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, February 24, 2017

Review #876: Change of Habit (1969)

Title: Change of Habit
Year: 1969
Director: William A. Graham
Country: US
Language: English
At this point in Elvis' career it is obvious that he was relishing completing his 10 year film contract as he had become completely disillusioned with the film industry, who had given him cookie cutter formulaic roles (He's singing in Hawaii get it!?) instead of more memorable and challenging feautres. His handler, Col. Tom Parker, preferred the easy money and turned down 1969 Best Picture Winner Midnight Cowboy and A Star is Born on Elvis' behalf. Change of Habit would be his last film. 

Elvis in an uncommon dramatic role playing Dr John Carpenter, an inner city Doctor working in a free clinic. Mary Tyler Moore plays a nurse and a catholic Nun who is sent by the catholic action committee with two others dressed as nurses to help him.

In Change of Habit Elvis manages to break away from the traditional song and dance to make a sentimental drama which shows that the King of Rock has a pretty wide acting range. The film's intriguing idea has a well-enough-constructed plotline to flesh out its premise for good family fair. Humor helps give this picture a faster pace, without it I fear Elvis' last picture would be a depressing bore. 

The chemistry between Mary Tyler Moore and Elvis Presley is unconvincing, which is strange considering they work so well in other pairings. Moore delivers a spirited performance, perhaps better than her male counterpart. One very disturbing aspect of the film is a scene that celebrates `Rage Reduction Therapy' (also known as `Holding Therapy'), a controversial treatment for Autistic children. It somewhat takes away from the picture, but I guess we can think of at a "film of its time".

Well...except that Change of Habit wasn't "of its time". New Hollywood was in full swing and people demanded more from their films. More sexuality, more violence, more blurred morality lines. Audiences of 69' dismissed this picture as a relic of the past and thus it didn't make much money in the box office. 


Review #875: Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962)

Title: Girls! Girls! Girls!
Year: 1962
Director: Norman Taurog
Country: US
Language: English

After the enormous success of Blue Hawaii (1961), Paramount producer Hal Wallis took Elvis back to Hawaii to film the location scenes for the film. Such colorful scenery was a staple of Elvis’s movies in the early 1960s. The formula was simple: unpretentious light musical comedy with plenty of Elvis musical numbers. There was one major difference, however, Elvis would no longer be supported by an experienced supporting cast. 

When he finds out his boss is retiring to Arizona, a sailor (Elvis Presley) has to find a way to buy the Westwind, a boat that he and his father built. He is also caught between two women.

In most of his previous film vehicles, Elvis had been surrounded by strong supporting casts. King Creole and Kid Galahad are two examples of how experienced co-stars helped enhance Presley’s performance and provide his films with credibility. The studio would begin to rely on Elvis' popularity alone, which seemed like a bit of a rocky strategy, especially because the character in this film was given rather shallow writing.Thankfully Elvis had improved his acting since the early days of his film career. 

Counting the light final production number there are 12 Presley tunes in the film. They average about nine minutes apart, with some being separated by as little as two minutes. Elvis' breakout performance, Return to Sender, helped sell a lot of soundtracks and earned Elvis a Golden Globe nomination for best actor. Unfortunately, due to reliance of the current dance craze ("the twist"), the choreography is sub-par particularly because its dated and out of Elvis' range. We want to see hip gyrations damnit! 

Girls! Girls! Girls! is an enjoyable little Elvis picture that tries its best out of a formula that is running out of gas. It features some good production design and cinematography. Elvis in Hawaii is an iconic image in the minds of his fans. 

Review #874: Blue Hawaii (1961)

Title: Blue Hawaii
Year: 1961
Director: Norman Taurog
Country: US
Language: English
For Paramount, producer Hal Wallis returned to the format that had worked so well for him and Elvis in G.I. Blues the year before. It was a formula of musical comedy laced throughout with plenty of Elvis tunes. The success of Elvis’s first post-army film and the relatively low box office returns of 20th Century Fox’s two dramatic vehicles for Elvis - both notable for not having much of a score- brought into focus the King's natural musical charisma. 

Chad Gates (Elvis Presley) has just gotten out of the Army, and is happy to be back in Hawaii with his surf-board, his beach buddies, and his girlfriend. His father wants him to go to work at the Great Southern Hawaiian Fruit Company, but Chad is reluctant.

Elvis’s acting ability was certainly not challenged in Blue Hawaii, but he handled his modest duties with enthusiasm and humor. At age 26, his physical maturity had put him beyond the “angry young man” role he had played in all but one of his previous seven films. The supporting cast provided a nice romantic atmosphere for our main character to interact with. Angela Lansbury nearly steals the film from Elvis, despite seeing Blue Hawaii as a low point in her career. 

The immediate screen chemistry between Elvis and his beautiful co-star, Joan Blackman, portraying the couple in love, is quite in evidence here and they both play off each other amicably. Of course he wouldn't be the King of Rock without a decent number of showtunes. These songs blended the local islands traditional themes('Aloha-oe', 'Ku-u-i-po', 'Island of Love'), with silly production tunes('Ito Eats' and 'Almost Always True') and a taste of the new movie-style rock 'n' roll numbers ('Rock-A-Hula Baby' and 'Slicin' Sand'). Its score became one of the best selling soundtracks of all time. 

Walter Tyler’s colorful sets and natural backdrops combine wonderfully with Charles Lang Jr.’s picturesque photography, Warren Low’s snappy editing. Elvis certainly has made better films (Jailhouse Rock) but that doesn't mean Blue Hawaii isn't good cinematic entertainment. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Review #873: Shanghai Noon (2000)

Title: Shanghai Noon
Year: 2000

Director: Tom Dey
Country: US
Language: English
Much of Cinematic History has a long-standing tradition of West influencing East and vice-versa. The John Ford/Howard Hawks Westerns of the 30's and 40's inspired Eastern film-makers (Akira Kurosawa) to make samurai pictures in the 50's. This then inspires Italian filmmakers of the 60's to create the Spaghetti Western, which then inspires the Chinese to make their Hong Kong action flicks of the 70's and 80's, which is how Jackie Chan became a star. Shanghai Noon is a neat film that tries an "East meets West" plot (albeit under a traditional Western narrative).

In this, a Chinese man (Jackie Chan) travels to the Wild West to rescue a kidnapped princess. After teaming up with a train robber (Owen Wilson), the unlikely duo takes on a Chinese traitor and his corrupt boss. 

Jackie Chan is an entertainer who transcends any specific culture. His astonishing physical gifts, which made him a star, find a perfect counterpoint in Mr. Wilson's goofy verbal riffing. The most notable aspects of the picture are the impressively choreographed fight scenes, all in the slapstick style that evokes the great silent pantomime artists like Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton. This, moreso than the writing (albeit the writing is also very good), made me laugh quite a bit. 

Mel Brooks-esque in humor, Shanghai Noon traffics in the high farce of multicultural misunderstanding. It tweaks stereotypes even as it spoofs multicultural sensitivity. Overall it is, in classic western tradition, a celebration of male bonding, unabashedly juvenile, boyishly risque and disarmingly sweet. Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan have an undeniable chemistry that would certainly entice their Studio to put them in more flicks. 

Shanghai Noon is a very good natured breeze of a picture. Even when its plot slows down toward the end, we can't help but still feel attached to the characters and their situation. While it isn't a "great" film, it's still one of the better comedies to come out of the early 2000's.

Review #872: The Indian in the Cupboard (1995)

Title: The Indian in the Cupboard
Year: 1995
Director: Frank Oz
Country: US
Language: English

Adapted by screenwriter Melissa Mathison (E.T. the Extraterrestrial) from Lynne Reid Banks' popular children's book, and directed by ex-Muppeteer Frank Oz (The Little Shop of Horrors), Indian in the Cupboard seems to be best left in the 1990's, when the world wasn't so fixated on political correctness in children's movies. I can't imagine this film (or it's title) actually making it to theatres in the 2010's, not that it's has racist overtones, but race in general nowadays is a subject one would has to walk on eggshells with. 

On his ninth birthday a boy receives many presents. Two of them first seem to be less important: an old cupboard from his brother and a little Indian (Indigenous, aboriginal etc.) figure made of plastic from his best friend. The cupboard turns the (insert correct wording) toy into a living person (albeit same size) 

Indian in the Cupboard works best when focused on the enticing mystery at the center-point of the picture. This film's real-world characters are never as interesting as, say, a shootout in which tiny arrows make the lights flash on a boy's gigantic running shoe. It's a gimmick that can remind one of Toy Story, albeit that had far more energy and its gimmick didn't lose my interest halfway through the picture.

Frank Oz, who injected most of his pictures with humor and vivacity, seems to have dropped that here. Even the music is banal and lacks any sense of place. Oz does a good job at treating the Iroquois man with dignity, but he is so focused on making a poignant statement about racism that he seems overly cautious and treads a bit too lightly. 

The special effects wizardry is unique no doubt, albeit the many uses of close-ups suggest Oz and his cinematographer were limited in skill. Indian in the Cupboard is a clean, family-friendly, somewhat whitewashed picture about race relations that unfortunately is a bit dated compared to other films from the 90's. I enjoyed it as a kid, tolerated it as an adult.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review #871: The Simpsons Movie (2007)

Title: The Simpsons Movie
Year: 2007
Director: David Silverman
Country: US
Language: English

The Simpsons began in 1989, birthing a cultural phenomenon unmatched for animation, making it the longest running comedy program on television just after Saturday Night Live—certainly the longest-running animated series ever. As of right now there have been 28 Seasons, despite the first 13 only really being considered "great", and there are no signs of stopping. Devout fans know creator Matt Groening and producer James L. Brooks have been pushing for a film since the series’ inception, and although this is quite belated, at least it finally hit cinemas. 

After Homer accidentally pollutes the town's water supply, Springfield is encased in a gigantic dome by the EPA and the Simpson family are declared fugitives. 

I recall episodes similar to this film's plot: when Mr. Burns tries to blot out the sun and his attempted assassination follows, or when Homer exposes the secrets of Springfield’s residents only to be kidnapped by the government for being too dangerous. Here we have a forumlaic not-so-subtle pro-environmentalist picture that is adequately written and fairly sentimental. Most impressive is the animation, which brings out the richness of Springfield's environment and characters. 

I appreciate that the movie doesn't shove gags down our throats, unlike most modern comedies. I dislike that the more witty and obscure references from the show are toned down to make this picture more commercial. Instead of an intelligent Hitchcock observation we get...spiderpig. I was 15 at the time this film hit theatres, The Simpsons movie was supposed to appeal to a young audience, but I just found so many moments dull. Groening tries very hard to be "hip", but doesn't win over his intended demographic. 

While I've re-watched the show many times throughout the years, heck I just watched some of Season 10 today. I haven't had any desire to revisit The Simpsons Movie. It's alright, nothing to write home about. It isn't as faithful to the show as you might hope, and if you are a big Simpsons fan then you might even be a little disappointed. 

Review #870: The Untouchables (1987)

Title: The Untouchables
Year: 1987
Director: Brian De Palma
Country: US
Language: English

Shortly after Eliot Ness brought down Prohibition mobster Al Capone, stories about Ness’ group of handpicked, incorruptible “Untouchables” became the stuff of romanticized storytelling. Americans invited these stories into their homes from 1959 to 1963 with an ABC television series of the same name, starring Robert Stack as Ness. Based on the 1957 book, which Ness co-wrote with Oscar Fraley, Brian De Palma's film reinforces those dreamy visions of Ness’ heroism for the Cinema. 

Federal Agent Eliot Ness (Sean Connery) sets out to stop Al Capone (Robert DeNiro); because of rampant corruption, he assembles a small, hand-picked team.

The Untouchables represented a crucial point in his career. De Palma’s last two films, Body Double (1984) and Wise Guys (1986), flopped at the box-office, and he needed something that would show the studios he could direct a profitable picture. Only then could De Palma once again explore his more independent, personal features. It's an intoxicating gangster feature that aesthetically supports the Hollywood vision of a glamorous era of attractive violence, while thematically tearing that vision apart.

De Palma's Mise En Scene is incredible in The Untouchables. Every frame perfectly captures this period in American history, even the architecture is a feast to behold. Throughout the film, characters begin to take on the larger-than-life personalities of their surroundings—the vaulted ceilings, ornate walls, and mannerist styles. The shots perfectly capture the mood of the characters and their surroundings. The Untouchables opens with an overhead shot looking down on Al Capone in a barber’s chair, a throne that De Palma uses to make Capone seem like a king. 

The film is quite complicated in regards to the morality of each character. Eliot Ness wants to be the "hero" of the story, but is slowly falling under his own principles. There is no doubt that The Untouchables was made by a technical master in De Palma; he has made quite the visual splendor of a film.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review #869: The Crow (1994)

Title: The Crow
Year: 1994
Director: Alex Poryas
Country: US

Language: English

Brandon Lee had only three days of filming left of The Crow when he was killed. The story goes that there was a scene involving a gun fight, one of the guns was accidentally loaded with real bullets instead of blanks and Lee would find his end at the end of a barrel. Though there are some scenes in shadow that use a double, and some computer-enhanced scenes that seamlessly lift his image from one setting and place it in another, Lee's performance is still noteworthy. There is no doubt that this role would have led to more mainstream success for the actor. 

Brandon Lee stars as brutally murdered man, who comes back to life as an undead avenger of his and his fiancée's murder

The Crow has a unique visual style, created by cinematographer Dariusz Wolski, who lifted his ideas from gothic graphic novels (The Crow itself was originally a graphic novel). The camera swoops high above the city, or dips low for extreme-angle shots. Shadows are ever present, striking fear into the viewer. Buildings have exaggerated architecture that is reminiscent of Tim Burton's Batman. It's essentially a film-noir in terms of visual language. 

The Crow is faster paced than a film noir however, and it evokes its gothic style far better than Batman ever could. It has a bleak modern sensibility, which is compounded by the wall-to-wall hard rock soundtrack which features The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Pantera among others. The script is adequate for a violent revenge picture (though not on the same level as Oldboy)but its main success is creating such a bizarre and intriguing world. Despite being 23 years old, The Crow doesn't seem as aged as some of its contemporaries,

Brandon Lee's swan song is an adrenaline feast which benefits from having startling images burst through the screen. It is one of the best comic-to-film adaptations I have seen as it is a work of technical brilliance. It is quite unique, a "must see" for the visuals for-sure. 

Review #868: Ratatouille (2007)

Title: Ratatouille
Year: 2007
Director: Brad Bird
Country: US
Language: English

Pixar does a tremendous job at allowing audiences to connect with things they normally wouldn't.  Finding Nemo found warmth in the cold blooded, scaly creatures of the deep; Cars brought inanimate metal to life; Toy Story turned hunks of plastic into empathetic human-like beings. Ratatouille seeks to do the same, albeit with creatures much harder to love. Granted talking furry rodents are hardly a novelty in cartoons, people have been entranced by Mickie Mouse for decades, but Ratatouille isn't anthropomorphic (at least physically) and he seeks to be a professional cook. In any other world, this scenario would be "icky" at best. 

In this, a rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt) who can cook makes an unusual alliance with a young kitchen worker at a famous restaurant. 

Written and directed by Brad Bird and displaying the usual meticulousness associated with the Pixar brand, “Ratatouille” is a nearly flawless piece of popular art that is both simple and sophisticated. Though the art is not ground breakingly impressive, the animation is still remarkable and has the sensibility that could only come from a former Simpsons animator. Ratatouille is a cautious film, Bird knows all the cliches and does his best to avoid them. We do not get the same lazy plot structure that plagues other Disney pictures. 

As a character Ratatouille is rather complex. He is cute and attempts to be ethical, but can also be demanding and insecure. Trying not to overwhelm its audience with excessive noise and sensation, the film does have some frenzied kitchen choreography but ultimately is about character development and steadily growing complications.  Ultimately Ratatouille celebrates the passionate, sometimes aggressive pursuit of excellence.

Ratatouille is perhaps my favourite Pixar movie. Remy is an engaging protagonist, Mr. Ego (Peter O' Toole!) is an entertaining antagonist. The situations the characters find themselves in have fairly unpredictable resolutions. The writing could easily be considered the best Disney/Pixar has had in a long while. 

Playtime (1967) Review- By Michael J. Carlisle

Title: Playtime
Year: 1967

Director: Jacques Tati
Country: France
Language: French
Upon its release in 1967, PlayTime was the most expensive film ever made in France. And yet, it contains almost no story and its dialogue is mostly inconsequential. Like Tati’s other pictures, the dialogue has been post-synchronized and its volume turned down to direct our attention to forms of behavior and visual gags in the impractical spaces he’s chosen to depict. The spaces were inspired in part by French president Charles de Gaulle who, upon being elected, made a vow to develop his country’s economy and reform Paris into a modern city. The city of the future was on its way, and its expansion was modeled according to dull, functional, pointedly Americanized specifications.

Tati's curious character curiously wanders around a high-tech Paris, paralleling a trip with a group of American tourists. Meanwhile, a nightclub/restaurant prepares its opening night, but it's still under construction. 

Tati’s famous alter ego Monsieur Hulot, who first appeared in M. Hulot’s Holiday (1953) and then Mon oncle (1958) walks around the impressive Tativille, a satire of Paris at the time, bemused and bewildered at the sights and sounds of this daunting metropolis. One can compare this picture to Charles Chaplin's Modern Times, although while the Tramp was focused on technology of the future Tati is focused on the architecture. It's a visually impressive picture, so large in scale that our eyes can't help but examine every detail in each shot. 

The experience of PlayTime amounts to a series of moments and gags realized over a leisurely runtime. Some gags remain unresolved and some will surpass the viewer over multiple viewings. Tati himself considers Playtime to be "abstract art". He resists narrative in favor of a methodical and mannered formal technique. By placing his audience at a distance and allowing wonderfully choreographed moments to unfold before us we are provided a unique filmgoing experience, though admittedly it might turn modern audiences off. 

Upon its release in France Playtime received a tremendous amount of public criticism and, due to political circumstances of the time, it did not make as much money as Tati hoped. Playtime is not the easiest picture to get into, but patience is greatly rewarded. I knew I was watching something unique, I have never seen another film quite like this.