Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Artist ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Hugo ★ ★ ½

The Artist  Release Dates: Australia  2ND February 2012
USA 20th January 2012      UK 30th December 2011   Other countries

Hugo Release Dates: Australia  12th January 2012  Other countries


A film reviewer is a film lover and we happily take the good with the bad, watching the hundreds of movies a year that our passion demands.  We groan restlessly at the bad ones and buzz enthusiastically when we watch something truly remarkable.
 For many of us, slightly older film buffs, our love affair began with black and whites and—I know I am aging myself—silent films.  After school I would sit enthralled watching the antics of the Keystone Cops and the Marx Brothers—no, I wasn’t born in that era; they were reruns in the sixties.

But as time and technology marches on you expect more from your cinema experience and I must admit I am now a big “Blockbuster” fan with all the technological bells and whistles.
So, this week, I watched both ends of the spectrum dealing with the same subject matter—The Artist and Hugo. The former preview I attended, thinking how can a black and white, silent movie be as good as its PR?  And the latter viewing carried with it great anticipation.  My reaction to both, though was very different.

The Artist, set in Hollywood 1927, written and directed by MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS is the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) one of Hollywood’s reigning silent screen idols.  He is the epitome of gorgeous leading man stardom, carrying the swagger and arrogance to boot.  Early in the story he crosses paths with young dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and it is clear there is chemistry but circumstances separate them before anything can progress.
 Two years later, talkies are arriving and George sticks his head in the sand as Al Zimmer (John Goodman), head of Kinograph, shows him this exciting technology.  The rest is almost a ‘Star is Born’ story as George’s star wanes just as Peppy’s rises.

In Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, and set in 1930s Paris, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in the walls of a train station.  He spends his time avoiding the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), whilst attempting to solve a mystery involving his late father and an automaton—a kind of a wind up clockwork mechanism robot. With the aid of his new friend Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), he eventually uncovers the secrets of an embittered shopkeeper Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).
The film is captured beautifully with superb lighting and rich, deep colours and stunning 3D sweeping views across Paris and through the train station.  The setting is as intricate and detailed as you will see in any film, and the actors would have spent most of the filming before green screens, in order for the digital artists to later weave their considerable magic.

            Without giving too much away the story is really about maintaining the preservation and respect of early black and white film. Hugo is Scorsese’s tribute to the origins of filmmaking, just as The Artist is Michel Hazanavicius’.
              My experience of both films, though, is poles apart and is not due to whizz bang effects.  In the initial twenty minutes of The Artist I felt myself rebelling against the lack of technology.  I didn’t want to watch a film without colour or sound—and try opening a packet of crisps quietly in a crowded cinema during a silent film (not easy). 

              But as the frames flickered by, we the audience were drawn in to this world to the point where you forget there are no spoken words.  All you see is an age old story, superbly acted and crafted, unfolding before you.  By the time it is over, you understand you’ve just participated in something magical.

              The whole family attended Hugo, and despite its mastery of all things film technological, my nine year old’s comment half way through was, ‘Too much talking. It’s a little boring.’  And yes, I agreed.  With everything thrown at it, it failed on the one point which is important to a book or a film; it was too wordy and too determined to prove its point.

              With Hugo’s current, wide release, box office gross only $55 million (USA) against a $170 million estimated gross and The Artist’s current $12 million (USA) against its $15 million estimated gross on limited screen release, I hope a message has been sent to Hollywood.  Tell the story first and use the special effects to supplement.  Keep your scripts tight and show, don’t tell.

              And from  the mouth of a nine year old critic, to those who wield the big cheques, too much talking is boring, no matter how pretty your picture or fabulous your Director.  I realise I am going against critical opinion but Hugo fell far short of its promise and premise and it is not a film for children despite the advertising being aimed squarely at them. 
If you desire a rare treat and want to skip lightly from the theatre with your heart uplifted, I promise you that you will find the silence of The Artist is golden.