I predict even non-fans would enjoy. I think most people can relate wishing for a simpler more inspiring time to live in, and I think they’ll be greatly amused with this simple and inspiring story.

More later… 

Advertisements

High Concept Holmes

SHERLOCK HOLMES
(Dir. Guy Ritchie, 2009)

The recreation of the career of Robert Downey Jr. as a bankable action hero continues with this expensive explosive epic that re-casts Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic character as, well, a bankable action hero. It’s a conceit that works grandly for considerable chunks of Guy Ritchie’s period production, but an unfortunate feeling remains that such a literary icon as Sherlock Holmes shouldn’t be shoehorned into James Bondian conventions or Indiana Jones-ish set-piece progressions.

The thinking behind this is understandable (or elementary) – who wants to see stiff sitting room scenes filled with exposition? Audiences want high octane action and that’s what they’re going to get here. Holmes was a martial arts master in Doyle’s books and short stories so that’s an element Ritchie and Downey Jr. run with. Through stylized breakdowns of his fighting strategies we get into Holmes’ head blow by blow. However the attempts to get into his head clue by clue are less successful.

The movie begins with Holmes and trusty sidekick Watson (Jude Law) preventing a human sacrifice by the dark treacherous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong). Though Blackwood is jailed and sentenced to death, he still inspires fear with threatening prophecies of terror that he’ll orchestrate from beyond the grave. 3 days after he’s hanged and pronounced dead by Watson, he appears to have torn through the walls of his tomb and is back among the living. Holmes is, of course, back on his trail with distractions such as Rachel McAdams as the infamous Irene Adler and Watson’s bromance blocking bride to be (Kelly Reilly) muddying up the waters.

Muddy is apt for it’s a muddled mess of a mystery – a fast paced muddle, but a muddle all the same. For most moviegoers it won’t matter as there is fun to be had with Downey Jr.’s almost contagious satisfied smirk of a performance. His accent is much the same as it was in CHAPLIN (that is – not very convincing but still adequate) and his jovial demeanor does much to carry the film through dark passages dealing with black magic and a perplexing plot to overthrow Parliament. Law doesn’t make much of an impression as he just seems to be along for the ride and his fiancée subplot could be dropped completely with no complaints. Strong’s steely faced Blackwood is a worthy adversary, but his evil plans fail to fascinate making the murky mechanics of the third act bog down the proceedings.

Its ending obviously broadcasts that SHERLOCK HOLMES wants to be the first of a franchise, club sandwiched between IRONMAN efforts, primed for event movie seasons but I pray that it’s a one off. Downey Jr. is one of the most capable and interesting actors working today, but I fear his hipster appeal will make for major miscasting in future famous icon reboots: Robert Downey Jr. as Tarzan/The Shadow/Buck Rogers/etc. Maybe I’m being too cynical, but as much as I enjoyed particular parts of this film and would like to write it off as pure escapism, I couldn’t quite escape the notion that it’s a glorified waste.

More later…

STATE OF PLAY: The Film Babble Blog Review

Taking a break from the heat on my Vegas vacation I found a theater (United Artists Showcase 8) not too far from my hotel and decided to take in:

STATE OF PLAY (Dir. Kevin McDonald, 2009)

Literally hitting the ground running with a foot chase through a rain drenched Washington DC night resulting in multiple murder, this adaptation of the six part 2003 British miniseries never lets up from its riveting opening. In the cold light of the next day we are introduced to a scruffy haggard looking Russell Crowe as a ace old school reporter (the type who brags about using a 16 year old computer) who buys coffee to get info from the police and makes jaded quips like: “I’ll need to read a few blogs in order to form an opinion.” A nice timely touch is to then pair him up with a blogger (Rachel McAdams) for his newspaper’s online division. Crowe’s long time buddy, a congressman played surprisingly solidly by Ben Affleck, is exposed as having had an affair with one of the previous night’s victims (Maria Thayer – only seen in photos and cellphone footage) and, of course, something sinister lies in the shadows with an evil corporation possibly pulling the strings.

Yes, it’s a conspiracy movie with a “trust nobody” vibe that has many allusions to one of the all time greats, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN with its Washington DC backdrop, intense walks and talks, doors slammed in journalist’s faces, and even a shadowy parking garage sequence. The Watergate hotel gets more than just a visual shout out too. Crowe gets many terse tongue lashes from his English editor played beautifully by Helen Mirren in the cluttered newsroom of the fictional “The Washington Globe” (same typeface as The Washington Post in case one misses the connection) while he and McAdams go from lead to lead. For the up to par supporting cast we’ve got Robin Wright Penn as Affleck’s estranged wife, Jeff Daniels as a smarmy Senior Representative, Viola Davis (DOUBT) as a no nonsense pathologist, and a stand-out Jason Bateman as a bisexual fetish club promoter addicted to OxyContin.

There are contrivances and clichés galore but the movie moves so fast with such entertaining zeal that none of that matters. Crowe puts in a cantakerously crafted performance that’s strong enough to conceal that we are given virtually nothing of backstory of his character, while McAdams appealingly works those “dewey eyed cub reporter’s eyes” (as Mirren sneeringly calls them at one point) uping the ante from her previous one note roles like the love interest in WEDDING CRASHERS. There is spare but weighty commentary on the fate of print media in the era of the internets – particularly the likening of bloggers to bloodsuckers (ouch!). Through this all the supreme structure of the film is what really makes it tick. It’s played straight with a tightened pace that doesn’t ever fall out of focus. Maybe it’s not quite in the league of the classic 70’s political thrillers it pays ample homage to, but STATE OF PLAY is a worthy addition to the conspiracy cinema canon.

More later…