Midnight in Paris

If you’re a screenwriter, you’re almost required to have opinions about Woody Allen. As a woman, I am constantly reminded that he married his step-daughter (however they do have one of the longest running marriages in Hollywood) and can’t help but question his motives when he makes multiple films with Scarlett Johansen. Woody Allen makes films for himself, first and foremost. He is definitely one of the most self-involved filmmaker of all-time, but when his work speaks to you, it is even more powerful because it is so personal. While I am somewhat predisposed to enjoy Allen’s work due to my love of dialogue, I found Midnight in Paris to be one of his more charming films.

Writer Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) travels to Paris with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams) while struggling to complete his novel. Gil is very romantic about Paris, particularly the Paris of the 1920s, much to ihs fiancé’s annoyance. As Gil wanders the city at midnight, he suddenly finds himself in the Paris of the 1920s, surrounded by artists like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemmingway. He also falls in love with Adriana (Marion Cotillard) who is sort of a 1920s painter groupie and argues that the true Golden Age of Paris was the late 19th century – la Belle Epoque.

If you know anything about art and literature of the 1920s, the film becomes a lot of fun as you try to guess who’s who. It really brought out my inner snob as I found myself saying out loud, “Of course that’s Man Ray.” I think this film really touches on the true fact that we all think we were born in the wrong time. The problem with nostalgia is that we always remember the good or at least interesting bits. Every era has elements that are forgettable or downright awful.

I think Owen Wilson is a really great fit for Allen’s style. There’s an obnoxiousness to Allen’s leads that Wilson’s laidback likeability balances out. Gil is self-involved, pretentious, and narcissistic, and worst of all ,he thinks it’s everyone else that’s guilty of these sins, but Wilson’s floppy hair and childlike approach to the magic that surrounds him redeems him. I hope Allen and Wilson continue to work together as it is clear Allen has struggled to find someone to take his place in his own films as he’s aged. However, I found the choice to have Gil’s fiancé admit to cheating while in Paris to be an obvious attempt to excuse Gil’s less than gentlemanly behavior. It’s ok that he has fallen head over heels for the enchanting Adriana, because McAdams was a cheating whore!

While I doubt Allen will ever make a film that comes close to Annie Hall, he can still make films that say something the human experience. In the film, Inez’ parents rave about a wonderful film they saw just the night before, but they can’t remember the title. Wonderful but forgettable might be a harsh description of Midnight in Paris, perhaps an unremarkable delight. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking up airline prices for a trip to Paris.

Favorite Quote:

Man Ray: A man in love with a woman from a different era. I see a photograph!
Luis Buñuel: I see a film!
Gil: I see insurmountable problem!
Salvador Dalí: I see rhinoceros!

The Apartment

The Apartment is a film that was really ahead of its time. The subject matter is pretty racy when you think about what was deemed acceptable in 1960. C C Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is a mid-level employee at a large insurance company who earns the affection of the higher ups by letting them use his apartment for their romantic rendezvous with their mistresses. Little does he know that his boss Mr. Sheldrake is having an affair with Baxter’s office crush Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).  There is something profoundly disturbing about a man knowing his boss is sleeping with the girl of his dreams in his own bed, but The Apartment is still a delightfully charming film.

Jack Lemmon is one of my favorite actors of all-time and this is definitely among his top five roles. He’s a guy who always tries to do the right thing and gets his first break by helping men cheat on their wives. However, he eventually sees how much pain the men he helps are causing when Miss Kubelik tries to take her own life in his apartment and he can no longer be a part of it, even if it means losing his job. Baxter is very cute, with his funny way of talking and his peculiar cooking habits, and Lemmon is able to keep him from becoming a Nice GuyTM by not allowing himself to become jaded. He knows being a mensch is what’s important.

The sequence where Baxter finds Miss Kubelik in the midst of a pill overdose and must enlist the help from his neighbor the doctor to save her is extremely powerful. The doctor is no stranger to the carrying on that goes on in the apartment, but incorrectly assumes Baxter is some good time Charlie, who has a different girl every night of the week. Watching Baxter have to play the part of the heartless bastard to hide Miss Kubelik’s secret is one of my favorite scenes in any film. The Oscar winning screenplay has so many magical unspoken moments. I remember in one of my screenwriting classes, my professor waxed poetic about the mirror scene. Early in the film, Baxter returns a compact with a broken mirror to Mr. Sheldrake, then later he sees Miss Kubelik with the same broken mirror, which tells him without words that she is his boss’ mistress. Billy Wilder said that if you let the audience connect the dots themselves, they’ll love you for it.

MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik may be one of the first manic pixy dream girls in film history. She even has a sassy pixie cut! She’s quirky and tragic and can have any man she wants, at least for a night. Baxter loves her quirkiness and is a bit taken aback by her drama but knows he could be the man she needs. My only real complaint about the film is that I don’t believe Baxter and Miss Kubelik will last in the end. I think they’ll give it an honest try, but she’ll eventually leave him for someone more exciting.

Favorite Quote:

Baxter: That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise.

The Aviator

I’m a big fan of biopic, particularly when they are done right, and The Aviator tells the story of one of the biggest oddballs in Hollywood history with honesty, tenderness, and, occasionally, humor.

I was thirteen when Titanic came out, so I will always have a soft spot for Leo. I admire him because he’s a guy who could have coasted on his looks alone, but he always chooses his roles carefully. He’s one of those actors whose films you can depend on to at least be interesting in some way. As Howard Hughes, you watch a man who has everything (looks, money, intelligence, creativity) but will lose it all to mental illness. I love how clear it is that Howard knows he is not normal, but is powerless to control himself. At one point, he must hold his hands over his mouth to stop himself from repeating the same sentence over and over again. You also watch his OCD progress with time, knowing eventually this man who flies around the world and dates movie stars will be a shut-in who is mocked on The Simpsons for wearing tissue boxes as shoes. I can’t think of another movie or television show that portrays OCD with as much respect.

While Leonardo DiCaprio is terrific as Howard, the person who really shines in this film is Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, who won an Oscar for her performance. The film portrays Hepburn as the only woman who could bring out the tender side of Howard and the only person who could get him to relax enough to have some fun. In a moment of screenwriting genius, Howard shares his milk with Kate, showing us how much this germaphobe must trust her. The two are intelligent and opinionated people with strong personalities, which is what draws them to each other and eventually tears them apart. Kate’s family is too intense, Howard romances other women in the press, Kate likes to be the center of attention, Howard is too obsessed with work, but it all ends when Kate meets the love of her life, Spencer Tracy. Although the relationship ends, it is clear the two always remained special to each other. Cate does a great job of channeling this icon, to the point where I think of this performance whenever I watch one of the real Hepburn’s films.

I would recommend this film to be seen with Scorsese’s other love letter to film, Hugo. It is clear when you watch The Aviator that Scorsese was highly influenced by early filmmaking. He recreated the looks of early color film processes Cinecolor & Technicolor to make everything look like a color film from the time periods represented. This is most notable in the scene where Errol Flynn takes the peas off Howard’s plate. The peas have a bluish tint to them. The colors become stronger as time progresses.

I think this film is a great biopic because it takes a figure that many have heard of, but few know intimate details and paints him not as a sinner or a saint, but a person who was capable of greatness but often sabotaged by his own weaknesses.