The Ultimate Gift is the worst movie I’ve ever seen. You probably haven’t heard of it. Good for you. I don’t want to imply that it’s well-made, because it’s not, but there are certainly worse-made movies out there. Little Man, Date Movie, Space Mutiny, etc. But The Ultimate Gift is a special brand of awful because it takes a little girl’s cancer and uses it as nothing more than a plot point with which to forward the main character’s journey of self-discovery. Once the main character has supposedly become a better person, the little girl dies and no one really cares. Not sure about you, but to me, that is offensive. Now imagine a movie which does the same, only instead of using a cancer-stricken child, it uses a national tragedy the scope of which is still too large for many Americans to comprehend. Thanks to director Stephen Daldry, screenwriter Eric Roth, and a passel of others, you don’t have to imagine it. They’ve made it. And it’s called Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
You don’t necessarily equate Charlie Chaplin with vicious satire. But in 1940, with the U.S. still at peace with Nazi Germany, Chaplin made The Great Dictator, one of the most biting pieces of satire in cinema history. It was the first major film to take on Hitler and Nazism, and Chaplin tackled both subjects with eviscerating wit. Chaplin plays both a Jewish barber (thought by some to be the final iteration of his Little Tramp character; Chaplin had different feelings about that at different points in his life) and Adenoid Hynkel, dictator of Tomainia. Hynkel’s impassioned speeches, in a made-up language, are hilarious, and a scene involving a giant globe is memorable. The critical community has a mixed consensus on the film’s closing monologue, addressing the film’s themes in a deadly serious fashion instead of a comic one; I can understand the frustration of some, but to me it’s stirring. After last year’s Criterion edition of Modern Times, The Great Dictator is the second Chaplin film to join the prestigious Criterion Collection; special features on both the DVD and Blu-ray include audio commentary by Chaplin historians Dan Kamin and Hooman Mehran, a Kenneth Branagh-narrated documentary entitled The Tramp and the Dictator, two visual essays, color production footage shot by Chaplin’s half-brother Sydney, a deleted scene from Chaplin’s 1919 film Sunnyside, and a theatrical trailer.
The thirty-first episode of Gobbledygeek airs live tonight at 10:00 PM EST right here. To close out our month-long celebration of monsters in pop culture, we’ll hone in on the shambling, shuffling, slack-jawed zombie. Your typical zombie enjoys sunsets, long walks on the beach, and BRAAAAIIIINNNSSSS!!!! We’ll have an early review of AMC’s pilot for The Walking Dead, and of course Romero, Fulci, Wright, and other cult favorites will get their turn in the dim, gray, post-apocalyptic sun. In the bonus hour, we’ll have upcoming DVD releases, Rock Band 3, and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.
(And hey, did anyone else notice that last week’s blog post didn’t include a link to the show, and that there was never a “Listen to Last Night’s Blahblahblah” post? Yeah, didn’t think so. All the same, I apologize.)