Erin’s Top Films Reviewed in 2015

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1. Crimson Peak (2015) – Guillermo del Toro writes a love letter to the Gothic Horror genre.  The classic tropes of isolation, bloody histories, unnatural relationships, menacing architecture, Victorians, obvious symbolism, endangered virgins, and things that gibber and chitter in the night are explored in a visually luscious theatrical feast.  Del Toro’s use of visual metaphor is appropriately heavy, and the acting is beautifully overwrought to match.

2. Road House (1989) – A classic story of the Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold and a Dark Past, Road House lets every one revel in the simple pleasure of barroom brawls and Patrick Swayze’s oiled up body. Watch it.  Enjoy it.  It’s ridiculous and satisfying.

3. The Man Who Laughs (1928) – The only silent movie that I reviewed this year.  It’s a fun look at the pre-Hayes Code Silver Screen.  It’s a melodrama based on a Victor Hugo novel, and it is played to the hilt.  Enjoyable and accessible if you are interested in trying out silent films.

4. Shanghai Noon (2000) – Thoroughly enjoyable ramble through Wild West tropes.  Jackie Chan makes an interesting and unlikely hero for a Western, and the good-looking cowboy played by Owen Wilson only manages to be a sidekick.  Fun and funny, with trademark Jackie Chan physicality and stunts.

5. Innocent Blood (1992) – A French Vampire in Pittsburgh instead of an American Werewolf in London.  A fey vampire accidentally turns a mob boss, and spends the rest of the movie chasing them with Joe, an ousted undercover cop.  The best part of this movie are the vampire mobsters and their scenery chewing, bombastic scenes.  Not John Landis’ strongest entry, but a fair attempt at the vampire genre.

6. Grandma’s Boy (2006) –  Lowbrow stoner humor.  It is what it is, but it’s pretty solid for an Adam Sandler movie.  Funny in a juvenile way, but manages to portray actual character development for Alex, the schlubby programmer protagonist.  The best performances are from the titular Grandma and her elderly roommates.

7. Crime of Passion (1957) – Barbara Stanwyck is Kathy, an ambitious Lady Reporter cum Stifled Housewife cum Conniving Murderess.   The 1950s were not kind to women with a mind for more than card parties.  Kathy’s situation is first sympathetic, but she walks down a dark road of Femme Fatale turns.

8.  The Little Mermaid (1989) – Childhood favorite.  The Little Mermaid makes an interesting watch as an adult – King Triton’s fairly reasonable attempts at parenting are definitely not appreciated by the 16 (!) year old Ariel, who should really have been grounded forever.  The movie, however, is gorgeous, the soundtrack is perfect, and it’s definitely a great watch.

-Erin Kinchen

The Man Who Laughs (1928)

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threehalfstar

(Viewed 07/14/2015, available on YouTube.)

I have to admit that I had no idea what I was getting into with this film.  A black and white picture of Conrad Veidt with a painfully grotesque smile and desperate eyes was posted online next to an illustration of Batman’s Joker.  The Man Who Laughs – inspiration for the Joker!”

I’m a sucker for a dramatic photo.  And for Batman.

The Man Who Laughs turns out to be a gorgeous 17th century period piece filmed on the eve of the sound age and the Hays Code, based on Victor Hugo’s 1869 novel.  The Laughing Man himself, Conrad Veidt, is well known for his other roles in movies such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Casablanca, and I’m sure that you’ve all heard of this film already and that I’m behind the curve on this one.  The 1928 Universal Pictures movie is a melodrama, a romance, a comedy, a swashbuckler, and a thriller.  The story follows a man who, kidnapped and mutilated as a child to punish his father, lives as a performer until his lost identity catches up with him and drags him into a world of intrigue.  There is not a speck of realism to be found and it’s completely delightful.

Conrad Veidt’s portrayal of the mutilated clown Gwynplaine is a fantastically overwrought exploration of existential crisis.  Mary Philbin’s portrayal of the literally blindly innocent Dea is one of the most beautiful presentations of spotless femininity that I have ever seen on film (helped no doubt by constantly luminescent lighting).  Olga Molnar presents a contrasting and archetypically vampy performance of the Countess Josiana: beautiful, sexual, powerful, and cruelly self interested.

The Man Who Laughs is a fun watch, and as a (mostly) silent film it will require your actual attention and a modicum of active investment.  I found the pacing quick enough and the story engaging enough to keep me interested without much effort.  The visual lushness of the movie makes it a treat to watch.  I would consider this movie to be a fairly accessible silent film for anyone interested in dipping their toes into the world of pre-sound movies, and should go on your list if you’re interested in pre-Code movies, German Expressionism (even though it’s an American film), or visual inspirations for the Joker.

-Erin Kinchen