If I were a magician there’s a lot of things I would make appear out of my hat before I’d even think of a rabbit!
Another week with a lot of movies and a lot of my ramblings,
The Big Snit (1986, Richard Condie, Canada) **1/2
The crude animation matches the off the wall humor, but it still troubled me. The off the wall humor wasn’t always funny either, it was far too often just stupid. I liked the theme of the insulation of humanity and how we have so cut ourselves off from the outside world that the next logical step is to cut ourselves off from those within our homes. The theme can’t make up for the crudeness of the animation and characters who are so off the wall that they do come across as dumb, in an unfunny way, at times.
Clock Cleaners (1937, Ben Sharpsteen, United States Of America) ***
The animation is top notch and there’s a lot of fun to be had with Clock Cleaners. It’s something I’ve said before, but any time that Donald Duck, Goofy, and Mickey Mouse are on screen together I tend to have a good time. That doesn’t mean that the adventures of said trio are always of the highest quality. The way Clock Cleaners separates the three leads into three distinct stories is problematic and creates a disjointed feel to the film. Clock Cleaners is fun, there are some good sight gags, and the time spent with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy is enjoyable, but it would have been even more enjoyable with a more cohesive story.
The Return Of Jafar (1994, Toby Shelton, Tad Stones, & Alan Zaslove, United States Of America) **
All the characters from Aladdin, none of the charm. The animation is pretty rough as well. It’s professionally done mind you, but it’s unfinished or sloppily done in too many moments. The story is rote, it goes from point A to point Z with nary a moment of imagination or creativity. I was bored the entire time I was watching The Return Of Jafar, and that should never be the case in a film that features dueling magic genies and a talking parrot.
Presto (2008, Doug Sweetland, United States Of America) ****
Not truly a silent, but a film that gets what can make silent comedy special. The animation is splendid to watch, and the interactions of Presto DiGiotagione and Alec Azam hearken back to what made the Looney Tunes shorts from their golden era so special. Presto is a simple comedy, but it’s a very funny comedy. It is witty without having to use words, and it is the type of slapstick comedy that I love. And that animation, man that animation sure is a pleasure to watch.
BURN-E (2008, Angus MacLane, United States Of America) ***1/2
A very enjoyable short that plays off of events that transpire during WALL-E. On the one hand that is the one drawback of the short as it feels padded out by the inclusion of some sequences from Pixar’s 2008 feature, even if I understand why those sequences were included. Padding aside, BURN-E is a fun film about dogged determination that adds in a healthy dose of slapstick and bad luck. I laughed a lot during BURN-E, and that is what I think the short was mainly aiming for, so my hats off to Angus MacLane for yet another fine short film.
Les Invasions Barbares (The Barbarian Invasions, 2003, Denys Arcand, Canada/France) ***1/2
I was enthralled by the structure of Les Invasions Barbares. The director, Denys Arcand, trusts his cast and thus he allows them the freedom to allow glimpses of their inner conflicts. Les Invasions Barbares is a series of small moments, with each moment providing a window into the essence of the characters. The performances are uniformly good, with Rémy Girard and Marie-Josée Croze standing out a bit more than the rest. Good though they may be, the performances would not be as impressive without the structure and form that Monsieur Arcand uses to tell his story.
Doragon Bôru: Makafushigi Dai Bôken (Dragon Ball: Mystical Adventure, 1988, Daisuke Nishio, Japan) ***
It’s incredibly stupid, and the characters are not well thought out or well rounded. The story has holes like a piece of Swiss cheese and makes as much sense as geometry does to a two year old. I get all of that, but I have always had a soft spot for the Doragon Bôru universe. Doragon Bôru: Makafushigi Dai Bôken is no different. It’s silly and absurd, but it’s pretty cool and I dig the nerdy simplicity of the characters. The battles are cool, although not top flight Doragon Bôru, the humor is dumb fun, and I have good time with these stupid characters and this silly world.
Trucker (2008, James Mottern, United States Of America) **
Trucker is similar to the trucker hat craze that cropped up a few years back. It may wear the hat and try to act like a trucker, but it’s not really a trucker. I give Michelle Monaghan all the credit in the world for trying, but there isn’t much she can do surrounded by empty characters and being fed lines from an empty script. Their are a few scenes in Trucker that try for some sort of emotional depth. But in each of those scenes the inability to start the rig and head on out is all too evident because James Mottern hasn’t given me a reason to care about these characters. At its best Trucker is a typical yearning indie, and at its worst it’s a poser all dressed up in a trucker hat with nowhere to go.
17 Again (2009, Burr Steers, United States Of America) ***
The idea behind 17 Again has been done numerous times, and with varying results. It does not surprise me to say that a version of that often used time travel/body switch story with Thomas Lennon, Zac Efron, and Matthew Perry in the cast is one of the better versions. Mr. Lennon is his usual comedic mastermind self, not afraid to play the idiot and physically emasculate himself in the service of making me laugh. Mr. Perry isn’t on screen as much as his two cohorts, but when he is on screen he shows the sense of comedic timing that made him easily the best cast member on Friends. Mr. Efron continues to show charm that is dangerously infectious. I was most impressed by his ability to combine his natural charming personality with the idiosyncratic ticks of Mr. Perry. Don’t get me wrong, 17 Again is by no means a great film, but it’s a fun time with lively performances and some genuine laughs.
Northwest Hounded Police (1946, Tex Avery, United States Of America) ***1/2
Like the best of the Looney Tunes shorts, Northwest Hounded Police tosses out any notion of physics or logical thinking in deference to slapstick comedy. Droopy is such a passively cool character, there’s never an ounce of emotion to be found in his laconic voice. The escaped convict he is chasing is so, pardon the pun, dogged in his determination to stay away from Droopy that he does all the work for Droopy. There are plenty of instances of Tex Avery’s wonderful visual eye, and I laughed from start to finish, that’s a quality short.
The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones, United States Of America) ***1/2
I love when Daffy Duck goes meta, there’s something about that duck realizing the nature of his existence that always gets to me. The humor is still slapstick, but at the same time Chuck Jones manages to direct the humor so that it is also beyond slapstick. The pitiful nature of Daffy’s pleas to be taken more seriously, which of course result in his version of being taken seriously where he is just as slapstick as ever, create a very interesting story. Having Sylvester be Daffy’s nemesis is another stroke of brilliance, because it ensures plenty of fun with the dialogue. The Scarlet Pumpernickel may not be thought of as top tier Chuck Jones, but it’s certainly one of the best Daffy Duck shorts I’ve seen.
Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan (2006, Larry Charles, United States Of America) ***1/2
That I think so highly of Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan really shouldn’t surprise me as much as it does. Yet I’m still somewhat surprised that Sacha Baron Cohen was able to stretch out such a simple joke to an hour and twenty minutes of near consistent laughter. There are times when Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan is so stupid that it’s not funny or thought provoking, most of those moments being when Borat the character is interacting with others and we laugh at their reactions to his absurdity. Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan is a comedy of reaction to absurdity, and when it’s clear that Mr. Cohen is with other actors and thus there are no reactions the film loses its strength. I laughed a lot, sometimes when I didn’t think I should be laughing, and that makes Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan a comedy I highly enjoyed.
The Cat Came Back (1988, Cordell Barker, Canada) **1/2
The slapstick comedy is quite appealing, the crude animation not so much. The Cat Came Back is a simple case of a certain visual aesthetic not working for me. I enjoyed the comedy well enough, and I found myself chuckling throughout the short. Be that as it may I could not get past the crudeness of the animated style. The Cat Came Back isn’t making a statement with its animated style, I don’t think, it’s just a choice to go with a style that others like but I do not. Some laughs, some cuteness, but some ugliness as well.
Doragon Bôru Z: Tatta Hitori No Saishuu Kessen – Furiiza Ni Itonda Z Senshi Kakarotto No Chichi (Dragon Ball Z: Bardock – The Father Of Goku, 1990, Mitsuo Hashimoto, Japan) ***
I know I’m repeating myself, but Doragon Bôru Z: Tatta Hitori No Saishuu Kessen – Furiiza Ni Itonda Z Senshi Kakarotto No Chichi is a great example of the cheesy no frills fun that can be had in the Doragon Bôru universe. There’s power levels, inanely unrealistic martial arts, people surviving the equivalent of atomic bombs hitting them in the chest, and very weird looking aliens. There’s also a lot of grunting, nearly every spoken word is in the service of exposition, and the story does not concern itself with making sense. Add all of that up and the result is the cheesy goodness that is Doragon Bôru Z: Tatta Hitori No Saishuu Kessen – Furiiza Ni Itonda Z Senshi Kakarotto No Chichi.
A lot of well made movies this week, a lot of great movies this week, a lot of movies I highly enjoyed this week. Still, there’s a simple pleasure to watching Presto that none of the others quite reach. Presto takes home the movie of the week honors this time out. Until next week, watch more movies!