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.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Review #918: Sunnyside (1919)

Title: Sunnyside
Year: 1919
Director: Charles Chaplin
Country: US
Language: N/A


World War One had ended in 1918 and Charles Chaplin had did his part by making the hilarious Shoulder Arms (1918) and the informing propaganda picture The Bond (1918), in addition to making soldiers laugh around the world with his many other films. The British media, which had previously called him a coward, had ceased for the time being. It was back to business as usual for the funny beloved tramp.

Charlie works on a farm from 4am to late at night. He gets his food on the run (milking a cow into his coffee, holding an chicken over the frying pan to get fried eggs). He loves the neighbor's daughter Edna but is disliked by her father.

In 1919 Charlie joined forces with Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W Griffith to create United Artists, the first movie studio run by the artists themselves. Sunnyside was one of the first Chaplin pictures to come out of his studio and, while it wasn't the political picture that laced his WW1 period, it still managed to entertain with imaginative slapstick.

There is a bounty of decent gags in Sunnyside, specifically at the beginning where Chaplin thwarts his employers attempts to get him out of bed. Its visual storytelling is well thought out, despite the so-so narrative. We've seen this kind of picture from Charlie many times before, however we have not seen this variation of gags. 

Sunnyside is a fun picture despite its uneven pacing and familiar character development. Here we see the typical Chaplin charm mixed with decent cinematography and a decent score. Chaplin didn't put forth his best effort, likely due to his failing marriage at the time, but it's at least coherent and has fun moments.

 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Review #917: The Bond (1918)

Title: The Bond
Year: 1918
Director: Charles Chaplin
Country: US
Language: N/A

For most countries on Earth, World War One had already been fought on many battlefields for some time. Chaplin had already been critiqued by the British Media for not participating, although the loveable tramp claims that he was willing to fight but had not been drafted. Many at the time didn't want Chaplin to be a soldier anyways, as the entertainment he provided to the troops was an absolute necessity. The Bond  (1918) would be a film Chaplin made to convince Americans to go to war.  

Charlie and friends illustrate various bonds in life and the most important, Liberty Bonds for the war.

Less of an entertaining comedy, and more of a necessary public service announcement, The Bond's  main purpose was to light a fire under the asses of wealthy americans, convincing them to buy into the war. Though pure propaganda (hey, at least it was for the eventual winning side!) one can claim its effectiveness as Chaplin and friends successfully raised hundreds of thousands because of this grand picture. 

Written, directed, and starring Charlie Chaplin this film is a great achievement and, even though it was made for purely political purposes, he still manages to make us laugh when he brings out his beloved Tramp character. I particularly liked the segment wherin he falls in love with his leading lady Edna Purviance. Lots of surreal lovey dovey visuals that add quick a charm to what could have been a more robotic venture. 

It's clearly not one of Chaplin's best shorts, but it did have great purpose and delivered on assisting the allied front of World War One. Though we could not say for certain, perhaps the scales would have tipped in the other direction if not for The Bond. It's an important film in Chaplin's canon and should be recongnized as such

No Rating

Review #916: Rescued by Rover (1905)

Title: Rescued by Rover
Year: 1905
Director: Cecil Hepworth
Country: US
Language: English


I have reviewed Cecil Hepworth's most notable work before. 1900's How It Feels to be Run Over was a shocking trick film for the time, making the audience feel like it had been hit head on by a precarious automobile. The man is an important name in early British Cinema, and although that film may be his best well known, his reputation as a great filmmaker at the time lied primarily in Rescued by Rover.

In this film, a beggar woman steals a baby and the family dog comes to the rescue.

Of all the films Cecil Hepworth made in his career, Rescued by Rover was his most beloved. It was also his most critically acclaimed and financially successful. In short, this Lassie predecessor pleased pretty much everyone from all corners of the globe. Made on a budget of seven pounds thirteen shillings and sixpence it's quite fair to say that the man got his money's worth several hundred times over. 

Hepworth remade the film twice, because he burned through two negatives. While most films averaged about 100 prints, his did 400, which was twice that of the second most popular film of that year. The film claims to be a lot of "firsts" (first dog in a film?) and may have changed film greatly. It is a smoothly edited film helped by a strong narrative and decent human (and canine) acting. 

Rescued by Rover is a fairly entertaining film that paved the way for other "dog" pictures later in Cinematic history. It's a fine film with quite a magnetic charm to it, I can certainly see why this would be a family fair for 1905.

 

Friday, April 21, 2017

Review #915: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Title: Ghost in the Shell
Year: 2017
Director: Rupert Sanders
Country: US
Language: English

Masamune Shirow’s 1989 manga Ghost in the Shell explored the relationship between humanity, robotics, and an early form of the internet. Mamoru Oshii’s popular 1995 anime adaptation turned the story into a cult classic that shaped... almost every science fiction/action film since then. One could provide an example in The Matrix, but there are literally hundreds of other inspirations, "homages" and copy cats out there. Themes presented in Ghost in the Shell have been done to death in film long before 2017...so this should be refreshing, right? 

In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world's most dangerous criminals. 

Much of the more brooding aspects of Oshii's anime have been brightened; cleansed of its more violent and sexual themes in favour of a box office friendly PG-13 rating that studio executives think will surely bring in more revenue. Very obvious cutting choices neuter an otherwise beautiful looking film. Indeed Director Rupert Sanders is a visual filmmaker who indulge in some great sweeping shots of a city much like that of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner

While the original film was bleak and cynical, this version links characters backstories and gives them emotional connections. Though previous fans may not enjoy this aspect, I suspect the film will gain new fans because of this. The film actually does well when it explores Major's search for identity and context in her uneasy world, but takes us out of this familiar experience with out of place action set pieces. 

Ghost in the Shell is torn between a typical action blockbuster and a profound exploration into humanity. It had tremendous potential to be an existential drama, but is far too presented in Blockbuster Hollywood's ideal specifications. It's not terrible, but could have been far greater. 

 

Review #914: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Title: Beauty and the Beast 
Year: 2017
Director: Bill Condon
Country: US
Language: English


In 1991 Beauty and the Beast managed to shock all by being the only animated feature, at the time, to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It was made during Disney's late 80's to mid 90's so-called Renaissance where they managed to produce hit after hit. I have seen that animated, as well as a live performance at Disney World, a live performance at Rainbow Stage in Winnipeg, MB, Canada and Jean Cocteau's 1948 feature. I like Cocteau's version the best, can you guess which one I liked the least? 

A young woman (Emma Watson) whose father has been imprisoned by a terrifying  beast (Dan Stevens) offers herself in his place, unaware that her captor is actually a prince, physically altered by a magic spell.

Here's the thing; every version of Beauty and the Beast I've seen has worked primarily because the Beast is an intimidating authoritative figure who is primarily all id and isn't fully in control of his animal impulses. We worry about Belle's safety and are legitimately concerned that she will come to some harm. This beast? Even at his most angry he just seems like a very hairy British guy who's just woken up from a nice nap. There isn't anything to fear. Not only that, but the animation looks cheap and his fur is so obviously artificial. He doesn't even look intimidating. 

Though the music is better than La La Land, I must condemn this picture for the lack of color. Every scene is full of muted greys and dark tinted greens. Even when there is some color in the picture, like Belle's yellow dress, it doesn't pop-out the way it ought to. A lot of the computer animation is indeed dull and lifeless, even the animated feature felt more human. 

I will admit that I liked Gaston and Le Fou, both are terrific characters. I also liked that Beauty and the Beast didn't stray too far from the beloved 1991 musical, albeit it didn't exactly impress as being pretty much a replicate. Difficult to give this a rating as it was pretty much the same, except worse. It's not something I'd ever revisit, but many moments weren't terrible. 


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Review #913: La La Land (2016)

Title: La La Land
Year: 2016
Director: Damien Chazelle 
Country: US
Language: English



La La Land may be the most over-hyped film I have witnessed. It was up for a record amount of Academy Awards- which included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography - it WON numerous awards making a star out of its young Director Damien Chazelle, and was hailed as "reinventing the Hollywood musical". I was convinced that I would love this picture...but I don't. In-fact I'm shocked by the fact that I really despise it. 

Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, serves lattes to movie stars in between auditions and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a jazz musician, scrapes by playing cocktail party gigs in dingy bars, but as success mounts they are faced with decisions that begin to fray the fragile fabric of their love affair.

Though compared to Jacques Demy's films, Young Girls of Rocheforte this is not. Emma Stone is no Catherine Deneuvre and Ryan Gosling's attempt at musical talent cannot compare to the stars of yesteryear. La La Land tries so hard to be an "homage" to the Classic Hollywood musical that it just becomes another tired generic Hollywood Musical. Believe me, not every film of this genre was as well made as Singin in the Rain.

La La Land claims to be a love letter to Golden Hollywood, and while it does certainly have great production design, costumes, stage design, lighting, editing, mise en scene', staging and has a remarkable depth of colour it lacks in pace, acting, script and, most importantly, music! While the first 10 minutes were astonishing, I did feel like the picture lacked rhythm. It would pick up pace with a jazzy score, then halt for something completely different (like music from the 1980's). Beyond their specific motivations (girl wants to be an actor, boy wants to reinvent jazz) I didn't find anything enticing about these characters. I felt like I barely knew them after the first hour and thus couldn't really care about their love connection. Barry Jenkin's Moonlight had far greater character development. 

I'm not a fan of musicals that feature non-dancers and non-singers as leads. When Bob Fosse made Cabaret he had the common sense to feature Liza Minelli. Of course all Hollywood pictures are meant to be commercial, but this one carries an atmosphere of commercial cynicism. It tried too hard to innovate and became a tragic case of style over substance. Albeit the style is tremendous! More films should look like La La Land.

 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Reciew #912: The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

Title: The Musketeers of Pig Alley
Year: 1912
Director: D.W Griffith
Country: US
Language: N/A


Gangster film has its roots in the 1930's wherein the prohibition laws combined with the Great Depression created a period of economic and social instability that was ripe with crime, criminals and the films about them. Warner Bros' was the catalyst behind these pictures, making the ever popular Little Ceasar and Public Enemy. Of course the mafia just didn't spring up in the 30's, they existed in the 1910's too. William Randolph Hearst's Chicago American and the Chicago Tribune would hire gangsters to intimidate vendors into selling their newspapers in a three year period known as the Circulation Wars. 

In this, a young wife and her musician husband live in poverty in a New York City tenement. The husband's job requires him to go away for for a number of days. On his return, he is robbed by the neighborhood gangster. Sometime later, an unrelated mob shoot-out ensues and the man recognizes the gangster.

Though the American picture The Black Hand (1906) is known as the first mafia picture, it would be D.W Griffith who would bring the genre into the mainstream with The Musketeers of Pig Alley. It is reported that he hired real gangsters to play parts in the film, I suppose to create some sense of realism. Griffith does a fine job at framing each scene with several increasingly complex crowd scenes. Remarkably each scene has a different feel and continually draws our eyes to the most important part of the action, in spite of all the bustling that is going on. 

We see quite daring editing for the time, showing that D.W Griffith had the potential to be a master filmmaker if he was not already one. The inter titles are used sparingly as the choreography of the action is what drives the plot along. Really, this film could have had no dialogue at all and it would be relatively easy to understand. 

The acting by Lilian Gish is, as always, remarkable. Considering the first film I've seen her in was Night of the Hunter (1955) when she was at the very end of her film career, I find it fascinating to view her beginnings in the film industry. Though not Griffith's best, it is a fine film and certainly important enough to view if you're a fan of his work. 

No Rating

Review #911: Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)

Title: Fahrenheit 9/11 
Year: 2004
Director: Michael Moore
Country: US
Language: English


Let me get this out of the way, I cannot give an objective opinion about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 because I honestly cannot stand the man as a film-maker. Don't get me wrong, I do agree with most of the man's politics. I do think he has a certain amount of bravery for producing these films when there is a lot at risk. He does make films about important topics...I just don't think he has many intelligent points. Like in Bowling for Columbine he spends the entire film saying "guns are bad" but doesn't get to any sociological (or even psychological) reasoning and he doesn't propose any real solutions aside from "get the guns out!" Genius, that man is. 

Fahrenheit 9/11 is Michael Moore's view on what happened to the United States after September 11; and how the Bush Administration allegedly used the tragic event to push forward its agenda for unjust wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The highest grossing documentary ever made (hold on, I'll get a barf bag) upon release it managed to receive financial and critical success. It received a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Palm D'or that year over greater films like Wong Kar Wai's 2046. Many people cite this film as groundbreaking...but was it? Afterall Green Day had spoken up against Bush with their album American Idiot, the Dixie Chicks said they were ashamed of Bush in 2003 and many people were already analyzing the necessity of the Iraq war. Moore was a bit late on this gravy train. 

A lot of what is said in Fahrenheit 9/11, that the poor are being disenfranchised and being used as military cannon fodder, that the war against terrorism is unjust had been said decades earlier by smarter men than Moore (read: Noam Chomsky). It's low brow, low class propaganda (but propaganda on our side!) that is equally as fear mongering as the far right's fox news. I agree whole heartedly that Bush was/is a corrupt and foolish leader, but I can't stand Moore's love for bullet points. He has many small arguments that he doesn't probe too deep into. It's merely a flesh wound rather than a full amputation of the system.

Still there are moments of the film that I like. For instance when Moore hits the steps of the Capitol to ask Congressman if they will sign up their children for war it marks an uncomfortable yet funny part of the film that shows where people's intentions truly lie. He calls out these people to their face, rather than making them look foolish through manipulative editing practices (albeit it's hard not to catch Bush looking dumb). 

[I'd just like to point out that the most iconic scene of the film, wherein Bush learns about 9/11 and continues reading the book to the elementary school classroom, isn't really a fair depiction of a bumbling president. What would you have done in that situation? There's no real right answer.]


Revuew #910: A Woman of Paris (1923)

Title: A Woman of Paris
Year: 1923
Director: Charles Chaplin
Country: US

Language: N/A


Charles Chaplin was a known perfectionist, so obsessed was he about making the "perfect picture" that in many books and films about his life he is often portrayed as having some sort of obsessive compulsive disorder akin to Howard Hughes. What is not well known however, is how often he tinkered with his pictures long after they hit the silver screen and made an impression with audiences. For instance, with Gold Rush (1925) he went back to the Studio and make a new sound version. With A Woman in Paris he created a new score in 1977, despite being a frail old man at the age of 87.

In this, a kept woman runs into her former fiancé and finds herself torn between love and comfort.

Originally the film was not a critical or commercial success, infact it was the first major failure of Chaplin's career. The first film as a partner in United Artists, much of its failure has to do with the fact that it's not a typical Chaplin film at all, especially for the early 1920's. Though Chaplin had taken on films with serious subject matter before (see The Immigrant and The Kid) those had some comedic elements, while this was a serious melodrama throughout. It also didn't help that Chaplin's name was on the posters, as director, but he did not have any role other than a brief cameo. 

A Woman of Paris was a favourite of Mary Pickford's, she claimed "He's a pioneer. How he knows women!—oh, how he knows women! I do not cry easily when seeing a picture, but after seeing Charlie's A Woman of Paris I was all choked up" The film is a departure from Chaplin's usual work, but it is fascinating and incredibly well made. The quality of the photography and smoothness of the editing is impeccable, it is better than some of the later Chaplin pictures! The acting, particularly by Edna Purviance, is admirable. 

This is an elegant sophisticated melodrama that appears to rely more on inter-titles than expression and grand gestures. Chaplin gives a touch of D.W Griffith to this well written piece of art. Criminally underrated, mainly because of reasons I mentioned above (no comedy, no Chaplin), it's not the best-aged nor entertaining film of his, but it does absorb you in its love-triangle story.


Review #909: The Champion (1915)

Title: The Champion
Year: 1915
Director: Charles Chaplin
Country: US
Language: N/A


Born October 21st, 1895 Edna Purviance was an American actress during the pre-Golden Hollywood silent era of film. Her pre-acting days involved going to business school from 1913-1914 and working as a stenographer. In October of 1915 she received a message from Essanay Studios. Chaplin, who had received a considerable sum of money and power from the studio, was making his second picture for them when he realized he needed a leading lady. He had spent months finding the perfect girl but no luck, that is until he saw Edna and fell in love with her. 

In this, Charlie finds a "good luck" horseshoe just as he passes a training camp advertising for a boxing partner "who can take a beating." After watching others lose, Charlie puts the horseshoe in his glove and wins. The trainer prepares Charlie to fight the world champion. A gambler wants Charlie to throw the fight. He and the trainer's daughter fall in love.

The Champion was Edna's second of over 30 pictures she co-starred in along with Chaplin. Her first film was His Night Out (1915) and her last was A Woman in Paris (1923). She would continue to receive a cheque from the studio until her death in 1958. In this film she plays her role as Chaplin's interest rather well, one can understand why somebody would get their lights knocked out for her. She seems very humble and sweet, in addition to being intelligent and strong-willed. 

The real hit of this film is the boxing sequence, which inspired Chaplin to do a similar scene in his post-silent silent City Lights (1931). Watching Chaplin train in his trademark bowler hat is brilliant and the big fight itself is hilarious and extremely well choreographed. This is far from your typical Rocky fight as we see the competitors constantly falling over, hitting the referee, embracing each other for support and clumsily cross-cutting his opponent. 

It's a damn fine film, and although I think City Lights has more outrageous choreography, I can't help but be impressed and entertained by The Champion. Showing more competence in his staging and arrangements, I feel this is another film that shows Chaplin slowly becoming a master of his craft. He isn't quite there yet, but we can certainly see his potential.