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Trapped by the Mormons (1922)
Genius in its awfulness
This is, without question, my Favorite Bad Movie. I first saw it about 20 years ago as a college midnight movie, and it stayed with me. I finally found it on tape at and actually bought it, which is something I rarely do. However, this film is so memorably and ineptly hilarious, I had to get it.
It's a silent British film which is to Mormonism as "Reefer Madness" is to marijuana usage. The plot -- what there is of it -- is of a Mormon polygamist luring small-town English girls to forced marriages, upon which they are sent off to Salt Lake City. Needless to say, the heroine, played by Evelyn Brent, is saved by her poor, wheelchair-bound father and her dashing sailor boyfriend.
This film is best experienced with the soundtrack turned off and about 42 beers, with a group of friends who are all able to come up with alternative voiceovers. If it had been science fiction, this would have been a prime MST3k flick. Trust me; it's worth every penny of the $9.99 plus shipping you'll pay for it.
La vie rêvée des anges (1998)
Sad and beautiful character study
This film is typical of many European films; it's large on character and acting skills, and small on special effects. That is a good thing.
The story revolves around two chronically unemployed 20-ish French women who meet almost purely by accident. While they are common in their socioeconomic backgrounds, their personalities differ greatly, but in such a way that it allows them to become best friends. When the major differences arise in their romantic needs and their ability to ride out emotional storms, the differences become too much.
This movie works for two main reasons. First, the two actresses are highly believable in their parts; the remainder of the cast is also very good. Second, I realized at the end of the film how my general initial perception of the two characters was wrong. The film shows the importance of truly getting to know someone before you judge them.
If you want an action flick, this is not the film for you. However, if you want an intelligent script and an excellent study of humanity, you should see this film.
Return to Me (2000)
They *can* make 'em like they used to!
My parents frequently state that there are no romantic comedies as good as the ones made when they were young. Hah! Here's one, which is a tremendous credit to the entire cast and crew.
The context of the plot is preposterous, which is true of most good romantic comedies: David Duchovny's dearly beloved wife is killed in a car accident; her heart is given to Minnie Driver in a transplant operation; the two fall in love at first sight. Complications ensue.
This plot isn't much more ridiculous than those of Astaire and Rogers movies, but 50 years ago the concept of a heart transplant didn't exist. If it had, I'm willing to bet Fred and Ginger or Tracy and Hepburn would have been in a film with a similar script!
This film worked because the characters are real, despite the plot. Amazingly, David Duchovny actually emotes in this film! I especially appreciated the supporting characters. It was great to see Carroll O'Connor and Robert Loggia acting like real elderly people. I suspect we all know senior citizens who are just as loving and nosy as they are! Also, the team of Bonnie Hunt (who also directed) and James Belushi as Minnie Driver's best friends worked well. Their family acts a lot like most families, down to the messiness of the house and kids repeating things they shouldn't.
If you're looking for a deep, meaningful film, this isn't it. If you want a film where you don't completely check out your brain but still want entertainment, this is well worth seeing.
My Dog Skip (2000)
A family movie that the adults will probably appreciate even more than their kids
This is an absolutely wonderful movie that's aimed for children, but will probably be even more loved by adults.
In 1942, a 10-year-old boy who is more intellectual than athletic and is constantly teased by others finds solace in the puppy given to him on his birthday. The dog helps him make friends and grow up.
That's the capsule of the plot. This movie is much more than that. The acting all around is excellent, but special credit must be given to Frankie Munoz (as the boy) and Moose, the dog from "Frasier" as...the dog.
"My Dog Skip" does a wonderful job of showing all of the joys and agonies of changing from a child into a young adult. It's hard not to recognize yourself in the episodes.
While this movie is sentimental, it's not played for sentimentality. That's much of why it works so well. You won't feel like you're being manipulated as you watch.
Be forwarned: some of the scenes might be rather intense for children under the age of seven. You, as an adult, will probably want to bring along some hankies. >
Jing wu ying xiong (1994)
Utterly amazing fighting sequences make this film worth watching
Even if you don't enjoy watching sports such as boxing, you'll enjoy this film. The coordination and grace shown by the stars performing is equal to that of any world-ranked gymnast.
This is one of the more serious martial arts films. Consequently, it actually has a plot which can be followed!
The fight sequences in this film are outstanding. It's clear from watching this movie that minimal special effects (e.g. wires, cross-cutting in the editing, etc.) are used. The main fights are clearly performed by the stars. Yes, we know that the folks in Hong Kong don't use stand-ins, but it's impressively obvious when watching this film.
It's easy to see why the Wachowski brothers worship Jet Li after seeing this film. The speed and power shown in his acrobatic moves are quite something. In addition, it shows that he can *act*. That's not obvious in "Fong Sai Yuk" or "The Swordsman", which are essentially live-action comic books.
Marius et Jeannette (1997)
A pleasant French love story
This movie kind of reminded me of a cross between "Life is Sweet" (a humorous examination of the lower-middle class), "The Bridges of Madison County" (an examination of how middle aged people actually continue to have libidos and emotions), and a random French romantic love farce.
The director tries to give this film a political slant, showing the perils of capitalism in favor of socialism, and dedicates this film "to all of the workers of the world." Ignore it. Focus instead on the characters, most of whom are people much like people you have met in your life, with French sensibilities. The love story between the main characters is basically an excuse to get to know this small community of neighbors and show how they interact.
This is not one of the great films of all time, but I enjoyed it. It was a pleasant way to spend a little under two hours.
Los olvidados (1950)
The more things change...
This film holds up surprisingly well after almost 50 years. It appears to be a fairly accurate portrayal of street life in Mexico City in the 1950's. Sadly, most of the characters could be located in any major city in today's times -- but now they'd also probably have handguns, if the film was moved to the US.
Bunuel does not appear to let a lot of behavior remain off the screen. You will find relatively little of the boys' activities occurring off-camera. Some attempts at showing the emotional histories of the players are done, which allows a level of insight into the boys' behavior. Some level of sympathy is generated for all of the characters by the end of the movie, which is impressive in light of how despicable many of the characters are. What Bunuel does not comment on is a way to prevent the boys from falling downward into their spiral in the first place.
This is NOT a movie to be seen after you've just had a bad week at the office, but is an excellent social commentary which still has an impact after half a century.
L'albero degli zoccoli (1978)
An excellent portrayal of Italian peasant life
This movie could have been made any time after the development of color film. Unless you look at the tape jacket, you wouldn't know what year it had been filmed. It is timeless.
"Tree" follows the lives of three peasant families in the Lombardy (northern) region of Italy. The historical accuracy appears to be quite high. You'll learn how things were done before electricity, the automobile, etc. Watching this film reminded me of visiting Bali or Morocco; I felt immersed in another culture in another time.
The downside is that, of course, peasants don't live terribly exciting lives, and this is a long movie. There isn't really a plot driving the film. What I considered to be the action scenes are grisly; livestock is slaughtered on camera, and it's clear that you are watching the real thing. (I almost started crying while watching a pig as it is was slaughtered; it was squealing loudly as it was literally eviscerated while it was still alive.)
This is a contemplative film. The film which I think would be an interesting companion piece would be "The Scent of Green Papaya," a Vietnamese film with about the same pace and purpose.
Carmen Jones (1954)
One of the classics of African-American cinema
This film shows just how much talent existed and was mostly unused because of the small number of pictures made with African-American casts during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
It's a remake of Bizet's "Carmen", and was originally performed on Broadway in the 1940's. Otto Preminger filmed the play during the 1950's. The songs all retain Bizet's original music, but the lyrics have been updated to English. If you've never seen the opera, and are intimidated by opera in general, this film would actually be a good introduction to the topic.
The plot is moved from a Spanish village during the late 1800's to the American South during WWII. The cigarette factory is now a parachute factory, and the bullfighter is now a prize fighter. Generally, I thought the update was done well, just as some Shakespearean updates work well. The only part which doesn't work for me is that some of the dialogue and lyrics are in what I think of as "Porgy and Bess Ebonics", e.g. "dees", "dem", "dat", etc.
Carmen is played by Dorothy Dandridge, who is known as the African-American Marilyn Monroe. The two women's lives sadly parallel each other, although Dandridge could find even fewer scripts to show off her acting talents. Harry Belafonte plays the seduced male lead. Both are stunning beautiful, and at their prime.
All of the singing voices are dubbed by first rank operatic voices; the songs for Carmen Jones are dubbed by Marilyn Horne, for example.
The tragedy is realizing how many great actors and actresses could have had brilliant careers except for their skin color. It was interesting and sad to watch the Movietone Newsreel coverage of the premiere, which came attached to the copy of the tape I had. It features all of the white movie stars attending the premiere, the white studio heads -- and just happens to have a second or two of Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge at the end.
Fong sai yuk (1993)
This is the film that made me fall in love with Hong Kong cinema
Unless you believe that all films must be deep and meaningful, you'll love this film. For just pure entertainment, this film is hard to beat. This beats most action films out of the west. Its special effects are due totally to the stars' martial arts skills, not some gazillion dollar budget and special editing. The plot is wonderful. Besides, who can resist a film where the hero, if he's is in danger, will call on Mom to beat up the enemy? Sit back, get out the popcorn, and be prepared to be wildly entertained.