Author Archives: Alex Good

Eternals (2021)

*. Despite the poor reviews and box office, and despite my weariness with Marvel movies in general, and even despite the presence of Barry Keoghan, I had some hope for Eternals. I knew the original run of comics by Jack Kirby pretty well and thought there was some potential.
*. A lot of that imagined potential evaporated in the early going, when it’s revealed that the Deviants, who were an interesting and even sympathetic race of villains in the comics, are presented as the usual rabble of snarling CGI monsters. Instead of fighting Deviants, the Eternals here are up against a plan by the Celestials to use Earth as a sort of cosmic egg to give birth to a new Celestial. I’d break this down more for you, but it’s too stupid to bother with.
*. It’s 2021 so our Eternals here are multiethnic and multinational lot (white, Black, Asian, Hispanic, Pakistani, Irish, Scottish, Korean, whatever) and gender-balanced (equal male and female members, plus one gay and one possibly gender-fluid character). Hell, they even thrown in a deaf hero, though why an Eternal would be deaf is beyond me, unless they just don’t like listening to anyone. But, as the media alerted us, Phastos was “the first openly gay character in the MCU” and Makarri “the first deaf character in the MCU.” So: progress!
*. All this diversity doesn’t lead to a slate of complex or interesting characters though, or any particular chemistry between them. Gemma Chan as Sersi and Richard Madden as Ikaris in particular seem a romantic couple with little real interest in each other. A point that the script also fumbles with, I might add, since Sersi has a human boyfriend too. What’s up with that?
*. 156 minutes. Please. It feels like every superhero movie cliché is tapped into here and played back in super slow-motion. And by the end I wasn’t even sure who was fighting who, or why. Shouldn’t Kro have been a good guy, helping the others fight Ikaris? Confusion like this made it hard for me to feel very involved in the action.
*. Marvel has a proven track record of hiring on (or co-opting) name actors. Meaning the respectable type who win awards. Salma Hayek appears here as the Mama Bear of the Eternals, though I wasn’t sure what her special power was. Angelina Jolie is less credible as a warrior woman with an extra helping of the Jolie weirdness (her character is schizophrenic, or something, which is another Marvel first and might have been used to signal more diversity, this time in the field of mental health, if Marvel had been more with it). Both actors escape total embarrassment only by the skin of their teeth. Meaning they’re both really bad.
*. The sole bright spot is Kumail Nanjiani who plays Kingo, an Eternal who has refashioned himself as a Bollywood star. Or a whole dynasty of Bollywood stars. He injects the only moments of humour (best of all working opposite Keoghan) in an otherwise very glum production. Madden’s dour Ikaris stood out the worst in this regard. This guy couldn’t fly into the sun fast enough for me.
*. I wonder who thought Chloé Zhao, hot from winning a Best Director Oscar for Nomadland, would be a good fit for this material. Apparently she let herself be influenced by Prometheus, which is a bit odd since Prometheus wasn’t a good movie and following its lead resulted in the introduction of a new, darker, mythology than was in the Kirby comics.
*. For what it’s worth, the action scenes are pretty good even if they’re still just more of the same. It’s the human story that’s the big letdown.
*. I watch movies mainly on DVD, where they are divided up into chapters. This makes it easier to take a rest from them and come back another day because the chapter breaks are like bookmarks. As I watch a movie I sometimes register where those chapter breaks are, especially if I’m really bored. It’s like calculating how many pages left you have to read in a book you’re not enjoying. For most if not all DVDs the end credits are the final chapter, even if they’re sometimes split up with mid-credit and post-credit sequences, as they are here. Well, for this DVD chapters 24-27 — the final four chapters! — are all credits! I just mention that to give you some idea of how bloated the whole thing feels.
*. In sum, it’s not a movie I hated so much as one I felt nothing at all about. It’s much too long, the story makes it impossible to care about anyone (the one interesting character, Kingo, simply disappears at the end), and the tone is unrelievedly dreary. Of course the promise of a sequel is dangled before us, but I won’t be bothering as I’m checking out of the MCU for a while now. Surely there are some good movies still being made. Or at least something better to watch than this.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

*. Oh, Marvel. Would you please stop already?
*. What I mean is, there is clearly nothing left in the tank. After Avengers: Endgame a new “phase” in the MCU was launched, but it looks the same as the old phase only more confusing because it has even more moving parts. Otherwise we have the same tired formula stretched out to two hour-plus length and a couple of hundred million dollars worth of CGI splashed on the screen.
*. So, Shang-Chi. His dad, Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung, looking really uncomfortable in the part) took possession of the infinity stones . . . no, I’m sorry, the ten rings of power, a thousand years ago. Since then he has used their awesome might, which makes him eternal and invincible even when facing off against armies, to take over some criminal gang in China. Because if I had that kind of god-like power and eternal life that’s exactly what I’d want to do. Instead of writing a book or learning how to play guitar.
*. Xu Wenwu was married to another eternal (not Eternal, but just someone who lives forever) named Ying Li (Fala Chen). They have two kids: Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) and Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and then Ying Li gets killed by rival gangsters (she’s eternal, not unkillable) and the kids go their separate ways: Shang-Chi to park cars in San Francisco, where he has a gal pal named Katy (Awkwafina), and Xu Xialing to run a fight club in Macau.

*. Things start off in a fun way with Shang-Chi (or “Shaun,” in America) revealing his kick-ass alter ego to Katy in a streetcar fight brought on by members of the Ten Rings gang who have been sent to steal his jade necklace. So Shaun and Katy go to Macau and then the same gang shows up to steal Xu Xialing’s jade necklace because only with these can a magic map be activated that will allow Xu Wenwu to visit a fairy-tale land full of Dr. Seuss creatures that guards a portal to an evil dimension that the armies of Gog and Magog are itching to escape from. Once the portal is opened, a soul-eating creature with the Lovecraftian moniker of the Dweller-in-Darkness will escape to destroy all life on Earth.
*. That’s it. I don’t want to write any more. Yes, it’s another damn story where the villain’s goal is to open a portal to another dimension. Haven’t we seen enough of these by now? And then there’s the magic map, and the back-and-forth between the hero and his normie girlfriend/sidekick (they both seem curiously asexual), and a fluffy creature that looks like a fat tribble with wings, and a Distinguished Actor (Ben Kingsley this time out) appearing in a pointless supporting role, and another couple of mid- and post-credit sequences to tease us with what’s coming up next from the comic-book factory.
*. I can’t tell you how predictable, stale, and nonsensical I found all of this. But where Shang-Chi really feels like it’s jumping the shark is that it flunks all the stuff that you can usually count on Marvel to deliver. The CGI just looks cartoonish. The fight scenes are the usual leaping cable work and fast editing, with no blood or real violence and occasionally turning hand-to-hand combat into what can only be described as dance numbers.
*. Of course none of it looks real. The bad guys are from comic-book central casting, including a bodybuilder with a sword for a hand and another guy who’s a Darth Maul knock-off. Awkwafina’s Katy is very poorly written, without a single funny line or quip to make in the entire movie. She’s just luggage until the final fight, where she improbably saves the day.
*. Indeed the whole script is crap. Is Ben Kingsley’s character supposed to be funny? Because he isn’t. And can’t we move beyond this fortune-cookie ancient Chinese wisdom about following your heart? Marvel comics from the 1970s were more original and inspiring than this.

*. I want to expand just a bit on what I said about the fight scenes not being anything special. They really aren’t. I was struck by Mark Kermode’s review, when he appreciated their “physicality” and talked about how the fight on the streetcar reminded him of the bus fight in Nobody. The two scene chimed in my mind as well, but only because of their similar settings. The fight in Nobody is terrific, and it is physical. The fight here is just the usual comic-book nonsense, with the guy with a sword for an arm carving the streetcar in half while Awkwafina goes careening down the streets of San Francisco, flattening cars along the way. The two scenes have nothing in common aside from both taking place on public transport, and the Nobody fight is far better in every way. I’m starting to think that Kermode needs to ask how much longer he wants to keep doing this. Critics do burn out.
*. In short, Marvel threw everything they had into Shang-Chi and came up with nothing but crap. Which is a shame because I kind of like the Shang-Chi character and Simu Liu is a likeable enough actor, if not gifted with the usual Hollywood-star charisma. If Shang-Chi had been better written Liu could have sold him to us, but as it is I had no idea who he really was, as he’s basically born before our eyes out of nowhere. Why is he parking cars anyway? And all of what I just said also goes just as much for Awkwafina, who I genuinely like but who is put to no use here at all.
*. I’ll conclude by saying that I’ve pretty much given up on Marvel entirely now. They seem incapable of coming up with anything really new, and the writing in particular is so bad as to be almost inhuman. Meaning it feels like it was just spat out by a software program. Though a lot of the movie is in Mandarin, aimed at the lucrative Chinese market, so maybe something was being lost in translation.
*. What watching Shang-Chi really brought home to me though is the question of who would ever watch a movie like this twice. It was everything I could do to get through it once, and even then I had to spread it out over three days viewing. I had no interest in anything that was going on whatsoever. But audiences loved it. Oh well. At this point I think I’m close to being out for good.

Movie 43 (2013)

*. Movie 43 (the title has no meaning) was widely hailed on its release as being one of the worst movies ever made. This is a judgment that has various meanings though. For example, it can mean that the film is a good-bad movie or that it’s just terrible. I’ve often said that the real worst movies and books are ones that no one has ever seen or read because they are so dull. Those are the “just terrible” ones, whereas Plan 9 from Outer Space or Troll 2 are seen as classics of the good-bad genre.
*. Another way of being one of the worst movies ever made is to be totally incompetent and technically inept (think Manos: The Hands of Fate), or a colossal waste of talent and money (think most Hollywood blockbusters). Or “worst” can be interpreted through a political or moral lens, with the worst movie being one that’s seen as particularly objectionable on those grounds. Even classic films like The Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will may be considered here.
*. I think most of the reaction against Movie 43 took the line of colossal waste. Indeed, I found one pull quote from Elizabeth Weitzman in the New York Daily News that directly wrote it off in these terms (a “colossal waste of talent, time, and money”). Now in fact Movie 43 didn’t cost much (the budget was only $6 million) but the talent brought on board was surprising, and all the more surprising given what the stars were made to endure. Hugh Jackman with a pair of balls hanging from his chin? Elizabeth Banks soaked in cat piss? Halle Berry turned into a freak by plastic surgery? Well, why not. Actors like to try something new every now and then.
*. But there is new as in artistically daring, and then there’s stupid. Tony Curtis, for example, went way out on a limb playing Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success. Universal even tried to talk him out of it, saying it would ruin his career. It ended up being arguably his greatest performance. That was a risk worth taking. I’m not sure what the calculation was for the all-stars here, but this sure wasn’t Sweet Smell of Success.
*. One point about the cast, however, is worth flagging. While it’s a list of A-listers, it’s not one that’s riddled with great comic talent. With better writing and in better roles some of these actors can be funny, but they aren’t comedians. Aside from the shock value of seeing them so degraded, they don’t bring anything to the table.
*. Basically this is an anthology comedy, along the lines of Kentucky Fried Movie or Amazon Women on the Moon. As each of the separate stories had different writers and directors you can expect a wide range of quality. Unfortunately, this mostly goes from the not-very-funny to the truly terrible.
*. For what it’s worth, the “Super Hero Speed Dating” episode is probably the best. That said, it’s only about the level of an average comedy skit you’d find on YouTube these days. The only part of the movie where I actually laughed out loud was seeing Chris Pratt explode into a giant shit bomb in “The Proposition.” That might also give you some idea of where the jokes are aimed at. Shit, piss, farts, menstrual blood. That’s it.
*. The lowlights aren’t the most outrageous but the dullest and most pointless. Like “Happy Birthday,” which has Gerard Butler playing a foul-mouthed leprechaun. And that’s it. That’s the joke. Gerry Butler is a foul-mouthed leprechaun. Then “Victory’s Glory” has a Black basketball team wiping the floor with a team of white guys in the 1950s. Because they’re Black. And that’s it. That’s the joke.
*. Linking this together, somewhat, is a frame story involving Dennis Quaid as a strung-out screenwriter trying to pitch all this crap to Greg Kinnear. Again there’s nothing at all funny about this.
*. Writer-producer Peter Farrelly tweeted: “To the critics: Movie 43 is not the end of the world. It’s just a $6-million dollar movie where we tried to do something different. Back off.” I’m not sure how strong a defence this is. Despite the low budget, the cast meant that this was always going to be something more than “just a $6-million dollar movie.” And I’m not sure how “different” what they were attempting was. The real hook here was that disjunction between the cast and the material, not the material itself.
*. It’s not a movie I hated. I’ve seen worse comedies. That is, comedies that were even less funny. But it’s not so bad it’s good either. Overall, I’d characterize it as just stupid and embarrassing because almost none of it works. A waste of time then. My time, and that of everyone involved.

Hamlet (1990)

*. Hamlet is a very long play. So even at two hours and fifteen minutes this is a radically cut version, even skipping or rearranging a number of its “greatest hits,” not to mention scrambling important plot points.
*. Some of the cuts here are obvious and (I think) justifiable. The dumb show, for example, is redundant to the point where it makes no dramatic sense at all. But I missed the opening scene with the first appearance of the Ghost, which is one of the greatest curtain-raisers ever. And whatever happened to Fortinbras?
*. To be fair, a full-text production of the play (like Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film), on stage or on screen, is likely only of interest to specialists, and Franco Zeffirelli’s version is probably a lot closer to the kind of thing Shakespeare’s audience would have seen. So the Hamlet we get here is not only defensible but smart.
*. To be sure, something is lost. I’ll give just one example of how the editing of the text weakens the reinforcing layers of the revenge theme. This is developed in the play by presenting a series of different stories dealing with the same situation: a son avenging his father. But Fortinbras, as I’ve said, is gone, so that angle is lost. Also the big embedded speech from the Player telling the story of Pyrrhus (Achilles’ son) avenging himself on Priam is left out, so another layer is lost. Hamlet’s only real foil is Laertes.
*. This is also very much a movie and not just a filmed play. This is most obvious in the rapid editing. Many Shakespeare films (and Branagh is representative of this) like to stick with long takes, allowing actors to play out scenes as complete units of speech and blocks of action, which is (obviously) how they play on stage.

*. According to one study I saw, the average shot length here is less than six seconds. This has been partly attributed to the fact that Mel Gibson is playing Hamlet and he was known as an action star (Zeffirelli cast him after being impressed by his performance in Lethal Weapon). I’m not sure that’s the reason for all the cuts though. I think they’re more likely just a concession to shortening attention spans.
*. I’m not sure if any long speeches from the play are kept intact. Alas, poor ghost! Paul Scofield only has a handful of lines. Which does allow him to drag them out in an interesting way. His enervated Hamlet Sr. is a far cry from the commanding figure we’re used to seeing.
*. Another way in which it seems more like a movie is the effect of location shooting. I think something is gained from this as well. When Hamlet claims that Denmark is a prison while standing in the great outdoors on a beautiful sunny day you get a clear picture of just how messed up he is.
*. I give Gibson a lot of credit here. He could have easily fallen on his face but he doesn’t. I don’t think he’s a great Hamlet — he doesn’t project melancholy, or excessive thoughtfulness well, and I didn’t care for his clowning around in the duel scene — but he doesn’t embarrass himself either.

*. The rest of the cast is very good. Helena Bonham-Carter is Ophelia. I’ve always thought it a terrible part (despite being an iconic one), without enough lines to make the disintegration of her character believable, but Bonham-Carter gets a jump start on all this since she’s an actress who gives an impression of fragile mental health even at the best of times. Alan Bates looks appropriately gregarious and seedy. Ian Holm is a perfect Polonius.

*. Of course it’s a post-Freud Hamlet so Glenn Close’s Gertrude isn’t a dowdy queen but a medieval MILF. This at least helps lubricate the incest angle. Close is only nine years older than Gibson, which isn’t as strained an age differential as with Olivier’s version.
*. Seeing Hamlet lock lips with his mom I had to wonder just how this reading of the play ever got traction in the first place. Is it all Sigmund’s fault? It’s not something I find in the play, but then Gertrude has always seemed to me the great mystery in Hamlet.
*. I like the look of the film. There’s an interesting vertical motif adopted throughout, using the layout of the castle to position characters looking down (or eavesdropping) on others from above. The interior stairways also give a kind of Piranesi-effect that suits the proceedings well. And I never found the setting too heavy or obtrusive, despite the castle’s rough-hewn quality.
*. So, not bad at all. I saw it when it first came out and watching it again I thought it held up very well. It actually succeeds in presenting a fresh take on the old warhorse. It works well as both an interpretation of and a more basic introduction to the play. Purists may object to all the liberties taken, but I don’t think any damage was done to the spirit of the play. Gibson doesn’t quite hold his own, but that’s mainly due to just how good the rest of the cast is. Not the best Hamlet on screen, but there’s still a lot here to treasure and enjoy.

Captain America: Civil War (2016)

*. I mentioned in my notes on Captain America: The Winter Soldier how I appreciated the simpler storyline, with Cap facing off against human enemies with relatable motivations. Keeping that in mind, I rate these two Captain America movies much higher than the Avengers: Infinity Wars and Endgame all-star doubleheader. Did I really care what Thanos was all about in gathering his chunky infinity-stone gauntlet and rearranging all the deck chairs in the universe? No, I did not.
*. In this movie the whole plot is being masterminded by a regular, even low-key dude named Zemo (Daniel Brühl) who has a hate on for superheroes. And he has his reasons. The narrative here comes from the Civil War storyline that ran in some Marvel comics a decade earlier. I’d actually read those comics and thought the idea — where superheroes fall out over whether or not they should accept government oversight given all the collateral damage they cause — was a good one. A lot more interesting than magic stones that open portals to other dimensions, anyway.
*. Given all the star power here, it’s basically an Avengers film. There are some newbies introduced (including Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther) while MIA are Thor and Hulk, who were off fighting each other in Jeff Goldblum’s Thunderdome at the time. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is Cap’s main antagonist, being on the side of big government. I thought everyone played well, except for Paul Bettany as Vision, a character I could never warm too. I don’t know why. I liked Vision in the comic books. But in the movies he’s very dull.
*. So what you get is a lot of what Marvel does best. Spectacular fight scenes, like the battle royale that destroys Leipzig airport. Lots of likeable stars humanizing their cartoonish parts. And a story that, for once, I could get on board with. Not only is Zemo motivated, I actually liked the bait and switch at the end where the other super soldiers aren’t awakened, even though I’d been looking forward to this as a climax.
*. The only thing I didn’t like was how Stark couldn’t see through Zemo’s plan to have the Avengers destroy themselves. By this point he knew that Bucky was being controlled by Hydra when he was doing his missions as the Winter Soldier, so why did he have a total meltdown? Yes, he had to watch his parents being killed, but hadn’t he had time to get over that?
*. Instead of an army of mooks being clobbered and a god from another dimension wreaking havoc the heart of the story is the conflict between the obnoxious tech zillionaire in the age of hypercapitalism and a man out of his his time who is deeply uncomfortable about what’s happened to America. No, this isn’t high-level political commentary. But compared to the usual Marvel shenanigans it stood out as at least somewhat meaningful.
*. In short, I see this and the immediately surrounding films as marking the acme of the Marvel years. Nothing I’ve seen since was as good, and given how limited the franchise has been I don’t have high hopes of it evolving into anything interesting going forward.
*. That these movies were decent entertainment though is one thing; that they dominated the box office and transformed the movie business so completely is another. How are we going to look back on all of this sound and fury? Will we care? Will we remember it at all?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

*. In years to come, if we’re still talking about the reign of the Marvel franchise over the film industry in the first decades of the twenty-first century, we may have to take seriously the various “phases” of the MCU. And if we do, I suppose we’d locate the high point of their creative achievement as being somewhere in the middle of Phases Two and Three. Here were the handful of movies I found to be the best, including Ant-Man, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, and Captain America: Civil War. I am excluding the two-part phase finale of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame because I thought those two were overripe disasters, but that’s another story.
*. The Winter Soldier is the first instalment in a two-part storyline that would be concluded in Civil War. Unfortunately, this saddles it with doing a fair bit of set-up work. I can’t say this was particularly interesting, but I did appreciate the way the story stayed somewhat on the ground. The directing team of the brothers Anthony and Joe Russo wanted an homage to 1970s political thrillers, and while this is depressing to contemplate (the road from The Parallax View and Three Days of Condor led to this?) it still made for something better than the usual MarvelCrap.

*. One big plus is the way the plot focuses on just a couple of bad guys who are at least semi-human (that is, not aliens or gods). Robert Redford feels too old for this shit, and I didn’t think he brought anything to the role, but Sebastian Stan is solid as the brooding killing machine. Given that he’s a zombie he doesn’t have to act much, but he looks the part.
*. Seeing as Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is the ultimate straight arrow, Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is placed in the position of providing most of the comic banter. This felt unusual, but it worked. Also lightening things up somewhat is Anthony Mackie as Falcon and Samuel L. Jackson as the irascible Nick Fury.
*. There’s nothing new here, but it’s all well done. There’s a smash-’em-up car chase that I thought was really good. Cap’s vintage leathers still score style points. Otherwise the Marvel men walk around in tight t-shirts to show that none of them miss biceps day. The climax has giant flying aircraft carriers blasting away at one another and crashing into the Potomac.
*. For straight-up superhero action, The Winter Soldier is perfectly fine. Marvel fans got what they wanted and the rest of the audience at least weren’t bored. If I had to knock it for anything it would be for the sheer silliness of Hydra and the fact that the film is basically just a placeholder. But even so it grades out as slightly above average from this studio.

The 10th Victim (1965)

*. Futuristic satire sometimes fails because it’s too far ahead of its time. That’s the sort of feeling I had watching The 10th Victim, though less because of the themes it addresses than for an aesthetic sensibility that hadn’t arrived yet.
*. The idea itself wasn’t new in 1965. The movie’s based on a short story by the wonderfully inventive author Robert Sheckley that was published in 1953. I’ve read the story, but not the later novel he expanded it into (which came out right after this movie), or either of the two sequels. In any event, the original story introduces the basic premise: people agree to hunt each other to the death, alternating as hunters and prey chosen by lottery, as a form of televised mass entertainment that allows society to blow off some steam.

*. That sense of the Big Hunt (as it’s called) being “mankind’s safety valve,” is drawn directly from Sheckley’s story, where the hunt is run by the Emotional Catharsis Bureau and is referred to as a purge. A name that would be picked up on in our own time for a dystopic murdertopia franchise.
*. In presenting a state-sponsored death sport that’s broadcast as entertainment, The 10th Victim is often credited with being the first of many similarly themed films, from The Running Man through Battle Royale to The Hunger Games (most recently, the popularity of Squid Game. shows it’s an idea with some life in it yet).
*. Being first counts for something, and it wasn’t just the first, but preceded the mass popularity of this sort of entertainment by several decades. Which gets to the point I started off raising: that The 10th Victim was actually too far ahead of its time.

*. What I mean is that it’s too much a product of the swinging Sixties, without the edge needed to give its satire more bite. I couldn’t stop thinking how much better a job Paul Verhoeven would have made of it, set alongside violent futuristic satires like RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers. Director Elio Petri was certainly interested in political satire with an edge, but we’re too much in Austin Powers-land here. I’m even pretty sure the bullet-firing bra Ursula Andress wears in the opening scene was the inspiration for the fembots. Zany Bond spoofs were all the rage at the time, and that’s what Petri was really plugging into.
*. Andress plays Caroline, a hunter. She’s a statuesque Nordic stunner (spawned in a Hoboken insemination clinic) who is also a bit of an “iceberg.” Sure to melt her is a Mr. Sexy named Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni). He’s Caroline’s prey, but may turn the tables on the former Honey Ryder. Even with his hair cut short and dyed blonde this is a guy who could “teach a course in Latin erotics.” Fire and ice are about to meet!

*. Unfortunately, the two leads have no chemistry and the plot is too stupid to bother with. The whole thing could have, and probably should have, been presented as more of a satire on media bloodlust, with the hitmen being pitchmen selling mint tea, but this angle remains secondary to random jokes on the decline of civilization. Things like Marcello’s mistress having a collection of classic literature that is just old comic books. Or Marcello keeping his parents hidden away in a secret room. Or the California-style cult of the sun worshippers. Or any of the fashionable pads the characters lounge around in, including the yellow yurt at the end that goes on a trip to Rome’s Temple of Venus.

*. So while sending up the media is on the menu here, it’s not given a lot of play, and Caroline and Marcello just aren’t interesting enough for us to care about. It’s all too silly, and the shootout at the end, with Marcello being chased by his wife and mistress, seems a conscious parody of 8 ½ more than social commentary. Somewhere along the way Petri appears to have lost sight of what the movie was about, and never found the proper tone for it. It’s still entertaining nearly sixty years later, but the stakes for this kind of satire have been raised.

King Lear (1910)

*. As an adaptation of King Lear I don’t think this Italian effort, directed by Gerolamo Lo Savio, is any kind of advance over the 1909 Vitagraph version, but it does go down a lot easier.
*. Not that it gives us a happy ending. I don’t know if anyone has ever filmed the Nahum Tate version of King Lear, even though that was the only version people saw for over a hundred years after the Restoration. No, this one has Lear getting ready to expire on Cordelia’s body at the end, though the only print I’ve seen breaks off just as he’s still crawling toward death.
*. What made it work for me? First of all the text has been cut to its bare essentials. There’s no subplot involving Gloucester and his sons. Indeed, none of these characters is even identified. All we get is the inheritance test, Kent in the stocks, the heath, and the tragic climax.
*. Another point that adds to the fun is the colourization. It’s actually quite well done, and the green of the heath makes it look like a great place for a picnic. Of course, that the barren heath maybe shouldn’t look so much like a park is another question. And there’s no storm at all. But then rendering a storm, especially shooting on location, wasn’t easy in 1910. You needed a lot of light. Probably better to stay in studio and use gimmicky effects, as was done by Vitagraph a year earlier.
*. The final thing that made this enjoyable were the moments of perhaps unintentional humour. A couple of examples. First, Lear strikes at a stone to show the hardness of his daughters’ hearts. This hurts his hand. I thought this was funny. Also, even more incongruously, comes the scene at the end where Lear holds what looks like a long stalk of grass (it’s not a feather, as in the play) to Cordelia’s face to check if she is breathing. What makes this funny is the fact that now there really is a storm blowing. Or at least quite a strong wind. The branches in the trees, the men’s robes, and Lear’s hair and beard are all being blown and tossed about. So the idea that holding the grass over Cordelia’s face is obviously ridiculous. You can see it blowing around in Lear’s hand even before he bends down. You could say this only assists his delusion that she’s alive, but it’s still quite funny.
*. A fun bit of history then, but as with the Vitagraph production it’s not a movie that will add much to anyone’s appreciation or understanding of the play or that points in any new directions in the development of film.