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Reviews for November 25th, 2011

The Artist

Directed by Michel Hazanavicius

      In 1927 Hollywood, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a huge star in silent romantic/adventure melodramas, lives a glamorous life with his loving wife, Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) and dog. He even has his own chauffeur, Clifton (James Cromwell). When producer Al Zimmer (John Goodman) shows him some clips of movies with sounds, a.k.a. “talkies,” a new format that will soon replace silent movies, George refuses to believe in the new technology, storms off and starts directing and starring in his own silent films. Meanwhile, as he falls from fame into despair and even bankruptcy during the Great Depression, his co-star Peppy Miller (Bérénice Béjo), rises to fame in Hollywood.

      Shot in glorious black-and-white, The Artist will dazzle you with its visuals and captivate you with its lively performances so much that you’ll easily forget that it’s actually a silent movie and not in color. Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius imbues the film with a plethora of wit, charm, humor and a little poignancy along the way. Finding the right tone can be quite a challenge, but he achieves it above and beyond without it ever feeling uneven or over-the-top. The same can be said for the performances all across the board whether it’s the charismatic, playful Jean Dujardin, the sizzling and radiant Bérénice Béjo or even the cute little dog that would get a nomination if there were Best Performance by a Dog category at the Oscars.

      A true classic movie is one that not only provokes you intelligently and emotionally while thoroughly entertaining you, but also takes some risks. The Artist certainly takes risks being a silent, black-and-white movie because there’s simply no other film like it in today’s world, unless you count the experimental films that aren’t exactly delightful or accessible for mainstream audiences. The risks this film takes pay off tremendously, and audiences will be rewarded with a sense of joy and exhilaration upon leaving the theater. At a running time of 1 hour and 40 minutes, The Artist is an invigorating, charming, witty and crowd-pleasing delight that’s destined to become a classic while skyrocketing the careers of Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Béjo.

Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Opens at the Angelika Film Center and The Paris Theatre.
Released by The Weinstein Company.

Crazy Wisdom

Directed by Johanna Demetrakas

      This mildly engaging documentary focuses on Chögyam Trungpa, a former Tibetan monk who broke free from Tibet during the Communist invasion in 1959 before heading westward to bring Buddhism to the West. He indulged in sex, booze and smoking while befriending hippies in America when he settled there in 1970. He even married a 16-year-old girl whom he barely gotten to know. His "crazy wisdom" was subversive. It embraced materialism as a means of acheiving a higher truth/enlightenment.

      Based on the footage of Trungpa that director Johanna Demetrakas assembles, the former monk seems quite candid and unrepentent about his libido and other parts that make him more human. But was he really so brilliant when it comes to his teachings or what was it some phony-baloney? That's the provocative, fundamental question that the documentary largely ignores; instead, you hear a lot of his former students praising him. You do learn the basic facts about Trungpa's life and teachings until his death and 1987, but the film doesn't go deep enough into its subject matter--it plays it too safe. On a technical level, though, Crazy Wisdom is well-shot and edited. Perhaps the director should have asked sharper questions to the interviewees to try to truly enlighten audiences about Trungpa.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Opens at the Rubin Museum.
Released by Alive Mind Cinema.

House of Pleasures

Directed by Bertrand Bonello

Please check back soon for a full review.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Opens at the IFC Center.
Released by IFC Films.

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