Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The One and Only (1978, Carl Reiner)

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Henry Winkler? The Fonz, of course. To me however, the name Henry Winkler means Genius. The star of two of my favorite movies of all time (Heroes and Night Shift), Winkler broke out of his stereotyped role of a tough guy and became more of a pathetic type of loser that audiences couldn't help but love. After looking for more films from this "classic" era of Winkler, I stumbled upon The One and Only and had to watch it.

Andy Schmidt (Henry Winkler) is a man who wants an audience. Any audience. He'll do anything, anywhere to get people to watch him. From the time he was little he knew he wanted to be on stage performing. He loved and needed the adulation of a crowd there for him to perform to. After winning over his reluctant college sweetheart Mary (Kim Darby), they get married and move to New York to follow Andy's dreams of acting. With no luck in his job hunt, Andy has a chance meeting with Milton, a midget actor who has been wrestling to make ends meet. Could Andy himself try this route as a substitution for his dream of being an actor?

The One and Only is simply one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. Winkler hits a grand slam as the attention-hungry schlep you can't help but root for. Winkler definitely steals the show and each of his silly outbursts are funnier than the last. The supporting cast is also great, with Kim Darby as Winkler's normal wife, Herve Villechaize as Milton and Gene Saks as Wrestling Promoter Sidney Seltzer, whose constant need to use the bathroom and reminders of his son's sexuality are, though crude and inappropriate, quite hilarious.

RATING: 9/10

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Bicycle Thieves (1948, Vittorio De Sica)

Starmummy is back from a short dormancy to bring you a true cinema classic. I must have checked this film out of the library at least 5 times previously but never got around to watching it, until now. If you know anything about film, you've heard of this particular movie. It has been called one of the greatest films ever made and popularized the neo-realism movement, which employed actors with no training.

Bicycle Thieves (or Ladri di biciclette as it was known in its native Italy and The Bicycle Thief in the U.S.) is the story of Antonio Ricci (Lamberto Maggiorani), an unemployed husband and father of two. He finally gets a job hanging up posters but is told that he needs a bicycle or else the job will go to someone else. He explains his dilemma to his wife Maria (Lianella Carell) who then sells their bedsheets to get Antonio a bike. However, on his first day on the job, his bike is stolen. Antonio and his young son Bruno (Enzo Staiola) search through the streets of Rome to find the bike napper, which brings them to several different locations, including a fortune teller, a church and a restaurant.

Bicycle Thieves is by all accounts a brilliant film. The untrained cast pull off their performances marvelously and with absolute realism, especially Maggiorani as a desperate father and 7 year old Staiola, one of the most memorable child performances I've ever seen in a film. The father and son's quest is full of many high and low events which really make the audience feel for the characters. I highly recommend picking up Criterion's release of this film, which comes with 2 discs and a 75 page book with interviews and articles about the film.

RATING: 10/10

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Orphan (2009, Jaume Collet-Serra)

When I first saw a trailer for this film, I (as did many other folks) instantly thought it looked like a ripoff of the Macaulay Culkin movie from the 90's The Good Son. I liked the Good Son and was a little perturbed that they would try to make some crappy rehash. Sure the girl playing the orphan looks pretty creepy and pretty damn crazy, but c'mon - what could top lovable Macaulay Culkin, star of such family friendly movies as Home Alone and Uncle Buck play a psychopathic kid?

The Orphan is about a married couple whose third child dies during childbirth. After some time passes, they are ready to adopt and go to a local orphanage where they find Esther. She is intelligent, lovable and caring. But soon after coming to live with her new family, "accidents" start happening to those around Esther. Her new mother Kate (Vera Farmiga) eventually realizes that Esther isn't the innocent child that her husband John (Peter Sarsgaard) thinks she is.

Despite some obvious similarities to The Good Son, The Orphan was actually a fine film. Much better and more original than I was expecting. Isabelle Fuhrman is excellent as the devious Esther, far more mature and talented than most her age. There were some genuinely scary scenes and the ending was very unexpected and shocking. Though I still have a fondness for The Good Son, The Orphan is a worthy adversary to good ol' Mac.

RATING: 7/10