Tag: comedy

‘The Artist’: A Silent Masterpiece

The Artist (2011)
Written & Directed by Michel Hazanvicius
100 mins.

***1/2 (out of four)

By Tim Lucia

Basically a shoo-in for Best Picture at the Academy Awards this Sunday, The Artist is a magical, fun, one-of-a-kind movie experience.  French director Michel Hazanvicius (the OSS 117 films) breaks into American cinema with this magnificent black-and-white, silent film unlike any you have ever seen.  A tribute to classic Hollywood films that all audiences can enjoy.

Hollywood, 1927.  Silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a swashbuckling screen icon, in the tradition of Douglas Fairbanks and Rudolph Valentino.  He is on top of the world, adored by critics and fans alike, though he is quite self-absorbed.  While on the red carpet at a premiere, he bumps into – literally – the beautiful, young Peppy Miller (Bernice Bejo).  In a wonderfully staged meet-cute, Peppy kisses Valentin on the cheek, and they smile and pose for the photographers, flashbulbs popping like shining stars.

The next day, the headline in Variety reads: “Who’s That Girl?” with their photo on the front page.  Peppy is soon hired as a back-up dancer for the studio.  Then comes the innovation of sound in film.  Talkies become all the rage, and the silent films are left behind.  Peppy rockets to stardom, becoming Hollywood’s newest it-girl, while Valentin’s star falls into obscurity, and his life begins to spin out of control.

The Artist is a once-in-a-generation kind of film, I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it.  The black-and-white photography, coupled with the (almost) silent nature of the film (of course, there is music), suggest a somewhat dream-like experience.  Dujardin’s performance is absolutely mesmerizing, drawing the perfect amount of expression in every scene; he really seems like a silent film star.  Bejo is also perfect as Peppy, her wide mouth, accentuated eyes, traditional beauty and flapper vestements make her the ideal actress for the role.  Rounding out the cast are veteran actors John Goodman (The Big Lebowski), James Cromwell (L.A. Confidential), and Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way).

Hazanvicius re-creates a time and place that we all know from history, and he does it perfectly.  The Artist really captures the magic of an era in filmmaking that (in my opinion) Martin Scorsese’s Hugo did not do as well.  Though the film is predictable at times (there are a few surprises), I found myself not caring at all, because it was still so enjoyable.  Dujardin is likely to win Best Actor on Sunday, and the film will surely win Best Picture.


Payne’s ‘The Descendants’ is solid, but a bit over-hyped

The Descendants (2011)
Directed by Alexander Payne
115 mins.

*** (out of four)

By Tim Lucia

Director Alexander Payne’s latest effort, The Descendants, is a decent film, but a little bit disappointing (I probably went in with too high of expectations).  Payne loves the hybrid genre of dramedy, again following that pattern here.  After starting his career with the biting satires Citizen Ruth and Election, Payne went on to direct the excellent dramedies About Schmidt and Sideways.  The Descendants achieves some of the same comedic elements and situations as those two films, but lacks the emotional payoff with the drama.

Payne’s films always involve an everyman protagonist who is forced into a difficult situation, and forced to deal with quirky, odd, and somewhat troubled supporting characters.  The Descendants is no different in that respect.  Matt King (George Clooney) is a lawyer in Honolulu and a land baron, entrusted with a large chunk of idyllic paradise on Kauai that has been passed down through the generations from his royal ancestors.  The opening scene fades in on a shot of Matt’s wife, Elizabeth (Patricia Hastie) basking in the sun on a speeding motorboat.  The shot then fades out, and we soon learn that an accident occurred, and Elizabeth is now in a coma.  Matt describes himself in voice-over as “the back-up parent”, and now has to care for his two daughters, rebellious 17-year old Alex (Shailene Woodley) and cute 10-year old Scottie (Amara Miller).

On top of all that, Matt is informed his wife may have been having an affair; and his family desperately wants to sell the land to developers, netting them all a big pay day.  Of course, Matt is conflicted about all of this, but soon realizes the importance of family, despite the pain and frustration they sometimes bring.  

Some solid performances and interesting actor choices fill out the supporting characters; Alex’s dimwitted but likable boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) provides some laughs — Payne loves the dumb-but-lovable boyfriend character (Dermot Mulroney in About Schmidt, Chris Klein in Election).  Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) co-stars as Matt’s father-in-law, Beau Bridges as his cousin, Matthew Lillard (Scream) as a real estate agent, and Judy Greer (Arrested Development) as the agent’s wife — a somewhat normal character which she played well, a far cry from the crazy Kitty on A.D.  (“Say goodbye to these, Michael”).  Clooney shows somewhat of a different side of himself, gaining weight and donning some pretty ugly vestements to play Matt.  This is probably the least attractive he has looked on film, and he plays his role well.

Payne adapts most of his films and does again here, from a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings.  Although, instead of working with his normal writing partner, Jim Taylor, Payne instead adapted the script for The Descendants with two actors, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash.  Though it is a decent film with good performances from Clooney and Woodley, and a setting that would make anyone want to hop on the next plane to the beautiful archipelago that is Hawaii, the film falls short of Payne’s two previous films.  There are some laughs, and plenty of drama happens, but I felt disconnected from it.  There was a lack of emotional impact, and the predictability of some of the situations, outcomes, and characters didn’t help.  A solid dramedy worth watching, but not an absolute must-see in the theater.  Side note:  HBO announced today they are canceling Hung, the dramedy series starring Thomas Jane which was executive produced by Payne.  This should ensure he will be making feature films with more frequency.  The Descendants ended a seven year drought from Payne, he has two new films announced on imbd, one already in pre-production.

Netflix Pick of the Week: ‘Amreeka’

Amreeka (2009)
Director: Cherian Dabis
Starring: Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Alia Shawkat
96 mins.

By Josh Perrault

Cherien Dabis’ directorial debut film, ‘Amreeka,’ is a film centered around a Palestinian American family during post-9/11 Chicago. When Muna Furah (Nisreen Faour) is rewarded an American green card through the lottery, her and her son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) move to America from Bethlehem to live with Muna’s sister Raghda Halaby (Hiam Abbass) and her husband Nabeel (Yussuf Abu-Warda) and their three children in Chicago. While Fadi attends American school and Muna looks for work in a U.S. bank that is equivalent to her work back home, unfortunately her job search is unsuccessful and finds work serving burgers at a White Castle only earning minimum wage. All the while, Fadi is attending school and experiencing the difficulties of racism and violence during this post-9/11 and Iraq war American environment. Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) stars in this feel-good comedy with a mix of stealth political attributes that confronts the issues of ethnic tension in the world today.


Netflix Pick: ‘Cold Weather’

Cold Weather (2010)
Written, Edited, & Directed by Aaron Katz
96 mins.

By Tim Lucia

In interesting film, Cold Weather is sort-of a Mumblecore movie, but more like if Gus Van Sant or Kelly Reichardt directed an elongated episode of Bored to Death.  Doug (Cris Lankenau) returns home to Portland, OR (hence the Van Sant and Reichardt influence — the film is shot similarly to Paranoid Park) after dropping out of school for Forensic Science in Chicago.  He moves in with his somewhat sympathetic sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn) and gets a job at an ice factory where he meets Carlos (Raul Castillo).  Doug’s ex-girlfriend from Chicago (Robyn Rikoon) shows up in Portland, and then subsequently disappears.  Doug eventually puts his schooling for Forensics and his love of old Sherlock Holmes books to use as he begins to play amateur detective along with his two cohorts.  Cold Weather is not a film for everyone, but fans of Van Sant, Reichardt, and Mumblecore should enjoy it.  The pacing is quite slow, but the cinematography is excellent.  Cold Weather was shot on location in Portland, The Dalles, and Cannon Beach.

Netflix Pick: ‘Nice Guy Johnny’

Nice Guy Johnny (2010)
Written & Directed by Edward Burns
90 mins.

By Tim Lucia

Make fun of me if you like — but I have been a closet fan of romantic comedies for some time now.  Edward Burns’ Nice Guy Johnny covers no new ground and is fairly predictable, but I still found myself enjoying it.  Johnny (Matt Bush) is a native New Yorker who hosts a sports radio talk show in Oakland.  He is only 25 and is engaged to a controlling, bitchy fiancee, who wants him to quit his dream job for a more profitable one; working for her father.  Johnny flies home to New York for the interview, but soon meets up with his womanizing Uncle Terry (Burns), who — among others — tells him he is too young to get married.  Johnny grudgingly accepts an invitation to a weekend in the Hamptons with the rascally Terry.  Johnny then meets the charming and attractive Brooke (Kerry Bishe), who encourages him to follow his dreams and not conform to what others want him to do.  Nice Guy Johnny is by no means a great film, but it is quite enjoyable given the right circumstances.  Burns knows the New York rom-com genre well (The Brothers McMullen, She’s The One) and he returns to his roots here.  Nice Guy Johnny is a fun, light-hearted comedy; a perfect date film.

Netflix Instant Pick: ‘An American Werewolf in London’

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Written & Directed by John Landis
97 mins.

By Tim Lucia

The cult classic An American Werewolf in London is a must-see for fans of old school horror, comedy, and creature features.  Veteran comedy director John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places, Coming to America) helms this classic ‘scary’ film (it wouldn’t be scary at all to today’s younger generations), mixing in humor and romance.  David Kessler (David Naughton) and his buddy Jack (Griffin Dunne) are traveling through northern England when the stumble into a small town pub called ‘The Slaughtered Lamb’.  In a hilarious scene, they are greeted with abrasive hostility by the mysterious locals.  On their way out, they are attacked by a werewolf, ‘killing’ Jack and landing David in the hospital.  David is taken care of by a beautiful nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), who eventually brings him back to her flat in London.  Upon the next full moon — well, you can guess what happens.  Legendary make-up artist Rick Baker provides some jaw-dropping and hilarious make-up for the ‘undead’.  Werewolf is a fun, campy film, and the violence seen is very tame by todays standards.

Hands of Time: Traveling through Paris at Midnight

Midnight in Paris
Written & Directed by Woody Allen
94 mins.

***(out of four)

By Tim Lucia

Woody Allen’s annual film has come to theaters this summer, providing a nice departure from the usual summer blockbuster fare.  “Midnight in Paris” is a humorous romantic comedy mixed with whimsical fantasy.  Witty and fun, “Midnight” is probably Allen’s best film since 2005’s “Match Point”.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a Hollywood screenwriter, is on vacation in Paris with his stuck-up, controlling fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her parents.  Working on a book about nostalgia, Gil longs to live in the past, specifically 1920s Paris.  Walking alone one night, Gil gets lost.  As the clock strikes midnight, an early-model car picks him up and whisks him into another world, the world of his dreams.  Gil meets a slew of famous writers and artists, as well as a beautiful woman (Marion Cotillard), which he immediately develops a crush on.  Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, he drifts apart from his fiancée.

Paris is seen as a city of romance through Allen’s lens.  Gil is taken with the beauty of the city, and seems to get great inspiration from it.  Allen seems to be taken with the city himself — filling his script with scenes of dining, drinking, music, and discussion.  High culture, as always, is discussed intellectually while also being made fun of — another trademark of Allen’s comedies.  Michael Sheen steals most of his scenes as a pretentious intellectual, whom Gil is threatened by.  

Allen’s directorial career has spanned over 45 years and 47 films.  Obviously, they are not all gems.  As usual, he has another film slated for next year, and will probably keep going as long as he can.  “Manhattan” and “Annie Hall” are two all-time great films of American cinema, and arguably the two best romantic comedies of all time.  While “Midnight” is not on their level, it is a strong return to form for Allen, who had spent most of this past decade making dramas and some fairly mediocre comedies.

Allen’s skill with both the pen and the camera is undeniable, and “Midnight” is a fun, enjoyable film which uses them both well.  A perfect date film, “Midnight’s” wit and charm make it a nice escape away from the superheroes and explosions of summer.  While not Allen’s best film, it is far from his worst.