Thought for the day

The weatherperson just said models are bringing storms into the area. Why blame it on the models? Don’t they get enough harassment from viewers already?

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I have a Laurel & Hardy podcast, y’all!

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I have been a Laurel & Hardy enthusiast since I was a kid, and I finally decided to share my passion in a podcast. Below is a link to the first episode of my very first podcast, Hard-Boiled Eggs and Nuts – A Laurel & Hardy Podcast. Listen (at iTunes) and enjoy (I hope!).

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/steve-bailey/id1371780163

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – Quentin Tarantino’s answer to GONE WITH THE WIND

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The following is my entry in The Great Western Blogathonbeing hosted at the blog Thoughtsallsorts on Sat., Apr. 14, 2018. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ takes on some of their favorite movie Westerns!

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Westerns — traditional, spaghetti, or otherwise. So I have no yoke to bear when I say that Django Unchained is the best Western I’ve ever seen.

The title character is a pre-Civil War slave (Jamie Foxx) freed by a conniving bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), so that Schultz can hunt down three outlaws only Django can identify. In the midst of this task, Schultz discovers that Django is married to Broomhilda (Kerri Washington), a slave trapped on an infamously brutal plantation named Candieland. Schultz then sets about freeing Broomhilda and reuniting her with Django.

Writer-director Quentin Tarantino’s calling card is his lack of political correctness, and that’s on full display here. Tarantino merges two way-out-there genres, the spaghetti Western and the blaxploitation flick, to depict ignorant white slave-owners getting what’s coming to them.

Violence-wise, the movie is bathed in blood. The movie also pulls no punches language-wise, dotting its dialogue with the infamous N-word as much as possible. Because of this, many feel that Django‘s treats its raw subject matter — brutal slavery in the South – too lightly and gratuitously.

I don’t agree. Django Unchained is no Blazing Saddles. Look at the character of Stephen, a Candieland slave who is all Uncle Tom on the surface but is actually the brains behind the plantation. Samuel L. Jackson goes all-out to show Stephen as a slave who has triumphed over his Deep South origins and isn’t about to let anyone, white or black, upset the status quo.

I think Tarantino is getting at something here. By showing the ignorance and evil of all who willingly let slavery continue, Django is giving us the flip side of ultra-reverent Southern epics such as Gone with the Wind – and about time, too. Django Unchained is surely not historically accurate, but when it shows moronic slave-owners getting their just desserts, it’s deliciously satisfying.

 

THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951) – Still chilling after all these years

 

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The following is my entry in The Outer Space in Film Blogathon, being hosted by Debra at Moon in Gemini from Apr. 13-15, 2018. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ take on space-based cinema, factual and fictional!

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The wonderful thing about the magnificent sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still is that it’s about so much more than it’s about.

On the surface, it’s about Klaatu (Michael Rennie), a visitor from a planet a few million miles away, who comes to warn of the Earth’s potential destruction if its inhabitants do not give up their aggressive ways.

It’s a simple enough message, but right from the start, poor Klaatu can’t catch a break. He tries to give a peace present to nearby soldiers, who respond by shooting him. He tries to tell the President’s rep to arrange a meeting between all world leaders, but the leaders won’t agree to such a meeting unless it’s on their home turf. Then he tries to move among the citizens to learn their ways and gets sold down the river by a macho guy who wants to impress his girlfriend (Patricia Neal), who ends up siding with Klaatu.

What the movie is really about is fear of strangers. It was, after all, made at the beginning of the Korean War conflict and during HUAC hearings, both of which were intended to root out “reds” or “pinks” (i.e., people who don’t think like us). And whenever Klaatu tries to speak of his belief in non-aggression, he gets shot down, figuratively or literally. The movie’s message is more timely than ever: Why are we so afraid of peace, anyway?

Michael Rennie was a British actor, unknown in the U.S. at the time of filming. He was chosen so that, instead of seeing a famous movie star come out of a spaceship, you’d see a believable alien. Rennie, Neal, and everyone else in this fine movie pull off the acid test: Sci-fi motifs and dialogue that could have been laughable in other hands (watch Plan 9 from Outer Space if you’re ever looking for a hoot) are completely plausible here.

Kudos are also due to Leo Tover’s glistening cinematography and Bernard Herrmann’s eerie score, both of which contribute considerably to the movie’s heightened atmosphere. Don’t watch this one alone, or in a paranoid state.

Charlie Chaplin’s THE GREAT DICTATOR (1940) – Two little Hitlers

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The following is my second of two entries in The Charlie Chaplin Blogathon: The Life and Films of the Little Tramp, being co-hosted by the blogs Little Bits of Classics and Christina Wehner from Apr. 14-16, 2018. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to Charles Chaplin on his 126th birthday (Apr. 16)!

(All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, Copyright © Roy Export S.A.S. Charles Chaplin and the Little Tramp are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Inc. S.A. and/or Roy Export.)

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The Great Dictator, Chaplin’s first “all-talking” movie, is not a perfect film – there are dead spots here and there, and it wavers nervously between political farce and humanistic melodrama. Yet it is as compelling as anything in the Chaplin canon.

For one thing, you couldn’t find a movie that is more “of its time.” Chaplin’s uncanny resemblance to Hitler (they were also born within a week of each other) inevitably dictated (sorry) that Chaplin would have to take on the monster of his era. Chaplin later said that, had he known of the horrors of the actual concentration camps (portrayed fairly benignly here), he could never have made this movie. Yet one should be grateful he took on its subject matter at all, as history tells us how pacifist much of Hollywood (and America) was willing to be at the time.

The story concerns Chaplin’s version of Hitler, “Der Phooey” Adenoid Hynkel, and his country of Tomania, which he hopes to ruthlessly expand to include the entire globe. (Lest there be any doubt about this goal, there’s the movie’s famous, wordless scene in which Hynkel makes love to his “intended” by dancing and playing with an inflated globe of the Earth.)

Chaplin also plays Hynkel’s inadvertent double, an innocent Jewish barber who comes upon Hynkel’s Tomania after years in a psychiatric ward following World War I. The barber returns to his modest Jewish community and his business, thinking that everything is back to normal, only to be thrust into the center of anything-but-normal.

Chaplin’s burlesque of Hitler can be described only as spot-on; even the gibberish is perfect. As for the age-old question of whether the barber character is an extension of Chaplin’s Tramp, all you can do is look at the derby hat, toothbrush moustache, and waddle-walk, and think to yourself: He sure ain’t Monsieur Verdoux.

The movie begins a bit clumsily, as it’s pretty obvious that Chaplin is trying to do some silent-movie comedy at sound speed. But soon enough, the movie gets in sync and provides many memorable set-pieces: the globe dance, the barber shaving a customer in time to the radio music, the coins in the pudding, etc.

And this movie should stand as the final word to any critic who says that Chaplin never let another actor be his equal or upstage him. To a man (we’ll discuss the woman in a moment), Chaplin the director gets wonderful performances, of varying kinds, from his peers. Reginald Gardiner is rather touching as Schultz, the Tomanian officer who grants the barber some slack due to their shared past. Comic veteran Billy Gilbert is adorable as Hynkel’s flunkie Herring, forever sputtering and hoping for a ray of Hynkel’s approval. Henry Daniell is just fascinating as Hynkel’s advisor Garbitsch, bringing more to the role than seems asked of him; you get the feeling Garbitsch could have been a powermonger to overtake Hynkel if Chaplin had let him. The most sober (without being maudlin) of the downtrodden Jews is the cynical Jaeckel, understatedly played by Maurice Moscovich.

And let us give a manic salute to Jack Oakie for his Mussolini take-off, Napaloni. Chaplin gives Oakie generous leeway to show Napaloni’s passive-aggressive superiority to the neurotic Hynkel, and Oakie makes the most of every minute he’s on-screen.

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Then there’s the famous finale, where the barber is mistaken for Hynkel and is called upon to address the world just before Hynkel’s forces are set to take over a nearby country of refuge. Chaplin famously “dropped the mask” here and delivered a heartfelt, six-minute speech devoted to humanity. The speech has mostly been a sore spot, even among many Chaplin buffs, since the movie was first released. And I have to say it: The speech works for me.

Of course, the speech is very out-of-character; it’s doubtful that the simplistic barber could conjure up such verbosity on the spot. That leaves Chaplin-the-celebrity addressing us, and many people have said he should have shut up then and there. But whenever I watch and hear that final speech, I think about 1940 and how much different (and presumably nicer) the world would have been if the real Hitler had found it in himself to say something like that. And aren’t movies just wish-fulfillment, anyway? On those terms, I can accept that speech quite handily.

(If the speech is missing anything, it’s that comic punctuation Chaplin used to include — a gag that would “snap” the pathos and keep it from getting too icky, as in City Lights when the Tramp lingers on the sight of the blind girl and she unknowingly throws water in his face. Maybe the speech could have been “leavened” by a cutaway or two to Hynkel having been forced into taking the barber’s place at the insane asylum, sitting bound-up in a strait-jacket and going into hysterics as he listens to the barber giving his power away.)

What I find much harder to ignore (or accept) about the movie is Paulette Goddard as Hannah, the simple, modest cleaning woman of the Jewish ghetto. Hannah is a poorly written character to start with – she’s little more than Chaplin’s love letter to Goddard (who was Mrs. Chaplin at the time) – and Goddard herself doesn’t add much to the role. Hannah is forever giving “Rah-rah, let’s beat those nasty storm troopers” speeches to the point of tedium. One such speech occurs when Hynkel, in an effort to finagle a loan from a Jewish businessman, decides to temporarily quit persecuting the ghetto’s Jews. When the storm troopers unexpectedly treat Hannah and the barber politely, Hannah looks straight into the camera and expostulates about the world’s goodness in a way to make you turn away in embarrassment.

Complaints aside, The Great Dictator remains compelling and often hilarious Chaplin viewing. It was his biggest money-maker to date, so there must have been at least a few other people who agreed with Chaplin’s sentiments in that closing speech.

(If you liked this blogathon entry, click here to read my first entry, about the ongoing debate on Chaplin vs. Buster Keaton.)