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with George

Category: 3 1/2 Stars

The Life of Reilly (2006)

***½

Charles Nelson Reilly was born in the Bronx. January 13th. I hadn’t heard of him before watching this documentary. He was very, very excited to tell me his story, though.

Reilly’s appeared in many plays and TV shows, but is, according to Wikipedia, most famous for being a panelist on a game show called “Match Game.” The Life of Reilly is actually his comedy act, and in the film, he is performing it for the very last time. His good luck sign, according to him is rain. He noted that it was raining the night this documentary was taped… the final night of his show. The night in which he would recap his entire life’s story.

He seems to be improvising his entire act. He starts off at one point, goes on from memory, then just says whatever he recalls about the subject. But everything word he utters is filled with emotion. His act isn’t all comedy. He talks about his father being institutionalized, his aunt getting a lobotomy, as well as his uncle’s “active social life.” And when his audience reacts negatively to something “surprising” he says, Reilly quickly exclaims “well, it’s that kind of show!” From joy to sorrow, it’s all here, in this show.

He has a rather lonely childhood, but describes his first encounter with a theater very warmly. That is where he belongs. This entire movie is staged within a stage. I think that touch was fitting, since so much of his life was hoping to be, wanting to be, and then, finally, being onstage. His mother always told him to “save it for the stage.” And he did.

Stray notes:

  • The end scene, in which he is talking to the pelican, is the best. Very heartwarming.
  • Reilly reminds me of numerous relatives. Many of them are insane.
  • “My mother didn’t know whether to s*** or go blind. That’s an old french theater term.”
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Sherlock Jr. (1924)

***½

How should I start this review? The review itself can’t/won’t be very long, because the movie isn’t very long (runtime of 44 minutes). I could of course, tell you that the movie makes no sense sometimes, and that would be true. But I didn’t necessarily want the movie to make sense. Then again, I could tell you that it’s the greatest movie ever made. I wouldn’t go that far, but… I really liked Sherlock Jr.. It was my first Buster Keaton film ever, and I can’t wait to see more. It mixed escapism with parody with genuine laughs, then made it a beautiful on-screen film.

Keaton starred as a movie projector operator AND the title character within the movie projector’s dream. After being blamed for stealing, then pawning, a pocket watch, he escapes into the world of film via his dreams. Sherlock Jr. has a lot of solid, funny gags; but it also has some crazy, violent gags. Other than that, I can only name one other flaw: the female character in the dream/film is needed only to give Keaton something to do and someone to love.

The rest of the film is beautiful, though. Buster gets locked in things a lot, and it becomes a very comfortable, familiar running gag by the end. (Also, for some reason, he gets wet frequently, too.) The final scene is one of the best. We’re watching it through a window, through which Keaton is watching a movie. It’s an ingenious idea, and it allows him to look into the camera for the last shot.

Silent comedies are like animated cartoons in which animals fall of cliffs: everything goes right until something goes wrong.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

***½

The Silence of the Lambs does so many things, and it does all of them well. It is an acute character study, and is full of fine performances (including one of the best all-time). It is effective as a murder mystery, with Jodie Foster pasting together each piece of the puzzle. And last, and in all honesty least, it is disgusting.

Foster plays Clarice Starling, a student who strives to be an FBI agent. She clearly has a bright future, and when Agent Crawford (Scott Glenn) asks her to go see a cannibal named Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins), she is ready. Or so she thinks. What happens next will change their lives, and perhaps give you nightmares.

At points, this film is brilliant. Hannibal is a one-of-a-kind character, and is almost perfect (is it wrong that I loved him?). He knows exactly what he wants, and he does things only in order to get what he wants. The sexism within law enforcement is handled subtly enough, something that reminded me of The Thin Blue Line, a work of fact as opposed to fiction. The Clarice character has a problem, though, and it’s due to under-writing and under-acting. She’s supposed to be in much more pain than she is. Her father died and she saw lambs being slaughtered. The movie makes sure, throughout, that you remember those facts, but only by having Hannibal tell you them.

The movie was exciting, though, and that makes up for most of its flaws. Except for part of one scene near the end (when Clarice keeps turning corners, afraid of what is around them), I never tired of it, despite a pace that isn’t all-action. But the one flaw that it can’t overcome is how nasty it is. I have never felt like throwing up during a movie… until now. I’m not exactly a germaphobe or a hemophobe, but the extended shots of a bath of a body in a pool of crusty… um… stuff… isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Also, the flesh suit grossed me out.

Note: Jim O’Heir from Parks and Rec may or may not be in the 11th minute. The voice of Betty White seems to be in the 111th minute.

Four Lions (2010)

***½

Yes, this is a movie about wanna-be jihad terrorists. But don’t worry, it’s more similar to The Great Dictator than to the amateur Osama bin Laden videos.

Similarities between Four Lions and The Great Dictator:

  • They are both acute political satires.
  • They both criticize ways of life that involve mass genocide.
  • They are both hilarious.
  • They both show scenes of the home life of our main protagonist, and they are both touching.

Differences between Four Lions and The Great Dictator:

  • Lions doesn’t end with a plea for sanity.
  • Lions keeps the pace moving through the very end.
  • Lions is much darker than Dictator.

Four Lions is about five British wanna-be terrorists. Two go to Pakistan for training, only to accidentally blow-up Osama bin Laden. When they come back, they decide to plan their own attack. The plot from there is eerily similar to the child’s poem “Ten Little Indians”.

Terrorists are real people. Some of them are like you and me. They have wives and children. Some of them don’t get along with their families. No one presented to us in the picture is evil. This is key. The film could have gone off the rails at any point, especially considering the subject matter. But it didn’t.

Sure, these guys, besides Omar, are all complete idiots. Yes, one of them dies by tripping over a sheep. But the film doesn’t judge them for that (only the idea of terrorism in general). In fact, it offers two of them redemption. Unfortunately, it’s just too late.

(Four Lions is available now on Netflix Instant.)

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)

***½

I had heard a lot about this Woody Allen fellow, but I had never seen one of his films. Until last night.

Woody stars as Larry Lipton, a neurotic, complicated man in his fifties whose marriage seems to be falling apart (although the film fumbles around with whether it is or it is not). Carol (Diane Keaton), his wife, is just as strange as her husband, and acts all the more so when she decides that her neighbor has been murdered. She sets off to find some sort of evidence with their recent divorcee friend Ted (Alan Alda).

Other than a truly out-of-the-ordinary climax, Manhattan Murder Mystery manages tension very, very well. You root for these main characters, and you really hope that the Liptons don’t get caught snooping around their neighbor’s apartment. But unfortunately, just when you feel like they’re rekindling their love of old… just when you have reason to hope that Carol doesn’t do something dramatic… the film makes the Liptons mad at each other, again. It really is a shame.

There are just enough hilarious one-liners (my favorite came when they find a dead body in a hotel room: “Oh my God, she’s dead!” “Are you sure? Try giving her the present!“) to make up for the faults, though. And the laugh-out-loud, slapsticky phone call between the “group” and Mr. House doesn’t hurt. If this were an actual murder mystery, instead of a rom-com farce, I would be slightly upset with the expositional ending. But since it’s not, I’m not.

The thing MMM does best isn’t make you laugh (although it’s very good at that), but rather explore relationships. Ted and the Liptons are about the same age, but we see how different the stages they’re in are. The Liptons caught a second wind in their love, but Ted is starting over again. At the long dinner scene (featuring Anjelica Huston), we see these two different groups of three people forming within the table. During the beginning, we have these three frantic people (Larry, Carol, and Ted) discussing this murder that they know happened with the calm Huston character, Marcia. Then, later in that same scene, after this calm Marcia explains what happened, as well as what’s going to happen next, we see Carol getting jealous, as Larry was of Ted earlier.

This was only my first Woody Allen experience, but I will be coming back for more. Watch out, Netflix.

The Lincoln Lawyer (2011)

***½

Matlock was a good show. It starts off relaxed. Then it becomes about a mystery, and these people (including Ben Matlock, who is played by Andy Griffith) who try and solve the mystery. But I always had a problem with the way it hides a key discovery from you late in each episode, shocking you with the finish, but leaving you somewhat unsatisfied.

But Matlock and The Lincoln Lawyer are two different entities. It’s clear from the first shots of The Lincoln Lawyer that Mick Haller (McConagey) is a cocky, slick, and sly man; Ben Matlock isn’t, instead he’s a good-hearted southerner with a laid-back sense of humor.

Thankfully, one of the differences between them is that The Lincoln Lawyer doesn’t leave you unsatisfied. You know almost everything Mick does, right to the end. Unfortunately, though, the film is over-populated. There are too many characters this film tries to get you to buy and be invested in (including, but not limited to a very unnecessary Bryan Cranston). Another criticism I had was the final twist in the storyline. It was ridiculous and made no positive impact on the story or the main character.

But I appreciated it as a no-nonsense court drama that had plenty of court and plenty of drama, especially since it has structure and bona fide character evolution. In fact, of the movies I’ve seen so far this year, this one ranks as the best.