Saturday, November 18

Random Cinematic Year In Review - 1928

A Random Cinematic Year In Review


Preface: I have decided to write this series at least in part because I don't make it out to see new films very often and I've found that I spent too much time at the end of the year attempting to see all the big releases (many of which I'm not even interested in) for no other reason than to make an obligatory 'year end list'... This is a way that I can continue writing about films without feeling the pressure to see a bunch of stuff that I wouldn't otherwise take the time to. I'll still see most of them eventually, just on my own time. I use a random number generator to pick a year and I use to determine the actual release year.

By: Emery Martin-Snyder

The year 1928 was the last year of a time that would end up being coined “The Prosperity Decade” by economists. It is primarily called this in retrospect because of the economic contrast of the “Great Depression” years that immediately followed. The good fortune of this time period also allowed for a significant amount of both cultural and technological advancements. So grab your cloche hat and flapper dress (I have no idea what I’m talking about) and let’s take a look.

The world of medicine would see one of its greatest achievements in 1928. While everyone else was busy dancing the Charleston and the Foxtrot, a Scottish physician named Alexander Fleming was discovering penicillin while researching influenza. Although it took about 14 years before it was used medically, this discovery has become the basis for how we treat bacterial infections that previously could have been life threatening. Today, billions of standard units of penicillin are consumed worldwide, each year.

Next, maybe the most recognizable figures of the past century was born in this year. Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse was featured in the short film, STEAMBOAT WILLIE. This was one of the earliest films to successfully synchronize sound into and animated cartoon. And the world would be forever changed. Today, the Walt Disney Company is worth about $55 Billion.

And, where would Mickey be today if it weren’t for another revolutionary invention of 1928? Appliance companies, RCA and GE installed the first 3 television “sets” this year in Schenectady, New York. I had to put “sets” in quotation marks because they were only 1.5 inches wide and there was nothing to watch on them. Later that year, WGY, Schenectady began broadcasting regular TV programming. It was a half an hour a day, three times a week, and it primarily focused on farm and weather news.

This invention would later prove to be the best thing since sliced bread. Back then, that wasn’t really saying that much because guess what else was invented in 1928... That’s right, the Chillicothe Baking Company of Missouri was the first to use Otto Frederick Rohwedder’s automatic bread slicing machine. Before that, consumers had to slice their own bread like a bunch of suckers. I would have starved to death.

Some great films came out this year as well. Officially, we had entered the sound era a year prior with THE JAZZ SINGER but all the best films were still silent. And some of the greatest filmmakers in the world were doing great work.


5 – SPIES (Directed by Fritz Lang)

This is a very complex and twisted spy plot and at times, it’s hard to follow. But I think that just adds to its overall charm. Like all of Lang’s films, there are several scenes constructed absolutely beautifully here. He uses the running time of 145 minutes to a great suspenseful effect. Every time I watch early Lang, I can’t help but think of David Fincher.

4 – THE CIRCUS (Directed by Charlie Chaplin)

Typical, run-of-the-mill Chaplin is nothing to scoff at. If you’re into his work, it’s hard to dislike anything he’s done. This film would mark the end of Chaplin’s era of light-hearted comedies and it contains some of his best gags. Considering the setting and Chaplin’s style, he probably could have made this a longer flick. It clocks in at a lean 72 minutes. Interestingly, Chaplin was originally nominated by the Academy for Best Actor. Instead, they decided to remove his name from consideration and hand him an Honorary Oscar for “versatility and genius in acting, writing, directing and producing THE CIRCUS”…. He also edited this film and composed the score.

3 – THE CROWD (Directed By King Vidor)

“MONTHS… ENDLESS MONTHS. The crowd laughs with you always…. But it will cry with you for only a day.”

This is a story about the struggles of mediocrity and ambition in an industrialized world. This film tackles themes that you wouldn’t typically expect to find from this time. Personal identity and your own insignificance are subjects that we see much more in modern cinema from filmmakers like Charlie Kaufman or Darren Aronofsky. It’s actually very fascinating to see that yesterday’s population faces the same trials and tribulations that are so prevalent today.

2 – STEAMBOAT BILL JR. (Directed by Buster Keaton & Charles Reisner)

Although this is not my personal favorite Keaton film, it has a great collection of some of his best stunts. Keaton meticulously engineered his stunts with the utmost precision and it’s always amazing. Some of the stuff he pulled off was incredibly dangerous. There’s no possible way that this type of filmmaking would fly in today’s industry. I’m sure glad they captured it on film.

1 – THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer)

This is my absolute favorite silent film and one of my favorite films period. Maria Falconetti’s performance is often called the greatest ever in film, and for good reason. Mesmerizing and heartbreaking, her face tells the story of a young woman condemned to death for her unwavering faith. The despair that comes from her brow alone is enough to break you in half. Her performance by itself would make this a great film. But Dreyer’s direction along with Rudoph Maté’s cinematography was absolutely revolutionary. Before this picture, the medium was seen by many critics primarily as a lesser form of pulp entertainment. It was not considered to have true artistic value. This film definitively ended that debate.

Justice League Review

Justice League
Dir: Zack Snyder
Starring: Gal Gadot, Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen, J.K. Simmons, Amber Heard, and Joe Morton

There is nothing wrong with a little teamwork. The superhero genre has been working towards the team-oriented concept for some time now. While the Marvel Cinematic Universe was the first to successfully achieve this feat with “The Avengers”, talk about a D.C. Comics Justice League movie has been brewing for some time now, long before Marvel thought about bringing a team of heroes to screens. While audiences have already got a taste of what a Justice League feature film might feel like with 2016’s much maligned “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice”, the D.C. Extended Universe has finally found some focus on how to make a superhero film resonate beyond just the diehard fans.

“Wonder Woman” was the first successful step, paving the way towards a “Justice League” film that is far less serious than past films in this superhero catalog and more aware of giving into the entertaining indulgences of humor, heart, and spectacle. While this emphasis renders the narrative left on the back burner, “Justice League” is undeniable fun if altogether somewhat dull.

Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) knows that bad things are abounding now that Superman (Henry Cavill) is dead. In an attempt to get a head start on the oncoming threats, Bruce and Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) are in search of other metahumans to help the fight. This leads Bruce to the sea in search of a man named Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and to Central City to find a young man named Barry Allen (Ezra Miller). Diana on the other hand is looking for a scientist (Joe Morton) and his son Victor Stone (Ray Fisher). However, things may be too late as a formidable foe named Steppenwolf is looking to destroy humanity.

“Justice League” is different than previous D.C. Comic film outings; gone is the stiff emotional demeanor and long winded storytelling. This time around it’s looser and witty, freer to let characters embrace the amusing qualities of their characters. The film is still a noisy mess of visuals and the villain is still an indomitable CGI creation that doesn’t have the personality to challenge the heroes in any way that seems intimidating. Still, “Justice League” has flashes of promise, especially when the team unites. While this takes some patience over the 120 minute running time, there is fun to be had in watching these comic book characters interact with witty banter and clever verbal jabs.

The team of actors together develops some good chemistry. Again the highlight of this film is Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, her character is ultimately the tie that binds the group together. It’s a smart move considering Batman is still somewhat brooding here, though even the Dark Knight is offered a few moments of levity. Ezra Miller and Jason Momoa are the characters that offer the most entertainment; Mr. Miller’s Flash adds a naive youthful element to the team that offers the actor moments to cut the tension with a clever joke while Mr. Momoa basically gets to be a laid back surfer of sorts. Both actors seem to be having lots of fun with the roles.

It all adds up to an entertaining if wholly unoriginal film. Everything within “Justice League” has been done before; the action scenes, the comedy, the composition of the team, it all feels familiar and somewhat stale. Still, for a franchise of superhero films that has struggled to get off the ground, “Justice League” is much better than earlier attempts by the D.C. Extended Universe. Unfortunately that’s not saying very much but hopefully this is the first step towards better films in the future.

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dir: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters, and Samara Weaving

Drive along any busy freeway in the city and you are bound to see advertisement billboards glowing throughout the day. Everything from political commentaries to sporting events to local attorneys get the opportunity to influence and inform their message on your drive through the city.

Travel any stretch of highway in America and billboards can compose a welcome sign of humanity after long stretches of paved asphalt on desolate highways. In director Martin McDonagh’s somber, tragic, and comedic film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, billboards play the vessel of emotion for a mother still grieving, still angry.

Three bright red billboards with bold black font proclaim a message to a local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) concerning the unsolved death of a young girl violently murdered in the nearby small town. The person responsible for this message is the young girl’s mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) who is using this advertising tactic to bring awareness, and provoke a response, from the police department.

Mr. McDonagh utilizes these billboards as a device to introduce a complicated story about human interaction, specifically how people react when faced with emotions they don’t want to confront or are afraid to confront. Mr. McDonagh, a playwright turned filmmaker, paints his story with characters easily distinguishable but working towards some kind of transformation. Yet, you can feel that this transformation isn’t going to be so simply achieved. Mildred, beneath the hardened, sharp tongued demeanor is still grieving and affected not only by the death of her daughter but also the life she has lived thus far and by the town she has planted roots in. The director plays with these aspects, molding a narrative that is peaked with sadness and cruelty but also undercut with biting comedy that comes as strong and harsh as the message emblazoned on the billboards. Mr. McDonagh articulates a message concerning the nature of humanity, both the redemptive and condemned qualities, through scenes of violence, within moments of tragedy, and beneath the unexpected laughs.

“Three Billboards” doesn’t work without a committed cast. Leading the charge is an exceptional performance by Frances McDormand. Her portrayal of Mildred is fiery and confident, filled with passion and heartache. Her story is a portrait of what grief has turned her in to, of how it has forever changed her. Some of Ms. McDormand’s best scenes come opposite the town sheriff played by Woody Harrelson, who composes a character struggling with more than a few obstacles in his life. Mr. Harrelson is terrific in the role. The always reliable Sam Rockwell makes an appearance here too, playing the evolving antagonist. Mr. Rockwell excels at this kind of role, making larger than life characters have subtle poignancy.

Mr. McDonagh is a talented filmmaker with a keen eye for drama and a strong sense of humor. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” can be an emotional journey at times, but it’s also undeniably fascinating watching such interesting characters traverse the narrative terrain proposed here.

Monte’s Rating

4.50 out of 5.00