Svengali (1931)

Rating: 5/10

This film was only nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Cinematography in the 4th Academy Awards, but it was also the only film I could find on a streaming service from this era (Amazon Prime).

John Barrymore plays the title characters Svengali, a musician who hypnotizes women he loves to sing for him in his concerts. When he captures a young lady named Trilby, the man who loves her tries to break her out of Svengali’s grasp.

This was a weird movie. It was a film that did not seem to have a genre pinned down for the entire run of the film. For the first half of the movie, I honestly thought it was a comedy because of how Barrymore acts like a creep, but in a way that’s so over the top it comes off as a comedic character, at least by today’s standards. I suppose in the 1930s he might have been horrifying in the same way Bela Lugosi’s Dracula was or the like. But I think it’s just how John Barrymore plays the character, Svengali tends to come off as a funny persona moreso than a creepy one, though I’m sure in 1931 this would have been considered a horror movie, today, the horror feels very removed from what is otherwise a lighthearted film with dark undertones.

Okay, aside from time shifting genres around, the acting in this was very good. I guess the initial talkies having strange formulas is over as this felt solidly in 3-act structure, despite that not being a thing yet for films. John Barrymore especially is very interesting as the title character. I think one of the reasons he’s meant to be scary is because he’s so eccentric in the film and, the worldwide population only being 2 billion at the time, I think creepy, weirdo, recluses were much less common at the time and this might actually have been a scary film to some people. By today’s standards, I think many people would agree with me that this is more a dark comedy than anything else.

SCORING:

+4.5: The first half was quite enjoyable as a dark comedy, the second half was mostly boring as a weird thriller about a hypnotist that kind of falls out of reality and into a strange fantasy that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in all honesty

+1.5: The acting is very good throughout the movie, this is a very rare thing for early talkies

-1: What genre is this movie?

WandaVision s1e1: Episode 1

Air Date: January 15, 2021

Rating: 10/10

Wanda and Vision are two superheroes living in a 1950s sitcom and while Wanda tries to figure out what to do on their anniversary, Vision has to prepare for a dinner with the boss and his wife!

Throughout this entire episode I had the craziest smile on my face as I watched Scarlet Witch and Vision figuring out how to deal with living like two normal people in the style of I Love Lucy, complete with a laugh track. There’s a hint at the end that something else is going on, but up until that point I wasn’t sure what I was watching, and I’m still not sure. It’s a very trippy experience considering this is the first thing since Spider-Man Far From Home and really nothing like I’ve ever seen before from the MCU. Actually, that’s a good thing. I’m glad they’re confident enough to break so far away from what’s come before and make something totally new. But it’s also something absolutely bonkers in its own right.

For sitcom humor, this is actually pretty good, but I really appreciate when it breaks away for a moment and does something particular dark in tone towards the end of the episode. Something that once it passes all characters go back into sitcom mode as if nothing had happened. It’s an especially trippy experience and I’m curious to see what’s next for our super-powered couple.

SCORING:

+10: I love it! Or I finally lost my mind! One of those!

Bulldog Drummond (1929)

Rating: 7/10

“Bulldog” Drummond is a bored, retired WWI veteran who is looking for a little adventure. He takes out an ad in the newspaper claiming as such and when he finds out a damsel is in distress, Bulldog is on the case!

This movie was a tad weird for me, only in that it wasn’t until it was over that I realized I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I did. It’s a detective-comedy, and actually is the third one in the series. But because it was the first talkie in the series, hence the “all talking” part of the poster above, the story was rebooted. So it is an early Hollywood reboot, which I personally think is good enough it deserves to be rebooted again. The story is well-presented and the comedy, though some of it is a tad overdone, is hilarious.

The problems I have arise from this being an early talkie. There’s at least three songs in it which stop everything else in the movie so we can listen to the music. Showing that talkies in their infancy were more than a bit gimmicky (The Jazz Singer had a lot of music after all). It makes the movie feel bloated and does nothing but bog down what is otherwise a quick paced film.

SCORING:

+7: A very early talky deserving of a remake but is still quite good in this form

-1: bogged down by gimmicky songs and scenes

+1: Very good acting and comedy, Ronald Colman was deserving of the Best Actor nomination

Alibi (1929)

Rating: 4.5/10

I thought I was going to give up the search for a 2nd Oscars film but then I found this on YouTube. I wouldn’t recommend the edition I watched though as the sound was more than a little messed up and the video was a tad grainy.

Based on the play “Nightstick” this follows the story of a gangster named Chick as he tries to find an alibi and get cleared of a murder he probably committed.

This was a melodrama-noire movie made in the pre-code era. The emphasis definitely being more on melodrama than anything else. Everything in this movie is over-the-top, trying-to-get-you-to-really-feel-something dramatic that it just forgets about everything else. Why have a plot when our characters have so many emotions!? Why have scenes that follow each other or work well together when we can nail in the audience’s brain exactly what everyone is feeling at all times!?

It’s exhausting, to say the least, and I think what comes through is more often unintentional comedy than the actual emotion they were trying to convey. The best example of this is when a man reveals himself to be an undercover cop, gets shot by Chick, and then spends the next ten minutes of screentime giving a speech on how tough it is being a cop, and then dies to the soundtrack of an angelic chorus. It. Is. Hilarious! Unfortunately, this is more the exception than the rule and mostly what I felt was frustration as I waited for most of the movie’s incredibly long, mostly boring scenes to end.

SCORING:

+3: I was captivated for about 15 minutes before I realized exactly what I was watching, then it was a complete tonal mess with very little to enjoy from that point on

+1: I didn’t mention above, but Mae Busch, the actress playing Chick’s girlfriend, does a very good job in this film, unfortunately, she’s not in it nearly enough

+0.5: Some of the unintentional comedy makes it almost worth watching…almost

The Circus (1928)

Rating: 7/10

I thought, with a hundred (ish) days until the Oscars, I’d go through and watch a movie from every year since the Academy Awards began. Also as an excuse to set-up the pages I set-up for that. And, as sort of a game, I’m searching through the five streaming services I have: Hulu, Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, and now HBO Max, which is what I watched this on, to see which Oscar movies from each year are available (to me). There are a lot of movies every year, even with fewer categories like here, but we’ll see if I’m able to find a film every time or not. Sorry for this long intro.

Charlie Chaplin reprises his role as the Tramp who escapes from the police by joining the circus. There he learns about comedy and tight-rope walking while helping a young girl who, ironically, wants to run away from the circus.

Though I enjoyed the film, I felt it had too much plot considering the story was more a gimmick to set up the slapstick comedy that follows. And the comedy was pretty funny it’s not nearly as good or as clever as I expect from Chaplin. I read that he was going through a lot of personal problems as this film was being produced, and perhaps that’s part of it, but it still feels like more of a downer than what one expects from the lovable Tramp.

I read that this is more autobiographical than most of Chaplin’s movies. And that the final scene of the film, as the circus leaves Chaplin behind, originally used the song made famous in the Jazz Singer but more as a somber funeral march. As if the world was moving on as Chaplin stayed stuck in the silent era. The music was changed in the late sixties when this film was re-released but I wonder if the original soundtrack exists somewhere.

SCORING:

+6: Tonally very different from most of Chaplin’s other work, but the comedy that works is still very enjoyable

-1: Too much story, or maybe just the story isn’t as funny as it should be, something…

+1.5: a terrific tight-rope walking sequence that Charlie Chaplin actually did 40 feet off the ground involving monkeys and losing his pants

+0.5: The Tramp’s sad ending, but he will be seen again (in Modern Times)

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Rating: 10/10

Huh? I guess that picture I got was actually the cover of the soundtrack. Oh well, I’ve come too far now.

After a riot breaks out at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, the police round up seven political activists and claim they caused it as a conspiracy. Their judge is biased, their jury manipulated, and they don’t have a prayer of changing the minds of a government that’s already painted them the villains.

This is a Kangaroo Court for the ages. It’s a metaphor and a reality, this is how bad things could be during the 60s when the people started demanding change from their corrupt government. But it’s also a metaphor for how things are today. The 99.9% of us with no money and power are completely powerless in the face of the 0.1% that have everything. And if any of the people in power decide that any of us are a threat to them, much like these people, there will be nothing in the world that stops them from doing the exact same thing to us. We are as powerless as these people being told our objections aren’t good enough while every lie the state tells about us must be taken as the truth or you’re a terrorist or something as equally reprehensible.

Sorry, I got off on some tangent. Anyway, aside from the political overtones, this was an amazing film that was somehow as hilarious as it is darkly dramatic. It’s as hard to watch as some points as it is an entertaining thrillride as these 7 men, plus the leader of the Black Panthers, and they’re kooky lawyer, do everything they can to be declared innocent for simply standing up for what they believe to be right. It seems like an odd dichotomy having these conflicting genres battle it out on screen, but honestly I don’t think I’ve ever seen comedy and drama flow together as well as it does here. Maybe because whether it’s a moment of levity or a moment tragedy, it all feels based in reality. It’s a conflict as genuine as a person feels within themselves everyday, especially when faced with a situation as impossible as this one.

SCORING:

+10: An amazing film from start to finish showing us the terror, but also the humor, of living in a corrupt system, I’d call this movie perfect save one thing right at the end when they explain through text everything that happened to every character for the rest of their lives. I feel like this should have only told us the results of the trial as that’s what the movie is about. It’s so minor it doesn’t matter but it does keep the perfect seal off this film (just if anyone is wondering)

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Rating: 6.5/10

After Tony Stark accidentally invents a hyper-intelligent, robotic, killing machine bent on world domination the Avengers must assemble in order to stop this new villain.

Okay, I haven’t seen this in years, but the first viewing I didn’t dislike the movie. This time, well…

It’s not that it’s a bad film. I would say that it has a lot of parts that I like. And I feel like the characters all work pretty well together even though their all completely different from each other. I like the introductions of the new characters (SPOILERS) Scarlet Witch and Vision, even though their powers are the most poorly defined in the MCU. Scarlet Witch’s abilities seem to change from movie to movie, here she’s a psychic who can trap people in their own mind…I guess. It doesn’t matter though because this never comes back again in other films. Maybe its a running joke among MCU directors to change her powers every time?

The majority of what’s wrong with this film can be summed up in two words: “pacing” and “tone.” These go hand in hand. The tonal problems comes from the fact that this movie never seems able to decide what it really wants to be. It has dramatic moments where characters have to make major decisions undercut by bad comedy at almost every turn. That’s another thing, the comedy in this film just isn’t very good. There were a couple moment of actual levity, but the majority of it just sucks all the emotion out of the room. It’s out of place, at the very least. But the MCU still has to learn that sometimes it’s okay to have a sad or dramatic instance without turning everything into a big joke. I suppose that’s better than turning it into a bad joke, at least…

The pacing is how every scene stacks up to the next. Or doesn’t stack up to the next, I should say. It’s like every scene is in a different genre, from a different movie, and put in this film in the wrong order. I’m serious, this whole film is basically a disjointed mess.

Oh, I almost forgot about the real problem: too many subplots. This film is so bogged down in side stories that Ultron becomes basically secondary to everything else going on until Vision shows up. If you have a side plot that doesn’t incorporate itself into the main plot by the end of the movie, then it probably doesn’t belong in the movie. And James Spader’s Ultron was actually one of the best part of the movies. Unfortunately, because we’re more focused on whether Black Widow is going to hook up with Hulk this time around (didn’t she just have the hots for Captain America?) and other such nonsense he becomes secondary and forgettable when he’s the title character! This isn’t just ridiculous, it’s a tragedy.

I know this isn’t how things are done in the MCU but it really made me think this movie could have been a lot better with Ultron as the main character instead of just the villain of the week. Then we could see the whole movie progress as he’s started up. We would see through his eyes as he learns of the Avengers and the world until he ultimately decides to destroy everything because of his immature understanding of the world. It would give this film a cohesive glue that it needed to have these nonsensical scenes actually make sense. And seeing a film through the villains eyes from start to finish would be really unique for the MCU. Maybe something they should consider for a later film (or a sequel to this when Ultron comes back and gets a real role next time? No one else wants that but me? Damn…)

Oh, and then Vision shows up, gives an awesome, though short, speech, and suddenly everyone remembers what the plot is. The rest of the movie is actually quite good, but this is about 45 minutes from the end and it just takes so long to get here.

There’s a couple points that I feel I should mention for being better than any other parts, and both scenes come before Vision shows up. The first is the scene where the Avengers are all taking turns trying to lift Thor’s hammer. This is a great scene because everyone in it feels more human and the scene feels more real than any other scene in the movie. The other scene I thought was great was about a ten minute long fight between Iron Man and Hulk. It’s the best fight in the movie and might be the best hero-fighting-hero scene in the whole of the MCU. It’s so good, but ultimately meaningless outside of showing how dangerous Hulk can be, something I think everyone probably already knows by this point in the series. But it’s so great to watch it made me wonder why this wasn’t the plot of the movie somehow. All the Avengers have to use all their powers in order to stop a rampaging Hulk! Okay, that’s not as world threatening as other plots, but I think it would be fun to watch at least.

SCORING:

+5: The last 45 minutes almost makes up for the rest of the movie, but it’s takes so long to get there and everything is all over the place until then I really can’t recommend watching this movie for people who aren’t the truest fans of Marvel or the MCU

-1: Ultron is a secondary character in his own movie…

-1: Bogged down with way too many side plots

+1: Who knew Vision would become the real hero of this film (in that he finally puts focus on the real plot)?

+1.5: Those two great parts during the bad parts

+1: James Spader is so great in this film you guys, having him in it so little is a disservice to both him and the MCU

Wonder Woman s1e10: Judgment from Outer Space Part 2

Air Date: January 17, 1977

Rating: 10/10

Andros the alien is captured by nazis and it’s up to Wonder Woman to find him before the Earth is destroyed. However, after she’s captured, Steve has to try to save them both.

A good follow up to the previous episode, but it takes a completely different tone and approach to it. It’s more of an action-packed ethical debate over what humanity really means, with a lot of nazis to foible. I also like that they use Steve in a way that’s different from how it usually seems to play out for him.

This is much less about space aliens than the previous episode, something I was hoping for more of. But I guess this is before Arrowverse and shared universes so aliens are probably more the exception than the rule. I guess we’ll see where this series decided to take it.

SCORING:

+10: A great two-parter all around

Wonder Woman s1e9: Judgment from Outer Space Part 1

Air Date: January 15, 1977

Rating: 10/10

A council of aliens comes to Earth in order to judge whether they should destroy it or not. It’s up to Wonder Woman to prove them civilized in the middle of the biggest war of all time.

I absolutely love that they pull some of the crazier things in the DC universe for this episode. It kind of makes me want someone like Brainiac or Mr. Mxyzptlk to threaten the current movie heroes in a way that spans multiple movies…but they’d probably just screw it up again…

Anyway, this was a great first part to a two-parter, though it has probably the most jarring end I’ve seen in a “to be continued” episode. It just kind of ends like most B-movies do, practically in the middle of a sentence. Anyway, I’m not deducting points for that, it’s just kind of out of place.

SCORING:

+10: A great episode that makes me hope there’s more aliens everywhere in the DC universe. I guess Superman is already an alien so it’s already the case…whatever

Wonder Woman s1e8: The Last of the Two Dollar Bills

Air Date: January 8, 1977

Rating: 9/10

Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor have to turn over a nazi plot to bankrupt the U.S. economy by counterfeiting $2 bills.

Fun fact I just found out, also kind of to explain, but this show started coming out when television violence was under intense scrutiny from the media. Because of that Wonder Woman quickly goes from being all punches and kicking to using throws and blocks more and cleverly figuring out ways to make people take down themselves. There is still punching nazis galore in this one but you can tell their moving away from the ultra-violence we all love in our superhero properties, and actually I think this might be better overall because this was a very smartly written episode that was entertaining the whole way through, almost.

There was a point where Wonder Woman changes her voice as one of her special powers which I never heard of before. There’s also a point when I really found myself wondering why Wonder Woman was trapped in a cage and not doing anything to get out of it for a long bit of screentime.

SCORING:

+10: A vast improvement from the mediocre previous episode

-1: Those minor annoyances I had with it grouped together