365cinema

365 films, 365 days, a year of cinema.

Swingers July 28, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 1:53 am

 

Day 19

 

There was a point about twenty minutes into Swingers when I thought that maybe the film had gotten a little too dated.  The two main characters Mike and Trent, Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn, had just picked up two woman in Vegas, but there was a noticeable lack of excitement.  This certainly wasn’t a Hangover Vegas trip and the only thing that needed to be kept there was Mike’s terrible game with the females.  Couple that with the fact that there had already been several mentions to calling cards, answering machines, among other 90’s devices, and I was starting to sense maybe Swingers didn’t have the punch I had heard about.  Swingers had been a big cult hit when it came out, helping usher in the jazz age revival that blew up in the late 1990s, and I had heard great things from smart people, but thirty or so minutes in my attention was wavering.  However, soon after pausing the film and debating making a switch to a more exciting film (it was 2 AM after all), the scene shifted to a shot of Mike and Trent sitting in their car next to the highway.  It’s a very simple scene of simply Trent and Mike talking, but it was the first time where the film cuts through the aesthetic and dialogue style and gives some heart (this is despite the fact that the scene has the first utterance of the famous line, “You’re so money and you don’t even know it.”)  After that scene, I was hooked and I didn’t think twice again about pausing the film.

Swingers became a cult film because of its accurate portrayal of the mid-nineties 1990s club scene, and its unique dialogue and characters.  However, the film holds up because it tells a simple universal story in an interesting.  Swingers is about loss, specifically Mike’s break-up with his long term girlfriend, and the friends beside him trying to make him happy again.  The era may have changed, but the themes and events are the same.  Everyone has friends like “Double Down” Trent, the one trying to take your mind off the  break-up with alcohol and fun, and Rob (Ron Livingston), the one who always has the right thing to say, and that universality makes Swingers much more than a stylistic comedy.  The film doesn’t provide any significant truths about getting over loss, but it accurately portrays the peaks and valleys of recovery and friendship that everyone experiences in the their life.  For instance, take a look at this scene where Mike tries to contact a girl he just met that night in a bar.

 

 

Nowadays, people would probably just text the person instead of leaving voice messages, but the idea is the same.  Favreau is able to perfectly portray the awkwardness, anxiety, and self doubt that lingers when someone breaks your heart.  He is an absolute train wreck, but that doesn’t make the scene any more fun to watch.

However, it would be a shame to discuss Swingers without mentioning the overwhelming sense of cool it exudes.  Vince Vaughn drops awesome one liner after one liner, and the film has some excellent scenes.  There isn’t much action, but the smallest things are amplified.  Whether it is game of NHL 94 on the Sega Genesis, or an homage to Goodfellas, Swingers overcomes it slow pacing and plot.  Still, the problem with movies based on an aesthetic is that they can be exclusionary.  I was only 8 years old in 1996, and while I remember the jazz resurgence (I owned a Mighty Mighty Bosstones CD), my connection to the mid-90s drinking lifestyle is tenuous at best.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy that aesthetic, but for people with no emotional connection to the time period, Swingers could have have been nothing more than some good one-liners and a few great performances.  That is why it made it all the better that Swingers had a unique style and a strong emotional center.  It speaks a lot about a certain time and place in history, but its characters reminded me of tons of people I know and situations I’ve been in, and that is the main reason why Swingers has become a cult classic.

 

Up Next:  I take a figurative trip back to the North Shore of Massachusetts by watching the 2010 film The Fighter.

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Punch Drunk Love July 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 4:51 am

 

Day 18

 

It’s always a bit jarring to see famous comedic actors play serious roles.  It’s not their fault, but their prior on screen personas have the potential to cheapen the value of their real acting work.  After all, once you’ve seen Little Nicky, it is tough to imagine Adam Sandler adding any real gravitas to a scene.  Still, just like any other film experiment, sometimes it works (Jim Carrey in Eternal Sunshine and The Truman Show) and sometimes it doesn’t (Jim Carrey in The Number 23).  In my opinion the key is not to try and reinvent the comedic actor in question,  but to take his acting style and mold it to a dramatic role.  We consider comedic actors to be oddballs anyway, so it’s not too much of a stretch to take the intricacies we find funny and warp them so that they are fit for a serious role.

For instance, Adam Sandler’s pre-Punch Drunk Love roles were mainly about his odd obsessions and the over-the-top way he would keep them going.  Whether it was singing at weddings, golf, or just goofing off, Sandler thrived on playing the big baby type who is forced kicking and screaming to the real world.  In his comedies he at least has some social tact, although I would never call him smooth, but his overly extroverted personality wins the hearts of the audience and helps us overcome his shortcomings.  Punch Drunk Love takes this typical Sandler personality trait, and throws in one major wrench.  What if instead he was a very introverted person with the same awkward personality traits?  I’m not sure if Punch Drunk Love fully answers that question, but it is a interesting and quirky movie.  In fact, after watching the film Sandler’s performance was one of the last things on my mind.  He played the role very well, and was sufficiently awkward, angry, and oddly compassionate (almost violently compassionate), but overall the film’s direction and score was far more interesting.

The director, Paul Thomas Anderson, is considered one of the most talented young directors in Hollywood, and each of his four major films have garnered excellent reviews.  Punch Drunk Love is actually the first of his films I’ve seen all the way through (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood, and Magnolia will all be featured later in the year), but it is immediately clear that he has some serious skills behind the camera.  Most directors keep their camera fairly steady and use quick cuts and simple techniques when making modern films.  This is because the Hollywood dictates that films should be as realistic as possible, and that the camera and editing should not be evident so as to remind the viewer that they are watching a movie.  Your first thought may be that cutting would be counter intuitive to that idea since your eyes don’t perform cuts, but take a second and move your head quickly from one side of the room to the other.  The action is so quick that your brain doesn’t process the images in the middle.  In reality you are moving from one frame of a vision to another, just like a cut.  That was a small aside, but it shows that every decision normally made by filmmakers is to help maintain reality and continuity.

Anderson on the other hand constantly uses a mobile camera often combining multiple following shots into a long sequence.  This type of filmmaking is dangerous because it makes the camera more evident to the viewer,  but when done right it creates a far more life-like and exciting feel.  Long takes take much better advantage of space make sets more lifelike, and the action often matches natural walking or sight motions that appeal to the viewer.  The use of a mobile camera is often associated with “art” films,  but in reality I love it because I think it is far more efficient way to allow the viewer into the film world.  Punch Drunk Love does not have many sets and the pacing is slow, but the mobile camera makes you familiar with all the nooks and crannies of the respective sets.  After all the best films aren’t just supposed to immerse you in the emotional aspect of the film, but into the mis-en-scene (sets, props, costumes, actors, basically everything present in the film world) as well.  In my opinion Punch Drunk Love was successful in that regard and that made me a lot more forgiving for the sometimes scatter-shot plot and limited/oddly timed emotional development.  Although, those traits mirror Sandlers character’s personality so I suppose they are intentional.

Punch Drunk Love also feature some excellent from composer Jon Brion (Eternal Sunshine, I Heart Huckabees).  He is a master of using non-traditional instruments and synthesizers to create off-putting yet beautiful scores.  In this film he utilizes the sounds of the harpsichord, but stays away from pretty melodies and instead uses atonal compositions to echo the uncertainty and awkwardness of the main characters.  My limited knowledge of music keeps from effectively describing in the score in detail, but I will say that it does an excellent job enhancing the mood of the film.

Punch Drunk Love may be remembered as Adam Sandler’s foray into more serious fare, but it was so much than that.  Honestly the film is very odd and its story strays far from mainstream, but it is well crafted both visually and aurally and that helps overcome any deficiencies it has.

 

Up Next: I analyze the film that made stars out of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau, the 1996 comedy Swingers.

 

Five Graves to Cairo July 22, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 1:53 am

 

Day 17

 

From the first frame it is evident that Five Graves to Cairo is going to be  much, much different film than The Major and the Minor.  Gone are the sweet charms of Ginger Rogers, instead replaced with tanks, death, desert, and one rundown hotel.  However, the far more serious tone of the film does not mean an uptick in quality.  Five Graves to Cairo is an alright film, but there’s nothing about it that makes it memorable.  So I dug deep to see what if anything was wrong with the film, or if perhaps I was missing something.  My first thought was that maybe it was just due to issues with his partnership with co-screenwriter Charles Brackett.  The split for a bit after the film when Wilder did Double Indemnity, but I don’t think that was an issue because they paired back together for the critical hits The Lost Weekend and Sunset Blvd.  Instead perhaps it was the fact that Cary Grant turned down the lead role because he didn’t want to spend so much time shooting in the desert.  However, Grant refused several Wilder roles despite their friendship, and while he could’ve added a little bit more charm to the lead role, I doubt his involvement would’ve made the film much better.

I like the best way to analyze this film is to put it in context.  It was released in May of 1943, a full year before the US would start their major operations in the European theater.  However, at this time the war effort was in full force and the film industry was not exempt for helping.  Five Graves to Cairo was one of a large number of war films released that year, and due to the US late involvement there wasn’t the material to make them all about US military operations.  In fact, despite being an American film, Five Graves to Cairo tells the story of a British officer and a French housekeeper’s attempts to extract military information from Erwin Rommel.  These films were still inspected by military censors and were subjected to edits to make them more beneficial to the war effort.  This means that most of them ended up being closer to Allied propaganda than actual war films, and Five Graves to Cairo is no different.  It actually doesn’t cast the Germans in a poor light, especially Rommel although he was always well respected by the Allies, but the ending is one long propaganda monologue which takes any actual emotion of it. At the time, it may have had more impact, but outside of the actual context the film just does not hold up.  Yet, that is true of most art that is made during major moments in history.  For every Casablanca or The Hurt Locker there is a Mission to Moscow or The Kingdom.  War is a difficult subject and it requires a careful touch to make a great film about it.  This is made a lot easier when history has put conflicts in their correct place, although that isn’t to say that films like Five Graves to Cairo can’t be excellent or have redeeming qualities.

The film continues developing Wilder’s use of the chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark)  technique that is a staple of film noir.  Wilder plays around with it a lot more in this film, and once again he has a knack for making action sequences far more suspenseful than the could be.  The blocking of the action sequences in the film is fairly awkward, but Wilder’s use of shadows and angles helps make up for the mediocre stunt work.  The film also does a decent job of mixing in humor with more serious situations.  The film isn’t funny in a traditional sense, but Wilder is able to break the tension with some amusing set pieces and small jokes.  Erich von Stroheim, the actor who plays Rommel, also puts in a great performance, and plays Rommel as an interesting mix of hubris, humility, compassion, and cruelty.  He far outshines the other performances and helps keep Five Graves to Cairo from falling apart in the middle.  Still Wilder’s second feature film was a mild disappointment even after taking into account its WWII context.  Although in a career with 27 feature films there is bound to be one or two duds amongst the gems.  However, do not despair because this film is a precursor to a run that of critically acclaimed films that rival any other director out there.

 

Next Up: In our look at Billy Wilder, the next film up is the 1944 film noir classic Double Indemnity.  In the schedule of the regular blog the next film is P.T Anderson’s dark comedy Punch Drunk Love.

 

 

Get Low

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 12:37 am

 

Day 16

 

Modern communities are kind of a funny thing.  It used to be that back in the day that people formed communities based on commonalities, most of the time around religion, but also various other types of shared value systems.  However, now that their are no more frontiers left to venture to (well except maybe for the bottoms of the ocean but obviously that presents some serious logistical concerns) we now choose our place of living almost always without taking the people into consideration.  Instead we take a look at statistics about housing values, strength of schools, crime rates and while these are based on the people who live there, they don’t actually tell us anything about who our future neighbors and townsfolk will be.  Still, everyone in a community has a story to tell, and like it or not we are all a part of ,or witness to the stories of the residents of our community.  Get Low is a movie about a man, Felix Bush, his community, and the need to tell his own story.

The film is based on the true story of Felix Bush, a hermit in 1930s Tennessee who decided to throw himself a funeral party before he even died.  While the real life Bush appeared to be a well liked man, the Bush of the film is a mean, independent, and stubborn man who has lived alone for the last forty years of his life.  He is the stereotypical scary reclusive old man, except instead of yelling at kids who enter his property, he pulls a gun on them.  This all changes when he decides to hold a funeral party with everyone invited who has a story to tell about him.  He enlists the local funeral home, run by Bill Murray and Lucas Black, to help him with the logistics, and Bush even decides to raffle off his property to drive up attendance.   This concept seems ripe for lots of humor, but fortunately the film resists the urge to become a generic period heartfelt comedy and instead takes a hard look at Bush, his acquaintances from his past, and the community he is a part of.  These interactions paint a vivid picture of the time period and the community, and throughout the film we get an accurate look at the real story of Bush, both from his mouth and from those who know him best.  The funeral party turns out to be nothing like its name, and instead is Bush’s grand moment of catharsis, but this actually makes the movie much more enjoyable.

Get Low also succeeds because its atmosphere works extremely well in keeping with the themes of the film.  Color is an extremely important thing in film (you will hear me harp about it a lot), and Get Low is full of rich grays, browns, and blacks.  It makes the film seem drab at times, but it also heightens the occasional swatches of color the film throws at you.  The film is all about the how people are perceived, and this contrast between the plain browns, blacks, grays, and the occasional bursts of color help echo the idea that discovery is a slow process.  We wade through all of the filler of life, living day to day hoping for those moments when you really learn something about yourself or someone else.  Those bursts of color that are able to escape the grays and browns of life.  Get Low is full of these moments, and in the end that makes it all the more rewarding experience.  It effectively tells the story of one man, and the community around him,  but it avoids cliches, normal movie tropes, and being overly sentimental.  All in all it is an excellent look at what we do to make peace with our friends, family, and most of all ourselves, and what better way to do that than to throw a party.

 

Up Next: Billy Wilder’s second feature, the WWII flick Five Graves to Cairo

 

 

Reservoir Dogs July 19, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 10:08 pm

 

Day 15

 

When most people think about Reservoir Dogs, the debut feature of acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino, the word that comes to mind is style.  Whether it’s the color based character names, the sleek black suits, or the famous slow-motion walking shot depicted in the picture above, Reservoir Dogs is full of many of the directorial trademarks Tarantino has become known for.  However, to think of this film only in that way would be selling it very short.  Reservoir Dogs has plenty of substance, and Tarantino gets the most out of all aspects of the film.  The plot is simple enough (a heist goes wrong and the survivors try to sniff out the rat), and the film only really has three or four major settings, but Tarantino’s debut is a success because he made brilliant decisions in pre-production, especially when casting the film.

Pre-production is an often overlooked aspect of filmmaking, but it might be the most important (especially for an inexperienced director).  Successful casting, storyboarding, and location shooting take a lot of pressure off of the director when it comes time to film, and with Reservoir Dogs Tarantino knew his limitations and developed the film to minimize their impact.  The majority of the film takes place in a small empty warehouse, which is a perfect place to shoot on a budget.  Not only is it a cheap place to film, but the big open spaces allow for a lot of variety in terms of shot type and length.  Tarantino moves the camera all over the warehouse, shooting characters from different spots and allowing them to inhabit the space.  Tarantino doesn’t use a lot of close-ups in the film, which allows the actors to use the space around them.  This gives the film more of a life-like feel, and ultimately probably allowed him to use longer, more fluid takes, which can save both time and money.

Yet, the best part of Reservoir Dogs has to be the expert casting done by Tarantino.  Every character is a perfect fit, and both Michael Madsen and Tim Roth deliver amazing performances that stuck with me days after watching the film.  Madsen plays Mr. Blonde, the trigger-happy psycho of the bunch who blows up the heist after he starts shooting hostages.  Mr. Blonde is sadistic, but he is also cool and charming.  He’s the calmest guy in the room, but also the most dangerous because he’s the only one I believed would kill everyone else without hesitation.  However, Madsen really shines during the famous torture sequence set to Steeler’s Wheel’s classic “Stuck in the Middle With You”.  The scene is both brutally violent and oddly captivating.  Mr. Blonde doesn’t have any real reason to torture the cop except for the fact that he sincerely enjoys it.  Madsen prances around like a small child singing his favorite song, except instead of a microphone, he sings into a detached human ear.  The scene is extremely realistic, which makes it difficult to watch, but Mr. Blonde is so captivating I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen.  It’s honestly almost a shame when he is shot down by Mr. Orange right before burning the police hostage alive.  I was relived because the graphic violence was over, but the hypnotic spell of Madsen’s torture still captivated me.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Tim Roth’s intense emotional portrayal of Mr. Orange.  It is a difficult role mainly because Roth’s character is shot in the gut in the first ten minutes of the film.  After that he drifts in and out of consciousness, but every time he is awake, Roth adds some much needed emotional weight to the film.  Of the bunch, he has the least gangster personality, and he alternates between innocent pleas for help and coming to grips with possible death.  The nature of the crime is meant to be completely impersonal, but Roth’s powerful performance helps  break down the walls between the criminals and give the failed heist added weight.  There was also the potential that Roth’s performance could have grown stale if his suffering was overused, but both Roth and Tarantino know when to cut back.  It’s heartbreaking to watch Mr. Orange struggle in pain, but his fluctuations of emotion feel extremely real, and while ther rest of the criminals bicker over diamonds, Mr. Orange becomes the emotional heart of the movie.  It’s hard to describe without seeing the film, but Roth gives a dynamite performance full of passion and emotion.

Reservoir Dogs may be remembered for helping redefine the modern crime film, but it should also be remembered because its a solid film with excellent performances.  The violence will be a turn off for many, but underneath the blood and gunshots is an excellent character study of pressure situations.  The film has excellent pacing, it starts fast and ends strong and keeps you gripped to the screen throughout.  Tarantino may be regarded more nowadays for his unique style, but as Reservoir Dogs shows, without a great story it would mean nothing.  So sit back and take a look at Tim Roth’s excellent but agonizing take on Mr. Orange.  I shall warn you though, the clip is definitely not for the faint of heart.

 

 

Up Next: I get an invite to the most anticipated funeral party of the year, in the form of the 2009 film Get Low.

 

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Filed under: Uncategorized — welch742 @ 9:10 am

 

Day 14

 

Note:  Shortly after the 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop premiered, many critics believed it to be a hoax concocted by one of the main participants, the street artist Banksy.  The film follows the journey of French immigrant Thierry Guetta from street artist cameraman to eventually becoming a successful street artist himself called Mr. Brainwash.  For the purpose of this post I will assume, as the producers have repeatedly stated, that this was a true documentary.  It’s tough to fully explain the reasoning without the reader having seen the film, but my take on Exit Through the Gift Shop is predicated on the fact that this is a real documentary.

If you can, take a moment and watch the introduction to Exit Through the Gift Shop.  Or if two minutes and eleven seconds is too much time to spare, you can just watch the first minute or so, although once you hear the first few notes of Richard Hawley’s “Tonight the Streets are Ours”, I assume you’ll just want to watch the whole thing.

 

 

This is a small sampling of the world of street art.  It may look like graffiti to the casual eye, but unlike graffiti, there is intention and purpose to every picture and placement involved in street art.  The biggest names in the business don’t just tag locations around the world, they also host art shows where they make millions of dollars.  For some art collectors owning pieces from Banksy or Shepard Fairey (the guy behind the Obama “Hope” image) is as much of a status symbol as owning pieces from artists like Warhol or Pollock.  However, while both Banksy and Fairey are major players in Exit Through the Gift Shop, the film mainly follows the story of French immigrant Thierry Guetta.

Guetta was born in France, but immigrated to Los Angeles and opened a successful clothing boutique.  While in the US he also developed the habit of carrying a video camera around with him and filming every waking second of his day.  This partially stemmed from his childhood trauma of not noticing his own mother’s sickness that led to her eventual death, but Guetta’s obsession with cameras goes much deeper than a trauma induced obsession to capture his whole life on tape.  In fact, Guetta never even labeled or re-watched any of the moments he captured.  To Guetta the process of filming was more important than the physical capture of these moments.  This is only speculation since I don’t actually know Guetta, but I think that for him the act of filming forced him to pay closer attention to everything going on around him.  This increased attention to detail meant that he would never miss out on the big picture moments of his life.  However, what started as a coping mechanism seems like it just turned into habit of passion.

While back in Paris visiting family, Guetta found out that his cousin was the famed street artist Invader (known for plastering space invaders in major cities), and thought he might be an interesting person to film.  This chance meeting changes Guetta’s life and kicks Exit Through the Gift Shop into high gear.  For the next nine or so years Guetta filmed every major street artist including both Shepard Fairey and Banksy as they went about posting their unique art all over the world.  Guetta was one of the few people who filmed street art, so his library of footage is one of the few primary sources showing almost every major street artist at work.  The footage is crude and often times poorly shot, but it also shows the rawness and danger that street art entails.  Most of the shots included in the film show the heights street artists will climb to find the perfect spot for their work.  Also since street art is illegal and eventually painted over, Guetta captured some of the most famous pieces and the reactions they elicited from the general public.  Guetta may have some screws loose, but he knows how to work the camera and the middle of Exit Through the Gift Shop is full of amazing handheld sequences showing art in its most pure form.

Exit Through the Gift Shop also has the benefit of doing an excellent job of capturing how art movements develop.  With the exception of Banksy, Guetta gets footage of some of the most well known street artists before they became famous.  In the case of Shepard Fairey, Guetta filmed him for nine years and has footage of him still trying to make a name for himself posting his “Obey” stickers all over Los Angeles to his extremely successful art shows.  The documentary also poses some interesting questions as to what constitutes art.  From Banksy’s painted elephant (you have to see it to believe it), to the use of photocopies, to the fleeting nature of their work, street art almost seems more like a lifestyle than an art movement.  This all culminates with Guetta’s transformation into Mr. Brainwash, who despite his monetary success, doesn’t actually draw or paint anything.  Guetta takes the ideas of all the artists he filmed and assembles a team of graphic designers, sculptors, and other artists to carry out his ideas.  Mr. Brainwash operates like a normal street artist, but takes out all of the heart and desire involved and leaves only the hype.

The documentary ends in an odd place for street art.  It is at the height of its popularity and has created celebrities out of all parties involved, but in the end only the somewhat oblivious Guetta seems happy.  Still even though Exit Through the Gift Shop poses more questions than it answers it is an excellent documentary.  It serves as a compelling character study about Guetta (as well as Fairey and Banksy), and it perfectly encapsulates how art movements evolve and change over time.  Guetta comes out as kind of a villain in the film, most of the legitimate street artists want nothing to do with him, but his intense passion and dedication to capturing a monumental amount of raw footage gives us a first hand look at art in the 21st century.

 

Up Next: Quentin Tarantino’s stylish debut feature Reservoir Dogs.

 

Midnight in Paris July 15, 2011

Filed under: In Theaters — welch742 @ 5:18 pm

 

Day 13

 

I’m almost ashamed to say this, but Midnight in Paris is the first Woody Allen movie I have ever seen.  I actually almost picked him for my Director study, but his recent track record made me weary of submitting myself to all his 47 films.  I can’t say anything about Match Point or Whatever Works as I haven’t seen them, but Midnight in Paris is a wonderful film that weaves past and present together to create a vivid picture of Parisian life.  The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter struggling to gain respectability as a novelist.  He takes a trip to Paris with his fiancee (Rachael McAdams) and her family in the hopes that the Paris mystique that helped Golden Age writers like Hemingway and Fitzgerald will rub off on him.  This process is helped along by a magical car that picks him up every night and transports back to 1920s Paris, where he rubs elbows with the likes of Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter and almost every other artist who was in Paris at the time.

New York may be Allen’s city of birth, but this film shows that Paris may now be his city of choice.  Midnight in Paris is beautifully shot, combining vibrant colors of daytime with the grays, blacks, and bright lights of Paris at night.  A lot of the credit goes to cinematographer Darius Khondji, but it is clear that Allen has a love affair with the city.  He includes shots of almost every notable landmark, and has a way of capturing the essence of the city in every street shot.  This is especially true of the Golden Age sequences, where the costumes and props perfectly echo the Sepia stained ballrooms and speakeasies where some of the best creative minds of the time partied and discussed their work.

Wilson is excellent as Gil, mixing his usual subtle charm with some of Allen’s trademark neurotic defeatism, and he blends well with the large cast of characters around him.  He also fits in well with the Parisian attitude of the film.  Wilson does not spout off random facts about Rodin or Versailles like the pedantic Paul (played by the always great Michael Sheen), but his love of Golden Twenties Paris is supremely genuine.  The film could’ve been bogged down by the almost endless name checks of famous painters/directors/writers, but Wilson’s childlike enthusiasm around them all keeps the past sequences fresh throughout.  It also helps that none of the actors overplay their historical figures.  I’m not the most familiar with the personalities of 1920s creative types, but everyone seemed to be played well and most importantly they were never a major distraction from the main storyline.

The story itself really deals with time, specifically people who feel out of touch with their own time.  Gil missed a chance to live in Paris once, and instead opted for a shallow life writing in Hollywood.  So it is understandable why he would be drawn to 1920s Paris, a place where the creative arts flourished and a place he believes can provide inspiration to turn his own life around.  However, as the film shows, this is not a localized problem.  It is natural to envy the past over the present because it is defined.  History has evaluated it and given it importance, but the past was somebody’s present so what was a golden age for us was merely life for them.  Instead it is important to realize that the influences of the past never leave the places we love, it is merely up to us to find them.

Midnight in Paris is a great change of pace from the typical summer fare.  Not only is it a beautiful, well acted film, but it also has an interesting concept with great execution.  The time travel sequences could have been very gimmicky, but instead they are done with a subtlety that makes them seem normal.  But most of all, Midnight in Paris really sells the feel of Paris.  All aspects of the film work together to make you feel like you are actually there with the characters, and that alone makes it a worthwhile watch.  On top of that, it’s funny, is paced well, and has a great story.  Essentially, it’s the perfect summer film if you actually want to use your brain when viewing.

 

Score: 9/10

 

Up Next: A look at the world of street art and the reclusive artist Banksy in the Oscar nominated documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.