Archive for the 'comedy' Category

17
Jul
14

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

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When I was growing up I loved watching Mr. Peabody & Sherman’s cartoons as they traveled to various historical events. Now all the kids who have no idea who this famed pair is can see Mr. Peabody, the genius dog, and his boy Sherman right wrongs throughout time and space. The film, which I saw on a plane, captures the heart and soul of the original. Bravo!

The film moves quickly and is witty enough for adults and offers history with a spoonful of sugar for the young. I’m telling everyone I see that they should check this out whether they have kids or not. It’s just a fun film.

02
Jul
14

City Lights

The Tramp and the Blind Girl

I’d never watched Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, or perhaps any Chaplin film, before. I remember being shown some silent film as a child in some group setting and being bored to tears. That feeling ran deep, though the specifics – who was in the film, or what it was about faded fast. Since I’m half way through my year of watching one “old” i.e. pre 1960 movie a week, I thought it’s high time to watch Chaplin.

After seeing and loving Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last released by the Criterion Collection with the enriching commentary, I thought I could like City Lights. I was right. What a delightful, charming, poignant film! Chaplin plays his signature Tramp, who I think everyone in the West with a pulse has seen in some form. As the film opens some long winded politician is bloviating at a ceremony to unveil a statue about progress and prosperity. When the drape is removed, we see the Tramp asleep in one of the figure’s laps. He scrambles to get out of the way, always desiring not to bother anyone, but in so doing gets more entangled and almost loses his pants. It’s high comedy, but still works. What’s more Chaplin is definitely satirizing the politicians and society that honors these values while blind to those left behind or harmed by “progress” and whom “prosperity” has overlooked.

Soon the Tramp meets and falls in love with a girl who’s blind, who sells flowers on the street. She mistakes him for a millionaire and this is the main plot. After impressing the flower girl, the Tramp runs into a crazy, distraught millionaire whose life he saves. The friendship between the eccentric millionaire and the Tramp is mercurial. When the millionaire’s drunk, all’s well. When he sobers up, he rejects the Tramp, time and again.

The Tramp and the Millionaire

The film’s commentary helped me note a lot in the film that I would have overlooked. The political themes, the cast, and the history (how on average Chaplin did 38 takes for every scene in what he himself dubbed a “neurotic” quest for perfection).

The film came out in 1931 when sound had been around for awhile. Chaplin, the commentator states, didn’t think sound really added much to films and that it took away some of film’s subtleties. While there’s plenty of slapstick, I can see Chaplin’s point. By having to rely on pantomime, the actors have to do more with a look or action. Also, Chaplin’s films did well all over the world. He felt that if the audience heard his accent some wouldn’t like his work as much. It’s a valid point as when I watched, I projected an American accent on to the characters.

The film is delightful and succeeds in providing humor and pathos often right on top of each other.

26
May
14

Frozen

Frozen

I’m sorry for this pun, but I just need to say, “I was tepid about Frozen.” I started watching a few weeks back and that I can let a film languish is a sign that it isn’t a winner for me. I did like the art, the infusion of Scandinavian design and incredible icy landscapes, but the story didn’t grab me. It’s the story of Ilsa, a princess who for an inexplicable reason is cursed so that everything she touches turns to ice. Her parents are at their wits’ end, but can’t find a solution. For my money, I’d expect a king and queen to do more, lots more for their heir. Instead this woman is locked up and her younger sister is in the dark as to why her sister, with whom she was so close avoids her.

When Ilsa is coronated she inadvertently brings winter to the realm in the midst of summer. Ilsa flees to self-imposed exile and her sister pursues her. Her sister soon meets a dashing young ice seller, his reindeer and a live snowman. They’re all very endearing and clearly we’re in for some nice songs, a lesson on love, sisterly and romantic.

As I watched I was all too aware that soon Disney will put this up on Broadway or an Ice Pavilion near you. It seemed too predictable and commercial. Though I thought it could be much better, kids would like it.

18
Mar
14

On Harold Lloyd

h lloydeAfter watching Harold Lloyd in Safety Last, I became curious about what the newspapers of the day said about him. So I went to my library’s website and searched for him and the years 1922 – 1923 (when this film was made and was released in the Chicago Tribune archives.

I was struck by the tone of the paper – very casual. The movie Gal Friday seem realistic. One article I found was “The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars: Yes, Hard Knocks Made Harold Lloyd What He Is Today.” I chuckle at the “The Read Inside Dope” phrase. The article begins:

Harold Lloyd is one of those intrepid, joyous young persons who would attempt to dig a transcontinental canal with his fingernails if he thought the effort would benefit anybody. His character has been battered into shape by hard knocks — into such shape as he is spoken of as “the finest chap in Hollywood.”

The article goes on to explain how he isn’t conceited like Conway Tearle, whoever he was, nor a “rounder.” He exemplified the rags to riches archetype as he started work at age 11 selling popcorn at train stations. Later he sold newspapers, was a waiter, and an amateur boxer. As a teen he had the savvy to enlarge his paper route and then hire other boys to deliver segments of it.

Lloyd’s father owned a restaurant, which failed. The family was in dire straits and Lloyd wanted them to move to New York so he could work on the stage. The father thought Los Angeles and movies would be better. The father decided to flip a coin to determine where they’d go. I can’t imagine flipping a coin for such a decision. The coin decided they’d go to L.A.

Getting a foot in the door was tricky. Lloyd couldn’t get past the guards. He figured out that if he put on his grease paint and walked in with the extras returning from lunch, he could breeze by the “fish-eyed guards.” That trick worked and eventually Lloyd was hired for $3.50/day. Opportunities came his way after than and he rose from extra to star. He got the idea for his signature glasses from a comic he saw. His were specially designed so his expressive eyebrows could be seen.

How did he lose his thumb and index finger, I wondered. Seems he was posing for a still ad. The concept required that he be holding a bomb. It was supposed to be fake but wasn’t. Lloyd had a cigarette at the time and BOOM! He was blinded for 4 days and lost his fingers. If you’ve seen him scaling the walls in Safety Last, you can see he didn’t let that stop him.

Next I read the Chicago Tribune’s review of Safety First. I didn’t realize that movies would be shown at Orchestra Hall, a rather posh site. Then again those were posh-er times than ours and the era of the movie palace. The reviewer, Inez Cunningham admitted to not watching the half hour of the film when Lloyd has to scale the building because she was afraid of such exploits and didn’t see why anyone would like them. I’m wondering how such a stick in the mud got a job as a movie critic in the era of Lloyd, Keaton and Chaplin. Upfront she writes that she doesn’t generally like Lloyd, but admits that on this film he was on his best behavior and left out his usual vulgarities and “blythe.” I suppose I’ll have to watch some of his earlier films to see these vulgarities.

Works Cited

Cunningham, Inez. “Harold Must Be Good: Even Critic Laughs.” Chicago Tribune. 28 May 1923: Print.

Harpman, Julia. “The Real Inside Dope on the Movie Stars: Yes, Hard Knocks Made Harold Lloyd What He Is Today.” Chicago Tribune. 3 Aug. 1924: Print.

16
Mar
14

Safety Last

h lloyd1923’s Safety Last

If it weren’t for my New Year’s resolution to watch more old movies, I’d probably never have made time for this national treasure: Safety Last by Harold Lloyd.

Just as I don’t much like coffee or milk, but do like coffee with milk (in the form of a cappuccino), I’m not one for silent movies nor am I one to watch movies with the commentary track playing — but together they’re great. At least for the Criterion Collection Safety Last, they were. In Safety Last, Harold Lloyd plays a hapless sales clerk who’s in love and hopes to make enough money in the city to marry his sweetheart. When he writes her, he suggests that he’s got a high level job and is making great money. In fact, he’s barely able to make his rent. kick me Her mother tells the girl to go visit Harold now that he’s doing so well. That’s when things really get out of control. It’s such genius how Lloyd and his cast pack so many laughs into a scene. What I really enjoyed was the commentary by Leonard Maltin and Lloyd’s archivist, Richard Correll. Though the film’s great, I think I wouldn’t have enjoyed it without all the tidbits and background. Some facts of interest:

  • Lloyd got the idea from watching a dare devil scale a building. That man, a welder, is in the movie and in spite of having broken his leg, does a lot of the stunts and plays Lloyd’s friend, Limpy Bill.
  • Lloyd lost his thumb and index finger a few years prior to this movie, but still does all kinds of climbing wearing a glove with the missing digits.
  • Much of the filming shows Culver City as it was in 1922. They’d shoot with normal traffic going through the street.
  • Lloyd wound up marrying his co-star, Mildred Davis.

Safety Last is still funny, in a way that movies just aren’t and can’t be anymore. Just a delight.

25
Feb
14

An American in Paris

Milo and Jerry

Milo and Jerry

I thoroughly enjoyed Gene Kelly and company in An American in Paris. I’d never seen it before and loved the dancing and singing. It’s the story of Jerry, a surprisingly urbane U.S. G.I. who stays in Paris after WWII to try to become a painter. As the film opens Jerry’s a starving artist, who meets a rich woman, Milo who wants to be his patron. Despite being a bit leery of her, Jerry goes along with Milo who treats him like a pet project. Jerry wants to retain his independence, but he also wants to further his career. We do like him because he can sing, dance and smile. At a restaurant he spots a young French girl and becomes immediately smitten. He arranges to meet Lise, the French girl, who’s engaged to marry an acquaintance of Jerry’s. She hides this fact, as Jerry hides his interest in Lise from Milo his patroness.

An American in Paris 2

Oscar Levant plays Jerry’s wise cracking friend and really adds to the film. The Gershwin songs like “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “I Got Rhythm,” and “S’Wonderful” make the movie. The story itself is predictable and rather fluffy. The audience isn’t supposed to think too much about that Jerry’s either naive or manipulative to think he can take money from Milo and romance Lise with no blow ups. Likewise that Lise would juggle a fiance and Jerry is at odds with her being so innocent. Given the quality of the music and dancing, I overlooked the story and characters’ flaws.

I did think the end was odd. There’s a long dance sequence just when Lise’s fiance discovers she’s meeting Jerry behind his back. It wasn’t plausible that the problem would be resolved as we’re shown. Still MGM musicals have a way of eliciting audience’s forgiveness for such things.

25
Jan
14

Sherlock, Jr.

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This week’s old movie* is Sherlock, Jr. with Buster Keaton. Though I’d heard Keaton’s name, I’ve never seen any of his films. The story is simple, Keaton plays a shy, awkward man. As the movie opens, the hero is proposing to his sweetheart. It’s all very proper. The funniest part is when she needs a magnifying glass to see the diamond. Soon this woe-begone fellow is overshadowed by a slick guy who drops by and wants Keaton’s girl. This guy frames Keaton making it seem like he’s stolen the girl’s father’s watch to buy the ring.

Later at work as a movie projectionist, the hero starts daydreaming as he watches the film he’s showing about a couple having trouble with their relationship. The story is simple and it’s a silent film so the strength is Keaton’s physical humor. There were several preposterous, hilarious scenes that are timeless. It’s a short film that still entertains.

18
Jan
14

I Was a Male War Bride

I Was A Male War Bride 1

The “old” movie I watched this week as part of my 2014 New Year’s resolution was I Was a Male War Bride starring Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan. Grant plays Henri, a French army officer, who must go on a mission with Catherine, an American officer. In true 1940s romantic comedy fashion, neither wants to go with the other and as they travel to find a German lens maker in a small town, they bicker continually, yet wittily, while encountering one mishap after another. In time they admit that their conflict is simply pent up sexual chemistry with a healthy dash of love, they decide to marry.

In occupied Germany after WWII, the newly married couple face a series of wacky bureaucratic problems when they set off for America on army transport. Theirs was a horrible and comical wedding night and honeymoon.

The film was rather dated and contrived. The actors did what could be done with the stilted story and I guess they were assigned by the studio to do this so so movie in a pre-TV era when new content had to be cranked out.

19
Dec
13

The Miracle of “A Charlie Brown Christmas”

This 15 minute documentary tells how the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas came to be. Each element seems so perfect. It’s hard to believe how jumbled and rushed the creation process was.

09
Nov
13

Sleepwalk with Me

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I’ve had this DVD for a while and just haven’t gotten around to watching it. It looked quirky and it is, but Sleepwalk with Me, a story of struggling, neurotic, sleepwalking comic just missed the mark. I liked the hero, Mike Birbilgia,  fairly well, but there wasn’t enough story here. While it’s new to watch a comedian who’s got a real sleep disorder and the cast was strong, the story was weak. It’s like having great milk and sugar, but really bad coffee. What is the point?

Birbilgia not only sleepwalks, he sleepshowers, sleepjumps, sleepwhatevers. He’s in a relationship with a lovely woman, who should leave him because he won’t commit, but she sticks around for years waiting and hoping. He isn’t a bad guy, just one with Peter Pan syndrome. The whole “I’m not sure about commitment” syndrome seems passe or should be. Making another movie about it is just another walk down a well-worn path. I do hope we move beyond this hesitancy as a society.




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