Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Circus (1928)

In The Circus Charlie Chaplin yet again demonstrates just why he is one of the most talented people to ever live. Chaplin was recognized as such for his work writing, directing and producing this film by the first Academy Awards in 1929. They bestowed upon him and honorary award "For versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing The Circus". Chaplin also wrote the score, and sang the title song in the 1969 re-release.

Chaplin stars as his trademark character The Tramp. The circus is currently in town, and The Tramp is visiting. While he is standing watching a side show a pickpocket is doing his work. When the pickpocket is confronted, he slips the stolen wallet and watch into The Tramp's pocket. Later on, when The Tramp notices is spending some of his newfound wealth the wallet's original owner shows up and attempts to have The Tramp arrested. The Tramp flees, and the police officer chases after him through the circus in a bout of hilarity which is so humorous that the Ring Master (Al Ernest Garcia) offers him a job.

Since The Tramp has no job and no money, he accepts the Ring Master's offer and sets up a tryout for the following morning. Unfortunately since The Tramp was not intending to be funny when he was fleeing the law, he fails miserably at his audition and the job offer is revoked. But when the disgruntled property men quit, the Ring Master must find someone quick and the only man around is The Tramp. However every time The Tramp goes on stage to bring out a prop he fails and ends up flopping around and the crowd goes nuts with laughter. The Tramp has no idea, but he is the big draw to the shows and the big moneymaker for the circus.

The Circus then continues with comedic genius as The Tramp steals the show, falls for the girl (Ring Master's abused step-daughter played by Merna Kennedy) and fights the boss. This is really one of Chaplin's most underrated films. I personally enjoyed it more so than City Lights and almost as much as Modern Times. I certainly don't consider myself a Chaplin expert, but this movie is great. He not only comes up with a wonderful story of love and sacrifice, but he sustains a great amount of humor throughout the picture that is sure to bring a smile to anyone's face young and old, and at only 68 minutes long it's a much better hour spent than say watching an episode of CSI: Miami. Overall 3.5/4 Stars Grade = A

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Free Money (1998)

I went in to Free Money thinking that it was going to be another bad comedy from the nineties, and I was actually quite pleasantly surprised. It’s really not that bad of a movie. Admittedly it is very dumb, and rather unoriginal but there was something about it that I really found rather charming.

The movie starts out with teenage identical twins daughters Inga and Liv (Christin and Holly Watson in their only roles, cinematic or otherwise) telling their father (Marlon Brando) that they are pregnant. The soon to be fathers are lifetime losers Bud (Charlie Sheen) and Larry (Thomas Haden Church). Bud and Larry are terrified of the girls' father, who is the warden of the state prison and nicknamed The Swede. The Swede has a reputation for his brutality, and is currently being investigated by beautiful FBI agent Karen Polarski (Mira Sorvino) for the death of an attempted escapee.

They throw together a shotgun wedding, and Bud and Larry are now in it for better or worse (pardon the PUN) with the twins and The Swede. The girls insist they move in with their father, and there are strict rules placed on the new husbands. Bud and Larry end up hating their lives living with The Swede so much that they hatch a plan to hold up a train coming through the area. The train is transporting old worn out money that is being taken out of circulation. The train engineers are local idiots Louis and Dwayne, and Bud is able to get inside information out of them because of their naivety and ignorance. Bud insists that his plan is flawless and that it will have them set for life so they can take Inga and Liv and get as far away from The Swede and humanly possible. Of course everything goes awry.

There are definitely a lot of things that this movie needs to improve on. For example director Yves Simoneau lacks any real directional skill. He has no distinguishing trademarks, he seems to just set up a camera and shoot. Absolutely no artistry. Also, as I mentioned before, the story is completely unoriginal. There are some new aspects to it, like the daughters still being in high school, but for the most part it's nothing we haven't seen before.

I think what really made me enjoy the movie though is the performance by Charlie Sheen. Personally I consider Sheen to be a great comedic actor, as he has proven in such movies as Major League and television programs Spin City and Two and a Half Men. Thomas Haden Church is also quite funny; he really does a great job in this film with outstanding comedic timing and a spot-on midwestern accent.

Free Money really has gotten a bad rap, undeservedly so in my opinion. I think that when people saw Oscar winners Marlon Brando and Mira Sorvino attached they went in expecting something great, but that's not what they got. If you go in to this movie just looking for a fairly good time then you won't be disappointed. Overall 2.0/4 Stars Grade = C

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

John Frankenheimer's The Island of Dr. Moreau is not a terrible picture, as I had been led to believe by other reviews and an abysmal 3.9 rating on IMDb. It is merely a very mediocre film, with its good moments and it's bad moments.

David Thewlis stars as Edward Douglas, a man whose airplane crashed at sea and after the two fellow survivors murdered each other, he became the lone survivor. A boat transporting animals to an island picked up Douglas adrift and an American on board the ship then nursed him back to health. The man being an eccentric doctor (or veterinarian) named Montgomery (Val Kilmer).

When the ship reaches Montgomery's destination, Douglas is persuaded to come ashore and stay on the island in waiting to be rescued and returned home. However, it is not long after the ship is gone that Douglas realizes he is captive on the island as he is locked in his room by Montgomery from the outside.

After Douglas picks the lock in his room, he starts doing some exploring. He ventures his way into an old military hanger where he finds lots of cages filled with exotic animals. There is also some kind of surgery going on in the center of the room, and as Douglas gets closer he realizes that it is some kind of half-man half-animal mutant giving birth. Douglas is so disgusted that he allows himself to utter "Oh my God" which attracts the attention of the men performing the operation. You notice that these "people" are also mutations.

Douglas makes a run for it, and he is helped out by Aissa (Fairuza Balk, whom he had met briefly upon his arrival) who tells him that she can get him off the island so long as he doesn't do anything to hurt her father Dr. Moreau. Douglas agrees, and she leads him through the jungle to a community of these creatures living inside old WWII aircraft wreckage. He is lead to the Sayer of the Law (Ron Perlman), and it appears that the Sayer is going to help Douglas when Montgomery and Dr. Moreau (Marlon Brando) show up in search for Douglas. Douglas is lead back to the main compound where Moreau explains to him exactly what his experiment is and how he plans to save humanity with his results.

As I mentioned before, The Island of Dr. Moreau is not a terrible film. H.G. Wells' story is so strong that no matter what the cast and crew did to try to destroy it there were still remnants of quality left over. The story is so original and compelling that it is my belief that no matter what is done it is not possible to butcher it to the point of being unwatchable.

The make-up work in The Island of Dr. Moreau is superb. If it were not for the arms and legs you would have no way of telling that there was an actual human actor behind some of the creatures. If this film deserved any recognition, it should have been for make-up at the Academy Awards.

There is no doubt that John Frankenheimer has made far superior pictures (ie. The Manchurian Candidate, Ronin) and he didn't seem to have any control over the script or the cast of this film. I have read that he butted heads with both Kilmer and Brando who have been known to be very hard to work with and egotistical, and instead of really dealing with it the two of them were allowed to portray their characters in any way they saw fit and run wild on set. This is something that should have been righted, but was not and the film suffered because of it. I certainly wouldn't go out of my way to see this film, but it really doesn't deserve the harsh reputation that it has. It will soon be forgotten (if it hasn't been already), and mixed in with all the other examples of mediocrity in mainstream cinema over the years. Overall 1.5/4 Stars Grade = C-