Thursday, 13 October 2011

(500) Words Review: Midnight in Paris

Every other Woody Allen film the past decade has been billed a ‘return to form’; however that theory has altered in the last six years. His last two films Whatever Works (2009) and You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (2010) both underwhelmed critics and although Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008) was an irreverent success, its predecessors Scoop (2006) and Cassandra’s Dream (2007) were certainly not after the excellent Match Point (2005).

By de facto law then, Midnight in Paris had to triumph and thanks to its punchy premise it does, underlining again how Allen is just as skilled a filmmaker on foreign shores as he is in his beloved New York. The romance and the comedy is intact without veering into the banality of a rom-com, but nostalgia fuels the reverence for his latest picture thanks to the charming time-travel aspect, as Owen Wilson’s downtrodden Hollywood writer Gil winds up in 1920s Paris when the bell chimes at midnight.

Stultified by his fiancée (Rachel McAdams)’s pushiness and the pedantry of her ubiquitous college pal Michael Sheen, a nocturnal stroll leads to a Peugeot Landaulet whisking Gil into the Golden Age of La Ville-Lumière where he meets F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) and Salvador Dalí (a flamboyant Adrien Brody) amongst others, to the soundtrack of Cole Porter, played by Cole Porter. It is during his wistful ventures that he becomes smitten with Marion Cotillard’s alluring Adriana when he finds himself in a quandary.

Allen revealed that this is his first film to go through a digital intermediate instead of being colour timed in the traditional photochemical way, as he explores whether to deploy the method on future films. His timing is impeccable as Paris is presented beautifully by Se7en’s atmospheric cinematographer Darius Khondji, aided by seasoned French cameraman Johanne Debas, with an immersive panache whether it’s the city’s past or present, day or night.

Performances come secondary to the grandeur of not only Paris but a grandiose cameo by Versailles, although Wilson, prone to monotony, excels in a more sophisticated comedy that recalls his early performances under Wes Anderson. Cotillard’s magnetism is intensified by her 20s garments while McAdams and on-screen Republican parents Mimi Kennedy and Kurt Fuller fence with Wilson’s left-wing idealist in a couple of wry exchanges.

The romantic element is diluted by its hackneyed inexorableness in the present but the fish out of water facet is charming and light. Paris sizzles.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Bond's ultimatum

During a news day last year, a story suggestion yours truly offered to cover which would be breaking in the afternoon was of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) edging closer to a sale after a period of uncertainty. To add weight to the story’s appeal, it was re-affirmed to our female editor that Leo the Lion’s roar had preceded much loved films such as West Side Story, The Magnificent Seven, the Pink Panther series, Annie Hall and distributed one of Great Britain’s greatest institutions, James Bond. Her response was disapproving.

‘Does anyone care about James Bond anymore?’

Well yes, they do. Millions actually. But her snooty retort is a view shared by many since the period from 1989 to 1995, when 007 endured his longest sabbatical away from the silver screen. As time elapsed, the Berlin Wall collapsed and Cold War paranoia was vanquished, so why did the new world need a relic who was originally created against the backdrop of the post-World War II era? Producer Michael G Wilson, however, was of the opinion that ‘The world is more in need of James Bond than ever.’

Goldeneye (1995) quashed any notion that because communists were no longer deemed a viable threat, it wasn’t still business as usual for Mr Bond. Pierce Brosnan, silver-tongued and clad in Brioni, faced off against Sean Bean’s rugged Alec Trevelyan in a politically aware yet Bondian picture that resuscitated the franchise and contemporised it into a phenomenal cash cow. The Nintendo 64 game, idolised to this day, was at the forefront of a new merchandise drive.

Thursday 6 October marked the 49th anniversary of the Bond film franchise, and number 23 is forthcoming next year that MGM’s studio uncertainty has been quelled by Sony. Sony this week registered URL domains including '', '' and even '’, ahead of next year’s 50th anniversary film. At times it has felt like the sky would fall on the future of Bond on film, but Daniel Craig will be slipping back into the tuxedo and desirable Tom Ford suits for a third time, while Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes is at the helm with shooting to start next month.

Yet Bond is experiencing a new identity crisis as the challenge now is to tailor the agent through the ages in the post-9/11 era. Once this has succeeded, with Craig’s superlative debut in 2006’s Casino Royale, but twice it has floundered via the ignorantly absurd Die Another Day (2002) and the straight-to-video fare of Quantum of Solace (2008). Disregarding Brosnan’s final appearance, Craig’s Bond has not so much taken a few leaves out of Jason Bourne’s handbook, as plagiarised it.

This was effectively portrayed in Royale because the director, Martin Campbell, had experienced guiding Brosnan through his first assignment 11 years previously, and his filming encapsulated Bondian grandeur. The post-credit chase sequence through Madagascar (although filmed in Nassau) features several frames that could adorn the walls of the Tate Modern.

But sandwiched in between Royale and Quantum was The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). Paul Greengrass had achieved the remarkable feat of performing on The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and its predecessor, the electric The Bourne Identity (2002), to conclude a trilogy that flirts with perfection and includes, aptly, its own identity.

Banally though, Quantum followed the blueprints of Ultimatum and discombobulated its audience with excessive cutting in a rushed and incomprehensible 100 minutes. Emotion was sapped in the absence of a worthy female successor to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, an airborne dogfight was tedious and sadly, we didn’t care about Bond, as striking as Craig was.

It is uncanny how Craig’s opening two films as Bond resemble Brosnan’s auspicious start and hasty follow-up (Tomorrow Never Dies). Marc Forster, a director with aesthetic qualities at heart, was an incongruous choice for Quantum, patent since although the second unit boasted Dan Bradley (he of Bourne fame), the director didn’t have the nous to make it cinematic rather than Steven Seagal hash.

Sam Mendes is inarguably more Forster than Campbell. His CV boasts a theatrical background, American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Jarhead ­– a Gulf War film minus the fighting – amongst others. The aforementioned films and remark are not criticism, but evidence that, as an auteur, he is a left-field choice despite his British citizenship. He has nevertheless been attached to the project for close to two years now, and his working relationship with Craig – as divulged by the latter – is heartening. The pair have re-read Ian Fleming’s books, and speaking to Hollywood Outlook, Craig stated: ‘Sam (Mendes) is a huge, huge Bond fan and has been all his life. He and I both said at the beginning to each other that the only thing we want to do is make the best James Bond movie we can. So therefore, we have to go back to what we know about the books, what we know about the movies and what we know about all of that... And improve upon it.’

Enticingly, Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) and Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges) are both locked in for roles, with the former touted as the villain and the latter’s character described as a ‘darkly complex role’, that requires ‘only an actor of great ability and dexterity’. The prospect of the pair facing off with Craig almost certainly guarantees similar character development which bolstered Royale so terrifically.

It was compelling to witness Bond get hurt, appear vulnerable and be devoid of Q Branch gadgets in Craig’s first effort, but the caveat is that the fun is being extracted from the series. Mendes’ greatest challenge is to strike the perfect Bond concoction of humour, grit and gimmicks – the benchmark of perfection to aspire to is perhaps Terence Young’s From Russia with Love (1963).

The franchise’s films up until 1989’s License to Kill would end the credits with the uplifting promise that MI6’s finest would return in one of Fleming’s revered titles. Insecurity has since re-emanated and whereas 12 films were released in the 20 years beginning in 1962, just six have been made following Timothy Dalton’s last fire of a Walther PPK. But rest assured, James Bond will return. On October 26 2012.