Thursday, December 31, 2020

The 12 Days of Doris Day: Teacher's Pet (1958)

Jim Gannon is a seasoned reporter who doesn't believe in education, instead holding the belief that real learning lies in hard-earned experience. This opinion earns him the ire of journalism professor Erica Stone after he writes an insulting letter, and when he goes to her class to begrudgingly apologise, he realises she's a fascinating and attractive lady. When asked for his name, he gives a false one, and quickly becomes the apple of her eye, until the inevitable moment when he must tell the truth...

Teacher's Pet is a fun romance with an interesting central message. I dig how the movie isn't a battle of the sexes in a traditional way. It's not a conflict based on him being a strong man and her being a dern uppity woman. Instead it's more subtle than that, zeroing in exclusively on their careers and matter of experience. It's a refreshing take on the whole dynamic!

The plot is fairly basic, and is yet another example of a man beginning a romance with Doris through mistaken identity/deceit, but it takes some great turns. The conversation between Jim and Erica's supposed psychologist paramour is a genre-defying highlight that I loved. The movie never tries making him the Other Man, or insert a cliched love triangle, instead just presenting him as a legitimate friend to both parties. While her discovery of the truth is cringeworthy in the best way. Jim has decided to turn over a new leaf, and is preparing to tell Erica everything when guess what his boss wants him in his office for...

The whole last act is great. Normally when the lady doesn't believe the guy even though he's now contrite, he usually has to jump through hoops. But here we have a psychologist friend who actually tells her all of this, and gives her the complete rundown for why he trusts Jim's sincerity. Of course, it's not an instant cure, as Jim has still gotta do the appropriate legwork himself.

It's this part of the climax I didn't really get. The movie had already got all the pieces in place, it just needed to bring them together. Then it suddenly introduces/adds a new dimension, which feels a bit unnecessary. During the course of the film, Jim discovers Erica's father was the greatest reporter since sliced bread, which is a neat touch that fleshes out her personality well. But the ending's take on it rubbed me the wrong way.

The film does a great job at presenting its lesson to the audience of the day. Though I must say the core message is pretty outdated now, precisely because of how true it still is/but not for the reason you'd think. It's not that you don't need a good college education nowadays, but rather you do but it's prohibitively expensive. What probably cost $200 back then costs like $200,000 now, meaning that you're average joe bloggs has no way of affording the fancy education they so desperately require for a career.

Onto the characters, Jim is a bit of a traditionalist, with a propensity for getting fresh, but he's not a dickhead at heart, and he displays a genuine capacity to change and learn. This all makes him a good lead to follow.

Erica is likeable and intelligent, and it's a treat seeing her one-up the confident Jim. Although given how expert his knowledge and skills are, she really should have been suspicious from the get go. Her chemistry with Jim is good, especially after discovering the truth. If there's one thing Doris was great at, it was spurned hostility!

The rest of the cast does well, and even if they have but a few scenes, and feel like they could've been snipped out with little worry, they did add some extra depth by the end.

Teacher's Pet is quite a cheap/low budget movie, despite its stars. It takes place primarily between the same two sets, like it's a televised stage play, and it's shot in black-and-white during a time when most pictures were in colour. Thankfully none of this is an impediment. I'm of course not a philistine regarding black-and-white (occasional movies excepted), and Teacher's Pet lacks many of the common hallmarks of 'stage play' movies that drag them down.  One last thing to note is fashion. Everyone dresses pretty normally, and there's no colour to speak of, but Doris Day wears such a bizarre hat in the ending that she honestly looks like a frontwoman for Devo!

Now we come to the only real problem with this movie, and boy is it a big one! It is a soul-crushing two hours! This is not a complicated film/narrative, and nothing about it needed to be that long. And as you watch, there'll be numerous scenes you'll wish to take a scalpel to. Like when it takes Gig Young what feels like 5 minutes just to answer the door. An entirely unnecessary character was Jim's girlfriend. I like Mamie Van Doren, and her musical number is a lot of fun, so by all means keep her in, but making her Jim's girlfriend perhaps adds one too many elements, and makes him a bit caddish. This isn't helped by her complete disappearance halfway through.

The actors here are all good. Doris Day and Clark Gable are fine leads, and complement their characters perfectly. There is a bit of an age gap between the two, but not too egregious. Doris was hardly a baby-ish 20-something at this stage, and Gable's character is meant to be a mature and well-lived character, so it makes sense. Gig young is a pip in his performance, a young Nick Adams has a good role as the fresh-faced reporter pupil of Jim's, and Mamie Van Doren is a cute floozy as her character.

Musically there isn't much here. The title song is a nice ditty by Day, but otherwise the movie plays out pretty silently, which is a disappointment, adding to the prolonged feel.

Despite its problem of length, Teacher's Pet is a nice watch, and fans of the two leads will definitely get a kick out of it!...

The 12 Days of Doris Day: The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Tři oříšky pro Popelku and Jak se budí princezny (1978)

Today I'll be looking at a couple of Czechoslovakian fantasy films, perfect for the festive season-Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella, and How to Wake Princesses.

Popelku is a pure young girl living a bedraggled life after the death of her father, head of the community. Now everything is run by a wicked stepmother and her selfish daughter, who constantly put her down and force her to work endless hours. One day a friendly worker gives Popelku a hazelnut sprig, and when she absentmindedly makes a wish while holding it, a wonderful thing happens. Now aided by magic, she sets her mind on meeting the handsome prince visiting...

Tři oříšky pro Popelku (aka Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella) is a lovely rendition of the Cinderella legend, and ranks as one of the best I've seen! Where it excels is in showing drama without going too far. Many adaptions of Cinderella revel in the misery, showing just how horrible the girl's life is for just about the entire runtime, and it can get unpleasant to watch! Popelku meanwhile shows the harshness of the situation, but we see light moments too, and one never overpowers the other. There's just enough, but not so much that the movie's first acts become an unbearable slog.

The various situations Popelku gets into with the help of her wishes are amusing to see, like her sojourn as a hunter, where she outmatches the prince and his friends, or the famous Cinderella ballroom scene. There's plenty of recreations of the iconic moments of the fairy tale, with enough new stuff to keep things fresh, leading to a typical but enjoyable climax.

The characters here are all strong. Popelku is a charming lead, never letting a moment's misery ruin her spark, and always up for some cheeky adventures. Her malicious step-family are delightfully mean and conniving, and often get little comeuppances here and there. It's equally fun seeing them worming their way into the royal party, and getting snubbed at the palace.

The royals themselves have a good dynamic, with funny back-and-forths between the frustrated king trying to get his rebellious son married, all while the Queen is like an impartial mediator, wanting her son to get hitched but also calling her husband out with a smirk when he gets unreasonable (like when he goes from forcing his the prince to be married, to forcing him to stay single when he doesn't approve of his choice of partner).

The soundtrack in Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella is one of its best features. There's a large variety of different tracks, all very gentle and sweet melodies, with a few songs peppered in throughout.

A highlight of the film are the many adorable animals, from the noble horse Jurasek, to the puppy Silly-Billy, and the wise owl Rosie, who takes the role of fairy godmother. The owl is a great actor, getting across lots of emotion with its expressive eyes, all without saying a word. The best scenes are whenever the stepmother pours out bowls of lentils and corn, demanding Popelku separate them, and as soon as the girl is alone, dozens of friendly birds fly inside and helpfully sort them out for her. Awwww! Serious props to the creators of this film for handling the animals so well. Nothing is done poorly, not even the horse nodding in one scene.

The movie's locations all look wonderful too. Set at the height of winter, we get to see Czechoslovakia in all its snowy glory, and many pretty natural settings, from forests, to fields, and frozen lakes. The dwellings are all great too. The village is either a legit old township or a great set, and the palace convinces entirely, precisely because it's probably a real palace. That's the great thing about Europe. You're only ever a stone's throw away from grand palace or ancient ruin.

Everything else works well here. There is a stable of familiar faces in Czech cinema, all delivering good performances. The effects, meanwhile, are good when used. Sparingly but effectively. The costumes are all great too. Exactly as antique, colourful, and fancy as you'd expect for the fairy tale period.

Tři oříšky pro Popelku is a wonderful movie, and has become a Christmas classic in its home countries for a reason. In fact to some it's earned the status of "Christ, not that movie again!", and that's how you know something's succeeded at worming its way into the consciousness of a nation!...

Jak se budí princezny

In a rustic kingdom, there is much rejoicing with the birth of the new princess. The only one unhappy is the Queen's estranged sister, who responds to a friendly royal visit with spite, cursing the newborn child to fall into an eternal slumber along with the kingdom itself, should she ever prick herself. As the Princess Ruzenka grows up, she is studiously watched and guarded by minders, along with everyone else in the valley, with any possible sharp objects removed. This causes her much frustration, but she soon has other things on her mind with the visit of a neighbouring prince...

Jak se budí princezny is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty. A charming take on the legend, it tells its story nicely, moving quickly and developing its world well. We get to know how this kingdom operates, how much the people care for their princess, and the lengths they go to to keep her safe. I find it nice how effectively the movie makes getting exposition across funny.

The introductions are all fun, we get some good comedy, and some drama too. The movie mixes all these elements well enough that they mix seamlessly, never becoming too goofy or too serious. One highlight is the 'bear' fight

The only drawback to the movie's structure is that it takes a long time for the evil auntie to show up again. On one hand I respect them for not filling the first two acts with unnecessary scenes of villainous mugging, but I would've appreciated at least a little more. The climax itself is a little unsatisfying in how little of a fight she puts up.

Jak se Budi manages to have some really striking imagery, namely when the kingdom is falling asleep. The way everyone's activities get interrupted mid-flow is amusing and distinct, and it looks great when the immense thorn bushes begin to grow everywhere, and the castle is overtaken, like in a primeval wood.

I liked the characters here. Since she doesn't fall asleep till the hour mark, this gives plenty of time for Ruzenka's character to develop, but such is the writing that it could've happened after only 10 or 20 mins and she'd still be a richly developed heroine. This is evident when Prince Jiri proposes to her, and she flat out says, in front of everyone, "I can't. I'm sorry, but I don't like you." No preamble, just cold hard truth!

The romantic prince Jaroslav is a good hero. Nervous and not big on self confidence, but willing to do the right thing no matter what, and to   His royal companion Matej is an amusing comic relief character, and contributes plenty to the story.

Jaoslav's arrogant brother Jiri is a hoot! The writing combined with the actor's performance does a great job of making him an unlikeably toff, but in an amusing way. A sickly child all his life, he was coddled by his parents so much that he now believes himself to be superhuman, even insisting on such ludicrous demands as fighting bears. He's been shielded so much from any criticism or defeat that when Ruzenka rejects him he suddenly becomes all defensive, like 'How dare she say this to me, when I used to be such a sick person!'. My only complaint is that we never really see a comeuppance or resolution for him, or the equally toffee-nosed parents.

The villainous aunt is decent in her role, but really doesn't appear enough, and has no-one to bounce off of, so her part in the last act feels a bit shortchanged, like she doesn't actually have anything to do but prance about in a crown, then think 'Oh shit' when the cavalry comes.

The location in Princezny is superb! Contrasting nicely with the wintery feel to Popelku, this takes place in a lush verdant kingdom, with lots of nice plants, and old cobblestoned buildings. Living in Europe has its benefits, and close proximity to such old buildings is one of the best! Certainly a boon to filmmakers everywhere.

As for the effects, thy are quite good too. This isn't really an effects heavy story, but what there is looks good.

To finish, both Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella and How to Wake Up Princesses are not only perfect examples of Czechoslovakian cinema, but great fantasy films in their own right, ranking among some of the best fairy tale representations I've seen...

Flash Gordon (1980)

Far off in the reaches of space, galactic despot Ming the Merciless is bored, and seeks out a new 'plaything'. To entertain himself he bombards the planet Earth with scores of natural disasters, which are recognised as an attack by one man only, the disgraced scientist Dr. Hans Zarkov. After one of these disasters causes a plane malfunction, world-class footballer Flash Gordon and his companion Dale Arden crash land right by the doctor's lab, and are led at gunpoint into a homemade rocket ship.   sent flying off to outer space, where they soon find themselves in the bizarre alien world of Mongo, and must escape capture and defeat Ming if they want to have nay hope of returning home...

Flash Gordon is a true classic of the 80s, in more ways than one. It's often regarded as a camp classic, but it's also very fondly remembered as a legitimately great film in its own right. Produced by Dino de Laurentiis as a British-Italian co-production, and directed by industry veteran Mike Hodges. =

The movie gets off to a brisk start. An ominous and dryly funny exchange between Ming the Merciless tells us all we need to know, then we get straight into the action, meeting our heroes as they find themselves stuck on a journey to almost certain death, and fight to liberate this strange planet, and find a way home. We see their enemies and allies at  from the  Prince Barin, and loud winged warrior Prince Vultan. Also 

This is very much a campy movie, intentionally so by the filmmakers. Which makes it all the more impressive that it works, as trying to make something campy has a poor track record, just like someone trying to make a 'so bad it's good' film. It's something that usually only happens by accident. As for why it works here, sincerity is a key factor. The story is played completely straight, no matter how goofy things may get. And there's just the right balance of humour and =.

The dialogue is great, full of funny and = lines, from Ming's = comments and monologues, to the banter between Aura and Barin, and the bad puns. And who could forget the classic "Flash I love you, but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth!"

This is a perfect adaption too. It captures all the colour and imagination of the comics, as well as accurately depicting the story, and while it takes the mickey a little bit, it's never a full-on parody, nor does it ever just make fun of the source material. Some movies aren't above sketchy behaviour like that, but there's a clear respect here of the original comics, which is no more evident than in the stylish and meticulously crafted opening credits.

The worst thing Flash Gordon could be accused of is being a little overstuffed. There's a lot going on, a lot of characters, and a lot of places. It all works perfectly, though to some first time viewers it may come across as a little bit much.

The appearance here is stellar! The opening 10 minutes are actually weird in a way because they take place on Earth, when the rest of the film is 100% on Mongo. Many films either take a cheap way out, or set as much time as possible on Earth, but here is a movie not afraid to look as alien as possible. Each location is vast, garish, wildly coloured, and some are almost surreal in design, with even the sky and space looking like a living artwork. The integration can sometimes look a little unconvincing, but these are minor and forgiving moments.

Then there are the effects themselves, which

characters    , while Vultan is more aggressive and headstrong, but honourable. I like how none are allies from the get-go, and we really gt a sense that Flash has to work to gain their respect and trust. This makes it all the more impactful when Barin becomes so devoted to this new friend, after spending half the movie trying to kill him.

The villains are  And Ming is a superb villain. He has such a great presence. There is never any need for him to yell and scream. He's already got everything he wants, and he can send out more fear with a quiet command than a howl. But as the film goes on, we know that Flash is gonna make this asshole vocal with fear!

The actors all do a great job, and are nicely varied. We have some exaggerated performances here and there, and some amusingly = Italian ones, but none do a bad job. Accused over the years of delivering a wooden performance is Sam J. Jones as Flash, but I think he's fine. He looks the part, and acts it well too, as does his dub actor (long story). Melody Anderson is a spunky co-star, while Topol is equal parts daffy and endearing. Timothy Dalton and Brian Blessed are great in different ways. Ornella Muti is drop dead gorgeous as the seductive Princess Aura, playing her to a tee. Peter Wyngarde is a much welcome presence as the masked villain Klytus too. And lastly we have Max von Sydow as the iconic Ming the Merciless, delivering an icy cold performance, with lots of great dialogue. Overall there's quite a packed cast here! None disappoint, which is the best you can hope for in any film.

The music in Flash Gordon is unique in that is was scored entirely by Queen (and some dude named Howard Blake)! There were only two movies to receive this honour. Flash, and Highlander. While the latter film got a full-on [music] soundtrack, there are mostly instrumental tracks here, but all are great and each stands out as a distinct and = piece. They fit their scenes perfectly, often elevating them tenfold. And they're unmistakeably Queen too, especially the rousing title track! I tell ya, the whole last act wouldn't have nearly as much power if it weren't for Freddie Mercury periodically blasting out "He's a miracle!...King of the impossible!".

Flash Gordon has always been a favourite of mine

Bernard and the Genie (1991)

British director Richard Curtis has had a storied career, delivering such classics as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and of course Love Actually to the world. And on a TV front he gave us The Vicar of Dibley too, for which we can be forever grateful. In-between, he made some tv-movies too, including the overlooked but beloved Christmas classic Bernard and the Genie...

Bernard Bottle is an evaluator for a big business, and has just made waves after discovering some priceless paintings...Then promptly getting fired after he gives the paintings back to the sweet old ladies who sold them to him for such a low price. No sooner than he's been booted out by his greedy boss, he discovers his girlfriend has been cheating on him with his best mate. Now left with nothing, Bernard absentmindedly rubs an old lamp lying around his flat, and unleashes a pissed-off genie. After a rocky beginning, the two become friends, and Bernard decides to show this genie around and see what he's missed for the past 2000 years...

Bernard and the Genie is a real unsung classic! It's got its fans, certainly, and was hardly a flop when it came out, but certainly deserves more widespread love and attention. It's poignant and hilarious, full of great scenarios and dialogue.

Bernard is a great protagonist. Meek and unselfish, you really feel the genuine friendship between him and the genie, and you can tell he cares more about making others happy and treating his new friend to a fun time than focusing just on self-centered wishes.

Josephus the genie is the total opposite. Manic and hyperactive, and just a teensy-weensy bit violent, he's lots of fun. And thankfully he never comes across as too much, like he's just a selfish asshole. For example, as much as he's loving the modern world, this doesn't change the fact that he misses his old home, and wants to go back. It's these little things that endear you to a character, and give them humanity.

The villains are a hoot. Bernard's boss Charles Pinkworth is a delightfully evil scoundrel, who speaks in ye olde English for some reason, and never passes up an opportunity to screw someone over. Bernard's ex-girlfriend and ex-mate are amusingly nasty too, with their hypocritical appraisals of Bernard. All these ne'er-do-wells reach a suitable comeuppance by the end, and it's great to watch.

The movie embraces the Christmas spirit readily, and condemns the over-commercialisation of it too. It manages to do this without coming across as preachy or snide about it either. You know the sort, who'll complain that capitalism is bad, then get their point across by snatching a storebought present from a kid's arms and telling them Santa Claus isn't real. Well the joke's on those assholes, because they're the ones who won't get anything from Santa until they behave!

There's such a positive tone here, and you really get the feeling that for this one year at least the soulless corporations are taking the backseat, and Christmas gets to mean what it truly stands for. This is further illustrated with the Biblical references. Josephus is from the turn of the millennium, meaning he was buddies with Jesus, and offhandedly refers to many of the miracles and teachings. Where this comes into play the best is the mention of Jesus and his dealings with money lenders! A lot of ultra rich people try and act high and mighty, like Jesus wanted them to be obscenely rich and not share a cent, when in actual fact they were the only people he actually got angry over and beat the shit out of! Many people don't know that fact, so I really appreciate this movie (especially a goofy comedy like this!) for giving this lesson.

There are moments of drama and pathos too, and these range from effective to absolutely crushing! The ending in particular will leave some people in tears. The mix of comedy and drama s done really well, with both [tones] complementing the other really well, making them that much more impactful. The funny and joyous parts of the movie feel that much more after all the crap we saw the hero go through at the beginning.

Another plus (or negative, depending on how you look at it) is the runtime. At 67 minutes, Bernard and the Genie is very snug and breezy, never outstaying its welcome. But it 's very short, and it's such a sweet and enjoyable movie that I really wish it had've been longer. Although the plot never feels shortchanged. It's as long as it needs to be.

The actors here all do great jobs, and feel very distinct too. Alan Cummings is a likeable and sweet lead, never once coming across as a creepy villain as he often does. Lenny Henry meanwhile is boisterous and loud, in the best way. He brings a lot of life to his performance, without ever being obnoxious (although some viewers might feel like whacking him upside the head, who knows). The duo share great chemistry together. Rowan Atkinson has an entertaining part, playing it deliciously evil. Everyone else is fun too, with special mention going to Dennis Lill as Bernard's hilarious lift man Kepple, and the main girl for being a cutie-pie.

The soundtrack is a fun one! We've got some licensed tracks, including a lot of Christmas carols and songs, including the perfect choice of Merry Christmas Everybody by Slade. We get some original tracks too, like the intro which sings praises about Bernard and all about how amazing his life is becoming...before inverting when he gets sacked, dumped, and loses everything else. The rest of the score is great too, selling both the drama and the whimsy with perfection.

Bernard and the Genie is a must-watch for the holiday season. It's yet to see a proper DVD release or high quality upgrade, which is a shame, but it's all online to see at anytime, and regardless of the picture quality, the quality of storytelling shines through perfectly...

The Pink Panther Series: Overall

The Pink Panther series stands to this day as one of the all time greats of comedy. With one entry after another being hailed as a classic, there was no shortage to enjoy, despite long gaps here and there (and some forgotten entries with other actors). With its memorable characters, hilarious slapstick, amusingly lax attitude to continuity, and perhaps an over-reliance on the titular diamond (a problem when the title of the franchise centres around the one specific thing), there was never a dull moment.

The series began with 1964s The Pink Panther. An ensemble heist picture, this was surprisingly not as wacky as later entries would become. It's not even that broad of a comedy. There are moments of slapstick, but much of the humour is more subtle. Clouseau is also not the main lead (with that role going to The Phantom, if anyone). While these things may make the movie weird for those familiar with the rest of the series, it's still a great movie, and a memorable beginning.

Next up was A Shot in the Dark, which told an amusing (if confusing) murder mystery, and contained countless hilarious moments. It also introduces the classic characters of Chief Inspector Dreyfus, and Cato.

1968s lazily titled Inspector Clouseau was the first misfire of the series. Made without Edwards or Sellers, or Mancini, it tried to continue things with a new team, only to fail so utterly it was partially responsible for putting the series into hibernation for a while (that, and the growing rift between Sellers and Edwards). This film isn't irredeemably awful, and it has some amazing music, but for the most part it just doesn't compare, specially the frankly annoying lead performance by Alan Arkin.

It was 7 years later when the series returned, with the aptly named Return of the Pink Panther. The old crew were all back, and firing on their A-game, delivering yet another comedy classic. A hilarious film all round that delivers everything we know and love, there's very little not to enjoy.

The next entry was Strikes Again (or Strikes Back as I always think), and it's hailed by many as the best in the series. It has some of the funniest moments, best scenarios, and greatest ideas. This entry verges more into camp comic book territory, by turning Dreyfus into a full-on supervillain, but it does so in such a fun way that it's hard to dislike. This really was the highest moment for the franchise.

The character of Clouseau really evolved as the series progressed, his quirks and personality getting more and more pronounced. He starts out as a relatively straightfaced Frenchman, not even affecting any funny words. A bigger emphasis is placed on this in the next film, and slowly things get more overt. There are also changes to the pitch he speaks in, and even his appearance. Then there are the disguises, which get crazier as they go along. How much one likes this really depends. I like it to an extent, but do feel the series did begin to take it too far after a certain point.

I'd say Strikes Again really represents the tipping point for the series. That movie has the perfect amount of zaniness, tempered with the right amount of down-to-earth humour and situations. If it had've just had any more wackiness, it would have gone too far, and that is exactly where all four subsequent sequels fail.
Revenge is by no means a bad movie. Mediocre at worst. But it represents the series's downfall. It focuses too much on absurdity without anything grounding it, and it begins to feel very Americanised, with the villains now a conglomorous (not a word, should be) mafia, rather than a single memorable villain (like Dreyfus or Lytton) or fun whodunnit. The film still has some classic moments though, and treats the material with enough respect that it's hard to hate the movie, especially by the surprisingly thoughtful ending, which I feel is a good place to end the series if you ever had to.

And by God they would have if they'd had any sense! Peter Sellers sadly died before his time in 1980, leaving the series in limbo. He had just begun plans for the series' next and final entry-Romance of the Pink Panther, which was to feature Clouseau falling in love with a female cat burglar, and taking up a life of crime. Whether or not this movie would have been any good is up for debate. On one hand I like that they had an end in mind, though I'm not totally sold on making Clouseau a criminal. And who knows if the series' decay would have truly set in by this point for all parties involved, Sellers included.

The next entry in the series was Trail, and Misguided is one of the words for it. Disrespectful, Insulting, Depressing. There are many more you could come up with. A Frankenstein-style patchwork film, it cobbles together a bunch of outtakes and deleted scenes, and tries to create a cohesive narrative with them, before eventually devolving into a clipshow. This is not only a failure, it's a downright disgrace. The movie purports to be paying respect to Sellers, but it instead only spits on his name, and his wife thought the same, enough to file a lawsuit against the film.

Made back-to-back with the previous entry, Curse tried to continue the pointless and doomed 'Search for Clouseau' storyline, and add in a new leading man-The American Clifton Sleigh. The intent behind his was to have him be the new leading man in a series of sequels, setting the action to L.A or some such city. Frankly it was wishful thinking that Blake Edwards ever thought this was possible. The series was already 20 years old. The last thing it needed was a makeover that would remove literally everything from the series that we loved. No Clouseau, no supporting cast, no France. Instead it becomes just another American police comedy, like a million others. Did they seriously expect this to go on for another 20 years? It couldn't even do it with the Pink Panther name attached.

After this the series took a hiatus, and it returned 10 years later with Son. Not a return to form, and still lambasted by critics and fans alike, this final entry at least tried to do its own thing, and out of the three post-Sellers films, it's the one that most feels like a real movie. It too tries to create a new line of sequels, but at least does it in a less misguided way, following the adventures of Clouseau's son in France and Lugash. The movie isn't that great, and has its bad moments, but a lot of good too, namely Dreyfus's more paternal role, and a surprisingly sweet romance with the returning Maria Gambrelli. While it never got the sequels it so desperately wanted, I'm glad that it at least ended the series in a reasonably good place. Clouseau's legacy is ensured as his kids take up the mantle, and Dreyfus gets a happy ending.

13 years later, Hollywood returned to The Pink Panther with the 2006 remake starring Steve Martin, followed by a sequel. These were critically savaged, and most audiences hated them too (though they do have their fans). I agree with most of the criticisms levelled at them. They're very Americanised, the jokes are unsubtle and often unfunny, and many things are annoying. The sequel does improve a little, but not enough for there to be a third.

The best I can say about them is that they are workmanlike. They range from bad to mildly satisfactory, but at their worst they are simple by-the-numbers Hollywood fare. While you might not feel entirely satisfied when watching them, at least you don't feel depressed! Kudos, Steve Martin and co. You may not have lived up to expectations, but you at least surpassed the worst film in the series! I know that sounds like a backhanded comment, but I'm genuinely grateful!

And so that was that. The series is well and truly over. Maybe we'll get another remake down the line (inevitable), and who knows, maybe it'll even be good (doubtful).

Overall, the later half of this series is to be avoided like the plague, but when Peter Sellers was alive, these were some of the funniest movies around! Classic after classic, and all well worth a watch! Bound to be new favourites if you haven't seen them before, you've gotta check them out...

Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Pink Panther Series: Part 4 (2006-09)

The Pink Panther (2006)

During the climactic end of a world-stage soccer match, famous referee Yves Gluant is murdered, and his trophy-The famous Pink Panther diamond-is missing. The conniving Chief Commissioner Dreyfus of the Surete wants all the glory of the capture to himself, and so assigns a complete nincompoop to distract everyone while he solves the crime. However, the newly minted Inspector Clouseau may be far more than he, the murderer, or France itself bargained for...

Remaking classics is always considered a no-no, but that has never stopped studios in need of a fast and easy paycheck. Despite never working, and always being received negatively, still they try. Such was the case with the 2006 remake of The Pink Panther. 

This is a pretty groanworthy movie. While not technically terrible, and certainly well made, Pink Panther '06 is just like every other American Hollywood movie from the 2000s. Nothing distinctive, the gags all come a mile away, and all in all it feels like a weak imitation of the classics, at best. That's to summarise it quickly, but lets go into further detail.

The story is quite a good one, adding in a nice juicy murder to spice things up. This could threaten to overtake the theft of the diamond, and in some ways it does, but overall I appreciate the general story. Thought has been put into the mystery, and while it's nothing to write home about (half the suspects die, and the culprit barely appears anyway), it's still fun seeing how it all wraps up. As far as mysteries go it's not bad.

Then here are the characters. Inspector Clouseau is an annoying oaf, who makes many scenes a chore to watch. He has his moments, but for the most part the audience will be driven just as crazy as Dreyfus! He is given moments of sensitivity that the Sellers iteration never got, and these aren't half-bad, and help make him semi-likeable at times. Ponton is a noble sidekick, who takes Clouseau seriously, despite being more self-aware then him. Nicole is a cute enough love interest. Dreyfus here is your typical angry boss. He hasn't quite graduated to "KILL CLOUSEAU!" territory, and is characterised differently than the original, but there's nothing wrong with him.

A few of the jokes are pretty good. Liable to go on for a bit too long here and there, but aren't terrible (the vase sequence was my favourite). The first few curtain bits didn't impress me that much, but the payoff with Dreyfus was great! It was almost worth every awkward 'weather' line. Other gags have good payoffs too, so the movie isn't a complete failure as a comedy.

One last thing to discuss about the humour is the overall tone. Due to the studio and creative team, this is a very American film, and I feel that's one of its biggest drawbacks. The originals were quintessentially British, with use of more subtle humour (besides the slapstick, that is). Americans though are notorious for being as unsubtle as a bull in a china shop, overplaying everything, and dialing the film to 11, not to mention adding in tons of sex and fart jokes. *sigh* It's taken to such a degree here that Clouseau simply hitting a pop-up somehow strips Paris of all its power, and one tap leaking manages to completely cave in a hotel room in 5 minutes.

I also didn't get how the airport scene caused so much trouble for Clouseau. All it is is a minor gaffe, yet it somehow brings shame to all of France, and gets him off the case. What really doesn't make sense is why he doesn't just say he's a cop, since that's one of the few occupations that would allow you to carry deadly weapons from one country to another
To end on a positive, one scene I really liked was the encounter with the secret agent in the casino. I dug how despite his normal idiocy, Clouseau is instantly able to spot this operative, and said agent treats him with respect too!

The music here is very nice. Some tracks are a bit overblown or modernised (and I probably could've done without the cloying tracks meant to tell us when to feel sad), but many still feature that quintessential 60s Parisian feel. And the rendition of the main theme is mercifully untouched. The big song that Beyonce gets isn't half bad, sounding kinda like a James Bond theme in some ways.

The animated sequence that begins the movie is pretty funny, and done in the classic art style. No awkward 3D rubbish, or unfortunate attempts to update it to be more 'hip'. Just a good old cartoon like the old films! The city of France is shown off very nicely too, with good direction all round.

The acting here is alright. Steve Martin is a great actor, though annoying to some on occasion (*raises hand*), but here he was perhaps not the best choice. He does try and differentiate his portrayal of Clouseau from Peter Sellers, and really make the character his own. On that level he succeeds, but his idea of the character is just not one I find all that funny.

Kevin Kline is good in his role, even if I don't buy his character as Dreyfus. Emily Mortimer meanwhile is cute as a button. The only actual Frenchman on the cast, Jean Reno is fun as Cato-lite sidekick Ponton. Perhaps most unwelcome in a Pink Panther movie is American hip-hop singer Beyonce, but she doesn't do a terrible job, and by the end I didn't entirely begrudge her appearance.

Other actors include Jason Statham in a cameo role as the murder victim (thank God we didn't get his attempt at a French accent!), Roger Rees, and a fun but annoyingly monotone Clive Owens as a 007 parody.

Overall, this update of The Pink Panther isn't entirely irredeemable, but it's just lame, and there are many other things you'd be better off watching...

The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

The world has been rocked by a series of high-profile thefts, from Italy, to Japan, and England. An international dream team is assembled, to be headed by the great inspector Clouseau, and no sooner than they're ready, the Pink Panther diamond is stolen again. Clouseau frequently clashes with the dream team, as well as navigating his own fraught love life, but strives to retrieve the diamond, and stop the crime spree of Il Tornado...

The Pink Panther 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor! It tells a better story, and one that hearkens back to the past in a good way, while still keeping things fresh. It also earns points by giving Clouseau some competency. He's still a dope, but quite an ingenious dope, and you do buy how he's able to work everything out and save the day.

The sense of humour here is much the same as the last, which tells you everything you need to know, but there are changes and improvements. Much fewer crude sex jokes for a start! Not all are perfect though. For all its improvements, the movie has still got unfunny and cringey moments, or occasions where they repeat the joke, as if we were too deaf or stupid to get it the last time.

As for the gags, they're a highlight. To pick an example, the chaotic restaurant date was surprisingly pretty good! At first it just seems like Clouseau's gonna tip over a wine shelf, but it turns out into a really well orchestrated juggling act with the whole restaurant, and not one bottle gets smashed! It's pretty darn impressive! The shenanigans after kinda spoiled the moment a little, since it was already perfect, but that's not a huge deal or anything.

Where the movie shows some weakness is the plot. I quite liked the story itself, but it's constantly undercut by the frequent comedy setpieces. The entire Rome scene is entirely pointless for the plot, and just wastes time (precisely because so little time is spent on it), as does the frequent political correctness meetings, and most frustratingly, the awkward romance! Despite having presumably gotten together in the last movie, Clouseau and Nicole are back to brainlessly fawning over each-other like nothing happened, before getting actively catty.

The presence of the original Tornado, and disgraced art dealer Alonso Avellaneda confused me more than anything. For years he's thought to be the Tornado, and is built up big, but he's not the Tornado. Instead it's just some random other guy who gets one scene before unceremoniously dying offscreen. I don't see why these two characters couldn't have been combined, because Avellaneda completely vanishes from the plot, never seen or heard from again, while the actual original is a wasted opportunity. It feels like there was a whole other plot the movie could have explored, but didn't bother to.

The mystery here isn't half bad. The culprit is pretty obvious, but how we come to the solution is fun, and there are a few twists and turns here you're not likely to see coming! They rank as some of my favourite moments in the film. This culminates in a finale that's pretty enjoyable, and surprisingly well thought-out!

Back to the negatives, something that really annoyed me was that despite eliminating the character of Cato entirely, due to fears of him being offensive (bullshit!), this film includes a line where Clouseau casually calls the Japanese detective yellow! I can't help but worry the filmmakers are trying to apologize for and one-up the old series by showing how much more progressive they are...Not realising it was an intentional joke in those older films too! Also this is probably a nitpick, but the word Yellow only bothers English Asians. Asian Asians couldn't give a damn, and probably wouldn't know what you're talking about. In summation, by trying to make the joke palatable for today's audience, they actually overdo it and make Clouseau here a genuine racist, when all he was in the original was an inappropriate doofus.

The cast here is an impressive one, and they all do decent enough jobs. Steve Martin is a little more mellow this time, thankfully, though if you didn't like him the first time round, you won't here. The remainder of the returning cast members are all fine. Replacing Kevin Kline as Dreyfus is John Cleese. While recasting anyone with such a famous face makes it all the more noticeable, and Cleese is such an obvious choice for this kind of role, he does a predictably fine job. The trifecta of Alfred Molina, Andy Garcia, and Yuki Matsuzaki (from The Black Ninja!! Wow, nice to see his career going places!) all do fun jobs, in different and distinct ways. Lily Tomlin is enjoyable even if her character is annoying, and Aishwarya is a sexy and seductive presence, who has fun in the climax.

The direction here is perfectly fine, as with the last entry. The shenanigans are shot well, even if they don't entertain, and Paris is gorgeous as usual. Though it would have been nice seeing more of the other countries the movie jets to.

In need of a better title, The Pink Panther 2 is a tolerable entry in the series, and I'd say is worth a watch in its own right, if not as a real Pink Panther movie. To date it's the final end of the franchise as a whole, lest we get yet another remake in the future, God forbid. But if that terrible outcome did happen, seeing it take at least a little inspiration from this film isn't the worst crime it could do...