The Artist, sadly, failed to charm me as it has most critics…

How disappointing. I hate when that happens. I was really looking forward to seeing The Artist. I had heard nothing but positive, glowing reviews and the thought of experiencing a NEW silent film was exciting.  And with such a title I was expecting some cool, new approach to the era that is the foundation of the medium I love so much.  Instead, I was given a story that has been told before–in more successful ways–and discovered that the title was misleading.

What follows is a breakdown of my thought process as I watched:

The lights go down and I am ready. I like the dog right away. Jean Dujardin is charming and seems to fit the time period. The intro is promising–could this be a behind the scene approach? That would be cool. Nope. Rather quickly it begins to follow a very familiar path. It has some cute moments and little laughs. Okay, I think I have seen this story before and it was better. I begin to think–A Star is Born, Singing in the Rain, Chaplin–and as the story progresses, I start getting worried.  “That’s it?”  Oh and by the way, the female lead, Berenice Bejo is a bit annoying. Not a good sign.

Then there is a brilliant moment. There is sound–in a creative, powerful way. I get excited. But, alas it was literally a dream.  The narrative continues its familiar path. Now, I start to find issues with everything. Why so melodramatic? (And no–not ALL silent films were over acted!)  Is this a comedy? Yes, it is but I am finding the serious parts funny too. Is this a love story? Then why are two leads barely on-screen together? Well damn!  It has some cool visual gags–but they feel hollow and gimmicky.  Deep sigh.  I do not understand the critical acclaim. Really?  It ends with the most awkward dance sequence ever and the use of the spoken words–which is contrary to what, I thought, was the point.

Now my observations:

If you are making a tribute to an era of filmmaking–make it as good or better than the films of that era.  And when you have masterpieces like Metropolis, and films by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, the bar has been set pretty high.  

If you are making a tribute make it unique and creative.  I can think of two modern films that used silence (to an extent) extremely well–Wall-E and There Will Be Blood.  Both had over 20 minutes of “silence” and used it successfully and creatively.  I want to see more like that–I want to see a NEW silent movie.  Not a rehashing of old themes and over used clichés. 

I know I am going against the entire industry with this one, but it happens every year–there is always a film that I just do not “get” all the enthusiasm–sadly, this year it is The Artist.  It is not awful or bad–just not as impressive as I was expecting.

For your silent viewing pleasure:

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Another Earth is a strong, beautiful debut from promising new talent!

This is science fiction at its best–not muddled with robots or aliens–but rooted in humanity. With a unique angle and wonderful performances, Another Earth propels itself past the typical (it has a familiar core) and becomes extraordinary.  It is a quiet, simple narrative with an unexpected science fiction twist, that will move you.  

Writer/Director Mike Cahill has an photographer’s eye.  Many of the shots are beautifully captured–with little details highlighted–and he has an easy style. But the revelation here–the discovery, is Brit Marling, who not only shines as the lead, but also co-wrote the screenplay. Very impressive!  Marling is a natural and draws you in, close to her character and her raw emotions. Opposite of her is William Mapother, who is a great actor and shines in his role.

I usually roll my eyes at the end of most indie films–you know the ones, the artists that use ambiguity to prove they’re so creative and clever–when most of time it comes across as lazy and a cop-out–but I loved Another Earth’s ending.  Some may find it too ambiguous, but this time I thought it was right.  I think it is up to the viewer to interpret what it means.  You will understand when you watch it.  And watch it you must, especially if you want to experience something atypical and lovely. 

It has easily landed in my Top 10 list of 2011.

A Dangerous Method is an intelligent film–on many levels

Director David Cronenberg has made some intelligent decisions with A Dangerous Method.  First, hire some of the best actors we have today.    Second, have Christopher Hampton adapt the screenplay from his own stage play (Dangerous Liaisons is one of my all time favorites).  Third, address an interesting (historical) topic.   Fourth, have Howard Shore score it beautifully.  And lastly, keep it tight and fast paced.  What you end up with is a fascinating, personal look into some of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century and a great film.

I love Cronenberg’s style.  Always have.  I like even some of the obscure stuff–eXistenZ  anyone? and still think that The Fly is a horror classic.  In the later years he has become a master of the slow burn with a flash of shocking violence–Eastern Promises and A History of Violence are perfect examples of that.  With this film Cronenberg changes his MO–completely.  It is intimate and thought-provoking.  What a pleasure to see this side of him–and makes me wonder what else is possible.

The cast is perfect.  Michael Fassbender–again–is amazing.  He disappears into any character and as Carl Jung he is able to capture the keen mind and the conflict that Jung must have experienced.  Viggo Mortenson is a strong counter as Sigmund Freud–his presence is big and overpowering–I’m sure Freud was too.  The  scene stealer though is Keira Knightley.  She is fantastic as Sabina Spielrein–a woman ahead of her time in many ways.  Knightley is able to cover the full range of emotions needed to portray this complex character and she nails it!  I hope she gets some recognition during award season.

The story centers around the differences in the doctors’ philosophies (which are well-known) but anchors it with–what turns out to be–a love story.  There are many themes–father/son–teacher/student–doctor/patient–that should lead to interesting discussions.  Even if you are not a student of psychology you will find the narrative intriguing. 

So, if you need a break from the usual Hollywood offerings–check out a film that is a bit more…intelligent.  🙂

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a worthy sequel!

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is in fact a bit better than the first installment.  It still has the awesome chemistry between Robert Downey, Jr and Jude Law (which is the # 1 reason to watch).  The unique directing style of Guy Ritchie.  And this time, I did not figure it all out in the first 30 minutes (it was pretty predictable first time around).  I enjoyed myself a lot.  It was pure entertainment–which is exactly how I felt about the first one–even with its faults.  

Yet, with Game of Shadows they have the added a wonderful adversary with Professor Moriarty–who Jared Harris plays perfectly.  Some of the best moments are not the action or fight sequences–although still cool–but the mental chess match between these two brilliant minds.   I also like Stephen Fry as the “other Holmes”–Sherlock’s big brother.   The only disappointment was the under use of Noomi Rapace.  They did nothing with her character–they did not even give her a personality and that was a shame. 

Overall it was fun and well executed.  I love Robert Downey, Jr and he seems to love playing this part and that makes it a blast to watch.   I do not judge these movies as true Sherlock Holmes–but as blockbuster films made with a Sherlock character–and there is nothing wrong with that.

Side note: If you want to experience the real deal watch the BBC TV series Sherlock–that will forever be my Holmes standard now.   It is absolutely brilliant!

If it were my first time…I would’ve liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo more

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has an interesting premise.  Lisbeth Salander is one of the most original characters created in a long time.  And David Fincher is an excellent director.  And maybe if this was the first time I was watching this story I would be more impressed–but it’s not my first time–and I was left wanting.  

Do not misunderstand–it is a solid piece of film.  Well cast–strongly acted (Rooney Mara is definitely a stand out)–with a fantastic soundtrack.  I hear that this version is truer to the books written by Stieg Larsson (although the 2009 Swedish film has parts this one does not) and so I should be satisfied.  So then, I find the only problem seems to be in my head.

Unfortunately for me, the 2009 version left an impression.  I was blown away–by the characters and the story.  And although I was pleased that Fincher did not soften the more raw details and that he created a much more cinematic film–I was not as moved this time around.  I will admit, that part of that could be because I already knew what was coming. 

Another problem is that I did not like some of the more “true” aspects added to narrative.  I was totally taken with Lisbeth Salander as a tough-as-nails, brilliant yet bordering sociopath.  I loved her.  It is rare to see that kind of honesty on film.  This version softened her and frankly I was disappointed–no matter if that was what she was on the written page.

I do not want to spoil anything for anyone that has not experienced this story.  If you have not seen the 2009 version you may be blown away and regard this 2011 film as fondly as I do the other and I recommend that you check it out.  Experience it for yourself–also check out the 2009 film–then you can tell me if you agree with me.  🙂

2009:

2011:

 

The Adventures of Tintin is pure FUN & awesomely Spielberg!

Steven Spielberg is a genius–in my opinion–and is one of the few directors that can make important, serious films and pure escapism-popcorn movies.  Tintin is one of the latter and it is 100% fun and 100% Spielberg!  Pairing with Peter Jackson (both huge fans of the Tintin comics and planning a trilogy) and delving into motion capture technology is a win-win situation for the audience. 

The main attraction here is the flawless execution of the motion capture technology and how it allows Spielberg to express his creativity.  We see his imagination materialize and it’s awesome.  There were several “wow, that’s so cool” moments.  The action will have you on the edge of your seat.  There is a 6 minute sequence with no edits or cut aways that is well…genius. 

I am a Tintin novice.  I have never read the comics and you do not need to.  I enjoyed the hell out of this movie without any reference.  It’s like a cross between Indiana Jones and the Hardy Boys.   It helps that the voice talent is brilliant.  I know all the performers and they were unrecognizable–that’s how much they were in character.  Andy Serkis–again, steals the show.  His Captain Haddock is fantastic!

I can go on and on.  But the short of it is this–The Adventures of Tintin has easily made my Top 10 list for the year! I can not wait for what Peter Jackson does with the next installment!

 

Shame is an intense character study–Michael Fassbender is amazing!

 

Shame is a realistic, unflinching depiction of a sex addict’s spiral out of control.  It is intense and almost hard to watch.  I would worry if someone found the sex scenes erotic or exciting because it is actually painful and disturbing to see this man unable to conquer his demons. 

Writer/Director Steve McQueen does a wonderful job of telling his story truthfully.  He has taken out all the romance associated with casual sex.  It is raw.  It is ugly.  It is everywhere.  It makes you think about society’s hypocrisy.  What is acceptable? Adultery? One night stands?  And what is deviant behavior? Porn? Masturbation?  There is a line and at times it is hard to differentiate.  There are some very interesting juxtapositions that are explored quite subtly.

I also loved the way McQueen incorporated the city of New York–it is an important character in this film.  The city helps facilitate the sexual addiction, with its constant accessibility and ends up contributing to the protagonist’s ever-growing shame. 

But this film belongs to Michael Fassbender (who continues to earn my fascination with him).  He is truly amazing.  It is a daring performance not to be missed.  What he is able to do with mere glances and physical expression is stunning.  WOW!  Add Carey Mulligan (who is quickly becoming one the finest actresses of her generation) and you have powerful duo.  She is almost unrecognizable–and not because of anything externally–but because she transforms into this character so thoroughly you can not see any other traces of what we have seen from her.  Bravo!

I do not want to delve into the narrative–I like that the trailer gives you a glimpse into the world and you get a feeling for the style of the film without revealing too much.  It did earn a NC-17 rating and is showing on limited screens–but if you want to go on emotional journey that will make you talk about sex and our notions about it–then find it and check it out! 

Brad Bird solidifies his awesomeness with MI:Ghost Protocol!!

 

Why focus on Brad Bird? Well, because it’s his vision that makes Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol one of the best executed action films in a long time.  This does not surprise me.  Bird is a visionary director–his films (all animated) are some of my all time favorites!  And with Ghost Protocol he makes a smooth transition to live action and–to me–has made the best film in the MI franchise.  It is an exciting, taunt thrill ride that will leave you breathless by the end. 

The action is the star here, but the genius is that every action sequence propels the narrative.  Bird is able to keep it tight and the pace brisk.  There is nothing superfluous–every frame has purpose.  And yet, there is heart and vulnerability–you care about these characters–the action serves to highlight not to overwhelm.  Brilliant!!  (side note: now I am anxious and hope that Andrew Stanton (another fav animator) will do as brilliantly with John Carter–fingers crossed)

The cast is pitch perfect.  And I love that Tom Cruise‘s Ethan Hunt is not center stage!  (Although Tom is in full action star mode– it works better because he is significantly toned down–believable.)  Simon Pegg is always delightful and adds the perfect dose of comic relief.  Jeremy Renner continues to make me crush on him! WOW!  And last, but not least is Paula Patton who is fantastic!  This, truly is a TEAM and they work together to make this succeed. 

So, obviously I loved it!  If you can watch it on the IMAX format–treat yourself–it is incredible!  The tower sequence alone will take your breath away and have you feeling that vertigo! (The audience applauded after–yeah, it was that good!)

The Holiday season is off to a good start!  Let’s see how the others fare…

PS  Wanted to add this great bit…

My world of television

 

A view of the London skyline, with the word "Sherlock" in black letters

I am definitely more a film person than television–obviously!–but I do like some TV.  I am very particular though.  I rarely like procedurals (I get bored)–hate Reality TV (except Food Network and Top Chef)–I can’t do melodrama or soap operas–I find most sitcoms unwatchable–so, as you can see…I am picky.  🙂

If I commit to a show it has to entertain, take me out of reality and engross me with well developed characters.   In the past I have loved only a few programs enough to be a dedicated viewer–Wise Guy–The X-Files (minus last 2 years)– Star Trek: Next GenerationLa Femme Nikita (USA network version)–24–The Office (with Michael Scott)–Lost–Cheers–Seinfield–and The Wire (one of the best shows EVER!).

Presently I have a few addictions.  I will break them down a little–rather than write a post for each–so you can catch up or check them out if you wish.  They’re not in a particular order–just as they come to me. 

Dexter (Showtime)

One of the most original protagonist I have ever seen.  It’s proof of the brilliant writing and cast that you find yourself rooting for and caring for a serial killer.  Clever and always interesting.

Game of Thrones (HBO)

This show is awesome!  In the first episode you’re flooded with so many faces and stories that you feel like it will be too much–but after the second episode you’re hooked!  It is a whole new universe–beautifully rendered and perfectly acted–and it has Dragons! Enough said!

Parks and Recreation (NBC)

I am a late comer for this little jewel–trying to catch up to season 1-2 now, been keeping up with current season.  I have found some all time favorite characters and find it wonderfully funny. Ron Swanson, I love you!

 The Walking Dead (AMC)

The first season of the show was probably one of the best I have ever seen.  Yes, it does have Zombies in it, but that is NOT the only thing that makes is awesome–it is the human drama that propels this program into greatness.  Unfortunately I have not seen season 2 yet–I plan to catch up soon.

 Justified (FX)

One of the great things about this program is its authentic portrayal of rural Kentucky.  The setting is a character in the show and it is fascinating.  I love the actors here–Timothy Olyphant and Walton Groggins are pitch perfect.  But it was last year’s villian that blew me away and won the emmy (deservedly so) Ms. Margo Martindale–WOW! is all I can say. 

GLEE (Fox)

I am a GLEEK!  Maybe not as fanatical as some…but I love it! I think Ryan Murphy is brilliant.  I watch Nip/Tuck as well and found his writing to be very creative and original.  Add music and comedy and you have magic.  I do not how it can continue for too long–but for now I am able to forget about my real world for a bit and sit back, enjoy the music and Coach Sue Sylvester. 

Modern Family (ABC)

This show grew on me.  The first half of the first season was bit corny–always ending with some family lesson learned–blah!  But as the show found its legs, it also found its bite.  Now it is a well oiled machine–cracking out the funny non-stop!   Great!

The League (FX)

Hilarious!  I laugh out loud with this show!  Crazy, border-line caricatures but it works.  The chemistry between the leads is perfect.  You do not have to love Fantasy Football to love this show!

Once Upon a Time (ABC)

I am hoping that this will become the timeless classic it has the potential of becoming.  I absolutely LOVE the premise of this show.  The execution so far has been awesome.  What creative new twists on a familiar stories.  And it has what could be one of the best villains I’ve seen in a while–Rumpelstiltskin rocks!

Grimm (NBC)

I am liking the mythology that they’re trying to set up–although I am getting concerned with the procedural aspect of the program–it may get boring fast.  So far I am digging the characters and the twists.  And having a “big bad wolf” as your sidekick doesn’t hurt either (Silas Weir Mitchell steals the show).

 Fringe (Fox)

I did not like this show for the first few years–felt it was too much of a copy cat of  The X-Files–but when they found their story and started building around that it became very good.  It is intelligent and engrossing.  It has had some of the best cliff hangers I’ve seen in recent years. 

Boardwalk Empire (HBO)

Steve Buscemi finally gets a leading role!  I love him and he gets to shine brilliantly here.  Add Michael Shannon–who is phenomenal–and a stellar cast, wonderful writing and perfect set pieces and you get a mini movie every week.  Awesome!

True Blood (HBO)

This one is pure fun!  Laughs, sex and vampires!  What more can you want?  Characters are over the top and delightful.  It is a blast!

Sherlock (PBS–Masterpiece Mystery)

LOVE-LOVE-LOVE!   I am more excited about season 2 of this series than I am of the upcoming Sherlock movies.  Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman are spectacular!  Whoever thought of bringing the character of Sherlock Holmes into the modern world (there is no literary character in this universe) is a genius.  The writing though is the true genius–fast, intelligent and sharp! AWESOME!

I think that is it.  There are other shows I watch casually and are fine–but, these are my-DO NOT miss–have-to-know-what-happens-next-shows!  

There a several I have not yet seen that I want to–Treme–Breaking Bad–Homeland–Sons of Anarchy–etc–etc.  One day I will catch up with those too and I will let you know…

Hugo is Scorsese’s love letter to film…and it’s beautiful!

If you LOVE film–I would find it hard to believe that you would not LOVE this film.  Hugo is story told for movie lovers, by a movie lover.  Martin Scorsese has never hidden his passion from us–but, I daresay this is the first time he has shown it to us so powerfully and yet so delicately.  It will evoke strong emotions and memories of all the films that have affected your life. 

I was pleasantly surprised that the trailer did not reveal, even a quarter of what is truly waiting for you when you sit in that darken theater.  So, as you know, I will not spoil it for you.  All I will tell you is that it is perfectly acted–wonderfully scored–and brilliantly directed! 

One more thing, though–if you can, watch it in 3-D (even IMAX if possible).  I like 3-D, when it is used properly–but, this is a very unique way of using it–it is almost a character in the story.  Bravo!

Place Hugo high on your Christmas watching list!  It will not disappoint…it will make you smile.