Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Artist - review

There's an old saying in Hollywood, that they "don't make 'em like that anymore".  Thankfully it seems that they do.  It's name is The Artist and it is absolutely glorious.

I was initially taken aback but upon reflection, in a year where audiences have been inundated with sequels, prequels and the diminishing returns of 3D, it turns out to be no surprise that the best film of 2011 is a black and white, silent film celebrating a bygone era of Hollywood.
Just like one of my other favourite films of this year, Midnight In Paris, it is a nostalgic look at the "Golden Age" of the twenties.  The Artist blends together elements of Singin' In The Rain, A Star Is Born and Sunset Boulevard to tell the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), one of the biggest stars of silent movies who loses everything (wife, house, fortune) when he refuses to participate in the 'gimmicky fad' that is the talking picture, instead forced to watch the meteoric rise of his one-time protege and true love Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo).
It has been filmed as a 1920's silent film (shot in 1:33 ratio, black and white, dialogue cards, iris fades and wipes) but where some directors might have gone for the old grainy celluloid look, it was wisely filmed in digital producing one of the best looking black and white movies ever, matched in beauty by a sumptuous musical score by Ludovic Bource which helps to narrate the story and strengthen the emotional beats (just as the live musical accompianment would have done in cinemas during the performance).
Michel Hazanvicius has crafted a loving tribute to the silent era but is not afraid of defying conventions resulting in one of the most startling and memorable scenes of the year.  It is an absolute delight and involves a glass and a table.  It doesn't sound like much but trust me, it is.
There is always a danger that this type of project could fall into the realms of spoof or pastiche but the performances of the central duo Dujardin and Bejo prevent that, providing the film with a generous abundance of heart.
Dujardin pitches his performance just right.  He never resorts to the "shameless mugging" that silent stars were accussed of, instead finding the right balance of old school movie star charisma that slowly crumbles away to reveal the sad, broken man inside, able to switch between comedy and tragedy with ease.  One of his most delightful moments is when he "gets into character" before filming.
Bejo I imagine, like her character Peppy in the film, is destined for great things in Hollywood.  She radiates star quality and lights up the screen whenever she appears.
Together they have a tangible winning chemistry that is in abundance during the scene where they are filming for the first time.  You can see the connection and attraction between them growing, take after take.
What I loved most about The Artist is that whilst it is an homage to the silent movie, it is also a celebration of the power of cinema and it took me on a nostalgic trip down memory lane as to why I fell in love with movies in the first place.
A tap dance reminds me of Gene Kelly, a staircase featured in Blade Runner, a breakfast montage reminiscent of Citizen Kane, Valentin's outfit during a swordfight reminds me of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride and the use of Bernard Herrmann's Scene D'Amour stirs up thoughts of Hitchcock and Vertigo.
Normally this kind of thing can be distracting.  I for one love a good Wilhelm Scream but when it pops up in a film, I am taken out of it for a moment and remember that I'm watching a film. 
But with The Artist it is a movie about the movies, a celebration of a medium that can captivate audiences, take them on an emotional rollercoaster, transport them from the dullness of their everyday lives and take them on a magical journey, albeit just for a couple of hours.
And if The Artist wants to wishes to take me on this journey many, many times over the next few years then all I can say is... "With Pleasure".

5 stars

Thursday, 8 December 2011

New Year's Eve - review

I didn't think it was possible for a franchise to be more cynical, jaded and unfunny than the spoof "insert genre" Movies e.g Scary Movie, Epic Movie, etc, but it seems that Garry Marshall is trying his hardest with the Love Actually-inspired ensemble film centred around a public holiday theme because after Valentine's Day, he is bringing us New Year's Eve.
Do you know what the problem with New Year's Eve is, or as us Scots call it Hogmanay? Everybody makes such a big deal about this one particular night, a lot of time and effort go into making these lavish plans and it gets hyped up to such a degree that it normally turns out to be something of a disappointment.
The same goes for this movie which easily grabs the top spot in my Worst Films of 2011 list. A film that is so unfunny and hard-going that it should have been called Slog-manay!
(that bad pun is officially funnier than anything in the film).
To try and sum up the "plot" of the movie, several A-List actors with clearly nothing better to do sign up for 20 minutes of screen time to solve some form of romantic problem whilst people sponsored by Nivea and a giant poster for Sherlock Holmes 2 (also distributed by Warner Bros and released on 16th Dec) worry about a malfunctioning ball in Times Square.
During two turgid hours we get to see the following:

  • Hilary Swank, in a plotline cut from Boys Don't Cry, spends time worrying about the fact that her balls won't drop.

  • Michelle Pfieffer get Zac Efron help her cross items off her New Year's Resolution list, the top of which should be to never make a film like this again.

  • Robert DeNiro plays a man whose career is slowly dying.

  • Ashton Kutcher, clearly depressed about his upcoming divorce, hates New Year's Eve (just like the audience) and spends the film trapped in a lift with that annoying girl from Glee. Why he hasn't commited suicide by the end of the film is anyone's guess.

This sentimental, schmalz-fest Richard Curtis type affair could really have benefitted from just a touch of his class. I'm not the biggest fan of Love Actually but it had moments of genuine warmth such as Andrew Lincoln silently declaring his love to Keira Knightley via cue cards, or as hilarious as Bill Nighy's ageing rocker Billy Mack. Unfortunately the script is completely bland, tired, cliched and devoid of laughs. I don't think I've ever sat in a screening of a romantic comedy where the entire auditorium sat in stoney silence for the entire duration before having to suffer through Ryan Seacrest telling us about the true meaning of New Year's Eve before the "hilarious" outakes during the end credits rub in the fact that the actors had more fun making the movie than we had watching it.
One can only hope that in the sadly inevitable fact that New Year's Eve makes enough money for yet another holiday related rom-com, it is mash-up with Eli Roth's Thanksgiving and all those responsible for this Christmas Turkey of a film are killed off in a variety of vicious, nasty ways so that we won't have to sit through the likes of this again.

1 star