Thursday, January 05, 2006


The General

Buster Keaton, 1926

Grand Illusion, just moments ago


Wow. The opening recruitment office sequence, the middle section (hiding under the table, rescuing Annabelle Lee) and the final accidental war hero act are a bit uneven but the two sustained train chase sequences are among the funniest 45 minutes of film I've ever seen.

This (shown with the glorious short "Cops" which would have been well worth the price of admission on its own) are the first Buster Keaton I've ever seen. While it'll require further research to confirm, I wonder if there's not a chance the American kid in The Dreamers was correct that Keaton is better than Chaplin. I count Modern Times among my favorite films, and City Lights not far behind. I'm not prepared to say Keaton is a better physical comedian, although I'd call that pretty close, but Keaton gets a greater range of emotion out of his facial expressions, and does a much better "exasperated" than Chaplin, which is crucial for several moments in this film.

It's always hard to pin down what makes the funniest stuff so damn funny, but I'd say a crucial ingredient to the train sequences is the quick shifts between Johnnie's moments of competence and incompetence (he's a flake and a klutz, but he knows his train) that produce, and then extricate him from the situations. His interaction with Annabelle during the second train chase is marvelous; sweetness and patience in struggle with exasperation at her ill-concieved efforts to help.

This is on my mind since Scott's post today that had me reading the internet's silliest source of right-wing Stalinist film criticism (This dimwit actually thought "welcome to the suck" on a Jarhead poster was left-wing Hollywood trying to tell us the Marines suck. You just can't make that shit up.), but man am I glad I don't view aesthetic objects like that. Imagine watching a brilliant comedy like this and finding it necessary to furrow your brow and blather on about "Keaton's disturbing pro-Confederacy message." What a miserable existence.


Harry Potter 4

This was at least six weeks ago. I remember very little. It seemed better than the first two but not by much. Clunky pacing, again. Everything else was set aside for the extended sequence on the big dance, rather than integrating several distinct (but thematically related) storylines. Or so I seem to recall.



King Kong

1933, Cooper/Schoedsack

DVD, a few weeks ago

2005, Peter Jackson

Neptune, a few days ago

1933: 9
2005: 6

Peter Jackson's got a hell of a filmmaking machine down there in NZ. I think this movie might have been better had his budget and special effects skills been a bit less. The middle section of the film involved him doing things because he can and not because he should. The spiders, running along the shattering cliff, the running of the brontosauri, etc--neither nor effective. One of the great things about the fight between Kong and the T-Rex in the original is that they seemed quite evenly matched and (if you suspend your disbelief) you feel like you don't know who's going to win. In Jackson's version there are about six T-rex's. It's jaw-dropping technically, but that doesn't make it great filmmaking.

I *did* like that Jackson used the available technology to create a reciprical emotional bond between Ann and Kong. And, he rewrote the NY stuff to fit nicely with this development. I deeply love Jack Black the comic actor, but he's not up to this role. Naomi Watts, on the other hand, really is. Brody is fine, but the role isn't challenging for him. While they deliberately show how hokey the 1933 version of the Driscoll/Darrow romance was when they film the scene of it, the 2005 romance is just as hokey by modern standards, but that's OK because it's just not that important. (My major complaint plot-wise was the goofy Hayes/stowaway thing. Not a netism I use often, but...WTF?)

I wouldn't recommend missing this in a theatre, and for a three hour movie that, I think everyone can agree, desperately needed an editor, there was never really a time I was bored. Just frustrated. Jackson's a smart filmmaker, and he makes a number of smart choices in this film. Unfortunately those choices don't extend to the realm of special effects (and Jack Black).

I might not have been this critical had I not just screened the original.

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