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.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Fallen Angels (1995) Review

Title: Fallen Angels
Year: 1995
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese

Fallen Angels was originally conceived as the third story in Wong's 1994 abstract Chungking Express, but thematically never quite fit into that movie and it took on a life of its own. In retrospect, Fallen Angels' darker tone and visual palette seem like the wrong fit for Chungking Express. There's plenty of crossover between the two, including references to expired cans of pineapple, but if combined the one film would be not as great as seperated. 

Fallen Angels follows the lives of a hitman, hoping to get out of the business, and his elusive female partner.

Wong Kar Wai dives headfirst into cultural alienation and the dread of living in Modern day Hong Kong. The small, busy Orient becomes a breeding ground for obsession and infatuation. Its eccentric, unnatural, and unorthodox direction and storyline proves to be onscreen poetry; Wai's visual style, thanks to cinematographer Christopher Doyle, gives us a steady supply of unsual and seductive images throughout the film's runtime. 

There's really nothing more or less at stake in Fallen Angels than matters of the heart, but in a Wai film love isn't a light thing to consider. His characters throughout his filmography have a heightened awareness in regards to love and loneliness. A pop song played on the jukebox might minor in any other film, but for his characters they mean the world. The soundtrack of Fallen Angels amplifies the film's unhealthy lovelorn theme and proves to provide a thrilling time.

Fallen Angels, while it can't be the masterpiece In the Mood For Love & Chungking Express are, is a pretty fantastic memorable picture that is worth re-watching again and again. Wong Kar Wai's filmography is remarkable. I can't wait to watch the rest of his films. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2046 (2004) Review

Title: 2046
Year: 2004
Director: Wong Kar Wai
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese

After having seen Wong Kar Wai's Chungking Express (1994) and In The Mood For Love (2000) I knew that 2046 (2004) might not be as big of a masterpiece- and it wasn't- but I can't say I was let down by it either. While it probably won't be considered a "classic", 2046 is still a remarkable picture that dissects themes of love, loss, loneliness and lust. 

Several women enter a science fiction author's life over the course of a few years, after the author (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) has lost the woman he considers his one true love.

The movie jumps back and forth from the present (1960’s) to the future (2046) where his fictional story is centered. The futuristic story of 2046 is Chow’s way of expressing pain, by turning women he knows into fictional characters where he can view their relationships more regrettably and in impersonal ways. It's a coping method that makes him more human and vulnerable. 

Its slow pace and tonal shifts may test the audience's patients, but ultimately proves rewarding. This fascinating existential drama blends romantic pain with science fiction fantasy. Its full of an autumn-like colour pallette that is elevated by a haunting score. Emotions burst through the screen and move Wai's audience in ways that many films fail to capture. 

2046 may be confusing for a first time viewing, but its technical and emotional achievement is worth repeat viewings. You owe it to yourself not only to see this film, but to look at all of Wong Kar Wai's work. I'm currently going through the rest of his filmography and finding myself more and more impressed. 

Kung Fu Hustle (2004) Review

Title: Kung Fu Hustle
Year: 2003
Director: Stephen Chow
Country: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese

Kung Fu Hustle arrived during a time of decline in Chinese cinema. In 2003 the countries' SARS outbreak shut down film production for months and left many movie theatres vacant. Only 54 movies were made, compared to the 200+ made at the height of the 90's. Even with greater use of Hollywood-style mass marketing, Chinese films were not well-regarded internationally. Stephen Chow's picture was an exception. 

In Shanghai, China in the 1940s, a wannabe gangster aspires to join the notorious "Axe Gang" while residents of a housing complex exhibit extraordinary powers in defending their turf.

Kung Fu Hustle's main inspiration is from wuxia (martial arts) films, the genre that put Hong Kong on the map of brand-name cinemas.  He dips into the lo-tech Cantonese films of the Fifties and Sixties, striking a balance between cynicism and sentimental nostalgia, making a picture that is both hilarious and complex. This film is simultaneously inspiring and bizarre. 

Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill was made around the same time & also attempts to dissect the same modern sources, but unlike Kung Fu Hustle Tarantino's picture is far less fun and seemingly only serves these references to flatter his audience. Chow references the past to shed light on social roles and to disasemble our expectations. 

Kung Fu Hustle will make you feel like you're on drugs, It is a goofy mix of slapstick humour, hilarous gags and weird non-sequitors. Chow's picture has a great charm to it; the film is unlike most pictures you have seen. Must see. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A Canterbury Tale (1944) Review

Title: A Canterbury Tale
Year: 1944
Director(s): Powell & Pressburger
Country: UK
Language: English

Most of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's pictures are bonifide classics; fairytales for adults in the purest sense. Shot in 1943, while the Second World War was raging in the allies favour, A Canterbury Tale proves to be quite splendid. The whimsical tale echoes the pride in ancestral knowledge, which makes the villain's motives almost admirable. 

A 'Land Girl', an American GI, and a British soldier find themselves together in a small Kent town on the road to Canterbury. The town is being plagued by a mysterious "glue-man", who pours glue on the hair of girls dating soldiers after dark. The three attempt to track him down.

It would be hard to find a kinder, more loving, and more tender picture about England, and particularly Kent, than A Canterbury Tale. Its beautifies nature, romanticizes myth and history, and admires the customs and traditions of the England of old. It connects big sweeping themes about life and love to the intimate and everyday. 

A Canterbury Tale is charming, a love letter to history that can be seen in every little camera movement. A "war" film, from the view of civillians, has never felt so peaceful. Shots of the English countryside revel in the true glory that is England. The plot, while important, is secondary to gorgeous black and white photography which displays the beautiful countryside with ample shots of wide sky and billowing fields.

A Canterbury Tale makes me want to fight for England...and I'm not English and there's not even a  war going on! While its story is not as enthralling as Black Narcissus & A Matter of Life and Death I must admit I've fallen head over heels for this picture. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Wien Retour (1983) Review

Title: Wein Retour
Year: 1983
Director: Ruth Beckermann
Country: Vienna
Language: German

When it comes to the rise of socialism, its collapse, and the rise of fascism in the post World War I period we mostly get movies, fictional or otherwise, from a German perspective. This makes sense, as Germany was the main villain, the cause of most of Europe's problems,  during World War Two. Wien Retour gives us a unique perspective from the capital of Austria. 

In 1924, 14-year-old Franz Weintraub and his parents--along with some 60,000 other Jews--moved to the Jewish area of Leopoldstadt in Vienna, Austria. A journalist and gifted storyteller, Weintraub recalls his experiences as a young Jew in inter-war Austria from 1924 to 1934.

During the 1920's-1930's Austria's capital was known as "Red Vienna"due to its internationally acclaimed social democratic government.  Radical changes in the revenue and spending policies of the city took place, which resulted in a revolutionary welfare sector. This and more is told in Wien Retour, which is part talking head interview and part archive footage. 

Franz Weintraub is a well spoken, intelligent, charismatic individual who gives a pretty comprehensive account of events that took place while he was a young adult. Considering he is in his 70's during the production of the film, he has an impressive memory. The archival footage is equally impressive. The images shown are powerful and do an incredible job at giving us a glimpse into history. 

Wein Retour is a film that needed to be made to preserve a time in history that should not be forgotten. I must admit, previous to this picture I had not known much about Vienna during this time, but I was glad to learn a great amount today. 

No Rating (This history is too valuable to rate)

Mata Hari (1931) Review

Title: Mata Hari
Year: 1931
Director: George Fitzmaurice
Country: US
Language: English

Margareta Geertrudia MacLeoud (1876 - 1917), better known as Mata Hari, was a seductive erotic dancer and courtesan who was executed by firing squad due to being convicted by France as a spy for the German army during World War One. Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body, Mata Hari captivated her audiences. She was the ultimate femme fatale. 

During World War I, Mata Hari is a German spy, working in Paris. She has already seduced the Russian general Shubin, and has now set her eyes on lieutenant Rosanov, a young up-and-coming officer. The secret police are on to her however, and its only a matter of time until they gather enough evidence to convict her. 

The stunning Greta Garbo delivers a brilliant portrayal of a seductive mistress, even if the truth was that by 1917 the 41 year old dancer had lost quite a bit of her sexual prowess. We get a fairly deep and complex character study that proves to be grandiose with its remarkable costumes and fascinating set design. 

There are other Mata Hari pictures, as there will be for quite some time, but Garbo's version is, and always will be, the best. The exciting melodrama, combined with a booming score and Garbo's frenetic onscreen energy make for an enoyable time. The plot is decent and the dialogue does its job, even though the writing does play second banana to the other great technical aspects of this picture. 

Mata Hari is not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination; but it is a worthwhile viewing that deserves repeat viewings. My only dissapointment with the picture is that considering it was pre-code Hollywood I thought it could have pushed the envelope farther when it came to sexuality. Oh well, I recommend it either way. 

The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) Review

Title: The Man With the Golden Arm 
Year: 1955
Director: Otto Preminger
Country: US
Language: English

Filmstruck, Criterion/TCM's streaming channel, met an untimely face on Nov 29th as it ceased to continue offering services. Thankfully, before its demise Criterion announced that they will have their own channel with similar content out by Spring 2019. I thoroughly enjoyed having Filmstruck, and as a final farewell I decided to watch Man With the Golden Arm (1955). 

A strung-out junkie (Frank Sinatra) deals with a demoralizing drug addiction while his crippled wife and card sharks pull him down.

I was quite surprised that the strict Hays Code of the 1950's would allow a film this risque about drugs to be made. Indeed the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) originally refused to issue a seal for this movie, but the following year the code was adjusted to include drugs, kidnapping, abortion and prostitution. Frank Sinatra, who was nominated for an Oscar for his acting in this picture, does a terrific job in his role. Any other actor might ham it up, while Sinatra plays drug addiction with utmost sincerity. 

The jazzy score by Elmer Bernstein perfectly captures the tone of the film & the desperation of our main character. It gives us an insight into Frankie's fragile mind and effectly captures the tension created in every frame. Jazz in 50's film is a delight, especially when it fits with the theme.

While Man with the Golden Arm might not accurately capture the throes of drug addiction in a clinical sense, the film goes farther than most films of the era would with the sincerity of its subject matter. I appreciate its honesty. Also, this is a given, but Saul Bass' intro design is top notch as always. 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Two Horses of Genghis Khan (2009) Review

Title: The Two Horses of Genghis Khan
Year: 2009

Director: Byambasuren Davaa
Country: Mongolia
Language: Mongolian

Byambasuren Davaa is a Mongolian director that I'd bet most people are fairly unfamiliar with. I certainly didn't know about her until MUBI. Her feature films The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) and The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005) were well recieved on the film festival circuit and have earned the acclaim of critics world-wide. Two Horses of Gengis Khan proved equally alluring,

Urna returns to her home country of Mongolia to find her grandmother's horse head violin, which holds the missing verses of an ancient melody. 

Two Horses of Genghis Khan is an odd hybrid of fiction and reality. It's considered a documentary, but defies traditional aspects of it, feeling full of imagination. I truley have never seen a film made this way. It's both intimate and epic; being both a familial detective story and a sweeping picture about the legacy of the Mongolian peoples. 

Davaa highlights a culture that is largely forgotten about by the West. When is the last time you've heard a news story from Mongolia? She shows her people as proud, their music as mesmerizing and their landscape as awe-inspiring. Three Horses of Genghis Khan is a tremendous achievement in recording the beauty of Mongola. 

A remarkable picture, I can't wait to view Davaa's previous work and possibly see her next feature as soon as it is completed. Musician Urna Chahar-Tugchi’s journey across Mongolia proves really enticing for foreigners who would like to visit that part of the world.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Wild Guitar (1962) Review

Title: Wild Guitar
Year: 1962
Director: Ray Steckler
Country: US
Language: English

I've reviewed every Elvis Presley feature film on this site; from his debut Love Me Tender (1956) to his final Change of Habit (1969). I've also seen The Beatles A Hard Day's Night and Yellow Submarine. Pink Floyd's The Wall, Phantom of the Paradise and Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause among others. I thought I saw every cool rock n' roll film there is, but I obviously overlooked the strange Wild Guitar (1962).

A young Budd Eagle (Arch Hall Jr.) is given a shot at the big time by the unscrupulous owner of a small record company (Arch Hall Sr.) 

Crafting a story that feels very much like Elvis' own real-life story of ethics vs. showbiz, we see the highs and lows of stardom through the eyes of the all american goodey two shoes Budd Eagle. The character's crisis never feels too overwhelming, since the point of the film is not to drag its audience through dramatic tumoil, but to let them experience pure joy. 

Wild Guitar, though clearly sticking to an established Hollywood formula in regards to story, is a gas. It's a lighthearted tale about a boy, his babes and his music. The singing, while not exactly Sinatra, is upbeat. The shots, cinematography and editing are very unique. The director's film inexperience (he's not exactly known for very much) likely helped in creating a unique feel to the picture. 

I had fun with Wild Guitar. It pulled me out of a slump and made me realize how imaginative & full of potential cinema really is. It deserves far more than a 3/10 on IMDB. This picture is a bonified cult classic. 

House on Bare Mountain (1962) Review

Title: House on Bare Mountain
Year: 1962
Director: Lee Frost
Country: US
Language: English

On Black Friday I bought a year subscription of MUBI for $60. It always has 30 curated movies to stream at a time, with one film being removed everyday and one film being added. MUBI has very obscure strange films that you wouldn't know existed before the service. It's far better than Netflix, which has just about every movie you can find in a Walmart bargain bin. I watched House on Bare Mountain today on MUBI out of curiousity. 

Granny Good (Bob Cresse) runs a school located in a "creepy" house where women are always topless. The school is really a front for an illegal booze distillery which she runs in the basement with the help of a wolfman named "Krakow". 

Nicholas Winding Refn, director of Drive, lovingly restored this nearly forgotten work of weird (and I mean WEIRD) cinema. It's a self described "nudie cutie", which has as much bums, boobs and babes as one can handle. Though its bare bones plot is an excuse to show a tremendous amount of full frontal nudity, I must admit it's quite a trip. 

House on Bare Mountain is hilarious, mainly because of how random it is. Why does a werewolf belong to a union? Why does the one girl constatly read from the dictionary?  It's Monty Python-lite, which is still pretty decent. Don't get me wrong, the acting is BAD, but if you watch for mindless entertainment this film delivers. 

The film gets a 4/10 on IMDB, might deserve? It's hard to rate a film like this. I thought the punch-line at the end certainly made it an above passing grade. Movies nowadays ought to strive to be as fun as this.