SFC12: Midnight in Paris

And here we are again, friends!  Time for another review of the Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition.  With the summer rapidly drawing to a close, I am working feverishly to finish every film on the list before the September 5th deadline.  And so, I procured the next film from Netflix and sat down to watch Woody Allen’s Best Picture nominated film from last year.  Simply put, Midnight in Paris felt tailor made for me and I loved every second of it!

I think it fair to say that this film is the most intelligent, scholarly film I have ever seen.  It has to be the cinematic equivalent of Ulysses because I felt that I needed an encyclopedia, film history diagram, art critic’s guide, and immense knowledge of wines just to understand this movie!  At every turn there is another subtly nuanced reference to a major work or player in history that I was at best vaguely familiar with.  Apparently I forgot my monocle as I sat their enjoying the thousands of artistic inside jokes that passed above my head.  A brilliant work of cultural documentation, I know I want to see this film again and again as I age as a test of how well versed I am in the classics.

Most personally, this film hit a rather throbbing nerve I have for that great country of France, and particularly for it’s shining capital city.  Though my travels have not yet taken me there, my heart has always belonged to Paris and so the opening sequence of expositional shots around the city, which many would probably consider over-indulgent, was like candy to me.  I know I am gushing and that it gives me an unfair bias, but the film had me at the title really, and the subsequent quality I saw in Midnight in Paris simply added to my love of it.

Everything about this film drips classic Woody Allen.  The almost painfully long takes in which characters walk in and out of limited space, the slightly heavy use of score to set a tone, and the general apathy and mysticality surrounding the protagonist all reminded me of the great filmmaker behind the project, and I can only say that it was executed beautifully for an hour-and-a-half long film. As usual, there is a lot of the writer/director in his protagonist and that seemingly internal battle for greatness yet again strikes a very true chord with reality.

And speaking of the hero, Owen Wilson proves yet again that he gets what Allen is doing, giving a phenomenal performance.  I might even say that this is the best role I have seen him in, simply because it is subtle and under-spoken rather than the extremities he has gone to for Wes Anderson’s caricatured worlds.  The supporting cast is also phenomenal from the horrendously upsetting future in-laws of his woefully self-centered wife (Rachel McAdams), to the incredible cast of characters playing the great artists of yesteryear.  Standouts include Corey Stoll for his hilarious recreation of Hemingway, Marion Cotillard for her beautiful Adriana, and of course the one and only Adrien Brody for by far the funniest and most true portrayal of the surreal Salvador Dali.  Everyone of them mastered the person they were giving life to and created a magnificently true world for our Gil Bender to run around in.

As for the message of the film, I rather like the way Allen manages to connect the roaring 1920’s to our current environment – everything expanding at rapid pace, yet a sort of discontentment or abandon for the present.  He somehow reminds me that, while the current climate of our nation may not be the most desirable, it is as Voltaire quips “the best of all possible worlds” for me.  The film is full of fantastic quotes which help illustrate that fact such as when Paul explains that “Nostalgia is denial – denial of the painful present… the name for this denial is golden age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in – its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.”  Beautifully woven in to the narrative, the audience is shown the truth of this statement as we watch both Gil and Adriana seek an escape from their lives to something more exciting elsewhere.

Midnight in Paris is a gorgeous film – intellectually stimulating, cinematically distinct, and poignantly appropriate for the modern age.  I am absolutely in love with this latest masterpiece from that great director, Woody Allen, and I can only hope to one day grasp the true genius of his work (and maybe catch all of the references too).  If you haven’t already, please find room in your schedules to sit down with a friend or loved one and simply enjoy the exhortation of one of the greatest places in the world. Paris, and Midnight in Paris, je t’aime!

Final Rating:  10//10

Dali!

Ah.  Sacre Bleu!  I do like this film. 🙂  Let me know what you thought of Woody Allen’s latest work in the comments below.  Also, be sure to check out this rather interesting podcast below.  I think two weird French guys took over the job for a day to talk about a bunch of French films…


*Note that Ryan and I recorded this Podcast before doing the Sophie’s Choice one.  Sorry for the confusion.

Anyway, we got control of the mic back and I think that will be the last of the Frenchies we will see here.  Next, I am turning my attention across the ocean a ways to the world of crime, confusion, and Coen as I review their 1984 thriller, Blood Simple.

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SFC12: Sophie’s Choice

Good Lord!  Is it that time again?  I think it is, so get ready for another Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition review, and folks this one is a doozy!  Ryan and I thought we were done with emotionally dank films from the past in this challenge when we saw The Deer Hunter, but somehow this film snuck up and laid its “wet blanket” of angst on us.  And to top it off, it’s a war film just like Deer Hunter!  Despite its depressive mood, the film is well cast and reminiscent of some great old literature, so prepare yourselves for Sophie’s Choice.

Ryan and I saw this film well over a week ago and both of us have been trying to figure out how to talk about it. It’s dark, it’s depressing, it’s awkward and all over the place.  It feels like someone decided to cross Schindler’s List with elements from The Great Gatsby and a B plot (question mark) that is straight out of A Beautiful Mind.  In shortSophie’s Choice is a film that doesn’t seem to know what it wants, which is a direct macrocosm of the life of the title character therein.

Let’s get the easy part out of the way – the casting is brilliant.  I love Peter MacNicol!  He has a beautiful, quirky nervousness about him which makes his timidity and sheepishness so fun and believable as the young writer, Stingo.  He is perfectly offset by Kevin Kline’s outrageous and flamboyant Nathan (who might or might not be a reflection of Kline’s own craziness).  And of course, the radiance of beauty herself, Meryl Streep gives yet another near flawless performance, and I only say nearly because it is almost impossible to pull off a true Prussian accent but she does it.  Every part of the casting is brilliant and each actor brings a fantastic life to their character.

Now for the more difficult task of tackling the plot at large.  I make the comparisons to Schindler’s and Gatsby because it is hard to tell exactly what story the filmmakers are trying to tell.  The action begins in a very quaint, aristocratic manner reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s world – focusing on the daily musings and adventures of a few normal citizens.  Even Stingo’s writing/narration reminds me of the stylized ultra-realism that accompanied the Modernist movement.

Yet, at odd moments, the narrative shifts from the modern workings of the happy but disturbed trio to long and atonal remembrances of Sophie’s former life in Nazi Europe.  And while these flashbacks are interesting, well told, and certainly necessary to provide backstory and bring characters together, they become cancerous and grow out of control.  Rather than enhancing the narrative already in place, the flashbacks tend to take over the plot and tell a wholly different of story.  It leads to several moments that feel very monologue-y and overly explanatory – like the character took an aside to share with the audience a connected but distant bit of his/her own backstory before getting back to their own plotline.  One scene in particular felt a lot like a Noir opening, with Sophie staring off into the distance and waxing on about her life in Nazi occupied Poland (“I knew that Blitzkrieg was trouble from the minute those Panzers rolled through my front door…”).  The disjointedness of the two story-lines causes a severe narrative rift which makes the film really hard to stay illusioned in and thus is its great downfall.

In short, I think Sophie’s Choice as a whole reflects a nature that is very similar to Nathan’s.  It has two excellent and well-thought out halves which have been abruptly smashed together in a somewhat sensical, if schizophrenic, final product.  As for Sophie’s actual choice, you can feel free to take your pick from a large selection:  her decision to leave Poland, to stay with Nathan, to befriend Stingo, to run away with Stingo, to help the Resistance, or the one that the film means to convince you it is.  Any way you slice it, her choiceS (plural) make up who she is as a character, and I did think that this was handled well.  Whereas it could have been a horribly blunt and obvious title gimmick (cf – The Ultimate Gift), Sophie’s Choice managed to make the sum total of her decisions matter rather than just the indicated, singular one.

Ultimately I thought the film was good but not as well executed as Deer Hunter.  It was just as poignant at times and had extremely heart-wrenching moments just like the former.  I would even go as far as to say that I liked the tone of this film better that Deer Hunter, though I don’t think many would disagree with me in better enjoying a film ending in hope rather than one ending in “patriotic perseverance”.  Particularly, I gave Sophie’s Choice serious brownie points for the beautiful last line which is a paraphrase of sorts from an Emily Dickinson poem:  “I let go the rage and sorrow for Sophie and Nathan… and for the many others who were but a few of the butchered and betrayed and martyred children of the Earth. When I could finally see again, I saw the first rays of daylight reflected in the murky river. This was not judgment day. Only morning; morning, excellent and fair.”

If you would like a film that will challenge you with a depressing and somewhat chaotic tone, that will give you better insight into the question of why we do what we do, Sophie’s Choice is an excellent one for you to  pick up.  It ambles along a bit and loses its way many times, but it does get its message across and does so in a very pretty manner.  Give it a shot, but be prepared with some tissues and a good literary background, and I think you will enjoy it.

Rating:  6//10

Finally I can move beyond this film!  I did enjoy watching it but coming up with a solid review has been almost Herculean.  Ryan and I both really struggled to get our thoughts down in print but check out how much better we did on the podcast:

We are entering the final stretch of the SFC 2012 and Ryan and I are both extremely close to finishing the race.  The order of our reviews and podcasts might get a little wonky over the next few weeks and I doubt either of us will have every review up by the September 5th deadline but both of us should get all of the movies watched by then.  My next adventure will be to that great, elusive city of which I have always dreamed – Paris – and I will be spending the evening there with Woody Allen, Owen Wilson, and a few surprise guests.  So join me again soon for my next review of last year’s Oscar nominated Midnight in Paris.

A Little Announcement…..

YEAH!!!!  If you couldn’t already tell, this post is to formally announce that for the first time ever in the three year run of the Summer Film Challenge I, Tyler Welch, have FINALLY completed the Challenge on time!!!!!!!  Yesterday afternoon I watched the final film on my list, Synecdoche, New York, and thus brought to a close the 2012 Apocalypse Edition of the Summer Film Challenge.  Sixteen films plus a short television show now under my belt, I am so ready to face the semester starting tomorrow!

Now, obviously not all of the SFC12 reviews are up yet.  Ryan and I are both working furiously to get those completed and posted on our blogs respectively, and we hope to have everything completed by the end of September.  However, please try to be patient with us as we are both preparing to shoot our senior thesis “Capstone” film as well as begin a new academic year, so it is very likely that our reviews will be slowing down quite a bit.  You can check out all of our reviews over on Ryan’s blog and watch as the final reviews roll in.

So what is next then?  Well, besides uploading the last SFC12 reviews over the coming months, I am working on a massive Quickee post to cover all the non-Challenge films I saw over the summer that I have been meaning to review.  That will be the first thing to drop after all the Challenge critiques are up.  Also, Ryan and I will be doing a recap podcast about the Summer Film Challenge 2012 so expect that soon after the reviews get posted.  And for those of you out there who have been actually waiting for the Bioshock review, don’t think I have forgotten it.  I think the final product will be less massive as I initially planned, but that will be a result of me tightening up my arguments and focusing on a few important things I don’t think have been discussed enough about the game and the genre in general. So, be looking forward to that sometime in October.

Oh….and there may be a little surprise Ryan and I are cooking up for the rest of the Fall so stay tuned. We got some big(ish) things planned…..

So!  Thank you for sticking with me throughout this whole thing and I hope you will continue to check out the blog for the last few reviews of the 2012 Summer Film Challenge and all the stuff that comes after that.  I have really enjoyed taking this journey with you over the past months and I hope to keep this regiment alive as I continue to take in stories and films over the coming years.  Until then, thank you once again for being with me on this and I hope you enjoy a few choice expressions of my joy at completing the Challenge on time.  🙂