The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

The Movie Buff Reviews – “Ford v Ferrari,” “Last Christmas”

Instead of a regular review today, I thought I’d compile a couple of different reviews that I’ve written for The Movie Buff, which has a new theme going which looks really awesome. The reviews include a pair of new releases – Ford v Ferrari and Last Christmas – as well as four reviews I did for the site’s Mob Movie March, which they run every year. Anyway, here are snippets from the reviews and links to where you can read them.

Ford v Ferrari – “The highs and lows of the film are amazing and this is my favourite sports film of the year, and one of my favourites of the year in general. It’s not a traditional sports movie, but I would classify it as one just because it’s so inspiring and the competition is so exciting. It has also has two key races where both have high stakes and feel rewarding in some way.” Read the review hereand I gave this one an A+

The Christmas film based on Wham!‘s song of the same name, Last Christmas – “I know sappy romance is predictable but I was frustrated with its mediocrity. The good scenes come at the wrong time, as Clarke’s rendition of “Last Christmas” should be a highlight, but I just wanted the film to end by that point. I also cry at every film, and this one never hooked me on an emotional level, which really tells that this doesn’t work for me.” You can read the review here. This review was also part of the site’s “Fall in Love February” marathon, which I also did as my 29 Days of Romance on my site. Thanks for the idea, Mark. 

Last Christmas
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke in Last Christmas. (IMDb)

The first review I submitted for the site’s Mob Movie March was Angels with Dirty Faces, the film that inspired the Angels with Filthy Souls film in Home Alone. “It’s [James] Cagney’s performance that brings a lot of the charm to this film. That’s especially the case in his scenes with the ‘Dead End’ Kids and how they look up to him… I like the film’s ideas that they idolize a gangster because he just looks so cool. Jerry says he can’t teach honesty when the gangsters show dishonesty is the better policy. “A hoodlum or a gangster is looked up to with the same respect as the successful businessman or popular hero,” Jerry tells Rocky.” You can read the review here

I reviewed the Joe Pesci “comedy” 8 Heads in a Duffel Bag. Here’s the excerpt: “At one point, I thought that the film could either be better or get even worse if the heads interacted with the characters. Late in the film, it opens that Pandora’s Box in a nightmare scenes where the heads, lined up on a motel dresser, sing a rendition of “Mr. Sandman” (just Mr. Hitman) at Tommy where their respective bodies crash through the walls and strangle Tommy. Suffice to say, the film answers my question by being a different breed of terrible.” You can read the review here.

Okay, two more reviews. I also reviewed the 2005 film The Ice Harvest with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, which has been on my watchlist for awhile. “It’s foremost a mob movie but also a Christmas film by default. It doesn’t have any of the traditional Christmas cheer, but has all the cynical cheer that embodies the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge or The Grinch. This film’s mantra is a line written in Sharpie on several bathroom walls: “As Wichita Falls, so falls Wichita Falls.” A sort-of “all that could go wrong will go wrong,” or The Grinch’s equivalent of wrestling with his own-self loathing.” You can read the review here.

My last review for Mob Movie March was for the 2015 film, Legend. “I’ll just talk about the best part of “Legend” straight away—and that’s Tom Hardy’s dual performance. Watching him make these two characters feel so distinct from each other is masterclass. He completely elevates this material, and without him this would have been straight-up bad for me.” Read the review here.

 

Contagion (2011), and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19

Contagion (2011), and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19

Directed by: Steven Soderbergh. Starring: Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Jude Law. Runtime: 1h 46 min. Released: September 9, 2011.

Some spoilers follow.

During our Coronavirus pandemic, it seems like everyone is watching Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. Last week I think this was at No. 35 on the Most Popular Movies IMDb chart and as of this writing (very early morning, March 21) it sits at No. 4 on that popular movie chart. This makes sense, because there’s no better way to make yourself more paranoid right now than watching Contagion.

The film itself is about a fast-spreading virus, the MEV-1, that escalates into a pandemic as the CDC works to find a cure. The spread of the disease is the most fascinating aspect in Contagion, originating in Hong Kong with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) and escalating quickly from there when she returns home to Minnesota.

The way the virus spreads feels realistic and it’s interesting as it’s established what the “basic reproduction number” is and how quickly it will spread. It’s engaging to watch because of Soderbergh’s apt direction and I love his aesthetic in his own cinematography, as well.

Contagion, Winslet, math
Kate Winslet in Contagion taking us through the “basic reproduction number.” (IMDb)

I’ve always found this a realistic, engaging drama/thriller. I haven’t watched this since 2015, but watching this during a pandemic, the paranoia hits differently. The mortality rate depicted in the film is 25-30 per cent, where 1 in 4 people will die from it, and according to an article on Business Insider and, I’m copying and pasting this part, “according to Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, COVID-19’s mortality rate is probably around 1%, which is still about 10 times the flu’s.”

The pandemic depicted in Contagion is obviously more aggressive, but there are some eerie parallels to our real-life. It’s also impossible to watch this film and not spot the parallels to our life and this film. Even in the film’s tagline, “Don’t talk to anyone, don’t touch anyone,” feels like our world right now with social distancing.

In the film, the disease starts in a populous place like Hong Kong (Wuhan for Coronavirus), where tourists fly home, infect people at the airport, and then infect people back home as they go about their everyday life. The other big thing is the looting of supermarkets and stores. We’re not at the “looting” stage yet, but I think that all relates back to the panic buying of toilet paper of all things, and the bulk-buying of essentials that others need, too. And I’m sure if someone in real-life suggested there were a cure like in the movie (“forsythia” in Contagion), it could get a little crazy out there with people trying to get it.

Personally, I haven’t seen any of the “looting” but I’ve seen a lot of pictures online about empty grocery store shelves and the lineups getting into COSTCO, or people fighting over toilet paper. I mean, when I went to the grocery store around March 10, there was still toilet paper but less than there usually would be. I also haven’t been outside since March 15, before my province of Ontario declared a state of emergency, so I’m not sure what my local grocery store would look like right now.

Contagion, Jude Law, hazmat
Jude Law wears a Hazmat suit going outside in Contagion. (IMDb)

As of this writing, Canada only has 1,087 cases, and I can only assume it will only get worse here. With some of what I’ve seen, especially the amount of new deaths everyday in Italy and the images of military trucks transporting coffins out of the area feels like it’s straight out of a horror movie. The aggressive way that’s spreading in Italy feels like Contagion, and the most unsettling scene in the film because of that is when a city runs out of body bags.

In our world right now, I think it’s the fear of the unknown of how long this virus will look a week from now or a month from now. When will be able to return to regular living? I go to the movie theatre once or twice a week, but how long will they be closed for? This is turning into a review of Contagion and my thoughts on the Coronavirus/COVID-19, but this is therapeutic sharing my thoughts on it, and also relating it back to Contagion, since I see the world through film.

Contagion could easily be an exaggerated docudrama. There are things here that feel “apocalyptic” that I don’t think COVID-19 will lead us into, but the fact that NHL, NBA and MLB have suspended their seasons and Las Vegas is shut down for 30 days is crazy. It feels different than anything I’ve lived through during my lifetime, especially H1N1 in 2009/2010. I was in high school then and surely did not miss any school because of it. I don’t know if the media is blowing it out of proportion – but when I see tweets of people losing their loved ones to it yet others are still out on spring break, it feels like this should really be taken seriously to “flatten the curve.”

Okay. I just have bad anxiety, depression and I can be a hypochondriac at times, so it’s just a freaky time. I’ll just talk Contagion now. I think it is at its most fascinating when it shows the spread of the disease. There’s one especially great scene when Dr. Erin Mears (Kate Winslet), an Epidemic Intelligence Service officer, is trying to find out who Paltrow’s character has come in contact with and she calls someone who is sick on a city bus and tells him to get away from people. The shot of him touching everything is just effective.

The film is interesting when it brings Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law) into play, a blogger/journalist and conspiracy theorist who thinks that the virus is manufactured as a profiting scheme for drug companies, using his large platform to stir this fear.

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Matt Damon in Contagion. (IMDb)

At times this isn’t the best with creating well-rounded characters, and some feel more-so identifiable by the actor playing them than the character themselves, and this is very much the case with Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Ellis Cheever, who works for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). His development is the flattest of the ensemble. Other characters get sidelined, like Marion Cotillard as Dr. Leonora Orantes who is investigating how the disease started in Hong Kong and then totally gets sidelined for half the film for reasons that would spoil it.

Everyone plays their characters very well and the ensemble is impressive. The film is engaging throughout because it’s a fast-paced analysis of a viral outbreak, but for the human side it only shines in a couple moments. One such scene is between Dr. Ally Hextall (Jennifer Ehle), who is one of the players working to find a cure, and her father in a very sweet moment. I also liked Matt Damon’s character here, who is the husband of Beth Emhoff, who might as well as be Patient Zero. I think the first time I saw this film (in April 2012), the most surprising thing was Gwyneth Paltrow dying by the 8-minute mark. Once we see how aggressively this virus spreads, it isn’t that surprising, but as an audience member I felt the same way Damon’s Mitch Emhoff feels when he’s told his wife is dead because of the virus. “Right. I mean, so can I go talk to her?” he asks.

I think this is one of the best scenes in the film to show just how quickly it escalates. The fact that he loses his wife and then his stepson in a matter of 24 hours from this virus is so traumatic. There are ways his character could be fit into the story more – since he is immune, I think using his blood as a base for the cure would have given him more purpose – but the way his character plays out is believable. This is especially the case of how protective of he is of his daughter, Jory (Anna Jacoby-Heron), and not letting her interact with other people because she’s the only thing he has left. There’s a heartbreaking moment near the end of the film when Mitch processes what’s happened.

The film’s ending is anti-climactic as it shows the origins of the virus in a fascinating scene, to where it all started. It’s anti-climactic in the way that the virus shows up, it gets cured, and life gets back to normal. Hopefully, that will be the case sooner than later with our Coronavirus.

Score: 75/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #29: Leap Year (2010)

29 Days of Romance, Review #29: Leap Year (2010)

Leap Year posterDirected by: Anand Tucker. Starring: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode, Adam Scott. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: January 8, 2010.

Anna (Amy Adams) has been dating Jeremy (Adam Scott) for your years and still no proposal. Her father (John Lithgow) shows up for two minutes to tell her an Irish tradition that if a woman proposes to a man on Leap Day, he must accept the proposal.

Anna follows Jeremy on his business trip and eventually ends up on a small island called Dingle, far from Dublin. There, she meets Declan (Matthew Goode), who drives her to Dublin for a price. I wish she would have gone to any other island because thus begins one of cinema’s most unbearable road trips.

The road trip is a series of annoying scenarios that prevent them from reaching their destination, and I know that’s how road trip films usually goes, but this one is just annoying. Have a working car? Not anymore, Anna accidentally pushes it down a hill. There’s a train going to Dublin in two hours? You’ll miss it because Declan wants to visit a nearby castle. Nothing annoys me more than convoluted miscommunication or writing in romantic comedies and Leap Year is chock-full of them. It’s why this film is my personalized version of Hell.

Matthew Goode is usually good but he looks completely bored. His character is also unlikable. When Anna gets to his inn, she plugs in her Blackberry charger and predictably cuts to the power to the whole village. “Women!” says Declan frustratingly and he goes upstairs to call her an idiot.

In some films, it works when the characters hate each other in the beginning and grow to love each other (When Harry Met Sally…). This is not one of those films. No matter how many love songs they play or cooking montages with a happy score over it, I didn’t believe for a moment they were falling in love.

Their dynamic is obnoxious as they assume stuff about each other, and a lot of the humour comes from Anna being shallow and wealthy, because she’s a city girl traveling the Irish countryside. As the car goes down the hill, she calls, “My purse is in there!” She’s not that likable, but Declan is one of the biggest movie jerks I’ve seen in some time and we are supposed to like him. Some of what he says to Anna borders on vitriol and they simply move past it.

Leap Year, article
Amy Adams and Matthew Goode in Leap Year. (IMDb)

Amy Adams is passable in a film where it’s impossible to have chemistry. I love her but she only got one smile from me in 100 minutes. It manages to make her boring, and do you know how hard that is when she’s so effortlessly charming? She seems to give effort to a screenplay that is truly terrible. It’s more effort than writers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont deserve, and Goode is a realist knowing it is utter shit and wades his way through it.

The screenplay misunderstands romance and comedy. The film is unfunny and boring, and to get to any schmaltz you have to go under layers of smut. The romance doesn’t work because the screenplay forces them into romantic situations. They’re forced to pretend to be married since they’re staying under a conservative couple’s roof at a bed and breakfast. They must sleep in the same bed, and there’s a scene that plays out like a cringe kiss cam compilation where they’re pressured into kissing. The comedy is unfunny scenario after unfunny scenario. Director Anand Tucker is also at fault here because he just let this happen.

It’s some of the most convoluted writing I’ve encountered, too. There’s a point where the owner of the bed and breakfast, Frank (Tony Rohr), could have gotten Anna to Dublin easily. It’s a Sunday and he knows she wants to go to Dublin, but there are no trains on Sundays. He doesn’t tell her that his wife Eileen (Maggie McCarthy) is going to Dublin that morning, so when she asks for a ride, Eileen’s already left. It’s baffling he doesn’t think, “Gee, maybe this nice girl would want a ride to Dublin since there are no trains.” The reason he doesn’t offer this is for story reasons because the pair aren’t in love yet. Perhaps my expectations are unrealistic to assume the characters have a brain or common courtesy, because there is no evidence of it throughout. I know it’s possible I’m being unfair, and maybe it’s the 30 romantic movies in a month talking, but I truly think this is awful.

If this is not my personal Hell, it’s at the very least a sick joke created by Jigsaw of Saw to torture me. I was expecting him to pop up and ask if I’d like to play a game. Yes, please. I would like to control the characters. Anna goes to the edge of a cliffside at the end of the film and Declan follows. I thought maybe she’d jump – take a leap at love. They do not jump. Let me at them, Jigsaw. I’ll push ‘em.

Score: 12/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #27: Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

29 Days of Romance, Review #27: Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

 

Blue is the Warmest Colour, poster
IMDb

Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche. Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche. Runtime: 3h. Released: May 23, 2013 (Cannes).

Some spoilers follow.

I’ve seen debate about the length of films lately, especially with the release of Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, which clocked in at three and a half hours. Personally, I don’t have a problem with seeing a three-hour movie at a theatre, if that running time is justified.

Some of my favourite films are nearing or over three hours: my all-time favourite is The Green Mile (189 min), and two of my favourites from the last 10 years are The Wolf of Wall Street (180 min) and Django Unchained (165 min).

I’m working on watching longer films this year that are on my watchlist, because I know I’m missing out on a lot of great cinema being spooked by runtimes. For my 29 Days of Romance marathon, I watched Blue is the Warmest Colour, a coming-of-age story about a high school junior, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) who meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), a young woman with blue hair, who teaches her about desire, passion, love and loss.

Winner of the Palme d’Or prize at Cannes in 2013, this was the first film to be awarded to actors as well as the director. With what the two main actresses were put through over the five-month shoot, constantly having to do numerous takes until it felt natural enough, it’s well-deserved. Director Abdellatif Kechiche was apparently intensely demanding and that’s why there were so many takes.

The performances are worth it, though, as Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are both excellent. They feel like real people with great chemistry and the film’s portrayal of their relationship is raw and passionate. We’re like a fly on the wall during their sex scenes and it looks like the real deal.

Blue is the Warmest Colour, article
Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour. (IMDb)

I’m a big fan of Seydoux but Exarchopoulos is fantastic, and someone I haven’t seen act until now. She’s in virtually every scene as she explores her own sexuality. It’s Adèle’s story for all of it and she doesn’t meet Emma right away. Before they officially meet, they exchange a glance passing each other on the street. While Adèle explores a relationship with a boy at school, Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), her mind is still on the girl with the blue hair. Some of the rejection Adèle faces in finding herself is heartbreaking. Exarchopoulos makes you feel everything and scenes of rejection hit hard. The rejection is more powerful when it comes from friends because she simply hangs out with Emma.

The best part of Blue is the Warmest Colour is the film’s first half. The way it portrays the initial passion of their relationship and Adèle’s discovery of her own sexuality is pitch-perfect drama. I also love how Emma’s blue hair symbolizes Adèle’s view on passion, love and happiness, and the colour palette in the film in general. It’s brilliant how the film uses the blue. When her hair is blue, the audience is lifted up. When it’s blonde, we’re stomped down and it takes a bit of our heart, too. It’s reminiscent of Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine in a way, as one half is falling in love, the other half is falling apart.

I like raw drama, but when it gets real in the second half, it hurts and the performances are great in these moments. It’s a realistic depiction of relationships, but I think the blame game could have been played a bit better and I generally liked Adèle’s character better. I was emotional for Adèle and not as much for Emma in these moments. Seydoux still plays the character phenomenally, I just connected with Adèle more for reasons that would discuss even more spoilers, so I’ll refrain.

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Léa Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour. (IMDb)

I like this film better than something like Blue Valentine because the conversations are enjoyable. They discuss philosophy and while I don’t know the first thing about philosophy, these two actresses are in top form as we watch their romance grow. Longing glances feel as passionate as the intimate sex scenes, and that’s good acting. By the way, these sex scenes are incredibly NSFW.

Blue is the Warmest Colour just feels like a film of two halves. When the blue is lost, much of my interest was lost, too. I was also more consistently bored with the film in the second half. The conversations are less interesting and the screenplay less engaging (it’s written by director Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix, based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh). The only engaging parts of this last hour is seeing where Adèle’s life is headed, and there’s also one amazing scene between Adèle and Emma. Otherwise, I started to feel the length of the film.

I talked about film length at the beginning of this review and how I don’t mind a long film if it feels justified. There are some scenes here that are less necessary than others, and I think this film could be 150 minutes and still have the same impact. Alas, I’m not the editor and I’d still consider Blue is the Warmest Colour a must-see film, because Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos are so, so good.

Score: 80/100

 

 

29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)

29 Days of Romance, Review #10: Midnight in Paris (2011)
Midnight in Paris poster
IMDb

Directed by: Woody Allen. Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard. Runtime: 1h 36 min. Released: May 20, 2011.

I have some Woody Allen films on my watchlist and I thought I’d start with Midnight in Paris because it seems the most interesting. This is only my second Woody Allen film after watching the mediocre, but well-acted Irrational Man in theatres in 2014. My expectations were higher for Midnight in Paris because it’s well-reviewed, but apparently that doesn’t matter for me when it comes to my enjoyment.

Gil (Owen Wilson), an American screenwriter obsessed with Paris and nostalgia, is on vacation with his fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams) and her family (Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy) and is trying to write his first novel. For inspiration, he takes walks and is transported to 1920’s Paris every night at midnight.

There’s a charm and whimsy to Midnight, a lot of which is thanks to the 1920’s inspired score (there are no ‘music by’ credits on Woody Allen films for some reason, which seems weird). The concept of the film is good even if the “rules” of the time travel aren’t explained. Gil just has to go to one certain corner in Paris and hop in a car that will drive into that era. It’s not as much about the “time travel” side of it but the fact that it’s escapism to a golden age.

The film’s a love letter to the city of Paris and it’s evident Woody Allen loves the city. Owen Wilson’s performance is why I liked parts of this, but Allen inserts himself into the character a bit too much and his occasional prose would be easier to read than watch. His dialogue gives this life in the scenes of the 1920’s, which is where I found some entertainment. Tom Hiddleston as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Corey Stoll as Louis Hemingway are highlights, as is Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein. The rhinoceros bit with Adrien Brody as Salvador Dalí is hysterical. Allen captures the author personas and artists well even if half of what Hemingway went on about felt repetitive.

Midnight in Paris article
Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams in Midnight in Paris. (IMDb)

There are some obscure references to Parisian figures that I just didn’t know but are funny if you’re familiar with them. The writing in just sometimes not all that accessible because Allen just flexes how much he knows about the era and that gets to a point where it’s obnoxious, but Gil himself never feels obnoxious. Gil was the only character I cared for and even the literary figures became gimmicky after a couple nights. The best character is an amalgamation of Picasso’s lovers, Adriana (Marion Cotillard). She brings charm and strong chemistry with Wilson.

Rachel McAdams plays bitchy well but I hate her character. I’d assumed McAdams would be the love interest here and not the anchor holding Gil down. Kurt Fuller is solid as her father John. There’s a character here called Paul who is very obnoxious, and he’s only saved by Michael Sheen’s screen presence. He makes you want to listen even if his dialogue is dull. For the most part, the scenes in the present were insufferable for me. That’s the point because the present day is shown as pedestrian and unsatisfying, but still.

Wilson is the highlight for me as an average, rich guy who we live vicariously through as he goes back to the ‘20s. His passion for Paris is sweet – as this is a romance is man and woman, but also man and city – but it didn’t make me passionate about Paris. It just made me think it would be cool to revisit ancient Rome. I like nostalgia as much as the next guy, but the charm of this simplistic story turned to boredom quickly. It just left no impression on me and I don’t think strong dialogue and one good character is enough for a great film.

Score: 50/100

29 Days of Romance, Review #9: The Artist (2011)

29 Days of Romance, Review #9: The Artist (2011)
The Artist poster
IMDb

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius. Starring: Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, John Goodman. Runtime: 1h 40 min. Released: November 25, 2011.

When I sat down to watch The Artist, I wasn’t sure if I’d love it based on the first scene, as our main character George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), an egomaniacal silent movie star in 1927, stands behind the screen and watches a packed theatre experience his newest film. With it being a silent film, I thought to myself, “I don’t know if this will work for me for the whole movie.” But it really did work for me as a throwback and celebration of classic Hollywood.

George meets Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the film is about their relationship as George battles his own ego, as a silent star dealing with the future of “talkies” where he believes no one wants to hear him speak in a film and is hesitant to the change.

By 20 minutes into The Artist after I had gotten used to the silence of it, it had completely won me over. That had a lot to do with Ludovic Bource’s outstanding score (the “George Valentin” track is a favourite of mine here). I’ve been trying to focus more on score in films and this is the film for me to do that with because, of course, it’s a silent film and it’s the easiest thing to focus on. It swept me away and without such a strong score, I don’t think this film would work. It made it an experience, even if I was just watching it on a 40-inch screen.

Another scene that just hooked me was the scene where George is in his dressing room and objects around him start to have exaggerated sound but no one could hear him talk. I thought that was so effective, especially how it leads into the Kinograph Studios boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) telling him that talking pictures are the future and he’ll be left behind. Also, that one scene where Peppy is being interviewed and George’s back is towards her, as a parallel for him being the past in the silent era and her being the future for “talkies” is my favourite shot in the film and one that will stick with me.

The most impressive thing about this is how great Michel Hazanavicius’ writing is here (he also directs and co-edits the film). He tells the story so damn well with just music, maybe 15-20 inter-titles throughout and all character action. Some modern films have trouble competently telling its story with a lot of dialogue. The Artist’s story is simple enough, but it’s creative and charming. The characters also feel very real. It’s also made possible by the phenomenal physical performances.

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Jean Dujardin in The Artist (IMDb).

Before the human actors, I’d also be remiss not to mention George’s scene-stealing Parson Russell Terrier, who brings a lot of comedy to the film. Jean Dujardin is charming as hell as George, smiling his way through the film, and is more than effective in the dramatic scenes, too. Bérénice Bejo is also charming as Peppy as she embraces her stardom. Her performance is still physical but her character is the one in the “talkies” so she spends a lot of the time talking where we can’t hear her. Their chemistry is what makes this shine and they’re both individually great. Bejo hasn’t done any English films yet, so if I must watch more French films to see her act, I’ll happily do it. I’ll do the same for Dujardin, too, though he appeared in The Wolf of Wall Street and The Monuments Men but has gone back to French films since then.

This is a French film that is just about as American as a film can get, celebrating the silent era of Hollywood and convincingly recreating it. It feels like it could have been made in the 20’s, because of two stars who feel like they were born in the wrong generation, especially how well they do their dances and that Fred Astaire-esque dance scene. John Goodman’s physical acting also makes him feel like he could have been an actor in the 1920’s – he plays the cigar-chomping studio head persona so well it would have been a disservice to audiences not to cast him in this role.

My only vague complaint here is that some scenes could have used some talking, especially a scene with Bill Fagerbakke (Patrick Star on Spongebob) as a police officer. I didn’t get what he was saying because I can’t read lips very well, but after looking up the meaning of this scene it works well. Still, if they talk in these moments it defeats the purpose of a silent picture and there are inter-titles at moments where you need to really understand the story.

They don’t make films like this anymore and what Hazanavicius does with this is just special and it’s made me want to seek out more silent films (maybe even watch some of the Charlie Chaplin ones I’ve always been intending to). I think that’s what he just intended to do, to make a great film that feels like Old Hollywood so you’d seek out films you may not typically watch. And surely, The Artist isn’t something I’d typically watch but I totally fell for it. It’s a refreshing (silent) film in a world that doesn’t stop talking.

Score: 90/100

29 Days of Romance: Review #6, Blue Valentine (2010)

29 Days of Romance: Review #6, Blue Valentine (2010)
Blue Valentine poster
IMDb

Directed by: Derek Cianfrance. Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel. Runtime: 1h 52 min. Released: December 29, 2010 (US limited release)

I had tweeted before watching this film that Blue Valentine is a first-time watch and I wasn’t sure if I was emotionally ready for it. That’s because I’ve heard that it’s a “feel-bad” movie. Truly, that’s why I haven’t seen this until now, but I thought it was about time I watched it because I like Derek Cianfrance as a director and this is apparently his best film.

However, I enjoy both The Place Beyond the Pines and even The Light Between Oceans better than this. This just isn’t a film that I was invested in. I find the concept intriguing as the film tells the story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) as we see the start of their relationship and the process of them falling in love. These scenes are shown in flashbacks six years ago, as our characters are currently in the present where their current standing is further from a happy marriage.

The writing by Cianfrance and co-writers Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne is also seamless in its transitions for its flashbacks and it’s well-written in its contrast of scenes at the start of their relationship and where they currently stand. The dialogue is also strong in its realism and when the pair argues, it feels like a dance between Gosling and Williams. The best part of the film for me were the performances from Gosling and Williams. They’re raw and their performances near the end of the film is where they are at their most heartbreaking.

Blue Valentine article
Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine. (IMDb)

I think my big problem with this is just that the pacing is slow and I found it boring throughout. I liked the scenes of them falling in love and them in the past, but I just never fully clicked with the characters. They’re real, everyday people and while that makes the film feel realistic and allows for very raw performances. And while something like Marriage Story works for me for similar reasons, I thought that drama was captivating and I liked the characters. Here, I just didn’t connect to the characters as much as I wanted to and didn’t feel any emotional reactions to the story until 20 minutes left.

I’d like to talk a bit about what worked for me there, so spoiler alert.

The contrast of Dean trying to fight for their marriage edited with their wedding is great filmmaking. This is one of the points where it worked emotionally for me. Dean walking away and his daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka) chasing after him is also crushing. I think my favourite moment was the heat of anger for Dean when Cindy asks for a divorce and he takes his wedding ring off and throws it away. He then immediately goes through the bush looking for it. This scene worked best for me because it’s a knee-jerk reaction to losing everything, throwing it away and then realizing just what he’s done.

End of spoilers.

The arguments and negativity in the film and its sad story left me exhausted, and I’d be more exhausted if I were invested in these characters. The story here works, and the look of the film does too (with cinematography by Andrij Parekh), but there’s just something about it that underwhelmed me. It’s well-directed, well-acted and well-written but I didn’t like how I felt during this and I didn’t like the characters. It’s an anti-romance film that I appreciated more than enjoyed. However, that end credit sequence with the fireworks exploding over stills of the film is one of the most creative end credit sequences I’ve seen, so kudos for that.

Score: 50/100