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.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Review #890: Kingdom of the Fairies (1903)

Title: Kingdom of the Fairies
Year: 1903
Director: Georges Melies

Country: France
Language: N/A

By 1901 Georges Melies was at the peak of his popularity. He had been making well over 100 films since he first started in 1895, attaining financial and critical success along the way. Though there wasn't that much competition, he did prove himself to be a competent film-maker and was making great effort to improve the special effects of his films. 1902's A Trip to the Moon brought him into the international spotlight; from there he was able to make notable ground in the United States. 

At the royal court, a prince is presenting the princess whom he is pledged to marry, when a witch suddenly appears. Though driven off, the witch soon returns, summons some of her servants, and carries off the princess.

Widely distributed and promoted like no other film before it, Kingdom of the Fairies has been cited as the best film Melies has ever made. Thankfully the film still survives in its hand-colored form. Mme Thulliers and her team of girls were responsible for coloring each frame—each girl was assigned a different color—and they provided this service for the majority of the French film industry. The film is widely reported as being based on either the stage works, by the Brothers Cogniard or Nicolas Brazier, Pierre-Frédéric-Adolphe Carmouche and Jean-Baptiste Dubois but apparently (because I haven't seen the plays) little similarity exists. 

What a visual spectacle! Kingdom of the Fairies is an intoxicating beautiful film that captures a wonderous atmosphere in every frame. This is, I feel, the most accessible of Melies pictures simply because of the sheer showmanship involved. The underwater scenes, which include fish, giant crabs and an octopus, are a sight to behold. I'm impressed despite this film being made well over 110 years ago! 

This is my favourite Melies. It is a fairy tale in every sense of the word. It has inspired the hearts and imaginations of generations to come.There are a lot of different sets for a film of this age. Many of them are quite elaborate and detailed. Though many silents at this time were somewhat difficult to follow considering the absence of intertitles, I viewed this with great ease. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Review #889: The Impossible Voyage (1904)

Title: The Impossible Voyage
Year: 1904
Director: Georges Melies
Country: France
Language: N/A

One of Georges Melies' most famous films, 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, detailed the exploits of a group of astronomers taking a the moon. A still of the man in the moon with a spaceship in his left eye has become a famous image of early Cinema. Curiously less talked about is The Impossible Voyage (1904) and for the life of me I can't figure out why. It's every bit as good as his earlier sci-fi, infact it might even be better. 

Using every known means of transportation, several savants from the Geographic Society undertake a journey through the Alps to the Sun which finishes under the sea.

The Impossible Voyage was released in 1904 and was based around the Jules Verne fantasy play Journey Through the Impossible. The film, running to 374 meters, was Méliès's longest film to date, and cost about ₣37,500 (US$7,500) to make. A print of the film was deposited for American copyright at the Library of Congress on October 12, 1904, and the film was sold in French, American, and British catalogs by the Star Film Company. It was one of the most popular films of that decade, rivaling only by Melies other films. 

Melies hyper dramatic narrative has a unique charm that is goofy yet easy to love. The plot is supposed to be a daring expedition but all the characters have less than enthralling name. How am I suppposed to take a scientist named Rattlebrain seriously? The Impossible Voyage shows a culture at the cusp of a steep cliff of innovation. There is something remarkable about this society's clear love of travel and the desire to be more scientifically literate. 

The Impossible Voyage reaches into the great deep of creative imagination and immerses us into such a surreal fantastical setting. Melies make his audience feel like anything is possible, and that we should embrace stepping into the unknown. It's a fine picture that is far more entertaining that it gets credit for.


Review #888: The Last Cartridges (1897)

Title: The Last Cartridges
Year: 1897
Director: Georges Melies

Country: France
Language: N/A

After studying the design of the Animatograph, Georges Melies modified the machine so that it would serve as a film camera. Due to the lack of availability of film in France, Méliès purchased unperforated film in London and developed it himself through trial and error. In September 1896 he would go on to patent the modified machine, but by 1897 better cameras were put on sale by Gaumaunt, The Lumieres, and Pathe. He used that camera in The Last Cartridges

The film shows an incident from the Franco-Prussian War.  More specifically we see the bombardment of a house at Bazeille.

Based on an 1873 painting of the same name by Alphonse de Neuville, The Last Cartridges could very well be the first "war" film, depending on your definition of what a "war" film is of course. It is also the first film adapted from a painting. .

The Franco-Prussian war was an embarrassing lost for the French. They suffered 7x more casualties than the Germans and suffered a surprisingly quick defeat. The outcome was that France had to pay a war debt up to 5 Billion Francs ($1000 Million USD, which adjusted for inflation is roughly $342 BILLION today). They were given a limited timeline and the Germans would occupy them until the money was paid. Considering this, one has to wonder what Melies was thinking at the time, and how this film could have possibly been popular in Paris in 1897. Why didn't this film cause riots in the streets!?

It must have been a success (for some reason) because Gaumaunt would produce many imitations in the years following this. There's no much of a story, but I must admit that it is pretty entertaining. The set is well built and the actors demonstrate great ability despite having limited actions in this extremely short film. History depicting history is always fun to witness. 

No Rating

Review #887: L'Arroseur Arrose (1895)

Title: L'Arroseur Arrose
Year: 1895

Director(s): Lumiere Brothers
Country: France
Language: N/A

L'Arroseur Arrose is a short film by the Lumiere Brothers that contains a surprising amount of firsts. It has the distinction of being the earliest known instance of film comedy, as well as the first use of film to portray a fictional story. The latter probably being the most interesting fact because the Lumieres were best known for their disinterest in fiction and fascination with documentary. Another first is that the poster for L'Arroseur arrosé is the first poster ever designed to promote an individual film.

The film portrays a simple practical joke in which a gardener is tormented by a boy who steps on the hose that the gardener is using to water his plants, cutting off the water flow. When the gardener tilts the nozzle up to inspect it, the boy releases the hose, causing the water to spray him.

The poster for L'Arroseur, illustrated by Marcellin Auzolle, was quite unique for the time because, while early posters would promote a whole slew of pictures at once, touting their technological advancement over potential competitors, this poster was for the individual film and was fairly simplistic. The film itself was filmed by means of the Cinématographe, an all-in-one camera, which also serves as a film projector and developer.

The film has quite a charm and contains a modestly humorous slapstick joke that would be paid homage to by film comedians throughout Cinematic history. In this joke I see Charles Chaplin, Groucho Marx, The Three Stooges, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and so many others. For the beginning of comedy it is a remarkably good place to start. One of the few "first" films that is entertaining along with having immense historic value. 

No Rating

Review #886: Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory (1895)

Title: Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory
Year: 1895
Director(s): Lumiere Brothers
Country: France
Language: N/A

In 1895, French cinema pioneers Auguste and Louis Lumière screened the first film they ever made. It was a 46 second long, continuous shot that was taken from a single fixed position. The film was called Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (Sortie des Usines Lumière à Lyon). It was filmed by means of the Cinématographe, an all-in-one camera, which also serves as a film projector and developer. It was first shown in Paris, alone with nine other short pictures. 

The film consists of a single scene in which workers leave the Lumière factory. The workers are mostly female who exit the large building 25 Rue St. Victor, Montplaisir on the outskirts of Lyon, France.

Audiences of the time were spellbound by these seemingly simple images and the technology of film itself. They had never seen moving photographs before, thus cinema began as a state of spectacle and amusement. The Lumiere Brothers caught the interests of many creative minds, like Georges Melies, who would go on to further enhance the art through special effects and onscreen magic.  

The Lumiere Brothers' first short would be an indication of their entire career. They were fascinated by documentary, and by the following year they had sent employees throughout the world to film the many exotic locations. That year they would also travel with their primitive documentaries to major cities, like New York, London and Montreal, to bring this small slice of cinema to the public. 

As a historical document Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory is a treasure that should be shown to the public until the end of human civilization. It's not that entertaining, but that can be forgiven because it's the FIRST film! We owe the Lumiere brothers a great deal of gratitude.

No Rating

Monday, March 13, 2017

Review #885: The Vanishing Lady (1896)

Title: The Vanishing Lady
Year: 1896
Director: Georges Melies
Country: France
Language: N/A

With his Star Film Company Georges' Melies desired to separate himself from the Lumiere Brothers. While they had sought realism in capturing the world on camera (ethnographic documentaries), Melies sought to give his audience pure fantasy and escapism. His specific brand of magic and illusion divulged in experimentation with special effects that were fairly unique to cinema at that time. Melies would build his studio to physically accompany such tricks. 

An elegantly dressed man enters through a stage door onto a set with decorated back screen, a chair and small table. He brings a well-dressed women through the door, spreads a newspaper on the floor, and places the chair on it. She sits and fans herself; he covers her with a diaphanous cloth. She disappears.

The Vanishing Lady is commonly identified as Melies first "Trick film". In this he used the “stop trick” (seen previously in Edison’s “Mary Queen of Scots”) to perform magic on screen. This was one of his most important camera techniques, and to some degree defines the rest of his career as a filmmaker. It's not an exciting film to current audiences, but I can imagine that audiences in 1896 were left bewildered. Melies certainly demonstrated that film was a suitable replacement for live stage. 

There is not much more I can say about the film as there isn't really a plot, and on most home video releases there is no music. It's an important picture in the history of Cinema, one that shouldn't be looked over in College classes. An amusing short picture that has traces of charm in each second of film. 

No Rating

A Terrible Night (1896) Review- By Michael J. Carlisle

Title: A Terrible Night
Year: 1896
Director: Georges Melies
Country: France
Language: N/A

On December 27th, 1895 Georges Melies attended a special private demonstration of the Lumière brothers' cinematograph, given for owners of Parisian houses of spectacle. He was amazed by their machine and offered to pay for a copy, but the Lumiere brothers were adamant about keeping close control of their invention. Méliès then traveled to London, to obtain an Animatograph from Robert W. Paul. By 1896 he would begin his lengthy film career. 

In this, a man tries to get a good night's sleep, but is disturbed by a giant spider that leaps onto his bed, and a battle ensues in hilarious comic fashion

In total, Méliès made 78 films in 1896. He had covered every genre of film, which included the Lumière-like documentaries, comedies, historical reconstructions, dramas, magic tricks and horror. A Terrible Night (1896) is certainly a contender for "first horror film". Albeit Georges Melies' picture is not entirely scary & The Haunted Castle (1896) may have come out earlier, though most historical sources aren't quite sure of the timeline. 

A Terrible Night predates Méliès's use of cinematic special effects in his film, as the first known Melies picture with camera effects was The Vanishing Lady, which was made later in 1896. This is an early demonstrator of the man's keen eye for fascinating visuals and an indication of a very creative mind. Amusing, but not terribly entertaining, the film is worthwhile for its historical value in Cinema. 

I must commend Melies for trying to tell a story, when most pictures at the time didn't bother. Still, what we get in terms of story is really just a bug on a string. It has a bit of a charm, and because it's 1896 I have to give it a pass anyways. When recounting the history of horror pictures, one should not leave this short film out. 

No Stars

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Review #883: Girl Happy (1965)

Title: Girl Happy
Year: 1965
Director: Boris Sagal
Country: US
Language: English

In his first seven movies, starting with Love Me Tender in 1956 and ending with Wild in the Country in 1961, 20th Century Fox and Paramount produced light musical dramas to boost Elvis' acting ability. Blue Hawaii opened a second phase of Presley pictures in 1961, when Hal Wallis and other producers decided to showcase Elvis' comedic timing with comedy musicals set in exotic locations. Girl Happy, however, was the first of a dozen straight Elvis pot-boilers, low-budget, formulaic productions designed to create $$$.

A Chicago mobster hires a rock and roll singer (Elvis Presley) and his band to keep an eye on his daughter during Spring Break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The film takes a while to take its stride, the over-acting on behalf of Elvis, Gary Crosby, Joby Baker, and Jimmy Hawkins comes off as too strong and thus can make the picture feel a bit cringy in the first 20 minutes. At about the midway point, however, Girl Happy suddenly morphs into pretty entertaining stuff. We see Elvis as an aggressive, scheming, sexually-charged young rock musician, who does whatever it takes to get his woman. 

Elvis’s songs in Girl Happy present a mixed bag. The title tune is a catchy one, although it sounds a bit odd due to its original recording having been speeded up. The ballads are nice, but they're out of place considering the King was still able to produce some fine rhythm and blues. Elvis still has a fantastic voice however, and even though the soundtrack didn't make that much money, it would still have been a treat to see his musical numbers.

Girl Happy represents a decline in Elvis' filmography. It can be exciting at times, especially after the first 30 minutes, but overall it is underwhelming. Mega-fans of the King might find some enjoyment out of this, but its not for casual viewers.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Review #882: Kid Galahad (1962)

Title: Kid Galahad
Year: 1962
Director: Phil Karlson
Country: US
Language: English

Kid Galahad would be Elvis Presley's 10th feature length film, and in the eyes of most of the nation's reviewers it's the film that turned him from a "detestable" (their words not mine) rock n' roll phenomenon (my words not theirs) into a competent money making movie superstar. For the motion picture industry Elvis had changed his look somewhat, from a teenage horn-dog to a more mature man, but it still didn't detract his audience which was growing every day. 

When he completes his military service Walter Gulick (Elvis Presley) returns to his birthplace where he hopes to be a mechanic but instead becomes a prizefighter with unfortunate ties to the mob. 

United Artists also had a similar feelings to that of the film critics, thus they gave Elvis more varied roles in the early 60's. His previous film Follow that Dream had the King pretending to be a poor hillbilly. This feauture has him as a poor prizefighter with no other alternative. While Presley had played a street brawler before, this role had the unique challenge of having to physically look like a professional. Unfortunately this is where his performance lacks as his abs are non-existent and his muscles are nowhere to be found. 

Presley does bring the right amount of emotion to the role, and that can be attributed to the film's light script which ranges from light romantic melodrama (albeit not in the same league of Sirk) to a bit of a family comedy. Kid Galahad contains the standard Presley musical numbers designed to draw his faithful followers to the box office. I'm not entirely sure any of them are memorable and attracted much soundtrack buys. 

Many will cite this as their favourite Elvis Presley picture, but unfortunately I don't really see the appeal. Even Blue Hawaii & Viva Las Vegas had songs you could hum, even belt out to. Elvis has improved from his early days, but the direction falls flat and the script amounts to little more than Hollywood fluff. 

Review #881: Dirty Harry (1971)

Title: Dirty Harry
Year: 1971
Director: Don Siegel
Country: US
Language: English

Along with Blazing Saddles (1974) one film that would absolutely NOT be remade for 21st Century audiences would be Dirty Harry (1971). The first of five films in the Dirty Harry Series starring Clint Eastwood, Dirty Harry is not only filled to the brim with racist and sexist stereotypes, but the main character openly sneers at liberals for aiding and abetting society’s scum. In our current society where "Black Lives Matter", police are viewed under a microscope and any word can be used against you it's hard to see what place this film would have. 

When a mad man calling himself 'the Scorpio Killer' menaces the city, tough as nails San Francisco Police Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is assigned to track down and ferret out the crazed psychopath.

With Dirty Harry, it's amazing to see how many movies and TV shows have copied key elements from that film: the loose cannon police detective, the crotchety superior officers, the cackling sleazeball criminals, the catchphrases, and more. Made during the "New Hollywood" era, a time when the Hays Code of Golden Hollywood no longer mattered and filmmakers were pushing the boundaries of what could be shown onscreen, Dirty Harry took advantage of the elevated tolerance for adult content to deliver something truly outrageous. 

America in the early 70's was either a hippie paradise or a conservative's nightmare. Upon becoming president Richard Nixon promised to crackdown on "pothead liberals" and I believe Dirty Harry was a more right-wing reaction to this. Despite its politics Dirty Harry is a surprisingly entertaining picture that will have you hooked in shock, disbelief and suspense. Bruce Surtee's photography is the real standout in this film, as such Dirty Harry has an excellent sense of city and landscape. 

 I don't agree with Dirty Harry's politics and I don't know how I could recommend this film to a friend without sounding insane. However, this picture is a classic and it deserves to be viewed as such. It's a thoroughly entertaining picture that benefits from being on shaky moral ground. Moreso it's a landmark in the history of cinema, inspiring countless films since its release.