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Monday, December 26, 2011

Why "Midnight in Paris" is Better Than "Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

Woody Allen and Tom Cruise are both make profitable movies as expressions of a brand. And that is where the similarity ends.
  • Gil Pender, a trademark Woody Allen character - confused, harried, lost and unhappy - takes us on an emotionally riveting journey in Midnight in Paris. He goes into the past as he tries to find a way out of the miserable present. We moviegoers collectively "voted" to make it Allen's most profitable movie ever, now reportedly having earned more than $56 million at the box office.
  • Ethan Hunt, a trademark Tom Cruise character - seemingly perfect, playing the role of a hero operating effectively against impossible odds - led Mission Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" to earn almost $59 million just since its release on December 16, 2011. It's only been about a week and a half, so we can expect it to bring in a lot more.
Woody Allen and Tom Cruise employ different strategies to promote their brands. I think Woody Allen's is vastly more effective. How do I know? Because I enjoyed Mission Impossible despite the fact that Cruise was in it - not because.

In some of his popular earlier movies - Rain Man and Risky Business come to mind most prominently, although I know there are others that can serve as an example - we see Cruise playing characters that screw up. That's what makes them watchable. We, as the audience, know that no human being can go through life perfect. And when we see people pretending to be perfect onscreen, it is a huge turnoff.

So although Mission Impossible is redeemed by its great action sequences, good chemistry among the characters, exciting plot, and high-tech everywhere, Cruise makes an obnoxious hero because everywhere you go, there he is - always "winning," as Charlie Sheen might way.

Honestly, watching the movie I felt kind of bad for Cruise. I thought that he must feel pretty insecure or inadequate if he has to constantly portray characters who have absolutely no flaws. And he looked old.

I sometimes look at myself looking older, and at TV characters I used to watch when I was young, and I feel bad because we're all aging. It's tough to watch in person and it's tough to see onscreen, too, especially when someone seems to be holding on to their youth with a death grip.

The experience of watching Midnight in Paris was completely different. I had read the positive reviews, but I didn't expect it to be all that good - just another recycled Woody Allen formula. After all these years and all these movies, what could be new?

But it was magical.

The cinematography, for one thing, is beyond description. It is worth watching this movie just to see Paris in the rain. Paris at night, Paris in the past, Paris at the historical monuments, Paris cafes, Paris Paris Paris. You can't not want to go after seeing it.

The characters work well too. I can't say that Woody Allen got it totally right - he tends to make most of the characters one-dimensional foils for the hero, and here he does a disservice to Rachel McAdams in that respect - but with Gil Pender he hit the baseball out of the park. Allen explores Pender's psychology in such depth and nuance that he can only be making a movie about himself. And when you see the contradictions in this character, his complexity and the realizations he encounters - you find that you learn something very profound about the human psyche.

With a brand it is great to be consistent, so that the customer knows what to expect every time. That's what you get with Mission Impossible. But it's more important to be perfect. And that can only be achieved through art - by realizing a vision that is ultimately flawed, just like people are. And that's why Midnight in Paris is a better movie, that gives us a glimpse of human truth.
That, in a way, brings us closer to God.