J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

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Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Local Hero

Posted by J on January 18, 2011

Most movies are purely entertaining, a distraction from worldly cares.  Only a very few, maybe three or four, have ever provoked us to think for hours about them.  Local Hero is one of those few.  Mind you, it is not necessarily an entertaining movie.  You will have to stick with it.  You will also have to appreciate subtleties and try to make connections between characters and ideas.  It demands a little bit of work.

If we tell you the plot, you will think that you will know everything that happens.  A Texas oil company, Knox Gas and Oil, wants to buy the village of Ferness in Scotland, a tiny coastal town.  Knox wants to build a refinery there and drill offshore.  So Knox, headed by Felix Happer, sends an executive to Ferness to negotiate a deal.  This executive is Mac, a bachelor selected for this mission because he appears to be Scottish — surname: MacIntrye — but who is actually Hungarian.

In every other movie ever made with this plot, the village of Ferness will be so quaint and charming, so socially and environmentally precious, that none of the locals will want to give up their traditional homes.  A cliched movie would pit mega-corporations against quaint small towns.  Not so Local Hero.  The catch is that the villagers of Ferness actually want to sell their town.  They all dream about the piles of money coming their way.  They want to play the stock market.  They want to buy property in an urban area.  They want to ditch the place where their ancestors once lived.

Mac, on the other hand, begins to like Ferness.  It’s quite different from the bustle of Houston.  While the villagers stall negotiations in an attempt to get a sweeter deal, Mac walks the beaches and talks to the locals.  And he seems to prefer the quiet openness of the place.  Accompanying Mac is local representative Danny Oldsen.  Danny grows fond of Ferness too, but for different reasons.  He gets a crush on a mysterious local girl who is an adept swimmer.  Both Mac and Danny experience Ferness almost in an otherworldly way. It is that charming smalltown that compares favorably to their big city lives.  They are even transported to Ferness in an uncanny way, when a thick fog forces them to sleep on the road just before they arrive in town.

Mac has another mission.  Happer has asked Mac to watch the skies, to look for any strange or interesting cosmological activity.  Happer is a bit of an astronomy nut.  He’s unable to look at the stars in Houston — the bright lights of the city are too overwhelming — so he has an artificial dome of stars built into his CEO office.  In Ferness, Mac does see interesting stellar activity, seemingly for the first time.  This adds to Mac’s fondness for Ferness and prompts Happer to want to leave Houston and see Ferness for himself.

Does Mac make a deal for Knox to buy Ferness? In movies like this, there are only two ways.  Either the corporation wins and the oil refinery is built, bulldozing hundreds of years of local custom in a single deal, or the local town wins and tradition is saved.  Local Hero offers a third way.  While everyone wants to get the deal done, though Mac is tentative about it, one lone holdout who owns beachfront property doesn’t want to sell.  Actually, he doesn’t need to sell, as he is perfectly content.  This holdout upsets everyone, but it turns out that he has familial connections with Happer.  Happer and the holdout work out an unexpected deal.

I’m tempted here to discuss and analyze the solution that the movie offers, but I’d prefer that you see the movie and think about it for yourself.  It is worth pointing out that, in the movie, just about every character has unfulfilled dreams.  Mac wants the charm of Ferness, the citizens of Ferness want Mac’s lifestyle, Danny wants a girl, Happer wants to see the sky — and all of these experience different endings to their problems.  There are also subthemes that augment themes.  For example, there’s the threat of hostility in the sky when a NATO jet flies overhead and bombs a nearby beach, practicing for live war against Russia.  This is precisely that opposite of what Happer and Mac are looking for in the sky, but it’s challenged by the friendly visit of a Soviet fisherman who stops by Ferness to mingle with the locals.

And then there’s the final image. What does it mean?  What is it telling us about cities, after we’ve spent most of the movie in a quaint small town and looking at a natural skyline?  What is Mac thinking in that final shot?  Local Hero has one of the most provoking final scenes I’ve seen in movies, but again, it’s a quiet scene. It’s not a twist ending.  But it’s one that may inspire much thought.

I have not seen this movie twice, but I’m sure it’s one of the few that gets better on subsequent viewings.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 10

Morality: 10

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Wag the Dog

Posted by J on December 23, 2010

Wag the Dog is satire that doesn’t always want to be.  It could’ve aimed for the biting darkness of Dr. Strangelove, but it likes its character and Mark Knopfler’s soft guitar soundtrack is reminiscent of his music for the Princess Bride.  The movie is somewhat prescient in its depiction of media’s relationship to government during the last ten years.  Perhaps for that reason alone it deserves to be watched.

The premise is somewhat shaky.  The President of the U.S., eleven days before the end of his own re-election campaign, is accused of sexual misconduct with a teenager.  For some reason, the President is in China during a re-election campaign, who knows why at a critical moment in his career.  So the President’s team hires a fix-it guy, Conrad Black, who understands that reality is not what actually happens, but what the TV says happens.  Black’s mission is to distract the American people for eleven days so that the sexual misconduct story is effectively buried until the elections are over.  What to do, what to do?

Oh yes, of course. Start a war!  In the great American tradition of fomenting war by creating some incident and blowing it out of proportion — see the sinking of the Lusitania, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (which this movie basically predicts) — Black decides to invent a war with Albania.  His story involves Albanian terrorists and the threat of nuclear weapons smuggled into the United States.  To pull off this stunt, Black hires Stanley Motss, a longtime Hollywood producer who is more interested in doing his job perfectly than in thinking about the morality of inventing a war.  Motss creates a scene of horror with Hollywood magic: a young girl holding a bag of Tostitos is transformed by Motss into an Albanian girl with a kitten who runs away from terrorists.  This scene with the Albanian girl is broadcast nationwide.  For Motss, it’s glorious, his best work ever.

Black and Motss manage to pull off their stunt, although they somehow survive a plane crash and handle a dangerous convict whom they are trying to turn into a warhero.  Their deception is fairly powerful.  They create patriotic music for the occasion.  When the CIA tries to stop them, Black reminds the CIA that all intel organizations have no purpose if there is no enemy.  He, Black, is creating an enemy.  Therefore the CIA should love what he’s doing.  After all, he’s preserving their jobs.  It’s almost as if Black, in 1997, has created the War on Terror — a war against an abstraction of an everlasting enemy who can always be used as a bogeyman.

My primary issue with the movie is that its world is too self-contained.  It castigates thoughtless patriotism at a national level, but is itself too nationalistic.  It assumes that Black’s fraud, which is international in scope, could not be known pretty quickly.  Surely the international press corps would realize that there is no war in Albania and jump on that lie, yet there’s no hint that any press beyond America’s exists.  Moreover, the movie stays within Black’s circle for the entire duration.  We only get to see the innerworkings of Black’s fraud, but never its effects on others (except on TV).  There, in fact, are a lot of people who can sniff out the lies of Presidents and news networks quickly and devastatingly.

The movie also simplifies the ways in which lies and frauds are perpetuated.  The fraud in this movie emanates from one place, Black’s group.  It is therefore nearly completely controlled by this group.  But real life is more complicated.  In Washington DC, there’s a vast network of self-serving bureaucrats and reporters who, first and foremost, are looking out for #1.  There are five major media corporations that print and publish news.  When there’s fraud, as with the fabled Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in 2002-2003, it’s a vast conspiracy in which everyone assents to and contributes to that conspiracy.

Still, the movie is quite useful in understanding the nature of our current “War on Terror.”

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 7

Morality: 8 (some bad language)

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A Christmas Story

Posted by J on December 15, 2009

The Simpsons didn’t come from nowhere, and A Christmas Story appears to be a direct inspiration.  Here you have a somewhat dysfunctional family — a slightly mischievous kid, a goofy dad, and a forebearing mother — which is celebrated as a nuclear family.

Not having seen this since childhood, it’s surprising to us that this movie is now a Christmas classic that the whole family gathers around and watches.  Frankly, you can’t understand it well as a kid, probably not even as a teenager.  It’s told from the perspective of the voiceover narrator, who looks back on his childhood both nostalgically and critically.  The obvious lesson he learns is about human nature.  The man working as Santa Claus in the department store does not want to work past 9 pm, the Little Orphan Annie radio show manipulates you into participating in its Secret Decoder Ring group only to further market its Ovaltine product to you, and lying to your mother sometimes works.

These lessons, contained by several short stories that are strung together to make the movie, are what keeps the movie from veering off into goofy or childish comedy, and are therefore what gives it its potency.  Even the dream sequences, with their hammy acting, are interesting because they demonstrate what most everyone has thought at some point.  For instance, that your teacher is going to extol your praises once she reads the “brilliant” assignment you are turning in to her.

Consider the prize the Old Man wins.  As a kid, you don’t quite get why this guy is so thrilled that he won a woman’s leg as a lamp.  But it’s clear — if you’ve got the perspective that the voiceover narrator has — that the Old Man has his blinders on when it comes to the aesthetics of the lamp, and to how his wife views the lamp, but that he views it as a symbol of his intellectual prowess.  Like so many Tom Wolfe characters, the Old Man is promoting the triumph of Me.  He’s proud to display his ridiculous lamp in the front window of his house for all his neighborhood to see.  He believes vainly that his newspaper puzzle is a challenging test of brainpower that he has soundly defeated.  Of course, for his wife, the lamp is not only a violation of her household decor but also a kind of rival.

The absence of Christianity (this is the 1950s American Midwest) is curious.  Given the old man’s parenting ways, it’s not hard to see how kids like Ralphie can turn into 1960s teenagers — individualistic, hedonistic, and probably rebellious in one way or another.

Note: the movie contains a hilarious jump cut which you should watch for.  At the end of one scene, we see Randy walking into the bathroom and getting ready to sit down on the toilet.  Then the movie cuts to a pot of boiling food on the stove and then pans over the kitchen table.  We’ve already seen Randy eat like a pig, so once again the joke’s on Randy.

Entertainment: 9

Intelligence: 6

Morality: 5

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Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Posted by J on September 13, 2009

paul_blart_mall_copThe premise of Paul Blart: Mall Cop is hilarious by itself.  Here you’ve got a mall security guard, with no gun and no social authority, vying for respectability in an upper-class shopping mall, a place filled with women and elderly folk.  Like most rent-a-cops, Paul Blart is overweight and bumbling.  He’s at the lowest end of the hierarchy of police and security guards, and yet he takes his duty seriously.   That duty includes stopping senior citizens who are speeding through the mall in their electric carts.

There are of course a lot of ways to screw this premise up, and the movie producers did that plenty of times here.  But Paul Blart: Mall Cop isn’t all that bad. It’s not horrifically stupid or vulgar, which is 90% of making a decent movie comedy these days.

Blart himself probably represents the intended audience for this movie.  He’s a lower middle-class, middle-aged white guy with a sweettooth.  In the movie’s opening scenes, Blart tries out as a state trooper, only to be thwarted by his hypoglycemia.  Disappointed, Blart returns home to where his mother and daughter reside.  Blart’s daughter, whom he clearly loves, is the child of a love affair in which Blart was fooled by an illegal immigrant from Mexico into marrying the immigrant and thus granting her citizenship.   Blart then goes to his job, which he loves, even though no one takes him seriously.  And, finally, Blart pines for the love of a woman.

Inevitably there’s a love interest, a major problem, and a showdown.  It was right to have the major showdown take place in the mall, which is really an indoor carnival.   The main problem is that this showdown — which lasts half the movie — doesn’t exploit the possibilities of the premise, and it’s absurd without being all that funny.   With some tweaks — a better cast and improved writing — this movie could’ve been pretty darn good.

The best thing about Paul Blart is that it blows away all of the pretentious Cannes-Telluride-Oscar-winning nonsense  that’s so often marketed as “artistic greatness.”  Blart is the kind of guy we middle-class, middle Americans all know, and because we know him we enjoy watching him and laughing at him.  Someday some movie studio is going to figure this out.

Entertainment: 6

Intelligence: 1

Morality: 7

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Bringing Up Baby

Posted by J on March 25, 2009

This is probably the classic screwball comedy.  It is perfect for a bad day, a recession, or whatever else might dampen 215px-bub1938 your mood.  Admittedly you have to be able to enjoy 1930s-1940s acting, writing, humor, etc., but once you clear that hurdle this movie is, like we said, perfect.

Entertainment: 10

Intelligence: 8

Morality: 9-10

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Father of the Bride (1991)

Posted by J on November 19, 2008

Because Father of the Bride is so incredibly sappy, it’s important to recognize its implicit moral values.  In father_of_the_bride1stories like this, sap drenches values.  People cry tears of happiness and say “awwww!” with their entertainment goggles on, but that means they miss what the story is teaching them.  This movie does not provide much depth, but it tells us something about what we value.

The “father” mentioned in the title is helpless and lacks familial control.  His daughter met a man while in Italy, and she gets engaged without immediately telling her parents.  She knows how to use a phone, but she asked no one about the prudence of this match.  Translation: children are completely independent from parents.  Especially when it comes to mating.

“Of course they are completely independent,” you say, but then you are obviously living in Western culture in the 21st century.  Go back a hundred years, or go to the different part of the world, and you will find fathers and mothers choosing mates for their sons and daughters.  Remember the story of Samson, who had to ask his parents to procure a wife for him:

“Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines.  Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” — Judges 14:1-3

This is not the world-historical norm — Samson is making the choice, and his parents are bothered by that — but it is closer to the norm than Steve Martin gets.

Throughout the movie, the father acts out anxiety over the minimal role he plays in this marriage.  How can he give his little girl to a man he barely knows?  But whatever makes her happy, he thinks, consoling himself.  This fatherly anxiety is amplified many times by the unnecessary voiceover narrator, who instructs us on what the father is thinking and feeling, which is mostly helplessness.  This is supposed to be funny.

Though the father of the bride has almost no authority in this situation, he is expected to provide everything.  He must pay for the wedding even though his future son-in-law’s parents are far richer than he is.  At $250 per person, for 500 people, this wedding requires serious cash.  The final total would nearly bankrupt the father, but nevermind that.  Whatever makes his little girl happy.  This father and his family values the present over the future — a one-day dreamworld over the credit card bills he will be paying for years.

Why do the bride’s parents have to pay for the wedding?  Custom.  Once upon a time, the groom paid the bride’s family.  This was a form of insurance, a dowry, in case the groom died or left his wife.  The dowry is implied in the Old Testament law about bride-prices (see Exodus 22:16-17) and is mentioned in numerous passages in the Bible, not to mention all of ancient and medieval literature.  The father of the bride could also give something to the newly married couple, but it would not be $250 times 500 for a one-day event.   It was a long-term gift, like a big piece of land or a city (Judges 1:15 and 1 Kings 9:16).  Note the differences: a $10,000 wedding cake lasts two hours; a $50 blender is a gift that keeps on giving.

This movie sentimentalizes the valuing of the present over the future.  In other words, it’s the triumph of the most important of modern American values: consumption and instant gratification.   The movie also legitimizes the feelings of a compromised father, who has his daughter’s love but not her full trust.

Late in the movie, the groom-to-be tells us that the thing he loves most about his future bride is her “complete independence.”  In twenty-five years, he will be the next father of the bride.  If he has any children at all.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 0

Morality: see above

Posted in Comedy, They Spent Millions on This? | 2 Comments »

Groundhog Day

Posted by J on November 7, 2008

Groundhog Day is now nearly universally hailed as a masterpiece that exhibits exemplary spirituality and 200px-189656groundhog-day-postersethics.  Let’s unpack this claim a bit.

First, the ultimate goal for Bill Murray’s character is not explicit.  Murray is stuck in the same day, living it over and over again.  It is never clear why Murray is stuck in Groundhog Day, nor is it clear what he must do to get out of the day.  Unlike Clarence the angel and George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, Murray is never told what he must do.  The repeating day is an inscrutable mystery, and no higher power intervenes to reveal anything to Murray.  Heck, the movie contains no religious imagery.  Not a church, not a cross, not a Buddha statue. In that sense, we could call it functionally secular.

With no higher revelation available within the movie, we must infer what Murray’s goal is from the way he finally ends the repeating day.  Murray, it seems, must win the nice-looking (to him), intellectual woman who he otherwise cannot easily conquer.  To win this woman, he must avoid directly wooing her and instead must indirectly woo her by performing acts of kindness to strangers in Puxtatawney, Pennsylvania.  Murray’s acts of kindness win over many of the townsfolk, who boast about Murray’s character to the intellectual female, who eventually sleeps with Murray to end Groundhog Day.  Murray thus attains his goal by earning a sleepover without sex.  Here, we see what movie genre we are in.  The sleepover is the goal of most modern Hollywood date movies – of for example romantic comedies as different as Roxanne and Say Anything.  To Murray, Hollywood is saying “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Murray’s relative indifference, a state of being he attains by living through years of a repeating day, is Zen-like.  The inscrutable, repeating day is basically a koan that Murray has to live through.  He can’t figure out why Groundhog Day keeps repeating, it’s completely perplexing, and so he adopts a “why care?” attitude typical of the spiritual emptying that Zen Buddhists are supposed to achieve to attain enlightenment.  And that’s what Murray achieves in the end: enlightenment.

But Groundhog Day is more complicated than this.  Murray does achieve certain goals, such as piano-playing and ice sculpting.  One of the points of the repeating day is to show Murray what he can accomplish, given time, effort, and discipline.  Just look at the structure of Murray’s journey through the repeating day:

1) Relishes in hedonistic pleasures (e.g., junk food and loose women).

2) Despairs of his existence and tries to kill himself.

3) Attempts to directly woo his female and fails.

4) Actively seeks to be charitable, partly succeeding and partly failing.

5) Learns a kind of indifferent selflessness, woos the female, and ends the day.

From #1-5, we can easily see the hierarchy of most ethical systems.  Murray progresses from materialism, to can-do individualism, to selflessness.  Or, another way to view it, he goes through Kierkegaard’s three stages of existence: the aesthetic, the ethical, and the spiritual.  Murray’s progression is general enough to be taken a number of ways, but specific enough to be appreciated by anyone who values selflessness over selfishness.  No wonder all the mushy religionists of the day love this movie.  And no wonder we can all get something out of the movie, even if we disagree with its positive portrayal of shack-ups.

One technicality we enjoy about this movie is its interesting use of closure.  Closure is the word for the way we movie viewers connect one shot with another.  If a movie jumps from an outside shot of a spaceship to an inside shot of a spaceship (like the opening to Star Wars), we viewers mentally make the assumption that the second shot is of the spaceship we just saw from the outside and not another spaceship at another point in space or time.  In Groundhog Day, there are a number of second takes that exemplify closure.  Murray walks into a bar, talks to a female, and then we see him walking into the bar again.   This second bar scene we all automatically assume is another day that Murray is living through.  There is no announcement that that’s what is happening, but we don’t need such an announcement.  The movie does a great job of establishing its own world and the premises of that world, which is why it’s worth studying for you future filmmakers out there.

Entertainment: 10

Intelligence: 5

Morality: 5

Posted in Comedy, Great | 2 Comments »

Being There

Posted by J on October 7, 2008

Just in time for another election extravaganza!  Being There is a devastating commentary on national politics in an era of television.  Those readers who gained much from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death will immediately recognize its artistic counterpart in this movie.  But while Postman argued that serious political issues are undermined by the medium of television — where everything is marketed for viewers to consume, and the serious tone of “Breaking News” collides with commercial jingles and cackling celebrities — Being There is less a critique of television itself and more a critique of the political, monied classes of Washington DC.

It all starts with Chance.  Chance is a gardener working for a wealthy Washingtonian, a simpleton who has never left the grounds he keeps.  Chance cannot read or write, but he loves to watch television at every opportunity.  Chance’s life, in fact, is shaped by TV and by the simple platitudes he has learned from decades of gardening.  One day, Chance’s employer dies and, with nowhere else to go, Chance must leave the house.

Chance’s journey takes him through the slums of DC into the wealthiest part of town, to a vast estate owned by the big businessman Benjamin Rand.  Two days after leaving his former home, Chance finds himself in the good graces of the Rand family and has the opportunity to meet the President.  Chance’s simple ways and folksy slogans earn him enormous respect, so much respect in fact that the President quotes Chance’s garden metaphors in a nationally televised speech: “This is the winter of our economy, but spring is sure to come.”  Or something like that.  Chance becomes an immediate celebrity, whose platitudes are taken as profundities by Russian ambassadors and book publishers who want to give him six-figure advances for his thoughts on politics.

(SPOILERS FOLLOW.)  As audience members, we’re required to willingly suspend our belief that Chance would immediately be seen for the dummy he is.  All of Washington is abuzz for days about this mysterious Chance (known as Chauncey Gardener to them), a man with no past but with now tremendous influence.

As a satire of a TV culture and of Washington’s good-old-boy politics, Being There is effective.  But those are just two aspects of a complex and contradictory work that jabs at laissez-faire conservatives throughout.   The President, for example, rubs noses with the uber-wealthy Rand, who has apparently helped elect the President and thus aids him in determining economic policy.  At Rand’s funeral, the President decides to read a selection of Rand’s quotes, the first of which bashes welfare recipients.  The movie tries to ironize Rand’s position, but it has already given Rand too much sympathy to bash his economic views — we watch him slowly and graciously die first, and then we are supposed to be shocked at his anti-welfare statements and his creepy, Masonic grave.  The irony doesn’t work.

The voice of reason in Being There is Chance’s former coworker, a black maid whom the movie inserts as a critique of the white elite of Washington.  She is one of only two people who are not duped by Chance’s appearance of genius, and she is quick to claim that if he weren’t white, he wouldn’t be treated as a great political thinker and a celebrity.  Being There, in two or three scenes, practically screams about the injustice of the racial divide in Washington DC.  Whatever you think of this, artwork that screams never lasts long, so Being There suffers as a result.

The movie’s final image is at once baffling and crude.  We didn’t think the movie earned the right to use it.  Even though he is being considered as a Presidential candidate, Chance is not a Christ-figure in any sense.  Readers who have a theory about why he walks on water should let us know; this is one image we cannot figure out.

Chance is like lots of people we know.  We don’t mean that in a bad way either.  They are simple folks, people who tend their personal affairs well and enjoy outdoor life.  Agrarians like Chance tend to have cultivated morals, but they also get duped by mass media.  It is rare that a Chance the Gardener has great influence on Washington and stuns the political classes there.  Being There, if it is serious, gets things backwards.  The Chances of the world are merely influenced by TV, and those who control the TV set influence (to an extent) the Chances of the world.   Propaganda is a one-way street, and the political manipulators of the world understand which way the traffic flows.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 7

Morality : 7 (one brief unnecessary scene; you’ll know)

Posted in Comedy, Pretty Good | 1 Comment »

Sherlock Jr.

Posted by J on September 17, 2008

They don’t make ’em like they used to.  Sherlock Jr. utilizes mostly-dead film techniques that have to be revived eventually.  They’re too good.  Consider: Buster Keaton, chased by a gang of crooks, has no place to hide.  So his sidekick dresses up as an old woman, and in the moment when the crooks find him, Keaton jumps into the disguised sidekick.  Then the sidekick walks away.  It’s a cheap magic trick, but it’s absurdly hilarious.  A movieful of these gags today would cost $15 million and, done right, would earn ten times that much.  Some entrepreneur needs to wise up to this fact.  (Note: we won’t hold our breath until the “Christian” movie industry figures this out.)

But Sherlock Jr., unlike most films (silent or talkie), is not juvenile.  In fact we’re sure that academics have praised it in some obscure academic journal for its complex depiction of the self’s obliteration by technopoly.  Or whatever.  Since this site gets more readers in one day than an obscure academic journal gets in a lifetime, we won’t go there.

But do look closely.  Buster’s character, a down-and-out film projectionist, splits in two.  This doppleganger then jumps into a movie, or really several movies, as he is manipulated by cinematic forces he can’t control.  Then Buster imagines himself in the upscale detective thriller that he is projecting, in which he becomes the star and the detective who must bust a criminal conspiracy.  This is not insignificant: Sherlock Jr. is one of the very few movies to have a movie inside of a movie.

And yet it’s still fun. It’s hard to imagine anyone not loving the movie’s final motorcycle chase.  Sherlock Jr. is better kids’ entertainment than you’ll find at the local library.

The Kino DVD of Sherlock Jr. has a special bonus, an original score by the Club Foot Orchestra.  We know nothing about the Club Foot Orchestra, but we’d guess that this group is one of those retro-big band acts that were popular in the late 1990s.  This score is playful, absurd, avant-garde, and fun, and it often fits the action. (For example, when the criminals are conspiring against Buster, the meter becomes complex and uncountable.)  We weren’t sure if we liked it — too many John Cage-like elements for us — but it does up the artistic ante of the original movie’s opening bid.

Entertainment: 8

Intelligence: 8

Morality: just fine

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College (1927)

Posted by J on August 29, 2008

Buster Keaton’s The General is now widely considered one of the greatest movies ever made, but it flopped so badly at the box office that Keaton had to put out this rather lame feature as his next film venture.  College is filled with a lot of fish-out-of-water gags, but only the last five minutes are satisfying in any meaningful way.  Keaton plays a college scholar who wants to be an athlete.  The jokes all revolve around his attempts to become one, but these get old once you realize that Keaton is going to pretend to screw up at every track and field event.

Despite its silliness, College does prove that contemporary comedies do not do much better.  Same setup, same plot development, same random humor.  It is also nice to know that the nerd/jock dichtomy was flourishing in the 1920s as it does today.

The other shorts on this DVD are throwaways.  The Electric House has promise, but it ends up being too repetitive.  The print for Hard Luck is terrible because it was lost for sixty years.

If you haven’t seen a Keaton movie yet, start with The General (the DVD of which also has the fantastic short Cops) or Sherlock Jr.

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