Monday, November 21, 2011

A couple of reviews: Midnight in Paris and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Screened Midnight in Paris and Crazy, Stupid, Love. on the plasma last night.

Midnight in Paris is part of Woody Allen's shift away from New York and filming in Europe chapter in his body of work.  The glorious part of the movie comes from turning the camera on in Paris.  Just as with New York, Woody Allen and his DOP's are able to make these cities look glorious.  Every shot in the opening is a post card to the city and of course evokes the magnificent images of New York in Allen's film Manhattan, which remains a favourite of mine.  In Midnight in Paris, Allen shoots Paris cityscapes as if painted by Monet.

But the remarkableness drains away quickly once the story begins to unfold and the characters appear.  If Allen hadn't made Zelig, Purple Rose of Cairo and Bullets over Broadway, perhaps Midnight in Paris would feel original.  A hack screenwriter who hates himself - yet another Woody Allen avatar played by Owen Wilson this time but at least he doesn't do an outright imitation - visits Paris with his shrewish fiancee played by a vacuous Rachel McAdams - I've never understood her appeal and she doesn't explain it to me in this performance - and dreams of living here in the 30's and writing his artistic novel.  One night - at midnight - he encounters a time traveling car that takes him back then where he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway and the other Americans in Paris.  Gertrude Stein reads his novel and encourages him to be an artist.  Meanwhile, his wife and her parents become increasingly weary of him and his mysterious disappearances.  Finally, he decides to break up with his fiancee and stay in Paris, conveniently hooking up with a fetching Parisian shop girl.

But Woody's done this all before.  He wrote this first as a short story, "The Kugelmass Episode", published in The New Yorker in 1977.  And he's done variations of it in at least 3 of his films mentioned earlier.  It's a lovely idea, but tired.  Midnight in Paris becomes an exercise in identifying the personalities - Oh, THAT's Zelda Fitzgerald!  Ooh, Salvador Dali - an admittedly cute turn by Adrian Brody, "I am DA-LI!"

Been there done that Woody.  A disappointment.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (That's the punctuation used on imdb, though it isn't on screen.)  is a nice romantic comedy-drama about the manning up of Steve Carrell after his wife of 25 years, Julianne Moore, dumps him.  He meets rakish ladies man, Ryan Gosling, in a bar.  Gosling takes him under his wing, teaches him everything he knows and Carrell begins to get laid eventually sleeping with a hilarious ex-alcoholic teacher played by Marissa Tomei.  Meanwhile, a sharp young lawyer, Emma Stone, captures Gosling's heart and brings his days as a rouee to a close.  It turns out Emma is Carrell's oldest daughter and all hell breaks loose the day she brings Gosling home to meet her parents.

This film has something rare in today's cinema:  an actual story populated by actual characters.  I may not have appreciated it so much except I've been so hungry for a story and a movie with a story gets major props from me.  There's one scene in the middle of the film when Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling spend the night in bed talking that is worth the price of admission.  Funny, humane, deliciously sexy without any kissing or sex and beautifully acted and directed.  Ryan Gosling has terrific screen presence evoking a post-modern Cary Grant - too cool for school and vulnerable when someone gets under his skin.  Carrell has played the everyman schlub so often that he's close to phoning it in, but since his character gets to actually grow, the transformation from passive to active male feels earned.  The rest of the casting is quite off-beat, especially with the kid actors who play Carrell's son and his babysitter who's infatuated with Carrell - lovely actors who the camera doesn't appear to like at first, but who blossom into their cameragenicness by the end.

I enjoyed this one and give it a thumbs up.
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