Before I get to the next film, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which JMHO, was very good, very funny, very clever, very vintage Woody Allen, I want to say a few words on what it took just for me to see the damn thing.
On the Friday that it opened here in Boston, I got to the theater to find that the movie was playing in one of the smaller auditoriums of my local megaplex. That’s okay, I expected that. So, as I’m sitting there in my preferred front row center seat, before the film began, as I had been advised to do by Ty Burr of the Boston Globe,* I looked up at the projector at the back of the auditorium and I see two lights (which means they are using the 3D projector for a 2D film,) and I’m about to go say something to the manager when the previews start. The screen did its automatic resizing thing and I noticed that the previews were cut off top and bottom. Okay that happens, I’ve seen it before. Then the movie starts and the movie is cut off top and bottom, and some of the lights are still on in the auditorium! I was about to get up again, but someone else beat me to it and they fixed that. We all continued to watch the movie, (which seemed very dim to me, but I gave them the benefit of that doubt) and then just at the end (last 5 min.), the "film" or whatever broke. The screen went black.
Just as suddenly the movie started up again, but playing over it was all of the pre-movie crap they show you before the previews, including soundtrack. So even though we all knew what was going to happen and we could see it underneath the other stuff, we didn’t get any of the dialogue. So we all left en masse like an angry mob. (I say all, there were probably 25 of us on a Friday afternoon.) An employee was waiting for us outside the auditorium and told us to meet him downstairs, where we all waited in line and got refunds. I actually ended up getting three passes good for any movie, any time, so that was a score. I was planning to ask the manager giving us the refunds whether or not she realized that ‘that theater’ was at the heart of an internet "controversy" involving the lighting used when screening (there are 19 screens in that theater, one of which is outfitted for IMAX and several – hell maybe all – are 3D capable. I doubt very much they know which bulbs are being used in each auditorium since the pinheads they employ are barely capable of doling out popcorn), and how coupled with incidents like that one, it wasn’t exactly conducive to getting people into the theater. I would have if not for the clamoring rabble behind me. Apparently there was another problem in another auditorium and those people wanted their money back as well.
The second attempt to see Midnight in Paris went much better (especially since the ticket was on AMC), although I swear to god, there was still part of the picture below the screen! (It wasn’t so much as to be distracting, but I wrote a letter to AMC. I wasn’t going to waste my time going to the manager of the theater.) About 2/3 of the way through the film, some woman and her young son (like 9 or 10 yrs old tops) came in and sat behind me in the 2nd row and proceeded to unwrap their snacks and TALK! I don’t mean hushed whispering either. I mean normal voices. I ‘shushed’ them a couple of times then I turned around and said "stfu or I’m having you thrown out". (This did serve to make them be quiet. I suspect that they didn’t have ticket stubs if you know what I mean.) Who the hell brings a kid to a Woody Allen movie? The kid had no interest in it and could not possibly have gotten the references (unless he were some sort of savant and if he were, he’d have shut up and watched from the outset.)
Now, part of that serves me right for not having gone to the “adult” theater in Cambridge to begin with, but I opted for convenience, and I know I’m a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the whole theater experience in general. I want it to be "perfect" and it so frequently is not, but given what I do put up with, think about how many people just will not. THIS is why box office receipts are down. I’ve said all this before, but these problems started with VHS, even before things like HBO. There are now two whole generations that grew up not knowing a world without movies in your living room and they cannot separate the two when they go out to the theater. And that’s BEFORE you get into the problems associated with the light bulbs and inept theater employees. This is the shit that keeps a lot of adults out of the cinema and why we get crap like Zookeeper and Transformers XII because of who they’re getting in. It is my quest to do something about it! *shakes fist* Rant over, let’s get to the movie.
JMHO, but Midnight in Paris is like a bon bon, a confection of a movie that wants nothing more than to be witty and charming, like the perfect dinner guest. Owen Wilson, whom I’ve found increasingly annoying of late, was actually the best Woody Allen doppleganger in a long time. There were times when his speech patterns were so dead on it was uncanny.
His character, Gil Pender, is a successful screenwriter disillusioned with Hollywood and longing to become a ‘real writer’ by finishing his stalled novel. He envisions himself living in a Paris atelier like the “lost generation” of the 20’s that he romanticizes. His bourgeois fiancé and her parents have us easily rooting for him to break free and do just that.
Rachel McAdam’s Inez, could be considered the villain of the piece. McAdams is usually saddled with being sweet and perky, (I say ‘usually’ because one notable exception is The Lucky Ones in which she played a wounded vet returning home from Iraq.) Here she played against type with impressive results. Inez is a shallow, materialistic Daddy’s girl too attached to her wealthy and indulgent parents, who already hen pecks her fiancé and who says things like “You always take the side of the help. That’s why Daddy says you’re a communist.” She also had the guts to let Woody make her ass look enormous.
Aside from the fact that she was eating in nearly every scene, at one point in the film McAdams and Mimi Kennedy (who played her mother) were walking down the street while the camera followed from behind, exaggerating their “assets”. The point being that they "matched". JMHO, it was an illustration of the idea that Inez, like all women, would become her mother. The first time I saw the film I wasn’t sure if that’s what was going on in that scene or not and I didn’t want to mention it if it was just her normal ass. I think she’s always been bottom heavy, relatively speaking in the stick figure world she inhabits, but this was really noticeable. Upon my second viewing, I decided that it was, in fact, a sight gag. Woody’s subtle like that.
The centerpiece of the film, what starts as an excuse for Gil to get away from Inez and the “pedantic” Paul (Michael Sheen, brilliant as always) and his sycophantic wife Carol, walking the streets of Paris late at night, becomes a trip back in time. Gil finds himself invited to swell parties where Cole Porter plays the piano and he gets to meet his idols like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. It is to his credit that Allen does not spend any time explaining “how” this happens, it just does and all he asks is that you take the trip along with Gil.
Woody Allen, love him or hate him, does give his audience some credit for having not only intelligence, but some intellectual curiosity. Taking that assumption as its jumping off point, the film doesn’t waste time explaining all of the characters that populate Gil’s fantastic perception of Paris in the 20’s. One of the things I loved best about Midnight in Paris is that it assumes viewers know the details of the luminous lives that Gil comes across in his travels. If a movie watcher does not know the work of Surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel or that Man Ray was not photographer William Wegman’s dog nor Spongebob’s nemesis, but one of the most influential painters/sculpters/photographers of the 20th century, there is a marvelous invention called Google that I hope he or she would turn to and find out who they were. Gil’s reactions are not merely stilted exposition, they are those of a man who does know who they are and what their accomplishments are. His appreciation is also filtered through the intervening years.
Marion Cotillard is exquisite as a woman Gil meets at a swanky party given by the Fitzgeralds. Not one of the “real” people he encounters, she’s a type. A coquette who has come to Paris from the French countryside to experience the “modern” age (although in a neat twist she spends her time fantasizing about another era gone by, La Belle Epoque – Paris at the turn of the 20th century). When Gil meets her, she is the lover of a young Picasso, having already been with Braque and Modigliani. Gil is enchanted.
The actors playing these famous people were, JMHO, all fantastic, especially Alison Pill as inebriated (perhaps psychotic) party girl Zelda Fitzgerald, Corey Stoll as Hemingway in his prime, already showing signs of his famous hatred of Zelda for ruining his friend Scott and rhapsodizing about courage and honesty and always looking for a fight, Kathy Bates as pragmatic author and patron of the arts Gertrude Stein and most especially, Adrien Brody as a delightfully off-the-wall Salvador Dali. Brody had one scene and he was PERFECT, absolutely inspired. He even managed to arrange his facial features to look like Dali’s. Most of his one scene consisted of repeating the word “rhinoceros”, singular and plural, with various inflections and it is intentionally hilarious. If Judi Dench can win an Oscar for her one scene as Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, then Brody should at least be nominated for this.
(Yes, I’m going to digress a little.) What I continue to admire is how he handles his career. He was the youngest actor to win an Academy Award for Best Actor and is still the only American to have ever won a Cesar, the French equivalent. While his role in The Pianist, can be said to have been ‘the role of a lifetime’ and indeed it was a singular performance in a singular role, he’s got much more in him and he hasn’t rested on his laurels by any stretch. He obviously marches to the beat of his own drummer and makes the movies he wants to make (including the Predator reboot. Love it or hate it, he wanted to do it and fought hard to get the part and put himself through a grueling regimen to bulk up for the film once he got it- remind you of anyone?) Take a look at his CV on imdb. His list of credits is long and riddled with brilliant performances, even the smallest of supporting parts, in movies you’ve probably forgotten about. His Noah Percy is the best thing about M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, despite a star-making debut by Bryce Dallas Howard and the presence of an all-star cast.
Most of the films he makes are small independents that don’t see the light of day until dvd or even cable. That does not mean, however, they aren’t worthy of your time. It means they don’t have a budget for promotion. (Thank God for VOD – I can’t wait to see Tony Kaye’s Detachment, a hit at the Tribeca Film Festival that doesn’t look like it’s getting a theatrical release.) Brody certainly isn’t doing them for the money.
Well, maybe he made King Kong for the money. Or he might have done it for the opportunity to work with Peter Jackson. Or perhaps it was the opportunity to play a romantic lead. (I’m of the opinion that Adrien Brody is not only handsome, perhaps not in the conventional way, but sexy as hell.)
Oh yeah, she hated it
Speaking of romantic leads, I recently caught Manolete, a film made in 2008 which was just released in the US on dvd (directed by Menno Meyjes, a Dutch filmmaker who wrote the upcoming Black Gold with Antonio Banderas and Mark Strong that I am very much looking forward to) in which Brody played a famous Spanish bullfighter in his last days as he engages in a passionate, destructive affair with actress Lupe Sino. (It’s been retitled for dvd, as A Matador’s Mistress, which puts the emphasis on Penelope Cruz’s character. I don’t get it. I can only assume it has something to do with Cruz’s higher profile of late.) An imperfect film to be sure but worth watching for Brody’s physical and spiritual embodiment of a classic matador. His chemistry with Cruz is incendiary.
Another title you’ve probably never heard of is Wrecked. Brody is practically alone for the entire length of the film, with almost no dialogue as he wakes up after a car crash at the bottom of a ravine with no memory of how he got there, who the dead bodies are surrounding him or even who he is. Bits of the story are revealed inch by inch through his hallucinations and as he struggles (literally crawls) to get up the ravine and to get help. It was mesmerizing. Basically you’re watching everything (fear, anguish, determination) play out on Brody’s face and in his eyes. You can’t look away.
Okay, I’ve stopped gushing. So back to Midnight in Paris. I haven’t talked about the ending because it’s almost incidental. It becomes obvious where the movie will end up, it’s all about how we get there and that we are going where the film has convinced us that we want to go. Bottom line, was it worth the effort involved? Yes, all things considered, for me, it was. Will it lose anything in translation if you wait for dvd? Nah, not really. The main question here is, is it an enjoyable two hours? Absolutely. JHMO, but it’s worth a look just for the witty pastiche of 20’s personalities, particularly Adrien Brody’s Salvador Dali.
*Boston Globe 22 May 2011 articles.boston.com/2011-05-22/ae/29571831_1_digital-projectors-movie-exhibition-business-screens