Established May 2010.

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Chris: Definitely.
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Chris: Yeah, but so what? Everybody's weird.

Film Critic for Twin Cities Live

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Monday, January 2, 2012

MOVIE REVIEWS: The Artist, War Horse

Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman, James Cromwell

Any director, screenwriter, or studio head that believes you need to have huge explosives or chase sequences every twenty seconds to make a good movie should study The Artist. I may be comparing apples to oranges here, but The Artist proves that even a silent movie with a simple story can be the best picture of the year. It will even have audiences in the movie theater grinning from ear to ear. George Valentin (Dujardin) is the debonair silent film star of his day. Audiences flock to see him and his dog in the latest silent picture they are premiering. Outside after a screening, Peppy Miller (Bejo) is awaiting with the rest of the crowd to get a glimpse of Valentin as he poses for the cameras. She happens to stumble out of the line and gets the attention of Valentin. She lays a kiss on him and it makes the front page of Variety the next day. Peppy is an aspiring young actress that sees this as a perfect opportunity for her to get noticed. Valentin has to succumb to the fact that his wife (Penelope Ann Miller) takes this kiss in the wrong way as he sees it. Peppy gets cast as in an extra in Valentin's next movie and her career takes off. As the era of talkies start to take over, film producer Al Zimmer (Goodman) tells Valentin that he is no longer in demand and that Peppy will be the new star for the studio. The macho star does not take this news too lightly as he's being pushed aside by this new starlet.

The Artist is daring proof that a silent movie can work in this day and age of the silver screen. Jean Dujardin is pitch-perfect and dashingly handsome as George. He uses charm and physicality to mug not only the audience viewing the movie but George's fans that swoon after him. Bérénice Bejo is equally charming and sweet. They have fantastic chemistry together, and their performances wouldn't be the same without each other. Special acknowledgment is due to Ludovic Bource who composed the score. Due to the fact that most of the movie is silent, his score comprises 99% of the sound. If you could give an award for best animal in a movie it would be a tight race between George's dog and the horse in War Horse. This dog is a show dog of all show dogs. Like George, he knows how to win over the audience and milk them for every swoon they have. Everything about this movie is perfect, and it is a glorious tribute to the golden age of silent movies. Even if you think you a silent movie sounds boring, I challenge you to see The Artist and not come out in a positive mood and your spirit lifted.

RATING: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Tom Hiddleston

Despite the need for a plough horse, Ted Narracott buys a weak colt at an auction for 30 guineas which is far more that what the horse is worth. He does it to spite his landlord Lyons (Thewlis) who tried to out-bid him. He brings the colt home to be reprimanded by his wife (Watson) but adored by his son Albert (Irvine). Albert names him Joey and promises to train him to plough. They hope to grow and sell turnips to make money for the rent. A bad rainstorm destroys the crops and any hope of them making a profit. This loss forces Albert's father to sell Joey off to Captain Nicholls (Hiddleston) to be used in World War I. After Nicholls and Joey are deployed to France, the Germans invade and defeat Nicholls and his men. While many of the horses perish, Joey lives and is taken by the German army. Years pass as we see Joey pass off from one master to the next including two German brothers and an old man and his granddaughter. Albert joins the war in hopes to one day be reunited with his horse.

War Horse is based on the children's novel and stage play of the same name. Spielberg bought the film rights after reading the story. He then saw the production in London based off the recommendations of his long-time collaborators Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall. Spielberg knows his audience and what they like to see. War Horse is the typical Spielberg pull-at-your-heart epic story with a John Williams score behind it. John Williams does not score as many movies as he used to, but he always finds time for Spielberg. What would a Spielberg movie be without Williams? Spielberg paints beautiful images all while not being afraid to show the horrors of war on both the men and the horses. Be warned there are some disturbing images. With a running time of 2 hours and 20 minutes, it does tend to drag in the middle. It may not be his best movie, but it is still a crowning achievement.

RATING: **** 1/2 (4.5 out of 5)

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  1. Great post! The Artist was one of my favorites of 2012. It had some great shots that described the relationships between characters in visual ways.(The scene where George meets Peppy on the big studio staircase with multiple landings comes to mind.)

    Since this is esentially a silent film about the death of the silent film, do you think that in these modern times, other silent films could be as successful ... or is the reason this one was so effective simply because of the relevance (and the irony) of the subject matter in relation to the medium? ~H

  2. H-

    Thanks for reading the blog! The Artist was my favorite of 2012 as well. I loved the scene between George and Peppy on the staircase as well. I also loved when Peppy was in George's dressing room and puts her arm through his coat.

    I think the movie is so successful for various reasons. I think the cast and crew were exceptionally amazing and knew what they were doing. They really captured the style of the silent era. It's a different style of acting that I don't think many modern actors could pull off. The movie also has a soft whimsical tone to it. It's a movie you can go see and just smile the whole way through. Some people like go to the movies for an escape and this provides that feeling. It's also a change of pace from what we're used to seeing at that theater. I think it definitely has something to say about that state the silver screen. It was pretty daring of the filmmakers to make a silent movie and have it be successful when we live in an age where Michael Bay movies and a series about teenage vampire loving brings out the masses.

    Will this lead to more silent movies? I don't know. It would be hard to release another one and not feel like it's a copycat. I would hope that people who saw The Artist go back and watch some of the old classic silent movies.

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