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Archive for the ‘Gene Wilder’ Category

Alice In Wonderland

16 Mar

Alice In Wonderland – Directed by Nick Willing – Fantasy Live Action TV production. A Victorian 10 year old girl doesn’t want to sing at a party and runs off into the garden and down a rabbit hole and so forth. 133 minutes Color 1999.

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A labored telling of a dream, oh dear, and we all know what that means. Lewis Carroll’s original, of course, is the most revolutionary work of English literature since Shakespeare. But here everything is literal and old mad hat. Here is a work that should work with the speed of film and works with the speed of high Victorian taffy. Film would be ideal for the material. But the sequences go on at great length and to no good. A director’s collision. Poor Martin Short who must endure himself straining through the same grimace reel after reel. Pete Postlethwaite in a sub-supporting role as The  Carpenter who duets with Peter Ustinov’s The Walrus, but, boy, is it clunkilly staged. Whoopie Goldberg alone survives because she really does have the smile of a Cheshire Cat, and because she is so knowing. And the great Elizabeth Spriggs triumphs as the Duchess. Otherwise the whole farrago is a Caucus Race. Gene Wilder as The Mock Turtle and Donald Sinden as The Gryphon were missing from the version I saw, so perhaps they, with a sigh of relief, are well out of it. Alice In Wonderland could satire anything around that is there to be satirized and allegory anything around to be allegorized. This version has wonderful costumes, true, but consists of  encounters with a series of very rude bad tempered personages indeed, and, alas, that is all it is. It just won’t join the dance.

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Start The Revolution WIthout Me

14 Jan

Start The Revolution Without Me – directed by Bud Yorkin – a farce in which two sets of identical twins plot to cut off The Terror at the pass. 1 hour 31 minutes color 1970

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Farce requires the stage. It requires a static set, back and forth through whose doors characters race. Physical dexterity is its sine qua non. Motion pictures move. In film, the set is never static because the camera isn’t. Therefore the necessary contrast is lost. But given this limitation, farce on film can work, not through physical comedy, but through verbal comedy, through situation, and through what passes across the characters’ faces. Thus we have Hugh Griffith, whose loony visage always promises the embarrassing human folly of dirty underwear even when he is dressed with monumentally glittering daft royalty as King Louis XVI. The film is vaguely a parody of The Corsican Brothers or some Ronald Colman swashbuckler or other, it doesn’t matter which, because the film is a parody of films like that, and as such it works like gang-busters. Everything is fabulous here. The whole piece was made in France, in real French Chateaus, in their real interiors, with real French extras, and a real English cast to lend authenticity to France and to two real North American actors who play the four French leads. The settings are breath-taking, and the costumes, by Alan Barrett, are the finest funny period costumes you will ever see, all run up for a nickel, the Special Features tell us. Gene Wilder plays one set of separated twins, and, as he admits in the Special Features, while he thought he would be wonderful as the peasant, he is far better as the crazy, vicious, sadistic, me-first noble. Donald Sutherland has the cunning to make both the peasant and the noble similar, which they would have been in real life, one slightly out-to-lunch and the other above-it-all. He is delightful to watch. His hauteur is preposterous because he is already so tall. In film, all farce is farce of the face, and the only movement is that of the audience’s eyes to the next visage treat. When people start running about, film farce tends to slow down. You can’t make motion out of what is already motion, only what is not. As Orson Welles remarks in it, this is a film in which he does not appear, so we know from the start that we are in the sacred land of irreverence, impudence, and idiocy, and can take out our Monty Python Toby-mug, fill it up with ale, sit back in our armchairs, and chuckle.

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Silver Streak

08 Nov

Silver Streak –– directed by Arthur Hiller –– romantic adventure comedy in which nefarious doings get let loose on a speeding train. 113 minutes color 1976.

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Gene Wilder’s eyes are of such a pellucid teacup blue that you know their innocence must be polluted before long. And so it comes to pass. I wouldn’t call the great Jill Clayburg pollution, but she does seduce him with an ease smoother than finesse and swifter than the swift at dawn. Ned Beatty a great actor who must have won three dozen Oscars by now, or none, plays, as usual, a person who wandered out of a Sinclair Lewis novel. Presently, the skullduggery starts to boil up, guided suavely by the person of Patrick McGoohan. Into the train wreck he plans for these person’s lives, zooms Richard Pryor, and the bullets start to fly to the right and to the left, but never, O never, to the heart of our hero which is preserved by his ironclad devotion to our Jill. The film starts as a leaden streak until Mr. Pryor’s arrival, but watch his invention, his imagination, his beautiful, restless, and exquisitely beggarly dissatisfaction driving every scene to glory. Have there ever been any more than five elegant leading women to appear in American film? Was Kay Francis one? Gwyneth Paltrow is certainly one. Jill Clayburgh is absolutely one, and it is a treat to know it as a rare fact right here in this amusing escape by train.

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