Midnight in Paris


Midnight in Paris

Ahh, the romance and magic of Paris!

(2011) Romantic Comedy (Sony Classics) Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, Rachel McAdams, Mimi Kennedy, Michael Sheen, Kurt Fuller, Lea Seydoux, Tom Hiddleston, Alison Pill, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates, Corey Stoll, Nina Arianda, Carla Bruni, Tom Cordier, Adrien de Van, Gad Elmaleh, Daniel Lundh, Marcial Di Fonzo Bo. Directed by Woody Allen

Paris is a place that embodies romance. When we think of the city, that is one of the first adjectives that springs to mind. Paris – City of Light, city of love. There is an ineffable magic to Paris; it is the city once prowled by Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec, Victor Hugo, Gaugin, Matisse, Luis Brunel, Gertrude Stein, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington. It is the home of the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs d’Elysee. It is a city made to enchant and ensnare the visitor.

Gil (Wilson) feels their presences quite keenly. He is a Hollywood hack writer, known for successful but ultimately empty screenplays that have made him rich but haven’t fed his soul. He is in Paris vacationing with his fiancée Inez (McAdams) and her Tea Party parents John (Fuller) and Helen (Kennedy). There they run into Paul (Sheen), a former beau of Inez, a know-it-all who like many of that sort generally know nothing. He precedes nearly every thought with “If I’m not mistaken…” which, as we all know invariably means they are.

The others are tourists in a place that they have no emotional connection to; Gil loves Paris, particularly the Paris of a bygone age. He pictures it after dark, a soft rain falling. He goes for midnight strolls around the streets of the city. After one, he is resting on some marble steps near the Pantheon, not quite sure where his hotel is when an antique car pulls up alongside him and a young couple gesture for him to join them. That’s where the magic and romance truly begins.

I’m being deliberately vague about the rest because I don’t want to spoil the surprise of the movie. This isn’t your typical Woody Allen movie – there are no neurotic New Yorkers to be found here. Instead, this is more akin to movies like Purple Rose of Cairo and Play It Again, Sam – movies that have an element of fantasy and romance to them.

Woody Allen, despite all his jokes to the contrary, is deeply romantic at heart. He believes in magic and destiny, points that are made in nearly every one of his movies. He also requires a certain amount of literary awareness of his audiences and the references here are many and varied; from the manliness of Hemingway, to the rough-around-the-edges kindness of Gertrude Stein to the self-promoting whimsy of Dali.

He has some comments for the cultural insensitivity of Americans, and the tendency for us to wish we lived in a Golden Age when Things Were Better. He makes the point that those who lived in that time were in all likelihood thinking that things might have been perfect at some previous era to that. Maybe cavemen thought wistfully that things were so much simpler back when they were Cro-Magnon.

 Wilson makes a nice surrogate Woody, having naturally some of the inflections and cadences of Allen at the peak of his game in the 70s. He has always been an amiable sort onscreen and that easygoing charm serves him well here. Cotillard, one of the most beautiful and talented actresses working today, plays a love interest in the movie that catches Gil’s eye. Also of note is the French first lady who plays a tour guide at the Rodin sculpture garden (where she runs afoul of know-it-all Paul) and Brody who plays a famous Spanish artist with over-the-top panache.

I’m not a big Woody Allen fan, particularly lately when his movies have been extremely uneven in quality. This is by far his best movie in decades, clearly one of the best movies he’s ever made. I don’t know if it is the change in location that has inspired him but if so, let’s see him do some movies in Tokyo, New Orleans, Montreal and Barcelona. He’s definitely an acquired taste that I haven’t acquired – until now. I will admit that my view is colored by the fact that in less than two weeks my wife and I will be taking a vacation in Paris so seeing the places we’ll soon be haunting ourselves gave us a special thrill. Nonetheless, this is wonderful filmmaking, bringing back the magic and romance that movies used to bring us in massive doses – and seems to be so rare and precious today.

REASONS TO GO: As charming a movie as you’ll ever see. Perfectly captures the romance and magic of Paris. Allen’s best in decades, maybe ever.

REASONS TO STAY: You’re a big Woody Allen fan and you think Play It Again, Sam and The Purple Rose of Cairo were his worst films.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual references and quite a bit of smoking.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The flea market scenes were filmed at the market on the days it was normally closed with crew members and extras dressing the stalls for filming, then restoring the market to its normal appearance when filming was done.

HOME OR THEATER: This should be seen in a darkened theater with a big tub of popcorn and a soda; the magic of Paris combined with the magic of the movies.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: And Soon the Darkness

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The Other Man


The Other Man

Ah, the game's afoot...or, in this case, a pawn.

(2008) Drama (Image) Liam Neeson, Antonio Banderas, Laura Linney, Romola Garai, Pam Ferris, Craig Parkinson, Sophie Wu, Lola Peploe, Richard Graham, Emma Fielding, Priyanga Burford. Directed by Richard Eyre

Even in a marriage we often don’t know everything about our partner that we think we do. Sometimes we discover a secret life that is completely unknown to us. When our world comes crashing about our ears, how do we rebuild it without destroying what’s left?

Peter (Neeson) is a successful computer software designer. He is married to Lisa (Linney), a successful shoe designer. They live in Cambridge (the English one) and have a pretty good life. That is, until Lisa disappears.

Peter is frantic, understandably and tries to find a clue, any sort of clue as to where she is. He hacks into her computer and discovers pictures – pictures that indicate she was having an affair with another man. In an instant, he goes from grieving husband to jealous, angry husband.

Using his sleuthing skills, he determines that the nameless Other Man lives in Milan. Peter goes there to find him and, quite possibly, murder him. His daughter Abigail (Garai) is concerned; her father seems obsessive and enraged. She wonders what he intends to do and he refuses to tell her.

Eventually, Peter tracks down Ralph (Banderas), a gentleman living in Milan. Without telling him who he is Peter meets Ralph in a chess café and has a game with him. Soon, Peter realizes that something is fishy about Ralph and that everything is not as it should be. The question soon becomes, where is Laura? The answer might surprise you…

Director Eyre has made some real good movies, including Notes on a Scandal which was far superior to this. Here he crafts a thriller without tension, a drama that isn’t terribly dramatic. The script seems to exist to send you sideways with different plot twists; unfortunately, it spends far too much time on unnecessary plot twists, as when Peter’s suspicions fall on someone working in the office with Lisa.

There is some real quality in the casting too. Liam Neeson is one of the most interesting actors alive; he has a rough exterior but a very soft interior and he is extremely skilled at using both. Some of his scenes as a grieving husband are extremely wrenching, and well worth watching on their own. Banderas is, I think, underrated as an actor, always cast as the Latin lothario but here he takes a part which is a bit different than what we see him in normally. The part appears to be that way, a Spanish gentleman in Gucci loafers, as Peter disparagingly refers to them, in Milan, the center of designer shoes. That should tell you a little bit about who Ralph is.

Garai also does surprisingly well as the daughter. I wasn’t familiar with her previous work, but the girl’s got skills. She infuses Abigail with both compassion and concern. She isn’t weak at all though; she stands up to her dad and gets in his face about things. Yup, just like an actual daughter. I appreciated that element of the storyline.

Unfortunately, not that much else in the film is compelling. Some of the big “twists” are hopelessly telegraphed and some of the action lacks fire. While having Peter and Ralph confront each other over a game of chess, it lacks the emotional charge that the confrontation should have had. There’s no dramatic tension, and that torpedoes the film overall.

However, a movie with these actors in it and a generally skilled director isn’t going to be all bad. This is going to go down as one of their more forgettable efforts but that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely without merit. I would say that it is a movie that isn’t impressive, but has some moments worth savoring.

WHY RENT THIS: Neeson is always compelling, and Banderas takes on a role that’s new for him. Garai does an impressive job. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is kind of bland and not well thought out. Certainly all the obfuscation about who the “other man” is was unnecessary.

FAMILY VALUES: Not rated, but there’s some bad language and adult situations regarding marital infidelity, as well as some nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Juliette Binoche was originally supposed to play the part of Lisa but had to leave the cast before filming started. She was replaced by Linney.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.1M on an unreported production budget; chances are the movie didn’t make back its budget.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Promise