Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

INSIDE DAISY CLOVER (1965)
One of those gassy, overlong, turgid melodramas that Hollywood loved to churn out in the 1960s: too big, too much, too overdramatic, but with really grand production design. Natalie Wood at 28 plays a 16 year-old girl who goes into the Hollywood machine in the 1930s and becomes an overnight sensation, but nearly loses her soul doing so. The movie is so timid about its themes (especially homosexuality) that it can't find a way to deal with them honestly, so it tries to go for Gothic grandness and just looks sillier. Wood overplays it, making Daisy Clover about as dimensional as a Dead End Kid. Except for the production design and an excellent performance from Ruth Gordon as Daisy's disturbed mother, this is a total waste. *1/2

MEGAMIND (2010)
Surprisingly good. Though it's advertising suggested a much more horrible film, this is a surprisingly human character piece about responsibility and potential. I could do without the overly earnest voiceover, and I am beyond sick of seeing animated movies that end with all of the characters dancing for no reason, but I really enjoyed this one. It's not The Incredibles, but it's not Shrek the Third. Of course, as we've seen in the comments here, I'm wrong when I like DreamWorks movies that aren't huge successes that three-year-olds will love (because Katzenberg really seems to believe the key to making toddlers love a movie is to make them about existential crises and star cameos) and that will spawn 10 sequels. But oh well. Guess I'm some kind of Philistine. ***1/2

LOL (2012)
I can see why Miley's latest star vehicle sat on a shelf for two years. It should've stayed there a lot longer. It's an annoying drama about an entitled teenage girl who whines about how entitled she is and about how her mother won't just shut up and let her be all entitled. Miley Cyrus is proving more and more to be someone who only had one thing in her (Hannah Montana) and the painful limitations are more obvious than ever in her half-hearted acting career and her increasingly arbitrary music career. She'll probably come back on an ABC Family sitcom when she's 30. This movie is so terrible that I wish it had a face I could punch it in. At least Chicago looks nice on film. Zero stars.

ABIGAIL LESLIE IS BACK IN TOWN (1975)
From the Porn Chic era, an era I love. But I didn't love this one. Rebecca Brooke plays a woman whose rival comes back to town and starts sleeping with everyone who isn't chained to the wall. It tries to explore some dramatic themes, but the actors aren't really up for it (Sarah Nicholson as the main character is even laughable at times). There's no joy or happiness to it; I've never seen an adult movie that's such a drag. It's like Bergman, but with more nudity and less recognizable humanity. **

COONSKIN (1975)
Ralph Bakshi's third film after Heavy Traffic and Fritz the Cat is also about the urban nightmare, but with an even more racial bent (including the horrifying title, which was the producer's and not Bakshi's). It's a very interesting movie. It's a modern, urban take on Uncle Remus, about three characters who leave the South and head to Harlem thinking it'll be a black paradise, but only finding more violence and poverty. It's done in a graffiti art style that's still controversial, but which I find an interesting stylistic choice. Rather than amusing himself with blaxploitation stereotypes, Bakshi throws them in your face and forces you to deal with them for what they are. He does the same with some really outlandish queer stereotypes and Italian stereotypes (the film is in part an attack on The Godfather and what Bakshi found to be the offensive way in which it granted the Mafia a nobility that was dishonest). It's hampered by a lack of focus in the last third; or maybe it just gets to be a little too much by then and it wore me down. It's a visceral, haunting experience that, like a lot of Bakshi movies, is well-animated, confrontational, and often horrifying. ***

THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1975)
I really enjoyed this. I've never been able to make it to the end of The Pink Panther or A Shot in the Dark, but this one was a lot of fun. It was just silly and enjoyable; like a silly take on a James Bond movie. Or, given the way Bond movies were in the seventies, like a Bond movie. Peter Sellers is very funny, but I'm sorry they couldn't get David Niven to reprise his role as the Phantom from the first movie. Christopher Plummer is good, even with his big seventies hair, but no one is suave like Niven. The identity of the jewel thief is pretty obvious from the outset, but the movie was so funny I didn't really care. Also: incredibly good animation in the title sequence by Richard Williams and Ken Harris. That alone is worth seeing. ***

BY THE SUN'S RAYS (1914)
Lon Chaney in an early role as a guy who stands around and talks to other people who are standing around and talking. Also, something about a robbery. But mostly standing and talking. **

CINDERELLA (1914)
Surprisingly interminable take on the Perrault fairy tale. At 50 minutes, it's downright turgid. Mary Pickford stars in the title role and spends a lot of time staring off wistfully into the distance. I found the movie's morality hilarious: it paints going to see a fortune teller as the height of ignorance while fairy godmothers are what? A fact of nature? **1/2

MAKING A LIVING (1914)
Charlie Chaplin's first film. In his big top hat and his baggy jacket, his head looks disconcertingly big. That was an odd distraction. He plays a swindler who keeps stealing from one man, and then there's a cop chase. Not an epic, but Chaplin is funny and compelling as he always would be. It really doesn't take watching that many silent films to show you just how far and away Chaplin was from them in talent. It's amazing to watch, even here in its formative stages. ***

KID AUTO RACES AT VENICE (1914)
The first released (but second-filmed) appearance of the Little Tramp. This one is hilarious; it's about a newsreel crew trying to film scenes of a baby cart race in California, but the Tramp keeps getting in the shot. It was actually shot at a real race with Chaplin and the crew pulling gags in front of spectators. It's really funny, but it goes on just a smidge too long, getting repetitive in the end. ***1/2

MABEL'S STRANGE PREDICAMENT (1914)
Chaplin's first filmed appearance as the Tramp is in this comedy with Mabel Normand as a hotel guest who gets locked out of her room. Complications ensue, the best of which is the Tramp as a drunken admirer. Kind of predictable, but Chaplin is great. **1/2

BETWEEN SHOWERS (1914)
This is another great example of how Chaplin is just so precise and fluid in his comedy. Here, the Tramp and another tramp compete over who gets to help a woman avoid a muddy puddle after a rainstorm, and then over whether an umbrella belongs to her. Even the way Chaplin turns around can be hilarious. But as the rival, Ford Sterling is much too broad and obvious. ***

A FILM JOHNNIE (1914)
Chaplin again, as the Tramp falls in love with a girl in a Keystone picture and travels to the studio to rescue her. Some good sight gags involving silent filmmaking, and some funny cameos. Ford Sterling is funnier here playing himself for half a minute than he is in all of Between Showers. ***

MABEL'S BLUNDER (1914)
Mabel Normand in an overlong romp leading up to an incredibly obvious and ancient punchline. This was her 172nd film. **1/2

THE AVENGING CONSCIENCE (1914)
A long American take on Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." It's heavy-handed (it wouldn't be Griffith if it weren't), but there are a lot of good things in it, particularly a vision of hell that the protagonist suffers at his lowest. ***

THE BRAVE ONE (1956)
A touching film about a Mexican boy and the bull he raises from birth. From day one, the bull is destined for the arena, and Leonardo tries hard not to let that happen. It's one of the most rewarding boy-and-his-animal films I've ever seen, though the third act loses me a bit because of the spectacle of bullfighting; I'm sorry, but you'll never convince me that cornering, wounding, and baiting an animal is noble in any way. But the ending makes up for a lot. ****

1 comment:

Tallulah Morehead said...

"Lon Chaney in an early role as a guy who stands around and talks to other people who are standing around and talking. Also, something about a robbery. But mostly standing and talking."

That can be so dull in a silent movie. Dullest movie ever made? The 1923 version of My Dinner With Andre.