Grade: B | 1st Viewing
Craig Zobel’s true life tale about a fast food worker who is exploited by a prank caller was definitely one of the most divisive films of last year. In his review of the film, Justin recounts how several audience members at his screening were moved to walk out of the theater in response to the film’s increasingly brutal depiction of one young girl’s sexual abuse at the hands of a convincing voice. I really wish I could have seen this with an audience because it really feels like the type of film where people’s immediate reaction is part of the artistic experience. Even watching it alone in my living room still allowed me to experience all of the emotions I was supposed to feel: shock, anger, repulsion, and disbelief.
Craig Zobel really does a fantastic job with the methodical pacing and gradual introduction of new characters to the debacle. Those who walked out might have dismissed the film as unfairly exploitative, but ultimately Zobel is challenging our blind trust of authority figures and those we feel closest to and his case is effectively made.
The one weakness I found in the film was the early reveal of the voice on the other line and the frequent cuts to the increasingly cartoonish Pat Healy. Healy is more convincing when we can only hear him and Zobel’s choice to cut to him so often gives the viewer a perspective that none of the other characters receive, making it more challenging for the audience to believe that seemingly intelligent people would be so obedient to the clown on the phone. Whether it was just to show the truthfulness of the real-life situation or it played into Zobel’s experiment, it didn’t work for me.
Animal Crackers (1930)
Grade: A- | 3rd Viewing
One of the podcasts I regularly tune into is the smart and wonderfully produced Filmspotting featuring Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen. While I regularly disagree with the hosts, I have never been more taken aback than when listening to their recent marathon reviews of the early films by the Marx brothers. Both Adam and Josh dismissed Animal Crackers and Duck Soup as nonsensical and not that funny. I had to re-watch one of these films just to make sure that I wasn’t the crazy one, and I am happy to report that Animal Crackers is just as funny and wonderful as I remembered.
I own most Marx brothers movies and the initial films the brothers did at Paramount are by far my favorite because they possess all of the elements that define the brothers. Groucho is at his most witty, Harpo is at his most absurd, and Chico is given free rein to musically improvise. It may lack the polish and heart of some of their MGM films like A Night at the Opera, but I have never sought out the Marx brothers for emotional fulfillment. Their movies are best when the laughs come like a machine gun and with Groucho hilariously referencing Eugene O’Neill, Harpo tastelessly shooting the hats off passersby (try that joke today), and some light commentary on the phoniness of art connoisseurs, Animal Crackers more than delights.
Grade: C+ | 1st Viewing
Many comedies today have an identity problem. Movies like Ted and many recent Will Ferrell ventures are not fully immersed in the real world like the films of comic master Woody Allen, nor do they fully embrace an absurd universe like the slapstick stylings of Mel Brooks. Instead they linger somewhere in between with real-world conventions and the occasional illogical joke or bit. This lack of continuity is largely the reason that I have found most recent mainstream comedies so unsatisfying. Filmmakers need to find the right balance between paying homage to their comic heroes and making a consistent film.
That being said, Ted was a much funnier movie than it had any right being, but interestingly my problems with it were similar to my problems with MacFarlane’s Oscar hosting. Despite the silliness of a talking bear in a human world, the jokes here were pretty conventional stoner comedy fare and the narrative was cut right out of every buddy movie before it. The occasional absurdity outbreaks were the saving grace (I’ll admit to being brought to tears laughing at the businessmen reacting to Mark Wahlberg’s flatulence), but ultimately Ted is just as forgettable as so many other modern comedies.
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
Grade: B+ | 1st Viewing
Mae West is one of my major cinematic blind spots that I remedied over the weekend by catching up with one of her most well-known films and I was glad I did. West has more fun with wordplay and delightful double entendres than just about any comedienne of her time or the decades that would follow. She Done Him Wrong benefits from being released in the years before the Hays Code was enacted allowing her to get away with the sliest of smiles when she delivers a line like “why don’t you come up some time and see me?”
There aren’t as many laughs here as in the Marx brothers and some of the supporting characters seem to only exist to set up punchlines for West. However, West’s commanding presence and impeccable comic timing makes this worth seeking out. This is also often credited as the film that launched Cary Grant to becoming one of Hollywood’s biggest stars and his appeal is definitely evident.
Which movies did you watch this week?