It occured to me yesterday while writing up the Crazy Stupid Love trailer that we hadn't yet discussed the new Woody Allen trailer for Midnight in Paris. Despite the occasional Vicky Cristina Barcelona or Match Point the Woodster has been dwindling creatively for some time. Let us not speak of last year's obnoxious and unfunny Woody. So let's break this one down like we do: yes, no and maybe so.
I have to admit that that "But Paris after midnight... is Magic" beat, got me. Especially because the staccato images included Owen Wilson dancing. I am a firm believer that dancing makes most any movie better, no matter who is doing it and it also brought back warm memories of Woody's 1996 musical Everyone Says I Love You which I really loved at the time (I haven't seen it since. Does it hold up?). In fact pretty much everything in that little sequence of the trailer looked promising, though Marion Cotillard as Ideal French Woman is a bit...expected at this point. There are other French actresses you know. France churns out awesome gorgeous talented actresses with pretty much the same speed that Australia manufactures movie stars.
For all the surface excitement of the new "Woody Allen, World Traveller" film series (it kicked off with The Blondes in London Trilogy), he's still making pretty much the same movie every time: Unhappy well educated couples cheat and even the cheating doesn't make them happy. This happens whilst Woody philosophizes either through the characters or a narrator. The samey-sameyness of the filmography didn't used to be a problem when the films were as perfect or as imaginative or as funny as they once were. To be honest, I'd rather he stopped switching countries and experimented with switching genres. Lately he seems to just be doing dramedies that aren't fully dramatic or comedic. One of the reasons Match Point worked so well was that it was quite a serious darkly dramatic picture.
But I guess I am interested in seeing Owen, Rachel McAdams, Michael Sheen and especially In the Loop's Mimi Kennedy act within his universe.
The most promising aspect of the trailer is that it does not in fact, tell you the plot. It does what all trailers should do instead: set up the premise, leave said premise dangling in the air, allow audiences to wonder about What Happens.
Most of the trailer is familiar but then we get the sense that Something Happens and a P.I. is brought in but that P.I. disappears? This doesn't seem to be the same movie unless it's a red herring.
Are you a Yes, No or Maybe So?
I guess I'm a soft No based on what I see here -- and how much I actively disliked You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger -- but my vote matters less than yours. See, I religiously see Woody Allen pictures even if I don't want to. It''s kind of my personal annual thank you for him being such a crucial figure in how I came to love the movies.
waterworks each weeknight at 11 as we turn on the cinematic shower.
True Story: The house my family lived in from the time I was nine years old until high school graduation had an unusual bathroom. I didn't think it was so terribly unusual because I lived with it but whenever friends would come to visit for the first time they would always demand to see the bathroom. They'd heard, you see. The storied feature in question was a sunken shower. You had to step down into it, as if it were an in-ground swimming pool and it was larger than your traditional shower or bathtub. But there were no rounded smooth edges, just tiles. So it wasn't, unfortunately, a comfortable bathtub unless you find sharp flat corners restive for reclining against, in which case… are you an invertebrate?
I suddenly flashed to my parent's old house while watching The Fifth Element recently. In the scene in question, law enforcement of one sort or another (it's hard to keep track in Luc Besson's frenzy-filled futurism) has entered Bruce Willis's building and good ol' Bruce realizes he needs to hide his strange guest, supreme being Leeloo (Milla Jovovich).
Where else? The shower, that most private of places... except maybe in the movies.
read the rest after the jump. (safe for work.)
Robert here, closing out the first season of my series Distant Relatives, (where we look at two films, (one classic, one modern) related through theme and ask what their similarities/differences can tell us about the evolution of cinema) with a two part special.
The meaning of life
It may seem like a cheat to compare a trilogy of films to a director’s entire collected works. Surely it wouldn’t be that hard to find elements in anyone’s filmography that happen to match up to the Toy Story films which cover a wide array of human (er, toy) emotion. But it’s not just random or occasional moments or themes that we’re talking about. When I see the Toy Story films, I see a primary emphasis on the two concepts that Ingmar Bergman explored though his entire career: the quest for meaning in life and the sorrow of being parted from those we love (one might also say the silence of God is in there but I find it to me more of an offshoot of those two motifs, more on that later). Indeed if Ingmar Bergman were a modern animator the Toy Story films may very well be what his output would look like.
But let’s talk about quests for meaning and the importance of relationships in today’s animated films. These are ubiquitous themes. The heroes of films like WALL-E, Shrek, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, How to Train Your Dragon, Up all find themselves on a quest that will bring a new sense of purpose to their rather humdrum lives. In the process they make a new connection or rekindle an old connection with a friend, spouse, family member, etc. The relationship helps them complete their quest, and the quest reinforces the relationship, all together bringing a new sense of meaning to all involved.
So what makes Toy Story special? Two things. First, in the Toy Story films, all three, the quest isn’t reinforced by coming together, the quest is coming together. No one is trying to save the world, rescue a princess, defeat a villian, cook a meal, quell a dragon, or protect a giant bird. No one is trying to assign new meaning to their lives. They’re simply trying to hold on to their current meaning by coming together (consider the quest of the characters in The Seventh Seal to simply return home, or the children in Fanny and Alexander to rejoin their family). Secondly, without grand designs, the characters of Toy Story tend to ask heavier questions. The kind you’d find in an Ingmar Bergman film, like “what is my purpose here?” “am I fulfilling it?” “what would it become if the being whose love gives me meaning ceased loving me?”
When somebody loves you, everything is beautiful...
In Bergman’s films this “being whose love gives meaning” takes on two forms. The first is God whose presence characters like The Seventh Seal’s Antonius Block or Tomas, the preacher from Winter Light search desperately for, hoping that it will lead them to some sense of light. The second is a spouse or partner. Bergman, who was married five times, made several films including Scene From a Marriage and Shame (as well as writing the great Liv Ullman film Faithless) about the dissolution of a marriage and the meaninglessness into which both parties are subsequently thrown.
The role of god/partner is filled in the Toy Story films by the toys’ owners. No, Andy is not a god, but he is a higher being. he owns the toys. They live in a world of his creation. While the toys don’t exactly worship Andy, they do occasionally suggest that they should accept his will for their being, such as Woody’s insistence that they resign themselves to the fate of the attic. But Andy and the other kids don’t require any faith in their existence. They’re flesh and blood. And in this way they fulfill a somewhat spousal role, not in a romantic sense, but in that they encompass the great love that the toys hope to find in life, and once found, they consider themselves fulfilled (or at least should be). But there is another dynamic going on here. As quasi-owner, playmate, and provider of love, kids will see a very parental relationship between Andy and his toys. However, although the toys get autonomy between playtimes, there is no eventual emancipation. Quite the contrary, it’s the owners who eventually move on leaving the toys as empty nesters. Imagine that, all the love you desire from parent, partner, and god pent up in the impulsiveness of a child.
Parting is such unendurable sorrow
Which is why the characters of Toy Story live in constant fear that it could all end tomorrow. And if it does, what does that say about the meaningfulness of the entire experience? There is, in the world of Ingmar Bergman and in the world of Toy Story, no greater sorrow than the separation from a loved one. When Jessie the Cowgirl is discarded by Emily or Lotso by Daisy it’s enough to throw someone into a state of perpetual sadness or evil, like the unfeeling sisters of Cries and Whispers. When Woody sees the newer better looking Buzz Lightyear arrive, he fears for the outcome experienced by Scenes from a Marriage’s Marianne (played by Liv Ullman). Replaced by a younger model. Through no fault of your own. You just aged. You just were. And it was not good enough.
Even worse is the possibility that what you always perceived as love was in fact ambivalence. That the presence of chaos and meaninglessness is your fate. In Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly, Harriet Andersson’s Karin has a mad vision of a spider god, a Deity not of love but baseness, staring at her with if not uncaring, utter contempt. There is no god to provide you with love. God is a spider. God is Sid. The presence of a character like Sid in Toy Story is the (shocking for a child’s movie) recognition that chaos and darkness exist. That just as easily, yoy could have been Sid’s toy. Like the mysterious perpetrator who goes around mutilating animals in Bergman's (underseen but great) The Passion of Anna, Sid mutilates his toys with no real purpose but his perverse pleasure. And to witness those mutant toys is like Max von Sydow witnessing his “mutant” neighbors in Hour of the Wolf. It’s the realization that you are in the presence of a truly evil creator. Life loses meaning. Chaos reigns.
CONTINUE TO PART TWO How does one regain meaning in a world like this: By assuming power? By taking a place of honor in a museum? By defeating the evil Emperor Zurg? Travel to heaven and hell and back.