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Important in My Childhood and Still Worth Sharing with Kids Today
This was a Disney after-school TV series. It's not what you'd expect from a Disney cartoon- it's darker, more dramatic, a great mix of sci-fi and fantasy. The story contains awesome plot continuity. As the series progresses more and more mythical and Shakespearean characters pop up and many Star Trek actors provide their voices. From animation voice actor regulars like Thom Adcox-Hernadez, Kath Soucie, Ed Gilbert, Bill Fagerbakke, Jeff Bennett and Frank Welker to more familiar faces like Clancy Brown, Edward Asner, Sallie Richardson, Marina Sirtis, Jonathan Frakes and Keith David the cast is stunning. I stand by my 10-star rating for the story of these heroes! In the last few years, I've revisited this series from my childhood with the Complete First Season DVD set and Volume 1 and 2 of the Season 2 DVD sets. Still a series to share with kids growing up today! However, avoid the third season with its name changed to The Goliath Chronicles.
Seven Chances (1925)
A Joy and a Riot
It was a real joy to watch this at the local Cinematheque with lots of people laughing and enjoying this classic comedy. It is a premise that has been repeated many times since. Buster Keaton is Jimmie Shannon. A prologue was included in the showing. This prologue was shot with color tinting, but did not screen with most theatrical releases here in the states. In it Jimmie's longtime courting of Mary (Dwyer) is consistently met with cold feet and her dog coming between them. In the main film Jimmie and his buddy Billy (Barnes) are having difficulty keeping their financial firm in the black. An attorney (Snitz Edwards) must track down Jimmie to read his grandfather's will. Jimmie will receive an inheritance of 7 million dollars, IF he is married before 7 p.m. on his 27th birthday! Oh, look at that, today is his 27th birthday. He blunders through proposing to Mary and so Billy and the attorney tag along to the nearby country club to find a bride. They count 7 women lounging in the club, hence the Seven Chances. However, before it is all over Jimmie will have a large church full of women, including women spilling out all over the street outside, chasing him when they find out he will be a millionaire. There is a long, complex chase scene with lots of great visual gags and Keaton hurling himself from one attempt at escape to another. It's a riot. Will he make the deadline? Does he have the stamina? I am growing to really love Buster Keaton's craft as a comedian.
The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)
Baum, the Filmmaker
Writer and producer L. Frank Baum brings his children's stories to life. Thomas Edison is also credited as a producer. Supposedly this was the first to be released near the same time as The Magic Cloak of Oz, but it was the longest of these early adaptations. The BEST of the three! Young girls play boys and a man (some circus or vaudeville performer) plays the Patchwork Girl. The stories of Oz have always had strong female characters. There are more fantastical effects in this movie. There are more strange people/creatures (important parts in all the books, but rarely presented in any other adaptation of Oz stories). And the realistic appearance of the Scarecrow, Patchwork Girl, Lion, and other animals show excellent work in costume and makeup!
The More the Merrier (1943)
Damn the Torpedoes, Screwball Ahead
Great screwball comedy! The map and schedule bit near the beginning is one of the best bits of comedy business I've seen. Jean Arthur is lovely but a little bit of a wallflower too. Joel McCrea is tall, dark, and mysterious. Charles Coburn is so wacky with his repeated catchphrases, "eight girls to every fella," and "damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead." Gaines as Pendergast is as square as they come complete with awful hair piece. The movie seems a little rough around the edges as if it was under-rehearsed. Especially Jean Arthur, who seems to be stumbling with quite a few of her lines. But it works for this movie, as the action looks more live theatre and spur of the moment, and Jean Arthur's character appears more real. Some of the best situation comedy and verbal jabs in the screwball genre!
Le voyage dans la lune (1902)
Fantastic Full-Color French Foto-magic
This is a landmark of early cinema! It has been restored to Melies' full length color tinted vision as described in the new doc The Extraordinary Voyage. If you liked Scorsese's Hugo, which got me excited about Melies' surviving shorts, go and seek out the new restored version. The new soundtrack sounds odd at times and may pull you out of the experience, though it is better than some synth scores I've heard patched onto silent films. Why do digital transfers of silent films so often choose this disconnected synthesizer music rather than the original music for organ or a small orchestra? Has as much film music been lost as reels of film from that period? Is it just a cost consideration for these digital preservation or digital copy houses? Georges Melies and the other space travelers (professors/wizards?) may remind you of clowns piling into a small car. Space suits and oxygen are not even a concern. There are many strange sights on the moon including lobster-like Martians. While the trick photography effects are primitive, it is great fun to watch this in a communal atmosphere rather than by yourself on a TV or computer.
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Becoming Whole Again
This movie left me shaken and choked up! It pays homage to The Best Years of Our Lives and perhaps some other films about vets returning home. But specifically Best Years, I think, with the shot of Ron Kovic after he has become paralyzed and finally returns to his parents' house staring at his high school wrestling picture in his old room. Harold Russell in Best Years does the exact same thing becoming lost in the old picture from his high school athletics career when he felt he was a whole person. Both of these movies deal with men who have lost some part of themselves and have to discover how to gain strength and courage and acceptance to be a whole man again. By exploring Ron's youth, Born on the Fourth of July shows that the story is really about pressure and failure and confusion and how we deal with those things. This is an epic story with a tremendous supporting cast. It's about a boy who becomes a soldier, a soldier who becomes paralyzed, a paraplegic who becomes an outcast all the while searching for his humanity!! Sometimes it takes an outcast to speak the truth, someone who has been paralyzed to really stand for something, a soldier to fight for life, and of course it's the natural progression of things for a boy to triumphantly become a man!
The Hustler (1961)
Underneath Many of Us Are Figuratively Crippled
Fast Eddie Felson keeps making "Contracts of Degradation." Fast Eddie is young, talented, cocky, has the mind of a hustler, but doesn't know when to stop, a taste for booze, and lacks Character because of all of this. Minnesota Fats is experienced, talented, graceful, clean and well dressed, has endurance, and has Character. Bert Gordon buys Fast Eddie's soul with the promise to give him Character and make him a winner. I noticed there are two characters who are literally crippled. One is the man who helps Fats keep clean and well dressed. The other is Sarah, Fast Eddie's new girl. As Sarah points out, it is allegorical that every other character wears a mask and underneath they are figuratively crippled, perverted, and twisted. Fast Eddie learns too late, but finally has gained Character so he ultimately wins. In the end there is the hint that Bert Gordon owns Fats in the same way he owned Eddie and it occurred to me like a light bulb over my head that FATS and FAST are nearly the same now.
A Serious Man (2009)
The New Fiddler on the Roof!
The Coen brothers have created THE NEW FIDDLER ON THE ROOF! Here are the reasons I say that: first, the trailer in its own way presents a musical composition to us; second, the opening scene presents roughly the same time period and place; third, the story takes place in an almost exclusively Jewish community; fourth, the main character Larry is dealing with comparable family troubles and trying to find answers from God; and fifth, look at the poster.
Now the Jefferson Airplane song Somebody to Love figures prominently into the movie too as does ceremonial Hebrew music for Larry's son's bar mitzvah. The opening Yiddish scene is darkly humorous and I suppose it is there to suggest the ancestors of the Gopniks may have caused a curse on the family. I have heard that the movie portrays a very authentic Jewish community especially in the way the characters speak and interact. Professor Larry Gopnik lives in America in the 1960's, so he only has two children, a son and a daughter, but his family and professional troubles turn his life on its head with divorce, marijuana, gambling, bribes, and seeking tenure. Wishing he were a rich man hasn't changed though! Being an educated man from the 20th century means Larry doesn't have conversations with God in the same way. He seeks three rabbis as links between him and God because the religious institution is really the only connection to tradition anymore, and being a mathematics/physics professor he is more versed in the Uncertainty Principle. Larry does actually venture up on his roof too, but not to fiddle. Well, wait... yes, by another definition of the word fiddle, Larry Gopnik is a fiddler on the roof. He tries to adjust the TV antenna for a show his son likes to watch and then he notices he can see his hot neighbor sunbathing nude.
Sy Ableman is Larry's Lazar Wolf, but as with every other parallel to the old musical, there is a twist. Sy is the one described as a serious man and Larry through all his questioning and trying to fix his life crisis wants to be a serious man too. The cast is awesome! I think the Coen brothers have mixed tragic troubling moments with darkly humorous moments excellently. Like in No Country for Old Men, you may think the plot is being wrapped up all nice and neat, but then the story continues briefly and leaves you realistically (in a way fatalistically) hanging. So well constructed! I loved it!
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Tevye's Daughters Question Traditions
TRADITION! Well actually the movie is about changing, bending, breaking traditions. The Fiddler on the roof as described by Tevye in the opening of the movie is symbolic for existentialism. It is a metaphor for the challenge of balancing your life and knowing your place in the world. Traditional religious rituals and customs give the community where Tevye's family lives the supposed comfort to get through the balancing act. However, Tevye's three oldest daughters challenge tradition in their romantic lives and the "outside" world is entering into a time a extreme turmoil. The ways of the older generation clash with those of the younger generation. And through it all Tevye is really pretty progressive for a man in his society.
The story is serious and humorous. The film is shot beautifully. The songs are great, some more catchy than others. Tevye's constant dialog with his "best friend," God is thought provoking and often funny.
Since it is based on the book Tevye's Daughters, it is appropriate that his daughter's romantic awakenings be the main concern of the plot. The oldest daughter challenges tradition a little by pledging her love to a man of her choice, but he is a (soft-spoken) tailor from the same village and they still have a customary wedding. The middle daughter bends tradition by falling for a progressive teacher and budding revolutionary. I love that in the existential crisis he claims humankind must take much more responsibility for balancing on the roof and that traditions are not going to keep us safe up there. The youngest of the three daughters of marrying age meets another intelligent reader, but he is a Russian Kazakh and Christian. This is breaking the tradition entirely by having a marriage of two faiths. It is because the relationships of the three daughters and the father-daughter relationships are so well rendered that this story is more than a Jewish story.
Take Shelter (2011)
I loved this! It was filmed in a suburb on the east side of Cleveland. There was lots of buzz in the local papers about this locally filmed independent drama. I liked that the community and homes looked familiar.
Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain were wonderful as the Midwestern couple Curtis and Samantha at the center of this story! Their daughter is deaf and while Curtis struggles to participate and communicate with her it is obvious he only wants to keep her safe. Curtis starts to see apocalyptic signs of an oncoming storm. He is worried he might be going crazy. It could just be daydreams or nightmares. Some of these nightmares are quite shocking and you will feel right along with Curtis the absolute panic that he feels. Curtis follows the rational steps that many modern men would to try to deal with his feelings of anxiety and of losing touch with reality. It is equally hard for us, the audience, to tell what is real and what is a dream for awhile. Could it be his family history? Could it be a sleep issue? Could it be stress over his job loss? Could he be a modern day Noah and be seeing some doom that is really coming? Best be prepared for anything! He expands the storm shelter in his back yard. Will anyone stand by his side through all this craziness? Michael Shannon deserves an Oscar nomination for this role as a tormented protective family man. I hope he gets a handful of noms from the various awards organizations.
Shichinin no samurai (1954)
Mud Replaces the Splatter of Blood
I just saw a restored print of this on the big screen with newly translated subtitles. I had forgotten how long it was (with an intermission). It is more about slowly revealing the characters and saving the big action sequences for the end. I really enjoy the outdoor setting as well. I think I've mentioned it in other reviews, but there is something so beautiful about the forest. The hills surrounding the small village are magnificently captured, the wind blows, the dust is stirred up, and when it rains, the mud replaces the splatter of blood. The movie starts with a lot of slow steady drum beats for accompaniment and culminates with the rapid patter of sandaled feet and pounding hooves of the attacking bandits' horses.
The story takes its time as four peasants led by Rikichi (Tsuchiya) go to town to enlist the help of samurai for the defense of their village. Samurai are born into privilege, can read and write and enjoy leisurely arts, and are generally proud of their social standing and skill. They finally find the good-hearted and intelligent Kambei (Shimura). Two other samurai are watching Kambei too. Katsushiro (Kimura) is a young man who immediately has great respect for Kambei and requests to be his disciple. Kikuchiyo (Mifune) is boisterous and intrigued by the more clever man, but expects Kambei to give him respect and acceptance automatically. The other samurai are gathered once Kambei agrees to the peasants' proposal. Toshiro Mifune is such a treat when he appears again drunk, trying to claim upper-class lineage, and wildly trying to prove some skill to the other six who only laugh. Toshiro's performance might seem over done, he's such a ham. I couldn't accept his wildly different style when I first saw this movie, but I grew to love him. Having seen him in some others pictures by now, I was totally with him during this viewing. He adds much needed humor. The story continues slowly as Kambei leads a careful defense plan to protect the four sides of the village. Meanwhile, the villagers "piss and cry" at every little thing and try to learn from the samurai how to use spears to defend themselves. Katsushiro has a romantic subplot with Shino, one of the peasants' daughters. Backstories are revealed about a couple of the other peasants and about where Kikuchiyo came from. Finally the bandits attack! And Kambei methodically checks off the chart on his map as they lessen the bandits' numbers. It's a very controlled, but impressive, and close battle as the villagers fight for their lives with the strategic leadership of the samurai.
Karloff's star making role is still alive!
This is not a close adaptation of Mary Shelley's book, but James Whale's film has become more culturally iconic than the book. Unlike some of the other Universal monster movies this one did not strike me as campy. It is full of old-time-y acting perhaps, but that is OK with me. Mae Clarke as Elizabeth, Dr. Frankenstein's fiancé, did a good job in the romantic lead. The character of Victor, Elizabeth's other male friend, is pretty useless hanging around except for providing a little dialog. Edward Van Sloan (Van Helsing in Dracula) as Dr. Waldman is quite dull. Frankenstein's father is an old fuddy-duddy whose English accent really seems out of place in the generic German town where this story is set. Lionel Belmore is the Burgomaster, a small part, but he will pop up again in this series. Dwight Frye, fresh off of his role in Dracula, plays Dr. Frankenstein's humpback assistant Fritz. There is no Igor in this original movie. Colin Clive shows Frankenstein in mad scientist mode and romantic mode and is much better than I expected him to be from clips I had seen. Boris Karloff has a star making turn in this classic! It is amazing the depth he is able to portray in that makeup and only through grunts.
The Gothic sets and movement of the cameras are impressive. The laboratory established the look of mad scientists' lairs for decades. James Whale's feeling on the pulse of this franchise made it the best of Universal's classic monsters. Many people may think they know this movie without having seen it from start to finish, but it offers surprises to those who really look. It is still alive!