Classic Movie Review: The Gold Rush (1925)

Title: The Gold Rush
Release Date: June 26, 1925
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Production Company: United Artists

The Little Tramp joins the Klondike Gold Rush, although his bowler cap and coat make him look like an English gentleman compared with the more rugged-looking prospectors he encounters.  The majority of the film is focused on a cabin where the Tramp and his colleagues escape from a blizzard.  The cabin belongs to Black Larsen (Tom Murray), identified as a wanted criminal, and the Tramp’s friend Big Jim (Mack Swain) also ends up occupying the cabin.  In fact, while Larsen is identified as a villain, the Tramp and Jim pretty much take advantage of him, and send him out to get food.

The comedy of the cabin involves wind blowing characters in one door and out the other, starvation dreams of a giant chicken, and eventually the cabin itself takes flight.  There’s also a romantic subplot where the Tramp meets with a self-confident dance hall girl (Georgia Hale) who dances with him to avoid unwanted attention from an aggressive man.  The Tramp falls in love and in one of the most famous scenes he imagines entertaining her with dancing dinner rolls.

It’s a clever comedy that makes the special effects and physical acting required of a silent film its strongest assets.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Safety Last (1923 )

TitleSafety Last
Release Date: April 1, 1923
Director: Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor
Production Company: Hal Roach Studios

Harold Lloyd’s most famous comedy film features Lloyd playing a character named “The Boy” who leaves “The Girl” (Mildred Davis) behind in their hometown while he goes to the big city to save up money for their marriage.  With lots of scenes filmed on location in Los Angeles, this is a great document of a bustling urban center in the 1920s.

Lloyd’s Boy sends lots of gifts to The Girl, making her think he’s doing well financially when he’s actually struggling. She arrives and he has to pretend he’s a manager rather than a clerk at the department store.  Unfortunately this leads to a lot of cringe comedy, where Lloyd builds lie upon lie, getting himself into an increasingly worse situation.  Lloyd comes off as kind of a jerk, rather than a protagonist the viewer wishes to support. Luckily this film offers a good share of physical comedy and stunts as well, which Lloyd carries off well.

The most famous stunt is Lloyd climbing up the outside of the Los Angeles skyscraper where his character works.  This sequence takes up a significant portion of the latter half of the film. It all begins when The Boy thinks he can get a $1000 reward from his boss by having his friend Limpy Bill (Bill Strother) climb the store building as a promotional event.  Unfortunately, Bill is recognized by a cop he’d had a run in with early in the movie and Lloyd climbs a story hoping Bill will take over, but various comic events force him to continue the climb on his own.  It’s a great comedic sequence.

Rating: ***

Classic Movie Review: Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu movie poster

Title: Nosferatu 
Release Date: March 4, 1922
Director: F. W. Murnau
Production Company: Prana Film

This German Expressionist horror film has a strange history.  It was based on Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, but since the filmmakers never got permission for the adaptation, the Stoker estate sued and ordered all prints of the film destroyed. Obviously some prints survived, but they were released in various “bootleg” editions.

I’m not sure which version I ended up streaming, but the title character is known as Count Orlok in all the film reviews I’ve read, but they straight up call him Dracula in the version I watched.  Similarly, the heroes are known as Thomas and Ellen Hutter in the literature, but the version I watched called them Jonathan and Mina Harker. I guess that’s the advantage of silent film is that one can just rename all the characters with minimal effort.  At any rate, this is a long way of explaining why I’ll be using particular names for characters in my review.

The story begins in a German town where Jonathan (Gustav von Wangenheim) works in real estate for the creepy Renfield (Alexander Granach), who is secretly a minion of Count Dracula.  Renfield sends Jonathan to Transylvania on the pretense that the Count wants to buy a house in their town.  Jonathan entrusts Mina (Greta Schröder) to some friends for safety, but she has premonitions about his travels.

In Transylvania Jonathan meets the locals who are frightened of the Count and the things that happen after dark.  Wangenheim does a good silent movie acting job of showing his derision of their superstitions.  Jonathan finally arrives at the Count’s castle and meets the Nosferatu (Max Schreck) who he treats warmly despite his chilling appearance and comments about Mina’s lovely neck.  Jonathan ends up being held captive and Wangenheim now does a great job of acting terrified.

Jonathan escapes and the Nosferatu follows him to Germany. One of the interesting aspects of Dracula-lore I wasn’t aware of is that Nosferatu has to be transported in coffins with soil from the burying grounds of the victims of Black Death.  So when he arrives in Germany he brings the plague AND feasts on the blood of the town’s citizens.  It’s up to Mina to make the sacrifice to offer herself to the Nosferatu to keep him feeding until daylight.  This film actually introduced the concept of a vampire being killed by sunlight.

The movie is terrifically atmospheric and spooky.  Some of the filmmaking conventions that may seem laughably outdated today are countered by the eeriness of silence, scratchy film, and uncanny production values.  I’m not a big horror fan or have much interest in the Dracula story, but this film was worth watching for its part in the history of one of the world’s great legends.

Rating: ***

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 3

On the Media :: Repairing Justice: The Prosecutor

Prosecutors wield enormous power in the criminal justice system, contributing to racial inequality.  Can progressive prosecutors help with criminal justice reform?

Throughline :: Milliken v. Bradley

The effort to end school segregation by way of busing lead to this Supreme Court case decision that still affects our schools and communities to this day.

Throughline :: Huey Long vs. The Media

Louisiana’s most famous politician was loved and hated in equal measure. A populist who favored social programs, he also ruled in a dictatorial manner and carried out a long war against the free press.  Long seems to be an odd combination of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and a fascinating figure in American history.

Tiny Desk Concert :: Lizzo

An electrifying performance at a tiny-ass desk by the great Lizzo.

Twenty Thousand Hertz :: 808

The story of the drum machine that changed popular music.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Album Review: Fongola by Kokoko!

Album: Fongola
Artist: Kokoko!
Release Date: July 5, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Likolo
  • Azo Toke
  • Singa


Kokoko! is a collective of artists from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They use instruments fashioned from trash to create sounds for a musical style that blends electronica with dance punk.  The synths layered on by their French producer Débruit also gives it an 80s freestyle dance pop sound.  Kokoko! makes refreshing music that functions equally well at a dance club or a political protest.

Rating: ****

Classic Movie Review: The Kid (1921)

TitleThe Kid
Release Date: February 6, 1921
Director: Charlie Chaplin
Production Company: Charles Chaplin Productions

Charlie Chaplin and his Tramp character were already film superstars, but this is the first Chaplin’s feature length film as a director and also the first time the Tramp appeared in a feature.  The movie starts with a bit of melodramatic social realism as a woman (Edna Purviance) leaves a charity hospital with her newborn baby, remembers her lover who abandoned her, and decides to leave the baby in the backseat of a car in front of a mansion. She reconsiders, but before she can go back for the baby, thieves steal the car and drive it into the city (with no baby seat, aigh!).  When the thieves discover the baby, they leave it on the sidewalk where it’s found by the Tramp.  He initially is reluctant to have anything to do with the baby, but finally decides to adopt the kid as his own son.

Early scenes show the Tramp putting the baby in a little hammock and the baby just being cute doing baby things. It’s a remarkable bit of humanity on a film from nearly a century ago, and it made me think that the baby would be 100 years old if still alive.  So I looked it up and discovered that the baby actor Silas Hathaway IS still alive (and turned 100 in March).  This was Hathaway’s only film but what a great part to play in film history!

Of course, The Kid is most famous for introducing Jackie Coogan who became Hollywood’s first child star as a result of this movie.  Coogan’s kid is the Tramp’s accomplice in their semi-legal activities, and they have a lot of cute father/son moments, and have good set pieces with the Kid standing up to the neighborhood bully and the Tramp having to fight the bully’s much bigger brother.

Social services discover that the Kid is not the legal son of The Tramp and they have to go on the run to avoid being separated. Meanwhile, the mother has become a wealthy celebrity in the intervening 5 years and visits the neighborhood to perform charity for poor kids.  She is inadvertently reunited with the Kid.  There are heartbreaking scenes where the Tramp has to chase down the car taking away the Kid, but in the end, all three – mother, Tramp, and Kid – are reunited for a happy ending.  There’s a weird part just before the end where the Tramp dreams of angels and devils, but it’s really the only diversion from a sweet and heartbreaking movie.

Apparently Chaplin and Coogan spent a lot of time doing fun things together off the set so the close relationship they have on screen is for real.

Rating: ***1/2

Monthly Mixtape: July 2019

Only three new songs for the month of July, probably because I’ve been too busy listening to “Old Town Road.” All of these bands share in common band names that are challenging to find in a search engine.

Necking :: Still Exist

Punk rock women from Vancouver.

Abjects :: The Storm

Punk rock women from London.

CUP :: Soon Will Be Flood

Electronic experimental music from Brooklyn


Previous Mixtapes:

Book Review: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney At Dawn by Ridley Pearson

Author: Ridley Pearson
Title: The Kingdom Keepers: Disney At Dawn
Publication Info: New York : Disney Editions, c2008.

Finn, Charlene, Maybeck, Willa, and Philby return for another adventure as the five young teenagers who defend Walt Disney World from the villainous Overtakers.  The story begins with a parade celebrating the return of the kids’ DHIs (holographic hosts who work in the Magic Kingdom), but the appearance of their friends Amanda and Jez forebodes dark times ahead in the Most Magical Place on Earth.

Amanda and Jez are orphans with magical powers only just being revealed to the rest of the Kingdom Keepers, and the are known as Fairlies, as in “Fairly Humans.”  When Jez is abducted the Kingdom Keepers not only need to find her but also avoid falling asleep and having their DHIs trapped in the Overtakers’ new server.  They spend the day at the Animal Kingdom struggling to keep awake as they solve these mysteries.  Charlene gets a particularly good boost in her character as she gets to disguise herself as DeVine, the camouflaged, stilt-walking performer, for reconnaissance purposes.

Aaaaaaaaand, the novel ends on a cliffhanger, meaning that my daughter and I will most certainly be reading the third book in the series.

Rating: ***1/2

Every Movie I’ve Ever Watched*

Several years ago I made a list of Every Book I’ve Ever Read and since then I’ve used both this blog and LibraryThing to keep track of my reading history.  I got to thinking recently that I’d also like to have a list of Every Movie I’ve Ever Watched.  I sought out an app similar to LibraryThing for movies and the best I could find is Trakt, which did the job, but it’s not very user friendly so I can’t recommend it.

Nevertheless, I have a list of 1483 movies and counting.  The asterisk is there because I’m certain I’ve forgotten many movies I watched in the distant past.  The list is also embarrassing because in my teens and twenties I had both insomnia and cable tv, meaning I watched lots of baaaaaaaaad movies.   On the other hand there are numerous all-time classic movies I’ve never seen, so I’m making an effort to watch some great movies from the 1920s to present that I’ve missed.  I will start posting my Classic Movie Reviews on August 1. If there’s a movie you think I should watch, let me know in the comments.

TV Review: Further Tales of the City (2001)

Title More Tales of the City
Release Dates: 2001
Season: 3
Number of Episodes: 3

I’ve finished off watching all the televisual adaptions of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books with 2001’s More Tales of the City.  This is the shortest of all the miniseries and apparently was released in three episodes, although the version I watched on YouTube was edited together into a single three hour movie.  The brevity actually benefits the film, because this is the weakest of all 9 Tales of the City books and consolidating the story actually improves the narrative a bit.

More Tales of the City revolved a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about an Episcopalian cannibal cult. Further Tales of the City revolves around a ludicrous, plot-twist filled story about cult leader Jim Jones living in San Francisco three years after the Jonestown massacre.  This main story line has DeDe (Barbara Garrick) and her adorable toddler children returning home after having gone to live at Jonestown, surviving the massacre, escaping to Cuba, and then being expelled for being lesbian.  The story does give Garrick a part with more gravitas which she performs well and makes me wonder why DeDe was played mostly for laughs in the 2019 miniseries.

Another central character is Prue (Mary Kay Place), a friend of DeDe’s who had only a small role in previous series, but is the one who discovers and befriends Jim Jones, using the alias Luke (Henry Czerny), when he was living in a maintenance shed in Golden Gate Park.  Her sidekick is Father Paddy, a gossipy and secretly gay priest, played by Bruce McCullough (the second member of Kids in the Hall to appear in Tales of the City after Scott Thompson played a bit part in the previous installment). Another newcomer is a pre-Grey’s Anatomy Sandra Oh as news anchor Bambi Kanetaka, who is Mary Ann’s rival at the tv station and who’s mistreatment by the 28 Barbary Lane family reflects poorly on them and is another reason I like this book the least.

The other storylines seem to be treading water.  Mary Ann (Laura Linney) and Brian (Whip Hubley) are in a long-term relationship now, but straining over Mary Ann’s career focus (something that is better developed in the later books).  Michael (Paul Hopkins) has broken off with Jon (Billy Campbell) basically because of low self-esteem and has a series of flings with an actor (a character Maupin based on his real life lover Rock Hudson), a cop, and a cowboy.  And Mother Mucca (Jackie Burroughs) introduces Mrs. Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) to a man named Royal Reichenbach (John McMartin) in a story created solely for television.

It’s a shame that they were never able to continue adapting the books with the original-ish cast.  Book 4, Babycakes, is my favorite of all the books and all three of the books from the 1980s are more character-driven and deal with more serious issues, especially the AIDS crisis.  Maupin was one of the first authors to include depictions of AIDS in fiction.  Alas, to what could’ve been.

Related posts: