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.
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.
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.
Its hard for a foreign film to do well in the United States market. First they have to get a distribution agreement from a domestic organization, then rely on that distributor to market their film in such a way that it attracts cinemas and audiences. Writer-director-actor Stephen Chow managed to get a US release trifecta with “Shaolin Soccer” (2002), “Kung Fu Hustle” (2004), and “CJ7” (2008). Of these, “Kung Fu Hustle” was perhaps the biggest success, playing in nearly 3,000 screens across the united states.
“Kung Fu Hustle” is a comedy, action movie, self reflection, and love story set in 1940s China. Chow delivers his message clearly and entertainingly, ensuring through his triple duties that focus is never lost. The cast is ever entertaining and believable, even in cartoon-like moments that pepper the film. The action is high-wire flying mixed with Bruce Lee inspired choreography. Of interest to American audiences are the references to a number of films including “Top Hat” (1935) and “The Shining” (1980) which add a deeper understanding to the feeling of a scene.
Whether you watch the dubbed or subtitled version, this film really demands your attention or you may lose your place. But stop and pay attention, you may just find yourself laughing and smiling at the realization that you’re not so different from Stephen Chow.