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Spotlight: Silent Comedy

Never was comic timing and sight gags at such a high point as in the silent movies of these comic geniuses.

Buster Keaton in The Navigator (1924). Spoiled rich boy Rollo Treadwell and his equally spoiled neighbor Betsy O’Brien find themselves adrift in the ship The Navigator. The two hapless drifters are at first completely at a loss when they have to try to feed themselves by opening cans of food or boiling water, but as the time goes by, they devise clever management skills and learn to work together to fight off swordfish and cannibals.

Charlie Chaplin in The Gold Rush (1925). The little tramp, Chaplin’s signature character, goes to the Klondike in search of gold. There he survives the bitter winter, makes his fortune, and wins the girl. Along the way he enjoys the famous boiled leather dinner and performs the dance of the dinner rolls.

Harry Langdon in The Strong Man (1926). At the end of WWI, a little, mild-mannered Belgian immigrant comes to America looking for his beloved pen pal, Mary Brown. All he knows is that she lives in America. He joins in the stage act of fellow immigrant Zandow the Great, the Strong Man, going on in his stead when Zandow is incapacitated. Langdon also performs his famous backwards climb up the stairs. Directed by Frank Capra.

Harold Lloyd in The Kid Brother (1927). Harold Hickory is the youngest and scrawniest of the Hickory boys whose father is the town sheriff. When his father is accused of theft, Harold sets out to prove to his family, his girl, and his town that he is the equal of any Hickory in Hickoryville.

What We Do in the Shadows (2014) R

whatwedoA "mockumentary" about (very) old-fashioned vampires living in a modern world. Fans of HBO's Flight of the Conchords (which also stars Jemaine Clement) will love the similarly understated, dry humor of the film. Equally satirical of pop culture's current love affair with the undead and our obsession with reality television at the expense of our privacy, What We Do in the Shadows has the making of a cult classic.

Beginners (2010) R

beginnersThis romantic comedy/drama tells the story of Oliver, reflecting on the life and death of his father Hal, and his new romantic relationship with Anna who is dealing with her own father issues.

Christopher Plummer won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance of Hal, the father. Shortly after his wife’s death, Hal came out as a gay man. He becomes active in the gay community, becomes more honest with himself and thus grows closer to his son. Shortly after Hal dies, his son Oliver meets Anna at a party and decides to pursue a romance with her.

Beginners is a personal story, a touching story. Described as a quirky comedy, the viewer watches a man in late bloom and his the effect it had on his son’s life.

Adventureland (2009) R

adventurelandThe year is 1987 and recent college graduate James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) is making big plans to tour Europe and attend graduate school in pursuit of his dream of a career in journalism. Big financial problems arise and he instead starts to look for a summer job. He finds one at a run-down amusement park in western Pennsylvania. He meets Emily (Kristen Stewart), a coworker and develops a relationship with her.

James falls in love with Emily but later finds out she is seeing another worker at the park. They break up while the whole entire amusement park knows all about them. Emily leaves for New York, humiliated and sad she broke James’s heart and lost the best chance at love. James shows up at Emily’s apartment in New York and tells her he sees her in a different way than she sees herself.

Adventureland is full of humor, nostalgia, a sweet coming-of-age story that adults and teens will enjoy.

Spotlight: Johnny Depp

johnnydeppI have a theory that Johnny Depp does some of his best work in films with titles that include the names of people. This extraordinary actor has done wonderful work in such movies as Benny and Joon (goofy), Edward Scissorhands (heartbreaking), What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (sensitive), Don Juan DeMarco (playful), Ed Wood (endearing), Donnie Brasco (subtle and gritty).

Even if you don’t care for the movie, you can appreciate the performance. Whether funny, animated, chewing the scenery, or quietly effective, he rarely disappoints. Take a look at his full filmography.

Better Off Dead (1985) PG

betteroffdeadStarring John Cusack, Better Off Dead is a cult, coming-of-age classic from the 80s which has catch phrases a plenty, quirky characters, and ONE LANE MEYER. Lane, a high school student, is having a bad year what with his girlfriend dumping him among other family crises. So, he decides to kill himself. But don’t worry, he isn’t very good at it, and in the end, he learns the language of love and has a renewed interest in living. This is a great movie and very funny, which you will want to watch again and again.
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Pirate Radio (2009) R

pirateradioThis insanely hilarious movie tells the story of the swinging 60s in London. The music was the rage for every kid who had a transistor radio to his ear or under his pillow at night. The BBC was only playing less than an hour a day. Pirate radio stations on ships anchored off the coast of England played 24/7. Of course, you need a “bad guy” to keep the story interesting, and he appears in the form of Kenneth Branagh as an uptight politician vowing to shut down pirate radio stations. Bill Nighy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and more star in Pirate Radio, which is an amusing tale – but the real treat is the music!

Words and Pictures (2013) PG-13

wordsnpicsClive Owen and Juliette Binoche play an art teacher (Binoche) and an English teacher (Owen) who work at a Maine prep school.

They both are battling their own demons when they meet. They soon begin an open debate whether words or pictures have the greater power. It is the battle of right brain versus left brain dominance. The war between the teachers becomes a school-wide event.

Words and Pictures is a unique movie. Owen and Binoche are wonderfully matched in a Hepburn/Tracy kind of relationship. This is a movie not to be missed. It is intelligent, witty, and presents a “no frills” relationship between two adults.

What If (2014) PG-13

whatifIn this offbeat comedy, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) and Chandry (Zoe Kazan) meet at a party, strike an instant connection, and become best friends. She has a boyfriend and he’s been burned too many times. Can the pair really be just friends? What If is a sweet and smart romantic comedy set in Toronto with both funny and dramatic touches.
- Jennifer

What if your best friend was a girl? What if you liked her for more than just a friend? What if you don't know how to tell her?

This charming film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Wallace, a med school dropout rebounding from recent heartbreak, who finds himself questioning all of these things.

Enter his roommate's cousin Chantry, an animator living with her long term boyfriend Ben. The two hit it off immediately and continually enjoy each other’s witty banter and humorous dialog. In a disastrous attempt to tell Chantry his true feelings, Wallace finally answers the question What If...- Chris

Spotlight: Olivia de Havilland, Comedic Actress

oliviadehavillandWhat, Olivia de Havilland, Melanie of Gone with the Wind, Maid Marion of The Adventures of Robin Hood in a comedy? Several, actually. Try these.

It's Love I'm After (1937)

Leslie Howard plays Basil, an egotistic Broadway star in a drama filled relationship with Joyce, his leading lady, played by Bette Davis. Enter Marcia, a star struck society girl played by de Havilland, and the fireworks begin.

Hard to Get (1938)

Maggie Richards, played by de Havilland, is a spoiled rich girl who storms out of her house in a rage, borrowing a car in her escape. When she runs out of gas, she finds she doesn't have the means to pay up and spends the rest of the day cleaning the motor court cabins. Vowing revenge against Bill, the motor court attendant, she plots an elaborate plan to build him up and then bring him down to size.

The Male Animal (1942)

Henry Fonda plays Tommy, a literature professor at Midwest University, and Ellen, played by de Havilland, is his lovely young wife. When her old beau Joe, the former star of the football team, played by Jack Carson, visits for homecoming weekend, Tommy gets jealous. What do women want from the male animal, brains or brawn?

Chef (2014) R

chefOnce a rising star, Chef Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) has a meltdown that goes viral. Adrift and unemployed, Casper accepts help from his ex-wife Inez (Sofia Vergara) in the form of a beat-up food truck. With his sous chef Martin (John Leguizamo) and his young son Percy (Emjay Anthony), Casper rediscovers his love of cooking and his creative mojo on a road trip from Miami to Los Angeles. Chef is a heartwarming comedy about food and family.
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The Princess Bride (1987) PG

princessbrideThe Princess Bride was adapted by William Goldman from his novel, which he says was inspired by a book he read as a child, but its transformation by his wicked adult imagination has made the story witty and irreverent. And the film adaptation has remained popular since its original release in 1987.

It is story within a story with Peter Falk as a grandfather reading a fairy tale to his reluctant grandson. This clever romantic comedy-fantasy-adventure film can be enjoyed by every member of the family.

And if you can’t get enough of The Princess Bride, check out Cary Elwes’ (Westley) recent book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.

Way Out West (1937)

wayoutwestIn Way Out West, Laurel and Hardy are at their comedic best as would be gold miners on a mission to deliver the deed to a rich gold mine to the prospector's daughter, Mary Roberts. Perfectly timed slapstick ensues when the deed is stolen by Mary's unscrupulous guardian and our two hapless heroes must get it back. Particularly charming is Laurel and Hardy's saloon door soft shoe.

Midnight in Paris (2011) PG-13

midnightinparisWhat a love story – between me and this movie! I have watched Midnight in Paris more than 10 times. The music! And the scenery of Paris is outstanding!

It is the story of a young author and his fiancée in Paris, and what happens to him while lost in Paris at midnight. It is so exciting as he travels back in time to meet the creative culture of the 1920s. How many can you recognize? The characters are played exactly according to their real personalities. Hemingway (Corey Stoll) – straightforward, tough drinker; Zelda (Alison Pill) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston) – as crazy as they were in real life; and Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo)… Be sure to watch the bonus ending to learn how and why Woody Allen portrayed Paris.
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The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

bishopswifeChristmas miracles happen when Dudley the Angel (Cary Grant) appears on the scene. The Reverend Henry Brougham (David Niven) is so caught up in his fundraising/building project that he loses sight of the importance of his work and his family. Dudley knows just what to do to make things right with his wife (Loretta Young). Grant, Young, and Niven do an excellent job of convincing us that angels really are an instrumental part of life on earth in The Bishop’s Wife.