Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Rated D - The Artist

Welcome Back to Quieter Times with Rated D!

This weekend Erika and I went to see a movie called "The Artist". SPOILER ALERT: A silent film star struggles to stay in the spotlight amidst the invention of "talkies".

The lights go down and the sound of cell phones powering down fills the air along with shuffling bodies and rustling tubs of popcorn and then... silence. And then a few seconds more and... silence still. And that's virtually where you are for the next hour and forty minutes: in silence. I hadn't heard of "The Artist" until it was nominationed for a whole bunch of awards at this year's Golden Globes, but upon learning that they had committed to using the device of emulating silent films from days of old, I was intrigued. Then when I saw it, I was pleasantly surprised. The story instantly tosses you into the 1920s with its bouncy, Academy Award nominated score and into a clever, art-imitating-life-imitating-art-imitating-life opening sequence. We, as an audience, silently watch a silent audience watch a silent film knowing that the characters we're watching don't view each other as silent though that's how we are viewing them. It's very effective, if not a little jarring, when the silent film within a film ends and the audience goes wild in deafening silence. Moving along we are introduced to the biggest star in Hollywoodland, George Valentin, played by Jean Dujardin (er... French Movies...). Instantly, he's the epitome of class without sacrificing some entertaining physical comedy (aided by his co-star, Uggie the Dog). It's not long before he meets a young dancer looking it to make it big named Peppy Miller, played by Berenice Bejo (A Knight's Tale... er... more French Movies...). She quickly grabs your attention with her "graceful flailing" and wildly expressive eyes capturing the attention of Valentin who helps point her in the direction of fame and stardom (even if her expressions are a tad bit over the top, even for a silent film). The movie takes a turn for the dramatic at the introduction of "talkies" and silent film stars are faced with a choice: adapt or die. As George desperately tries to hold on to the world he knows, Peppy Miller is the young starlet ushering in the way of the future. I have to say that I really enjoyed this film. I think the silent film "gimmick" could have easily gotten old fast or the lack of audible dialogue could've gotten very annoying, but, to my surprise, that wasn't the case. I will admit that an hour and forty minutes did feel a bit long due to the lack of speaking, but it was not enough to prevent me from smiling at the cinematic tricks and devices that almost transport you eighty-five years into the past. Towards the end, the film begins to swell melodramatically which doesn't fully match up to the rest of the movie, however, for some reason it does not feel as out of place as it seems like it should be. All in all, the risky style pays off should leave you smiling and resisting the urge to clap at the screen.... I hate it when people do that.

To Tie It Back to Health & Fitness...

The silent movie was fun for a while but it's important to remember that good aural health is important if you don't want every movie to be silent. In recent years, more reports have come out suggesting that loud music can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss. It is believed that 85 decibals is the "safe level" while higher levels, even used infrequently, can do serious, irreversible damage.

"....................................................................." - Everyone as The Cast of The Artist

Technically Speaking...

Though you'll see a couple of familiar faces such as the frazzled director, played by John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Monster's Inc.) and Valentin's loyal assistant, played by James Cromwell (L.A. Confidential, The Queen), the stars of this film are virtually unknown to American cinema. This definitely worked out for the best though. I tried to imagine this movie featuring a Tom Hanks or George Clooney opposite a Reese Witherspoon or Anne Hathaway, and though I'm not saying that a well-known actor couldn't pull it off, the audience doesn't have to forget a familiar voice to finally suspend their disbelief.

REVIEW - 4.5 out of 5 Raised Eyebrows

A List of Fives!

This Week's List... Best Original Screenplays!

February is Oscar Month and since this film is nominated for a whole bunch of awards, including the one above, my list of fives will be from classic categories from years past.

1. In Bruges (2008) - After a botched assassination, two Irish hitmen are forced to hide out in Bruges, Belgium. This black comedy by one of my favorite playwrights, Martin McDonough, might be an acquired taste, but I think it's hilarious. McDonough is known for his randomly violent stories but he's also known for producing hilarious dialogue. Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleason are great at bickering while Ralph Fiennes steals the show as their insane boss.

2. Memento (2001) - A man with short-term memory loss is searching for the man who killed his wife guided only by the tattooed rules that cover his body. It sounds insane, but it's actually pretty great. Written and directed by Christopher Nolan of the Dark Knight saga, this is definitely a flick for those who love suspense.

3. Being John Malkovich (1999) - On the seven and a half floor of an office building, an out of work puppeteer finds a small door behind a filing cabinet that allows you to go inside the head of actor John Malkovich and spits you out in a ditch somewhere along the New Jersey Turnpike. Yep, you read that right. Charlie Kaufman who penned mindbending dramas like "Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind" and "Schenectady" wrote this absurd comedy and the cast, featuring John Malkovich of course, really brings it to life.

4. Jerry McGuire (1996) - When a sports agent at the top of his game has an attack of conscience, he accidentally loses everything and must rebuild his carreer with a loud mouth young football player and a widowed secretary with a son to care for. Cameron Crowe, who wrote "Almost Famous" and "Vanilla Sky", does some of his best work with this one and so does Tom Cruise for that matter. "Show me the money... You complete me... You had me at 'Hello'" It's all there.

5. Bullets Over Broadway (1994) - To finance his play, a neurotic writer gets backing from a mobster who insists that his untalented girlfriend play one of the parts. Not only must he deal with the ridiculous group of performers, but the bodyguard sent to protect the mobsters interests begins to develop a real flair for storytelling as he begins to rewrite the play and turns out to be... pretty good at it. I haven't seen a ton of Woody Allen's movies, but this one kept me laughing. Fun Fact: Woody Allen has been nominated 15 times in this category.

Still Haven't Seen It?

Warrior - A high school physics teacher, played by Joel Edgerton (Smokin' Aces, King Arthur), whose daughter's medical bills are going to cause him to lose his house decides to fight in a mixed martial arts (MMA) competition for a winner takes all of five million dollars. A former marine, played by Tom Hardy (Inception, Sucker Punch), fueled by anger, alcohol, and pills reconnects with his recovering alcoholic father to train for the same competition. The catch: they are brothers. This movie could have... should have easily become a laughable melodrama filled with stereotype and cliched dialogue. Instead, it was pretty awesome. Each fight scene keeps you on the edge of your seat and each victory leaves you wanting to jump up and cheer. I have little interest in actually watching UFC or MMA, but to me this is the Rocky of Ultimate Fighting Championship movies. Not to be forgotten is a 2012 Academy Award nominated performance by Nick Nolte (Hotel Rwanda, Tropic Thunder) as the boys' broken father, Paddy Conlon.

Next Time on Rated D -

Trying to catch up on some Oscar movies that are still in theaters:

-War Horse - I promised myself I wouldn't cry...

-Albert Nobbs - Which I'm 90% sure is not an adult film star from the 70s...

-The Iron Lady - Which I really wish was the third installment of the Iron Man franchise...

-Hugo - Which I'm assuming is about a boy named Hugo... and 3-D...? I don't want to....

-Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - "Which I'm assuming is a documentary about talking to drunk people" - Doug Benson

-Gorilla Man

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