Movie Project #45: The Pianist [2002]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Pianist [2002]

The Pianist [2002]
Director: Roman Polanski
Genre: Biography/Drama/War
Starring: Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann and Frank Finlay
Running Time: 150 minutes

It’s always difficult to watch films about the Holocaust, and it’s especially challenging to write about them afterward. What can be said about one of the most horrifying events in all of mankind? Because of this, it has taken me ten long years to finally see The Pianist, Roman Polanski’s film based on the World War II memoir by Polish-Jewish musician Wladyslaw Szpilman.

Adrien Brody stars as Szpilman, and the film begins with a German bombing during one of his popular radio station performances. It doesn’t take long for Germany to defeat Poland, and they quickly begin pushing the Jews into ghettos with extremely poor living conditions. This only gets worse as the Germans linger in the country, with Jews being executed randomly, and many of them being sent to concentration camps.

The Pianist [2002]

Eventually Szpilman becomes separated from his family, and he is forced to live in hiding from the Nazis. He must rely on the hospitality of others, but this becomes increasingly difficult as the war goes on. Jews begin turning on each other, and the Nazis start wiping out entire areas for no reason. Soon many ghettos are looking like post-apocalyptic war zones.

This destruction makes for an exceedingly arduous viewing. The punishment is relentless, and quite frankly we do not need to see most of it. The devastation and tragedies just keep getting piled onto Szpilman with no end in sight. There is no humanity or compassion at all, except for a brief glimpse at the end. It’s harrowing to watch, a painful look at an absolutely darkest time.

The Pianist [2002]

The attention to detail in The Pianist is astounding, and this is to be expected given Polanski’s own Holocaust survival tale. This is an extremely well-crafted film, one brought together by Adrien Brody’s well-deserved Oscar-winning performance. Szpilman’s physical and mental deterioration over the years is hard to watch, but Brody’s dedication to the role is admirable.

While watching The Pianist, I wondered what separated Szpilman’s story from thousands of others during the Holocaust. Was it the fact that he was a well-known musician? Or perhaps that he received a rare moment of compassion as the Nazis left Warsaw? Ultimately, this question does not matter. At the end, this could have been the story of any number of survivors, and The Pianist is an exemplary portrait of this.


Movie Review: Midnight In Paris [2011]

Midnight In Paris [2011]

Midnight In Paris [2011]
Director: Woody Allen
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy/Romance
Language: English
Country: USA

Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen’s 41st feature film, has a bit of a misleading trailer. This trailer, which can be viewed below, portrays the movie as a simple romantic comedy set in the gorgeous city of Paris. This is not entirely accurate. Sure, the movie is a love story, and it’s true that it is set in Paris, but there is a startling twist that throws everything in a different direction. While many reviewers have found the need to spoil this twist, I feel that it would be an injustice to reveal the movie’s curveball. Consider this a spoiler-free review.

The film stars Owen Wilson as Gil Pender, a bored Hollywood screenwriter who aspires to write a successful novel. Gil and his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), have joined her parents on a business trip to Paris for a relaxing getaway. Gil immediately falls in love with the city, frequently dreaming of walking in the rain in 1920’s Paris. He waxes nostalgic, often thinking of what he assumes to be greater times. Inez, on the other hand, while appreciative of Paris is more concerned about spending time with her old friend, Paul (Michael Sheen), who just so happens to be visiting as well. Paul is the pseudo-intellectual type, a guy who acts as if he knows everything about everyone, and Sheen plays him to perfection.

Midnight In Paris [2011]

In fact, the acting is pretty damn good all around. I am not an Owen Wilson fan at all, but I enjoyed him here. This might very well be the best role I have seen him in. Rachel McAdams does well as Gil’s bitchy fiancee, although I get the feeling that anyone could have stepped in for this part with little difficulty. The supporting cast, however, is what really helps this movie. Corey Stoll, Kathy Bates, Adrien Brody, Carla Bruni, Marion Cotillard and Tom Hiddleston, to name a handful, all have fun roles of varying degrees of importance. Cotillard, in particular, shines as the beautiful and charming Adriana. Without getting too much into their actual characters (for risk of spoilers), let’s just say that the cast fits their counterparts perfectly, which is an admirable feat.

Midnight In Paris [2011]

It’s clear from the film’s opening three minute montage that Woody Allen is enamored with Paris, and this is basically his love song for the city. There are some truly stunning shots of the City of Light, and this movie really makes me want to go back and visit.

Unfortunately, while Midnight In Paris has a strong cast and some marvelous shots of the city, the movie itself feels a bit flat. The aforementioned “twist” is initially intriguing, but the jokes and running gags related to it grow old after a while. I didn’t find the movie as funny as others did, although Adrien Brody’s cameo had me cracking up. Also, even though many of the small roles were entertaining, it felt like the movie introduced way too many characters and gave them little to work with. Even some of the more “important” characters kind of disappeared into the background after originally being introduced.

Essentially, Midnight In Paris is a good, but not great, movie. It has some interesting ideas, but never quite lives up to its potential. However, this is a must-see for those who fancy American literature and European artists as there are numerous references to Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso and Dali, to name a few. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, then you may want to pass.