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Found 7 results

  1. I don't often go back to watch old favorites, because usually they flop. Films I remember fondly for any reason leave me cold and a little sad a decade or two or three later. There are a few exceptions, of course, and after the recent discussion on this site of Blazing Saddles, I feel compelled to mention The Producers. The film has its flaws, but nothing has ever tickled my (often broken) funny bone as much as the epic production number "Springtime for Hitler", a brilliant send-up of Busby Berkeley choreography and probably a bunch of other old Hollywood film tropes and traditions.
  2. A friend of mine and I finished reading "The Cherry Orchard" for the first time, and we both enjoyed it very much. Although Chekhov expressly states it's "A Comedy in Four Acts" on the title page, its first director, Konstantin Stanislavski, had it played as a travesty much to the ailing Chekhov's heartbreak: "He ruined my play," Chekhov lamented. If you're looking for a story arc, you'll be hung out to dry by The Cherry Orchard, as it's really something of a slice of life, as well as a portrait of various classes of aristocracy, at various points in their lives. Chekhov had grown weary of Russian plays all being 'noble and formal,' and tried to do something more realistic. That said, people, a few years ago, who declared the excellent Canadian playwright, Alice Munroe, "our generation's Chekhov," simply could not have been more wrong - Munroe is nothing like Chekhov, even though she's a fine playwright on her own terms. Summarizing "The Cherry Orchard" would be an exercise in futility, at least in a short post such as this - it would take at least two separate readings, along with researching critical analyses, in order to even understand it. Nevertheless, if you don't hope for an action-packed story, you may just find yourself charmed pink by the motley assortment of characters in this fine, groundbreaking work. Has anyone else read it or seen it? I'd be delighted to discuss aspects of it in depth.
  3. Having recently re-watched "The Candidate," Robert Redford's 1972 political satire about California politics, I decided to watch its "companion piece from the next generation," Warren Beatty's "Bulworth" from 1998. Thirty minutes into the film, it seems like a strange, love-child of "The Candidate" and "Network" (remember Howard Beale (Peter Finch) losing it, and screaming, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"). That said,"Bulworth" is going to have to get better for me to like it as much as either of those two films. I'm not going to write up a long review of this, but it really grew on me over time. I started out not liking it *at all*, but then I saw that Beatty was taking some serious risk, and not going for a wide audience - who, exactly, *was* his target audience? There's doubt in my mind as to what this movie was even about, other than a politician growing stones large enough to speak the truth - this one goes straight to my heart because I *don't* think it's parody that partisan politics is corrupt in *both parties*. The day everyone is required to be an independent, and the two-party system is done away with is 1) the day a snowball freezes in Hell, and 2) the day I begin caring about politics and politicians again. As for the ending(s), I had a troubled feeling, but I honestly don't think it changes anything, because the gist of the parody was in the middle of the film. My respect for Warren Beatty went way up for having the courage to make this movie - perhaps the best political parody I've ever seen because it went, in its own *very* quirky way, directly to what desperately needs addressing.
  4. Believe it or not, "The Seven Year Itch" is the first film I've ever seen with Marilyn Monroe in it. I see in the opening credits that they'll be using Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto #2 - this could be fun, painful, or anything in-between. *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** Speaking of painful, there's the beginning, where the "Manhattan Indians" send their wives and children away to escape the summer heat: RIchard Sherman (Tom Ewell), the middle-aged man left in Manhattan while his wife and son go up to Maine to escape the summer heat, plays his role with comic aplomb. He's got "that face" you've seen before, and I remember seeing him in the Emmy Award-winning, first-season episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents: "The Case of Mr. Pellham" (Season 1, Episode 10) - I guess 1955 was his Ewell's year. Ewell played this role on Broadway also, so he's well-practiced playing the part (and, so far, a perfect choice). Monroe and Ewell start off (I'm writing this as I'm watching) playing their parts with perfect comic ease - Sherman is hilariously smitten with Monroe's character (who has yet to be named), and Monroe is using that "dumb blond" voice which is making Sherman melt. Oh, and the Second Concerto is put to good use here! It's playing itself, not some corny "theme music," and so far it's working out in the best, most respectful way that I could possibly hope for. I'm only thirty minutes into the movie, but up until the point where he's (role-)playing the concerto in a fancy dinner jacket, this movie is just a *great* comedy, and both the acting and the music are delighting me to no end. And it fades into a "dance" that Sherman does with the building janitor, Kruhulik (Robert Strauss) which is so appropriate at this moment - it's like being forced to take a cold shower, and their back-and-forth really adds something to the hilarity of the moment. When I say "hilarious" and "hilarity," and rave about the first 30-40 minutes of this film; I haven't actually laughed at all - I'm just *highly* amused. Seven Year Itch isn't "laugh-out-loud" funny; it's "little giggle" funny, but it's just *so* well-done to this point, and an unexpected joy to watch - I was prepared for something of much lesser quality: Hopefully, it will maintain throughout the film, and if it does, then it must surely be considered one of the great comedy classics - I know it's "famous," but I don't know if it's "lauded" - I haven't looked yet, and am not going to until the film is finished. Goof: When Sherman runs for the refrigerator to get ice for Monroe's visit, he opens a refrigerator, not a freezer (there's a bottle of milk in there); yet, there's a perfectly frozen bowl of ice cubes. I guess this isn't a "goof" so much as a "who cares" - this movie wasn't designed to over-analyze. Aaannnnnnnd ... there's the second roller skate. This is the second film I've recently seen from 1955 that uses the term "tomato" to humorously (and indirectly) refer to a good-looking girl (the first was "Marty," in the scene where Marty's mom is trying to talk him into going to the nightclub - she told him that she heard that it has "lots of tomatoes" (not knowing what the term meant). Another thing I've noticed from TV shows and films from this era is just how popular soda (I'm talking club soda) was as a mixer back then. Seemingly *everyone* has "scotch and soda," "gin and soda," and so-forth. This has nothing whatsoever to do with "The Seven Year Itch," but I've seen it now probably dozens of times. When Monroe runs for the door to get the Champagne, rewind it and look at her shoes: She slides across the floor about a foot while stopping - I'm not sure if this was a mistake or a planned move, but it took some coordination on her part not to fall (not to over-analyze, but I think based on the way she bends her knees, this was a choreographed move; not an accident). Tragically, Marilyn does "The Tongue Thing." But all is forgiven. The look you make upon discovering Marilyn Monroe is in your friend's apartment: This film is much better than I thought it would be: It's genuinely funny, sweet, somewhat innocent, and just good, fun escapism. To state the obvious, Marilyn Monroe was *great* at playing a ditzy blonde, and I don't mean that sarcastically. Incidentally, Alfred Newman (who did the music) is Randy Newman's uncle.
  5. The only thing I know about <<La Règle du Jeu>> ("The Rules of the Game," a French film from 1939), is that it has a reputation of being one of the finest movies ever made. That's it - I know nothing else, so here I begin, in complete ignorance: To be honest, I didn't even know it was a French film until five minutes ago. I will, obviously, be giving my thoughts as I go ... The film takes place on the Eve of WWII, when (fictional) famed aviator André Jurieu (played by Roland Toutain) makes a trans-Atlantic crossing in 23 hours - 12 years after Charles Lindbergh's real-life 1927 flight which took 33 1/2 hours in the Spirit of St. Louis (which is housed in the National Air and Space Museum on The National Mall in DC). Call me a dweeb, but I love fictional films that interweave non-fiction - I love to learn, and any real-life info-nuggets I can pick up are always remembered. Note that "La Règle du Jeu" takes place in contemporary time - the events took place in 1939, and the movie was released in 1939. After Jurieu is swarmed by the media, he is greeted by his friend, Octave (Jean Renoir, the son of famed painted Pierre-Auguste Renoir (really!)) - Jurieux is clearly crestfallen that the girl of his affections - the very inspiration he made the flight - Christine de la Chesnaye (Nora Gregor) wasn't at the airport to greet him, and he doesn't take it well in front of the media - clearly, "love," or possibly "unrequited love" could play a central role in this plot. Christine was listening on the radio along with her (seemingly) faithful maid, Lisette (Paulette Dubost), with whom she seems to have a friendly, respectful, relationship. To create a liaison, Christine jokingly asks Lisette if she's having some sort of relationship with Octave - both Christine and Lisette are married to other men: Christine to Robert, Marquis de la Chesnaye (Marcel Dalio) for three years, and Lisette to Schumacher (Gaston Lodot), the gamekeeper at Robert's country estate, for two years - the French do enjoy their extramarital dalliances. Robert, meanwhile, is having an affair with Geneviève (Mila Parély), whom he sees the next morning (can you tell this is confusing yet? My *goodness* the relationships, and ex-relationships; the crushes, and non-crushes; in this film are mind-bending, and very difficult to keep up with, so *pay attention to the characters and their relationships with one another* - at least for the first twenty minutes of the movie.) I have a feeling it's going to be imperative, and will pay off in spades, to have these character relationships down pat inside your head before the movie progresses too far. I can see this film going in any of several directions - a mistaken-identity comedy a la "Marx Brothers," or a drama about lost or unfulfilled love, or something else entirely, but it's clear that human interaction is playing a crucial role thus far, and I'm only about 20% of the way through (overall, it seems more comedic than dramatic so far). Make the investment, and pay close attention to avoid needing to watch the opening more than once - at least up until the point where the film fades, and the automobiles are heading to La Colinière in Sologne. At La Colinière, Schumacher catches a poacher, Marceau (Julien Carette), and turns him over to Robert - who's impressed with his trapping skills, and hires him on the spot (much to Schmacher's dismay). The next thirty minutes are merely a "slice of life" about the upper crust in France, and their vacation lives of leisure at the country home, replete with interpersonal relationships, jealousy, shocking candor, and it leaves me wondering where this is all going. I'm almost halfway through this film, and for it to be considered "greatest-ever" material, it had better start improving, pronto - I just don't see it yet: I'm starting to fear this is one of "those" movies that all the critics like because they're supposed to like it. There are elements of well-played character development, but this all needs to have an end game, because it's not standing on its own - at least, not yet. Yes, it's a satire of the leisure class, perhaps to the point of being farce, but it needs to be more than this - I'm still hopeful, because there's been nothing "bad" about it whatsoever; it's just not compelling, or even all that witty. A discussion, at a gala, between two men having affairs: "You haven't seen me." "Why?" "Schumacher's after me." "What for?" "On account of his wife. We were playing around. He saw us and he's not happy. Oh, your lordship ... women are charming. I like them a lot. Too much, in fact. But they spell trouble." "You're telling me." "You've got it bad, too?" "Somewhat ... Ever wish you were an Arab?" "No, what for?" "For the harem ... Only Muslims show a little logic in matters of male-female relations. They're made like us." "If you say so." "They always have a favorite ... But they don't kick the others out and hurt their feelings." "If you say so." Meh, this is just not that good - I understand it's 77 years old, but it's still just not that good. I'm thinking maybe in context of France, 1939, this is considered pretty "bold" satire, making fun of the upper class like this, but if that's what makes this movie great - it's just plain dated. Still, I'm only halfway through ... onward. Okay, with about twenty-five minutes remaining, I've peaked at a few reviews, all of which say this is "one of the greatest films ever made." I'm afraid I'm going to need to be told *why* it's one of the greatest films ever made - I guess that's the difference between my knowledge of restaurants and films: with restaurants, I'm the one who can do the telling; with films, I guess that sometimes, I need to be told. Damn this is frustrating. I mean, I can see it's a scathing social commentary, I can see it's a farce, I can see it pits upper class vs. lower class, man against woman, and makes all sorts of fun against high society, but *one of the greatest films ever made*? Are there any film scholars here? If so, I ask for your help - this is like "Middlemarch" meets "Reefer Madness." Great works of art often go over my head the first time I experience them, and I'm willing to accept that such is the case here, but I'm going to need some assistance with this one. As great as "Citizen Kane" is, that film has plenty of detractors who wonder why it's so great - I don't think those people are Luddites; I think they honestly just don't get it. To me, "Citizen Kane" is *terribly* boring in parts - it really drags - but I can see greatness in it; I'm just not seeing that greatness in "La Règle du Jeu," unfortunately. I think its okay, but I'm not getting the multi-layered nuances it supposedly has. There's one line I just saw that sums it up for me to this point: "Corneille! Put an end to this farce!" "Which one, your lordship?" At the end of the movie, loose ends are tying themselves up, and it's clear to me that the upper crust values their lot in life more than they value humanity - *their* humanity. It's a savage beatdown, and a funny one, but not in a "ha-ha funny" way. The film is filled with stereotypes, and man it's hard to absorb on the first viewing - this is not a movie to watch alone; it's one to watch among other film lovers, and discuss as it's happening. Well, it was pretty powerful, all right - I watched it over two nights, and was very tired both evenings. I need to study it some more - much of it went over my head for sure, but I can sense how ruthless it is. "La Règle du Jeu" is free on Hulu - would a few of you all please watch it and tell me all the wonderful things I'm missing?
  6. None of Charlie Chaplin's films seem dated. Chaplin's Modern Times was clearly inspired by Metropolis (1927), but took the baton and launched into a full-fledged sprint with it. The opening scene with pigs being herded, followed by people loading onto the subway, is not exactly an exercise in subtlety. The "Billows Feeding Machine" clearly inspired the cruel, sadistic, "Pigs is Pigs" Porky Pig cartoon (1954) where Porky had a nightmare and was force-fed by a mad scientist (any obese child my age was affected by this). This early scene symbolizes the entire assembly-line scenario of "quicker is better, regardless of human cost" and is worth renting the movie just to see (it's in the first ten minutes). It's also not hard to see why Chaplin was banished in 1952 for being a Communist, courtesy of our resident hypocrite, J. Edgar Hoover, whose Brutalist building downtown symbolizes him in many ways. Not only did the Billows Machine inspire the Porky Pig cartoon, but the assembly line inspired the I Love Lucy episode "Job Switching" (1952) where she and Ethel are deluged while working at the chocolate factory. And if that's not enough, the gears and clocks inspired the 2011 film Hugo. Rest assured that during the 60-or-so years in between, many other films were inspired by this as well. The beautiful Paulette Goddard (1910-1990), a former Ziegfield girl, makes her entrance as the orphaned <<gamin>> (incorrect French since she's a female, and hence a <<gamine>>). Chaplin was arrested in the film, and released with a letter of recommendation by the sheriff for foiling a prison break, getting another job in a similarly bleak situation, and martyring himself to Goddard by taking the blame for stealing a baguette (when Goddard actually swiped it). Part of the ambience in this movie is the overall sense of "crowdedness," whether it's people walking into a building, plates on a table, or pretty much anything - it's much more than a leitmotif here. There's a very interesting scene in a paddy wagon with minorities shoving around Chaplin, predating the Rosa Parks bus incident by nearly 20 years. No matter how Chaplin tried, he couldn't get himself thrown back into jail (which was more comfortable for him than his dreary, assembly-line subsistence). Chaplin naturally develops a crush on the beautiful Goddard (an American, incidentally, not French), envisioning them living in a little Mission Revival-styled villa together, picking oranges, tending to a cow walking past the front door, eating grapes dangling from a vine - all in a cute little dream scene. This is a silent film, but there is selective language in it - it was deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress in 1989, and has been lovingly restored. The lighting, the speed (some of it's in fast motion), the selected sound, the ducking of gunfire at near point-blank range - it's all just remarkable. Chaplin's brilliant physical style of comedy is brought to the fore in his fourth-floor roller skating scene with Goddard inside of an empty department store. Then, up on the fifth floor, where the bedding is, it turns less silly and more loving and romantic. As the film moves on, the viewer will find himself (or herself) developing more-and-more of a crush on Goddard, just as Chaplin did. Bullets fired into a wooden cask of rum (27 years old!), leave Chaplin with no choice but to chug it as it spews out, getting "blasted" and blissful, toasting his three newfound friends. The next morning, Goddard wakes up on the fifth floor, alone, at 6:05, and escapes before the store opens at 9:30 AM, with the typical shrews bargain hunting - only to find Chaplin asleep in the Women's Apparel section hidden under a pile of clothing. Music - it's a mix of proud military marches, riffs on Gershwin, romantic, violin-based love themes, and was all written by Chaplin himself. *What* a genius this man was. Goddard and Chaplin end up in a decrepit shack, with her exclaiming "It's paradise!" solely because they're together. "Of course, it's no Buckingham Palace," she adds, shortly before Chaplin falls through a door into a swamp. It's interesting that during this movie, I realized that Chaplin and Goddard were married in real life - from 1936 (when this film was made) until 1942. I was going to comment on how realistic Chaplin and Goddard's affection for one another seemed during this movie, and that's because it was. Newspaper Flash! The Factories have reopened, and must repair their long-idle machinery. Chaplin scampers for a job, and finds one, comically repairing things as needed, all during joyously flamboyant music tinged with little xylophone strikes, and an upbeat, happy tempo. (Of course, in the process, he smashes and ruins a co-workers "family heirloom" - a cheap little clock. With a lesser talent, this would all be meaningless, but with Chaplin, "films about nothing" - refer to Seinfeld here - can be meaningful and significant. This scene with his co-worker, caught in the gearing mechanism, is hilarious in a Marx Brothers kind of way. "I wonder if he started in Vaudeville," my friend Jim said during the film. "Sure he did," I guessed (correctly!) - he then proceeded to feed his co-worker, who was stuck in the gearing mechanism, an entire bunch of celery, and then hand-fed him roast chicken. This, while only the man's head was sticking out. You have to see it - it is a laugh-riot, and slapstick comedic genius of the highest order. The workers are forced to go on strike, and after Chaplin calms down the police, he accidentally hits one in the head with a rock ... back in the paddy wagon. One week later, on a merry-go-round, Goddard is dancing like a gypsy in the street, pulling people into a local cafe. The savvy owner recognizes her charms and hires her. Another week later, she's waiting outside the police station for Chaplin, who has just been released. (By this time, late into the film, you realize this isn't some dystopian tragedy; it's a hilarious parody that uses dystopia as its premise.) He gets a trial job at Goddard's cafe, waiting tables. She is listed as a juvenile delinquent (boy, she is *very* old-looking for a minor), and as Chaplin is trying to bus trays while being assaulted by a nipping canine, he drills a few holes in a giant wedge of Parmigiano-Reggiano as a customer complains that he's waited an hour for his roast duck. More hilarity ensues, food flies everywhere as trays are bumped and spilled, and a straw bottle of Chianti is somehow weaved on a tray through an impossibly crowded dance floor, onward, to the disgruntled customer, still screaming for his duck. You just have to see this to appreciate it - my words certainly do not do it justice of any sort. Several minutes later, Chaplin *still* can't manage to reach the irate customer, who is, at this point, standing on his chair and screaming. After perfectly balancing the tray in Olympic fashion, he finally manages to get the angry man his roast duck (a whole roast duck) and Chianti. Carving it table side, a la Peking Duck, the restaurant somehow turns into a rugby match, and the customer's entire table is turned over. "I hope you can sing," the manager chides in a back room. The singing waiters then come out in a quartet (without Chaplin). Chaplin and Goddard are waiting in the back room, Goddard beautifully dressed - this, as racist, minstrel-type words are coming in from the quartet (despite the uproariously funny humor, things such as this will always trouble me, as well they should). Chaplin dances like Michael Jackson, even doing a primitive version of a moonwalk. "Sing! Never mind the words!" Goddard says, as he can't remember them. He sang in twisted French with an Italian accent. Then, he seems to switch to a more Spanish language - it's all just a melange and a goofy Latinate performance in a completely ridiculous atmosphere. The movie has turned into a complete farce at this point. Then, the Verdi-esque background music accompanies an offer of a full-time job, as the lovely Goddard is apprehended for her delinquency warrant. She gives Chaplin a tearful hug, and the restaurant manager reluctantly parts with her ... but then, she (of course) makes a run for it with Chaplin in a now-emptying restaurant - red-checkered tablecloths on the tables. Dawn arrives. A lonely country road appears with the two of them sitting on the side of it, all alone. They are in love, fully realize it, and end up walking off, together, down the dusty road. The End.
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