INSPIRED – You won’t recognize either of the two leading actors. It’s entirely filmed in black and white. There is almost no audible dialogue and no identifiable villain. But The Artist works triumphantly, nonetheless, and you’ll kick yourself if you miss it on the big screen.
Much like so many of Woody Allen’s films, I found myself wondering as I watched The Artist, “How did this film get financed?” Films this niche oriented, this thoughtfully crafted, this wholesomely old-fashioned cannot be easy to green light – but thank God they get made.
The Artist was expertly directed by Michael Hazanavicius, and stars French-born Jean Dujardin and Argentinian-born Berenice Bejo – a curious international mix for a film that is a romantic homage to American cinema’s silent era.
Dujardin plays ‘George Valentin’ (a not so subtle nod to Rudolph Valentino), a beloved silent film star in the 1920s. We first meet him at the premiere of his new film, ‘A Russian Affair.’ After the bows and curtain calls owed his adoring fans, he poses for the shutter bugs in front of the theatre, only to be joined by an aggressive female fan who immediately seizes her moment and steals a kiss – to the delight of the onlookers and press.
The next day’s headline asks “Who’s that girl?”
The young actress (“The name’s Miller! Peppy Miller!”) capitalizes on her star moment and proceeds to strut her way on to the Kinograph Studios lot, eventually catching the eye of the dictatorial studio head, played by John Goodman.
What follows is a refreshingly sweet love story between a rising starlet and a “washed up” silent film star.
It’s a film packed with moments that will make you grin; but the pieces I admired most were the little gestures between the two stars. When young ‘Peppy’ sneaks her way in to ‘Valentin’s’ dressing room and wraps herself in his dinner jacket. And later when he offers her this sage counsel: “If you want to be an actress, you need to have something the other actresses don’t.”
And an all around excellent film.
The Artist is certain to be up for all of the major awards, already winning its director the New York Film Critics prize. The film is a lock to win Oscars for art direction, costume, and possibly even cinematography. It perfectly captures the era. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dujardin even win the Oscar for Best Actor. I can’t imagine another actor who could have pulled off the role. The film’s final dance number will remind you how much fun it was watching Gene Kelly all those years ago.
It’s also bittersweet to recall Rudolph Valentino, the silent screen mega heart-throb who died in 1926 at the shockingly young age of 31 from a lung infection. He was a star, and as we all know too well, some times the candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.
YEP – Some films must be viewed through the prism of recognition that certain projects are aimed exclusively at target audiences. 7 Days in Utopia is a Christian film that wears its faith on its sleeve and tells a simple and earnest story.
Lucas Black plays a pro golfer who crumbles under pressure on national tv, disappointing his caddy (and oppressive) father, and sending him off on a road to nowhere. But that road actually leads him to a quaint little cow town, aptly named Utopia. Enter Robert Duvall.
Duvall was instrumental in getting Billy Bob Thornton’s star vehicle Sling Blade (1996) made. A film that also marked the beginning of Black’s career. Duvall and Black teamed up again in last year’s heartbreaking Get Low.
Neither actor is asked to stretch too much here in their Karate Kid relationship. Black comes off believable as a pro golfer searching for his own identity, and Duvall can play sage mentor as well as anyone, except maybe Morgan Freeman. Ok, it’s a tie.
7 Days in Utopia is well worth renting, but don’t expect to be dazzled. It’s merely par for the course.