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

Soul (2020)

Rating: 9/10

Joe is a Middle School music teacher who finally gets his big break playing in a famous jazz band. But when he suddenly dies and finds himself in the Great Before, he’s trying to get back to life with the help of an unborn soul named “22.”

This film was very good from start to finish. It had a good story and characters and the animation was top-notch, as you would expect from any Pixar film. I see some similarities to their other movies, most obviously Inside Out, but it stands on its own as an entirely separate thing from the rest of Pixar’s canon. I thought, mostly from the title, that this would be a movie mostly about music, much like Ratatouille was mostly about food. But it’s one that celebrates life, Joe’s passion just happens to be music and there’s some about how music is what makes him feel alive.

If I had any complaints, it’s that this film feels just slightly too long. I can even pinpoint where things could have been cut. That’s right at the beginning of the third act, which I won’t talk about specifics so I don’t spoil anything, but there is about 10 minutes which feels like it could have been summed up in about 1. Pixar knows better than this, especially since “filming” takes probably ten times longer for an animated feature. This is something somebody should have caught at some point, is what I’m trying to say.

SCORING:

+10: Pixar does it again!

-1: Could have been slightly shorter without any detriment (movies should always be exactly as long as they need to be, no more and no less)

Wonder Woman s1e7: The Pluto File

Air Date: December 25, 1976

Rating: 6/10

Wonder Woman is up against a thief who calls himself the Falcon. He’s out to get a secret plan to cause man-made earthquakes, but something he doesn’t know is that he’s also carrying the Bubonic Plague.

This episode had a decent mystery, but the overall plot felt like it was more for a half-hour show. But it also somehow felt that it was cut down from something that was movie-length. Odd qualities for the show overall. I almost feel like the whole middle could be cut out and you just have to watch the first ten minutes and the last fifteen without missing anything. The setup does it’s job and the payoff is very good indeed, but the slow middle doesn’t do anything at all. Again, it’s a weird quality for this show to have.

Lynda Carter is a great Wonder Woman. I don’t know how often the character comes alive on screen or the like but Carter captures something that most visions of the character seem to lack: Wonder Woman is a very happy person. She loves everyone, even if they’re doing things for the wrong reasons but she knows everyone can change and become better. Though Spider-man’s message is “great power comes with great responsibility” Wonder woman’s seems to be “with great power comes great love.” Again, just this version, not sure about newer Wonder Women, but I get the impression they’re much darker than they used to be, such is the way of the DC universe.

SCORING:

+6: Good ending and beginning

-1: Not so much the middle

+1: Lynda Carter is a perfect Wonder Woman

The Santa Clause 2 (2002)

Rating: 6.5/10

Tim Allen has been Santa for 8 years and the elves tell him that he needs to get married or he’s going to no longer be Santa. It’s the Mrs. Clause. Can Santa find the right woman when he only has a month until Christmas?

I didn’t expect much from this as I feel the first movie, though a great Christmas movie, didn’t really warrant a sequel. It’s actually not too bad though. I especially like Tim Allen as the Toy Santa, and how the elves deal with him, as I feel this is where most of the humor of this one comes from. The romance plotline actually isn’t too bad either, though I have some issues I’ll get into in a moment, and I like seeing all the actors from the first movie back, even the boy who played Charlie, all grown up.

Okay, my major problem is that the romantic plotline is rushed so hard that it feels like it was shoehorned in at the last minute. The problem is that it’s suppose to be the driving force for the movie! It’s the main plotline, you know. But it feels like Santa should have been informed at the end of last Christmas, where the movie starts anyway, instead of only informing Santa that he has to find a wife only a month before. If this weren’t a movie I would say that’s impossible, then again, Santa could just go spend a week in Vegas, but that would make for a very different movie…

SCORING:

+6.5: It’s a pretty fun movie overall, especially the events happening at the north pole

+1: I could watch Allen being Robo-Santa for days he’s so funny

-1: the main plot is so rushed it feels like a side plot, I guess it’s okay because the side plot takes over the main plot?