Movie Review: “Monsieur Verdoux” (Charles Chaplin, USA 1947)

Charles Chaplin has become a misunderstood figure in Hollywood history. He is remembered as the Little Tramp character the he played in several silent films, a character whose physical comedy high jinks are often still delightful and reveal Chaplin’s incredible performance skills. However, he was not just a circus performer. He was much more.

Those who learn more about Hollywood history will probably first encounter Chaplin as a legend who was a victim of the Red Scare of the ’40s and ’50s. He was a man who had been a Hollywood legend but then was exiled from the United States and his latter-day masterpiece Limelight (USA 1952) banned from distribution on the basis of his supposed political views. Continue reading

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Movie Review: “The Revenant” (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, USA 2015)

“‘Tis unnatural
Even like the deed that’s done. On Tuesday last,
A falcon, tow’ring in her pride of place,
Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed.
And Duncan’s horses–a thing most strange and certain–
Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,
Turned wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,
Contending ‘gainst obedience, as they would
Make war with mankind
‘Tis said they eat each other.
They did so, to th’ amazement of mine eyes
That looked upon ‘t.”
Macbeth Act II, Scene iv

Such is the response of nature to Macbeth’s sin against it in murdering his king. In Shakespeare, nature is often responding to man’s actions. In this case, killing a king who rules by divine right was such an unnatural action that nature responded with unnaturally powerful storms and a series of odd violent actions by non-human animals. This idea of the interconnectedness of nature with man’s actions permeates The Revenant, a Shakespearean revenge drama as bloody, obvious, and tense as Titus Andronicus. Continue reading

Movie Review: “Spotlight” (Tom McCarthy, USA 2015)

In the early days of the synchronized sound motion picture, Hollywood had to seek out people to write dialogue. It was no longer a matter of the occasional title card, so the writing had to be stronger than it had been before. Lacking a substantial pool of established writers in the forms that the new motion picture would require, the industry turned to established writers in other media. As a result, Hollywood was flooded with east coast newspapermen like James Agee and Herman Mankiewicz.

So it should come as no surprise that newspapers became a big part of Hollywood. The mystery-thrillers that would eventually become detective stories were more often originally stories of heroic journalists fighting for the public’s right to know. The embrionic paranoid thrillers that became bleak pictures of the corrupt corporate-political structure of modern America in the ’70s were often tales of idealistic young journalists fightinga against editors who had been corrupted by the political and commercial leaders of the time. Even after screenwriters were well-established, similar types of journalism thrillers remained commonplace enough that we saw it peak in  All the President’s Men (Alan J. Pakula, USA 1976). Continue reading