Movies: "Midnight in Paris" | Arts & Culture

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Movies: "Midnight in Paris"
Movies:  "Midnight in Paris"


For movie lovers, here’s a charming little palate cleanser between the main courses of summer blockbusters.  No alien invaders, no explosions, no gunplay -- just a romantic trip to the Paris of today and yesterday, courtesy of writer/director Woody Allen.


I have to tell you that I had pretty much given up on the Woodman in recent years.  His later movies seemed too whiny, too obsessed with toffee-nosed Brits (“Match Point” looked like it was shot through the window of a Ralph Lauren boutique), too misanthropic.  And let’s face it, Woody’s private life was nothing to write home about.


But there’s something about Paris that seems to have thawed Mr. Allen’s cynical heart and the results are here for us to enjoy.  In the usual Woody Allen role this time (wearing Allen’s trademark khakis, plaid shirts and tweed jacket) we have Owen Wilson as Gil, a successful Hollywood screenwriter now taking a professional chance on a novel.  He and his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams, Irene Adler in “Sherlock Holmes”) are visiting Paris along with her obnoxious parents, there on a business trip.


But when Gil decides to stroll around the city alone one night, something strange occurs.  He gets picked up by a happy bunch of people tootling along in a vintage Peugeot, and suddenly finds himself at a swanky cocktail party along with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston -- who plays Loki in “Thor” -- and Alison Pill, last seen in “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), with Cole Porter tickling the ivories and Ernest Hemingway (his macho hammed up by Corey Stoll, now starring in “Law and Order LA”) greeting the jazz age partygoers at their next stop.  


“Do you box?” asks Hemingway.


At first bewildered by the time shift, it takes some shimmying by Josephine Baker to make Gil relax and accept the fact that he’s actually back in the Paris of the 1920’s, an era he has always considered a golden age.  Making one excuse after another, he returns night after night to his new acquaintances, now including Adriana (Marion Cotillard) the attractive mistress of Pablo Picasso.  He even gets Gertrude Stein (a terrific Kathy Bates) to look over his manuscript.  


But back in the 21st century, things are not going well with Inez, who can’t comprehend her fiance’s obsession with long-dead writers and artists -- a list of encounters that grows to include such luminaries as Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, T.S. Eliot, Henri Matisse and, most delightfully, Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody having great fun with the egotistical surrealist).  I should also mention that Carla Bruni (Sarkozy) makes a brief appearance here as a contemporary tour guide.  


“Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be,” goes the old saw, and that seems is the underlying message of “Midnight in Paris.”  For while Gil dreams of Paris in the 20’s, his new flame Adriana longs for an even earlier time, la Belle Epoque.   It will finally take a new acquaintance with a charming antiques dealer (Lea Seydoux, Charlotte in “Inglorious Basterds”) to make Gil happy in his own time.


Shot by Darius Khondji and Johanne Debas and designed by Anna Seibel, “Midnight in Paris” seamlessly jumps between postcard views of Paris today and the softer images of the city in the 1920’s.  The images are bolstered by a well-chosen soundtrack from jazz clarinetist Allen, drawing on such greats as Sidney Bechet and Django Reinhardt.


“Midnight in Paris” is rated PG-13 for some sensual undertones.  If younger kids want to see this one, let them -- it may make them want to visit Paris some day.  


I give it a B-Plus.  Welcome back, Woody.   

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