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Bridesmaids (2011) Review

11 10 2011

Copyright 2011 Universal Pictures

★ ★ 1/2

After many pleads from my girlfriend, I finally relented and watched this movie with her.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be from the title and premise, but it definitely wasn’t that entertaining of a film either.

Directed by Paul Feig, the movie focuses on the misadventures of, guess what, a group of bridesmaids at friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding.  Annie, who is portrayed by Kristin Wiig, has been Lillian’s friend since childhood and the two are nearly inseparable.  Having owned a now defunct bakery and her life pretty much in the gutter, it is a bit difficult for her to hear her best friend is going to get married, but she is wildly excited when it is announced that she will be the maid of honor.  However, as the plot begins to unfurl, it shows that Annie’s ability to coordinate all the duties of being the maid of honor are far inferior to Lillian’s new friend and wife of her fiancee’s boss, Helen (Rose Byrne).  The story continues through the feuding of Helen and Annie, as well as the continued downward spiral of Annie’s life, and a romance with a police officer (Chris O’Dowd) is even thrown into the mix as a subplot.

Where and when it has become acceptable to produce comedies over two hours long is beyond me.  It’s just too damn long; comedies are meant to amuse and travel at a pace that holds the comedic element.  When you drag gags and situations out too long, they quit being funny.  Furthermore, unless you have an extremely detailed plot beyond that of the mishaps of a group of bridesmaids, you just don’t have the  structure to entertain for that amount of time.  A large part of this trend, I believe, comes from the recent phenomena of comedies letting 90% of their film be improvisations.  Sure, letting actors improv in a comedy can produce some amusing elements in the film, but when you just roll cameras with an idea and let them carry on during every scene, you get some hits and a lot of misses.  When you look at the better comedies of all-time, you will notice certain elements that seemingly hold true: a tight, well conceived script that generally runs an hour and half or so, incredibly odd or amusing characters and a pacing that continuously moves forward.  This film didn’t have any of those elements.  It wasn’t terrible, it just wasn’t good.  But, again, better than I thought based on the title and synopsis.

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Our Official Entry into the 48 Hour Film Project Greensboro: “Eat Me!”

4 08 2011

About six weeks ago, I put out a post based on my experiences with the 48 Hour Film Project.  Subsequently, a few weeks later, I posted on some administrative changes to the Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project that I felt were pertinent for continued success of this filmmaking collaboration in our region.  As of yesterday, our entry into the 2011 Greensboro 48 Hour Film Project has been posted online at vimeo.com.  I have provided a link below for all those interested in viewing the film in it’s entirety.  Do note that a few extra sound effects were added that were not in the original entry; however, other than those minor changes, all is the same.

I hope you enjoy and can’t thank my collaborators enough for a wonderful 48 experience on set!  If anyone has any questions related to production of this short or how the 48 works, just post them into the comments section and I will do my best to answer.

Our criteria was as follows:

Genre: Comedy

Line: “Where did you go?”

Prop: Crayons

Character: Plumber – Don or Donna Hastert

 





Chaplin in Review – PART XI – A Countess from Hong Kong

12 07 2011

Copyright 1967 Chaplin Film Productions and Universal Pictures

★ ★ ★

And so we come to Chaplin’s final completed feature film and our final part of this series, A Countess in Hong Kong.  Released in 1967, Chaplin was nearly 80 years old while directing this picture.  It was his first and only time that he shot a widescreen presentation and his only feature film outside of 1923’s A Woman in Paris that he was not prominently featured as an actor.  In fact, he played the exact same type of small role as he had in A Woman in Paris in this film, that of a steward.

The film stars internationally known Oscar winners Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren.  Brando plays Saudi Arabian-designate Ogden Mears, who is on his way home from a world tour aboard a luxury liner.  A married man, yet one who is more or less estranged from his spouse, Mears is sailing back alone with his older valet Hudson (Patrick Cargill) and lawyer friend Harvey (Chaplin’s son with Lita Grey, Sydney Chaplin).  Loren plays a Russian Countess named Natascha, who sneaks aboard the luxury liner to escape being forced into prostitution.  Because she has no passport, she is forced to stay in the same cabin as Mears and hideout from the authorities on board.  A flurry of comedic situations between uptight Mears and exotic, outgoing Natascha ensue and an overarching plot of finding a way to get Natascha safely off the ship is followed throughout.

Essentially, the film plays out like a 1930s romantic comedy programmer, which didn’t fit very well into the 1960s.  In fact, Chaplin originally had the idea for this film in the 1930s after he sailed on his three month tour around the world.  Had the film been completed at this time, Paulette Goddard would have starred in the role of Natascha, and I’m sure Chaplin would have reserved the role of Mears for himself.

Though the potential of the film seems like it would be huge, I mean Chaplin, Brando and Loren on a matinee is enough to make anyone foam at the mouth, in the end, the film just falls flat.  Brando and Chaplin apparently despised each other on set.  Chaplin was notorious for directing actors exactly the way he wanted them to play a part, many times going to the length of acting the bit out himself and then saying, “Now, do it more like that.”  Brando, who was known for his intense dedication to performance through method acting, had a hard time being handled as an actor in this manner and didn’t see eye-to-eye with Chaplin methods at all.  The final result on screen is visibly a stilted performance; rather than coming off as funny and light hearted, Brando feels wooden and forcibly tongue-in-cheek.  Likewise, Loren’s performance leaves something to be desired, but not to the same degree as Brando’s portrayal of Mears.  Honestly, to me, the show stealer was Patrick Cargill as Mear’s aging valet Hudson.  I thought he was brilliant as a supporting character.

Like A King in New York, this film was also made in England with rented studios and didn’t afford Chaplin an ideal working environment that he had been accustomed to in California with his own studio.  Rather tragically during production actually, Chaplin broke his ankle which delayed production for a couple weeks.

Upon release, A Countess from Hong Kong received generally lackluster reviews and was not a success at the box office.  During one of the premieres, the projectionist didn’t set the anamorphic adapter on the projector properly and the film was screened in an improper aspect ratio.  The disaster of this film was very difficult for Chaplin, though there were some reviewers who gave high praise to the picture.  In my opinion, I feel it was a rather low note to go out on and can see why many people prefer to think of Limelight as Chaplin’s swan song, but once an artist, always an artist and to take away an artist’s ability to create is essentially that of killing him.

Following this film, Chaplin wrote a screenplay for a film that would have been called The Freak.  The screenplay, which was about a South American girl who sprouts wings and is passed off by captors as an angel before being arrested because of her appearance, would have starred his daughter Victoria from his marriage with Oona. In fact, test footage was made with Victoria in costume, though Chaplin never got to complete the film.

In the 1970s, Chaplin spent a good deal of time scoring his early silent films and re-releasing them with the completed scores.  In 1972, he returned to the United States to accept an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to Motion Pictures; this was his first time back on US soil in 20 years.  While in United States, he met with some old friends and even drove by his former studio and other places of interest.  Here is the video of his acceptance speech for his Honorary Oscar.  The standing ovation has been edited down as it was originally 5 minutes long, the longest any performer has ever received to this date:

Chaplin would go on to be knighted in 1975.  He passed away on Christmas Day 1977 at his home in Vevey, Switzerland at the age of 88.

Well, that brings us to the end of our journey through the eleven feature films that Charlie Chaplin made in his lifetime.  I hope you have enjoyed my reviews and some of the background information I have provided on each of the films.  I have to say that Chaplin is probably my favorite filmmaker of all-time.  Though his films were not always the most technically proficient, his ability to tell a story that could make you laugh or cry, or a little of both, was a true gift.  I am by no means the foremost scholar on the work of Chaplin, but I do feel like I am better than the average as I have read most of his biographies including the seminal work by David Robinson, Chaplin: His Life and Art (highly reccomended!) and Chaplin’s own autobiography, My Autobiography.  In addition, I did extensive research into his affair with Joan Barry for an article that was published on alternativereel.com and also available as a header link here in this blog as Joan Barry Article.  Anyway, thanks for reading this series and if you have any questions on Chaplin’s life or films, I will do my best to answer in the comments section.





Chaplin in Review – PART VIII – Monsieur Verdoux

6 07 2011

Copyright 1947 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★

The Joan Barry suit plagued Chaplin through most of the early 1940s, though also during this time he met the love of his life and companion who would be with him until he passed in 1977, Eugene O’ Neill’s young daughter, Oona.  Professionally, following The Great Dictator, Chaplin began work on several different ideas.  In 1941, he commissioned an idea for $5,000 from Orson Welles about French bluebeard Henri Désiré Landru, who was executed in 1922 for his murders of 10 women, one boy and two dogs.  Another project was an adaptation of the Paul Vincent Carroll stageplay Shadow and Substance.  Joan Barry, ironically enough, was set to play the lead in this film and went through a series of screen tests and other arrangements to prepare her for the part.  However, once they had a falling out and the messiness of the paternity suit came forward, Chaplin shelved Shadow and Substance indefinitely.  A full script was produced and is still in the Chaplin Archives in Switzerland, but Chaplin never got around to completing the picture.  This left him with his Landru script, which took him nearly four years to finish the screenplay.  The film, in the end, was titled Monsieur Verdoux.

Chaplin plays Verdoux, a bluebeard who murders rich widows and invests in their fortunes.  As a front, he has a furniture business that is in most regards inoperative.  Furthermore, at a county cottage, he has a son and his true wife that he loves, who is an invalid.  Both of them only see the kind, loving husband and father and never know of how he makes his living other than the furniture front.  One day he meets a beautiful young woman (Marilyn Nash), who is down on her luck and having to work as a prostitute.  He lures her in at first to test a new poison, but then finds he cannot follow through and tries to persuade her that life is worth living.  Many years later, he runs into the woman after he is down on his luck and lost everything in the stock market crash and she is a wealthy socialite.  Soon after, his past comes back to haunt him and he is arrested for his murderous deeds and sentenced to death.  In the end, Verdoux asks the judge and the audience if he is really the worst of them, a man trying to help his family through the best means he could muster, or are the weapons of mass destruction and other terrors out in the world much worse.

A biting satire with strong social criticism and certainly Chaplin’s darkest comedy, Chaplin himself considered this the cleverest film he had ever written.  Upon release in 1947, it was met with mixed reviews and many interviewers questioned Chaplin’s supposed radical views and political ideals rather than ask questions about the film.  Several critics, however, did give raving reviews of the film and it was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award.  In recent years, the film has become somewhat of a cult classic, even amongst non-Chaplin enthusiasts.

These vicious attacks during the McCarthy era communist witch hunts and constant pursuit by the U.S. government would eventually be what drove Chaplin away from the United States in 1952, after calling it home for nearly 40 years.





Midnight in Paris (2011) Review

29 06 2011

Copyright 2011 Gravier Productions and Mediapro

★ ★ ★ ★

Maddie and I bought a Groupon to Aperture Cinema a couple weeks ago.  As much as I hate to admit I actually used a Groupon, because I think they are the silliest things ever invented, it actually was a pretty good deal.  For those of you that know me, you know I am cheap; therefore, I can swallow my pride to save a little bit of money.  Anyway, we finally used this said Groupon tonight and went to see Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris.

Owen Wilson plays Gil Pender, a Hollywood screenwriter, who is on vacation to Paris with his fiancee, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her parents.  Very early on, it is alluded to that Gil had spent some time in Paris many years prior.  In fact, he regrets his decision to leave and become a screenwriter, having much preferred staying and trying his luck at being a novelist.  Though a successful screenwriter, he is working on a novel and would prefer moving to Paris and finishing his novel there.  Inez, however, plans to stay in Southern California after they marry and continue their rather posh lifestyle there; Inez’s parents, who are wealthy, agree with her.  Over the course of the vacation, Gil spends much time reluctantly going out to various places with Inez and her parents and her friends, Paul and Carol.  One night, not wanting to go dance and a little drunk, Gil wonders off on his own.  He gets lost on the streets of Paris, and when the clock strikes midnight, a mysterious 1920s-style car stops in front of him with an entourage of people encouraging him to get in.  After his first excursion, he continues his midnight romps and ends up finding something more about himself through the beauty and allure of his Parisian nights.

I am a huge Woody Allen fan, have been for many years, and I think this Allen’s best film since Deconstructing Harry in 1997.  I enjoyed Match Point, Cassandra’s Dream and Vicky Christina Barcelona, but this film seemed more genuine to me than any of them.  The film is most definitely a romantic comedy, but not completely an Allenesque comedy.  Interestingly, Paris itself is almost more of the love interest of the main character than anything else.

 

Darius Khondji’s cinematography is absolutely beautiful and elucidates the affection for Paris that Allen hopes to convey perfectly.  The script is solid; light, comedic and romantic, but very solid.  It also marks a chance at seeing Owen Wilson in a more serious role than he is usually accustomed.  One, in which, he actually does a very good job.  The supporting cast is very good as well, including many Oscar nominees and former winners such as Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Adrien Brody.

In short, Allen does a wonderful job of capturing the magic of Paris and has created a film that is as much of an ode to Paris as his classic 1979 masterpiece Manhattan was an ode to the Big Apple.  I highly recommend this film and think even non-Allen lovers could find some enjoyment out of this one.





Chaplin in Review – PART VI – Modern Times

28 06 2011

Copyright 1936 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

If memory serves me right, I am pretty certain that Modern Times was the first Chaplin feature I saw; I was probably about six or seven years old at the time.  It still holds a close place in my heart as my second favorite feature of Chaplin’s, partially perhaps to sentimentality, but in either case this is still an amazing film.

Modern Times is a narrative that focuses on some of the comedic elements of the times in the 1930s with the influx of industrialization and the Great Depression in full stride.  Chaplin appears as the Little Tramp in the beginning, working in a factory line.  Due to the stress and monotony of the job, he has a mental breakdown and is, subsequently, fired and sent to a hospital.  He is eventually released, but they insist he avoid excitement.  Upon release, a socialist march is at hand and someone drops a flag; ever the helper, the Little Tramp picks it up and runs after him.  With flag waving in hand, he is mistaken as the leader of the riot and thrown in jail.  He finds the contentment of jail comforting, but just as he is settling in, he is released on pardon.  Following a job at the shipyard in which he is fired, he meets a Gamine (Paulette Goddard) and her two sisters, who are stealing food to survive.  When a cop comes to arrest the Gamine, the Little Tramp tries to take the blame to no avail.  He then goes to a cafeteria, orders a lot of food and insists he has no money.  On the way to jail, the Gamine catches up with him and they escape, becoming close companions.  They settle into a small shack and the Tramp gets a job at a department store as a nightwatchman.  When burglars come on his first night, he gets caught up with the police and again hauled to jail.  Will he be able to catch up with his love again and find a decent, rewarding life, or will he have to settle on the contentment of his jail cell?

Following City Lights, Chaplin embarked on an 18 month world tour, leaving behind life in Hollywood for relaxation and travel.  Upon return, he met the beautiful, young Paulette Goddard and struck up a close relationship with her, eventually making her his third wife in 1936 in a secret ceremony.  In addition to her being cast as the Gamine in this film, she would also appear as the lead actress in his next feature, The Great Dictator.

Sound, by this time, was definitely in full force in the motion picture industry.  Hardly any filmmaker was still making silent pictures.  Because of this, Chaplin originally devised Modern Times to be a talkie, and even went so far as to write a script and shoot some test sequences.  However, in the end, the film was produced as a silent, but made use of sound effects, score and one talking scene in the beginning from the factory boss.  Like City Lights, Modern Times had an extensive shooting schedule that lasted over the course of a year from late 1934 to late 1935.

Upon release, Modern Times was another success for Chaplin, despite the fact that it was a silent film in a sound world.  To this day, the film is still celebrated as one of Chaplin’s biggest achievements and is the third and final film of Chaplin’s that appears on the AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All-Time List at number 77 (the other two being The Gold Rush and City Lights).

Chaplin, who himself at this time a multi-millionaire, but who came from an impoverished background, was very occupied with the problems of the social and economic background in the world during the 1930s.  Modern Times was his way of coming to terms with the situation from a comedic point and exemplifying some of the atrocities of the modern world tongue firmly in cheek.  As a final note, this was the last time that Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp appeared on screen, ending the cinematic presence of one of the most recognizable characters ever created.





Chaplin in Review – PART V – City Lights

27 06 2011

Copyright 1931 Chaplin Studios

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

And now we come to my favorite Chaplin feature, City Lights.  To me, this film is the perfect blend of comedy and drama and a definitive example of the genius of Chaplin’s work.  Everything comes together in this film so beautifully, both comic and dramatic devices, that I can not only call this my favorite Chaplin film, but rank this in my top 10 favorite films of all-time.

Like many of Chaplin’s films, the actual plot outline is relatively simple; it is the execution that makes this film a masterpiece.  The story revolves around Chaplin’s character of the Little Tramp, who falls in love with a poor, blind flower girl (Virginia Cherrill).  Through a hap circumstance, she believes that he is a millionaire and can help her and her mother in their desperate time of need.  Determined to help, he befriends a raucous, party-driven millionaire and does everything he can to help the flower girl and her mother.  In the end, he helps them and she is able to get an eye operation that restores her sight.  But, will she be able to accept the Tramp for his true self?

By the time this film was in production, and definitely by the time it was released in 1931, sound in motion pictures was in full stride.  Silents were, essentially, becoming a thing of the past.  However, though the option for sound was fully open to Chaplin before filming began, he decided against making a sound film because he felt that the Little Tramp character speaking would ruin his entire appeal.  Turns out that Chaplin made a wise decision, as City Lights was an immense success both commercially and critically.

As for production, this film took the longest of any other Chaplin film to complete at nearly 180 days of filming from late 1927 to early 1931.  Several story points, including how to show the blind flower girl mistaking the Little Tramp for being wealthy, plagued Chaplin; the integral scene of this story point was re-shot 342 times for perfection.  Another issue for Chaplin was his dissatisfaction with Virginia Cherrill in the lead role as the flower girl.  At one point, he even went so far as to replace her with Georgia Hale; however, once realizing that too much footage was in the can and it would cost a fortune to reshoot all her scenes, he asked Cherrill to come back on board and finish the film.  Ironically, before coming back on board, Cherrill made Chaplin renegotiate her contract for more money than she was originally to be paid, something that surely didn’t help her and Chaplin’s professional relationship.

In the end, Chaplin did decide to utilize something out of the sound on film devices available, as he recorded a score and several sound effects for the film that accompanied the picture.  However, no audible dialog made the final cut, only garbled talking at the beginning of the film performed by Chaplin himself.

In the 80 years since this film was released it has received a number of commendations and places on top film lists, including being ranked #11 on the AFI’s Top 100 Best Movies of All-Time List and #1 on their list of Top Romantic Comedies.  In addition, Orson Welles was quoted as saying that this was his favorite film.  Needless to say, City Lights has definitely stood the test of time and continues to dazzle, cheer and touch audiences of all ages and from around the world.








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