Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life & Other Strange Stories is a dvd collection of four short films, about twenty minutes each.
he first item is of course Peter Capaldi Oscar-winning Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (1993), a wonderfully satiric film starring Richard E. Grant as a suffering Kafka trying to figure out what the last word of the opening sentence, "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic . . ." What? A banana?
Crispin Letts plays Gregor in Kafka's imagination, in a series of potential choices for the transformation, while crumpled up rough drafts accumulate on the floor around Kafka's desk in his room of a gloomy sinister boarding house. A psycho knife sharpener (Ken Stott) lurking in the stairway & hall, searching for his pet cockroach Jimminy.
Grant plays the role totally poker-faced & seems really to be suffering through a series of absurd interuptions & fanciful imaginings & alarming guilt. But as in Frank Kapra's It's a Wonderful Life, there's a joyful ending on its way. And then when this delightful little film appears to be completed, there's a coda that I loved so much it's damned hard not to tell you what it is.
I guarantee you'll enjoy this film. It could've been one of the best Monty Python sketches of all time, but is not dimnished by its resemblance.
Richard D'Alessio's Seven Gates (1997) is not the equal of Capaldi's film, but it's not all bad either.
Two brothers (David Huband & Richard Waugh) take a long drive together toward a family gathering on Christmas. It's mainly a conversation that reveals little things about themselves. It is not particularly funny, not particularly dramatic, & it does not tell much of a story. It's well acted & that's about all.
Lewis Black wrote & Don Scardino directed The Deal (1998), a comical nonsense dialog between two businessmen (Joe Grifasi & Larry Pine as Boular & Veneer) constructed as a one-act play.
It might've been halfway to funny if commedian Lewis Black had personally been in it, but he's not, & this film is neither funny nor especially entertaining. As Lewis Black might say of it if someone else had written it, "It's crap."
By now I worried only one out of four of these short films was going to prove well worth the effort, as sometimes a collection of bad short subjects or cartoons is just tacked on to something people will want to see (something like the Kafka/Kapra satire), with the rest just dead weight.
Elsetimes a collection like this is "framed" with a good one at the beginning & a good one at the end, with mediocrity tucked in the middle. This seemed my only hope as John David Allen's Mr. McAllister's Cigarette Holder (1994) began.
The last short film turned out to be a winner. It's kind of like The Waltons but with wit & humanity instead of smarm & self-agrandizement.
An impoverished rustic (James Mayberry) finds a cigarette holder on the road & for the next decade it is his most cherished possession. He does not like mass-produced items but adores things that are unique, & to him his cigarette holder is unique. When a fellow laborer jokingly takes it from him, gentlehearted McAllister getting it back turns out to have a dangerous streak.
One day he meets Dora, an albino woman (Nora Heflin), & for him it is love at first sight/ Though at first she thinks he's just an annoying weirdo over-enthused by her red eyes, she soon sees his good heart, & a relationship takes hold.
The b/w cinematography is so noirishly serious & artful, the characters so deeply & subtly conveyed, that I found myself slightly stressed that something awful was going to happen to McAllister & doll-making Dora, because terrible things seem to happen to people in serious films.
But this story is building to a moment so loving, understated, & heroic, that I can only say this film is a treasure. What a surprise to have found it even better than the Oscar-winning film that was put in front to sell the package.
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