Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Week in Review

With MIFF approaching, I've been preoccupied with planning for the big event. French classes have resumed (term 2), and I've got lots of homework. I'm also still a little fatigued from the Isabelle Huppert season at ACMI. Consequently, my only film-viewing this week has been the weekly Cinémathèque screenings and a kids' film today. Next week: MIFF starts.

FILMS:
  • The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, 1960)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (David Yates, 2007)
SHORT FILMS:
  • The Frozen North (Buster Keaton, 15 min, 1922)
  • Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 44 min, 1924)

The Bellboy
Jerry Lewis, as his own man, free from the Dean Martin partnership and captain of his own ship, was brilliant. I always remembered him from my childhood as slapstick, zany and over-the-top. In The Bellboy, his directorial debut, he uses some of the same trademark zaniness but with such restraint and intelligent application that it seems like almost a different Jerry Lewis to the one I remember.

Lewis' loud zany voice used to grate, but in this film it is used to a minimum. In fact he hardly speaks throughout the film, perhaps alluding to the films of Jacques Tati or the greats of the silent era such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (the film screened after a couple of Keaton shorts). The film directly references Stanley Laurel, with a Laurel impersonator making a cameo. One gag between Lewis (whose character's name is Stanley) and the other Stanley was particularly poignant, a highlight of a film that has no weak spots and is consistently funny and intelligent.

The film beautifully captures both overstatement and understatement in physical comedy. It blends in the absurd/surrealism, self-deprecation, self-parody, subtle critique of the cult of celebrity and more. All done with perfect timing, not just in delivery, but with such skill in knowing when to stop and always with the unexpected. Not a hint of profanity or puerile toilet humour (it has a G rating).

It seems no-one knew better how to utilise Lewis' talents than Lewis himself. This film is one of the best comedies I have seen, ever. Contemporary cinema is seriously denied good comedy, and this film really underscores that. I look forward to discovering more of this great comic genius.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I think you pretty much know what you're getting with any Harry Potter movie, but I found this one a bit tired and not quite up to scratch. The cinematography wasn't overly appealling, the lighting was too dark, there's way too much dependency on CGI, the narrative wasn't very coherent (perhaps it assumes you've read the book, which I haven't), the children have lost their cutesy factor and the film just seemed too long. But my six year old son and three year old niece loved it. For me, it was passable entertainment, but nothing special.

Buster Keaton
These films are a reminder that it doesn't take great technology to entertain the masses. That silent films can be more enjoyable than the vast majority of contemporary cinema, is a pretty sad indictment of how far we have (or haven't come). I don't feel particularly qualified to write about this from any historical perspective, but I did find them immensely enjoyable, intelligent, and funny. The gags were very clever and seemed quite innovative for the time.

1 comment:

Phillip said...

We'll have to disagree again.

I really liked the new Harry Potter film. A much better made film than most of them, though I have a soft spot for Cuaron's installment. As per special effects, I thought they were used wisely. Yates mentions that he wants to rely less heavily on them in the next film. It was part IV that really over did it I think, that was the one that I still enjoyed regardless, but I've read the book, which is a distinction I talk about in my own review.

It's interesting to read responses from people that haven't read the book. There were some story links that I felt might not have been completely understood with the "object" they have to find. One of my things was in the book there's point at which you become annoyed that Harry is so angry all the time, it seemed like in the film they made his anger more justifiable. I like the change, but I think dramatically it didn't work as well.