Reviews written by registered user
|27 reviews in total|
This is one of the most memorable single acting performances I have
seen in 50 years of watching the box.
Le Mesurier is simply outstanding. Dennis Potter's script certainly gives le Mesurier something decent to do, of course: it's a gift to an actor. But this particular actor makes a meal of it, breaking down before our eyes. Such an apparently mannered performer, so familiar to us all from "Dad's Army" -in this, he simply does familiar things in a slightly different way, to devastating effect. Manners and breeding, and he's somehow so SEEDY. One would never say that le Mesurier was 'wasted' in comedy, but it's splendid to see just how deep-beneath-the-skin he can go, and with such total control. Technique working in service of insight. He KNOWS this guy, and he's merciless.
I suspect that this was made 'as live' - it has that intensity you got with long-take scenes shot in slightly constricted sets. There is a real feeling - SO rare in television - of watching a performance rather than a paste-up.
Rather than a documentary, this is a sort of free-association of
British film comedy right back to the beginning of the sound era.
For anyone interested in showbiz history, this is a simply invaluable compilation - like a Brit version of "That's Entertainment". All star cast? Lumme! People like Jack Train and Old Mother Reilly and Will Hay and George Formby... much of it culled from newsreels and what the Brits used to call 'quota quickies'. It gives a wonderful sense of the "tatty" world of film-making in Britain: tiny sets, stolid camera-work etc.
The graphic in the credits at the front (an animation of a huge fat woman from a typical British 'saucy postcard') captures the tone perfectly.
Frank Muir provides just enough commentary: mainly, the acts are given the space to do their thing. (God, this is a funny movie.) I confess, I saw this only once, quite by accident, on afternoon TV. If I recall correctly, this is where I saw George Formby singing "Imagine me sitting on the Maginot Line"... one of those things which, once seen, is never forgotten...
Oh, and "Wilson Keppel and Betty's" 'Egyptian Dance': picture two scrawny British bank-clerks in fezzes doing a totally glum-faced sand-dance... one of the greatest eccentric dance numbers ever filmed...
When we look back on musicals, I guess we tend to remember the 'epics'.
Big productions like "Footlight Parades" and "Singin' in the Rain" and
"West Side Story".
But there was also a whole long-lived genre of 'chamber musicals' - little cheapies, one step up from the B-list, and sometimes - in the case of the singing cowboys - one step up from the C-list! The scale is smaller, but that's no reason for them all to slip off into obscurity. "Two weeks with love" is fun; "My gal sal" is fun; "For me and my gal" is lots of fun.
And if you ask me "I'll see you in my dreams" is a real charmer. It's an interesting story, even in the flossied up version: because it deals with relatively 'unknown' songwriter, Gus Kahn, it probably gives a better idea of Tin Pan Alley history than the various Gerswhin and Porter and Kern projects. The low-budget production values probably help, too: the whole thing has a pleasantly domestic scale.
Kahn's lyrics help things out considerably, too. Compare this movie with "Words and Music" - the Kalmar and Ruby songbook is spread pretty thin to fill a whole movie. No such problem with Gus: it's a pleasant ongoing surprise to discover that he wrote the lyrics to so many familiar standards.
Neither Danny nor Doris exactly "chews the scenery", but this is a fine showcase for them; there's little sexual chemistry, but there's a kind of professional rapport that makes the characters' relationship seem very believable and deep and adult. (And you can't say that about a lot of musicals.) Doris is such a credible actor in what's basically a dramatic role; the later comedies are fun, but she had more range than people give her credit for. And she's one of the best singers in the history of the movies: give her a couple of great songs, and the show's worth the price of admission already.
I like Danny Thomas in this. Because of where I live, I never saw Danny on TV: his shows weren't broadcast here. So whenever I've seen him since, I've thought he was overacting heinously. Here, he's very charming and dignified - a sort of Wallace Beery / Ernest Borgnine type.
The fun thing about this for me is the total vulgarity of the whole
enterprise. Somehow it's absolutely right for the 'Ziegfeld Story' to
be told by people whose idea of 'class' is girls dancing the minuet to
Dvorak's "Humoresque". I suspect that this skewers the ethos of both
Ziegfeld and MGM as thoroughly as any auteur could do! It's a long
three hours' worth, but there are so many interesting things to watch.
William Powell is an impeccable and charismatic anchorman; he's so
skillful to watch, always fresh and inventive. Frank Morgan is also
Luise Rainer is just plain INTERESTING. The 'received wisdom' is that she got the Oscar for the famous 'telephone conversation', but I don't think that's fair. She works her butt off, working to steal every scene with the subtlety of Mae West; her technique is really superb, and somehow the epitome of Viennese style. And she gets her chops around pages of heinous dialogue that would have given Katherine Hepburn pause. She's also an outstanding beauty. Was Garbo robbed? Well yes, of course. But it's not like "Sweet Leilani" beating "They Can't Take That Away From Me".
Ray Bolger is excellent, and Fanny Brice damn near steals the movie. (I'm interested by comments here about the cutting of the "my man" number. One of the early MGM soundies featured a full performance; maybe it was felt that the number had been thrashed already. Anyway, I wouldn't want to be without the burlesque chorus number that we get instead.) But what really amazes me about this movie is the technical aspect. The lighting cameramen really had their work cut out for them getting light into those huge sets. They nearly manage it (though notice how a shadow from the apparatus inside Ray Bolger's follow-spot obscures his feet during his solo tap number).
And a final, adoring word for the chorus dancers. It's amazing to see what's demanded of Hollywood dancers by 1936 (particularly if you've just watched "Broadway Melody of 1929"). Those girls on the mammoth staircase wearing the black art deco 'bird' costumes: they've got no sightlines at all. And the girls doing high kicks on the fast-moving trucks during the "You" number: that is so DANGEROUS.
German film of the seventies. More fun than... well actually, no fun at
A glib analysis would state that all the war babies and boomers came of age, and began to express their neuroses on film. People talk about "war guilt" - that was part of it, but also a phenomenal feeling of sadness and melancholy. It pervades this film; there's a feeling of the events taking place just after something appalling. The war and its aftermath are 'the two-hundred-pound gorilla in the corner': unmentioned, unpictured, and undeniable.
I suppose, in a way, this movie is a distant Teutonic cousin of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" - a simple domestic story of sisters going mad in their own ways. You could almost describe the scenario as 'banal', but it's delivered with such intensity and integrity that the results are genuinely tragic.
The acting is outrageously good. Unlike the Davis / Crawford epic, this one doesn't shy away from lesbian sexual energy between the two siblings, which adds another layer of creepiness.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There is nothing more irritating than a high-concept art film. Except,
perhaps, a botched one.
You need to have a very good reason to make a movie featuring Dashiell Hammett as a 'real detective'. It is a twee and obvious idea. (It was called Murder She Wrote and it ran for years on the telly, where it worked perfectly.) But a serious 'A' feature, with a star director? Presumably the point would be to show the 'real' people on whom Dash Hammett based his fictional characters.
But instead, here we see Hammett surrounded by people doing largely uninspired impersonations of characters from old Hammett movies. A decrepit Elijah Cook Jr. drives a cab to the same apartment building he inhabited in 'The Maltese Falcon', where another twitchy gunsel waits with a fake Sydney Greenstreet. The fake sets look like fake sets from the Warner's backlot.
Because it's all a copy of a copy, everything seems pallid: Roy Kinnear simply reminds us how depraved and scary Greenstreet originally was. The only way for this film to be viable was to find someone even scarier than Greenstreet: to show us how Hammett 'tidied reality up' in his fiction. Instead, we get a pointless pastiche.
What might conceivably have saved this is a performance of blistering charisma in the title role. I suspect Frederic Forest is absolute dynamite in the live theatre; here, he comes across as miscast. (Imagine Sam Spade played by Tom Hanks, and you'll be in the right ballpark). What an odd person to choose to replace Brian Keith. (And wasn't Brian Keith a weird person to choose in the first place?) There's a short tantalising 'dream sequence' at the end as Hammett converts his recent experiences into a completely different plot from the one we have just seen. Wonder if these are clippings from the 'lost version'? Anyway, it's the nicest piece of whimsy in the whole film. Otherwise, it feels flat and style-free, and it simply lacks elan. Fassbinder used to knock out things like this over a weekend; this feels arduous. (God it would be tiresome for all concerned to reshoot a whole movie. Particularly if it's for Yankee bankers who presumably want it all 'dumbed down'...) Wim Wenders. If you've seen 'Burden of Dreams', you'll know he looked a lot like his title character when this was made. Does it mean anything?
The trouble with this sort of lyrical film-making is that you either
make a masterpiece, or a lemon: there's little middle ground. Putting
it gently, this is not "Berlin - symphony of a city" or "Man with a
Movie Camera". Unfortunately, it's not much to look at, either.
The problem with this one is that it's glib and half-baked, as if Michael Moore had come on board. It doesn't really have anything to say, or rather, to show us with pictures and sounds. Koyanisqatsi uses images cumulatively to propound a thesis. This is just a patchwork in search of a point. (Though, quite inadvertently, the movie tells us more about the mind of Uncle Sam than it intends. There is something profoundly paradoxical about an anti-technology, anti-civilisation, anti-media movie that is so profoundly souped up with technology. 'Do as I say, and not as I do'. You just gotta love the Yanks, eh.) Tonally, there's something sour and misanthropic about this episode. Both the prior episodes had moments of lyricism and exhilaration; this time the tone is consistently glum. It simply doesn't work over this duration, as Gustav Mahler will tell you.
Stylistically, Naqoyqatsi is a mess. The whizzy digital stuff is particularly misguided. It gives the whole thing a totally fussy, overprocessed look, and it also undermines the 'realist' nature of the analogue 'found footage'. (I mean, I pity the guys. Part of the joy of Koyanisqaatsi was that it was a homage to the use of optical film. But now optical film's an historical artifact, they have to 'take on board' the digital domain; but I don't think they bring it off. The digital stuff often looks like video links from CNN or BBC World.) And with the "found footage", well, the digital manipulation is often ugly, and usually just silly, and the false colour and solarisation kept me thinking of...
James Bond title sequences.
Ahem. Odd as it may seem, there is also the possibility that the movie has been simply stolen by Yo Yo Ma's performance; it's about as unobtrusive as a Lawrence Olivier voice-over. The images would have to be jolly compelling to stack up against all that charisma.
Philip Glass himself is on odd form; never expected him to knock off the Verdi requiem! (Made me laugh, which, of course, is not the desired response to any part of this movie). There's even one piece of music that sounds like Brahms. (?) Perhaps they've changed his pills.
From our 'idle questions' department: is Geoffrey Reggio actually a Hopi Indian at all? Or did he just do a sweatlodge in Hollywood Hills? Oh, and are the various snippets bits of footage from earlier 'episodes' in the trilogy a commentary on the way these movies, too, are part of the global media slushy?
As I recall, this is a whole lot of fun.
The movie is a paste-up of various "suggestive" film items from the 1930s and 40's, presented without commentary.
A large proportion of the film consists of "soundies" - short black & white films made for an early kind of "video jukebox". So we get to see Fats Waller doing the title song, for instance. But there are also pieces from sound shorts, and features - an eclectic collection, from both sides of the Atlantic.
What sticks in my mind is Sophie Tucker in a night-club in about 1930: splendidly sharp images, and excellent sound from the stage p.a. Because most footage of 20's dancebands comes from silent films, it's often 'souped up' with montage. This crisp footage, from one camera, with excellent sound, gives a sense of a real event.
OK, so far, so good.
For the next part, I may well be imagining this. But I seem to recall that the U.S.P. of this film was that, interspersed between the musical numbers were rather tame and clumsy vintage porn films...
The result is, in fact, very 70s: the baby-boomers' exciting discovery that there was actually sex before the Second World War.
But with the passage of time, I suspect that the material contained within this movie has become more and more Martian (like Al Jolson movies). In 1974, the culture that produced the various soundies and the pornies was still familiar; we all knew lots of people who had been young back then.
But I suspect modern audiences might find it all totally, totally surreal.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If laughing matters to you, you owe it to yourself to acquire this
movie by any means.
We all have our pet oddities. Things we are ashamed of liking, maybe (Spielberg's "1941"). Things we know only anoraks find funny (Tati's "Playtime"). I'm not going to stand on a soap-box and rant at the world for not sharing these predilections with me. You probably won't like them; don't let me waste your time! But I guess I have a bit of the boring-old-crank about me, because I feel moved to assert that "Hercules Returns" is the most neglected great comedy of all.
It is worth making an effort to see. It is worth searching for on e-bay. It is worth downloading on dial-up. That good.
Measured in terms of laughs-per-minute, and quality of jokes, "Hercules Returns" is simply without peer in the English language: only the Marxes at their best come close. It should be on every hot-hundred list of comedies, and well up there, too.
There are quite a few comedies that overdub "source footage" brilliantly: "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" is one of Steve Martin's finest hours. Woody Allen's 'What's Up, Tiger Lily' has an almost identical premise, the victim-movie being a terrific Japanese James Bond film, strangely intercut with an appalling Lovin' Spoonful track (I'm not making this up, you know.) But "Hercules Returns" is the apotheosis of the idea. It fulfils the premise impeccably.
The juxtaposition of inherently ludicrous images from an old Italian muscle-epic with a cartoonish Australian voice-track would be funny anyway.
But the writing! If you ask me, good jokes are enough to make a great comedy movie: a sit-com like "The Philadelphia Story" is not inherently better than "The Pawnshop", and "Singing in the Rain" isn't better than "Hellzapoppin".
There are more good jokes in "Hercules Returns" than in Mel Brooks's entire career; only 'Airplane' is in the same league. Indeed, the 'chicken-who-missed-his-cue' gag mentioned by another reviewer is one of the greatest unexpected jokes in the history of cinema; up there with the Janet Leigh shower scene.
(For antipodeans, there's an added layer of funny: this was done at a time when Oz comedy was embracing local ethnic stereotypes, and there's a hilarious subtext where the Italian characters seem to behave like upwardly-mobile Mediterranean immigrants. Italian faces are Aussie faces; the nymphs who bathe in the sea early in the movie could just as well be a group of Aussie girls: so OF COURSE they'll do some synchronised swimming!) There are comedies that make you chuckle knowingly ("Kind Hearts and Coronets") There are comedies that make you smile happily (Tati). There are comedies that make you cheer ("Safety Last").
But read the other comments here, and be warned. There are also comedies that have the capacity to render you incontinent.
This is a delight; worth seeking out if you have the chance and the
The Casa Verdi is a retirement home for aging and impecunious Italian opera singers. This is a documentary about the institution and some of its denizens in the early eighties.
Most documentaries about artists end up being a bit 'precious'. This is about a pack of old hams who know they're hams: they play to the camera, they 'find their lights' like old pros. There's a pecking order in the place, from the lowly chorus member sculling soup ("the chorus is the most important part of the opera company", she opines) right up to the near-star Sara Scuderi.
These people all have music and performing in their blood; it's a total part of their identities. Somehow it's a wonderful demonstration of how music gets under the skin of its performers, and never leaves them, even when the ability to perform it diminishes.
In the opera, "Tosca's Kiss" is the kiss of death; but this is a film about living.
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