Friday, October 02, 2015

This Those Week In Tickets: 1 March 2015 - 14 March 2015

Today in plans I had before falling waaay behind: A fair-sized post or two reviewing the silent movies I caught locally before heading to San Francisco for even more.

This Week in Tickets

This Week in Tickets

But, on the other hand, look at those pages - as much as I love silents, there is something to be said on a pure bread-buttering basis about getting reviews up for (relatively) wide releases of current movies and making sure eFilmCritic looks reasonably relevant. And, boy, was there a lot of that during these weeks.

It started on the first of the month, with the fairly great Song of the Sea, which has only escaped being a birthday present for my nieces because I try to go for stuff with little-girl protagonists, and Saoirse is fairly second-fiddle in this one. If Tomm Moore could give his next movie a female lead, that would be great.

Monday was the first of three different recurring silent series that wound up converging on the same week, with the Coolidge's "Sounds of Slients" featuring Charlie Chaplin's "The Adventurer" as an appetizer for John Ford's Upstream. Both were pretty good; the latter wasn't typical Ford material, but that just highlights what a great director he was.

Tuesday, I gave in to how apparently nobody else on the site was going to review The Lazarus Effect, because others apparently have better instincts than I. Waste of a good cast and potentially decent material, but short, and I haven't yet ruled out sequels involving a demonic Little Hobo or The Ray Wise Corporation. Thursday, I caught the early screening of Chappie, and though I liked it more than most, it had problems. Unfortunately, it was also interrupted by a fire alarm.

I'm not sure whether 12 Golden Ducks was one of the Chinese/Hong Kong movies that sold out like crazy, although I remember it having a pretty good crowd. And that I felt like an idiot afterward for not realizing that Sandra Ng was playing the lead male role despite that only making sense with her being top-billed and there being no really noteworthy female role to justify it. Got another chance to screw that sort of thing up the next day, when I saw Argentina's pretty great Wild Tales and forgot which actress was a friend on a co-worker. Not sure whether Emily ever got around to seeing that, actually.

From there, I went up the Red Line to the Somerville Theatre, where the Alloy Orchestra was making their annual visit to accompany Son of the Sheik, coming back for more silents the next day when the Somerville and Jeff Rapsis presented a W.C. Fields Double Feture of Sallly of the Sawdust and Running Wild. It's a funny thing, the folks at the theater noted, that they sold the place out for Alloy but not their own silent series, despite how the 35mm prints they show look much better than the disc-based media Alloy often brings.

After that, a short break from seeing movies every night, although I did catch the final night of what I believe was a two-day bookking of Hard to Be a God at the Brattle. Less overtly science-fictional than I might have really liked, but I did like it, and was surprised at the crowd. I'd catch another recent Russian movie on Saturday, dragging myself out to West Newton for Leviathan because I took too long seeing it in closer spots.

In between, I caught the opening night of Cinderella, which is well worth recommending to the nieces on the one hand - adventure without a great deal of violence and depicting the title character's kindness as a special kind of bravery - although on the other, there is a lot of parental death (and I kind of suspect that someone should find a way to modernize this fairy tale that finds a way to deal with step-folks in a more sympathetic way). Then, after getting back from West Newton on Saturday, I caught Run All Night, which isn't really a terrible action movie but is definitely the wrong thing to plug guys like Liam Neeson and Ed Harris into.

Next up: I've got to do some catch-up before doing this bit of catch-up. Don't fall behind on stuff, folks.

"The Adventurer"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 2 March 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sounds of Silents, digital (?))

The nifty thing about things old enough to be in the public domain - it's easy and legal to find them online to refresh your memory when you forget what a 20-minute short you saw seven months ago was like (although the soundtrack on is not nearly as good as the one Donald Sosin & Joanna Seaton provided in person). The verdict: It's a good one.

Though described as a "Tramp" short, this last Mutual has Chaplin as a jailbird who, after escaping, winds up rescuing and winning the heart of an heiress (Edna Purviance), though gaining the enmity of her suitor (Eric Campbell). This, naturally, involves a lot of slapstick and a party disrupted in cheerfully disreputable manner. It's a trouble-making Chaplin rather than the down-on-his-luck tramp with pathos, and he proves quite adept at that, as you might expect from him being a comedy genius.


* * * (out of four)
Seen 2 March 2015 in Coolidge Corner Theatre #1 (Sounds of Silents, digital (?))

Upstream is the sort of film that reminds you that no all films thought lost were classics, but they can still be pretty good and just as intriguing for the picture they paint as their narrative. It centers on a boarding house populated by theater people, mostly has-beens and never-will-bes, including the least talented member of a famous acting family. Naturally, he's the one who gets the call to play Hamlet in London, though he owes what talent he has to his housemates and forgets them when he's gone.

This is an unabashedly theatrical movie; though silent film was carving out an identity separate from the stage, Ford makes sure that these theatrical and vaudeville performers are big off the screen as well, and while it's a style that modern audiences may have some trouble with, it does give their personalities some pop, a little extra dignity or foolishness as the case may be. I don't believe it's a cast filled with stars (future or faded), but it is full of fine work.

The biggest issue, in some ways, is the size of the film. It clocks in at about sixty minutes, which is fine considering how thin the story is in most spots but doesn't really give Brashingham's return to the house the room it needs, either for enough time to pass that things have changed or for a potential change of heart in the last act. Thirty years later (with twice the running time), Ford would nail something like that with The Searchers, but though he'd been around Hollywood for over ten years at this point, it would take the talkies and a little breathing room for him to really hit his stride.

The Son of the Sheik

* * * (out of four)
Seen 7 March 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Alloy Orchestra, digital)

Famous in large part because star Rudolph Valentino died young before the release of this sequel to the movie which solidified him as one of the first matinee idols (and started a string of him starring as "exotic" romantic heroes), The Son of the Sheik is still an entertaining movie, although one where one must make certain allowances for early-twentieth-century exoticism, where a fascination with a foreign culture is paired with a drastic oversimplification of it.

That still survives today, though less for Middle-Eastern cultures, as does the occasional romance-novel plot of a woman falling in love with a man who, let's be frank, rapes her on their first meeting. Obviously, it's meant to come across as Ahmed just being too masculine to resist, but there's also a weird "making her know her place" vibe to it, and ugh. It's a tribute to how Valentino and Vilma Banky, playing a dance-hall girl who is also the daughter of the French bandit robbing the sheik's people, have excellent chemistry that the film works as a romantic adventure after that.

It really does, too - for all that the plot runs on melodramatic misunderstandings, director George Fitzmaurice and the various writers build something that moves nicely (especially with good musical accompaniment) and has a good deal of swashbuckling adventure. When Valentino and his original The Sheik co-star Agnes Ayres reprise their roles from the first film later, it might work better for those who aren't starting with the sequel, but the visual effects to give the audience twice the Valentino are pretty fair for 1927.

Sally of the Sawdust

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 March 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

That W.C. Fields made a number of silent movies seems rather strange in retrospect; he's a guy known more for his vocal delivery than anything else. And yet, here he is working in a medium that requires something else entirely. Show business is weird sometimes.

It's still entertaining, though, especially as he plays a sort of secondary part to Carol Dempster, a young woman raised in the circus after her high-society mother eloped with one of the performers. A downturn in the business has much of her troupe scattering and the man who has looked after her since her parents died, "Professor" Eustance McGargle (Fields), bringing her "home", although maybe holding back some information about her origins while (a) seeing if her grandparents are respectable in more than position and (b) working the local fair and maybe cooking up a scam.

D.W. Griffith directs, so while it's a fairly funny movie that has a healthy dollop of romance - of course Judge Foster's neighbor has a handsome son of about the right age! - there's no denying that he's most comfortable with melodrama, so while Fields certainly amuses as McGargle, the film often seems more committed when focusing on sorrow or injustice; that's Griffith's wheelhouse. Still, it's not going to be entirely dour with Dempster's Sally at the center; even if she does often wind up being one of those characters whom things wind up happening around rather than one whose decisions drive the action, despite her not actually being passive. Fields is well-used too; even through captions and body language, his faux-sophisticated bluster is a good match for a circus barker without making one doubt his genuine affection for Sally.

Griffith and Fields aren't a natural match, but the result isn't bad at all - that it's mostly forgotten isn't surprising, but it has its modest charms.

Running Wild

* * * (out of four)
Seen 8 March 2015 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

Running Wild runs just over an hour, and you could probably pull what amounts to one reel out of it - writer/director Gregory La Cava has what amounts to one basic type of joke here, and spends enough time setting it up that the first half of the film becomes a bit wearing. Fortunately that joke - W.C. Fields's Elmer Finch - declaring "I'm a lion!" and recklessly attacking every situation after having previously being established as meek and bullied - is a good one.

Fields, after all, would later be known on film (and was probably already known on stage) for his ability to milk a line, or play up an exaggerated persona, and that's what he does in the movie's back end: Even if you can't hear his actual voice, the way he turns to the camera and declares his leonine state with gusto suggests it, and being under hypnosis gives him free reign to exaggerate rather than try and act natural. He's a comedian who is free to just be that, even if other actors might go with something more naturalistic.

That it takes a fair amount of set-up for La Cava to get him to the point where he can do his thing is a bit frustrating, but also probably natural; he's got to establish norms in a fair amount of situations so that they can later be upended and make sure that the loser form of Elmer sticks in the mind. It could probably be done a bit more elegantly, but at least the second half is funny to the point where a slow start isn't resented.

Song of the SeaUpstream (and The Adventurer)The Lazarus EffectChappie12 Golden DucksWild TalesThe Son of the Sheik

Sally of the Sawdust & Running WildHard to Be a GodCinderellaLeviathanRun All Night

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