Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category
Movie Review #734
Directed by Michael Bay. Screenplay by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. (Based on the magazine articles by Pete Collins.) Produced by Michael Bay, Ian Bryce, and Donald De Line for De Line Pictures, presented by Paramount Pictures. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly, Rebel Wilson, Ken Jeong, Michael Rispoli, Keili Lefkovitz, Emily Rutherfurd, Vivi Pineda, Yolanthe Cabau, Brian Stepanek, Persi Caputo, and Bill Kelly. Credited cameos: Nicholas X. Parsons, Trudie Petersen, Mike Tremont, Sabrina Mayfield, Chaz Mena, William Erfurth, Rey Hernandez, and Jerry Lantigua. Premiered in Miami, Florida on April 11, 2013. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release on April 26, 2013. Rated R: bloody violence, crude sexual content, nudity, language throughout and drug use. Runs 129 minutes.
I’ll give the story in simplest terms. This movie is about a trio of bodybuilders. Not just any bodybuilders, but the kind that believes bodybuilding is patriotic. And they get involved with kidnapping, murder, and extortion. With its outrageous story and characters, “Pain & Gain” could have been colossally entertaining. With its inspiration from several crime comedies, it could’ve been a hysterical black comedy. Without an actual director, however, the results are only mildly entertaining, and everything feels stupid and derivative. Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have made one terrible mistake here, and that was in selling their script to the wrong producers. The wrongest of whom is Michael Bay, the so-called director of this movie.
Bay retains all the substance in “Pain & Gain”, and it’s a huge relief that he does at least that, because he takes a mighty hard dump on the style. It’s pretty sad when the coolest thing we see in the film is slow motion. Especially when a song as awesome as Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold” is on the soundtrack…yeah, talk about misusing great rock music. “Pain & Gain” should be an outrageous, daring, and tasteful crime movie. The director himself called it a cross between “Pulp Fiction” and “Fargo”. Those being two of very few films that I have cited as my very favorite film (and I still cite the former). “Pulp Fiction” paid an (almost) humorous homage in “Pain & Gain”, in a specific scene that includes a) an accidental murder, b) the cleanup of that accidental murder, and c) a loony woman in a drug-induced coma.
That’s not all the comparisons to great crime flicks of the ’90s, though. Cited on the Blu-ray jacket is Kyle Smith (critic for New York Post), who refers to the movie as “‘Goodfellas’ on steroids.” Well, yeah, but let’s face it, Martin Scorsese is the only man on this planet who could’ve (and did) make a masterpiece out of “Goodfellas”. It’s no wonder “Pain & Gain” is a copycat bore. See, there’s the script, which is excellent, and then there’s the complete movie, which just isn’t. Wherever the aforementioned masterpieces are wild and audacious, “Pain & Gain” feels like a juvenile, ludicrous bloodbath. The results amount to barely a thing more than a loud, contrived movie, with a cast of characters who bask in the glory of working out, dropping F-bombs, snorting coke, and killing people.
Postscript: Apparently, “Pain & Gain” is based on a true story. I doubt it’s as convoluted as they’ve made it seem.
PAIN & GAIN IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
Movie Review #730
Directed by James Ponsoldt. Screenplay by Scott Neustadter an Michael H. Weber. (Novel: Tim Thorp.) Produced by Michelle Krumm, Andrew Lauren, Shawn Levy, and Tom McNulty for 21 Laps and Global Produce, presented by ALP. Starring Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Brie Larson, Kyle Chandler, and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Premiered at Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013. Distributed by A24 in limited release on August 2, 2013; and in wide release on September 13, 2013. Rated R: alcohol use, language and some sexuality – all involving teens. Runs 95 minutes.
A great movie is either too complex to put into words or simple enough to put into few words. Though if we narrow down “The Spectacular Now” to “boy meets girl,” it seems inaccurate. That’s the description of some of the most tasteless romances and, as “The Spectacular Now” pleasantly reminds, some of the most beautiful.
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley are greatly in control of this dramedy. Their relationship is set up on conversation, not circumstance. Think of Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in “Before Sunrise”. It’s much like that, except there’s more focus on establishing depth in the story, particularly during the final third, where the movie takes its chance to subvert our expectations. Though in getting to this end, character is a factor of equal pertinence; these are simple, familiar characters that are compelling because we know them, not of them. Writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber have reprised the same paradox they introduced in their 2009 romantic comedy “(500) Days of Summer”: that the story and characters are completely familiar, yet something feels extremely unconventional. Better yet, what exactly is unconventional isn’t quite so obvious as it was in their earlier nonlinear script.
“The Spectacular Now” is pretty, witty, and bright. Its celebration of “the now” is convincing, enthralling, and optimistic–even in moments of pure tragedy. It’s a dialogue-fueled, springtiming escapade with such freedom and vibrancy, that it may as well be set in the summer.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
Movie Review #729
Directed by Rob Thomas. Screenplay by Rob Thomas & Diane Ruggiero. (Story: Rob Thomas. Characters: Rob Thomas.) Produced by Dan Etheridge, Danielle Stokdyk, and Rob Thomas, for Spondoolie Productions and Rob Thomas Productions, presented by Warner Bros. Digital. Starring Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs III, Tina Majorino, Krysten Ritter, Enrico Colantoni, Andrea Estella, Ken Marino, Francis Capra, Ryan Hansen, Daran Norris, Max Greenfield, Jerry O’Connell, Duane Daniels, Amanda Noret, Christine Lakin, and Lisa Thornhill. Credited cameo: Jamie Lee Curtis. Uncredited cameo: James Franco. Premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival on March 8, 2014. Special screenings in Mexico City, Stockholm, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney on March 13 and 14, 2014. Distributed by Warner Bros. and Warner Bros. Digital Distribution in wide release on March 14, 2014. Rated PG-13: sexuality including references, drug content, violence and some strong language. Runs 107 minutes.
Veronica Mars lives in the fictional town of Neptune, California. She claims it’s not just a place where movie stars go and hang out, but then again, her colleagues exchange stories about Brad Pitt, and she can contact James Franco pretty easily. Anyway, she’s retired from her life as a sleuth for a whole nine years. This matches the seven years that separate the third season of the neo-noir TV series Veronica Mars from the film adaptation/followup of the same name.
All I really know of the story is what Kristen Bell and company presented in this year’s version. I know that the three seasons of TV’s Veronica Mars (2004-2007) featured the titular heroine as a teenage sleuth, and I know that Veronica’s father became a private investigator after he lost his job as the sheriff in the beginning of the series. I also know that Veronica herself is a private eye, and that she began by helping out her father on his private investigations. But I don’t really “get it.” I don’t understand half of the back story in the movie, because the script chooses to give brief, shallow explanations of what happened throughout the course of the TV series. “Veronica Mars” is for fans of the character, and maybe only those fans. Those who hold little familiarity with the series will find the setup rather confusing.
Though the characters are rather interesting, and interesting enough to make me curious about the original series. The story, as well, possesses quite some intrigue. This is a neo-noir, but it’s an unusual one with a genuinely quirky screenplay. The search for the man or woman who murdered a certain celebrity (who Veronica knows from high school) is told with style and charisma from director Rob Thomas, who also co-writes, produces, and created the TV series. Editing and cinematography are worth their mention, too; they’re just about top-notch.
If only that story was told more pointedly, this would be a much more gripping movie. “Veronica Mars” suffers from movie ADHD, and eventually, it’s created enough subplots that it’s not longer a movie; it’s just a reincarnated season of the TV show, minimized to two hours. I’m getting the sense that the TV series was a cult phenomenon in its time, and that this movie version is the final execution of a plan held since its cancellation: to bring back Veronica’s character. Apparently that was basically all they wanted in this movie. Even with great performances from Kristen Bell and Krysten Ritter, plus everything else I’ve commended the film for, the newfangled, 2014 “Veronica Mars” feels like less than enough.
VERONICA MARS IS IN THEATERS. IT IS ALSO AVAILABLE THROUGH VIDEO ON DEMAND SERVICES.
Movie Review #724
Directed by Kevin Smith. Written by Kevin Smith. Produced by Scott Mosier and Kevin Smith for Miramax Films, presented by View Askew Productions. Starring Brian O’Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Marilyn Ghigliotti, Lisa Spoonauer, Jason Mewes, and Kevin Smith. Premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 1994. Distributed by Miramax Films, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, New Vision Films, and UPLINK Company in limited release on October 19, 1994. Rated R on appeal: extensive use of extremely explicit sex-related dialogue. Runs 92 minutes. Alternate versions run 87 minutes and 102 minutes.
There’s a thing I really love about movies, more than just about anything, and that’s dialogue. Come on, admit it: when a movie is well-written, it’s a really good movie. Am I right or am I right? “Clerks.” succeeds immensely thanks to Kevin Smith’s dialogue. The movie’s filled with it, and seriously, the man’s a wordsmith. Everything from the VHS order scene to the Return of the Jedi debate to the very last, surprisingly philosophical scene is pure gold. Smith is technically an amateur, and I guess it shows in how silly this movie really is. But essentially, he’s representing the zeitgeist of the ’90s youth culture with every move he makes.
“Clerks.” was shot on a very modest budget of $27,575. The black and white you see was pretty much forced, but Kevin Smith and the gang make their way around this by delivering conversation as melodrama. It’s in the costume of a fifties movie, get it? It’s surprisingly how effectively the pack pulls this off, because you don’t need to look very closely to figure out that this isn’t a fifties movie. It’s more nineties than any other low-budget nineties movie, with its shaky camera, punk rock soundtrack, and foul mouthed characters.
Everything here is just so hard not to laugh at. (Or laugh with. I’m really not sure which one applies, and it may as well be both.) Considering the plot, the story has more cinematic value than it really deserves. All this really is is a sketch comedy, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the same thing as a 90-minute sitcom. It’s a day in the life film illustrating the misadventures of a convenience store clerk, and at about the midway point, the lack of plot begins to grow obvious. But by the end, the segments seen to tie together in a clean knot. At this point, the film gives its characters not on a philosophical level, demonstrating the most common pathological fear known to mankind; that a single day could be bad enough to destroy the remainder of one’s life. “Clerks.” presents a great load of humor in situations that we can all relate to. If that’s the kind of film we deal with, it’s proof that the micro-budget film isn’t always just an Ed Wood movie rotting in the jail cells of the public domain.
CLERKS. IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, AND VHS.
Movie Review #720
Blue Lake Media Fund
Bona Fide Productions
Echo Lake Productions
Distributor: Paramount Vantage
Spoken Languages: English – Spanish
Directed by Alexander Payne. Produced by Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa. Written by Bob Nelson.
Rated R by the MPAA – infrequent profanity. Runs 1 hour, 55 minutes. Premiered at Cannes Film Festival on May 23, 2013; at Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival and Vancouver International Film Festival on September 26, 2013; at Hamburg Film Festival on September 28, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 3, 2013; at New York Film Festival on October 10, 2013; at London Film Festival on October 11, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 13, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Austin Film Festival on October 25, 2013; at Thessaloniki International Film Festival and Cork International Film Festival on November 9, 2013; at Stockholm International Film Festival on AFI Fest on November 11, 2013; at Napa Valley Film Festival on November 12, 2013; at Ljubljana International Film Festival on November 13, 2013; and at Camerimage Film Festival on November 18, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 15, 2013. Wide release in the USA on January 24, 2014.
Starring Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Squibb, Bob Odenkirk, and Stacy Keach. Also starring Mary Louise Wilson, Rance Howard, Tim Driscoll, Devin Ratray, Angela McEwan, Glendora Stitt, Elizabeth Moore, Kevin Kunkel, Dennis McCoig, Ronald Vosta, Missy Doty, and John Reynolds.
“Nebraska” takes some time to get going, as far as its story, but there’s one thing that’s almost impossibly evident from the very beginning. From the opening imagery (a Paramount logo that stands as stock footage from the 1950’s) all the way up to the final shot (a depiction of Bruce Dern and Will Forte driving off into the distance), the movie is thoroughly graced with the most breathtaking landscape shots you’d find of the rural areas the father-son duo travel. It’s all filmed in the Beautiful Black and White, which can be (and, in this case, is) the very definition of the Nostalgic Now. For proof that such a paradox does exist, “Nebraska” is very much worth watching.
And let’s admit, the plot isn’t a story you see everyday. Can we truly say that we’ve seen a comedy-drama, or anything for that matter, about a father and a son who go cross-country for the possibility of a million dollars? (I say “the possibility” because sweepstakes are involved.) I sure don’t think that story’s the most usual one. This isn’t a new idea for director Alexander Payne, though. Remember “Sideways”? Yeah, the one about the guys who went a-ways just for some good wine. That’s kind of what this reminded me of, in its humorous side. Because no one goes all the way from Billings, Montana to Lincoln, Nebraska for a million-dollar scam. Oh and remember “About Schmidt”? The sentimental side of this movie seemed to put Bruce Dern in Jack Nicholson’s shoes as he searches his past. It’s a good bit of familiar territory.
This is more of a sentimental movie, however, so comparisons to “About Schmidt” seem significantly more welcome. (The acting, as well, is of a very similar caliber, particularly from Bruce Dern and June Squibb.) Rarely does it go overboard with its heart. It’s atmospheric in a way that’s compassionate, with characters that ultimately surprise us with how much they care about each other. No, this isn’t the dysfunctional family we saw in Payne’s “The Descendants”, but June Squibb (the mother) does not seem very approving of her son taking her husband, who likely has Alzheimer’s, to chase his dream. Actually, she doesn’t seem to approve of anybody, and there’s some good comedy that seems to result from this. “I’m going to go pay my respects,” she says, convincing husband Dern and son Forte to come with her to the graveyard. It’s not long before she finds the headstones of everyone of her deceased in-laws, and starts mocking their lives.
Indeed “Nebraska” is a flawed movie. There’s product placement left and right. Dr. Pepper, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Miller Lite, Coors, Coors Lite, Vizio, Kia, Mountain Dew, Bose, Onkyo, and more. You don’t really expect that of a movie so reminiscent of cinema’s Golden Age. But if there’s any one scene that best exemplifies the movie’s stronghold of beauty through all of this, it’s that graveyard scene. Or the fifteen minutes of finale. Eh, let’s go with both of ‘em.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
NEBRASKA IS NOW AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.
Movie Review #718
Ponti-Di Laurentiis Cinematografica
Distributor: Trans Lux (subtitled) – The Criterion Collection (subtitles)
Spoken Languages: Italian
Directed by Federico Fellini. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti. Story and screenplay: Federico Fellini & Tulio Pinnelli. Dialogue: Tulio Pinelli. Screenplay collaborator: Ennio Flajano.
Premiered at Venice Film Festival on September 6, 1954. Wide release in Italy on September 22, 1954; and in the USA on July 16, 1956. Runs 1 hour, 48 minutes. Not rated by the MPAA.
Starring Giulietta Masina, Anthony Quinn, Richard Basehart, Aldo Silvani, Marcello Rovere, and Livia Venturini. Featuring uncredited cameo appearances by Mario Passante, Goffredo Unger, Nazzareno Zamperla, Gustavo Giorgi, Yami Kamadeva, and Anna Primula.
“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back. Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” – The Book of Proverbs 9:3-5 (King James Version)
“The Fool is hurt.” – Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina)
There’s two different magnitudes at which one can identify a great filmmaker. There’s the Steven Spielberg magnitude, which basically denotes a director who can entertain and bust the blocks. Which is basically what the ideal director sets out for, so if you’re saying, “So and so the next Spielberg,” that’s some high praise.
It’s difficult to say about the director who helped found my love for movies, but that’s actually the lower magnitude in this idiomatic praise. The higher one is Federico Fellini, and no, he isn’t my favorite director, but he’s most certainly one of the three or four absolute greatest filmmakers there are. The man is of some serious talent. He’s an actor’s director, an writer’s director, and an artist’s director. He himself is indeed an artist, and although his movies are primarily in Italian, he has an unexplainable power to speak to the global audience with his curious comedy-dramas.
One of which is “La Strada”, which, for those who are familiar with a later classic of this director, I shall note as “4 1/2”. This is a film that starts off so well, you’d swear it couldn’t get any better. And of course, somewhere around the forty-minute mark, that’s precisely what it does. The crescendo is beautiful. Everything that made the film phenomenal to begin with lavishly aggrandizes. The cinematography is absolutely masterful, and I most greatly salute Otello Martelli for transforming “La Strada” into one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. It’s unnerving to think that the Academy completely overlooked the beauty in this film.
The acting is great all around. Anthony Quinn is as good as any individual in the cast. So is Giulietta Masina as his wife, Gelsomina, and those are some stellar performances I speak of. Brilliance surrounds this Zenlike masterpiece, the grand opus of a marriage that just isn’t working. The plot is so human, which is why it works. It doesn’t try and make a movie out of its story. In fact, the lead male is a circus performer in a one-man show, for those who are tired of seeing burned-out businessmen in lead roles. Or maybe the fact that this man’s a circus performer and a soloist is Fellinian symbolism for extreme self-love. There’s a lot of that symbolism here, and it doesn’t take that much looking-for. A beach scene, for example, where our lead woman walks in the sand dunes–on the higher ground.
The characters in “La Strada”, especially the central woman Gelsomina, are delightfully offbeat. And Gelsomina is a serious naïve. Particularly with such an individual, “La Strada” would be the perfect mystery tale in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock, but who am I to speak of Hitchcock when all is just perfect in the hands of Fellini? “La Strada” has held up for over a half a century, and I don’t doubt that it has a few more centuries left in it before the expiration date cometh.
LA STRADA IS AVAILABLE ON DVD FROM THE CRITERION COLLECTION. OTHER FORMATS INCLUDE VHS AND LASERDISC.
Movie Review #716
Baby Cow Productions
British Film Institute (BFI)
Magnolia Mae Films
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation – The Weinstein Company
Country: UK – USA – France
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Stephen Frears. Produced by Steve Coogan, Tracey Seaward, and Gabrielle Tana. Screenplay: Steve Coogan, Jeff Pope. Book “The Lost Child of Philomena Lee”: Martin Sixsmith.
Rated PG-13 on appeal – mature themes; infrequent, strong profanity. Runs 1 hour, 38 minutes. Premiered at Venice Film Festival on August 31, 2013; at Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2013; at Mill Valley Film Festival on October 6, 2013; at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 12, 2013; at Hawaii Film Festival on October 14, 2013; at BFI London Film Festival on October 16, 2013; at Chicago International Film Festival on October 17, 2013; and at Austin Film Festival on October 24, 2013. Limited release in the USA on November 22, 2013. Wide release in the UK on November 1, 2013; in the USA on November 27, 2013; and in France on January 8, 2014.
Starring Judi Dench, Steve Coogan, Sophie Kennedy Clark, and Michelle Fairley. Also starring Mare Winningham, Barbara Jefford, Ruth McCabe, Peter Hermann, Sean Mahon, and Anna Maxwell Martin.
In her younger years, Philomena Lee (Judi Dench) was separated from her young son by an Irish convent. This was kept a secret only she and the nuns knew for the longest time. Fifty years later, she wishes to find her son. She is assisted by an ex-reporter for channel 10 news (Steve Coogan); he also reported for, as she puts it, “that other job.” But this is only to figure out that her son has been dead for years.
I’ll spoil no more than that of “Philomena”. From the very beginning of the movie, I was reminded of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. This is a movie about a journalist teaming up with a disturbed woman to investigate a crime he will report on. Which I’m sure is a common premise, but “Philomena” earns the comparison. As if the true story it narrates isn’t horrifying enough, what director Stephen Frears gives us to chew on is absolutely disturbing.
That is why I’m a bit puzzled as to why on earth this was actually a dramedy. It works, but given the plot, any notion of comedy doesn’t make sense, logically. Flashbacks pervade the movie to illustrate Philomena’s haunted past. So does spirited conversation between the two leads (her and the reporter). The sudden shifts from the dismal into the charming feel uneven for a little while, but to much surprise, the script overall seems to pull it off rather masterfully. Philomena’s past (which she has kept secret for several decades) affects the way she behaves around people. Much to our enjoyment, she’s actually more whimsical and full of life than the average old lady.
“Philomena” is a slow moving but gripping and entirely rewarding movie. Steve Coogan’s performance is powerful; Dench’s, an absolute tour de force. Watch her conquer the whole movie, as the disturbed woman who cannot forget her past, as well as the spirited chatterbox who details the book she’s reading ever so thoroughly to someone who just doesn’t care. It definitely is flawed. But god do I hate to write something so meaningless about “Philomena” as much as you hate to read it. It’s like saying, “I looked for a flaw and, as you might guess, I found one.” There’s only one significant flaw that actually gets in the way of “Philomena”, and I’ve already mentioned that one. With the pathos that glows throughout the movie, it definitely COULD have been a great deal worse.
PHILOMENA IS IN THEATERS.
Movie Review #715
Paramount Pictures presents…
Denver and Delilah Production
Right of Way Films
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Jason Reitman. Produced by Diablo Cody, Lianne Halfon, Mason Novick, Jason Reitman, and Russell Smith. Written by Diablo Cody.
Rated R by the MPAA – profanity; infrequent sexual material. Runs 1 hour, 34 minutes. Limited release in the USA on December 9, 2011. Wide release in the USA on December 16, 2011.
Starring Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, and Hettienne Park. Also starring Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Jenny Dare Paulin, Rebecca Hart, Louisa Krause, Elizabeth Ward Land, and Brian McElhaney.
“Psychotic prom queen bitch.” – Kate Nowlin as Mary Ellen Trantowski
It’s a fleeting line from a supporting character, but that description says everything about Mavis Gary, played by the versatile Ms. Charlize Theron in “Young Adult”. Ms. Gary is a freelance writer, and to be more specific, she’s actually a ghostwriter for another unsuccessful author. She lives in the city and suffers from depression. It’s as if the movie was written for her, which isn’t what we’d expect before we press play.
Her ninety-minute persona is written by Diablo Cody and directed by Jason Reitman. The same crew that struck gold in 2007′s “Juno”. Maybe they’ve struck silver this time. The characters bear the same personalities here, it seems; they’re just different people in different situations. Still, it’s a clever movie with a message. I’ll note once more about Charlize Theron. Her transformation involves mind, body, and spirit. She gets an email that her ex-boyfriend (Patrick Wilson) has just had a baby, and she decides to go back to her hometown. Not for the baby, but to get back with her ex-boyfriend, who she last saw almost two decades before.
“Young Adult” is the perfect title for this movie. It’s not just about an author of young adult novels. It’s also about a 37-year-old who’s still living and behaving like a high schooler. So while it’s a fish-out-of-water comedy, and a black comedy, it’s also a late bloomer’s coming-of-age story. The tale most certainly isn’t run of the mill, but it could have been a bit less typical. I often wondered, have I seen this before? The bottom line is, it’s funny. Bleak enough that we’re led to hate the protagonist by the end, but it’s side-splitting even then.
YOUNG ADULT IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, AND NETFLIX INSTANT STREAMING.
Hello all! Today, I introduce a new feature entitled Short Film Smorgasbord. Each time one of these posts goes up, it’s three short film reviews for three short films.
The entire smorgasbord will count as one (1) review, and this time, they also happen to be (especially important) silents.
Oh and I’ll have a witty title for each smorgasbord (thanks a bunch to Committed to Celluloid for that inspiration).
Sherlock Holmes, Baffled that the Kelly Gang Made It into the Sealed Room
Movie Review #712
“Sherlock Holmes, Baffled”
American Mutoscope & Biograph. Distributor: American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Directed by Arthur Marvin. Character by Arthur Conan Doyle. Runs 1 minute. Wide release in the USA in May 1900. Starring Anonymous as Sherlock Holmes.
“Sherlock Holmes Baffled” is a simple but clever little short. The premise: Sherlock walks into a room to find a burglar. There seems to be a fantasy element to this movie—a humorous surprise that I dare not spoil—and as far as special effects, this 1900 motion picture is waaay ahead of its time. An effort that cracked a smile on my face, a reaction many modern comedies can only wish for. For the first movie to actually feature Holmes, this is quite a nice effort.
“The Sealed Room”
Biograph Company. Distributor: Biograph Company – Reel Media International – American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Languages: English intertitles. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Writer: Frank E. Woods. Based on the novel “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe and the story “La Grande Breteche” by Honoré de Balzac. Runs 11 minutes. Wide release in the USA on September 2, 1909. Starring Arthur V. Johnson as the Count, Marion Leonard as the Countess, and Henry B. Walthall as the Minstrel. Also starring Linda Arvidson, William J. Butler, Verner Clarges, Owen Moore, George Nichols, Anthony O’Sullivan, Mary Pickford, Gertrude, Mack Sennett, and George Siegmann.
It’s interesting to think that while epics of the last half-century emphasize hope in their respective stories, the epic film actually began with overwhelming tragedy. At eleven minutes, “The Sealed Room” isn’t long enough to stand as a part of this genre, but elongate it and it most certainly is. This isn’t as good as D.W. Griffith can get, but it feels like a considerable (and adequately gripping) precursor to his two best-known epics: “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Intolerance” (1916).
“The Story of the Kelly Gang”
J. & N. Tait. Johnson and Gibson. Country: Australia. Directed by Charles Tait. Produced by W.A. Gibson, Millard Johnson, John Tait, and Nevin Tait. Writer: Charles Tait. Runs 70 minutes (remaining footage runs 21 minutes). Wide release in Australia on December 26, 1906. Starring Elizabeth Tait and John Tait. Also starring Frank Mills, Norman Campbell, Will Coyne, Sam Crewes, Jack Ennis, John Forde, Mr. Marshall, Mr. McKenzie, Bella Cola, Vera Linden, and Ollie Wilson. With uncredited cameo appearances from E.J. Tait and Frank Tait.
Fun fact: 70% of all silent footage that was ever produced, has been lost. Technically, “The Story of the Kelly Gang” was the first feature film. Reports vacillate between time lengths of 60 and 70 minutes; the established minimum for a feature film is 40 minutes. 21 minutes of the movie remain, and not a bit of story can be discerned from it. It’s just violence, violence, and more violence. None of it’s graphic, morbid, or off-putting in anyway other than that it’s pointless. If I had to guess, I’d say this is a “Bonnie and Clyde” precursor, but what good does guessing do? What good is it when the movie forces you to guess? Perhaps there was an actual plot when this film (which ironically has “Story” in its title) was issued at feature length. But if I were to watch any random 21 minutes of a decent movie, I’m sure I would be able to make out at least half the plot.
The English Patient
ALL TITLES AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.
Movie Review #710
Charles Chaplin Productions
Distributor: United Artists (1931 release) – United Artists (1950 re-release)
Languages: English (intertitles)
Directed by Charles Chaplin. Produced by Charles Chaplin (uncredited). Written by Charles Chaplin. Uncredited writers: Harry Clive, Harry Crocker.
Passed by the National Board of Review. Later rated G by the MPAA. Runs 1 hour, 27 minutes. Limited release in Los Angeles, California on January 30, 1931; in New York City, New York on February 6, 1931; and in London on February 27, 1931. Wide release in the USA on March 7, 1931. Re-released in the USA on April 8, 1950.
Starring Virginia Cherrill and Charlie Chaplin. Also starring Florence Lee, Harry Myers, Allan Garcia, and Hank Mann.
Charlie Chaplin made “City Lights” during the blooming Sound Era as if to say, “I’m not yet done with silent movies.” It’s a pretty big leap of faith, but it succeeds, mainly because Chaplin is wholeheartedly dedicated to the movie. He spends the entirety of this pantomime doing what he does best—at his best. Slapstick with pathos, that would be.
The term pièce de résistance describes it perfectly. The literal French translation is “resistance piece,” and if “City Lights” isn’t, then few films actually are. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the term as “the most important or remarkable feature.” Once upon a time, I swore he couldn’t get any better than “The Kid”. But where that was a standing masterpiece, what we have here is the push over the cliff. Modest, but effective and exciting.
“City Lights” is clever to the point at which smiles are rarely without guarantee. “The Tramp” returns to star in this feature, as simpleminded and kindhearted as he ever has been. The movie beautifully envisions the romance between him and a blind woman. The Tramp is desperate to make money for this young woman, so that she can pay her rent and consult a doctor in Vienna who can perhaps cure her blindness. Fortunately, there’s a millionaire who’s willing to help. Unfortunately, this is a suicidal, drunken millionaire, so he’s often less than willing to help.
Any movie with the Tramp is a fish out of water comedy, but “City Lights” might as well be the standard by which that genre should be judged. It’s purely entertaining. I feel as if the title was meant as a joke Chaplin was knocking on the audience. The leading lady in this movie is blind. She can’t see city lights, and she has never seen city lights. Ergo, he who hasn’t seen “City Lights” is (cinematically) blind. Maybe I’m reading too far into the title, but at the very least, it works.
The Bourne Identity
CITY LIGHTS IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD FROM THE CRITERION COLLECTION. OTHER FORMATS INCLUDE VHS AND LASERDISC.