Before it was hyped out of proportion and won the Oscar for best picture, "The Artist" was a terrific film, fun and satisfying.
A love letter to Hollywood, Michel Hazanavicius' silent film reminds us of the power of moving pictures while reveling in the antics of 1920s cinema, when clowns like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, and leading men like Douglas Fairbanks ruled the box office.
"The Artist's" George Valentin (Oscar winner Jean Dujardin, star of the popular "OSS 117" series of French spy spoofs) is one of the latter (almost Rudolph Valentino), and everything about him glistens as much as his smile. He has adoring fans, a devoted dog and a beautiful but less-enchanted wife (Penelope Ann Miller).
But talkies are coming, which is something George balks at.
He then meets an aspiring young actress whose energy matches her name, Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo). Later he runs into her on a staircase. She is walking up, he down.
"The Artist" then winds its way on a path that revisits some film classics like "Singin' in the Rain," ''A Star Is Born," ''Citizen Kane" and "Vertigo," with even a bit of Bernard Herrmann's score from that film inserted during a key scene.
But even if you're not a complete film geek, "The Artist" oozes charm and wit. Dujardin and Bejo have the style and grace to have succeeded on the big screen in any era, and there are nice turns from John Goodman and James Cromwell.
Sometimes the film is almost too clever, but it's also impossible not to admire it and to give in to its movie magic.
-- A different Snow
Tarsem Singh's "Mirror Mirror" was the first Snow White retelling this year. This one is more of a comedy-action picture with Julia Roberts as the evil Queen, Lily Collins as Snow White and Armie Hammer as the Prince.
You know the story by now, but "Mirror Mirror" has a few variations. The most obvious one is that in this era of princess empowerment, this Snow isn't going to submit to her fate without a sword in her hand.
Roberts' Queen is less evil than she is a 40-ish woman trying to squeeze into a tight dress and catch a man's eye and jealous of Snow's youth. Can't fault a girl for trying.
While not always sharp on the jokes (Nathan Lane provides most of the comic relief and Roberts and Hammer have an amusing puppy-love scene), "Mirror Mirror" mostly succeeds in its look. The late Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka's costumes are brilliantly eye-catching, and Singh keeps things spinning, if not always coherently.
-- From TV to big screen
Based on the cop show that made Johnny Depp a star in the late 1980s, the remake of "21 Jump Street" once again falls into that category of "why?" Except for the vague premise of sending cops back to high school to pose as students to catch bad guys, the two have little in common, so the filmmakers were doing little more than buying the title and story line.
Though the original show was entirely forgettable, it was an attempt to capture the youth audience with a cool lead. The new movie is another silly action bromance. Starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, it isn't entirely unwatchable but has little jump.
-- And keep in mind
If you don't have DirecTV, you didn't get to see Season 4 of one of the best shows on television, "Damages," starring Glenn Close as high-powered cutthroat lawyer Patty Hewes, and Rose Byrne as protegee Ellen Parsons. Season 5 begins July 11.
There is now a Blu-ray editon of John Boorman's great film "Deliverance," and Criterion has a remastered version of Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps."
The Artist $30.99/ Blu-ray $35.99
21 Jump Street $30.99/ Blu-ray $35.99
Wrath of the Titans $28.98/ Blu-ray $35.99
Mirror Mirror $29.98/ Blu-ray $39.99
The Decoy Bride $24.98/ Blu-ray $29.98
Oranges and Sunshine $29.95/ Blu-ray $34.95
A Thousand Words $29.99/ Blu-ray $39.99
Bullhead $27.97/ Blu-ray $29.97
Damages: The Complete Fourth Season $45.99
Law & Order: Criminal Intent -- Year Seven $49.97
Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns: Season 6 $29.98
Agatha Christie's Poirot: Series 5 $39.99/ Blu-ray $49.99
The 39 Steps: The Criterion Collection $29.95/ Blu-ray $39.95
The Samurai Trilogy: The Criterion Collection $59.95/ Blu-ray $69.95
Deliverance Blu-ray $44.99
The Night of the Grizzly $24.95
TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection: Humphrey Bogart (They Drive by Night / Across the Pacific / Passage to Marseille / Action in the North Atlantic) $27.92
TCM Greatest Classic Legends Film Collection: Joan Crawford (Humoresque / Mildred Pierce / The Damned Don't Cry / Possessed) $27.92
Dora the Explorer: Dora's Rescue in Mermaid Kingdom $16.99
Iron Man: Armored Adventures -- Season 2, Vol. 1 $14.93