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, May 26, 2018

Private Snafu: Booby Traps (1944) Review

Title: Booby Traps
Year: 1944
Director: Chuck Jones
Country: US
Language: English

Military slang for Situation Normal: All Fucked Up, Private Snafu is a series of black-and-white instructional cartoon shorts made for American troops during World War Two. Created by Frank Capra, chairman of the US Army Force Motion Picture Unit, and written by Dr.Seuss, these films were designed to instruct service personnel about sanitation, security, the enemy and, of course, booby traps. 

Pvt. Snafu (Mel Blanc) thinks he's too smart to get caught by an enemy booby trap, but he soon finds that the traps are alluring and that he is every bit the booby.

Walt Disney initially was given the go-ahead to make these cartoons, but they demanded exclusive ownership of the character and merchandising rights, thus the contract was given to Warner Bros. Originally a government secret - for the armed forces only, these cartoons were rated highest among polls of the soldiers' favourite films. It's not hard to see why; as the cartoons did not adhere to the Production code at the time. 

As a result of not needing to adhere to censorship, Private Snafu had the freedom that civilian pictures did not. This is most apparent in Booby Traps, a short that is mainly about female breasts (albeit the breasts are replaced with bombs). Although the beginning is fairly tame; we see snafu getting milk from a camel, he eventually goes to a brothel full of booby...traps. 

Though Booby Traps doesn't represent the most risque snafu cartoon, in A Lecture on Camoflauge we actually see naked women, it's still the funniest of the bunch and a neat look into the cartoons of the time. Hopefully we will never need cartoons like this again. 

Red Hot Mamma (1934) Review

Title: Red Hot Mamma
Year: 1934
Director: David Fleischer 
Country: US
Language: English

As a result of ongoing controversy- catholics outraged at the animated heroine's suggestive sexual nature- pressure from Paramount meant that the Fleisher studios had to tone down Boop. This cartoon would be one last chance to raise a middle finger to the preachy censors. In Red Hot Mamma our beloved flapper literally goes to hell. 

It's a cold winter night and Betty Boop lights a fire. Unfortunately she is still cold and the only thing that can warm her are the fires of hell. 

Rejected by the British Board of Film Censors in the United Kingdom due to depicting hell in a humorous manner, its clear that the Fleisher Studio didn't give a shit when it came to offending the more religious in society. Boop shorts had already become less compelling because of being forced to tip-toe around the issues and soon this would be the last cartoon of hers to have a jazzy score (somehow jazz also = devil?) . 

Red Hot Mamma is a marvel to look at; its animation is impeccable and the surreal nature of the story is a spectacle to behold. The plot is quite thin, but considering how few cartoon characters in cinema have gone to hell, especially in those days, one can still be captivated by the sheer rarity. The creative jokes throughout make for a good laugh; it's quite a fun cartoon that has aged very well. 

Delightfully gratuitous silhouette images of Betty in her nightgown aside, Red Hot Mamma may not be one of the studios' greatest Betty Boop cartoons, but it is certainly one of the most daring. It deserves to be beloved based on courage alone. 

Snow White (1933) Review

Title: Snow White
Year: 1933
Director: Roland Crandall
Country: US
Language: English

Walt Disney wasn't the only animator with the famous fairy tale Snow White on his mind in the 1930's. Though David Fleischer is credited as director, Roland Crandall did virtually all of the animation in this Betty Boop short. He received the opportunity to make Snow White on his own as a reward for his many years of devotion to the studio. The result? A milestone in the Golden Age of American Animation. 

A magic mirror proclaims Betty Boop to be "the fairest in the land", much to the anger of the Queen. 

Snow White plays it very loose with the narrative of the original fairy tale. Only a few of the most obvious elements of the tale's story- the evil queen, the magic mirror, the glass coffin- are retained. The rest is a weird, yet entertaining, departure. There's a two minute long sequence in which a clown is tranformed into a ghost with the voice of Cab Calloway. 

A little bit of history; in the 1930's, decades before the Civil Rights movement, African American entertainers were often not allowed to play in clubs or receive air-time on the radio. For many, the only time they could get their voice out was through animation, where they wouldn't be seen as "black".This is the reason why there are so many black performers in these old Betty Boop cartoons. 

Having incredibly imaginative animations and background drawings, Snow White may not be the most faithful or comprehensible adaptation, but it's pretty damn catchy and entertaining. Anything can happen in anytime; it's clear Crandall goes out of his way to show his bizarre imagination onscreen. 

The Old Man of the Mountain (1933) Review

Title: The Old Man of the Mountain
Year: 1933
Director: Max Fleischer
Country: US
Language: English

A caricature of the Jazz Age flapper (a name for a Western Woman of the 20's who had a disdain for "proper" behavior) Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930, in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, the seventh installment in creator/animator Max Fleischer's Talkartoon series. Her voice was first performed by Margie Hines, although several other women have performed the character since. A sex symbol of the depression era; Boop remains one of the most popular cartoon characters of all time. 

A rollerskating lion warns about the "old man of the mountain". All the animals in the era begin a max exodus. Betty Boop is more curious than scared; she trudges up the mountain.  

This Betty Boop short is memorable because it is all song. The entire run-time is infused with a catchy jazz tune that each and every character move to the rhythm to. The picture's pacing, narrative structure, dialogue, background and shot composition is intelligently constructed to jive with every single beat. 

Unfortunately, the sexually suggestive nature of Old Man of the Mountain caused Catholics to complain to exhibitors, who then pressured Paramount to "tone done" the character of Betty Boop. In one scene her dress is removed; albeit she is in her lingerie. More controversially, Max Fleisher disposed of the Jazz music when limiting the sexual tone; suggesting there was a link between sexual behavior and blackness. 

It's difficult to not know of Betty Boop in 2018, especially since she's still an icon, albeit far removed from the context of the 30's. I doubt very few people who don Boop imagery have actually seen one of her shorts. I didn't until Old Man in the Mountain, so I made great effort to do so. So far I am impressed with her appearances.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Moonwalker (1988) Review

Title: Moonwalker
Year: 1988
Director: Jerry Kramer
Country: US
Language: English

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker was set to coincide with the pop singer's 1987 album Bad. During the theatrical release in Europe and South America Jackson was on a worldwide Bad tour, his first as a solo performer. Unfortunately due to budget contraints, which is weird saying considering how prolific the icon was, Warner Bros. cancelled the proposed Christmas United States release. Instead North America would get a home video release near the end of the tour. 

This anthology movie by, and starring, Michael Jackson in his prime, combines a number of music videos from his bestselling "Bad" album with a fantasy tale of Michael's confrontation with a ruthless drug dealer known as Mr. Big (Joe Pesci)

In the trailer for Moonwalker, the narrator says "Nothing could prepare you for this movie" and he's absolutely correct. It's a strange stream of consciousness artistic endeavor that only a man who, allegedly, tried to buy the bones of the elephant man could deliver. It has very little plot, very little structure and...the noid? Why does it have the noid? 

Incorporating claymation, special effects, live performance footage, and even self-parody (the "Badder" sequence) Moonwalker baffled critics when it came out, yet due to Jackson's star-power still managed to sell more than 800,000 copies in the US. The film was adapted into an arcade game by Sega, and would later release on the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. 

Also starring Joe Pesci before he made it big with Home Alone and Goodfellas, Moonwalker is an odd film that can't really be compared to anything before or since. Its best parts are the music video scenes and its worst are the attempts at being a serious movie, however since it is Michael Jackson the whole film is worth viewing at least once for curiosity's sake. A weird movie starring an equally weird man. 

No Rating 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Captain America: Civil War (2016) Review

Title: Captain America Civil War
Year: 2016
Director: Anthony Russo
Country: US
Language: English

Affectionately considered by fans as Avengers 2.5, Captain America: Civil War has the grandiose spectacle of the first two cross-over films, but also gains more depth as it contains heavy themes of revenge and consequences. Audiences arrived for the superhero against superhero action, but were surprised to find a strong emotional core that spread throughout its run-time. The result? A film better than the first two Avengers flicks combined. 

Political involvement in the Avengers' activities causes a rift between Captain America and Iron Man.

Civil War starts where Age of Ultron ended. The Avengers are cornered by international concern over the collateral damage they have accidentally caused. Ironman and Captain America, the leaders of the team, disagree whether the team should be beholden to the U.N. The conflict is smarter than the majority of conflicts in these types of movies, because the problem is a complex grey area. Neither answer is necessarily "correct" and neither answer is either morally "good" or "bad". 

Most impressive are the character arcs of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) and Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) Rogers, a patriot from the 50's, has become slowly disenfranchised with the society he once loved and his optimism is clearly fading. Stark has become a more wounded character, weighed down by the irresponsibility of his past actions and his desire to make things right again. New Marvel characters like Blank Panther and Spiderman are introduced to the fray; making quite memorable debuts. 

The airport action scene, which features a six-on-six Avenger fight, is impressive in its choreography, special effects, stunt-work and camera-work. It's a sheer spectacle in terms of size and scope. In the end it's nice to see the film-makers thinking about the role of superheros in the MCU in a serious way. I was greatly impressed by the visual and philosophical aspects of this film. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II (2017) Review

Title: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. II
Year: 2017
Director: James Gunn
Country: US
Language: English

When writer/director James Gunn went to helm the first Guardians of the Galaxy there was great doubt among Marvel fans that it would live up to the critical and commercial success of the more mainstream Avengers. The result; a space opera with offbeat humor and a nostalgic sense of the seventies and eighties. In terms of the MCU, it was fairly innovative and exciting. 

The Guardians must fight to keep their newfound family together as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill's (Chris Pratt) true parentage.

Prior to this picture, Peter Quill was pretty much a Han Solo/Indiana Jones clone. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.II does the character a great service by diving deeper into his history and giving him quite a thoughtful character arc. The inner and outer conflict that permeates the picture pushes the MCU as a whole from a series of style to a series of substance. 

Overall the picture is offbeat, bizarre and surprising. There's a scene where hundreds are baddies are falling from railings and a baby tree is seen dropping a man to his death...and it's played humorously. Some films (Deadpool) have difficulty balancing humour and earnest drama, whereas GOTG II does so seemingly with ease. There were many, many memorable moments throughout. 

With an important soundtrack reflecting the film's themes of family, companionship, and loneliness GOTG II managed to make me awestruck at how such a feat could be made. It's quite an achievement for a film to show such heart without taking itself too seriously. Baby Groot is also one of the most charismatic characters to ever grace the screen, even if he is 100% CGI. 

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) Review

Title: Guardians of the Galaxy
Year: 2014

Director: James Gunn
Country: US
Language: English

Debuting in a 1969 issue of Marvel Super-Heroes by creators Arnold Drake and Gene Colan, the Guardians of the Galaxy "Avengers" like- team has never really had a consistent run in the comics and therefore is a lot more obscure than the well known names like Captain America or The Incredible Hulk.  In this incarnation, Marvel hired Director/Writer James Gunn to put his own spin on the material. 

In this, a group of intergalactic criminals are forced to work together to stop a fanatical warrior from taking control of the universe.

Central to the entertainment aspect of this film are the larger than life personalities of each character. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a giant tree, Drax is played by WWE wrestler Dave Bautista, Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) is a sly raccoon, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is the child of ultra-baddy Thanos and Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is the Futurama Fry-like hero abducted from Earth in the 80's. Each interaction is remarkable, obviously helped by a well-written script that puts our heroes in equally astounding situations. 

Rather than any orchestral theme, another one of Guardians of the Galaxy's strengths is the mixed tape soundtrack that ties into a great emotional connection for the main character Peter Quill. The Runaways' Cherry Bomb and David Bowie's Moonage Daydream heighten the emotional intensity of every scene and make each moment all the more important.

While David Ayer's Suicide Squad squandered its selection of memorable pop culture hits, by making them absolutely meaningless in connection to the story, Guardians of the Galaxy is a film that infuses its mainstream music the right way. Its soundtrack, although far from original, provides great depth to a film that is already impressive. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Avengers (2012) Review

Title: The Avengers
Year: 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Country: US
Language: English

People might not believe it twenty years from now, especially due to the vastly different quality in movies, but once upon a time (in 1963 to be specific) The Avengers was Marvel Comic's answer to DC's incredibly popular Justice League. Marvel joined a now comic tradition where numerous superheroes join forces against a common or superior enemy, but not without clashing with each other first.

Ironman, Thor, Black Widow, The Hulk and Captain America must come together and learn to fight as a team if they are going to stop the mischievous Loki and his alien army from enslaving humanity.

Marvel Studios had done something somewhat unprecedented in 2008 when they started making individual super-hero films (Ironman, Thor) that would contain tid-bits shifting towards a larger over-encompassing picture (The Avengers). The culmination of several blockbusters brought about great expectations that writer/director Joss Whedon would have to burden. With a budget of $200 million, this film had better be good. 

Perhaps if I watched The Avengers in 2012 I would have been impressed, but viewing it after I have seen truly great superhero films like Black Panther (2018) and Infinity Wars (2018) makes this film feel lackluster. It isn't as funny, isn't as dramatic, isn't as exciting and the writing overall isn't as good. Everything about The Avengers, aside from its conception, feels very cookie-cutter blockbuster. We've seen buddy cop movies with the same formula. 

I suppose I must give credit to the fact that every hero portrayed in the film is fairly represented. Nobody overshadows the other in screen-time & all are given at least one bad-ass and/or funny scene that highlights their best quality. If you enjoyed the individual films, which I wouldn't until Phase 3, I suppose you may find something to enjoy here. I feel comic-book adapted pictures didn't get good until 2016. 

Deadpool 2 (2018) Review

Title: Deadpool 2
Year: 2018
Director: David Leitch
Country: US
Language: English

The basic premise of James Cameron's Terminator 2 (1991) has been recycled, "paid homage" to and parodied in a great number of action movies since its initial release. Basically a machine from the future comes to the past to kill a child that will have a significant bearing on things to come. This was the plot of Logan (2017), which Deadpool 2 makes fun of despite being pretty much the same movie..except funnier? 

Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds)  brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable (Josh Brolin).

Deadpool 2's narrative structure is fairly similar to the majority of superhero flicks and the script, which copy/paste's from the traditional Hollywood blockbuster, doesn't really add anything new to the table. We hear that Fox took a "risk" when they decided to make such mainstream superhero movies rated "R", but the complete disregard for substance makes me skeptical. It skips along shallow water, while the genre as a whole is ready to take the plunge into the deep end. 

So what makes Deadpool 2 stand out? Its comedy, I guess. We are treated to some hilarious moments (such as the reveal of The Vanisher) that are unfortunately undercut by a constant desire to be dramatic. Scenes like Wade's underwater afterlife, where he speaks to his girlfriend, are corny and cliche. For a series that prides itself on meta-humour and self-awareness it sure isn't that self-aware at times.

Its dramatic moments are far behind other films of the same genre and its comedy is so-so at best? I laughed more watching Thor:Ragnarok and that wasn't priding itself on being a comedy.  I had a fun time at the theatre, but upon reflection I think Deadpool 2 is mediocre. If you want to see great humour watch Death of Stalin.