Sunday, October 28, 2007

My New Thing: Mario Cantinflas

A scene from "El Bolero de Raquel," during which the bootblack played by Mexican comedy legend Mario Cantinflas accidentally wanders on-stage during a nightclub routine, having mistaken a call for "a Bolsero" (a sexy dance) with a call for a "Bolero" (someone who shines shoes).

I was recently read an interview with Charlie Chaplin in which he referred to a Mexican film actor named Cantinflas as “the funniest comic actor who ever lived.” Considering the source of that compliment, I immediately became interested and added “El Bolero de Raquel” to my Netflix queue. I watched it this morning and I believe I am officially hooked on this fellow’s work, and now I need to see it all. I read comparisons to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, but really these films are short on physical comedy and long on somewhat racy, self-deprecating humor occasionally highlighted by an intense physical gag. In “El Bolero de Raquel,” for example, there is amazing sequence where Cantinflas and the child he is baby-sitting are watching some cliff-divers in Acapulco as they entertain a crowd. The child sneaks away and climbs to the top of a cliff where the divers have been leaping from. Simultaneously, both Cantinflas and his charge decide to join the other one on the opposite side. They cross paths but don’t notice one another. While crossing the cliff, cantinflas slips and falls, diving about 100 feet to the water below. A local hotel owner, who has seen Cantinflas fall, mistakes his fall for a courageous leap and hires him to be a lifeguard. He starts work as a lifeguard the next day, but he can’t swim, and he has to rescued by some swimmers the first time he gets in the water. This all happens in about a minute and a half, and it typifies what I loved so much about this film. The pace is almost unbearable. You can’t go make a sandwich while this movie is playing without missing about three big gags.

Also, I liked the lonely optimism of the main character. Cantinflas lives in extreme poverty, but he’s always on the make, always looking, sad-eyed, at the pretty ladies on the street. He doesn’t pursue women in a semi-creepy, obsessed way like Roberto Benigni does in all of his films. He just doesn’t give up trying.

That being said, he’s obviously also an immense fuck-up incapable of handling even the smallest responsibility, much less the child he is charged with caring for in “El Bolero de Raquel.” He’s neither adept at life or some kind of lovable, pure-hearted scamp. When a teacher asks him what he thinks about parenting, he responds “There’s more work and less to eat.” So he’s neither the warmfuzzy, doe-eyed do-gooder or a bitter maladroit, but something of a big grey area, morally. Maybe that’s why I loved this so much.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Netflix Vs. Blockbuster

Anyone else getting tired of seeing this kind of shit? As opposed to making me more likely to use Blockbuster, it just makes me mad at them. Seriously. If you can't see the detail, it says that "Grindhouse" has been removed from my qeue and will never be available through Netflix. Because the distributors struck a deal with Blockbuster, the idiots.

Movie review: John Ford's "Young Mr. Lincoln"

The first time I attempted to watch John Ford’s “Young Mr. Lincoln,” I struggled to make it through even ten minutes. It was just so over-the-top and corny, such an outright fairy tale, I couldn’t help scoffing at it. In the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film, Lincoln (played by Henry Fonda) does everything except help an old lady cross the street or save a cat from a tree. Sappy music swells while he gives precious food and supplies to a family of hungry strangers, saying they can just “Mail him the money when they want to,” and eventually he gives them the food as a square trade for an old book about the law. “The law,” Lincoln says, gazing at the horizon. It’s corny. There’s not any other word for it. But when you get into the second half of the film, Fonda’s performance heats up. Playing a more mature Lincoln who has taken on a life-changing criminal case (he was a lawyer at the time), Fonda obviously worked very hard on the physical being of Lincoln. Fonda is huge like Lincoln. When Fonda walks, his stature is huge yet still humble, something in the shoulders communicating honesty and humility. His legs and arms move slowly but confidently, a combination that sounds contradictory and must have been difficult for Fonda, as an actor, to work out. One genius element of this performance is that Fonda’s meticulously-crafted Lincoln body language actually began to make Fonda’s handsome face look more like the president’s. It was like one of those “Magic Eye” posters or something, it was like his body became a context for his face, and changed its effectiveness.

Occasionally I make a complete, 180-degree change in my opinion of a film, and that happened tonight upon my second viewing (and first complete viewing) of “Young Mr. Lincoln.” Acting aficionados or actors would benefit from wincing through the irrefutably Hallmark-card-like first quarter of the film to watch the trial portion of the film. It’s worth it.

For more than casual viewers, there is a brilliant essay on the film at Sense of Cinema.

And in a completely, almost OBSCENELY unrelated part of the internet, I believe R. Kelly has taken the art of the music video to a new place with his new video for "Real Talk." I'm not sure this is actually music. I think it is more like a really good piece of comedic performance art. people who don't think R. Kelly is aware of his current context must be (as this song says) TWEAKIN. Here's the video (foul language ahead):

R. Kelly's "Real Talk" video

Does anyone else enjoy the concept of "realness" in hip-hop music as much as I do? Baudrillard fans in the house, please holla.