Film: Shame [2011, england]
Where I saw it: DVD at home in Los Angeles
Who with: Loner style
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.