At the Movies: The Artist, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Hope you enjoyed the day off from movie reviews. Now back to the grind.

The Artist

The Luddite in me greatly appreciates that in these days of 3D overkill, computer-generated everything and motion-capture actors, one of the finest movies of 2011 is a black-and-white silent picture.

“The Artist” is a stylish, charming throwback to what now seems like a different world. The year is 1927 and George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. One night at a movie premiere he has a chance encounter with young Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a wannabe actress hoping to hit the big time.

George’s time on top is about to come crashing down. The introduction sound is about to become a game-changer for the industry and George stubbornly refuses to go along. Studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) tosses George aside in favor of new technology and a stable of newer, fresher faces — like Peppy Miller.

With Peppy’s star on the ascent, George’s goes into free fall. He uses his own money to finance a big silent epic, but it fails miserably. Eventually George is so broke he even has to fire his loyal assistant Clifton (James Cromwell). Can Peppy turn things around for her former idol before it’s too late?

Director Michel Hazanavicius has crafted a near-perfect film (my one complaint is that George’s downfall drags on a bit long). It’s beautifully shot with delightful music and wonderful performances — and not just by the dog this time (and yes, the dog is very good). Yes, the story is familiar and predictable but it doesn’t matter when it’s all so well done.

At awards season we’re usually inundated with movies that beat you over the head with how depressing and horrible life can be so it’s really refreshing to see a movie so unabashedly joyous and positive. If only all the talking pictures this year could be this good.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

I’ll keep this one short because frankly, I didn’t understand a minute of it.

Well, not true — I understood the opening bit where John Hurt explains to someone that there’s a mole in British Intelligence. But beyond that I have no clue.

Based on a novel by John le Carré, the story is set in the Cold War era of the 1970s. Control (John Hurt), the head of MI6, suspects that one of the top figures in the agency is secretly working for the Russians. A bunch of stuff happens that I didn’t understand. George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is brought in to investigate. A bunch more stuff happens that I didn’t understand. The mole is revealed. More stuff I didn’t understand. Roll credits.

I lost the plot early on and never recovered. There was a lot of time shifting, which doesn’t usually throw me off, but it did here. It didn’t help that they don’t properly introduce any of the characters.

It’s got a great cast and Oldman was very good. I just didn’t know what he was doing. I read somewhere that someone compared the movie to a game of chess, and I guess that explains it because I don’t understand chess either.

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