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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (2002)
Excellent atmospheric horror film
This film ultimately contains everything I could want in a horror film-excellent atmosphere, subtlety, and above all, a standout performance by Mark Redfield in the dual role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though working with a limited budget, the film borrows excellently from the stage adaptation to give it the perfect combination of cinema and theater. This is the most thoughtful adaptation of the book I have yet seen (including the John Barrymore and Fredric March versions). The performances by the leads all contributed much to this version of the story as well. Special mention should go to the excellent makeup work by Robert Yoho in creating the Mr. Hyde transformation. This version of the classic story is both respectful to its source material and very atmospheric, which makes for an excellent film.
The Cameraman (1928)
What is amazing in the history of the cinema is those works of art that get produced under less-than-ideal circumstances. CITIZEN KANE could fit into this category, so could GREED, even CASABLANCA. But perhaps one of the most significant is Buster Keaton's masterwork, THE CAMERAMAN.
Due to the inflated rental costs and poor distribution that Keaton's previous three films had through United Artists, Buster Keaton Productions was forced to close down, and Keaton lost all creative control and took a job as performer only at MGM, Hollywood's largest studio. Reluctant to take direction and perform material written by others, he fought the studio tooth and nail to get the film made his way. His first film there also became, interestingly enough, perhaps his most all-round most satisfying motion picture of his career.
In watching THE CAMERAMAN, I was struck particularly by the brilliance and sheer number of gags. In addition, Keaton was supported by a very talented cast, not least of all former Mack Sennett clown Harry Gribbon. The film is filled with memorable set-pieces (the entire scene at the pool, especially in the bathhouse, is my favorite).
This film is highly recommended to fans of film comedy, and the lost art of gag structure and payoff.
Her Majesty, Love (1931)
Interesting pre-code musical comedy
Clearly influenced by the German musical comedies of the time, William Dieterle's first American film is a delightful pre-code musical comedy starring Marilyn Miller, of the Ziegfeld Follies. The real treat is the fun performances by such early comic legends of the stage and screen like W.C. Fields, Leon Errol, Ford Sterling and Chester Conklin. Songs add to the atmosphere of the story. The most notable aspect of this film is the technical brilliance of the cinematography and editing. Filmed with a much more fluid camera than the average film of 1931, with many scenes transitioned by brilliant dissolves. Worth the watch if you can find it.
I saw Robbie Chafitz's FLICKERS on a double bill with the Buster Keaton film THE CAMERAMAN and a live vaudeville performance. This film was thoroughly enjoyable. Chafitz, in addition to writing and directing, stars as Eddie, an inept movie projectionist who through some circumstances ends up having to pose as a homeless person to be close to the girl he loves. Many funny gags and routines. This film was made as a homage to the silent comics, and the film itself is silent with a piano musical accompaniment on the soundtrack.
Desperate Living (1977)
DESPERATE LIVING is something of a transitional film for director Waters. It is a departure from his earlier works because it was the first of his films not to be produced by his Dreamland company, but by a limited partnership called Charm City Productions. It was also the first feature he made without his usual star, Divine, and therefore represents a departure from his usual story lines (which had previously served as vehicles for Divine). In this sense, it is a film that is more Waters' vision. The story and the execution of the film is far too grim, however. Waters' films work because the characters seem to enjoy themselves very much. But DESPERATE LIVING presents us with characters that simply seem miserable, and nothing else. The opening scenes are quite funny, though. Jean Hill's performance is particularly funny. From a moviegoers' standpoint, I prefer FEMALE TROUBLE highly over this film. I am somewhat baffled at the statement that DESPERATE LIVING is Waters' best film. I can see that it is his most technically advanced up to the time it was made, but surely FEMALE TROUBLE contains the funniest dialogue and performances. All in all, DESPERATE LIVING represents a pre-mainstream John Waters which is always an interesting experience. However, I would not reccomend it as highly as I would some of his other works.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
What happens when a film slips into the Public Domain...
As everyone as heard by now, this film slipped into the Public Domain in the early 1970s when it failed to be renewed for copyright. This was both a blessing and a curse. There are many other great films like this one which deserve to be shown more often on network TV. But they never will because of the royalties involved and the fact that they would never make that money back. But when a "forgotten" film is shown regularly on TV it can trigger a positive audience response and get a fan base for the film that it would not have otherwise had, as was the case here. But what about when there are no royalties to be paid? The film can be run over and over, into the ground, until it loses all freshness. With this particular film there seems to be people who need to watch it religiously each year, and others who get frankly tired of it. My opinion is that IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a very good film. Certainly a very emotional ending. But labeling it a "Christmas" movie is nonsense and it was never intended to be shown only at the holidays. It is a motion picture, just like any other, and deserves to be watched objectively. That's what I'll do here. How does it compare to other similar films? Well, for one thing, I find that this film can convey some very strong emotions for a nearly 60 year old film. Another example is CITY LIGHTS, by Charlie Chaplin, which can still move audiences to tears 70 years after its release. I find the acting to be quite good, but it's worth noting that this shouldn't be surprising considering the first-rate cast (especially Stewart and Barrymore). I find the script to be generally rather weak, incidentally. I feel that the sheer great acting manages to overcome some fairly cliched lines and situations. Still there are also some memorably original sequences like the high school dance. The direction by Capra is excellent as always. It is not without good reason that he is considered one of America's foremost filmmakers. He definitely is not afraid to play scenes for ultimate emotional content which adds strongly to the personal and human element of his films. From a technical aspect, I find this film to be quite well made, especially given its low budget. The giant street set is quite convincing in creating a whole little "world" inhabited by the movie's characters. The location footage of the early suburban neighborhoods is an interesting record. The story itself is good but I feel that the entire concept of the angel was simply a cop-out. In earlier Capra efforts, the main character overcame adversity with effort and common sense. But this "guardian angel" device is complete fantasy. I guess it works to some extent but I found it to be an easy out. How does it rank against Capra's other films? Well, obviously nothing can touch the brilliant, landmark IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT. One of the very funniest films ever made, and one of the very best. Also, I don't think IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is as successful in maintaining a theme as MR. DEEDS (1936). I would rank it after those two, earlier Capra efforts. Generally if I *have* to watch a "christmas" movie it would be Laurel and Hardy's BABES IN TOYLAND. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is a very good film, and deserves to be shown. But so do many other films. I feel another release of 1946, DETOUR, by Edgar G. Ulmer, is a much better film.
The *best* film noir picture...
Man, this film-noir classic blows all those classy, polished looking "noirs" out of the water. No, you won't find Humphrey Bogart or Lauren Bacall here...no John Huston direction...No, this is truly gritty independent film noir. The real deal. The real brilliance here is in the lighting and in the writing. This script is so tight and concise but brilliant. The cinematography (by Benjamin Kline, who shot alot of the Three Stooges shorts) is truly some of the best ever seen in film noir. This is no cheap suspense movie. This is one of the truly greatest films ever made. Edgar G. Ulmer pulled this story off perfectly. And it is *so* believable given the production values and the performers. Check this one out.
International House (1933)
Certainly one of the funniest of the pre-code comedies. The premise of different bidders coming together to bid on the rights to the TV system is just an excuse to get alot of talent together, from W.C. Fields to Cab Calloway. The Burns & Allen segments are great here. That corny vaudeville shtick never worked better! Franklin Pangborn is in his element as the prissy, flustered hotel manager. God, he was hilarious! Too many great moments to try to list here. Thankfully this one is available in a great quality video and it's a shame that it isn't (yet) available on DVD (along with the other Fields Paramounts). Typical of the kinds of comedies that Hollywood (and Paramount in particular) excelled at during the Depression years. However, this one just has it all. Excellent absurd humor (Fields definitely paved the way for Monty Python and the like, believe it or not). This is not art or anything like that, don't expect a Chaplin or Keaton style film. No, this is just good, wacky fun, which is fine. If you liked INTERNATIONAL HOUSE be sure to check out the excellent Paramount comedy, MILLION DOLLAR LEGS (1932), also with W.C. Fields. This is a film with a similar vein of absurd comedy. At any rate, INTERNATIONAL HOUSE is a genuine classic comedy movie.
It Happened One Night (1934)
Capra's best film
This is undeniably the great Frank Capra's best film. Any career that includes such classics as MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, MEET JOHN DOE, and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is obviously a feat by itself. But to have IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT amongst those credits is simply amazing. This film is the one that really started the screwball comedy genre, and its influence is still very strong today. Definitely one of the seminal pictures in motion picture history, a deserved 5-Oscar winner. The excellent writing and acting are pulled together under the brilliant direction of Frank Capra, undeniably the greatest film director in terms of conveying a powerful story. Hitchcock and Welles may have been the masters of detail and technique, but when it comes to absolutely selling a story to an audience, Capra is tops. What a legacy he left for future generations to enjoy! His film IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE is still the most often-watched film at the holiday season, but IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT is one of the *very* very few truly perfect films ever made.
Un chien andalou (1929)
It is hard to imagine the ideas being created that would become UN CHIEN ANDALOU. It is surely the most inventive and surreal film ever made. Its shock value was a key factor in the later films of John Waters, whose film PINK FLAMINGOS was compared to Bunuel and Dali's UN CHIEN ANDALOU. The slicing of the eyeball must surely be the single most disgusting image ever recorded.