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"Midnight In Paris" Review

Woody Allen had the biggest hit of his career with the winsome Midnight in Paris, a winsome fantasia about nostalgia and artistic angst.

Owen Wilson has the Woody surrogate role as a successful Hollywood screenwriter on vacation in Paris with his shallow harpy of a fiance (Rachel McAdams) and her rich parents. He's struggling with writing a novel about a man who works in a "nostalgia shop" selling vintage knick-knacks. One night, while lost trying to find his way back to the hotel, he is picked up by a classic motor car and when he gets out, he finds himself in the 1920s, hanging out with F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston, Loki from Thor, and Allison Pill, the drummer of Sex Bob-omb in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World), Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates), Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody), and many more. If you're an art or literature buff, it's a hoot. During his return visits, he is beguiled by Marion Cotillard because, well, she's Marion Cotillard and, unlike McAdams, she's not a grating beyatch.

I had a hard time getting into Midnight in Paris at first because of the typical Woody dialog in which everyone sounds like Woody - all hyper-literate and unrelated to natural vocal cadences. However, when Wilson starts time-tripping it mellows out and becomes a nice ride. It's been compared to his 1985 classic, The Purple Rose of Cairo, in it's conceit of impossible co-mingling but this isn't as good because the modern "reality" is clearly so deficient to the Roaring Twenties, but Woody addresses this in an insight late in the picture.

Woody will be turning 76 in a few days and he'd probably benefit from cutting back from his annual release schedule in favor of alternating years because for every little gem like Midnight in Paris or 2008's Vicki Cristina Barcelona - I still need to catch up with 2005's Match Point (are you noticing the pattern here?) - he's had twice as many facepalms that are watering down his legacy. (He will burn in Hell for Annie Hall winning over Star Wars, though.)

My girlfriend actually liked Midnight in Paris more than I did because she appreciated some of the references more than I did. (I had to pause the movie and have a lengthy riff involving a Jean-Paul Sartre play explained to me. Sue me; I went to public school.) It's not profound, but it is a nice light treat and worth a look.

Score: 6/10. Rent it.

This trailer is TERRIBLE! It focuses on the worst part - the modern day stuff - and consigns the magic to a few quick flashes. It's a miracle anyone wanted to see this movie based on what's here.

"Trespass" Review

Peruse the shelves of your video store - whoops, I'm showing my age, I mean browse Netflix - and you'll see loads of movies starring Big Name Movie Stars that you've never heard of. I'm not talking Wesley Snipes either. How does a movie starring a pair of Academy Award-winners, directed by the generally competent Joel Schumacher get dumped straight to video and VOD? How did producers spend an estimated $35 million producing a movie to gross about $16,000 in theaters? Is Trespass - no relation to the Ice-T/Ice Cube flick from the early-Nineties - really that terrible?

No, but it doesn't mean it's all that good. Nicolas "Will meals be provided?" Cage and Nicole Kidman star as a rich couple with a minor problem. No, not their cherry bomb teen daughter who wants to go to a party but the gang of masked gunmen who want the millions in diamonds and/or cash they believe are in the safe. Hijinks ensue and by hijinks I mean lots of yelling and screaming and injury and yelling and screaming and "shocking" plot twists. Oh, and more yelling and screaming.

The script relies too much on red herrings and revelations to keep things moving, but by the end there have been a few too many double-crosses and crazy people delusions to keep things grounded. (On further reflection I realized that one revelation moots a whole bunch of other stuff they've shown us, so I'm not really sure what the heck was happening and I'm wondering if the filmmakers knew either?)

Schumacher hustles everything along and it's only 90 minutes or so, but at it's core, if it had less swearing and starred Ashley Judd and Bruce Boxleitner, it could've been a Lifetime movie. Cage's readiness to make anything for a check is legendary, but what was the attraction to Kidman? Did she see this as her chance to make a Panic Room, the movie she started shooting and had to drop out of after being injured early in shooting and being replaced by Jodie Foster? What happened to her career? She still looks good; can't Julianne Moore spare a part for her?

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

"Sleeping Beauty" Review

My one-sentence review for Stanley Kubrick's dying film, Eyes Wide Shut, was that he somehow managed to make a movie featuring naked Nicole Kidman and rich weirdo orgies boring. As ridiculous as that mess was, there's a new opaque hunk of supposedly erotic art house weirdness in town that manages to suck any remaining molecules of atmosphere from the already airless genre: Sleeping Beauty. No, it's not anything like the fairy tale.

Here's the major selling point of this thing: Emily Browning (Sucker Punch's Baby Doll) spends half the movie totally naked. That she's (willingly) drugged unconscious for wealthy old guys to paw over is the gruesome price you pay for seeing the goodies. While she's beautiful and so porcelain-complexioned that she looks like she's made of china, the movie is so listlessly skeevy and her character so poorly-defined that there's nothing to grasp on to. The Internet was invented to grant access to the "good parts" without have endure the aimless non-plot, so get to Googling, kids, cuz there's hardly anything to discuss about this as a movie.

Browning is a student who apparently needs to work several jobs and volunteer for medical research when she's not possibly whoring at an upscale bar when she answers an ad for a job that entails wearing lingerie while serving creepy old rich people. That the other girls are way more naked isn't really explained. Then she's offered a promotion: For more money she will be drugged into a deep sleep for guys to molest as they see fit short of penetration and the main thought I had while watching these scenes was how she managed to not react to the abuse she gets from one John in particular.

The problem is that we have as a non-perv audience is that we have no effing idea what Browning is about. There are allusions to her tramping, but no details as to what she's actually up to. She gets evicted by her roommates for non-payment of rent, but goes and rents a luxury apartment with her new income. Worst is when she lets a friend commit suicide rather than try and help him, ironically showing the most emotion in the whole piece. For a moment it seemed like writer-director Julia Leigh was going to fill in the blanks, but alas she doesn't. There is so little substance to Sleeping Beauty that I think most critics who are praising it simply projected their views of exploitation of women and other bogeymen upon the blank whiteness of the frame and read the imagined Rorschach. (I also think if a man had made this exact same film, he would have been pilloried. Somehow, having a woman calling the shots makes it all better.)

Unless you want to marvel at the naked, nubile Browning tossed around like a sack of grain without flinching, there's nothing here worth waiting for nothing to happen when you could spend the time watching an exciting muddled mess of a musing about exploitation of women, namely her Sucker Punch. She's a lot hotter in her little sailor girl outfit slaying dragons than totally nude here.

Score: 2/10. Skip it. Watch Sucker Punch twice instead.

"Tower Heist" Review

Competently made but generally pointless, Tower Heist is a cut-rate Ocean's 11 wannabe that is so vanilla, it's hard to get to get worked up about it. I'm just glad I snuck into it.

After a sleazy Bernie Madoff-type Wall Street (Alan Alda) loses the pension funds of the workers of The Tower, a ultra-high-end NYC apartment skyscraper on Central Park West, the general manager (Ben Stiller) who asked Alda to manage the funds devises a complicated scheme to break into a safe in Alda's penthouse they believe holds $20 million. Needing some profession criminal advice, Stiller recruits his neighbor, Eddie Murphy. Hijinks ensue somewhat.

Tower Heist is a well-made movie with nice cinematography and some subtle character moments at times, but it never rises to anything remotely resembling rousing. Murphy just recycles three-decade old Reggie Hammond motormouth schtick unaware that no one says the n-word anymore in movies (other than Evil White People), but it could've been Chris Tucker, so we should be minimally thankful for that.

There are a few good laughs, but little ambition here. If it comes on cable on a rainy afternoon and you're not particularly motivated to surf around for something else, it won't make you suicidal to watch. (There's a quote for the DVD box!)

Score: 5/10. Catch it on cable.

"Paul" Review

You probably recognize the nerd stars, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, of the disappointing sci-fi comedy Paul from their pairing in cult genre comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz so it's a little curious as to how flat Paul turns out despite the how it should have been with its pedigree. The story of a pair of British geeks who start off at the San Diego Comic Con and travel the Southwest in an RV and then encounter an honest-to-goodness alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) could've been a hoot, but ends up a slack - not slacker - yarn laden with cliches.

I think the problem begins with the script by Frost and Pegg. Pegg co-wrote Shaun and Fuzz with those films' director, Edgar Wright, but the swap of Wright for Frost and then having the pages directed by Adventureland and Superbad shot-caller Greg Mottola just never catches fire. Too many of the gags are really obvious Star Wars references and there's more interest in bashing Christians as ignorant clowns than really tweaking the foibles of the Nerd Nation who can take a punch and would revel in some humor that's smarter than a honky-tonk band playing the "Cantina Theme."

The CGI effects integrating the alien into the scenes are seamless and the performances are uniformly OK, especially Kristen Wiig as an aforementioned Bible victim who cuts loose; she manages what was written as a really nasty stereotype and manages to make it somewhat sympathetic. It takes a bit to get used to Rogen's basso voice coming out of the skinny alien body, but you'll eventually roll with it.

Proving far less than the sum of its parts, Paul isn't a so much a bad movie as movie that's not very good.

Score: 4/10. Catch it on cable.

Trailer is here; they didn't allow embedding.
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