Barbenheimer and friends


What a delightful month for movies this was! Plenty of Buster Keaton, the biggest theater moment in ages, a second helping of some fresh Wes Anderson, some old favorites (some in new packaging) and more more more!

Join me, will you? And, as always, I'd love to hear your opinions as well. Let's roll that film!


Sherlock Jr. (1924)

The 6yrold has become quite the Buster fan. We've watched most of the short ones and some of the features. She chose this one on her own after watching "The Boat."

A lot can be said about this wonder of comedy, but I just want the mention that the portion of the dream sequence where Buster's fighting the ever-changing environment is, sure, a great sequence, but also it's a bit of pure surrealism; I'd love to know how it was seen at the moment it came out, both by the general public and by self-styled Surrealists. The info must be out there. I . . . guess I should look.

Anyway, the extended dream sequence allows for a lot of gags that he generally didn't allow in the features, so it's almost a hybrid of the two-reelers and the features. Which is, obviously, awesome.

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Asteroid City (2023)

Just got back from my second viewing. This audience laughed much more so no need to shush me (but I was there with son, not wife, anyway) but I actually laughed less. Not because it was less funny but because I was deeper in the weeds of thinking it through as it was happening. I'm at a point now where, if I had the film in front of me, ready to quote, I'm ready to start writing, to figure out what I think it's all about.

One point—or family of points, rather—is that the film captures the act of creating a work of art. How much do you explicitly explain within the art? How much do you leave to the audience? What is the artist's responsibility to himself, his crew, his consumer? It's no accident the playwright dies. The author has always been dead.

Anyway, I have other ideas if you wanna chat. I'm around.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

I don't know what all the whiners are complaining about. This is a great movie! It's so much fun. I'll grant it pushes the action scenes as hard as it can but, in 1981, the critics complaining? This is what they complained about.

The only time (I could find) that I conversed about the film on Twitter, people hadn't gone back to watch it. I saw it at the (much lamented) California in Berkeley and enjoyed myself. But I never went back to cement my own impressions so I was swayed by the general opinion which calcified negative. Frankly, I think they're wrong. Maybe the fridge would have turned him to jelly, maybe the ants are an exagerration of real ants (barely) and maybe the monkey scene is silly, but come one. It's a movie, people! And of course Indy survives everything! He's the human version of this dimension's Planet Earth!

Plus, it learned the lesson of Indy 3 and engaged in familial relationships. I wouldn't say they are as successful in the previous film but they are starting from scratch in one case and with a long gap in the other. But there's nothing like danger and age to bring things into focus. It works fine. Haters gonna hate.

I was reading recently about Jim Carrey's take on the Dumb and Dumber sequel:
There’s no putting the mask back on. The closest I ever came to putting the mask back on and reacting to what the audience thought they wanted was Dumb and Dumber To, and I think we did great stuff in Dumb and Dumber To. It was super fun being with Jeff [Daniels] again. But it proved to me that the collective ego doesn’t know what it really wants . . . They’re saying for years, ‘Dude, Dumb and Dumber 2—where’s Dumb and Dumber 2?’ And then you did it, and it was good, and they go, ‘Oh, O.K. Well, all we really wanted was for you to do it,’ to show that we had the power to do that.
He's talking about you, people who have made the last two Indy films disappoint at the box office. I hope you're happy with yourselves.

Related: The little I know about Indy 5 makes me think it ignores Indy 4 which . . . I'm not pleased about.

Still excited to see it though.

Go West (1925)

Brilliant. Makes you realize that a lot of the Western tropes were already tired before the sound era even began—else how could he be making fun of them? There's also a great metajoke where Buster is told at gunpoint to smile. What will happen if he does???

I wouldn't call it my favorite, but I think I am in desperate love with this variation on getting the girl at the end.

We laughed all the way through. And that's what matters, right?

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Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023)

What is wrong with you people. Why is not a huge hit? It's terrific! I'm not going to directly spoil things in the following paragraphs but I'm not going to hesitate to indirectly spoil them. So you've been warned. Second warning: expect no organization from these thoughts.

First, I'm glad that the film didn't disregard Indy 4 as I'd feared. In fact, it embraced it in a lot of ways. Though you have to wonder if Disney is out out out of the Shia LaBeouf business. But, at 71, Karen Allen is still a beautiful woman. She looks old, sure, but she's lovely.

One of the things that bugs me is I've heard some online discourse about how Phoebe Waller-Bridge's character is a quirky gal with no action competence who has to be rescued in constant and antifeminist ways. What? Are you kidding? That's nonsense. What movie did those people watch?

The de-aged Indy scenes are vastly better than what we saw back in Rogue One but it still didn't work at every angle. The more Indy moved, the more likely it was to trigger my uncanniness alarm. They're getting close but they ain't there yet.

Every return was welcome—even characters we don't remember from other movies. Antonio Banderas (whom I was not expecting) fit in great. Although he was just one of what felt like an unusually high body count, both of redshirts and slightly larger characters.

Although I see what they were up to thematically, a better movie exists where Karen Allen plays a much bigger role.

(And where they didn't feel the need for a huge body count. The CIA agent and the Spanish sailers? Really? You didn't really earn the emotions you aimed for. The emotion we feel is betrayal.)

Hafta say: Indy's bones must be in great shape for a man his age. Good for him.

I like that the movies have been trying new things with these late additions, and I feel they work well. I call this movie a win. In my final rankings:
Top tier: 3
Second tier: 1, 4, 5
Third tier: 2

our dvd
Singin' in the Rain (1952)

I was just thinking as we were watching it this time how Jean Hagen is absolutely brilliant as Lina Lamont. Brilliant! I was thinking she deserved an Oscar so I looked it up and she was nominated (rightly so) but lost to a melodrama (some things never change). The craziest thing about looking it up though was to discover hers was one of only two (two!) nods the film got (the other was Best Scoring of a Musical Picture—which it also lost). That is wild. The only movie among the Best Picture nominees I've seen is High Noon which is excellent—and lost to what's often considered one of the worst movies to ever win Best Picture.

Anyway, back to Jean Hagen, not only is she hilarious, but her hilarity has layers. She's not a simple dumb broad—there's a lot going on behind her forehead! Plus, she did the actual rerecording of The Dueling Cavalier's "Kathy Seldon-voiced" dialogue and songs. She makes the movie work. I mean, don't get me wrong, the three leads and the deeper supporting cast are also great, but the film needs a villain and Lina Lamont, whether accidentally or intentionally, provides that fuel.

Anyway. One of my all-time favorites.

Oh! I also noticed that the moment when the dialect coach catches Cosmo mimicking him? They use a Jackie Chan cut! I've never noticed that before! That's how well they did it!

Freaking masterpiece.

(UPDATE: Jean Hagen does the speaking vocals for The Dueling Cavalier but the singing was done by none other than famous unfamous person Betty Noyes.)

library dvd
News of the World (2020)

When I think "Paul Greengrass" I think shakycam action movies. I think Dramamine. The trailer for this movie certainly led me to expect an action-packed western. Instead, this film is mostly quiet and meditative. The action scenes are mere savor. The movie's paced more like something sold as an art film. It's a good movie, make no mistake, but it's not the edit the trailer promised. Shoulda been twenty minutes shorter and tight-tight-tighter.

(It was weird the occasional moments of cg. The cg vistas were solid, but the moments of things shifting in and out of cg? Hm.)

But it worked for me.

Especially the last couple scenes where we get our first h**** and s*****, the emotions really sing.

library dvd
Free and Easy (1930)

After Singin' in the Rain I suggested to the little girl that we next watch Buster's first talkie and she was for it and so we did. Now look: I know all of Buster's MBM talkies made money and I know this is considered one of the better ones but . . . it's a mediocre movie. It has very little internal coherency (Buster's character goes from an idiot who can't get one line right to a comic genius who can do complicated routines and choreography, for instance) and the film-within-the-film takes a sizeable percentage of the run time. There are some terrific moments but no full scene is terrific. The whole thing's sort of confused. The editing is bad. A few shots desperately needed another take. The dialogue isn't great; even when it is comedic, it really needed another draft. The framing often didn't emphasize the comedy. The film-within-the-film had the most creative elements but that film doubled the incoherency of the frame (though at least the film is aware of it, in that case).

But, all that said, the movie's denouement was excellent. A fabulous extended shot of the sad clown without any commentary. That, at least, they nailed.

library dvd
So Funny It Hurt: Buster Keaton & MGM (2004)

Nothing here I didn't really now, but it's a great primer for anyone who doesn't know the strange, sad story of Buster Keaton's meaningless successes and great falls while a player at MGM. It's hard to think about this era and how many wondrous movies might have been made if only the suits had trusted him to make his own films.

Sure, it's possible the drinking might still have gotten in the way, but we'll never know, will we?

It's also nice to see some of those Great Scenes that appeared in some of his dumb movies. I think I'd like to see Doughboys now, for instance.

library dvd
Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022)

Gotta love it when a movie you just can't have high expectation of lives up to its hype. I freaking loved this movie. I loved the clumps of characters both individually and in interaction. I watched it on too small a screen to fully appreciate the fun they were having with the animation but I can say that mixing styles can be used, for instance, in making action scenes easier to read. Hyperreal in every frame can be counterproductive and get in the way of what animation is good at.

The voice work was excellent, but I do want to particularly shoutout Goldi and the Three Bears as notably good.

And I loved the way the magic worked in this movie. Not a lot of time was lost explaining things but there was coherency in the worldbuilding. The Shreklike nonsense was grounded with a depth of feeling and logic that held the thing together in a way I don't remember from previous movies in the series. Or at least, you know, of the ones I've seen.

Anyway, very cool!

UPDATE: Watching the bonus features, when they got to the bit about the voice acting for the Bear family, even that made me cry. That's how much those four got under my skin.

Link+ dvd
Teachers (1984)

I saw a couple clips from this film in an accreditaion class back in 2007 and they've stuck with me enough that I finally had to watch the movie. Unfortunately, it streams nowhere and not many places carry the dvd. The one library that would ship it to mine? It'c sopy was pretty battered. It crashed VLC over and over and over again. A few minutes here and there we had to skip, keeping up through a crappy copy of the script.

Anyway, the movie's fine. It's a melodrama that maybe should've let the satire drive. But the cast is good and the script it okay (it has issues with the passage of time). It takes place in the '80s when teachers definitely still did things like smoke and talk about students' asses, but I don't know if schools were really like this. Like I said: it could've been stronger if more purely a satire. The satirical moments are the best parts of the movie. And the MESSAGE of the melodrama is pretty shallow. "Schools are for kids"? That's your big insight?

Anyway, glad I finally saw it. I'll fondly remember Ditto (who is what made this sixteen-years-late viewing happen) and the rest will slip away. But if you want to see a young Laura Dern AND a young Crispin Glover AND another version of 1984 Ralph Macchio, this'll do it for you.

Incidentally, Siskel and Ebert agree with my take but arrive at the opposite solution.

Great poster, though!

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Mission: Impossible — Dead Reckoning, Part One (2023)

It's macguffins all the way down!

Don't get me wrong—this is an intensely fun, exceedingly well made movie. An intensely fun, exceedingly well made, deeply silly movie. That fridges a woman. Just to piss me off, presumably.

One thing I find interesting is, given how humorless it tends, how it's diving into the comedy toolbox, from dropping a piano to that old standby, ripping off Buster Keaton. I mean, I did laugh in astonishment, sure. And speaking of astonishing, I'm almost glad I didn't see it in IMAX because I probably would have falled out of my seat when he went off the cliff. Even though I've seen it in a dozen ads, it was vertigo-enducing.

I love the first movie and I've seen all the others once and liked them all except #2. But they are all kind of the same thing only more amazing. So I'll keep watching them. But please don't expect me to remember these silly silly plots. (That reminds me: the film's technobabble also made me laugh. It was . . . intense. And it's always dangerous to have an invincible enemy. Good thing it's impossible to know what invincibility means in this movie!)

library dvd
Invention for Destruction (1958)

Amazing, astonishing film. Woodcuts come to life. Hilarious details and sufficient story to carry us a long. But even if the story were poor, 80 minutes of this is hardly enough. (Click on the film's date to visit IMDb and check out the included images, from amazing posters to stills from the film. But while those stills with astonish, there nothing compared to this world when it moves.

I've seen stuff like this from filmmakers like Terry Gilliam and Wes Anderson or in strange shorts, but I've never seen a feature so fully adopt this aesthetic. And it's incredible. Like a lovely old book coming to life.

It's a couple years younger than the color feature of his I've watched before, but the beginnings, the explicit references to Jules Verne, are strikingly similar. The man loved Jules Verne and I can't imagine a better filmic rendering than this one here.

Wish I could remember how I first heard of it....

library dvd
King Lavra (1950)

I wish this had been more fully restored. Many of the scenes were so dark as to be difficult to read. But then again, would it be worth it? It's midcentury-doll animation and wordless (as is popular in animation, in part to ease internationality, but here it makes the story moreobscure than it needs to be), but it does pack a lot (a lot!) of story into it's short runtime. We see multiple executions, we get some comedic donkeys, etc. The themes of the film are kinda tough to parse, there at the end, but whatever.

I'm more charmed by Karel Zeman's longer works, thus far.

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Barbie (2023)

I didn't realize I was wearing a pink shirt until we were approaching the box office, my wife in a pink cardigan. So I guess we dressed up!

Anyway, loved it. And I'm certain it's a movie that'll be better on the second viewing. I even know which parts I'll like better next time because I've seen enough movies to know myself.

After the movie premiered Thursday night, the internet came alive with buzz about Ryan Gosling's terrific, comedic, Oscar-worthy performance. And he's good, sure, but this is Margot Robbie's movie through and through and she owns it. It's kind of an impossible task she's been given, but she rises to the occasion and carrying this existential absurdity on her shoulders. The other performances are great, but what makes it anything other than a camp corporate joke is Robbie's performance.

This is not to take away from Greta Gerwig who is my absolute favorite. Her writing is terrific (and she makes her husband a better writer, imo) and her direction is solid, and those seem to be her true loves. Which is graet for the state of cinema but, dang it, she's a brilliant actor two and I miss her on the screen.

Back to Barbie—the movie contained everything the trailers and interviews promised us, but it did not always present them in the context expected. And the sum of their parts (and all the other parts) was not what I anticipated. I came in anticipating a lot (#gretagerwig) but what the film did was shuffle my expectations and deal me an entirely new future.

The point is: go see it. It's hilarious and I cried at weird things and it has things to say that need to be said and it can be explicit and nonpreachy all at once.

It's a good movie.

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Oppenheimer (2023)

I know I've already complained about my IMAX experience, but don't let that color your opinion of the movie itself. I'll be trying not to as I write.

Because it's a good movie. It's three hours long but doesn't feel long. And the credits are short because there's no CGI!

What Oppenheimer is however, is superduper Chris Nolan. It plays with time, for instance, with its two point of views (one color, one black and white) and with sounds and images from one moment appearing elsewhere.

Incidentally, I think this is why the sex scene is as explicit as it is. By having it recur at another place and time, I think the script is trying to make Mrs Oppenheimer as important as Mr Oppenheimer. It fails, but that's my best guess. Otherwise, it's just a one off; all the other examples are related to The Bomb. So my other guess, and this is even a bigger miss if it was the goal, was to align our old buddies sex and death. If so, woof.

I'm having a hard time writing about what was a very good movie without detouring into everything that's wrong with it because, first, it is a very good movie and, second, there are things wrong with it.

As sometimes happens, this new good movie has crashed the IMDb's top 250 list as everyone brings their enthusiasm to the ratings party:
I question its worthiness. It's a good movie. But I'm not sure we're always going to think it's great. I expect a backlash as people realize its flaws (and that those flaws are largely due to Christopher Nolan doing Christopher Nolan things). And then we'll get over the backlash and we'll see how good it actually is. The question to me is with the backlash arrive in time to prevent it from winning Best Picture?

I'm not a voter so that doesn't matter to me. It's a good movie and it's selling a lot of tickets which is good for cinema. I look forward to watching it again at home with the subtitles (see that anti-IMAX post from earlier). There were several moments I genuinely loved. There were some things that were a bit too clever or fingerpointy (we know who Kennedy is; and if we hadn't, his full name would not have helped). The acting was stellar and the casting worked (though I'm not sure everyone had to be famous). I'm a bit mystified to learn some people are calling this a horror movie or that it is giving them bomb-related nightmares. My guess is these are very young people who did not realize what world we're living in? I don't know. But if so, good. People should be worried. We can never stop worrying. That's the choice they made for us.

I should, before stopping, say a tad more about what I mean by "Christopher Nolan doing Christopher Nolan things." For instance, almost everything says in justification gets repeated to him. The tight parallelism between his and Oppenheimer's experiences is great and all, but it's so tightly aligned that the structure is at constant risk of becoming the point of the movie. And there are lots of things like that. Things that must have felt so good on the page, but turn the movie more into a wondrous watch than a turning of souls. And that's why, although it is very good craftsmanship, I'm not sure it's a great movie.

I am, as always, open to being argued with.

Prime Video
Jim Gaffigan: Dark Pale (2023)

Fun show! The fact that magats are losig their minds over it is mindboggling. Imagine taking yourself so seriously.

My wife laughed most and hardest, but the boys laughed too. It's an equal-opportunity jokefest.

The ending felt abrupt, but I guess we can get over that.

Previous films watched










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