Saturday, March 31, 2012

Casa de mi Padre Movie Review

Will Ferrell is a successful sketch and movie comedian because he commits himself to the role one hundred percent and never wavers. I have faulted him in the past for giving too much of a knowing wink to his over the top performances and in his latest it’s the absence of that wink and his usual commitment, this time to the drama, that makes his performance admirable. However, Casa de mi Padre is not a drama. Well, it is in a sense because it’s made completely in the style of Latin American telenovelas combined with low budget Mexican cinema. So it’s a comedy by virtue of the fact that the filmmakers have deliberately set out to parody those styles.

Friday, March 30, 2012

25 Years Ago This Month: Raising Arizona Movie Review

The Coen brothers’ sophomore effort, Raising Arizona, was a far lighter follow-up to their dark noir tale Blood Simple. It’s a comedy in the style of Looney Tunes, with zany expressions, lots of screaming, and physical comedy. But then there are dark and sinister elements which make it a cartoon comedy for adults and maybe older kids. This is the first Coen brothers film I ever had any exposure to when it used to play on cable when I was a kid. I had no appreciation for the finer things at the time so I only took it at face value as an absurd comedy. Little did I know that eventually the filmmaking duo (Joel and Ethan co-write and direct, although in their earlier films Joel was the credited director and Ethan the producer) would become my absolute favorite filmmakers. And looking at Raising Arizona now, I can clearly see their usual themes and styles emerging. In fact they were still developing their own style at the time, but there are shots that they continually come back to and every one of their films contains at least one scene with “that Coen brothers feeling.”

Classic Movie Review: Charlie Chaplin's City Lights

As the cinematic rival of the stoic Buster Keaton it was Charlie Chaplin who infused his comedic work with great pathos through his perennial character of The Little Tramp. Chaplin constantly strove for that perfect balance between a lovably goofy man-child and moments of grand emotion. Never did he accomplish the blend so symmetrically and effortlessly it seems as with City Lights. It just might be his best work.

Made after the advent of synchronized soundtracks for films and at a time when studios had completely abandoned silent cinema, Chaplin insisted City Lights remained silent with respect to dialogue, retaining the custom of inter-titles because The Little Tramp was a universal character. He could be understood across cultures, across borders, across languages. Not to mention that every individual around the world who knew the character would have given him, in their own heads, a voice only they knew. To strip that all away would have been to unravel part of what made him so special.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Classic Movie Review: Charlie Chaplin's The Circus

The Circus is probably Charlie Chaplin’s best pure comedy feature. It doesn’t have the same dramatic level as his earlier The Kid or his follow-up City Lights. It’s no wonder this is the only Chaplin film that won any significant Academy Award (notwithstanding the fact that 1928 was the first year the Oscars were bestowed). The Academy removed his film from consideration as a nominee in four major categories and decided instead to award him an Honorary Oscar for producing, directing, writing and acting The Circus. It’s a film that perfectly sums up the Tramp as a character.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Classic Movie Review: Charlie Chaplin's The Gold Rush

This review is based on the original 1925 version of The Gold Rush with accompanying music provided on the DVD. In 1943 Charles Chaplin personally supervised a re-release version with original musical score and voiceover narration provided by Chaplin himself.

It’s hard enough these days to get easily engrossed in a silent feature film. The classics are worth watching, especially if you’re at all interested in understanding the development of narrative form on screen. It takes a great deal of mental focus and a commitment that you’re going to stick it out through more than an hour of silent viewing. Surely, just as with subtitled films, the more you watch them, the easier it gets. But I find Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush to be, at times, tedious viewing. It has great classic bits, but the story that holds it together is occasionally thrown together in a ramshackle way.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From My Collection: American Pie Movie Review

Sometimes I really wish I could experience things for the first time again. There’s nothing quite like seeing a hilarious comedy in a crowded theater early in its run, especially when you are smack within the age range of the target audience. I was 21 when American Pie came out and I saw it three times that summer. Although I’m sure I was much more likely then to enjoy a gross-out comedy than now, I was by no means a sheep that followed the masses when it came to movies. I’ve always had more discerning taste.

Charlie Chaplin's A Woman of Paris Movie Review

In 1923 Charlie Chaplin released his second feature film, A Woman of Paris. Although this film is all but forgotten because Chaplin is remembered for his classic comedies, there is a lot of value in this rare drama from one of the greatest clowns of the silent era. Chaplin had wanted to create a serious drama for his long time leading lady Edna Purviance, who had starred alongside him in a great number of comedies. As she got older and more mature, he felt she was no longer suited to comedic roles.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Movie Review: Gianni e le donne [The Salt of Life]

Gianni Di Gregorio’s second feature film The Salt of Life is billed as a comedy, but there’s an inherent sadness in this tale of a late middle aged Roman man taking a second stab in life at finding happiness through pleasures of the flesh. The film, written and directed by Di Gregorio, is a sequel to his 2010 comedy Mid-August Lunch. Not having seen the first film, I can attest that it’s hardly a prerequisite to enjoying the second.

Classic Movie Review: Charlie Chaplin's The Kid

Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid is unique among his films in that it’s the only time we see the Tramp as a family man. Normally he’s on his own and breezing through life. Occasionally there’s a girl and sometimes he even wins her in the end. But to see the Tramp with a child to care for reveals a side of the character unseen either before or after.

To be sure, the Tramp comes to fatherhood like most things in his life – unwillingly and unwittingly. At the start of the film a young woman leaves a charity hospital with baby in arms. Destitute and without means to care for the infant she leaves it in the car of a wealthy man. Regretful a short time later she returns, but the car has been stolen by two thieves who leave the baby in an alley. This series of coincidences leads to the Tramp finding the baby. He picks it up believing it belongs to a passerby. Yet one more coincidence – a passing beat cop – precludes the possibility he can put the child back in the alley. And so a father is born.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Charlie Chaplin Focus: Reviews of 4 Short Films for Mutual

These four short comedies by Chaplin are from volume 3 of a three volume set known as The Chaplin Mutuals comprising all 12 comedies he made for the Mutual company in 1916.

In Chaplin’s first short film for Mutual, The Floorwalker, he plays a customer in a retail store who becomes unwittingly mixed up in an embezzlement scheme involving the store’s manager and floorwalker. This is made possible by his uncanny resemblance to the floorwalker which provides for an oft repeated (most famously by the Marx brothers) classic bit in which Chaplin and his doppelganger (Lloyd Bacon) play like they’re each looking in a mirror at the other. What starts as another episode of the bumbling Tramp acting the fool becomes a classic mistaken identity comedy as the store manager (Eric Campbell) takes him for the man who betrayed him for the cash embezzlement. The Floorwalker is notable for being the first film to use an escalator for comedy which provides Chaplin some great physical comedy centered on one character chasing another down the ‘up’ escalator with neither of them moving anywhere. The climax features an elevator as well, the two working together to add a new level to Chaplin’s comedic work.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Charlie Chaplin Focus Starts Now

Last November I decided to take on the task of looking at a selection of Charlie Chaplin's feature film work as my focus for December. It quickly ballooned into including his short films as well because several were available on DVD at my local library. The onset of the end of year films and the Oscars kept me busy with other film viewing and I kept putting off my Chaplin focus. Finally this month I've been able to get through a large chunk of his work.

I can count ten of his short films and 11 of 12 feature films on the list of what I've seen. The Pilgrim is the only feature I've not been able to get either through the library or Netflix. But I've watched all the rest. There are still some short films I plan to watch before finishing this long and drawn out project.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Friends With Kids Movie Review

I saw a trailer for the upcoming comedy What to Expect When You’re Expecting, based on the best-selling book of the same name. Judging from the two minute trailer, it looks like yet another lowest common denominator comedy that gets the majority of its laughs from trafficking in stereotypes of the difficulties of parenting. In 2012 can Hollywood really do no better than jokes about incompetent dads who just don’t know what they’re doing? Seriously? This trailer came at the front of Jennifer Westfeldt’s startlingly excellent comedy Friends With Kids. The trailer for What to Expect doesn’t belong anywhere near the same screen as Westfeldt’s film.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

25 Years Ago This Month: March 1987

The Iran-Contra Scandal occupied much of the White House's time. Rebels moved into Nicaragua armed with American aid. The U.S. and the Soviet Union continued talks on the spread of nuclear missiles. U2 released The Joshua Tree. Disney CEO Michael Eisner reached a deal with French PM Jacques Chirac to purchase land for the construction of Euro-Disney and AZT was approved by the FDA for use in AIDS treatment.

Street Smart Movie Review: 25 Years Ago This Month

New York in the 1980s makes you think of grimy streets and a Times Square overrun by prostitutes, pimps and sex shows. To walk through those streets of Manhattan now is like another world compared to what’s on screen in Street Smart, a long forgotten 1987 film starring Christopher Reeve as a magazine reporter who gets unwittingly mixed up in the seedy underworld after committing a truly dunderheaded act of stupidity.

Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood Movie Review

Apparently rentals of silent films have spiked since The Artist won the Best Picture Oscar last week. If you want to see where Jean Dujardin found the inspiration for his character of George Valentin, look to the classic silent film actor Douglas Fairbanks. Fairbanks was the original swashbuckler costume adventure hero to become a major star. He started in comic roles and then transitioned to adventure films with The Mark of Zorro in 1920, but one of his most impressive outings has to be Robin Hood from 1922.