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October 6, 2011 6:02 pm
Midnight in Paris is the saddest Woody Allen yet. Sadder in its way, even, than The Purple Rose of Cairo or Another Woman. It’s also one of the funniest of his films, and the least resolved. Owen Wilson plays a modern-day, disillusioned American scriptwriter enduring a pre-wedding trip to Paris with his testy fiancée. During a lone midnight walk he encounters a vintage car full of Amontillado-swilling flappers who transport him to a party thrown by no less than Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (26-year-old Canadian actress Alison Pill: perfection – the blonde, frizzy hair, the enquiring nose, the delirious plaintiveness and extreme vibrancy).
Here is the first great pleasure of this movie: watching Wilson cottoning on that this is the Scott and Zelda and that he has indeed passed through some 1920s literary dream portal. And Wilson does this with such fullness of spirit that his sweet surprise continues to satisfy us over and over again.
On come the heroes. Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Luis Buñuel and a standout Ernest Hemingway (US Law and Order star Corey Stoll) who seems to speak entirely in sentences lifted from his novels (“Have you ever shot a charging lion?”), perpetually delivered in a mad staccato monotone while everyone chokes with delight. By the time we arrive at Adrian Brody’s brief turn as Salvador Dalí (“I am Dalí! You are a rhinoceros?”) you are hyper-conscious of this as an Enjoyment.
You know that this is not a work of depth as, say, Hannah and Her Sisters had depth, or even Bullets over Broadway. Midnight in Paris is essentially shallow, a nostalgia trip. But still, it is a shallow treasure, and at times thrillingly felt. The scene in which Wilson stops Zelda from throwing herself into the Seine because she fears Scott loves another woman has all the strength of a long-held fantasy – one can imagine Allen having pictured doing this all his life. Holding her reassuringly in his arms, Wilson gives Zelda a brow-soothing Valium. “What is this?” she questions, distraught (but à la Zelda, game for anything). “It’s the future,” murmurs Wilson.
Never has the phrase “return to form” been applied to a human being with a movie camera more than to Woody Allen, but consider the numbers: Midnight in Paris has grossed more than $107.6m worldwide and counting. In terms of box office revenue for Allen, this is easily a record. It’s no surprise. In this film Allen revels in his genius for showing not neurosis but happiness. He has always been the master of the happy moment; he knows what good times look like. Diane Keaton receiving her gift of a toy skunk from Woody on the beach in Play it Again Sam; Woody eating Chinese food with Mariel Hemingway in Manhattan; and here Gertrude Stein yelling merrily at a chain-smoking Picasso (“Listen, Pablo . . . ”). Midnight in Paris contains sequences happier than can be described.
And yet the film is always crashingly sad too: a conflict in tone guaranteed to bring out the loner-romantic in all of us. All those brilliant, beautiful people in the past, it simply says, all dead after years of being drunk, made crazy and broke and increasingly careless of the company they kept, many of them ultimately sad, abandoned bores. And we are stuck with this god-awful present. A present that seems to Allen to be mantled in some massive, ineluctable disgrace – a hub of numbness. Someone, please, pass us a smoke and then take this quietly desperate modern life away.
Perfect Sense is the story of a love affair between a chef (Ewan McGregor) and a scientist (Eva Green) both living in Glasgow just at the moment the world succumbs to a catastrophic virus that robs everyone first of their taste, then their hearing, sight and sense of touch. This is a frightening and tender sci-fi, shot very flat and unhysterical, full of eccentric detail (the need to make more entertaining food after everyone loses their sense of taste) and always an air of regret spilling out at the edges.
Director David Mackenzie has worked with McGregor before in the lauded Young Adam, and the actor is supremely relaxed here – smart, impudent, allowing his character to shift from bolshie to an almost canine devotion to Green. I have never seen him better. Nor her. She has the sexual bravado of Ava Gardner – you look at her and think: “what man possibly has what it takes?” And yet the scenes between the stars are hot and raw, and the film is interesting enough to contain them both, and more.
English actor Paddy Considine set himself a challenge in Tyrannosaur to make a drama that starts with a man (Peter Mullan) kicking his pet dog to death, yet getting the audience to end up caring for him. And somehow he does. Set largely on a Leeds council estate, the film stars Olivia Colman as a charity shop worker thrown together with the furious, alcoholic Mullan. Considine – a photographer before he became an actor – makes a heartfelt but controlled start to a new career here.
Unlike Gary Oldman’s Nil by Mouth – always clearly a super-intense directorial one-off; the only film Oldman wanted to make – Tyrannosaur feels like the work of someone who is in directing for the long run. There’s a sequence at an increasingly drunken wake that really does make you want to enter the lives of those on screen, a little like you do during the wedding scenes of The Deer Hunter. Just to be there with them for that afternoon.
The redundant MI7-operative spoof sequel Johnny English Reborn only comes to something resembling life in the closing two minutes of the end credits when those who have passed out during the screening are all of a sudden treated to Rowan Atkinson preparing a beef stew in one take, in perfect time to Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King. He does things with two leeks here that would impress even Buster Keaton. The rest – as Hamlet very nearly said – is garbage.
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