Saturday, December 24, 2011

Shame + The Artist

Film: Shame [2011, england]
Where I saw it: DVD at home in Los Angeles
Who with: Loner style
Rating: *1/2 

Shame. I hated this movie from English director Steve McQueen [Hunger] that is getting lauded for its unapologetic full frontal nudity [and performance] of lead actor Michael Fassbender, NC-17 rating and intense story. Shame is the most overrated, overwrought, overly-serious to-the-point-of-ridiculous movie I've seen all year. Shame is one of these kinds of films that likes to wallow in its misery and expects the audience to do the same as every single character is a self-loathing mess of various neurosis. At the forefront is the sex addiction of Fassbender's "Brandon Sullivan" which causes him to spend nights with pornography on his computer, call up prostitutes or troll the bars looking for anonymous alleyway sexual encounters with other desperate individuals.

For a film about sex, it's hard to think of something so unsexy as Shame. This is not an erotic movie, it's a tale about ugly people who live shallow lives despite having money and good jobs, and can't find anything to do except drag themselves down in the mire. It's never explained what screwed up this brother and sister [Carey Mulligan], but they are one messed up pair of siblings. "Brandon" cares only about trying to fill the bottomless hole of ache that sex is supposed to fill up. But, like every kind of addict, the hole can never be filled, no matter how many women [or men] he takes to bed [or to a bathroom, or alley, or wherever he can get them for sex]. I just found Shame to be uninteresting, unappealing and completely laughable in its bleakness. And the nudity of Fassbender? More hype. The full frontal stuff comes off as desperation by McQueen to garner attention for his film and nothing else. Fassbender wanders around his apartment with his business on full display a couple of times. It has nothing to do with the character's sex life, it's just a cheap tactic by McQueen that further cements the stench of phoniness and absolute tone of pretension that Shame has

Film: The Artist [2011, france]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles at Landmark
Who with: Sarah and David
Rating: Joshua ****; Sarah *****!; David ?

The Artist. Now for one I really liked. The Artist is a much-buzzed about film from French director Michel Hazanavicius that is a straight-up silent movie and I was completely charmed by it from the first moment, all the way to the terrific ending. Set in the waning days of silent cinema, The Artist tells the story of what happens "George Valentin" [Jean Dujardin] when the arrival of the "talkies" destroys his career as a popular silent movie actor. We see his downfall and his struggle to come to grips with his new status in the city that he was once so beloved in: Hollywood. This actually happened quite a bit during this transitional period in movie history. As sound technology rapidly changed filmmaking and what audiences wanted--many star directors and performers could not survive the switch to sound and were lost to the obscurity of history. The Artist delves into that while also unleashing a tender, hard to resist love story between "Valentin" and "Peppy Miller" [Berenice Bejo] as the pair meet, separate and then find their lives intermingling despite their different professional and personal directions they are going to.

Hazanavicius' film is a complete surprise in terms of subject matter and attention. Silent movies in 2011 wouldn't be the first thing that would pop into your head as a must see of the year [although, there are actually two films with silent movies in their story this year when you count Hugo]. Toss in the fact that Hazanavicius is known in France for making a goofy series of comedies such as OSS 117 and The Artist is truly an out-of-the-blue phenomenon. It's been so many decades since a silent film has had this much attention. I can only think of Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times in 1936 to have so much attention in the post-talking era of films before this one. Am I missing anything since that? If true, that was 75 years ago. That's how out-of-fashion The Artist is and what makes it more remarkable that its found a place with both moviegoers and critics alike.

The Artist is a classy piece of movie making by Hazanavicius. Gorgeously shot in achingly lush black and white [obviously] by cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman, the film utilizes actual location shooting of Hollywood and Los Angeles as its backdrop for its story. I recognized the Bradbury Building, Orpheum Theatre and the Warner Brothers back lot during the film. The acting performances are also first rate with Dujardin and Bejo not only having undeniable chemistry, they both give wonderful performances. The same can be said for jack-of-all-trade actors John Goodman [what can't this man do as an actor?] and James Cromwell.

The Artist is only going to pick up more steam as word-of-mouth increases and nominations for awards get announced. It's 2011's surprise must-see for people wanting a sophisticated, old-fashioned [what's more old-fashioned than a silent melodrama?] romance. I'm a sucker for anything to do with this era of Hollywood, so I'm an easy target. What makes me especially happy that The Artist is picking up momentum with audiences is it might draw attention to an era of Hollywood that has been sort of forgotten by the masses: the era of silent films. There's a purity of cinema to silent films that was lost when sound took over and The Artist captures the era, style of filmmaking and tone perfectly while also being entertaining. Recommended.


hidden staircase said...

a woman who went to SIFF this year told me about this. it's at the harvard exit...maybe go this week!

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

I hope you are talking about seeing THE ARTIST between these two!

Guy Gadbois said...

female nudity is an axiom with film so it's unfortunate that a film with male nudity is, apparently, so bad and/or it's unfortunate that the onscreen instances of a dude's meat & taters garners so much attention & is undoubtedly one of the draws for this film.

hidden staircase said...

ARTIST, yes! woopsy...false alarm! bleakfest sounds awful! reminds me of a bad film i saw once called 'intimacy' with kerry fox and mark rylance.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Guy--I was expecting some serious nudity from Fassbinder with the hype that it has gotten from the press. Take away the couple of scenes when he walks around in the buff in his apartment, he's barely naked. Those scenes were inauthentic and didn't even have to be in the film. I think the filmmaker/studio knew the audience for this movie was so limited they might as well play up the NC-17 to the hilt in an attempt to get some viewers that they might not have. Weak.

Staircase--I never saw INTIMACY so can't compare the two. But, I remember you talking about it--maybe why I never saw it.

Rumblefish said...

OK, I'm going to nitpick for a second: it's Fassbender, like you went on a bender, not a binder for your homework.

I'll be seeing both of Fassbender's current films on Wednesday (which Sean Goodrich and I are calling the "Fassbender Mindbender"). I'll let you know what I think.

Rumblefish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua Blevins Peck said...

Oops. I'm surprised I don't have more spelling gaffes on here since I don't have a team of copy editors helping me out. There's just me and spellcheck. I was all excited you left a comment--then it was just to correct my spelling, ha.

I liked A DANGEROUS METHOD millions times more than SHAME. But, a lot of people love SHAME, I'm just not one of them. I thought it was a phony piece of superficial posing. But, I'm in the minority on this one I guess.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

It is Fassbender now!

Rumblefish said...

Aww, sorry, wasn't trying to be mean about the spelling. I'm just a former spelling bee champ + a big fan of Fassbinder the director and Fassbender the actor :-)

And I posted twice because at first mine didn't show up for a while and looked like it hadn't gone through.

Sean and I actually like "Shame" a lot more than "A Dangerous Method." The latter felt way too choppy for how much it covered. There didn't seem to be a lot about the actual method, mostly lots of personal drama amongst the leads.

In both, we saw a lot of Fassbender having sex and then feeling bad about it.

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

That's why I spelled it with an "i"--thought they spelled their names the same. As I said, I seem to be in the minority on SHAME as everyone else likes it. That's okay. I don't mind being out in the wild by myself.