Published at KCActive.com on July 6, 2012
When The Artist won the Best Picture Oscar, there were people who groused that it was a “conventional” choice. What’s conventional about a silent, black-and-white French film with no big stars? “Old-fashioned” is a better term, as director Michel Hazanavicius has composed an unabashed love letter to the glamour and romance of classic Hollywood.
Jean Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent film star who resists the coming of sound, with disastrous consequences. Luckily, he has befriended an up-and-coming young actress, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who refuses to abandon him when the rest of the industry does. With her help, and that of his faithful butler (James Cromwell) and the coolest dog since Lassie, George learns to adapt or get out of the way.
The joy of The Artist is more than superficial — Hazanavicius not only knows how it should look, he understands how it should FEEL. In the one major scene where sound is used, it feels like something crude and clumsy has invaded this pristine world, which is exactly how George experiences it. Its final use is more hopeful, a representation of his evolution, as well as technology’s. It’s an incredibly clever technique, and shows how fully Hazanavicius has thought this through.
Dujardin is a charming, energetic cross between Douglas Fairbanks and John Gilbert, and Bejo could easily have stepped out of an early Ernst Lubitsch comedy. If you get those references, The Artist was practically made for you. If not, here’s your chance to enjoy a most unconventional “conventional” film.
Extras: A making-of doc; Q&A with the cast and director; blooper reel; features on the locations, set design, costumes, score and cinematography. (PG-13) Rating: 5 —LL
Act of Valor
Imagine Team America: World Police as a serious, live-action movie, and you have an idea of what Act of Valor is like. They may as well have put “America, Fuck Yeah!” on the soundtrack. On a continuous loop.
What makes Act of Valor stand out is its use of real Navy SEALs to portray the kinds of missions they undertake on a regular basis. There’s a connecting fictional storyline about drug dealers and terrorism, but the tactics — and the ammo — are very real.
Not surprisingly, the action scenes are the best things about the film. Directors Scott Waugh and Mike McCoy are former stuntmen, and they allow the audience to see what’s going on, without drawing attention to themselves with choppy editing or hyperactive camera work. They respect the guys they’re filming, and these sequences have a brutal, visceral power. You can practically hear the bullets whizzing past your head.
If this were a documentary, it would be uncluttered and powerful. Since Waugh and McCoy went the feature route, however, they felt it necessary to include lots of awkward drama that their non-actors simply can’t pull off. Some of them have real screen presence, and would have done fine just being themselves. When they’re called upon to emote, they suddenly get very uncomfortable.
As an action movie, Act of Valor is first-rate. As a tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of America’s elite forces, it’s a respectable hagiography. As a drama that could evoke genuine emotion, it’s a clichéd, manipulative mess.
Extras: Commentary by Waugh and McCoy; deleted scenes; the Blu-Ray also has features on the SEALs and their participation in the film; a making-of featurette; a Keith Urban video with its own production doc. (R) Rating: 2.5 —LL