Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Six Films by Buster Keaton from 1920

The Garage (Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, 1920)

Funny, but too much of just slipping and falling on oil and water and other wet stuff.

7.5/10

One Week (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

That house is probably the most developed and fully-realized character I’ve seen in any silent film. Hell, in any film.

9.5/10

The Saphead (Herbert Blaché, Winchell Smith, 1920)

Buster was essentially the greatest stuntman who ever lived, not only because of his remarkable physical prowess but because he could actually hold his own as an actor. But when he’s charged with pretty much just acting and leaving behind his biggest talent, it’s like making a color commentator do play-by-play: he’s still in the sportscaster’s booth where he’s always been in his element, but simply by sliding into the next seat he’s doing something he just normally hasn’t been paid to do, and it shows. And it shows here. Buster could certainly hold his own as an actor, but eh, not that well, especially when it’s all he does in a given film. There’s a good stunt or two here, but otherwise this was just a bore, with stuffy old men worrying about their stocks, an odd villain who turns from sympathetic loser into Snidely Whiplash at the snap of a finger, and Buster acting like a clueless retard in love who saves the day by accident. Too much backroom stock dealings and maneuverings (to the point that it’s almost more of a drama than a comedy for a moment or two…), not enough Buster, so he’s just a buffoonish clown who’s pushed to the side much of the time instead of a protagonist you can root for. This isn’t a disaster, but his first feature-length film leaves plenty to be desired.

6.5/10

Convict 13 (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

Who does he think he is, a Jedi?

8.5/10

The Scarecrow (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

Charlie Chaplin found his ideal athletic/agile counterpart in The Kid with young Jackie Coogan. Buster Keaton found his in The Scarecrow with that dog. And I’m patenting all that mechanical string-powered shit in his house

9/10

Neighbors (Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton, 1920)

Beats U-Haul.

7.5/10

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Trouble in Paradise (Ernst Lubitsch, 1932)

This bored the hell out of me as I was watching it…there’s really nothing worse in 2009 than stuff that was meant to be funny, or dare I say stretched the societally-acceptable limits, of what could be implied as being funny, in 1932.  Stuff like romance and horror are genetically imprinted in every human from every era, so the sensation of fear or love will never change, whether it’s 1932 or 2009, but I’m sorry, to me at least, comedy just doesn’t fare nearly as well.  What’s funny then and what’s funny now just changes (then again, I thought 1934’s “The Thin Man”…and Chaplin, and Keaton, and Lloyd, were hysterical, so everything I’ve just written is pretty much bogus, but I’m too lazy to erase it all and come up with a more legit introduction.  Consider this an opportunity to completely discredit me and stop reading  ), so what can I say, elegant, romantic parlor humor in the vein of Ernst Lubitsch just doesn’t tickle my funny bone.  But you know what, I said that things like romance and lust are eternal while societal humor might not be, which is why I did find something universally endearing about “Trouble in Paradise.”  I had no use for nonsense like a bunch of well-dressed non-English-speaking men saying ‘tonsils’ over and over again, and by all rights I should’ve been irritated to all hell by these formal people with wit up the wazoo, but in any case, I was still able to identify, to an extent, with the anything-but-original premise of a couple of con artists/lovers ingratiating themselves with a rich widow to rip her off, and then the man unexpectedly falling for the widow.   Yes, I was bored, but after sleeping on it, I don’t think I gave this movie its due because of how it portrays romance and sexual tension.  Of course it’s completely tame by today’s standards, but then you consider how this movie was practically banned for years because of the Hayes Code, and then you consider some of the clearly risqué one-liners and the physical expressions of passion, and then you put yourself in 1932 America, and man, this must’ve been some heavy stuff!  Herbert Marshall, as the impossibly charming thief Gaston Monescu, is kinda like a poor man’s William Powell – not quite as quick or clever with the one-liners as Powell’s Nick Charles, but just as charming and endearing – when he needs to be.  You can see why Kay Francis’s Madame Colet swoons for him, and boy, some of their back-and-forths are pretty racy – their impact went completely over my head as I watched, but then thinking about it afterwards, all the double-meanings of their words, and the subtleties of their body language as they slowly move within orbit of each other in tantalizing anticipation of a kiss that might or might not happen, would’ve driven audiences wild in ’32 – I just took my more sexually liberal 2009 standards for granted and plain missed it.  Their unlikely courtship is certainly predictable, as is the less than enthusiastic response from Gaston Monescu’s partner in crime Lily, played by the absolutely lovely, albeit somewhat shrill, Miriam Hopkins (her wearing glasses when she plays secretary for Madame Colet made me swoon the way Madame Colet swoons for Gaston Monescu  ).  Nevertheless, I invested myself in these characters, felt the passion oozing out of the screen thanks to some wonderful chemistry between all three characters (an early scene in which Lily and Gaston learn of each other’s dubious ‘professions’ is close to being wonderful), even if the jokes and the comedy didn’t do it for me.  And yeah, I suppose I can see why Lubitsch is the director everyone goes ga-ga over, what with the subtly elegant and unobtrusive yet intimate camera during conversations and those sweeping pans of the outside of buildings, or at least scale models of buildings (which I didn’t like…surface style, blech), but as far as I’m concerned, this was all about one of the more convincing and realistic birth and blossom of a romance that I’ve seen in the otherwise unreal world of comedy, thanks to some great chemistry, which in turn allows for a pretty great triangle of love and deceit.  When all is said and done, this might be the best comedy I’ve ever seen that never, ever made me laugh, whatever THAT’s worth  .

7.5/10

Safety Last! (Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor, 1923)

Wonderful.  Comparing Harold Lloyd to Chaplin and Keaton is inevitable on my part, considering any critic or reviewer, or anyone period, who mentions Harold Lloyd, the other star of ‘20s slapstick cinema, feel obligated to compare him to his more famous counterparts.  Problem is, I’ve only seen one Keaton, “The General,” but from what I can surmise, Keaton’s shtick was his ability as an incredible athlete to manipulate his surroundings and everything in them, making a mess of things as smoothly and fluidly as possible, while Chaplin’s Tramp is all about odd mannerisms and being that lovable buffoon – a graceful clod, the finesse to Keaton’s strength.  Lloyd is both of these things, and he’s neither.  He certainly doesn’t stand out appearance-wise like Chaplin, instead taking on something resembling Keaton’s everyman persona, nor is he the impressive acrobat and athlete that Keaton is, despite certainly being physically able.  He’s just a normal-looking, suit-wearing, bespectacled and fairly handsome man who gets into insane situations.  If you saw him in the street, you wouldn’t bat an eyelash; you’d think he was just some businessman or something, which is probably where some of his charm comes from, that you can identify with this guy, feel like the extraordinary circumstances he gets in can actually happen since it’s happening to such a normal-looking guy, rather than with the outlandish-looking but more choreographed and physically-impressive Tramp.  If Keaton manipulated his environment, then Lloyd certainly gets manipulated BY his environment, which comes front and center in “Safety Last!” 

You know what kind of material you’re in for from the very first scene featuring a wonderful sight gag involving what appears to be prison bars and a hangman’s noose.  And the poor Boy, played by Lloyd, can’t catch a break as a country boy trying to get by as a lowly salesman at a department store in the big city, all while trying to fool his girl into thinking that he’s a bigwig.  He has to run the gauntlet of packed trolleys and heavy traffic and fire hydrants to get to work, lest he be late for the very first time, has to fend off a vicious mob of old ladies at the sales counter, pretends to be the store’s general manager when his girl shows up, with the real general manager within eye shot, and finally endures the film’s famous set piece, as he concocts a $1,000 publicity scheme in which his friend will scale a stories-high building, but through bizarre reasons only possible in the world of silent slapstick, must scale the edifice himself.  Through it all, Lloyd does almost nothing to stand out or distinguish himself as an athlete or physical artist – he just does his thing, lets all the bizarre goings-on around him come to him, so dare I say, Lloyd is the closest thing to a subtle slapstick star.  Sure he’s more than able physically – he has to be to climb that building (and whether or not any effects or stuntmen were used to simulate the Boy climbing to the top of that building, it was damn convincing), but he doesn’t show off either.  Those bumbling, in-way-over-his-head facial expressions, and the way he’s able to simulate difficulty with each step up that building, all while as an actor having to concentrate on not falling and putting on what amounts to a scripted physical performance while hanging on to a vertical wall, is really a lot more amazing than it appears in the final product when you think about it.  This whole movie, and especially the climb up that building, is an incredible feat of having things happen when they’re supposed to happen, and having Lloyd react when kids throw peanuts onto him, pigeons make a nest out of his hair, his friend struggles to pull him up via a rope with a ledge in the way, he gets an earful from various office workers and inhabitants of the building, has a mouse crawl up his pant let, and comes to rest with the top of his head mere centimeters from a spinning weathervane.  The ease with which this is all executed is nothing short of amazing.  Sure, you could argue that Lloyd doesn’t possess the raw physical prowess of Chaplin and Keaton, but then again, he kind of does, by making it look so easy and effortless that you barely take notice or ooh or ahh when he dizzily stumbles on the ledge of a tall building or situates himself between a moving trolley and a moving car, or wades his way through reams of wrapping paper to fight off shoppers. 

An artist like Chaplin used his body and physical gifts perfectly, but in a film like “Safety Last!”, this unassuming, good-looking guy with the sweet smile who seems like he actually has to break a sweat and work hard to do these things, combines with his surroundings to give us an ideal ‘normal man in extraordinary circumstances’ story.  If this was somewhat lacking in straight-up laughs, at least compared to the best of Chaplin (and rest assured, I certainly laughed plenty), at least admire “Safety Last!” as a marvel of complicated scripted events and physicality, especially for the normal-looking guy who has to pull it off, and with all the difficulties you’d expect the real world to throw at a real guy (with the exaggerated slapstick touch, of course).  You’ll believe that a man can climb a building.

9/10

A Night at the Opera (Sam Wood, 1935)

What was great:

– the famous scene where 8 billion people are all crowding into the cabin on the ship (above picture)
– the big climax, combining brilliant physical comedy, perfect timing, and impressive (aka expensive) production value
– the disappearing beds scene
– Chico’s piano playing and Harpo’s harp playing

all of the above were pretty much brilliant tour-de-forces of physical comedy, with Harpo taking most of the cake (crawling up the curtain, the rope scene, basically challenging the conductor to a duel right before the opera starts, etc.), and enormously entertaining. The rest? Well, I’ll defer to a much wiser person than myself, whose comments about Dr. Strangelove pretty much mirror my exact sentiments about “A Night at the Opera” outside of those scenes I just listed:

“Dr. Strangelove didn’t make me laugh once and i guess it was supposed to be a comedy…  ”

“I’ve seen the whole thing for Dr. Strangelove tho, Simon. OWNED! Didn’t laugh 1ONE1 freakin’ TIME.   ”

Allison

I mean seriously, Groucho Marx REALLY needs to shut the fuck up and stop trying to be funny with lame one-liner after lame one-liner  And the whole Kitty Carlisle subplot? *shudder*

This was my first Marx Brothers film, and a very uneven experience for me. Even when I knew that I liked the scenes like the crowded room and the disappearing beds and the mayhem at the opera while I was watching it, I was so bored with everything else that that boredom poured over and I desperately wanted it to end. Yet now that it’s over, my memories are fond overall, and I’m telling myself that I really liked this stuff, even though I didn’t. Odd. This score I’m giving is really, really hesitant, ‘cuz I have a feeling that when I see more Marx Brothers and get more of a feel for what they’re all about, my opinion of this one will change, either positively or negatively. Time and viewings will tell.

And if Chico and Harpo were really playing the piano and harp like that, much props to them for being so musically gifted. But if it was fake, fuck that shit SO much, and fuck Groucho Marx and his stupid puns that’re a step or two above Schwarzenegger’s in Batman and Robin (though at least Groucho, unlike Arnold, had good delivery and the gift of gab, even if the material didn’t hold up to that mile-a-minute delivery), and fuck everything else in this movie that’s not a physical comedy-driven set-piece.

7/10 (?)

Up! (Russ Meyer, 1976)

Believe it or not, it wasn’t any of the S&M nonsense or nonstop nudity/sex/exploitation/lousy acting/penis/pubic hair/overall incomprehensibility that bothered me…it’s all retarded, sure, but it sure as hell maintained my attention. No, what really bothered me was, of all things, Raven De La Croix’s voice, and also the voice of that naked Greek Chorus lady…just over-embellished ways of talking that were more annoying than anything. Otherwise, yeah, it was pure unmitigated crap, but I lol’d at stuff like that huge guy screaming “BEER! BEER!” and then walking through the wall with a naked girl in each arm. An surreal, absurdist pornographic cartoon, a lot of this was. One second it seems completely chauvinistic and sexist, and the next it does a 180 and seems empowering towards women, in its own strange, strange way (Roger Ebert…what a filthy old man to have written this 😆 ), so I don’t know what Meyer, Ebert et al were going for, and hell, maybe they didn’t know. This movie is crap, and bizarre, and just plain stupid (and actually repetitive to the point of starting to get boring with the overabundance of outrageous sex scenes that’re all exactly alike), and overly-zany and nonsensical for the sake of being overly-zany and nonsensical, hence my mediocre 6.5/10…but without a doubt like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and always kept me guessing as to what the fuck was gonna happen next, so before all y’all Meyer defenders come pining for my head and tell me ‘oh, you don’t GET it, man’ and ‘you’re a PRUDE, man’, just keep in mind, I could’ve given a MUCH worse score 😉

6.5/10

The Room (Tommy Wiseau, 2003)

There was an episode of “The Simpsons” once where the family had to take care of Burns Manor while Mr. Burns went to the Mayo Clinic for a physical.  After a battery of tests, the doctor diagnoses the 104-year old C. Montgomery Burns with what he called Three Stooges Syndrome.  Quite simply, Mr. Burns had everything: every disease known to man, including juvenile diabetes, but the reason he wasn’t dropping dead on the spot is that all of those diseases were so crowded within his body, all crammed together and immobile, that they were canceling each other out.  No one disease was able to break apart from the pack and do in the centenarian owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant, as they were all cramming to get out of the door but just ending up in a jumbled mess a la the Three Stooges.  This doesn’t make Mr. Burns indestructible, despite what he might say, but his bevy of diseases negating each other through sheer quantity did give him the appearance of a relatively healthy, albeit very old, man.

This is “The Room.”

Substitute the body of Montgomery Burns for the piece of celluloid that is “The Room” and bodily diseases with things that make a film go wrong, and “The Room” is patient zero when considering films that suffer from Three Stooges Syndrome.  Its flaws are so many, so obvious, and so inherent that “The Room,” believe it or not, cannot in any way, shape or form be considered the worst film ever made.  Quite simply, it’s so flawed, it’s sublime.  Whether or not director/producer/writer/star Tommy Wiseau (yes, insert Edward D. Wood, Jr. comparison here) intended to make this film as hysterical as it is (which he claims to have done, but only after it became a cult phenomenon, so obviously that claim is tough to buy), there’s just so many things you can point to that would indicate an awful movie that they cancel each other out.  Or rather, they work together to achieve a truly, truly unique whole, achieving a bizarre kind of greatness in which 8 billion wrongs apparently make a right.  The Dos Equis Man might be the most interesting man in the world, but “The Room” may very well be the most interesting film in the world.

For me to describe “The Room” and its flaws in detail would be a complete and utter disservice to a potential viewer, for the ultimate joy in watching this film is going in relatively blind and being surprised, shocked, and overwhelmed by every facet of it with no knowledge of it beforehand, so I’ll try to be brief and only mention a few generalities.  Overall, the production value is, of course, laughable.  The cinematography, apparently done in both high-definition and 35 mm because Wiseau was confused about the differences between the two (LMAO!), the costumes, and the two or three shoddy sets that comprise the entire film bring to mind a 90210 episode.  Plot holes abound as events that you’d consider to be life-altering situations are briefly mentioned and never touched upon again, concerning such things as breast cancer, a young neighbor’s apparent drug use and run-in with a crazed dealer, some nerdy douche who takes a spill trying to catch a football and then is never seen again, and another douche who ingratiates himself in the complications arising out of the film’s weird love triangle as if he’s been an integral character from film’s beginning (needless to say, we’ve never seen him before).  Other than that, there’s pretty much just lots of establishing shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and Wiseau wandering throughout the city like a hunched-over bum who shuffles along and talks to himself, and footballs – lots and lots and lots of close-quarters football.  The acting, as if it needed to be said, is awful – worse and more forced than porn, worse and more forced than those little plays you’d put on in small groups of four in the second grade.  You know what?  This movie is porn.  It’s porn without the porn.  Like a porn, the plot is irrelevant – Wiseau just went with the basic concept of a manipulative girl cheating on her ne’er-do-wrong fiancé with his best friend and ends up getting mired in a bizarre world of apartments that look like the showroom at Fortunoff and robots who speak in monotone and are obsessed with sex and throwing footballs around and worrying more about the rent than having breast cancer.  The acting and the sets are no better than a porn, and instead of actual sex, we get soft-lit scenes of Lisa getting her neck kissed for about ten minutes while her tits are hanging out and the porn-esque R&B music is blaring.  You gotta wonder whether this was a porn in its original incarnation, and then that fell through so then Wiseau saw his opportunity to make his Citizen Kane and just replaced the sex scenes with toned-down necking, ‘cuz it really is porn without the hardcore sex.  In that case, I’d disregard it.  But if Wiseau really did personally raise $6 million to finance his grand opus, and this is what came out, Tommy Wiseau is either an absolute loon, a mad genius, or both.  I’m going with both.

And that brings us to Wiseau himself.  How can I describe this epic performance?  He looks like a hunched-over combination of Quasimodo, Gollum and Wormtongue, or maybe like Fabio if Fabio dyed his long hair black and curled it and then went to sleep in a deep fryer.  He has some kind of indistinguishable Eastern European accent that sounds like a bad impression of the Festrunk Brothers from Saturday Night Live (“We are two WILD AND CRAZY GUYS!”), and employs the catchphrase to end all catchphrases again and again and again that I won’t spoil here.  And like everyone else in this movie, his sudden mood shifts at the snap of a finger are truly and utterly bizarre – distraught and talking to himself one moment, completely cool and saying hello to his friend a microsecond later.  Wiseau the actor is reason enough to bask in the eccentric glory of this movie, but Wiseau the director and writer is simply otherworldly.  It’s bad enough that select scenes directly plagiarize “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Citizen Kane,” but when one of your movie’s centerpieces includes your own naked ass while you make love in a lame attempt at pseudo-porn, as if you’re a fucking Casanova and not the homunculus that you really are, and then you frame yourself as the biggest martyr since Jesus when cheating girlfriend and traitorous best friend and everyone in-between gangs up on you, the saintly banker with weird hair and pockmarks, clearly Mr. Wiseau’s ego rivals even that of the late Michael Jackson in the infamous ode to his massive ego, “Moonwalker.”  I mean my god, Wiseau’s hatred and mistrust of women and self-vanity and ego and complete lack of an ear for natural dialogue and progression of a screenplay and realistic situations fucking BLEEDS from this movie.  Bask in it, friends.  Bask in it. 

“So bad it’s good” is a ridiculously overused cliché by now, but “The Room” is the posterchild.  It is so flawed, so shoddily made and acted, so reprehensible in its apparent themes and saintliness of one character and utter depravity of another, and just so odd, that it truly is the black comedy that Tommy Wiseau claims it to be.  I laughed during it, I laughed hysterically long after it was over just looking at a picture of Wiseau in his big James Dean moment to the point that I couldn’t fall asleep, and now I want to rewatch it.  Very, very few films have ever entertained me like this one has – for all the wrong reasons, sure, but turns out that when every single facet of a film – acting, sets, cinematography, screenplay, costumes, music, Wiseau – achieves a state of awfulness previously thought impossible, the result is a nightmarish otherworld that the likes of David Lynch and Luis Buñuel could only dream of concocting.  When I puke after drinking too much and my puke looks like the Queen of England, I don’t mean for that to happen, but that act of beauty just happens without rhyme or reason.  I’m sure Tommy Wiseau didn’t mean to make a bizarre feat of surrealist comedy when he amassed a small fortune to make a heartfelt melodrama (now where that $6 million went is anybody’s guess…), but it just happened.  This might the most beautiful movie I’ve ever seen.

10/10

The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 1934)

The murder mystery is ridiculously convoluted, vital suspects are never really properly introduced to us until near the end so that any attempt to try to put it all together is pretty much pointless, and the acting is universally awful, the product of the first few years of talkies.  But then there’s Nick and Nora and Asta, and in an instant William Powell, Myrna Loy, and that damn dog turn a run of the mill murder mystery into something really, really special.  A former detective now living the good life as a socialite, Nick Charles has the mystery of the disappearing inventor practically fall into his lap when he comes across the inventor’s daughter, an old acquaintance, at one of his famed parties (Powell in this film really has one of the best character introductions, like, ever – at the bar, slightly tipsy, unfathomably easygoing and charming, teaching his partygoers how to shake a martini – Nick Charles defined).  Whether out of a hunch or out of sheer boredom or because they’re out of booze, Mr. and Mrs. and dog Charles are on the case. 

But none of that matters.  Everything in this film outside of the goings-on of Nick and Nora is pretty much junk – the mystery’s a superfluous macguffin, and the hasty resolution, thanks in no small part to Nick’s brilliance as a detective and possibly foolhardy cockiness, indicates as much.  This is all about the chemistry and life and times of Nick and Nora Charles, with the biggest mystery really being whether Nick’s yen for mystery-solving will take a big chunk out of their precious drinking time.  I’d never seen William Powell or Myrna Loy act before, but when this film was over, in all seriousness, I had to go to IMDB to see if they were married in real life.  They weren’t, but I tell you, they had THAT much chemistry between each other.  Best on-screen couple I’ve ever seen, I’d say.  They drink like fish, Powell has that perpetually tipsy slur when he speaks, even while brilliantly deducing the facts of the case at a dinner part, Loy has a wonderful edge of both playfulness and mean but cute sarcasm, but alone they’re merely really good, but nothing revolutionary.  It’s when they’re together where the magic happens and two performances become one truly special presence. 

Their sarcastic banter, Powell’s especially, is among the most phony and unrealistic I’ve ever heard, but Powell’s constant tipsiness and semi-goofy charm, and Loy’s constant playful cockiness just make it so damn charming that it’s an absolute joy to watch and listen to these two together.  And there’s the little things, like the faces they make behind the other’s back, or little moments of cute fighting and touching and other signs of affection (this marks one of the few times I’ve watched a film where hitting a woman in the face turned out to be the right thing to do…), how they instinctually know when to get the other a drink, that indicate how they really, really can’t live without each other, and that behind all the jokes and playful insults is true love and a need for each other and a partnership like no other.  Or, there’s that hungover Christmas morning where Nick’s playing with the airgun he got as a present, and Nora simply watches him with a blank face that you’d think shows disappointment in how silly her husband is, but really just indicates that she got used to this kind of thing a loooong time ago – stubborn acceptance, and unconditional love.  They almost act like brother and sister the way they kid around with each other, but the way they always know exactly how to respond to the other’s sarcastic comment, or how Nora won’t put up with Nick’s occasional macho bullshit, or how they drink each other under the table without a second thought, all suggest that they really have known and cared for each other for years.  It’s all played for laughs, sure, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I laughed at this film, but their silliness is never, ever too over-the-top – it’s just enough so that one performance is quite simply incomplete without the other.  They fit together like those final two pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.  I haven’t seen that kind of on-screen chemistry since I watched The Beatles’ performances in “A Hard Day’s Night,” and those were based on real-life relationships – Powell and Loy’s were based solely within the realm of fiction and celluloid.  Just goes to show you how special Powell and Loy’s performances really are, when an exchange like this, following a tussle at a party:

Nick: I’m a hero.  I was shot twice in the Tribune.
Nora: I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids.
Nick: It’s not true.  He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.

…can actually feel REAL and spur-of-the-moment, and not like it was randomly inserted into a screenplay to get laughs.  I’m not gonna quote this movie any more than that, because most of the comedic effect of any given line comes from Powell and Loy’s delivery, anyway, so it wouldn’t do to read them on a page and ruin the experience.  Even with the dumb mystery story whose convolutions try to make it into a poor man’s Big Sleep, “The Thin Man” was one of the most joyful and carefree and endearing filmwatching experiences I’ve had in a very, very long time.  I mean seriously, I wanna be Nick Charles.  A brilliant detective, slightly alcoholic but never too drunk (therefore eternally happy and tipsy 😛 ), impossibly charming and clever and witty, married to a beautiful woman who’s just as intelligent and spunky as he is and can match his banter wit for wit, has the most awesome dog on the face of the earth, rich, spending their nights throwing parties and drinking (and drinking, and drinking…) and hobnobbing it with socialites AND degenerates (he’s actually all buddy-buddy with a thug he once put away), and solving murders as a fucking HOBBY.  Seriously, how is that NOT, like, the most perfect lifestyle imaginable?

9.5/10

Week End (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

You wouldn’t know it from the picture above (other than the dried-up blood on the girl’s green shirt), but these fine people were either witnesses or direct parties to a fatal, gruesome automobile accident mere moments before – one where quite a few nasty words were exchanged, I might add.  But now, of course, in typical Godard fashion, they’re posing together as if the guy in the fucking Sears photo studio told them to make their best mug shot faces.  I’ve tried to make myself numb to these little eccentricities of Godard’s by now – the weird intertitles/commentary, the humor of which goes completely over my head more often than not, the extreme closeups of those faces as chaos ensues with the aftermath of that car wreck, the long tracking shots, the random recitation by this character or that of a thing resembling philosophy or poetry – but “Week End” is certainly, by Godard’s standards, the tippy-top of his eccentric-meter: a gory, bizarre journey for a despicable couple that’s a biting-as-hell criticism of…what?  Comsumerism?  America?  Capitalism?  Greed?  Sexual repression…or sexual excess?  Maybe all of the above, but I don’t care, ‘cuz all “Week End” is trying to be is a big shock and awe campaign against anything and everything Godard finds irritating about society, meant to incite and to infuriate.  Well, it sure as hell infuriated me, but I’m not infuriated at what Godard’s infuriated at, I’m infuriated that I wasted a good 90+ minutes sitting through this failed experiment in testing the limits of political correctness in film, that turns into little more than a maddening exercise in style and shock points, that tries to make some grand message but just repulses, angers, and annoys.  “Week End” infuriated me like few films ever have.

Alright, so it starts with some bra and panties-clad woman seen in semi-silhouette giving her husband a looong description of her previous sexual exploits with another man and woman, as descriptively as you can imagine, using words and descriptions of anatomy and sex acts I never thought I’d hear in a film from the 1960s, even a French film, far from the puritanical confines of Hollywood, and it’s all set to sarcastically ominous music.  Okay, I thought, this is pretty interesting, and faux-mysterious/sarcastic, and this story she’s telling, and the droll way she’s telling it, is pretty damn hot.  Hot, but also cold and distant with how disinterested both storyteller and listener are, and with that music: an interesting little critique of sexuality in society.  I was intrigued.

End intrigue.

Clearly, Godard’s challenging the viewer to care about “Week End”: utterly reprehensible protagonists encountering utterly reprehensible people and incidents on the road.  The world sucks, Godard seems to be telling us.  Everything about it is dog-eat-dog, and devotion to sex and material objects seems to be the culprit – according to Godard.  The problem is, Godard seems to think that rape, cannibalism, murder by arson, and car wrecks equal clever critique.  It’s overkill from the start, and in my eyes, this film was doomed from the start of that famous tracking shot of the traffic jam.  So what, an unending shot for 10-15 minutes showing every inch of a traffic jam, complete with drivers tossing beach balls around, and yelling at each other, and increasingly clever ways to show exasperated drivers and cars in positions they clearly weren’t built to be in, is supposed to be the be all and end all of skilled filmmaking?  Big fucking deal, any monkey can glide a camera down a dolly track for 15 minutes and tell extras when to act funny.  This wasn’t an impressive feat of single-shot filmmaking, it was an infuriating waste of time, every second of it punctuated by the sound of car horns (thank god I was watching the movie via headphones, so I could take them off after a while and prevent myself from going batshit crazy).  It’s Godard trying to get under your skin, and by god it worked, but I wasn’t mad about some cockamamie message he was trying to send about dehumanization or whatever (materialized through the long shot’s payoff when the gory cause of the traffic jam is finally – FINALLY – revealed), I was just plain ticked off that so much of my time was wasted watching and listening to one annoying as all fuck thing for SO much screentime.  Go ahead, tell me I’m an impatient, uninitiated filmwatcher who doesn’t get Godard’s subversive artistry and eye for unique cultural criticism, ‘cuz y’all can go fuck yourselves – this was just plain excessive and agonizing, for all the wrong reasons.

What follows is a series of episodes in which our repugnant protagonists pass the violent aftermaths of car wrecks left and right, as well as an increasingly bizarre cast of characters, from the gun-toting, sheep-materializing magician to the riddle-spouting couple seemingly out of a fairy tale to the activists who speak for each other to the forest-dwelling cannibals.  Clearly Godard’s trying to shock his audience with how reprehensible everybody behaves, from lighting people on fire to the man sitting back serenely as his wife is raped, to a carjacking-cum-stabbing, to fiery wrecks to cannibals killing pigs and chickens (animals were most certainly harmed in the making of this film) and making some random chick strip while frying an egg on her crotch or something, I dunno…and all the while that couple we follow, who in their own right wish for the death of her parents so they can inherit the money, and in the process murder each other, lament their most unusual situation and dryly observe how strange this movie they’re in is becoming (about the only joke in the film I actually liked).  The ultimate irony is that Godard’s trying to be utterly unpredictable and as shocking as possible in showing rape, bloody bodies and fiery car wrecks strewn across the road, murder, arson, and animal slaughter, but really it’s all quite predictable – pass a car wreck, find a capitalist weirdo, dispatch.  Pass a car wreck, find a capitalist weirdo, dispatch.  Pass a car wreck, find a capitalist weirdo, dispatch.  I get the feeling that all the terrible things we see happen in “Week End” that test the limits of what a film in 1967 could show you represents everything Godard himself wanted to do, but as a law-abiding citizen couldn’t, so he could only do it vicariously through cinema.  Alright, I get it, Godard really hates America and materialism and capitalism.  And nevermind that there’s no plot or that the film’s an incomprehensible mess, ‘cuz if done tastefully that’d be a good thing: a subversive, image-based critique of material excess and dehumanization.  And the idea of a wrecked-car-and-corpse-laden, neverending road representing a materialist dystopia is actually a fascinating one, but could’ve been, and has been, handled better. 

But “Week End” is utterly tasteless.  It’s bad enough Godard felt the need to interrupt everything for a 15 minute traffic jam where I had to press the mute button and start biting my fingernails impulsively, or have a couple of young idiots ‘speak for each other’, so that we just stare at an unmoving face for about 5-10 minutes each while the other, off-screen, recites some shit about African poverty or something that’s practically from a textbook.  That in and of itself is tasteless, and every single word of that scene went in one ear and out the other (if that’s Godard’s intention, to make fun of lecturing activists by employing lectures in all their maddeningly boring detail, then he succeeded, but…why?), but those images of destroyed cars and bodies, of cannibals and stabbings, of just-offscreen rape and murder by lighter, lacks a single miniscule crumb of what could be considered good taste.  When a filmmaker tries to disguise tasteless, hate-filled images as cynical criticism of society, and combines that with a maddeningly long tracking shot punctuated by a single sound more annoying than Lloyd’s most annoying sound in the world in “Dumb and Dumber,” and another maddeningly long tracking shot of some farm or something while some asshole plays the piano, as we travel across the entire lot back and forth at least a few times, and other long scenes of stylistic excess that give me the feeling that Godard’s jumping up and down begging you to pay attention to him the way a kid jumps up and down begging mom to look at the pretty picture he drew, the result is horrifying.  “Week End” is a collection of images that beg you to be repulsed and dare you to be titillated, but in short order it became so predictable, so unexpectedly formulaic for a film so non-reliant on a typical plot structure, that I sure as hell wasn’t titillated, but was repulsed – not by the materialistic and fetishistic society Godard’s apparently trying to lampoon, but by 1) how hateful his worldview seems to be, and 2) his stylistic eccentricities that once again went over my head and I had to disregard as overly-stylish, silly nonsense.  Yeah, society’s reliance on material objects sucks, but I at least try to have a somewhat positive worldview, and don’t see every materialist as a shrill, philosophy-spewing, gun-toting, wreckless pig deserving of and destined for either a car wreck or a horrifically gruesome death.  Fucking sue me.  Although, maybe my optimistic worldview is wrong, considering all the reviews I’ve read praising this as a subversive and important masterpiece, that infuriating traffic jam a brilliant piece of skilled filmmaking.  Give me a fucking break.  This was attention-craving, overly-stylized trash.

“Week End” so ridiculous and offensively nonsensical and BORING (traffic jam, the two men speaking for each other, just how plain predictable the formula is despite Godard trying to shock us with images…), that I hope, I pray, that this was some kind of very expensive, very long-thought out joke by Godard, the man who played subtle little jokes like the sudden spurts of violence in “Masculin féminin”, but is going for the full-on Aristocrats joke here.  I mean, this was a joke, right?  It has to be…after all, I just wrote the longest review I’ve written in a long, long time on a film I hated more than any other I’ve seen in an even longer time.  The joke’s on me.  I guess Godard succeeded in getting an extreme reaction from one more viewer after all.

2.5/10

A couple of John Fords: The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) and Fort Apache (1948)

The Whole Town’s Talking (1935)

THIS was directed by John Ford? A light, funny little semi-parody of gangster movies and tale of mistaken identity? If you just showed me this movie without credits, I wouldn’tve guessed in a million years that John Ford of all people helmed it…but hey, I’ll take it. Edward G. Robinson is fantastic, as usual, this time in a dual role, showing both sides of a range you never would’ve guessed he had – a meek, shy and soft-spoken bookkeeper, and the nasty, fast-talking gangster he gets mistaken for – the persona you’d much more readily associate Robinson with. But, he pulls off both roles very nicely (it really is incredible how different these two characters, being played by the same actor, are), and while some of the movie is incredibly dated (that black doorman at the bank…  ), many of the situations that arise from an unassuming bureaucrat being mistaken for ‘Killer’ Mannion are very clever and funny – even moments of slapstick aren’t overdone, but are more in-the-moment than anything, making the humor that much more endearing (Robinson can do obnoxious drunk like no other 😛 ). I’ve only seen three of Edward G. Robinson’s performances (well, 4 if you count this movie’s as two…), but I think he’s shooting right up my list of favorite actors regardless. This movie’s nothing profound, but it was cute, and I liked it 🙂

7.5/10

 

Fort Apache (1948)



 

jesus christ, Shirley Temple got HOT!

Well, when I wasn’t thinking about the things I would do to America’s former sweetheart in a sleazy motel room, I was pretty much bored. You’ve seen one 2-hour excuse to show off Monument Valley, you’ve seen ’em all, and “Fort Apache” was one of ’em all. Some shots of desert, some trouble at home at a remote army base, some stock chase/action scenes between army ‘n Indians, that just about sums it up. Even John Ford’s bizarre brand of comic relief, namely involving inexperienced soldiers and their horses in some really weird slapstick, is just plain strange, and Fonda stick out like a fucking sore thumb. I’d compare his go as a stubborn, bloodthirsty or glorythirsty or both Lieutenant Colonel to, say, Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock’s “Rope” – in both cases, a great actor in the prime of his career, practically dumped into a movie where it just doesn’t feel like he belongs. On the bright side, though, John Wayne’s pretty damn good as the captain – charismatic, honorable in sympathizing with the Indians, basically the foil to the bullheaded Fonda, and doesn’t yet have that stroke victim drawl the uninitiated would associate with John Wayne. But, at least until the finale, Wayne is woefully underused, in favor of trying to build up Fonda’s assholeishness for some kind of redemption that, while portrayed heroically at the end, feels disingenuous, and a sub-plot involving Fonda’s daughter (Temple  …can’t act to save her life, but  ) and her romance with the young officer who, of course, daddy doesn’t approve of, that has its moments but falls a bit flat like most everything else. If it wasn’t for little moments like the drunk serenading the happy couple and the O’Rourke family on their porch one night (a most-decidedly Ford-ian moment 🙂 ), and a climax that ends things on an incredibly strong note, as Fonda’s near-crazed Lt. Col. Thursday and his men take on the Indians (who’re portrayed in a more positive light than negative, so the question of which side to root for is surprisingly, and nicely, complex), “Fort Apache” would be utterly forgettable. As it stands, it’s still one of the weaker Ford’s I’ve seen, but the last reel or so saves it from oblivion

6.5/10

Tobacco Road (John Ford, 1941)

Hillbillies

 

except…

Hillbillies

 

but ultimately…

Hillbillies 

4.5/10