FIVE GREAT SCENES FROM “MIDNIGHT IN PARIS”

Ok, I’ve never been what you would call a Woody Allen fan. That being said, I can’t express how much I enjoy “Midnight in Paris. It’s a movie that features some great laughs and the best performance from a usually annoying Owen Wilson. It’s a romance film but not in the traditional sense. The true love of the movie is the city and it’s magic. It’s the city that brings Gil Pender (Wilson) to realize some very important things about himself and his life. It’s the city that Gil’s in love with and it’s the city that helps him get on the right path in life.

Now I know that one reason I responded so strongly to this movie was because of my current trip to Paris. As I sit here soaking up all this glorious place has to offer, I understand what Allen in conveying in his film. Paris is a city like no other. It’s living and breathing. It’s a place filled with history, style, and beauty, all things that “Midnight in Paris” presents. So my opinion of the movie is most certainly influenced by my expectations of what I’m now experiencing here in Paris, France.

But let’s not get bogged down in just that. “Midnight in Paris” is also laugh out loud hilarious. The characters are fantastic and for my money it features some of Woody Allen’s best writing. Filmed at various locations here in Paris (some we have already visited), Allen places his characters right in the middle of this city both past and present day. The performances are top-notch and the feeling of nostalgia is impossible to deny. It’s a beautiful film that I just love talking about.

So, before we head off to a local cafe and take a stroll in the Latin Quarter, I thought I would share five great scenes from this movie I love. Now, last Sunday I did a Phenomenal 5 on Paris movie scenes and #2 was the gorgeous opening montage of “Midnight in Paris”. Since I’ve already used it I’ll leave it out here. But it is an amazing opening sequence that I have watched over and over. These scenes I have picked are just samples of what makes this movie so good. Great laughs, great characters, great performances, great city!

 #1 – GIL MEETS THE FITZGERALDS

One of my favorite scenes in “Midnight in Paris” is where Gil meets Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (played brilliantly by Alison Pill and Tom Hiddleston). After getting lost in the streets of Paris, Gil is picked up by an antique car which whisks him away to 1920’s Paris. He arrives at a bar where a party is going on and bumps into the Fitzgeralds. Gil’s confusion mixed with amazing portrayals from Hiddleston and Pill make this a hysterical scene. And even though it’s completely preposterous, the environment, the music, and the performances make this strikingly believable. Hiddleston alone makes this scene with his chipper expressions and hilarious line deliveries. I love it.

#2 – DEBATE AT THE RODIN MUSEUM

We all know people like Paul (Michael Sheen) from “Midnight in Paris”. He’s one of those who thinks he’s a lot smarter than he actually is. He’s an old friend of Gil’s fiancĂ©e Inez (Rachel McAdams) and she is enamored by his immense knowledge of Paris and it’s history even though most of his “knowledge” is flat-out wrong. A great example of this is the scene in the gardens at the Rodin Museum. Paul, flexing his pseudo-intellectual muscle, actually argues with the museum tour guide regarding Rodin’s past relationships. Paul is clearly wrong, but you know guys like this, they’ll never be convinced of it. Sheen’s delivery is hilarious and Rodin himself couldn’t have convinced this know-it-all otherwise. *(Yes, I know this photo isn’t from the Rodin Museum scene but it perfectly captures the Paul character).

#3 – A CHAT WITH HEMINGWAY

Corey Stoll’s portrayal of Earnest Hemingway was absolutely phenomenal. We’re introduced to him after Gil leaves the above mentioned party with the Fitzgeralds in search of more lively entertainment. They enter a bar where Hemingway is sitting alone in the corner. We just stand there alongside Gil and watch as a hilarious conversation takes place between Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. It’s clear that Zelda doesn’t like Earnest and she takes off. F. Scott soon follows leaving Gil to share a conversation about life and  writing with one of his literary idols. Stoll speaks like Hemingway wrote which adds an ever funnier element to their conversation. This is a key moment in the film that begins Gil’s new perspective on life. It’s also extremely funny.

#4 – A NIGHT WALK WITH ADRIANA

After several trips back in time, Gil finds himself mesmerized by the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard). He finally gets some meaningful time alone with her as they share a romantic walk on a beautiful Paris night. The cool 1920’s feel mixed with the beauty of the city of lights is the perfect setting for the movie’s most romantic scene. Woody Allen also uses Gil to once again speak of the allure of the city. It makes you question who he’s attracted to more, Adriana or the city? This is such a wonderful scene that moves which such grace, all as the equally beautiful “Parlez-moi d’amour” plays in the background. Call me a sap but this is a great scene.

#5 –  PARIS IN THE RAIN

The movie ends with Gil walking alone in the Paris night. He’s broken it off with Inez and has realized his desire for the past was misguided and that every era has their own problems. Unsure of everything, he bumps into Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux) again on the beautiful Pont Alexandre III bridge. The two strike up a conversation and Gil tells her that he will be staying in Paris. There is an obvious attraction between them which is only solidified when a small rain shower pops up. The two walk off together enjoying the rain and the city. While Gil thought he once again had no direction in his life, Paris takes him by the hand and sets his course. What a great way to end the movie.

Well, that’s all for now. I have fountains, paintings, a buttered baguette, and a cozy cafe in my immediate future. What did you think of “Midnight in Paris”. Hopefully you liked it as much as I did. Please fell free to share your thoughts on it. And until I hit the states again…au revior.

Review: “The Avengers”

Marvel Studio’s “The Avengers” is the culmination of what may be the most ambitious project in film history. For those movie fans who have been living in a cave for the past several years, Marvel has been releasing several individual superhero movies that have all set the table for this huge event film. Two “Iron Man” pictures, “Captain America”, “Thor”, and “The Incredible Hulk” have all been linked together through brief reoccuring cameos and hidden after-credits scenes that refer to something called “The Avengers Initiative”. As any comic book geek could tell you, that’s a reference to the Marvel superhero team that first debuted in comics in 1963. On the surface, the idea for an Avengers film that’s directly tied into other individual superhero movies sounds great. On the flip side, even though the other films have been good, there are still plenty of areas where “The Avengers” could go off track. Well as a movie and comic book fan, I’m happy to say that “The Avengers” not only meets the challenges of it’s vision, but it’s an action packed adrenaline rush that offers some of the most fun I’ve had at the theater this year.

To handle this rather large undertaking, Marvel placed the project in the hands of Joss Whedon. Whedon was a good choice mainly due to his variety of experience. He’s found success in television, film, and comic books and he uses his knowledge of each combined with Disney’s deep pockets to create a movie that would appeal to the fanboy and the casual moviegoer alike. One thing that helps Whedon is that the film doesn’t require your traditional origin story. While we do see the generation of the team, we know all of the characters from the previous Marvel movies so Whedon is able to dive right into the story. That being said, don’t mistake this for a deep, engaging story that will challenge the audience. But I’ll also say that anyone going into “The Avengers” for that has already missed the point.

Throughout the other Marvel films, particularly “Captain America”, we learned about a cosmic energy source known as the cosmic cube. In “The Avengers”, S.H.E.I.L.D. head honcho Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) has a team of scientists led by physicist Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) trying to harness the power of the cube, now known as the Tesseract. But suddenly the cube activates and opens a portal allowing the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) to entire the facility and steal it. Knowing the immense threat associated with the Tesseract being in the wrong hands, Fury activates the Avengers Initiative. But getting such a diverse group of superheroes to cooperate and coexist proves to be a lot harder than expected.

Fury starts by contacting Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). He sends her to India to find Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) while sending Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) to Stark Tower to speak to Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.). While the two are gone, he approaches Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and sends him on a mission to retrieve the Tesseract. Upon hearing of Loki’s involvement, the thunder god Thor (Chris Hemsworth) also entires the mix as does the marksman and assassin known as Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Each of the heroes have their own baggage and their own personalities which often times clash to the point of dysfunction. But their disagreements give us some of the movie’s cooler and often times funnier moments. As you would expect the situation worsens and it’s up to the team to pull together or the world will be taken over starting with New York City.

It’s a pretty cut-and-dry story but it really works because Whedon understand his characters and he knows what kind of movie he’s trying to make. His familiarity with the Marvel comic book universe is clearly seen throughout the picture but nowhere more than in his treatment of the characters. As a comic book fan, I was really impressed with how they all felt right and it’s clear that the source material played a big role in shaping the on-screen versions. But Whedon never falls into the trap of taking things too seriously. The movie is filled with laugh out loud funny moments that are cleverly used and they never feel cheap or forced. They mix perfectly with the razor-sharp dialogue and the jaw-dropping action sequences. But the fantastic action and special effects shouldn’t surprise anyone. Afterall, “The Avengers” is a superhero action picture and Whedon knows it. The action comes at a furious pace and I can see where some may view it as relentless. Personally, I was completely wrapped up in it. The movie sells the superhero action through some of the most spectacular visuals and editing that you’ll see. I was blown away.

I can’t write a review of “The Avengers” without mentioning the incredible cast. One of the reasons the Marvel films and particularly “The Avengers” works so well is because of the amazing casting. Everyone is invested in their character and not one single performer phones it in. Downey, Jr. continues to be the perfect Tony Stark mainly due to his natural ability to use sarcasm and fire off funny quips without hesitation. Chris Evans, known more for his goofier roles,  is also quite good as the serious and straight-laced Captain America. I also really liked Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. He’s the third actor to take on the role and he nails it. Much like Downey, Jr., Hemsworth is the perfect Thor and he shares some of the film’s best scenes with Hulk. Renner and Johannson also handle their roles very well. But I have to give special time to the wonderful Tom Hiddleston. He’s a remarkably diverse actor and he shows it here. His Loki is mysterious, mischievous, and evil and Hiddleston slithers through his scenes stealing many of them. There are also nice smaller performances from Gregg, Gwyneth Paltrow and Cobie Smulders that are just icing on the cake.

I can see where some people may not respond as positively as I did to “The Avengers”. The action is pretty much start-to-finish and if you’re not interested in the characters you’ll have a hard time embracing the story. There are also a few shortcuts taken with the story for the sake of convenience that could have been done a little better. For me, I have a connection to these characters through all my years of comic book reading and this film exceeded my expectations. But being a comic reader isn’t a prerequisite for enjoying this movie. If you’ve liked what Marvel has put out leading to it, you’re going to love “The Avengers”. Sure, it’s a loud, energetic summer popcorn flick, but it’s also a really good one. It’s honest and it never tries to be something it’s not. Featuring one of the better ensemble casts and some top-notch directing from Joss Whedon, “The Avengers” is a big budget blockbuster that actually deserves all the money it’s going to rake it. When’s the next showing? I’m ready to see it again.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

4-stars

“THOR” – 4 1/2 STARS

The summer of 2011 was all about superheroes. The summer movie season started with “Thor”, the first of four superhero film’s that were released between May and July of 2011. The idea of a Thor movie changed hands multiple times but Marvel Studios would finally green-light the project after the strong success of the Iron Man film. “Thor” was another movie that led to this week’s much-anticipated Avengers movie.

Of the four big superhero releases that year, I always felt “Thor” had the biggest chance fir failure. While I understood how a great picture could be made considering the wealth of quality source material available, I couldn’t help but question how it would look on-screen. I was thrilled to see that it’s a cleverly crafted film and Marvel Studios did a nice job placing it in the hands of director Kenneth Branagh. Now Branagh wasn’t the first name that I thought of when it comes to directing superhero movies. He’s better known for his Shakespeare movie adaptations but don’t let that scare you away. He does a great job here with some tricky material.

Australian actor Chris Hemsworth plays Thor, the tough but brash god of thunder and heir to the throne of Asgard who is banished to earth after bringing war to his home and losing favor with his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Thor’s banishment opens the door for his brother Loki (wonderfully played by Tom Hiddleston), also known as the god of mischief, to rise to power. Upon crashing down to earth, Thor is found by a group of scientists led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who can’t determine whether Thor is from another “realm” or truly insane. To make things worse, Thor finds himself to be without  Mjolnir, his mystical hammer and ultimate power source, making his ability to return to Asgard virtually impossible.

Perhaps the greatest thing about Thor is that it’s just so much fun. For me personally, it was a fantastic movie theater experience. The cast is having fun and easily passes it on to us. Of course it’s filled with spectacular action sequences and special effects but also the perfect amount of humor that never goes too far. The movie never takes itself too seriously and that’s a key to it’s success. “Thor” sticks close enough to the comic book source material to satisfy any fanboy like me but also has a strong mass appeal that anyone could easily appreciate. I also loved the portrayals of Thor’s great assortment of side characters such as Heimdall, Volstagg, and Sif. Almost everything works well. There are moments that had me wanting to clap and others that had me laughing out loud. It’s that well done.

Hemsworth really brings it with his performance. He proves to be a great casting choice and his bulked up, Norse warrior look combined with a genuinely funny, self-deprecating humor does Thor justice. Portman, fresh off of her Academy Award win, is also very good as Jane Foster. She has a nice, believable chemistry with Hemsworth that’s pretty easy to buy into. Hiddleston’s Loki was one of the trickiest roles (no pun intended) but he pulls it off masterfully and Hopkins is as strong as always. I also enjoyed Jaimie Alexander’s Sif. Unfortunately she isn’t given much to do and I would have loved to have seen more of her in the picture.

There isn’t a lot to say negatively about the film but I do have to mention the 3-D. There are very few scenes that really stand out and at the end of the day the 3-D seems tacked on and pointless. As is the case with many conversions, it adds a darker look to the screen and I could have done without it completely. I also wasn’t really taken Kat Dennings’ Darcy Lewis character. She’s mainly in there for comic relief and honestly some of her lines are pretty funny. But I could think of a few better ways to use that screen time. But these things do nothing to ruin what’s a really good film.

“Thor” was a great start to the summer season and a true accomplishment for fans of the comic book movie genre. It’s strong cast is complimented by a well written story and sharp direction. As I mentioned, it never takes itself too seriously but does have enough drama to draw you in. It trips up in a few small places but as a whole “Thor” was a joy. As a comic book fan it met nearly every expectation I had. It’s an obvious attempt to start yet another Marvel movie franchise and ties in nicely to the upcoming Avengers film. It moves at a perfect pace and maintains a great balance between it’s parallel stories. It a fun, exciting, and often hilarious popcorn picture that I’m ready to see again.

TOP 5 BEST MALE SUPPORTING PERFORMANCES of 2011

Top 5 Best Male Supporting Performances of 2011

As I’ve mentioned, I didn’t see 2011 as the best year for movies but we did end up with several fantastic films and some truly memorable and wonderful lead and supporting performances. I’ve presented my personal Top 10 Films of 2011 and now it’s time to look at the performers. Here are my top 5 supporting male performances. I’m sure there are some you will agree with and others you won’t. Take time to comment and share your own personal top 5.

#5 – Tom Hiddleston (Midnight in Paris)

One of the reasons “Midnight in Paris” works so well is because of the incredible supporting work from its marvelous cast. Hiddleston instantly catches your attention from his first moments on screen and although he has a small role, it’s nonetheless brilliant. His line delivery, mannerisms, and period charm nail the character he portrays and he helped make a pretty unbelievable concept believable.

#4 – Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class)

Fassbender has garnered a lot of attention for his performances in 2011 but one that seems to go unnoticed is his amazing work in “X-Men: First Class”. He owns and commands every scene he’s in and I couldn’t get enough of him. He truly sells the Magneto character by showing the hard and calloused side while maintaining a sad and emotional perspective as well. It’s a seasoned and polished performance that deserves to be recognized.

#3 – Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris)

Remember when I said that a key reason “Midnight in Paris” works is because of it’s fantastic supporting cast? Here’s another example. Stoll’s Hemmingway is brash and crude but he’s also suave and at times hilarious. Stoll’s performance is a perfect match for the material and he steals several scenes. In a movie that requires a belief in the spectacular, it’s performances like Stoll’s that made be buy into it.

#2 – Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)

Some may consider Pitt’s performance as a lead role but I see him more as strong supporting backbone to an incredibly moving story. Pitt has been known for his more exaggerated performances but this is totally different. Here he plays a believable and relatable father let down by life and facing the pressure of raising his family. It’s a near perfect performance that’s measured and grounded. It was a good year for Pitt and his work in “Moneyball” is getting all the praise. But I found his work in “The Tree of Life” to be the best of his career.

#1 Nick Nolte (Warrior)

One the most pleasant surprises of the year was Nick Nolte’s performance in “Warrior”. Some of the most gripping scenes of 2011 featured Nolte’s portrayal of a broken father who is rebuilding his life but still facing the consequences of his failures. Nolte helps get to the core of what makes “Warrior” such a powerful picture. It’s much more than the MMA backdrop might suggest, and it’s Nolte who drives this moving drama.

Agree or disagree. Be sure to leave a comment and let me know.

“WAR HORSE” – 3 1/2 STARS

“War Horse” is a Steven Spielberg movie throughout. It’s broad in scope, has huge production value, and soaked in melodrama. Spielberg produced and directed this war time period film and it features beautiful locations and several large-scale action scenes and set pieces. He has made several of these ambitious war pictures before so he’s in familiar territory. But his biggest challenge is taking a horse and making him the main star while keeping the audience engaged for the movie’s two and a half hour running time. “War Horse” does succeed in several areas but it never completely captures or maintains the emotional charge that it aims for.

Based on a 1982 children’s book, “War Horse” follows a very special young colt who is unwisely bought at an auction by a struggling farmer who is supposed to be buying a bigger, stronger plow horse. The farmer’s wife is furious with the purchase but their young son Albert promises to raise and train the horse who he names Joey to eventually plow their hard, rocky farm plot. The family hits even harder times and circumstances arise that sees Joey thrust into the onset of World War I. “War Horse” never stays in the same place very long and becomes a collection of brief short stories about the people Joey encounters including a military officer heading to war, two young brothers reluctantly serving on the German front, and an elderly French farmer and his granddaughter. There are several other scenes featuring other characters but the one constant throughout is Joey.

This storytelling technique works good in the broad sense. Joey is certainly an incredible animal and I couldn’t help but stay interested regardless of the convenience that dictates many of his situations. I particularly enjoyed the story of Joey and the military officer played wonderfully by Tom Hiddleston. Equally good were the scenes with the French Farmer played by the fantastic French actor Niels Arestrup and his young granddaughter Emilie played by the lovely Celine Buckens. These are the films best scenes and I can’t help but wish we could have gotten more from these characters. But as I mentioned, Joey is the real star and I was amazed that Spielberg was able to draw so much character out of his lead. As many as eight different horses played the part of Joey and even though the director uses several instances of emotional manipulation, the horse we get on-screen held my interest throughout.

But there was something missing in the movie. It’s clear what the movie wants to be but I could never get as emotionally invested as I was supposed to be. Some of the tugs at our heart-strings felt a bit artificial and there are several animal movie clichĂ©s that the movie fully embraces. It was also rather predictable in some areas and I found myself figuring out things well before they culminated on the screen. As with many Spielberg pictures, subtly isn’t a strong point and his attempts to bring tears feel heavy on delivery but light in effect. And with a movie that is striving to be an emotionally driven family drama, that hurts the film.

Flaws aside, “War Horse” is a very watchable film and even flirts with occasional greatness. As expected, it’s technically sound with some beautiful camera work, fantastic locations, and crisp editing. I loved the shots of the English countryside and the dank, muddy, war-torn areas are perfectly fitting. All the performances are solid and some of the character stories are great. There is a lot of charm and heart in “War Horse” but there are also several cheap and lazy attempts to bring out the tissues. It’s a good movie and one that I would certainly watch again. But I can’t help feel that with a tighter script and a slightly different approach, “War Horse” could have been a serious Oscar contender.