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.

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Lost World (1925) Review

Title: The Lost World
Year: 1925
Director: Harry O' Hoyt
Country: US
Language: N/A

By 1925, now-acclaimed animator William O' Brian had completed several short subjects using stop-motion technology, including The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1915) and The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918). His overall goal was to combine stop-motion and live action with more realism and drama than ever before. This goal would lead him to the impressive film The Lost World (1925)

This is the first film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic novel about a land where prehistoric creatures still roam.

Concerning an expedition by a group of men with differing goals. Their shared destination is a plateau of rock, hidden deep in the Amazon jungle, upon which live creatures forgotten by time. Later Lost World would be the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park. We are shown many sketches drawn by the main character, which builds up great suspense. We know the animals are “tremendous in size and ferocity,”, but the doodles enforce the point and offer us a taste of things to come. 

Unfortunately the technical limitations of 1925 meant that O'Brian's stop motion didn't really work. The obvious rubber models moved stiffly and had very little speed. Most importantly it didn't feel like the animated dinosaurs and live action humans were part of the same universe. When the humans say they are in danger, we don't feel like they actually are in danger. This is a shame because the film had great potential and was building up to something quite great before the dinosaurs showed up. 

The Lost World makes a poor picture, but it is a nice case-study of special effects development. We see bits and pieces of King Kong (1933), O'Brian's masterpiece, but know that the technique isn't quite ready yet. Worthy of a glance for curiosity's sake. 

Castle in the Sky (1986) Review

Title: Castle in the Sky
Year: 1986
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese

Hayao Miyazaki wanted his third feature-length animated picture, Castle in the Sky, to be simple and entertaining enough to please "elementary school age" children. As a result, Miyazaki created self-imposed limitations in regards to scope and style of animation and the film compares to more classic forms of anime. With this picture he sought to “help resurrect traditionally entertaining manga- or cartoon-style films.” 

A young boy (James Van Der Beek)  and a girl (Anna Paquin) with a magic crystal must race against pirates and foreign agents in a search for a legendary floating castle.

Miyazaki avoids clear signifiers of time and setting, despite designing his film’s pseudo-Celtic culture from the mining culture of Wales. He juxtaposes varied clothing styles and technologies as non-indicators representative of an alternate world. The castle itself derives its shape from an inspired mixture of M.C. Esher, classic fairy tale imagery, and the ruins of ancient civilizations all wrapped up into a single construct.  The castle represents the ideologies of the past and the potential dangers of the future

The intended ease of Castle in the Sky presents a Miyazaki work that doesn't tread far beyond shallow water. Granted, this is still a greater picture than anything Disney had released in the 1980's. Often Miyazaki's pictures appeal to adults and children somewhat equally, but this picture is the exception in regards to tipping the scale too far towards children. 

Minor environmentalist and anti-technology themes reveal a little bit of depth, but the picture is mainly comprised of exciting chases and remarkable imagery. At heart its an escapist picture meant to make its audience lose itself in the feeling of adventure. Certainly a fine viewing. 

Ready Player One (2018) Review

Title: Ready Player One
Year: 2018
Director: Steven Spielberg
Country: US
Language: English

At the age of 71, Steven Spielberg's willingness to continue challenging himself has resulted in one of his best works in over a decade. His lost glory from lackluster pictures like Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull (2007) has been slightly rejuvenated in the eyes of many fans. His adaptation of Ernest Cline’s 2011 novel, a text already inspired by Spielberg tropes, was a smart move to show on the silver screen. 

When the creator of a virtual reality world called the OASIS dies, he releases a video in which he challenges all OASIS users to find his Easter Egg, which will give the finder his fortune. Our protagonist Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) tries his hardest to do so. 

A mix of Tron and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Cline's novel embraces 80's nostalgia with no shame. Cline co-wrote the screenplay with Zak Penn, deviating from the source material but keeping the overall structure of the novel intact. If anything, the film's screenplay is better than the book as the film has a greater focus on real world consequences rather than long scenes of playing video games. 

Spielberg alternates between a grimy, grayed-out reality and the intentionally cartoony CGI wonderland of the Oasis, where Wade resembles a Final Fantasy character. He claimed the production was an "anxiety attack" due to the tremendous amount of CGI involved, but thankfully his special effects team came through. The material works far better as a film primarily because of the visuals. It's one thing to read about Godzilla vs. Gundam Knight, it's another thing to see it. 

The sheer volume of references is exhausting; one wonders how good the film would be without the cheap pops. Overall it's a fun film, but neither book or film ventured too far out of shallow waters. Ideally I don't want movies to be made like Ready Player One (2018), mainly due to its over-reliance on CGI, but I can't deny it's worth at least one viewing. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Kanal (1956) Review

Title: Kanal
Year: 1956
Director: Andrzej Wajda
Country: Poland
Language: Polish

The Warsaw Uprising was a major World War Two event that happened in the Polish capital during the Summer of 1944. The Polish Resistance, led by the Home Army, attempted to liberate their city from German Occupation. The timing of the uprising was meant to coincide with the Russian Red Army advance into German territory, but unfortunately plans became quite distorted. Kanal is the first film to be made about this event. 

In 1944, during the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis, Polish Lieutenant Zadra (Wienczyslaw Glinski) and his resistance fighters use Warsaw's sewer system to escape the German encirclement.

With Kanal, Andrzej Wajda  shows a monumental battle between despair and determination that is inflicted on the emotional and psychological stability of the resistance fighters which proves quite haunting as time goes by. The claustrophobic nature of the sewer canal, wherein the majority of the film takes place, takes on an eerie atmosphere, which makes this film feel like a horror picture. World War Two is horror and Wajda does not hesitate to show us this. 

We observe the result of war via the dilapidated condition of once proud Warsaw, the depression and anger in the eyes of many members of the resistance, and the physical price many victims of war must pay. The omnipresence of death and decay, which in turns shatters the spirit of many of our heroes, is what truly attacks the protagonists on all fronts. Of all the World War Two films I've seen, Kanal tries its hardest not to glorify the war. 

Wajda, who experienced this chaos as a civilian, does a tremendous job at making his audience empathize with the Polish people. Teresa Izewska does a standout job being the exact opposite of what Nazis thought Polish women could/would/should be. She's a strong and smart woman, who ends up being stronger than the men in this film! Kanal, though depressing, is a remarkable picture. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Jeanne d'Arc (1899) Review

Title: Jeanne D'Arc
Year: 1899
Director: Georges Melies
Country: France
Language: N/A

The silent era, which started in 1878 and ended in 1927, was a 40+ year period of artistic growth in regards to technological and artistic advancements. In 1899 film was still in its infancy; looking more like live theater. The actors in Jeanne d’Arc appear to us as they would have on-stage: small, with out-sized gestures and elaborate costumes to confirm their roles and actions.

In the village of Domrémy, the young Joan is visited by Saint Michael, Saint Catherine, and Saint Margaret, who exhort her to fight for her country. She is captured by the enemy and burned at the stake.

The effect of the actors' exaggerated pantomime can be seen as quite goofy to 21st Century audiences. In addition the lack of plot can be seen as a bit awkward, because we are not used to how films used to be. Pioneer special effect filmmaker Georges Meilies doesn't structure Jeanne d'Arc like a typical movie; rather he cherry-picks key scenes from the Joan of Arc legend and presents each as a standalone piece.

The result is fun film that, while not exactly 100% faithful to the original story, would have blown 1899 audiences away with its special effects, costuming and set design. The running time, a solid 10 minutes, was also fairly unique for the time. Believe it or not, Jeanne d'Arc was actually considered a long movie once upon a time.

Though its steeped in theatre, Melies manages to give his audience an experience that they couldn't find live. There are quite a few close-ups and camera angles that are at a proximity no stage show could ever reproduce. Jeanne d'Arc was and remains quite a treat.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

One Week (1920) Review

Title: One Week
Year: 1920
Director: Edward F. Cline
Country: US
Language: N/A

One Week was Buster Keaton’s first starring vehicle—a 19-minute short that kicked off a decade of artistic achievement matched by few people afterward, including Buster Keaton. Though this was his humble beginning, we can see seeds of great films like The General (1927) within this picture. His love for gags, both spectacular and subtle, can be seen here. 

A newly wedded couple attempts to build a house with a prefabricated kit, unaware that a rival sabotaged the kit's component numbering.

The story is basic, but the jokes certainly make up for it. The newlywed couple  find that their house is a DIY project in the most literal sense. They mis-assemble the house to comic effect, establishing funny elements destined to appear again and again in Keaton’s work. We also see Keaton's desire for potentially deadly stunts as, in one scene, he climbs from one car into another at high speed. 

One week is a brisk, charming and, most importantly, funny Buster Keaton picture that proves captivating almost a century after it was made. Armed with an incredible visual imagination, One Week is just one of many great pictures by this silent clown. The most amusing scene may be when Keaton gets into a fight with a cop that has a very familiar toothbrush mustache. A jab at Chaplin perhaps? Watch to find out! 

Blackmail (1929) Review

Title: Blackmail
Year: 1929
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Country: US
Language: English

Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock directed ten silent films at the beginning of his career, nine of which survive. They are little known today- mainly due to being silent, but also because their video quality was absolutely dreadful. In 2012 the British Film Institute completed restorations of of all nine and, from what I've seen with Lodger & Blackmail, they look absolutely breathtaking. To have those pictures in such quality is a miracle. 

After killing a man in self-defense, a young woman (Anna Ondry) is blackmailed by a witness to the killing.

Filmed at the close of the silent era in the West, Blackmail exists in both a silent and sound version, with the silent version being considered the superior by the majority of Hitchcock enthusiasts. Though The Lodger is seen as the most Hitchcock-like of the silents, there is much to be said about Blackmail in regards to his signature touches. We get the blonde femme fatale, exaggerated stair heights (similar to Vertigo) and a climatic finale in an iconic set (similar to North by Northwest) among others. 

Spinning a familiar web of murder and intrigue in metropolitan London, Alfred Hitchcock employs a remarkable expressionist style of set design and cinematography to heighten the eerie atmosphere and keep his audience on his toes. Though the film was made in 1929, very little of it feels dated. The acting is fairly exaggerated, as was desired in the silent era, but otherwise Blackmail makes for a good late night flick nowadays. 

Is it Hitchcock's most iconic film? No. I'd argue that it wouldn't make the top ten, but considering the amount of masterpieces Hitch has made one can hardly fault this picture. It's a good work of art that only improves with age. 

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.