Reel Life #28: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, His Girl Friday, Charulata, and Close-Up

It’s the beginning of a new year, and I’ve decided to bring back an old feature on this site: Reel Life. For those of you who don’t know what this is, back in 2018, I would write these small, informal reviews every week to complement my game reviews. However, they eventually became more elaborate, so I ended up writing full reviews – my reasoning being that, because they generally aren’t as long as my film reviews, I could critique them after watching them. However, the film reviews became even longer – to the point where my longest one (The Last Jedi) is actually longer than some of my game reviews. I therefore stopped writing film reviews regularly in order to give myself some breathing room.

Plus, that proposition only works out if the film holds up in the long term; if it doesn’t, the review is then worthless. The opposite is true too, though a bit rarer given that I only ever tend to see acclaimed films. Much like how a middling Rotten Tomatoes score shouldn’t be taken at face value if the film in question postdates the site’s inception and has been retroactively vindicated in the years since its release (The Prestige being my go-to example of this occurring, being hailed as one of the best films of the 2000s despite possessing a fairly modest 76% on that site), I realized that reviewing a film immediately after seeing it is often a bad idea. With games, I usually know where I stand after I finish because they require far more investment of one’s time, and you’re regularly confronted with their objective qualities. Meanwhile, if a film successfully goes for a style-over-substance approach, it can be pretty difficult to look past that and realize that things aren’t adding up. It’s the reason I’m glad I didn’t formally review films such as District 9, The Last Jedi, Annihilation, Uncut Gems, and Knives Out immediately after seeing them because all five of those films would’ve undeservedly gotten passing grades had I done so.

While I still spoke of the films I watched at the end of each month, that proved a bit troublesome when I would often put off my thoughts on the film until I was typing up the monthly update. Therefore, I’m hoping that by making it a weekly update, that I can fall out of that bad habit and type up my quick takes immediately after seeing them and that my update posts will be less overstuffed.

These takes will be roughly as long as those in my update posts and whether or not I recommend it will be made clear at the end. These posts will also not contain any spoilers. As a result, some of my descriptions may be vague, but hey, if it’s a good film, then you’ll get to see why it’s good for yourself. So, with that introduction out of the way, let’s get started.

It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Stanley Kramer, 1963)

You know, it’s times like this I’m glad that the Owen Gleiberman and Lucy O’ Brien-types aren’t the ones determining what gets inducted into the Criterion Collection because I could never envision anyone of their ilk even considering placing Stanley Kramer’s comedic masterwork (or anything worth watching, really) in the same collection that includes stuff such as Rosemary’s Baby and The 400 Blows. But they aren’t, so it was.

Usually, it’s a bad idea to create a work on a dare (just ask Bill Jemas and Harold P. Warren how well that turned out when they created Marville and Manos: The Hands of Fate respectively), but It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World came about in exactly that fashion. After making Judgment at Nuremberg, Stanley Kramer was dared by a friend to make a comedy based on an outline he received. The result was one of the goofiest films ever made, being what basically amounts to an epic, live-action Looney Tunes episode. Most people are probably aware of this film in an indirect manner – a parody of it forming the falling action of a popular episode of The Simpsons (“Homer the Vigilante”), but I’d say it’s worth seeing the gags in their original form. Also, I can totally get behind today’s filmmakers pulling off something similar; it wouldn’t hurt to smile every now and again, after all.

His Girl Friday (Howard Hawks, 1940)

His Girl Friday is another candidate for “The Greatest Comedy Ever Made” along with the above film, but in all honesty, I don’t think it has aged all that well. Older comedies tend to be a bit of a gamble because what each era finds funny tends to change drastically. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is so over the top that its dated elements are easy to overlook whereas His Girl Friday, while admittedly having a few forward-looking aspects to it, is more obviously dated. Unfortunately, it also manages to be ahead of its time in a rather bad way, possessing a cast so thoroughly detestable that you stop caring after a while. That’s pretty typical of your average 2010s independent feature, but not something you’d expect out of the Golden Age of Hollywood (seeing as how those writers were actually good). I wouldn’t necessarily be against seeing this film, but if you’re looking for a contemporary rapid-fire comedy, The Philadelphia Story is a better option.

Charulata (Satyajit Ray, 1964)

Charulata is generally considered to be Satyajit Ray’s best standalone film. It’s certainly a compelling drama, capturing the life of an Indian housewife during the time of the Bengali Renaissance and the British rule of the subcontinent in the late nineteenth century. While I don’t think it quite reaches the heights of the Apu trilogy, Charulata stands as a solid period piece and a compelling character study of a person attempting to find their artistic voice. If you want to see a period piece about that point in history from the Indian perspective, this is worth seeking out.

Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990)

Close-Up is the story of a man impersonating Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf after speaking with a fan on the bus. The film brings to mind Orson Welles’s F for Fake in how it makes the case that a faker’s artistic aspirations shouldn’t be discounted. Abbas Kiarostami arguably goes a step further in that it presents a fictionalized account of what happened, yet all of the involved parties play themselves in it. It’s a truly bizarre story, though it isn’t a comedy, instead having everyone muse on the nature of filmmaking and how it impacts the lives of fans and creators alike. Certain critics hold Close-Up as one of Mr. Kiarostami’s masterpieces, and I would say this praise is well-deserved.

9 thoughts on “Reel Life #28: It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, His Girl Friday, Charulata, and Close-Up

  1. You make a good point about how reviewing movies differs from games when it comes to writing your thoughts immediately after the experience is finished. I hadn’t thought about it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes. Gaming’s interactive element makes it difficult to ignore the objective problems or what it objectively does well. Because watching films is a much more passive experience, the objective qualities aren’t as obvious – even to someone who has seen a lot of them. It might explain why objective analysis doesn’t seem to have caught on in film criticism as it has in game criticism. That’s not to say this hasn’t happened with me in games, but if it has, it’s almost always because of story-related reasons (that realization things aren’t adding up); whether or not the gameplay works tends to be fairly obvious.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the return of this feature and the idea behind it. I’m also with you when it comes to movies. I’m not a big fan of giving my opinion on them as soon as I finish watching them, although social norms demand that your opinion is immediate… I do however have a good idea of what I think of the movie as I finish it (if it’s something I enjoyed or had trouble with). I’m a bit surprised of hearing that The Last Jedi could’ve gotten a passing grade if you had jumped the gun??? How??? 😛 I just remember roasting the movie as each minute passed on. Excellent compilation of movies though. Got me intrigued by some of these myself. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it really makes me wonder just how many critical darlings are actually going to hold up with time (or the opposite, how many films are only going to get their dues retroactively?).

      I realize that me initially praising The Last Jedi doesn’t make much sense without context. You see, when The Force Awakens came out, although it was almost universally praised, there was a pushback – the culprits being many of the same brainless degenerates who made Gamergate a thing. The people arguing against the film didn’t really have a leg to stand on at the time given that the trilogy just started and, other than pushing the reset button with no internal buildup, it hadn’t made a critical mistake just yet. Therefore, when The Last Jedi came out and received a similar backlash, I assumed they were continuing the same bad arguments (i.e. Rey is overpowered, the forced diversity is bad, etc.). It was clear they weren’t criticizing the film in good faith; it was solely because their own viewpoints weren’t being validated.

      However, something changed. One of my friends, Aether, whom you may have seen post comments on this site, expressed a very similar disdain for Disney’s Star Wars entries. That was the first time I heard someone not on the far-right do that, so then I began wondering if there actually was something to the backlash this time around. Some time after that, I ended up watching a video of someone explaining why The Last Jedi was a failure. It was then I realized I’d been had, and after watching a few more videos, I knew that, speaking objectively, the film was indeed a disaster.

      Now, to be clear, it’s very obvious that the many of the vocal detractors behind Disney Star Wars are indeed those same far-right idiots behind Gamergate (and Comicsgate), and I do not support them in any way because it’s clear they don’t actually care about art; they’re just salty that their backwards-looking beliefs aren’t being validated by the mainstream. Nonetheless, I would say the biggest sin The Last Jedi committed was giving those people a degree of credibility. Defenders of The Last Jedi generally can’t do any better than “I’d rather have a film that’s emotionally resonant than intellectually satisfying”, “Shut up about plot holes”, or “Yeah, but how does that make you feel?” It allowed a very annoying kind of discourse to infect film criticism where objective analysis doesn’t exist and those who use logic to determine a film’s quality is deemed a soulless automaton. It’s not a dichotomy; the best films tend to have logic and emotions working in tandem to create great moments.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, that is definitely one to check out. It was certainly fascinating.

      Mad World is kind of an acquired taste, I’ll admit, but if that’s what you’re looking for, it certainly delivers. I’d say it’s worth revisiting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: January 2021 in Summary: Has the Decade Started Yet? | Extra Life

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.