Midnight in Paris
Directed by Woody Allen
This is a whimsical flight of fancy, almost an adult fairy tale that borders on delightful – if you can buy into the central premise. As with most Allen films, if he’s not actually in it himself, there’s a character who is essentially a proxy for Allen – a neurotic, creative type, worrying his or her way through life. In this case it’s Owen Wilson who, after seeming a little over-exposed in assorted mainstream comedies, fits into the neurotic writer character like a glove, or at least a comfortable mitten. In Paris with his fiancée and her parents, with whom he doesn’t see eye to eye, he’s pondering his decision to switch from successful screenwriting to writing novels. Wandering alone one night, he’s given a ride in a vintage car and finds himself transported to the past, hobnobbing with the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso. It’s an interesting take on the idea that people often feel as though they might be better suited to a different era, but that grass-is-always-greener-in-a-different-decade theme extends to those in the past, too. Lightweight, but also thought-provoking and possibly a good precursor to dinner conversation.
The Art of Getting By
Directed by Gavin Wiesen
Freddie Highmore, one of the best actors under 20 working today, stars as George, a high school senior who has managed to slide by without doing any schoolwork. But he isn’t the typical, rebellious teen, avoiding homework to make a statement or to do something else with his time, he’s simply adrift and aimless. He’s like an anti-social Van Wilder in the Rye, drifting from excuse to excuse, failing to form friendships with his peers who view him as an oddity in their midst, and stuck at the end of the school year, behind in every class and at risk of not graduating. It’s an interesting film about growing up without clear direction, and quite timely in its depiction of his parents as they struggle with financial concerns and joblessness in a down economy. It’s also cool in its use of past teen actors who have played similarly clueless characters, now in older roles – with Michael Angarano as an alumnus and artist, and Alicia Silverstone as a teacher. Emma Roberts co-stars as his first real friend and Rita Wilson as his well-meaning but struggling mother. A neat, low-key film, and another wonderful performance from Highmore, who is English but puts on a flawless American accent.
Directed by Takashi Mike
A safe pick for fans of samurai films, “13 Assassins” is a slow build to one of the genre’s most intense action scenes, as the titular 13 take on over 200 opponents in a small, rural town. Set towards the end of the feudal period, and during an extended peace under a ruling Shogun, the samurai class have found themselves with relatively little to do and few opportunities to practice their neglected skills. Meanwhile, a rising figure in the Shogun’s family is brutal to the point of potentially destabilizing the country. A small group of warriors realize that the only way to solve the problem is to remove him from the equation. There’s a lot of blood flying in all directions, but it’s not as gruesomely violent as some of Takashi Mike’s other works. However, if you turned it into a drinking game in which you drink every time a sword penetrates a torso, or every time a group of people stand just out of reach while two others fight, you’d be less likely to make it to the end than a nameless grunt in the villain’s army. Note: The film starts with several sub-titled sets of background notes and they are like an exercise in speed reading – so be ready.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Directed by Mark Waters
Safest for families with small children, “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” works by relying primarily on the inherent cuteness of penguins. Jim Carrey is somewhat restrained (less is more) as the son of an explorer who has grown up to be a fledgling real estate tycoon and the recipient of an unusual inheritance. It follows many conventions for young kids’ movies (which are similar in a sense to musicals) in that people behave oddly while others seem to pay little or no attention. This is definitely one for the young or the young at heart, those who are unlikely to worry too much about how one can flood a penthouse condo without anybody downstairs noticing, for example. The whole point here is to enjoy the penguin shenanigans. The film is at its best when that’s all it’s asking us to do – the story about convincing the owner of Tavern on the Green to sell her family’s business is best forgotten or left to the single-digit year olds.
Sacramento French Film Festival
June 17th-19th and June 25th-26th
This staple of the Sacramento arts calendar opens on Friday and runs for two weekends at the Crest Theatre. It features the best of French cinema from all eras, including both classics and previously unseen, new films that have yet to be distributed in this country. Full details can be found at sacramentofrenchfilmfestival.org, and the Festival can also be found on Facebook.