Chaplin, Chazelle, Kosinski, Lubitsch, Pressburger and Powell

The Great Dictator (Charlie Chaplin, 1940). The audaciousness of Chaplin making a comedy that mocks Adolf Hitler — predicated at least somewhat on the two men’s shared taste in mustache grooming choices — is undercut, though only slightly, by the fact that he eventually regretted it, openly stating that he wouldn’t have created The Great Dictator had he been aware of the full extent of the Nazis’ crimes against humanity. Delivered as World War II was still in the ramping up process, the film is a brilliantly scathing satire, not just of Hitler’s brutal ambitions but of war itself and … Continue reading Chaplin, Chazelle, Kosinski, Lubitsch, Pressburger and Powell

Cromwell, Helgeland, LeRoy, Lupino, Mankiewicz

Sleuth (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1972). This first film version of Anthony Shaffer’s play made it to screens a mere two years after the original work’s New York premiere. Given the cunning narrative duplicity at work in the story, it’s no wonder there was a rush to adapt it before the many secrets contained therein could ripple too far from the theatrical community. But deceptions that work onstage don’t necessarily bear up to the closer scrutiny of the camera, and that itself can intrude upon the necessary suspension of disbelief given the characters are able to investigate with even greater intimacy. … Continue reading Cromwell, Helgeland, LeRoy, Lupino, Mankiewicz

Faxon and Rash, Kasdan, Lloyd, Lord and Miller, Snyder

Darling Companion (Lawrence Kasdan, 2012). I’ve got loads of residual affection for writer-director Lawrence Kasdan, but he sure doesn’t make it easy to be one of his defenders these days. Darling Companion was his first film in nearly decade, following the appallingly bad Stephen King adaptation Dreamcatcher. It doesn’t make an argument that he used his creative downtime wisely. As wispy of a film concept as anyone’s likely to come across, Kasdan’s story (co-written with his wife, Meg Kasdan) concerns an older couple who adopt a stray dog and then lose that new furry family member in the woods around … Continue reading Faxon and Rash, Kasdan, Lloyd, Lord and Miller, Snyder

Black, Buck and Lee, Emmerich, Frankel, Wells

Frozen (Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, 2013). The most successful animated feature in the traditional Disney mold (fairy tale structure, a bevy of Broadway-esque songs) since the studio’s nineteen-nineties heyday, Frozen is charming enough if a little flat. Like a lot of modern Disney fables, it’s more interesting for the ways it compulsively upends the legacy tropes–the “true love” with a man, the oversimplified villainy–than for the actual merits of what winds up onscreen freed from meta examinations. The songbook provided by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez may have launched a thousand (or more) YouTube videos on the strength of … Continue reading Black, Buck and Lee, Emmerich, Frankel, Wells

Frears, Kurosawa, Robson, Sturges, Taylor

Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954). I sometimes identify Akira Kurosawa’s Ran as epic filmmaking writ as large as the screen allows. Seven Samurai, made over thirty years earlier, is epic filmmaking in the inverse, pruned and delicate and piercingly intimate. There are major moments to it, too, and scenes of pounding cinematic glory, but what really makes it work is the painstaking intricacy of Kurosawa’s storytelling. There’s a reason other creators return to it time and again, extracting what is useful for their own tales of valor and ironic victory. Kurosawa and his collaborators (Shinobu Hashimoto and Hideo Oguni are … Continue reading Frears, Kurosawa, Robson, Sturges, Taylor

Cretton, Hood, Kanin, Minnelli, Sturges

Next Time I Marry (Garson Kanin, 1938). The earliest film that gave Lucille Ball star billing casts her as bratty heiress who needs to marry the right man to secure her inheritance, the sort of dilemma that only exists in the movies. Arriving a few years after It Happened One Night, the film is transparently a riff on the Frank Capra hit, with Ball’s entitled scold being tamed by the regular joe (James Ellison) she impulsively weds to get her money. They road trip across the country in a race to secure an annulment, director Garson Kanin staging everything with … Continue reading Cretton, Hood, Kanin, Minnelli, Sturges

Jones, Kubrick, LeRoy, Park, Tourneur

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Mervyn LeRoy, 1933). This big musical from the tail end of the Pre-Code Hollywood era is fascinating for its many contradictions, beginning with the framing of Great Depression challenges with a notably defeatist cheer. The production numbers are the handiwork of Busby Berkeley (the songs are by Harry Warren and Al Dubin) and they show off his skill at mesmerizing vastness. “We’re in the Money” is probably the most famous, but others are more interesting, especially the lengthy “Pettin’ the Park,” which includes a strikingly sexy moment involving a bevy of beauties changing behind a sheer … Continue reading Jones, Kubrick, LeRoy, Park, Tourneur