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, April 25, 2020

Niagara (1953) Review

Title: Niagara
Year: 1953
Director: Henry Hathaway
Country: US
Language: English

In the men's bathroom of the Old Spaghetti Factory in Winnipeg, MB (I have no idea if the same thing is in other Old Spaghetti restuarants) the walls are lined with classic movie posters. Stand at the urinal and you'll get a good view of Gone With the Wind. One poster, near the door, looked especially impressive. The poster was of Niagara (1953) and Marilyn Monroe & Joseph Cotton making out over the Falls. 

As two couples are visiting Niagara Falls, tensions between one wife (Marilyn Monrie) and her husband (Joseph Cotton) reach the level of murder.

Having been to Niagara Falls in September 2019, I found it even more fun to watch Niagara as I could guess if I had been where out characters go.  The scenic beauty of the falls, combined with the georgeous Marilyn Monroe, make for dozens of magnificent visuals that the producers easily capitalized on. Countless photos of Monroe looking glamorous posing in front of the falls were featured in a vast variety of marketing for this picture. 

Niagara uses its star and location effectively; Monroe gives a tremendous performance as the callous femme fatale, outperforming her usual roles. The story itself is classic noir, told with stylish visuals that scream "Classic Hollywood". Unfortunately, some of the script is a bit convoluted & the characters' actions can lack logic. It is a bit hard to side with the characters who aren't Monroe or Joseph Cotton. 

Niagara is a decent noir, but is unfortunately overshadowed by the many great noirs made at the time like Sunset Boulevard (1950) & In a Lonely Place (1950). I do think this is Monroe's best acting, but she has also made more memorable pictures. It's certainly worth watching once.

He Ran All the Way (1951) Review

Title: He Ran All the Way
Year: 1951
Director: John Berry
Country: US
Language: English

He Ran All the Way was the last motion picture John Garfield ever made. Despite no evidence that he was ever a part of the communist party, the HUAC (House of Un-American Activities Commitee) blacklisted him from Hollywood for refusing to name names. He had planned on making a comeback, but died from heart problems a year later at the young age of 39. 

In this, Nick and his partner Al stage a payroll holdup. Al is shot and Nick (John Garfield) kills a policeman. Nick hides out at a public pool, where he meets Peg Dobbs (Shelley Winters). They go back to her apartment and he forces her family to hide him from the police manhunt.

Shelley Winters movies are always fun to watch, as one doesn't know how her character will end up. In many, though not all,  of her best regarded outings, she falls in love with the antagonist and then meets an untimely end. This meta- uncertainty creates a lot of doubt and suspense for fans of her work. 

The script, by Dalton Trumbo and Hugo Butler, packs a mean punch by allowing the atmosphere of paranoia and tension to slowly rise until it engulfs the picture. Franz Waxman's music is nerve rattling; the cinematography and editing are masterful, usually such visual feasts could only be seen in Orson Welles' pictures. 

It's unfortunate that so many talented individuals who were involved in making this picture were labelled as "communist" by the HUAC. Also unfortunate that this would be Garfield's last picture as he had not yet reached his peak in terms of performing. He Ran All the Way is a fun foreboding picture that will live long in the memory of cinema. 


Shockproof (1949) Review

Title: Shockproof
Year: 1949
Director: Douglas Sirk
Country: US
Language: English

Those who have seen Douglas Sirks' Magnificent Obsession and All That Heaven Allows will find themselves amused to see one of Sirks' earlier, less melodramatic, works. Unfortunately Shockproof is nowhere near as good, esepcially considering how Sirk was disenchanted with the material. He loved the original script written by Samuel Fuller, but it was re-worked by Helen Deutsch and ultimately met a tragic fate. 

A Parole Officer (Cornel Wilde)  falls in-love with his client, a ravishing blonde  (Patricia Knight) who served time for murder, and he's determined to help her go straight despite her interfering criminal boyfriend.

Much of the film is promising; Cornel Wilde plays a Tony Curtis type who's unhealthy obsession with blondes would make Hitchcock blush. Patricia Knight is a hot Veronika Lake type who is built to be a femme fatale tour de force. Sirks' camera captures Knight's terror and Wilde's puppy love mania. Shockproof (1949) is a blend of the "women's picture" & film noir. Ultimately Knight must choose; should she accept the riches of her criminal boyfriend or fall into a more domesticated, but ethical, life? 

It's a shame that the films' climax falls flat on its face, deliverig an outcome that will have you scratching your head in disbelief. The psychology and poetic nuances are built up so well, you expect an ending that isn't so cliched and insulting to the audiences' intelligence. Charater motivations become non-existent and we get a Leave it to Beaver...twist? If one can call it a "twist". 

Shockproof, up until the last 20 minutes, is not a terrible film; far from it. Sirk uses his camera well; creating an atmosphere of eerie uncertainty. One can easily see Hitchcocks' inspiration for James Stewarts' Vertigo character in this film.  If only the entire film stayed this way. 


Thursday, April 23, 2020

Pat Garrett And Billy the Kid (1973) Review

Title: Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
Year: 1973
Director: Sam Pekinpah
Country: US
Language: English

Recently I had viewed The Wild Bunch (1969) and was blown away by how violent it was, especially considering it was made in the 1960's. Craig Terlson (Author of Surf City Acid Drop) informed me that Director Sam Peckinpah made an even better movie; Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. Intrigued, and itching for a new western to see, I decided to give it a look.

In this Pat Garrett (James Coburn) is hired as a lawman on behalf of a group of wealthy New Mexico cattle barons to bring down his old friend Billy the Kid (Kris Kristofferson).

Like many of Sam Pekinpah's films, and Western Revisionist pictures of New Hollywood in general, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid is a somber brooding picture that paints a devastating hostile pitcture of the west. A considerable amount of characters die, morality is captured in shades of grey, and even the children seem eerily content with the amount of violence in their everyday lives. "This country's getting old, and I'm to get old with it." One can easily see the influence in films like No Country for Old Men (2007) and shows like Breaking Bad

Rich and haunting, Pekinpah's picture is a well-written character study of two men that are at the end of their rope in a country that is ready for a change. Many audiences will consider this better than the renowned The Wild Bunch (1969). I enjoyed Pat Garrett, but I feel the use of Bob Dylan is excessive at times. The repeated use of Knocking on Heaven's Door can take away from a dramatic moment that would have been more impactful in silence. 

Drenched in an atmosphere of dread, corruption, and violence, Pat Garrett is a remarkable experience that belongs with the best of Westerns. Kristofferson, whose look reminds me of The Doors' frontman Jim Morrison, does a tremendous job at playing Billy the Kid, as does Coburn with Garrett. I'll have to watch this again to pick up on the film's many thought provoking themes. 


Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Fabulous Baron Munchausen (1962) Review

Title: Fabulous Baron Munchausen
Year: 1962
Director: Karel Zeman
Country: Czecheslovakia
Language: Czech

Born in 1910, Czecheslovakian born Karel Zeman is known as a filmmaker who could seamlessly blend live action with a variety of forms of animation (traditional, stop motion etc.), giving his pictures a timeless storybook feeling. Opposed to Disney's lavish mythmaking, Zeman gives his sets a visual look reminicent of german expressionism. He wants us to think more Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) rather than Snow White (1937).

The outrageous Baron Munchausen (Milos Kopecky) of his many adventures, from meeting the Man in the Moon (Rudolf Jelfnek) to defeating a Turkish army all by himself.

Impressively co-opting nineteenth-century graphic illustration by using it as building material, mastered out of scores of overlapping techniques, Fabulous Baron Munchausen looks like no other film, the exception being Zeman's other Jules Verne inspired pictures. His sets give a sense of nostalgia and wonder; audiences will be lost in the story while simultanoesly wondering "how was he able to create this scene!?" 

The enchanting score by Zdenek Liska adds to the yesteryear mood that the film captures you in. It's simple - yet sophisticated- soft to the ears and yet powerful. The costuming is remarkable as well, futher engulfing its audience into a fictional 1800's. The plot is mesmerizing and perfectly weird; Munchausen finds a moon man, fights fights ten thousand bashi-bazouks; he flies about on cannonballs and gets swallowed by a whale.

Fabulous Baron Munchausen is an unforgettable picture that will appeal to a wide vareity of ages. It is simple enough for a child to understand, yet also has a great charm that will appeal to adults.A fun picture; I have a feeling I'll be rewatching this for years to come. 






Friday, March 27, 2020

King of Comedy (1982) Review

Title: King of Comedy
Year: 1982
Director: Martin Scorsese
Country: US
Language: English

In 2019 Todd Phillips Joker shocked audiences and impressed critics worldwide with its seemingly "unique" vision of the clown prince starring Joaquin Phoenix. Nominated for many Oscars, a great number of people pointed out that the film was cross between Martin Scorsese's classics; Taxi Driver (1976) and King of Comedy (1982). I had seen Taxi Driver before, but not the latter. Thus I found myself enticed to watch King of Comedy

Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro) is a passionate yet unsuccessful comic who craves nothing more than to be in the spotlight and to achieve this, he stalks and kidnaps his idol (Jerry Lewis) to take the spotlight for himself.

Years before Cape Feare (1991), De Niro manages to perfectly capture the fractured mind of a mentally ill, and possibly challenged, creep of a man. King of Comedy will make your skin crawl in a way that only the most eerie of horror flicks will do. Pupkin is wounded and painful to watch; we try to sympathize with our main character, but ultimately he is a lost cause. 

Unlike other Scorsese films, like Goodfellas (1991) & Hugo (2011), King of Comedy is not a fun movie, infact its pretty unpleasant to watch. A satire, Scorsese's principle targets are television and the cult status of celebrity. Paul D. Zimmerman's screenplay is critical of audiences who cling onto every famous person they possibly can. He challenges the power of television and critiques its contribution to the downfall of society. 

King of Comedy was a decent movie, but, like Joker & Taxi Driver, it is far too depressing to watch a second time. Luis Bunuel could make similar satire and leave you not feeling like complete crap. Watch a Bunuel film instead. 


Unspooled (2018-Present) Review

Podcast: Unspooled
Year(s): 2018-Present
Star(s): Amy Nicholson & Paul Shcheer
Country: US
Language: English

Amy Nicholson is the host of the Earwolf podcast, The Canon, and critic for KPCC's Film Week. She has had a lengthy career as the cheif film critic for L.A weekly. According to her Rotten Tomatoes profile "Her interests include hot dogs". Paul Scheer is an actor, director, comedian, writer and producer. He is a recurring actor on Veep, hosts the podcast How Did this Get Made? and is just generally ridiculously busy. Together they co-host a new favourite podcast of mine called Unspooled

Unspooled is a podcast that explores American Film Institutes 2007 list of the "Greatest American Films of All Time". The co-hosts seek to dissect each picture, talk to industry experts, and examine if the "classic" deserves to be on the list. 

A professional film critic inspired by- and on the level of- Pauline Kael, Amy Nicholson provides a great deal of depth regarding each picture Paul & her review. She gives a cup of critical analysis, a teaspoon of history and a pinch of trivia to give Unspooled's audience a greater understanding of the film in question. I consider myself well versed in Chaplin, having published lengthy essays about his career, but even I found new information in the Gold Rush episode. 

While Amy's role seems to have a more objective/informative approach, Paul Scheer is the subjective/opinioned based half. Scheer is not afraid to say how he feels about a film, often to hilarious degree. "Fuck The Deer Hunter! It's fucking bullshit" Caution; Paul does a lot of swearing, he's not for the faint of heart. Having great chemistry together,  they are equal parts education & entertainment, keeping me interested throughout the episode. 

Though the guests are a smaller piece of the episode, I rather enjoy when they come on. My favourite guest so far, admittedly having only heard 15 or so episodes, is Kevin J. Goff. He is the great grand-nephew of oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind). Overall, Unspooled is a great podcast that I now look forward to every week, so I thought I'd write a review and share this discovery with my readers. Please go to earwolf.com/show/unspooled to hear the podcast for yourself!


Guns Akimbo (2020) Review

Title: Guns Akimbo 
Year: 2020
Director: Jason Lei Howden
Country: US
Language: English

Perhaps the most violent film of 2020, Guns Akimbo is literally two hours of guns ablazing with brief moments of comedic relief. Daniel Radcliffe's character is supposedly a pacifist who has never shot a gun in his life, yet can mow down hoardes of baddies without breaking a sweat. In minutes he is as good of a shooter as the deadliest assassin in the real-life "game" that he is forced into. Oy! 

Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) upsets the wrong crowd of people & wakes up with guns bolted to his hands. He must survive a deadly competition that is watched by millions of people online. 

Guns Akimbo will appease those with the highest ADHD. It's an energetic constantly moving film that will eventually have you numb to the obscene amounts of violence contained within it. Clearly inspired by Call of Duty & Grand Theft Auto, this is a picture that runs out of ideas very quickly & becomes stale within about 30 minutes. Run, shoot, run, shoot, repeat. 

The message about how we should be humane or...not enjoy video game violence...is lost in a film that glorifies violence to a shocking extent. We get it, it's a modern day Running Man, albeit with none of the charm (aside from the english homeless guy) and ALL of the action tropes done unironically. Rushing from scene to scene, Guns Akimbo's themes regarding cyberbullying is never explored beyond brief dialogue. "Do you people like seeing this!? You're sick!" 

If you enjoy mindless bloody action that is filmed like every other action movie ever made, then you may enjoy Guns Akimbo. I was dissapointed, even though I spent $0 watching this movie. Aside from the funny segment involving a homeless man, Guns Akimbo is repetitive and boring.  

Zero Stars


The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) Review

Title: Discreet Charm of the Bourgeousie
Year: 1972
Director: Luis Bunuel 
Country: France
Language: French

Part of a trilogy of films about journey that began with The Milky Way (1969) and ended with Phantom of Liberty (1974), Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel at his very best. It's a remarkable work of art that, like The Exterminating Angel (1962), is a satire meant to deconstruct social order. Bunuel has a unique distaste of the upper class & this is his way of rebelling against a system of oppression. 

This is a plotless series of dreams centered around six middle-class people and their consistently interrupted attempts to have a meal together.

Once deemed anarchistic and surreal, Buñuel’s tendency to interrupt a narrative line had become Oscar-worthy by the time of the film’s release. Discreet Charm looks, sounds, and feels like a Golden Hollywood picture, as there is beauty and glamour in every frame, but Bunuel subverts our expectations and turns the traditional formula on its face. 

As the film becomes increasingly incoherent, it also becomes more entertaining. Lunacy is at the forefront as our senses give up trying to make sense of the events in this picture. Twisting and turning our expectations around every corner, Bunuel challenges his viewers to be less complacent with their movie going experience. He also asks us to challenge nonsensical Bourgeois values.

Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a picture that acts as both a serious dissection of class values, and a hilarious satire that will have audiences bursting in fits of laughter. It is a fine picture that will entice multiple viewings. If the Criterion edition wasn't so expensive, because it's out of print, I'd own it by now. 

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The Exterminating Angel (1962) Review

Title: The Exterminating Angel
Year: 1962
Director: Luis Bunuel 
Country: Mexico
Language: Spanish

Luis Bunuel was one of the most strange and entertaining film-makers to watch. The Exterminating Angel (1962) is a great example of his absurd surrealist style that often challenges social norms & redefines what a satire can be. Made during the end of his eighteen year career in Mexico (he would also have a long career in France) the film was made with complete artistic freedom. Of his 22 Mexan productions, though I admit I have not seen all of them, this one is my favourite. 

In this, guests at an upper-class dinner party find themselves unable to leave.

Structured around a devestating social party, Bunuel transforms the civilized ritual of dinner, which has a countless number of rules depending on class, into a means of exposing pure human savagery. Slowly, as the film goes on, all humanity is stripped from our guests and we see the former bourgeoisie as animals. 

Religion is mocked  by show­ing how fear and desperation spawn a belief in false myths and fetishes; it's quite interesting how the film starts in a living room and ends in a church. The injustices of our social order, which is defined by class and religion, are exposed for all to see. One wonders why Bunuel's earlier Virdinia (1961) was banned, but not this. 

I found myself entranced by Exterminating Angel; there is much to dissect and analyze in each frame. The cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa is top notch. I love how he uses the spaces given to trap the actors & give a sharp divide between insiders and outsiders. The camera emphasizess the invisible barrier & creates a chaotic atmosphere of uncertainty. With any other director/cinematographer this crazed film would not work as well. Only Bunuel could pull this off.