<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By Michael Calleri

Let's face it, after seeing some of today's romantic comedies, filled as they often are with jokes relying on vulgar expressions and even more vulgar behavior, you almost want to go home and take a Silkwood shower.

I'm no prude by any standards, but movie after movie these days, which purport to be about love and the human condition, end up dumping sensible character development for the cheap shot, the sleazy easy joke, and the glorification of the buffoon who will say anything to gain attention.

That's why it's a pleasure to recommend director Woody Allen's magical "Midnight in Paris," a romantic comedy that is really about romance and delivers a bucketful of honest laughs.

I know what you're thinking. You all know I'm a fan of Allen's work and that I love Paris. What's important is not that it's Allen and Paris, but that it's Allen running on all cylinders and Paris looking magnificent.

Gil is a very successful Hollywood screenwriter who revels in nostalgia. He's on a visit to contemporary Paris with Inez, his spoiled little rich girl fiancee. He's unsure about his position in life, because he's not content with his scripts being hits. He's searching for something more meaningful. He wants creative satisfaction, not just money and acclaim.

Gil's fascinated by the fact that Paris was home to a great artistic awakening in the 1920s. For this screenwriter, it really is a matter of "those were the days." Plus, his future in-laws are pretentious boobs, and his girlfriend has put a high polish on superficiality.

One night, as Gil strolls through the quiet, darkened streets of a quaint Parisian neighborhood, a clock strikes midnight.

He is soon passing through a fracture in time. A 1920s taxi pulls up. Inside are F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who offer to take him to a party.

Gil thinks these are imitation Fitzgeralds and that he's been invited to a costume event. Eventually, he realizes that he has been pulled back in time.

Disconcerted though he may be, he is gloriously happy, because he's surrounded by the art and music and literature he loves, and he is talking to his artistic heroes.

As the movie switches back and forth between modern-day Paris and the Golden Age, Gil encounters such other luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Cole Porter, Man Ray, Luis Bunuel, Josephine Baker, T.S. Eliot, Salvador Dali, Alice B. Toklas, and Gertrude Stein -- who, as played by Kathy Bates in an Oscar-worthy performance, is everything you've imagined Stein to be.

What's especially delightful about the movie is that Paris exists in two worlds. Through Gil, the city's past is part of its present. The history of the city is constant. The streets are alive with people who walked before and helped give it an allure that remains strong today.

On the romantic front, Gil will meet Adriana, played by Marion Cotillard, a beautiful young woman who is dating Picasso. She represents the Paris of his ultimate fantasy -- writing what he wants to write and living with a woman who shares his passions.

There are a number of very strong comic moments, many of which involve someone famous, someone whose name and work we all know. Corey Stoll plays Hemingway with a lively sense of the man. He talks the way he writes. Truth be told, Stoll also deserves a look at Academy Award time. There's a smart inside joke about Bunuel's film "The Exterminating Angel."

Although he's mining a very memorable past, Allen's screenplay is fresh and often filled with sharp satire, especially in the scenes involving Inez and her parents.

Michael Sheen is a pedantic esthete who thinks he knows everything there is to know about Paris. He's not French, and he butts heads with a Paris tour guide -- nicely acted by Carla Bruni, the first lady of France, who has three key scenes.

Thanks to Johanne Debas and Darius Khondji's glowing cinematography, Paris looks magnificent.

The acting by all is very good. In addition to Bates, Stoll, Cotillard, Sheen and Bruni, the movie also stars a terrific Owen Wilson as Gil, and Rachel McAdams as Inez, as well as Kurt Fuller, Adrien Brody and Mimi Kennedy.

"Midnight in Paris" is something special. Its characters are not crude or condescending. It's adult, yet verbally clean. Allen doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator. He doesn't have to.

Perhaps a refusal to wallow in the mud is quaint, but it's also wildly refreshing. This is one of the best films so far this year.

"The Beaver" is a weird little film directed by Jodie Foster and based on an original screenplay by Kyle Killen.

In "The Beaver," Mel Gibson plays a toy company executive utterly depressed with his life. He is in a dark hole from which he may never escape. He discovers a hand puppet, a furry beaver, in the trash, and from that moment on, he only communicates through the puppet, compelling all around him to talk to the beaver.

The puppet, which speaks with a Cockney accent, may be a tool for his recovery or it may be certification that someone's lost all their marbles. The puppet makes everyone uneasy, including the audience.

The movie is both tragic and comic. I would love to know what mental health professionals think of it.

The three main cast members are very good. Gibson, as the emotionally distraught man, plays loony exactly as you want it to be played. How this all relates to his own well-known personal dramas is anybody's guess.

Director Foster as his loving and concerned wife and Anton Yelchin as their bewildered son are both compelled to walk a fine line between love and loathing for Gibson's character.

The film forces moviegoers to decide for themselves if Gibson's character is genuinely nuts or crazy like a fox. This is a strange, but oddly compelling movie.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 14, 2011