Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen continues his obsession with Europe (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, the upcoming To Rome With Love) and adds a little time travel into the mix with this delightful slice of whimsy. Owen Wilson picks up the Allen role as Gil, a writer tagging along with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) visiting her parents as they embark on a business merger in Paris. Gil has made a name for himself writing not terribly good films for Hollywood, but has aspirations for writing novels, and dreams of moving back to Paris, whereas Inez and her disapproving parents seem far more level headed. On a late night drunken stroll Gil finds himself in the 1920s world he so wishes to live in, and gets to meet his idols from a time long passed.

It all sounds a little bit ridiculous – a Woody Allen time travel film – and my parents and girlfriend, with whom I watched the film, were expecting something quite different and tuned out quite early on – but I thought it was wonderful. Wilson is a perfect fit as the neurotic Gil, refusing to tolerate Inez’s pedantic know-it-all friend Paul (Michael Sheen, brilliantly punchable) and forever wishing he’d been born in a different time.
Many films would dumb down the references to the past, and I’ll admit there were many I didn’t get, but the characters portrayed are so rich and interesting that I’m encouraged to discover more about them on my own. I’m ashamed to say that I’m unfamiliar with the likes of F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein, and have only a passing knowledge of Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Picasso and T. S. Eliot, though I think I got most of the Bunuel and Dali references (I’ve even seen The Exterminating Angel, the film Gil proposes to Bunuel, and it’s not even on the List), and as for the others I’m now making an effort to better myself by looking into their works. This is exactly what a film should do, not work out what its audience already knows and repeat that to them, but provide an opportunity to further their own knowledge.
The supporting cast is incredible. Kathy Bates is Stein, Tom Hiddleston and Scott Pilgrim‘s drummer Alison Pill are the Fitzgeralds and Marion Cotillard is delightful as Gil’s 1920s love interest Adriana, but it is the brief appearance of Adrien Brody as a flamboyantly insane Dali that steals the show (“I see rhinoceroses!”). Rachel McAdams plays a fairly thin character in the almost-bitchy, not understanding fiance, and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy) begin to grate after a while as their characters refuse to develop throughout the film.
All the typical Parisian tourist attractions are acknowedged, and got out the way, early on in a brief montage. This is nice, as it’d be a shame to ignore them, for they aren’t part of the story, but they show perhaps the draw of the city to Inez and her family, whereas Gil prefers the layers of life and history underneath. The present day scenes are shot crisply, everything looking bright and new, whereas those set in the past are softer, slightly fuzzy around the edges, and with such a warm palette it’s no wonder Gil wants to live there. It has a more mysterious atmosphere full of soirees and flapper dresses.
┬áIt’s not for everyone, and many may find it just too odd to come to grips with, but if you are a Woody Allen fan (and you should be), and have either a good knowledge of the 1920s or want a place to build yours from, check this out.
Choose film 8/10

The Queen

Well it’s a bank holiday this weekend over here in Blighty, because our reigning monarch has succeeded in not dying for 60 years on the throne, and doesn’t deem any of her offspring worthy enough to take her crown whilst she has enough life in her hands to grip onto it, so what better way of celebrating than by watching The Queen?
Diana, Princess of Wales, divorced wife of the Queen Elizabeth II’s son Prince Charles and mother of her grandchildren Princes William and Harry, is killed in a car accident in August, 1997, causing uproar throughout the UK, not least for the royal family and the recently elected Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen). In the aftermath, the royal family take a period of mourning in their Scottish residence, whilst Blair remains in London to almost take advantage of the situation.

First off, the performances in this film are mostly excellent. There was never any doubt that Helen Mirren would make a perfect choice as QE2 (the monarch, not the boat), and she gives a repressed, buttoned down portrayal of a woman few know personally. Sheen, too, is at his best when playing a real person (see also The Damned United, Frost Vs. Nixon, half of his CV) and James Cromwell is good as the Queen’s cantankerous husband Prince Philip. It is only really Alex Jennings as Charles who goes too far. The rest of the cast limit how much of an impersonation they are making of their subjects, whereas Jennings tries too hard to mimic Charles’ more exaggerated mannerisms and persona already expanded upon in the media, as though he’s performing a sketch show impression rather than showing just enough for us to know who he is.
This is the kind of film that lives and dies by it’s script. The West Wing covered a similar theme on a weekly basis, and succeeded not just because of the stellar cast and direction, but mainly due to Aaron Sorkin’s masterful way with words. Here we have a good cast and a slightly above average director in Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, Dangerous Liaisons), but the script is written by Peter Morgan, whose CV is littered with other mediocre biographies lifted only by acting talents (The Last King of Scotland). Had this film had a punchier script, with some rat-a-tat dialogue and an entertaining turn of phrase, it’d be a much better piece. As it is, the story isn’t terrible, but it is largely forgettable.
Being English, you’d think I’d be well versed in the goings on around such a recent major occurrence, even if I was only 10 at the time, but alas I’ve never known an awful lot about the events both before and after Diana’s death. Much that occurs in the film came as a surprise to me. I’d obviously heard of Diana, dubbed the People’s Princess by Blair, but knew very little of her exploits or the reasonings behind her tabloid headlines. I’ve never paid much attention to the royal family, to be honest. It’s not that I’m anti-monarchy, it’s just that I really don’t care about them. The most I’ve seen of the jubilee celebrations was some highlights I caught whilst channel surfing this evening, and were we not having family over to visit I’m sure I’d have been writing posts or watching something off the List, so would have missed it completely. This film has done little to nothing to increase my interest in the royals, though it has provided an insight behind the closed doors of their world.
The movie seems to take a fairly pro-Blair stance, as he seems to be the most considerate character in the film, especially when compared to his far more callous spin doctor Alastair Campbell (Mark Bazeley). The relationship between the Queen and Blair is nicely played out – she kicks off his first day in power by reminding him that he is her 10th Prime Minister, with the first one being Winston Churchill, so he has a fair amount to live up to. There are some nice comedic touches – in her death, Diana is still proving an annoyance to the royals, including the Queen Mother (Sylvia Syms, Helena Bonham Carter’s character in The King’s Speech), whose funeral arrangements Diana has pilfered. It’s very bizarre to see the Queen calling someone Mummy, and even more so to see this usually confident figure spending much of the film deliberating and worrying, as she finds herself in the middle of a major royal event with complete and utter media coverage.
Not much of the film has stayed with me after watching, other than Mirren performance, which is especially spot on during the Queen’s address. I’ve had a little royal history filled in for me, but it was never anything I really cared about anyway.
Choose life 6/10