Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Late November--time to release the good movies!


TVOR hasn't had much to say about movies recently. She simply didn't see many over the summer and in the early fall. Now is the season for quality movies, though, and there are things to talk about.

There are two movies to be released soon that are so good and so beautiful to watch that they demand to be seen on the big screen. If you wait until they come out on video, you will miss much of the beauty and the magic. Both movies are by filmmakers who love movies and movie history, and the films pay tribute to their predecessors in tremendously entertaining ways. On top of everything else, these films are appropriate for a wide range of audience members, and suitable for holiday viewing with the family.

The Artist
Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius

This film is pretty unusual for 2011 America. It's in black and white, it's silent, and it has French people in it. The film takes place in Hollywood just as silent films were making way for talkies, and is a loving homage to that era and old movies in general. The types are familiar--the big star of the silent era (Jean Dujardin), the young girl who wants to make it big in the movies (Berenice Bejo), and the winners and losers of Hollywood. The look of the film is familiar as well--it's in the 4:3 aspect ratio used for old films, and it's beautifully shot. There's a lush score, appropriate for a silent film, and there are title cards for the dialog (so it's not like you can tell who's French). In spite of its French pedigree, The Artist was shot in Hollywood, and has a very good (and familiar) supporting cast including John Goodman as a studio chief and James Cromwell as the star's faithful chauffeur. There's a great dog in it, too. So go to a theater, take the family, and embrace a new (old) way to enjoy movies.

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by John Logan based on the book "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick

Here's another movie you should really leave home to see in a big theater, and wear funny 3D glasses while you're doing it. Good movies take us into new worlds, and if we're lucky, we get lost in those worlds for a couple of hours. Hugo takes us into a particularly magical world, and the experience is enhanced by the fact that it's in 3D. Most 3D movies these days seems to be designed for no good reason other than to get a few more dollars out of the ticket-buying audience, and bad 3D can make films look dark and muddy, ruining the fun of going to the movies. This time, however, the 3D is beautifully done and really enhances the movie-going experience. The glasses (new, fancy-schmancy ones) are comfortable, and that third dimension lets the viewer experience the world of the film more fully. And it's a wonderful world. Hugo is a twelve year-old orphan who lives alone in the clock (really) in a train station in Paris in the 1930's. TVOR won't go into the story too much, but just know that he will meet people and things will happen and old films (and filmmakers) play an important part. The script is good, the acting (by Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Asa Butterfield, and Chloe Grace Moretz, among others) is excellent, and the film is a winner. And it's PG, but not the kind of PG that makes adults want to run out of the theater.

So there you have it. Two wonderful new movies by filmmakers who love old movies. If you know a lot about old movies, you'll see references to them. If you don't, you may sense you're seeing something similar to an older film, but you'll just enjoy it. Because that's what going to the movies is supposed to be about.

Video notes:

If you can't make it to a theater to see one of these new movies, you do have some options--

Michel Hazanavicius made a couple of very silly, very funny spy spoofs, and OSS-117: Cairo, Nest of Spies is the first and funnier. Jean Dujardin is a spy of the Maxwell Smart school--supremely confident, utterly clueless--and Berenice Bejo is one of the ladies who falls for him while he's making the world a safer place. Or trying to.

Beginners--Ewan McGregor and Christopher Plummer star in Mike Mills' film, one of the best of last summer, now available on video. There are a couple of stories going on in the film--one about a seventy-something father who comes out of the closet after his wife of many decades dies, and the other about his son's tentative start of a love affair. There's a wonderful dog in it too.

Super 8--another summer release now out on video, this J.J. Abrams film is sort of an ode to early Spielberg. There are kids who have time on their hands, some supernatural stuff, and character and story are more important than stuff blowing up. Although some stuff does blow up nicely. Be sure to watch through the credits and you can see the Super-8 movie the kids are working on throughout the film.

Buck--a documentary about a real horse whisperer. Although he really murmurs more than whispers. You don't have to be interested in horses to like this film, but if you do, TVOR suspects that you'll like it even more. The film shows us a lot about people as well as horses.

Page One: Inside the New York Times is another good recent documentary. If you care about the current state of journalism, it's good food for thought. David Carr, the paper's media columnist, is our very entertaining guide for much of the film.

Now go to the movies!