Archive for May, 2011

Sons Of The Desert [1933]


Laurel and Hardy’s best movie; the boys find themselves in hot water when they scheme to get away from their wives and attend a lodge convention in Chicago. After persuading the wives that Ollie needs to sail to Honolulu for his health, they’re finally free to go to Chicago. The boat sinks on the way back from Hawaii, and the boys end up having to explain how they got home a day earlier than all the other survivors! (hint: they ship-hiked). Talk about a movie holding up for over 70 years! Everything about it is pitch perfect and unforgettable. Watching the boys as they sink deeper and deeper into absurdity trying to explain their early arrival is a gem. In between, they also get themselves into some silly humorous trouble, with the best being a scene in which Ollie flirts with a woman on the phone not realizing it’s his wife he’s talking to! 

“Sons Of The Desert” is comedy at its best; it certainly deserves its place among other comedy classics (“The Gold Rush”, “Safety Last” and “A Night at The Opera” come to mind). Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t appreciate these movies anymore. Yet if it weren’t for Laurel and Hardy, we wouldn’t have had Abbott and Costello or even Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The laughter these guys have given us will never be replicated, and is eternally appreciated.

Rating: 3.5/4

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Red Riding Hood [2011]


Unless director Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight”) is willing to shoulder some of the blame, it’s useless to try and figure out why “Red Riding Hood” is so bad. I stuck with it till the bitter end, but I’m not proud of that achievement and wouldn’t recommend that anyone follow my lead. Amanda Seyfried plays the title character, who lives in a small village at the edge of a deep dark forest. We are told right at the beginning that the villagers live in constant fear of a wolf who claims a sacrificial victim whenever the moon rises (Lon Chaney Jr. must be rolling in his grave). When the wolf kills Riding Hood’s sister, someone hires Father Solomon (a wasted Gary Oldman) to take charge and conduct a witch-hunt that’s almost as vicious as the killings. Oldman convinces the villagers that they are dealing with a werewolf who is so deceptive, he may be living among them undetected. This will eventually lead Riding Hood to suspect everyone around her. Is it her boyfriend? Her father maybe? Or even worse, her grandmother? A better question to be in this case is “who really cares?”.

Seyfried perhaps is well cast as Red. She gives her character just the right look…but everytime she opens her mouth you’ll be begging for that werewolf to put her out of her misery. To be completely fair though, no actor could be expected to excel given the cheesy dialogue and Hardwicke’s terrible direction. Good actors such as Gary Oldman, Virginia Madsen and Julie Christie struggle to make an impression and it shows. It pains me to see talented actors like these wasting their time on such drivel. Billy Burke tries his best to keep things lively, but that’s a small reward considering how bad the rest of the movie is.

 I’d rather watch “Twilight” again than have to sit through another one of these dreadful wannabe horror flicks…but I suppose it’s inevitable, especially since studios make so much money out of these films. In Hollywood these days, that seems to be all that matters.

Fiasco!

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Rebecca [1940]


In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock came to Hollywood to direct what would become one of his greatest achievements. Yet it is somewhat surprising that despite his long career, only “Rebecca” earned him an Academy Award for Best Picture. Producer David O. Selznik, hot from the huge success of “Gone With The Wind” a year earlier, seized the opportunity to work with Hitchcock, pairing the director with Daphne Du Maurier’s gothic ghost story. I can recall a number of Hitch’s films, such as “The 39 Steps” and “North By Northwest”, in which the hero and the heroine end up falling in love, but are nevertheless essentially suspense films with an element of romance. “Rebecca” on the other hand, is strictly a romantic story with elements of suspense. A seaside estate (later the inspiration for Orson Welles’s Xanadu mansion) is the setting for the romance between Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. They marry after a brief encounter, but as their relationship deepens, Fontaine is more and more haunted by the spirit of his dead wife, Rebecca. In a way, this is a ghost story, although not in the literal sense. The mansion may not be literally haunted, but it is permeated by Rebecca’s spirit. Innocent Fontaine is nearly driven to madness by the dark secrets of this huge mansion, but Hitchcock is more than happy with letting the tension build toward the unforgettable conclusion.

It doesn’t surprise me one bit that “Rebecca” won Best Picture and Best Cinematography at the Oscars that year. It was up against “The Letter”, “The Philadephia Story”, “Grapes Of Wrath”, and ironically, Hitchcock’s final british film “Foreign Correspondent” (all of which were excellent pictures). And despite the fact that it was David O. Selznick who took that Oscar home (Hitchcock never won an Academy Award for directing), Selznick will always be remembered for “Gone With The Wind”. Now “Rebecca”- that was Alfred Hitchcock’s work.

Rating: 4/4

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The Hangover Part II [2011]


I think we can all agree that the first “Hangover” movie was a huge success, both critically and financially. So I guess it was just a matter of time before a follow-up was to be made. Confession: Im always precautious when it comes to sequels. So I went in with no particular expectations, and what I got in return was an above average comedy. Plot wise, “Hangover 2” is more of the same, only less original than its predecessor. This one has more pervasive language, more sexual content (including graphic nudity), and some violent images (make sure you stick through the end credits for that part). If you saw the first film, there’s no need for me to describe the plot this time. It’s exactly the same story. Director Todd Phillips seems to have taken “The Hangover” screenplay and moved it from Las Vegas to Bangkok. All you need to know however is that instead of a baby, there’s a monkey in the room. Stu has a Mike Tyson style tattoo, Alan’s hair is shaven, there’s a detached finger lying around, and it’s not Doug that’s gone this time around-it’s the adolescent Teddy. As a result, our guys set off their search through the city for people who might be able to help them remember the events of the previous night.

 The finger is the first clue. Someone gets shot by a gang of thugs, while someone else turns out to have had sex with a transvestite. Is that funnier? not really. Shocking? probably. But if you liked the first “Hangover” because of its shock value, then you will definitely enjoy what this one has to offer. And in case you’re looking for something more, I can assure you that the element of surprise is not completely off the table. We’ve got Paul Giamatti as a crime boss, and Ken Jeong returns as the hilarious Mr. Chow who’s still in need of a serious mental treatment. I guess that’s more than enough to hook you up for a while. I just wish the people involved in this had produced a more original story. But hey it is a sequel afetrall; one shouldn’t expect miracles.

Rating: 2.5/4

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The Beaver [2011]


I don’t give a crap about Mel Gibson or his personal problems. The man’s a terrific actor, and that’s all that mattered to me when I sat down to watch “The Beaver”. I didn’t want to read any of the negative reviews prior to watching it, so I went in cold, and I’m glad I did. It’s an odd little film about mental illness and broken family, directed with passion by Jodie Foster. The entire cast is excellent, but the centerpiece is a poignant performance by Mel Gibson, quite possibly one of the best of his career so far. I was a bit disappointed with his screen return in last year’s “Edge Of Darkness”, but “The Beaver” offers something completely different and fresh. And that’s always admirable and welcome. He plays Walter Black, a man who has lost his way in life and is dealing with an extreme case of depression. His wife has left him, and his son won’t even speak to him. Just when he is about to call it quits, Walter befriends a hand pupped called  The Beaver, who takes total control of his life. And it is through this puppet that he is able to redeem himself at work and with his family. This unusual story certainly requires an act of trusting on the part of the audience. I was more than willing to trust Jodie Foster and her directing abilities, and though the story doesn’t always ring true, it’s still completely absorbing and thought provoking.

“The Beaver” is one of the nicest surprises of the year so far, and while I don’t think many people would bother to see it, I still hope it finds the audience it deserves. Well done old man.

Rating: 3/4

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The Flying Deuces [1939]


Viewing “The Flying Deuces” after so many years was a great reminder of how brilliant Laurel and Hardy were. In true L & H tradition, slapsticks and chase scenes are the main attraction here, along with Ollie telling Stanley the familiar phrase: “Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.” If you grew up watching these two, you’ll know exactly what to expect from this movie. The premise is straightforward enough: Trying to forget a woman who turned him down in France, Ollie decides to drown himself and convinces Stan that he must do the same. The boys meet an officer of the Foreign Legion who convinces them that they should join the Legion to help forget. Of course you know that these two misfits will never be able to adapt to life in the military, with its strict code and constant marching. All this will eventually lead to many funny moments, especially the stunt flying sequence and one unforgettable ending, which in my opinion wrapped things up brilliantly.

While not quite as spectacular or funny as some of their earlier comedies, but better than the ones they made during their declining years at 20th Century Fox (1941-1945), “The Flying Deuces” is still considered a classic; it has many genuinely wonderful moments well worth viewing, whether you’re familiar with the duo or not. If only their later films were as fresh and original as this one (with the exception of “A-Haunting We Will Go”, which remains one my favorites).

Rating: 3/4

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Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides [2011]


Who needs Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom when you can get Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane? So ballsy. And while this fourth installment lacks the freshness of the first “Pirates” movie, the good news is:  it’s far more superior than “Dead Man’s Chest” and the dreadful “At World’s End”. Director Rob Marshall, in for Gore Verbinski (who misdirected the last two movies) finds his pace, staging one enjoyable sequence after another. Yet plot-wise, “On Stranger Tides” is basically an old fashioned story with a twist. When the film opens, we find Jack Sparrow (once again played by Johny Depp) in search for a ship in London. However, he learns that someone is impersonating him and is busy recruiting a crew in a race against the spaniards to search for the fountain of youth. Sounds like an Indiana Jones episode to me. Anyway, while at the recruiting station, Jack runs into his father, and old flame Angelica (Cruz). After a night of drinking and sword play, our man finds himself on board Blackbeard’s ship (Ian McShane), en route to find the fountain. Throw in Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa, now a one-legged captain working on behalf of the King of England, and you’ve got something close to a piratical wacky races.

As far as sequels go, it’s rare that third time’s the charm. But to be completely honest here, the “Pirates” franchise definitely gets back on track with “On Stranger Tides”. It plays surprisingly well, and makes clever use of its locations, and predominantly, Johny Depp, who let’s face it, sleepwalked through the last two movies. Rush, McShane, Cruz and newcomer Sam Claffin (as a religious man who falls in love with a mermaid!) seem to know exactly what the audience wants this time. Depp looks a lot more comfortable, and his character is much more interesting.  Rush, though always terrific, seems to be having the time of his life in this installment! The big surprise here though is Cruz, a feisty/deadly woman- a perfect match for Depp.

The film’s biggest downfall however is that it tries too hard to create a bunch of cliffhanger stunts, that it fails to give us a chance to take a deep breath. Not to mention the many unexplained plot elements (blame it on lazy writing); what exactly are blackbeard’s powers? Why are some of his crew zombies? Where did he get that voodoo doll of Jack in the first place? And so on and so forth. Yet despite all of its apparent flaws, “On Stranger Tides” still managed to entertain me; it’s certainly no masterpiece, but as far as escapism goes, it can’t get any better than this. Of course the franchise might seem to be running out of steam by now (seen that, done that), but if a sequel is being cooked, count me in.

Rating: 2.5/4

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