Hooray for Holly-Łódź: Cinema 5 – Charlie Kino, Movie 5 – Midnight in Paris (6/6)

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20:35pm Charlie Kino, Piotrkowska 203/205

Despite having the appearance of a rundown military barracks, Charlie Kino is a real temple of cinema and a deserved Łódź institution.

My Łodż cinema marathon ended up back where it all began for me in this city. Charlie Kino (or Kino Charlie) was the first cinema that I attended in Łódź, when I went to see a screening of Requiem for a Dream if memory serves. Back in 2001 Charlie Kino was outwardly no different from how it looks today, but back then it only consisted of one auditorium, whereas now it has three separate auditoria. The cinema is Łódź’s most important independent film theatre, having been founded by an organisation of film artists and enthusiasts back in 1994. The cinema is tucked away in a run-down looking courtyard off of the northern end of Piotrkowska, in the ‘Manhattan’ area of the city. It is actually housed on the second floor of a former government building and the owners of the cinema have gradually extended this upstairs space to allow for two smaller screens and a functional bar area. Much of the charm and pleasure of Charlie Kino is the ramshackle, almost homemade quality of the space, with lots of movie memorabilia and paraphernalia dotted around the compact foyer and the theatres themselves. The cinema has traditionally been the location of choice for minor film arts festivals in the city, as well as the more avant-garde cinematic fare that wouldn’t normally be picked up by the chain cinemas. In recent years to protect its niche in a more saturated multiplex market, it has focused much more attention on European and non-English language cinema.

Emotionally I have a strong bond with Charlie Kino, as it is so reminiscent of my favourite cinema spaces from back home, such as The Other Cinema in Soho, the Croydon Clocktower cinema, or the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. It acts as a miniature temple to film, a sacred public place in which film is taken as seriously as any religion and patrons unapologetically think of themselves as cinephiles. However, my faith in Charlie’s extra-commercial causes does not prevent me from harshly commenting on the rather woeful third screen (Sala Klubowa) in which I finally was able to catch up with Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. This tiny screen is no more than a home projector put up in an office that is separated from the foyer by a narrow sliding panel. There are no fixed seats in this space, but rather some horrendously uncomfortable Ikea kitchen furniture laid out in narrow rows. Due to the fact that the projector screen is placed fairly high up in the room, I had to crane my head uncomfortably upwards to watch, with absolutely no head support for the duration of the 90 minute running time.

The lovingly decorated interior embraces the film fanaticism of my favourite cinematic haunts such as The Other Cinema in Soho, London and the Edinburgh Filmhouse.

Yes, there are lots of lovely little quaint artifacts and objet d’art, such as an ornate coatstand, a glass chandelier and a post-war Warsaw produced television set, but this should not detract from the bum-numbing, neck fracturing discomfort of sitting through a film in this ill-suited space. Many of these complaints could have been ignored if at least the projection was clean and proportionate, but instead it was almost as bad as the Cinema City effort, with a hideously grainy quality throughout the first half hour, or so. The fact that Charlie charge 14 zł for such screenings doesn’t do it any favours, but I will say that my experiences on the two larger screens have generally been much more satisfactory with Sala Studyjna being fairly close to the scale and precision of Bałtyk’s presentations.

Cinema Experience: 4.5/10

 

I’d purposefully avoided this latest Woody Allen release, as I’d been so thoroughly disillusioned with the utterly objectionable Whatever Works (a film that felt both pretentious and lazy, as well as squandering the combined talents of two fantastic actresses in Evan Rachel Wood and Patricia Clarkson). Allen’s cinematic output has been in an interminable decline for many years now, with only a few brief upswings of the likes of Match Point to consider. The idea of Woody patronising Paris in the same way he had done with London and Barcelona didn’t make me any keener to see this latest ‘return to form’. The impact of Whatever Works had actually been so profound that I had significantly re-evaluated my attitude toward Allen’s oeuvre as a whole, coming to the unsatisfying conclusion that even at his best in the likes of Take the Money and Run, Sleeper, Manhattan, Zelig and Crimes and Misdemeanors, his movies were in essence nothing more than the extended miseries of a chauvinistic misanthrope, who already looked out-of-touch with the times in his 1970’s heyday.

Midnight in Paris by no means sets the world alight and I’d resist describing it as one of Allen’s best works, but it does at least entertain, which is more than can be said for almost any of his films since Bullets over Broadway. It’s in the same magical-realist mode as Play it Again, Sam, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Zelig, with Owen Wilson being cast as the most un-Allen of recent Woody protagonists. Wilson plays Gil, an American screenwriter in Paris with his bride-to-be Inez (played with privileged self-centredness by Rachel McAdams). One night whilst mooching around Paris trying to find his way back to the hotel, Gil is whisked off in a 1920’s carriage-car, by people who claim to be Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. What ensues is a delightfully broad comedy about nostalgia, which manages to excuse Woody’s whimsically romantic notions about European cities by making the romance of nostalgia a central theme.

Wilson is an effortlessly engaging presence, who strikes up the necessary chemistry with Marion Cotillard, who plays his 1920’s love interest a fashion designer who would prefer to be living in Belle Epoque Paris. There are also some amusing cameos, in particular Adrien Brody’s daft turn as a rhinoceros-obsessed Dali. Overall the comedy isn’t as witty as it things, but is nonetheless affectionate, which differentiates it strongly from Allen’s more resolutely downbeat and vindictive recent fare. The biggest disappointment about the movie is that it doesn’t explore in more detail the idea of Gil’s influencing the developments of the past (aside from a brief gag about The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie). My film night ended on a staggeringly coincidental note, as Léa Seydoux turns up as the possible love interest toward the end of the movie, having also been one of the first screen presences in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, way back at 9:30 this morning. One of Łódź’s great urban rhythms is this sense of reoccurring moments of serendipity. After all it was the home of that great director of coincidences Krzysztof Kieślowski.

Film Rating: 6/10

Film Review:- Red Eye (2005)

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Dir:- Wes Craven

Starr:- Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox, Jayma Mays

WARNING:- Potential Spoiler material below, as well as criticism of the acting ‘talents’ of John Travolta and Nicholas Cage that may offend fans of both.

Red Eye for a large part of its extremely economical running time works as a cinematic paean to the service sector employee. Wes Craven seems to be taking a leaf from the directorial handbook of Don Siegel, as within the first five minutes of the movie you have been introduced to all the significant plot elements, but just don’t necessarily know how they will all intersect. The plot revolves around Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams), a front-of-house manager for a prestigious Miami hotel, who at the movie’s opening is returning from her grandmother’s funeral. Lisa is the kind of service-sector professional who is so used to fielding the individual demands and requests of particularly difficult guests that she has developed an almost sixth sense for recognising and resolving a problem before it has even been thought of as such. In comparison to Lisa, the callow trainee Cynthia (Jayma Mays) takes the arrogance and rudeness of certain guests far too personally and there is actually a wonderfully written scene in which McAdams gently chides Lisa for bad-mouthing a rather obnoxious couple, even though Cynthia has said this to Lisa well out of the residents earshot. Craven isn’t necessarily painting Lisa as some saintly paragon of professional dignity and virtue, but these early exchanges over the phone and then in the airport terminal – the flight is delayed causing lots of customer service headaches – do help to establish her character as a decent, hard-working individual deserving of an audience’s affection. It helps that McAdams is one of the most radiant young actresses operating in Hollywood at the moment, although it might help her career to find roles that explore her undoubted acting talents more than her obvious beauty and charm.

A similar problem would seem to affect the Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who takes the male lead as the clumsily named Jackson Rippner – woefully explained in a barroom encounter early in the film. Murphy is one of the most striking actors currently working in Hollywood, yet his glacial blue eyes and almost feminine facial bone structure, have often counted against him in the casting stakes. I’ve a theory that with male actors as good-looking as Murphy there is a tendency to try to work against the typical romantic/heroic leads that they might well be cast, in favour of brooding anti-heroic or villainous figures, as if they associate such roles with ‘serious’ acting. In Red Eye Murphy is very much the villain of the piece, but for upwards of 45 minutes he plays the role of a cool, calculating charmer to near perfection. Seemingly flung together by fate, and a hefty airline delay, Lisa and Jackson strike-up a tentative rapport, that trades quite nicely in understated sexual chemistry. When it becomes abundantly clear that Jackson isn’t trying to woo Lisa, but rather has a much greater vested interest in making her acquaintance, that low-lying sexual energy adds a little bit of spice to the emerging threat of violence.

Despite the fact that the object of a thriller is to maintain a bit of mystery in terms of plotting, Craven is a smart enough filmmaker to appreciate that mystery isn’t synonymous with vagueness. Throughout the twenty-minute build-up to boarding the flight Craven’s kinetic editing moves back and forth between Lisa, Jackson, Lisa’s father Joe (a brief cameo that reminds you of just how great an actor Brian Cox is), Cynthia, an organised group of terrorists and a whole cavalcade of passengers who may, or may not, be in on some kind of conspiracy. At times the movie toys with tension and paranoia in much the same way as Stanley Donen’s classic Cary Grant/Audrey Hepburn thriller Charade, as armed with the knowledge of the nefarious activities at the opening of the movie it is difficult to consider accidental coffee spillages and dottery old ladies as anything other than elements of a conspiracy. It also doesn’t help that the film’s furious first twenty minutes are so littered with little red herrings, that it could have quite easily served as an alternate title.

Aside from the nuts and bolts plot economy, there is also a Hitchcockian quality to proceedings that for the first half of the movie doesn’t seem like overstatement. Craven, a former Humanities Professor, has always made genre works that are highly effective at mixing in more cerebral elements, with The Last House on the Left having some wonderfully murky morality at play in its final third and A Nightmare on Elm Street doing more than most other horrors of the time to ‘normalise’ the supernatural occurrences within the shadowy realm of dream. With Red Eye he proves that he can create and manage subtle elements of fear and tension, whilst eliciting some surprisingly authentic moments, such as the reactions of the young girl before the coffee is spilled upon Lisa, or the careful attention to customer service protocols by the cabin crew (“Thanks for your patience”).

However, the film also points up a bizarre schizoid temperament in Craven, that similarly derailed movies like The Serpent and the Rainbow and New Nightmare. Just as the tension has reached breaking point the movie goes from being a fast-paced, intelligent and relatively plausible thriller, to being the kind of whizz-bang, cliché-ridden horrorshow that might just feature John Travolta or Nicholas Cage being overindulged by a callow director, enabling them to deliver a variation on their usual wide-eyed, muppet expression, slice of ham performance. It beggars belief as to why a director would set about sabotaging such a carefully structured opening, by deploying, in the final stages of the film, the usual stock thriller detritus that has little-or-nothing to do with ‘reality’, such as exaggerated mobile phone inactivity (what mobile phones do you know that flash up in large lettering ‘LOW BATTERY’ and ‘NO SIGNAL’?), jumps in the space-time continuum (how on earth does Murphy get from the airport so quickly?), or preposterous action set pieces (a bazooka assault on a hotel from the  sea, or an extremely dubious pen-inflicted injury). In the case of films like the recent Red, such cinematic hyperbole doesn’t seem so out-of-place with the general tenor of the film. Yet after having gone to great lengths to construct a filmic reality that exhibits a striking degree of verisimilitude, such decisions become increasingly hard to justify. Thankfully, Craven is savvy enough to keep that running time mercifully short (under 80 minutes if you discount the hefty end credits) and Cillian Murphy, in particular, should be grateful that Wes at least knows how to edit a performance, as Murphy’s villainous turn in the final third of the film verges on the Travolta/Cage club, replete with a ridiculous silk scarf (stolen from a female passenger to hide the non-existent hole in his throat). All in all what started off as an assured drama-thriller, with two strong leads and a good supporting cast, boils down to yet another brainless thrill-ride, that might well fill a few hours on a dull and dreary winter night, but not much else. Rachel McAdams clearly still hasn’t found what she’s looking for.