Midnight In Paris (2011)

What could be more romantic than midnight in Paris, with its alluring, cosy cafes and softly shimmering waterways? Well, how about midnight in Paris in the 1920s? That’s the era earmarked as magnifique by wistful writer Gil (Luke Wilson) in this, Woody Allen’s latest in a long line of escapist romantic dramas.

See, Gil’s spent his whole life churning out soulless Hollywood scripts for which he’s been generously paid – except he feels withered and wasted by that hollow career trajectory. Gil wants to be a proper writer. That fire is stoked in him when he visits the city of love and starts redrafting his novel, while his vivacious but vacuous fiancée (Rachel McAdams) considers what to spend all his money on. Then one night, Gil finds himself transported back to the ‘20s thanks to a mysterious taxi ride that leads him to historical figures like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill).

It’s all a bit Goodnight Sweetheart, especially when Gil falls for Picasso muse Adriana (Marion Cotillard). The thing with Allen’s films is you often feel like you’ve seen it all before. And you more than likely have; the auteur has been spinning pithy yarns around the same likably eccentric characters and romantic dilemmas since Annie Hall back in 1977. Which means you’ll either embrace Midnight In Paris like an old friend, or dismiss it as another spritely but square outing from a director who’s too old to learn new tricks.

Whichever camp you fall in, it’s hard not to at least like Midnight In Paris. Beating a passionate drum for the arts while making interesting observations about the futility of dreaming about the good old days, it’s a soft focus, inoffensive novelty that even features an appealing little turn by first lady Carla Bruni. 3/5

TF Loves… Woody’s Witticisms

“I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work… I want to achieve it through not dying.” Neurotic, Jewish, intelligent, nervy, neurotic (don’t forget the neurotic), Woody Allen is a one man one-liner machine. Raging about everything from death to taxes, his 40 year career is teeming with pithy, prickly parlance. Stand-up acts, plays, books, movies. The sheer quantity of knowing observations, witty rapports and laugh-out-loud hooters boggles.

He started early. A fiercely intelligent teenager, the young, bespectacled New Yorker had no time for regimented education. Ignoring a school bag stuffed with C grades, Allen’s flighty imagination and sly sense of humour collided to gainful effect when he began submitting jokes to comic columnists for $25 a week. What they lacked in consistent quality, Allen made up for with quantity. “Every day after school I would take the subway to Manhattan and knock out 30 to 40 gags for famous people to say,” he recalls. “I was thrilled. I thought I was in the heart of show business.”

But here’s the thing… Woody Allen shouldn’t be funny. Cynics will tell you that his entire career is derived from a single self-obsessed character (himself), and that he’s made over 40 films, all with the same storyline. Still, we just can’t get past those witty one-liners. Slicing like cheese wire right to the hilarious heart of our absurd little world, they’re arch, dry as the Mojave, beautifully simplistic yet threaded through with a severe intelligence. “I can’t listen to that much Wagner,” he moans. “I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.”

And his gags never feel anything less than (almost inappropriately) personal. Even if the Allen character is a mere caricature, a hyper-hung-up version of himself, it never feels artificial or forced. Frequently denying that his films are autobiographical does no good; Allen’s scripts scream otherwise. “I was thrown out of NYU my freshman year for cheating on my metaphysics final, you know,” he says in Annie Hall. “I looked within the soul of the boy sitting next to me.” Allen himself was suspended from NYU, just one example of his film life imitating reality.

Stand-up sowed the seeds for the funnyman’s winning formula. A wobbly start in 1961 (“the worst year of my life,” says Allen) reduced the naturally shy comic to a gibbering mess. But as his specs adjusted to the spotlight, Allen perfected his neurotic Jew shtick, refining his personal insecurities and eccentricities into a compelling composite of lived experiences and quirky anecdotes. “I wish I had some kind of affirmative message to leave you with, I don’t,” the comedian once said. “Would you take two negative messages? My mother used to say to me, ‘If a strange man comes up to you and offers you candy, and wants you to get into the back of his car with him… go’.”

Ah, women. If Allen’s razor wit is known for anything, it’s his unique philosophy on relationships. Proving that he is more than just a puddle-deep joke engine, Allen’s material often hinges on his hopeless romanticism. His love for New York is dwarfed only by his love for women. Having spent most of his life on a psychoanalyst’s couch, Allen’s film scripts act as arenas for his personal discoveries to play out. It’s no coincidence that his real-life pairing with Diane Keaton met a similar fate to their filmic counterparts in Annie Hall and Manhattan. “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics,” he opines in the latter. It would be another 20 years before he found his pigeon.

Self-indulgent or merely self-expressive, Allen’s quotability has made him the dream subject of mug-makers and t-shirt printers, but also a pioneer of fast-and-hard humour. Like his films, he knocks wisecracks out of the park two at a time. Like: “From the time I get up till the time I get to sleep, I think constantly about sex and death.” Oh, did we mention he’s also quite neurotic?

… Seagal Speak
“I have no fear of death. More important, I don’t fear life.” Doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? Steven Seagal’s quips, confined to film-turds like Belly of the Beast and Half Past Dead, are as dim and daft as his overblown actioners.

Via Total Film