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Another strong entry from one of the greatest shows of all time, and one of the most stand-alone episodes they did
Mark (Twin Peaks) Frost directing a David (The Untouchables, State and Main) Mamet scripted episode of Hill Street Blues! How can you go wrong? Jablonski, Hill, Renko and Goldblume are taking a long weekend to go hunting. It's no spoiler to say things don't turn out as planned.
Three main stories run through this episode; two follow the already-mentioned characters, the third follows Buntz's conversations with a minor character we haven't seen in a while. Each of the three threads in various ways touches (sometimes indirectly) on a common theme of handling situations that are apparently of the kill-or-be-killed variety.
Hill Street Blues has a well-earned reputation for long-running plots and detailed character growth across seasons. This episode, though, may be one of the most stand-alone they ever did. It could plausibly slip almost anywhere in the episode list with very little modification.
One of the scariest, tensest, most suspenseful episodes they did
Hill Street Blues is one of the premier achievements of narrative television, and this episode is in my opinion one of the ten best they ever did. (It's currently the highest ranked episode of the show on IMDb, so I'm not alone in appreciating it). It gives us a villain scarier than around which many movies (without the codes and practices restrictions of network TV) are built, along with many of the usual Hill Street ingredients such as ironic humour, surprise, action and emotion. Like with many episodes, you get the most out of it if you're familiar with the characters and their histories - i.e. if you've been watching previous episodes. However, this is structured so you get a pretty good payoff watching it in isolation, too. Very highly recommended, and one that springs to mind easily years after I first saw it.
Read the poem first
The poem of the same name that this film was based on was very popular and much better known at the time than it is now, and the film benefits from having read it; as with most parodies of specific works, there is at least a layer of enjoyment that depends upon knowledge of the original work, so one can appreciate what has remained intact and what has been changed - and how. Because of this, this isn't as much a stand-alone piece of work as most of the other Keystone Chaplins.
One gag I haven't seen mentioned in other reviews, that still works if one remembers how risqué and erotically charged it would have been in historical context, is when we see Artist Charlie in flashback apparently draw a model's curvy backside.
The copy I saw was missing the numerous "lengthy titles" (apparently altered versions of extracts of the poem) referred to in David Robinson's book. But I must mention that Charlie's pants in this film are spectacularly baggy! This isn't one of his funniest films by a long shot, but familiarity with the poem DOES make it funnier.
The Knockout (1914)
Must see for fans of early silent comedy
This short silent comedy features a great, large cast, and many hilarious scenes. The large number of characters help support a plot more complicated than the average 1914 Keystone comedy.
For a 1914 Keystone, this has it all, or almost all: cartoon violence, street fights, fraud, romance, a cross-dressing heroine, Arbuckle's acrobatic slapstick, a (brief) love triangle, death threats, menace, the funniest boxing match of the decade, with Chaplin as a guest star and the Keystone Kops! The last ten or so minutes in particular (of the 25 minute version I saw) were outstanding: densely packed with ludicrous action and surprising gags. There's easily enough going on to reward multiple viewings. It's one of Chaplin's best Keystone films (though he's only in a few minutes), one of Arbuckle's best Keystone films and has the funniest Keystone Kops sequence of the handful I've seen.
Iron Man 2 (2010)
Puts the comics on the screen
Tony (Iron Man) Stark and supporting cast have been continuously published for up to almost half a century now; there must be something entertaining and appealing about these characters. This movie (unlike some other comicbook adaptions this century - yes, "Azrael Begins", I'm looking at you) actually puts recognisable versions of the published characters on the big screen.
If you've been reading Iron Man for decades, as I have, then there are many resonant moments and stirring visuals that will bring a smile to your face. I don't think you can go much more than 5 minutes at a stretch without experiencing some frisson of gleeful recognition.
If all you know of the character is the first movie, this will not disappoint. It has the same mix of comicbook physics, great performances and entertaining action in another script smarter than the genre usually supplies. There's a layer of enjoyment accessible to long-time readers that you won't tap into, but you won't miss it.
(It was great to see Howard Stark presented as the Walt Disney of the Marvel Universe here! Great cultural shorthand.) Superior popcorn entertainment masterfully done!
Twenty Minutes of Love (1914)
Pretty good even after all these years!
In his autobiography, Chaplin recorded that "Twenty Minutes of Love" had produced "continuous laughs throughout", even though it had been shot in a single afternoon. It has not weathered as well as many of his later comedies, but while re-watching all his shorts in chronological order, this is the earliest one in which I've found a laugh-out-loud moment of true hilarity (described in some detail below). It may not be coincidence that (in August of 1914, when his memory was fresher) Chaplin stated this was the first film he had directed himself.
It's an early example of a "park" film, no more difficult to follow than others of the genre, once one has attuned one's attention to performance styles and conventions of the times. Luckily the film is short enough that it can easily be viewed multiple times without hardship, to help train one's eyes and mind to follow a story without sound.
DETAILED BUT SMALL-SCALE SPOILER The various conflicts with various couples are pretty standard; the instant of magic for me involves a twice-stolen watch. Charlie has stolen it from the pocket of a man he does not know is a thief. Chased by the thief, and alarmed at the proximity of a policeman, Charlie attempts hurriedly to sell the hot watch to a man asleep on a park bench, who unbeknownst to Charlie, is the watch's original owner.
The transaction (like all of Chaplin's silent conversations) is communicated brilliantly and (if you watch, and think) clearly in pantomime. We see Charlie offer the watch and set a price. We see the owner perceive the watch as familiar and check his pockets, discover his watch is missing and realise that this is indeed his own stolen watch being offered back to him.
We see the owner try to tell Charlie that this is his watch, and Charlie agrees "yes, it's yours once you pay me". After a more forceful repetition from the man, Charlie understands that this man is claiming to be the true owner of the watch! It is Charlie's reaction of quickly pulling the watch back with suspicion, disbelief and resentment at what he considers so transparent an attempt at fraud, that I find still works so well.
It's a complex set-up for the time, and modern audiences who through inexperience with the Keystone-era silent comedy find the fast-paced action confusing enough to lose track of the characters and their histories will miss it entirely. It's a very well-constructed gag, though - the audience alone knows the full truth, while each character has a partial view that seems to contradict the other's. The audience understands perfectly the confusion of the characters. (Alas that the dissection of gags is never as funny as the gags themselves.)
There are other laughs in the movie, but for me this was the best by far.
Mabel at the Wheel (1914)
Charlie Chaplin's Ford Sterling impression (or "Atypical early Chaplin has points of interest for the fan")
When Chaplin arrived at Keystone, Ford Sterling (head of the Keystone Kops, among other roles) was the top comic at the studio. By all accounts Chaplin spent his first few films being asked to act more in Sterling's frantic trademark Keystone style, and none more so than in this one. By the time "Mabel at the Wheel" was shot, Ford Sterling had left Keystone, and Charlie, who had spent the majority of his previous films dressed in his famous Little Tramp costume (even if the soulful, wistful characterisation thereof was yet to be created), not only was made up in the Dutch comic style of Ford Sterling (a false goatee to go with his false moustache) and given Ford Sterling's frock coat to wear, but the whole style of his performance, down to his facial expressions and physical mannerisms, echo Ford Sterling's established screen persona. There is hardly a trace of the tramp in this film, but Chaplin's imitation of Ford Sterling is a model of accuracy.
The film is more interesting than amusing. Some of the wide shots of the crowd at the race feature actual spectators visibly amused at the antics of the actors, which is always fascinating to see after so many decades of movies carefully framed and set-managed to avoid such things.
That said, there are a few funny moments, and one "special effects" (by the standards of the time) shot almost shocking in the unexpectedness of its technique, in which a tilting camera is used to create the illusion that one of the race cars is tipping over in the race.
Tango Tangle (1914)
Fascinating for the experienced viewer
Watching silent comedies is an almost lost art, one that today's younger viewers must teach themselves through an open-minded exposure to multiple examples, always reminding themselves that the intent to tell an amusing story clearly is always there, even if at first glance the impression is of fast-paced incomprehensible chaos. With practice one can learn to understand the conventions of the day, follow the action and enjoy the multitude of jokes and amazing performances.
Even someone who has managed this for comedies of the 1920s, and who can both appreciate and enjoy, say, The General and The Gold Rush, may find their first exposure to Keystone material of the 1910s throws them back into bewilderment. Yet once one adjusts to the conventions of the time (such as the fast paced, physically detailed and extremely demonstrative acting that makes most '20s performances seem restrained by comparison), even these very early, frenetic and largely improvised Keystones can delight.
This one is particularly interesting for several reasons already cited in other reviews: the lack of character makeup on Chaplin and Sterling (both almost always appearing in other films with fake facial hair of various sorts), the amazing athleticism of Arbuckle, the wholly natural reactions of the actual onlookers in the "found" dance hall location to the antics of the leads. It repays a second and even a third viewing for those seeking to learn the skill of following early Keystone comedies.
This was one of Sterling's last handful of films at Keystone and one of Chaplin's first. At the time, Sterling was the bigger star. They work very well together here, especially in their fight scenes, which have tell-tale signs of being more improvised than rehearsed or precisely choreographed, yet are nevertheless creative, clearly told and quite entertaining.
If you've never seen a silent Chaplin short, this is not the one to start with. (Try one of the Mutuals, like Easy Street or The Immigrant) But if you've some familiarity with the genre, the circumstances of the shooting of this one make it one of the most interesting of his first half-dozen or so.
The Truman Show (1998)
Incorrectly considered a goof
The site won't accept my correction to a goof, so I'm placing it on record here. Perhaps someone who has access will correct it.
SPOILER!!! The incorrect goof says "Factual errors: Near the end when Truman is on the boat, Christof uses some extreme weather conditions to try and stop Truman leaving. However, he is on a sail boat in an environment were the weather can be controlled, all Christof had to do was stop the wind or change its direction to go back to port; a sail boat goes were the wind goes."
Changing the wind's direction would not have helped: sailboats can sail to upwind destinations by tacking. See any standard reference on sailing for confirmation (such as the wikipedia article at en. wikipedia. org/ wiki/ Sailing#Sailing_upwind (spaces inserted in case urls are forbidden here)).
If Christoff had stopped the wind, Truman could have used the motor on the boat (which we see him trying to start at one point).
As for the movie? Genius. Jim Carrey's best, and (a much weightier accolade) probably Peter Weir's best.
The Pledge (2001)
Never have so many people got the killer's identity wrong
A brilliant movie, surely one of the masterpieces of 21st century cinema to date. It is its fate to be under-rated and under-appreciated, but to those who can see, its genius is obvious and compelling.
While the identity of the murderer is definitely NOT the point, it IS clearly and unambiguously revealed; however, judging from countless misinterpretations and misidentifications, both here and overheard in the cinema when I saw it, this apparently counts as a spoiler even for a lot of people who HAVE already seen the film...
SPOILERS The killer is seen only in passing. He is the man, called "Oliver" by his wife, in the "Land of Christmas" shop. If you re-watch the movie closely, this should be apparent. If you need more explicitly listed evidence, keep reading.
The killer, known as the Magician, is very tall, to the point where one of the victims calls him a giant. Note the shot from above the door of the "Land of Christmas" shop when Nicholson enters. The camera is inside the shop, above the door, looking down towards the floor. The bell that rings catches our attention, but if you look again you will see how unusually high this door is - see how much taller the door is than Nicholson? Much higher than a normal-sized door. This shot is also repeated near the very end of the movie, in the sequence where all the clues to the killer's identity are summarised.
When we do glimpse Oliver in the shop, in the scene where Nicholson enters the "Land of Christmas" asking for directions to the girl's grandmother's house, he has the grey hair that we see the killer has when driving towards the rendezvous at the end of the film (which he never reaches due to the accident). We learn subsequently that the girl would visit the "Land of Christmas", also.
After the killer has started his drive towards the rendezvous, as part of the "clue summarising" we return to the "Land of Christmas", with his wife calling out for him.
The absolute clincher, though, is the fact that the "Land of Christmas" sells small chocolate "porcupines". (We see his wife mention them and take out a box of them when she is searching for him.) It was of course these that he would give to his victims, as depicted in the child's drawing.
Incidentally, the point of the close-up of the rear-vision mirror in the burning car is to show the small porcupine figurine hanging from it. The Tom Noonan character is a decoy, and definitely not the killer.
Hopefully anyone re-watching it after reading the above will be able to see for themselves. :) One fascinating angle I've not seen commented on is the way Penn's tirade at Nicholson at the end of the movie would, word for word, apply just as well as if Nicholson had been abusing her daughter himself... Rewatch the scene and see how well that jibes.