DID YOU READ

“Midnight in Paris” and the Summer of Nostalgia Movies

“Midnight in Paris” and the Summer of Nostalgia Movies (photo)

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The following post contains SPOILERS for “Midnight in Paris.”

Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris” isn’t just the director’s funniest and most charming film in years, if not decades. The damn thing is relevant too, a movie all about modern movie culture. Given “Midnight in Paris”‘ subject — a man so obsessed with the past he finds a way to travel back into it — that sounds ironic. But no one and nothing is more obsessed with the past than Hollywood these days, which makes Allen’s wistful, sweet-tempered rebuke to nostalgia a perfectly timed antidote to the summer movie season of 2011.

Yes, of course, Hollywood has mined our shared cultural past for sequels and remakes since before most of us were born. But Hollywood’s summer 2011 slate takes that impulse to an almost comical extreme: practically every movie this summer is based on something from the childhoods of self-obsessed thirtysomething man-children like myself. You can take your pick from movies based on cartoons (“The Smurfs”) or toys (“Transformers”) or theme park rides (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) or long dormant film series (“Rise of the Planet of the Apes”) or comic books (“X-Men: First Class,” set in the past for double nostalgia). Practically the only part of my youth that hasn’t been strip-mined for recycle cinematic content are breakfast cereal mascots; can a Trix Rabbit live action feature be too far behind? (Please God. Say that it can.)

Even this summer’s original-looking movies from bonafide auteurs are baked in nostalgia; J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” is designed as homage to old Steven Spielberg movies. So was Greg Mottola’s “Paul” a few months before that. David Gordon Green’s “Your Highness” was indebted to the R-rated sword-and-sandal fantasy films of the same era. You could even argue that “The Tree of Life” represents the artiest side of the same impulse, as Sean Penn’s character spends the entire movie waxing nostalgic about his childhood in rural Texas, one apparently fashioned on writer/director Terrence Malick’s own.

Just as we’re all drowning in this ocean of nostalgia, Woody Allen throws us a life jacket called “Midnight in Paris.” Its hero is Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood hack screenwriter vacationing in Paris with his fiance Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her parents (Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy). Gil has grown tired of the Hollywood grind and is working on his first novel, a piece about a man who works in a “nostalgia store” — which, come to think of it, would be an appropriate nickname for any multiplex this summer. Nostalgia is a subject that holds particular appeal for Gil, who’s described by his friends as someone who was born in the wrong time period. Lucky for Gil, Woody Allen’s Paris is a magical place. Every night at the stroke of midnight, an old Peugeot appears to transport Gil back to the 1920s, where he gets to interact with artistic and literary titans like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), and Salvador Dali (Adrien Brody). Faced with a skeptical fiance and her dreadful friends and family (including a hilarious Michael Sheen as the arrogant intellectual to end all arrogant intellectuals), Gil finds himself increasingly looking forward to his nightly trips back in time, where Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) encouragingly critiques his work, and one of Picasso’s former lovers (Marion Cotillard) finds him witty and innocent and romantic.

I have warned you I am going to SPOIL the end of this movie, so now all bets are off. To this point “Midnight in Paris” sounds guilty of the same nostalgic pandering as every other movie cited in this piece. But Gil eventually learns the ultimate danger of nostalgia: it paralyzes the artist’s mind and calcifies their work into irrelevance. While Gil envisions 1920s as “The Golden Age of Paris,” Cotillard’s Adriana thinks the city’s greatest days are already behind it in 1920; she prefers the Belle Epoque. When another magical cab, this one horse-drawn, gives Adriana the chance to live her Golden age fantasies, she decides to take it, with or without Gil. The film’s finale sees Gil break it off with Inez, not to live in the past with Adriana, but to live in the present without either, content in the knowledge that Paris still looks dazzlingly beautiful in 2011, and that the time he lives in may be less of the root cause of his unhappiness than the company he chooses to keep.

I don’t know how many movies Woody Allen watches these days. I don’t know if he cares about what’s going on in Hollywood. I do know that Allen has, in the past, made some very nostalgic movies like “Broadway Danny Rose” and “Everyone Says I Love You.” So something has changed in Allen’s mind about the subject of nostalgia. Maybe it’s the wisdom of age. Maybe it was sparked by being fed up with all the movies other people are making. Whatever the reason, “Midnight in Paris” feels like it was made by a director in dialogue with his contemporaries. Allen’s not scolding them though. He’s merely illuminating the flaw in their art, if not their business model.

Gil is a very successful screenwriter of crappy movies; I think you can very easily argue that his nostalgic (and financial) obsessions make him exactly the sort of guy who’d make his living writing a movie based on a breakfast cereal mascot. All that’s changed by the end of the film. Allen wants the audience to share Gil’s creative epiphany, and to find art that speaks to who they are now, not the kids they were in 1982. If you walk out of one of these other nostalgia movies feeling unsatisfied, here’s my advice: make it a double feature with “Midnight in Paris.” It’s the perfect amuse-bouche for the rest of the movies out in theaters right now.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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