The minute the trailer for 'Midnight in Paris' hit, HDD Editor-in-Chief Mike Attebery was sure to inform me via email to check it out. Our shared obsession with Woody Allen had been the topic of more than a few emails over the years. Two minutes later, I was dying to see the film, as the trailer had this somewhat sarcastic wit to it, and the cast felt like it would make an amazing fit for an Allen tale, be it one of his current European features, or even a classic-y New York tale. That was over half a year ago. With piles of work and no theaters within a reasonable distance playing the film, my choices were to be a bootlegging pirate jackass or wait for home video and pray and pray that, like the other Sony Pictures Classics films from the legend, it hit Blu-ray.
Now, one night into owning the film, I wish there could have been some way I'd have seen this film more by now. With all of Allen's ups and downs, his successes and failures in recent years, none have come close to the resonance, beauty, or intellect featured in 'Midnight in Paris.' This isn't his best film, not now nor will it be ten years from now when we look back in nostalgia, but for its vintage, this is fantastic, a sign that when he's on point, there's no one quite like Woody.
The premise of 'Midnight in Paris' is a tough one to describe, for one key reason: the more one know going into the film, the less magical the reveals will be. The trailers teased that after midnight, Paris is magic, and that's no lie here. We follow an American writer (Owen Wilson as Gil) in the world's most culturally rich city, along with his fiance (Rachel McAdams as Inez), as the pair squabble about every little thing. It's a nice kind of quarreling, never knock down drag out fights, but the two are never on the same page. One night, Gil finds himself biding time on his own, and gets swooped up in a world that is beyond his imagination. What's real, what's fake, and more importantly, what life does he prefer? As the writer barrels along on a journey of self discovery, everyone around him thinks he's lost his mind or his fidelity along the way.
Romanticism of Paris is hardly a new theme in literature or cinema, but what 'Midnight' does for the city, for the love and the beauty, it's easily one of the best odes any population can get. The romanticism isn't stuck in the present, either, as what makes Paris so wondrous is its illustrious past, and Allen waxes nostalgic, perhaps ironically, in the same fashion that the characters in the film do. No one is complacent in their life, and everyone thinks some other time was better, so this tumultuous theme really hits home, as we can all relate in some way or another to the past that seems so perfect in memory.
The casting for this Allen film doesn't feature familiar faces for the director, and the end result helps the freshness of the film. Wilson, love him or hate him, does a good job here being the relatable, lovable schmuck, a tad neurotic but in his own little ways that aren't overdone, while McAdams plays her part to perfection, with little room to feel for her character outside the desired result. Kurt Fuller provides solid scene chewing as Inez's father, while Michael Sheen is perfectly cast as the "pseudo-intellectual" arrogant douche we all know and hate. Even Carla Bruni is solid in her role, the one that got the film most of its publicity upon announcement of her involvement. The scene stealer, though, is Corey Stoll, in a "you have to see it to believe it" role that definitely leaves you wanting more and more. Of course, there are a few sour apples in the bunch, with some of the smaller bit parts taking the cake, as Adrien Brody is distractingly awful, and Kathy Bates brings so little to the table you wonder why she was even cast.
'Midnight in Paris' is a great film, and deserves all the fanfare and awards that are sure to fall in its lap. This film breaks the Allen safe ground, with the credit sequence juxtaposed with the first bits of dialogue, an odd meshing considering the borderline "tradition" the director has followed for years. It's hard to not see the role of Gil as voicing Allen's views on himself, the musings of virility, but the random odd one-liners Gil spews can be utterly uproarious, especially as he disparagingly talks politics with no idea how to not be condescending. There's a sense of warm familiarity yet mystery about the entire film, with characters you truly come to care for and want to see more of, with some of the most fulfilling, wonderful twists and turns you'll find in cinema in recent years. Yes, there is a layer of predictability, particularly in the final sequence that is long telegraphed, but so many of the occurrences are so out of left field you can't help but feel blindsided in the most wonderful of ways.
I can't say enough good words about this film. This is the best Allen flick in over a decade, and it has everything a fan could want. It's also one of Allen's most accessible works, as one doesn't get bashed with the repeat characters and over-exaggerated sequences found in a number of his films that cross the line of being sly and wry to outright excessive. This is a film that practices moderation, leaving you salivating for more, wondering what else could happen, what we missed in moments not caught on film. This is a cinematic dream, one that throws us right in the shoes of the main character with the simplest of ease, a dream that I don't want to wake up from.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Sony Pictures Classics brings 'Midnight to Paris' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked BD25 disc, housed in a standard case. There is one pre-menu trailer, and the usual Sony menu navigation. Unlike other films to come from the art house label, this particular release doesn't come forced in a high priced combo pack, putting its price well within reason and hopefully in store shelves nationwide!
In the supplement package for 'Midnight in Paris,' we hear Allen talk about his desire (sorry, demand) to have the cinematography be warm, to give it a non-sterile sort of life that some may consider missing in the films that make the city look borderline monolithic and sparkling. As such, almost every issue on this disc can be attributed to the film aesthetics, and not the disc itself. Some may not consider it consider these elements in the scoring of the video on this disc, but when the end result is so afflicted that it draws the eye, one can't compare it to a film that's sparkling, even with its own issues. 'Midnight in Paris' looks unique, looks orange, and many shots lose their luster due to this.
Sony's 1080p transfer of the film may very well be as faithful as can be, but I'm not budging. While I loved the random shots that exhibited an ungodly amount of depth and detail in the deepest layers, I can't get past the way contrast constantly feels off due to the off saturation of the film, or the way skin tones are so splotchy that characters look like they have large clumps of Frank's Hot Wing Sauce on their faces for entire scenes. Skin tones are never, ever accurate, as the interiors give an odd haze that gives them an awkward glow, while exteriors would make Oompa Loompas envious.
Textures are brilliant when they're on, muddled and annoying when they're off, and this is about a 50-50 split throughout the film. There's some light noise in a few scenes, and some sequences where edges just are a bit distracting, particularly early. It's nice to see skies not be blown out, and there is plenty of strong detail that remains in a number of shots, but damn, orange. Just, so very orange. No crush, no aliasing (though Sheen's checkered jacket is a nightmare), just orange.
The audio for 'Midnight in Paris' is presented in two options, a native English and a Parisian French dub track, both in DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0. It doesn't sound next gen or immersive, but for a Woody Allen film, it's actually laid out quite nicely. Dialogue is clear and sharp, natural sounding in every environment, with proper tone and dynamics at all times. There's some solid ambience that never gets all that loud to keep you invested, with a couple of localization effects that are quite fun, like music that hits the left channel only, like a luring siren song. The score doesn't have any issues with clarity beneath the dialogue, so everything works out quite nicely!
A Woody Allen film with an actual extra on it?!?! Holy hell, what is the world coming to?!?!?!?! There's four tabs in the supplement section, including a set of Sony trailers for other stuff. Wait, did that sound like multiple trailers? Despite being called Previews, it's just a trailer for Roman Polanski's 'Carnage,' which also appears before the menu on this disc. Drop the "s" next time!
As soon as I finished viewing 'Midnight in Paris,' I wanted to view it again. Yes, it does move a little slowly in the second act, but that's when some of the best reveals are found, so it's well worth it. This film has imagination, heart, and brains galore, and is really a touching story, where you can find yourself pulling for the characters on their twisted, bizarre journeys. This is a top 5 Woody Allen film, though I wish it were a top 5 Blu-ray, as the presentation is just slightly above average. On the strength of the film alone, this one deserves to be picked up. A film like this doesn't come around all that often! Highly recommended.