The Artist (DVD/Blu-Ray) — Dir. Michel Hazanavicius. Starring Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman.
A beautifully spirited comic drama that proves silent films can still be made in the modern era, but probably shouldn’t be.
The Artist is a mostly American production backed by mostly French talent (writer/director Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo). Dujardin is George Valentin, a silent film star who buys into his own hype until the new talking pictures end his career overnight. His life spirals downward as Peppy Miller (Bejo), the rookie actress Valentin gave a hand up to at the start of her career, reaches new heights of stardom.
Hazanavicius is meticulous in duplicating the style of 1920s movies — apart from, you know, the blatant racism. The Artist is shot in black & white in a narrow frame (just when you finally got rid of that old TV that actually would have fit it) on a mostly static camera. It’s sped up just enough to look slightly silly, and is (almost) completely silent. Sparsely used title cards get across the important dialog, but most of the talking is done by Ludovic Bource’s aggressive, enthralling musical score.
The film mimics not only the look and feel of the silent era, but also its approach to storytelling. It recalls a simpler time when a story followed a single thread about a single issue: a time when characters said what they were thinking, wore fabulous hats, and did exactly what you were expecting them to do.
There’s something charming — adorable, even — about this plain and predictable style of filmmaking. It has a refreshing honesty that’s further sold by the fantastically expressive performances of Dujardin and Bejo, who look like they could have been lovingly kidnapped straight off of a 1920s sidewalk.
But at some point one has to expect the film to wade out from the paddling pool and make way for layers that go deeper than the literal and the obvious: to put to use some of the refinements to the art developed over the last 80 years. Memorable later-decade movies like Ed Wood, Pleasantville, or even Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie that borrowed the style of an earlier time did so to tell stories that were, in their own way, modern, complex, and self-reflective.
The Artist is different. Its devotion to its source material is absolute. In its innocent simplicity, its perfect shallowness, it expertly recreates the magic of the earliest era of cinema but does nothing to breathe new life into it. It’s a nostalgia trip alone, and ultimately a film that could have been made (and was made, essentially, dozens of times) in the 1920s.
One has to admire the audacity of Hazanavicius (and the people who gave him money) for creating an authentic, no-compromises silent film in the year 2011. The Artist has a surplus of integrity, but falls short on vision and creativity. It’s for classic movie enthusiasts only.
Rated PG-13 for the gams on them flappers.
3.5 out of 5
21 Jump Street (DVD/Blu-Ray) — Dir. Phil Lord, Chris Miller. Starring Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Ice Cube.
21 Jump Street’s use of that title is almost cruel. This film is in no way intended for fans of the old dramatic series, wherever those people might be. That show was a preachy police procedural; this is a merciless comedy that holds nothing sacred, least of all anyone’s fond, fragile memories of a cheesy 80s cop show and a babyfaced Johnny Depp.
It’s also pretty brilliant: a comedy of manic energy levels that stomps on expectations and digs through the gutter for the sake of humor rather than shock value. It’s a classic example of the glory of dumb jokes written by smart people.
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum play two idiot rookie cops transferred to the undercover Jump Street unit based on the one gift they have going for them: they look young enough to pass as teenagers. Given new identities and sent back to high school to investigate a drug ring, they have to track down a supplier without getting too carried away with reliving their teenage years.
On top of the generally high caliber of its wit, 21 Jump Street stands out for its subversion of the usual action movie, buddy cop movie, and high school movie clichés. It captures the true tone of teenage interactions, the awkward cynicism of youth, perhaps better than any movie I’ve seen. Rude reminders that the lead characters are living in a world that resembles reality more than fiction become a running theme. Even at its most ridiculous, the film feels more real than most dramas.
These moments are 21 Jump Street at its best: when it’s revolting against convention so strongly that it resembles an anti-action movie and an anti-teen movie. The more ordinary final act, comprising an action extravaganza and a comic bloodbath, is weaker but still entertaining enough.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller made their mark with lesser-known animated gems like Clone High and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Their success at reinventing 21 Jump Street probably shouldn’t have been surprising.
Rated R for hardcore science.
4 out of 5