The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Detective Pikachu (2019) Review

Title: Detective Pikachu
Year: 2019
Director: Rob Letterman
Country: US
Language: English

At 9 years old, I was the right age for the Pokemon craze that shook North America in the late 1990's. I played Pokemon Blue for Gameboy Colour daily, constantly traded cards on the playground, and obsesssively watched the original anime. When Pokemon: The First Movie hit theatres in 1999 I demanded we go on day one, and was excited to get a promotional mewtwo card for doing so. Detective Pikachu is the perfect film to fuel my nostalgia.

Ace detective Harry Goodman goes mysteriously missing, prompting his 21-year-old son Tim (Justice Smith) to find out what happened. Aiding in the investigation is Harry's former Pokémon partner, Detective Pikachu (Ryan Reynolds)

The first "live action" Pokemon movie, fans of the franchise have been waiting for a film like this for two decades. The realistic style of the Pokemon is the film's greatest asset. These incredibly detailed designs are based on the artwork of RJ Palmer, a fan turned concept artist, who was discovered when a production designer stumbled upon his work on the internet. The CGI in Detective Pikachu is spectacular as it gets every teeny detail, down to the way the pokemon's hairs move in the wind, down to perfection.

I love the neo-noir atmosphere. It wraps a more modern screenplay with the sensibility of classic Hollywood films like The Big Sleep. While there are many references, such as Seinfeld's "Serenity now", we aren't encumbered by them and the film maintains a fine balance of comedy and drama. The screenplay does a tremendous job at foreshadowing and keeping the audience on its feet. The film is light enough to appeal to children, but doesn't dumb down its material and thus engages adults as well.

The pokemon who appear in Detective Pikachu are fairly well known in the mainstream and thus even adults in their 40's who don't have the nostalgia I do for the franchise will like the film. It's a good movie, I wish I had movies like these as a kid.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Meek's Cutoff (2010) Review

Title: Meek's Cutoff
Year: 2010
Director: Kelly Reichardt
Country: US
Language: English

The other day I was in the mood for a slow-paced meandering film that doesn't really go anywhere and doesn't make you think too hard. Too often when a movie crawls at a snail's pace it's trying to make you think and introspect, like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Too often when you're not trying to think you get a movie that speeds far too quickly, like Avengers: Infinity War. Meek's Cuttoff was the perfect film for my mood. 

Settlers traveling through the Oregon desert in 1845 find themselves stranded in harsh conditions. Meek (Bruce Greenwood) is their guide, but it's not clear if he actually knows where they're going. If they don't find food & water soon they will die. 

Director Kelly Reichardt doesn't give us a typical three act structure, "hero's tale" or even a clear narrative. Meek's Cuttoff is an observational movie about man's conflict with nature, and, in the case of Meek & the indian, man's conflict with man. It is a picture of quiet desperation, of a slowly rising suspense that permeates the picture. 

Meek's Cutoff never overstates the harsh conditions for dramatic effect, rather the cinematography shows us the true implications for our characters. We are shown large looming landscapes that are often quite barren and uninvolved. The lack of light, and lack of anything apart from our travellers, show how imprisoning their situation is. Quite remarkable how a film like this can still be made. 

This picture is quite polarizing, as its pace and lack of action will turn off a considerable amount of people, but if this isn't one of the best films of the 2010's then I'm not sure what would qualify. Meek's Cuttoff is quite an accomplishment, deserving of all the awards a film could be given. 

An Eastern Westerner (1920) Review

Title: An Eastern Westerner 
Year: 1920
Director: Hal Roach
Country: US
Language: English

Harold Lloyd is best known for hanging off the clock in Safety Last! (1923), an enduring image in classic cinema. In the 1910's he was just coming into his own in Hollywood, working with Hal Roach to create an "everyman" persona who's comedy came from unwavering confidence in the face of tremendous adversity. They called this persona the "Glass" character & it would eventually rival Keaton's "Stoneface" & Chaplin's "Tramp" in terms of popularity in the 20's. An Eastern Westerner (1920) would be made just as his popularity was about to skyrocket into the stratusphere. 

A spoiled rich city boy is shipped off to a ranch in the 'wild west ' by his father. Therin he is swooned by a woman and bullied by an outlaw. 

Early two-reeler comedy Westerns were often made cheaply and thus had a very low production quality. It was often quire obvious that they were made in a studio, with the actors in front of a painting or low quality set. An Eastern Westerner is notable because the setting is incredibly detailed. It's dusty and rough looking, with big outdoor sequences that take us back to that era. It certainly feels like we've been transported to the Wild West. 

An Eastern Westerner is a very satisfying comedy that is consistently clever and amusing, offering an assortment of gags and a decent love story. LLoyd comes off as quite charming; his character is quite likeable especially compared to his previous shorts. The build up to the manic chase scene, which seems to have obviously inspired A Hard Day's Night, is worthwhile and proves the picture also had an excellent choreographer on set. 

Though I'm a bigger fan of his feature length work, Harold Lloyd's shorts are nothing to dismiss either & An Eastern Westerner is the best of them. With a run-time of only 20 minutes, this is a film you have time to see TODAY. What are you waiting for? Go watch it! 

Hollywood Shuffle (1987) Review

Title: Hollywood Shuffle
Year: 1987
Director: Robert Townsend
Country: US
Language: English

Director Robert Townsend had the audacity to put $40,000 of the film's $100,000 budget on credit cards. He was very lucky that the film proved to be a hit, otherwise he'd probably have filed for bankruptcy. Indeed, aside from some small acting gigs  he was not well known, but due to Hollywood Shuffle's financial/critical success he became established in the industry. 

In this, Bobby Taylor wants to be a respected actor. From Sam Spade to Shakespeare to superheros, he can do it all. He just has to convince Hollywood that gangstas, slaves and "Eddie Murphy-types" aren't the sum of his talents.

Funny enough, Robert Townsend himself auditioned for SNL, but was rejected in favour of Eddie Murphy. Townsend's dissection of Hollywood's treatment towards black actors is honest, refreshing, biting and funny. Some of the film is straightforward narrative, other parts are sketch comedy. I love the parody of Siskel and Ebert named Speed and Tyrone  who sneak into theatres and give their ghetto take on movies. 

Amadeus is slammed by Speed and Tyrone...for being too hard to pronounce. Townsend is great at writng material that makes fun of tired stereotypes that are still being treaded over 30 years later. Though instead of a gangster, Hollywood has found new use for black people; best friend of superhero in Marvel movie. Townsend makes his point over and over, without making the audience feel like they're being lectured to or preached at. 

Townsend's Hollywood Shuffle is poingant and entertaining. Though most of the actors he employs are not well known, they each bring a distinct charm and charisma to the screen. Combine these factors with a breezy runtime of 1hr 18min and you've got a nice afternoon treat.

Paris is Burning (1990) Review

Title: Paris is Burning 
Year: 1990
Director; Jennie Livingston
Country: US
Language: English

"My father always said you've got three strikes and you're an outcast in America. Well dad, I've got three. I'm black, I'm male and I'm gay." Jennie Livingston's Paris is Burning (1990) proves to be a unique queer documentary that combines the harsh reality of being an outcast with the thrill of gay pagentry. Even if you're cis you'll find something to love about this captivating picture about a community you may rarely encounter. 

Paris is Burning is a chronicle of New York's drag scene in the 1980s, focusing on balls, voguing and the ambitions and dreams of those who gave the era its warmth and vitality.

Rotating between footage of a grand gay ball and interviews with members of the ball community, Livingston creates a meaningful picture that demonstrates the longings, desires and moods of people who are often shut out from society. We hear about the social injustice experienced by the community by the outside, but also feel the warmth of those who feel celebrated by other lgbtt members. 

Its sad to see 14 year old teenagers talking about being kicked out of their home for being gay, but its nice to see that these people have their own "mothers", which are often drag-queens, that help them get back on their feet. These underground New York families feel quite liberating when compared to the oppression of the mainstream world. Livingstone's documentary, made during a very homophobic era, is effective in helping us question our own prejudice & encouraging us to be more accepting. 

In the film, a drag-queen named Dorian Corey says "In a ballroom you can be anything you want. You’re not really an executive but you’re looking like an executive. And therefore you are showing the straight world that I can be an executive. If I had the opportunity, I could be one." Paris is Burning is filled with these incredibly defiant lines that demand we question the way our society functions. It's a remarkable film. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Thief of Bagdad (1940) Review

Title: The Thief of Bagdad
Year: 1940
Director(s): Berger, Powell & Whelan 
Country: UK
Language: English

Forget Disney's "Live Action" remake Aladdin (2019) & dismiss the original animated Aladdin (1992) as well. The Thief of Bagdad (1940) , which itself is a remake of a great silent, blows both films out of the water. It was made during a time in which the West's fascination with oriental fantasies and legend; particularly those that consisted of romance, action and adventure, was at its peak. The next picture that would fully capture the beauty of an often overlooked civilization would be Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and that would be two decades later. 

After being tricked and cast out of Bagdad by the evil Jaffar (Conrad Veidt), King Ahmad (John Justin) joins forces with a thief named Abu (Sabu) to reclaim his throne, the city, and the Princess (June Duprez)  he loves.

The source for this picture, A Thousand and One Nights was first published in 1704 and were a collection of stories throughout the East that mixed real people and places with fantastical elements. Fragments from here exist in plenty in Thief of Bagdad, such as the genie that Abu finds in a washed up bottle. The chief premise of the film’s story is that Bagdad has a crisis of leadership, with a king who is far from “well guided.” Released around the same time as Chaplin's Great Dictator & just as Britain was preparing for war with Germany,  the notion that failed leadership could bring in the downfall of country was an all too real feeling at the time. 

A mix of political allegory and MUCH needed escapism, Thief of Bagdad is a sheer visual spectacle that is a joy to behold even if some of the effects, such as the genie flying, look incredibly dated. If I had a child, I would love to show them this 70+ year old picture as it captures the minds of the youth and brings forth great creative inspiration. Its technicolor is a wonder to behold; looking even better than other classics like Wizard of Oz (1939).

Perhaps in 2019 we can have more screenings of Thief of Bagdad, in hopes that Americans and Europeans become much more tolerant to the cultures of the Middle East. Albeit, this certainly isn't an accurate or politically correct interpretation, it still is a humanizing picture that would be better at spreading peace than most current American films about this area. Hard to tell. I had an excellent time watching this picture and I would love to spread the love of it. 

The Plague Dogs (1983) Review

Title: The Plague Dogs
Year: 1983
Director: Martin Rosen
Country: US
Language: English

Animation that exists solely to make adults feel bad about themselves is quite rare, so when the opportunity comes to watch it one must pounce on it as the characters in The Plague Dogs pounce on poor defenseless sheep. Anybody who has seen his earlier adaptation, Watership Down (1978), knows that Martin Rosen's animation style is as bleak as it comes. 

In this, two dogs escape from a laboratory and are hunted as possible carriers of the bubonic plague.

The film opens with a Labrador named Rowf (Christopher Benjamin) being drowned in a controlled experiment by the white coats. Yep, it's that nihilistic. Though anthropomorphised, the animals don't behave in a human-like way, as they would in a Disney feature. Rather the dogs behave like dogs and have very instinctual dog-like motivations. Their main goal throughout the run-time is to simply survive. 

In interviews Rosen has claimed that the film wasn't made to send a "message" or to give any looming moral lesson, but jeeze, if you didn't think animal experimentation was bad before this picture you will now. The Plague Dogs offers none of the comforts we are accustomed to in our animation; even the book's original ending has been altered to be far more bleak. 

While Watership Down (1978) is the better picture, Rosen's second directorial effort proves to pack quite a punch to the gut. Its attraction, being the fact that its downbeat, unfortunately means that it is often overlooked and will never fit in with the mainstream. I am very grateful to have seen this wonderful work of art. 

Monday, June 10, 2019

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) Review

Title: Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Year: 2001
Director: John Cameron Mitchell
Country: US
Language: English

"My sex change operation got botched. I've got an angry inch!" One of the most punk muscials to come out of Broadway, Hedwig and the Angry Inch proves to be a bizarre-yet fun- film adaptation that has a trans-person who is far more fleshed out than Rocky Horror Picture Show's Dr. Frank n' Furter (Tim Curry). Hedwig is a rather complex character than has a whole lot of heart, even though it's not always easy to sympathize with her. 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is about a transgender punk-rock girl from East Berlin, who tours the U.S. with her band as she tells her life story and follows the former lover/band-mate who stole her songs.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch is rife with political, cultural, and social discourse. Hedwig is transformed by the socio-cultural pressures and gender displacement issues that affect her character. In one scene she is rejected by her lover because of her "angry inch" and, perhaps for the first time, I felt the true anguish that trans-people go through daily. To be constantly rejected, just because you don't have the right equipment, must be deeply heartbreaking. 

The film isn't entirely heavy with emotion; there are many scenes that are hilarious because they are filmed in such a cheeky way. I loved the brief parts with Luther, her first love, who slowly feeds Hedwig with all the gummy bears she can handle, leading to the song "Sugar Daddy". Even the big reveal of what "Angry Inch" means had me laughing out loud. 

Hedwig and the Angry Inch (2001) is a musical that will play with your emotions. One minute you'll burst out laughing, another you'll be fighting to hold back tears. I was deeply impressed with this picture. Previously I didn't think the 2000's had any great musicals, but I'm glad I was wrong.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Smithereens (1982) Review

Title: Smithereens
Year: 1982
Director: Susan Seidelman

Country: US
Language: English

Not unlike Barbara Loden's Wanda (1970), Susan Seidelman's Smithereens (1982) has a main character who is irritating, contemptible, and tragic. Wren (Susan Berman) is a wrench; a compulsive liar filled with narcissism. In many ways she reflects her time period and her hometown. Even though the character is terrible. it can be fairly easy to identify with her. She's cool, charismatic, and funny.  Thus proves a great exercize in empathy within a unique character study.

In this film, a narcissistic runaway engages in a number of parasitic relationships amongst members of New York's waning punk scene.

New York City, the setting for this film, looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Wren says it's as if the world has been "blown to smithereens" and the people are still living in the debris of the catastrophe. The allure of degradation in Smithereens creates an uneasy atmosphere of entrapment, desire, and self-destruction. 

Shot with a bare budget of $40,000, Seidelman's picture pulls us into the gritty underground of a city that had just come out of bankruptcy. This New Yotk, one that desperately needs a second chance, is one that no longer exists. The punk scene is gone and everything is square. Smithereens is a time capsule picture about the down-trodden; the gritty underbelly of American culture that is vying for a chance to belong and hold some importance in the world. 

Bold, impressive, and on the fringe Smithereens is a masterpiece in film-making. Like the main character, it's a true underdog that deserves to be heard by many. The soundtrack is also remarkable; it truly enhances the atmosphere of the film. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Wanda (1970) Review

Title: Wanda 
Year: 1970
Director: Barbara Loden
Country: US
Language: English

In 1966, while Barbara Loden was married to household name Elia Kazan (On the Waterfront), a mutual friend named Harry Schuster, offered Loden $100,000 to make her own movie. She used this to write the screenplay for Wanda, but unfortunately it did not attract any Hollywood directors, including her own husband. Loden decided to direct it herself and collaborated with cinematographer/editor  Nicholas T. Proferes in order to give the picture a very minor budget of $110,000, 

Wanda (Barbara Loden), a lonely housewife, drifts through mining country until she meets a petty thief (Michael Higgins) who takes her in.

The only American film to be accepted in the Venice Film Festival in 1970, Wanda won the International Critics' Prize that year. The film is notable because there were so few women film-makers in New Hollywood & Loden was able to break new ground on such a small budget. Loden's character is somewhat of an anti-heroine; not strong in any-way that would appeal to feminists and very noteworthy for being imperfect. Wanda feels like Bonnie and Clyde (1967) blended with Five Easy Pieces (1970).

Through her main protagonist Loden says a lot about her fellow women's lack of autonomy in their own lives. Even a half century after women getting the right to vote, its seems like women don't fully feel in control of their own destiny. In one scene Wanda wants to work, but she is told, from her male boss,  that the only work available is for men only. I appreciate Loden's ability to speak honestly and from the heart; the lack of/absence of female filmmakers in American Cinema is something we viewers often take for granted. 

Wanda is a great overlooked picture, perhaps the greatest picture depicting the difficulties & frustrations of the average woman (in the sense of a lack of autonomy). I loved it, will watch it many more times, and will encourage everyone I know to view it through their own eyes. Loden deserves a great amount of praise.