Midnight in Paris

June 27, 2011 by  
Filed under Movies

Woody Allen has been making films for nearly four decades, and he somehow has remained a prominent filmmaker even today. His films have ranged from screwball comedies (“Sleeper”, “Bananas”) to poignant dramas (“Another Woman”, “September”), and he’s always had a knack for blending comedy and drama (“Crimes and Misdemeanors”, “Sweet and Lowdown”). Sometimes he’s just been plain whimsical, like in “Purple Rose of Cairo”; and here, in his latest feature, “Midnight in Paris”, he seems to have recaptured some of that magic again.

It’s almost impossible to know how Woody Allen continues to do this. He’ll be 76 years old in December and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Sure he’s made some weak films in the past decade (his worst being “Hollywood Ending” by far); but instead of giving up after all of the bad press, he kept going. In his last few years he’s had some more success with “Vicky Christina Barcelona” and “Whatever Works”. But “Midnight in Paris” really is the film that’s brought him back to his original form.

Every Woody Allen formula is in here: the bickering married couple who’s joined incidentally by an old friend, usually of the woman, and of course the friend is a sniveling jerk. The husband of the married couple is a bit neurotic or awkward. Here he’s played by Owen Wilson, invoking just enough of Allen’s spirit to be charming and just stopping short of an “impression” of Allen. His wife is played by Rachel McAdams, who does a fine job with Woody Allen’s always witty and snappy dialog. The sniveling jerk is well played by Michael Sheen, although you know if this were made 20 years ago, it’d be Alan Alda most likely playing that role, Woody playing the husband, and Diane Keaton playing the wife.

The plot revolves around the couple, Gil and Inez (Wilson and McAdams respectively), staying in Paris while Gil is trying to complete a novel–his first in his career as a writer. He’s a Hollywood “hack” screenwriter who I suppose would be your David Keopp or Shane Black. Someone who can whip up a blockbuster but has no real “soul” as a writer. He feels lost; but he’s found something in Paris. He wants to stay there. His wife wants to live in Malibu and continue being rich. You can already tell these two will not get along in most of their scenes together, and certainly their chemistry for this kind of banter works because Wilson and McAdams just devour their roles so well. Wilson has those big blue wondrous eyes that make you believe how much of a dreamer he is. And that’s exactly what you need to believe because one night after a dinner, Gil decides to walk the streets of Paris instead of going out dancing with his wife and her friends. He claims he needs some inspiration for his novel, which is about a man who owns and operates a nostalgia shop. Gil himself identifies with the character because he, himself, is sentimental about the past and would love to live in Paris in the 1920’s.

That night, as the clock strikes midnight, Gil gets his wish. He’s approached by an old automobile, a Pugeot, and he gets in and realizes he’s sharing a cab with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. Later that night, he meets THE Ernest Hemingway and asks if he’ll read his book. Hemingway won’t because he’ll “hate” it (“If I don’t like it, I’ll hate it; if I do like it, I’ll hate it because I’ll wish I wrote it” to paraphrase). But he says he’ll let Gertrude Stein read it because he trusts her opinion.

Once Gil is transported into this world, the film flows like a Monet. It is an absolute joy to see all of these classic artists (which include Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali) mingle with each other, and with Gil. You can see in films like this, and “Radio Days”, how sentimental Woody Allen can be. And when he is, he really delivers.

There’s a bit of exposition in the third act that wraps things up with another character a little too easily; but by that point, we’re so whisked away in this world and wrapped up in it like a warm blanket on a chilly night that we don’t care about logic or formula. The ending is predictable as is the journey–but you want to take it anyway. This really is Woody Allen at his best and he’s right at home with this material. There are also some big laughs in the film, but you’ll be smiling the whole way through anyway.

A character in the beginning talks of nostalgia as being a crutch. Something we use to escape reality and live in the past. But what Allen proves is that revisiting the past can also open things up about yourself that living in the present may never do. It’ll teach you things about yourself, where you belong, and what you need to do for the future. In the present we take things for granted, in the past we learn what we’ve taken for granted. I mentioned before who the cast would’ve been in this film if it were made 20 years ago. It’s interesting how watching this movie made me think of older Woody Allen films, as I’m sure it will for anyone who is a fan. But as much as I was looking back on Allen’s career while watching the film, it never took away how much I enjoyed the movie I was watching–in the present.

Woody Allen continues to prove how great of a filmmaker he is, and this is just more evidence of that.

My rating: :-)

Changeling

November 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Movies

One of the things I admire most about Clint Eastwood is his approach to films as an actor, and a director. As an actor, even in his most explosive roles such as Dirty Harry, he doesn’t go over the top. As a director, he mimics this by drawing a picture but not always filling in all of the colors. He knows how to shoot a film, and he knows how to let his actors tell the story while he sits back and lets the cameras roll. He did this masterfully with “Mystic River”.

He did not with “Changeling”.

A film that boasts a story that is so bizarre it has to be true (and is), it plays out at first in a typical Eastwood way–it’s very quiet, and subtle. The film goes into some subplots that eventually come to the precipice–the infamous Wineville Chicken Coop Murders of the late 20’s, that are linked to the very seemingly simple story of the abduction of Christine Collins’ son, Walter. Collins, played wonderfully by Angelina Jolie (who will win the Oscar for Best Actress–book it), is a strong willed woman who takes on the entire LAPD after her “son” is returned to her while the LAPD is suffering through a very bad reputation of being bloodthirsty cretins. The boy they return to her is not her son, and they go to extreme lengths to make her believe that it is. In fact, such extreme lengths that at times, this movie will bring out the emotion in you. There were a lot of tears in the audience.

But as powerful as the film begins, around the two hour mark, it loses it. It loses it because it starts to tell you how to feel about it instead of letting you feel it. There is nothing worse to me than a film spending 20 minutes on a courtroom scene, unless the film is a courtroom drama. I distinctly remember “Sleepers” suffering the same fate. The problem is you have already gone through this emotional turmoil with the lead character–now you’re going to have to sit and watch a lawyer tell you exactly why you are feeling these things. Is that really necessary? I’m going to answer my own question and say it is not. And by answering that question I’m doing exactly what the movie did that was wrong–and that’s beat you over the head with what I’m getting at.

And what’s most disappointing is, that’s not Eastwood’s style mostly. I know the script, written by J. Michael Straczynski, was a little more at fault because it had no theme whatsoever, and no real narrative past the second act. The film, which is so much more compelling as a drama about a woman wanting her own son back, becomes a very boring newsclipping trying to sew up all the events that took place during the entire ordeal.

Now, I have no problem with a film wanting to tell the whole story. That’s fine. But if it loses its dramatic edge in the process, you have to wonder if it needs to be filmed that way, or if it needs to be scrapped. Or changed in some way.

Don’t get me wrong–the true events of this story are absolutely chilling and powerful, but since Jolie is so remarkable in it, the story should be able to breathe on its own without Eastwood putting an oxygen mask over it to tell us how to feel. That’s usually what Spielberg does, which was why “Munich” fell apart in its third act.

The movie is two hours and twenty minutes and should have been a half hour shorter. It would have been a real contender for Best Picture had it shaved off a lot of scenes towards the end that, while telling the rest of the story, did nothing to affect you emotionally. It leaves you feeling as empty as poor Christine who looks at a boy that isn’t her son, and is forced to admit that he is.

It’s just not right. And it’s a pity.

My rating: :???: