Monthly Archives: January 2012

Oscars 2011 Best Picture Nominee: The Artist

Georges and Peppy's fates are sealed with a kiss in 'The Artist'.

Miss silent movies? Some of you are too young to know what silent movies are, never mind appreciate them. Anyways The Artist is a throwback to the days of the silent movie and it does a top notch job of it.

It’s 1927 and the era of silent films. Georges Valentin is the king of the big screen. The premiere of his latest release A Russian Affair is applauded greatly. He is quite the charmer with his debonair looks and his mall dog Jack by his side. Zimmer, his boss at the Kinograph Studios, loves him. Clifton, his valet, considers him his best friend. Outside he’s signing autographs when a young wannabe named Peppy Miller accidentally falls into him after dropping her purse. The incident is an event for photographers and even leads her to the cover of Variety magazine with the title ‘Who’s That Girl?”

Peppy and Georges meet again as she auditions as a dancer for his latest movie. He insists on giving her a role and even gives her a fake beauty mark for a competitive edge in Hollywood. It works as her fame is soon rising. Meanwhile Georges has a nightmare one night where he’s in a world of sound and he’s the only one who can’t talk.

It’s 1929 and Zimmer announces that Kinograph will now be doing movies with sound, or ‘talkies’ from now on. Valentin is unhappy feeling talkies are a passing fad. He stubbornly makes and directs his own silent film with his own finances. Unfortunately it opens on the same day as Peppy’s latest talkie release. Before the release, she’s being interviewed in a restaurant where she proudly talks of herself as ‘fresh meat’ and ‘out with the old, in with the new’ until she comes face to face with Valentin. Peppy’s movie is a hit while Georges’ silent movie is a flop. Georges’ wife kicks him out of the house and he takes up an apartment with Clifton. Meanwhile Peppy is a major Hollywood star. Despite her stardom, she never loses her thoughts and concerns for Georges. She even attends the premiere of his silent film.

Things turn for the worse for Georges especially after the stock market crash where it gets to the point he auctions everything off and fires Clifton who he hasn’t paid for a year. One day in a drunken rage, he burns all the copies of his movies save one. He’s trapped in the fire and can’t get out until Jack the Dog is able to attract a policeman’s attention. He’s rescued and taken to a hospital where Peppy soon takes him to her house to recuperate.

Georges awakes not only to find himself in Peppy’s house but to learn Clifton now works for her. Peppy then pleads to Zimmer to get Valentin to star in her next film, even going as far as threatening to quit Kinograph  if he doesn’t agree. Meanwhile Georges discovers all his auctioned-off items at Peppy’s house and then returns to his burned-out apartment. Peppy arrives at George’s apartment just as he’s about to commit suicide. It’s then when they reconcile and she persuades Georges let go of whatever pride is eating him and star in her next film. I won’t tell you how it ends exactly but it does end happily and on a surprise note.

It’s unique that it shows the swing from the silent world to the sound world as a personal trial of Georges Valentin. The world of silence made him a star, made him beloved and helped define him. When talkies came into play, silent movies went out of fashion and Valentin faded with them. Even despite his insistence of them being an art form, silent movies were not liked anymore. Valentin’s devotion to silence and his anger to his lost fame almost becomes like a source of pride for him as he even goes as far as neglecting the help given from those who act like ‘guardian angels’ to him: Jack, Clifton and Peppy. It’s only in the world of sound, a world Georges feared, that he’s able to recover.

Another thing this movie reminds us is that this world of disposable stars in Hollywood is nothing new. The movie does show a truth that a lot of stars popular during the era of silent films would lose their stardom during the start of talkies to a new era of stars. Does John Gilbert come to mind? And that line from Zimmer that: “The public wants fresh meat and the public is never wrong.” gives us a reminder of what Hollywood is about and always was about. Those who complain that Hollywood is not about the art of filmmaking and ‘all about the money’ are reminded in this film that it always was that way. Even while it has churned out some of the most classic and most beloved movies of all-time, it was still a profits-first system even during its Golden Age. The battle between ‘film as art’ and ‘film as entertainment’ still continues now.

Overall this was an excellent movie that is the brainchild of French director Michel Hazanavicius. He directs, writes and even edits the film. He also includes Jean DuJardin and Berenice Bejo who have worked with him in two of his past productions. Their performances on their own stand out as two of this year’s finest. Often one thinks that a lot of acting involves annunciation of words but a lot of acting is also done in silence too. In fact there’s even one completely mute performance–Holly Hunter in The Piano–that even won an Oscar. And we see the quality of the silent performances in this movie. Supporting performances from James Cromwell and John Goodman also add to the movie and stand well on their own. Also we have the dog Uggie as Jack the Dog who’s as much of a charmer as he is a scene stealer. The accompanying score from Ludovic Bource is also another top quality of the movie that adds to its highlights. The set design and costuming also work perfectly to set the time period. You’d hardly know this was made in 2011. Overall this is a well-organized film that’s as entertaining as it is artistically merited.

The Artist is a very charming throwback to the silent movie age. It retains the charm of silent movies and the era while maintaining an intriguing story and top notch acting. The big question is will its silence be golden on Oscar night? It’s heavily favored. We’ll just wait and see.

2011 Oscars Best Picture Nominee: Hugo

Hugo is a delightful movie based on the book The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. It’s a unique story about how a chance stealing by a young boy changed everything forever.

It all starts in a train station in Paris in 1930. Hugo Cabret has a life no child would want. He lives in the train station completely orphaned and with nothing but a bed and an automaton from his late father whom he hopes to repair. He ended up there after his widowed father was killed in a fire and taken by his alcoholic uncle who would look after the station clock. After his uncle died, Hugo steals food and runs the clock himself from revealing the death of his uncle. If the truth is found out, he will be sent to an orphanage.

One steal by Hugo of a toy part from the station’s toy store owner would change everything. Hugo was able to escape the station policeman thanks to his leg brace being caught in a train. Hugo however loses a book of animated drawings to the toy store owner. For Hugo to get it back, the toy store owner punishes Hugo by making fix his broken toys. The toy store owner is surprised to see that Hugo is very skilled at fixing toys thanks to his father’s teachings.

Soon Hugo catches the attention of Isabelle, the girl who frequently visits the train station. She is an orphan too who is being looked after by the toy store owner, whom she refers to as Papa Jacques. He notices the key she wears: it is heart-shaped. His automaton has a heart-shaped lock. Another link to the mystery. The two spend time together. She sees the clock area Hugo lives and the view of Paris. The two sneak into a movie theatre and see a movie, something Papa Jacques forbids her to see. Later Hugo uses Isabelle’s heart-shaped key on the automaton. The automaton draws a picture of the moon with a spaceship in his eye and the name Jacques Melies.

The two try and search further to see if Papa Jacques really is Jacques Melies. Upon a return visit to the house, they try to uncover the top drawer in his bedroom. Out comes a wide variety of imaginative artist images. Nevertheless Jacques is distraught to learn the children have learned of his secret. It’s only until the children bring a young film student to Jacques that Jacques finally reveals that he really is Jacques Melies, director extraordinaire of the early 20th Century. He explains to all why he became a recluse, because of his films failing as the First World War was taking place. He even burned most of the master copies of his films in a fit of rage during his downtime.  It is through Hugo and the film student that he’s able to receive an acclaim from a new generation of film enthusiasts. It is also where Hugo finally finds a family.

The movie is more than just a salute to Jacques Melies and his contribution to film in general. This movie is also a salute to moviemaking and movie watching. Movies achieved their greatness by making people’s fantasies come to life. They took them to worlds never before imagined. They took them to adventures and thrills they wouldn’t experience in their own lives. And to think it all started when a film of a train approaching the station made the audience duck for their lives. Nowadays movies face a lot of rivalry from many entertainment sources. Its biggest rival is now video games which allow the viewer to live the fantasy via an avatar, but movies still capture people’s attention and take them to worlds they never dreamed of.

Even though the movie is very much a salute to movies, it’s also a reminder that even then, great directors like Melies faced downtimes too. Jacques created hundreds of movies in his lifetime but as soon as most of the French public lost their liking for movies his fortune disappeared, his studio became useless, burned his films in anger and lived in obscurity for years. Nowadays we hear countless stories of people, especially greats, who had their moment but fade fast and die in obscurity without a penny. It happens to greats as often as it happens to ‘one-hit wonders’. Showbiz is cruel. Fortunately there does come a time long after their downfall when their achievements are recognized once again. It may be while they’re still alive or it may be post mortem but their greatness does become remembered and honored again.

Overall the movie was top-notch quality. That’s something you rarely see in most live-action family movies. There was no one acting performance that stood out or was spectacular but the performances of all worked excellently with the movie. Ben Kingsley was very good as Jacques. Sacha Baron Cohen who’s known for his comedic characters was great as the comic relief of the movie. The child actors of Asa Butterfield and Chloe Moretz did an excellent job in their lead roles. The story was very well-adapted and well-edited as it’s able to keep the audience excited, thrilled and interested from start to finish. Martin Scorsese did another excellent directing job. He’s tackled a lot of genres of film excellently and now he achieves another triumph in directing family movies. The score by Howard Shore fit the movie perfectly. The visual effects were also amongst the best of the year. The movie being shown in 3D worked. This was one of the rare times in which the 3D viewing appeared to be less in vain or for extra money and more for the delight of the crowd. It looked like Scorsese knew that if he was to have a movie in 3D, he should have the effects that make it work.

One thing that’s been unique in the film world of recent years is that a lot of well-renowned directors have started to make family movies. Seven years ago, Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire) released Millions: a story about a boy who encounters a bag of stolen money and consults patron saints for advice. Many years ago, Roman Polanski did his version of Oliver Twist to make a movie for his children who were twelve and under at the time. Two years ago, Spike Jonze directed the film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. Even Quentin Tarantino says he’s interested in doing a family film if the right idea comes around.

Now we have Martin Scorsese with a family movie out. It may come as a surprise since he has been renowned for his filmmaking of some of the grittiest legendary dramas. Nevertheless if Martin was to make a family movie, Hugo would be the perfect fit. The celebration of film in Hugo is something Martin would do well because Martin is known to have a love for film itself. Martin even did a documentary series for the BBC years ago where he narrated the history of film and its genres. In Hugo we see Martin’s love for film as much as we see the reasons why movies have become so beloved. Even Roger Ebert described the move as “in some ways, a mirror of his own life.” And the love of film started with Jacques Melies. Martin Scorsese does more than just make a family movie. He also makes a masterpiece that even adults can appreciate, especially those who love film. The film has been nominated for Best Picture and ten other categories at this year’s Oscars. It is the first live-action family movie since Babe to be nominated for Best Picture.

Hugo is a pleasant film not just in terms of family movies but all films. Very rarely is a family movie able to be referred to as a masterpiece. Very rarely does a family movie deserve to be referred to as a masterpiece. Hugo is that rare.

NOTE:  Usually around this time, I start my reviews of the Best Picture nominees. I have five more reviews coming. Best Picture nominees already reviewed are: Midnight In Paris, The Help and Moneyball.

2011 Movie Year In Review: Another Downhill Year

It seems with every movie year, it tells a lot of its overall successes and failures. However its overall total would be the big determiner if it was a success of a year or not. 2011’s movie year not only showed one year’s lack of success but Hollywood’s continually declining success.

2011 started carrying the burden of the not-so-good news of 2010. 2010’s total box office finished at $10.565 billion: $30 million less than 2009’s record-breaking year. At first $30 million doesn’t seem that that big of a loss but there was one additional sobering fact. 2010 sold almost 1.34 billion tickets: the lowest since 1996. Even Entertainment Weekly made note of that during January of 2011 and offered some tips in increasing movie turnout.

2011 had even more sobering statistics to tell. The year’s total gross was almost $400 million less than 2010’s: a dip of 3.8%. These two years in a row failing to outgross each other was the first such pair of years since 1990 and 1991. Ticket sales were also lower: 1.276 billion to be exact and the lowest since 1993. Not pleasant at all.

2011 was not completely bad news. The year still grossed over $10 million and became only the third year ever to do so. The months of January to March failed to outgross 2010. Mind you it was hard to do considered January and March 2010 had mammoth hits like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland. That downtime ended in April as it managed to become the highest-grossing April ever at $948 million. Successes like the action movie Fast Five and animated family movies like Rio and Hop had a lot to do with it. May also managed to be bigger than 2010’s thanks to Thor and Pirates of the Carribean 4 but June was a setback of a quarter-billion. Movies with big buzz like X-Men: First Class, Super 8 and Cars 2 didn’t pan out as big as they hoped. July and August offered bigger grosses than 2010 thanks to Transformers 3, the last Harry Potter movie, Captain America, the Rise Of the Planets of the Apes and the sleeper hit The Help. Thanks to July and August’s success, the whole summer’s total just managed to squeak over the previous year’s total. September became the highest-grossing September ever, thanks in part to a 3D release of the Lion King but the last three months had lackluster box office results. Not even the latest Twilight movie, the second Sherlock Holmes movie or the latest Mission Impossible could help the last three months of 2011 outgross the previous year, nor lead 2011 to a higher box office total.

So who or what’s to blame for this? You could blame the theatres for giving such irritating increases in ticket prices. You could blame the lack of box office star power of today’s A-list stars. You have to admit the star power of Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks and Will Smith isn’t as big as it used to be and there haven’t been any new ones to achieve the star power they once had. You could blame it on the lack of attractions at the theatres itself. That explains why a few theatres, including the Coquitlam SilverCity, have included an adults-only VIP lounge that includes alcoholic drinks. You could blame the lack of new winning ideas coming from Hollywood.

You could also blame it on a lot of external factors as well. First the economy. You have to admit that tough times don’t make for being able to afford a night out at the movies that often. You could also blame it on a lot of the new media functions and new ways to see movies. In the last five years, Youtube and Netflix have come about and it has changed a lot with people seeing movies. Even cellphone companies have movies in which one can download and watch on their cellphone, much to the displeasure of the likes of David Lynch. In fact that has led to a lot of changes in businesses such as video chains like Blockbuster and Rogers either going bankrupt or reducing its stores. Even local stores like Vancouver’s Videomatica–which specializes in hard-to-find DVDs like cult movies, indie flicks and a multitute of classic movies–had to close their main shop and relocate to a record store to keep business happening, especially for their most loyal patrons. It also explains why it’s next-to-impossible to have a single-screen theatre as I stated in my article about the closure of the Hollywood Theatre. In fact in my city of New Westminster, there will be a cinemaplex opening up with ten screens and a total seating of 1800: an average of 180 per screen. That’s the realities of running a movie theatre nowadays. Also we should remember that we’re now at a time when video games make higher annual grosses than movies. So people are finding other alternative ways to entertain themselves.

Despite all that’s happened last year and even happening now, 2012 has a lot of movies to show. Hollywood knows its demands and film festivals have their line ups planned. So hopefully 2012 should give you plenty of reasons to go see a movie this year.

Okay. Now I’m done the one and only ‘2011 in Review’ article I feel I need to right. Now I can go back to what I do best, which is review movies and the awards season. Golden Globes predictions tomorrow.

WORK CITED:

“Yearly Box Office Chart” BoxOfficeMojo.com. 2011. Box Office Mojo. Owned by  IMDB.com. <http://www.boxofficemojo.com/yearly/>