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.