Turner Classic Movies is doing a series on disability on film this month. It’s really an interesting look at how its been portrayed and social feelings towards people with different abilities. Tonight they showed a rare find restored by the Netherlands Filmmuseum, “Lucky Star” (1929).
“Lucky Star” is a silent film directed by the prolific Frank Borzage, about what happens after a man who returns to his rural town after being injured while fighting in WWI. In this poor town, Tim (Charles Farrell) returns to his town in a wheel chair and befriends local girl Mary (Janet Gaynor), the one person who doesn’t seem to think twice about his new wheels. Their relationship starts as sort of mentor-student with Tim guiding Mary from dirty child to a young woman with increasing self-respect. As they grow closer their interactions slowly change, much to the chagrin of Mary’s mother who doesn’t want her “wasting her time on a cripple.”
For me the most engaging thing about the film is Farrell’s portrayal of Tim. He is fully self-sufficient with a drive and ambition, perhaps even more so than the other people you see in his rural town. The reactions of other people only bother him in their leading to his loneliness. Only after Tim’s feelings towards Mary change towards romantic interest do you see his pain, and Farrell really helps you understand the emotional and physical struggle. But Tim’s absolute determination and Mary’s love see the film through the end.
Farrell’s acting and Borzage’s direction make the film’s social commentary effective while keeping it a bit more on the subtle side. “Lucky Star” is an engaging and interesting melodrama that’s definitely worth a watch.
In my review for “Sherlock Jr” (1924) I mentioned my interest in Sherlock Holmes. I though I’d take the opportunity to talk about the first season of the BBC series “Sherlock” (2010).
A modern interpretation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classic, “Sherlock” sets the title character as a hyper-intelligent, tech savvy cynic (Benedict Cumberbatch) supported by his friend Afghan war veteran Doctor Watson (Martin Freeman). Season one is three 90 minute episodes, more like individual movies than a television show, that tell the familiar stories in a new way. For example, episode one “A Study in Pink” is a direct adaptation of “A Study in Scarlet.”
I find the series to be wonderfully cast with pitch-perfect portrayals of a Holmes for the modern world. The tone is far from Basil Rathbone, but I feel fits very well with the literary works. On top of that, Freeman’s presentation of Watson as an everyman with a thirst for adventure seems more genuine in his tenuous relationship with Holmes than previous incarnations where he seems to be a bumbling idiot.
If you are a fan of Holmes, like mysteries, or are looking for something that requires a little brain power, give “Sherlock” a try. Me, I’ve already set my mobile ringtone for the title song.
DragonCon is a festival of all things geeky. Every year during the first weekend of September there are four days of Sci-Fi, comic book, anime, and video game mayhem. Last night there was the world premiere for a new independent film featuring Doug Jones, Felicia Day, and Andrew Bowen.
“Rock Jocks” (2012) is about a group of geniuses who work for a secret government agency that shoots down astroids. Faced with budget cuts and the threat of elimination, they have to work together save their jobs and the world. “Rock Jocks” has a solid story and great script that felt like what you would get if “Clerks” (1994) and “Repo Man” (1984) had a love child who became an astronaut. That being said this is definitely not a family film, with a great amount of adult humor and swearing including security guards contemplating the various ways that expletives can be used.
Following the premiere of the movie was a short panel session with the writer/director Paul Seetachitt, Andrew Bowen, and Robert Picardo. They were all very excited to share the final product and stories about making the film. It was shot on a small cannon and you can definitely tell in the image quality. But the story and characters are so much fun, you soon forget and just enjoy. Overall, I enjoyed myself and would definitely love to see it again.
If you’re interested in seeing this film, check out their website
I’ve been on a British mystery kick. After watching way too many episodes of “Midsomer Murders” I decided to go with a classic. Agatha Christie, the best-selling mystery writer of all time, meets Billy Wilder, writer-director extraordinaire in the script of “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957).
The film is a riveting court drama the tops any seen today. Christie’s tale leads you to question your own suspicions and plays wonderfully with Wilder’s quirky sense of humor seamlessly inserted into the dialogue. Additionally, Wilder’s decision to minimize music puts greater emphasis on the inflection on words spoken and stretches of silence.
Marlene Dietrich is accused murderer Tyrone Power’s wife whom he brought to England after WWII. The complications of their relationship are nearly the opposite of those she played in “The Blue Angel,” but carry as much intrigue. Charles Laughton as Banister Wilfrid is both a comic curmudgeon and brilliant analytical mind. His performance was the reason I had a repeat watch immediately.
While there is a sequence where you find yourself doing a face-palm with Dietrich, it’s not too hard to forgive and carry on. The end of the film requests that I “not divulge the end,” so all I can say is that as I sat watching this film, exclaimed to my hamster, “CharlesLaughton is Amazing!”
If you’re a Billy Wilder fan, check out my reviews of “The Seven Year Itch” and “Double Indemnity.”
I find Marlene Dietrich to be a fascinating personality. Her American films usually find her cast as a sexual creature verging on vamp, playing men to get what she can off them. Dietrich’s roles in later films have her as more of a sympathetic villianness, where the audience sees her in greater shades of grey. I though it might be interesting to go back and watch the film that really introduced her to US audiences, “The Blue Angel.”
“The Blue Angel” (1930) exists in two versions: the original German language release and an English language version featuring the same cast. The English version was thought to be lost for many years until a print was found mislabeled in a German archive. I’m reviewing the German version because of its availability and i find the performances to be a little better.
Josef von Sternberg‘s film has Dietrich as a restaurant cabaret singer who’s tough personality and sleepy eyes softens the heart of prudish professor Emil Jannings, leading to his self destruction. Sternberg frames shots to include objects, actions, or shadows that offer their own story or character foreshadowing. You can tell where he learned his craft, as hints of silent German Expressionism add to the drama. Jannings was one of the biggest stars of German silent cinema, known around the world for his dramatic leading characters. In “The Blue Angel” you can literally see his character’s hard icy manner melt as he falls in love with Dietrich.
There is so much history surrounding this film that it fills entire books. I’ll just say that the relations between characters and social commentary that can be drawn from it make and endlessly interesting and entertaining movie.
If you haven’t figured it our by now, my tastes tend to be a little on the quirky side. So it should come as little surprise that while most people were breathlessly awaiting the new Batman movie, I was standing in line to buy tickets for a little period piece with far too little fanfare.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (2012) is the film adaptation of a book by Seth Grahame-Smith, a little known author with big impact. “Abraham Lincoln,” like Smith’s first book “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” takes a story that everyone knows well and gives it a twist. You see, the history of one of America’s favorite presidents has a secret: he’s really a master vampire hunter.
Adaptations of books is a tricky thing for the movie business. Its impossible to present a direct translation, but when the author is also the screenwriter, you know you’ll get close. Smith and director Timur Bekmambetov give the subject gravity and excitement without getting too campy. The cast of primarily unknown actors is entirely believable and well case. The great Rufus Sewell is the one name actor in the case, giving primary vampire Adam an ease and intensity that meshes well with the subject matter.
With a book adaptation and story mash-up such as this its way too easy to go overboard, stepping on toes and become ridiculously cheesey. This thankfully, stays perfectly serious, creating an enjoyably fun film full of Vampire slaying goodness. This one will be soon be added to my collection.
There are a lot of movies that come and go. Some are block-buster smashes, some are forgotten. “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” was in the theaters 8 years ago, but it’s barely remembered.
Set in a 1939 alternate universe, “Sky Captain” is a mixture of Buck Rogers, Captain America, and the Rocketeer. Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow are the heroes who can’t seem to quite sort out their feelings. Nice surprises in the casting include Michael Gambon, Angelina Jolie, and even an archival footage appearance by the great Laurence Olivier. It feels like a classic Warner Brothers war film in dialogue and art direction, but never quite gets the formula right. There are too many clichés and close calls to really be enjoyable.
The muted color saturation is beautiful and seems to fit the portrayed time period well. The over abundance of computer generated graphics give the film a comic book feel that reminds me in a way of “Sin City” (2005). They’re not entirely off-putting, you will just be aware the entire time that this is completely a fantasy world. There’s enough about this film that should ensure its syndication on cable TV, and I would very happily turn it on as small diversion to my everyday activities.