Some Mixed Thoughts on “Midnight in Paris”

While, this is not technically a film review, I did want to vent a bit on Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, which is getting raves from critics and the public alike. This is great news, as Mr. Allen has been somewhat off his game for a few years and, as a tremendous fan of his work, I could not be happier. Hell, just look at the graphic I use as my avatar on this site! The movie also looks like it will easily eclipse Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) as his greatest domestic box-office success. This is also good news because I don’t think nearly enough people give his films a chance. Well, the modern-day fairy tale Midnight in Paris has been out for a while now, so I am a little late to the game…but after seeing it a couple of weeks ago, I felt I had to — as an objective admirer of his artistry — jot down some of my very profound thoughts. ūüôā

First, the good. Anyone familiar with Allen’s canon of work knows that he’s been tapping the well pretty dry as of late. Same themes and the same characters in pretty unoriginal and disappointing films. With Midnight in Paris, Allen brings to the screen his most imaginative and creative movie since The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). That’s saying something and was very refreshing to finally see. It’s also been a bit challenging to find a suitable Woody archetype to play the lead roles. John Cusack did it very well. Here, Owen Wilson does a wonderful job as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who is struggling to finish his first novel. He is affable, charming, witty, and romantic.

Woody usually gets great performances from his all-star ensembles, and this film is no different. Adrien Brody is magnificent in the one scene he is in, playing Salvador Dali. He is hysterical and nearly steals the show. The lovely Marion Cotillard is also a wonder to watch as Pablo Picasso’s mistress. Michael Sheen is perfectly cast as the pseudo-intellectual who knows much less about art and culture than he’d like to think. You dislike him just the right amount. Kathy Bates (as Gertrude Stein), Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway), Allison Pill (as Zelda Fitzgerald) also stand out and deliver some fun and believable performances as their 1920’s icons.

It was a lot of fun keeping your eyes out, waiting to see which famous character we would be introduced to next. Picasso, Gauguin, Degas, Bunuel, Eliot, Fitzgerald? They’re all here and having a ball. The costume design and art direction provide a genuine look and feel of Paris in the 20’s, which is no surprise as Allen’s period pieces always do an admirable job of this.

And now for the not so good. Rachel McAdams is too bitchy and too dislikable as Gil’s fiancee. Her mother too. You just can’t stand them, which I know is the idea — but it is laid on too thick, giving the characters little dimension. My biggest flaw with the film was that for a movie with such a remarkable premise to it…so magical and so fantastic…it doesn’t go nearly as far as it should. Other than introducing a number of famous cultural icons to us, very little is done with them. Subplots arise with little follow-through. And the ending itself is far too abrupt. It just…ends. You are left wanting more — and not in a good way. Rather, you’re left (at least I was) feeling somewhat let down. I felt that this time, Woody was almost there…he had a great idea, a solid script, strong performances, lovely design and locations…and just didn’t take it all the way home.

So all in all — a cute, fun, highly imaginative film that unfortunately could have gone much further and ranked among Woody’s best. I have read all of the hoopla declaring that “Woody’s back!” and that Midnight in Paris ranks among his greatest films ever. I think, after so many stinkers during the past decade, that the bar has been set a bit low, so the hype here is overdone. It’s a very good movie — and I surely recommend people to go see it — but in my opinion, doesn’t go into his Top 10.

My Rating:

Anticipating Woody Allen’s New Film

So — it’s that time of year again. A time where hope springs eternal. A¬†time for cautious optimism — and a time for well-deserved skepticism. Almost as clockwork as waiting for Puxatony Phil to show his face each and every year, comes the release of a new film release¬†by the legendary auteur Woody Allen. ¬†This year,¬†Midnight in Paris (Allen’s 42nd feature film) is scheduled for release and opens this week (after debuting to rather positive reviews at the Cannes Film Festival).

As always, Allen has been able to bring together a star-studded cast to speak the lines of the aristocracy. For Midnight in Paris, we are treated to Oscar winners Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, and Marion Cotillard — as well as co-stars Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen, Alison Pill, and Carla Bruni. But it is usually not the cast that has been the problem with some of Allen’s films for the past 10+ years — sadly, it has been the bland storytelling and the writer/director himself revisiting the same old themes using the same old characters in his films. I have written about this quite a bit on The Lantern, so I won’t bother repeating myself here. Suffice it say that I remain a tremendous fan of Mr. Allen — I still feel he is one of the finest American filmmakers we have. However, his batting average since 1999’s wonderful Sweet and Lowdown has not been a very impressive one. I keep hoping that he will stretch himself as an artist and explore new ground, but this is rarely the case — and I am slowly giving up on this dream with each new film released.

I enjoyed last year’s You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger very much. Though it tackles many of his favorite subjects, the writing was much sharper and more genuine — and the cast gave wonderful performances. It was a strong 3-star film. The romantic comedy¬†Midnight in Paris — the first film that Allen has shot entirely on location in Paris — so far has pretty good word of mouth, even getting a solid 86% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this post. We shall soon see. With the slow decline in Allen’s work over the years, critics have had a tendency to over-praise his good films (a la Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona), proclaiming them to be much more than they are, simply on the basis of comparing them to such duds as Anyone Else, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, and Scoop. Of course they look like masterpieces compared to these embarrassing efforts.

But, as I do every year, I will be at the theater this weekend and pay for my ticket. Woody’s films always get my money. I will wait with baited breath and hope for the best. Fingers crossed.

My review of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Strangerclick here

My Top 10 Films of Woody Allenclick here

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Inception” (** ¬Ĺ)

Christopher Nolan’s Inception¬†was perhaps the most widely anticipated movie of the summer; a summer besieged¬†with lackluster remakes and sequels; a summer filled with mediocrity. Acknowledging the depth of¬†Nolan’s past work (in particular, Insomnia and Memento), I too was looking forward to seeing this new sci-fi thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Marion Cotillard, though I remained cautiously optimistic. Now, the film has had an impressive opening weekend at the box-office and has received a tremendous amount of critical and public acclaim. And though it is at times an engaging and¬†entertaining¬†film, it falls well short of its pre-perceived hype that had already declared it a “masterpiece” before it was even released. In fact, there is no reason to even be thinking of throwing around the overused “m” word in this case – the word is so recklessly thrown about too much as it is. But, I digress…

Inception is an easy enough movie to explain, however hopelessly wearing and nearly impossible to follow. That is because this is a film about dreams and nearly everything that we see here is a dream, or a dream within a dream — or as arduous as it sounds, a dream within a dream within another one. It’s an easy out for Nolan and he takes full advantage of it, believing that he is giving the public something to mull over and analyze, when really, he has a full-proof “out clause” for any perceived hole in the story, of which there are a few. Nothing needs to be logically explained here — it’s all surrounded by dreams…the writer’s ever-tempting “fall back.”

Set in the near-future, technology has now advanced to the point where people can enter into and access the dreams of others. Enter Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), a thief who specializes in entering people’s subconscious minds and extracting their ideas and thoughts. Cobb is fighting his own personal demons which build in the various dream sequences throughout the course of the film. Living from job to job, he wants nothing more than to be able to enter his home country once again and be reunited with his two small children, who he hasn’t seen in years. Enter the mysterious business tycoon,¬†Saito (Ken Watanabe) who presents Cobb with a very intriguing proposition and the chance to return to his children for good: rather than extracting an idea from someone’s mind, Saito wants to hire Cobb to implant the seed of an idea into the mind of the wealthy heir of a gigantic business conglomerate (a wooden Cillian Murphy). This process — called “inception” —¬†has seemingly never been done before, though Cobb insists it can be done and takes this one last risky¬†job for a chance at redemption. “Assemble your team!” Saito shouts out from his private helicopter and with that, we are introduced to Cobb’s team of professionals.

Let’s start with that team, shall we?¬†A fine collection of actors¬†who are¬†given very little to do. Nolan is not interested in giving these characters any depth whatsoever and we learn almost nothing about the entire lot. The result is that we are left with uninteresting, 2-dimensional characters who we have no emotional connection or investment in. His right-hand man and trusted associate Arthur (Gordon-Levitt), meticulously plans out all the intricacies of the mission, his forger (Tom Hardy) takes on various identities within the dreams, and Yusef (Dileep Rao) is their chemist who makes sure that everyone is properly in a deep sleep. But Nolan needs someone to explain all of his rules about the dream state to the audience, so he has Cobb hire a new architect (Ellen Page), someone who creates the structural design of the dream world. The dialogue in these parts, is a bit stiff as it really only exists¬†to explain and narrate to the audience what is actually going on. Rao and Gordon-Levitt are fine, though kind of just “there.” Hardy¬†actually brings a charm and certain suavity to Eames, the forger. Watanabe, though¬†very fitting, is very hard to understand throughout because of his thick accent and a lot of dialogue is lost. Clarity is always a good thing. Ellen Page¬†is simply a complete misfire¬†here and brings almost nothing to the role of Ariadne. She plods along throughout the movie with little emotion and I just never bought into the silly idea that Cobb’s associates, who have worked with him for years, aren’t aware of his volatile mental state as it concerns his wife (who haunts him in each and every dream) — but the girl who has been on the job for a few days knows all about it and continues to pester Cobb to let the others in on his little secret. Marion Cotillard plays Cobb’s wife, and as we come to expect, she is quite captivating here and keeps our attention on her whenever she appears. The scenes between husband and wife are very well done and it’s the only time DiCaprio really gets to work his acting chops. Cotillard’s presence is pervasive, even in those scenes which she is not in. Michael Caine is wasted in his two scenes and it is a wonder why he even needed to play such a thankless role other than having worked with Nolan before.

Of course the special effects here are remarkably impressive, but at this point, isn’t that to be expected? I don’t really count that as such a major plus at this point, knowing how far technology in film has come. We watch DiCaprio and Page¬†calmly sit outside a Parisian bistro as the city is blowing up all around them. Very cool to look at indeed, but when you know the two actors are sipping cappuccino in front of a green screen, it takes something away from the experience. The art direction truly stands out as does Hans Zimmer’s score. Lee Smith has the very tiring and impossible task of making sense of all of this and does a commendable job.

I must say that I was very much engrossed in this movie for the first hour. I loved the dynamic of Cobb and his wife and the idea of inception struck me as original and compelling. Everything is set up pretty well and I’m waiting to see how this mission will take shape. It’s when the team puts their “mark” (Murphy) under sedation that the film slowly begins to go south…and boy do I¬†mean slowly. I have never minded a long film in my life, so long as it’s engaging and worth the time. The last hour of this movie just lumbers along at a painstaking pace you can’t wait for it to end – and that is never a good sign. What takes 40 minutes here can easily have taken 20 minutes, but I fear that Nolan falls so in love with his own vision that it comes back to bite him. Memento is the much tighter, smarter film; not to mention, the more entertaining of the two.

I have read a number of glowing reviews over the past couple of days and I wonder to myself if they were watching the same muddled mess I was watching. There is the idea that people were going to fall in love with this film no matter what they saw (which certainly happens). Perhaps compared to nearly every summer movie out there, this simply¬†looks more impressive than it is based on comparison alone (which happens as well). I know that Nolan has a devout following and this is yet a third hypothesis. Look, I don’t think this a bad movie by any stretch — and I will certainly give it another viewing, which I feel it deserves. But I like to remain truthful and honest in my criticism and as much as I wanted to love it too, I cannot get past the many flaws that are quite clear in this work. In many ways, this is a cold movie — in mood, narration and approach to its audience. In areas it has remnants of The Matrix and Dreamscape, two films that I would give much higher recommendations to. In the end, I know this film will wind up on nearly every critic’s Top 10 list of the year, and I know when I see that, I will still be shaking my head wondering why….hoping that this too will be a dream that I am suddenly waken out of.

Rating:      
Year:          2010
Director:   Christopher Nolan

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