DID YOU READ

“The Artist,” reviewed

“The Artist,” reviewed (photo)

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In the classic film “Singin’ in the Rain,” directors Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly examined Hollywood’s transition from silent to sound cinema from the perspective of the winners; actors like Kelly’s Don Lockwood, who successfully survived the advent of the talkies. In the new romantic drama “The Artist,” director Michel Hazanavicius reimagines that same journey from the perspective of the losers, men like Jean Dujardin‘s George Valentin, who were left behind when Al Jolson belted out his first onscreen tune in “The Jazz Singer.” While “Singin’ in the Rain” used the formal language of the musical to celebrate everything that the movies gained with sound, “The Artist” cleverly uses the language of silent cinema to remind us of what the movies lost, namely the magic of pure visual storytelling.

Dujardin is the film’s impossibly handsome and charismatic star, a Douglas Fairbanks-esque matinee idol. As “The Artist” begins, he’s presenting the premiere of his new adventure picture, “A Russian Affair.” The film within the film is clearly silent, but it’s not immediately obvious that “The Artist” is too. It opens with a packed house enjoying “A Russian Affair” while a full orchestra plays an accompanying score. It’s only when the movie palace audience bursts into ecstatic applause — and we hear absolutely nothing on the soundtrack — that we understand the extent of Hazanavicius’ devotion to the silent film form.

At the premiere, George has a chance encounter with an aspiring actress named Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and still more chance pairs George and Peppy together in George’s next film (this one’s titled “A German Affair”). Their chemistry is instant and obvious in a wonderful scene where George, the superstar, is supposed to casually dance with Peppy, the lowly extra, as he navigates a crowded dance floor. George spoils take after take, enchanted by Peppy’s beauty and distracted by her touch. Again, there’s no dialogue, but Dujardin and Bejo tell us everything we need to know through gestures and body language. A few helpful cutaways to the production’s clapperboard do the rest of the work.

George’s boss at Kinograph Studios (John Goodman) believes that talking pictures are the future. Peppy embraces sound and rises from chorus girl to household name; George rejects sound and suffers a precipitous fall, foolishly sinking his fortune into an ominously titled silent epic called “Tears of Love.” If George wasn’t crying before he got the box office results…

George’s arc is sad but “The Artist” is nevertheless an exuberant movie. The key to its success is the way Hazanavicius turns silent cinema’s restrictions into opportunities for the sort of whimsical gestures that modern movies rarely allow. After George and Peppy share their dance on the set of “A German Affair” she goes looking for him in his dressing room. Finding it empty, she stops and admires his tuxedo jacket, and as she tries it on, it magically comes to life, embracing her as she imagines what it might feel like in George’s arms. In a sound film, Peppy would no doubt explain her feelings for her co-star to a plucky sidekick (and the audience). The silent approach is, in this case, far more economical and far more powerful.

I’m not sure cameos from the likes of Malcolm McDowell, Missi Pyle, and others add anything to the film beyond unnecessary distractions and George’s cold, shrewish wife (Penelope Ann Miller) is an unfortunate mix of convenience and “Citizen Kane” homages. An argument could also be made that the film’s ending is thematically inappropriate to Hazanavicius’ “Singin’ in the Rain” counter-narrative. But I don’t think the director is eulogizing silent cinema as much as he’s mythologizing the true artists of the Hollywood dream factory, and that makes George and Peppy’s final fate the only sensible one. He’s paying tribute to those great old crowd pleasers by making one of his own, while reminding us that silent films aren’t inferior to sound ones, just a little different.

“The Artist” opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles. If you see it, tell us what you think. Leave us a comment below or write to us on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.