The Artist

The Artist at first appears to be a throw back to the classic days of the silent film industry, when men dressed in their best suits, took their women to cinemas, and were treated to a live orchestra that added personality to a wordless picture.

But this is not what The Artist is, not really.

The Artist is in fact throw back to that age when cinema was still unsure of itself.  The age, well after “talkies” had established themselves as the dominant form of entertainment.  The Artist is a picture that reaches out to the 50’s and longs to connect to this very specific era of films.

To qualify The Artist, it is what would have happened had Billy Wilder directed Singin’ in the Rain.  Like other films that have told a similar story before it, The Artist deals with the affect that the paradigm shift, from silent to talking pictures, had on the actors that had once been larger than life.

At the centre of this story is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a silent film star that is quickly becoming obsolete.

Dujardin is a dead ringer for Gene Kelly minus the voice, which makes him a natural choice for the role.  Unlike Kelly’s character in the afore mention Singin’ in the Rain though, the transition was not seamless.  Valentin has trouble adapting to his new status and ends up resembling Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard antagonist.

One notable stand out from the film is Berenice Bejo, who plays Peppy Miller, up-and-coming star and love interest of Valentin. Bejo’s performance has not yet secured any major nominations, but there were many scenes that Bejo was able to steal from Dujardin.  And that wasn’t an easy thing to do

What is really special about this film is not its originality, because almost nothing about the film is original.  Its shooting techniques predate Citizen Kane and it is a story that has been done to death.  This film is special though. It tells a story in the way that it was meant to be told, but in a way that had never previously been done.

The film examines the silent film era, and the subsequent culture shift that emerged with the talking film, but it did so in the former medium.  Brilliantly, this allows Michel Hazanavicius to tell and old story, in a fresh way.

The medium allows the film to be funny in a way that it wouldn’t have had it relied on words, which is important.  There’s nothing more frustrating than watching a concept film that leans too heavily on its concept without actually doing anything with it.  That being said, this film will probably be over-liked.

It is a perfectly good film but it comes nowhere close to reaching the levels of humour or emotion of Charlie Chaplain’s The Kid did.  Perhaps that is an un-fair comparison, but that only speaks to how good the movie was, that it can even be compared, quality wise, to The Kid.

Chasing Amy

Kevin Smith grabs the audience immediately, and hilariously, right from the opening scene of Chasing Amy and doesn’t ever ease up on the throttle.

The story is about Holden (Ben Affleck) a likable, good looking, guy who seemingly floats through his life as a comic book artist with his best friend, his tracer, or inker if you want to be respectful, Banky (Jason Lee).

The two, not unlike Smith, write a comic Called BluntMan and Chronic which is basically about a stoner version of Batman and Robin who walk around telling “Dick and Fart jokes” while catching crime.

Do not be repelled by this, instead, see it for what it really is.  This is not just any film for Smith.  It is that one story that every artist tells.  The story of “that” woman. For lack of a less cliché term, the one that got away.  And as any good nerd knows “There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature” (Lawrence Durell).  Since literature isn’t the most solid investment, Smith wisely chose to turn Amy into a film.  And what a film he created.

The film opens at a comic convention.  This is where we are introduced to Holden, Banky, the quasi-titular Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams) and the hilariously perfect Hooper X (Dwight Ewell).

After a spat with a fan (the other half of Kevin Smith’s producing team, Scott Mosier), Banky and Holden sit in on a minority panel where Hooper is delivering a lecture on his book Whitey Hating Coon, a book meant to provide empowerment to the African American community.

What ensues is a hilarious discourse, which starts with a debate about the racist undertones of Star Wars, and ends with blanks being fired and Banky faking his death in front of a room full of people.  At this point the audience is let in on the act and it is revealed that Hooper, is a friend.  It is also revealed that his heavy anti-white propaganda is fake, that he’s gay, and that he has a friend, Alyssa Jones.

Holden is immediately drawn to something in Alyssa, and when asked if he and Banky can join Hooper and Alyssa for drinks before heading back to Jersey, he jumps at the opportunity.

At the bar Holden quickly realizes that whatever it is between Alyssa and himself, it is something serious.  There’s just one problem… she’s a lesbian.

What ensues is a series of events in which Holden tries to remove himself from the dreaded friend zone.  Along the way the audience is treated to an overwhelming amount of wit, humour, and montage sequences, all of which culminate in a rain-drenched heart-felt speech.

This film is arguably Smith’s most complete piece of work.  It may not be as laugh-out-loud funny as either of the Clerks flics, but it has so much heart.  Rarely can a movie make you genuinely care about its characters, while evoking fits of laughter, but Smith accomplishes this with Amy.

This is because Smith did not write jokes or standup premises.  Smith created characters that are funny, and tragic, and complete.  They don’t need to say “knock knock” because who they are as people is funny.  I’ve heard Smith say somewhere that when he started making Clerks he didn’t realize it as a comedy.  It was, and so is Amy, but not because Smith is desperate to make people laugh.  They are comedies because Smith is a funny person.  It is infused into who he is as a person, and he granted the same gift to his characters.  If Amy was a game of show and tell, there would be very little telling, and a lot of showing.

Nearly lost in the strong script is the strong acting.  There is a general hatred for Ben Affleck in the film community, and while this is changing as of late, it was largely undeserved.  Sure, some of his projects, Gigli, Paycheck, and Daredevil do deserve scorn, but his early work is so strong.  And this is his strongest.  Seriously though, ignore everything from 2000-2004 and then re-examine Affleck’s career.

Not to be out-done, Jason Lee is pitch perfect as the snarky sidekick.  One scene in particular, a scene that Smith masochistically drew out with out any cuts-scenes, shows off the brilliant chemistry that Lee and Affleck have.  And it’s a good thing too.  Had the scene been shot multi-camera or cut to facial close-ups in an attempt to manufacture emotion, it would not have been as brutally honest and painfull as it was.

Ewell as Hooper, also gives a brilliant two-faced performance that some how escapes accolade, while Adams charms as the love interest with depth and a life of her own, something that is rare to find in movies.

Smith holds a camera to himself with Amy and paints a portrait of a tragic anti-villain.  Something that is not easy to do but it is necessary to tell this story.

Basically, This film is Annie Hall, without the excuse of neurosis.  That is not a bad thing.  It is tragic, you can see the downfall of the characters coming, and you pray it will not come.  The only difference is that you can easily see yourself as the lovable Holden, and that is a scary fact.