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City Lights (1931)
I've seen many of Chaplin's best films, and have just finished watching City Lights for the first time. In my opinion, it tops even the brilliant Modern Times. It seems to me that many who claim to be film "connoseuirs" stick up their noses at anything that does not have excessively complicated plots or incomprehensible imagery. To these people I would say, "I feel sorry that you are unable to appreciate some of the greatest works of art ever created". This movie is a nearly ideal case in point. The story is simple: the Tramp falls in love with a blind flower girl and does anything to help her. Although there are some very funny moments, the movie is not really what I would call hilarious. But I don't see these as flaws. The very simplicity of the story gives it enormous impact because it obviously comes straight from the heart, and the humor is present to soften the blow of the drama and make it bearable, the exception being the very end. Much has been said about the ending, and deservedly so. There is nothing outlandish, nothing over the top about it: everything is very subtle, but the way that it is set up, the subtle facial expressions, the lack of dialogue, and the music all have the impact of a sledgehammer. It has to be seen to be believed. I don't want to reveal any more details for fear of spoiling it. Well, I hope that was of some use; at least I hope it helped someone decide to watch this masterpiece.
The Flying Nun (1967)
A series for the heart and soul
This show is quite simply an inspiration for the soul. It is always morally uplifting (forgive the pun, it was not intentional) to watch Sally Field as Sister Bertrille, the spunky, spirited, warm hearted nun who just happens to be able to fly, because of her light weight and because of the aerodynamics of the cornette that she wears. Of course, this is not in any way realistic; how could a little cornette generate over 90 lbs. of lift except in gale force winds? However, this is not what matters; in fact I think it only adds to the magic of the show. The point of the series is to show what humans are like at their best; Sister Bertrille is so upbeat that everyone is cheerfull when she is present (that is, except for Carlos when she wants him to do something for the convent, but even he gets over it). As I said above, Sally Field was perfect as Sister Bertrille (I wonder what it was like for her to constantly be a character who, for all intents and purposes, did not have much of a social life), but the central supporting actors were excellent as well. I feel that Alejandro Rey deserves special mention for his performance of Carlos Ramirez, the suave playboy who gets nervous whenever Sister Bertrille is even in the same room. In the first season, the guest stars were also excellent; for example, there was the well respected Celia Lovsky, who in Science Fiction circles is famous for her performance of T'Pau, in the classis episode "Amok Time" of Star Trek, and there was also Elinor Donahue, who among other things played Elie Walker in the first season of the Andy Griffith Show. Unfortunately, in later episodes, the guest stars were not of this high quality: it seems to me as if most of them overdid their parts, making them unrealistic and somewhat icky sweet. Despite this, The Flying Nun is a show that one can always get enjoyment and inspiration out of, if one watches it in the proper frame of mind. Unfortunately, nowadays most people with their pessimistic, jaded outlook on the world are unable to appreciate the magic of this show. Perhaps this is why TV Guide placed this series in their list of 50 worst shows of all time (when I saw Flying Nun and Hogan's Heroes on that list, I thought to myself, WHAT???, but now that I realise why they did that, I can only lament on the state that this world has come to). If only TV Land placed this wonderful show at a more accessible time, rather than the late night slot that they have it on now ! (I have heard that TV Land is going to take this show off the air as of September. I can only pray that this will not be the case.)
Perry Mason (1957)
Arguably, the greatest TV drama ever
Everything about this series was perfect, from the acting, to the scripts, to the directing, and even to the fact that black and white was used even after the advent of color. Of course, Raymond Burr WAS Perry Mason, just about the world's greatest defense attorney, who stops at NOTHING in his search for the truth. The supporting cast was also excellent, and the guest stars, unlike in so many other series, were always of a high calibre. Some might say that the scripts were a bit formulaic, but within the basic format, over the 10 year run of the series there was infinite variety in the details of each show, with enough unexpected plot twists to constantly keep any audience guessing. The atmosphere was perfect: black and white lent a mysterious, almost gothic feeling to the episodes, which at the same time was beautifully contrasted with Perry Mason's ice cold reasoning and razor sharp sense of right and wrong. There are so many other things I could say about this series; perhaps it is best left at saying that this is the one, the only court drama, probably the best TV drama in general, and definitely one of the ten greatest series of all time.
The greatest 'black' comedy, if not the greatest comedy ever
Peter Sellers was a comedic genius, pure and simple. Although this term has been horribly overused in recent years, it is the only phrase that can aptly describe his wonderful abilities. You would be hard-pressed to find a performance of his that did not reveal some subtle fact about the human condition, or a performance which did not simply overshadow every other actor in the film. Dr. Strangelove was, I feel, Sellers' greatest achievement on screen, a performance for which any sane person would have given him an Oscar (but who said the Academy Awards made sense?). All three of the characters he portrays are done to perfection, but the character of Dr. Strangelove, the crazed, former Nazi nuclear scientist that calls the President "mein Fuhrer" and has battles between the left and right sides of his body, will forever live in our collective conciousness. Aside from having the greatest performance of arguably the greatest film comedian of all time, this classic has a perfect supporting cast, from George C. Scott as the crazy Air Force general Buck "I'm not saying we won't get our hair mussed" Turgidson, to Sterling Hayden as general Jack Ripper that decides on his own that we have to annihilate all of the Russians to stop them from stealing and polluting our "precious bodily fluids", to finally Slim Pickens, the gung ho captain from Texas that wears a cowboy hat in combat and rides the bomb like a bronco (that moment is, I think, the greatest moment in the film, perhaps one of the greatest moments in film history). Also, there is superb directing on the part of Stanley Kubrick, who after making this masterpiece, unfortunately, went over the deep end with 2001 and A Clockwork Orange. This mighty team of artists brought together a plot which is at the same time both poignantly tragic and completely hillarious (if only the 'comedians' out there could take a lesson from this film, Hollywood would be a far more cultural, sophisticated place). The basic premise is nuclear annihilation: Ripper wants to annihilate the Russians, while the Russians have just completed a domesday machine that would automatically kill all life on Earth if any foreign power attacked Russia. How could such a dark premise be so funny, you ask? I say, watch the film, and you will find out while busting a gut.
THE BEST PANTHER FILM EVER
This is quite simply the best Pink Panther film that was ever made. For once, Blake Edwards gives Peter Sellers a chance to reveal his true genius in all its glory, as compared to especially the first two films in the series, where Peter Sellers is treated for the most part as a supporting actor. If this movie does not crack you up, nothing will. Quite honestly, I think that Peter Sellers should have received an oscar for his brilliant performance here. Herbert Lom is also excellent here; it seems as if starting in this film he fully comprehends the lunacy of Dreyfus. The introduction at the psychiatric hospital is unforgetable, especially when Dreyfus starts his hillarious rendition of "over the rainbow". The supporting cast is also wonderful. One of the best comedies ever made, next to perhaps Dr. Strangelove.
Get Smart (1965)
One of the best TV comedies ever
This series has got to be one of the most neglected shows of all time. Almost everything from the first two seasons is perfect; most of the episodes from the third and fourth seasons are superb, and some even from the uneven last season are quite good. Of course, Don Adams just steals the show with his brilliantly hillarious interpretation of Maxwell Smart, but almost everything else about the series works perfectly as well. Barbara Feldon is just right as the beautiful, intelligent, and very forgiving agent 99, and Ed Platt is wonderful as the chief, who despite getting migraines whenever Max is even in the same room, is one of Max's best friends, as well as his boss. Unfortunately, due to pressure from the network, Max married 99 in the fourth season (which in and of itself was a beautiful moment, in fact one of the series' best episodes, but in the long run was the death knell for the series), and 99 had twins in the fifth and last season.
Don Adams justly received three Emmy awards for his brilliant performance, and the show altogether received seven; however, comparatively few people know about this gem, which to me is a total mystery, and somewhat tragic. Why o why does TVLand relegate this show to the early morning?
The Andy Griffith Show (1960)
Just about the greatest series ever
I would say that about 95% of the first five seasons is absolutely perfect, and a very large fraction of this is classic, some of the best material ever to be shown on the small screen. Who can forget the great Don Knotts' brilliant, first class portrayal of the bumbling, bug-eyed, high strung, sometimes egotistical but always lovable Deputy Barney Fife? Of a similar calibre is Andy Griffith's interpretation of the loving, laid back Sheriff Andy Taylor, who is the moral center of Mayberry, always has time for anyone with a problem, and is somehow able to do his job without routinely carrying a gun (now if that does not say something about a lawman's ability, I don't know what does). Frances Bavier is great as the always loveable, frequently excitable, mother figure, and Ron Howard is a perfect Opie (this is a shameful confession for a 16 year old guy, but he was just the cutest thing in the world). The vast majority of the supporting characters were superb; Thelma Lou worked perfectly as Barney's understanding, always faithful and patient girl (who had a habit of covering his face with lipstick and mussing up his hair, making him look like the silliest creature that ever lived; incidently, it was just a shame that they didn't get married during the series), Gomer was naive, innocently lovable gas station attendant, and later mechanic who eventually got his own show, also excellent, Goober, Gomer's cousin, was a hillarious, somewhat nonintellectual but always honest mechanic, who took over when Gomer left for the Marines, and Floyd was the always funny town gossip; says Howard:"there are 3 basic forms of communication in Mayberry: telephone, telegraph, and tell Floyd." Some of the characters later on did not work as well (I think); for example, Warren, Howard, Emmett, Sam Jones, and, despite what others might say, I would have to put Helen in this category. It always seemed to me that Helen never trusted Andy, and just about every 3 weeks was on the verge of breaking up with him. Despite this, the last three seasons were still quite enjoyable for the most part, although not as classic as the first five. Quite justly, a series which, over 40 years later, is at least as popular and well regarded as when it first came out.