Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Zada Jane's

I recently explored the NoDa neighborhood in Charlotte (cleverly named for North Davidson Street) and I fell in love immediately. The eclectic blend of people, Vegetarian-friendly restaurants and live music venues make for a really unique and much-needed part of the city. The Evening Muse is a great place to see a show – I just saw the Burlington-based band “Big Something” perform, and they rocked the house!

Following this exhausting night of dancing and singing along to alternative groovy jams, my friends and I thought we’d treat ourselves to a delicious brunch at Zada Jane’s. It’s hard to miss, being the only lime green colored building on the street. Inside, abstract art hangs from the walls (and is available for purchase!) and hipsters sip coffee at the bar.

Five words – SWEET POTATOES ARE TAKING OVER. And I love it. First, the sweet potato fry blew everyone’s mind. I finally got around to trying Sweet Potato Tater Tots (an absolute MUST if you’re an SP fan), and most recently, I enjoyed Sweet Potato Hash Browns at Zada Jane’s. The delicious potato chunks, cooked with onions and peppers, served as a bed for the Booker T’s East Side Hasher (I still haven’t made the connection to the historical figure, but I’ll think on it some more.) Two organic eggs were cooked frittata-style with cheddar cheese, scallions and my choice of protein. I figured I would go by the old adage, “When in Rome,” and get Soysage. Yes, soysage (it’s really fun to say outloud.) I swear I couldn’t taste a difference between this pork substitute and the real thing.

The dish was the size of my face, and it was difficult to resist scarfing down the entire thing. As if life couldn’t get any better, a yummy biscuit came on the side, with homemade grape jelly and apple cinnamon butter. If there’s a more perfect breakfast combination out there, I dare you to show me (though I will always have a special place in my heart for Elmo’s in Chapel Hill!)

Being that breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, and that Zada Jane’s offers breakfast all day long, I think this is a match made in heaven. I can’t wait to explore more of what NoDa has to offer, and I’ll have to remember to break out my teal Chucks and plaid hipster shirts for next time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Oscar Predictions

This time of year, I always find it interesting to hear Oscar predictions, and there's usually controversy over who should win versus who will win the film industry’s most valued prize. Considering I’ve seen 8/9 films nominated for Best Picture, and the majority of the nominated performances, I decided to give my two cents regarding who should and will win, and who got unfortunately snubbed (there's always a wildcard nominee!) My predictions definitely won’t be 100%, but we’ll see come this Sunday!

Best Picture a few thoughts on this category in general. The Academy should never have increased the number of nominations from 5 to 10. And this year, they could only come up with 9 deserving of a nomination! My wallet and I are begging you, return the number to 5.

“The Artist”
“The Descendants”
“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
“Midnight in Paris”
“The Help”
“War Horse”
“The Tree of Life”
Should Win: “The Help” – The Academy doesn’t usually favor Blockbusters for the big prize (“The King’s Speech” beat out “The Social Network,” “The Hurt Locker” won over “Avatar,”) but this film’s powerful and inspiring story resonated with millions. Plus the five main women acted their butts off.

Will Win: “The Artist” – I won’t be disappointed if this swoops in and steals home. A silent film hasn’t won since 1927, but the Academy loves innovative and refreshing films like this one. Also, Weinstein = WINstein (“The King’s Speech” last year, in fact) so any movie this man touches turns to Oscar gold.

Wild Card: “The Descendants” – a quirky story about a midlife crisis could surprise everyone. Plus The Academy loves Clooney. I was thrilled to see “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” grab a nomination, though it doesn’t have a chance at winning.

Best Actor Noticeably missing: Michael Fassbender in “Shame.” This man was able to make a sex addict creepy in one scene, yet alluring in another. Any actor who can make the audience have sympathy and really care for this pervert’s feelings deserves recognition. Also, Thomas Horn in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” – Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar at ten years old, and the range of emotions 14-year-old Horn portrayed in “EL&IC” deserves a nomination.
Demián Bichir - "A Better Life"
George Clooney - "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin - "The Artist"
Gary Oldman - "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy"
Brad Pitt - "Moneyball"

Should Win: Jean Dujardin in “The Artist.” Without saying a single word, this man made us laugh, cry and fall in love with him. Actors struggle to do this with a full script and he made it look effortless in silence.

Will Win: George Clooney in “The Descendants.” I like George Clooney fine in real life. Not that I know him, but his charming, witty bachelor-for-life personality is cute, I guess. But that’s pretty much the character he played in this film. It didn’t appear he was doing much acting, but The Academy loves this man, so go ahead and give it to him.

Wild Card: As much as I’m secretly pulling for Brad Pitt, this wasn’t an Oscar-winning role for him.

Best Actress
Glenn Close - "Albert Nobbs"
Viola Davis - "The Help"
Rooney Mara - "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Meryl Streep - "The Iron Lady"
Michelle Williams - "My Week with Marilyn"

Should Win: Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady.” I can’t help but always pull for this woman, who hasn’t won since “Sophie’s Choice” in 1983. I don’t know how many more brilliant performances Meryl can keep pulling out, but this is another perfect portrayal of a historical figure. After two decades of unrivaled achievements, it’s time to reward this goddess another Golden statue.

Will Win: Viola Davis in “The Help.” Don’t get me wrong, this was a great role for Davis, but I feel that the other women in the film outshined her. But after snagging the Screen Actors Guild Award and the Critic’s Choice Award, it’s safe to say she’s got it in the bag.

Wild Card: Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn.” Williams studied Monroe for months prior to production, and nailed this performance. She showed three different sides of the troubled bombshell and after two nominations, The Academy may feel it’s time to reward her.

Best Supporting Actor - Noticeably missing: Sacha Baron Cohen in “Hugo.” Cohen sticks to his comedic roots in the movie, though darkly comedic, and he makes us both hate and pity him. (He was the only bright spot in that film.)

Kenneth Branagh - "My Week with Marilyn"
Jonah Hill - "Moneyball"
Nick Nolte - "Warrior"
Christopher Plummer - "Beginners"
Max von Sydow - "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" (the second silent performance nomination!)

Should Win: Christopher Plummer in “Beginners.” This veteran actor has never won an Academy Award. Can you believe Captain von Trapp of “The Sound of Music” is still an Oscar virgin?! This 82-year-old needs to be recognized for his entire body of work, not to mention what I hear is a humorous yet heartbreaking performance. Max von Sydow doesn't stand a chance, but he's also an 82-year-old Oscar virgin.

Will Win: Christopher Plummer in “Beginners.” The Golden Globe, SAG and Critic’s Choice Award already rest on his bookshelf, so the other nominees shouldn’t even bother showing up.

Wild Card: I guess Kenneth Branagh should show up, just in case The Academy is feeling a little crazy. He delivered a spot-on performance as Sir Laurence Olivier, and has been around long enough to deserve recognition.

Best Supporting Actress Noticeably missing: Bryce Dallas Howard from “The Help.” I truly felt she gave the most outstanding performance in the film, and she hasn’t been recognized at any of these award Shows. Her turn as a cold, racist woman was bone-chilling, and promising of a bright, successful future for her.

Bérénice Bejo - "The Artist" (the THIRD actor nominated who didn’t deliver one line in a movie!)
Jessica Chastain - "The Help"
Melissa McCarthy - "Bridesmaids"
Janet McTeer - "Albert Nobbs"
Octavia Spencer - "The Help"

Should Win: Octavia Spencer in “The Help.” This was to many, the most memorable role in the film. As a maid who stood up to her heartless boss during the 1960s, Spencer played the part with vigor and strength, and no doubt The Academy will recognize it.

Will Win: Octavia Spencer in “The Help.” The theory is that if you win the Golden Globe, the SAG and the Critic’s Choice, you better have a damn good acceptance speech for that Oscar stage.

Wild Card: No one. However, Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids” and Jessica Chastain in “The Help” have bright futures ahead of them. The nomination was the honor for these two.

Best Director
Michel Hazanavicius - "The Artist"
Alexander Payne - "The Descendants"
Martin Scorsese - "Hugo"
Woody Allen - "Midnight in Paris"
Terrence Malick - "The Tree of Life"

Should Win: Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist.” Making a film without sound and color is difficult. Making said film one of the best of the year seems impossible. Hazanavicius delivered a fabulously entertaining movie, and managed to squeeze heartfelt performances out of his actors.

Will Win: Michel Hazanavicius for “The Artist.” I’ve tried so hard to learn how to pronounce his last name, but the person presenting the award is the one that really needs to learn it. Haza-whatcha-macall-it did wonders with this screenplay, and raised the bar high above the other nominees.

Wild Card: Alexander Payne for “The Descendants.” If I know The Academy like I think I do, they’ll divide up the wealth, and if Dujardin wins Best Actor, Payne will get Best Director. If it’s Clooney’s big night, Haza-what-ever-it-is will take home gold.

I hope you enjoy the big show as much as I do. Us artsy folk consider this our Superbowl. No joke. My mom and I are all set for our annual Oscar bash (my dad is ready for these award shows to be over!) and look forward to the surprises, the FASHION and the acceptance speeches (may they not run over time TOO much.) Happy Oscars!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Iron Lady

Starring: Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Alexandra Roach, Olivia Colman
Director: Phyllida Lloyd
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Rating: PG-13

The incomparable Meryl Streep. No one does it like Meryl, and no one ever will. She has to know the tremendous impact she’s had on every single actor in the world. Meryl holds the record for Academy Award nominations - 17 nominations and 2 wins - and set the precedent for what it means to be a brilliant performer. I couldn’t tell you my favorite Meryl movie (too many to name), but anyone who can go from “Sophie’s Choice” to “Mamma Mia,” and from “Out of Africa” to “The Devil Wears Prada” is simply transcendent. I could make an entire blog post devoted to the powers of Meryl, and I probably will one of these days, but for now, I’ll stick to her latest masterpiece as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

In this historical biopic, Meryl portrays Great Britain’s first female Prime Minister from the time she was elected, to her later years when she began suffering from dementia. The 7-8 hours spent in the make-up chair daily did wonders; she is unrecognizable in these later scenes. Though he will always be Harold Zidler from "Moulin Rouge" to me, Jim Broadbent is wonderful as her husband Denis, and is hugely supportive of Margaret. His character also provides the audience some comic relief. It’s not until a few scenes in that we discover he is deceased, and her conversations with him were purely hallucinations.

I didn’t know much about Margaret Thatcher before I saw the film, so I found her rags to riches story incredibly interesting. Born the daughter of a grocery store owner, Thatcher defied stereotypes and proclaimed she “wouldn’t die washing a teacup.” Alexandra Roach is a magnificent new-comer, and was perfectly cast as a young Margaret. Even as a teen, she knew her life meant something, and it was up to her to fulfill her destiny. After years in Parliament and fighting her way to become one of the few women in the British government, she became the longest-serving Prime Minister, much to the public’s dismay. She wasn’t England’s sweetheart, or as loved as I had imagined her being; instead she was well-respected for her unwavering views on what makes a country great.

After watching some real-life Margaret Thatcher clips, Meryl absolutely nailed this performance. From the voice, to her posture, to the way her mouth moved when she spoke, Meryl became Margaret. The scenes of her struggles with dementia were heart-breaking, but did seem to linger a bit too long. I think it’s interesting that the poster for this movie shows London’s skyline shadowed against Thatcher’s face, but it also looks like her head is half-erased or fading, symbolizing the dementia that ultimately made her memory fade.

I see why this wasn’t nominated for Best Picture, but this is absolutely the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role this year. I found this to be a very empowering and inspiring film, partly because I’m a woman, but also because Margaret made me want to do something truly significant with my life, as she did with hers. This story is a great piece of history, and this performance is another one of Meryl’s roles we’ll remember for decades to come.

Midnight in Paris

Starring: Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard, Adrien Brody, Kathy Bates
Director: Woody Allen
Running Time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Rating: PG-13

Paris is the most exquisite city in the world. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of spending three days in the City of Lights, and enjoyed the most delicious cuisine, saw the most stunning architecture, and completely fell in love with the city’s bustling and magical atmosphere. I loved saying “bonsoir” in my silly American accent, though I felt so Parisian. Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” is nominated for Best Picture and Best Director this year, and features an all-star cast. Though the story was refreshing and playful, it was on the verge of being too unrealistic. No complaints on the setting though; the beautiful shots of Paris’ landscape made me eager to return.

Owen Wilson steps away from his usual roles as a wedding crasher or Zoolander’s nemesis for a turn as a writer with his head in the clouds. He was charming and believable as a hopeless romantic longing to live during the Golden Age of Paris in the 1920s, but instead he’s stuck as a film writer with an over-bearing and irritating fiancée. Rachel McAdams also plays in a different light here, as his bitch of a fiancée, Inez. She made us loathe this character. The two are in Paris on vacation with her parents and family friends, yet their 4-star dinners and museum tours are nothing compared to the fun Gil (Wilson) has every night.

As the clock strikes midnight, Gil is transported back to the 1920s via an old-timey car. It’s been a while since I’ve watched a fairy tale. When your heroine is Amy Adams, and she sings duets with birds as she tidies a house, I can easily fall into the fantasy world. However, it was somewhat difficult to buy into the make-believe aspect of a magical car. But I went with it. On his nightly journeys, he meets the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Picasso, who are in the process of creating some of their most important work. One muse in particular is Adriana - Marion Cotillard, who is exceptionally lovely, as always. The two ultimately fall for each other – talk about a long-distance relationship! It’s obvious that he was born in the wrong century, and was meant to live amongst these artistic geniuses.

Flash forward to daytime, when Gil is taken back to present-day 2011, though we don’t see how that happens exactly. Gil foolishly tries explaining what he experiences each night, and suffice it to say, everyone thinks he’s lost his mind. He’s also totally blind to the fact that his fiancée and their pedantic travel buddy (Michael Sheen) are having an affair - McAdams and Sheen actually began dating in real life after filming this movie!

The music is one of the best things about this film. I don’t know how Stephane Wrembrel was looked over for getting a nomination for this alluring soundtrack, including a beautiful rendition of “Barcarolle” from “The Tales of Hoffman.” The enchanting music helps the audience fall into the fantasy. At one point in the movie, Gertrude Stein (a great Kathy Bates) tells Gil: “We all fear death and question our place in the universe; the artist’s job is not to succumb to despair, but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” We so desperately want Gil to be able to stay in the 1920s, however we know it would be impossible. Quick shout-out to Adrien Brody as an exaggerated Salvador Dali. It was nice to see Brody in a comedic role, as opposed to starving his way through WW2 in “The Pianist” (though that’s a classic.)

I won’t ruin the ending, but we push for Gil to follow his heart. Is this the Best Picture of the year? No. Is this cute movie worth watching? Yes. It will make you want to go to Paris, and become well-versed in literature and art. Plus the love story will remind you of the fairy tales we all once enjoyed and still believe in today.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis
Director: Stephen Daldry
Running Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Rating: PG-13

For some reason, films about 9/11 haven’t fared well with mass audiences. Perhaps it’s the fact that movies can’t do the horrific tragedy justice, or maybe they hit too close to home for some people. I haven’t seen many of these films, but figured I was in for some tears during “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” To my surprise, the forefront story was not about 9/11; instead it focused on a boy’s quest to find a message from his late father. The cast and crew should be proud of such a successful and touching movie. They handled the 9/11 issues delicately, and managed to give me goose bumps for the last 30 minutes of the film.

The star of the film is Thomas Horn, a 14-year-old who was discovered after winning Kids’ Week on Jeopardy. He is incredibly talented, way beyond his years, and is in every scene of the movie. Though he received the Critics’ Choice Award for “Best Young Actor,” he is much deserving of more recognition. Horn plays Oskar Schell, whose father (Tom Hanks) was in the World Trade Center on what is referred to as “the worst day.” Hanks is lovable as always, and my heart truly broke for Oskar as he suffered the loss of his father, and best friend.

Oskar’s relationship with his mother (Sandra Bullock) is nowhere close to what he shared with his dad. The two have a scream at the top of your lungs blow-out after Oskar tells her he wishes it had been her in the towers that day, instead of his dad. This role marks a beautiful return to the screen for Bullock, since her Oscar win for “The Blind Side” and personal life fiasco. In a scene depicting “the worst day,” Hanks calls Bullock from the 100th floor to ultimately say good-bye. I thought it was interesting that for this scene, Hanks came to the set every day and called her from a separate room, so she wouldn’t have to act the scene cold, and speak into a dead phone.

It’s obvious that Oskar is a brilliant young man, and his intelligence shocks many of the film’s characters. He doesn’t seem to have many friends, and being in public causes him anxiety. Oddly enough, he sneaks out of their New York City apartment on a nightly basis, which doesn’t seem to frighten him in the slightest! We later discover that Oskar suffers from Asperger syndrome, which is a social form of autism. Though he seems very mature, we always see him sip from a Juicy Juice juice box, reminding us that he is still very much a child.

As his grandfather, Max von Sidow is the third actor nominated for an Oscar this year without saying a word. After discovering a key in his father’s closet, Oskar is determined to find what it opens. He and his grandpa become companions as they search for this mysterious lock. On their journey, they meet hundreds of New York City citizens, some crazier than others, and it becomes an obsession for Oskar. We feel truly sorry for him, and know he will never find what he’s looking for.  As the movie progresses, we discover more about what happened on “the worst day,” and why it means so much to Oskar to solve this final puzzle he believes his dad left for him.

Jeffrey Wright of “Angels in America” appears in the last scene, one of the most heartfelt scenes of the film. The story finally comes full circle, and it seems Oskar has closure after all. This is nominated for Best Picture of the Year, and although it doesn’t stand a chance, it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a while. I can’t wait to see what Thomas Horn does next. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan, Nicole Beharie, James Badge Dale
Director: Steve McQueen
Running Time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Rating: NC-17

‘Tis the season of Michael Fassbender. It seems this smoldering German-born actor came out of nowhere with roles in “Jane Eyre,” “X-Men: First Class” and “A Dangerous Method,” just in 2011, but his portrayal of a sex addict in “Shame” has to be the most buzzed-about role in Hollywood (not to mention his multiple full frontals.) With an NC-17 rating, I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to see this with my mother, however, I was so engrossed in the film that I didn’t have time to register how awkward it was sitting next to her. She compared “Shame” to another NC-17 film you’ve probably heard of: “Last Tango in Paris,” rated X upon its release (I feel weird admitting it’s on my to-see list, but Brando is a god…)

The first ten minutes of “Shame” don’t include dialogue, but we’re immediately hooked. Fassbender plays Brandon - a gorgeous, wealthy, young professional who considers NYC his sexual playground. He does a terrific job of bouncing between alluring and creepy in a matter of moments. Just making eye contact with a woman on the subway is enough to get her interested, until his stare becomes predatory, and she rushes off the train. He considers luring in women a game, but when no one wants to play, he has no problem purchasing his fun or dirtying up his hard drive.

As soon as we’re introduced to Brandon’s sister Sissy (played by the fabulous Carey Mulligan), we see where many of his problems stem from. She greets him with a full frontal for an inappropriate amount of time, and later sleeps with his boss in the very next room. Against his will, Brandon agrees to let her stay with him, yet she soon becomes a suffocating burden in his systematized life. Mulligan nails this performance. Though the audience doesn’t want to admit it, we feel sorry for Brandon. It’s Fassbender’s brilliance that allows him to make this character accessible enough that we can actually empathize with him.

We discover that a traumatic childhood is partially to blame when Sissy tells Brandon, “we’re not bad people, we just come from a bad place.” As the tension reaches a high point, Brandon attempts to kick his sister out, while cartoons play on the television in the background. The contrast between their threatening tones and the animated TV voices is disturbing.

It’s apparent that Brandon’s addiction forced him to isolate himself from the world, and he seems perfectly fine with it. However, he’s aware that his addiction is destroying him, and in an attempt to change his ways, he takes a co-worker (a flawless Nicole Beharie) out to dinner in a captivating scene - a ten-minute non-stop shot. When he realizes that he actually respects her, it frustrates him that he can’t use her to fuel his addiction. He decides his only “cure” is to go cold turkey, and he tosses out his disgusting laptop and collection of DVDs. This completely backfires and results in a binge – a really disturbing 15 minutes to watch.

The ending doesn’t leave you in a good place; in fact it left me with a lump in my throat and a fear of men on the subway. It’s a real shame that neither Fassbender nor Mulligan were nominated for Oscars for their work, as they were emotionally raw. Obviously this is not a movie you’ll want to watch with your family (trust me) or a first date (duh), but you’ll definitely be intrigued after watching the trailer.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Moose Cafe

Being a recent victim of wisdom teeth removal, I had to think ahead and visit numerous restaurants the week before my big surgery. I thought this gluttonous plan would allow days of chicken broth post-op to suffice, but after 48 hours, I was pretty souped out. (It’s also been torturous to watch my normal amount of Food Network.) I hope to be crunching my way through the city again before too long, but for now, I’ll share my reviews of the places I dined before the dreaded surgery. And just my luck, I didn’t even start out on a good note.

I hope my unfortunate experience at the Moose Café in Greensboro is because I “chose” a bad day to go. I’ve always heard how amazing the breakfast and farm fresh food is, so I was thrilled to stop in for lunch on my way to a Carolina Basketball game (Go Heels!) For some reason, the restaurant was understaffed and therefore terribly unorganized that day, because after taking our drink order, our server deserted us to wait on a party of 40. Granted, that’s a pretty big assignment, but shouldn’t we have been seated in someone else’s section in the first place? The pleasant but clueless hostess thus became our server. I was pleased to see two huge, fluffy biscuits brought to the table with homemade apple butter (YUM), but without said apple butter, the biscuits were just fair. If you pride yourself on being a farm fresh, southern restaurant, you should be able to whip up some outrageous biscuits.

My companion and I ordered vegetable plates, to see what the fuss was all about. Granted, it’s wintertime, so our choices were somewhat limited. My plate included Pickled Beets, Green Beans, Butternut Squash Casserole and Chicken and Dumplings – yes, Chicken and Dumplings counts as a vegetable in the South. All four dishes were only mildly warm, and the clear winner here was the Butternut Squash Casserole - very similar to sweet potato casserole, but chunkier. I’m a huge fan of dishes that are both sweet and savory, and this casserole nailed it. The Pickled Beets were good, though nothing standout, but the Green Beans tasted completely unseasoned. They easily could have been right out of a can. Chicken and Dumplings was essentially gravy with a few bites of shredded white meat chicken mixed in. My companion’s plate of Cabbage, Fried Okra and Pinto Beans was similarly unsatisfying, and when my companion leaves Pinto Beans on the table, you know it’s bad news. 

Luckily, our vegetable plates came with an awesome cornbread, once again playing between sweet and savory notes, and perfectly moist. This made up for the lame biscuits.

Though I was very much underwhelmed, I suppose I’d give the Moose Café another chance, but maybe in the summertime or for breakfast. The next time I want Southern style comfort food (though perhaps not farm fresh) I’ll hit up K&W.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Artist

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, John Goodman, Penelope Ann Miller.
Director: Michel Hazanavicius
Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rating: PG-13

There are some movies I just dread sitting through. I’ll admit I felt this way about “The Artist,” a black and white, silent film. This is 2012, people - all movies should have color and sound! However, the fact that it won the Golden Globe for Best Picture – Comedy or Musical, and with the name “Weinstein” attached to it, I knew it had to be good. Five minutes into the film, I understood all the hype. Jean Dujardin shines as silent film star George Valentin, who makes an unlikely friend in talking film star Peppy Miller (an energetic Berenice Bejo, who lives up to her character’s name!) After the studio head (John Goodman) announces that silent films will soon be the way of the past, Valentin refuses to lower himself to star in new “talking films.” He becomes desolate and forgotten, but with the help of Peppy and an adorable canine, he ultimately regains his title as show business king.

Being that this was my first silent film, I found it difficult to look away from the screen, thinking I might miss something. I had to solely focus on the visual element of the film, because there is no dialogue to keep the audience engaged. That being said, the lively score provided much entertainment and lingered in my head all afternoon. There were moments of text on-screen, though these were staggered throughout the film. The audience is forced to rely on the actors’ animated facial expressions to reveal exactly what is going on.

The year is 1927, and Peppy is a struggling dancer who gets a big break on one of Valentin’s silent motion pictures. The two connect instantly during a dance number, drawing some suspicion from his wife (Penelope Ann Miller.) Though the two never kiss, it’s clear there is an attraction. Valentin gives Peppy advice, “saying” she needs to stand out from other young wannabe starlets, and draws a beauty mark on her. This becomes her trademark, and she goes on to star in picture after picture. Before you can say “silent film,” she becomes the hottest thing in Hollywood (a pretty unrealistic portrayal of an actor’s rise to fame!)

Years later, Peppy (and her voice) are at the top of the talking film industry, while Valentin’s silent films bomb at the box office.  His recurring nightmares reveal noises to the audience for the first time: we hear a glass being set on a table, his dog barking and women laughing. It seemed his fifteen minutes of fame were up. Valentin became a nobody, and his only companion in the world was his Jack Russell Terrier, the most well-trained and loveable animal to grace the big screen since Shadow in “Homeward Bound.” (There was even a petition to get this dog, Uggie, a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination! It was shot down.)

The climax is a bit intense, and without ruining too much for you, Valentin is finally able to make it back to the top. We hear three spoken lines at the end of the film, which I thought was an interesting choice: it paralleled what was happening in the industry, that talking films had become the norm.

“The Artist” is a breath of fresh air, and one of the most feel-good movies I’ve ever seen. Have a little caffeine and go to your neighborhood indie film theater. The lack of dialogue was somewhat difficult to get used to, but there is no doubt you will be entertained.