Artist, The

By , January 4, 2012 9:04 pm

Reviewed by Stephen Himes

Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist” is as charming as you’ve heard, a silent film about a silent movie star that precisely captures the look, rhythms, and even the melodrama of the silent era.  Hazanavicius creates a meticulous ode to the silent era—as if a French Tarantino made an entire meta-movie about his love for Rudolph Valentino.

Jean Dujardin’s George Valentin is the charismatic star who refuses to adapt; Berenice Bejo is Peppy Miller, the from-nowhere talent who gets her big break from Valentin during his hey-day.  Their story is wholly predictable, which, to be fair, is also one of the conventions of the silent era melodrama.  The point is the execution:  the stirring score, expressive acting, and the occasional surprise, like Valentin’s nightmare that he’s trapped in a movie where everyone can talk but him.

Still—HUGE SPOILER ALERT!—there’s a moment at the very end that complicates the film.  George’s fall from stardom involves a divorce, an auction, and other rock-bottom conventions.  You wonder, had Hollywood not invented The Comeback yet?  Really, what is moviestardom if not reinvention?  Why not at least try some dialogue before putting a pistol in your mouth?

Finally, in the film’s final scene, George and Peppy emerge together in dance number, an homage to “Singin’ in the Rain.”  For the only time, we hear George’s voice:  He speaks with a very pronounced French accent.  Sure, the actor himself is French, and “The Artist” is an unmistakably French enterprise.  But in the context of the film, now we understand why George didn’t just try talkies.  Perhaps this speaks to some sort of general prejudice of the time, American Francophilia, or if read deeply, American isolationism during the pre-war era that gave rise to Hitler.  In the least, though, this tiny moment brilliantly transforms the film’s only questionable element into something more complex and interesting.  This elevates an artful entertainment into a work of art.

The Pitch:

2 Sunset Boulevard

2 Sunset Boulevard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus

2 Paulette Goddard

2 Paulette Goddard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equals

4 The Artist

4 The Artist

4 The Artist

4 The Artist

Descendants, The

Yes, I can make myself look like this and still date Stacey Keibler, ok?!

Reviewed by Stephen Himes

At the beginning of Act III, Scene I In Henry IV, Part II, the prematurely aging king lies awake in his “perfum’d chambers of the great,” burdened by the impending collapse of his kingdom from rebellion and the weakness of his playboy son Hal, the crown prince.  “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” he muses, dying exhausted soon after, a frail shell of patriarchy.

The classics dramatized royalty, in part, to glorify the patriarchy to the common man.  Usually, this meant idealizing fidelity to the kingdom over the personal.  Centuries of democratization, however, has bent literature towards using the Everyman to convey the universality of the human condition.  What binds the two is a sense of responsibility, that eventually a man must put aside personal desires to serve something larger than himself.

In between the classical and the modern sits Matt King, an eighth generation descendant of the House of Kamehameha and trustee of 25,000 acres of virgin Hawaiian wilderness that must be dispensed because of the law against perpetuities.  King (George Clooney) opens the film by dispelling the myth of the Hawaiian paradise, touring us through the trash-strewn, tourist-dependent isolation where tropical sunshine doesn’t prevent businesses from failing or loved ones from getting cancer.  Rather than the perfum’d chambers of Hawaii’s resorts, natives like King live in cheap-build suburban McHouses like the rest of us.  And like us mainlanders, they have soulless jobs; King is an undistinguished real estate attorney, his life time-sucked at the office pouring over documents in minor land squabbles.  Despite having the closest thing to royal blood possible in America, he’s a bit of a cheap-ass:  He never bought his wife a boat; she was tossed out of a rental, ending up in a coma.

Most amazing about “The Descendants” is that, from this complex set up, it wraps plot strands from high and low, from the societal to the personal, from the classical to the modern, around a single theme.  “The Descendants” is about being an adult: putting aside personal desires to act in the best interest of others.  In the legal sense, this is the trustee’s responsibility.  It’s also the responsibility of the king, the husband, the father, the executor of the will, and the patriarch of an important family.  These are all Matt King.

King was never Henry IV—more like a Prince Charles type, the emasculated constitutional monarch whose only real power is caretaker of ancient land.  Apparently, he burrowed into the minutia of small-time lawyering to escape his family.  His wife’s accident brings back problem-child teenage daughter (Shailene Woodley) from a boarding school on the big island, where only her heritage makes the schoolmarm put up with her drinking.  She tells him her mother was having an affair, which introduces complications about couple-friends, the ethics of dealing with the other man, making decisions in the face of hostile in-laws, and there’s the matter of caring for a twelve year old.  And that’s before he must decide how to dispense with the trust’s land.  The relatives, aging hippies anxious to reap the family largesse, think this is simply of matter of choosing the least-offensive developer, while native Hawaiians want to see it preserved.

Clooney’s genius is to convey how a man of modest charisma can grow into a serviceable patriarch.  Or, as Huey Long said, “Every man a king.”

The Pitch:

2 About Schmidt

2 About Schmidt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plus

2 Yi Yi

2 Yi Yi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equals

4 The Descendants

4 The Descendants

4 The Descendants

4 The Descendants

Panorama theme by Themocracy