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.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Review #997: The Monster Walks (1932)

Title: The Monster Walks 
Year: 1932
Director: Frank Strayer
Country: US
Language: English

The 1930's was a big decade for the horror genre in Hollywood. Universal Studios enjoyed many great financial and critical successes at the start of this decade, which included Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1933), Island of Lost Souls (1932) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) The advent of sound, and thus demise of the silent period, added an extra layer of creep whether it be music used to build suspense or signal the presence of a threat, or magnified footsteps echoing down a corridor.

A doctor (Rex Lease), who keeps an ape for medical studies, dies and his daughter (Vera Reynolds) inherits his estate. Her uncle (Sheldon), a paralytic, working through his natural son by the housekeeper, plans her death, and the ape may or may not be involved.

The Monster Walks features a who's who (as in "who are these people?) of various B-movie actors. The female "star" of the film (Vera Reynolds) seemed to be big in Demille's silents, but could not make much of herself after the advent of sound. In general the performances are poor and unconvincing, although Willie Best does provide a laugh. Unfortunately the actor is outweighed by the enormity of racial stereotypes pressed on his character. 

Plot and visual elements are borrowed from Cat and the Canary (1927) but unfortunately that picture outmatches this in every aspect. In this picture the characters are poorly established and the mysterious "who dunnit?" aspect is fairly obvious at the beginning of the picture. Within the first 5 minutes an audience member will understand the "who", the "what", the "why" and the "where". Sloppy writing does nothing to improve the picture. 

Despite being a horror film, the atmosphere is lousy and you won't feel yourself being scared in the slightest. The Monster Walks was pre-code, but there is nothing that would have scared Hollywood censors anyways. I had decent hopes for this picture, but there's nothing really to see here. Avoid it if you can. 

No Stars

Review #996: Spice World (1997)

Title: Spice World
Year: 1997
Director: Bob Spiers
Country: UK
Language: English

The Spice Girls were an English Pop Girl group that formed in 1994 and became a global phenomenon in 1996. Their debut single "Wannabe" hit number one in 36 countries. Their debut album Spice sold more than 31 million copies and led to them being the best selling female group of all time. They are regarded as the biggest British phenomenon since The Beatlemania. Time even called them the most recognizable face(s) of 90's British youth culture. 

The Spice Girls gear up for their first Live concert at London's Royal Albert Hall, but along the way encounter aliens, a haunted castle and Elton John! (among other random oddities) 

Made in the same vein of The Beatles A Hard Day's Night, Spice World, unlike Vanilla Ice's Cool as Ice, was made at the right time to the right demographic. Much of the film's budget must have gone to cameos, as the plethora of stars (not including the main cast) involved include Roger Moore, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Elton John, Richard O'Brien, Jennifer Saunders, Richard E. Grant, Elvis Costello, and Meat Loaf. Though panned universally by critics, Spice World was a huge financial success, raking in $77 million at the box office. 

Though each girl has one distinctive characteristic about them (Posh likes clothes, Scary is scary, Sporty likes sports, Baby is uh...cute? like a baby?) none have the personality needed to carry a feature length film based on their likeness.  Granted much of this film is self parody (when being photographed Sporty ponders another name "What about Sporty but I'm actually interested in other things spice?) and some of the self-aware humor is actually a bit funny. 

Spice World, at least I hope, seems to be aware that it won't win anybody over by being a serious picture and thus does a fairly decent job at being a mindless energetic youth comedy. Its randomness (why are they trying to parody Close Encounters of the Third Kind!?) is part of its charm. Perhaps this will only appeal to fans of the group, but even outsiders must recognize that there are a LOT worst comedies out there. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Review #995: Cool As Ice (1991)

Title: Cool As Ice
Year: 1991
Director: David Kellogg
Country: US
Language: English

In 1990 Vanilla Ice joined the record label SBK Records and became an international sensation when his debut album, To the Extreme, dropped. This record became the fastest selling hip-hop record of all time, spending 16 weeks at the top of the Billboard 200. His single Ice Ice Baby would constantly play on North American radio. By 1991 Ice had ventured into film, having a minor cameo in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze. This inspired him to star in his own film about himself. 

The old teen rebel saga is updated for the rap crowd, unfortunately rapper Vanilla Ice is the teen. Ice shows up on a neon-yellow motorcycle which gets everyone's attention, including the female honor student who has never had a rebellious bone in her body.

Released roughly 26 years ago, Cool as Ice was a major flop when it first hit theaters. Neither critics or audiences liked it, thus it couldn't even make a fourth of its initial budget back. Presently Ice is on an "I love the 90's Tour" but if we're perfectly honest, the man's star burnt out just as the 90's started. Part of the reason his train stopped short was because of grunge; Nirvana's Nevermind had swept up America and left his music in the dust. In addition fans of real hip-hop felt that his overnight success was a slap in the face of groups (like Public Enemy) who actually had important political things to say.

Though Vanilla Ice thought himself as a "real" rapper, few in the industry actually gave a damn about him. The producers of his film were clearly looking to make a quick buck, as Cool as Ice looks like a really crappy cash grab, even for crappy cash grab standards. The plot resembles an Elvis picture, but Ice has none of the charm or acting ability (at least Elvis had SOME acting ability) to make the film bearable. The dialogue is shamefully lazy, as is the cinematography and set design. 

Cool as Ice might have worked if it was a five minute music video, admittedly the choreography is pretty decent and the music is...tolerable? I feel sort of bad for Ice, who was left behind just as the culture as a whole was shifting. Granted, I doubt this picture would work in any era

No Stars

Review #994: Golden Earrings (1947)

Title: Golden Earrings
Year: 1947
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Country: US
Language: English

Golden Earrings
is a post-war romantic spy film made by Paramount Pictures and directed by Mitchell Leisen. The director entered the film industry in the 1920s, beginning in the art and costume departments. He directed his first film in 1933 with Cradle Song and became known for his skill in soap opera romance-dramas, which would often leave audiences in tears. Unfortunately his filmography is somewhat of a mixed bag; some of his films are worthwhile endeavors whereas others feel like they should have been kept on the shelf. 

On the eve of World War II English officer Ralph Denistoun (Ray Milland) is in Nazi Germany on an espionage mission to recover a poison gas formula from Prof. Krosigk. He is helped by a Roma gypsy (Marlene Dietrich)

Much of this picture has good intention, as it is partly about the gypsies' plight against the Nazi oppressors. However while watching the film it is clear that neither writers, actors or director is actually aware of the horrifying fates that awaited real gypsies in 1939, infact I'm willing to bet that they've never met a real gypsy. Dietrich's character has all the stereotypical caricatures one would expect out of an Old Hollywood picture. 

Poor cultural depictions aside, Dietrich is the main attraction of this film. Her beauty and tongue-in-cheek performance help make the picture tolerable. It's also noteworthy that she pushes typical male/female gender roles, albeit this may seem tame for people viewing this picture in 2017. If we're purely looking at this as a romance picture then I must say it is fairly well written albeit it feels a bit too slow paced and the plot is fairly predictable. 

Golden Earrings is worth a watch just to see the grand Hollywood star that is Dietrich. Do go into the film with low expectations in regards to political correctness though, as 1940's pictures had the tendency to be slightly racist when depicting other cultures. Not entirely a memorable film, but I might watch it again someday. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Review #993: Straw Dogs (1971)

Title: Straw Dogs
Year: 1971
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Country: US
Language: English

Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs was met with great controversy upon its release, mostly due to its violent and graphic nature. Critics accused the director of glamorizing rape, engaging in misogyny and highlighting male chauvinism. Roger Ebert simply called the film a "disappointment", but Pauline Kael famously identified it as “the first American film that is a fascist work of art.” 

Upon moving to Britain to get away from American violence, astrophysicist David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) are bullied and taken advantage of by the locals hired to do construction. When David finally takes a stand it escalates quickly into a bloody battle as the locals assault his house. 

Straw Dogs was made when Peckinpah was at the height of his power and popularity as an artist. He had began his career as a production assistant and dialogue director for TV Westerns like Gunsmoke and The Rifleman. In 1961 he made his first feature film The Deadly Companions, but it was 1962's Ride the High Country that solidified his reputation as a great Western director. 

Trouble followed or was invited by Peckinpah at every step of his career.Many of his films (most notably The Wild Bunch) would be re-edited to be less controversial & he would get into shouting matches with his producers.because of his limited freedom. Increased drug use meant that he would frequently push the envelope creatively. To those who knew him, it was no surprise that Straw Dogs would get banned from England for 30 years due to scenes of rape and murder. 

I'd be lying if I said I knew what I thought about this film. It's a rather complex picture that is polarizing to many viewers and has ethics that are many shades of grey, rather than a clear black and white. Maybe Straw Dogs IS a violent hyper-masculine picture with nothing intelligent to say; then again, Straw Dogs gives no easy answers and its themes can prove to be rather complex. 

Regardless of morality, Straw Dogs is a technically well made, deliberately paced picture that proves to have the atmosphere of a horror movie. Peckinpah portrays a decaying relationship well, as every "beneath the surface" tension and frustration slowly builds towards an inescapable climax. Even if this film is purely shock, we must at least give credit where credit is due. 

No Rating

Review #992: Warning Shadows (1923)

Title: Warning Shadows
Year: 1923
Director: Arthur Robison
Country: Germany
Language: N/A

When discussing silent German Cinema usually the names Fritz Lang & F.W Murnau come to mind first. German-American director Arthur Robison is nowhere near as famous as those two (his Wikipedia page contains just two sentences on the man) but he has two remarkable classics under his belt. Though he made 20 pictures between 1916 and 1935, the greatest of these are The Informer (1929) and Warning Shadows (1923). 

A wealthy man (Alexander Granach) invites the local wealthy bachelors over for a puppet show about men who covet another man's wife. The puppeteer is actually a witch and gives the men nightmares about what could happen if they date the lady of the house.

The film is of interest to silent movie buffs because it is one of the few pictures without inter-titles. The story is entirely visual, letting the camera tell the story rather than an abundance of title cards (some films at the time used hundreds!) The emotions here are universal; it's about a man who is extremely jealous of his wife. The shadows in the film play tricks on him to drive him mad. They show an illusion; that his wife and his friend are making love, when in reality they could be several feet apart. 

Shadows and reflections are portrayed as both deceivers and truth-tellers. Reality and the perception of reality dance back and forth with neither the audience nor the characters ever being completely sure what is real. Paranoia, and the fantasies brought about by the condition, turn out to be true- until they aren't. Its layout and design is ingenious. 

Cinematographer Fritz Arno Wagner proves he is a master of his craft with Warning Shadows. He creates a stylized, moody and atmospheric shadow play that is unmatched in the history of silent cinema. The remarkable eighteenth century costuming certainly adds to this film's fairy tale-like quality. Overall Robison's picture is a must see. 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review #991: Baby Driver (2017)

Title: Baby Driver
Year: 2017
Director: Edgar Wright
Country: UK
Language: English

If you enjoyed Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive, then it is without a shadow of a doubt that you'll love Edgar Wright's Baby Driver. Wright had the basic idea for the plot in 1994; he adapted the film's original planned beginning into a 2003 music video he directed for Mint Royale's Blue Song. After leaving his long-in-development Ant-Man film with Marvel in 2014, the director pursued his passion project.

After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

A lot of films with great soundtracks (La La Land, Suicide Squad) would work well as glorified music videos, but are unfit for the silver screen. With Baby Driver Wright creates a memorable piece of cinema by fusing the crime caper, the car chase and a killer soundtrack into one well oiled machine. Each song is carefully selected, having planned each choice at the scripting phase. Wright's foresight creates a fluid film that has a remarkable musical style. 

Wright’s editing team of Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos synchronize the picture in such a way that they achieve a rare symphony of rhythm, style and substance. Even a trip to the coffee shop, shot in an extended take with steady cam, can't help but feel lively and full of energy. The downside however, is that while flashy car sequences take center stage there aren't really any deep nuanced relationships.  Baby and his girlfriend Deborah's (Lily James) romance is far too simplistic. Heck, Deborah herself  is hardly a strong female character, acting mainly as the damsel in distress. 

Though the acting by Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx & Ansel Elgort is remarkable, I feel Baby Driver scrapped character development in favor of being a slick "cool" genre picture. In short, these characters are nowhere near as well written as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost's from Hot Fuzz. Even as style over substance, there is still quite a bit of substance to be had and thus Baby Driver is a very rewarding and enriching 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review #990: The Crowd (1928)

Title: The Crowd
Year: 1928
Director: King Vidor
Country: US
Language: N/A

French director Jean Luc Godard was asked in the 1960's why more films were not made about ordinary people, and his response was "The Crowd had already been made, so why remake it?" King Vidor's picture was a modest critical and commercial success upon release, but was not immediately hailed as a masterpiece due to audiences desiring escapist entertainment over stark realism following the wake of the Great Depression. Filmmakers would not embrace the genius of The Crowd until after World War II. 

Vidor presents the life of a man and woman together in a large, impersonal metropolis through their hopes, struggles and downfalls.

MGM head Louis B. Mayer hated The Crowd when it was first released, mainly due to the film's realistic cynicism, which can still prove jarring for people whose only exposure to silent cinema is that of comedy (Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd). It's a groundbreaking and courageous picture that has no major stars, lacks in any real plot, lacks in dramatic conflict and is about ordinary people. It has the same cinematic current as post-war neo-realism and, although there is no standout acting that chews the scenery, is absolutely engaging from start to finish. 

The main theme of The Crowd is the loneliness in being one of the crowd, subject to its fleetingly concerned curiosity in moments of untimely tragedy and its active indifference to the individual’s plight. The crowd doesn't care when our loved ones pass away, no matter how much they mean to us. Vidor exemplified this theme using MGM's extravagant resources. He combined naturalistic filming, on occasions using hidden cameras on the streets of New York, with expressionistic use of studio sets, lighting and camera placement to heighten moments of personal crisis.

Much of Vidor's techniques would still have been considered innovative even after the sound period was in full swing, as the limitations of early sound (specifically how far a camera could be from a microphone) prevented such masterful framing. The Crowd is certainly a unique picture that deserves the love it gets from film-buffs. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Review #989: French Cancan (1955)

Title: French Cancan
Year: 1955
Director: Jean Renoir
Country: France
Language: French

French Director Francois Truffaut (Jules & Jim) was a film reviewer in Arts magazine at the time Jean Renoir's French Cancan hit theatres in 1955. Truffaut felt that it was a milestone in the history of colour cinema, yet did not consider it as important as Rules of the Game (1939) or The Golden Coach (1952). The picture did fairly well at the box office in its country and received the Grand Prix de l'Academie du CinĂ©ma in 1956. 

French Cancan chronicles the revival of Paris' most notorious dance as it tells the story of a theater producer who turns a humble washerwoman into a star at the Moulin Rouge.

The only other film I've seen about the Moulin Rouge has been Baz Luhrmann's obnoxious hyper-stylized "musical" (albeit not a note in the film is original) Moulin Rouge! It's a film so terrible that it makes Jean Renoir's French Cancan look like Citizen Kane in comparison. With this picture Renoir creates an impressive personal statement about the collaborative arts. It is an artist's tribute to art, thus it is quite detailed and honest.

The film has a remarkable amount of pastel-coloured backgrounds. The costumes are vibrant and alluring as well. The staging of the actors and position of the camera, combined with beautiful set design give the film a fairy-tale atmosphere where anything and everything is possible. Just as the screen bursts with color, we are taken in by a wide range of emotion from the actors. In less than two hours we find ourselves blown away by this roller-coaster of passion & torment. 

French Cancan is a film I've wanted to see for a long time, but I have never been able to get around to it. I had high hopes for this film, especially considering the high status of the Director, and I was certainly pleased by the results. Should Criterion ever upgrade this to blu-ray I will certainly buy it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Review #988: The Freshman (1925)

Title: The Freshman
Year: 1925
Director: Fred Newmeyer 
Country: US
Language: English

Harold Lloyd began his film career imitating the most popular fictional character at the time; Charles Chaplin's Tramp. As he matured as an actor, these mild imitations died down and he had created his own "glasses" character after the unique horn rimmed glasses that he wore. Once his own popularity spiked fans of Lloyd would become fascinated in trying to look like him. The hero of The Freshman is also greatly influenced by popular culture and wishes to look like his icon from the fictional movie The College Hero

In The Freshman Lloyd plays a a nerdy college student will do anything to become popular on campus. 

Upon entering feature length films in 1921 Lloyd had great desire to perfect his character and thus starred in pictures that best suited him. Often these films had the same plot; a young man leaves home in an attempt to enter and succeed in society at large. The formula worked and by 1925 there were few silent film comedians with a more enduring popularity than Harold Lloyd. This particular film was his most financially successful, albeit overtime Safety Last! appears to be his most remembered. 

Upon watching the film I found a stark difference between how Charles Chaplin, another silent icon, and Harold Lloyd view society. Chaplin sees society as absurd and his characters try hard not to fit in (see: Modern Times) whereas Lloyd's entire goal is to be part of this society. Lloyd has a more "American" spirit about him, as the idea that "if you try hard you will be successful" permeates throughout his filmography. 

The Freshman is a fine, but dated, comedy that will still have audiences chuckling even if the picture is 90+ years old. I appreciate that it doesn't try to elicit cheap slapstick laughs, rather the film is more concerned with developing its character arc. Even if you're more of a Chaplin "at odds with society" fan you'll still be amused by Lloyd's work.