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.
2017 horror mystery
Plot: An aspiring executive is sent to a wellness center in the Swiss Alps to retrieve the company's big boss. It's a mysteriously difficult challenge, and it's made even more difficult when he becomes a patient as well.
I enjoy Gore Verbinski movies--the underappreciated Mousehunt, the unfairly-maligned The Lone Ranger, the underrated Rango, at least the first Pirates movie--so I looked forward to this weirdo horror movie. Things start out well enough, intriguing with the flashy visuals and an awe-inspiring locale that is shot mysteriously. The vibe is haunting, and the naked elderly people Verbinski allows us to get a glimpse of only got me more excited. The film had a quiet energy, and Verbinski's cinematic magic tricks kept things interesting for the first half of the movie. I even liked the countless shots that I would call completely pointless--a camera angle from the side of a train, a magnified mother's eye, a reflection in a deer trophy eyeball.
That quiet energy couldn't be maintained, however, and this movie just got sillier and sillier as it went on. The main problem might be that it's simply too long. At 2 1/2 hours, this got to be a bit of an endurance test. Impressionistic flashbacks, a protagonist who was a little flat, visual redundancy, loads of unanswered questions. It just got to be a little too much.
Dane DeHaan plays the main character, a sort of straight man in a befuddling world. He's got the type of face that makes him difficult to root for, but there's also nothing redeeming about his character as a human being to make an audience want to root for the guy. He seemed like he could be an illegitimate Trump son, and that's never a good thing. The other characters kind of succeed in being part of the strange background, but it was difficult to connect with any of them either.
Although the hospital's intentions and the conflict are all tidied up eventually, I wasn't completely satisfied. All these symbols--the water, most obviously; ballerinas; eels; deer; teeth--seemed obvious enough but failed to add up to anything significant. And Verbinski and screenwriter Justin Haythe seemed like they wanted to say something about the 1%, about capitalism and greed, or about something that would make Bernie Sanders a fan of the movie, but they frustratingly never got there.
A movie like this can't succeed on its impressive visuals alone. As you'd expect from a Verbinski movie, this is a really pretty movie, and some of the imagery, since it's a horror film, are successfully creepy and capable of lingering in the nightmares. But the length, the lack of engaging characters, and the ultimate emptiness of the whole thing keep it from being anything I'd ever care to see again.
Oh, and The Weather Man! Another really good Gore Verbinski movie.
Plot: An autistic accountant shoots a bunch of people.
Bad news, everybody. Ben Affleck might not be Batman for much longer.
I only popped this in the dvd player because I get excited when people do math in movies.
Ben Affleck's character is wonderfully well rounded. Well, if knowing exactly three things about a character makes that character well rounded. Here are those three things in the order that I bought into them.
1) A guy who kills people. Affleck appears to know how to hold a gun, and the punching seems are realistic enough.
2) An autistic guy. I'm glad there's an autistic movie hero, but this seemed like cliched, Hollywood autism. It doesn't seem written with a good understanding of autism.
3) An accountant. Ben Affleck just doesn't seem like the kind of person who can do math.
Anna Kendrick is in this for some reason. I'm probably missing the point when I say that she and Affleck had absolutely no rapport. I mean, his character does have difficulty emotionally connecting with others. Their characters just didn't work for me though. Maybe they should have cast one of his nannies.
I don't know why I watched this in the first place. I also don't know why I finished it. I was bored early on, and the story was really predictable.
Plot: An artist, following a stream of terrible luck, decides to take his own life. He can't quite do it on his own and hires a hitman named Automatic Joe to do the deed. But what will happen when he changes his mind?
That might be the worst movie cover art I've ever put on my blog.
It's been a lot of Douglas Fairbanks for these Silent Saturdays. He's sort of the opposite of Buster Keaton in a way. Or at least the opposite of a stone-face. Instead, he usually performs with this boyish glee. Most of this movie finds his character in a melancholy state though. Now don't get me wrong--I enjoy watching Douglas Fairbanks bounce around the screen. He's a charismatic bundle of energy. He's not always a great actor, however, and it's hard to buy the character he's portraying here. Part of the problem is that this film leans heavily on lengthy intertitles. That hurts Fairbanks as an actor because it's a lot more telling than showing. It's almost as if Fairbanks couldn't handle the emotions on his own and needed words to help the audience explain them.
I enjoyed George Beranger more as Automatic Joe. He spends most of his screen time, it seems, striking poses for the audience.
The second half of the movie is probably more entertaining than the first. You could watch the first half of this and not even realize it's a comedy. It's just one unfortunate thing after another happening to the poor protagonist until he reaches a breaking point. The second half has a few chase scenes but mostly is about characters wearing fake beards.
In a way, the story reminded me a little of The End, that Burt Reynolds/Dom Deluise black comedy. No, there wasn't anybody in this who had the raw sexuality of Dom Deluise, but the suicidal-guy-changing-his-mind storyline was similar.
I had a little time, so I watched "The Mystery of the Leaping Fish," also from 1916. This was a surprising delight, and it was very strange. It's a story by Tod Browning and is sort of like a psychedelic Sherlock Holmes. Fairbanks plays a "scientific detective" who happens to be addicted to cocaine. As you might expect from a 1916 comedy, the drug use is accompanied by a slide whistle. Cocaine actually seems to have an effect on Fairbanks' character similar to Popeye and his spinach. His name is actually Coke Ennyday, by the way. He drives a checkered car with a guy sitting upright in the back playing a horn. He also has all these weird tools, the kinds of things I guess a "scientific detective" might have, like a periscope, weird doors, and a top-hat telescope. It's creative, weird fun, only slightly ruined by a dopey, meta ending.
Bessie Love plays Inane, described as "the little fish blower." I think that's supposed to be dirty.
Recommended if you enjoy cocaine.
Plot: A guy is sick of his farm.
This story could be described as Sisyphean. Peter Dunning, in what is essentially a monologue extending over several months, talks about all the work he has to do on his idyllic farm in the hills of Vermont, but as the film progresses, he seems more and more depressed. Eventually, we learn that he is suicidal and has actually come to hate his life as a farmer.
It's not much different from most people's lives, I assume. Or maybe I'm just as bleak as this guy is.
I liked this documentary about as much as I could. I wished the filmmakers weren't so much of a presence, and there's part of me that wonders about their intentions. Shots on the farm were beautiful as this really is a place a lot of people would love to live in. Peter himself is an engaging fellow, and his shared philosophies show off a wisdom and ability to reflect that make him worth listening to.
It's just not a very happy documentary.
2016 witch movie
Plot: A witch looks for love.
Here's a movie that I wanted to like a lot more than I did. There is a lot to like, especially visually, with Anna Biller's feminist film. You have to appreciate a woman who can design movie sequences as sleazy as Jesus Franco, and the 60s/70s glaze this has gives it an almost irresistible vibe. And star Samantha Robinson, who plays the titular character, is fetching with those eyes and those impossible cheekbones. Many individual shots could be works of art on their own. My eyes were entertained for the duration of the film.
The rest of me struggled with this one, however. Narratively, it felt a bit haphazard. There are three men, probably because any good modern day fairy tale should have three of something, and they have their differences, but I'm not quite sure what this was trying to say about men overall. It's a film that seemed very sure of itself with its feminist message, but nothing really ever came together to create a cohesive message. There's the idea of witchcraft being giving men what they want, but I was just kind of confused about what I was supposed to get from the whole thing.
I was also sickened by the narration. With a handful of exceptions, I just don't like narration in movies, and when the narrator is telling us things like, "Most men have never even seen a used tampon," it makes it even worse.
So while I'd love to see more Anna Biller films based on the set design and visual flair in The Love Witch (dig that pinkish tearoom, for example), I just thought this was ultimately fairly empty.
This was recommended by my brother who apparently wants nothing to do with me anymore.
Plot: A woman reads her ex-husband's novel which turns out to be a real page turner.
"Enjoy the absurdity of our world. It's a lot less painful."
I don't want to sound like a pervert or anything. And I'm not even sure I find Amy Adams all that attractive. But is there a bigger Hollywood tease working today? She seems to be nearly nude in almost every movie she's in, but she never does an actual nude scene.
This started promising with a great display of flabby patriotism--sparklers, pompoms, and obese women more naked on screen than Amy Adams will ever be. The opening score reminded me of Bernard Herrmann, and I settled in for what I expected to be a wonderfully tense drama.
It's not what I got.
This is a story within a story. Amy Adams' character is having marital problems and reads her husband's book. The contents of that book make up the second story. Unfortunately, neither of those stories really deliver. With soap opera dialogue and artificial drama, I never once believed anything I was seeing could actually be real. Things were tense, but they weren't realistically tense. Instead of sitting back and wanting to enjoy the ride, I just kind of wanted to see how things turned out and be done with it. The tone is cynical, the characters are flat, and I never felt engaged.
I did sort of like the performance of Michael Shannon as a preposterous detective named Bobby Andes.
Comedy shorts from 1921-1922
Here are the next six of Buster Keaton's shorts after he was on his own.
This film was considered lost until 1987. It's another one of those shorts that you can divide into two distinct halves, but this time, one half is much better than the other. In that better first half, Buster's character has been driven to suicide, and there's some fun, albeit darker humor as he tries to take his life.
The second half of the film has him joining an expedition to search for an armadillo. At that point, things meander. Joe Roberts pops in as "Lizard Lip Luke," but it seems like it's just because Joe Roberts wanted to be in the movie and they had six minutes to fill.
There are some funny moments. A fishing scene works, and watching Buster get started on a giant horse or later rowing a horse across a river is funny enough. But I wish the entire 21 minutes or so would have focused on Keaton's character trying to commit suicide in various ways. I guess I'm dark like that.
The ending, by the way, is especially wacky. I believe it was lost even after a big chunk of this short was found. Keaton claimed it was the "greatest laugh-getting scene" of his entire career. It reminded me of something I saw in a Looney Tunes cartoon once or twice.
You know who else is in this movie? Bull "Fucking" Montana, the ape man from The Lost World! I also noticed that he was in When the Clouds Roll By, that great Douglas Fairbanks comedy I watched for a Silent Saturday a few months ago. That completes my unplanned, completely accidental Bull Montana trifecta.
This short contains my favorite Buster Keaton shot--an approaching train with a stone-faced Buster sitting on the front. Gorgeous!
The plot of this one features a bit of mistaken identity, and it's one of his best shorts. You've got his first great chase scene, and there are so many funny and creative bits of comedy stuffed into it. Keaton shows that he was a stud athletically and a genius with his ideas. Directing traffic, hiding under a car, putting his coat on over a post, a mustache disguise, a random ghost, a horse sculpture, an escape from an operation. This has more ideas packed into ten minutes of police chasing than most silent features have for their duration.
There's also a great use of irony in this one. There's an ironic horseshoe toss that gets things rolling, and a great bit of irony when he goes to his love interest's house for dinner. The ensuing elevator chase and the movements involved with that show a terrific use of a set.
Another sequence I really love from this one involves Keaton waiting in line for food. It's a funny idea anyway, but Keaton really sells it with his body language.
If you've never seen a Buster Keaton short, this isn't a bad one to start with.
What's better than watching one Buster Keaton on screen? How about thirty of them! That's the appeal of "The Playhouse" in which special effects and a whole lot of creativity are used to show a whole bunch of Busters on stage at a minstrel show or in the pit playing a variety of instruments. He even plays a couple of women and a child in the audience and even a monkey.
Highlights include a synchronized dance with himself.
Apparently, a line about "this Keaton fellow" seeming "to be the whole show" was a dig at Thomas Ince, a contemporary who generously credited himself in his film productions. I don't know who that is.
Anyway, the first half of the film is terrific with all these Busters. The second half involves a pair of twin love interests, both played by Virginia Fox, and it's not quite as successful. There's also a little person.
Though some blackface dates this, you have to appreciate how Buster Keaton was inventing a a special effect here, something he wouldn't reveal to other filmmakers for years and years. Man, this guy was good!
I play fantasy football, and in the league that I've been in the longest, my team name has been Damfino. That's a reference to this movie where the titular boat is called Damfino. There's a little Shane trivia for you. It's also the name used by the International Buster Keaton Society.
Buster plays a family man in this one, and he's married to Sybil Seely once again. In fact, this is apparently a sequel to "One Week." He shows that he takes care of children about as well as he builds houses.
What I love about this character is how he can be simultaneously very clever and extremely inept. He's got no business taking his family out on a boat or probably even owning a boat in the first place. At the same time, he shows a little ingenuity in overcoming certain problems.
What Keaton was never inept with was making movies, and he squeezes a whole lot of clever from a small boat. This has two great shots where he's sinking. One is where he's standing stone-faced on the prow; the other has him sitting and sinking until only his hat remains. Classics! There's some ingenious set design throughout with this boat, and I imagine the water stuff was all done in a studio. It all seems pretty expensive. He borrows Chaplin's rocking from "The Immigrant" but adds an extra joke or two as punchlines to make the whole thing his own.
Two things I noticed: 1) There's a sound joke in this one, clever for a silent movie. I'd say more, but I don't want to. 2) You have to lip-read the final joke, and it's perfect.
If you've read this far, let me know in the comments if you want to hear about the wet dream I had involving Sybil Seely.
This one offends my liberal sensibilities. I'm not even sure Native Americans burned people at stakes. At least it's a happy ending for the Native American characters.
This one starts super serious, and Buster Keaton doesn't even make an appearance until around the 3 1/2 minute mark where he's trying to punch a butterfly, something else that offends my liberal sensibilities. There's some fun dramatic irony as he wanders through an Indian camp, and watching him put together a suit of fireproof asbestos or wear a feather in his porkpie hat is almost funny. The highlights involve three fun special effects and a gnarly tumbling stunt down a cliff. Otherwise, there's not a whole lot to see here. And you liberal snowflakes will be offended.
Big Joe Roberts plays an Indian chief, naturally.
A swastika makes an appearance in an Indian blanket that he wears.
You might have enjoyed seeing Buster chased by a couple cops in "The Goat." Here, he's chased by about a hundred cops. And yes, that's as glorious as it sounds!
This opens with a funny visual gag that also works as foreshadowing before diving into a story with Arbuckle-like plot development. Keaton then travels through town with a wagon full of shit, ending up disrupting a parade of policemen with some accidental terrorism and leading to what is arguably his most thrilling chase sequence where he showcases that athletic prowess and tons of slapstick and stunts. There are so many cops!
There's a joke involving a horse and a "goat gland specialist" in this. I had to do a little research on "goat gland specialists," and it's made my life just a little bit better. Apparently, there's a 2016 documentary about a goat gland specialist named Dr. Brinkley. It's called Nuts!, and it looks like something I need to see.
Despite the far-fetched plot of this one, it's yet another that wouldn't be bad to watch if you've never seen a Buster Keaton short. Along with "The Goat" and "One Week," it's one that I've shown students.
It does have sort of a depressing ending though, a little different than most other Keaton films.
2017 action musical
Plot: A kid gets away with listening to music with headphones while driving, something my wife doesn't let me do.
I made a rare trip to the theater for this one because everything I was reading told me that I should see it on the big screen. I'm not sure I needed to do that exactly, but it was an enjoyable experience.
This movie's got weak characters and there's nothing new going on with any parts of the plot. Still, Edgar Wright keeps you on your toes, continually surprising by stretching the limits with the generic crime action-drama. When you think he's going to turn right, he turns left. When you think he'll move forward, he jerks you backward. Everything you see and hear on the screen is likely something you've seen or heard in countless movies from the 70s through contemporary action movies. However, he doesn't drive in a straight line from Point A to Point B at all, and that makes this the kind of entertainment that can put a smile on your face from beginning to end.
It's really a musical with cars and violence. The car chases sequences are choreographed to whatever music our youthful hero happens to be listening to on his iPod, and often, those scenes range from a perfect blend of sound and vision to something that is almost like an orgasmic drunken sensory miracle. It hooks you from the start, and although I would have liked maybe one more big action sequence instead of scenes with characters talking or falling in love, there's just a ton of great action stuffed into this thing. The movie's just so rhythmic. There's even a scene where characters are shooting at each other, and the gunshots match the beat of the song perfectly. It's so lovingly assembled and choreographed, but it almost effortlessly unfolds on the screen. I can't imagine that amount of storyboarding and meticulous work during filming and post-production to make something like this happen.
It's not just the big action scenes that are choreographed to the soundtrack. There's a scene near the beginning where the driver is walking to get coffee. It's an extended shot as he walks a block and a half or so to the coffee joint, and his movements and sounds from the street match the rhythm and sounds from the song. It's lively and wonderful.
Things get a little too predictable with the storytelling, and I just didn't like all the characters or performances. But seeing all these pieces that are completely familiar used in such fresh ways was invigorating, and this is something I'll look forward to seeing again.
Plot: A pair of Washington Post reporters unravel the details that will eventually bring down the presidency of Richard Nixon.
1925 silent adventure
Plot: Adventurers travel to an island where dinosaurs still run around doing dinosaur things.
This is based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle, and he appears at the beginning with a quote about giving joy for an hour to a boy who's half a man. I don't know what it means exactly, but it sounds perverse enough.
I'm not sure any of the science in this science-fiction adventure makes sense, but all I need to get going are some stop-animated dinosaur action. And there's certainly plenty of that! Add in a mischievous ape man who looked a lot like Moss Man from Masters of the Universe, and you've got me hooked.
I was actually hoping that Doyle himself played the ape man, but it was Bull Montana, a great name for an actor who made his career playing convicts and monkey men.
Outperforming even Bull Montana was Jocko the Monkey, a real monkey. You might know him from Harold Lloyd's film, The Kid Brother.
I'm not sure what to think about all the phallic symbols in this one. There's a lot of Freudian dinosaur action going on here! I did love the look of these creatures, and there was quite the variety of them. Most impressive is how you can actually see the Allosaurus breathing. There's also a nifty volcano effect and a shot of a boat moving over a map that showed travel like the plane in the Indiana Jones movies. I'm wondering what movie was the first to use that effect.
Also notable is the landscape in this movie that supposedly takes place in the Amazon. This might seem familiar to fans of the best Pixar movie:
Apparently, it's based on a real place--Mount Roraima in Venezuela. Who knew?
New word learned: coleopterist, a collector of beetles.
Even though I'm really on a roll here and writing beautifully about this movie, I have to end this. It's a very good silent adventure movie, better than almost all of the Jurassic Park movies, and fans of Ray Harryhausen will likely enjoy seeing something that likely inspired his work. I'd like to think, as a matter of fact, that this movie led to Harryhausen's first experience with masturbation.
2017 animated comedy
Rating: 12/20 (Jen: 13/20; Buster: 18/20)
Plot: Bad guys try to take over Gotham City while an arrogant Batman deals with a son he accidentally adopted.
A little of this one went a long way. I would have preferred this one in ten minute installments. There are some laughs, but the mashups to work in Dr. Who, Harry Potter, Gremlins, and Lord of the Rings characters annoyed me.
Michael Cera was perfect for Robin's voice. I'm also glad that Billy Dee Williams is getting work. Actually, if you take a look at the credits, every single current living actor and actress does voice work for this movie.
I would see sequels to this, but I wouldn't be very excited about them.
1920-21 comedy shorts
Finally untethered from Fatty Arbuckle, Keaton finally gets to unleash his full potential. And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, it is simply magical. Keaton's a genius cinematic wizard, and this body of short work he did prior to his first feature films are very likely the best comedy shorts ever made. Here are the first six of nineteen that he made.
"The High Sign"
Like most of these, this is co-directed/written with Edward F. Cline. "The High Sign" was the first short Keaton actually made, but he wasn't happy with it and didn't release it right away.
Keaton plays a conman working at a shooting gallery where he is hired almost simultaneously to both kill a guy and be that same guy's bodyguard. It's a cute premise with a little romance thrown in, and there's a generous portion of Keaton's inventiveness and ingenuity. Early, there's a giant newspaper gag that I believe is pretty famous, but the Rube Goldbergian way in which he procures and then gets rid of a newspaper is funnier to me. He squeezes every single gag he can from a shooting gallery set, gives a banana to a police officer, and has a wild chase scene through a house filled with secret rooms and doors. And the recurring gesture of the Blinking Buzzards is kind of funny, too. You can see that on the poster up there. It's all pretty playful, but there's a bit of darker comedy on the fringes.
One thing I love about Buster Keaton is his use of very complicated contraptions to accomplish very simple tasks. There's something very American about the whole thing--ingenious cheating rather than actually being good at something. I don't know what I mean there exactly.
We got rid of Fatty, but not quite Al St. John who is in the shooting gallery at one point. The love interest, played by Bartine Burkett, has cute eyes.
The opening shot is a fun one, by the way--Buster plopping off a train. It's a great introduction to Buster in these short works, like he's saying, "Hey, there! Here I am, and this is what I do! Plop!"
This starts (rather than how a lot of these end) with Buster getting hitched, and then, as you might guess from the title, takes us through the first week of the couple's marital bliss. Wildly funny, hugely inventive, and really sweet, this one is a bona fide classic, a live-action cartoon that is just so much fun to watch. This is one of the shorts that I've shown to my middle school students, and it gets a lot of laughs.
That reminds me. I'm pretty sure there's a female nipple in this movie. It's a gag Keaton appears to have borrowed from Arbuckle involving nudity and a breaking of the fourth wall, but every time I watch the scene, I think I see Sybil Seely's nipple. It might be my mind filling in some visual gaps though. I probably shouldn't show it to children.
This is the rare short comedy where every single joke actually works. That includes a gag that might seem like a cliche now--a sequence where Keaton saws a board that he's sitting on and falls to the ground. I could watch Buster Keaton fall down all day, however.
The real star of this show is the house the couple assembles after the antagonist, Handy Hank, sabotages them. Handy Hank sure is an ugly fellow, and I'd tell you who plays him if I could find that information. I can tell you that big Joe Roberts, who is actually in sixteen of these shorts, is in this one. That house though. It's a hilarious monstrosity, and that's before it starts rotating.
This also has another Goldberg-type gag featuring the switching of cars that no other writer/director would have dared dream up in the early part of the 1920s.
You just have to marvel at Buster Keaton's ideas. So brilliant!
This one's a bit more episodic than the last two. It starts with our hero showing off some inept golf skills while wearing comical shoes. He winds up spanking a fish. That's not a euphemism. An escaped con--the real Convict 13--steals his identity, and poor Keaton is captured. Why an escaped con would be golfing is hilarious to me.
There's some gallows humor (literally) in this one and a great scene where he manages to break into prison. A heartbeat visual gag is a lot of fun, and Joe Roberts, looking a lot like Jeffrey Tambor, plays a crazed prisoner. This has some madcap cartoon violence with Keaton swinging a ball on a chain in a way that doesn't even seem possible.
This isn't top echelon Keaton short comedy, but it's got a few laughs.
This short has two equally enjoyable parts. In the first, Buster and his roommate Joe Roberts showcase their inventive domesticity in their home where "all the rooms are one room." They remove a tooth, share a meal, and clean up in a house that can only be inhabited by Buster Keaton. He shows terrific rapport with Roberts in this first part.
In the second part, we get a love triangle with the roommates and Sybil Seely, who does not display any nipples in this one. That part involves a lot of chasing, some featuring Fatty Arbuckle's dog Luke and some involving Buster's dad Joe. Keaton gets an opportunity to show off his athletic prowess in those scenes with the dog. Despite the title of this, there's really not that much scarecrow action although that sequence is very funny, including one bit that gets a laugh out of me every single time. And it's great if you're one of those silent cinema butt-kicking aficionados! There's no slide whistling though.
Keaton didn't overuse intertitles at all, but he would try to slip in some humor with them sometimes. It's usually the worst part of these. Here, there's an example of one that doesn't work at all--a reference to a "dancer's union"--as well as one that I kind of like: ""He's running away to get married with your horse."
Ok, now that I've typed that out, I'm not sure I like it at all.
There are some great sequences in this although it's probably not one of his very best. It's always great to see Fatty's dog (who I might like more than Fatty), and the finale is a lot of fun.
"He's my son, and I'll break his neck any way I please." Ok, there's an intertitle that is kind of funny.
This is sort of a ghetto Romeo and Juliet with Buster and Virginia Fox being prohibited from having sexual relations by their fathers who are played by Keatons father and, of course, Joe Roberts. A case of Three's Company-like mistaken identity, a scene where Keaton becomes an ostrich, the comedic use of a banana peel, some pants falling down, and a clothesline zip line are a lot of fun although some of the humor in this is a bit dated. There's also an unfortunate blackface gag that further dates things. This short is inventive, of course, although there's a little too much play with a board and fence. It's almost like Buster Keaton figured he spent a lot of time coming up with this contraption and had to give it lots of screen time.
Most impressive here is Keaton's work with the two "Flying Escalantes" as they crisscross the yards between the houses a few times while stacked on top of each other. That was poorly described, so I'll give you a picture.
The Flying Escalantes also appear in a 1934 Keaton short called "Allez Oop!" where they play an acrobatic troupe. I've not seen that one.
Despite some dated humor, this one is still enormously entertaining.
"The Haunted House"
This has two of those visual gags involving lots of extra unnecessary steps to accomplish something very simple--one with the unlocking of a door and one with changing a clock ahead. Those kinds of jokes are clever fun and work a whole lot better than that seemingly endless glue mishap pictured on the poster up there.
This isn't a very well-told story, and it takes forever to actually get to the haunted house in the title. Once there, it's a bunch of cheap magic tricks--a firework candle, and exploding book, unreliable stairs--and they don't all hit. There are some macabre bits that I enjoyed, but it's all very episodic, and not all of it makes sense. It's like Keaton wanted to do a story involving a haunted house, came up with a bunch of gags that would fit, and then lackadaisically wrote a story around it all.
The ending is really clever, but it makes about as much sense as the rest of this messy short. As with all Buster Keaton shorts, this is definitely worth watching. It's not close to being one of my favorites though.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of these Buster Keaton shorts.
2017 giant pig movie
Plot: A greedy corporation tries to chop up and sell the meat of a Korean girl's best friend.
I'd heard good things about Joon-ho Bong's follow-up to Snowpiercer, but I was profoundly disappointed. I agreed with its liberal sentiments, but they were childish and heavy-handed, and there's never a consistent tone established. Bong tries to straddle the line between wacky comedy and serious drama and instead just kind of stomps all over it. It's a mess and often very unpleasant.
It might be that I'm just not mature enough for this movie. Initially, I couldn't stop giggling at Okja's ass. You might be wondering why I was paying so much attention to the posterior of a giant pig created from 2002 CGI technology, but Bong seemed to enjoy filling the screen with the thing and it was unavoidable. It was oppressive. Also oppressive were the amount of fart and shit jokes in this thing. Those added to the inconsistencies that made it difficult for me to figure out who the audience for this crap was. This has this glossy flimsiness that made it seem like a movie for children, but there are too many f-words. So it's like a kid's movie where the characters say fuck a lot. And things get really dark. I don't mind a little darkness in my movies, of course, but it was a clumsy clash between that and the silly action scenes and fart jokes.
The acting was odd in this, too. The little girl was played by Seo-Hyun Ahn, and she's good because she doesn't do anything distracting. You can't say that about the seasoned veterans in this. Tilda Swinton is a little too wacky as a villianess, and her scenes at the beginning with this dopey animation nearly gave me a seizure. Even worse is the almost-always-solid Jake Gyllenhaal who plays a character who's a cross between Steve Irwin, Pee-Wee Herman, and Bobcat Goldthwait. It's almost painful to watch, and I'm not sure I agree with a single decision he made as an actor in creating this character. Paul Dano is also in this, and I didn't really like him either.
The best thing about this movie was the use of John Denver's "You Fill Up My Senses." That's a great song.
1982 monster movie
Plot: A giant winged monster is terrorizing New York City, and some detectives try to figure out what's going on while a crookish loser stumbles upon answers.
Do I have any other movies that start with the letter Q? I don't know who I'm asking or why I can't just look this up on my own. Maybe I'll spend the rest of 2017 trying to watch all the movies that start with Q.
I wanted to watch this for my New York City Movie Fest a few years ago, but I couldn't get my hand on a copy. I expected it to be bad, maybe even finding its way into good-bad territories, but it's surprisingly not bad at all. It would haven been perfect for the New York City thing as there are all kinds of overhead shots of the city and shots from the top of the Chrysler Building that are really cool. This, by the way, was partially made because director Larry Cohen felt that the Chrysler Building deserved its own monster since the Empire State Building (and the World Trade Center buildings, I guess) had King Kong.
Don't get me wrong--there are some bad things about it. David Carradine gives a performance where it doesn't seem like he wants to be there or bother trying. There are also some terrible acting by extras as they react to blood falling from the sky or a giant winged monster or something else that the actors can't actually see. Some silly cuts and jarring transitions made it clear that Cohen needed a different editor, too, and some of the action scenes just didn't make any sense. Attempts to tie in Aztecs never really made much sense to me. I guess I don't need my monsters explained. What are Aztecs doing in New York City anyway?
You could argue that star Michael Moriarty's performance is also bad, but you'd be wrong. He plays an unhinged tweaker and seems to be the opposite of Carradine here as he pours everything he's got into the performance. He gets a chance to show off some piano and scatting skills, flails around like he's about to burst a blood vessel, and delivers most of his lines like he's in some sort of race. It might not be a good performance, but it's definitely a unique one. His best moment is when he's wailing, "Eat him! Eat him! Crunch! Crunch!" during one scene.
You can't write about a monster movie without writing about the monster. The more they showed of Q, a stop-animated winged serpent thing, the more ridiculous it seemed. And, of course, the more I loved the thing. I thought the stop-animation looked good even if it didn't quite feel realistic against the backdrop of the big city architecture. Now, during a scene where people are being dropped by the beast and turn into Gumby-like stop-motion humans, things do look a little too cheap. But just check out the shadow effects on the buildings as Q flies around in the beginning scenes. And if you enjoy gore, there are some effective gory effects for you here.
I also enjoyed the thrilling score for the most part. There is some strangeness, especially in one scene with a weird "I'm going to kill you" melody-free song that I actually thought was Moriarty crooning, probably because it also contained some weird scatting. It turned out to not be Moriarty's character though.
This isn't a classic monster movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it definitely does have enough imagination to make it worth checking out, especially if you're a fan of the Chrysler Building.