Sunday, December 23, 2012

Film Review: The Impossible

"The Impossible"  **** (out of ****)

Some movies come along that are so emotionally powerful I'm with the characters every step of the way. I'm taking every step with them on their journey. I feel their heartache. By the end of the film I am emotionally drained. Two films to come along in the past five years that have done to this me are "The Orphanage" (2007) and "The Impossible" (2012). Their shared link? They were both directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, a brilliant, young, up and coming filmmaker.

Back in 2007, in a year where there were a lot of over-hyped movies, such as "Juno" (2007), "No Country For Old Men" (2007) and "There Will Be Blood" (2007), I dared to declare a smaller film, "The Orphanage", as the best film of the year. I felt Mr. Bayona was going to be a major new talent. Here we are now five years later, once again in year with a lot of hyped up movies; "Lincoln" (2012), "Flight" (2012) and "The Hobbit" (2012), and once again Mr. Bayona has, in my opinion, surpassed them all. I still need to wait for the release of a few movies here in Chicago, but, I'm prepared to call "The Impossible" the best film of 2012!

"The Impossible" is a fact based story revolving around the Tsunami back in 2004. Often cited as the most destructive natural disaster in history. We follow one family that has survived the disaster but have been separated and their quest to reunite, unsure if the others are still alive.

In some ways "The Orphanage" and "The Impossible" are similar. Both films are about the bond between parents and children. They are about unexplainable horrors which divide a family and the emotional struggles these people go through to reunite. The difference between the films is in the language. "The Orphanage" was a Spanish language film and "The Impossible" is Mr. Bayona's English language debut film (and his second film in his career).

The movie stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as a married couple with three sons; Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). They live in Japan due to Henry's (McGregor) job and are vacationing in Thailand at a luxury resort. Initially it looks like paradise. The sun is shinning, there appears to be a cool breeze and the people look carefree and happy. But, because we know a little about the plot before hand, we know the Hell which awaits these people. It almost serves as a lesson to people who are determined to travel to exotic, far off lands. If you keep looking for adventure, guess what? One day you'll find it. And it won't be the kind of adventure you were expecting.

The most powerful, startling moments in the film are when the Tsunami hits and we see the devastating effects of the tide. Mr. Bayona and his camera do not pull any punches. This will upset some viewers. The only word I can use to described these scenes are "intense". And that may not fully prepare you for what you are about to see. The word may not be strong enough. The camera is right there with these characters. Mr. Bayona doesn't give us time to breathe. The camera never backs away from the horror.

At this time in the movie I began to realize things I hadn't thought about when I first heard of the Tsunami. Basic things which my mind didn't begin to comprehend. For example, the tide was so strong, even after the Tsunami hit, that even if you wanted to stop, you couldn't. There was nothing to grab on to. You simply had to let yourself go with the tide. I started thinking to myself, what would I do? How would I try to stop myself from drifting along? Not to mention trying to avoid cars, trees, branches and parts of buildings which are coming in my direction. And that's when we, the audience, begin to try to have some understanding of what these people went through.

The dialogue is sparse but the actor which comes out looking the best is Naomi Watts. One of my favorite actresses working today. With mostly body language and facial expressions Ms. Watts creates a fully developed character. We understand her motivations and her mindset. Ms. Watts usually appears in strong movies. I remember seeing "21 Grams" (2003) in the theatre. It was another emotionally draining experience for me. "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004), "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" (2004) and "Mulholland Drive" (2001). All masterpieces in my opinion. I even enjoyed her in the Woody Allen film "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" (2010). She is an actress who gives consistently powerful, entertaining performances. She has an amazing ability to make us believe in her characters. "The Impossible" is no different. There is talk of an Oscar nomination floating around. It would be well deserved.

"The Impossible" does have those typical Hollywood "cute" moments. It pulls at our heartstrings, sometimes in more deliberate ways than others. Becoming almost too obvious in its manipulation, but it is powerful. People were crying from beginning to end during the movie.

I also want to point out some criticism I've read about the film. A liberal "critic" for the Chicago Reader complained that the film didn't make any attempt to discuss environmental causes for the storm. Clearly this liberal wanted there to be some mention of global warming and attack conservative principles on the issue. But that's not what "The Impossible" is about. It is about human drama. About hope and family. About people struggling to find something to believe in, in the face of great tragedy. If you are looking for mention of global warming do not watch this movie.

Sadly the film is not getting a "push" from film critics. The studio is not "pushing" the film either. This is the kind of movie which should be considered a possible "best picture" contender. Watts did win a Golden Globe nomination however. I hope audiences are able to "find" this film.

"The Impossible" is one of the best films of 2012!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Film Review: Skyfall

"Skyfall"  *** (out of ****)

The name is Bond...James Bond.

For the last 50 years we have heard that line uttered in 23 movies starring Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and now for the third time Daniel Craig as agent 007 in this latest Bond adventure "Skyfall" (2012).

Where to begin? First I should mention I've never been convinced this new guy, Craig, was right for the part. He didn't "look" like a "Bond" to me. Pierce Brosnan did but not this kid Craig. Oh, I know the critics did back flips over him back in 2006 when he first played the role in "Casino Royale" but soon the tide started to shift when "The Quantum of Solace" (2008, which I have reviewed) was released. Bond was reduced to a standardized action hero, which quite frankly, suited Craig moreso than the charming, suave lady (and man) killer known as James Bond. The critics were a lot tougher on that film and started to rethink Craig as Bond. And now comes "Skyfall" and once again film critics are doing what they do best; over-hype a movie as they all write exactly the same things praising this film.

Chicago Sun-Times "film critic" Roger Ebert wrote "Skyfall" is "one of the best Bonds ever." Joe Morgenstern, film critic for the Wall Street Journal declared "Skyfall has an "elegance" to its action sequences which sets it apart from previous Bond movies. The less knowledgeable "film critic" of the Chicago Tribune, Michael Phillips, summed it up saying "Skyfall" had "the swank and polish and movie smarts to deliver what Bond has always delivered."

But, I just don't see it that way. Something about "Skyfall" didn't feel right to me and even though I'm recommending it, I am recommending it for the same reason I did so with "The Quantum of Solace". As a Bond film it falls flat. As an action picture it is watchable and has some entertaining moments.

One of the elements of Craig's Bond movies which has bother me is this constant desire to try to get inside Bond's head and discover what turned him into the man he is today. In "Casino Royale" it was suggested after another agent, Vesper, dies this turned Bond's heart cold. Never again would he allow himself to have feelings for a woman. Better to merely use them for sex. Who cares!

In an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (published in the Nov. 9th, 2012 edition) written by Andrew Roberts, he ask the same question. Why are we making Bond modern and PC? And in "Skyfall" the producers and writers do it again. Going back to Bond's childhood as an explanation for who he is today. I am not interested in a psychological, detailed, analyst of why James Bond is the way he is.

Over the years there have been groups that have tried to modernize Bond. One film showed him cry. Others wanted Bond to be a more "sensitive" male and understand that women are more than sex objects. Originally that was the joke in having "M" (played by Judi Dench) be a women ever since Brosnan took over as Bond. In the older Bond films, going back to Connery and Moore, M was always played by a man. Some traditionalist, like myself, at first objected to a woman playing the part. But, as what most things in life, eventually you accept the change, if for any reason, you simply become use to seeing her in the role.

"Skyfall" though could best be described as a prequel to "Dr. No" (1962) the first James Bond adventure, starring the man many consider the best Bond, Sean Connery. Whatever the next Bond film will be it will follow the more traditional set-up we have come to recognize. There will be a "Q" character, Moneypenny will be M's secretary and SPOILER ALERT!

M will be played by a man. END SPOILER ALERT

In Skyfall someone has stolen a hard drive which contained all the names of secret operatives and now those agents will be exposed over the internet. That is only one element though of the film. The other has a more "real world" aspect to it. What is the best way to fight terrorism? With field agents, which is seen as primitive in "Skyfall" or with technology? In other words, does the world need James Bond? We can kill people with missiles hundred of miles away simply by hitting a button. Do we need a guy to travel around the country and flirt with pretty women and kill the bad guy anymore with that kind of capability at our fingertips?

"Skyfall" seems to have moments when it is flirting with nostalgia. At one point in the film Bond drives an Aston Martin. The same one he drove in "Goldfinger" (1964). This actually caused the audience I saw the film with to go into applause (seriously!). I guess there were a few of us old-timers in the audience. And of course since the film is a "prequel" we know where it is all going to go. We know what lies ahead. So when a character introduces themself as Q or Moneypenny we know the relationship they will eventually form with Bond. Making the audience think of the older films.

After watching "Skyfall" I'm still not sure Craig is a good Bond. And I really don't like the direction they have taken this character in, trying so hard to uncover him. It seems Connery had all the good stories; "Dr. No", "From Russia with Love" (1963) and "Goldfinger". Though I would argue Moore was in some good ones himself (he is actually my favorite Bond) such as "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977), "For Your Eyes Only" (1981) and "The Man with the Golden Gun" (1974). The last Bond film I saw which I really enjoyed was "The World Is Not Enough" (1999) with Pierce Brosnan.

If I had to say something really nice about "Skyfall" it would be this. It features one of the best Bond songs to come along in a decade. It is performed by an artist called Adele, who also happened to write the song. The credits and the song are a throwback to better times for Bond. When we weren't trying to examine him.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Film Review: Amer

"Amer"  ** 1\2 (out of ****)

There was a part of me that really wanted to like "Amer" (2011), a French, psycho sexual, Euro trash, giallo inspired, thriller. But there was a stronger part of me that didn't think the movie worked.

The first half hour of this film is pretty close to brilliant filmmaking. The movie had a heightened my sense of anticipation. What would happen next? Where is this movie going? It is visually never a dull picture. But in the end it feels like a case of style over substance.

The film follows Ana, played by three different actresses at different stages in her life. The best sequence is the beginning as a young Ana (Cassandra Foret) is convinced her dead grandfather is coming back to life each time Ana opens a pocket watch, which she stole from her grandfather. Meanwhile her grandmother, Graziella (Delphine Brual) is referred to as a witch, as she walks around their mansion house dressed in black with a veil. Is there an evil spirit lurking around? Are Ana's fears justified or is it all merely her imagination?

Imagination is a major theme in the film. Our inability to sometimes separate that blurry line between fact and fiction. As Ana grows older she has more and more difficulty distinguishing the two.

"Amer" is an at times haunted house story and a slasher film at the end with sexual titillation thrown in for good measure. As I stated it is a giallo inspired film, but, never seems to completely fit into the genre, even though we can clearly see the attempts to pay homage.

Stephen Holden, film critic for the New York Times wrote "Amer is a voluptuous wallow in recycled psycho sexual kitsch". That sounds about right to me.

I can't deny "Amer" has moments which work but too much of the film doesn't make a lick of sense. It doesn't feel like a rich character portrait, a study into a disturbed mind. It feels cheap.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Film Review: The Exam

"The Exam"  *** (out of ****)

The 48th annual Chicago International Film Festival has started this weekend and I have managed to already attend a few screenings.

As most readers know, every year when the CIFF comes to town I always like to attend screenings for the Hungarian films, since I am Hungarian and like to keep up with cinema from Hungary. This year only one Hungarian movie was playing at the fest. Naturally I made sure to attend the screening.

"The Exam" (2012,  A Vizsga) takes places in 1957 Budapest and revolves around the secret police and a test of loyalty members are subjected to.

The importance here is that the film takes place in 1957. There was an uprising in 1956 as Hungarians tried to get the Soviet Communist out of Hungary. It was a failed attempt, for a few reasons, "The Exam" shows us the aftermath of that experience.

In the past I have complained that many modern Hungarian films, which I have seen at various festivals, are "too Hungarian". That is not to say they are bad movies, I just wonder if a non-Hungarian audience will be able to comprehend the meaning the film would have to Hungarians. The movies are too much about Hungarian history. "The Exam", while dealing with a specific time in Hungary, is actually broad enough that it should be able to enjoy cross-over appeal.

The film, much like the German film, "The Lives of Others" (2007) shows us the world of secret police and double-crossings. The power the government had over its people and how no one was above suspicion. "The Lives of Others" was a bit more epic in its feel and scope, whereas
"The Exam" is more limited in its impact. Mostly because we are dealing with a smaller group of characters. We don't fully see the far reaching power the Communist had over its people. Or at least I didn't come away feeling the movie had shown us that.

Andras Jung (Zsolt Nagy, a familiar face in Hungarian cinema. You might remember him in "Kontroll" (2005) and "Children of Glory" (2006, Szabadsag, Szerelem), both of which I have reviewed) is a hot-shot young member of the secret police. According to his superior, Pal Marko (Janos Kulka, who also appeared in "Kontroll" and "The Last Blues" (2002, Az Utolso Blues), Andras is his best and most trusted man. A true believer in the party. But what Andras doesn't know is that his loyalty must be tested, despite Pal's opinion. Andras must be observed and recorded, under constant surveillance. In order to make things interesting Pal and other party members like Emil Kulcsar (Peter Scherer) have created a situation where they feel Andras' loyalty will be put to the ultimate test.

By keeping Andras under such wraps certain discoveries are made, such as, a love interest. He has been seeing a woman, Eva (Gabriella Hamori, a very young and beautiful actress who has appeared in some very good movies. She was in "The Last Report On Anna" (2010, Utolsa Jelentes Annarol) which I saw at the fest and have reviewed). The party knows nothing about this woman but when they do find out about her we are led to believe there may be more to her than meets the eye.

The film was directed by Peter Bergendy. It is only his second feature film. His first film was an enjoyable, if slight, romantic comedy, "Stop! Mom Theresa" (2003, Allitsatok Meg Terezanyut) which was where I first saw Hamori act.

Bergendy has a good eye. I thought that at the time when I saw his first movie. He knew how to visually set-up a joke and with this movie he shows he knows how to create suspense. One very effective scene deals with Andras beginning to realize what is going on and Pal trying to escape from being seen.

The script was written by Norbert-Kobli, who wrote a comedy called "Made in Hungary" (2009) which I also saw at the CIFF. You wouldn't think either of these men would make a movie like "The Exam" with their prior experience but they pull things off nicely.

"The Exam" works because it creates a nice atmosphere. It has good suspenseful scenes, does a nice job of creating a time period, has good acting, especially by Hamori and Kulka and an interesting theme. The movie resembles a puzzle as we try to piece everything together only we keep losing the pieces and are never quite sure what the final product is suppose to look like.

Viewers that enjoyed "The Lives of Others" I would be willing to bet would get something out of this movie. Sadly though, "The Exam" has one setback which will prevent it from finding distribution in the U.S., it is a Hungarian movie. For whatever reason, Hungarian films are not distributed in this country. That's why the CIFF is so important. Many times it is our only opportunity to see particular films. And many times we will discover little gems like "The Exam" which would otherwise go unnoticed.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Film Review: What Have You Done To Solange?

"What Have You Done To Solange?"  *** (out of ****)

Since the inception of this blog it has been a tradition that I spend the month of October reporting on the films shown at the Chicago International Film Festival and review horror films in honor of Halloween. This year will be no different. One year I reviewed the work of producer Val Lewton. Another year I reviewed films starring Universal Studio Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man). This year I thought I would try something different and spend some time reviewing foreign horror films, in particular Italian giallo films.

Those that read me on a regular basis know of my great appreciation for the work of Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, considered by some of the master of the giallo genre. I have reviewed several of his films in the past on this site. But, Argento isn't the only filmmaker associated with this genre. Several other giallo films have been made, "What Have You Done To Solange?" (1972) is one you may hear mentioned now and then.

First lets discuss what exactly "giallo" means. Giallo is Italian for yellow. This is the color of the cover of cheap (as in price not quality) supernatural horror stories. Thus, the genre was named after the color. Again, if we associate the genre with Argento, the familiar cinematic traits consist of lavish death sequences, the super natural, heavy violence, and an almost fetish for blood.

"What Have You Done To Solange?" doesn't exactly follow that formula. It is more of a psychological suspense film rather than a horror film. It does offer a bit of titillation though, showing naked college age girls, lots of thighs and the promise of breast.

The sexuality aspect of the film actually plays a role in the film as it is in many ways a cautionary tale against premarital sex. Many would argue horror films in general are arguments against premarital sex. Remember in the horror satire "Scream" (1996) one of the characters says the virgin is always the survivor?

In "What Have You Done To Solange?" (which was released in the U.S. in 1975) the setting is an all-girls Catholic school where an Italian teacher, Mr. Rosseni (Fabio Testi) may be a suspected serial killer who is killing off these students one by one. Mr. Rosseni has a reputation of becoming intimate with these students which makes him a prime suspect. Or may make his jealous wife, Herta (Karin Baal) a suspect.

The murderer rips off the clothes of these young girls and kills them with a knife. He inserts the knife in their vagina. Already we are able to make the sexual connections. First of all the knife, I suppose, could be seen as a phallic object. The fact that it is inserted into the vagina would only add to that point. The fact that the girls are of college age and therefore perhaps sexually active makes the dangers of premarital sex argument. You see, the killer is only going after sexually active students.

Now of course with all of this we feeding into the stereotype that horror films are misogynistic. These are claims with have even been thrown at various filmmakers in the genre, i.e. Argento, Hitchcock. The victims are almost always female and they die the most gruesome deaths.

Why am I making a point of discussing the social context of this film as oppose to merely writing about acting or plot? Because the film makes these social points so strongly. It is what is front and center in the plot. Yes, it follows the milieu of the horror genre but "What Have You Done To Solange?" is expressly about sex, virginity and abortion.

It is because "What Have You Done To Solange?" pushes these themes so strongly I was a little off put by the film. One would think the filmmaker wanted to make a morality chamber piece. I would have preferred if these themes were in the subtext of the film not the forefront. I would have also preferred more suspense and horror. Still, the film follows in the tradition of standard suspense films.

When compared to an Argento film, Massimo Dallamano's film seems polished but not quite as artistic as say "Suspiria" (1977), Argento's best film and a film which also takes place in an all-girls school, or "Deep Red" (1975) another contender for Argento's best. The acting seems more natural. Sometimes an Argento film can be campy, especially his later films. Here we are dealing with people who behave in a normal manner. We can understand their motivations.

The film does have a nice look to it but feels dated. The musical score by Ennio Morricone was an, at the time, "modern" jazzy score but doesn't always compliment scenes nicely heightening our sense of suspense. But I did like some moments. My favorite is a POV (point of view) angle where we follow the killer walking up stairs approaching his victim and then running down the same staircase.

As I said, "What Have You Done To Solange?" is not a scary film. It has some nice suspenseful touches, moments of good acting and some interesting camera work. The movie works more as a suspense film. I do believe there is an audience for this movie. I'm not sure how much enjoyment people may get watching this movie on Halloween. At its best "What Have You Done To Solange?" follows the formula of your standard suspense film at its worst it is a preachy message film.

Still, I somewhat recommend it.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Film Review: Monseiur Lazhar

"Monseiur Lazhar" 
*** 1\2 (out of ****)

I first saw this Candian film "Monseiur Lazhar" (2012) in the theatre but was going through so many personal problems I simply couldn't give the movie my full attention. My grandfather had recently passed away and I was unaware this film dealt with death. I sat in the theatre with a woman I had an on again-off again relationship with and our situation was lingering on my mind. Poor "Monsieur Lazhar" didn't stand a chance competing with these personal ordeals I was going through.

However I could tell there was something about the film that I would need to come back to it at a later time. Now that the film was been released on DVD I decided to give it a second chance. I'm glad I did.

"Monseiur Lazhar" is a film which I believe nicely fits in with the themes movies of 2012 have been dealing with. Here is a film which essentially shows us a world of chaos and characters trying to make sense of their surroundings. So many films released this year have confronted this theme.

But this is a "quiet" film. A very subtle film. Its emotions are not front and center. These are characters who don't allow their hurt to show. They are more reserved and thus everything is sub-due. I was bothered by this the first I saw this movie. In my mind I kept comparing it to the French film "The Class" (2009), another movie about a teacher's influence on his classroom. I was very taken by the simplicity of that story. So much so that I placed it on my top ten list of that year. Walking into "Monseiur Lazhar" a second time I knew what to expect and just accepted it.

But one can make the argument that "Monsieur Lazhar" takes on more, it is a more ambitious film. And I can't argue with that sentiment. Here is a movie about culture clash, death, the past, the grief process and that saddest of all things, saying good-bye. Losing the people who matter to us. People who have made an impact on our lives, whether it is a spouse, a teacher or a friend.

Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) is an Algerian who has arrived in Montreal. He is seeking political asylum, for circumstances we find out later in the movie. He has recently learned of an incident in which a teacher, Martine Lachance (Helena Laliberte), has committed suicide in her classroom, before the start of the school day. Grief has consumed the school as both the teachers and the students are trying to cope with the situation. Lazhar has come to apply for the open position.

We learn that Lazhar has lost his wife and children, whom he believes, were murdered for political reasons. He has decided not to tell anyone at the school of his situation. He deals with his grief in private which is contrasted with the "open grief" displayed at the school.

The best moments in the movie are ones in which we see the characters in private, in those moments when they can reveal their true feelings. One moment has Lazhar having dinner with a colleague, Claire (Brigitte Poupart). He has not told her what has happened to his family. She asks questions about his life which makes him uncomfortable, since he wants to hide the truth. In the following scene Lazhar leaves her apartment and in the stairwell breaks down. How difficult it is to suffer in private.

Another great moment is the last scene in the movie. Thinking about it I become misty. A teacher embraces a student. The gesture has huge implications and takes on multiple meanings. So much has happened to lead us to this moment.

"Monseiur Lazhar" is one of the best films of the year!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Film Review: To Rome With Love

"To Rome With Love"  
*** 1\2 (out of ****)

Another year has come and gone and like clockwork, the greatest comedy filmmaker since Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen releases a new movie.

Readers know of my great appreciation for Mr. Allen's films. He is my favorite living filmmaker. One of my great artistic inspirations. On my list of my favorite things in life watching the new Woody Allen movie in a movie theatre ranks up there with eating a good plate of chicken paprikash or listening to the music of Cole Porter or Michel Legrand.

However attending the screening of Allen's "To Rome With Love" (2012) was something of a bittersweet experience. Much has changed since Allen gave us last year's "Midnight in Paris" (2011). Of course Allen has changed locations. No longer are we in Paris but as the title suggest we are in Rome. Allen is back on-screen after a six year departure. "Scoop" (2006) featured his last performance. But the biggest change was a personal one for me. "Midnight in Paris" was the last movie I saw with my ex. Admittedly it was a factor in my choosing it as my favorite film of last year. This time though I walked into "To Rome With Love" alone. It weighed on my mind. I have no one to share, what I find to be, important experiences in my life.

Allen has never been shy about his admiration for Italian cinema. His "Stardust Memories" (1980) was inspired by Fellini's "8 1\2" (1963) and his "Small Time Crooks" (2000) burrowed heavily from the Italian comedy "Big Deal On Madonna Street" (1958). So it only seemed natural that Allen's European adventure, which as taken him to London, Paris and Barcelona, would eventually take him to Rome.

Word on the street is Allen's latest film isn't up to his usual standards. It is not one of his great films and after the success of "Midnight in Paris" which was Allen's highest grossing film and one for which he won his third Academy Award for in the screenplay category, "To Rome With Love" doesn't compare.

Of course these are the obstacles any filmmaker has to endure when they are coming off a hit film. Everyone is going to compare it to the previous film and because it is part of our human nature to criticize more easily then to compliment, people are always going to complain that whatever Allen's latest film is, it isn't good. It is the fashionable thing to do. To say Allen hasn't made a great film since the 80s. That's all fine and dandy but, honestly, after a while the argument gets old.

Even people who like "To Rome With Love" are saying it is a dessert, a light truffle, as compared to a main course. What some people fail to consider is a good dessert can be rich and filling. Allen is too sophisticated a filmmaker to make "dumb" movie. "To Rome With Love" offers many clever insights and makes observations on society. The film deals with the status of celebrity, the difficulties of young love, the wisdom which comes with age, our constant desire to want to correct the past and the universal fact that everyone sings better in the shower. Allen is able to package what seems to be a trivial, silly movie to a mainstream audience, which often says it wants to watch movies where it can shut off its brain, and throws in important themes.

"To Rome With Love" is an episodic movie, in the tradition of Italian comedies like "Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow", which follows four stories all at once. In the funniest of the stories Allen plays Jerry, a retired classical music director, who travels with his wife, Phyllis (Judy Davis) to Rome so they can meet the man their daughter, Hayley (Alison Pill) plans to marry, Michelangelo (Flavio Parenti). Jerry isn't impressed with Michelangelo, whom he thinks is a communist, but, is impressed when he hears Giancarlo (Fabio Armiliato), Michelangelo's father, sing in the shower. This, Jerry believes, is his ticket out of retirement.

The next story involves John (Alec Baldwin) as an American architect visiting Rome. Many years ago, back as a student, he lived in Rome and met a beautiful woman and had a tragic love affair. The experience has not left him and with age and some 20/20 hindsight he now sees more clearly into the situation and his past mistakes. In what may or may not be a figment of his imagination he meets Jack (Jesse Eisenberg) another American living in Rome, studying architecture. Jack lives with his girlfriend, Sally (Greta Gerwig). Sally informs Jack her friend, Monica (Ellen Page) has just broken up with her boyfriend and wants to visit them as an escape. John sees the possibilities of trouble on the horizon while Jack makes the same tragic mistakes John did.

The only bad thing about this segment is the viewer never quite knows what is real and what isn't. Is Jack really John as a young man? Is John part of Jack's imagination, sort of the voice of reason which lies in all of us? That voices that tells us we are about to make a mistake. But Allen walks this tightrope nicely.

In the final two stories Roberto Benigni plays Leopoldo, a married man with children, who works as a dentist and for some unexplainable reason finds himself turned into a celebrity. The last story revolves around a newly-wed couple which travels to Rome where Antonio (Alessandro Tiberi) has been offered a job. This will be the big chance he and his wife, Milly (Alessandra Mastronard) have always wanted. But the big city has a way of corrupting people doesn't it? This young couple's love will be tested as the two end up spending their honeymoon separated as Milly hunts down a celebrity and through a case of mistaken identity Antonio ends up with a hooker, Anna (Penelope Cruz) whom he must pretend is his wife to his family. This story actually resembles the Fellini's comedy "The White Sheik" (1952) also about a newly wed couple who spends their honeymoon apart as the wife tracks down a celebrity.

Allen has gained the reputation of being this country's Ingmar Bergman. And it is an easy case to make when Allen has given us such films as "Deconstructing Harry" (1997), "Another Woman" (1988) and "Love & Death" (1975) but Allen has become something of the American Eric Rohmer, that great French filmmaker who made films about the joys and difficulties of love young. With movies such as this one and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" Allen makes similar commentaries on love and youth.

As always Allen's film is filled with great music. We hear a recording of "Volare" sung by the famous Italian singer Domenico Mudugno over the credits, an updated version of "Amada Mia, Amore Mio" and "Arrivederci Roma". But if I have to look at the movie with a critical eye the only flaw I can think of is Allen doesn't show Rome as a beautiful city. I fell in love with Paris after "Midnight in Paris". I wanted to visit Barcelona after "Vicky Cristina Barcelona". But Allen didn't make a similar valentine to Rome. Odd for a filmmaker which often makes the city a character in his movies.

Still, there is enough about "To Rome With Love" to enjoy.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Film Review: Wedding in Blood

"Wedding in Blood"  **** (out of ****)

He appears to be a nice, mild manner gentleman. She is the wife of a respected politician. Yet when they meet they act like savages. Lust overtakes them. They grab each other with a fierce passion. Rip off each others clothes. Their mouths hang wide open, as if they are about to devour one another. So strong are their feelings they are unable to control themselves. To keep an air of dignity about themselves. Their pleasant, respectable facade crumbles. Their animal instincts get the best of them. So begins Claude Chabrol's "Wedding in Blood" (1974).

He is Pierre Maury (Michel Piccoli). She is Lucienne Delamare (Stephane Audran). Both are in loveless marriages. Pierre's wife, Clotilde (Clotilde Joano) has been sickly for years. She never leaves the home. She barely has time to get out of bed. The first time we see her she is afraid Pierre is going to touch her. She yells "don't touch me". That is the level of their lack of interest in each other. The mere idea of her husband touching her makes her shriek out in horror.

Lucienne seems to be an after thought to her husband, Paul (Claude Pieplu). He either has no interest in sex, his wife or both. He is mainly concerned with becoming the new mayor of this small French town. Running for office causes him to go out of town, to Paris, the majority of the time, leaving his wife behind as she takes care of her daughter, Helene (Eliana De Santis) from a previous man.

The film starts off showing us locations from this small town. It appears no different than any other small town. A nice, quiet community. Clean streets, plenty of mom & pop stores, friendly faces, nicely dressed people. You just know something has to be going on underneath the surface.

If you happened to miss the opening credits of the film it wouldn't matter. You would just simply know you are in the presence of a Claude Chabrol film. The ingredients are all here. Upper-class family, corrupt politicians, family secrets, buried/repressed sexual desires and of course, eventually, murder.

"Wedding in Blood" has more in common with noir films such as "Double Indemnity" (1944) and "The Postman Always Rings Twice" (1946) than you might think at first. Pierre and Lucienne decide they cannot go on like this. Hiding in the shadows. Desperately longing to spend time with one another and feel the other's tender embrace. So Pierre gets an idea to murder his wife. But once you commit one murder another can't be far behind. Soon the situation escalates. Things get out of hand. Their problems grow and more action needs to be taken place.

Paul soon begins to suspect his wife is having an affair. You see, in order to win his election, Paul believes he      needs Pierre on the ticket with him. To help balances things out since Pierre is something of a leftist. Pierre spends a lot of time over at Paul and Lucienne's home.

As I have said these are not new situations for a Claude Chabrol film. One of his previous films, "The Unfaithful Wife" (1969) dealt with a married woman (also played by Audran, whom at the time was married to Chabrol) who has an affair. "Wedding in Blood" was made at a time most fans and film critics acknowledge as Chabrol's most successful period. The late 1960s, early 1970s saw Chabrol working at the top of his game. Creating his most memorable films such as "Les Biches" (1968), which I have reviewed, "This Man Must Die!" (1970) and "Le Boucher" (1972) a film which some consider his finest. In these movies, "Wedding in Blood" included, Chabrol is painting some of his most cynical portraits of the upper-class. This time though, Chabrol almost takes a comical approach when he presents these characters engaging in their lustful activities.

Unfortunately "Wedding in Blood" has not secured itself a strong reputation. Now the film is largely ignored. It doesn't help the film had been out-of-print for years on VHS and to this date has not been put on DVD in the United States (though it is available on DVD in the UK). But such is the fate in this country for some of the great filmmakers on the world stage. "Wedding in Blood" is a fine film. Is it Chabrol's best? No. But a worthy film made by a great filmmaker. It isn't has visually gripping as some of Chabrol's other films, "Les Biches" among them, but, the film has the ability to hold your attention.

When the film was first released it was met with a warm reception. It was nominated for the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Gene Siskel placed the film on his top ten list in 1974 and in a review for the "New York Times" Lawrence van Gelder called it "a film of exceptional merit."

If you are able to find the film or buy the DVD available in the UK jump at the opportunity. "Wedding in Blood" is a typical Chabrol film. The work of a master. A man who understands this material very well and has the sure touch hands to direct it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Film Review: I'm Going Home

"I'm Going Home" *** (out of ****)

I have a little known rule but whenever a movie starts off with "Sous le Ciel de Paris (AKA Under Paris Skies)" playing over the opening credits, I know the movie has to be good.

"I'm Going Home" (2001) was directed by Manoel de Oliveira, considered to be the greatest Portuguese filmmaker of all-time and the oldest living filmmaker in the world at the ripe old age of 104. At the time when he made this film Oliveira was 93.

Like so many great filmmakers on the world stage Oliveira is not well known in America. Here, sadly, audiences like to watch movies with men in tights (AKA comic book adaptations). Movies have become a business which is preoccupied with the 18-29 demographic (which I am a part of but clearly I do not think the same way as my peers). That group is not interested in the work of great filmmakers such as Oliveira or Theo Angelopoulos (one of the giants of cinema we sadly lost this year). These men make movies about adults confronting adult problems while not wearing a mask or flying.

In my own attempt I have tried to fight the good fight and introduce readers to the work of directors like Oliveira. I have already reviewed his "Belle Toujours" (2006) a sequel of sorts to Louis Malle's classic "Belle de Jour" (1967). Also I have written about "The Convent" (1996) and "The Strange Case of Angelica" (2011). It must be noted these movies will be radically different compared to the average mainstream Hollywood movie. The pacing is different here. There is more dialogue and less action. Not a winning endorsement for some. Better to watch car chases and superheroes fight supervillains.

The first scene in "I'm Going Home" follows a stage production of Ionesco's "Exit the King", where Gilbert (Michel Piccoli) plays a dying, some might say absent minded king being told he must die and give up the throne. He gives grand speeches about life and death. About his place in the world and what a world without him would be like.

At this moment we are thinking about the actor playing the part and the director. Piccoli is a veteran of French cinema. Born in 1925 he has been directed by some of the greatest directors in cinema. With Jacques Rivette he was in "La Belle Noiseuse" (1991), one of Rivette's greatest films. Piccoli worked with Claude Chabrol, the father of the French New Wave movement, in "Wedding in Blood" (1973), with Hitchcock in "Topaz" (1969), with Louis Malle in "May Fools" (1990) and Angelopoulos in "The Dust of Time" (2008). What would cinema be like in a world without Piccoli and Oliveira? These men have left a big footprint on cinema. They are older and we should be thankful for the wonderful art they have supplied us with.

After Gilbert's performance he is informed of a terrible accident. His wife, daughter and son-in-law have been killed in a car accident. The only family he has left is his grandson.

Now before readers start to jump to conclusion let me take a guess and predict you think the movie will now be about Gilbert and his grandson, Serge (Jean Koeltgen). How they will start to bond and become closer in the face of this awful tragedy. It will become a film about age and death. Gilbert will notice his own immortality. He will look at his grandson and realize his days are numbered. The film will deal with grief and the process we go through when our love ones die. Raise your hand if that's what you thought.

It gives me great pleasure and joy to tell you, you are wrong. And put your hand down, I can't see you anway!

I wouldn't have mind seeing the movie I just described but what I came away with watching "I'm Going Home" is a movie about habits and routines. The movie does not concern itself with the grieving process. Instead it is about how do we continue our life when our routine has been broken? When the things we count on are no longer there.

Being an actor Gilbert's life is pretty standard. He acts. He understands the theatre and the life an actor leads. He prepares the same way for each new role. He likes to go to a cafe and sit in his favorite seat near the door, have a cup of coffee and read his paper. Every morning, before going to school, his grandson walks into his bedroom and tells him hello. Gilbert then stands up and stares outside the window to see his grandson off to school while his nanny packs his lunch.

Life is simple. We fall into rountines and are sometimes unable to function if the routine is broken. It is as if our safety net has collapsed. One day Gilbert goes to his cafe when another man enters. A man who usually arrives after Gilbert and sits in the same seat near the door and has his own cup of coffee. But, oh no, he has arrived earlier and there is Gilbert. What will this poor man do? Now he must sit in a different seat. He stares at Gilbert. Who is this stranger sitting in "his" seat? He wants the world to know the discomfort this is causing him. He has been taken out of his comfort zone. Gilbert soon leaves the cafe and when the man notices this and runs to his old seat and to find someone else has beaten him too it. Is there no justice in the world?

But Gilbert's world will begin to change to. An American director, John Crawford (John Malkovich) needs to find an actor for his production of "Ulysses" by Joyce. Shooting starts in three days and the role requires to be spoken in English. What will Gilbert do? He needs time to think over the role, study his lines in English. But an answer is needed immediately. Gilbert agrees. He faces new challenges in the role.

In one scene I like very much, the director is watching a dress rehearsal. Oliveira keeps the camera on the director as we hear the performances in the background. At first I thought what is Oliveira up to. Then a thought occured to me. We are watching someone, watch a performance. Just as we the viewer watch a performance. Oliveira has added another layer to the dynamic of film viewing.

For me "I'm Going Home" is one of Oliveira's best films. I like the themes and I enjoy watching Piccoli, who was in Oliveira's "Belle Toujours" and "Party" (1996). Piccoli makes us care about the character. We understand who he is, what his intentions are and what he expects out of life.

Some viewers may not like the ending. It ends too soon, nothing is resolved. But that is an old compliant when it comes to Oliveira's work. What more do you need to know? Life goes on. Each day brings us the same events. Nothing changes.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Film Review: The Dust of Time

"The Dust of Time" *** (out of ****)

Greek filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos, whom I refer to as "the master of imagery", died earlier this year. "The Dust of Time" (2008) has turned out to be the filmmaker's last achievement.

Today would have been Angelopoulos' birthday. Born in Athens, Greece in 1935, the iconic filmmaker was killed in a car accident, on January 24, 2012, when an off duty police officer, riding a motorcycle, hit him.

In America, among the film community, this hardly made news. Critics such as A.O. Scott, Roger Ebert, Rex Reed, Michael Wilmington and Manohla Dargis were silent. No retrospective look at his career. A pity and a shame. Roger Ebert, who only reviewed one of Angelopoulos' films in print, "Ulysses' Gaze" (1997), called the masterpiece "a bore" and gave the film one star! That's the reception Theo Angelopoulos was met with in America.

The tragic news of this event only came to my attention earlier last week. Three whole months went by. If Angelopoulos had directed a spider-man movie, his death may have made front page news. But alas Angelopoulos was a filmmaker who liked to deal with adult themes; redemption, youth, death, memories, the history of his beloved Greece and cinema itself.

I've reviewed some of the master's films in the past. Here's what I wrote when I discussed "Landscape in the Mist" (1990), a film which many consider his finest:

"Landscape in the Mist" is one of filmmaker Theo Angelopoulos' masterpieces. How sad to consider than that the name Angelopoulos means so little to so many people. Unless you are a film critic or a cinephile, you've probably never heard of him or seen one of his films.

Angelopoulos will never be a mainstream director. He has gained great international fame, but, in the United States, his name draws a blank. He is the master of imagery as far as I am concerned. "

Unfortunately my words ring so true. Even in his death American film critics couldn't pay respect to the visionairy director.

Here's what I wrote when I reviewed his "The Suspended Step of the Stork" (1992) regarding his reputation in America:

"Theo Angelopoulos is not very well known in America. In Europe his name is known all over. Five of his films have been nominated for the palme d'or at the Cannes Film Festival. One of his films won, "Eternity and A Day" (1999). Another, "Ulysses' Gaze" (1997) came in second place. His "Alexander the Great" (1980) won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. But in America he has never once been nominated for an Oscar. Several American critics throw out adjectives such as tedious and portentous when describing his work. They claim he has a big ego and his films often fall under the heavy weight of his confidence. I won't do these mean-spirited critics the justice of mentioning their names but read reviews of his work and you'll see what I mean."

Of course in Europe it is a different story. Our friends in the U.K. for instance have released the Theo Angelopoulos Collection on DVD. A three volume set featuring every film the director has made. In the newspaper The Guardian they actually took time to celebrate him. Contrast that to America, where his films are out-of-print on DVD.

In fact, in order to see "The Dust of Time" I had to buy the movie from "The Dust of Time" has not been distributed in the U.S. on DVD. I don't even remember if it had a limited theatrical run.

Like any great filmmaker Angelopoulos had a distinct style. He was known for his extreme long shots, hoping an audience would soak in every aspect of the frame. Scenes were done in one, long unbroken camera shot. His camera would linger on objects long after the "message" of a scene was made. On average his films would clock in around the three hour or so mark. You could compare his films to Hungarian filmmaker Bela Tarr or Antonioni.

You see some of that in "The Dust of Time". Not enough though in my opinion. The film was to be the second part of a trilogy Angelopoulos was working on concerning the history of Greece.

William Defoe stars as "A", an American filmmaker of Greek descent, who wants to film the story of his mother, Eleni (Irene Jacob). A woman whose journey to reunite with her husband, Spyros (Michel Piccoli), took her to Stalin's Russia, Germany and America.

But "A" has his known problems. His marriage to Helga (Christiane Paul) is over. His daughter, also named Eleni (Tiziana Pfiffner) appears to be mentally unstable.

"The Dust of Time" is a story about the past, memories, death, family, love and Greece. We can interpret the character "A" for Angelopoulos. In "Ulysses' Gaze", the film followed another filmmaker named "A", that time played by Harvey Keitel. Both filmmakers, the fictious and the real one, are directors staring immortality in the face.

At one point in the film "A" says "nothing ever ends". Stories keep being told. He's right. The oral tradition of telling stories will continue for as long as people are around. But the people telling those stories will forever change. Is that why "A" wants to tell his parents' story? To have their voice and his, forever recorded.

In cinema, some filmmakers say, we shall find the truth, but neither the truth or cinema can prevent death or erase our painful memories. "A" is going through that challenge as he tries to finish his film.

"The Dust of Time" is actually a more conventional film for Angelopoulos. It is two hours long, pretty short by his standards, and as a result doesn't display his normal camera traits. Angelopoulos' films are more an experience than a viewing. His works revolves around mood and emotion. That's why I find his camera so insightful. Here though he holds back.

Of course there are some great moments. Villagers gather with the military as Stalin's death is annouced. We see an huge crowd stand in the town's square. It is an over head, extreme long shot. This helps the viewer see the vastness of the area. The camera never breaks as each person leaves after the announcement. The scene also shows the power of the communist party to collect so many to create a spectacle to honor Stalin's death.

Another memorable scene comes when Spyros and his granddaughter are out running in the snow as a voice-over is done by "A". The combination of the image and voice create a moment of cinematic poetry. The words compliment the scene so well.

I only wished however there would have been more moments like this in "The Dust of Time". I was greatly impressed with the first part of the trilogy, "Weeping Meadow" (2004) for its startling imagery but here Angelopoulos isn't functioning at his normal high level.

William Defoe is a nice alter-ego for Angelopoulos. Defoe may appear a little stiff and restricted to a first time Angelopoulos viewer but Defoe's acting is in synch with Angelopoulos' style. Some people complain the acting and dialogue are not natural in an Angelopoulos film. But, they are missing the point in my opinion. Angelopoulos puts subtle demands on his actors. He is not interested in showing everyday, naturalistic life. He wants to make poetry, create social commentaries by introducing abstract concepts. Once you accept that, Defoe's performance will catch your eye and hold your attention.

It is not clear just how much was completed on the final part of this trilogy Angelopoulos was working on. Were their notes which another filmmaker could follow? A possible replacement that has been floating around is Bela Tarr. Though I doubt he would take over the project since he claims he has retired from filmmaker after the release of "The Turin Horse" (2011, which I have reviewed).

I'll miss Theo Angelopoulos. I always looked forward to seeing his films. I never tired of the experience. The world of cinema has lost a giant.

Here are my ratings for the Theo Angelopoulos films I have seen:

1. Eternity and A Day (1999) **** (out of ****)

2. Landscape in the Mist (1990) **** (out of ****)

3. The Suspended Step of the Stork (1992) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

4. The Travelling Players (1975) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

5. Ulysses' Gaze (1997) **** (out of ****)

6. Weeping Meadow (2004) *** 1\2 (out of ****)

For more information on Angelopoulos' death I have provided the following link:

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Film Review: The Deep Blue Sea

"The Deep Blue Sea" *** (out of ****)

"I want to cross you off my list/ But every time you come back knocking at my door/ Fate seems to give my heart a twist/ And I come crawling back for more"
lyrics to the song "Between the Devil & the Deep Blue Sea" by Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler

Love is a funny thing. People can discuss it in clear and rational ways but then comes the moment when you fall in love and all that rational and logical thinking goes flying out the window. Who can truly say why we fall in love with the people we do? When you love someone you simply love them. That person may be all wrong for you. You might even know deep down inside it won't last but you are over come by an emotion.

This is at the center of Terence Davies new film "The Deep Blue Sea" (2012) based on a play by Terence Rattigan and a remake of a 1955 version starring Vivien Leigh with a screenplay adaptation by Rattigan.

Rachel Weisz plays Hester Collyer a woman married to an "important" man, a judge (Simon Russell Beale). With her husband, Hester leads a very comfortable and respectable life. But Hester finds herself having an affair with a pilot, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston). A man who is not able to offer Hester financially what her husband can. But Hester loves him even though Freddie claims, as they have a heated argument, that he can never love her as much as she loves him.

The movie takes place in London in the 1950s. William Collyer, the husband, refuses to give Hester a divorce. This however won't stop her from continuing her relationship with Freddie as the two move into an apartment together. In the 1950s women did not behave in such ways. It was considered immoral. A married woman did not live with another man.

"The Deep Blue Sea" takes place in a single day. The relationship between Hester and Freddie is about to hit a confrontional point. Emotions are going to fly. Resentments are going to be revealed. But love (for one of the characters) will not die.

One of the things which I like about "The Deep Blue Sea" is the screenplay by Davies. It feels like a literary British tragic love story. The movie has a blue hue casting over it in every seen. We can sense the despair between the lovers. We have all been in their situation. We have all been the person who loves someone who cannot love us the way we love them. We know the feeling of hurt inside you feel. In one sense this is the kind of material the movies has trained us to view as romantic. A story of a love that cannot be.

The other great thing about the movie is Rachel Weisz. So much of the film is on her shoulders. Tom Hiddleston is very good. What an amazing year he had in 2011. He appeared in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" (2011) as Scott Fitzgerald, was in the comic book adaptation "Thor" (2011) and Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" (2011) but this is Weisz's show all the way. The look in her eyes, the tone of her voice, her every gesture reveals a woman deeply entranced. She looks at Freddie with awe and I gather desperation. As if she would do anything to keep her man. I would love it if Weisz were nominated for an Academy Award. It might be too early in the year for the Academy to be paying attention to this movie but Weisz performance commands your attention. She is a force on-screen.

I've liked Weisz in other movies; "The Constant Gardener" (2005) for which she won an Oscar, "The Fountain" (2006), "My Blueberry Nights" (2007) and the great Istvan Szabo film "Sunshine" (2000). But her performance here in "The Deep Blue Sea" may rank among her best.

Still there are things about the movie I didn't like. I wished we would have learned more about Freddie's and Hester's relationship. I wish we could have understood the mind-set of the Freddie character. Why is he not able to love her fully?

As I left the movie theatre I heard people chattering. A lot of people disliked the movie. As far as I could tell people had two reasons for not liking the movie 1) the movie is too depressing. 2) nothing happens.

When I hear people say "nothing happens in a movie" it usually irks me. Full disclosure, yes movie fans, "The Deep Blue Sea" has no dinosaurs chasing people, no alien invasion, no car chases. In that sense nothing happens. I've noticed when movies are emotion driven audiences describe them as "nothing happens". A lot is happening though. The characters are going on an emotional journey.

If you are the type of person who sometimes describes a movie has "nothing happens" "The Deep Blue Sea" won't be for you. Otherwise, those looking for an acting driven movie "The Deep Blue Sea" should work for you.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Film Reviews: The Three Musketeers & Straight Place and Show

"The Three Musketeers" *** (out of ****)

Today we are going to discuss the comedy of the Ritz Brothers. This is the first time I've written about the largely forgotten comedy team. I've name dropped them a few times in other reviews but I've neglected to discuss any of their films.

Readers of this blog know I have a great appreciation for comedy and a great interest in the forgotten comedians and comedy teams. I love learning about the history of cinema and discovering new films and comedians.

I've known who the Ritz Brothers are for many many years. At first I strictly knew them by name only. Their comedies rarely play on TV anymore. The brothers first came to my attention when I saw their two reeler comedy, "Hotel Anchovy" (1934), which marked their first on-screen appearance. Initially my reaction towards the brothers was negative. My feeling was like that of many others who are critical of the team. I felt there was no great distinction between the brothers so one basically cancelled the other out. They have been regularly compared to another famous brother comedy team, the Marx Brothers, though, if I had to describe the Ritz Brothers I would say think of three Harpo Marx brothers in one movie.

But as I got older I rewatched the Ritz Brothers. I saw them in musical comedies such as "The Goldwyn Follies" (1938) and "On the Avenue" (1937) with Alice Faye and Dick Powell. Suddenly my opinion was starting to change. Then I saw what might be their most easily accessible comedy, "The Gorilla" (1939). It is generally dismissed by film critics and movie fans but, believe it or not, I liked it. The comedy style of the Ritz Brothers was starting to grow on me.

And that leads us to "The Three Musketeers" (1939) and "Straight Place and Show" (1938). I've been thinking about the Ritz Brothers often lately. I've been watching some Wheeler & Woolsey comedies as well as Olsen & Johnson, two other largely forgotten comedy teams and it made me realize it's time to review a Ritz Brothers comedy. Why hadn't I done so before? Well, my answer my not satisfy some people but the reason is simple. I just didn't want to.

The Ritz Brothers, like the Marx Brothers, started off in vaudeville where their humor was deeply rooted in typical Jewish humor. From the stage they found their way in films. Their humor can be off-the-wall and zany though most people consider their strength in musical farce. Think Danny Kaye.

Though the brothers are largely forgotten you will find the team does have their strong supporters. Comedy filmmaker Mel Brooks has called Harry Ritz (the "leader" of the team) the funniest man in the world. Other devoted fans include Soupy Sales, Sid Caesar and Jerry Lewis. Some say they are funnier than the Marx Brothers.

"The Three Musketeers" is often considered the team's best comedy. It has the best production value and perhaps the best storyline they ever worked with. It is of course a musical comedy adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' story. It was directed by Allan Dwan and stars Don Ameche. Not bad.

The brothers play three tavern workers who are mistaken for Musketeers. They meet D' Artagnan (Ameche) a young man who claims to be a great swordfighter. It is his one ambition to serve the king and become a Musketeer himself. It is he who mistakens the brothers for Musketeers.

Together they learn of a terrible plot concerning the Queen (Gloria Stuart) and the Duke of Buckingham (Lester Matthews). They are lovers. This is not acceptable since France and England are about to be at war. Cardinal Richelieu (Miles Mander) and De Rochefort (Lionel Atwill) are plotting against the Queen. It is up to our Musketeers to retrive a brouche and hand it to Lady Constance (Pauline Moore) who will hand it to the Queen. D'Artagnan has also fallen in love with Constance.

The plot may not sound like much and the film is relatively short, 72 minutes, but there is just enough going on here to make the film thoroughly enjoyable. Don Ameche does some singing and the Ritz Brothers have some good routines. One centers around them trying to make as much noise as possible to protect D'Artagnan, who is snooping around the royal palace. Another has the boys hiding in a trunk where Harry has been flattened by the other two (Jimmy and Al).

If Ritz Brothers fans have a problem with this film it would be the same problem they would have with any one of their pictures. The team is primarily used as comic relief. They don't take up all of the screen time here but when they are on-sceen they are funny and brighten up the movie.

Many people believe this was the last worthwhile film the team appeared in. It was their second to last film made at 20th Century Fox ("The Gorilla" was their last) before they went to Universal Studios where their film careers went into further decline.

A word about film director Allan Dwan. I never really paid much attention to him. In fact I wasn't even aware of him until I heard filmmaker and historian Peter Bogdanovich speak about him. He was one of the subjects in Bogdanovich's book "Who The Devil Made It".

Dwan's career goes back to the silent era, Bogdanovich credits Dwan in his film "Nickelodeon" (1976, which I have reviewed). I personally never thought highly of Dwan as a director. He did direct "The Gorilla" as well. Other films include "Around the World" (1943) a goofy WW2 comedy with bandleader Kay Kaiser and Joan Davis. I don't recommend it. Plus he directed "Escape to Burma" (1955) and "Sands of Iwo Jima" (1949).

If you are unfamiliar with the Ritz Brothers "The Three Musketeers" is not a bad place to start.

"Straight Place and Show" *** (out of ****)

"Straight Place and Show" is a film adaptation of a Damon Runyon/ Irving Caesar story directed by comedy director David Butler and starring the Ritz Brothers.

Whenever I hear a movie is based on a Damon Runyon story I generally have a hunch it will be a good movie. Other Runyon film adaptations include the Frank Capra film " Lady For A Day" (1933), the Joe E. Brown comedy "A Very Honorable Guy" (1934), one of Brown's best, Bob Hope in "The Lemon Drop Kid" (1951) and perhaps the most popular Runyon adaptation the musical "Guys & Dolls" (1955).

Runyon generally liked to write stories about gangsters and gamblers. They took place on race tracks sometimes and often involved a small time crook getting involved in over his head.

"Straight Place and Show" is a bit different but familar at the same time. The Ritz Brothers play a variation of themselves (they usually do). They run a kiddie pony show. Ten cents a ride or they have a special ride twice for only twenty cents.

They meet Barbara Drake (Phyllis Brooks). A rich socialite and avid horse lover. She owns a race horse, Playboy, who is the love of her life. In fact the horse is so much a part of her life, her soon-to-be husband, Denny (Richard Arlen) is starting to get jealous. All of Barbara's time goes to Playboy leaving Denny alone with Linda (Ethel Merman) who also has her eye on Denny.

Denny and Barbara have an agreement. If Playboy doesn't win a race Denny will take control of Playboy and they must set a date for their wedding. Playboy loses every race he is entered in and Denny decides to give Playboy away to the Ritz Brothers for free. Without Barbara's knowledge.

Now that the Ritz Brothers own a race horse they decide they have to race it and make some money off of it with Harry as the jockey. Things don't really work out as planned.

What I like about "Straight Place and Show" is it is really a Ritz Brothers comedy. The boys have a lot of screen time and are given freedom to do their comedy. When we first see them they are doing a singing cowboy routine which finds them making fun of Cab Calloway and his signature tune "Minnie the Moocher". The question is how many younger viewers will catch that reference?

Still I enjoyed watching the movie. Some people might complain the Ritz Brothers are dated. Their comedy is too old-fashion. But I grew up with this style of comedy. I like it.

In "Straight Place and Show" I would describe the team as three well intentioned losers looking to hit it big. Some viewers say it is hard to tell the brothers apart. I think it is easy. Harry Ritz is the leader and the one that does all the comedy. Jimmy and Al Ritz are the goofballs that follow Harry because they actually think he's smart. If that doesn't help you, Harry is usually the one standing in the middle.

Director David Butler directed another Ritz Brother comedy, "Kentucky Moonshine" (1938). He directed several Bob Hope comedies including "Road to Morocco" (1942) often cited as the best of the Bing Crosby/Bob Hope "road" pictures and the delightful Will Rogers comedy "Down to Earth" (1932, which I have reviewed).

Both "Three Musketeers" and Straight Place and Show" feature the Ritz Brothers in good form. And despite what you may have heard I'd even recommend "The Gorilla".

Friday, March 30, 2012

Film Review: The Maiden Danced to Death

"The Maiden Danced to Death" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

The 15th annual European Union Film Festival in Chicago has come to an end. For the closing night I attended a screening for the Hungarian film, "The Maiden Danced to Death" (A Halalba Tancoltatott Leany 2012).

For all the years I have attended the EUFF and the larger Chicago International Film Festival, I always make it a point to see films from countries most American movie goers avoid. As a film lover I am curious to see what all countries are up to cinematically. But, I suppose because of my Eastern European heritage I also take a great interest in Eastern European cinema. I am always excited to see films from Bulgarian, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, Latvia and of course Hungary. Many people don't share my enthusiam. If they are going to watch a foreign language film, better to stick with French and Italian movies, two countries which Americans define as representing "Europe". But after watching a movie such as "The Maiden Danced to Death" it only re-enforces my feelings to seek out films from countries others don't pay attention to.

"The Maiden Danced to Death" is a very "Hungarian" film. You'll hear traditional Hungarian folk music, see traditional folk dancing and see characters wear traditional costumes. The film also features cinematography by the great Vilmos Zsigmond, who manages to bring the city of Budapest to life with his camera. I've never seen to city look so beautiful. It made me desperately want to go back. I remember walking on the streets of Budapest. It is for these reasons I recommend "The Maiden Danced to Death". But, clearly I am bias. How will non-Hungarian audiences react?

The film follows Istvan Udvaros (Endre Hules, who wrote and directed the film as well). He left Hungary during the communist era. By doing so he left his family behind also, which had to endure life under the harsh communist rule.

Istvan was a dancer, as is his brother, Gyula (Zsolt Laszlo). Istvan was a director of a dance company, but after not being able to re-enter the country, Gyula took over the company. Their father (Boris Cavazza) was a party member who lost his position within the party after Istvan left.

But that was all twenty years ago. Istvan has given up dancing and instead has become a promoter. He mostly deals with dance companies. Living in America Istvan has also decided to Americanize his name, now going by Steve Court. Steve has fallen on hard times. His wife has divorced him, he no longer sees his son, he lost control of his business and when he returns to Hungary, he finds out his brother married his old flame, Mari (Bea Melkvi). Not to mention his father has still not forgiven him for leaving his family behind.

In order to make things right Istvan decides to produce a show Gyula's dance company wants to put on. He arranges for a big European and American tour. Giving Gyula the chance he has always dreamed of. This also allows him to spend more time with Mari. But could Istvan have other motives?

Much of "The Maiden Danced to Death" resonated with him. I understand the pain of leaving one's country. And how difficult it is to leave family behind. I understand the harsh rule of communism. I was the first person to go back to Hungary in my family. None of them ever returned. It filled me with great pride to be able to do it. Hungary had changed from the days of my grandparents. I could relate to the arguments the characters engage in. One side feels Istvan abandoned them, while Istvan feels he had no choice but to leave. To seek a better life. Those moments hit home for me.

Other contemporary Hungarian films have dealt with this theme of returning home. Look at Karoly Makk's "A Long Weekend in Pest & Buda" (Egy Het Pesten es Budan, 2003) or Marta Meszaros' "The Last Report on Anna" (Utolso Jelentes Annarol, 2010. Which I have reviewed). This seems to be common for Hungarian films to examine this issues. Perhaps Hungarians are still trying to come up with stories which deal with their new freedom since the end of communism and the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Besides other Hungarian films however, "The Maiden Danced to Death" reminds me of the work of the great Spanish filmmaker Carlos Saura, in particular his "Flamenco Trilogy"; "Blood Wedding" (1981), "Carmen" (1983) and "El Amor Brujo" (1986). In those movies Saura placed a heavy influence on dance. He incorporated traditional flamenco dancing into the stories. In "The Maiden Danced to Death" dancing is a major component of the film. The characters are rehearsing a traditional folk dance but it is countered by a modern interpretation of the story as the characters act out their own drama dealing with love, lust and revenge and honor.

There are flaws with this movie though. I wish Mr. Endre Hules would have given us more of a background story for his character. Perhaps show a flashback. Give us more hints into his motives. And truly build on the conflict between Istvan and Gyula and what both sides had to endure during that time. The father's perspective his brushed aside but it makes the stuff of great drama. A communist party member's son leaves the country, disgracing the father. There is great internal conflict there and it is given no screen time.

Still, "The Maiden Danced to Death" does make some gestures to explore the more serious themes it presents. And, as I have said, I loved hearing the music, seeing the dancing and the costumes and the impressive cinematography of Mr. Zsigmond.

The film is making its U.S. premiere at various film festivals, though, I doubt it will get picked up and be distributed in America. Americans simply have no interest in Hungarian cinema. Too bad. They are missing some truly wonderful films if they would only open their eyes to the world of cinema.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Film Review:

"" *** (out of ****)

Love and sex. It seems to be what everyone is looking for. Some are looking for both, others just for one or the other. This desire has found its way to the internet. Many people are familar with on-line dating. We have sites such as, e-harmony and others. It has become big business. Supposedly a quarter of relationships have started on-line. The Bulgarian film, "" (2012) lightly touches upon this new dating phenomenon.

I attending a screening for "" at the 15th annual European Union Film Festival where the movie is making its U.S. premier and its Chicago debut.

Walking into "" I was expecting a raunchy sex comedy. The movie has elements of that but it seems, sometimes, to want to go a little deeper into the dangers of on-line dating, but, I felt this were only lightly touched upon. And that ultimately is what hurts the movie.

"" is one of those ensemble pieces where we follow a group of people in their dating endeavors. First we have a reporter, Andrey Bogatev (Zahary Baharov) he has decided to do a story on internet dating in Bulgaria. According to him more than one million Bulgarians are on-line looking for dates. It would be a story which would have universal appeal. So Andrey joins a site, creates a profile, and searches around. He meets Niki (Dilyana Popova). She is a prostitute, who uses the site to find the most amount of lonely men.

Next we have Devora (Lora Cheshmedjieva) a young 14 year old girl who likes to take sexy, suggestive photos of herself and post them on a dating site. She has been talking to a man on-line who doesn't know how old she is but does want to meet her. What Devora doesn't know is that her mother, Emilia (Koyna Ruseva) is also on the site and uses it merely to meet men to have causal sex with.

We also meet John (John Lawton) an aging member for a former popular rock band in the 1970s who lives in England. He "meets" Joana (Diana Dobreva), who lives in Bulgaria. She makes a comment on a youtube video on John's video of his band and thus a friendship starts.

Finally we have Filip (Hristo Shopov), Andrey's brother. He is married to Mila (Lili Lazarova). They have a teenage son and now the couple seems stuck in a loveless marriage. They don't sleep together anymore and don't communicate. They feel like strangers in their own home.

Mila finds out that Filip is on a dating site. While at first very angry she then decides to join the site herself and starts to chat with Filip.

Of all the storylines in "" I find Filip and Mila's the most interesting. It reminds me of another Eastern European comedy, this one from Romania, called "Hello! How Are You? (Buna! Ce faci? 2011). That movie was about a married couple which also unknowingly begin to chat online. It would seem in Eastern Europe the internet is a new discovery. Of course, here in America, we have been dealing with it a little while longer. Remember "You've Got Mail" (1998)? We've already gone over the dangers of internet dating and how it has become a new source for meeting people.

While "" is in many ways a harmless comedy I was slightly disappointed. The movie isn't as funny as I was expecting and doesn't really make a strong social commentary on internet dating. I would have liked a movie which would have shown why people turn to the internet in the first place. Has the dating scene become so hopeless? Why aren't people connecting to one another on a face-to-face basis? I wish "" would have tried to examine these things under the surface while going for laughs. This, in my opinion, would have made "" a richer more emotional movie, trying to provide human insight. Instead I felt "" just glances over everything, not really taking a stand on one position or another. The movie has no voice. Nothing to say.

I could have forgiven all of this however if the movie was funny. There are some jokes in the movie and there's nudity, which perhaps provide a certain excitement, but I was expecting more laughs. Something along the lines of a sex comedy like "American Pie" (1999) or as outlandish as "There's Something About Mary" (1998). And it's not that I don't "get" Eastern European humor. I do. In fact I "get" it more than Western European humor. But "" wasn't as funny as I would have liked it. Look at the Hungarian comedy "Just Sex & Nothing Else" (2006, which I have reviewed) another very funny movie about dating.

The movie was directed by Ilian Djevelekov and seems to have been a hit in Bulgaria. It has been getting a major push to reach audiences in America and crowds are showing up. The movie had two screenings here in Chicago and both were sold out. Clearly this is a subject has people are interested in, though, it feels a little dated to me.

The movie is available on DVD in Bulgaria. I doubt it will find distribution in America, just because it is Bulgarian, and most American audiences have little interest in Eastern European cinema (Hungary included). But if you get a chance to see the movie, do so.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Film Review: On Again-Off Again

"On Again-Off Again" ** (out of ****)

The 1930s RKO comedy team Bert Wheeler & Robert Woolsey are not among my all-time favorite comedy teams. That honor goes to Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers and Abbott & Costello. Still, readers know, I have a great affection for comedy. And I love watching movies by the teams and comedians time has forgotten; Olsen & Johnson, Harry Langdon, Joe E. Brown, the Ritz Brothers and the stars of "On Again-Off Again" (1937) Wheeler & Woolsey.

Wheeler & Woolsey worked at RKO and appearred in 21 feature films and one short two-reeler. They only made one film outside RKO, "So This Is Africa" (1933) which was released by Columbia Pictures.

Initially I had seen nearly every single one of their movies except "On Again-Off Again" and "So This Is Africa". So it was with great excitement when I ordered "On Again-Off Again" on DVD, thanks to Warner Brothers.

"On Again-Off Again" was the team's second to last movie. By this time in their partnership the quality of their films was starting to drop. Their work at this time includes "Silly Billies" (1936), "Mummy's Boys" (1936) and "High Flyers" (1937) their final film.

On paper "On Again-Off Again" sounds like a decent concept. Robert Woolsey plays Claude Horton and Bert Wheeler is William Hobbs. They have invented a pink coated pill, which I am not exactly sure what it is good for. They do nothing but argue. Their arguments reach such a high level that each speaks of dissolving the partnership and buying the other out.

The problem is the boys can't agree on who should buy who out. Each man feels they are responsible for the company's success. In a moment of utter frustration their attorney, George Dilwig (Russell Hicks) suggest they wrestle one another. The winner gets the company and the loser must become the winner's valet for a year.

By the time "On Again-Off Again" was made Robert Woolsey was in poor health. He was in constant pain during filming due to kidney problems. Woolsey was in such bad health he died in the same year.

I mention all of this for a reason. It shows on Woolsey's face he is in pain. Woolsey's health affects the team's chemistry. There doesn't seem to be any enjoyment in Wheeler or Woolsey's performance. There is no energy to what they are doing. Everything is slowed down. Pay attention to an early song and dance routine the boys do at the beginning of the picture. They engage in a dance duel with taps and smacks across the face. It is similar to a routine they do in "The Cuckoos" (1930). Compare both routines. Tell me that the routine doesn't work better in "The Cuckoos". In "The Cuckoos" they are in the moment. They are vibrant. In "On Again-Off Again" they seem weak and uninvolved.

And this is the biggest problem with the movie. Wheeler & Woolsey aren't "selling" it. The jokes fall flat. Woolsey has no zest for his lines. Someone could argue the comedy in a Wheeler & Woolsey movie is dated, and I won't disagree, but the boys "sold" it. They could find a way to make the material work. They had some pretty good moments of banter in their movies.

The script, written by Nat Perrin and Benny Rubin, from what I could tell, is decent. Perrin worked with Abbott & Costello and Olsen & Johnson, writing such movies as "Keep 'Em Flying" (1941), "Pardon My Sarong" (1942) and "Hellzapoppin' (1941, which I have reviewed). He also wrote a Red Skelton vehicle, "Whistling in Brooklyn" (1941) which is pretty good and co-wrote the Marx Brothers comedy "Duck Soup". Rubin on the other hand wrote "High Flyers" and a decent Joe E. Brown comedy "Bright Lights" (1935).

The script has a few holes. First of all the "wrestling" match happens too soon in the picture and they don't play it for all the laughs they could have by exaggerating upon the situation. In the movie the boys fight in their office dressed in their suits. Well, fight is the wrong word, they walk in circles. What they should have done was have it be an actual fight. Put them in a wrestling ring and wearing wrestling trunks.

When one of them becomes the valet there needed to be more scenes where ridiculous orders are placed upon the valet. I can imagine Abbott & Costello having fun with this set-up. They could engage in some word play with Bud Abbott confusing Lou with his words.

In a majority of Wheeler & Woolsey comedies Dorothy Lee would co-star with the team playing a love interest to Wheeler. They would even get an chance to sing and dance to a tune. Here the boys are paired with Majorie Lord, who would also appear with the team in "High Flyers". She really doesn't add anything to this picture. She has a few scenes with Wheeler, she doesn't sing, dance or even tells jokes. Dorothy Lee wasn't a great actress but she was as cute as a button. Her innocence was a perfect counter-balance to Wheeler & Woolsey's sexual innuendos. In "On Again-Off Again" Majorie Lord doesn't serve that purpose and Woolsey doesn't have any good sexual innuendos. That of course isn't Woolsey's fault, it is the fault of the writers.

The movie was directed by Edward F. Cline. He directed a few movies with the team; "Cracked Nuts" (1931, which I have reviewed), "Hook Line & Sinker" (1930, which I have reviewed) and "High Flyers". He also directed movies with Olsen & Johnson; "Ghost Catchers" (1944) and "See My Lawyer" (1945). Every film Cline directed with Wheeler & Woolsey was better than "On Again-Off Again".

My advice would be to skip this movie. If you are a true fan of this comedy team, naturally, you will want to see it. And now that is it available on DVD you will get your chance. I would seriously doubt though if fans would say this movie is funnier than "Diplomaniacs" (1933), my favorite of their comedies, "Hips, Hips, Hooray!" (1934) or "Peach-O-Reno" (1931, which I have reviewed). For those who have never seen a comedy by this team, start with one of the three movies I just mentioned. I don't like "On Again-Off Again" but I'm not sorry I saw this movie. I like to collect Wheeler & Woolsey comedies because at one time they were rare.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Film Review: The Chaser

"The Chaser" *** (out of ****)

With all the talk going on in the news lately by liberals, concerning a "war on women" being waged by conservatives, I thought it would be fun to discuss "The Chaser" (1928) a silent slapstick battle of the sexes comedy starring "the forgotten clown", Harry Langdon.

"The Chaser" was comedian Harry Langdon's second directorial film coming after the unsuccessful (though wrongly condemned in the my opinion) movie "Three's A Crowd" (1927, I've written a review for it).

"Three's A Crowd" was Langdon's attempt at a Charlie Chaplin picture. A movie which wanted to combine comedy and pathos. It had a pretty good set-up though it didn't quite hit the level of pathos found in Chaplin's "The Kid" (1921) for example. In "The Chaser" Langdon must have felt he learned his lesson and this time stuck to pure comedy.

Langdon stars as "the boy". He is married to "the girl" (Gladys McConnell, who also appeared in "Three's A Crowd). She complains Harry is spending too much time at his lodge club. For the past week he has been out as late as 8:30(!). She feels neglected and suspects Harry is fooling around with other women.

The first shot in "The Chaser" is of a close-up of the wife as she relentlessly gives Harry a verbal thrashing over the phone. Poor Harry sits quietly, defenselessly, listening to his wife complain about his behavior. Then Harry's mother-in-law (Helen Hayward) takes the phone and gives Harry her two cents.

Immediately stereotypes are put in place. Women, especially wives, are nothing more than nags, constantly complaining to their husbands. Meanwhile, husbands are defenseless creatures (this part is actually true) who put up with their wives temperament.

Since Harry is our hero, naturally our sympathy must be with him. In fact, Harry is not at a lodge meeting. He is out at a club and merely uses the lodge as an excuse to get out of the house. But, on this particular night "the girl" and her "mother" are not going to put up with Harry's behavior. First the mother tries to shoot Harry when he comes home. Then the girl files for divorce when the murder doesn't happen.

The judge decides divorce is pointless and doesn't grant it. He feels a man like Harry needs to learn responsibility. It is his decision that Harry and his wife switch roles. She will go out and earn a living while Harry must stay home and do the housework. Thus establishing another stereotype, though probably a reality of the times, that all women were housewives and had their place in the kitchen.

The humor of the film now stems from Harry trying to adjust to domestic life. Being able to cook and clean. If that isn't enough, Harry wears an apron in a gesture to completely take away all of his masculinity.

The movie also tries to establish, whoever sees Harry assumes he is a woman. This is despite the fact outside of the apron, nothing in Harry's appearance has changed. The milkman and all other visiting men make passes at Harry. Giving him a peck on the cheek. First of all, this is all extremely strange to watch. Why can't these men tell Harry isn't a woman? Secondly, is this a reflection of the times? Did housewives have to put up with advances being made by the milkman or the postman (is that why he always rings twice?)? Did men feel entitled to make advances at women?

Hitting the depths of despair Harry decides to kill himself. He simply cannot live his life as a housewife. Luckily his friend (Bud Jamison, who will be very well known to Three Stooges fans) sneaks Harry out of the house so they can go play a game of golf.

I suppose this was done so Harry could feel like a "man" again. Though today they would probably watch football or hockey and drink a beer.

At this point the film shifts its attention and abandons the battle of the sexes idea as we get a golf routine by Harry and Jamison. Harry Langdon comedies would usually do this. They would divert their attention from the original premise and side step it for a comedy routine which had nothing at all to do with the rest of the picture.

When I first saw "The Chaser" I didn't like it. I didn't like that Harry abandons his original premise for the golf scenes and I simply didn't find the second half as funny as the first half. But, after watching the film again recently I've changed my mind. Now I think of "The Chaser" as nothing more than a silly, irrelevant comedy which was nothing more than a showcase for Langdon. Plus, one has to remember Langdon was a bit of an odd-ball to begin with and "The Chaser" is a decent enough example of what Harry Langdon was up to.

As a director Langdon shoots this film in a much more conventional style than "Three's A Crowd". When I reviewed "Three's A Crowd" I mentioned how some of Langdon's camera angles made little sense to me. Over head shoots and long shoots didn't compliment jokes. Here Langdon doesn't get as fancy. Which is a good thing. But the movie has nothing visually impressive which might hurt it with some viewers.

I've written about Harry Langdon a few times on this site. I've reviewed "The Strong Man" (1926) directed by Frank Capra, "Long Pants" (1927), "Tramp, Tramp, Tramp" (1927) and "Three's A Crowd". I like Harry Langdon. I feel he doesn't deserves the nickname "the forgotten clown". A majority of his silent film work is now on DVD. Kino and Facets have done a wonderful job restoring his films for all of us to see. Is Langdon as good as Chaplin, Lloyd or Keaton? I really can't say, but, he does belong in their league.

"The Chaser" has a story by Arthur Ripley, a long time collaborator of Langdon's. Ripley worked on some of Langdon's best known films and two-reelers including "Saturday Afternoon" (1926), cited by some of Langdon's best short and "His First Flame" (1927).

If you want to see the battle of the sexes played for melo-drama watch the Greta Garbo movie "The Single Standard" (1929) which I have also reviewed.