Category: The Greats

City Lights

Overview: Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp gives us his most moving and sincere adventure as he looks to win the affection of a blind flower vendor by hiding from her his low social status. 1931; 121 Minutes Vintage Chaplin:  The Tramp’s grace and dexterity punctuate his trademark slapstick physical comedy.  In scenes like the that of the boxing match, Chaplin displays the poise of a ballerina.  His waddle is poetic.  His falls are mainstage events.  In Chaplin’s ability to express through exaggerated expression, we see the infant stages of film comedy. The camera outlines for us its favorite subjects of human description—the stage ready eyes, the uncontrollably sincere mouth.  Filmed and released a few years after introduction of the talkie, Chaplin refused to include voices in his picture, insisting that the advent of sound tainted the purity of movies.  While time ultimately proved him wrong on this front, his movie suffers nothing to the viewpoint, as the orchestral score expresses as much as any dialogue or monologue could have hoped to accomplish.   The Fairest of His Ladies:  No one ever occupied the spotlight with Chaplin as successfully as Virginia Cherril.  No onscreen partner ever shared as poignant a chemistry.  As earnest as Chaplin is in his romantic comedic pursuits, Cherril proves to be an honest match in her adoration, optimism, and hope.  Chaplin was always ready to make a statement...

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Casablanca

Overview: During World War II, a cynical American expatriate struggles against his own desire to help a former lover and her new husband find safety; Warner Brothers; 1942; Rated PG;  102 minutes. The Value of Sentiment: Often, when we as a film culture make our innumerous greatest-ever films list, Casablanca is a passing thought, a reluctant inclusion that we stuff ranked somewhere in the low teens out of a sense of obligation. I believe this has something to do with the film’s blatant fixation toward and application of sentimentality. The film is not only aware of its obsession with sentimentality, it openly discusses it in more than one scene. Certainly, there exists an element of plasticity in this movie, a glossy artificial surface that begs us not to dig. For evidence, look no further than Sam’s obvious piano-playing pantomime, his open palms bouncing over and over in the same place, with no regard for the complexity of the room’s music (it’s quite funny, on first notice). This shininess is a tool of focus though, guiding the reader to concentrate on the dialogue-driven and rich character drama. Think of these characters: Ilsa Lund is disarmingly beautiful but a uniquely complex heroine for the time. And her lover Victor Laszlo, our hero’s obstacle, is a good guy in the most universal sense. If that’s not a departure from early film formula…...

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The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

Overview:   Frodo and Sam are led by an unusual guide while everyone else begins to choose a side and prepare for the inevitable as the battle for Middle Earth continues in the second installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  2002, New Line Cinema, rated PG-13, 179 minutes. I remember sitting in the theater watching The Two Towers for the first time like it was yesterday.  Although I enjoyed my first journey to Middle Earth in Fellowship of the Ring, particularly it’s breathtaking visuals and wide array of equally engrossing cast of characters, I wasn’t entirely sold on investing so...

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Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Overview: The Lord of the Rings trilogy comes to an emotionally gratifying conclusion. New Line Cinema; 2003; Rated PG-13; 201 minutes. The End of All Things: The Lord of the Rings trilogy is one of the great cinematic accomplishments. As a collective society, I’m not sure we deserve movies this good. But given the state of the world we live in, we need them. The series takes some heavy flack for extended run time and the presumption that the film revolves around people walking with no greater purpose. You can strip down any movie to a simple action the characters...

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Days of Heaven

Overview:  An ill-tempered worker accidentally kills his boss, flees to the Texas Panhandle with his lover, and convinces her to partake in a scheme that results in a lethal love triangle.  Paramount Pictures; 1978; Rated PG; 94 Minutes. Form:  Many great film directors make you squint to find the story.  Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Jim Jarmusch, Christopher Nolan– all directors who make you hunt the details microscopically.  True auteurs of film, without argument.  But Terrence Malick  has no interest in that ambition.  Malick holds sole occupation on the other end of the spectrum.  He seeks to make the audience’s...

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