It’s another round of quickies for a couple of films that premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, to much critical acclaim, and a moderately well-received Hollywood comedy. Here are my in-a-nutshell reviews for Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life, and Horrible Bosses!
Midnight in Paris
A romantic comedy set in the City of Love may sound like the ultimate cliche, but the Woody Allen directed-and-penned flick is more than you’d expect. It’s a sophisticated and charming trip back in time when some of the greatest writers and artists were creating, and we meet them just as they were when it’s Midnight in Paris.
Disillusioned Hollywood screenwriter Gil (Owen Wilson) and his fiancee Inez (Rachel McAdams) tag along with Inez’s parents for a trip to the French capital, but sooner than later, the incompatible couple sets off on their own adventures. One night, Gil is coaxed into an antique car and driven to a party, where everyone is dressed in 1920s garb and Cole Porter (Yves Heck) is playing. Then he meets with folks who claim to be his literary inspirations: F. Scott (Tom Hiddleston) and Zelda Fitzgerald (Alison Pill), Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), and Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates). From then on, every night when the clock strikes 12, Gil comes face-to-face with more of the artistic greats of the 1920s, including Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo) and his alluring mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard). Although these unexplainable meetings inspire Gil, who constantly yearns for the nostalgia from the Lost Generation, they drift him further away from the woman he thinks he loves. With a cast that also includes Kurt Fuller and Mimi Kennedy as Inez’s hilariously uptight and skeptical parents and Michael Sheen, Carla Bruni, Lea Seydoux, and Adrien Brody (All too quickly shown as Salvador Dali), this film is bound entrap viewers in a love affair.
However, it’s not just the cast that makes Midnight in Paris a joy to watch–it’s simply in the sense of magic and escape it puts one in. Art and literature lovers are sure to adore the thoughtful references to golden ages and seeing the figures they’ve learned about and looked up to come to life on screen. The love story is an unlikely one. It’s more about the places, things, and ideas that someone is swept away by, rather than by another person–and also taking the fantasy element into account, that’s what separates this movie from others similar to it. Simply put, it’s a nonthreatening, pretty, and light-hearted tale of wonder and finding muses. As the French would say, c’est bien!
The Tree of Life
The winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes, Terrence Malick‘s The Tree of Life was probably better known for drawing substantial boos amidst the applause from the audience at its premiere…and I have no shame in admitting that it was completely justified. I wanted to walk out only after a few never-ending minutes, and that’s something that even a screwball comedy hasn’t made me done. Malick is crying into his Palme d’Or and stack of $100 bills right now after reading that last comment, I bet. However, that’s not to say that The Tree of Life is a bad movie–it’s just that Malick’s style is so drawn out, complex, and overly ambitious that it’s polarizing. No matter how you felt about it, there’s no doubt that the imagery was breathtaking and art at its riskiest.
The Tree of Life explores the existence of faith and what it means to be human through the eyes and memories of Jack (Sean Penn), a modern-day architect still struggling to find his place in this world. The nonlinear narrative jumps around from present-day to different moments in Jack’s childhood, opening with a scene of his parents Mr. and Mrs. O’Brien (No first names ever given, played by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain) mourning the loss of their son, one of Jack’s two brothers. Jack grew up in Texan suburbia during the 1950s, which is what is shown for most of the film. A lot of Jack’s memories revolve around the relationship with his father. Although Mr. O’Brien works hard for his family and is protective and loving, he has fits of anger and is abusive. On the surface, The Tree of Life is a portrait of a family living at a time and place that is intriguing for those living the peak of their lives in the 21st century, but somehow it tries to be more than that, even if others can’t see it.
The insanely long creation sequence near the beginning, which contains gratuitous shots of lava, stars exploding, dinosaurs, and creepy whispering narration seems to have absolutely no point in the story. Some of the comments I’ve seen on the Internet compares the film to something you’d see on National Geographic, and this scene is primarily why it has received that criticism. It’s pretentious and makes the film seem more cartoony than profound. Dialogue doesn’t occur that often and it feels more like a moving painting than a movie, which is yet another reason why some people might find it hard to sit through for two hours. It’s not direct–The Tree of Life is something you’ll have to watch, most likely more than once, and interpret for yourself. It’s an unmatched, poignant, and stunning visual masterpiece, and Pitt, Chastain, and the young actors who play the O’Brien children—Hunter McCracken, Laramie Eppler, and Tye Sheridan—give heart and soul to the slowly-moving film. But despite its aesthetics and outworldly way of telling what I’m sure is a beautiful story, it left me untouched, unfulfilled, and confused above all. Maybe I’ll give it a fairer review if I can handle sitting through it again. I’ll admit that it’s a great cinematic achievement, and it gets a decent grade only because it would be sacrilege to give it a C or lower for the sole reason that I didn’t get it.
Now, Horrible Bosses is good, mindless fun for the summer, and at least I admit that I know good, mindless fun when I see it (For those who are still not over the fact that I kind of tore apart a movie worshiped by critics in my last quickie). The problem with Horrible Bosses is that it isn’t very well-planned. The entire hour-and-a-half feels sloppy and underwhelming and for such a great cast of comedic talent, it feels somewhat of a waste. But it’s fair entertainment—at least worth watching for a matinee on a day off or better yet, waiting for on DVD.
Horrible Bosses initially follows the careers of three friends in different jobs, working under folks who are tyrannical in distinct ways. Financial worker Nick (Jason Bateman) has a boss, Dave (Kevin Spacey), who constantly berates him and is unfairly strict. Engaged dental assistant Dale (Charlie Day) is subjected to sexual harassment by Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston). And Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), an accountant with an industrial company, had a good relationship with his boss, until he suddenly dies and his sleazy cokehead son Bobby (Colin Farell) takes over. One night, the men discuss how they’d be happier if their bosses just didn’t exist, and it takes a couple of other dismal incidents for them to realize that they can just kill them themselves. With the assistance of a consultant, “Motherfucker” Jones (Jamie Foxx), they work to gather data about each of the bosses so each man can kill another’s boss and the murders are untraceable. However, the results are unruly.
The beginning of the film, which introduces each worker and their boss through narration by Nick, Dale, and Kurt and big block letters on-screen describing each of their bosses (i.e. Julia is an “EVIL CRAZY BITCH”), marks promise for the mischievous happenings up ahead. The extremes that each boss goes to in order to ruin their subordinates’ lives (Like Dave making Nick drink a glass of scotch at 8 in the morning and spreading lies to the office that he’s an alcoholic) and the extremes each “good guy” goes to in order to get the real dirt about their bosses (It involves a lot of breaking in) makes for good laughs and “What happens next?” viewing experience. Most events don’t go as planned, which adds to the hilarity. However, it’s a very disjointed film. Certain characters don’t come in and out of the picture enough, even though they’re billed as a “main” character. For example, Nick is the first protagonist introduced in the movie but for about the last three-quarters of the film, he takes a backseat to Kurt and Dale. And despite being just as morally inappropriate yet interesting as Dave and Julia, Bobby seems to matter much less than the two of them. The writing is mostly at fault for how average the film ultimately is, which is a disappointment because the actors are unbeatable at their comic talent and they fill their roles well even though they could have been given more to work with. It was a wasted opportunity to create a really dark comedy to take the title of funniest movie of the summer. Instead, it’s a lightly-entertaining dark comedy that simply doesn’t try hard enough.