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THE ARTIST – Film Review [TIFF 2011]

The resounding impact of “The Artist” is the perception of how retro it is in its personification. Similar in some tones to some other films using pure score, the film here works its magic by simply playing at many times to the metaphor of the silent films in terms of the mindset and psychology that manipulated their production. With a magnificent and inherently English/American supporting cast including John Goodman and James Cromwell, the brunt of the film rests of the shoulders of Jean Dujardin who plays the silent matinee idol George Valentin.

The film uses the notion of silence as an emotional barometer. The score itself seems purely built as sort of an emotional soundwave of what is going on. This is not necessarily different from the perspective of modern cinema to be sure but because it approaches the film from the stylistic perspective of that era and barely strays is what gives it its charm. It never oversteps its boundaries using the parlance of the day against it (which in many ways haunted a little bit of “Melancholia” later in the day because of its intrinsic use of metaphors in dialogue). The emotions never feel forced because they are real for what they are. The narrative itself follows the fading of a star and the rising of another one (again not unlike the literal narrative of “Melancholia”) but is done so with a texture that a star’s life is only reflective of their popularity and the choices they make.

The decision to shoot the film in the 16mm framing format from the early days of film is a very specific one and is used to great perspective especially during a stair scene that is purely and wonderfully structured, written and composed. While many of the narrative devices used are expected in their consequence, it still brings about a sense of nostalgia. John Goodman playing the Louis B. Mayer (or would-be Harvey Weinstein for that matter) has a jovial persona with a business mind that understands the mainstream for better or for worse which here reflects in the transgression of silent films to the talkies. Bernice Bejo (also seemingly a French actor like Jean) has a definitive look that defines a bygone era. With ours such a fast cutting world, the notion of a look held or a moment raised sometimes goes unoptioned in the current film vocabulary.

Returning to Dujardin, he modulates the tone through his character’s up and downs using some genre underpinnings in terms of montage and would-be hallucinations of the character to provide a point. The subtleties exist and play against the structure but the film works because it has reference for its genre, love for modern perception but also a balance of nostalgia which never becomes overplayed. The final moments optimizing the one bit of film score that is recognizable fits the occasion if you know where the music comes from.

“The Artist” is a wonderful experiment that knows exactly what its purpose is. The next step becomes a notion of engaging an audience beyond the film lovers and festivalgoers who truly understand the homage that is being made and how well it has been done. The challenge of cross-engaging the consumer always depends on the emotional connection which the film has in spades.

B

Surrogates – Theatrical Review

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The essence of people disconnecting from their life is a continual threat of technology. Nowadays people can run their entire life from their house without ever having to go outside which is undeniably a problem. The new movie “Surrogates” starring Bruce Willis approaches this subject in an action form structure but like many of Willis’ other films, it has an interesting texture beneath the surface.

One of the most jarring aspects out of the gate is the “surrogates” themselves which are primarily idealized forms of their human operators down to hair and skin tone. The one of Bruce’s character, a detective named Greer, looks like an bleached version of him from the mid 80s. It is Bruce playing the character but it is eerie in what it is which instilled some nervous laughter from some. The key is to get it back to the real man which it does and provides some existential angles.

James Cromwell, who has genre cred because of his turn as the father of warp drive in “Star Trek: First Contact”, has the plum role of the man who created the surrogates but now must examine the consequences of his actions. His intent gives the film weight as there is a similarity to Dr. Eldin Terrell from “Blade Runner” who created the Replicants.

Mistaken identity, superhuman cyborg abilities and the essence of psychology all play a part in this thinking person’s action film. It is by-the-book in many ways but should do well foreign, especially in the Asian market. The film is directed by Jonathan Mostow who directed “U-571” and “Terminator: Rise Of The Machines”. He is an able director but his style is not definitive which, in these types of pictures, can sometimes add to the progression but not as much here. As a result, the technology seems fairly surface driven which might also be a metaphor.

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In many ways, the film has the souped-up but fairly interesting parallel to “Demolition Man” which Joel Silver produced and Sylvester Stallone starred in: effective, capable and entertaining but bland in many respects. The aspect of “Surrogates” that differentiates it a bit is a more extensive perception of the psychology that threatens this society within the picture and its supposed “perfect world”. It gives thought which one always hopes with an action film, even if it is not entirely effective. Out of 5, I give “Surrogates” a 2 1/2.

Perfect Atmosphere & Common Ground: The 2009 Palm Beach International Film Festival

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The sun sets over the cityscape as beauty rushes inside with the cool night air. The elevator rises to the top floor where wealthy patrons humbly support a tradition that is held so dear. The Atlantic sea breeze engulfs the roof of Boca Raton’s Mizner Park. Welcome to the Palm Beach International Film Festival.

Palm Beach has always been synonymous with wealth, culture, and relaxation. Where else could be such a perfect setting for a festival? The opening night party that swirled upon the roof gave everyone a taste of things to come. Local prestigious restaurants hosted their signature dishes and cocktail creations. Models showcased the newest designs. The vibe was high and yet this confab had barely begun. As a festival honoree gets into the swing of the evening surrounded by the previously mentioned models, the die is cast. In addition to fun, there is a sense of community everyone from staff to celebrities to attendees.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival has the unique ability to choose films that are timely and effective. The first of note is “Machan”, a brilliant film about a persecuted group of athletes who forge together to form a handball team and escape from the slums of Sri Lanka. However it was the comedic hijinks of this film that made it a winner. It spoke to the originality of the programming at the festival which offers everything from coming-of-age comedies to cutting edge animation to heartfelt documentaries.

Dream Riders“, a documentary starring former school teacher William Roulston, tells the story of a father reconnecting with his son by cycling cross-country. The festival audience applauded the film in that there was a difficult balance to be maintained between the real life relationship between a boy and his dad and the film they were making.  After talking to Roulston during a gracious ride back to the headquarter hotel,  a realization of the “truth” to the process of filmmaking became evident. “Dream Riders” shows that reality can actually be captured on film.

Another standout at the fest was “Only Love“, an animated short that breathes new life into 2D animation and is directed with gusto by Lev Polyakov. The film tells the story of a foreign dictator coming to grips with his own mortality and facing the demons of his past. Merging Russian archetypes and surrealist imagery, this jewel highlights a maturity that makes it exceptional.

In another highlight, the short film “Stealing Second” knows what it is and adheres to a current trend in American cinema. Young filmmakers are plentiful but one has to understand the market. The director and star of “Second”, Alex Richanbach, embraces the new wave of R-rated comedies and uses it to his advantage. The story involves his character needing to move forward with a hot blonde girl after accidentally going to “second base”. The dialogue shines and helps propel the film forward. Richanbach’s structure in the film mirrors other directors like Greg Mottola and Judd Apatow (who incidentally he worked for as a PA on the film “Stepbrothers”). Rising talents are hard to spot (especially in this industry) but with Richanbach, it was apparent.

After two days of festing, it is difficult to escape the surf and sun. But a big event awaits. The GALA. Every year Palm Beach invites the most prestigious of its citizens to the Boca Raton Resort & Club for a night of dancing and surprise guests. Celebrities from W’s James Cromwell to Emmy Award winner Christine Baranski walked the red carpet showing their support.  The ballroom was lavished in flowers, decorations and a vintage band right out of a David Lynch movie. Cromwell received the career achievement award which he shared with his family who attended the event.  The highlight of the the evening however was Charles Martin Smith (of “The Untouchables” fame) presenting the Visionary Award to director Joel Zwick (who directed “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”). The surprise was a video message from Tom Hanks that was both hilarious and heartfelt. Zwick had basically discovered Hanks for “Bosom Buddies”. The dance and drink continued into the night.

The aspect of this festival that differentiates it from others is the accessibility of the attendees to the talent. Everybody hangs out. Normally at most festivals, there are VIP lounges where only a limited few congregate. But, at the PBIFF, interaction is welcomed. A good example of this relaxed atmosphere was the Closing Night party at hotspot The Addison where an open courtyard lavished with gothic trees danced around as the award winners discussed the events of the day.

The Palm Beach International Film Festival is a place where the vibe is both relaxing and motivated, especially for young filmmakers. The atmosphere with the nearby ocean and mild climate is a perfect fit. It is a place where all can meet on common ground.

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