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Friday, 23 Mar 2012, 03:33


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Film Review by: Vincent Camilleri


“The Artist”


Jean Dujardin     George Valentin

Berenice Bejo     Peppy Miller

John Goodman    Al Zimmer

James Cromwell  Clifton

..and  Uggie as Jack, George Valentin’s dog

Written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius

Running time: 100 minutes

“The silent movie is an emotional cinema, it’s sensorial; the fact that you don’t go through a text brings you back to a basic way of telling a story that only works on the feelings you have created. It’s a fascinating way to work.”  Michel Hazanavicius – writer and director.

Influenced by the pioneer film makers of the 20’s and 30’s, the 44 year old French director has been fascinated with the idea of making a silent movie for the past eight years. Looking deeper into the rapid developments in the film industry Mr Hazanavicius focused on the radical change from silent to sound films, a revolution that left many actors such as John Gilbert jobless because they could not handle the new medium.

Michel Hazanavicius tells the story of fictional silent film star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) one of the victims of talking pictures. We meet him in 1927, a screen idol mobbed by the press and swooning female fans. A young fan Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) accidently bumps into him and plants a kiss on his cheek which is caught on camera and later splashed on the front page of Variety under the banner “Who’s That Girl?”  When Peppy later auditions for a dancing part Valentin recognises her at the studio and insists with director Al Zimmer (John Goodman) that she is hired. Zimmer gives in and George and Peppy end up shooting some scenes together with the actor developing a strong liking for the girl and an interest in her career. Peppy makes it and her name starts to climb slowly up the credits while George keeps drawing the crowds with one film success after the other. This goes on until 1929 when Zimmer declares the death of silent films. Refusing to accept the new phenomenon George Valentin, produces, directs a silent film in which he plays the leading role to prove his case for silent films. His film which opened on the same day of Peppy’s first major film in sound is a total flop. Talkies had dealt a death blow to the silent movie and George, also caught in the havoc of the 1929 Wall Street crash, goes bankrupt.

Doing away with spoken lines and relying only on his great visual narrative skills, Mr Hazanavicius takes us through the decline and fall of a man who is forced out of a life of success and luxury into the depths of despair and misery living in a one bed roomed apartment alone with his dog Jack and faithful driver Clifton (James Cromwell), a character similar to Gloria Swanson’s loyal Max in Sunset Boulevard. At the other end of the scale there is Peppy Miller who, at now the height of her career, still remembers what Valentin did for her and does her thing to deliver him from his misery and put him back on the road to stardom. This very simple and predictable melodrama typical of the silent film era is the director’s tribute to the magic of moving pictures, the sixth art that can transmit a thousand emotions even without speaking a word.

The Artist lives up to the motto; “Who Dares Wins”. In the age of block buster films with budgets flying over the $100 million mark, enhanced by the latest computer generated technology and starring the industry’s most expensive stars hopping all over the most luxurious filming locations on the planet, Michel Hazanavicius dared to go for a black and white silent film financed by a modest budget of $15 million dollars with two practically unknown leading stars. The well merited gains he got in return are impressive. With international box office returns hovering above $140 million and growing, The Artist has already won over 100 international major film awards. These include five Academy Awards out of ten nominations, three Golden Globes and French Cesars won in the most important categories, Best Film, Best Direction and Best leading Actor. One must also mention Uggie, the trained Jack Russel terrier who appears in many screen stealing scenes as Jack Valentin’s loyal dog and companion. Uggie with two films; Mr Fixit and Water for Elephants to his credit also made film history by winning the first Golden Collar Award for his contribution to the success of a film that has carved its name in film history.

Watch trailer:


“We Bought a Zoo”


Matt Damon                      Benjamin Mee

Scarlett Johansson             Kelly Foster

Colin Ford                         Dylan Mee

Maggie Elizabeth Jones    Rosie Mee

Ellie Fanning                     Lily Miska

Directed by Cameron Crowe

Running time: 124 minutes

Cameron Crowe made his mark as a director /screenwriter with films like Almost Famous that earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay in 2000 and the two Tom Cruise  memorable films; Vanilla Sky and Jerry Maguire. He has been away from feature films since 2005 spending time working on his other love; documentaries about rock bands and singers. His taste of fine music is evident with his choice of an excellent soundtrack for this return to feature films.  Speaking to Kim Masters from The Hollywood Reporter  Cameron Crowe revealed that he persuaded Matt Damon to lead the We Bought a Zoo cast when he showed him the script and gave him a CD with a compilation of the music he had chosen for the film. Matt Damon liked both and,  undaunted by the unwritten rule that actors avoid acting with children and animals for fear of being upstaged, accepted Mr Crowe’s request on the condition that he did not want to play a “Disney version” of the story.

Based on the real life story of British journalist Benjamin Mee who took his two children to live in a zoo in Devonshire after his wife died, Cameron Crowe’s film moves the story to Southern California where recently widowed Benjamin (Matt Damon) lives with his fourteen year old son Dylan (Colin Ford) and seven year old daughter Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones). Benjamin is still grieving the loss of his wife six months back, Dylan is seriously disturbed to the point of having himself thrown out of school and Rosie misses her mother badly. Benjamin’s solution is to find a new life for him and his children in a different place. A bout of house hunting with an estate agent on his first job leads them to a large house planted in the middle of wide, open country land. Rosie loves the place, Benjamin likes it but Dylan is indifferent. When the very uncomfortable estate agent announces that the surrounding land is a fully fledged zoo with its own keepers and wardens but struggling to survive, Benjamin picks up the challenge to stay nonetheless when he is assured by head keeper Kelly Foster (Scarlett Johansson) that she and her staff would do everything to revive the zoo, save the animals and give Benjamin a good return for the money he puts in the project.

We Bought a Zoo is Matt Damon’s film. His condition to steer the film away from the usual stereotyped sugary stuff was met by the director up to a point. His screen presence takes the audience on an adventure leading to Benjamin’s family finding what it was looking for; a new life. Dylan’s hardness is softened by the first sparks of teen love offered by Lily Miska (Elli Fanning), Kelly’s young cousin working illegally at the zoo, who also manages to bring out the artist in him. Rosie takes to life with the animals like she has been at it all her life and Benjamin, who insists on not being called Ben by Kelly, ends up finding love and happiness once again. Cameron Crowe pulls a few heartstrings with flashbacks showing Benjamin’s happy moments with his late wife and children but he makes up by giving us a film with real people in real situations where, for a change, the animals are not performing freaks mouthing stupid lines.

Watch trailer:


“Young  Adult”


Charlize Theron             Mavis Gary

Patton Oswalt                 Matt Freehauf

Patrick Wilson                Buddy Slade

Directed by Jason Reitman

Running time 94 minutes

From the team behind “Juno” - Academy Award ®-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody and Academy Award®-nominated director Jason Reitman - comes a new comedy, “Young Adult.”
Mavis Gary is a writer of teen literature who returns to her small hometown to reclaim her happily married high school sweetheart. When returning home proves more difficult than she thought, Mavis forms an unusual bond with a former classmate who hasn’t quite gotten over high school, either.

The story of “Young Adult” both literally and fictitiously begins in Minneapolis, MN. Screenwriter Diablo Cody lived there for several years and the city has become something of a muse for her. “For some reason every time I go back to Minneapolis I find myself really inspired and I find myself with this germ of a new idea,” she says. This one began with 'an amazing news story’ about a woman who had gone after her high school sweetheart years later and as she explains, “I thought to myself, that’s pretty rich. What if there was this woman, this character who is kind of emotionally immature and the happiest she’s ever been in her life was high school?  What if she’s still kind of stunted and thinks that the only way she can reclaim that happiness is to literally go back and find the man who made her happy then? Then I just started writing.”
(Production notes Paramount Pictures)

Watch trailer:

Top Ten Films in Malta

14 - 18 March 2012


With acknowledgements to KRS Film Distributors Ltd

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