Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Woody Allen’s latest comic confection follows Hollywood screenwriter turned would-be novelist Gil (an appealing Owen Wilson) as he and fiancĂ©e Inez (Rachel McAdams) soak up the Parisian atmosphere (as do we, thanks to gorgeous cinematography by Darius Khondji) during a pre-wedding trip.  Like the protagonist of his novel-in-progress, Gil romanticizes the past and waxes rhapsodic about the artistic community of 1920s Paris.  Inez, meanwhile, fixates on more pragmatic matters related to the impending marriage.  Late one night Gil becomes lost wandering the streets and, as the clock strikes midnight, obtains a ride from revelers in a vintage car.  They arrive at a party in full swing, and Gil discovers he has been whisked back in time by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) and his wife, Zelda (Alison Pill).  Soon he is hobnobbing with Ernest Hemingway (a very funny Corey Stoll), who expresses an interest in Gil’s novel.  But when he leaves the party to get the manuscript, Gil finds himself back in present day.  Each night Gil returns to the midnight spot, and each night the car returns him to his writer’s utopia.  There he meets illustrious figures from the day -- Salvador Dali (a manic Adrien Brody) and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), among others – and falls for a costume designer and sometime model named Adriana (Marion Cotillard).  Meanwhile the distance between Gil and Inez grows.  In this film writer/director Allen whimsically exposes our need to idealize the past at the expense of enjoying the present (a variation of a theme he pursued in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO).  But Allen himself also indulges.  The scenes set in the past are so bursting with passion and the performances so joyous, like Gil we long to return to them.  And Allen stacks the deck against the present.  McAdams has rarely been this unlikeable as the self-absorbed Inez, Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy bristle as her shallow, suspicious parents, and Michael Sheen perfectly plays the boorish know-it-all Paul, who acts as Paris tour guide to the engaged couple.  And while the film never reaches the heights of an ANNIE HALL or MANHATTAN, I would be a hypocrite indeed if I failed to admit that I savored its many pleasures.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

SUPER 8 (2011)

With this film writer/director J.J. Abrams (who directed the engaging STAR TREK reboot) aspires to make the ultimate Steven Spielberg movie from the 1970s and early 1980s.  A feat that Spielberg (who produced and seemingly approved of this two-hour tribute) hasn’t achieved since JURASSIC PARK (1993).  But what felt fresh 20-some years ago feels calculated now.  Instead of fashioning a story that showcases Spielberg’s signature style from that era, Abrams has chosen to ape the style at the expense of coherent story, using an aesthetic akin to a television clip show episode.  Call it Spielberg’s greatest hits without the charm, wit, or sense of wonder.  Set in 1979 the film follows young Midwest teen Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) whose mother has died in a factory accident and whose father, local deputy Jackson (Kyle Chandler), blames town drunk and fellow factory worker Louis Dainard (Ron Eldard) for her death.  Dainard has a pretty daughter named Alice (Elle Fanning) upon whom Joe has a crush.  When Joe’s friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) casts Alice in his 8mm zombie movie Joe takes a renewed interest in helping his friend with makeup and model building.  While shooting a night scene at the local train station, the kids witness a truly spectacular derailment (a set piece which strains credulity beyond the breaking point even for a summer popcorn picture).  The disaster looses both a literal monster in the form of a CG alien, and a figurative one in the form of the military, led by the menacing Colonel Nelec (Noah Emmerich).  Sadly Abrams can’t decide whether he’s making a horror/adventure movie (like JAWS) or a coming-of-age story (like E.T.) or a first contact film (like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS), and none gets sufficient screen time to engage.  Worse, he telegraphs every meaningful moment with on-the-nose dialogue and cloying reaction shots.  The actors, young and old, do the best they can with the ham-fisted material, but only Fanning is able to rise above the syrupy morass.  This cynical exercise in faux nostalgia could, at a stretch, be considered a success.  Abrams has indeed made a Spielberg movie; just not a good one.