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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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