Thursday, October 30, 2014

Cujo

Year 6, Day 302 - 10/29/14 - Movie #1,892

BEFORE: This is how you become an expert on a topic, by putting in the time and doing diligent research - after this chain I can take a step back and draw some conclusions about Stephen King, like the fact that his name is spelled with a "PH", not "Steven" like I wrote yesterday.  Sorry about that.  Linking from "Cat's Eye", Drew Barrymore was also in the very famous "E.T." with Dee Wallace.

THE PLOT: A friendly St. Bernard named "Cujo" contracts rabies and conducts a reign of terror on a small American town.

AFTER: I've got zombies coming up as a topic in a few days, another as yet untouched topic around here, but something tells me that virus-based films would have been a lot scarier, considering all the news about ebola these days.  I watched a press conference the other day where the mayor of NYC and the fire commissioner and some hospital administrators were patting each other on the back for safely transporting ONE ebola patient to a hospital.  First responders are fantastic, this is what they've trained for, no risk to the public, blah blah blah.  When the truth is, they have NO IDEA if there were no mistakes made during this process, and they won't for another three weeks.

Rabies is a virus - and it still kills thousands of people every year, though animal control and vaccinations help keep that in check.  Mostly spread through bites from dogs and bats (the movie gets this right), only a few humans have survived rabies infections - the main character in this film gets bitten at one point, but I'm sure she'll be fine.  In the real world infected people exhibit flu-like symptoms, confusion, agitation, paranoia, partial paralysis, and later intense thirst, difficulty swallowing, and death.  You want to be afraid of bats?  Go ahead, but not because they suck your blood out, be afraid of what they're putting INTO your blood.

Rabid bats are found all over America's lower 48, but the virus can also be found in raccoons, skunks and foxes.  I may live in an urban zone, but I've seen my share of raccoons.  But what else can we learn from this film?  Only have your car repaired at authorized service centers, I suppose, since the infected dog is located out on a farm where some back-alley car repair is performed.

But isn't there a great tradition in those slasher films (which I don't watch) about the killer only targeting teens that have pre-marital sex?  Geez, you might as well put a target on your back if you're humping in a horror film.  The lead character in "Cujo" is a wife who's cheating on her husband, so perhaps it's also a cautionary tale.  Karma's a bitch, or bad things happen to bad people, so if we carry the argument to its logical conclusion, if you cheat on your spouse, you could end up trapped in a car in the middle of nowhere with a giant rabid dog outside.

The car in question is a Ford Pinto - and if you remember the 1980's, this make of car was prone to random explosions if it took a hit on the rear bumper or if you accidentally hit a pothole or something.  Given the danger of driving a Pinto, I'm not sure if she was safer inside the car, or outside with the rabid dog.

Also starring Daniel Hugh Kelly, Danny Pintauro, Christopher Stone, Ed Lauter (last seen in "Family Plot"), Mills Watson, Jerry Hardin (last seen in "Pacific Heights").

RATING: 3 out of 10 cereal commercials

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cat's Eye

Year 6, Day 301 - 10/28/14 - Movie #1,891

BEFORE: Throughout this process I've managed to stretch myself by watching horror films each October.  Before that, I'd only seen tame stuff like "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" and of course "Ghostbusters".  When I was 14 or 15 I watched "Poltergeist", which was promoted heavily with Steven Spielberg's name, and I went in thinking it was akin to "E.T.", which was a huge mistake.  I slept with the lights on for weeks after that.

Anyway, even though I've made great strides in this category, I'll wager that there's still a majority of horror films that I've intentionally ignored. I have covered everything from "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Omen" films to the work of M. Night Shyamalan, tales from Edgar Allen Poe, a vampire chain, a werewolf chain, and stinkers like "The Witches of Eastwick" and the "Underworld" films.  By 2012 I'd pretty much tackled all of the horror films on my list, but I came back to the category in 2013 with "Shaun of the Dead", "Frankenweenie", "Fright Night" and "Dark Shadows".

But still, what's left untackled is quite astonishing - not that I have any intention of watching these, because I do enjoy getting a good night's sleep: the "Saw" films, the "Friday the 13th" films, the "Halloween" series, anything with the words "Texas" and "Chainsaw" in it, "Evil Dead", "Dawn of the Dead", "Night of the Living Dead", the "Nightmare on Elm St." series, the "Paranormal Activity" films, the "Scream" series, the "Hellraiser" series, "Hostel", "Re-Animator", "Human Centipede", "The Ring", "The Grudge", "The Purge", and so on.  I just have no interest in slasher films or torture porn, or anything that I've deemed too disturbing or disgusting.  I'm sure there are a lot more I failed to mention here.

Linking from "R.I.P.D.", Jeff Bridges was also in a film titled "See You in the Morning" with Drew Barrymore (last seen in "Everyone Says I Love You").

THE PLOT: A stray cat is the linking element of three tales of suspense and horror.

AFTER: While I'm listing things, I started taking on films based on Stephen King stories back in 2010. I started with "The Shining", then followed up with "Silver Bullet", "Firestarter", "The Dead Zone", "Thinner", "Christine", "Maximum Overdrive", "Misery", "It", "The Dark Half", and "Secret Window".  In October 2011 I continued with "Needful Things", and earlier this year I watched "Hearts in Atlantis" and also "Apt Pupil" (which both sort of fell outside the horror category), and that brings us up to date.  I'll take on 3 more King stories this week, but since I only have so many slots left, the late arrival "Dreamcatcher" had to be pushed on to next year's chain. I'll make that work out somehow.

Anyway, "Cat's Eye" is a 3-story anthology film.  We used to have all kinds of these things, like "Tales from the Darkside" and "Twilight Zone: the Movie".  Some people probably think this is the best way to adapt Stephen King, stick a bunch of short stories together and make a feature film - this way if people don't like one story, they're bound to like one of the others, right?  After watching this, however, I'm not so sure that's a great plan.

First problem, other than the cat, the stories have absolutely nothing in common - and the cat ends up sort of shoehorned into the first two stories, and only plays a major role in the third.  From what I've read online, there was supposed to be more bridging material to explain the cat's purpose, but it didn't make it into the film.  As a result, there is an opening sequence starring the cat where it gets chased by a Cujo-like dog, and also passes a car meant to look like Christine - but then the cat looks into a store window, and sees a ghostly apparition of Drew Barrymore superimposed over one of the mannequins, telling the cat to "Go and find it!".  Umm, find what?  A home?  A mouse?  A can of tuna?  A sense of purpose?  This is never explained, so why the hell was it left in the film?

Worse yet, we see another character played by Drew Barrymore in the bridging sequence between stories #1 and 2, where she seems to be an actress in a cat food commercial, feeding a cat that looks a bit like our feline hero.  Put this together with the fact that Barrymore plays a normal, non-dead, non-actress little girl in the third story, and everything is now super confusing.  What exactly is this cat's backstory, is the actress from the cat food commercial now a ghost, what is the cat supposed to be finding, and why does the audience have to do all the heavy lifting figuring all this out?

Let's get to the main stories, the meat of the sandwich and perhaps treat the bridging sequences as an odd-tasting condiment or something.  The first story is about a man who wants to quit smoking, and he signs up for an experimental program that appears to be run by the mob, who has found that their unique skill set can come in handy when people need to be cured of their addiction.  They monitor all of the man's activities, and the first time he smokes a cigarette, they torture his wife.  Second time, they move on to his daughter, and beyond that things start to get quite nasty.  Hey, whatever works for the guy, but most people just get the nicotine patch or something.

The second story takes place in Atlantic City (umm, the cat takes the Staten Island ferry to get there, which isn't possible, but whatever...) where a gambler gets revenge on the tennis pro who's sleeping with his wife by making a very dangerous bet with him.  If he can walk around the casino tower on a high ledge, he gets the girl and the chance to leave town in one piece.  Yeah, if you've got acrophobia this one can get you where it hurts.

The final story is the weirdest one, when the cat makes it to North Carolina by train he finds a little girl who looks a lot like the mannequin ghost and the cat-food commercial actress (sorry, I just can't let this go, it's really a mess...) and her parents won't let her take in the stray cat because of that old myth about cats stealing the breath from babies.  But then she's attacked by a little troll creature who does the EXACT same thing (what are the odds?) and the cat comes to her defense.

To me the big problem about assembling a film out of short stories, jigsaw puzzle style, is starting with pieces of different shapes that were never meant to be together, and forcing them to fit.  When you do that, and step back and look at the big picture, it just doesn't really form a coherent image.

Also starring James Woods (last seen in "The Hard Way"), Alan King, Robert Hays (last seen in "Superhero Movie"), James Naughton (last seen in "The Birds II: Land's End"), Candy Clark (last seen in "Zodiac"), Kenneth McMillan, Mike Starr (last seen in "Snake Eyes"), with cameos from James Rebhorn (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Patricia Kalember, Charles S. Dutton.

RATING: 3 out of 10 electric shocks

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

R.I.P.D.

Year 6, Day 300 - 10/27/14 - Movie #1,890

BEFORE: Well, I've seen men dress up in costume like dictators, and ordinary people dress in costume like superheroes, so that must mean that Halloween is right around the corner.  I finally tracked down some bulk candy, because I want to be neighborly without breaking the bank - remember when every supermarket and drug-store sold big bags of candy for the budget-conscious?  I had to go to THREE places before I found a "seasonal" aisle, and I live in a major metropolis!  Anyway, I hope kids still like Tootsie Rolls and Dum-Dum Pops.

Linking from "Kick-Ass 2", Chloe Grace-Moretz was also in the 2005 remake of "The Amityville Horror" with Ryan Reynolds.  I haven't seen that film, or the original - I'll be discussing the horror films I still haven't seen tomorrow.

THE PLOT: A recently slain cop joins a team of undead police officers working for the Rest in Peace Department and tries to find the man who murdered him.

AFTER: I wonder if the Rhode Island Police Department wondered why someone was releasing a movie about them...

This must be one of those things that seemed like a great idea at the time - let's take the main plotline from "Ghost" (dead man tries to contact wife and solve his own murder) and set it against the backdrop of "Ghostbusters" (dead spirits rise up, try to take over the world) and throw in a fair amount of "Men in Black" (hot-headed rookie teams up with grizzled veteran to work for a cosmic agency and blast weird-looking creatures).  Piece it all together, and you've got - a big pile of warmed-over junk.  It just goes to show, you can't make films by committee, (or by rolling a set of dice with plot elements on them) and things need to be more than their taglines suggest.

But let's be fair - from the credits I surmise this is based on a comic-book, like "Kick-Ass", and I hear that sort of thing is all the rage these days.  After "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", "300", "The Walking Dead" and "Men in Black" all hit big, I'm guessing nearly every comic-book, small or large, got optioned for movie rights at some point, and we're still seeing the effects of that play out at the box office.

When I lived in Brooklyn, my upstairs neighbor was a screenwriter, he co-wrote "Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight" and later "Kung Fu Panda", I think - but he also wrote a show on Fox called "Brimstone" - great show, with the same concept.  The hero had to track down dead souls that had escaped from hell and blast them back there, the number he had to recapture being roughly equal to the number of episodes needed for syndication.  The only difference in "R.I.P.D." is that the hero's working for God and not the Devil.

I think my problems start when a filmmaker starts telling me how the universe works - it's run like a corporation, or it's set up like a police station.  Is this really a better concept than the old model, with the clouds and haloes, and everyone plays the harp?  I mean, no one really knows how the system works, or for that matter whether there's a system at all.  So if you start telling me how the afterlife works, like that horrible film "What Dreams May Come", to me you're just as bad as any of our made-up organized religions, you're just doing it for entertainment's sake in addition to profit.

I forgot last night to talk about weird accents - Jim Carrey did one in "Kick-Ass 2" that may have been connected to him changing the shape of his face to look all bulked-up, or related to the strange fake teeth he was sporting.  Jeff Bridges made a strange decision here, to talk like Wilford Brimley with his mouth full, to play someone who lived in the 1800's - was this because they had bad dentistry back then?  This film is set in Boston - which is great, but then how did the Old West lawman end up there?

Also starring Jeff Bridges (last seen in "Heaven's Gate"), Kevin Bacon (last seen in "The River Wild"), Mary-Louise Parker (last seen in "RED"), Stephanie Szostak (last seen in "Iron Man 3"), James Hong, Marisa Miller, Mike O'Malley, with a cameo from Larry Joe Campbell.

RATING: 3 out of 10 Fenway franks

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kick-Ass 2

Year 6, Day 299 - 10/26/14 - Movie #1,889

BEFORE: The goal was to tie this in with New York Comic-Con, and I missed it by about two weeks.  The linking just wasn't there - but October here in NYC is just one big long costume party when you add the NYCC in with Halloween, so there you go.  Linking from "The Dictator", Sasha Baron Cohen made a prominent cameo in "Anchorman 2", and so did Jim Carrey (last seen in "The Incredible Burt Wonderstone"). 

THE PLOT:  The costumed high-school hero Kick-Ass joins with a group of normal citizens who have been inspired to fight crime in costume. Meanwhile, the Red Mist plots an act of revenge that will affect everyone Kick-Ass knows.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Kick-Ass" (Movie #1,488)

AFTER: The set-up with the "Kick-Ass" films is unique - it's a way to tie in with the superhero genre without the characters having weird powers like the X-Men, or godlike strength or super-soldier serums like the Avengers.  We're supposed to believe in a world, much like ours, where superheroes are a form of entertainment, and only a select few people are willing to fight crime, due to the very real danger involved.  

This means that "real" injuries are possible, with no Wolverine-like healing, and it means that characters die and they DON'T come back (like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, and most likely Wolverine in about 6 months).  These are regular people, and unless they're expert fighters or are incredible lucky, they get hurt.  

The story picks up months after Kick-Ass and Hit-Girl have left the superhero scene, although Hit Girl can't resist skipping school to take on drug-dealers all day long - it's the way her father trained her.  Kick-Ass finds his life without crimefighting to be incredibly boring, so he longs to get back on the scene.  But after he gets Hit Girl to train him, she's caught by her guardian and forced to attend school like a regular girl.  (It doesn't go so well...)

This is where the film sort of goes off track - Hit Girl KNEW who she was in the first film, forcing her to become someone else just to figure out that she knew herself very well in the first place feels like a misstep, plus we lose her for the fighting scenes for the majority of the picture.  One of the BEST things about the original "Kick-Ass" was watching a little girl swear like a trucker while severing the limbs of criminals.  Well, I think it was one of the best things, it was certainly one of the most original, surprising and also disturbing things.  It's kind of sad to see that replaced with a bunch of dick jokes and vomit-based humor.

Without her, Kick-Ass finds a new group of costumed people whom he also might have inspired, and joins their club.  I admit I've never read the "Kick-Ass" comic, so I don't know how closely this film sticks to the comic plot, and maybe that's a good thing.  Given the names of the new superheroes - Battle Guy, Dr. Gravity, Insect Man - I can't tell if these are supposed to be parodies of the genre, or if all of the good names were already taken by DC and Marvel heroes.  There's even a married couple who use the code names "Tommy's Mum" and "Tommy's Dad" - the reason for using these names is a justified tear-jerker, but honestly as superhero names, they really kind of suck.  

The villain, Red Mist, is back from the first film, with a new name that's not fit for print - I wonder how the film reviewers handled that when this was released last year.  Did they just say "The M.F."?  But this is another case of diminishing returns - his character got quite emasculated here, both figuratively and literally.  I'm sure they can bring him back again if there's a "Kick-Ass 3", but what would be the point?  As an ongoing series, these films really need to start deciding if they're going to function as a parody of superhero films, or the ultimate extension of them, and I don't think they can be both.


Also starring Aaron-Taylor Johnson (last seen making a cameo in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier"), Chloe Grace Moretz (last seen in "Hugo"), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (last seen in "Fright Night"), John Leguizamo (last heard in "Ice Age: Continental Drift"), Clark Duke (last seen in "Identity Thief"), Morris Chestnut (ditto), Donald Faison (last seen in "Clueless"), Claudia Lee, Garrett M. Brown, Lindy Booth, Robert Emms, Andy Nyman, Olga Kurkolina, with a cameo from Chuck Liddell.

RATING: 6 out of 10 pull-ups

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Dictator

Year 6, Day 298 - 10/25/14 - Movie #1,888

BEFORE: I pegged this film as my planned outro to the Chaplin chain months ago, just because of the title and (assumed) similar subject matter.  I'm not intending to make a comparison between Charlie Chaplin and Sacha Baron Cohen (last seen in "Anchorman 2"), or saying that Cohen's the modern-day Chaplin, or anything like that.  But sometimes when I check my OCD and suspend the linking, I gain some extra insights.
THE PLOT:  The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.

AFTER: I'm glad I stuck with this plan, because now I get to draw some great comparisons with Chaplin's "The Great Dictator".  It doesn't even matter that Cohen's drawing his comedy from a more modern Qaddafi-like character instead of a classic Hitler-type.  Comedy is always a reflection of the era it gets created in.  And both films do their own riff on the "Prince and the Pauper" switcheroo by having their main actor pull double-duty as the dictator and a look-alike commoner.

In "The Dictator", Gen. Aladeen is at first in on the plan, because he needs to have look-alikes to deal with assassination attempts.  But on a trip to address the United Nations, his own uncle has him kidnapped and replaced with an idiot double, in order to bring democracy to the country of Wadiya.  He then gets mixed up with the crowd protesting his own trip, and has to survive on the hipster-infested streets of Brooklyn until he can find a way to prove his identity and get back into power.  When the switch is made earlier in the film, it (theoretically, at least) allows more time for the effects.

Like Chaplin's film, this culminates in a speech that's meant to prove a political point - and like Chaplin's anti-socialist speech, this is likely to fall on deaf ears, for this is the chance you take when you mix politics into a comedy.  Turns out they're not like chocolate and peanut butter - audiences go out to see a comedy in order to FORGET about politics.  People in the 1930's felt that Chaplin injected too much of his own political views into his Hynkel-doppelganger speech, envisioning a world where men would rise above their hate, greed and brutality.  Yeah, how did that plan work out?

As Aladeen, Cohen came closer in his speech to making some valid political points - sarcastically poking fun at the U.S. political system by claiming that in dictatorships there are rigged elections, governments can spy on their own citizens, lie about the reasons for going to war and ignore the health care needs of the poor, allow 1% of the people to have 99% of the wealth, torture prisoners, and use the media to scare people into supporting particular policies.  Since these are all things that the U.S. government has been accused of, it's a backhand swipe at our own system.  But, did audiences want to hear this in a comedy?

This speech is the only reason I'm not giving this film a "1" - because apart from the speech, it's the same "stranger in a strange land" comedy that we've seen the same actor do in "Borat" and "Bruno", and it's a case of diminishing returns.  There's an attempt to make the character more sympathetic by adding the wrinkle about him never actually executing anyone (his executioner apparently let everyone who was sentenced to die escape to New York) but then you have to ask yourself what this reduces the character to, and what's gained by making the North African dictator a sympathetic (or just plain pathetic) idiot?

Also starring Anna Faris (last seen in "Brokeback Mountain"), Ben Kingsley (last seen in "Ender's Game"), Jason Mantzoukas, Chris Parnell (also last seen in "Anchorman 2"), Jessica St. Clair, with cameos from John C. Reilly (last seen in "Shadows and Fog"), Kevin Corrigan, Megan Fox, Fred Armisen (last heard in "The Smurfs"), Bobby Lee, Chris Elliott, Aasif Mandvi, Horatio Sanz (last heard in "Wreck-It Ralph"), Joey Slotnick, J.B. Smoove (last seen in "Mr. Deeds"), Nasim Pedrad, Garry Shandling (last seen in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier").

RATING: 3 out of 10 torture devices

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Great Dictator

Year 6, Day 297 - 10/24/14 - Movie #1,887

BEFORE: Chaplin carries over for the final time, and Paulette Goddard does too - makes sense, since she was his third wife and all that.  This film is from 1940, a time when it was much in vogue to make fun of Hitler, in much the same way that modern comedians have made fun of Saddam, Bin Laden and Kim Jong Il.

THE PLOT: Dictator Adenoid Hynkel tries to expand his empire while a poor Jewish barber tries to avoid persecution from Hynkel's regime.

AFTER: Chaplin plays two roles here, and any time that happens, you expect to see a switcheroo, a riff on "The Prince and the Pauper".  But that doesn't happen here until the very end, which is a little suspect.  Why don't more people notice the resemblance between the humble barber and the leader of Tomania?  The barber himself is still shell-shocked from World War I, so that's his excuse, but what about the regular people?  Especially since they both have such a tiny mustache, and no one else has that.  (I wonder if Chaplin was mad at Hitler for stealing his look - we still call it a "Hitler mustache", not a "Chaplin")

There's not much sublety here - Chaplin worked in full sound and used the opportunity to have his Hynkel/Hitler character make prolonged speeches with (presumably) German-sounding nonsense.  His Tramp/barber character also talks, but sparingly, still preferring pantomime over pontification, at least until the end where he makes a speech to try and save the world.  A little Wiki research tells me that this ending was unpopular at the time, since this was taken as Chaplin expressing his own political beliefs, and some people didn't like this interjection of politics into their comedy.

This was tricky, tricky comedy ground - to make a film in 1940 that showed the persecution of Jews and mentioned concentration camps while still mining that subject matter for slapstick and mistaken identity bits.  To have a sequence where Hynkel/Hitler dances with a large balloon shaped like the Earth - showing his thirst for power and territory while still keeping it light.  The only other film I can think of from that time that managed such a difficult balance was the original 1942 "To Be or Not To Be".

Making names like Goebbels and Goering sound like "Garbage" and "Herring" isn't exactly subtle either.  But I suppose somebody had to do it. And Benito Mussolini becomes "Benzino Napaloni", but I don't see how Italy got named "Bacteria" here.  Like the Hynkel speeches, most of the gags involving Napaloni just go on way too long, like when his train pulls too far into the station, then too far back, and so on.  Or the negotiation/food fight between Hynkel and Napaloni - just goes around and around, and lands exactly nowhere.

In the end, it's a form of fantasy fulfillment - that Hynkel/Hitler could reverse his Anti-Semitic policies on a whim, or through a set of comic mishaps, seems like a sort of wishful thinking for people who were on the brink of going to war.  If only life had imitated art.

Also starring Jack Oakie, Billy Gilbert (last seen in "Love on the Run"), Henry Daniell, Maurice Moskovitch

RATING: 4 out of 10 puddings

Friday, October 24, 2014

Modern Times

Year 6, Day 296 - 10/23/14 - Movie #1,886

BEFORE: Well, I've made great progress in the last two days, but I've also screwed up my sleeping schedule something fierce.  My body now wants to be awake when I should be sleeping, and vice versa.  Plus I seem to have lost the ability to fall asleep in a bed, I now have to start a film, watch it for 30-45 minutes, fall asleep in the recliner for 2 hours, wake up and finish the film - after all that, it's about 5 am and I can't get back to sleep.  When I was working 5 days a week, making it through a whole movie didn't seem to be much of a problem, but sleeping late on Tuesdays and Thursdays could also be affecting things.  Nah, let's blame Chaplin.

THE PLOT:  The Tramp struggles to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman.

AFTER:  It's sort of ironic to watch a film titled "Modern Times" when it was made almost 80 years ago.  How modern could it possibly still be?  Turns out, quite a bit in the portrayal of the factory, which has a boss that can view all of his workers on a giant screen, and order them back to work the same way, even when they're smoking in the bathroom.  (Chaplin depicted the first hidden toilet-cam, I guess...)

Chaplin's not a Tramp here at first, he's a factory worker whose fortune rises and falls with the American steel industry.  But the rapidness of the assembly line gets to him, physically and mentally, so he's forced off the line.  As a commentary on the greed of industry leaders, he's even seen being fed by an experimental "feeding machine" which is intended to reduce worker's lunch hours to just a few minutes.  Of course, the machine ends up beating him silly with a corn cob, and force-feeding him metal nuts instead of pieces of food.  

After he suffers a mental breakdown, he's mistaken for a Communist instigator and thrown in jail, where he comically mixes up cocaine (sorry, "nose powder") and salt, leading to an interesting lunch that Al Pacino's Scarface would have enjoyed.  High as a kite, he stumbles out of jail, then stumbles back and prevents a jailbreak.  Normally this would get a man shanked in the shower, but here it leads to his parole.  

For once, a Chaplin film sets him up romantically with a counterpart at his level - not some beautiful, seemingly unattainable gorgeous dancing girl, but a similarly homeless girl, also wanted by the police for vagrancy.  Ever the gentleman, he steps in to get arrested in her place whenever she steals, and even covers for her when she escapes from the paddy wagon.  (It's like a 1930's comic version of "Les Miserables", am I right?)

After a failed stint as a night watchman for a department store, and yet another prison term, the two set up house, in a shack that makes the cabin from "The Gold Rush" look like a luxury hotel.  But when the newspapers announce the factory's re-opening, it's back to work - just in time to go on strike.  Wah, wah.  He finally finds some measure of success as a singing waiter, though the song that he sings is mostly made of nonsense words that sound vaguely French or Italian, along with pantomimed movements.

That's right, Chaplin sings, so it's not really a silent film - sort of a "half-silent".  Why did Chaplin persist in making silent-style films after sound films had come into vogue?  I can only assume that after such a long career in silents, this is just the method he was accustomed to.  The notes on IMDB state that Chaplin was convinced that "talkies" were just a passing fad, and since he was the writer, director, and chief financier of his films, he was able to keep making films the way he wanted, even though the industry was changing all around him.  He was also concerned about the way that his films would play in foreign countries, and felt that adding too much English dialogue would affect their international box office.  Hmm, where I have I heard that before?

Also starring Paulette Goddard, Henry Bergman, Tiny Sandford, Al Ernest Garcia

RATING: 6 out of 10 giant gears