Shadows and Fog (7/27/12)

Movie One Hundred Seventy Seven

In Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog, there is a serial strangler on the loose and a bookkeeper gets caught up in the town’s madness.

A vigilante mob on the search for a strangler wakes up Kleinman (Woody Allen) to help them track the killer down. Outside of town, a group of circus performers is staying. Irmy (Mia Farrow), a sword-swallower,  and Paul (John Malkovich), a clown, are having a dispute which causes Irmy to travel into town for a place to stay. She finds herself in a brothel, and after receiving $700 from a young patron (John Cusack), she is arrested. Kleinman is also at the police station and as the two are leaving, they become close to avoid any danger from the strangler still on the loose.

Woody Allen pays homage to German Expressionism in Shadows and Fog and apparently it was a huge miss with audiences and many critics. I found myself quite taken with Shadows and Fog, partly because of the star studded cast but also because of the natural comedy from having Woody Allen in a noir-like setting. On the surface, this is not a typical Woody Allen film but it’s definitely a Woody Allen film, it’s just in a different wrapper.

When I first heard of Shadows and Fog, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I imagined a serious film where Allen completely steps out of his comfort zone and does something totally unexpected. This isn’t the case, however, despite having a dark feel, having Allen injected into the film’s world significantly changes the tone. This is what makes Shadows and Fog so confusing. It’s clearly an homage to films like M, but Allen keeps you laughing more than worrying. I understand why Shadows and Fog was one of Gene Siskel’s picks for worst of the year, but I also found myself enjoying it.

As one of Allen’s most expensive pictures, Shadows and Fog was a huge flop at the box office and it seems to be fairly unknown from what I can tell. I’m not sure who the target audience should be for a film like this and I’m finding it difficult to even recommend it outright. I will say that I enjoyed watching Shadows and Fog because I was keen to try something new from Woody Allen.

I give it 4 Third Man tributes out of 5.

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Midnight in Paris (5/2/12)

Midnight in ParisMovie One Hundred Ten

Midnight in Paris is one of the few Woody Allen films where he remains behind the camera and lets an actor (in this case Owen Wilson) take the main role.

In the film, Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter writing his first novel who has traveled to Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), for a vacation with her parents. Gil is truly the odd man out, even with Inez’s friends. One night after a party, Gil is walking alone when an “antique” limousine approaches and the occupants welcome him inside. He discovers he has traveled back to the 1920s, an era he had previously wished to have been a part of.

For the most part, Midnight in Paris works fairly well. It captures some of the most romantic ideas about Paris culture throughout the past 100 or so years and if nothing else, solidifies our love affair with the city. Although it’s a bit of an atypical Allen film, it works. I found the people in Gil’s present-day life to be insufferable, it made me grit my teeth at times. In fact, they made me lose some interest in the film.

When Gil is in the 1920s meeting celebrities of the time, Midnight in Paris becomes a wonderment, but for the most part, the present-day sequences just grated me. Perhaps it would be more tolerable on a second viewing. I should also point out that Owen Wilson bugs me in most films, but I think he fits in quite well with Allen’s persona and sense of humor. He’s part Wilson and part Allen, not quite taking his role to the levels of an impersonation of Allen, but dialing it back enough so that it’s uniquely him.

I am far from an expert on Woody Allen films, but of the handful I have seen, I would rank Midnight in Paris somewhere in the middle. It almost seems like the Woody Allen film for people that don’t care for Woody Allen films, so take that as you will.

I give it 3 I really wish Nick Offerman played Ernest Hemingways out of 5.

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