Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris opens with a montage of the wonders of Paris set to Sydney Bechet’s music, and while it doesn’t have quite the same impact as the New York-Gershwin fanfare that opens Manhattan–it does make you want to book that coach ticket (who can afford first class–heck, who can afford coach?) to France and wander the same cobblestone boulevards while savoring a baguette. And the movie itself? Well, its really rather enjoyable, a light, attractive fable about Americans in Paris. Established Hollywood screenwriter (and implied hack) Owen Wilson is trying to finish his first novel (art!) while dealing with his frustrated fiancee (Rachel McAdams) who wants to both subject him to some seriously overpriced shopping sprees with her supremely snobbish mother and explore the sights in the company of her pedantic American friend (Michael Sheen).
It should come as no surprise that at some point early in the film, Wilson escapes these people to wander the streets of Paris alone–round midnight-when a car straight out of the 1920’s picks him up and transports him to Paris of the Jazz Age, where he meets Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, their musical friend Cole (Porter), Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, among others. After some initial disbelief, the cumulative effect is to make him want to escape the unsatisfying present, and return to the stimulating, glorious past (courtesy of the magic car) where on subsequent trips, he gets literary advice from Stein (an excellent Kathy Bates), manly life advice from Hemingway (a seriously funny turn by Corey Stoll), and a chance for love with beguiling Marion Coutillard (as a 1920’s literary groupie who would like to escape her present).
The movie isn’t perfect–one gets the feeling that Woody could do more with the past-present clash of cultures (although it’s amusing to see various 1920’s artists react to Wilson’s story about the owner of a nostalgia shop); in addition McAdams and her parents are also a little too broad and underdeveloped . However, there is plenty to enjoy in Woody’s Paris including the performances of the aforementioned Stoll, Wilson, Coutillard, Bates, and Sheen; a very funny appearance by Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali (this might be my favorite Brody performance-by far), the cinematography by Darius Khnondji; the lilting, jazz-oriented soundtrack; and the script with flashes of the Woody wit that nevertheless keeps one smiling throughout.
Also out and about: X-Men: First Class is a worthy installment in the X-Men series, an entertaining prequel that manages to combine a high level of excitement while rarely losing sight of the emotional issues of characters who are born different–and are torn between wanting to remain unique–or be just like everyone else, if given the chance. But enough of that: what Marvel fans want to hear (and what I’m happy to say) is that James McAvoy is a fine Professor Xavier, balancing the character’s intelligence and compassion; Michael Fassbender is charismatic as the mutant who will become Magneto; Jennifer Lawrence sensitively portrays the conflicted shape-shifting Raven; Kevin Bacon makes a fine villain in German or English–his smile has always seemed satanic to me, and here it’s put to good use. X-Men: First Class is more than good enough to warrant a second adventure.