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Monday, August 27, 2012

September Film Club: The Artist

Hello everyone, September is upon us and with it comes another film.  For next month's Film Club we will be watching the Academy Award winning film:

The Artist directed by Michel Hazanavicius.

The Artist is a 2011 French romantic comedy-drama film in the style of a black and white silent film.  The film was written and directed Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and Berenice Bejo.  The story takes place in Hollywood between 1927 and 1932, and focuses on the relationship of an older silent film start and a rising young actress as silent cinema falls out of fashion and is replaced by "talkies".  In 1927, silent film star George Valentin is posing for pictures outside the premiere of his latest hit film, A Russian Affair, when a young woman, Peppy Miller, accidentally bumps into him.  Valentin reacts with humor to the accident and shows off 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 studio's next production, despite objections from the studio boss, Al Zimmer.  While performing a scene 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 roles.

The Artist received strongly positive reviews from critics and won many accolades.  Dujardin won the Best Actor Award at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where the film premiered.  It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five including Best Picture, Best Director for Hazanavicius, and Best Actor for Dujardin, who was the first French actor ever to win for Best Actor.  It was the first French film to ever win Best Picture, and the first mainly silent film to win since 1927's Wings and Sunrise won best picture awards at the 1st Academy Awards in 1929.  The Artist currently holds a 98% certified "Fresh" rating on the aggregate review site

I saw The Artist in theatre when it finally saw release, and when the end credits began to roll I knew at once I had just seen the best picture of the year.  Needless to say, the Academy agreed.  Come on out to see this wonderful celebration of film, this beautiful homage to the glorious Silent Era, this fantastic piece of cinematic joy.  You will not want to miss it!

Film Club will meet Thursday, Sept. 20th at 6:15pm

Here's the trailer:

Monday, August 20, 2012

Dreams in 70mm

This past weekend I was afforded another wonderful opportunity, facilitated by the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.  The theatre played host to a print of Paul Thomas Anderson's (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia, Boogie Nights) newest film The Master (starring Philip Seymour Hoffman in the titular role, and Joaquin Phoenix as a wayfarer that gets involved with his cult).  I didn't realize how special an opportunity it was until we got there and it was made known that this would be the only showing in Chicago for months (until the actual release of the film), and that we were some of the first people in the country to see the film, by the time it started, I was giddy with anticipation.  The Music Box is one of the fortunate few theatres in the city with the ability to screen films in 70mm, a format not commonly used (more on the subject later).  The film itself is marvelous, hypnotic, and beautiful.  From the incredibly striking opening image of the churning sea in the wake of a large boat, the water more turquoise blue/green than can be imagined, accompanied by Johnny Greenwood's haunting score, to the startling intimacy of the final frames, The Master is an expertly crafted piece of cinematic ecstasy, engineered by a man who is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest gifts to the world of filmmaking.  The film is about a wanderer, (portrayed by Phoenix) a drunk with no conceivable destination in mind, who finds himself aboard the boat of Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman), a doctor, a nuclear physicist, a theoretical philosopher but above all else, a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, as he himself so boldly puts it.  As the film progresses, we find that he is the leader of a group (very obviously based on Scientology, Hoffman being the Hubbard character) and that he has taken Freddy (Phoenix) under his wing in the hopes of making him his protege.  The film it somewhat meandering, continually flashing back to events in Freddy's past, events that have either shaped him into what his is now, or events that have been shaped by what Freddy has always been.  The relationship between the two characters, Dodd and Freddy, and the effects of this relationship is what is at the heart of this film.  It is at once sad, lonely, distant, funny, heartbreaking and seemingly unreal.  For almost the entire two hours and twenty minutes of this film I forgot I was in a theatre, forgot I was watching a film with actors.  Instead I was drawn into this world, these two people and those that surrounded them, convincing me they were real instead of imaginary.  That is the sign of a true film, a masterful film, one that can make you forget reality completely, until you find yourself hopelessly immersed in the film, being released only upon completion.  But I dare say this film went further, even after the curtain was lowered and the house lights came up, I was still entranced, still in a daze as the film wound its way through my senses, leaving me pondering it even still, days after seeing it, eagerly awaiting another viewing.
Now, a word on the format.  Many people will not be familiar with the 70mm format, one often reserved for such monumental films as: Ben Hur, Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, and Baraka to name a few, but if you ever have the opportunity to view this film in 70mm, by all means take it.  You will be able to see a difference, as the owner of The Music Box theatre said in his speech before the screening, in response to someone asking if they would be able to tell a difference between this and 35mm, "If you can't tell the difference, you aren't looking at the screen."  The wide angle format and absolute depth of 70mm will draw you so far into this film, you will be lost in its wonder.
I am not entirely sure when The Master is scheduled for release and if it will return to Chicago in 70mm, but when and if it does, take advantage of the opportunity, you will not be disappointed.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Music Box Double Feature w/ Joe Dante in person.

Over the weekend I was afforded an opportunity to meet filmmaker Joe Dante at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.  This is not the first time I've gone to such an event, but Joe is one of the higher profile directors I have met (along with Jay Duplass).  We viewed his newest completed film The Hole which has been completed since 2009 but because of a lack of distributor has not seen a proper theatrical release.  So, this viewing was one of the first few in the United States (which was pretty cool).  Overall the film was good, and fun.  It suffered from some bad acting/dialogue, but once I got into the story it was somewhat overshadowed.  The film is about a family that moves into a new house, the latest in a long line we find out.  The two sons, one younger and one a teenager, find a hole in the basement, padlocked with about 6 locks.  So, of course they unlock it and find what appears to be a bottomless pit.  This is the central device of the film (obviously...), and from it issue forth all manner of strange occurrences, which I won't get too far into since it would kind of ruin the film.  If you ever have a chance to check it out, it's worth the time.  But what was really great was having the director there to talk about his film.  It's hard to compare to such an event.  When viewing the film you have a certain insight into the mind of the director, but the experience overall is meant to be subjective, the viewer taking from it whatever they feel, but having the director there gives you a bit more of an objective view of the film, the politics of the industry, and the hardships of trying to get a film made and distributed.  Now, Joe Dante is no Spielberg, but he has a few good films under his belt (many produced by Spielberg actually) and is a competent director.  After viewing the film, there was a Q & A where Scott Tobias (of the AV Club) as well as members of the audience were allowed to ask Dante some questions.  Again, if you ever have this opportunity and are even remotely interested in film, try to make it out to an even like this.  After the Q & A, we had a chance to go up and meet with him. I got my copy of The Howling (pretty decent werewolf film) signed and got a picture with him, when that was done we had a midnight showing of Gremlins 2: The New Batch, which was actually a 35mm print from Dante's collection.  I had seen it before, but seeing it on the big screen, and having some knowledge of what the filmmakers were trying to do when making this film, coupled with the energy of a relatively packed theatre, made the experience all together fresh and hilarious.  The film is by no means a masterpiece of cinema, but it's a good example of a director who has been hired to make money for the studio but has also been given complete control, permission to do whatever they wanted.  The result being the anarchic, hilarious, and often-times, nightmarish spoof on film, film making, sequels and the industry as a whole.  It was an experience definitely worth the time and money.
If this sounds like something you'd be interested in doing, keep an eye out for it.  The Music Box in Chicago is a great place to attend these sort of events, and they seem to host them somewhat frequently, so check their website or sign the mailing list so you don't miss out.