Reel Critics: Silent movie era revisited in 'The Artist'

French director Michel Hazanavicius is the moving force behind the innovative and highly regarded new film "The Artist." He's fashioned a dazzling wonder of modern cinema using the surprising format of black-and-white silent movies. The packed audience applauded with gusto several times and with good reason.

French actor Jean Dujardin (winner of the Best Actor award at Cannes) is spectacular playing the lead as a Douglas Fairbanks-style action hero in the silent era. The stunning Bérénice Bejo plays the ingénue actress Peppy Miller. She eclipses the older man's star power as the talkies take over Hollywood. Renowned American actors James Cromwell, John Goodman and Penelope Ann Miller join the French team in great character roles.

There are many opportunities to laugh and cry during this timeless tale told with great style and lush visual beauty. Themes of love, fame, tragedy and redemption abound. The superb musical score easily takes the place of dialogue in more ordinary movies. The dynamic sounds drive and complement the action on screen. This film should not be missed by any serious movie fan. It's one of the best movies of the year.

I was privileged to attend the Orange County Film Society's advance screening of "The Artist" at the Lido Theater on Monday. A great bonus was having Cromwell, Miller and producer Richard Middleton at the show. They stayed to talk about their project with OC Film Society CEO Gregg Schwenk. His knowledge of the movie business made for a lively Q&A session with the stars to top off the evening.


'Answers to Nothing' tries too hard

Adultery, abduction, and alcohol abuse — apparently, 'tis the season to be less than jolly as evidenced by "Answers to Nothing." What an odd little movie for this time of year.

Among the decidedly depressing characters in this L.A.-based indie are a therapist (Dane Cook) who's having an affair while also trying to conceive a child with his wife (Elizabeth Mitchell). A teacher (Mark Kelly) has a seeming obsession for video games and the disappearance of a young girl in the neighborhood.

The most interesting tale is of a young woman (Miranda Bailey) who is battling the bottle and her parents to remain caregiver of her paralyzed brother. At least he has a compelling reason for stillness, and unlike most of the cast, you can see some signs of life in his eyes.

This is trying so hard to be like the Oscar-winning "Crash," but it lacks that movie's passion and logic. Most of the characters are sad, lonely people on a journey to nowhere. I felt like someone had sprinkled Novocaine on my popcorn.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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