Midnight in Paris (2011) Review

29 06 2011

Copyright 2011 Gravier Productions and Mediapro

★ ★ ★ ★

Maddie and I bought a Groupon to Aperture Cinema a couple weeks ago.  As much as I hate to admit I actually used a Groupon, because I think they are the silliest things ever invented, it actually was a pretty good deal.  For those of you that know me, you know I am cheap; therefore, I can swallow my pride to save a little bit of money.  Anyway, we finally used this said Groupon tonight and went to see Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter, who is on vacation to Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents.  Very early on, it is alluded to that Gil had spent some time in Paris many years prior.  In fact, he regrets his decision to leave and become a screenwriter, having much preferred staying and trying his luck at being a novelist.  Though a successful screenwriter, he is working on a novel and would prefer moving to Paris and finishing his novel there.  Inez, however, plans to stay in Southern California after they marry and continue their rather posh lifestyle there; Inez’s parents, who are wealthy, agree with her.  Over the course of the vacation, Gil spends much time reluctantly going out to various places with Inez and her parents and her friends, Paul and Carol.  One night, not wanting to go dance and a little drunk, Gil wonders off on his own.  He gets lost on the streets of Paris, and when the clock strikes midnight, a mysterious 1920s-style car stops in front of him with an entourage of people encouraging him to get in.  After his first excursion, he continues his midnight romps and ends up finding something more about himself through the beauty and allure of his Parisian nights.

I am a huge Woody Allen fan, have been for many years, and I think this Allen’s best film since Deconstructing Harry in 1997.  I enjoyed Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream and Vicky Christina Barcelona, but this film seemed more genuine to me than any of them.  The film is most definitely a romantic comedy, but not completely an Allenesque comedy.  Interestingly, Paris itself is almost more of the love interest of the main character than anything else.

 

Darius Khondji’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful and elucidates the affection for Paris that Allen hopes to convey perfectly.  The script is solid; light, comedic and romantic, but very solid.  It also marks a chance at seeing Owen Wilson in a more serious role than he is usually accustomed.  One, in which, he actually does a very good job.  The supporting cast is very good as well, including many Oscar nominees and former winners such as Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody.

In short, Allen does a wonderful job of capturing the magic of Paris and has created a film that is as much of an ode to Paris as his classic 1979 masterpiece Manhattan was an ode to the Big Apple.  I highly recommend this film and think even non-Allen lovers could find some enjoyment out of this one.

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Chaplin in Review – PART VI – Modern Times

28 06 2011

Copyright 1936 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If memory serves me right, I am pretty certain that Modern Times was the first Chaplin feature I saw; I was probably about six or seven years old at the time.  It still holds a close place in my heart as my second favorite feature of Chaplin’s, partially perhaps to sentimentality, but in either case this is still an amazing film.

Modern Times is a narrative that focuses on some of the comedic elements of the times in the 1930s with the influx of industrialization and the Great Depression in full stride.  Chaplin appears as the Little Tramp in the beginning, working in a factory line.  Due to the stress and monotony of the job, he has a mental breakdown and is, subsequently, fired and sent to a hospital.  He is eventually released, but they insist he avoid excitement.  Upon release, a socialist march is at hand and someone drops a flag; ever the helper, the Little Tramp picks it up and runs after him.  With flag waving in hand, he is mistaken as the leader of the riot and thrown in jail.  He finds the contentment of jail comforting, but just as he is settling in, he is released on pardon.  Following a job at the shipyard in which he is fired, he meets a Gamine (Paulette Goddard) and her two sisters, who are stealing food to survive.  When a cop comes to arrest the Gamine, the Little Tramp tries to take the blame to no avail.  He then goes to a cafeteria, orders a lot of food and insists he has no money.  On the way to jail, the Gamine catches up with him and they escape, becoming close companions.  They settle into a small shack and the Tramp gets a job at a department store as a nightwatchman.  When burglars come on his first night, he gets caught up with the police and again hauled to jail.  Will he be able to catch up with his love again and find a decent, rewarding life, or will he have to settle on the contentment of his jail cell?

Following City Lights, Chaplin embarked on an 18 month world tour, leaving behind life in Hollywood for relaxation and travel.  Upon return, he met the beautiful, young Paulette Goddard and struck up a close relationship with her, eventually making her his third wife in 1936 in a secret ceremony.  In addition to her being cast as the Gamine in this film, she would also appear as the lead actress in his next feature, The Great Dictator.

Sound, by this time, was definitely in full force in the motion picture industry.  Hardly any filmmaker was still making silent pictures.  Because of this, Chaplin originally devised Modern Times to be a talkie, and even went so far as to write a script and shoot some test sequences.  However, in the end, the film was produced as a silent, but made use of sound effects, score and one talking scene in the beginning from the factory boss.  Like City Lights, Modern Times had an extensive shooting schedule that lasted over the course of a year from late 1934 to late 1935.

Upon release, Modern Times was another success for Chaplin, despite the fact that it was a silent film in a sound world.  To this day, the film is still celebrated as one of Chaplin’s biggest achievements and is the third and final film of Chaplin’s that appears on the AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All-Time List at number 77 (the other two being The Gold Rush and City Lights).

Chaplin, who himself at this time a multi-millionaire, but who came from an impoverished background, was very occupied with the problems of the social and economic background in the world during the 1930s.  Modern Times was his way of coming to terms with the situation from a comedic point and exemplifying some of the atrocities of the modern world tongue firmly in cheek.  As a final note, this was the last time that Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp appeared on screen, ending the cinematic presence of one of the most recognizable characters ever created.





48-Hour Film Project Greensboro 2011

27 06 2011

Quick snap off iPhone while setting up for a dolly shot. Co-Director/Writer Dan A. R. Kelly is explaining the scene to the actors.

I was asked this morning to do a little write-up for our company newsletter, The Cube, and I was planning on documenting my 48 experience on this blog as well.  In addition, there is a blog on the 48 Hour Film Project Greensboro’s Web site that they like filmmakers to recount their experiences.  So, to kill three birds with one stone, I am going to write up the complete experience, post here, post on 48’s Web site and submit to the company newsletter.  How’s that for efficiency?

I was part of Frowned Upon Media’s team this year.  It was my fourth year working on a 48 team, some of our members first year, and we even had someone who was participating for their sixth year.  The kick-off ceremony began on Friday night at 7 p.m.  Our team leader, Patrick Griffin, and our Editor/Co-Producer, Bryan R. Higgins, were at the ceremony to draw our genre and find out what the other required components of the film would be.  Our genre ended up being Comedy and the required elements for all teams were: Character: Don or Donna Hastert, plumber; Line of Dialogue: “Where Did You Go?”; and Prop: crayons.

Following the drawing, Patrick alerted everyone via text or phone call what the essential elements and genre were, and we began brainstorming for ideas.  Most everyone met up at our sound designer, Jon Fredette’s, house (I was in via Skype) and we brainstormed for about two hours.  By 9:30 p.m., we had our idea good to run with.  Also, by this time, we knew how many characters we needed, which ended up being 10 overall.  Patrick and Dan began locking down actors from both our standby list and some cold calling.  Our Writer/Co-Director/Co-Producer, Dan A. R. Kelly, went home to hole himself away in his office with his laptop and begin writing the script.  At midnight, we had a first draft, and by 2 a.m., a final draft.  Also, by this time, we had 8 of our 10 actors locked; two female roles were all that remained to be filled.

For the story, we needed an elegant house to play as a mansion.  My uncle Mike has always had nice houses; one of his favorite past times is buying and re-decorating elegant homes and then moving on to the next “project”.  I called him at about 10 p.m. to see if we could take over his home in Bermuda Run West until Sunday morning at the latest.  Luckily, he agreed!  With our sole location locked, we planned out what time everyone needed to be there.  I, who served as our Director of Photography, Co-Director and a Co-Producer, arrived at 3 a.m. with my brother Patrick, who served as a bit actor and G&E, to tech scout.  Patrick Griffin, Production Coordinator, Co-Director and Co-Producer, arrived with most of the rest of the team at 4:30 a.m.  The final lot arrived at 5:30 a.m. and we immediately began shooting what we could.  Unable to fill one female role, we nixed the part and went with 9 overall actors.  Most of the actors arrived between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., with the last ones arriving by noon.

Our film was in the can completely by 10 p.m. Saturday night.  Several runs to our editor were made once certain sequences were shot, so that he could stay busy and move forward on the cut.  Higgins continued editing through the night Saturday, while the rest of the production crew got some much needed, but small amount, of rest.  Our Sound Designer, who also composed music, arrived back on the scene around 8 a.m. Sunday morning for duty.  I arrived at 11 a.m. and worked with Higgins to tighten the cut from a directorial stand-point; the other two heads of our directing team arrived soon after me and added their notes.  We had picture lock at 3 p.m. Sunday and I began color correcting while Jon layered in score and did post-production sound design.  Shane D. Smith, who was a G&E member on set, took our title sequence shots and finished the title sequence Sunday afternoon.

I finished Color Correction by 5 p.m., tweaks on the cut were done at 6 p.m., Shane arrived just after 6 p.m. with the title sequence and Jon worked diligently until 6:30 p.m.  At this point, we rendered what we had, minus score and sound design, and Dan A. R. Kelly went to the drop-off location with paperwork and an Oh S#%t copy, as we like to call it.  We continued layering everything in and began a burn for a final copy at 6:50 p.m.  Because of a codec difference in the timeline, the export started going REALLY slow at 89%.  I went ahead and got my car, turned it on and got Jon to ride with me as a navigator.  When the export and burn finished at 7:15 p.m., Patrick flew out of the door, handed the DVD off to me and I sped out of the driveway.  We made it to the drop off point with the better copy at 7:21, 9 minutes before cut-off.  Our film was in on time and the best version we could do in the 48 hours was received.

You’re probably asking yourself why I haven’t given any of the storyline away?  Well, I don’t want to spoil any of the film or the fun!  Screenings for the 48 Hour Film Project are on June 29 and June 30, divided into three groups.  Our group is in the Group C Screenings, which will be on 9:30 p.m. Thursday night.  Tickets are $10 each and there are about 15 films per group screening, all ranging 4-7 minutes in length.  If you can make it out, we’d love to see you there!  Otherwise, if you know one of us personally, I’m sure you’ll catch the film in due time.  Screening limitations are definitely in place currently, but as leniencies open up – I’m sure you can catch it.

From the beginning, we decided this wasn’t one person’s film.  Like any filmmaking endeavor, it’s a group process and, because of this, we decided no one would get a producer or director credit.  Instead, we simply gave that credit to the team, Frowned Upon Media.  This was our team: a super talented cast including: William Davis, Rachel Brittain, Dan A. R. Kelly, Edwin Wilson, Lee Armstrong, Karen Price-Crowder, Annabell Simpson, Robbie Pitchersky and, Patrick Mandarano; crew including: A Story by Patrick T. Griffin, Dan A. R. Kelly, Matthew Mandarano, Jon Fredette, Bryan Higgins, Shane Smith, Robbie Pitchersky, William Davis and Brook Corwin; Writer, Dan A. R. Kelly; Production Coordinator, Patrick T. Griffin; Director of Photography, Matthew Mandarano; Sound Designer and Composer, Jon Fredette; Editor, Bryan R. Higgins; Title Designer, Shane D. Smith; Grips and Electricians, Shane D. Smith, Robbie Pitchersky and Patrick Mandarano; and a VERY Special Thanks to D. Michael Hendrix, my uncle, who let us take over his beautiful home (which is for sale by the way!) for a day and a half.  Frowned Upon Media is Patrick T. Griffin, Matthew Mandarano, Bryan R. Higgins, Jon Fredette and our Honorary Member Dan A. R. Kelly.

We had a great team, I think a great film and a great bunch of actors to bring it all to life.  I can’t thank every member of this wonderful cast and crew enough and am looking forward to the wonderful films our fellow 48 filmmakers have produced.  As always, it was a wonderful, yet tiring, experience and one I hope to be a part of in years to come.  Until next year, that’s a wrap!





Chaplin in Review – PART V – City Lights

27 06 2011

Copyright 1931 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

And now we come to my favorite Chaplin feature, City Lights.  To me, this film is the perfect blend of comedy and drama and a definitive example of the genius of Chaplin’s work.  Everything comes together in this film so beautifully, both comic and dramatic devices, that I can not only call this my favorite Chaplin film, but rank this in my top 10 favorite films of all-time.

Like many of Chaplin’s films, the actual plot outline is relatively simple; it is the execution that makes this film a masterpiece.  The story revolves around Chaplin’s character of the Little Tramp, who falls in love with a poor, blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill).  Through a hap circumstance, she believes that he is a millionaire and can help her and her mother in their desperate time of need.  Determined to help, he befriends a raucous, party-driven millionaire and does everything he can to help the flower girl and her mother.  In the end, he helps them and she is able to get an eye operation that restores her sight.  But, will she be able to accept the Tramp for his true self?

By the time this film was in production, and definitely by the time it was released in 1931, sound in motion pictures was in full stride.  Silents were, essentially, becoming a thing of the past.  However, though the option for sound was fully open to Chaplin before filming began, he decided against making a sound film because he felt that the Little Tramp character speaking would ruin his entire appeal.  Turns out that Chaplin made a wise decision, as City Lights was an immense success both commercially and critically.

As for production, this film took the longest of any other Chaplin film to complete at nearly 180 days of filming from late 1927 to early 1931.  Several story points, including how to show the blind flower girl mistaking the Little Tramp for being wealthy, plagued Chaplin; the integral scene of this story point was re-shot 342 times for perfection.  Another issue for Chaplin was his dissatisfaction with Virginia Cherrill in the lead role as the flower girl.  At one point, he even went so far as to replace her with Georgia Hale; however, once realizing that too much footage was in the can and it would cost a fortune to reshoot all her scenes, he asked Cherrill to come back on board and finish the film.  Ironically, before coming back on board, Cherrill made Chaplin renegotiate her contract for more money than she was originally to be paid, something that surely didn’t help her and Chaplin’s professional relationship.

In the end, Chaplin did decide to utilize something out of the sound on film devices available, as he recorded a score and several sound effects for the film that accompanied the picture.  However, no audible dialog made the final cut, only garbled talking at the beginning of the film performed by Chaplin himself.

In the 80 years since this film was released it has received a number of commendations and places on top film lists, including being ranked #11 on the AFI’s Top 100 Best Movies of All-Time List and #1 on their list of Top Romantic Comedies.  In addition, Orson Welles was quoted as saying that this was his favorite film.  Needless to say, City Lights has definitely stood the test of time and continues to dazzle, cheer and touch audiences of all ages and from around the world.





Chaplin in Review – Part IV – The Circus

24 06 2011

Copyright 1928 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Circus is one of the lesser-known comedies by Chaplin during his golden age of feature making in the 1920s and 1930s.  Though more obscure to most audiences than The Kid, The Gold Rush, City Lights or Modern Times, this is still an incredible comedy drama.

Chaplin returns as the Little Tramp in this film and, at the beginning, is mistakingly suspected as a pickpocket.  A chase with the police ensues that leads the tramp to a traveling circus tent.  In the midst of the chase, the tramp stumbles onto the middle of the circus stage and, unknowingly, becomes the hit of the show.  After averting the police, the tramp is asked by the flailing circus’s proprietor (Allan Garcia) if he would like to become part of the group; the tramp agrees.  However, the tramp can only be funny when he doesn’t intend to be.  So, though he becomes the star of the show, he can’t give his talents on beck and call.  In the process of his tenure with the circus, the tramp develops an infatuation with circus rider and step-daughter to the proprietor (Merna Kennedy).  The tramp seems to have won her interest until a new tightrope walker comes to the circus named Rex (Harry Crocker).  Will the tramp be able to win the heart of his love or will he be beat out by the new man on campus?

The Circus began filming in 1926, but was marred by a slew of production related and non-production related problems.  In September 1926, a large fire broke out in Chaplin Studios that burned much of one of the main sound stages.  This delayed production for well over a month.  Furthermore, it was during the post-production phase of this film that the bitter divorce between Lita Grey occurred and the federal government was coming down hard on Chaplin concerning tax problems.  Also, during this time, Chaplin’s beloved, though mentally unstable mother, Hannah, passed away.  These circumstances combined resulted in a delay of nearly one year for the film’s release theatrically.

Upon release, the film was well-received and ended up being one of the top ten highest grossing silent films of all-time.  With Chaplin’s masterful acrobatics and physical comedy in full form, it is a wonder why this film doesn’t retain the same level of grandeur in audience’s minds today as several of his previous and forthcoming titles.  For his performance, direction, production and writing, Chaplin was nominated for Academy Awards (at the first Academy Award presentation no less).  However, the Academy eventually retracted all four nominations and gave him a Special Award for “writing, directing, producing and starring in The Circus.”  To this day, the Academy does not acknowledge the nominations for this film originally given, only the Special Award.

Any Chaplin lover, or lover of silent comedy for that matter, should not pass this film up if they get the opportunity to see it.  Though you may not have heard of it or heard of it less than other Chaplin titles, it’s thrills, comedic precision and touching slice-of-life presentation will not fail to impress.





Chaplin in Review – PART III – The Gold Rush

22 06 2011

Copyright 1925 Chaplin Studios and United Artists

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Following the disappointment of his excursion into drama, Chaplin returned to comedy in 1925 with one of his most famous films, The Gold Rush.

The film’s story is fairly straight-forward.  Chaplin plays the Lone Prospector who has come to the Klondike to be part of the Gold Rush.  Due to horrendous weather, the prospector (Chaplin’s Little Tramp), finds himself stranded in a small cabin belonging to fugitive Black Larson (Tom Murray).  Just when he thinks he is going to die by the fugitive’s hands, Big Jim McKay (Mark Swain) comes and saves the lone prospector.  The Black Larson is sent to look for food as starvation nearly takes their lives.  Some of the mishaps of hunger and cold are portrayed at this point in some brilliantly funny scenes including Chaplin seeing one of his fellow occupants as a large chicken, the famous dinner roll scene, in which Chaplin performs the roll dance, and his cooking and eating of his own leather shoe.  However, finally, their hunger is spared when a bear makes way to the cabin and is killed for food.  It is also to be known that Big Jim McKay has a hidden mine that will make him rich, that he insists he will go to when they are able to leave the cabin.  When the storm ends, the men leave the cabin and McKay departs for his hidden mine, only to find that the Black Larson has hold of his property.  The Black Larson and Big Jim fight it out yet again, the Larson this time hitting McKay in the head with a shovel causing temporary amnesia.  Following the battle, the Larson falls to his death in an avalanche.  The Lonely Prospector make his way to the nearest town, down on his luck as always.  He comes to a saloon where he sees Georgia (Georgia Hale), Queen of the Dancehall girls.  He becomes immediately infatuated with her and begins vying for her love.  During his pining for Georgia, Big Jim McKay makes his way in with just enough memory returned to recognize the Lonely Prospector.  Can Chaplin’s character help Big Jim find his hidden mine and fortune?  With the Lone Prospector get the girl of his dream, the beautiful Georgia?  Without spoiling the film, you’ll have to watch for yourself to find out.

Originally, planned to be shot in northern California on location, the film was ultimately shot at Chaplin Studios.  The remaining opening sequence from the brutal shoot in Truckee, Calif. is all that remained in the final film of the time the company spent shooting in the real Yukon.  Originally, Chaplin had cast the young angel actress from The Kid in the lead role, 16-year-old Lita Grey.  During filming, Chaplin and Grey fell in love and married in November 1924; Chaplin was 35 at this time, Grey, again, only 16.  Following their marriage and her subsequent pregnancy, Chaplin was forced to replace Grey with actress Georgia Hale for the role of the dancehall girl.  Unfortunately, the marriage between Grey and Chaplin was a difficult one and one that would, in the end, cost Chaplin dearly.  At the time they finally divorced in 1927, she received the largest matrimonial settlement in history to that date, which amounted to $825,000 (on top of nearly a million in court costs).  This, topped with a federal tax dispute around the same time, supposedly is what caused Chaplin’s hair to turn white at the young age of 38.

The replacement of Grey with Hale lead to a relationship between Chaplin and Hale that continued through the duration of filming and during Grey and Chaplin’s marriage.  Upon release, The Gold Rush was a major success and made a lot of money at the box office.  Many of Chaplin’s scenes mentioned earlier, like the roll dance, are some of his most famous moments.  Furthermore, this was long said to be Chaplin’s own personal favorite film that he made during his nearly 60 year career in motion pictures.





Chaplin in Review – PART II – A Woman in Paris

21 06 2011

Copyright 1923 Charlie Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ 1/2

Continuing our review series through the feature films of Charlie Chaplin we come to what, I would say at least, is probably his least well-known feature, 1923’s A Woman in Paris.  Outside of not being as well known, this film holds another distinction: it was a serious drama.  Not only that, but Chaplin only took the writer/director/producer positions and only appeared, very briefly, as a porter with no lines.

Chaplin was famous for helping boost the careers of his various love interests through the years, as evidence will show in the films to come.  However, of all his romances, he probably gave Edna Purviance the best role, because this film had her as the leading actress without being a supporting character to Chaplin.  Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, the film didn’t propel Purviance to the level of stardom originally hoped, though it did end up helping Adolphe Menjou’s career to a degree.

The film is a melodrama that focuses on Purviance’s character of Marie St. Clair.  Her and her young boyfriend, aspiring artist Jean (Carl Miller), are planning to elope.  The night before their plans to move to Paris for marriage, Marie climbs down from her window to meet Jean in the courtyard.  When Marie’s father sees this through the window, he disowns her and kicks her from the house insisting that, “Maybe he will give you a room for the night!”  Marie follows Jean to his house, but finds that his parents aren’t happy about the arrangement either.  With nowhere to go, she decides to head for Paris early, Jean promising to follow her the next day.  However, when he gets back inside his home, he finds his father has died.  Because of this, he doesn’t make it to Paris as scheduled.  Time goes by and Marie becomes a mistress to the wealthy Pierre Revel (Adolphe Menjou).  One night, by chance occurrence after a party, Marie wanders into the wrong room and finds Jean, who now lives in Paris with his mother.  Marie asks Jean to paint her portrait in his studio.  During their meetings for the portrait, Marie finds out about Jean’s father’s death and they begin to rekindle their romance.  Without spoiling the ending, I will leave it at, just as things look good for the young couple, more effects of fate set in.

Compared to Chaplin’s comedies, this film was not nearly as well-received as most of his other work from the same era.  Like many comedy directors, it is sometimes hard for an audience to accept them with drama.  However, if you look at the melodramas being produced by other directors of the same time, this film actually works quite well and is better than many of its competitors.  Woody Allen is a similar artist who seems to fall into this paradox.  For years he has tried to make dramatic films interspersed with his comedies and, almost always, his dramas don’t fair as well as his comedies; except, perhaps, with Match Point.

Chaplin never made another film that was solely a drama.  In the 1970s, when he was in the process of recording scores for many of his silent films, he wrote and recorded a score to accompany this piece.  This would also mark the last time that Chaplin worked with Purviance as a leading lady.  However, his care for her continued for many years; supposedly, long after using her in any pictures, Chaplin kept her on the studio payroll to keep up her livelihood.








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