Tag Archives: films

Midnight in Paris (2011)

Director: Woody Allen

Cast: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marian Cotillard, Corey Stoll, Michael Sheen, Alison Pill, Tom Hiddleston, Kathy Bates, Adrian Brody, Léa Seydoux

Woody Allen & the Art of Impression

There are few things  in cinema as delightful as a good Woody Allen comedy. Happily, Midnight in Paris is a good Woody Allen comedy and ,as such, a delightful combination of dreamy lightness and romantic allure. Most of its script breezes by effortlessly, and it’s only when the film attempts satirical digs of cynicism that things fall a bit flat. For example, the entire relationship between Owen Wilson’s Gil and his fiancée Inez, played by Rachel McAdams. I bought this relationship in their scene together in Monet’s garden at Giverny, but once they actually started interacting with each other and with others, I couldn’t understand how they ever got together in the first place. Likewise, the repeated jokes of Gil’s politics and his would-be father-in-law’s Republican ethics also fall flat and feel tired. In fact, by design or not, all of the characters in the present day story are either completely forgettable, one-trick ponies (Michael Sheen and his deliciously wicked smile, for example), or stunt casting (Carla Bruni). Another thing that didn’t work for me is the film’s opening montage of Paris, its streets and corners. It recalls the opening of Manhattan (1979), but lacks the majesty, romance, wit, and drama of that opening. It feels touristy or superficial rather than displaying the intimate knowledge of a native resident.

But, these are quibbles, really, because the charm of the fantasy and its main character completely won me over. Perhaps the reason for this is the film is a kind of pastiche of Mr. Allen’s earlier work. Aside from the allusive Manhattan opening montage, this films share other similarities: both films’ protagonists are successful comedy writers (Isaac Davis a television writer and Gil Pender a Hollywood screenwriter) and, to my eyes, there is a resemblance between Mariel Hemingway’s Tracy in Manhattan and the character of Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux) in Midnight in Paris.  There are also pieces of Everyone Says I Love You (1996) — including, a reference to Mr. Allen’s character’s introduction in that film walking the streets of Paris with a baguette under his arm — and, most notably, The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985) that thread through Midnight in Paris. Gil Pender’s name is suspiciously close to the second Jeff Daniel’s character’s name in Purple Rose, Gil Shepherd. Both films draw the audience into the acceptance of the fantasy through sympathy with the protagonist and our desire to break the fourth wall and join our heroes and icons in a life away from the normal, and both films offer up the same message and conclusion, that life in the present, life in the real is not so much the correct choice, but the only choice. Just as Cecilia cannot join Tom Baxter on the silver screen, Gil cannot really join the Lost Generation or Adriana in the Belle Epoque. The difference is that Cecilia’s life really is miserable and is a much more sympathetic character: she lives in the Depression, a shitty job, and an abusive husband. Gil, on the other hand, is wealthy and successful, and his misery comes from the neglect of his dreams and emptiness of his life. Where we desire the best outcome for Cecilia because we genuinely feel pity for her, we desire the best for Gil because of his innocence, charm, and ability to drop his current life to pursue his dreams; it is an envious position to be in and that’s really our fantasy fulfilment.

Another aspect in which Midnight in Paris is similar to the writer-director’s previous  work, this time I’ll recall Everyone Says I Love You specifically, is the presence of the Woody Allen on-screen persona. Both these films exhibit two of the best Woody personae, but in very different ways. Edward Norton’s performance as Holden Spence in Everyone Says I Love You is much more of an impersonation of that persona, almost as if Mr. Allen was directing his younger self once again. After watching the PBS American Masters documentary on Mr. Allen, it is made evident that he spends very little time working with the actors trying to explicitly get what he wants from them. It’s plausible that so many of the performers in Mr. Allen’s films receive acting accolades is because the director trusts the actor to do his or her job. If this has been a consistent trait throughout Mr. Allen’s directing career then Mr. Norton’s performance comes from his own decisions to embody the ticks and traits of Woody. Owen Wilson’s performance decision makes the Woody persona a much subtler presence; it’s more impression than impersonation in that it suggests Woody rather than shows him. This allows the Owen Wilson screen persona to shine through and fill out the character of Gil Pender with the winsomeness that has permeated probably all of Mr. Wilson’s roles — my favourites being Dignan in Bottle Rocket (1996), Eli Cash in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), and Hansel in Zoolander (2001). I’m not suggesting that Mr. Wilson’s performance is better than Mr. Norton’s. The latter is probably harder to do well (just watch Kenneth Branagh try it in 1998’s Celebrity), but I do think that Owen Wilson’s performance lifts Midnight in Paris. He endows Gil Pender with anti-gravity so that the audience can float along and away much like Goldie Hawn dancing by the Seine near the end of Everyone Says I Love You.

I’m sorry if I again sound down on this movie by continually comparing it to Mr. Allen’s previous works. I’m not. I really, really like Midnight in Paris. Woody Allen recalling the artistic past of the early 20th century by way of his own past is a cab ride I’ll gladly take for 90 minutes once or twice and probably more than twice. I don’t think Midnight in Paris is a great film, but it is a very good one and a very sweet and earnest one. If it’s your introduction to Mr. Allen’s work and you enjoyed it, then seek out its tonal soul-mates Everyone Says I Love You and The Purple Rose of Cairo (which is the best of these films and one of Mr. Allen’s finest efforts). And, if you enjoy those, go forth and indulge in the wonder of as many of his films, the light and the dark,  as possible.


Serpico (1973)

Director: Sidney Lumet

Cast: Al Pacino

The other night, not really craving anything to view and perusing the titles in my collection, I happened upon Serpico. I can’t remember the last time I watched it, but I do remember my first viewing of it. I must have been about 21 or 22 years old and had really just discovered the cinema of the American New Wave (the New Hollywood), my best friend Kevin and I would sit in his living room until the wee small hours drinking Coke with our eyes popping out as movies like Head (1968), Easy Rider (1969), Five Easy Pieces (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and  Serpico (to name only a few) pulsated, twitched, and ran ragged across the television screen. I remember thinking that Serpico certainly had a great performance, but seemed a much lesser film than Dog Day Afternoon and many others of that time. However, after this recent viewing I will revise that assessment. Serpico is a rich and fascinating film in which context, cinematic language, and craft work together more than being a film that is held up and held together by the performance of its lead actor.

That being said, though, let me start with Mr. Pacino. Simply, he’s great. The ubiquity of his greatness in the 1970s perhaps made audiences take him for granted, but I believe very few actors could have held the screen and the character of Frank Serpico to keep me with the feeling of being an objective observer and personally invested in this character’s well-being. Here, Mr. Pacino is not alone in his performance; the cinematic language employed by Mr. Lumet helps establish how we should feel about and view this man who inhabits the screen for almost every second of the film. The differing use of close-up is particularly memorable. Mr. Lumet uses wide angle lenses to give a false sense of size to the foreground as well as deep focus to fill out the frame. Figures attempting to pressure or subvert Serpico are notably placed in the foreground while Frank remains in medium shot.

This has the effect of making the antagonistic element seem unnaturally large and uncomfortably close. However, when Paco is shot in close-up, his face fills the screen and the effect is one of intimacy and familiarity, not least because he has a nice face, friendly eyes and is so different to everyone else in the film. Contasting this, however, is the first shot of the movie, which is a close-up of Serpico, bloody and gasping in the back of a police cruiser. He’s dying, could die at any moment, and Mr. Pacino has to convey who this man is and why we should care about him immediately and with no thought or question. The performance succeeds in relating his fear, his paranoia, and his hope without words and without gesture; it is an example of film acting at its finest.

Another aspect of the portrayal of Serpico is his placement in the environment. Despite the use of wide-angle lenses and the revolutionary editing techniques of Dede Allen*, Serpico maintains the signature gritty, syncopated realism of 1970s American cinema and the character is placed both within and against this realism. Most of the narrative action of the film takes place in extended flashback. The world is we see it, though shot with this neo American realism, is highly subjective and Frank is clearly depicted as a kind of hero/super cop. The first image of Serpico we see in flashback is a good boy in blue, a model police academy graduate, fresh-faced, clean, innocent, but he is also just a face in the crowd, one amidst many, as the camera pulls back to reveal all the cadets sitting at the graduation ceremony. This image is reflected in the last shot of the film, with a much different-looking Paco sitting with his sheep dog against another dark background. Again, the camera pulls out to reveal the enormous liner that will take Serpico away from New York, away from America. He is presented not as a face in the crowd, but as a man isolated against the enormity of the machinery and infrastructure that would carry him, and us in society, wherever it will. This perhaps the central idea of Mr. Lumet’s film. There is a constant struggle between the individual and whatever society he is part of.

Serpico is clearly very different from his fellow police officers. His gift for blending in on the streets and with his hippie/youth culture friends (as signified by his many excellent hats and fabulous facial hair) is a visual clue to this struggle between individual and society, being both distinguishable and indistinguishable, and the tension of if you’re not one of us then you are against us. In the film, this is exhibited by the corrupt cops, by his friends when they find out he is a cop, and then by Frank’s paranoia; in society, this was prevalent in the remnants of hippie culture vs. preppy culture, in race relations, in aspects of the Vietnam War, and in domestic American politics and government (it was the Nixon years, after all). It is also still with us. If our time is as divisive and edgy as the late 1960s and the 1970s, then this film is every bit as relevant as it was to its contemporary audience.

Definitely seek out Serpico and any of the work of Sidney Lumet, Al Pacino, and Dede Allen. I’m glad my mood took me to re-watch this film, and I may just follow it up with its companion piece, Dog Day Afternoon.


*For more on Dede Allen, arguably the greatest editor in American film take a look at these screen credits: The Hustler (1961), Bonnie & Clyde (1967), Little Big Man (1970), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Reds (1981), The Breakfast Club (1985). Also, read a short piece from NPR and this essay: “Considering Dede Allen: The Editor as Revolutionary”.

2012: Films I’m Looking Forward To

This is a revision of a list I posted on FB a couple of weeks ago. I’ve upped the list from 10 to 15 movies and included a little bit more information about each one. Aside from the pointy end of the list, they are in a fairly loose order.

Honourable Mentions:

Two films from Terrence Malick that could show up any time between 2012 and 2032.

Voyage of Time 

Untitled Terrence Malick Project (w/ Rachel McAdams, Ben Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Javier Bardem, Rachel Weisz, Michael Sheen)








Two films in one year from Mr. Malick? Yeah, I’m skeptical also. Considering it took about four years for Malick to edit Days of Heaven (1978), I’m not holding my breath for either one of these films. Voyage of Time is a documentary featuring narration by Brad Pitt and Emma Thompson. Release date: TBD

13. The Avengers

Director: Joss Whedon

Cast: Roberty Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston











It’s not completely true that I’m anticipating this with the joy of watching the movie; it’s closer to the truth to say I’m looking forward to this thing being over. I’ve already committed time and money to the franchise and I feel obliged to see its culmination. That being said, I am looking forward to seeing Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk.

12. The Amazing Spider-man

Director: Mark Webb

Cast: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans

I was a big admirer of Marvel’s Ultimate Spider-man, so I’m hoping this reboot of the film series is in line with the tone of those comics; however, the trailer doesn’t suggest my hope will be satisfied. Still, Andrew Garfield has been terrific in everything I’ve seen him in so far: Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (2009), Never Let Me Go (2010), and The Social Network (2010), and I heart Emma Stone.

11. Magic Mike

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Channing Tatum

1o. Haywire

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Cast: Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas

Unlike Mr. Malick, I can easily believe there will be two films from another Cinema & favourite director, Steven Soderbergh. Haywire has just been released in North America and Magic Mike should arrive this summer. An action movie and a male stripper comedy from a masterful filmmaker who never seems to repeat himself. With Mr. Soderbergh, you’re guaranteed to get a movie of the finest craftsmanship, and this year offerings each promise to have a combination of experimentation and mainstream aesthetic.

9. Looper

Director: Rian Johnson

Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt

It’s sci-fi. It’s time travel. It’s JGL. And, most importantly, it’s Rian Johnson, the writer-director behind Brick(2005) and the seemingly under-appreciated The Brothers Bloom (2008).

8. Moonrise Kingdom

Director: Wes Anderson

Cast: Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Jason Schwartzman

With each new film, I think Wes Andersson is going to disappoint me, but he never does. I’ve thought about covered Mr. Anderson in one of my classes as an exercise in identifying an auteur. I’m not completely convinced if he is, but at the very least, Mr. Anderson is one hell of a stylist and I love the world he projects onto the screen: wide angle anamorphic photography, symmetrical composition, slow-motion tracking shots, Futura font, Brit rock soundtrack treats. The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) was a gem, so how can any fan not look forward to the new film?

7. Brave

Director: Mark Andrews

Voice Cast: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd

Last year was not a great one for animation and certainly not a great one for Pixar with the release of their first cinematic failure Cars 2. Brave, however, should be a return to form, and it’s the first time I’m really looking forward to a Pixar movie (I don’t know why I haven’t gotten excited about them in the past). Also, with all those Scottish accents, it’s going to be an aural feast as well as a slight Trainspotting reunion with Kelly Macdonald and Kevin McKidd. I’m going to love taking Euen to see this.

6. Prometheus

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast:  Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Wilson, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce

With Alien( 1979) and Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott provided two of the best , most influential, and most evocative science fiction films ever made; Prometheus is his return to that genre. However, both those films were a long time ago and Scott hasn’t knocked my socks off since the extended cut of Kingdom of Heaven (2005). But even with those misgivings, a non-Alien Alien prequel that promises to solve the mystery of the Space Jockey and it’s got Fassbender!

5. Gravity

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Cast: George Clooney, Sandra Bullock

Alfonso Cuarón hasn’t directed a feature film since 2006’s excellent Children of Men, but he’s back late this year with the third science fiction movie to make my list (not counting super-hero movies). Mr. Cuarón films are technically experimental and expressive, but also he also creates tone with great editing and distinctive, effective use of colour palette (Great Expectations – 1998 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban – 2004). Gravity has long been in development and has had a revloving door of female leads cast before Sandra Bullock was settled upon. I’m no fan of Ms. Bullock, but she is not without presence. To counter this misgiving is the presence of Mr. Clooney who I like as an actor and a movie star.

4. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Director: Peter Jackson

Cast: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis

A return to Middle-Earth. I don’t really need to say much more. The trailer really had me. Martin Freeman looks perfectly cast as Bilbo and I trust Mr. Jackson and co. to handle the transition of The Hobbit into their LotR universe without too much fuss. Plus, singing Dwarves!!!!

3. Django Unchained

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Christoph Waltz, Michael Kenneth Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I don’t know a sing film directed by Mr. Tarantino that has not gotten better with subsequent viewings. I haven’t always been a huge fan, but I have always been interested, and this director’s love of cinema (particularly pop cinema) is well-known. With dialogue, violence, genre, music, camera, and casting, Mr. Tarantino plays right into my wheelhouse. I’ll be fighting to keep my expectations and anticipation in check all the way to December; it’s going to be a long year.

2. The Dark Knight Rises

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Liam Neeson

It’s a rather obvious choice right near the end of my list, but, who cares. The Dark Knight (2008) was a terrifically satisfying film on many levels and in many ways, and Mr. Nolan continues to be a favourite director. If I have one overwhelming apprehension about this movie, it’s in his casting of the female lead. Mr. Nolan doesn’t have a good record of either creating memorable or casting female characters. Some of his films come perilously close to being sabotaged by this weakness, such as Batman Begin (2006), The Prestige (2006), and Inception (2010). Anne Hathaway has turned in nice performances in the past, but none of her recent work has been memorable at all. If a lot of the movie relies on the Catwowan character and her relationship with Batman/Bruce Wayne, then things could easily enter Katie Holmes territory. To counter this apprehension, though, is the enormous presence of Tom Hardy.

1. Damsels in Distress

Director: Whit Stillman

Cast: Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton

Here’s the film I am absolutely most looking forward to in 2012. It’s been 13 years since the last Whit Stillman picture, and I was beginning to fear that he was gone forever. My fears have been allayed. Thank goodness! Greta Gerwig is an indie darling and I recently saw Analeigh Tipton for the first time in Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) and thought she was one of the best things about that movie. The only sadness I feel about the release of Damsels in Distress is that Chris Eigeman isn’t in it.

Who is Whit Stillman? Metropolitan (1989). Barcelona (1994). The Last Days of Disco (1998). Clever, endearing, smart, talkie little movies that nobody ever goes to see.


Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011)

Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa

Main Cast: Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Juilanne Moore

The Camera & Ryan Gosling

I had heard of Ryan Gosling, of course (both of us being good southern Ontario boys), though until Drive (2011) I hadn’t actually seen him in anything. But since that film I have now seen him in two other films, both from last year: The Ides of March and Crazy, Stupid, Love. I don’t think he’s all that good in The Ides of March, but his performance in Crazy, Stupid, Love is similar to his, for me, quite fabulous turn in Drive. In both films he is very still and lets his demeanour and sense of cool fill the screen. I think the best example of this is his character Jacob’s date with (the totally fabulous) Emma Stone’s Hanna. Ms. Stone is the performer in the seen how gets to be full of expression and emotions (nervousness, desire, ridiculousness, attractiveness, humour, criticism) and she has, and the audience, has great fun bouncing this expressions of the statuesque farm and form of Mr. Gosling. I have no reservations in stating that the man is objectively beautiful and the camera loves him. As their date progresses to the bedroom, the camera lingers on his body, his lines, his physicality. In a film full of a truly fantastical continuum of beautiful women, it is the male form that the directors choose to exploit for aesthetic, performance, and narrative pleasure.

I found Crazy, Stupid, Love to be funny, well-cast, slightly-inane, and with a refreshing lack of cynicism. Other thing worth noting about the film is Analeigh Tipton (who will feature in one of my most anticipated films of 2012, Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress) as Jessica the babysitter; she’s really great while the two kid actors are not so great.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) ~ Part One

Director: David Fincher

Main cast: Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright

I went to see The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo last Thursday morning (January 12th) with my wife at Lotte Cinema here in Wonju. We weren’t quite the only people in the theatre, which isn’t surprising for a weekday morning matinée, and I prefer to have as few strangers around as possible when watching a movie.  I’m a bit of a fan of David Fincher’s movies; The Social Network (2010) was my favourite film of last year and his 2011 offering was one of my most anticipated film’s of 2011. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a bad movie, and I do recommend seeing it. That being said, I didn’t like it tremendously, and this reflection is likely to highlight the negatives more than the positives because it’s the negatives that have stayed with me since viewing the film.

The lights dimmed, I cleaned my glasses, and the movie started, and I had problems with it almost immediately. The sound mix in the opening scenes (before and after the title sequence) seemed terrible. Perhaps this was a problem with the theatre’s audio system, but I didn’t notice any problems for the rest of the film. Perhaps it took me a while to become accustomed to the accents of mostly non-Swedish actors sounding Scandinavian or perhaps it was just my brain trying to figure out what was going on. The opening of a mystery should pose a lot of questions, but this film’s opening was disjointed and baffling to me. The scenes immediately before and after the title sequence are thermally cool and slow. That’s fine, but in-between is an eye-catching, pulsating title sequence that is, to my mind, at odds with the tone of the film so far and the film to come. Done in shades of black and punctuated by oily malevolence and a rousing cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song”, the title sequence plays both as homage to and perversion of James Bond. Audio references to Vikings and  lands of ice and snow aside,  it also sets up fetishistic and pace expectations that are not part of the film at all. The song works perfectly well in this trailer, but not in the film itself. One trailer for The Social Network made brilliant use of a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep”, but that song was nowhere to be found in the finished film; Fincher should have followed the same practice here. Fincher is well-known for captivating title sequences (Panic Room, Fight Club, and most notably, Se7en), and while the title sequence is memorable and beautiful, it doesn’t have the level of effectiveness as, for example, the muted and tonally relevant title sequence from the aforementioned  The Social Network.

This leads me to another aspect of the film that didn’t sit well: comparison to Fincher’s other work. Now, I believe that every film should be looked at on its own, but I like directors and am a fan of Fincher’s previous work. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I don’t think Fincher has added anything new to content he has already excellently covered in Se7en and Zodiac. It could be that the story of Stieg Larsson’s novel owes a lot to the grisly, religiously themed serial murders depicted in Se7en, but that only adds to the lack of necessity for Fincher, in particular, to make this film. Zodiac is a film of completely different tone, pacing, and conclusion. Both Se7en and Zodiac frustrate the viewer by the end in completely different and completely effective, purposeful ways. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo feels like an imitation. I think my biggest problem here could be with the source material and with Fincher’s inability to rise above it.

The mystery central to the plot of the film was not very compelling. One problem was the casting of Stellan Skarsgard; it was a dead give-away as to who the killer was. And, the mystery of Harriet was either tipped off too easily or I was too keyed in to the conventions of this kind of plot. Either way, I was not invested in the crime or the investigation. Credit here, though, to Fincher for keeping me interested with his pacing of the film and his camerawork. The film is never boring and it is beautiful in composition.

Like I stated before, I do think people should seek out this film. It is well-crafted, well-shot, and well –performed; it is thematically interesting and doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator. It is a grown up film for grown-ups and the type of movie that should be supported. Even if it is perhaps an unnecessary film from Fincher, a weak Fincher movie is still better than most Hollywood fare.

I have not, so far, talked about the most interesting aspects of the film: Lisbeth Salander and the depiction of sexual violence. I will cover these topics in an upcoming post.