Movie Recap: Christmas Weekend 2011

posted by Rolocop

THE ARTIST – I have a deep affection for older film, especially silent cinema.  I am an avid Laurel & Hardy fan, as well as other silent legends like Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd.  So, when I heard about this ode to “films of the 20’s” back in May, it quickly made it’s way to the top of my most anticipated films of the year.  I also enjoyed OSS 117: CAIRO, NEST OF SPIES, which also starred Jean Dujardin and directed by Michel Hazanavicius.  Well, let’s just say I wasn’t the least bit disappointed. Shot in glorious black & white, and formatted in the aspect ratio of 1:37 (which were how films were shot pre-1953).  It’s also a genuine silent film, with some very necessary sound effects and cleverly placed dialogue used in the perfect moments.

THE ARTIST begins in 1927, when silent film star George Valentin (Dujardin) is at the peak of his career.  He’s just finished another successful picture and is greeting his fans when he literally runs into a beautiful aspiring actress, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo).  There is a certain spark they share in that brief moment, but then they quickly go there separate ways.  Later on, he meets her on the set of his latest film, as she is an extra.  The producers see something in Peppy and slowly begin to give her bigger roles.  Meanwhile, talkies are becoming all the rage, but George wants nothing to do with them.  His stubborn attitude eventually kills his career, while Peppy becomes a superstar.  The rest of the film focuses on George’s attempt to make a comeback.

I went into this thinking that this was going to be more of a silent comedy, but it’s much, much more than that.  It’s an elegantly told melodrama, though there is some subtle humor throughout.  I don’t even think I can begin to describe just how perfect this movie is, but I’ll try. Every single technical decision made on this film is brilliant.  The cinematography expertly emulates the films from the silent age, the editing is flawlessly clever, Ludovic Bource’s score captures exactly how the music was in films from the era, and the performances are spot on.

The screenplay is wonderful.  It’s a completely involving story.  Sure, we’ve seen the tale of a has-been trying to get in the spotlight again, but the screenwriter also knows this.  The film plays on our expectations and exceeds them.  I was completely involved in George’s story, and was rooting for him the entire time.  I also thought the filmmakers handled the relationship between George and Peppy delicately.  There are many subtle visual gags that had me smiling.  Also, George has a pet dog who steals many scenes, and is used perfectly.  So many things from this movie I love:  The movie-within-the-movie’s (and there are a few) pay homage to film history, a nicely conceived nightmare sequence, a rousing dance number, a clever montage sequence showing the rise of one star and the fall of another, and many many more scenes.  Did I mention the gorgeous and wonderfully detailed art direction?

Jean Dujardin is nothing short of fantastic as George Valentin.  He obviously did his homework on silent films, and pulls off the difficult task of carrying a silent picture himself.  He’s a natural for this kind of pantomime, and could have easily made a living back in that era.  It’s a lively and heartbreaking performance.  Bernice Bejo is also charming as the up and coming star with a kind heart.  The supporting cast is used sparingly but effectively.  John Goodman surprisingly does well in the silent format as head of the movie studio, and Penelope Ann Miller, Missi Pyle, James Cromwell, Ed Lauter and a “blink and you’ll miss him” Malcolm McDowell are all a welcome sight.

There is something pure and magical about THE ARTIST, and I think it’s because it strips down all of the modern Hollywood technology and reminds us just how movies used to entertain us, move us, make us laugh, and transport us into another world.  This is NOT just a gimmick.  It’s a true silent film with a completely involving story that will keep you compelled until the final frame.  Not unlike HUGO, this is a love letter to film history and every film lover should see this.  I sure hope come Oscar time, that this will get what it deserves, cause it’s absolutely one of the best, if not THE BEST, movie of the year.  I can’t wait to see this multiple times with my friends and family.  DO NOT MISS THIS MOVIE!!!!  THE ARTIST is a masterpiece! Opens on Friday, 12/23 at The Edina.   Rating:

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THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN – I knew nothing of Tintin until a few weeks ago.  I found out that it’s a famous graphic novel/comic over seas.  But for me, the real reason to see this was to see how Steven Spielberg would direct an animated adventure.  Actually it’s not animated like a Pixar movie, but in that motion capture style like Robert Zemeckis has been using ever since he decided to stop making real movies (sorry, had to do it).  Films like POLAR EXPRESS, MONSTER HOUSE, and BEOWULF.  Now, I enjoyed some of those but I haven’t been truly sold on this whole motion capture thing.

Tintin is a young journalist who craves adventure.  When he purchases a model ship from a street merchant, adventure is just what he gets, as he discovers it holds many secrets and villainous people who want there hands on it.  What follows is the kind of old-fashioned adventure only Spielberg can pull off as Tintin meets all sorts of characters (like 2 bumbling detectives and a drunken sea captain), and gets thrown into all sorts of action.

This film isn’t going to change the world, but I had a grand ole’ time with it.  The motion capture seems to get better with every film it’s used in.  Everything looks great!  In fact, at several points, I forgot that I was watching animation cause things looked so real.  The characters are colorful and tons of fun.  There are many inventive gags and action sequences that impressed me.  Like when a character is knocked to the ground and birds are flying around him like in a Looney Tunes cartoon, but then it’s cleverly revealed that he is right next to a pet shop and birds have escaped their cage.  TINTIN is full of moments like this.  The action gets pretty thrilling, especially during a chase sequence that is presented as an unbroken 5-minute take.  Spielberg is clearly having fun with this new medium.  And as always, John Williams score adds to the adventure, but this time a little more playful than usual.

As much as I enjoyed it, I can’t help but be bothered by one thing.  As neat as everything looks, I still don’t really see the point in motion capture.  It makes sense for visual effects, like in RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, and I enjoy a straight computer generated animated film like the Pixar films, or even stop-motion animation.  But an entire motion capture feature makes no sense to me.  If you’re going to make things look this real, then why not just shoot it in live action?  I probably would have been even more impressed if an unbroken take was in a live-action than in animation, because it’s more difficult to pull off.  I don’t know… maybe I’m just over thinking it.

Anyhoo, I did enjoy myself and those looking for a fun adventure story that is full of whimsy and imagination should check it out.  I probably will be seeing it again when I bring my daughter, and I’ll gladly sit through it.  Opened in Wide Release on Wed 12/21.  Rating:

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THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO – I just saw the original Swedish film 2 days before I saw this new American version.  I was surprised that I didn’t really care for it.  I loved the characters and every time it dealt with them personally I was involved, but every time it switched to the mystery, I just didn’t care.  Also, the direction wasn’t very good as it felt like it was made for TV (which it was overseas).  Since I’m a big David Fincher fan, I was definitely curious to see if he could get me involved in the mystery.

Since most people seem to know about this story (either from the book or the Swedish film), I’m not going to over explain the plot.  Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who is trying to solve a mystery.  Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth Salander, an a emotionally disturbed punk (I hate the term goth, which most critics have been using) who is an expert hacker.  Together the two team up to solve this 40 year old murder mystery.

During the first hour, I was a bit worried.  Just like the first one, I was having a tough time getting into the mystery.  I also thought there was a lot of fat on it.  I felt many small scenes and moments could have either been trimmed or cut.  Sure, it’s being faithful to the book, but this is a film and you have to make it fit the medium.  I also thought the opening title sequence was completely out of place, making it feel like a NINE INCH NAILS music video…. oh wait, that’s right.  Trent Reznor did the soundtrack.  Whatever.  Still didn’t like that.

Now for the good news:  Just around the Lisbeth revenge moment (readers of the book will know what I’m talking about, and those who don’t know… get ready!) is when the film really takes off.  The pacing gets tighter, the story becomes compelling, and you really start to invest in the characters and what they’re doing.  Once Mikael and Lisbeth meet is when I noticed a difference between the two versions.  Their chemistry is different and it’s all for the best.  This time, Lisbeth actually cares for Mikael. Fincher handles the second half very well, and I slowly became compelled by the mystery too.  And by the film’s heart breaker of a ending (which is different and superior than the original), I was deeply invested in everyone and everything.

Daniel Craig started off a bit flat for me, but once he teams with Lisbeth, he began to shine.  Rooney Mara really brought out the best of him.  And speaking of Mara…… HOLY SHIT!  She’s astonishing!  Pretty much known as the girl who dumps Jessie Eisenberg at the beginning of THE SOCIAL NETWORK, Rooney completely immerses herself into the character of Lisbeth Salander.  She dyed her hair jet black, bleached her eyebrows, and got several body piercings, which shows just how dedicated she was to the project.  In fact, she’s much more attractive all punked out than in real life, but that’s just my taste.  Her performance is ferocious and shockingly convincing.  It’s a star making role that is sure to garner her much deserved attention.  I must also note how brave she is by appearing fully nude, and any actor that can play a victim in a rape scene is fearless in my book.  The supporting cast is solid.  Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, and especially Stellan Skarsgard give memorable performances.  Also, it was nice seeing RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART 2 villain Steven Berkoff in a substantial role.

David Fincher has made a good (not great) murder mystery.  His direction seems to be a bit toned down and safe this time, like he was more of a director-for-hire rather than making a personal project.  Every once in a while you can see the Fincher touch.  At least he didn’t over direct the movie, which he easily could have done.  I also thought that Trent Reznor’s score fit the film very well (more than it fit THE SOCIAL NETWORK).

Even though I was completely entranced by the end, I still can’t get over the sluggish pacing of the first hour.  I can’t help but think that this could have been a classic murder mystery, but in order to achieve that Fincher would have to go back and cut at least 15 minutes out of the first act.  However, the rest of the film is pretty darn good.  Audiences are sure to embrace it, as people were applauding after and during the movie.  I also think it’s going to break R-Rated Box Office records.  If you were a fan of the first film, don’t worry, this is better.  Not perfect, but it ended up being entertaining for me, mainly because Rooney Mara gives one of the most memorable performances of the year. Opened Wide Release on Wed 12/21.  Rating:

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Also opening in theaters this weekend:

WE BOUGHT A ZOO – Cameron Crowe’s latest is a pleasant family film about a single father (Matt Damon) who purchases a house that ends up being on the property of an old abandoned zoo.  It’s unapologetically heartwarming and the lead performances from Damon and Scarlett Johansson are very good.  However, the supporting cast seems to be from a different film (like a made-for-TV Disney film).  John Michael Higgins and Thomas Hayden Church are pretty dreadful, and Patrick Fugit appears to be stoned the whole time.  Most families will enjoy it, but I wish every performer was on the same page.  My 8 year old loved it, however.  Opens in Wide Release Friday 12/23.  Rating:

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY – I’m sure I will be disagreeing with many people on this one, but I just couldn’t get into this movie.  The direction by Tomas Alfredson is precise, and every performance is great.  Gary Oldman in particular is solid, though it’s far from his best performance.  But the story is so overcomplicated that I just couldn’t get involved.  They introduce so many characters in the 2 hour run time, that I just didn’t know who to care for.  There wasn’t a hook for me to get involved in the story.  I appreciate the 70’s style of filmmaking as it fits the slow moving thriller genre (I enjoyed many of those films from the 70’s , like THE CONVERSATION and 3 DAYS OF THE CONDOR), but the movie is just so cold and distant.  I admired the craft, but the movie should have been more involving.  In the film’s defense, I’ve heard from a few different critics that the film benefits from multiple viewings, so I would be willing to give it another chance.  But as of now, I thought it was just okay.  Opens on Friday 12/23 at The Edina.  Rating:

WAR HORSE – This Steven Spielberg film is one of my most anticipated films of the year.  Unfortunately, I had the flu when the press screening took place.  I will be seeing it during the Holidays and update this article with my review. Opens on 12/25 in Wide Release.

THE DARKEST HOUR – This Sci-Fi thriller was NOT screened for critics, which is never a good sign.  I probably won’t be paying to see this.  Sorry!  Opens on 12/25 in Wide Release.

 

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011 at 11:06 pm