Sunday, July 1, 2012

I Recommend: 'The Artist' Film & 'The Enchantress' Book

(Image courtesy of Warner Bros. France)
Jeff Dodge's Recommendations:

The Artist

"Hollywood, 1927. George Valentin is a silent movie superstar. The advent of the talkies will sound the death knell for his career and see him fall into oblivion. For young extra, Peppy Miller, it seems the sky's the limit--major movie stardom awaits. The Artist tells the story of their interlinked destinies." [Product Description on back of DVD]

It's such a simple premise. But, boy, does it have such an impact. Because of advancing technology, we don't see silent films anymore. So it comes as quite a pleasant surprise to see The Artist get noticed by critics, moviegoers and award voters alike. Even before it received its many Oscar nominations, I would every once in a while hear about this new silent film that came out or was coming out. And that alone (a silent film in the 21st century) piqued my interest immediately. Award season is done and over, and The Artist won five Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Costume Design and Best Score. And it just so happened to come out on DVD this past week, which afforded me the opportunity to finally watch it. And I am glad I did.

Let's revisit that summary above. Like I said, it's a simple premise. But the impact that I mention is dealt with such force in the way that it was created. Since it is a silent film, there's no talking that we hear (we can debate that, but I won't go further if you haven't seen it yet). During moments when characters are talking, once in a while we get intertitles that fill the screen to read some of what they are saying. I'll say the word simple again, but that simple gesture of the intertitles adds further charm to the film, charm already in progress from the likes of Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo and, of course, Uggie the dog.

Speaking of Uggie, you probably heard all through the film's promotion that the dog steals the show. And it's hard to deny that, as Uggie provides much of the comedy relief throughout. To put it honestly, I don't think The Artist would have been the same without him.

Most major releases nowadays are all about the big stars, the glitz and glamour and, more than likely, the massive special effects with buildings and vehicles being blown to smithereens. There's none of that here. And that lack of loudness, with no talking, that's a big part of what drew me in. I could focus on the characters' facial expressions, what emotions they were feeling, what their intents were, etc. And it takes wonderfully talented people to be able to do all of that mainly with their face. And now I can see why these two were nominated for Oscars, and why Dujardin, as Valentin, won.

After silent movies came the talkies. After black and white movies came technicolor. After film came digital. After 2D came 3D. (Did I miss one?) There's this constant evolution of filmmaking and technology over the years. And we see Valentin, a famous silent movie actor, finding his career in jeopardy when the the studios are starting the transition to the talkies. He's very resistant to the idea. And that resistance can be found in the real world whenever we have these transitions to the newest technology. What I find fascinating about this particular storyline is that these characters are living out the transition from silent to talking films all within a silent film in itself--isn't that a brilliant move? And that transition from silent to talking expresses itself not just in that way but, again, I'll leave it at that if you haven't seen it yet.

All in all, The Artist is a beautiful yet simple film that makes us wonder why we spend billions every year to watch things explode on screen when we have something as tasteful and charming as this. And it makes me want to go and watch some of the silent movies from back in the day. Once some time has passed, I'm hoping to watch this film again, and I want to listen to the soundtrack now--that's another thing about The Artist; because it's a silent film, the score comes through and allows us to really listen to it instead of having it be an aside.

The Enchantress: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

(Image courtesy of Random House)
If you're a fan of Harry Potter or Percy Jackson, you'll love this series, The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel. It is a well-crafted fantasy series consisting of six books, with the sixth and final one, The Enchantress, having just come out in May. It tells the story of teens (and twins) Josh and Sophie Newman as they get caught up in a dangerous mission. They are apparently mentioned in a prophecy and certain people have been looking for them so that they can make sure everything goes according to plan.

This series combines both fiction/fantasy, and historical and mythological people and concepts, including Nicholas Flamel, Shakespeare, Joan of Arc and Billy the Kid, among many others. I think that's what attracted me to these books, that history and mythology is intertwined in an immense way on every page (something that we have seen in even Harry Potter as well--most notably with Nicholas Flamel himself).

The Enchantress is the final book in the series. And while there were a couple moments that might have not been as strong, overall it satisfied me as a conclusion. Especially with the latter half of the novel, as I got closer and closer to the finish, I tried to get through it as fast as possible to see what was going to happen with these characters that I've known for five previous books. If you haven't read the series yet or this particular book, I won't give away specifics of the book or ending. But for those of you who have, I'll say this: Do you remember the big cliffhanger at the end of Book 5 with the two people that Josh and Sohie "meet"? That storyline is fascinating to read in the finale.

People online are always recommending books to those like me who are done with the Harry Potter series and may be trying to figure out what else is out there. And this is one of those series that will grab you right from the start. So in a way, I'm reviewing the series as a whole, which is how I think it should be because it's one long story, just split up into six books, like with Lord of the Rings, if you will. And as a whole, author Michael Scott has provided us with something quite spectacular; I love his writing style and the way he moves through the story with ease.

TV Watch Online (@TVWatchOnline)

Jeff Dodge Blog:
I Recommend: 'Life in a Day' (YouTube Film)

BuddyTV Articles (Articles I've written recently):
Jennifer Hudson to Receive Star on Hollywood Walk of Fame

#1 Recommendation: The Artist

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Hope you have a fantastic 4th of July!

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