The Great Dictator (1940)

The Great Dictator

The classic image of Hynkel (Chaplin) playing with the world in his hands.

Before the release of The Great Dictator, Hitler was a fan of Chaplin’s, so much so that it is rumored he modeled his mustache from the comedian. This makes me wonder why Hitler never shaved after the movie came out. After the release, it was unsurprisingly banned in Germany even after the war ended.

After years of his immortal tramp character had become one of the world’s most recognizable images, Chaplin finally decided to make a talkie (12 years after talking pictures were born). In The Great Dictator, he is not known as the tramp, but a jewish barber (though he is still nameless). After serving in the first World War (then called the great war), the barber survives a plane crash with a soldier he saved named Schultz (Reginald Gardiner). The barber is in a hospital for years suffering from memory loss before he returns to his home country of Tomania, only to discover it is ruled by a new dictator, Adenoid Hynkel (also Chaplin). A local neighborhood girl Hannah (Paulette Goddard, one of Chaplin’s wives in real life) supports the barber as he fights the higher power, even if the new appointed Schultz fails to get his soldiers to lay off of the barber.

As in all Chaplin films, there are a plethora of scenes that are classic comedic gags. The airplane ride at the beginning, the wacky slapstick on the street as the barber tries to stand up to the storm troopers, Hynkel playing with the world in his hands, and more to discover. We also get Jack Oakie as Napaloni (basically Benito Mussolini), the dictator of Bacteria. Their scenes together are ripe with comedic energy.

Oddly, the most popular scene in the film is the last five-minute speech given by the barber. In a way, it is out-of-place, because it makes the comedy automatically stand still and makes way for what is arguably Chaplin talking to the audience, not the barber. I am not saying I agree or disagree with what he says, only that the whole speech is a little superfluous to the story.

Parents, kids would be fine with this movie (no swearing or any sexual stuff), but I would at least think they should be old enough to know who Hitler was.

This would be the last time that Chaplin had played a man with a mustache on-screen. The film is not his best (that is always City Lights, with Modern Times a close second), but it is nice to see how Chaplin managed to fight back against the real life ruthless dictator of the 20th century with all the weapons he could muster. In his biography, he did mention that he would not have made the film if he knew ahead of time the horror that was going on for those under Hitler’s thumb at the time.

Thankfully, Chaplin pursued the film’s completion, one year before the United States went to war.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars ****1/2

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

The Bride of Frankenstein

The Monster (Boris Karloff) and his mate (Elsa Lanchester)

The first time I saw Bride of Frankenstein, I had not seen the original Frankenstein (1931). Funny enough, I really did not need to see the first film at all, which I found out after revisiting the sequel. That is not to say the first film is a bad one, but that Bride of Frankenstein may have been the first sequel to ever outshine it’s predecessor.

The film starts off with Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also plays the bride, though in the credits she is simply refered to as ? ) telling her friends (as well as the audience) that the monster (Boris Karloff) survived the crash at the end of the first story. His quest for meaning and friendship is thwarted at every turn (though he gets close with a blind man), so his anger is unleashed on all he crosses.

Eventually, he meets Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a former co-worker of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive). Henry is recovering from the events of the first film, and wants to finally marry Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson). Pretorius tells the monster that he is able to make him a mate, but needs the help of Frankenstein.

I will leave the plot there, since it is rather simple and one I don’t want to give away (thought it is safe to say you know the bride is made). Even if you never heard of this movie, you know what the bride looks like, with her hair like it was hit by lightning. It is just as famous as the original monster’s make up, if not more so.

Of course, you could argue against certain things in the plot, such as “the lever”. “Don’t touch that lever!” a character yells. Keep in mind, the movie was from 1935. Still, like all great old flicks, Bride of Frankenstein has aged better than wine.

Parents, while this is a classic horror movie, there is nothing that young kids would be too afraid of. There is no swearing or nudity or blood. Basically, I would say age 7 and up.

The 1930s produced many a monster movie, but Bride of Frankenstein is the cream of the crop. Recently, Universal has started to make their own “dark” universe with monster movies (though I have not seen 2017’s The Mummy with Tom Cruise, and judging by what I heard, it ain’t pretty). Their next remake will be of this film (with Javier Bardem in the role of the monster). While I am not entirely on board with the idea, the fact that they don’t even need to remake the original (which has been done before) shows how superfluous the original Frankenstein is when compared to its far superior sequel.

To a world of Gods and Monsters, indeed.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist

The eerie glow on the silhouette of The Exorcist

 

“The LORD said to Satan, ‘ Where have you come from?’

Satan answered the LORD, ‘From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.'”

– Job 1: 7 (NIV version)

Satan has been depicted countless times in the media that it seems we sometimes might forget how horrible he really is. Whether the demon is or isn’t Satan (the name is supposed to be Pazuzu, who, according to IMDB, is a demon from Assyrian and Babylonian Mythology), the demon does come out as saying he is the devil, and his actions more than make up for it.

This, of course, is just one of many reasons why people consider The Exorcist one of the scariest movies ever made. There have been at least four sequels and countless other films dealing on the subject of exorcism. I have not seen them, but even if I did, I doubt I (or anyone) would think they could even begin to compare to the one that truly started it all.

Based on the book by William Peter Blatty, that was based on (rather loosely) true events, the movie tells the all too well-known story of Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair, who recieved so many death threats after the movie was released she needed body guards for six months). Living with her mother Chris (Ellen Burstyn), she gradually is possessed by an evil spirit. We also see the story of Father Karras (Jason Miller), who is recovering from the loss of his mother, and questioning his faith. There are other characters, including Lt. Kinderman (the infallible Lee J. Cobb), Father Merrin (Max von Sydow), and the horrific voice of the spirit, played perfectly by Mercedes McCambridge.

While all the performances are brilliant (Burstyn, Miller, and Blair would all be nominated for an Oscar), the true star is director William Friedkin. Without him this movie would not be known as it is today. Like all great horror movies, he still gives us just enough hope when we feel it is all gone. He also gives us more than our fair share of images that haunt us long after the movie ends.

The movie did win two Oscars. The first was for Blatty’s screenplay, but it is the second one I want to focus on, Best Sound (the winners were Robert Knudson and Christopher Newman). Much of the dialogue is rather soft, but not so with the sounds one hears; the moving of furniture, a knock at the door, heavy breathing, terrifying growling, needles in the skin, breaking glass, water splashing, scampering across the floor, etc. Never before have I seen a movie when I am clutching on to the volume remote.

Parents, do I really need to say it? Don’t let any child watch this movie. High School and above.

I will say this though: if you have a child (again, who is in High School) who is acting like no movie has ever really scared them, then make your choice as to when they can see The Exorcist. I have never met anyone who was not afraid of this movie, and I am confident I never will.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

The Shining (1980)

The Shining

Danny (Danny Lloyd) comes across the creepiest cinema twins in history.

“A big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside.”

This is how author Stephen King has described the Stanley Kubrick film version of The Shining. Of course, not all movies based off of movies will make the author happy (like P.L. Travers, who strongly disliked the Disney version of her literary character Mary Poppins).  Still, this review is coming from someone who has not (as of now) read the original material. I saw the film first around the age of twelve, not knowing it was based on a book. From that perspective, I found it terrifying.

The story is rather well-known: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is a former teacher who takes his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd), in his only screen performance) to the Overlook Hotel to be the caretakers for five months. A (somewhat) recovering alcoholic, Jack is determined to being secluded in order to help finish his writing. He is so optimistic he does not seem to mind that one of the former caretakers butchered his family before killing himself, or that the hotel was built on an indian burial ground.

The other element being brought to the stay at the Hotel is the peculiar Danny, who has the ability to “shine” (see the future, and read the minds of others who can do the same). The only other we see who can do this is the Hotel’s cook, Hallorann, (Scatman Crothers). It is he who informs Danny (as well as us) nothing good resides from room 237 (more on that later).

There is one thing that King does say positive about the movie, and that is the visual appeal. This is no real surprise, as the movie was directed by film icon Stanley Kubrick (known to be as much a perfectionist as anyone behind the camera). If you were to choose any shot from The Shining and say it was your “choice”, it would be hard to argue regardless of what it was. Whether it is Jack in the doorway shouting his famous “Heeere’s Johnny!”, any visuals of the hedge maze, the long unblinking stare of Jack, the red bathroom, the elevator full of blood, or the hallway showing the creepiest twins in film history.

“Come play with us Danny.”

Chills.

Parents, it should come as absolutely no surprise that this film is not for kids. Besides the obvious creepy scenes and swearing, there is one main scene of nudity that does take place in room 237 (as well as some nude pictures, and a brief scene in a bed room that is far more creepy than sexual). In other words, unless you have the most mature middle schooler, High School and above.

Perhaps if I do read the original book, I will be able to see more of what King dislikes about the movie (he did not approve of the casting of Nicholson or Duvall). The movie came out with mixed reviews, so much so that it got two Razzie nominations: Duvall for worst actress and (believe it or not) Kubrick for worst director (you read it right). Time, of course, is always the best judge of movies, and The Shining still stands as one of the best horror films. It has layers that can keep being peeled away (the ending is for sure going to raise questions upon every viewing) and you still are not sure what to expect. Anytime a movie does that, it is something special.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

Bringing up Baby (1938)

Bringing up baby.jpg

Hepburn and Grant have more shenanigans to deal with than just the leopard…

Nearly eight decades after it was released, Howard Hawk’s Bringing Up Baby is still as fresh and hilarious and romantic and chaotic as it was when it was released. Parents, if you want to introduce your kids to classic Hollywood at an early age, here is a perfect candidate (and to get them to meet two of the biggest stars the movies has ever had).

In a nutshell, the film stars Cary Grant as David, a paleontologist who is hoping to get an offer of a million dollars for his museum. The problem is, he keeps running into the ever happy-go-lucky Susan, played by Katharine Hepburn. She has inherited a leopard named Baby from her brother in Africa. The situations in this movie are too complicated to explain in words, let alone worthless to try, since they are better to be experienced.

Grant performs effortlessly as David, who is undoubtably the cautious type. Still, it is clearly Hepburn who steals the spotlight (as she did in almost every single one of her movies). Her performance is dazzling. You wonder why it is she is not frightened (most of the time) of the awkward situations she gets into (my favorite is when she is thrown into jail). Perhaps the best answer would be that the role is so like Hepburn in real life that very little acting was required, if any at all.

Parents, there is really nothing to worry about at all for the kids (despite one character saying they went “gay all of a sudden”, but it is mainly played for laughs). Any age is fine with this movie.

I admit some of the parts did confuse me a bit, but they were far outweighed by my laughter, which occurred a lot.

Is this the best movie for Cary Grant or Katharine Hepburn? Hard to say. They each made a trunk load of classics that will be around as long as movie goers search for them. Still, as stated before, it is one that is perfect to start with if you want to see some of the early days of classic comedy.
Overall: Five Stars *****

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Beauty and the Beast

Tale as old as time…

Disney’s newest live action remake of an animated classic, Beauty and the Beast, is about as faithful and well done as one would be able to make from the source material (though the 1946 French film of the same name is a masterpiece in its own right). I only wish they film makers did not try to add-on to something that was already a master work of its own.

If you have not seen the original animated film from 1991 (the first movie I can remember seeing as a kid in the theaters),  I don’t know what you have been waiting for or what has stalled you. Still, there is time to see it before you see this live action flick (which I would strongly recommend). If you have, there are hardly many differences to this film, at least when it comes to plot. We meet Belle (Emma Watson, aka Hermione from the world of Harry Potter), a simple (yet “funny”, as we learn) girl in a local village in France. The only villager it seems that Belle talks to (or I should say talks to her) is the ever egocentric Gaston (Luke Evans, who is uncannily cast). Despite his many attempts, Gaston seems oblivious to the fact that Belle will never, ever wish to marry him.

She lives with her father Maurice (Kevin Kline), who one day sets off on an errand and stumbles upon a castle, home to a Prince (Dan Stevens) who (in the prelude) was cursed along with his servants by an enchantress (Hattie Morahan).

 

At the castle, we meet the familiar sidekicks that we remember and love from the animated film. All are faithfully cast, lead by the candlestick Lumiere, inhabited by Ewan McGregor. There is also Sir Ian McKellen as the clock Cogsworth, Stanley Tucci as the piano Cadenza, and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts.

 

On the subject of casting, perhaps my favorite choice was Josh Gad (who kids will remember as Frozen’s Olaf) as Lefou, Gaston’s sidekick. Perhaps the most noticing difference between this film and the animated one is that Lefou is apparently gay. They don’t say this, but it is hinted at enough that it is hard to miss.

As for the other differences, there are a few added songs that, while nicely executed, don’t seem to be needed and just add to the run time (which I confess felt too long for me). Songs from the original are still here (my pick for the most faithful and overall best is “Be our Guest” thanks in no small part to Ewan McGregor). There is also some revealed history as to the Beast’s childhood as well as Belle’s, which does allow us to feel more intimacy between the two characters. I also enjoyed that there are more scenes that happen outside the castle, letting us see more of the kingdom.

 

Parents, it is Disney, so the film is pretty safe (aside from the whole situation with Lefou, which I know some people may  have issues with). If your kids have seen the animated film (which they should have), then they are ok.

 

Still, being a nineties kid, I can safely say the animated film is better (no offense to Emma Thompson, who did a good job here, but the title song should be sung by Angela Landsbury and no one else). As I read more online, Disney is releasing more live action versions of classic animated films, so I am aware I have to get used to that.

 

Overall: Three out of Five Stars ***

 

 

 

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

the-silence-of-the-lambs

Very rarely has dialogue been better than that displayed between Hopkins and Foster…

Murray: “Is it true what they’re sayin’, he’s some kinda vampire?

Starling: “They don’t have a name for what he is”.

A quarter of a century since The Silence of the Lambs was first on the big screen, and there really is still no actual name for who many consider the greatest movie villain of all time. True, you could call Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) a cannibal, but there is far more to him than that. I would argue he may be the smartest (fictional) character in cinema (the only other I would place higher would be HAL 9000.) It is only more spellbinding when you remember he is on-screen for twenty minutes or so.

For those who have not seen the movie, Lecter is not the main character. The main character is Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster). As a trainee in the F.B.I., she is sent by her boss Jack Crawford (Scott Glenn) to talk to Lecter. The goal: see if Lecter can help in the case of Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), a serial killer currently on the loose. Buffalo Bill is finely played by Levine, but he can’t keep up with Lecter.

The film was one of three films to win the five main Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, and Screenplay (the others were It Happened One Night from 1934 and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest from 1975).

I offer now how it won each award. The screenplay, written by Ted Tally (based off of the book by Thomas Harris) tells a story that goes far beyond the basic find the bad guy plot thriller. It gets as deep into the psychological field of the mind of a killer as any film. For Director Jonathan Demme, he masterfully balances the time needed we need to see what we need to of Lecter and Starling. It is evident that staying with Starling more than Lecter is actually a better choice than the contrary. As for actor and actress, neither Hopkins or Foster will ever be remembered for anything more than their roles in this film. Foster is one of the best examples of courage in film (you can see her fighting her fear just by looking in her eyes). Hopkins (who said he based his performance off of Katherine Hepburn, Truman Capote, and HAL 9000) could quit acting, and cure cancer, and he would still be remembered more for playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter (just looking at him, you think “Lecter” before “Hopkins”.)

Parents, there is no secret this movie deserves its R rating: High School and above. Obviously, there is a lot of swearing (some F bombs, and the use of the four letter C word that is not crap), dialogue about sexuality (including a disturbing sequence in front of a mirror that almost shows complete male nudity for 5-10 seconds) and a LOT of violence.

Winning the Best Picture Oscar is never easy (there are a lot who did not deserve to win and a lot more that did). To date, The Silence of the Lambs is the only horror flick to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. It also had some good competition as well (I have not yet seen Bugsy or The Prince of Tides, but Beauty and the Beast and JFK are still masterpieces in my book). It is clear that The Silence of the Lambs will live on as long as there are fans of horror films (both good and bad).

Ironically, the lambs will never stop screaming.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

 

 

 

Nosferatu (1922)

nosferatu

The shadow of Alfred Hitchcock was not even this creepy…

As a kid, the older a movie was, the more it intrigued me.

I yearn for the days when I thought movies depicted real life, despite how absurd the circumstances. Perhaps it was because I possibly thought that it was documenting the events as they happened. A little bit of that feeling comes to me every now and then, and it does every time I watch the orignal Nosferatu (though I know it is pure fiction).

While I have not seen every vampire flick, I doubt any are as artistic or influential as the original Nosferatu. It is almost a century old, but has survived as the quintisential horror flick about vampires. At the time of its release, it was panned (by Bram Stoker’s widow) for being a rip off of his classic Dracula. Director F.W. Murnau could not get the rights, so they changed the names of the characters.

Thankfully, the film survives, and teaches us that being a vampire is not something one would aspire to be. We know th e rules of being a vampire: they die in sunlight, they can’t get near garlic or a cross, they drink blood, etc. Yet in this film, being a vampire is not the equivalent of being a hunky guy with his shirt off (as of this writing, I have not seen any of the Twilight films, nor desire to). Being a vampire is more of a disease, and if you don’t believe me, look into the eyes of Count Orlok (with an immortal performance by Max Schreck).

The story is relatively simple: Hutter (Gustav von Wangenheim) is sent off to Transylvania to talk to Orlok about buying a house opposite him and his wife Ellen (Greta Schroeder). When Orlok returns, all goes horribly haywire.

You may be wondering if a movie over ninety years old can still be scary. Probably not as much as it was when first released. Yet there are still some creepy moments. There is one scene in particular where the Count sees a picture of Ellen and comments “Your wife has a beautiful neck!”.

I don’t care how old the movie is, or whatever the circumstances maybe. When a dude says your wife has a beautiful neck, get yourself (and your wife) as far away as possible from that person. It is beyond creepy.

Parents, the movie is probably ok for kids seven and up. I mean, the movie is a vampire movie, but keep in mind it is from the 1920s. There is hardly any blood (there are some swears, but not any big ones.)

All in all, like a vampire, this film will live on (even in sunlight). The artistry is revolutionary, the music sublime (it reminded me of when I first truly discovered zombies playing the original Resident Evil game at nine years old), and the overall effect spot on terrifying.

Nosferatu is a film to quench any film lover’s thirst for movies.

 

Overall: Five Stars *****

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

adventures of robin hood

Errol Flynn is still the definitive Robin Hood.

For the life of me, I still find it hard to believe that the original choice for Robin Hood was James Cagney. While he was undoubtably talented and remains one of Hollywood’s greatest legendary stars, The Adventures of Robin Hood would have been a totally different movie. Fortunately, he walked out, and in stepped the pinnacle of swashbucklers, Errol Flynn.

While I have not seen all of the films based off of the mythical archer, I still say this film is the best. True, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  (1991) did at least have a great villain played by Alan Rickman (which almost overshadowed the horrible accent by Kevin Costner in the title role), the Disney film from 1973 is still very underrated, and I have heard ok things about the 2010 film with Russel Crowe. Still, no one could have brought the swashbuckling charm like Flynn did back in the day (besides, who else could enter the castle by beating up the guards with a deer carcass? Exactly.)

The story is virtually known to everyone: Robin Hood (Flynn) is an outlaw after King Richard (Ian Hunter) is out on his crusade and his brother Prince John (Claude Rains, one of the best supporting actors of the golden age) is put in charge. His taxation of the people knows no bounds. Helped by Sir Guy of Gisboure (Basil Rathbone, of course), only Robin Hood (and the merry men) of Sherwood stand in their way.

In the scene where Robin Hood enters with the deer to the dining hall, Flynn’s charisma is on full display. He owns the entire room, carrying for no one in the room. That is, of course, until he meets Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland, who, at the time of this review, is still alive at the ripe age of 100). That they fall for each other goes without question.

Most film buffs (myself included) agree that the best year in movies was 1939, giving us such films as Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz, both landmarks in progressing color films. The Adventures of Robin Hood was made a year earlier and in Technicolor. It is truly a glorious film to behold even before you consider the story. The colors of the film jump out at you as much as the action on-screen.

Parents, this film is ok for any kid who can sit through a movie. There is action, some characters die, but there is no blood. It might also be a bit educational in a way: you get to see a film where the actors are actually doing the action themselves.

Originally, a sequel was going to be planned, but World War Two occurred, and by the end, the actors were no longer members at Warner Brothers. The only true problem with the film is that I wanted more. Directed by Michael Curtiz (who would later go on to do classics like Yankee Doodle Dandy and Casablanca), it truly is too short of a film. When it comes to great action, wonderful visuals, stellar performances, and grand storytelling, The Adventures of Robin Hood is a bullseye every time you watch it.

As the man himself might say, “Fluently”.

Overall: Five Stars *****

Peeping Tom (1960)

Peeping Tom

Mark is one of the best examples of voyeurism in the cinema.

Movie watchers become a certain type of voyeur. While voyeurism is mainly associated with sexual gratification, I feel a movie watcher can be a voyeur without being what someone may refer to as a pervert. Peeping Tom deals with this type of voyeurism (and some of the sexual kind) more so than almost any other movie imaginable (the only other better one I can think of is Hitchcock’s uncanny Rear Window).

Peeping Tom is a classic horror film, in that it deals with emotions more than just with blood (of which there is very little in the film). It tells the story of a camera man named Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm, whose performance reminded me a bit of Peter Lorre in M). He is the landlord of his apartment that was also his house as a child. He is also a murderer (this is evident in the first few minutes of the film). He is obssesed with facial expressions of the moment before death.We learn this is due to his childhood trauma of being recorded nearly all of his youth.

The thing that makes Mark so evil is that he really still has a human side as well. He meets his neighbor downstairs, Helen (Anna Massey). They begin a friendship which eventually could lead to a romance (what Mark does after he is kissed by Helen is mindboggling in it’s brilliance). Still, his “hobby” (I could not think of a better word) is his life, though he cares enough to say he will “never photograph Helen”.

Parents: There is quite a bit of suggestive material, and some rather revealing clothing. Breasts are shown, but only for a few seconds and can easily be missed. While the film is not rated, I would still classify it as an R (or a hard PG-13).

Over fifty years, later, Peeping Tom is still looked to as a classic (as is another film that came out that year, which was Hitchcock’s masterpiece Psycho). For those who still don’t think that they may have that voyeur in them, be aware the next time you are giving someone you know a present.

Are you looking at the gift, or the person’s face?

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2