The Great Dictator (1940)
Grade: A | 3rd Viewing
Every time I watch this film I am still astounded that something this daring and insightful would come out one year before the United States’ involvement in World War II. Charlie Chaplin’s first major speaking picture still has plenty of the elements that make his silent films great (best exhibited by a fantastic globe scene). However, it came out at just the right point in his career when he was getting political, but not overtly so. The speech that he delivers in the final moments is out of character, but still holds up seven decades later.
I had the pleasure of seeing the Criterion Blu-Ray of the film, which has some excellent special features including a documentary called “The Tramp and the Dictator” and a visual essay about Chaplin’s never realized Napoleon picture. There is an extended series of scenes in The Great Dictator where Chaplin’s Hitler proxy hosts a Mussolini proxy played by Jack Oakie. I always felt that the scene was out of place and distracting, providing too long a break from the barber and the ghetto. However, it’s now pretty clear that these scenes were remnants from his never made Napoleon film.
Grade: B- | 2nd Viewing
I shared some thoughts about this film in my review of this weekend’s remake. The original is definitely the better of the two films, but it is far from perfect. Where Herbert Ross’ 1984 film gets it right is in the way it embraces its own irony. For instance in one of the first scenes we see John Lithgow delivering a fire and brimstone sermon that he immediately transitions into the happy hymn “Oh What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” It is hilarious and campy and a whole lot more fun than the 2011 version.
The choreography is still not fantastic and my criticism about the way the remake is filmed is similar to the criticism I have about the original. However, at least the 1982 version has fewer cuts during the dance scenes. This is the type of movie that doesn’t deserve to be a part of scholastic film conversations, but is certainly worth watching in bits and pieces when you catch it on television.
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Grade: A | 5th+ Viewing
Speaking of choreography, Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly offer up the definitive master class on how to shoot a dance scene in this beloved musical. In the numerous brilliantly choreographed dance numbers the camera pulls back allowing us to see the actors in full-frame. “Make ‘Em Laugh” is filmed almost in one continuous shot. Same with songs like “Moses Supposes” and the achingly romantic “You Were Meant for Me.” When it was necessary to have frequent cuts, the filming was still steady in a creative way like “Beautiful Girls.”
Not only is Singin’ in the Rain one of the best film musicals of all-time, but it’s also one of the best movies about movies. The difficulty and skepticism that came with the transition from silent films to talkies is cleverly and hilariously using a few characters story to represent the whole industry. It’s a fantastic movie that I will continue to revisit.
The Trip (2011)
Grade: B | 1st Viewing
Some of the best movies have the simplest premises. The Trip follows British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (playing themselves) on a road trip through Northern England where they visit upscale restaurants and compare celebrity impersonations. These simple films allow for fantastic exchanges of dialogue that are very authentic and revealing and The Trip was certainly no different. The conversations the two men have over dinner were hilarious, but also had a cruelty to them, which was revealed when the camera went back into the kitchen and showed how much work was put into the dishes. Coogan and Brydon make playful fun of the chefs who are doing what they love while lamenting their own careers.
I wish the film would have ended about twenty minutes earlier when the two men were visiting a cemetery and Coogan shares what he would say at Brydon’s funeral. The film is an insightful look at the friendship between two men and how often times its cruelty between one another that exhibits love.
The Last Exorcism (2010)
Grade: D | 1st Viewing
This horror film from last year was a pretty significant let down in many ways, but primarily in the fact that it wasn’t the least bit scary. It tries to mimic the found footage features that have been popularized by movies like Paranormal Activity, Trollhunter, etc. However, the filmmakers never fully commit to that concept as the film possesses lots of chaotic editing and a non-diegetic score.
There was a lot less creativity here than you see in the Paranormal Activity films and the filmmakers resorted to cheap “gotcha” scare tactics pairing quick movements with loud orchestral bumps. This may cause a temporary startling, but it does so the same way if somebody hides around a corner and jumps out to say “boo.” At one point I thought the film was going to go a completely unique direction and make the possession more about psychology than supernaturalism. Unfortunately that was not the case and the film spiraled into a bizarre and anti-climactic ending.
What movies did you see this week?