Friday Flashback: The Boston Strangler (1968)

Based on a true story, The Boston Strangler follows the police investigation of the notorious serial killer responsible for killing 13 innocent women in the city of Boston. Directed by Richard Fleischer, the film does a fine job of capturing the gritty and seedier streets of Boston as the police (led by Geroge Kennedy as Detective DiNatale) go from crime scene to crime scene hunting down their man. Fleischer utilizes some interesting camera work for this movie, especially his use of split screens throughout the film.

The movie stars Henry Fonda as John Bottomly, the chief detective who is ordered to take over this investigation, which has (for good reason) thrown the public and the media into an absolute tizzy. Playing the intriguing role of the strangler, Albert DeSalvo is none other than Tony Curtis. Because he was mostly associated with light comedic fare at the time, it took a lot for the studio to finally give the greenlight to casting Curtis in the chilling role of DeSalvo. Originally, Robert Redford and Warren Beatty were attached. So it came as quite the surprise to all when it was announced that Tony Curtis would be playing the iconic serial killer. And he does a wonderful job too! We don’t even see him until one full hour into the film, and by that time, the build-up to revealing the killer is overwhelming – but Curtis doesn’t disappoint. He is a family man and our first look at him is sitting in his modest living room staring at the coverage of JFK’s funeral on TV, with his young daughter on his lap. Then, we see him spring into action and get a glimpse of what makes this guy tick.

When DeSalvo is captured by police for an entirely different matter, the court realizes that he is ill and place him in a hospital to be examined and diagnosed. Clues are pieced together and Bottomly and DiNatale realize that they have their man. The scenes where Fonda is interrogating Curtis are enthralling to watch. The doctor explains to the police that DeSalvo may be genuinely sick – that he has two distinct personalities and the working family man literally has no idea of the unspeakable acts he has committed – so Bottomly must tread lightly in his questioning or DeSalvo will burst. Curtis is great in these interrogation scenes… he doesn’t overdo it at all and is quite subtle in his actions. The viewer can’t really tell if he is faking it or if he is truly ill.

The Boston Strangler is a very interesting watch, with a smart script by Edward Anhalt, based on the book by Gerold Frank. The camerawork and some of the techniques utilized draw you in even more than the gripping story already does. Though critical reception was mixed at the time of release, I think the movie has received much wider acceptance and appreciation over time. I’d recommend it just to see Curtis’ fine work which shows off his range. The last image that we see as the end credits appear is haunting and lingers in your mind long after – we see Albert DeSalvo standing in the corner of an all-white room – by himself, no musical accompaniment, as the camera slowly fades back and gets whiter and whiter.

Rent It or Skip It? 5 Flicks on DVD!

I do love the summertime, but I can’t stand summertime movie-going. With all of the inane sequels and remakes, on top of the annual big blockbuster “action” flicks being released, there are so few films playing in theaters that I actually want to go out and see. My solution? I am stuck at home renting more films than usual and staying away from wasting my money at the multiplex on schlock like The Green Lantern, Captain America, and yes…The Smurfs. So I thought I would do another quick recap of what I’ve been watching and letting you know whether you should RENT IT! or SKIP IT! These are not film reviews – just very brief thoughts on some of the movies you may have missed in theaters that I’ve been playing on the ‘ol DVD.

Miral (dir. Julian Schnabel)

Surely, one of the year’s very best so far and Schnabel continues to prove what a visionary he truly is. Other than David Lynch, Schnabel is the only other director I can think of who directs a film as if it were a painting on a canvas, with each shot just as visually striking as the next. Based on a true story (and on Rula Jebreal’s autobiographical book), Miral begins in Jerusalem in 1948 during the Arab-Israeli War, when Hind Hussein (a wonderful Hiam Abbass) comes across a number of children left orphaned in the street due to a bombing. She takes them in. Within months, her Dar Al-Tifel Institute was helping to educate thousands of children who otherwise would have been left for dead. Young Miral (Freida Pinto) is brought to the Institute in 1978 and most of the movie follows her growing up and trying to balance the love she has for Mother Hind and her father — and fighting for the love of her country she sees suffering at the hands of the Israeli army. Yes, this is a political film, but Schnabel really doesn’t show any bias towards the Israelis or the Palestines. In fact, he received cooperation from both countries before shooting. I held off watching this for a while, but Miral is a moving, inspiring, and  gorgeously photographed film. The musical score shines, the performances are strong, the direction is sublime, and the story is nothing short of moving.
VERDICT: RENT IT!

Peep World (dir. Barry W. Blaustein)

This one is a nice, small indie comedy written by Peter Himmelstein and features a nice ensemble cast. A dysfunctional family is getting ready to celebrate their wealthy father’s (Ron Rifkin, perfectly cast) 70th birthday. Tensions are at their peak since the youngest son Nathan (a spoiled and uncouth Ben Schwartz) has written a tell-all book exposing the family’s dark secrets. The book is an amazing success and even being made into a motion picture. His three siblings, of course, are not at all pleased – and it all comes to a head at daddy’s birthday dinner. Rifkin is terrific in his pomposity. Rainn Wilson, Michael C. Hall (TV’s Dexter), and Sarah Silverman play Nathan’s siblings. The very funny Lewis Black narrates the story. I thought the film was funny at times, and it kept me engaged. As the family’s dark sheep, Wilson turns in a restrained and moving performance. There is a moment near the end of the film where he opens up to Nathan and it is a very touching scene. In the end, I just felt that with the intriguing premise and impressive cast assembled, that the film didn’t go far enough – it could have dug much deeper and done much more. Despite this, I would recommend it – the script is crisp and quirky and the cast is fun to watch.
VERDICT: RENT IT!

Sucker Punch (dir. Zack Snyder)

After Snyder’s Watchmen, I was super excited to see this one. I know most don’t agree with me, but I thought Watchmen was one of the Top 10 films of 2009 and one of the best superhero flicks (if not the most unique) I have ever seen. The trailer to Sucker Punch looked equally as stimulating – especially how visually arresting it is. But alas, Snyder’s latest effort is shockingly, well…a bore. Yes, all of the visual aspects are captivating. But aside from watching all of the eye candy here, there is very little as far as story goes and the plot gets a bit repetitious after some time. Young “Babydoll” (a sexy, doe-eyed Emily Browning) is committed to an asylum for the mentally insane by her sexually abusive stepfather. She becomes the ringleader to a pack of beauties who are being mistreated at the institution — and, following her lead, they plan their massive escape to freedom. Throughout, the film alternates between the real world and the fantasy world that Babydoll slips into. The movie plays out like you’re watching a 100-minute video game and poor Scott Glenn…what the hell was he thinking signing up to be a part of this mess? As many have suggested, I didn’t find the film to be misogynistic. If anything, I do believe that Snyder is on the side of the ladies and has attempted to showcase the empowerment of women over their oppressive male counterparts, but really…20 minutes into this, I just didn’t care. Here is hoping to a much better effort from Mr. Snyder the next time around!
VERDICT: SKIP IT!

Insidious (dir. James Wan)

I don’t believe that a horror film needs a significant amount of violence or gore to be scary. Hell, some of the scariest films are ones that don’t show the viewer anything at all, but give the viewer the expectation of what might creep up from behind the curtains. But Insidious really didn’t scare me at all. Perhaps the PG-13 rating hurt it a bit and kept the filmmakers somewhat restrained, but this film really fell a bit flat to me. The first half is actually pretty good and sets us up quite nicely. Renai and Josh (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) have just moved into their new home with their three young children. Young Dalton has took a fall in the attic after seeing something (offscreen) that scares him half to death. The next morning, dad cannot wake him up as he has fallen into a coma that baffles everyone. Weird things take place in the new home and Renai convinces Josh to pick up and move again – but the strange supernatural events take place there too. It turns out, that the house is not haunted at all…it is their son. The second half of the movie falls short and does not live up to the lofty expectations that the first portion sets up for us. Lin Shaye is exceptionally good here as the older woman who works in paranormal activities and comes in to help the couple and their child. Patrick Wilson is a terrific actor, but isn’t given all that much to do here. Insidious is like taking a ride on the kiddie roller coaster at the amusement park instead of stepping into the daunting one where the delightful screams can be heard in the distance. It has its small thrills and is adequate for the faint of heart, but leaves you wanting much more.
VERDICT: SKIP IT!

I Saw the Devil (dir. Kim Jee-Woon)

What Insidious fails to do, this flick does in spades – it scares the crap out of you! I can’t believe how much I enjoyed this – and how impressed I was in the visual aspects of this film. Kim and cinematographer Lee Mo-gae make this grisly and gory film so engaging and so beautiful to watch from the opening scene to its final credits. And do not fool yourself either – this is one of the more disturbing films you will see, with enough graphic violence to please the most hungry horror buff. But it’s not really a horror flick…more of a revenge thriller – with elements of horror thrown in. It opens on a chilly winter’s night and pretty Joo-yun (Oh San-ha) is stuck with a flat tire. The psychotic Kyung-chul (Choi Min-sik) pulls up in a small children’s bus and offers to help. He kidnaps her and brutally murders the poor girl, chopping her up in pieces. Her fiancée, Soo-hyun (Lee Byung-hun) is an agent on the police force and of course, he wants his revenge. The rest of the movie is a brilliant cat-and-mouse game, with Soo-hyun doing everything in his power to torture the sadistic killer who can’t seem to stop himself. Choi Min-sik is absolutely superb in this movie – he is haunting, menacing, and evil incarnate. Kim Jee-woon has crafted a magnificent and absorbing work with visual elements that are nothing short of breathtaking. The script, by Park Hoon-jung, goes places that you would not expect, keeping you on your toes throughout. If you have the stomach for it, and you are into revenge movies – do yourself a favor and watch this film. It is easily one of the year’s very best.
VERDICT: RENT IT! — if you dare

OTHER MOVIES OUT ON DVD/BLUE-RAY:

Rango  (* * ½)  — RENT IT!
The Lincoln Lawyer (* *) — SKIP IT!
Kill the Irishman (* * *) — RENT IT!
Happythankyoumoreplease (* * *) — RENT IT!

Top 5 Tuesday: Martin Scorsese

I thought it was high time that The Lantern finally give one of America’s greatest filmmakers his due. In all honesty, I am somewhat embarrassed that it has taken me this long to post a list honoring the legendary Martin Scorsese. But to make up for my negligence, I thought it would be a good idea to get two separate Top 5’s composed by two huge Marty fans…Phil Carbo (who writes the ‘Ludovico Files‘ page) was gracious enough to share his personal favorites…and I have my own 5 faves here as well. And we are both in agreement…with so many classic films to choose from (including his many documentaries & shorts) since the late 1960’s, this was one challenging task. Five slots go way too quickly, and many great films are unfortunately left off both lists. Not only is he a master director constantly pushing the boundaries of filmmaking, but he has done so much for the preservation of film – and that, my friends, is pretty awesome. I mean really, is there anyone you would rather learn about the history of film than this guy? The man is a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge. I can hear him speak about movies for hours and still want more. And to think that before becoming one of our most cherished directors, he was seriously considering a life as a priest. Instead, he became one of the most influential directors of the modern era — and at age 68, is still hard at work and entertaining us all. Here are our lists…they are surprisingly similar (so much for diversity…sorry guys), which surprised me just a bit. ENJOY!

Phil Carbo’s Top 5:

5. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

I’m sure many will think this is an odd choice and question whether this is truly one of the top-5 films of Scorsese’s storied career but to me, while not bringing the best plot or pacing to the table, Bringing out the Dead is a film that is quintessential Scorsese.  First, it reunites him with screenwriter Paul Schrader and the two have an undeniable chemistry.  Schrader’s scripts typically reveal the darker side of New York and this film is, despite its slow pace, a perfect vehicle for Marty’s trademark, hyper kinetic style: close-ups, dolly shots, lightning edits, fast motion and all enhanced with a classic rock soundtrack that is prototypical Scorsese.  Sure Nicolas Cage is over the top — but when is he not?  Marty’s vision here actually lends itself to the hyped-up, manic performances.  Filmed almost entirely at the darkest hours of the night, it progressively exhibits a surrealness and frantic absurdity that feels born out of a nightmare.

4. After Hours (1985)

Speaking of nightmares, the kinetic pace and off-the-wall oddness of this black comedy plays out like a bad dream for both Griffin Dunne’s character and the viewer. Little known fact: Tim Burton was originally attached to the project, which would have been interesting because After Hours seems like more of a Burton film…but Scorsese, of course, makes the material his own.  One of his few comedies, he once again exposes the darker side of New York as the city becomes a central character.  As mentioned, the film taps into many of the motifs we all find in our dreams (the reoccurrence of locations, the feeling that one is running and running but can’t seem to get away, and a seeming randomness to everything going on).  The film ends strangely (apparently a point of contention during filming), seeming to imply that the “normalcy” of a 9-5 office existence is not necessarily a bad thing.  Whatever you take from it, one thing is certain – this is one of Scorsese’s more visually arresting films.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

This film and my next are pretty much no-brainers.  When one thinks of Scorsese, it’s impossible for Taxi Driver to NOT come to mind.  It is a dark and deliberately paced film and contains one of DeNiro’s top 5 best performances.  Story aside, it is impossible not to marvel at the craft of filmmaking Scorsese brings to this film.  From the opening shot of the taxi driving slowly through puffs of city steam to the shocking and graphic shootout (that ironically turns Travis from psychopath to hero – at least in the public eye) the entire film has an uneasy edge.  Marty developed his trademark themes of alienation and Christian guilt in early films such as Mean Streets, but with Taxi Driver he was at the top of his game, and in the process helped to define the gritty, maverick style that 70’s film is known for (and sadly missed).

2. Raging Bull (1980)

From opening frame to end, Raging Bull showcases the artistic genius of Scorsese like no other. Filmed in black and white (with one amazingly inventive color sequence), Raging Bull lays bare the tragic despair of Jake LaMotta, a man so full of self-loathing, that he abuses and alienates everyone around him, including his wife and brother with unspeakable brutality. Robert DeNiro once again proves his incredible ability to morph into character like no other actor of his time.  The violence both in and out of the ring is graphic, with close-ups of blood spurting from open wounds, and dialogue that makes some scenes downright uncomfortable to watch; all ultimately help us understand this unrepentant character.  This film was made during a difficult time in Scorsese’s life.  He was battling addiction and saw a bit of himself in LaMotta’s fall from grace. In this sense, it’s one of Scorsese’s most personal and autobiographic films (the theme of redemption comes up in many of his more accomplished works).  As a side note: It’s also the first time Joe Pesci would give an ass-kicking to Frank Vincent (a recurring cycle in several subsequent films until Vincent gets his ultimate revenge in Casino).

1. Goodfellas (1990)

I could easily write a Masters’ thesis on Goodfellas.  In my opinion, it’s not only Scorsese’s best, but it also happens to be my favorite film of all-time. It’s the first film that made me understand the medium as an art form. Goodfellas takes all the elements of great cinema to create the feeling that you are experiencing all of the joys, anger, paranoia, and desperation of each character.  And truth be told, I wasn’t even that interested in seeing it when released in 1990.  My friends had to convince me into going.  This probably had something to do with the fact that I had recently watched Sergio Leone’s ganster epic, Once Upon a Time in America, and while a good film, is just too slow for my taste.  At nearly 2 ½ hours, I suppose I expected the same from Goodfellas, but boy… was I wrong.  From the very moment the title zooms across the screen to a revving engine to Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way” over the end credits, the movie never fails to electrify in its brilliance.  Scorsese has since made other phenomenal films in the genre (Casino, Gangs of New York and The Departed come to mind), but Goodfellas sets the gold standard for a plethora of the modern crime dramas that followed and remains the high-water mark of Marty’s career.

Peter’s Top 5:

5. Gangs of New York (2002)

I had about three different films in this slot before finally deciding on this ambitious work. More than any other Scorsese film in recent years, this one for me most resembles his stellar films of the 70’s & 80’s. I love the historical context of Lower New York’s “Five Points” district (1846 – 1862) and how Scorsese creates this past world. Daniel Day-Lewis gives another towering performance here as “Bill the Butcher,” the leader of the natives looking to oust all of the immigrants making their way to shore. John C. Reilly, Liam Neeson, and Jim Broadbent give fine supporting performances. I’m not a Leo-hater by any means and his performance here is adequate, but his irregular Irish accent does bother me. The production design and period costumes are stunning – and the camerawork is gripping. A majestic American tale – and my favorite Scorsese movie of the past 10+ years.

4. After Hours (1985)

I know many would put his other black comedy King of Comedy (1982) on the list instead, and I would have no problem with that. But for me, this cult classic is one of my all-time favorite comedies. Joseph Minion’s script is an absolute trip, the camera never stops moving, and the all-star cast turn in some great performances. This is a wonderfully quirky and imaginative “New York movie” following the many misadventures and dangers that sheepish Paul Hackett (Griffin Dunne) encounters one evening as he simply tries to make his way home. As Phil cites above, Tim Burton was slated to direct this first – but seeing it now, I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. This is a genuine Scorsese flick and a must-see for any fan of his work.

3. Taxi Driver (1976)

A classic, gritty New York motion picture. Seeing it years later gives you such an authentic sense of how Manhattan (especially the seedier parts of it) was in the 1970’s. This is early Robert DeNiro, which means he gave it his Method-best (wish he were still here with us, btw). As the lonely, dejected ex-Marine Travis Bickle, DeNiro gives us one of the silver screen’s most terrifying characters – a ticking time bomb that can go off at any time as he drives through the streets of New York late at night, disgusted at what he sees. Scorsese assembled a great supporting cast – led by a young Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Cybill Shepherd. Paul Schrader’s script is authentic and inspiring and Bernard Herrmann’s music captures Bickle’s state of mind perfectly. A graphically violent movie, it’s surely not for the faint-of-heart. But it remains a mesmerizing character picture with a fantastic denouement that resonates long after.

2. Goodfellas (1990)

A beautiful & explosive piece of filmmaking – and one of the very best mobster movies of all-time. I was always fascinated by how beautifully Scorsese and his creative team captured the many decades that this epic film spans…from the 1950’s through the 1980’s, Goodfellas encapsulates each period so well. The costumes, art direction, and music featured…all marvelously executed as we watch the rise and fall of the Lucchese crime family. Joe Pesci as the psychopathic Tommy DeVito is scary as hell, Lorraine Bracco was robbed of what should have been an Oscar-winning performance, DeNiro gives another well-crafted performance – and Ray Liotta does a terrific job of holding the entire film together. In fact, he has never been better. As impressive as the film is from a moviemaking standpoint, Scorsese managed to make this one hell of an entertaining flick – its 2 ½ hours breezing right by and you want another hour of it all. Love the “Layla” sequence and that impressive long tracking shot through the Copacabana is always a wonder to watch.

1. Raging Bull (1980)

In my opinion, this is Scorsese’s masterpiece. It is in no way one of those films I can turn on and watch at any time. I need to emotionally brace myself for this one because it is hard to stomach at times. Let’s face it…the guy is a fucking animal. Robert DeNiro is at the top of his game here as the brutish middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta,  giving arguably the best performance of his career and one of the greatest performances in film history. Joe Pesci is terrific as his brother. Calling Michael Chapman’s black-and-white photography breathtaking and stunning is still not doing justice to his work here. Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is crisp and fierce. One of the greatest bio pictures ever made and an instant classic to be sure. This is a haunting, powerful film that is a mesmerizing piece of filmmaking. Marty’s best work to date.

Peter’s Honorable Mentions:

My Voyage to Italy (1999)
Casino (1995)

Friday Flashback: My Fair Lady (1964)

I’m not much of a movie musical kind of guy. More times than not, there is so much that is lost from the stage to the screen. The immediacy and magic of the live theatre is absent and we are usually left with shells of what the productions once were. In my experience, there have only been just a few musicals that have been successfully adapted for the silver screen – and George Cukor’s My Fair Lady is certainly one of them. Winner of 8 Academy Awards (including “Best Picture”), this classic piece of cinema is based on the Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner stage musical – which, in itself is based on the brilliant stage play Pygmalion by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. Shaw’s 5-Act play, a wondrous social satire, is inspired from the renowned Greek myth of the woman-hating sculptor who falls in love with his very own creation.

Set in Edwardian London, My Fair Lady stars the lovely Audrey Hepburn as the infamous Eliza Doolittle – a poor flower girl with a horrific Cockney accent and modest dreams of being “a lady in a flower shop.” Rex Harrison plays the arrogant, uncouth, impetuous Henry Higgins, a professor of phonetics who haughtily makes a bet with a colleague that he can transform Eliza, a “deliciously low” piece of baggage, into a lady by passing her off as a Duchess at the royal Embassy Ball. Harrison was born to play Henry Higgins. He is absolutely marvelous here and took home the “Best Actor” Oscar for his multifaceted performance. Higgins takes the frightened and naïve Eliza into his luxurious home where he and his phonetics associate Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White) clean her up and teach her how to speak properly. Gladys Cooper plays Henry’s mother – the only woman who can really put Henry in his place. And really, Higgins comes off like an absolute mamma’s boy in their scenes together. Stanley Holloway does a fine job at playing Eliza’s father Alfred P. Doolittle, a common dustman who is looking to profit from his daughter’s good luck.

Surprisingly, the musical is (for the most part) remarkably faithful to Shaw’s original work. Much of the earlier dialogue is still in tact – and Shaw’s societal statements (on language, education, social classes, et al) still come through very well. Cecil Beaton’s costume design is exquisite – featuring the lavishness of the upper class and the browbeaten garb of the lower class. The musical numbers are woven into the story quite nicely. It’s no secret by now that Ms. Hepburn did not do her own singing…I guess this was not her strong suit. Rather, her voice was dubbed by Marni Nixon. And Harrison doesn’t really have to do much singing. Most of his vocal work is him speaking in key. Musical highlights for me include the humorous “Just You Wait,” “The Rain in Spain” (which accompanies the classic scene not illustrated in the play), and “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

It is fascinating to watch Hepburn’s slow transformation from a poor, disheveled girl into a model of style and grace. It is equally fascinating to see all that Eliza is sacrificing in order to achieve her goals and win Higgins his bet. The chemistry between Hepburn and Harrison is riveting throughout. There is obviously something between the two – but both are too stubborn to relent. The one scene that always makes me tear up happens late at night, after a long and arduous day of trying to get Eliza to speak properly. Everyone is drained and feeling hopeless. Finally, after constant verbal attacks, Higgins gives her a confidence builder for th every first time: “think what you’re trying to accomplish. Think what you’re dealing with. The majesty and grandeur of the English language, it’s the greatest possession we have. The noblest thoughts that ever flowed through the hearts of men are contained in its extraordinary, imaginative, and musical mixtures of sounds. And that’s what you’ve set yourself out to conquer Eliza. And conquer it you will.” This, combined with Hepburn’s reaction to this speech, always makes me lose it.

My Fair Lady is a classic motion picture and a few years ago was ranked #8 in the American Film Institute’s “100 Years of Musicals” list. It is an enchanting piece of movie-making, to be sure and is part of an era when Hollywood was famous for its majestic and sweeping musicals. And for 168 minutes of its 170-minute running time, it represents all that is right in movies. The last minute or so has always bothered me — and I can’t help but feel that the brilliant G.B. Shaw is always turning over in his grave at what they did to his sensible and realistic conclusion. (SPOILER ALERT!) In the film, Eliza and Henry have just parted. They will sadly go their separate ways. Henry walks home alone and has a light-bulb moment…an epiphany. He loves Eliza. “Damn, Damn, Damn, DAMN!” he shouts, and breaks into “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” But does he do anything about it? Does he rush back to Eliza and confess his feelings? No! He slumps back home, plays an old recording of Eliza’s voice, sulks in his chair, and begins to wallow in self-pity — forever missing Eliza, even though they’ve been apart for all of perhaps 30 minutes. What happens next? Eliza is the one to cave in. She instantly walks back to Henry’s home and sees him stewing in his melancholy. When he realizes that she has come back, a Cheshire cat-like smile appears on his face…he tips his hat and asks, “Where the devil are my slippers?” as one would ask a maid. She smiles. She will stay. And the two live happily ever after. [INSERT VOMIT HERE] The play does not end this way — because it shouldn’t end this way. Shaw explains his reasoning in a rather lengthy epilogue. The Hollywood execs though would have none of that — and we are treated to Eliza, the woman, being the one to relinquish her power to the mighty male figure…and it always ruins it just a little bit for me. I hate that she does that. I hate that he “wins” that way. And I think it’s more than just another one of my little pet peeves. This is a big deal. In spite of this small travesty of an ending, I can’t help but return to this film often…because there is so much right with it, and the performances are wonderful. It remains one of my all-time favorite movie musicals. Sorry G.B.S.

Movie Review: Lo

LoLo

2009
NR
83 min
Director: Travis Betz
Cast: Ward Roberts, Jeremiah Birkett, Sarah Lassez

Rating:

One of my favorite things about the horror genre is that it’s so unrestrictive. Like Sci-Fi and Fantasy, there are so many themes to explore that it’s really difficult to pigeon-hole it into one type of film. Yes, most of the mainstream releases tend to fall into the “teenagers in peril” or “killer on the loose” motif but every once in a while a film comes along that stands everything we typically think of as horror right on its head.

Few and far between are these moments, but finding talented young filmmakers that seek to put a unique twist on the genre is what keeps me interested. That’s where a film like Lo comes in. Written and directed by Travis Betz, this film is a couple of years old, but it slipped under the radar and it is most certainly different.

In the safety of his pentagram, Justin summons the demon.

Justin (Ward Roberts) is having a tough time. He’s a geeky guy that has finally met the girl of his dreams in April (Sarah Lassez). Unfortunately, before their romance can truly blossom, Justin and April are attacked in their bedroom by a demon and in an act of self-sacrifice April allows the demon to take her to hell in exchange for Justin’s life. The only item she has left behind is a strange book which seems to be bound in flesh, has an ominous looking eye peering out of it and contains spells that summon demons from the underworld. Although Justin was instructed by April to never open the book and to in fact burn it, what’s a lovelorn guy to do? Draw a pentagram in his apartment, light up some candles and follow the instructions to summon the demon Lo (Jeremiah Birkett) to help him find April in the recesses of hell, of course!

Lo is a scary looking demon, but he’s a crack up. Spouting out insults and taunts and taking great pleasure watching Justin tremble in fear. Lo tells Justin that hell is a big place and it would be impossible to find April and bring her back. But demons are liars and Justin soon discovers that nothing Lo says can be trusted.

Do demons smoke? They do WHATEVER they want.

It’s here the movie shifts to some bizarre flashback scenes presented like a stage play with representations of Justin and April “acting” out their relationship in short vignettes. Justin is then introduced to the demon who took April, the flamboyant Jeez (Devin Barry). Jeez, with his lizard-shaped head and swastika attire is more personable than Lo, but just as shady. It’s through him that Justin discovers the horrifying truth about April and who (or what) she really is.

Lo is a hard movie to classify. This film is very quirky. And by quirky I mean characters spontaneously break into musical numbers, the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks show up as women with gold painted faces who react to the action, and our hero has multiple arguments with his inner thoughts through a knife wound in his hand. This wackiness will turn a lot of people off and truth be told, Lo isn’t for everyone. The entire film takes place in one room. In fact, Lo would make an excellent stage play.

Jeez offers Justin some sound advice.

The dialogue is at times clever and quite comical as when Lo chooses to call Justin “Dinner” throughout the film referencing what Lo plans to do to him should he make the mistake of stepping outside his protective pentagram.

Or when Justin is tricked into drinking poison and asks Jeez if there is anything that can be done to save him; Jeez’ response: “Get to a hospital….  Pump it out.”  The obviousness and absurdity of that line is an example of what makes the film shine. That Justin assumes supernatural intervention is the only thing that can save him and somehow, even in the demon world, poison can be extracted by a stomach pump.

If there is one flaw, I wish Betz did a better job of developing the relationship between Justin and April. In the few flashback sequences, the viewer never really gets a true sense of why Justin feels so strongly for April that he would risk his own soul for her. In that respect, the characters are somewhat under developed and one-dimensional.

Lo is not scary or action-packed, there aren’t any spectacular effects, the make-up is adequate at best and some of the performances are woefully cornball. What sets Lo apart is the unique style it exhibits, up to and including its surprisingly touching ending.

If you’re still curious about this oddity, check out the trailer, (which is cut slicker than the actual film), below:

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”: Movie Review

The long wait is over. Harry Potter fans can now rejoice with the long-anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 today and in theaters everywhere (though I’m sure many already went to the midnight screening last night). The film, directed by David Yates,  follows our infamous trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron in their quest to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort and is slated to be the final installment in the mega-franchise. But — is it worth the wait? The hype? The hoopla? Does this last film live up to all of the lofty expectations and do justice to J.K. Rowling‘s book? Well, lucky for us, The Lantern has Potter extraordinaire William Buhagiar to give us the scoop and tell us what we might be in store for. Mr. Buhagiar does possess a Ph.D in Rowling Studies from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry and is an all-around film nerd. Here is his film review. — P.E.

It is arguably very melodramatic to begin this review by examining the brutal reality that nothing, not even anything as exquisite as the Harry Potter series, lasts forever. For the past twelve (out of twenty years of my life), I’ve always had a Harry Potter-something to look forward to, a reason to assemble amongst fellow nerds in bookstores and movie theaters in the middle of the night, waiting to resume by page or screen the epic tale of the Boy Who Lived. Now, after over a decade, I’ve stepped off the Hogwarts Express for good. Is it fair or is it absurd to view this as the most prominent rite of passage I have yet experienced? Outrageous as it may seem, never before have I felt so distant from childhood. My childhood was Harry Potter, and Harry Potter is now over. It is absolutely the most exhausted I’ve ever felt.

Deathly Hallows: Part II doesn’t ease the audience into the narrative – if you haven’t seen Part I, the film makes it very clear that you do not belong here. The Order of the Phoenix is at its weakest, Harry has just buried the heroic house-elf Dobby, and the despicable Dark Lord Voldemort has violated Albus Dumbledore’s tomb to steal the Elder Wand, one of the Deathly Hallows and the most powerful magical instrument ever created…and so it begins.

Within minutes, the trio (each of whom reach their acting peak — they’re all superb) are raiding Gringott’s Wizarding Bank, flying over London atop a monstrous dragon, and quickly realize the shit has hit the fan when Voldemort discovers their secret mission to undo him – this, among other things, ultimately leads back to Hogwart’s, where the good guys will make their final stand against the bad guys. The Battle of Hogwarts, which should’ve been an insanely climactic cinematic spectacle, was generally a brief, disappointing series of flashes of magical combat. The handful of notable deaths we found devastating in the book are examined all-too-briefly here, and the novel’s profound examination of the consequences of war, the need to keep fighting and the triumph of good over evil feel tossed aside at times.

However, the film achieves something of a phenomenon in one of the series’ central characters, Professor Severus Snape, whose storyline ultimately lifts the quality of the movie tenfold and who becomes the primary focus of the film for a good stretch of about seven minutes. This was not only the finest chapter of the book series, but will ultimately go down as the finest sequence in the adaptations. There are many movies I will discuss and casually claim I have cried during (when in fact I just found them sad), but I promise I do not even mildly exaggerate when I say that I was sobbing, harder than I ever have before in a movie, during the scenes that properly explain the complicated, brilliant and ultimately tragic character that is Professor Severus Snape. Alan Rickman, who for eight films showed us a cold, sneering Potions Master with a disposition for sadism, annihilates the image he’s so artfully sustained for the past decade and brings something new to him – his vulnerability, desperation and grief stirred me into a frenzy and I couldn’t help but openly sob during Snape’s finest hour. God bless Alan Rickman.

I’ve always had a rocky relationship with the Harry Potter films; this is no secret; some I’ve come to appreciate and some I’ve come to absolutely despise. In the case of Deathly Hallows: Part II, my initial response is generally mixed. Something felt anti-climactic; many important events overlooked, but when the film got it right, it was nearly perfect. We can’t expect the films to be anything quite as extraordinary as the novels, I suppose, and they must always be viewed as separate entities. What I will always remember fondly will be the books, and the films will always be there to provide some quick entertainment. There will be no more Harry Potter releases, all is said and done, and there will be no more speculation over it. Despite my many grievances, it’s been fun watching J.K. Rowling’s world translated to the big screen, though sometimes infuriating for ten years. Mischief managed.

William’s Rating

10 Critics’ Thoughts on 10 Coen Brothers Films

Master filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen are the subject of a summer-long retrospective at AFI (now through September 5th) featuring many of their greatest works. The film family over at Brightest Young Things (myself included) thought this provided a great reason to write briefly about our most favorite Coen Brothers films. I had to get the jump on Barton Fink. But 9 other great BYT film writers posted their own personal thoughts about other films in the great Coen Oeuvre. I made sure to add a link to that below, complete with a listing of writers and the films chosen. Hope you enjoy — and feel free to comment and tell us what YOUR favorite Coen Brothers movie is!

MY THOUGHTS ON BARTON FINK (1991)

Though it may be their least accessible film for a mainstream audience, Barton Fink remains my favorite Coen Brothers film to date. Not only do I never get tired watching their 4th feature film, but I manage to capture something new or add a new piece to the puzzle with each viewing. Set in 1941, the film stars John Turturro (one of our most underrated actors) as the title character — a Clifford Odets-like playwright who writes for “the common man” and is now the toast of Broadway. The lure of Hollywood success reels him in and Barton now finds himself in the surreal and forsaken Hotel Earle, a hellish west coast hotel where he must begin work on a screenplay for a Wallace Beery wrestling picture. But things don’t go so smoothly for Barton as he suddenly experiences a horrible case of writer’s block. On top of this, he must deal with constant visits from Charlie Meadows (John Goodman in a towering performance), his chatty and ominous neighbor.

Feeling the pressure to produce, Barton seeks producer Ben Geisler (a hilarious Tony Shalhoub) for advice and is instructed to seek the counsel from a fellow writer. Barton obeys and meets with famed novelist (and drunk) W.P. “Bill” Mayhew (John Mahoney), a character mirrored after William Faulkner who Barton initially has tremendous admiration for. Barton later calls on Mayhew’s secretary (Judy Davis) and asks her to visit him at the hotel for more help. When he wakes up the following morning to the ubiquitous sound of the room’s mosquito, Barton finds the woman dead in his bed. And so the fun begins.

The Coen Brothers are masters at ambiguity. They rarely serve up all the answers to their viewers on a silver platter, which is one of the reasons why I admire their work so much. They constantly challenge their audiences and let you put the pieces together for yourself. No strangers to period pieces, the Coens beautifully capture the look and feel of 1941 here. The exquisite art direction (especially in the contrast of the Hotel Earle and the luxurious surroundings of the Hollywood elite) by Dennis Gassner is stunning to take in and Carter Burwell’s haunting score adds to the foreboding mood. And as we have come to expect (now 20 years after the release of Barton Fink), the cinematography by the masterful Roger Deakins is splendid. Barton Fink is a haunting and yes, oftentimes funny film filled with quirky characters and picth-perfect dialogue that have become standard fare in most of the Coen Brothers works. Turturro is mesmerizing as the troubled intellectual writer and his chemistry with Goodman is ever-engaging. Their scenes together are a pleasure to watch and absorb. The supporting cast is no less impressive – they are fittingly cast and a marvel to watch. The film takes a strong look at the culture of Hollywood and entertainment as well as the process of writing. It is also laden with symbolism throughout (though the Coens have always denied most of it).

I vividly recall seeing this movie in the theater when it was first released in 1991 when I was a student at New York University. I went with two close friends who lived in Long Island at the time. They took the train in to see it with me, as we were already huge fans of the Coen Brothers and couldn’t wait to see their new flick. I distinctly remember the overall feeling of disappointment upon leaving the theater, with my friend Chris saying what a tremendous waste of a train trip it was — that we had just witnessed pretentious garbage. I didn’t love it, I must admit. But i was certainly intrigued by it and I told my film-loving friend, “We missed something…we didn’t get it.” Barton Fink is certainly not the film for those who don’t embrace and appreciate the voice of the Coens’ to be sure. It isn’t the film I would inaugurate someone unfamiliar with their impressive canon of work. It may not be their strongest work, but after that initial screening, it quickly became my most favorite. At the risk of hyperbole, I think the Coen Brothers are without a doubt the finest American filmmakers working today, creating one remarkable film after the next with astonishing continuity. If you’re a fan — and you have yet to see this early work, get ready to be challenged and watch this perplexing, rioutous, dark, and fascinating film.

Click HERE to see the full article by the film staff at Brightest Young Things. Each writer gives his/her personal thoughts on a Coen Brothers film of their choosing.

The 10 Movies Chosen Are:

The Big Lebowski by Logan Donaldson
Fargo by Erin Holmes
The Hudsucker Proxy by Svetlana Legetic
Intolerable Cruelty by Alan Zilberman
Miller’s Crossing by Peter Heyneman
O’ Brother Where Art Thou? by Andrew Bucket
Raising Arizona by John Foster
A Serious Man by Zach Goldbaum
“Tuileries” by William Albeque
Barton Fink by moi

Some Mixed Thoughts on “Midnight in Paris”

While, this is not technically a film review, I did want to vent a bit on Woody Allen’s latest film, Midnight in Paris, which is getting raves from critics and the public alike. This is great news, as Mr. Allen has been somewhat off his game for a few years and, as a tremendous fan of his work, I could not be happier. Hell, just look at the graphic I use as my avatar on this site! The movie also looks like it will easily eclipse Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) as his greatest domestic box-office success. This is also good news because I don’t think nearly enough people give his films a chance. Well, the modern-day fairy tale Midnight in Paris has been out for a while now, so I am a little late to the game…but after seeing it a couple of weeks ago, I felt I had to — as an objective admirer of his artistry — jot down some of my very profound thoughts. 🙂

First, the good. Anyone familiar with Allen’s canon of work knows that he’s been tapping the well pretty dry as of late. Same themes and the same characters in pretty unoriginal and disappointing films. With Midnight in Paris, Allen brings to the screen his most imaginative and creative movie since The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). That’s saying something and was very refreshing to finally see. It’s also been a bit challenging to find a suitable Woody archetype to play the lead roles. John Cusack did it very well. Here, Owen Wilson does a wonderful job as Gil, a Hollywood screenwriter who is struggling to finish his first novel. He is affable, charming, witty, and romantic.

Woody usually gets great performances from his all-star ensembles, and this film is no different. Adrien Brody is magnificent in the one scene he is in, playing Salvador Dali. He is hysterical and nearly steals the show. The lovely Marion Cotillard is also a wonder to watch as Pablo Picasso’s mistress. Michael Sheen is perfectly cast as the pseudo-intellectual who knows much less about art and culture than he’d like to think. You dislike him just the right amount. Kathy Bates (as Gertrude Stein), Corey Stoll (Ernest Hemingway), Allison Pill (as Zelda Fitzgerald) also stand out and deliver some fun and believable performances as their 1920’s icons.

It was a lot of fun keeping your eyes out, waiting to see which famous character we would be introduced to next. Picasso, Gauguin, Degas, Bunuel, Eliot, Fitzgerald? They’re all here and having a ball. The costume design and art direction provide a genuine look and feel of Paris in the 20’s, which is no surprise as Allen’s period pieces always do an admirable job of this.

And now for the not so good. Rachel McAdams is too bitchy and too dislikable as Gil’s fiancee. Her mother too. You just can’t stand them, which I know is the idea — but it is laid on too thick, giving the characters little dimension. My biggest flaw with the film was that for a movie with such a remarkable premise to it…so magical and so fantastic…it doesn’t go nearly as far as it should. Other than introducing a number of famous cultural icons to us, very little is done with them. Subplots arise with little follow-through. And the ending itself is far too abrupt. It just…ends. You are left wanting more — and not in a good way. Rather, you’re left (at least I was) feeling somewhat let down. I felt that this time, Woody was almost there…he had a great idea, a solid script, strong performances, lovely design and locations…and just didn’t take it all the way home.

So all in all — a cute, fun, highly imaginative film that unfortunately could have gone much further and ranked among Woody’s best. I have read all of the hoopla declaring that “Woody’s back!” and that Midnight in Paris ranks among his greatest films ever. I think, after so many stinkers during the past decade, that the bar has been set a bit low, so the hype here is overdone. It’s a very good movie — and I surely recommend people to go see it — but in my opinion, doesn’t go into his Top 10.

My Rating:

The 10 Creepiest David Lynch Moments

As a tremendous admirer of David Lynch and his artistry, I thought this was a brilliant idea for a post by the writers of Zen College Life (www.zencollegelife.com). I personally feel that he is one of only a select handful of American filmmakers who you can classify as a true “auteur.” Katina Solomon was kind enough to send this my way and after reading it, I felt I must publish it here on The Lantern to help spread the Gospel of Lynch. Some amazing and haunting scenes are listed here…give it a look! — P.E.

When your name becomes an adjective, you know you’ve made it. Case in point: the word “Lynchian” now means, essentially, a movie characterized by stark images, eerie moods, arresting sound design, and often graphic and twisted depictions of the human form. In other words, it’s like watching the most beautiful nightmare you’ve ever had, torn between wanting it to end and wanting to see if it gets weirder. David Lynch. He’s a masterful, remarkably assured filmmaker who’s proven himself to be one of the American greats, yet even by his own special standards, the scenes below are full-on creepy. They’re dark and ominous, and they share a common fear of the unusual and unknown. Many of them are marked by the sudden appearance of something unsettling that’s made all the more so for the way it just kind of shows up in the middle of a scene that’s already surreal. Don’t know what we mean? Throw some headphones on and get comfy, then. Time for a trip down Lynch’s rabbit hole.

10. Every Single Moment in Eraserhead

Lynch’s first film remains his most disturbing. Shot on a shoestring budget in the 1970s, the film is a gross, often revolting work that revolves around a deformed creature with no limbs and a monstrous face. Placing a heavy emphasis on emotional states over linear narratives, the film is a blast of bizarre visions and creepy encounters that Lynch may never top (not that he should.) Even for Lynch die-hards, this is a tough one.

9. The Televised Rabbits in Inland Empire

Significant portions of Inland Empire involve a faux-sitcom set featuring a three-member family with human bodies and rabbit heads. The images come from “Rabbits,” a series of video shorts Lynch made in 2002. On paper, the set-up sounds like a cheesy kids comedy, but in Lynch’s hands, it becomes so weird and menacing and uncomfortable that you don’t know what to do.

To view the scene, please click here.

8. The Shooting at Room 47 in Inland Empire

Totally nonlinear and endlessly challenging, Inland Empire offers some of Lynch’s most upsetting imagery (which is saying something). The movie’s basically a series of scenes that only loosely form a plot, and the action comes to a head when Nikki (Laura Dern) confronts the evil Phantom and shoots him, only to see his face turn into a grotesque version of her own. Seriously, this will mess you up…

To view the scene, please click here.

7. Club Silencio in Mulholland Drive

Only Lynch could make such a moving and beautiful scene so rattling. The final moments of Mulholland Drive exist almost outside of time and reality, playing with the fabric of dreams and death just like the rest of the film. We get our heroines back, briefly, freed from suicide and sex games and everything else that’s plagued every version of them, and we also get a stirring song that raises the nature of seeing versus believing.

6. The Mythical Origin Story in The Elephant Man

Probably the most accessible film Lynch made until 1999’s The Straight Story, The Elephant Man was nominated for a host of Oscars and earned praise for its cast. The opening of the film, though, is vintage Lynch, blending sight and sound into a weird metaphorical origin story that sees a woman trampled (and maybe more) by a herd of elephants. Even in a film as straightforward as this one, the “Lynchian” vibe is inescapable.

To view the clip, please click here.

5. The Figure Behind the Diner in Mulholland Drive

Originally written as a TV pilot before being retooled and partially reshot, Mulholland Drive is a haunting Mobius strip of a movie that slides back and forth between dreams and reality in ways specifically designed to leave viewers unsure of what’s happening. The creepiest moment is one that feels totally unrelated to the surrounding story, too. Set at a diner called Winkies, the scene deals with a man confronting a nightmare that turns out to be real. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the movie, or what your theories are about this scene’s meaning: it will still scare you. Here’s part one; the conclusion is below.

4. The Chat with the Mystery Man in Lost Highway

It sounds misleading to merely refer to Lost Highway as unsettling, as if the rest of Lynch’s c.v. was a lighthearted romp through Candyland, but there are some really spooky moments here that almost defy description. (David Foster Wallace memorably profiled Lynch during the film’s production for Premiere magazine.) The plot is almost too Lynchian to try and sum up, but it starts out dealing with a man (Bill Pullman) who finds himself haunted and stalked by a pale old Mystery Man (Robert Blake). After a brief vision of the Mystery Man, our hero meets him at a party and has a supremely eerie conversation with him that seems to break the rules of space and time.

3. Frank Booth’s Dry-Humping Fit in Blue Velvet

Blue Velvet was Lynch’s art-house redemption after the bloated mess of Dune, and he didn’t mess around: the film’s loaded with the symbolism and sexual themes that are prevalent in much of Lynch’s work. Chief among these is a wild man, Frank Booth (played with insane lust by Dennis Hopper), who gets off by dry-humping Isabella Rossellini while huffing from a gas mask. Even for a movie that kicks off with a guy finding a severed ear, this is a rocky scene.

2. The Appearance of the Navigator in Dune

Lynch’s version of Frank Herbert’s sci-classic is, well, not without its flaws. Lynch spoke out against the film, saying that producers had kept him from having final cut and implementing his own personal vision. Still, the film remains a stark and often ugly work of modern art, and it’s packed with the physical grotesqueries for which Lynch is often known. Easily the most unnerving is the giant navigator that at once is phallic and vaginal, a mutant in a glass case who can fold space and time and who has paid a bodily price for being submerged in the magical spice that gives him his powers. It’s impossible not to see him and feel a chill.

1. Agent Cooper’s Dream in Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks was the kind of daring, what-is-going-on type of TV show that now exists on cable. But in 1990, you could actually get a network to take a chance on a murder mystery that chucked the whodunit plot in favor of weird characters, dream sequences, and pie. Agent Cooper’s dream at the end of the second episode (after the two-hour TV-movie pilot) became an instant pop culture sensation thanks to its style, execution, and indescribable oddity. It’s vintage Lynch, and it set the stage for the rest of the show’s iconic run.

By Katina Solomon
(Zen College Life website)

Movie Review: Black Death

Black Death

2010
R
102 min
Director: Christopher Smith
Cast: Sean Bean, Eddie Redmayne, John Lynch

Rating:

The year is 1348 and the Black Plague has ravaged the countryside, laying waste to thousands of men, women and children.  With no relief in sight, emaciated bodies are piled up along the streets and the infected are left to die alone, in isolation. The church, for its part, has decreed that God has sent the pestilence as atonement for the sins of man so it’s not surprising when word that the entire populace of a village beyond the forest appears immune to the plague, the religious order believes it due to a form of necromancy and witchcraft.

The group comes upon a witch lynching.

The bishop deploys a group of soldiers led by his envoy, Ulric (Sean Bean looking like he just stepped off the Game of Thrones set) to investigate claims that the dead are being returned to life and capture the heretic responsible.  To lead them through the forest, Ulric enlists the aid of a local monk, Osmund (Eddie Redmayne) who believes the timing of this quest is a sign from God that he should reunite with his secret lover, Averill (Kimberley Nixon), who has earlier fled the village, and now waits for him in the forest.

A large portion of the film takes place on the journey to the village, where along the way the men bond discussing the rules of mercy killing, get ambushed, stumble upon a witch burning and discover a starling secret of one of their own.  Many of these scenes are anchored by the performance of the film’s narrator and Ulrich’s right-hand man Wolfstan (the excellent John Lynch).

I have a hard time classifying this as a horror film. It’s not until the group arrives at the village and we are introduced to the mysterious Langiva (Carice van Houten), do elements of the genre creep in, and even then, it’s a stretch.

What dark powers does mysterious Langiva possess?

What it is, however, is a dark and pessimistic film, dripping in grayish cinematography and melancholy atmosphere.  It is very well done, the characters are surprisingly fully realized (even most of the supporting cast) and the performances are strong.  The story is slow to unfold, but I felt it compelling throughout and the film does a fine job of keeping you guessing whether the plague is truly being kept at bay through supernatural intervention.  Beyond that, and this is where the film hits its controversial tone, director Christopher Smith attempts to ask some serous questions about the virtues of Christianity.

What perhaps made this film for me, and undoubtedly will turn others off, is the last 10 minutes that serves to tie up the story.  Without giving anything away, I will say it definitely fits the tone of the film quite well and in its ambiguity, asks as many questions as it answers.  And that, in and of itself, is a notch above your average horror fare.

Friday Flashback: Arthur (1981)

Thirty years ago we were introduced to the eccentric, drunken playboy Arthur Bach in Steve Gordon’s hilarious and tender-hearted film, Arthur. Terrified to death by the idea of actually working for a living, the spoiled Arthur has inherited his vast fortune and has no shame in treating the world like his own little playground. “I race cars, play tennis, and fondle women, BUT…I have weekends off, and I am my own boss,” he says. The late Dudley Moore played the lovable man-child and in doing so, created one of the funniest characters in film history. I’ll go one step further…I think Arthur is one of the Top ten funniest films ever made – and this is due, in large part, to Moore’s magnificent, unconstrained performance (which rightfully earned him an Oscar nomination).

On top of the hysterical one-liners that are delivered at breakneck speed throughout (“Do you have any objection to naming a child Vladimir? Even a girl?”), the nucleus of the film is an unlikely father-son relationship – between Arthur and his valet Hobson (Sir John Gielgud in an Academy Award-winning performance). It’s an unconventional bond, but it is all that Arthur has. You see, Arthur is the heir to a $750 million fortune – but will only receive this if he marries the suitable Susan Johnson (Jill Eikenberry), an upper-class woman who Arthur does not have any feelings for. In fact, Arthur doesn’t really have feelings for anyone but himself – that is, until he meets Linda (Liza Minelli), a working-class waitress from Queens who he sees stealing a tie from a department store. He is instantly smitten and determined to have her, despite what his wealthy family (and Hobson) might think.

Gielgud and Moore are wonderful together. Moore is so outrageous in his manner, and the classically trained Gielgud is superb in his matter-of-fact, composed delivery. Their rapport and comedic timing is impeccable (Arthur: A hot bath is wonderful…Girls are wonderful! Hobson: Yes, imagine how wonderful a girl who bathes would be. Get dressed.”). But what begins as a dynamic that seems more babysitter-child, slowly reveals its true colors. There is genuine love between the two. Though he certainly does not approve of his employer’s behavior (in fact, he frequently mocks it), Hobson will do anything for him and when Hobson falls ill, Arthur’s entire world falls apart. At one poignant moment, Hobson tells him, “Arthur, you’re a good son” – and it breaks your heart.

Moore’s chemistry with the wise-cracking Minelli is equally as impressive. They might not be the most glamorous couple in film, but they are perfect for each other. If anyone can tame this man whose only overnight guests are limited to prostitutes, it is Linda. And what’s more, she couldn’t care less about his inheritance.

Arthur features a delightful score by Burt Bacharach and the famous Oscar-winning single “Arthur’s Theme” by Christopher Cross. It was, sadly, the first and only film to be directed by Gordon, who died at a young age the following year. But the comedy here is timeless. Moore rightfully earned an Oscar nomination for his performance and, despite what some Hollywood execs might think, his work here his beyond reproachable. He is cinema’s greatest drunk, bar-none. And yes, the movie goes right up there with the very best comedies of all-time, to be sure. What makes it even more special is watching the irresponsible and selfish Arthur Bach slowly take stock in himself and his life. We watch him grow up — and we are laughing the whole way through.

MY RATING:

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