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an example to it's genre
6 June 2006
One can feel daunted by the task of taking in a two hour chamber dramedy of manners, where the focus of excitement tends to fall not on a character's chance of heart but on their next chance of wardrobe. It's common enough to see such a project with lots of entrances and exits with bowing and curtsying, giggling girls and stiff men with overgrown sideburns, a lead actress who's obviously too old, and a night interior which the light coming from the fireplace illuminates the room a little too evenly.

With that in mind I was consistently surprised by this version of the Jane Austen novel. The dialog-reliant tale of romantic misunderstanding and class relations has been made into a film that is faithful at least in spirit, but is refreshing in it's presentation.

Casting is key. The Bennett family, at the center of the story, is a wonderful example in itself of ensemble acting when it works. A mix of seasoned professionals and new faces (though mostly the former), there is wonderful chemistry between them.

Kiera Knightly's portrayal of Lizzie, the central character, is marvelous. Knightly, a talented and achingly gorgeous creature, has everything it takes to place herself in both the character and the time period, while remaining a real, identifiable point of reference for the character. Some of her mannerisms seem a bit modern and unusual for this type of film. When she meets a handsome male character for the first time, she sneaks a peak at his bottom. It may not sound very significant, but moments such as that, and there are many, give her character the truth, the timelessness, it needs. This skill extends to many of her fellow performers. True to the time, accessible to modern eyes, timeless. Many scenes have the breeze and honestly of a superior teen comedy.

The camera-work, by Roman Osin, is equally exemplary. The camera moves quite frequently, more than one would expect. The colors register beautifully, particularly in outdoor scenes. And perhaps the most inventive scene of all would be the one with the swing at the gate. (If you want to see what I mean, you'll just have to go and see it. I can't do it justice with a description)

Don't forget, of course, that this is still a period film, and it does still feature many of the hallmarks (some might say pitfalls) of the genre. Personally I enjoy such films even if they do consist mostly of medium shots of Emma Thompson in a corset, suffering by the window. There is the presence of Dame Judi. Nothing against her, she is a predictable presence, though a welcome enough one. The men in the film are also stock character types, but this may be something to accept. After all, it's women's film.

I would not suggest this film to a casual viewer, but I do advise seeing the film to anyone with a decent attention span and an open mind. In some small but enchanting ways, it's a fresh take on a classic story and a genre known for being predictable. Hopefully we will be seeing more from it's director, Joe Wright, very soon.
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Starts slow, but builds to an effective denouement.
21 February 2006
With exteriors filmed in pastoral Cunnecticut and an excellent cast of Griffith's top actors (Florence Lawrence, Mary Pickford, Kate Bruce, baby Gladys Egan), The Country Doctor is still an effective dramatic work, showing a doctor's moral and emotional struggle over treating a young patient while his own daughter lies dying at home.

The family's happiness at the beginning of the film is emphasized with very long takes of the happy threesome walking down their garden path, stopping in a field to pick flowers, smiling and stretching their arms skyward with contentment. Miz Larwence chews the scenery somewhat in these first shots, her gesturing breaking the serenity of the landscape. Once the film goes indoors and she trades her white summer gown for a sober black dress, she is much more controlled. The doctor/father, Frank Powell, also uses some dated indication techniques throughout the film. The real laurels go to the two children of the film, Gladys Egan and Adele DeGarde, who both play their sick-little-girl roles superbly, with subtle, realistic emotion.

There is especially lovely cinematography and scenery in this film. Billy Bitzer's opening and closing panoramic shots of the valley are stunning. Well worth seeing for many reasons, and definitely accessible to modern viewers.
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Two trailers, complete with color footage, are more than worth a peak.
29 November 2005
I saw two trailers for this film, both of them fascinating documents, restored to near-mint condition by the Library of Congress (their present home). The first was black and white, with a lot of attention payed to Fay Lanphier, the hazel-eyed, honey-blond beauty who had just be crowned Miss America 1925. A close-up of her is followed by a shot of Esther Ralston, but I initially thought it was another shot of her (they look so much alike). Briefly seen is a comedic bit where Louise Brooks is showing a man some undesired romantic interest.

The second trailer starts with giving the measurements of Venus di Milo, and asking the female half of the audience if they measure up. This trailer is tinted violet and contains some technicolor footage, two shots exactly, which apparently show the staging of 'tableaux vivants' (I should mention that W.T. Benda's only screen role appears to have made it down through the ages in one of these shots). There is a shot of a teary-eyed Lanphier, a repeated shot of Ralston flexing her arms in a bathing suit, and what appears to be the second half of the scene between Brooks and the man (it has to be Lawrence Gray). In this shot, he is trying to keep Brooks' presence in the room a secret from Edna Mae Oliver.

The presence of seventy-five beautiful women AND the latest fashions from Paris are highly stressed in both advertisements. Interestingly, nobody remembers Fay Lanphier today, but once Brooks flashes across the screen, the entire theater sounded with applause. One thing that struck me about Lanphier: not only is she beautiful (and photogenic) she seems to have been a decent actress as well. What went wrong? Unless the rest of the film surfaces, we are likely never to know.

Production values are great. Always happy to see some two-strip Technicolor, and the set- ups they exposed it too in 1926 were great. Maybe one day we'll see the whole thing, the way it was meant to be seen.
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Absurd but fun. Just leave your brain at the door.
10 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
An illogical and fairly routine B-picture, The Jungle Princess is know (if at all) for giving Dorothy Lamour her first big break. It lead to that image everybody has of her in a snug sarong, and it led to superb films like The Hurricane. It's not surprising; Dorothy is exquisitely beautiful, even if the film she in is silly and stupid.

Jungle Princess is not impossible to enjoyable, unless you really, true crave something deep and meaningful. This movie has all the formulaic plot devices neatly assembled, and has all the usual lapses in logic. Like, how did Dorothy, raised by wild animals in the heart of the jungle, manage to look like she was cranked through Busby Berkely's beauty machine, with her perfect hair and make-up and clean, neat sarong that she obviously didn't sew for herself.

From what I remember, Ulah (Miss Lamour) is raised by the jungle creatures since girlhood, and has become part of Malasian folk lure long enough for a stodgy British hunter to run into her. The two of them fall in love and he sort of teaches her English. He also apparently shows her, off screen, how western boys and girls make love. Her pronunciation is a little off, so when she calls him by name (Chris) she yells 'Kis, Kis' and it sounds more like she's demanding one yet again from him. Her childlike mentality vanishes when she is mocked by her rival for Chris' affections, and when her beloved tiger is nearly killed by the natives. A climactic raid on the village by over-sized monkeys (they appear to be attacking an elaborate model of the village) ensures a happy and satisfying ending (it also really must be seen to be believed).

The audience I saw it with was interesting. A woman there, probably in her late sixties, mentioned to one of her fellow theater goers (I was listening in) that this was the first movie she remembered seeing. She still enjoyed it, although she probably spotted more flaws with the picture than a little girl would in 1946. That instance gave me, personally, a slightly enhanced appreciation of the movie. I liked the film itself although for for both artistic and entertainment value, one would be better off seeking out Lamour's next and much better south seas picture, a truly great film, The Hurricane. Viewing this film requires only that you leave your well-guarded sense of logic at the theater door.
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Not the Cohen Brothers' best by any measure, but still head and shoulders above the rest.
4 July 2005
The premise of the original Ladykillers, the 1955 British film, was a clever one, but it had been made into such and ungodly dull and awkward film that it was practically begging to be re-envisioned. In an age where it seems like Hollywood is producing nothing but remakes, this one was handed, for once, to a pair who could really do it justice.

Joel and Ethan Cohen, the writer-director pair who have made several masterpieces over the past twenty years, have produced a film that at least looks and feels commercially viable. It has humor, characters and visuals that everyone can appreciate. It moves at a steady pace, the snappy dialog carried swiftly along by an outstanding soundtrack, and is aided in no small part by Dennis Gassner's excellent production design, and by Roger Deakons' gorgeous and vivid camera-work.

The sensibility that the Cohen Brothers bring to each of their films is definitely a unique one. Below the humor on the surface, there is something more sinister (and infinitely more humorous) at work. Take for instance the character of Marva Munson (Irma P. Hall), a nice old black lady, a widow with a cat, and her husband's portrait above the mantle. She writes a check every month to a nice bible school named Bob Jones University, a university that has a history of discrimination against blacks. Or take the 'fine colored by' Gawain (Marlon Wayans) who doesn't know anything about the Freedom Riders and, when annoyed by a veteran of the civil rights movement, says 'just tell me when they gonna leave!' Garth Pancake (J.K. Simmons) reminds him that it was so people like him could vote, Gawain says he doesn't vote and tells him to where to stick it.

By the way, the casino where Gawain works (the target for our 'merry band of miscreants') is staffed entirely by black workers, who are apparently cheaper to hire in the south than whites. When Gawain is laid off, he threatens to sue for punitive damages. His white boss reminds him that 'everyone on the custodial staff is black. Your replacement is gonna be black. His replacement not doubt will be BLACK!'

Rather than just accepting this as the norm, the Cohens find humor and intrigue in these situations, and the astute viewer will notice this. Looking past the surface of this movie, which one might call 'zany' or 'farcical', there's some interesting social comment being made about the US and the south.

As for the other components of the movie, they are all well assembled. Tom Hanks is great as Professor Dorr. Perfect (off-type) casting has lead to one of the best performances of the year. Hanks is having great fun with this role. The other parts are played just as well. Simmons is great as the self-assured, self-righteous Mr. Pancake, Ryan Hurst is adorable as the thick-headed Lump, and Tsi Ma makes a memorable impression as the silent General. Marlon Wayans is kept in check for once, and demonstrates that he can be tolerated, and actually be very funny, when directed by somebody other than himself or his brothers. As for Irma Hall, she fits her role like a glove. Also very memorable is Stephen Root as the casino boss. The photography is particularly gorgeous and inventive for a comedy; you can never go wrong with Roger Deakins. Despite not being the best film the Cohen brothers have done, this is an excellent and very interesting comedy that I recommend highly.
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Forget that boat movie
3 June 2005
Eisenstein's epic film of the October revolution is an outstanding and underrated film. The scale on which it was produced is very impressive, at times staggering. It is nearly a hundred times superior to the better-known Battleship Potemkin, and it is a shame it is that rickety film that is shown in all film classes and not this one. No, it is really a crime. The editing techniques that Eisenstein was hinting at in Strike, and exploring in Potemkin, are skillfully mastered with this picture. His choice of actors, with their grotesque (and yet beautiful) faces and distinctive mannerisms. If anyone was good at finding an average and yet not-so-average 'type' of person to focus a camera on, and to tremendous effect, it surely was he. So forget that movie with the ship and the stairs and the baby carriage. This is, by far, not only a better film, it was probably his best.
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Manslaughter (1922)
So absurd, nobody could take it seriously.
24 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Cecil B. deMille's 1922 parlor-to-prison tearjerker Manslaughter finds the lovely Leatrice Joy as a good-at-heart but decadent young lady with more money than she knows what to do with. Her recklessness leads to imprisonment, which in turn leads to her regeneration. Thomas Meighan is the crusading district attorney who has made it his personal crusade to bring out the goodness and wholesomeness in Lydia (Joy) but he gets sidetracked by alcohol and once she is released, it is up to her to rescue him!

If the plot doesn't sound too bad, you'll be floored by the woeful presentation. The quality of deMille's direction is very low, and he does not show any particular skill that is unique to him. The photography is standard and flat, and the editing is hardly more dynamic. One could easily classify it as a fashion show and be pretty correct. DeMille gets to dress Miss Joy up in so many different types of clothes (evening gowns, golfing costumes, motoring costumes, piles of furs) that it's subtitle could be 'Fashions of 1922'

One thing more disappointing than the photography or editing or the direction is the acting, which is mostly flat and wooden. When it is not, it is merely routine silent gesturing, rolling eye balls, twitching eye brows and deliberate pointing and arm movements. What would have been enlivened for modern viewers by mugging and scene chewing of some of the worst silent films, is here merely dull to watch. The only member of the cast who succeeds in any form of excellence is Lois Wilson, who is not only beautiful but is able to play her role naturally. She is convincing and endearing in tearful close-ups, as long as you don't read the moralizing title card that follows once she opens her mouth to speak. Like I said, everybody else is droningly routine, Joy, Meighan, even Julia Faye. Her performance here makes a good argument for why she never attained true stardom.

The worst and most amusing part of this movie is the heavy moralistic tone that carries through all of it. Meighan's character has plenty of intertitles where he drones on about how the youth of America is declining in it's moral stance, and going right back to the decadence of Rome. (insert absurd flashback) This movie's moralizing has been described as Victorian, but it's further than that. It has so little bearing in reality that I have a feeling audiences at that time didn't take it any more seriously than modern viewers could.

This movie is exactly what the unknowing tend to think of as a 'typical' silent movie, with it's archaic moral structure, wooden acting and bad direction. DeMille shows that he could be a terrible director, with no sense of pacing, camera placement, or skill in handling either script or actors. I can't imagine anybody in their right mind taking it seriously. Boring, slow and idiotic, I recommend it to hardcore silent movie dorks like myself only.
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Up and at 'em (1921)
Charming one reeler with a sadly neglected lead.
3 May 2005
First of all, I am not sure if this is the right movie. But, I will say that the title presented here is an appropriate one, and that the credited actors (Vernon Dent and Violet Joy) are correct. The film I saw, which I believe this one is, had a title along the lines of 'Sleeping Sickness.' I have looked that title up and the only film on the IMDb that surfaces is not this one.

In the story of the film I saw, which I believe this one is, Vernon has a hen that will lay as many eggs as he wants when he blows a whistle. There is a scene where he has an attractive young lady (who looks a lot like Duane Thompson) hold the hen in her apron and when he blows his whistle and retrieves the hen, her apron has gained a dozen or so eggs.

Vernon likes likes a girl, Violet Joy, but so does a city-slicker (the intertitle credits Walter Wills) who decides to play a trick on Vernon. He sabotages Vernon's breakfast with an elixir that will make him sleepwalk. This will undoubtedly hinder Vernon's plans to will the $500 prize of the up-and-coming hen-laying contest.

At less than ten minutes in duration, maybe even less than eight, this is a rather disappointingly short film. At the same time, some comic opportunities are wasted (the trip to the county fair results in no prat falls). Still it is a charming and nostalgia-inspiring piece of work which I hope will eventually be made more widely available. And despite it's shortcomings, Vernon Dent seems like a more than able comedian. A portly, baby-faced fellow who resembles Roscoe Arbuckle, he has a great ability for expression and does his stunts well. It is a shame he is overlooked today.
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Women's hats of 1898 (when you can see them).
26 April 2005
From one angle, a line of soldiers are shown walking up the gangplank. In the foreground one can make out well wishers, smartly dressed and fully aware of the camera; one man takes off his hat as if to greet us, a woman keeps looking over her shoulder, and a few people pass barely a foot from the lens staring directly into it. The soldiers are lit very brightly, too brightly, and they are too far away to see any details. The civilian observers in the foreground (and the cameraman) are presumably standing under a platform of some kind. They are lit far very darkly. The unevenness of the exposure and the blurriness of the current version of this movie are disappointing. One can spot some neat hats on the women, but this movie is not worth much effort seeking out.
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My thoughts...
12 February 2005
This brief film, rather poorly lit and with exaggerated acting, is (I'm assuming) a fair example of a pre-Griffith Biograph. On a limited budget, the production team has created a sparse and crowded set, and the actors have presumably supplied their own clothes. The action is very controlled and the gestures overly indicative.

I find 'A Ballroom Tragedy' interesting because it seems to have been made as though the audience knows exactly who is who and where they are. Which leads me to two conclusions. The first is that this is a sequence from a popular stage play or novel, or it was a news incident that was prominent at the time. Therefor the audience would know enough to follow the story without having to have it placed in too much context.

Not a bad film overall, however flawed you may find it. Period fashion fanatics should take note. It can be downloaded from the Library of Congress website.
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an interesting piece of ephemera
17 November 2004
'As Others See Us' was produced in St. Louis and Webster Groves, Missouri, in 1953. It is a very dated film, about how to be polite to others and behave in public, and at some points succeeds in being fairly misogynistic as well. Odd, considering it was directed by a woman. For instance, a girl is never allowed to order something at a restaurant. Her date must do it for her. Also, if there is no maitre'd at a restaurant, the boy must show the girl to her seat (this also applies to movie dates, mind you). Heaven forbid she go to a restaurant (or a movie) on her own, or at least unaccompanied by a man! Also, according to this film, of "accidents" occur, it's best to quickly change the subject once you've apologized and offered to fix the damage. The lunch-line scene offers some fairly patronizing narration, as does the powder room scene (in tandem with the aforementioned restaurant date).

The thing I liked the most about this film is the candid view it offers of the time and place in which it was produced. The kids in the film are actual high school students, and they presumably are actually going about their daily business at school. The opening and closing scenes show a formal dance, with lots of wonderful 1953 clothes (modern youngsters wouldn't be caught dead in them!) and the color photography, while rather faded in the print I saw, makes things all the more interesting to watch. All-in-all, it's worth watching for Prelinger Archive fans.
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and THIS perfect Aryan specimen...
17 November 2004
A few things I learned from this film:

Little children always run around in minimal clothing.

If a little child is running around naked, the camera will stay on them for a long period of time.

Old women with creepy, patronizing voices know everything there is to know about raising healthy children.

Teenagers always strip down to their bathing suits when they play tennis or go canoeing.

Little boys have strong jaws and glossy hair.

Bathing suits in 1941 came in a limited selection of primary colors.

One should always carefully scrutinize their child's bodies. 'Do they have well-formed bodies?' 'Are they just as muscular as I think a normal healthy child?' 'Do they have glossy hair?' These are questions one must always ask themselves.

Outdoor breast-feeding always happens within close proximity to a movie camera, and yet neither the woman or the child will be aware of it's presence.

Bacon gives you energy.

We will only talk about white children.

Overall, probably best enjoyed my members of NAMBLA (I hate to say). Cute kids, and attractive older people, but the kitty-porn possibilities are a bit unsettling. Nice color photography, with bright colors (especially the brilliant greenery of the surroundings). Narrated by a woman who sounds like she hates children as living individuals, but heaps praise on them once they are displayed as objects. Her voice is jarring, smarmy and overly didactic.
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Amy Muller (1896)
No, she's not Annabelle, but she comes pretty close
3 August 2004
In this very brief film, dancer Amy Muller does a very energetic dance, while wearing an incredible dress. The puffy sleeves are fabulous. Amy's appearance calls to mind Mary Pickford, and pre-dates her first screen appearance. She shows off her flexibility quite impressively as well, with a couple of high kicks and an effortless hand stand.

This was, apparently, Amy Muller's only performance in a film, which is a shame, since she's clearly very talented. Her performance is not as visually striking as Annabelle Moore's serpantine dances, nor is it as sexy. I'd hate to assume that 1896 audiences were as innocent and as easily scandalized and aroused as most modern-day viewers tend to believe. This could hardly be the raciest of productions of the time. Today's standards, at least, find it charming and amusing. It's a cute piece of work that I recommend for those seeking something besides the Annabelle loops.
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The breaking of a crowd
3 August 2004
Another Edison actuality film with a title that pretty much says it all. >From one slightly elevated angle, a great throng of spectators are shown leaving their seats at a military review at Longchamps. Some of the people in the crowd are aware of the camera, and one man in particular hams it up a little. A pretty woman stands on a chair too and we get to see her dressed in her best. The clothes are great. One sees why this era is referred to as the gilded age. It must have been awfully stifling, though, for those women in the July heat of Paris, to be walking around in so many layers.

Surviving print has good picture quality and is very clear and crisp. Distinct faces are even discernible (although there aren't any names given to them). Worth watching, especially for anybody who likes the period costumes.
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He got my attention and kept me interested!
27 July 2004
The story goes that Steve Haines (William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd), a reporter, is trying to get ahold of a business tycoon and chases him onto a ship, only to leave with the ship when it casts off. Inevitably intrigue and suspense start to cautiously tip-toe into the light before taking center stage, as Haines runs into a few people he knows, as well as making a few new friends.

For the first half of the movie, the filmmakers rely mostly on comedy to get the story rolling. All the elements of screwball comedy are at play here, with some clever dialogue. For instance: Steve wants to know the stateroom number of a pretty girl (Sheila Terry) but the steward (Louis Natheaux) can't tell him. Flashing a bill, Steve asks "Would it be against the ship's rules if you were to tell me your age?" "Well, I'm afraid I can't tell you my age," replies the steward, "but I could tell you that, on my grandmother, she'll be eighty-four." A token perpetual drunk (Jimmy Aubrey) appears shortly after the above exchange, and assumes the comic relief responsibilities for the remainder of the film. And like most token comic relief characters of the 1930's (and unlike most comic relief characters of today), this dizzy, amusing character does actually help the narrative along, rather than just appear for the occasional comedy set piece.

I enjoyed this film over all, even though it started to drag a little in a few places. The story was pretty tightly written and it all actually held together quite well, for a B-picture. The ship-board location provides an interesting backdrop, and it seems as though most of the interiors, as well as exteriors, were shot onboard a modest commercial cruise vessel. What exactly it was like to shoot a movie like this I'd like to know. The acting was pretty good, with an excellent scene towards the end, where all is revealed. That's another thing: the movie keeps you guessing, presenting you with several possible outcomes, motives and suspects. If you can find it, it's worth a look.
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Shows just why 1930's movie audiences kept studios and theaters so busy
21 July 2004
I saw this movie at the Stanford Theater, a restored small-town movie palace of 1925. The Stanford only shows old classics, and often some films show up on the bill that sound completely unfamiliar, but sound like they might be worth a look.

Penguin Pool Murder is just such a film. When I reat a little bit about it, it didn't sound too interesting, but since I like the pre-code period so much, and I'd never seen an Edna Mae Oliver film before (other than a tiny snippet from Saturday Night Kid) I decided that I might as well go and see it.

PPM is a fast-paced and hilarious murder mystery, still as gleefully enjoyable as it was upon it's first release. The lead character, school marm Hildegarde Withers, is brilliantly portrayed by snappy, vivacious and proper Edna Mae Oliver. I'm sure some people might get annoyed by her high-toned and imperious British accent, but I loved it. It lent buoyancy to her already top-notch dialogue.

Despite it's status as a B-production (as opposed to a more prestigious "A" movie with more stars, more crowd scenes and an all-around bigger budget), PPM is a movie that reflect's Hollywood's unending attention to detail, high visual standards and emphasis on glamour whenever possible. Take for instance one of the first scenes: Mae Clarke in her posh boudoir, dressed in a shimmering evening gown, making a telephone call and getting accosted by her husband. Later, when she visits the aquarium, she's swathed in an enormous fur collar and the chiquest of clothes. Imagine how many depression-weary families went to see this, and the mother imagined herself with Clarke's clothes and figure. Dad could fancy himself her husband, and the kiddies would be entertained by the character's antics. This is, if any thing, a family in the best sense of the word.

Edger Kennedy has a small role in this, as the token blundering Irish cop. When I was a kid, I saw him perform his routines in the Our Gang shorts When the Wind Blows and The First Seven Years, and again as the antagonized street vendor in Duck Soup. Recently, I've come to dislike his "slow burn" technique, but I'm starting to like it again. It's an acquired taste, that's for sure. Here, Kennedy the cop has a shaved head, which I thought was a bit unusual.

I hope this movie comes out on video and DVD so I can own it for myself. To my limited knowledge, it's still relegated to the vaults, with the likes of so many great movies. Some day, people will begin to hear more about Edna Mae Oliver and want to see her films. Penguin Pool Murder will surface and be enjoyed by a whole new legion of fans. That day will be a good day indeed.
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Hallelujah (1929)
Jagged, but a jem through and through
21 July 2004
I probably don't need to go into the historical facts about this movie or the plot, as this had probably been expunded in numerous other comments. Personally I think that Hallelujah is a beautiful and powerful film, sympathetic to African Americans, and I think it's remarkable that it was produced at all.

Hallelujah is a huge production, with hundreds of extras. The cast was made up of mostly unknowns. Cast members like Fally Belle McKnight and Victoria Spivey apparently never made any other films, and leads Daniel L. Haynes and Nina Mae McKinney were obviously getting started. The cast is very good, I thought, especially Spivey (a veteran of the stage) as Rose. Haynes is okay in the beginning, seeming a little uneven in his role as well-meaning rogue Zeke, but the final scenes allow him to prove the commanding presence he could muster as an screen presence. Nina Mae McKinney is a power-house. A short, curvy beauty with an interesting voice, she has something of a young Myrna Loy. In fact, I just recently saw a still from a Loy film called The Squall where Loy looks an awful lot like McKinney.

Movies like Hallelujah are an acquired taste. When I first saw it, I was distracted by the crudeness of the sound, the jagged editing and the overall unevenness of the movie. Sure, two or three years later, Hollywood was turning out glossy productions like Red Dust and Blond Venus, with highly polished editing, clear sound and more mobile camera-work, but this is 1929. Sound film-making techniques had yet to be smoothed out. The crinkles of a young process actually add charm to this film, if you know to expect them.

I'll admit as well that, when I first saw Hallelujah, I was irritated by the voices. There's a lot of screeching from the women, and a great deal of mumbling as well. A second viewing, though, allows one to see past these "irritating" aspects and appreciate the voices for what they are. This way, Fanny Belle McKnight's agonized cries of sorrow and her singing the children to sleep is more touching than it is grating.

It's hard to know what else to say about the film. For all it's shortcomings, it's a touching film, lyrical even. I think it's a wonderful production, and I doubt it would not have been made much differently by a black director. Plus, one must agree, King Vidor was a far better craftsman than Oscar Micheaux. 9/10
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The Thin Man (1934)
'The Thin Man' is still as fast-paced, stylish, sexy and hilarious as it ever was
20 July 2004
Where to begin? I guess I'll start off by saying that this is one of my favorite films of all time. I first saw it on TV years ago (I was probably eleven or twelve) and I still totally love it. Every time I see it, I feel like I get more out of it. I feel like I see AND hear more than I did before.

The story goes that creepy Clyde Wynant (wonderful character actor Edward Ellis) wants to give some bonds to his daughter Dorothy (Maureen O'Sullivan) as a wedding present. But his mistress Julia (Natalie Moorhead) has gotten rid of them. When Julia turns up murdered, Wynant is the obvious suspect, but nobody can find him.

Enter Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy), a detective and heiress, just recently married, and clearly very much in love. Nick finds himself pulled into the case, with everyone around him urging him into it. He's reluctant: it's his honeymoon after all. But sure enough he's persuaded to take the case, solves it and exposes the murderer at a climactic dinner party.

Bill Powell and Myrna Loy have astounding chemistry. As husband and wife, they are equals, equally hard-drinking, equally witty, equally fun-loving. They have the same sense of adventure, the same stubbornness, the same competitiveness. In so many scenes, Powell will saw something in his playful, semi-childish, half-drunk sort of way, and Loy will respond with some fabulously delivered retort, in a manner that is almost like a world-wary mother saying to her child 'Now, now, Junior...' It's hard to describe exactly. If anything, I suppose you could say it's deceptively simple. It's one of those things you have to see for yourself.

The rest of the cast is good. I particularly love Minna Gombell, Mynant's ex-wife Mimi, with her latin boyfriend (Cesar Romero) and her tight, shiny black dresses with white fur-lined princess sleeves. Slight, ernest and bespeckeled, William Henry turns in a riotous performance as Gilbert, Mimi and Clyde Wynant's son and Dorothy's brother. A Kinsey-lke figure, the role of Gilbert is one of those bookish, overly-analytical Hollywood stock characters who try to explain other character's subconscious reasons for their actions, and who give strangers peculiar looks at parties. Henry makes the character believable, and he stands out as one of the characters in the movie. Gerturde Short, in an uncredited role, gives a good performance as well. Her delivery of the "I don't like crooks, and if I did like'em..." line is unforgettable. (If you blink, you'll miss Tui Lorraine Bow, friend and step-mother of It Girl Clara Bow! Bert Roach of The Crowd has a small role as well.)

For a modestly-budgeted, rapidly shot, b-level production, The Thin Man is a classy and stylish film. The clothes, assembled by the genial Dolly Tree, are great, and make this a must-see anyone even remotely interested in period fashions. The art deco sets are quite fine, if modest and at times a bit sparse. The editing is good, as is the fairly simplistic photography. Woody Van Dyke, the director, always worked fast, and Myrna Loy recalled that all the movies they worked together on were made at frantic pace. Part of the reason that The Thin Man moves so quickly is the fact that production was so hurried.

The Thin Man gets a ten out of ten from me for being one of the best films ever produced, and one of my absolute favorites of all time.
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Our Dull Dollies
7 July 2004
This film, the sequel to Our Dancing Daughters, is better than the first, but not by much. It's story drags and the characters are very flat and uninteresting.

A few positive things that can be said: While Joan Crawford is not very pretty in the role of Billie Brown, she shows that she can carry a film.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. isn't that bad as an actor. The jerkiness of his scenes has to be forgiven; he still didn't have much experience with acting in pictures. He does a lot less posing than his father, which is nice. He also imitates his father in a party scene, and also does amusing and effective impressions of Lon Cheney and John Gilbert.

Anita Page, so hateful in the first film, is delightful here. Her character is so much more likable here, and it really gives her a chance to let her real personality shine through. Miss Page just recently started acting in films again, after years off the screen, and is one of the oldest of the original Hollywood line up.

The sets and costumes are great. The cinematography is also very nice.

Our Modern Maidens falters in several places. It's poorly paced, with long scenes that feel padded and unnecessarily slow. The last fifteen minutes progress slowest of all, with too must emoting on sofas and rushing from room to room. The use of sound is interesting, and reflects a time when Hollywood was frantic to market any film they could as a talkie. This is a silent film, with intertitles, and sound effects. For instance: when Joan asks her girlfriends what their thoughts are on leaving school, they chant "MEN! MEN! MEN!" both in an intertitle and on the sound track.

Typical commercial fare at the time, Our Modern Maidens is made watchable by it's visual design and by Joan Crawford and Anita Page. I recommend it to fans of either, but the average viewer will probably find it laborsome and slow.
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Proteus (2003)
Erotic, eloquent and beautiful
24 June 2004
Warning: Spoilers
(may contain spoilers)

Adapted from an actual surviving transcript of a 1735 sodomy trial, 'Proteus' examines an interracial, homosexual relationship that took place in South Africa, in the prison on Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was later sentenced. The two men, African native Claas Blank and Dutch sailor Rijkaart Jacobz, were real people, two men who more or less came together out of desperation for both an emotional connection and an outlet for pent-up sexual desires. At first they seem just like friends, then their relationship seems more purely sexual. Yet, as time progresses, they have come to love each other. Discovery is eminent, but, while they both do meet a tragic end, there is the reassurance that they remain together.

John Greyson and Jack Lewis, the makers of 'Proteus', have crafted an eloquent and beautiful film, punctuated with superb performances by the three leads, Rouxnet Brown as Claas, Neil Sandilands as Rijkaart, and Shaun Smyth as Virgil Niven, a botanist who secretly harbors his own homosexual desires. The direction is without the camp sensibilities that would have canceled it's emotional punch, while at the same time it has none of the stuffiness of either a prison drama or a costume drama. The best scenes are between Claas and Riijkaart, in which the actors deftly portray a intensely emotional and sexual relationship at a time when the words for such a relationship didn't exist. Plus the sex scenes have to be some of the most erotic ever filmed.

Anachronistic props and costumes are prevalent in throughout the movie. The opening scenes feature a jeep. Three stenographers at the trial are right out of the 1960's, right down to their cotton candy beehive perms and paisley dresses. A conflict salvages eggs in a plastic shopping bag. A modern concrete water tower serves as Claas and Rijkaart's trysting place. It takes a few minutes to get used to, but the modern-day objects and clothes end up mixing seamlessly with the wonderful 18th century frills and waistcoats.

'Proteus' is one of the best gay movies out there, surpassing countless others. With so much crap out there, a movie like this, that addresses serious issues, and does so in such a poetic and frank way, is certainly due for closer examination. Hopefully, this wonderful film will get the exposure and recognition it deserves. I recommended it highly.
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"Lawdy, what a night!"
14 April 2004
Jackie angrily throws his school book out the window, then overhears his father talking about how proud he is of him, and how he wants him to get out of life everything he never had the chance for. In a change of heart, Jackie climbs out the window, retrieves the book and finds he can't get back in.

Hilarity ensues, partly in the form of Edgar Kennedy, with his trademark "slow burn" comic touch, and partly in the form of Farina, one of my favorite members of the gang. There's some great sound effects for the wind, and a wonderful set dresser's contraption that I won't give away. There's some scenes that are a little spooky, which only adds to the overall hilarity of the production. The scenes between the parents and children are genuinely played, and it's actually pretty touching at times. Plus anybody who loves the Rascals really loves Wheezer, and he's as adorable as ever in this one, one of several times he plays Jackie Cooper's little brother. And there's a cameo by that freckle faced lolita May Ann Jackson, and a snoring/screaming Chubby Cheney.

Allen 'Farina' Hoskins' character are considered racist by a number of people today (I don't) and his scenes are often eliminated by by censors. What a shame, erasing such a brief but talented legacy from the screen. If it weren't for such breaches of the first amendment, the average person might actually know who he is and put him up there with Spanky, Alfalfa, Buckwheat and all the other Our Gang alumni, where he belongs.
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You know...
23 March 2004
This actually wasn't that bad. I mean, it's the exact opposite of anything that could be called good art. The script is cheesy, the make-up effects are bad, the whole thing is just totally hokey. And yet, there's an odd charm to the whole thing. The turtles constantly spew out cliche-ridden one-liners and are about as convincing as the liver in John Waters' Serial Mom. The come across as having fairly unique personalities, though. Paige Turco is enjoyable as April, and

actually gives a pretty good performance, with a strong presence and smooth

delivery. Feudal Japan is recreated the way Disney would, creating a world one could want to believe. It's not a deep movie, but it's good fun. A nice no-brainer for a rainy Friday night when there's nothing else to do. Watch it with younger siblings, too.
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Scarface (1983)
atrocious garbage
24 February 2004
Warning: Spoilers
beware: spoilers

I'm probably going to get hate mail for this, but I just had to say that I thought this was one of the single most atrocious wastes of celluloid ever screened for a paying audience. And I'm willing to defend that statement. Between it's poor direction, sloppy editing, tacky music and gag-inducing acting, it's incomprehensible to my why this movie is loved so rabidly by so many people. I don't get it.

This has to be the worst entry in the genre. A 1907 Mutoscope two-reeler has got to be more intelligent and convincing than this.

This movie stands as a perfect example of how bad the 1970's were in terms of clothes, hair, music and nightclubs. The whole thing is an exercise in poor taste. Pacino, in particular, is disgustingly bad as the main character. Even if your not supposed to like him, why the f*** are you supposed to care about him in any way? That goes for just about any other character in the film.

I guess people are shocked by this movie. I thought the torture-by-chainsaw scene was one of the funniest things ever. And I almost never laugh at violence. The final battle fails to be even remotely interesting or effective. If anything it's exploitative.

And then I must come back to the fact that you can never, ever, ever understand at all anything that comes out of Al Pacino's mouth. And why is he constantly breaking out in a sweat? How is it he seems to age some twenty or so years, but his buddy (who he later shoots) doesn't age a day?

Everything in the film falls flat. The action scenes are particularly embarrassing to watch. There's one scene, set during a riot in a slum, that reeks of TV-movie syndrome.

For a good movie about organized crime, I recommend: The Public Enemy, Road to Perdition, Little Caesar, Angels with Dirty Faces, Miller's Crossing, and, for sure, the original Scarface, with Paul Muni in the title role. This was one film that didn't need to get extended, updated, modernized or remade. Thank you.
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Just awesome
24 February 2004
Penguin Parade is a classic Tex Avery musical comedy, with sassy anthorpormorphic animals who run a nightclub up in the frozen arctic short.

Here's your concept. Penguins who run a night club. A genius idea that is pulled off very well. The penguins look like famous celebrities, i.e. Bing Crosby, Durante (I think) and a few others.

Most of the details are a little foggy, since I haven't seen it in a while, but the last few moments are unforgettable. I won't give them away. All I will say is that this movie gives the word "screwy" a new meaning. See if you can find this film. It's really, really, really worth the effort. 8/10
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Fun Stuff
24 February 2004
This fun little film was on TV one night a few years ago, and I just happened to see it. Being a big fan of classic Hollywood, I was amused to see all the very recognizable caricatures of such greats as Laurel and Hardy, Jimmy Durante, Mae West, et al. It was about one A.M., so all the jokes were especially funny, such as when one very fat guy (was it Hardy) is shown dancing from behind, then he turns around and is dancing with a row of three women. As I recall, there must have been some jokes about Durante's nose, or W.C. Fields' comedy schtick, which I never much cared for. I'd enjoy seeing it again. 6/10
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