Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Film Reviews: The Artist & The Adventures of Tintin

"The Artist" **** (out of ****)

First of all, my apologizes to my dear readers. I have neglected writing for a while. To make up for lost time, I'm going to write about two movies I've recently seen. The wonderful, silent French film "The Artist" (2011) and Steven Spielberg's animated adventure "The Adventures of Tintin" (2011).

Lets be honest, there are people who, after hearing "The Artist" is a silent film will simply not want to see it. And, who can blame modern audiences for not wanting to? This is, unfortunately, the modern age and people like movies where people talk. But, I would imagine there are those who will see this movie precisely because it is silent. This is after all 2011. How often will audiences get to see a silent film in theatres?

The problem I think with the second group is they might expect a gimmick movie. "The Artist" is not a gimmick movie. It is a straight forward silent film. It could have been made in 1927 (the year the movie takes place) and outside of a few minor changes, it is no different then any other film of that time.

The movie has the look and feel of silent cinema. The music is perfect, the cinematography beautiful, and the acting, impeccable. And let us not forget the production and costume design. All of these elements added together give the film the immense amount of charm which it has.

The story is really no different than any other silent film where a young nobody wants to become a celebrity, think of "The Extra Girl" (1923) or "Exit Smiling" (1926) or even "Kiki" (1926). Some audience members may even draw comparisons to the musical "Singin' in the Rain" (1952).

"The Artist" tells duel stories. One is of a young woman, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo, an unknown actress to me, who managed to steal my heart). She wants to become a famous actress and after a chance encounter, she accidentally bumps into major motion picture star George Valentin (a name I suppose is might to remind us of Rudolph Valentino. Played by Jean Dujardin). He is kind of a ham actor, whom, as posing for photographers, meets Peppy and is taken by her beauty, despite being a married man.

The newspapers start buzzing about who is this young woman who bumped into Valentin. Her photo is even on the front page of Variety.

Now, as any film lover or film student will tell you, 1927 is the year the first film with sound, "The Jazz Singer", was released (some people, whom have never seen the movie, mistakenly believe the film is a complete "talkie", it isn't. It is largely a silent film but with musical numbers.) Valentin soon discovers that the head producer at Kinograph Studios (I guess a reference to Biograph Studios, where D.W. Griffith worked) wants to make only sound pictures (he is played by John Goodman). Valentin, like many people at the time, thought sound pictures would be a fade. Talking would turn films into a gimmick. It would de-legitimize cinema as an art form. Valentin laughs at the producer and as a result, is released from his contract. Ironically though, Peppy Miller is signed and becomes a big star.

The film was directed by Michel Hazanavicius and is the third film he has worked on with Dujardin, which I know of. Their previous collaborations were for the spy spoof, OSS 117 films; "Cairo, Nest of Spies" (2006) and "Lost in Rio" (2009) which had a 1960s, "Pink Panther" feel to them. Hazanavicius seems to draw on the past for inspiration. Not a bad idea.

I am however a bit surprised to find him as the director and Dujardin as the star. When I first heard about this film I thought it was going to be a drama. It has serious moments, but there are tongue-in-cheek moments as well. Dujardin has a lot of fun with the character, which is suppose to be an Errol Flynn, Douglas Fairbanks sort but with an ego problem.

Dujardin is perfect in the role. He managed to express all the emotions required for the role. After seeing him in this I cannot think of anyone else doing it. There are elements of pathos here in the character contrasted with a bit of coolness. Dujardin balances things quite well. He won the "Best Actor" award at Cannes for his performance and there is talk he may win an Oscar as well. At the very least, he will be nominated.

I can't kid myself or readers. A movie like "The Artist" is made for people like myself. Old timers who actually watch silent cinema. Someone who yearns for the past. Has a growing interest in the history of cinema. Someone who has actually seen movies with actors like Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, Conrad Nagel, Valentino, Louise Brooks and John Barrymore.

"The Artist" is one of the year's best films. It should not be missed!

"The Adventures of Tintin" *** (out of ****)

For some reason the idea of Steven Spielberg directing an animated film seemed a bit odd to me. Better to leave this sort of thing to Pixar or Dreamworks. But then as I watched the opening minutes of "Tintin" a thought occured to me. Why the heck shouldn't Spielberg direct an animated film?! He's a filmmaker who has never lost touch with his inner child. He should have made an animated film a long time ago. Remember, this is the man who made films such as "E.T." (1982), "Raiders of the Lost Arc" (1981) and "Hook" (1991).

Much like other films released this year, "The Artist" or Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" (2011), "The Adventures of Tintin" is a nostalgic throw-back to an earlier time. The film, based on a comic book series by Herge, recalls 1930s serials. Much like "Indiana Jones".

Tintin (voices by Jamie Bell) is a famous reporter who stumbles upon a great mystery after buying a miniature boat. The actual boat which the model was based on, has a long history Tintin discovers. A great secret is hidden somewhere in the model and only one man can help Tintin solve the mystery, Capt. Haddock (Andy Serkis) a descendant of the original captain of the boat in question.

Tintin and Haddock find themselves on the run from Rackham (Daniel Craig) who knows all about the boat's history and has his own sinister motives.

The film was written by Steven Moffat, whom I know as the creator of one of my favorite TV shows, the BBC comedy "Coupling". And was co-written by Edgar Wright, director of the endlessly creative "Scott Pilgrim vs the World" (2010) and Joe Cornish.

The most amazing thing about "The Adventures of Tintin" was how involved I was. I was actually caught up in the adventure. I found a lot of it suspenseful. I could see how this could have been made into a live-action film (Spielberg's original intention). The film has moments of action, comedy and lite-seriousness.

I really enjoyed the look of the film as well. It is much different, to my eye at least, than what Pixar releases. This looked more "real". I found the animation quite impressive. Still I preferred animated films like "Cars 2" (2011) and "Rango" (2011) over this one. Those movies had a bit more heart. Which is normally something a Spielberg film doesn't lack.

Still, Spielberg puts on a good show for us. I think this makes for a pretty good family film. Most audiences should enjoy it.