1927 romantic comedy
Plot: A shopgirl falls for the boss and attempts to use his goofy friend to get to him. Luckily, she's got IT.
This is what the Bananarama were singing about in that mid-80's "Venus" song.
Actually, I want to talk about something else for a bit if you don't mind. The Emoji Movie. I'm in a fantasy movie box office league where my league mates and I drafted four movies. I went with The Emoji Movie in the third round after seeing a preview and deciding it's just the sort of movie that would make way too much money in a country that elected an orange reality show host as president. Subsequent previews and a lack of buzz worried me. And then the reviews started pouring in. It was at an impressive 0% on Rotten Tomatoes; it's now shot up to a 6% which still, if I understand numbers well enough, isn't very good. I looked it up on imdb, and it's currently sitting at a 1.4 which makes it the 16th lowest-rated movie on the site.
I haven't seen The Emoji Movie yet, but since I live my life like I'm in some sort of self-enforced purgatory, I probably will. The thought has put me in a deep depression that I'm not sure I will recover from.
Today would have been Clara Bow's 112th birthday. I read a bit about her, and she seemed to be a complete floozy. Anyway, watching a Clara Bow movie for Silent Saturday made sense, and this is what I found. It's a decent romantic comedy, and Bow has an infectious enthusiasm that makes this movie, one that's pretty weak on story, a little better. She's childlike, and her character is manipulative. But it's in a cute way and she's a decent person, so you root for her anyway. A woman in charge for a 1927 comedy is nice to see anyway, almost making up for the laissez faire portrayal of sexual harassment in the workplace.
As much as I liked Bow's character, I enjoyed William Austin, the guy playing "Monty" Montogomery (the boss's pal), even more. He's delightful goofy, almost to the point where he's annoying enough to ruin the whole movie. There's a great scene where he's looking in a mirror, trying to decide whether he's got "it" or not, and says (via an intertitle), "Old fruit! You still got it!" He reminded me of myself, and that's probably why I connected with that character so much.
There's also a sequence filmed at Coney Island. I love seeing those terrifyingly dangerous amusement park rides in these silent movies.
I just looked at myself naked in a mirror. I don't have it. And my depression deepens.
1995 romantic movie
Plot: Two strangers on a train meet and spend several hours walking around Vienna while having conversations that real people probably wouldn't have. They might have had sex, too.
Did they have sex? I needed a phallic symbol or a Hitchockian train going through a tunnel to let me know if they did. Maybe they'll talk about it in the sequel--Before Sunset.
I'm not the biggest Ethan Hawke fan in the world. He's too twitchy. He's twitchy here, too, but Julie Delpy kind of bleeds into him and makes him better. I think he does the same for her, too. The dialogue--though not all that realistic--is really good in this, but there's a great chemistry that this entire movie balances on top of that just really works. And that kiss on the ferris wheel, probably because they were turned on by remembering that scene in The Third Man? Man, that's really something.
I have avoided this movie for years, mostly because all of the posters for it look a little like that one up there. I expected to be a little bored. However, I found myself captivated--as captivated as the two characters were, maybe, even though there is even less of a chance that I've had sex recently--from the moment these two meet. They meander through the city and meet people and have conversations in typical Linklater ways, and through the process, we learn about love and death and time.
This is the second movie I've seen in a row where characters are walking around a city I've never been to. If I would have thought ahead, I could have made turned this into a Characters Walking Around a City I've Never Been To Fest.
I can't recall characters I've seen recently who I've connected with more than these two. Their story filled me with conflicting feelings of joy and melancholy.
I'll give the sequels a spin eventually. Hopefully, I'll find out whether or not they had sex.
2007 buddy comedy
Plot: A debt collector offers to pay for a student's debts if he walks around Tokyo with him.
Quirky yet somewhat insightful fun from Japan. The developing friendship is lovely, both characters becoming more likable as the movie goes on. They're played by Joe Odagiri and Tomokazu Miura, both who do a great job of balancing the humor and the pathos. Their story's got a few twists and turns, some more predictable than others, and they meet a lot of eccentric personalities. The episodes work like non-sequiturs most of the time, charming even if they're a bit goofy.
At the very least, I don't have to go to Tokyo now. I've seen it all with the journey of these two.
This movie starts with a shot of a tube of Aquafresh toothpaste. I believe that breaks the record for the quickest product placement ever.
1925 war movie
Plot: Three young men enlist and shuffle off to Europe to fight in World War I.
War movies isn't my favorite genre, but this is a really good one. It doesn't seem all that difficult to humanize characters who are going off to war; it can be done with cliche and melodrama. Here, King Vidor humanizes a tobacco-chewing laborer, a stocky bartending bull of a man, and a rich kid about as naturally as you're likely to see in a movie from the mid-20s. Vidor takes the time to make these characters, their friendships, and their romantic feelings very real before he spends time dehumanizing war. Scenes where characters are bonding over a chunk of cake or courting with a barrel over a head go beyond just being cute and really make these characters authentic enough to really care about.
The first half of the movie has a heartbreaking romantic subplot that really becomes the central plot. It's sweet, the intertitles struggling to show us how much of an obstacle language is. John Gilbert is fine as our main character, a love-struck soldier, and Renee Adoree is just cute enough to fall in love with even though you can't understand a word she says. It's typical silent romance fodder, but it works here because it clashes so violently with the final hour of the movie.
That final hour is almost all war. Plane action! Explosions! Falling trees! The war strategy--marching through the woods and getting shot at--never made sense to me, but the scenes showing the violence and terror of the battlefield were enthralling. It really shows that contemporary filmmakers, like Mel Gibson with Hacksaw Ridge, haven't done much to improve on what was being done in this silent war drama. It looked like archive footage a lot of the times, but I'm pretty sure it was all movie magic.
There are lots of great shots and scenes in this one--the training, focusing on soldier faces during some marching, enthusiasm and apprehension and pride; a red cross cutting through the grays of 1920's film; a scene with Gilbert and an enemy soldier and a cigarette; a dilapidated town, maybe a set and maybe leftover destruction from the actual Great War; a zoom to a mother's expression; a line of silhouetted refugees; a make-shift hospital with streams of angelic light; a heroic, limping return that almost looked animated to me. So much stands out and makes the war and romance narratives, which are really nothing that we haven't seen in the last 90 years, something that will stick with me for a while.
Most of the intertitles for this movie were lyrics for "We're in the Army Now."
I thought this was early for the MGM lion, but then I remembered (or maybe I looked up) that its first appearance was before He Who Gets Slapped, a movie I saw earlier this year. It's strange seeing the lion without an audible growl.
Plot: A marathon dance competition tests the limits of desperate participants.
Yowsa, yowsa, yowsa! What a cynical movie this is!
Is Bruce Derns hiding in every movie I see? I'm on a little two-movie Bruce Derns streak. It's a one-movie Red Buttons streak, and it's a one-movie Jane Fonda streak.
This is gritty and relentless drama, filmed in a way that I actually felt like characters dying onscreen were the actual actors and actresses being filmed as they succumbed. I don't think that's the case with any of them.
I enjoy looking at Jane Fonda and thought she was great, but I really liked Gig Young's performance. He reminded me of Richard Dawson, but with more yowsa.
I had doubts that disco balls existed during the Great Depression, but apparently, they were really popular in 20s dance halls. I doubt they were called "disco balls" back then though.
1967 drug movie
Plot: A guy takes acid.
Hey, it's Angelo Rossitto again! There's another little fellow on a merry-go-round who, in one very important scene, screams "Bay of Pigs!" for no reason at all.
That might sound silly, but most of this is earnest. It's not a cautionary tale like Reefer Madness exactly, but wide-eyed Peter Fonda's trip isn't a laughing matter. This slice of psychedelicsploitation (word?) is very much a product of its time, but it's a fascinating one. There's some great kaleidoscopic sex, some visual non-sequiturs, and a terrific scene where Fonda is enjoying a washing machine.
Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and screenwriter Jack Nicholson took LSD in preparation for this thing, and director Roger Corman (who also--surprise!--used the drug) uses every trick in the book to try to mimic the effects of that particular hallucinogenic. I've not tried any hallucinogenic at all and can't verify the accuracy of the imagery. It looked trippy enough to me.
I enjoyed the score, mostly provided by Mike Bloomfield's group, The Electric Flag. Gram Parsons is seen playing music early in this movie, but I believe those sounds were replaced with something more psychedelic.
Another music tidbit: Bruce Dern's character quotes the Beatles with "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream."
Plot: A documentary about a guy named James Grashow, an artist who works with cardboard.
I like documentaries about artists. I've never heard of James Grashow, but apparently, I have seen his artwork on album covers for people like Wendy Carlos and Jethro Tull. Initially, I thought his work was a little silly, and I thought the giant piece at the center of this documentary--the cardboard Baroque fountain seen above--was ridiculous. As this went on, the art grew on me, mostly because of how meticulously he worked, his philosophies on artistic endeavors, and the details in the corrugated sculptures themselves.
This is, as Grashow himself puts it, a look at an artist "facing disaster and surviving." The fountain winds up outside an art museum where it's subjected to the elements and, as you might expect, crumbles and melts. His mentality and willingness to say something about the transience of art adds another dimension to his work. His medium allows his audiences to see the art all the way to its end. We've got limbless Aphrodites and faded frescoes, but there's something dismally poetic about watching how quickly Grashow's beautiful works in cardboard crumble into nothing and are tossed in a dumpster.
I have a serious gripe with the music in this thing. It was mixed too loud and had an annoyingly inconsistent mix of jazz and twang.
Plot: Read the title. It's pretty accurate.
Yet another poorly-written review for a movie that I got a good chuckle from. Why? Because I'm 1) the type of person who will actually type "got a good chuckle from" and 2) the type of person who is sickened by himself when he types things like "got a good chuckle from."
This is like a more-focused, Swedish Forrest Gump. It doesn't have America's sweetheart, Tom Hanks, or a guy named Bubba, but the flashbacks weave in and out of some of the world's more explosive parts of history in a similar way. The narrative bounces between the present--a wacky adventure story involving a buttload of money and some thugs and an elephant--and the character's colorful past. It's whimsical and fun.
I'd give this movie a make-up award if I had one in my end-of-the-year posts. Robert Gustafsson is only about 9 years older than me, but I was almost convinced that he really was a 100-year-old man.
Plot: A guy rents himself an apartment.
Do I really have to type anything here? I'm just not feeling it, but I'm so behind with this blog and feel like I have to.
I wanted to type something about how pedophiles make the best movies, but I thought that would be too controversial and probably lose all 2 1/2 of my readers.
I'd imagine it would be difficult for an actor or actress to work with Polanski. Do they justify it with something like, "Well, yeah, he raped a 13 year old, but did you see how good Chinatown and Rosemary's Baby are?"
I'll say one thing about the guy--he's a distraction as an actor. And this movie is all him! I got used to the shape of his face and his accent eventually and ended up finding him amusing.
Here's another question: Sharon Tate? He must have been quite the charmer before he became an admitted statutory rapist.
This is another quality review. You're welcome!
2014 satirical comedy
Plot: Four black students at an Ivy League college deal with controversy.
This movie seemed so sure of itself. The satire felt a little obvious, and not all of the humor landed. It was easier to connect with some of the four central characters and their flaws more than others.
This seems like just the right time for this movie and its themes. I appreciated the effort more than I liked the movie, however.
Those looking for answers aren't really going to get them here. This is that type of movie that does a great job raising issues and asking questions, but it doesn't really provide any easy answers. Of course, there likely isn't any easy answer out there.
2015 horror comedy
Plot: A demon ruins a wedding and the subsequent reception.
Really, it's not a demon. It's a ghost.
This horror-comedy isn't scary at all, and I have reasons to believe it would be funnier in Poland. I liked the pace and atmosphere, but after a while, things felt redundant. The ending also was a bit of a let-down.
Sadly, director Marcin Wrona killed himself while this was being shown at festivals. This will probably be his last movie.
2017 horror film
Rating: 15/20 (Jen: 13/20)
Plot: A black guy has an uneasy experience when his white girlfriend takes him home to meet the parents.
I feel like I need more time with this one to decode it. I'm not completely sure I understood its theme or who exactly the target was. I'd love to discuss it in the comments, but I know nobody reads this or has any interest in leaving a comment.
The first half impressed me more with the solid performances and the not-so-sneaky satire on casual racism, white privilege, and overreaching liberal social justice. It's not different from the traditional horror movie set up except shadows of monsters and creepy noises or menacing flashes are replaced with white people saying disturbing things. Once the vibe is set and the unfortunately protagonist starts figuring things out, it transforms into something a little closer to generic horror complete with the sorts of cliches you might expect. There's still an underlying dark humor and some smart references (consider, for example, the role cotton plays in one key scene) that keeps it all a little more interesting.
I don't like this movie's title.
I would like to see this again to unpack it all a little more. My wife thought it was too creepy. I blame Stephen Root, who played a blind guy again.
If you want to talk about the alternate ending (or the original ending) of this, I'd love to do that, too.
Plot: David Lynch makes some art and talks about when he was younger. And that's only because a human being isn't capable of talking about himself when he's older.
I'm not able to watch the new season of Twin Peaks yet, and I was happy this popped up on one of my streaming services to help make up for that. Lynch is a fascinating dude with an insane amount of creativity and talent in multiple fields, and I could probably listen to him talking about himself for hours. I also like his voice, and that really helps.
There's nothing revolutionary here. Lynch, the only voice you hear in this thing, takes his time telling story after story. Some of them are trivial, some of them are tangential, and some are completely pointless. And although they don't really paint a complete picture of the artist as a young man or really explain his paintings, sculptures, or films, they do adequately lay out a series of events that explain how the man was influenced to become an artist.
This also shows a ton of his work if you want some nightmare fuel.
David Lynch: The Art Life is great for fans and much better than this other mess of a documentary.
1950 squirrel movie
Plot: A talented squirrel helps people out.
The guy was here to fix our internet while I had this on. I think my wife thought it was humiliatin', but I'm pretty sure the guy was digging it. I didn't realize that it was a Christmas movie when I put it on, but that's not really a problem. People can appreciate a little Christmas in July, right?
The major problem was that I had to hide a boner from a stranger. It wasn't the George Pal stop-animated squirrel that got my juices going--proverbially. No, it was actually the antics of Jimmy Durante that stimulated those muscles and caused the blood to flow to that particular part of my anatomy. I was on a couch, and I don't think he noticed. If he did, he probably thought it was because of the squirrel. And that, my friends, really would have been humiliatin' because who gets hard because of an animated squirrel?
The next time a stranger is in my home to fix something, I'll make sure I'm watching something less arousing.
Shorts from 1922-1923
This will conclude my series on Buster Keaton's wonderful short work he did during the first part of his career as a stone-faced genius. Some day, I'll tackle the stuff he did after the talkies came along. I know there are a few gems in there.
Again, these shorts were released on dvd/blu-ray by Kino Lorber in association with Lobster Films if you want to check them out. And you should because they're great! Most of them are also available on Youtube or various other spots online.
"My Wife's Relations"
Because of a language mishap/misunderstanding, Buster finds himself accidentally married. Yeast issues, a sneeze fest, and melodramatic snoring ensue. Joe Roberts, three other large brothers, and a bully of a father have their way with Buster, tossing him around plenty in some effort to convince the audience that he must weigh about forty-five pounds.
The best scene in this short involves posing for a picture. This one just sort of ends without ending, so I'm wondering if part of it is lost. I think there was an alternate ending on the dvd, but I don't remember if I watched it.
This isn't one of his better shorts.
Neither is this one. This is another example of Buster giving himself a job and then showing simultaneous ineptitude and ingenuity. You get to see him make breakfast, burn himself, struggle with a magnet, change a tire with the help of a balloon, fix a guy's car, and help a lady with her saddle issues, all in the exact ways you might expect Buster Keaton to do all those things. It's humorously clever if not uproariously funny.
This starts by quoting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. A lot of people don't like--or more accurately, don't think they like--silent movies. When you combine silent film with American fireside poetry, you're really going to lose your audience.
The ending is cute, mostly involving a horse getting filthy--non-sexually. There were actually two completely different endings included on the dvd though, the second with a chase scene with big Joe Roberts, a clever steering wheel gag, and a hot little silhouette strip scene. I preferred the second version.
My favorite moment is a quiet one after Virginia Fox (I think) has dropped off a horse to get shoes when Buster, in pantomime, tries to describe shoes to the horse.
"The Frozen North"
Keaton's also called a surrealist by other surrealists, and it's probably because of films like this one. It's not just that the plot is a stream-of-consciousness, incoherent mess. It's that this is yet another one of his shorts where the punchline reveals that it's all a dream sequence. He leaned on that idea pretty heavily.
This one's a little mean spirited. Not only is Buster's character a villain who both robs and kills and abuses poor Sybil Seely, but this whole thing was apparently written and made to attack William S. Hart who had attacked Keaton's friend Fatty after his arrest.
It's got its moments, especially if you enjoy snow-related humor. Buster's travel options, improvised snow shoes, and competitive ice fishing are near highlights. As a whole, it's not all that entertaining, and without any context, the satire just doesn't work all that well.
I really like the premise of this one. Buster's character, in order to get the girl, has to go off and make good to impress her father. He updates his love interest with letters on his progress, the reality being significantly different from the original interpretations. As you'd expect with Keaton, jobs as a janitor, street cleaner, animal hospital worker, and theater extra don't go very well.
There are two highlights in this one. One is his escape during a chase scene where he grabs onto a street car and winds up horizontal as it picks up speed. The second is a more famous scene where he's trapped in a riverboat's paddle wheel. Just perfect bits of physical comedy.
It kind of feels like pieces are missing from "Daydreams," and although it builds momentum as it goes, it's not really all that cohesive. The ending is also very depressing.
"The Electric House"
There are a few times when Keaton managed to injure himself with his stunts. While working with an escalator, similar to Chaplin's in a couple of his films, he broke his leg with this one. This project was shelved and then redone a couple years later.
Buster plays a botany student who is mistakenly given an engineering degree and a task of redoing a house. The first half sets up the whole thing, a brief exposition giving us the source of the conflict before Buster shows off his various inventions in the electric house. The house at the center of this displays his fascination and talents with gadgets. It's unclear how a botanist is able to execute all of this, but who cares about stuff like that in a silent comedy short?
The second half involves the antagonist--the actual engineer and a real son of a bitch--getting his revenge by sabotaging the house's gadgets. It's the kind of inventive comedy that people who love Buster Keaton's work love.
So who is funnier on an escalator--Keaton or Chaplin? I'm not going to express an opinion, but I will say Buster takes the more painful route to get laughs. It was kind of his thing.
Oh, Keaton also shows off his pool skills in this, similar to that fantastic scene in Sherlock Jr.
He did work with trains, boats, automobiles, and motorcycles; here, Buster tries his luck with a hot-air balloon. And there's a bear.
I'm not sure "balloonatic" is a real word, by the way. I'd look it up, but I don't want to end up on an FBI watch list.
This opens in an amusement park, and I think my favorite thing about the whole short is that Buster's character is only there because he's horny. He fails at that, winds up in the balloon, and then meets a hot little gal out in the wilderness after he lands. There's some boating, some fishing, and some spoiled chivalry as Buster woos his new special lady friend. No, ladies and gentlemen, there is not a sex scene.
If there had been, I would have been happy with either the bear or Phyllis Haver and would have blown a hole in my pants if it was both. All I can say about the latter is that the bathing suit she sported for this thing worked for me. I became as randy as a Buster Keaton scouring an amusement park for some tail. The former--the furrier of the two--is the exact same bear Chaplin would use similarly in The Gold Rush. So how about that?
Ok, I'd better not try to slip that past you. Of course, there is no "you" anyway. Nobody is reading this with the possible exception of me in the distant future, possibly on my death bed when I'm looking back at my life's work and wondering what the hell I did with my time. But I'm not 100% sure the bear in The Gold Rush and "The Balloonatic" were the same bear. I think I remember reading that in the notes included with the dvds, but I often have memories of events that didn't actually happen. So you probably shouldn't trust any of this shit.
This has a very sweet ending. You can probably trust that although it is subjective.
I apologize for this write-up getting a little PG-13.
"The Love Nest"
Finally, we have "The Love Nest," a short that is unique in that it is the only one where Keaton took sole writing and directing credit. This melancholy short has Buster at sea once again, sometimes with a ridiculous beard. There's more funny fishing, an irritable captain played by Joe Roberts, and some pirates. There's also stock footage of whales and battleships.
There are some funny moments here, and yet again, Keaton decides to end things with the "It's all a dream!" gimmick. Sorry, I probably should have warned you about that spoiler.
That's it. I'm tired of writing about Buster Keaton's shorts. I hope you enjoyed the whole thing, and if I didn't make it clear enough in my writing, know that I absolutely love everything Buster Keaton ever did and wholeheartedly recommend you check this stuff out on your own. "Cops," "One Week," "The Goat," "The Boat," and "Neighbors" are probably the best ones to start with, but after you enjoy those, you'll likely want to watch them all.