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Charming turn-of-the-century fantasy
Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp (1906) is a Melies-inspired fantasy, one of the best of its period. It features a plethora of old-fashioned, in-camera effects as well as hand-tinted coloring. The story is told simply and with charm. Much of it seems to foreshadow both the 1924 and 1940 versions of The Thief of Bagdad in terms of creating a otherworldly and exotic realm, more imagination than the actual middle east.
There are no intertitles and likely expected its 1900s audiences to be familiar with the fairy tale, so if you are not familiar with the original Aladdin story (which, unlike the Disney version, features Aladdin's mother and two genies), I would get thee to Wikipedia first.
Hogarth meets horror
Val Lewton's final horror production may not be his best effort, but it is nevertheless a fantastic movie, much better than its reputation. I think the reason why many horror movie fans dismiss this one is that it really isn't much of a horror movie per-say: it's more of a melodrama with Gothic elements taken right out of a Poe story.
Allegedly based off the paintings of 18th century painter William Hogarth, Bedlam follows Nell Bowen (Anna Lee), the witty young "protege" of a jolly if heartless nobleman (really, she's more of a kept woman, but a Production Code era movie can hardly imply the heroine is a woman of easy virtue), who seeks to reform the ghastly asylum, Bedlam, run by the much ghastlier George Sims (Boris Karloff in one of his best performances). Displeased with the idea of losing what little social power he has as the head of the asylum, Sims pulls some strings to have Nell committed and hopes to both drive her mad and prove her theories that the mentally ill do possess the right to human dignity wrong. Meanwhile, Nell reaches out to the other inmates with compassion, all while plotting her escape with the aid of a young Quaker.
The scenes in the asylum are hardly frightening or shocking by today's standards (mistreatment of the inmates with sexual abuse and physical torture are merely implied, and lightly at that), but the lighting and the sounds of shrieks and moaning do conjure a creepy atmosphere. The Quaker love interest is quite bland. The real highlights of the film are Karloff's gleefully wicked performance as the sadistic yet human physician and the philosophical battle between Bowen and Sims over the brotherhood of mankind. Their exchanges are entertaining and dramatically powerful. I've often heard Anna Lee's Nell described as the first feminist heroine of horror cinema, and while I think Zita Johann's character in The Mummy beats her to the punch, she is a strong female character without doubt, active and courageous. She is no angel either; she begins the movie as a greedy person who's reluctant to let the plight of the asylum inmates move her. She has to battle her own hypocrisies in order to change for the better.
Truly underrated. Just don't come in expecting a chiller like Cat People or The Body Snatcher.
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
I mean, I do get the hate... but....
I really enjoyed this movie. Despite its flaws (and boy, does it have them!), I still walked away satisfied with the experience. I only wish I could have seen it in a theater and not merely on my television at home! It is not subtle at all. Neither the costumes, characterizations, or editing are unstated whatsoever. The plot is basically Camille meets La Boheme, with big doses of farce comedy interspersed with tragic romance. Yet somehow it all works-- well, for the most part.
I will admit, I prefer the comical scenes to the more emotional ones. The hyperkinetic cinematography, bright colors, and animated performances generally jibe better when it's all played for laughs. Still, this is an enjoyable film if you don't mind your movies being style over substance once in a while.
Les demoiselles de Rochefort (1967)
Demy's most cheerful outing
I think Jacques Demy can be an acquired taste for some people. His films often border on, if not fall directly into, camp territory with their bright mise en scene and grand melodrama. Most of them are quite melancholy or even downers, focusing on romantic frustration, lost dreams, bitter regrets, and family dramas. In this regard, The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967) is a little bit of an anomaly as it is quite sunny and cheerful.
In many ways an homage to the Hollywood musical, Young Girls is a delightful romp about interconnected lovers and dreamers. Michel Legrand's music is fun and upbeat. All the actors are in fine form, even if some of them are a little rough with their footwork. Nevertheless, I would say this is one of Demy's best movies.
Pretty but the script is too stupid for words
On one hand, the technical aspects of Elizabeth (1998) are marvelous. Gorgeous cinematography and costumes. Cate Blanchett is a great Elizabeth, so great that at times it felt like she could salvage the picture.
Too bad the script is junk. I'm not even going into the realm of historical accuracy because next to none of the details here are true to reality. The sexual stuff in particular is obnoxious (like Elizabeth's maids peeping on her copulating with Robert Dudley-- what was that?). What they did to the Duke of Anjou, Mary Tudor, and Mary de Guise is just so far into the realm of dumb, turning actual people into caricatures.
And that's the problem: the whole thing feels juvenile. And unlike a juvenile historical drama offering like Reign, Elizabeth has no camp value to make it entertaining. I would not call the film an entire failure-- my sister and I had a pleasant enough time watching it-- but I would not watch it again and would not recommend it.
Three decades and still excellent
While my fellow Carl Barks/Don Rosa fans will often criticize DuckTales for being the lighter and softer version of the Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge comics, I cannot concur with them that this series is garbage. It is a fantastic, fun adventure show, even divorced from nostalgia-- and you can take my word on that considering that I did not watch a single episode of this show until I was in my late teens.
Clocking in at 100 episodes, DuckTales is crazy addictive and rarely ever dull. Its episodes, while mostly focusing on adventure, also encompass the mystery, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, giving the series as a whole a nice variety. The cast is mostly delightful-- with the exception of a few rather annoying additions from later seasons, such as Bubba the Cave Duck, though even he has his moments. Generally, this is a show which does not talk down to children and remains entertaining even for adults with its combination of guileless charm and comedy.
But I would like to single out praise for Alan Young as Scrooge, mainly because he died last year but also because his voice for the iconic world's richest duck is so perfect. While I'm sure David Tenant will be excellent in the new series, for those of us who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, Young will likely remain our voice for this character. He brought real range, managing to combine cantankerousness with warmth and humor. He'll be missed.
At any rate, I'm cautiously optimistic about the new show, seeing as the creators want to allow it to stand on its own merits and not merely the nostalgia of the audience. Nevertheless, I imagine the older show will continue to hold up as it has done for the past three decades.
Tirez sur le pianiste (1960)
Gangsters, slapstick, impromptu musical numbers, melancholy
Shoot the Piano Player (1960) has quite the generic pedigree, spitting in the face of genre altogether: it is part gangster movie, part slapstick comedy, part melancholic romance. I suppose this bizarre hybridity is partially responsible for the movie's poor performance critically and commercially upon its original release. Yet none of these contrasting elements clash, making for one of the most unique and wildly entertaining movies of the French New Wave. I'll applaud any movie which can make me laugh my head off one minutes and then leave me contemplative and sad the next. It must be seen to be believed. The director Francois Truffaut was a true treasure and it saddens me to this day that we lost him too soon.
Borrowed Time (2015)
A step in the right direction
For years, mainstream American animation has been forced into kiddie territory. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with that: these films can be great too. But as they say, variety is the spice of life and to keep to one demographic alone is so limiting. So imagine how glad I was that Pixar is trying for more mature territory with this short film, Borrowed Time. A sheriff is brought to the site of the greatest tragedy of his life and contemplates suicide. What results is a beautiful piece about self-forgiveness and coming to terms with the past.
Pixar has stepped into adult territory before, but never with this much gusto. Let's hope this means in the coming decade, we will get less of the marketable sequels and more original, challenging projects from this most beloved of animation houses.
O Lucky Man! (1973)
Adam cast out of Eden and into 1970s Britain
O Lucky Man! (1973) has been overlooked for decades, though luckily nowadays it is becoming more appreciated for the lost classic it is. The movie is a bizarre odyssey through 1970s Britain, with the innocent every man Mick Travis serving as a sort of Adam stumbling outside of paradise (note how often he is shown munching on apples). His adventures are black comic, grotesquely sexual, and even frightening, yet in the end, in the face of massive disillusionment with the human race, Mick reaches a sort of enlightenment in what may be the most cautiously optimistic ending in cinematic history.
Lindsay Anderson's direction is marvelous, combining the classical epic, musical, and in some cases silent cinema to create an entirely unique movie experience. Malcolm McDowell (who also co-wrote the script) is just perfection as Mick Travis, innocent and idealistic but never one note or dull. For me, both the villainous Alex Delarge of A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Mick Travis in O Lucky Man! are his finest moments as an actor. I wish that someday he'll get one last chance to play a similarly fantastic role. Alan Price's music is very early 1970s and catchy. His music acts as a sort of Greek chorus for Mick's adventures.
O Lucky Man! is a spiritual sequel to Anderson's 1968 movie If...., which explored the rebellion of the 1960s counterculture. O Lucky Man! is more about the 1970s, of course, and I think it a far more interesting picture, though If.... still remains a great favorite of mine. The 1970s was one of the greatest decades for movie-making worldwide, and if you love this decade, then you owe it to yourself to see O Lucky Man!
Double Indemnity (1973)
Just so terrible
Take Billy Wilder's amazing 1944 adaptation of Double Indemnity and then sap out all the blood. That's this 1973 made for television version.
There's no style to anything. Gone are the claustrophobic sets and the sense of oppressive summer heat wave which gave atmosphere to the original. None of the sets seem designed to do anything other than give the boring, charisma-less actors space to march around in. None of the players are even close to the performances of the original. It's a hard chore to even equal, let alone top, the likes of Barbara Stanwyck or Edward G. Robinson. These people don't even come close.
The cinematography is bland. No sexual tension. The dialogue is the same but when it's delivered with no verve it barely simmers. The climax is not so much built to as it is stumbled upon by bloodless characters.
Ignore this. Not worth your time. Not worth the film it was shot on at all.