Posts Tagged ‘marion cotillard’

It’s never come up before on this blog, but your humble host absolutely loves Woody Allen. I never miss his one of his films and usually try to make it a point to go out and catch them on opening weekend. Sure, it’s been something of a bumpier ride lately, as his international travelogue has been going on for the better part of a decade now and there will probably always be something intrinsically off about a Woody Allen movie that doesn’t take place in New York, but what the hell — his extended sojourn abroad has produced at least one genuine classic in Match Point, and that makes clunkers like Scoop and pointless dead-enders like Vicky Cristina Barcelona worth it to devotees of the maestro and his work. Mostly what we’ve gotten are middling efforts like You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and Cassandra’s Dream (which was nowhere near as bad as everyone says, but does prove that Allen has trouble writing anything other than well-educated, economically-upper-crust characters — still, he gave it a shot), but I’m pleased to say that his latest, Midnight In Paris, is a definite gem — an earnest, if flawed, love letter to a magical place and times gone by that nevertheless keeps its footing in reality, it’s a celebration of both Paris as it was, and of the city, and life in general (warts and all), as it is today.

And in a way, it pains me to say this because I absolutely despise Owen Wilson. I mean, with a passion, His whole shtick is just so fucking tedious in the extreme that the idea of his playing Woody’s latest younger-version-of-himself stand-in grated on my nerves before I even saw the film. Okay, Owen, you’ve got messy hair and a goofy nose. Get the fuck over yourself already.

Still, this is such a charming little flick that even Wilson can’t ruin it. It’s a little bit light on substance, to be sure, and Rachel McAdams’ Inez character is two-dimensional in the extreme, but sometimes you just get taken in by a clever premise and all you can do it sit back and enjoy the ride.

And the premise for Midnight In Paris is, indeed, clever in the extreme. Wilson portrays Hollywood hack screenwriter Gil Pender, who’s understandably dissatisfied with the Tinseltown rat race and has gone to Paris with his fiancee, the aforementioned Inez, and her overbearing wealthy parents. Inez is such a superficial harpy that you honesty wonder what Gil ever saw in the spoiled little bitch in the first place, and her mom and dad are even worse. Their whole life apparently revolves around planning an elaborate wedding and buying a house, but the more he’s sucked into vacuous, empty world of Inez’s pedestrian dreams, the more he finds himself taken with the City of Lights, and who can really blame the guy?

One evening Gil decides to cut things short after dinner with Inez and her friends Carol (Nina Arianda) and Paul (Michael Sheen, turning in a deliciously OTT performance as an overbearing know-it-all,pretentious college professor — nobody writes a more entertaining asshole than Woody Allen, and his last several films have sorely lacked this key ingredient, so it’s nice to see he hasn’t lost his touch), and decides to stroll home alone while they go out dancing. While sitting on some church steps and taking in the night, though, something remarkable happens — an old Peugeot cab emerges from nowhere , its drunken occupants invite Gil inside for a ride, and soon, for reasons never made in the least bit clear and that don’t really matter much anyway,  he’s hob-nobbing with a veritable who’s-who of the literary and artistic world in 1920s Paris. They’re all here, folks — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter, you name it.

Yeah, I know, I wouldn’t want to come back either, but as the sun rises in the morning Gil finds himself back in the dreary confines of his well-to-do-but-empty existence. The next night, though, the cab is back, and in fact it returns each subsequent evening at the stroke of midnight. Soon Gil is best pals with all the artistic intelligentsia of the time (and it must be said the casting for all these roles is extraordinary, with special mention going to Kathy Bates as Stein, Adrien Brody as Dali and Corey Stall as Hemingway, who tear into their roles with absolute relish to one degree or another), his novel is finally coming together, and he’s falling in love with a young lady named Adriana (given that she’s played by Marion Cotillard can you really blame him?) who’s also being pursued by both Picasso and Hemingway. We get more cameos from the likes of Man Ray, Alice B. Toklas, Josephine Baker, and Djuana Barnes, to name-drop just a few more, and by this point you’re either taken with the movie’s admittedly less-than-subtle spell, or you’re just not human.

Still, this being a Woody Allen film and all, no paradise can last forever, and just as he’s falling for Adriana, the time travel thing kicks into high gear and sends them both back even further, to 1890s Paris and the Belle Epoque, and Adriana must choose between  with her newfound love or remaining in Paris’ most legendary era ever.

And therein lies the rub — Midnight In Paris is cautious about its own romanticism, and Allen admits that his legendary taste for the nostalgic is a dead end in its own right, if a most pleasant and endearing one. The past ain’t worth a fuck if we get lost in it rather than taking whatever lessons it has to offer and applying them to our lives in the present. Will Gil be sucked in completely, or will he do the right thing, painful as it may be, and return home while he still can?

Look, you probably already know the answer to this, but I won’t soil it completely just on principle. Suffice to say that Gil’s decision is one which will surprise no one, and will lead to resolution that wraps up all loose ends a little too quickly and a little tidily, but that rings true despite its flaws. Which is rather reflective of the film itself, it must be said — hardly perfect, maybe a little bit over-indulgent (the cameo by France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni, as a museum tour guide particularly makes no real sense), and all a bit too neat, but enchantingly perfect in its own way nevertheless.

By the time the film ends with Paris in the rain (of course), you’ll have been subjected to every romanticized cliche about the city, both present and past, you could possibly imagine — but rather than feeling pandered or condescended to, you’ll be smiling all the way home.

"Public Enemies" Movie Poster

"Public Enemies" Movie Poster

This is one I’d been looking forward to. Maybe it’s just a “guy thing,” but apart from the rather limp “Ali” and the disappointing “Miami Vice,” I think Michael Mann’s movies are, as the kids would say, the bomb. One of the most technically accomplished filmmakers around, Mann has an eye for the visual, an ear for the streets, and an intuitive understanding of the psychological mindset of both lawman and criminal unparalleled among today’s A-list Hollywood directors. “Public Enemies” looked like a winner from the get-go, with a top-notch cast, great historical backdrop, and a talented team behind the camera lead by Mann and his gifted cinematrographer, Dante Spinotti.

The results were everything I’d been hoping for and then some. As with “Miami Vice,” Mann drops us right into the middle of the action in “Public Enemies” with some  very brief introductory exposition followed by an intense jailbreak sequence that puts the pedal to the metal right off the bat, and once Mann’s got his foot pressed down hard on the accelerator, he seldom lets up.

The movie focuses on just a brief period of legendary bank robber John Dillinger’s life, from his absolute pinnacle to his eventual end, and while Mann doesn’t give us much by way of detailed background involving any of his characters, he smartly trusts his actors to convey that information to us and for the most part they deliver the goods and reward his faith in them.

Johnny Depp is out of this world as Dillinger, the screen’s coolest outlaw since Clint Eastwood’s Josey Wales. He’s a man of thoughtful action who’s always two steps ahead of everyone else, sometimes even himself. It’s the most intense and charismatic performance of Depp’s career, and he effortlessly conveys the charm and nonchalance that made Dillinger a folk hero in his time while giving hints at a raging cauldron boiling underneath the surface at all times. Dillinger’s life was a tightrope act, and Depp reminds us of that with every word and action.

Marion Cotillard is a stunning beauty who took the film world by storm with her portrayal of Edith Piaf in “Ma Vie En Rose.” She’s terrifically believable as  Billie, a girl with a hard past and little to dream of in the future who’s suddenly whisked off into a world of dangerous excitement when she meets Dillinger. The chemistry between herself and Depp is palpable and even the most jaded audience member will feel that even though these two just met and hardly know each other, their love is a smoldering fire that threatens to burn them both, but that they can’t turn away from. While one can plausibly argue that Cotillard is, if anything, underutilized here (and leaving an audience wanting to see more of a compelling character is a constant undercurrent in Mann’s working going all the way back to Brian Cox’s superb, and agonizingly short, turn as Hannibal Lecter in “Manhunter), what cannot be denied is that her appearance in this film represents a  second consecutive major international casting coup for Mann, hot on the heels of his landing Gong Li in to play the nominal female lead in “Miami Vice.”

Billy Crudup has a small amount of screen time as J. Edgar hoover, but he makes the most of it, portraying the paranoia, desperation for acclaim, and quiet ruthlessness that would consume him in his later years in their earlier, nascent stages with subtlety and intelligence. There’s no doubt in the viewer’s mind that Hoover will develop into a monster as his power grows over time.

The only somewhat disappointing turn in Christian Bale as G-man Melvin Purvis. He’s a stereotypical straight-shooting flatfoot who displays little of anything beyond an Elliot Ness-type caricature—plus his accent isn’t too terribly believable. Not a rotten performance, but nothing special, either.

On the technical side, while I’m not too crazy about movies shot on high-def video and transferred to film (a technique Mann also used on “Collateral” and “Miami Vice”), I have to begrudgingly admit that it works here. This is a movie that drops you right into the middle of the action, and the crystal clarity of high-def combined with cinematographer Spinotti’s frequent use of hand-held and unconventional angles does a fantastic job of making the viewer a part of the action rather than just an observer. The muted color palette Mann uses throughout also captures the feel of popular psychological preconceptions of the Depression era and adds an extra layer of ambiance to the proceedings.

All in all, “Public Enemies” is one to put on your must-see list, and represents something of a return to form of an American cinematic archetype that has been sadly missing lately—the outlaw as folk hero. While Mann has always excelled at creating sympathetic and believable villains,  in the past the editorial viewpoint of his films has always favored the lawmn in the end. Not so here. This time there’s no doubt the good guys and vice versa, as we’ve got a man of the people bank robber who only wants the bank’s money, not yours, up against ruthless G-Men who will beat, torture, and kill anything in sight if it means getting their man. In an entertainment environment where film and TV cops are always good and any shortcuts or abuses they partake in are always shown as well-meaning and just, it’s both a refreshing—and necessary—change of pace. The heroic outlaw is as American as apple pie and on this July 4th, I’m glad to see it make its return after far too long an absence.