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“The Artist” is a modern French interpretation of an old black-and-white silent movie, which is to say that you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a film idea which would have to travel a more difficult road in order to find a wide American audience.1

However unlikely the concept, though, “The Artist” is poised to do just that. Michel Hazanavicius, previously best known for his O.S.S. series of Spy Parodies, leads Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo into new territory with a movie which manages to be both a tribute to a film-making era gone by and also one of the most emotionally potent movies that I have seen in some time.

Many critics have been happy to pull out the “Silence is Golden” trope in their reviews, anticipating the almost certain Oscar nominations for the film and its cast (not to mention for the wonderful score by Ludovic Bource). They’re right to do so. “The Artist” has some incredibly nuanced performances and, believe it or not, one of the most compelling ones is by a dog. Uggie is a Jack Russell Terrier who steals every scene he appears in, prompting an ad-hoc Twitter campaign to get him an Oscar nomination as well.2

Watching Dujardin and Bejo tap dance together was also a revelation to me: The wordless joy that these scenes express is the real thing, not an ironic, tongue-in-cheek gesture or some sort of “Hey — Look at me dance in the 1920’s!” exercise that some of Hollywood’s recent forays into the era have produced. The film’s American production design team also really nailed the look and feel of the time, adding so many fun little grace notes for the audience to pick out.3

And yet with all the tap dancing, period artifacts, and performing dogs, “The Artist” manages to remain a serious film about love and pride. It is, without a doubt, my favorite film of 2011.

  1. Please — Don’t consider this an invitation to submit your own “Springtime For Hitler”-esque suggestions. []
  2. This would be well-deserved and a return to Oscar’s origins, if you believe the story about Rin-Tin-Tin receiving the most votes for Best Actor in the Award’s first year. []
  3. A favorite: Watching Dujardin’s character, slinking away from an auction where all of his personal movie star memorabilia was sold, almost get hit by a car in front of a marquee which reads “Lonely Star” []

Some Companies Know How To Do “Customer Service” Right!

Thought I’d quickly share a couple of good experiences:


I’ve owned an external battery/hardshell case for my iPhone called Mophie Juice Pack Air since it first came out. For me — someone who tries to leave their laptop at home whenever possible — it’s been a fantastic purchase, enabling me to work from my phone by extending my battery life (and providing some sturdy protection as well!).

But no product design is perfect. Several people have dinged the Juice Pack Air on its page because, it seems, that its Achilles’ Heel is the micro-USB port used to charge it and to allow your iPhone to sync with your computer. Lucky for me — my problem was only an “intermittent connection” which would start a sync with iTunes every time I touched the USB cable. Annoying… but not a show-stopper.

Still, it was annoying enough to contact Mophie about it. They immediately sent instructions on how to return the Juice Pack Air — along with a pre-paid shipping label. After unsuccessfully digging around for a receipt, I decided to roll the dice and send it in anyways. Even though the product had been released less than a year ago and, thus, was still within the warranty period, some companies would have sent it back to me saying “Sorry — Can’t help you without a receipt!” or “We’ll fix it… for (insert amount that you don’t want to pay here)“.

To Mophie’s credit, they weren’t looking for a technicality to avoid providing warranty service. They were looking to take care of their customer. The day after they received my defective battery, they sent out my replacement.

And speaking of Amazon…

Yesterday, there was a great thread on Ask Metafilter where someone was asking for recommendations of music similar to Miles Davis’s score for a movie called Ascenseur pour l’échafaud or, as it’s known in English, Elevator to the Gallows.

I’m as much a fan of good, smoky, Film Noir jazz as anyone, so I took note of the suggestions and then went over to to buy some MP3s! First selection…. Undercurrent by Bill Evans and Jim Hall.

And, for the first time since I started buying music through Amazon, something went wrong. The download never started and, when I went to my Account page, it claimed that I had already downloaded my album. A quick email to customer service receive a quick reply in return:

I’m sorry there was a problem downloading your recent MP3 purchase.

I’m not sure why this happened, but I want to be sure you get the album you ordered. I’ve restored access to the download. Please try to download from Your Media Library on

Pretty straightforward and, more importantly, written in human language! They didn’t make me read through a bunch of cut-and-pasted boilerplate language about how my business “is valuable to them”… only to then make me jump through a bunch of hoops before even trying to fix my issue. There was a person on the other end who understood my problem and what it would take to resolve it.

Anyhow, for as much airspace on the internet is devoted to venting when companies fail us, I felt that a little “counter-programming” was in order. Companies, after all, are made up of individual people — and people that make an effort to “do the right thing” should get a little attention as well!

Gina Trapani’s new blog is a “must read” for people who use technology to improve their lives.

Former Lifehacker guru, author, and former Brooklynite Gina Trapani is back in action with her new blog, Smarterware.

The quote she uses in the footer of her new site tells me that this is probably a less-corporate, more heartfelt venture :

“Be true to your work and your work will be true to you.” —Charles Pratt

Best of luck to you, Gina!

How nations choose to cooperate to fight the spread of organized crime (or, in many cases, choose not to) can tell us a lot about our priorities as citizens of our respective countries — and as members of the larger world.

This article originally appeared at

When Ludmila first succeeded in escaping, she was handed back to her pimp by the duty sergeant, who happened to be a client of the brothel. In response, she was beaten senseless by her “owner”. The second time she got away, she handed herself in to a police station in another part of town. As is habitual, she was charged with being an illegal immigrant and thrown into a detention center for several months as her deportation order was processed.

When she finally arrived back in Chisinau, destitute and traumatized for life, Ludmila could not return to her home, partly for reasons of shame but above all for fear of being found by her traffickers. Hers is an everyday story of life in Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Egypt, and Israel.

The day after I had spoken to Ludmila, her case worker called. “I forgot to mention,” she said, “Ludmila is now HIV-positive.” Unsurprisingly, combination therapy is not readily available in a country such as Moldova.1

[Read more…]

  1. Glenny, M. (2008). McMafia: a journey through the global criminal underworld. pp. 109-110. New York: Knopf Books. []