By G. Michael Dobbs
A romantic comedy and a Oscar-winner are featured in this week's DVD column.
Normally I would avoid most any film that has the word "bride" in it only because of the prospects of yet another romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor funny.
But when "The Decoy Bride" was delivered to me, I knew I had to watch it. First, the film was shot in Scotland my wife is Scottish and second, it stars David Tennant.
Who? That's right, but actually you might know him with a title: Dr. Who.
Tennant is no longer traversing time and space in the long-running British science fiction series and he returned to his native Scotland to make this film.
The problem is the publicist sent the review copy in the Blu-Ray format instead of a DVD. I had to upgrade my technology in order to watch it, so I hoped it was actually worth of all of the expectations and the $100 in a new gizmo.
I'm happy to say this film is actually funny and the romance is actually acceptable even to this old curmudgeon.
Tennant plays James, an author who is engaged to Lara, a world famous movie star (played with sympathy by Alice Eve), and a woman who can't get a private moment away from the paparazzi. In an effort to thwart the press, the couple decides to get married on a small island that is part of the Hebrides.
At the same time, a resident of the island is coming home after her failed engagement. Kelly Macdonald is Katie, who seems to be willing to resign herself to a kind of exile.
When a persistent photographer shows up on the island, Lara's management comes up with a plan to fool him: stage a phony wedding with a decoy bride. Katie is recruited when they offer her 5,000 pounds.
Although Tennant's name may attract American fans to the film, the movie is really Macdonald's and she shines. She is a familiar face from a number of films including "No Country for Old Men," the last "Harry Potter" film and "Nanny McPhee," among others.
Now for those who might think a film full of Scottish accents would be a challenge, don't worry. Everyone makes allowances for non-Scottish audiences.
This little film is a lot of fun.
Perhaps the most celebrated film from last year, "The Artist" is now out on DVD and Blu-Ray. I wrote about this movie when it was in theaters last year and was eager to see how it would be presented on home video.
The extras are pretty standard interviews with the cast and crew and a gag reel and I was surprised that they did not include something about the inspiration for the film and whether or not there were models for the characters and the events.
If you've not seen "The Artist" I urge you to do so.
Since "The Artist" was the first silent film many people had seen and not one from the silent era of cinema I thought it would be appropriate to present some information that might shed some additional light on the film and the time it recreates.
Did an actor like George Valentin really exist?
In interviews, star Jean Dujardin said his inspiration was Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Gene Kelly. That's very apparent, as Valentin is cocky like Fairbanks, who was also extremely likable. The director even used a clip from Fairbank's first Zorro film as a wink to the audience. I think, though, the part of the film that chronicles Valentin's fall is modeled after John Gilbert.
Gilbert was a major star in the silent era. He is the actor who has been surrounded by a myth that his voice was so bad that sound ruined his career and he drank himself to death.
In reality, Gilbert's voice was just fine, but his clashes with MGM head Louis B. Mayer had more to do with crashing his career than sound. Gilbert was put into some poor films that spurred the legend about his voice.
Gilbert, sadly, suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 39 that was undoubtedly brought on in part by his drinking.
Were there actors who decided to direct themselves who had disastrous results like Valentin?
One of the silent film's celebrated comics, Harry Langdon, had a near meteoric rise to fame after years of near obscurity. Frank Capra directed Langdon's most successful features, but Langdon dumped him. The comic directed three features in the late 1920s that showed he really didn't understand his own on-screen character very well.
Did silent films disappear as quickly as the film shows?
The success of "The Jazz Singer" in 1927 convinced many studios and theater owners that sound which had been tried before was worthy of investment.
By 1929, most films boasted of having recorded dialogue and sound effects. By 1930, only a relative handful of films were silent.
Only Charlie Chaplin resisted recorded dialogue and, like Valentin, thought sound was artistically inferior to silent films. Chaplin didn't perform any dialogue in his movies until he made "The Great Dictator" in 1940.
What's a short list of silent films to view?
Watching comedy is frequently the best way to break into silent film and I'm a huge fan of Buster Keaton. Try "Sherlock Junior." Harold Lloyd's films also hold up well and "Speedy" is a treat. Fairbanks' "Robin Hood" is a lot of swashbuckling fun. For something serious and a bit twisted Erich von Stroheim's dramas can't be beat.
One of my favorite silent films is Fritz Lang's science fiction fable "Metropolis," now finally in a version that restored Lang's vision from 1925.
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