REVIEW: “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Thieves”

OSS 117 Poster

It may surprise some but the Oscar-winning juggernaut “The Artist” wasn’t the first collaboration between director Michel Hazanavicius and stars Jean Dujardin and BĂ©rĂ©nice Bejo. In 2006 the three came together to make the spy thriller spoof “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies”. These two films couldn’t be any more different yet there is an interesting similarity. “The Artist” was a silent movie that paid tribute to an often forgotten era of moviemaking. “OSS 117” is a parody of the old 1950s and 1960s spy pictures particularly the early James Bond films. While quite different in production and intent, both have sharp eyes when it comes to the era of filmmaking they take place in.

Jean Dujardin plays OSS 117, a French secret agent who is a cross between Bond and Inspector Clouseau. He’s sent to Egypt to investigation the death and disappearance of fellow agent and friend Jack Jefferson, to stop all fighting between the Americans and Russians, and bring complete and total peace to the Middle East. To this ridiculously unreasonable task he simply replies “No problem”. In the first few scenes you get a good idea what kind of movie this is and what kind of character OSS 117 is. He has the suave and debonaire looks of Bond but the intelligence and deductive skills of Clouseau. As he was getting his assignment from his superior, I couldn’t figure out who the film was spoofing more, a nitwit secret agent or the French government for actually sending this guy. Perhaps a little of both I think.

oss 117

He lands in Egypt and meets with his contact, a beautiful local named Larmina (Bejo). It doesn’t take him any time to show her and us his utter stupidity as he tries to impress with his incorrect knowledge of the country and his offensive comments about it. That gets to one of my favorite things about this movie – it’s definitely politically incorrect. OSS 117 manages to unknowingly yet repeatedly put down the country, its people, and even its religion. Some of these scenes are hysterical and this is when his buffoonery stands out the most. We also quickly learn that he couldn’t recognize a clue if it were parked right behind him. There are so many leads and bits of evidence in plain sight that anyone other than our bumbling protagonist could see.

There are also several other hilarious running gags the go on throughout the film. There is his infatuation with a light switch and the effects it has in a chicken house (I’ll leave it at that), a reappearing spy who constantly calls in 117’s locations, and one gag that specifically focuses on 117’s always perfect hair. All of these worked for me. But there are scenes where the film goes a little over the top. For example, there’s an intense shootout later in the movie but not with guns and bullets. The weapons of choice? Chickens! Now I’ll be honest, I did chuckle a bit at that, but overall it felt a little too outlandish.

With the exception of the parody, this film looks and feels like it could have been made by the filmmakers of the late 1950s. It’s set in 1955 and Hazanavicius goes to great lengths to recreate that. He does so not just with the cars, clothing, and interior designs, but also by using the same style of special effects. I particular loved the driving sequences with the obvious rolling video screen behind them. There are also a couple of fight sequences that feel yanked right out of that period.

OSS 117 (2)

Another highlight was Dujardin. He really impressed me with his sharp sense for comedy. He’s completely believable and brings out the silly shallowness of this character who’s more interested in opportunities to wear his tuxedo and learning to smoke cigarettes. Dujardin’s wacky array of postures and facial expressions work perfectly and Bejo is a wonderful compliment. There are also several other side characters that bring in some really good laughs.

Considering the absence of good quality comedies, “OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies” was a great find. I have to admit that Hazanavicius, Dujardin, and Bejo became known to me through “The Artist”. But because of the impression they made, I was immediately interested in this film just by seeing their names attached. It didn’t let me down. Now obviously this isn’t the type of comedy that everybody will respond to. But I loved the mix of subtle humor and over the top absurdity. And now I find out that Hazanavicius and Dujardin did a sequel? Sign me up!

VERDICT – 4 STARS

Oscar – The morning after…

Well it has come and gone. The 2012 Oscars seemed to get here in a hurry and be done just as quick. As usual for the more recent Oscars, there were few surprises. Most of the “Big 6” went as I predicted and the only real surprises were with the technical awards. But overall it was a fun night. Here’s a few thoughts…

Billy Crystal hosted the 2012 show after the Eddie Murphy debacle (or should I say the Brett Ratner debacle) and he did a solid job. Unlike last year’s odd and sometimes uncomfortable hosting from James Franco and Anne Hathaway, this was more grounded but still quite funny. Crystal used several tried-and-true antics such as the song detailing the Best Picture Nominees and the “What they’re thinking” segment. I found them and several of Crystal’s adaptive one-liners to be very funny. Several of the presenters provided some good laughs including Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone, Chris Rock (I was surprised, too), and of course Robert Downey, Jr. Oh, and c’mon Academy! Am I the only one who thinks that Downey, Jr. would be the funniest Oscars host of all time? Sign him up.

“Hugo” ended the night with five Oscars. It was awarded for its technical achievements and it’s hard for me to argue with that. “A Seperation” won for Best Foreign Language film which was followed by a rather unusual acceptance speech from director Asghar Farhadi. “The Descendants” won Best Adapted Screenplay and I was thrilled that “Midnight in Paris” won for Best Original Screenplay. Of course Woody Allen wasn’t there but did we ever expect him to be?

The supporting categories went exactly as expected. Octavia Spencer (The Help) and Christopher Plummer (Beginners) had already been christened the winners well before the ceremony began and that’s exactly how things played out. Spencer gave one of the most genuine and emotional acceptance speeches of the night and Plummer became the oldest Oscar winner ever. It was good seeing Nick Nolte recognized with a nomination even though I’m not sure he knew where he was last night.

Meryl Streep won Best Actress for her performance in “The Iron Lady”. That category had turned into a two person race and I really felt that Viola Davis had a good chance to win. But Streep was awarded for a performance that certainly outweighed the rather mundane and mixed reviewed movie. The Oscar media had tried their best to sell the whole Clooney (“The Descendants”) versus Pitt (“Moneyball”) Best Actor race. But as I expected (and hoped), Jean Dujardin won the Oscar for his wonderful performance in “The Artist”. Working with several more handicaps than the other nominees, Dujardin nailed his performance and deserved the award. His acceptance speech and subsequent dance showed his enthusiasm and I found myself applauding from my recliner.

The night only got better for “The Artist”. Michael Hazanavicius won the Best Director Oscar which is almost always a sign of which film will win Best Picture. Last night was no different. Hazanavicius’ gutsy project won Best Picture and I have no problem with it. While I was personally rooting for “The Tree of Life”, this was a case where the Academy got it right. “The Artist” was a nostalgic but touching film that felt plucked right out of the silent movie era. I loved seeing it win.

So while it was a fairly predictable night, it was a good night. The stars played dress-up and movie fans witnessed new films and new performances added to that Valhalla of motion picture history. I went 5 for 6 in the “Big 6” categories so that speaks to the shows lack of suspense. But there were some genuinely funny moments and some good movies received their due.

It’s Oscar Time….

We are only a couple of hours away from the 2012 Oscars. It’s the Super Bowl of movies minus the mystery and minus without the clear deserved winner when the show is over. But it’s still fun and exciting, filled with stars and linking a new group of Oscar-winning movies with a great history. So with just minutes to go, once again here is what I expect to happen tonight…

Tonight will be a big night for “The Artist”. I fully expect it to take home the Best Picture Oscar with its closest competition being Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants”. While personally I’ll be rooting for “The Tree of Life”, it has no chance. This is a two movie race. I also expect Michel Hazanavicius to win Best Director, an award than often times signals what film will be winning Best Picture.

The Oscar media is desperately trying to hype a George Clooney (The Descendants) vs Brad Pitt (Moneyball) Best Actor race but Pitt really has no shot. This is a race between Clooney and Jean Dujardin (The Artist). While Clooney is the golden boy of Hollywood is was strong in “The Descendants”, I expect Dujardin to win the Best Actor Oscar and rightly so.

Yes, Meryl Streep has been nominated 257,000 times and only won twice. Yes, many believe she will win tonight for her work in the underwhelming “The Iron Lady”. I’m not one of those believers. I think Streep will settle for another nomination as Viola Davis gets the win for her work in “The Help”. While it’s also a flawed movie, Davis’ performance outweighs Streep’s and it’s hard to argue with her winning.

The Supporting awards are pretty much a sure thing. Octavia Spencer will easily beat her “The Help” co-star Jessica Chastain (who should have been nominated for her much stronger performances in “Take Shelter” and “The Tree of Life”). Christopher Plummer seems to be the Academy’s choice for Best Supporting Actor already even though I would much rather see Nick Nolte get it for “Warrior”.

I’m hoping “Midnight in Paris” and “Hugo” get some love tonight as well but these are the big winners. What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree? Feel free to share below. One things for sure, it should be a fun night.

The 2012 Oscar Nominees Announced…

 

The 2012 Academy Award nominations have been announced and, just as expected, there is plenty to talk about. This year’s list features several snubs, several surprises, and several Academy misfires. But then again, isn’t that what we’ve come to expect? And isn’t that just one of the things that makes the Oscar conversation that much better? Here is the list of the nominees for “The Big 5” categories. My prediction (not my personal favorite) will be in bold print but as always, it’s subject to change. There will be a lots of interviews and promotions over the next few weeks but here is how I think things will turn out:

Actress In A Supporting Role

THE NOMINEES:

Bérénice Bejo (The Artist)
Jessica Chastain (The Help)
Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids)
Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs)
Octavia Spencer (The Help)

I know we all like mystery and surprises when it comes to Oscar night but I don’t see there being any here. Octavia Spencer has dominated this category in the pre-Oscar awards shows and I don’t see this as being any different. Of this group I would have a hard time voting against her. I felt Jessica Chastain had the best female supporting performance of the year but it wasn’t for “The Help”. Her work in “The Tree of Life” was better but her very best work was in the underappreciated film “Take Shelter”. That was the best female supporting performance. But for Oscar night, expect it to be Octavia Spencer.

Actor In A Supporting Role

THE NOMINEES:

Kenneth Branagh (My Week with Marilyn)
Jonah Hill (Moneyball)
Nick Nolte (Warrior)
Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close)

I LOVED seeing Nick Nolte get a nod for his work in “Warrior”. It was my favorite male supporting performance of the year and it was the best work Nolte has done in years. Unfortunately Plummer has this category all but locked. Everything has pointed to Plummer and there is nothing about this list of nominees that would make me think otherwise. That being said, I’ll still be rooting for Nolte.

Actress In A Leading Role

THE NOMINEES:

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)

This is one of the most intriguing categories of the night. Meryl Streep has gotten all of the pre-Oscar awards show buzz but don’t count out Viola Davis. Many are trying to hype up the two person race but I think for good reason. Streep may be hurt by the fact that “The Iron Lady” is a very sub par movie and while “The Help” had its flaws, it’s a better picture. My personal favorite performance of the year was from Juliette Binoche for “Certified Copy” but out of this group I would prefer Davis. But my gut tells me Streep is the favorite.

Actor In A Leading Role

THE NOMINEES:

Demián Bichir (A Better Life)
George Clooney (The Descendants)
Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy)
Brad Pitt (Moneyball)

Once again my personal favorite of the year is left out. I thought Michael Shannon was nothing short of brilliant for “Take Shelter” but there are some really strong performances in this group. I love seeing Bichir nominated but he has no shot. Oldman was fantastic but he has no chance. Brad Pitt gave the second best performance of his career and his second best performance of the year in “Moneyball” but he won’t win. It all comes down to Clooney and Dujardin. While Shannon was my favorite male performance of the year, Dujardin was a close second. Clooney was fantastic even though “The Descendants” wasn’t as polished as many think. Of this group I would love to see Dujardin take home the gold. But I think Clooney carried his movie and has enough charm in Hollywood to win on Oscar night.

Best Picture

THE NOMINEES:

The Artist (Thomas Langmann, Producer)
The Descendants (Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers)
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Scott Rudin, Producer)
The Help (Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers)
Hugo (Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers)
Midnight in Paris (Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers)
Moneyball (Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers)
The Tree of Life (Nominees to be determined)
War Horse (Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers)

My favorite film of 2011 was “The Tree of Life” but “The Artist” was right behind it. Michel Hazanavicius creates a gorgeous film from start to finish and I think it will win on Oscar night. But it’s not a done deal just yet. “The Descendants” is high on many lists and has a good shot at winning. While I loved many of the other movies (specifically “Midnight in Paris”, “Hugo”, “Moneyball”, and of course “The Tree of Life”), this is a two-horse race and at the end of the day I feel “The Artist” will win Best Picture and I’m fine with that.

TOP 10 MOVIES of 2011

Keith & the Movies: The Top 10 Movies of 2011

2011 wasn’t the best year for movies at the theaters but there were several films that certainly left a lasting impression. As always, here is my Top 10 list of the year’s best films:

#10. “MISSION IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL” – The latest installment in the Mission Impossible series is also one of the biggest surprises of the movie year. Straightfoward and unashamed, “Ghost Protocol” moves at a lightning fast pace and features it’s most polished cast yet. Tom Cruise is perfectly comfortable with his character and the addition of Jeremy Renner gives the movie more weight. But “Ghost Protocol” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a fun, pedal-to-the-floor, action picture. It succeeds and it does so without the usual pretenses of most of the action films generated out of Hollywood.

#9. “MONEYBALL” – A baseball movie based more on sabermetrics that world championships doesn’t sound like a winning formula. But thanks to Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin’s masterful screenplay and one of the best performances of Brad Pitt’s career, “Moneyball” turns the story of Billy Bean and the 2002 Oakland Athletics into one of the better films of 2011. The movie stays away from the normal sports movie cliches and deals more with the unique personalities and even more unique approach to team building by Bean. It never lulls or misses a beat. “Moneyball” isn’t just a film for sports fans, it’s a film for movie fans.

#8. “CONTAGION” – Steven Soderbergh’s clinical, viral outbreak thriller is one of the only movies that made me squirm in my comfy theater seat (and I mean in a good way). Fast-paced and exceptionally written, “Contagion” never feels forced or fake. The film features a wonderful cast and it’s not afraid to turn any of them into one of the many viral casualties. It draws you in and will have you doubling your supply of hand sanitizer. Soderbergh’s direction is top-notch and this is one of the best thrillers to hit theaters this year.

#7. “CERTIFIED COPY” – Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” is small in scope but huge on substance. Led by two pitch perfect performances from Juliette Binoche and William Shimell, “Certified Copy” had me questioning everything about these two fascinating lead characters. It’s ambiguity may turn off some but the razor sharp script, tight direction, and impeccable performances help make this one of the best films of 2011.

#6. “WARRIOR” – I’m no fan of mixed martial arts but “Warrior” nicely uses it as a backdrop to a riveting story of a shattered family. Both Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton are fantastic but it’s Nick Nolte who delivers the best supporting performance of the year. While it does end up using several common sports movies cliches, “Warrior” is still a stirring family drama about consequences and reconciliation. There’s plenty of testosterone but there’s also plenty of heart and “Warrior” is a film I can watch over and over again.

#5. “HUGO” – Martin Scorsese’s love letter to cinema is also one of the best films of the year. Whether it’s the beautiful story of Georges Melies or the tender story of young Hugo Cabret, “Hugo” delivers two heartfelt stories and brings them together for a wonderful motion picture experience. “Hugo” is one of the few movies to make great use of 3-D and Scorsese’s visual style is present in every scene. “Hugo” reminds us of the artistry and power of cinema and once again puts the talents of a movie making master on display.

#4. “MIDNIGHT IN PARIS” – Few movies have grabbed me and pulled me in like Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris”. It incorporates the perfect amount of romance, humor, and magic while showing just how wonderful a romantic comedy can be. Allen beautifully captures Paris, makes it the main character, and causes us to fall in love with it. Sure, it’s a tad predictable, but I didn’t want it to end and it’s easily one of the year’s best pictures.

#3. “TAKE SHELTER” –  Jeff Nichols’ near flawless examination of mental illness is both devastating and heart-wrenching. Michael Shannon delivers the very best performance of the year and Jessica Chastain is magnetic. But it’s the genuineness and relatability of these fantastic characters that drive the film. While the ending has been a subject of much debate, it does nothing to undermine this griping movie.  Micheal Shannon is brilliant and so is “Take Shelter”.

#2. “THE ARTIST” – Part moving love story and part celebration of the joy of cinema, “The Artist” is a glorious piece of motion picture entertainment. This gorgeous French film, written and directed by Michel Hazanavicius, captures all of the glory of the black and white silent picture era while offering genius storytelling at it’s finest. Jean Dujardin gives one of the year’s best performances and it’s impossible not to be drawn in by his charm and overall command of the screen. This is a brilliant film and a monumental accomplishment.

 #1. “THE TREE OF LIFE” – This deeply personal picture from director Terrence Malick is both beautiful and crushing and provided one of the most mesmerizing movie experience I had in 2011. The film is filled with tender family moments and emotional gut-punches. From the gorgeous cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki to the best performance of Brad Pitt’s career, everything clicks in this stunning piece of cinematic poetry. While ”The Tree of Life” requires thought and patience, the end result is an emotionally satisfying picture regardless of your interpretation. This was my favorite film of the year.