January 29, 2012

The Artist (2011)

The artist is yet another one of those films that dabbles in black and white and tries pushing the envelope even further back into Hollywood’s history. I still remember back in 1993 when Spielberg was supposedly taking a chance with black and white, with worries of audience used to color not accepting it. Oh how far we’ve gone. With things like the Cohens’ ‘The Man Who Wasn’t there’ and Clooney’s ‘Good Night, and Good Luck’ it seems like black and white isn’t so unusual anymore. Now they’re going to great lengths to emulate the style. Soderberg’s ‘The Good German’ dabbles in ‘40s lenses and microphones, but it still doesn’t feel quite authentic enough. Now we have The Artist, that goes back even more, back to the silent era. Its star is a kind of Douglas Fairbanks, that much like Fairbanks was also hit by the advent of the talkies (albeit, as the ending shows, for different reasons). The style, I would say, is even more impeccable when compared to the originals. Michel Hazanavicius went as far as shooting in 1:33 aspect ratio, with a 22 fps frame-rate for that sped-up effect, and with intertitles instead of dialogue. It’s not all in the technical details though. The acting and plot also follow traditional silent-film melodrama fare. There is even the hero dog that saves the protagonist from a fire. It’s maybe ironic that we had to wait this long for technology and style to advance enough for us to be able to emulate the low-tech style of the late ‘20s/early ‘30s. Style aside, however, this works very well as a fun walk down Hollywood’s own memory lane. A lot of the references might be lost on non-film-history-buffs, but I think it stands enough on its own to be enjoyed even by the average movie goer (if they were somehow convinced to attend a silent movie). Overall great fun, and not just for the retro-qualities. 

January 28, 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

Actually? not bad. Great effects and action, great editing and direction (from, surprisingly, Brad Bird, who directed things like The Incredibles and Ratatouille) and I can’t say I was bored at any one moment throughout. Everything was exciting (especially that climbing the Burj Khalifa scene, that was supposedly done with no stunt double) and despite the 2 hour 18 minute length, it did not feel like it was at any point being stretched. Of course, Cruise is hard to take serious these days, especially with his character’s blatant ‘we’ll do what’s right despite what others think’ attitude, but overall the whole ‘over-the-topness’ of it all fits nicely in the Mission Impossible universe. So what if they ‘break into the Kremlin’ or disarm a nuclear missile seconds before it hits its target by pressing a big red button (a thing that even the characters in the film can’t resist to joke about after the fact). Really it is just a throwback to the good old '90s action/spy movies, where it doesn’t need to take itself too seriously to be successful. Overall, surprisingly enjoyable, despite the Cruise, except for maybe the last bit that seemed somewhat out of place and almost stalkerish. Still, worth it in IMAX.

January 23, 2012

A Serbian Film (Srpski Film) (2011)

In a film where the baseline for normalcy is the mother catching the young son watching one of the pornos his dad starred in and lovingly lectures the dad about not leaving the old films around the house for their son to find, you know it can only get worse. A Serbian Film is one of those films that is often listed among things like ‘human centipede’, ‘antichrist’, ‘irreversible’ and ‘Ōdishon’ as an extremely messed up film. And it does, in many ways, share the graphic violence/shock/gore elements with those others mentioned. It does have some bit of politics/social commentary slipped in (considering the title and the movie-within-a-movie director’s comments), mainly relating to the war that has ravaged the region in the '90s, but this is by no means necessary to understand the film nor is it very significant in terms of the geopolitical situation of the region or the imagined community of national identity that it pretends to define. As far as the psychological shock-value is concerned, it does try to push the envelope a little. I’m gonna say a little, because you could see the ending come a mile away, to a certain extent, but it still does not detract from the ‘entertainment’ if you can call it that. Clearly not to watch if you’re squeamish, but it can very much be enjoyed if you think of it as one of those over-the top B-movies with over-the-top violence. There is some humour at the beginning (and, surprisingly, in a good way, at the very end), but other than that the tone is pretty much dead serious. The plot isn’t amazing and big part of it relies on flashback and a ‘MacGuffin drug’ that drives a big part of it, but other than that, it’s pretty much all about the violence (with, granted, some bits of sex mixed in) and the psychological shock. It’s not a perfect movie in any way you look at it, but it does hold a special place in the pantheon of shock alongside the other films listed above. Definitely worth a watch if you felt absolutely compelled to watch the rest of them.