Review- Midnight in Paris

Carla Bruni and Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris (Sony Pictures Classics)

I always feel it a necessity to state my general stance on Woody Allen prior to getting into a review of any of his works. I feel this is appropriate so you know where I am coming from and thus so you can take my review with a grain of salt should you need to. Fans of Woody Allen seem to come in two camps: First, those who believe he’s slipping and hasn’t done anything really worthwhile in the past 15 to 20 years and blind followers, while I skew more towards the latter I believe I am somewhere in the middle. I believe Allen has peaks and valleys like many prolific filmmakers but I have really enjoyed his recent works.

Lately, Allen has been globetrotting a bit and he writes and shoots frequently enough such that there are threads of philosophy and narrative choices that run through many of his films but conversely he has periods akin to painters. His break from being tethered to New York City in and of itself has breathed some new life into his recent works.

As you familiarize yourself with a filmmaker you expect certain things, with Allen it had been New York, art deco, Jazz (or another genre whose heyday is past), plain title cards, longing of some kind, etc. When minor changes to the formula are applied to the same voice it can be rather interesting.

What is perhaps most interesting in Midnight in Paris is that Allen attacks head on an issue which many of his detractors (at least of his recent work) cite him for, which is his nostalgic love affair with the past. Rather than having it be an idiosyncrasy of a character (or group of them) that we must either accept or reject it becomes central to the protagonist’s, Gil (Owen Wilson), struggle and part of why he is not understood.

By openly addressing this and applying it to a younger character one of Allen’s motifs is revitalized because he can’t be cited as someone whose “lost touch” with modernity. He’s found here a new way to funnel his voice into a modern setting. Another one of the frequent attacks on Allen’s work is that his scripts are in lieu of therapy. Truth be told it is for a lot of people and it’s more identifiable with him because he’s a personality and is more known. He’s always been a personal filmmaker and this may be his best and most coherent addressing of any hang-up he’s covered.

While I don’t think it’s on par with things like Manhattan or Annie Hall this film does have the inventiveness and flair from that era of his career. A majority of the reason why is that in this film he embraces Magical Realism and allows for facile time travel and creates time-space paradoxes and is not concerned about factual truths but emotional ones which affect his characters.

In a film where a slew of historical figures, who we all have preconceived notions about, appear the casting has to be spot on and it’s nailed on the head repeatedly whether it be Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali and so on. Even funnier are how Allen writes these personalities and how they perform the parts.

It’s without question one of his best concepts in quite some time. Though not running any longer than most of his films the episodes in the past do get a tad lengthy and there is a bit of drag in the second act but not enough that it hurts the film greatly.

It’s also, clearly as the concept implies, one of Allen’s more visual recent ventures. The dialogue is strong while not being audaciously witty. The conclusion is expected but earned and sweet.

You can say what you will about Allen’s recent track record but I have nothing but admiration for an artist who continuously pushes himself to new horizons regardless of their results. However, Midnight in Paris is an unqualified success and a bold new step for this auteur and is therefore highly recommended.

9/10

Review- Little Fockers

Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller in Little Fockers (Paramount)

What is the saving grace of Little Fockers? It is that eventually the story ends up being more about Jack’s (Robert De Niro) psychotic persecution of Greg (Ben Stiller) than it does about the misunderstandings and unnecessary comeuppance that he got in the first installment of this series and set the tone for the characters.

The worse thing that a comedy can do is make you feel sorry for a character who has gotten himself in a difficult situation. That’s what the first film did in my estimation and what this installment narrowly avoids. How it manages to do that is by giving Greg just enough culpability such that we can comfortably chuckle at the mess he’s gotten himself into and not really sweat the outcome too much.

While it is rarely, if ever, highbrow humor Little Fockers does manage to be quite funny through most of it. However, it is never really about the aforementioned Fockers. There are two subplots about them: One is that Samantha (Daisy Tahan) isn’t speaking to Greg, which is resolved easily enough and another is that Greg and Pam want to enroll her and Henry (Colin Baiocchi) in a high-priced private school, however, that one never really resolves itself. Kevin (Owen Wilson) says he’ll talk to the head of the school and get them another interview after a little fiasco and that’s the end of that.

When Jack and Greg’s argument finally comes to a head and in the midst of the physical confrontation Greg is trying to explain himself, as he has put himself in the situation of making Jack think he is sleeping with Andi (Jessica Alba), a work associate, the apology/explanation is quickly accepted which is both somewhat of a relief and also a bit facile.

It does manage to be a funny film because of its cast but it is getting a little crowded even though everyone is talented they are starting to run up against All-Star Cast Syndrome, which is when there are too many recognizable actors that you want to see involved in the same project. For example, Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman are both very funny but their time is fleeting; Laura Dern is also hysterical but she likely gets more time than they do. Jessica Alba is quite good, albeit this isn’t a very involved character and she gets more time than those just mentioned.

The laughs stay pretty consistent throughout with one glaring exception and that is the ending. Now most of this is due to the Set-Up Factor where it’s a very cloying and obvious set-up for yet another film. They might either take it or leave it I personally hope they leave it because it’s too obvious a set-up (hint: Everybody Loves Raymond meets Meet the Fockers).

Despite all these peccadilloes sticking in my craw it was consistently funny throughout even if unoriginal and for whatever it may be worth I had very low expectations coming in and they were exceeded.

It’s a funny little film if you just don’t think about it too much as clearly I have.

6/10