[Last 2014] Weekend Roundup + Mini Reviews of The Trip To Italy, The Immigrant, Exodus: Gods & Kings and Into the Woods

Hello hello! Hope you had a lovely long Holiday weekend. It’s quite a nice and relaxing holiday for me, though it ended up being a pretty busy one hanging out with friends. I did fit in some movie-watching, even went to the cinema for Exodus though it was more of a last-minute decision when some friends invited us.

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Just a quick thought on each of them as I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to review them…

The Trip to Italy
It’s not as fun as the first film, The Trip. Perhaps I’m just getting tired of Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon‘s schtick and they’re really not very likable characters. The impersonations are getting a bit repetitive, but some are still fun to watch, especially when they’re talking about all the Bond actors. The Italian scenery and food imagery are truly drool-worthy however.

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The Immigrant
The main draw for me is the cast, especially Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cottilard. Two things that this movie have going for it are the performances and the intriguing story. I’m not generally fond of Jeremy Renner and here he’s just ok, not as compelling as the other two actors. The star is definitely Cottilard who remains alluring no matter how destitute they made her up to be. Now, if only the pace and direction had a bit more life to it. It felt overlong and tedious, even if the actors were able to hold my attention for the most part. The finale did pack an emotional punch, but I wish it had been more evenly-handled throughout, especially since the story strikes a chord with me.

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Exodus: Gods & Kings
Now, Ted’s given a full review of this but since I just this earlier today, I figure I’ll give my own two cents. Well, I ended up enjoying this more than I thought. Perhaps having a very low expectations helps, but I’m glad to say I didn’t find it boring even if it certainly lacking that *epic* touch I expected from Ridley Scott. Performances are good, especially the two leads Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton, but Scott took way too much liberty with the story and character of Moses. There are too many to mention here but let’s just say this story is more inspired by the Biblical tale than an actual adaptation. It’s one thing if a reimagining of the centuries-old story actually enhances the adaptation, but in this case, the alterations are much to its detriment and much of it just don’t make sense. Still, I don’t think this was an abomination as some critics describe it but I think keeping the integrity of the story would’ve served this film better.

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I have to admit I’ve actually never heard of Stephen Sondheim‘s play before this film, apparently it’s been around for nearly 3 decades. But since I grew up watching a ton of Disney fairy tale movies, the idea of reimagining some of Brothers Grimm fairy tales intrigues me. I’m all about crafting a twist to a classic story, so long as they do a good job of it. Alas, I feel that Into The Woods might be a much better fit as a stage performance as it’s all about showmanship instead of a compelling narration.

The main players are comprised of the Baker & his wife (James Corden & Emily Blunt), and the wicked witch (Meryl Streep). The rest are basically supporting characters: Jack and his mother (Daniel Huttlestone and Tracey Ullman), Cinderella (Anna Kendrick), Cinderella’s Prince (Chris Pine), Rapunzel (Mackenzie Mauzy), Rapunzel’s Prince (Billy Magnussen), Red Riding Hood (Lilla Crawford), and Johnny Depp’s in a glorified cameo.

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Not a bad cast at all, and I must say they all did a good job singing and performing the songs. Some fare better than others of course, Kendrick could’ve done well on the stage version of this with her beautiful voice and Streep also has quite a lovely voice. Much have been said about her performance as the witch, but seems that at this point she could just be reading a restaurant menu poetically and they’d shower her with a plethora of awards. I think she’s rather over-the-top here, though that’s perhaps the direction she was given. Her song has the most memorable melody of the entire movie, but I don’t think her performance itself is THAT extraordinary. I think my favorite has to be Pike & Magnussen’s (the two Prince brothers) hilarious and unabashedly campy rendition of Agony. Ironically, it’s the least agonizing rendition of the rest and it got the whole theater cheering for its flagrant goofiness. Corden has the most screen time aside from Streep and I think he’s a good and likable actor that’s able to hold his own. He has a nice chemistry with Blunt, who’s always lovely to watch no matter how little she has to work with.

Overall though, I just can’t get into the story. It’s convoluted for no apparent reason and the third act just got too somber and dark for its own good, which seems disconnected from the lighter scenes that precede it. In fact, the stories don’t feel well-connected at all, they just seem randomly thrown together for amusement sake. Much like the equally star-studded ensemble of Nine, Rob Marshall seems more adept at assembling a bunch of fabulous crews and actors but he’s inept in making the most of the performers to tell an engaging story. I’ve only seen three of his work, including the overrated Chicago which I don’t think deserve the Best Picture Oscar. In fact I wish it hadn’t, as it encouraged Marshall to think he’s a great director.

As I walked out of the theater, I wonder if it had been ill-advised to adapt this material on the big screen. I mean if they absolutely had to adapt it, perhaps Disney should’ve gotten someone who’s more of a bold visionary filmmaker. Someone who could breathe some real sparkle (to match all that fairy dust) into this adaptation and make it entertaining in the process. As it is now, the movie is mere window dressing with gorgeous set pieces, pretty costumes and lovely songs, but it inspires more of a ‘huh?’ reaction than ‘wow.’

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Well, have you seen any of these films? What did you think?

A Salute to the Little Tramp – Charlie Chaplin Tribute by Conor Holt

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A Tribute to Charlie Chaplin
By Conor Holt

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April 16th marked the 125th birthday of Charlie Chaplin, and this year is the 100th anniversary of the 1st appearance of Chaplin’s Little Tramp character (in Mable’s Strange Predicament or Kid Auto Races at Venice, depending on who you ask). Chaplin was one of the first true superstars of cinema. During the peak of the silent film era in the 1920s, the Little Tramp was one of the most widely recognized images in the world, with Chaplin’s films playing to a global audience, before sound created international barriers we still haven’t broken.

Chaplin was the first director I was actively aware of. As children, we don’t think of films being created, or think about who created them. Outside of the Disney Animated films, each film I saw was individual, independent, created out of thin air. In my early teenageChaplinMutualComedies years, I saw the wonderful City Lights, and I was struck by how funny and touching it was – 70 years or so had not dated Chaplin’s perfectly choreographed slapstick (that boxing match is pure genius) or his sweet, romantic story. I wanted to see more of the Little Tramp.

That’s when I came across a box set of Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies at the library. Before Chaplin started making feature films, he made an incredible number of short films, first as an actor, and then as a writer/director/producer/composer AND actor. The Mutual Film Corporation hired Chaplin in 1916 – when he was only 26 years old – to direct two-reel short films, and paid him $670,00 a year. He was now one of the highest paid people in the world, with his own studio to film in – Chaplin had the chance to make exactly the films he wanted.

What the Mutual comedies represent is the evolution and development of both the character of the Little Tramp and the artistry of Chaplin. With each film, the storytelling becomes more refined, the jokes land harder, and Chaplin also first catches the whimsical, romantic heart that would bring depth to his later masterpieces.  Over the course of 18 months (before leaving for an even better filmmaking contract), Chaplin achieved the slapstick perfection of One AM and the rich, character driven humanism of The Immigrant. Later in live, Chaplin said, “Fulfilling my contract with Mutual was, I suppose, the happiest period of my life.”

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Chaplin in The Immigrant

And in the behind-the-scenes features of the box set, I learned about how Chaplin would experiment during filming, changing jokes if they weren’t working, switching out actors to get the right impact. The films were largely created on set, with no script, just Chaplin and his actors working out the story and the comedy until it worked. Not only was Chaplin evolving with each film, he was evolving within each film as well.

Chaplin carried this style into his feature films as well. Sometimes they would go over budget and over schedule, but knew he had to play with it until it was perfect. Chaplin famously struggled for months to figure out a way to make the blind flower girl think the Tramp is rich in City Lights. Finally it came to him: the blind girl hears a car door slam, and mistakenly thinks the Tramp got in a taxi. He sees this, and endeavors to maintain the illusion, helping her in any way he can, despite being even poorer than she is.

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Chaplin with Virginia Cherrill in City Lights

I think Chaplin’s style holds a lesson for all filmmakers, both young first-timers and experienced directors who still seek to grow. When facing a creative problem, Chaplin didn’t always find a solution right away, but he kept working at it until it was fixed. Chaplin didn’t burst onto the screen in a perfect first effort – he built his craft and talent over several years, improving with each effort. We may never make something as timeless as City Lights again, but at the very least we should strive towards doing our best work possible, no matter how long or how many retakes it requires.

Happy Birthday, Charlie – your legacy hasn’t aged a day.


Conor Holt is the writer, director, and producer of multiple short films. His most recent film, A Better Life, a science-fiction drama about marriage & control, which he directed & co-wrote, played at the 2013 Fargo Film Festival and the Twin Cities Film Fest, and recently won Best Editing & Visual Effects at the St. Cloud Film Festival. He is a graduate of the Minnesota State University Moorhead Film Studies program, and currently lives in Los Angeles, working odd jobs in the film industry and volunteering at film festivals.

For more information on A Better Life, check out the Facebook page at facebook.com/ABetterLifeShortFilm. Follow Conor on Twitter.


As a tribute to Mr. Chaplin, what is YOUR favorite film from the legendary actor?