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The Occasional Movie Review – Doubleheader Edition

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After having a DVD at home from Netflix since July, I figured I’d better finally watch it. And as long as I’m reviewing things, I’ll throw my review of another movie your way, too…


First off, we have The Artist, which is a silent film about silent films and specifically a silent film star, forced out-of-the-way by the arrival of talkies.


It’s a partial celebration of the art of the silent film, though it also mocks it at the same time–it’s presented in black and white, in a standard 4:3 non-widescreen ratio, with a musical soundtrack, and occasional incidental sounds, used for emphasis and points in the story.


The hero, George Valentin (played by Jean DuJardin) is one of the top actors of the silent film era, who is the star of his studio. But it all comes crashing to an end when he is shown a talkie screen test by the head of the studio. George pridefully proclaims that people don’t need to see him speak, but only at the end of the film do we understand why.


He spends much of his personal wealth on a self-produced, written and directed silent film after leaving the studio, and releases it the same day as the stock market crash of October 1929, all of which leads him to financial ruin. When his wife separates from him and demands a divorce, he is left destitute and on his own in a sparse apartment in Hollywood.


Meanwhile, a young extra on one of his films Peppy Miller, who he became smitten with before his marriage dissolved, has become one of the hottest stars in the talkies. She has been a fan of his since before she was in the movies herself and holds a soft spot for him, and after making a denigrating comment in a radio interview about the quality of acting in silent movies, he stopped respecting her.


In the end, everything works out, she finds him a role in one of her movies, and he becomes a star in a talkie.


This movie is very well done–it’s a crisp, simple story, well acted as a silent film, and it uses sound and title cards surprisingly effectively. Is it a great movie that merited Oscar nominations? I don’t think so, but maybe that was the only way to get it seen by a broader audience who didn’t appreciate some of the history of filmmaking. Four out of Five Stars.


Our second film today is one I watched a couple of weeks ago as I was cuddling with the cat. The film is Albert Nobbs, which is about a woman who has spent nearly her entire life living her life as a man in order to make a decent living.


Albert has been living as Albert almost as long as she can remember, after having been raped or abused as a young teenager. He started working in service as a waiter at restaurants, and has managed to work his way up to being a lead waiter at the dining room in a nice hotel.


Albert is saving up to have enough money to strike out on his own with a tobacconist’s shop, and is fiercely private because of his gender situation, but also because he has hidden a stash of money under the floor of his room. But one night, he is forced to bunk with a painter who has been hired to paint some of the hotel’s rooms. During this night, Albert’s secret is discovered, but the painter turns out to be a woman too, leading Albert into the world of illicit lesbian couples.


I’ll be honest. From there, the story turns into a quasi-farcical story of unrequited love as Albert tries to court a maid at the hotel who has a boyfriend of her own. Though I’m not entirely sure whether Albert loves the maid or is just trying to make them appear as a couple so his life as a man once he gets the shop is convincing to the outside world.


The end of the movie matches the fairly depressing tone of the rest of the movie, and I was left wondering if Albert made an impact on the world, and if the movie was really worth the time it took to watch it.


I’ll say this, though, it was a well-made movie. The acting was good, the period look and feel was very good, and the filmmaking did what it should in a movie like this: stayed out of the way of the story. But the story itself couldn’t quite decide what it was: a period piece that gives the feeling that half of the “male” jobs done in Britain in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were actually done by disguised women, or some sort of lesbian treatise…Not that either of those are entirely bad on their own, but I just couldn’t figure out what the story was trying to say.


So all that being said, it was an OK movie. So Three out of Five Stars.


See you tomorrow.