Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant

Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant

Sid Caesar is dead at 91 and the curtain has softly closed on a comedy giant. Although giant is perhaps not a large enough term to refer to a legendary figure who, through his live comedy programs, seemed to have invented the forerunner to the TV sitcom. The comic, and comedic genius, had been ill for a year before his death on Wednesday February 12. Stars and other comic icons have come forward to speak of their sorrow at the trial blazer’s death and also to talk of his ability to connect with audiences in a way that made them “roar with laughter.”

Mel Brooks Honoured at the AFI with the Lifetime Achievement Award

Mel Brooks Honoured at the AFI with the Lifetime Achievement Award

Films as Entertainment: Do we Expect Too Much?

After giving my thoughts on two similar, but different, films recently I had a conversation with my daughter Meg about them. The films were both a brilliant example of the kind of mindless escapism that a lot of folks love. But while both films were the made in the same vein; one was science fiction and based on a video game and the other a “shoot-em-up.”

If you read my blog you’ll have sussed out already the films I am writing about: The Expendables 2 and Resident Evil Retribution. Of course “Retribution” is another variation of a “shoot-em-up” but as it is based on a video game, it tends to get more than its fair share of vitriol from movie goers and critics.

*A quick word about movie critics, I tend to believe as Mel Brooks believed. “Critic’s? They are harmless and rub their back legs together to make noise. Oh! You meant critics? I thought you said crickets. What good are critics they never like anything and can’t even make noise with their legs.”*

I will clear up any possible misconceptions, I am not, nor will I ever be, a critic. I am a film fan first and foremost and I love the entertainment business. Anything that I love that much I feel I have to write about. Plus, I cannot not make music with my legs.

Films that are a combination of action and escapism usually get short shrift from critics because of the traditional high body counts, volume of blood spilt, and the overall amount of gratuitous violence. Just for that reason alone, I would have expected Expendables 2 to have garnered a lot of nay-sayers and up-turned noses.

But it did not happen. Mainly because, I think, that everyone was having too much fun seeing how their favourite action hero figure was going to be portrayed in the film. That and the added bonus of seeing Willis, Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Norris all on the same silver screen made up for any shortcomings (and there were a lot) of the film’s plot.

Resident Evil: Retribution however, was a different case entirely. Ever since the premiere of the first Resident Evil it has been an almost written in stone rule that the films should be bashed and metaphorically spat upon. Generally by the same people who have such a love hate relationship with the Capcom game franchise.

Capcom offer the same type of entertainment as escapism films. Don’t put a Capcom title into the console and expect a deep and meaningful game that looks at life in anything at all resembling reality. The very verse of the games precludes that. From the settings, to the dialogue (more often than not, cheesy, hammy and not a little dopey) which is not Shakespeare by any stretch of the imagination.

The first of the Resi Evil games and the first of the fun.

The Resi Evil films are a parallel version of the games, not an exact replication of the verse. But the producers and directors have remained faithful to the roots of the game and to Capcom’s schlocky and hokey design. The games are fun to play and not to be taken seriously.

Yet the films are hammered every single time they are released with the clarion cries of, “The dialogue is hammy;” “The actor’s aren’t acting;” and finally, “The plot stinks.” I mean come on people. Really? Are we expecting Shakespearean soliloquies on a film based on a game? A film based on a Capcom game?

Really?

The same people who happily munch popcorn and cheer Sly and his crew on in both of the ‘Expendable’ films will sneer and jeer and throw their popcorn at the screen when they are presented with a Resi Evil film.

Why?

I honestly do not get it.

I do believe, though, that the audiences are expecting too much bang for their buck when it comes to escapism in cinema. I have been just as guilty of it. It is called, ‘taking a film too seriously’ or ‘expecting too much.’

Sucker Punch is a perfect example. I saw trailers for the film and got so excited. It looked like a combination manga/anime/action/fantasy picture and I just knew it would be great. I rented the Blu-ray DVD and sat expectantly, popcorn to the ready, and I hated it.

What a let down, but one that I’d set myself up for.

Again I have to ask the question.

Why?

The easy and best answer is that I expected too much.  I had gone into the film expecting a statement of female empowerment and a divergence from female stereotyping that so badly let other films down.

And I was disappointed. And the reason  was that my expectations were way too high. I was looking for something before I’d even begun to watch the film. The problem was not the film or the actors or the story writers. It was mine. Although, I do know that not many folks liked the film, but I cannot speak for them.

Meg and I have said that, as a rule, we never go into a film expecting anything. We both approach video games the same way. We do, however, expect to be entertained. Because of that we are rarely disappointed completely. Even the worst of the dross that can be shovelled onto the public can have some redeeming value.

Even if it is only a fleeting moment or funny for all the wrong reasons; for example, we once watched a horror film that was atrocious. Bad beyond anything that I’ve seen before (and I’ve seen a lot of BAD horror films) but the acting of some of the cast, especially the lead female, was hysterically funny.

If ever there was a case for the use of Botox as an acting aid, this was it. Her rubber faced acting style made any scene she was in become comedy of the absurd. We were both convulsed with laughter every single time she came on. It has now become a favourite “terrible” film.

So I think that nowadays a lot of people go into a film expecting way too much. My advice to these expectant audiences is this: if you want Shakespeare, avoid films that specialize in escapism. If you are looking for deep or hidden meanings, watch any Spike Lee film you can think of and enjoy.

If you want “thought-provoking” watch Spike Lee.

The Artist (2011): Nouvea Old

I will freely admit that I am not completely up on recent ‘silent films‘ or even silent films that are also in “Black and White.” The last modern silent film that I watched was Mel Brooks‘ 1976 Silent Movie. Now Mel didn’t opt to film his silent comedy in back and white (he’d done that already in his 1974 Young Frankenstein).

Interestingly Young Frankenstein was actually shot entirely on black and white film stock, which was still available in 1974. By the time that The Artist hit our screens in 2011, it had to be shot in colour first and then presented in ‘black and white’ although purists will argue that the film was actually presented in Sepia as Black and White is actually crisper.

Written and directed by Michel HazanaviciusThe Artist stars  Jean DujardinBérénice BejoJohn GoodmanJames CromwellPenelope Ann Miller and Missi Pyle.

Despite this being a star heavy vehicle, be rest assured that the film belongs solidly to Dujardin and Bejo (wife of Hazanavicius). Shot for 15 million dollars the film has grossed ,to date, over 133 million at the box office.

Français : Jean Dujardin au festival de Cannes

The story of The Artist is an old one. George Valentin ( Jean Dujardin) is a huge star. In the silent cinema world depicted in the film he is a cross between Douglas Fairbanks, Charley Chaplin and William Powell (as Nick Charles in the Thin Man series).

That actor  Dujardin is a more than capable actor can be evidenced by his winning the Best Actor Award in Hollywood for his work in the film.  A film that, incidentally, he only ever ‘says’ two words in and that’s at the end of the movie.

It is during a premier of his latest film that Valentin ‘bumps’ into young aspiring starlet Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo) and the publicity that arises from that chance occurrence helps Peppy get her career started.

As her star rises, Valentin’s is on a downward spiral after studio boss Al Zimmer (John Goodman) tells George that ‘sound will be the next big thing’ and that the studios are going to pursue it. Valentin lets Zimmer know that there is no way that he will be working in ‘talkie’s.’ He leaves the studio and prepares his next film which will be a silent.

Français : Berenice Bejo au festival de Cannes

Just as his film is to premier, the Wall Street Crash of 1929 causes George to go bankrupt. In the meantime, Peppy’s career is going from strength to strength. I adored the look of the film and it’s faux black and white cinematography is crisp and luscious. The film ‘felt’ like the old silent films and it helped to sell the story.

But in the film just before George starts production on his first silent movie, he is sitting in front of his dressing table. He takes a sip from his glass and when he sets it down it makes a noise. He is stunned.

In George’s world there is no sound. As the sounds begin to creep in on his world, George tries to speak but nothing comes out. George panics and begins silently screaming for help. He runs outside where silence controls the world. A large feather floats down through the air and as it hits the ground a huge banging is heard. George’s eyes immediately open. he has been dreaming.

This for me was when the film surpassed being clever, well written and well acted. This moment in the film elevated it into sheer genius. It is no wonder that it received so many nominations and won so many awards.

I am not sure how it would have faired at the cinema. Audiences today are not used to actually having to ‘watch’ a film. It could be argued that they don’t even really ‘listen’ to them. With the wide spread use of soundtracks that are so loud that they drown out the actors, I can only assume that it is the explosions, gunfire and screams of the dying that tell the average movie goer where they are at in the film.

Despite the obvious success of the film upon release (just look at the box office returns) it worked better for me on the DVD player at. I could set in the privacy of my own home and listen to the ‘dramatic’ mood music provided and get really carried away in the story.

Excellently written, acted and filmed, this is one film that, if you missed it at the cinema, you’ll shoot yourself if you miss the maiden DVD run.

This film is entertainment with a capital E. Please don’t miss it.