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A truly exceptional ‘little’ film.

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The cast.  Mayer is in the middle and Dancy is to the left.

 

A long time ago, I was a social worker and then a family therapist. Later, I taught psychology. During the course of this, I worked with a few folks with Autism spectrum disorders–including Asperger’s Syndrome. Now I am NOT an expert but know enough by teaching about it, knowing folks with it (including a few of my students) and reading up on it to know whether or not a film that deals with this topic gets it right or wrong. It was because of this background I was excited to watch “Adam”–to see if I finally found a film that got it right. This is because although a lot of folks on the internet talk about this disorder (and many claim to have it–though in most cases this seems to be done to excuse boorish behavior) but few folks REALLY understand what it is. I sure wish I’d had this film available to me when I was teaching–it sure would have provided a nice example for my students.

I won’t spend a lot of time discussing what Asperger’s is–though it would make sense to briefly explain it. People with Asperger’s are generally quite normal. However, they are socially inept–having great difficulty picking up on normal social cues, understanding polite conversation and relating to people in a healthy manner. It’s as if they are socially retarded–generally unable to understand nuances, metaphors or things such as sarcasm or inferences. But, on the other hand, intellectually (aside from the social aspects) they are very normal and even sometimes brilliant. They are also incredibly literal in their thinking and speech. For someone to build a relationship with an individual like this is possible…though it certainly poses challenges.

Adam (Hugh Dancy) is a nice young man who lives alone and works with computers and loves astronomy. He happens to strike up a conversation with his neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne) and slowly they become friends. But, early on, it’s obvious to Beth that there is something wrong with Adam. When he tells her he was diagnosed with Asperger’s, she learns more about him–such as how to interact with him as well as his social shortcomings. And, despite this problem, she learns to love him and vice-versa. The movie then unfolds–and addresses the unspoken salient point–is loving a person enough when you’re in a relationship?

 

The writer/director of this film is Max Mayer. It’s obvious that Max either knows someone with the diagnosis or he really, really did his homework. The film very accurately portrays someone with these life challenges–and Hugh Dancy was amazing in the film–simply amazing. I also really, really appreciated how the movie did NOT simply give way to sentiment or stuff itself with clichés, film formula or false nobility. Realism and integrity of the characters is what made this film really work for me.

If you do see this exceptional film (and I strongly recommend you do), a couple things I noticed that you may also like are Dancy’s amazing performance which includes no trace of his British accent as well as the cute scene with Beth reading to her young students.   As for Ms. Byrne, she is also excellent and I had no idea she was an Aussie–there was no trace of this accent in the film.  The way the little kids talked about “The Emperor’s New Clothes”–and how some just didn’t get it at all–was very realistic. Apparently, Mayer also really understands kids and child development! What a great film–and one of the few movies where I have NOTHING negative to say about it!

 

Majid Majidi’s films are a treasure–yet most folks have never heard of the man or his films.

Majid-Majidi 1_c67

http://www.cinemajidi.com/

Years ago, I saw a couple Iranian films that were as good as any films made anywhere.  The best thing about “Children of Heaven” and “The Color of Paradise” is the humanity of the characters.  So, while political relations between Iran and much of the West are very, very strained to say the least, the film gives you insight into the people and shows that there is goodness everywhere.  And, the issues these folks deal with (particularly in “The Color of Paradise”) are universal.

While “Children of Heaven” is Majidi’s most famous film, I think “The Color of Paradise” is his best.  In fact, I’d place it in my top 10 of ALL films–it’s that good since I have seen so many.  It’s the story of a blind boy whose father will not accept him–a problem many disabled children struggle with throughout the world.  As a father of a deaf daughter, it was particularly poignant.  I won’t tell you more of the plot–just see this film for yourself.

As a result of my loving these two films, I have sought out all of Majidi’s films and have enjoyed every one of them.  They each star normal folks and seem like a more modern version of the Italian Neo-Realist films–movies made without professional actors and filmed out in the real world.

“Baran”, “The Song of Sparrows” and “The Willow Tree” are all exceptional films by Mijidi which haven’t yet been discovered by most film snobs.  Of the three, “The Willow Tree” is the best.  It’s a strange story of a middle-aged man who is blind but is given his sight–and it actually ends up making his life much worse!  It’s a wonderful look into human nature and I appreciate how in this story, a disabled guy isn’t wonderful and noble!

My suggestion is to start with “The Color of Paradise” but have some Kleenex handy.  It packs a huge emotional punch and is perfectly appropriate for all ages.  Then by all means see his other films.  You will thank me–they are that good.

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Who ever heard of Charley Bowers?!

 

bowers

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKEtAtjgwTc

If you can find a copy, try watching “Charley Bowers: The Rediscovery of an American Comic Genius”.  Fortunately it IS currently available from Netflix and is an absolute must for fans of silent comedy.  As the title of the DVD set implies, Bowers is pretty much forgotten today–even though his silents are among the best shorts of the era–rivaling those of Keaton, Lloyd and Chaplin in quality and creativity.  Now despite placing his name beside these great comics, Bowers’ style was really nothing like any of these three men.  No, he was truly an original as he integrated stop-motion cinematography into more traditional silent comedies–and wrote, directed and starred in many of these films.  And, the results were often brilliant (such as in “There It Is!”–and there’s a link to the film above).  However, very sadly, very few of his films remain today and so you’ll just have to content yourself with the DVD set as well as this other film currently posted on YouTube.    I’d like to say more about the man, but the bottom line is that you should just see these films–they speak for themselves.  Do yourself a favor–give it a look.

Felix, the forgotten comic genius.

Felix-chaplin

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XwMbEEKR44

I have always loved silent films.  Even as a child, I remember watching them whenever they came on TV.  I even remember going to an honest to goodness theater to see Harold Lloyd’s “The Freshman” (1925).  No, I am NOT 100 years old–heck, I’m not quite even half that.  I just have a love for early films.  Now I could go on and on about the early comics like Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd or even Charley Bowers (that’s a new one–perhaps I’ll talk more about him in a future post).  However, this post is about a different comic genius of the age….Felix the Cat!  Now before you think I’ve lost my mind (again), hear me out first.  The Felix cartoons you grew up watching were probably NOT the ones I am talking about at all.  I grew up with the stupid Trans-Lux version made in the late 1950s.  There also were other re-inventions of Felix in the 1930s and 1970s and 80s.  No, I am talking about the ORIGINAL Felix cartoons–from about 1919 to about 1928.  Back when Felix was a silent film star.  In these films, Felix rarely was normal in any way.  In fact, the cartoons seemed a bit inspired by Salvador Dali–weirdly surreal and a very mischievous leading man!

Of all the Felix silents I have seen, so far my favorite is “Comicalamities’–a genius of a film from 1928.  In it, Felix repeatedly violates every rule for cartoon characters and the results are amazing and refreshing…yes, refreshing.  He is not some boring nice-guy (like he was in the three Van Beuren Studios Felix the Cat shorts)  but crazy, wild and a little bit of a jerk!  My advice is to click on the link above and watch “Comicalamities’ yourself.  Go ahead, I dare you.  Then feel free to let me know what you think about this forgotten comic genius.

felix

The internet keeps alive some of the best and most forgotten work of Jim Henson.

henson  Henson and his wife circa 1960

 

While my site is about movies, I am going to stretch it a bit here–just because I can.  Although everyone knows who Jim Henson was and loves his work, most folks don’t know about his early work.  Long before “Sesame Street” and even longer before “The Muppet Show”,  and even longer before all the Muppet movies, Henson had many projects–some dating back to when he was going to high school (if you care,  it was Northwestern High School in the DC suburbs).  Yes, as a young man, he was on TV–or at least his puppets were on TV.   Sometimes they were on TV shows like “Sam and Friends” and “Afternoon” but even more often he was seen on television commercials–most of which had very, very weird sensibilities.  My favorites among the ads were among his earliest–such as the rather sadistic Wilkens Coffee ads.  But, he also made ads for LaChoy, Potato Chips, Kern’s Bread and many, many others.

 

In addition to making ads, Henson and his employees also made some industrial films–films made for sales meetings and to bolster the employees of various companies.  Believe it or not, some of these are the best thing Henson EVER did.  Don’t believe me?  Try clicking the two links below for Wilson’s Meats.  They are INSANE.  In addition, there are a couple other links to some of his ads.  Try watching them all–you’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

Wilson’s Meats #1

Wilson’s Meats #2

A variety of Henson commercials and short projects

Wilkens Coffee

It’s not the sort of thing I usually watch, but I liked “Last Passenger” and suggest you try to see it when it debuts in August.

Last passenger

Before I talk about what I thought about this movie, I think I should mention why I watched “Last Passenger”.  While I rarely watch action films, I was approached by someone who made the film and was asked to see the film and comment on it before its release in August.  I have occasionally had a few filmmakers do this and I assume it’s one of the perks of being such a prolific reviewer here on IMDB.  I agreed to see the film but in no way was paid or given anything in order to write a positive review—I told them I’d just give my honest opinion.  Fortunately, it turned out the film was awfully good—so reviewing and seeing “Last Passenger” was a pleasure.

The film begins with a doctor (Dougray Scott) and his son (Joshua Kaynama) getting on a train in England.  They soon strike up a conversation with a very lovely young lady (Kara Tointon) and it really looks like it’s going to be a romance film.  You like the people and hope that they’ll hook up by the end of the movie.  But in a great case of misdirection, the film has other plans! Soon the doctor gets a call from the hospital—they need him as soon as possible and he’ll have to drop off the boy at his grandparents.  But it’s still a while until they get to his stop and he’s obviously tired, so the nice lady tells him to take a nap—she’ll watch the boy.  Again, here is a nice case of misdirection—the lady is NOT a serial killer or kidnapper.  Instead, the surprise comes later, after the doctor awakens.  His stop is nearing but he notices that almost all the passengers are gone and the train is NOT stopping at the stations!  Soon it becomes apparent that the train is either unmanned or some crazy person is hurtling the train towards oblivion.  And, the few passengers aboard and the people outside the train seem unable to do anything—as the train is a diesel and is racing towards the end of the line.  What’s next?  See this film for yourself.

As I mentioned above, although the story is simple, there are some nice cases of misdirection—which I really appreciated.  Additionally, although I didn’t recognize any of these actors, for relative unknowns they sure did great.  I particularly liked Scott—he was nice looking but no pretty boy and did a very nice job in the lead.  In fact, all the actors (including Iddo Goldberg, David Schofield and Lindsay Duncan)  were excellent and having ‘normal’ faces in these parts instead of big-name stars was a plus, as it made the film seem a lot more realistic.  As for the direction and cinematography, these were big pluses—and you wonder HOW they managed to make the film in such a confined set, as ALL but the final seconds of the film are aboard a train.  Finally, the music was great—and really helped create a tense mood throughout.  Overall, an exciting film that I hope gets wide distribution, as it really deserves to be seen.

last passenger2

 

Weird, clever and very sweet–this is a great Dutch import!

zuster

 

Not only did I have more fun watching this DVD than any film, but I did something I never did before–I ended up watching the movie again that very same night! I was utterly charmed by this wonderful Dutch musical-comedy and anticipate that I will probably see it again a few more times–it’s THAT good! I think a lot of the reason I loved the movie so much was that while bits and pieces of the film reminded me of other films, overall it was so unique and quirky that it’s got to be one of the most original films out there. In addition, when I heard the songs, I couldn’t help but swing in rhythm to the bouncy and adorable music! Despite not knowing Dutch and relying on subtitles, I can’t think of ANY musical that I enjoyed more because the songs are that catchy and kooky. They all have a charming old fashioned style with wonderfully funny lyrics.

The film itself has an early to mid-1960s look to it and although I noticed in one of the reviews that this movie was based on a TV series, the film looks even more like a film of a play in style. Plus, the sets look very fake, but I don’t mean that in a bad way–more like an idealized and perfect world that you know can’t exist but you really wish it did! Apart from great music, the film has a wonderful ensemble cast. The standout character is Mr. Boordevol who is a lot like a combination of Sam the Eagle (from The Muppets) and a crazed version of the AFLAC duck! He must have had a wonderful time playing such an outlandish character–and his voice was like something out of a cartoon! Other standout performers were Jet, an incredibly cute and shy young lady who is in love with Garrit, Garrit, a reformed burglar who has a wonderful voice, the Engineer (he has no name–and is just called “Engineer” throughout the film) as well as many, many others.

A word of note to parents–This movie was released by Wolfe Video–a Gay movie distributor. While there are two gay main characters, I really didn’t see this as a gay film, per se, but a film about many people–just two of which are gay. And, unless you are ultraconservative, I doubt if you would be offended or mind if your kids watch the film. I am a pretty conservative person myself, but really liked ALL the characters and let my teenager see the film–in fact, I nagged her until she watched it with me!

By the way, it took me three viewings to realize that the plot of this film is a slight reworking of Seuss’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE Christmas! Seriously!!

Busting all the dumb slasher film cliches….

ticker

My recommendation of “Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil” is hardly surprising,  This little cult film has been noticed by other reviewers and I remember reading Leonard Maltin’s column on the film.  It manages to make a slasher film interesting–something I never thought possible.  While many folks love the “Friday 13th”, “Halloween” films and the like, I cannot stand them–mostly because they are poorly written and teat the audience like they are idiots.  But, with “Tucker & Dale”, anyone can enjoy the film….well, anyone who is old enough to handle the gore.  Yes, there is gore but it manages, believe it or not, to be FUN and you will be ashamed to admit that it’s FUNNY gore.  Don’t be surprised if you laugh as you see horrible things occur!  In addition, the film works because the characters (particularly Dale) are so likable.

While I would never recommend it as strongly as I recommend “Tucker & Dale”, you might also try watching “Zombieland” and “Shaun of the Dead”–two films that are intelligent–something sorely lacking in most films in the genre.

A surprisingly good family film that even adults can enjoy.

MV5BMTM3NjQyODI3M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDM4NjM0OA@@._V1_SX214_

Now I am NOT going to say that “Hotel Transylvania” is brilliant, but I was impressed by it.  These days, CGI films have become very, very common–so common that they seem to zip in and out of theaters with little notice. There are, of course, some exceptions (such as the Pixar films), but when “Hotel Transylvania” came to theaters, it came and went without a huge amount of notice. Now that I finally saw it, I really wish the film had received much more attention, as it’s far superior to most CGI family films.

This film is a funny look at monsters from their point of view. To them, the humans are the enemy and see them as blood-thirsty beasts. The monsters are afraid of them and are actually amazingly gentle and likable. The main character, Dracula (Adam Sandler) is a very overprotective father and won’t let his daughter (Selena Gomez) leave their prison-like castle–afraid that those horrible humans will kill her! However, accidentally, a human shows up when Dracula is throwing a HUGE birthday celebration for his daughter! In order to prevent widespread panic, Drac convinces the young man (Andy Samberg) to dress like a monster and blend in…but the plan works too well, and Drac’s daughter falls in love with this horrible human!

“Hotel Transylvania” is directed by Genndy Tartakovsky–a newcomer to CGI, but a veteran of lots of excellent Cartoon Network shows, such as “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Dexter’s Lab”. I think he did an excellent job and think this, along with great writing, made this film fun for all ages–with lots of laughs for adults and kids alike–just like his TV shows. In fact, this is the strength of the film. It had wonderful characters, terrific dialog and a nice sense of humor. The CGI ranges from fantastic (particularly the backgrounds) to average.

So why, if I liked the film so much, did I give the film an 8 and not a higher score? Well, the movie had one area where it was deficient–the songs. Each time a song occurred, it slowed down the film tremendously. On top of that, the ending (which was one HUGE song and dance number) was really weak. It’s a shame, but a problem you can easily overlook. Overall, a fine family film that will interest adults just as much as it will appeal to kids–and that is something all too rare.

 

Reassessing Shirley Temple

GAB001_Shirley_TEMPLE

 

I adore old films–the older the better.  However, I’ve come upon a problem with Netflix–I have seen just about every Hollywood film they have that was made before 1960.  So recently I did something I was not proud of at the time–I broke down and rented a few of the Shirley Temple films.  For years, I deliberately avoided them as I saw them as saccharine and just plain awful.  Well, imagine my surprise when I found that I actually enjoyed most of them and have even gone so far as to put ALL her films on my Netflix queue!

While I will admit that a few of the films are bad (“The Blue Bird”, as it terribly miscasts Temple), most are amazingly good–AMAZINGLY GOOD.  Twentieth Century-Fox really knew how to get the most out of these films.  Plus, Miss Temple was simply fabulous–even when you see these films today.  Not only could she sing, dance and act, but even the most jaded will find her tugging at your heart.  Now I am not a super-sentimental guy, but I found myself tearing up at a few of them.

The only serious negative is when it comes to race.  In so many of her films, it was very, very obvious that Hollywood and America had horrible notions about black people and a few of the films will make you cringe.  Stepin Fetchit, one of the most famously negative black stereotypes in film history, appeared in a few of her films.  But what is REALLY hard to take is seeing Shirley herself in black-face in “The Littlest Rebel”–a film where the slaves all seem VERY happy and actually work to help the Confederacy defeat the dreaded Yankees!!  As for her work with Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson, these were always great–with Temple and Robinson making a very appealing duo, as well as the only mixed race dancing team at the time!

Of all the Temple films I’ve seen so far, my favorite is definitely “Bright Eyes”.  It has so much going for it and is able to wonderfully balance Temple’s sweetness with Jane Withers’ delightfully nasty performance!  And, in addition to a terrific plot (have your kleenex nearby), it features perhaps Temple’s greatest song “The Good Ship Lollipop”.  I gave this one a 9 on IMDB and when it comes to entertainment for the entire family, you can’t do much better than this.

So, I strongly recommend you try a few of her films (but avoid “The Blue Bird”….ugh, it’s bad!) and don’t worry about how incredibly sweet and old fashioned the films are.  And, if you are embarrassed by watching them, see the films alone when the family is gone!  But do indeed see them–she was a brilliant little actress and STILL the best there ever was!

 

Oh, and if you get a chance, a few of her adult performances are very much worth seeing.  The best is probably “Since You Went Away” (one of the best wartime films you can find) and “Fort Apache” (a wonderful John Ford/John Wayne saga of the west).

 

If you care to look, this is the official Shirley Temple page.  It’s mostly for buying Temple related stuff–like DVDs and dolls.  However, Miss Temple also talks very openly about her battle with breast cancer and she was one of the first celebrities to talk openly about the disease.

http://www.shirleytemple.com/