REVIEW: THE ARTIST

CAST

Jean Dujardin (Little White Lies)
Bérénice Bejo (Brave)
John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane)
James Cromwell (Star Trek: First Contact)
Missi Pyle (Two and a Half Men)
Penelope Ann Miller (Along Came A Spider)
Malcolm McDowell (Star Trek: Generations)
Beth Grant (Child’s Play 2)
Ed Lauter (The Number 23)
Nina Siemaszko (The West Wing)
Basil Hoffman (Night Shift)
Ken Davitian (Borat)
Elizabeth Tulloch (Superman and Lois)
Bill Fagerbakke (How I Met Your Mother)

In 1927, silent film star George Valentin is posing for pictures outside the premiere of his latest hit film when a young woman, Peppy Miller, accidentally bumps into him. Valentin reacts with humor to the accident and shows off with Peppy for the cameras. The next day, Peppy finds herself on the front page of Variety with the headline “Who’s That Girl?” Later, Peppy auditions as a dancer and is spotted by Valentin, who insists that she have a part in Kinograph Studios’ next production, despite objections from the studio boss, Al Zimmer. While performing a scene in which they dance together, Valentin and Peppy show great chemistry, despite her being merely an extra. With a little guidance from Valentin (he draws a beauty spot on her, which will eventually be her trademark, after finding her in his dressing room), Peppy slowly rises through the industry, earning more prominent starring roles.Two years later, Zimmer announces the end of production of silent films at Kinograph Studios, but Valentin is dismissive, insisting that sound is just a fad. In a dream, Valentin begins hearing sounds from his environment (as does the audience), but cannot speak himself, then wakes up in a sweat. He decides to produce and direct his own silent film, financing it himself. The film opens on the same day as Peppy’s new sound film as well as the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Now Valentin’s only chance of avoiding bankruptcy is for his film to be a hit. Unfortunately audiences flock to Peppy’s film instead and Valentin is ruined. His wife, Doris, kicks him out, and he moves into an apartment with his valet/chauffeur, Clifton, and his dog. Peppy goes on to become a major Hollywood star.Later, the bankrupt Valentin is forced to auction off all of his personal effects, and after realizing he has not paid loyal Clifton in over a year, gives him the car and fires him, telling him to get another job. Depressed and drunk, Valentin angrily sets a match to his private collection of his earlier films. As the nitrate film quickly blazes out of control he is overwhelmed by the smoke and passes out inside the burning house, still clutching a single film canister. However, Valentin’s dog attracts the help of a nearby policeman, and after being rescued Valentin is hospitalized for injuries suffered in the fire. Peppy visits the hospital and discovers that the film he rescued is the one with them dancing together. She asks for him to be moved to her house to recuperate. Valentin awakens in a bed at her house, to find that Clifton is now working for Peppy. Valentin seems to remain dismissive of Peppy having taken him in, prompting Clifton to sternly remind Valentin of his changing luck.Peppy insists to Zimmer that Valentin co-star in her next film, threatening to quit Kinograph if Zimmer does not agree to her terms. After Valentin learns to his dismay that it had been Peppy who had purchased all his auctioned effects, he returns in despair to his burnt-out apartment. Peppy arrives, panicked, and finds that Valentin is about to attempt suicide with a handgun. Peppy tells him she only wanted to help him. They embrace and Valentin tells her it’s no use; no one wants to hear him speak. Remembering Valentin’s superb dancing ability, Peppy persuades Zimmer to let them make a musical together.Now the audience hears sound for the second time, as the film starts rolling for a dance scene with Peppy and Valentin and their tap-dancing can be heard. Once the choreography is complete, the two dancers are heard panting. The director of the musical calls out audibly, “Cut!” to which Zimmer adds: “Perfect. Beautiful. Could you give me one more?” Valentin, in his only audible line, replies “With pleasure!” revealing his French accent. The camera then pulls back to the sounds of the film crew as they prepare to shoot another take.I’d never heard of the principal actors. Both are utterly captivating. Director Michel Hazanavicius (incidentally, the husband of the female lead, Berenice Bejo) has apparently wanted to make a silent movie for ages. The long gestation period shows in this thoughtful, clever homage to Hollywood’s silent era. Implausibly, a modern film without (much) sound or colour maintains viewer interest throughout. It is witty, impossibly romantic, intriguing and, above all, a must-see for anyone who’s losing their love of cinema. What should be nothing more than an interesting idea or a bit of a cliché, is in fact the absolute opposite: fresh and original. And one of the best films of 2011.

REVIEW: THE SHADOW (1994)

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CAST
Alec Baldwin (Beetlejuice)
John Lone (Rush Hour 2)
Penelope Anne Miller (Kindergarten Cop)
Peter Boyle (Dr. Dolittle)
Ian McKellan (The Hobbit)
Tim Curry (IT)
Sab Shimono (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III)
James Hong (Blade Runner)
Ethan Phillips (Bad Santa)
Abraham Benrubi (Parker Lewis Can’t Lose)
Steve Hytner (Roswell)
Frank Welker (The Simpsons)
Robert Trebor (Hercules: TLJ)
Max Wright (Alf)
Larry Hankin (Breaking Bad)
In Tibet, following the First World War, an American named Lamont Cranston (Alec Baldwin), succumbing to his darker instincts during the war, has set himself up as a brutal warlord and opium kingpin under the alias of Ying-Ko (Mandarin Chinese for “Dark Eagle”). He is abducted from his palace by servants of the Tulku (Barry Dennen), a holy man who exhibits otherworldly powers and knows Cranston’s identity. He informs Cranston that he is to become a force for good. Cranston objects but is silenced by the Phurba (Frank Welker), a mystical sentient flying dagger that assaults Cranston, wounding him. Cranston is unable to refuse and remains under the tutelage of the Tulku for seven years. He learns to “cloud men’s minds,” a form of mystical, psychic hypnosis that allows him to influence others’ thoughts and bend their perceptions so he cannot be seen, except for his shadow (since light itself cannot be deceived), hence his new alias.
Cranston returns to New York and resumes his previous life. No one is aware of his past in the East; he is seen as a shallow and opulent playboy. He operates as The Shadow, a vigilante who terrorizes the underworld. Citizens who are saved by The Shadow are recruited to be his agents, providing him with informants and specialists. The existence of The Shadow is regarded by the public as nothing more than an urban legend. But The Shadow’s secret is endangered when Cranston meets Margo Lane (Penelope Ann Miller), an eccentric socialite who is a natural telepath. He is intrigued, but unable to continue seeing her as he cannot keep his thoughts from her.
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Cranston is challenged by Shiwan Khan (John Lone), another student of the Tulku who possesses even sharper powers, but had successfully resisted redemption and hence had stayed evil. Khan is the last descendant of Genghis Khan and plans to fulfill his ancestor’s goal of world domination. He offers Cranston an alliance, sensing that bloodlust and a thirst for power still exist in his heart, but Cranston refuses. Cranston acquires a rare coin from Khan and learns that it is made of a metal called “bronzium” (an impure form of uranium) that theoretically can generate an explosion large enough to destroy a city. This suspicion is confirmed when he learns that Margo’s father Reinhardt (Ian McKellen), an atomic scientist working for the War Department, has vanished. Shiwan Khan hypnotizes Margo Lane and sends her to assassinate Cranston, hoping that Cranston will be forced to kill her, thus reawakening his darker side. Instead, Cranston breaks Khan’s hold on her, but she is now aware of his secret identity. Cranston prepares to rescue Reinhardt but is thwarted by several of Khan’s henchmen. The Shadow suffers another setback when he confronts Reinhardt’s former assistant, Farley Claymore (Tim Curry), who has joined Khan’s forces. Claymore traps The Shadow in a submersion tank, but Cranston escapes drowning by mentally summoning Margo. The Shadow learns of Khan’s hideout, the luxurious Hotel Monolith, a building in the middle of the city that Shiwan Khan has rendered invisible; it appears to everyone else as an empty lot, but The Shadow can see through Khan’s mental clouding. Knowing that Khan has Reinhardt hostage and the completed atomic bomb in his possession, he infiltrates the hotel for a final showdown.hqdefault
The Shadow fights his way through the hotel, killing Claymore and Khan’s warriors. He faces Khan but is subdued by the Phurba, sustaining multiple injuries until he realizes that only a peaceful mind can truly control the Phurba. Overcoming Khan’s command of the dagger, he launches the Phurba into Khan’s torso. The injury breaks Khan’s concentration, freeing Reinhardt from his hypnotic state and rendering the hotel visible to everyone. The Shadow pursues Khan into the bowels of the building while Margo and Reinhardt disable the atomic bomb. The Shadow defeats Khan by psychically hurling a glass shard into his skull. Khan awakens in a padded cell, confused as to how he got there. He discovers that his powers are gone. He learns that the doctors saved his life by removing the part of his brain that harbored his psychic abilities. He demands to be set free, but is ignored along with the rants of the other inmates. Unknown to him, the doctor is an agent of The Shadow who has ensured that Khan is no longer a threat.
Now safe from Khan, Cranston gives in to his love for Margo, but duty calls soon after, and he promises to find her later that night. Margo asks how he will know where to find her, and Cranston reassures her, “I’ll know.”
This movie is stunningly produced, with excellent scenes. The characters are interesting, even if not often believable. The action is quite gripping, but is restrained.