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The Freshmen

freshman_01The more I see Harold Lloyd, the more I love him and his films. In The Freshman (1925) Lloyd plays an young man also named Harold who saves up enough money to go to college. Once on campus, Harold’s main concern is getting popular by following the tricks he saw in a movie.

Instead of being the big man on campus he’s soon the butt of everyone’s jokes. His peers love putting him in awkward positions and taking advantage of him. He never catches a break as he inadvertently insults the dean, takes the dean’s car from the train station and makes wrong step after wrong step. The gags at the student assembly, the dance and the football field are priceless.

Jobyna Ralston plays the sweet love interest Peggy perfectly. Harold meets Peggy on a train and then it turns out that she’s the daughter of his landlady. Yes, it’s coincidental, but it’s a small town and she’s the one sincere woman in a sea of fakes.

I watched a Criterion Collection disc with the commentary, which I find adds to my appreciation of any silent film. I seem to need some talk.

A masterful comedy, The Freshmen is a film I can see watching again and again.

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Gilmore Girls Return

I hope this lives up the the original series.

Kristi, look what’s coming on Netflix.

(My friend Kristi introduced me to  Gilmore Girls.)

Speedy

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Harold Lloyd’s 1927 film Speedy is a comic delight. Speedy is hero’s name. Lloyd’s Harold “Speedy” Swift is in love but can’t hold a job for more than a few days so his sweetheart’s grandfather, her guardian, won’t let them marry. We see him lose a couple more jobs through no fault of his own.   His fanatical love of baseball cost him his soda jerk job and luck just wasn’t on his side when he tried to drive a taxi with Babe Ruth as his first and only customer.

Despite his poor job record, Speedy takes his girl to Coney Island, where a slew of mishaps continue.

His sweetheart’s grandfather owns the last horse-drawn car (i.e. a tram driven by a horse when cars and buses have taken over the streets). A railroad tycoon wants to buy him out to replace the old horse-drawn conveyance with his railroad line. After reading about the railroad deal in the paper, Speedy changes grandpa’s requested amount from $10,000 to $70,000, which the big shot who’s come to negotiate with grandpa outright refuses.

Thus the railroad man plots to prevent grandpa from completing his route. If he misses a day, the railroad can take over the route without paying grandpa anything so the shrewd tycoon hires a bunch of thugs to stop grandpa. Speedy happens to overhear the plan and volunteers to take over as the driver. Since Speedy’s batted 0% as far as his jobs go things look bad.

The film is full of sight and physical gags that amaze. How did they do these stunts? Considering how they sometimes used real streets and had to orchestrate massive, chaotic scenes with hordes of extras and animals, it’s incredible and still entertains.

The Flick

I thought I was quite lucky when I managed to get two discount tickets for Steppenwolf Theater’s The Flick, an award winning (so hard to believe)  play by Annie Baker. That feeling lasted 10 minutes when my hope that the play would entertain or enlighten at all was starting to vanish.

The Flick is a long, (3 hours, 10 minutes) dull look at two men who sweep and mop up the theater and the female projectionist, who’s a vapid loudmouth. The advertisement called the show “mesmerising” and I can only imagine that’s an agency’s spin on “sleep inducing.” I came expecting humorous banter about the love of film by some theatre employees with quirks and some sort of meaning or at least novel social observations along the lines of the very quotable Clerks film.

Those hopes were dashed rather early one by prolonged stretches of mopping or sweeping interspersed with dull dialogue about stealing from the till, the projectionist’s personality and sexuality, and movie trivia between the new guy, a nerd with high levels of social anxiety who’s little more than a walking IMDB.com. The nerd does realise he doesn’t have much personality his life is going nowhere but his long winded phone conversation with a therapist just bored me.

The play desperately needs 1) a plot, 2) more characters, 3) cut about 90 minutes out of it, 4) somehow find a theme and 5) take the characters you’re stuck with and give them some personality.

Evidently, the play contains humour, but I only know that because the theatre employees who sat behind me laughed. Any laughter in the theatre came from about 10% of the audience whom my friend and I guess were parents of the actors. During the first half of the play, I looked at my watch three times, not a good sign. I was relieved to get to intermission and delighted when my friend asked, “Would you mind leaving?”

Certainly not! Ninety more minutes would be hell.

As I went to collect my coat, my friend asked an employee what happened in the second half. “It’s pretty much more of the same.” That’s what we guessed. If the playwright had any ability or sense, she’d have put something good into the first half of this long, long opus. We overheard some people trying to decide whether to stay or go. My friend shared the employee’s comment. After exchanging some comments about how dreadful this show was and trying to figure out why a high quality theatre like Steppenwolf would choose to do this and how this Annie Baker managed to not only win a Pulitzer but also a Guggenheim so she’s getting a fortune to continue to write dull plays, we all decided to leave. Life is too short.

We weren’t alone either. I figure my $20 was a gift to the arts. We were so sorry that Domesticated with Tom Allen was sold out.

 

Zazie dans le Metro

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Directed by Louis Malle, Zazie dans le Metro (1960) is an exuberant, colorful film that sends up all the devices and techniques of film based on a masterful comic novel by . The story is simple and doesn’t capture the quality or

Zazie is a lively, 10 year old girl, who visits her uncle in Paris while her mother has a rendezvous with a lover. Her one hope is to ride the metro, but there’s a strike so that seems unlikely. A flamboyant man with an odd set of friends, Zazie’s uncle lives an unconventional life since he’s an exotic dancer and has a wide assortment of eccentric friends.

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Zazie explores the city and outsmarts most of the adults around her. She’s a worldly girl who speaks honestly at all times, but swears a lot. Since my French isn’t street French, I doubt I understood the full force of her swearing.

The film’s comedy is fresh and the pace fast with several of the best chase scenes I’ve ever seen. The film is exuberant and one I keep thinking of and smiling each time I do. The actress who played Zazie, Catherine Demongeot, gives a realistic, captivating performance. It’s a film I whole-heartedly recommend and know I’ll watch again and again.

Related

Good essay on Criterion Collection “Girl Trouble.”

Steamboat Bob Jr.

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Finally I found time to watch a movie, albeit a short one that I watched in short stints as I ate lunch this past week.

Steamboat Bill, Jr. starred Buster Keaton as a long lost, disappointing son of a steamboat owner. Steamboat Bill. Sr. owns an old steamboat that gets condemned shortly after Mr. King, a local tycoon with a splendid new boat muscles into town. Bill’s son, whom he hasn’t seen in at least 20 years comes to town and the rough, salt-of-the-earth father is totally disappointed with his light-weight, citified son.

To make matters worse, coincidentally, the son’s sweetheart turns out to be the daughter of the tycoon, who so hates Bill.

Lots of slapstick ensues. While I could appreciate the acrobatics and the technical precision in the film, I wished for more–more like the social commentary Chaplin would have included. The DVD I had had a few extras, but I missed the audio commentary that many Criterion Collection films have. It wasn’t a bad film, but it could have been better.

Hobson’s Choice

hobson's Staring Charles Laughton and directed by David Lean, Hobson’s Choice (1954) takes viewers back to Victorian England, to Henry Hobson’s home and boot shop. Hobson has three daughters, sensible Mary who at 30 is considered an old maid no man will marry and two sillier, more marriageable daughters, Alice and Vicky. Hobson’s a drinker and though successful, very much a cheapskate. From the start we see that Hobson drinks way too much and bickers constantly with his daughters. He admits he’s not good with females. Alice and Vicky plead with Hobson to provide dowries as their beau’s, like any self-respecting men, wouldn’t marry without one. Maggie, the brains of the shop, is put off when Hobson assumes his eldest daughter will never marry. She takes action and informs the mind-mannered Will Mossop, the best book maker in town, that he must marry her. She gives him no choice and even takes him to inform his overbearing landlady that Will will not be marrying her daughter.

Hobson, Maggie & Will

Hobson, Maggie & Will

The movie delights from start to finish and provides a look more realistic look at the era than we usually get. It’s an interesting contrast to The Paradise or Mr Selfridge as it shows the world of a small shop in a small town. In his way Hobson’s as weak as Harry Selfridge, but thankfully he has a strong daughter who reins him in.

The Gold Rush

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As part of my New Year’s Resolution to watch old films, I saw Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, which charmed me. As with the other Chaplin films, The Gold Rush offers charming little moments, moments when the tramp is under-appreciated, forgotten or forlorn, but carries on in spite of his troubles. He’s always forging onward even when the deck’s stacked against him. He’s a beautiful loser in a way that harkens to Chekov.

The film contains memorable scenes where Chaplain’s Lone Prosector hilariously defies bad luck. He’s come to the Yukon to seek his fortune, but like many all he finds is hardship (till the very end of the film). He’s cold, lonely and hungry through most of the film. With hundreds of other the Lone Prospector treks a great distance at the start of the film out onto the tundra. It’s a grand scene as are the scenes when the cabin is about to fall off the mountain.

From the Criterion Collection audio, I learned that the shoe shown at the top of the page is made out of candy. Some of the films funniest and most poignant scenes surround food and hunger. The tramp, here called “The Lone Prospector,” faces hunger out on the Yukon tundra. There are classic scenes in which the Lone Prospector’s pal Big Jim is so hungry he imagines the tramp is a chicken. (This narrated version was released in 1942 and Chaplain himself is narrating.)

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As you’d expect the Criterion commentary is superb and you’ll learn a lot about the production and Chaplain’s meticulous rehearsing and his romantic relationships with his actresses.

Related

Essay “As Good as Gold” on Criterion’s website.

Moone Boy

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My new favorite comedy is Moone Boy created by Chris O’Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy. In this Irish sitcom import, Martin Moone (David Rawles) is a twelve year old with a full grown imaginary friend named Sean. Martin lives with his shambolic family, which consists of his father who runs a sign shop, his mother who becomes Weight Wishers counselor and three older sisters who don’t like Martin at all.

Martin needs someone in his corner and Sean helps him navigate the slings and arrows of school, romance, and family life. Set in 1989-90s, Moone Boy reminds me of The Wonder Years. It’s got wit and heart. The acting, particularly Martin’s performance, is natural and the pace is brisk. Each episode, available on Hulu.coma and PBS in some areas, wrings the most from every story. In the two seasons I’ve seen every episode delights.

Miss Annie Rooney

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With the end of 2014, came retrospectives reminding us of all the talented, accomplished people who died last year. One was Shirley Temple Black so I thought it fitting to watch one of her movies. Netflix just had Miss Annie Rooney, which I’d never seen so the choice was easy. (I’d expect Netflix to have a few more.)

Shirley plays the title character, a young teenager with dreams of high romance. Annie and her friend live half their lives in a very romantic dream world where they quote plays and use as many elegant words as they can without fussing about whether they use them correctly. They’re cute and funny.

Annie’s family consists of her father who’s just one “get rich quick” scheme away from becoming a millionaire and her grandfather, a retired policeman who’s traded his uniform in for an apron as he is the chief cook and bottle washer at home. Grandpa is only the Rooney with both feet on the ground. Her father is a salesman attracted to get rich quick schemes and unable to keep money in his pocket to pay the rent. As the story progresses, the father imperils the family financially, while the grandfather tries to keep them afloat by borrowing from his pension.

Annie soon meets a very wealthy young man and is smitten with his polish. Trouble arises when he invites her to his birthday party without telling his snobbish parents. Annie’s introduction into society is not what she’d dreamed. I loved the dialog and slang. A drizzle puss is a wet blanket and pocket lettuce means cash. There are dozens of such  gems.

Joey, there are times when you positively curdle me.”
“Come on gate! Let’s circulate”
“I won’t know any arithmetic under a million.”

This Shirley Temple film was a balm to my soul after watching the masterful, but dark Happy Valley, The Village and One Wonderful Sunday, a Kirosawa movie I’ll soon review. It’s light-hearted fare and a fun way to see Temple as an older character.

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