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Monday, March 18,2013

A return trip to 'Paris'

East Lansing Film Society screens Oscar-nominated comedy from Woody Allen

by James Sanford

Monday, Jan. 30 —The East Lansing Film Society screens writer-director Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" this week. The comic fantasy is nominated for three Academy Awards, including best picture and best director.

"Paris" screens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing, and at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and 7 and 9:15 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Wells Hall on the Michigan State University campus. Here is the City Pulse review of "Paris," originally published last May:

When it comes to comebacks, Woody Allen could probably teach Cher, Britney Spears and even Lazarus a few lessons by now. Every time it seems the astonishingly prolific but frustratingly inconsistent writer-director has finally run out of surprises, he conjures up something like "Midnight in Paris," a delirious romantic fantasy that's like cinematic champagne, effervescent, and intoxicating.
"Paris" finds Allen returning to the delicately whimsical tone of his mid-1980s masterpieces "Zelig" and "The Purple Rose of Cairo" and his underrated 1990 urban fairy tale "Alice," in which a dispirited Mia Farrow wandered into New York's ethereal underground.
In "Paris," Owen Wilson plays Gil, a successful screenwriter who yearns to be a novelist in Paris instead of a Hollywood hack-for-hire in a Malibu mansion. His blonde, bland fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams, putting enough snappy sass into the role to give it some needed zip), is mystified by his daydreams about the City of Light in the Jazz Age. The insufferably pompous intellectual Paul (a priceless Michael Sheen) is equally unsympathetic and diagnoses Gil with "golden age thinking," the starry-eyed belief that living in another time would have been preferable to plodding through the present.
Gil will eventually find a kindred spirit in Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who tells him that "the past has always had a great charisma for me." A model who specializes in playing house with celebrity artists, Adriana immediately bewitches Gil. She seems to have worked the same spell on Allen, who photographs Cotillard like the doe-eyed, moon-faced 1930s Joan Crawford, before she transformed herself into a steely superwoman. Bathed in copper-colored light and speaking in a voice like morning mist, Cotillard further confirms what "Inception" suggested: She's the ultimate dreamgirl.
While Wilson will never be known as an actor of extraordinary range or depth, he knows how to use his easygoing attitude to his advantage, as he's recently shown as the bed-hopping baseball player in director James L. Brooks' "How Do You Know" and the not-so-hot-blooded suburban dad in "Hall Pass."
Ever since Allen stepped down as the leading man in most of his films, he has been accused of trying to shoehorn his male stars into "the Woody Allen role" as the neurotic, cerebral, witty guy. If that's what's happening here, Wilson carries that mantle much more easily than most of his predecessors. Although Gil is a quintessential hopeless romantic who's every bit as enraptured by Paris as Allen used to be with the majesty of Manhattan — "I can see myself strolling along the boulevard with a baguette under my arm!" he excitedly tells the utterly blase Inez — Wilson gives the character a sweet sincerity that offsets his flakiness. When Gil finds himself confronted by the tantalizing possibility of realizing all his ambitions, the wondrous look in Wilson's eyes makes it impossible not to cheer him on.
Arriving barely nine months after Allen's limp "You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger," which even his most devoted fans found difficult to defend, "Paris" is a beguiling turnaround, throwing out the arch, starchy dialogue that has hobbled too many of Allen's recent films and recapturing the joy and comic electricity that, outside of "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," hasn't surfaced very often in his output during the last decade.
Allen's films have almost always been scored with the jazz and big-band sounds of the 1920s and 1930s, which hints that "golden age thinking" might be a condition he's been afflicted with for years. If that inspires him to create more gems like "Midnight in Paris," however, let's hope there's no cure for the disease.

'Midnight in Paris'
7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31 and Wednesday, Feb. 1
Hannah Community Center
819 Abbot Road, East Lansing
7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, and 7 and 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 3, Saturday, Feb. 4 and Sunday, Feb. 5
Wells Hall, Michigan State University
$8 adults; $6 seniors and students
(517) 980-5802
www.elff.com






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