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.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Yes Man (2008) Review

Title: Yes Man
Year: 2008
Director: Peyton Reed
Country: US
Language: English

By 2008 Jim Carrey had risen to great fame with comedic films like Liar Liar and had managed to find some success in more dramatic roles like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.  Despite his films sometimes being panned by critics, there was no doubt he was a box office draw as his mediocre pictures made over $200 million. After having made a cartoon (Horton Hears a Who)  and thriller (The Number 23) in 2008, Carrey returned to comedy.

Jim Carrey is Carl, a man challenges himself to say "yes" to everything for an entire year.

First and foremost; Yes Man has the stupidest moral lesson I've seen in a Jim Carrey movie. Basically saying "no" to everything is bad & saying "yes" to everything is bad, so it's good to have a balance of "yes" and "no". Really!? Is that a lesson ANYBODY needed to learn? I'm pretty sure babies who were just born understand that concept. Boy, this movie is a real thinker ain't it? Brilliant! 

It's so sad that the man who starred in such complex pictures like Eternal Sunshine and Truman Show looked at this script and thought "Yes, this is acceptable". Granted, Yes Man does have a cute romance sub-plot and there are some legitimately funny moments like when Carrey sings "Jumper" by Third Eye Blind. I suppose as far as pop-corn munching movies go this just inches towards passable. 

If not for Zooey Deschanel, I don't know if I could give this film any credit. Her chemistry with Carrey gives Yes Man at least a little bit of heart. Yes Man has decent moments, but overall it's a bit of a wash. "Meh". 

Bruce Almighty (2003) Review

Title: Bruce Almighty
Year: 2003
Director: Tom Shadyac
Country: US 
Language: English

Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ (2004) showed fundamentalist Christians that Christianity could be sold to mainstream audiences in cinematic form. Since that film an entire slew of preachy no-nonsense religious films have hit the market; the majority of them being utter crap. War Room (2015) might be the worst film I've ever seen. When my christian friends want me to suggest a "family friendly" religious movie I send them to Bruce Almighty

Jim Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a guy who complains about God too often, that is given almighty powers to teach him how difficult it is to run the world.

Its main inspiration is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, and like that film Bruce Almighty has a great charm about it. Despite being classified as a "comedy", Jim Carrey is remarkably restrained (this is the same guy who starred in Ace Ventura!?) as the "ha-ha" takes a back seat to the character's romantic personal problems. At times Bruce Almighty goes too far with the sentimentality, bordering on cheese, but sometimes it works.

Though the character does go through a crisis with his powers (lasso-ing the moon brings tidal waves) this is very briefly mentioned & the "moral" of the story doesn't feel earned. Even at its darkest times, Bruce Almighty is full of pop music and eerie cheerfulness. Sure, it's a fun movie, but it's far too light to be taken seriously when the movie wants you to take it seriously. 

Bruce Almighty is an inoffensive popcorn muncher. The type of film you'll watch when nothing else is on. While it borders between "decent" and "forgetful", it's still a MUCH MUCH MUCH greater picture than the majority of Christian propaganda out there. 

The Jerk (1979) Review

Title: The Jerk
Year: 1979
Director: Carl Reiner
Country: US
Language: English

The difficulty of transitioning from stage to screen has often been a great burden to many talented comedians, even though one would think the silver screen ought to be an easy transition.  George Carlin, one of the most interesting on-stage personalities, has a fairly poor filmography. His most notable cinematic role was a small part in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. Steve Martin's film career has been a mixed bag, but at least he has The Jerk on his resume.

Navin (Steve Martin) is an idiot. He grew up in Mississippi as adopted son of a black family but on his 18th birthday he feels he wants to discover the rest of the world and sets out to St. Louis. There everyone exploits his naivety, but then a simple invention brings him a fortune

A classic rags to riches story - except with the physical comedy styling of Buster Keaton mixed with the crude humour of the Farley Brothers (There's Something About Mary). When Steve Martin, Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias were writing the screenplay for The Jerk, their stated goal was to include at least one joke on every page and it's fairly safe to say they succeeded. 

Even though some jokes are dated and will make you roll your eyes, others manage to stand the test of time and even become funnier with time. I particularly liked the joke about Steve Martin excited to work for MUCH less than 1979 minimum wage. For all its silliness, The Jerk has great heart as well. The romance between Navin and his sweetheart feels genuine and when the characters hit hard times it's fairly easy to empathize. 

The Jerk  is a decent comedy, but often the plots meanders for too long in order to set up a joke that doesn't add anything to the film. Its beloved by many moviegoers, but for me it's a few steps short from being "great". Still, there's a good time to be had. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Top Hat (1935) Review

Title: Top Hat
Year: 1935
Director: Mark Sandrich
Country: US
Language: English

Cheek to Cheek has to be my favourite musical number in all of cinema. It's not flashy like Moulin Rouge and doesn't strive to be emotionally powerful like Casablanca's La Marseillaise scene, but it does contain two of the greatest dancers in Cinematic history; Fred Estaire and Ginger Rogers. Together they make the perfect on-screen couple and that song really emphasizes their chemistry. I felt the music was so good that I included it in my wedding. 

In Top Hat an American dancer  (Fred Estaire) comes to Britain and falls for a model (Ginger Rogers) whom he initially annoyed, but she mistakes him for his goofy producer.

In addition to "Cheek to Cheek", Top Hat has quite a few musical numbers, perhaps the second best being Isn't This a Lovely Day. Made during the Depression in 1935, I can certainly see why such a lovely and carefree film was needed. Estaire, who believed that movie dance numbers should be shot in unbroken takes that ran as long as possible, proves he has enormous stamina as he smiles when other dancers would likely be gasping for breath. 

Ginger Rogers is perhaps more so remarkable, as the common joke at the time about the duo was "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred did, and she did it backwards and in high heels." The plot itself is a repeat of the same successful formula, and even though by now we've seen it many times it doesn't feel stale. Perhaps this is because plot takes second fiddle to breathtaking choreography, inspiring cinematography and brilliant music by Irving Berlin.

Top Hat is a great picture that deserves repeat viewings along with Estair and Rogers' many other movies. This was their third film for RKO pictures and, if it wasn't obvious, was critically and commercially successful at the time of theatrical distribution.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (2017) Review

Title: Bombshell
Year: 2017

Director: Alexandra Dean
Country: US

Language: English

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was an Austrian actress whose best known film, a Czechoslovakian picture called Ecstasy (1933), made her a notorious film star. German Fuhror Adolf Hitler was known to have hated it and thus outed her as being Jewish. Luckily, or perhaps to her detriment, Louis B. Mayer of MGM brought her to America and touted her as the "world's most beautiful woman". 

Bombshell depicts the life and career of the hailed Hollywood movie star and underappreciated genius inventor, Hedy Lamarr.

Inventor you say? Yes, like many documentaries coming out in the 2010's it is revealed that America has had a history of down-playing women's technical achievements in favor of highlighting their more superficial endeavors, which in Lamarr's case was always being "beautiful". This supposed "strength" of hers came back to haunt Lamarr in her later years as her looks could not keep up with the public's standards and gossip magazines would comment about how she "used to look good". 

Much of Bombshell is standard documentary procedure; talking head interviews are interspersed with clips from Lamarr's films and illustrated with photos from her life.  Bombshell does a good job at using newly discovered recordings of Lamarr retelling her story to frame its overall narrative. This, infact, is the first time Lamarr's story is told directly from her as her autobiography was largely ghost-written. 

Some of Alexandra Dean's chronology is sloppy; one minute Lamarr is an outcast and the next she is able to raise millions of dollars. Its revealed later in the film that she has had seven marriages, but only a couple are discussed in great depth. I wish this film was longer to give more clarity, but I suppose the overall feminist message "women's contributions are often overlooked" is more important than including every minor detail. Overall a great work about a great woman. 

The Awful Truth (1937) Review

Title: The Awful Truth
Year: 1937

Director: Leo McCarey
Country: US
Language: English

Carey Grant tried desperately to get out of the movie. He didn’t like the loose script, and thought the overall scenario was unrealistic. So unnerved was he that he even offered money to get out of his contract. Co-Star Ralph Bellamy described The Awful Truth set as chaotic, with little script to begin with and daily rewrites as Director Leo McCarey banged away, hoping for inspiration to strike. Such times were fairly uncertain. 

In The Awful Truth unfounded suspicions lead a married couple (Carey Grant & Irene Dunne) to begin divorce proceedings, whereupon they start undermining each other's attempts to find new romance.

Leo McCarey’s remarkable pacing and visual lucidity create a film  that is a fleet and svelte romantic daydream. The best-known adaptation of Arthur Richman’s eponymous 1922 play, this cinematic adaptation proves both adult in its insinuating sense-of-humour, and distinctively verbal in its comedic orientation. 

The Awful Truth does a remarkable job at evading the censors; McCarey is very careful with his sexual innuendos, often hiding them with clever dialogue and even more swift camera-work.  this being 1937, sexuality has to be expressed in devious, contrived ways. A quick paced picture, both stars do a tremendous job at creating tension and then filling us with laughter due to their absurdity. 

When he took home the Best Director Oscar for The Awful Truth, McCarey famously quipped, "You gave it to me for the wrong picture," referring to his other work from 1937, Make Way for Tomorrow. Though not as well regarded in film buff circles, The Awful Truth is far from an awful movie. 

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) Review

Title: Yankee Doodle Dandy
Year: 1942
Director: Michael Curtiz
Country: US
Language: English

Best known for his gangster pictures in the 30's, a decade in which he would make 3-5 films a year for Warner Bros, James Cagney was Hollywood's biggest crime star, even at the same studio that housed Humphrey Bogart. Still, such a bright man wouldn't receive any awards for his work until the ultra-patriotic Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) Perhaps winning due in part because the Nation had just joined World War Two.

This is a  musical portrait of composer/singer/dancer George M. Cohan (James Cagney). From his early days as a child-star in his family's vaudeville show up to the time of his comeback at which he received a medal from the president for his special contributions to the US.

Having only danced in Footlight Parade (1933) audiences were shocked to see Cagney once again in a musical. Even though he wasn't exactly Fred Estaire, Cagney could fake his way through this picture with his vigorous high-energy acting. A staple of Golden Hollywood biography, Yankee Doodle Dandy is ridiculously upbeat and rarely loses its momentum. 

Directed by Michael Curtiz and shot by cinematographer James Wong Howe, Yankee Doodle Dandy is full of elegant composition and enormously staged musical numbers. The script does hurry through many scenes however and the tone often comes off as so patriotic that it becomes a bit cheesy. This can be forgiven as the US entry into World War Two required a great deal of hope. These were hard times.

Cagney's pure electricity is the defining trait of the film; his performance is what sells the entire picture and, even 76 years later, his pure spectacle is a joy to behold. Golden Hollywood is full of great musicals; Yankee Doodle Dandy certainly being one of them. 

Swing Time (1936) Review

Title: Swing Time
Year: 1936
Director: George Stevens
Country: US
Language: English

The legendary Golden Hollywood actor Fred Astaire was a painstaking craftsman who, usually working with the choreographer Hermes Pan, preplanned even the slightest gesture in his dances. Ginger Rogers, a bombshell of an actress, wasn't as creative as her dance partner but was willing to dance until her feet bled - which often happened. Together they make such complex dances look easy.

A performer and gambler (Fred Estaire) travels to New York City to raise the $25,000 he needs to marry his fiancée, only to become entangled with a beautiful aspiring dancer (Ginger Rogers).

Many of the Astaire-Rogers musicals involve Fred falling in love with Ginger at first sight, after which she backs cautiously away, only to be wooed in a series of dance numbers. They've made a great number of films together, and even though the story is fairly similar each time, we remain mesmerized by their graceful choreography. Swing Time is their fifth picture together and easily their best. 

Directed by George Stevens at a time when he could do no wrong at RKO Radio Pictures. The plot is witty and clever; swiftly linking the great dance sequences, built around Jerome Kern songs, including the climactic “Never Gonna Dance” number. The cherography is complemented by the great cinematography and astounding sets. The technical mastery seen in Swing Time can only improve the physical presence of the characters onscreen. 

I am always impressed by great 1930's musicals; we don't see musicals like this nowadays (and include 2017's La La Land in that statement) Such a craftsman is Fred Estaire, that it is impossible not to be in awe of any performance he has ever had. 

Deadpool (2016) Review

Title: Deadpool
Year: 2016
Director: Tim Miller
Country: US
Language: English

Development on a solo Deadpool adaptation began over a decade ago, but there was no real traction until X-Men Origins: Wolverine (a terrible picture) debuted in 2009, when Reynolds played a version of Deadpool whose mouth was sewn shut, rendering the cameo rather pointless. Fans protested and, to their credit, Twentieth Century Fox caved by making one of the rare "Rated R" superhero flicks. It was so financially successful that movie studios are deciding to make more adult-oriented comic book adaptations. 

Structurally, the film cross-cuts between Deadpool’s current mission of revenge on someone named “Francis” and his recapping his own origin story for the audience. The writers, aptly credited as “The Real Heroes Here”, do a decent job at mixing meta-humor with drama; one minute you'll feel bad for Deadpool's situation and another you'll be laughing as the 80's boy band Wham! is referenced. 

Director Miller and editor Julian Clarke create a frenetic pace to the action, delivering it in bursts of viscera and fast, super-powered violence, all set to music by Tom Holkenborg. Deadpool, even visually, is not a film you should take your children to. Unfortunately, despite making fun of other super-hero films, Deadpool follows a similar "heroes journey" arc (and all the tropes that go along with it) Aside from the "R" rating, its pretty common to see a story like this in the cinema. 

Overall I enjoyed Deadpool and found the story stronger than its sequel Deadpool 2. Even though this isn't going to get the highest rating from me, I do appreciate Fox staying true to the comic-book character and going out of its way to impress fans.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Johnny Guitar (1954) Review

Title: Johnny Guitar
Year: 1954
Director: Nicholas Ray
Country: US
Language: English

Before the onset of counter-culture & women’s liberation movements and the subsequent explosion of American independent film culture, American films of the 1950s brought forth the issues of race and sexual inequality through a more cinematic light. Beloved genres, such as the uber-masculine Western, would go through great changes, which would clash with more traditional conservative ideology. 

After helping a wounded gang member, a strong-willed female saloon owner (Joan Crawford)  is wrongly suspected of murder and bank robbery by a lynch mob.

The 1950's gave way game-changing yet conventional Westerns like Shane (1953) in addition to political Westerns like High Noon (1952). Johnny Guitar, made a year before Nicholas Ray's most famous work Rebel Without a Cause (1955) is the latter; the seemingly simple plot nature is layered with psycho-sexual conflicts, complex femininity and critique of McCarthyism. It's offbeat, mythical, funny and unapologetic. 

Joan Crawford's Vienna is a remarkably strong female character in the American Frontier. She's a gun-toting self-reliant ambitious woman who is far from being a symbol of traditional feminine ideals. Incredible staging, inventive camera-work and memorable dialogue also make for an impressive picture that has a lot of dramatic power.

A bold, stylized, political picture that remains inspiring more than half a century after its initial release. Johnny Guitar draws a lot of praise and criticism; thus its a must-see in order to determine which side you fall on.