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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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.