Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Midnight In Paris

This week my local theatre showed Woody Allen’s newest creation, Midnight In Paris. The film stars Owen Wilson as a washed up hollywood screenwriter who spends his time fantasizing about the past, in particular Paris during the 1920’s. He and his insufferable bride-to-be, Inez (Rachel McAdams), are in Paris on vacation which provides plenty of opportunity for Gil to reminisce on the golden past as well as ample time for Inez to berate him for it as he tries to write a novel instead of another hollywood-worthy screenplay. Gil spends his vacation tagging along, whether it be with his overtly right-wing conservative in-laws buying obscenely priced furniture for their future home, or Inez and her friends Carol and Paul as they tour Paris. One night Gil escapes his fiancée while she goes off dancing with Paul and Carol, and finds himself, fairly intoxicated, on the steps of an old church. When the bells strike midnight an old car drives up and takes Gil away down the street but when he exits the car he discovers that he has been taken to the place he always dreamed of and finds himself in the 1920’s. Gil returns several nights in a row and Inez and her parents become suspicious. However, the phrase “I was out dancing with Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald” does not bode well with his fiancée. His several trips back to this era introduce many well known characters that any writer today could only dream of meeting. If you ever wonder what Woody Allen dreams of at night, this film is probably an accurate representation. 
The theme that is evident in Midnight in Paris is the idea of nostalgia, especially for a time or place we’ve never been to before. Woody Allen explores the idea that no matter what time you believe was the golden age, those who lived during that time will long for a different past themselves. When Gil begins to fall for Adriana, a former mistress of Pablo Picasso, he is really just falling in love with the idea of Paris in the 1920’s. He soon discovers that Adriana believes that the 1890’s were the golden age. By incorporating historic figures into the story it engages the audience and further proves the point that there is no such thing as a golden age and that it is purely self-constructed. From Salvador Dali to Earnest Hemingway, Gil’s midnight trips to the twenties are like Night at the Museum for aspiring authors. 
Woody Allen is a story teller, whether it be directing, writing, or acting, and this film is no exception to his style. The story is the heart of the film and by bringing the lead character into the roaring twenties the audience follows. It is believable because the concept of nostalgia is not foreign. Though the past is concrete in the sense of what happened, happened, it is malleable in that we can choose to portray it however we wish. Though Midnight in Paris is classified as a romantic comedy, this is far from a simple chick-flick, a well-written reflection on our obsession with the past.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Review: Jane Eyre

The latest showing at my local theatre's film society was the newest telling of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre. It would be possible to spend this review picking apart the book versus movie details but instead let’s just look at the film for what it is. A quick summary; essentially Jane Eyre, orphaned as a baby, grows up with her aunt, Mrs. Reed, a poor excuse for a caretaker and just an all around distasteful person. Jane attends an all girls school where her already dreadful childhood continues, as her best friend Helen dies of consumption leaving Jane alone again. Eventually, Jane works in Thornfield Hall and comes to know Mr. Rochester, the owner of the estate, whom she begins to fall in love with. This film took the opportunity to rearrange the chronology a bit which lets the audience look at the story differently. The novel is told from Jane’s point of view and by inserting the snippets of her dismal childhood into scenes where she is older, it shows the effect that her upbringing had on her personality. From the beginning Jane is never reluctant to say what she thinks and the film really emphasizes that aspect of her character. From the way she acts around Mrs. Reed as a child to her first interactions with Mr. Rochester, when Jane has something to say she does not hesitate to say it.
As a major period piece, Jane Eyre has a lot of offer in the way of cinematography. It opens with sweeping landscapes of Britain as Jane makes her way to the Moor House in a storm, and continues to take advantage of the beautiful setting throughout the film. Perhaps the element that most draws us into the 19th century is the score. Dario Marionelli, who also composed the score for Pride & Prejudice (2005), did an impeccable job with it. The musical compositions add a whole other layer of depth that this film really needed to immerse the audience in the era of the story.
With all the production details very well executed, the excellent acting was just sort of a given. Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland) was perfectly cast, in my opinion. She had just enough spunk without seeming sassy; simply refined. Mr. Rochester, played by Michael Fassbender, was her perfect opposite really. And as for Judi Dench, well she doesn’t really need any applause. She was fantastic and brought life to every scene appeared in, the few comedic moments that exist in this film are thanks to her brilliance. The one thing I wanted out of this film that I didn’t get however were more scenes between Jane and Mr. Rochester. I felt as though their relationship was a bit rushed and perhaps more scenes of them together, instead of some of the flash backs to her childhood, would help explain their relationship. All in all this film was a beautiful period piece if nothing else, a perfect dark film for a rainy day, and a worthwhile addition to the film society’s line-up.