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Fun but slight 50s farce
Rarely seen (though that's soon to change we're told thanks to a BFI DVD release in June) Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary? is a fun, breezy comedy which sees some cracking performances delivered with a palpable energy.
Admittedly seen 50 plus years on what was no doubt a very funny entertainment for its week (this was my parents childhood time when, as they delight in telling me, only one or two people on the street had a TV and they went to the cinema every week) but today it does seem slight. There's little to the story with any sense of reality going out the window early on. Not that you don't expect a farce to be ridiculous, that's the point, but when done really well they can tread the fine line between the credible and the ridiculous. I think this one goes past it by the end. It says something that probably 10-20 minutes before the end i was starting to think "this is going on a bit" - when it's only an 80 minute film.
Okay, so it's no classic but there's lots to enjoy here. Although David Tomlinson (probably best known to modern audiences as the father in Mary Poppins and for other Disney roles in films like Bedknobs & Broomsticks and The Love Bug) and Diana Dors get top billing the film belongs to the frantic antics (and shameless mugging) of Bonar Colleano. He's a hoot as the American serviceman who finds he may inadvertently be a bigamist and has to juggle both wives in adjacent rooms of a hotel suite. I didn't know Colleano before this movie but as he died in a car accident at the early age of 34 he was perhaps cut off too early to have made the lasting impression on film that his performance here makes me think he could have.
Diana Dors is dynamite on screen and the comparisons to Marilyn stand up. The camera loves her and she knows how to use it, but while many would be distracted by the image if you pay attention you can really see a talented performer beyond it. I know a lot of people that peg Marilyn as just a pretty face (and dynamite body of course) but you watch her in films like Seven Year Itch, Don't Bother To Knock (a fascinating performance) etc and you see a genuinely talented performer. I haven't seen enough Dors to qualify it but the way she uses her persona and profile here suggest more than just the image she's remembered for.
Tomlinson plays the befuddled, bumbling British gentleman with aplomb as usual - though you never really believe the relationship angle to his storyline. Sid James takes some getting used to as an American serviceman for those of us used to his Carrying On but he is great and very funny, especially in his scenes with the delightful Audrey Freeman.
Is Your Honeymoon Really Necessary? may not stand up as a classic but it doesn't need to. It does stand up as a fun, playful little story with a good cast giving it their all. Well worth a watch.
The whole is not the sum of the parts - at least not on a single viewing
Like so many of Terry Gilliam's films The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus is one that is going to need multiple viewings to truly form an opinion on. Like Brazil, Adventures Of Baron Munchausen, Fisher King, Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas and Tideland (even Time Bandits really) there is so much going on here that expectations or reputations get in the way and make it hard to digest and appreciate on a single viewing. No bad thing necessarily.
Of course Parnassus has the particularly insurmountable problem of being the late Heath Ledger's final performance and following on from his superb, Oscar-winning turn in The Dark Knight. It is impossible to see the film through eyes that don't see it as the film he died making. Some parts of the film may perhaps work even better than they may of done had he lived some of the best films are triumphs over adversity and adverse conditions don't come much greater than your star dying mid-shoot. But whatever works and doesn't in the film it is hard impossible on a first viewing to divorce yourself from the knowledge you bring into the theatre.
On first feeling Parnassus seems patchy, and curiously it feels like a film that may not have worked as well as it does had nothing happened to Ledger. Don't get me wrong I'd rather have a Gilliam failure and Ledger still alive to put it behind him and move on than a wonderful film that is largely the result of his tragic death. But we don't have that so I'm just looking at what's there.
The fact is the film is at it's best when galloping around the fantastical worlds of the Imaginarium, with Ledger's character Tony now played by Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell. Depp and Farrell are particularly good and imbue the film with an energy lacking in much of it.
The casting generally is good. Christopher Plummer is steadfast excellence as always. Lily Cole is a surprisingly strong choice. I've never understood the viewpoint of Cole as "sooooooo beautiful" that the gossip sheets and magazines espouse but she has a quirky intrigue that works wonders in a Gilliam world and proves herself as an actress amongst a proved group of impressive performers. Hers is probably the best debut performance I can recall of a model or singer turning to acting. She puts a lot of professional actresses (no Keiras named!) to shame.
Andrew Garfield is that intriguing mix of annoying and brilliant. Like DiCaprio in What's Eating Gilbert Grape? I started out thinking he was terrible and then grew to realise it was just that I hated him, his character. He annoyed the hell out of me. In another words he had inhabited the character so fully, so convincingly that my negative feelings toward him where directed at the fictional character. A superb performance.
Tom Waits steals moments constantly. Waits hasn't been given such a juicy role that fit him better since Renfield in Coppola's Dracula and he revels as Dr Nick (the devil) here.
Oddly the performance that, again I specify on first viewing, leaves you a bit underwhelmed is Ledgers. It is not a bad performance but the expectations as you go in, knowing it was his last performance, means you expect something special. Brokeback Mountain/Dark Knight special. But of course not every role is as powerful as his in Brokeback or as scene-stealing as the Joker. I mean he didn't know it was his last performance for crying out loud. Therefore it cannot possibly live up to expectations and is destined to underwhelm until multiple viewings and some distance allow it to be judged fairly. That there was such a fully formed character there that three other actors could step in to play alternate universe versions of it entirely convincingly is arguably a testament to how strong a performance Ledger did give. It is not a likable character or a flashy character (it doesn't even really seem the main character until the alternate worlds with the alternate Tonys come in) and so Ledger's understated subtleties are easy to miss.
When you watch Fisher King the first time you remember Robin Williams, not Jeff Bridges. In Twelve Monkeys it's Brad Pitt that comes away with you not Bruce Willis. And yet on further viewings Bridges' performance seems superb, Willis' perhaps the best of his career. I suspect on repeated viewings I'm going to see the strength of Ledger's performance better. I hope so.
And of course this is a problem much of the film has. Gilliam doesn't make simple, overly explained films for the masses thank Gilliam you have to work with them. The problem here is that with your mind distracted with thoughts of Ledger and expectations built on that promise of Gilliam at his creative best, three step-in performances and Ledger's final performance it's hard to get your mind around the story and enjoy it as a piece of work.
Sometimes Gilliam films work, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they get better and better on repeat viewings (Brazil); sometimes they work instantly (Twelve Monkeys); sometimes they seem to work but the more you see them or think about them they crumble and ultimately don't (Brothers Grimm). Sometimes they just seem to be a mix of great ideas, wonderful performances and ingenious set pieces but hampered by an overabundance of theatricality and almost too much going on for its own good (Baron Munchausen). On a first viewing Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus feels like this latter. Bits work, bits don't. It's enjoyable in places but perplexing ultimately.
I will definitely revisit it though to see if changes on repeat viewings. I feel sure it will, but whether that's a good or bad thing, well, I'll have to wait and see.
Fame (2009), or how to make a film devoid of any drama in 3 easy steps!
There was a great line in Edward Porter's review of the new Fame in the UK Sunday Times newspaper that said something along the lines of "Remember their names? I can barely remember their faces!" This essential sums up all that is wrong with the new Fame movie. There is nothing memorable about it.
You would think that when making a film about a group of dramatic arts and music students you would seek out the most talented unknowns out their. There must be dozens of them surely. Which makes you wonder how on Earth they finished up with this bunch of no-hopers! There is only one kid with any discernible talent, the pianist-turned-singer who has a teen Jennifer Hudson vibe, amongst the young cast. The rest is filled with lousy singers, uninspired dancers and wooden actors.
It does serve to make the underused teaching staff (Kelsey Grammar, Megan Mullahy, Bebe Neuwirth, Charles S Dutton) stand out more but I doubt that was an intention. In fact the script and direction goes out of its way to underserve these actors. Mullahy is given a terrible song to sing at a karaoke bar which does nothing to serve her natural singing talent, serving instead to make her sound shrill. It does perhaps show why her character did not make it as a successful singer and is just a teacher but that would be giving the director far too much credit I suspect and, besides, just not explain the awed gawping of the students. Grammar crops up in this scene out of nowhere making you think he was maybe just shoved in to give him more screen time. While Dutton has an hilarious storyline where one "troubled" student is telling a story and, in the timeline of the movie, it takes Dutton 2 years to ask the logical response question. What have these guys been doing for 2 years?! And that brings me to the script which has two huge problems. The first is the timeline. The film follows the students over 3 years at the school, but does so so swiftly that it allows no time for growth. Most of the scenes follow in an ordered logic that would work just as well in a film that spanned a single week as 3 whole years. There is no growth. From one year to the next none of the characters appear to have developed, to have learnt a single thing. Those that are morose and troubled in year one are the same in year three. Naïve on day one? Yup, naïve on graduation. And this equally serves to kill any possible chance of rooting for a character to succeed. You don't see characters getting better. Suddenly you are just jumped to another year and lo and behold someone quitting because they have an acting or dancing gig and you not only wonder "how did that happen?" but "who is that anyway?" The script does such a poor job of setting the characters up that often a characters "big moment" seems to be their only moment, leaving the audience shrugging and looking at their watches.
The other problem is the phenomenal lack of tension and drama. There seriously is none. It appears to be a phenomenon in Hollywood films I'm noticing more and more that they are so determined to hit all bases and offend absolutely no one that there is an almost comical lack of drama. The recent "thriller" Obsessed was this way. It had zero thrills. Fame is the same and hint as possible drama through unhappy parents or disappointments is so instantly resolved that no tension had built. A scene with one character possibly suicidal I was audibly rooting for the guy to kill himself just to give the film some sort of drama, an element of edge, a moment of guts, but no. Nothing. The closest thing you get to anticipation watching Fame (2009) is hoping it may at some point actually have something to anticipate! This is probably partly the problem with hiring a choreographer to direct the movie. A good director (like the original film's Alan Parker) can hire a good choreographer to help him but I guess a choreographer can't exactly hire another director for advice. This films screams "I have no sense of story and drama" and while much of the blame can clearly be assigned to the script and the awful casting a good director would have seen those problems and, at least casting wise, probably helped avoid or overcome them. The director here is massively out of his depth.
Fame's worst offence though is the truly unrealistic view of the world it portrays. The original went some way to at least suggest the work that such students have to put in, though perhaps in this age of reality TV where any moron can become an instant star this would be an unteachable, untenable lesson. Here any success any of the students have comes seemingly by luck and "right-place right-time" factors or from outside help. The school doesn't seem to have helped them at all. And on top of that none of these students would make it because they are so phenomenally devoid of talent. A cast of talented unknowns with a choreographer director proved what can be done in Disney's High School Musical. Given the potential for revisiting Fame in a modern day setting everyone involved should be ashamed of what they've turned out here.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
Oh dear! A classic case of a good concept in search of a good story
Oh dear! I had high hopes for this Ricky Gervais comedy. He's never proved himself on film, but here he was writing, directing, producing. He had come up with a great, funny concept. This was his chance to shine.
Unfortunately the light at the end of this tunnel is the train coming to run us down.
Like so many "high concept" comedies this is a concept in desperate, futile search of a plot... and some funnier lines.
It's no disaster. There are some funny bits. It starts well (or at least does after a hideously misguided voice-over explanation of the basic plot set-up) but the joke that everyone not only can't lie (lying doesn't exist you see, hence the title - obvious, right? So why the voice over explanation Ricky, why, oh, why!) but volunteers the truth, no matter how harsh, at every occasion quickly wears thin. He gets about 20 minutes out of it and some people handle it better than others. Curiously it is often the straight actors (like Jennifer Garner) that play it better and the comedians (like Tina Fey) who sound too much like they are delivering calculated lines to get a laugh - and therefore don't. I love Fey but every line of hers fell flat for me here while Garner sold the hell out of it. Perhaps it's the less comedic actors lose themselves more in the character and world and aren't trying for the gag, the laugh, just trusting in the script, etc. I don't know but it's noticeable time and again here.
A risky (for some American audiences) plot element involving his inadvertent creation of religion and the spiralling outcome of this is also amusing, but again it's funnier as an idea than in execution. Out-staying its welcome.
There are also some dynamite cameos, including two that had my laughing simply by their presence. A bar tender that joins Gervais and the excellent Louis C.K. in a scene is both funny by presence and in his dynamite delivery. I'm not going to say who plays it because if you're going to watch the film it was one of the highlights for me.
As was another cameo by a usually fairly serious actor (although he has shown a comedic side on occasion) as a traffic cop. Again just his presence is funny from the moment he walks on screen and the voice (cause you won't instantly recognise him) gives him away.
A scene with two Extras regulars is fun but feels out of place in the film, almost playing like an afterthought put in for faithful fans.
Amongst the other leads Garner triumphs, giving it her all and Louis C.K. is very funny, but Jonah Hill is underused and never hits the high notes he achieved in Funny People, while Tina Fey doesn't bring it (and i so wanted her to) and Rob Lowe really fails in an update of his Wayne's World character.
But ultimately this descends into sentiment and lacks resolve or real drama. It often feels like a string of stand-up one-liners extended into plot devices (as there is no lying movies are a guy -nice touch cameo from Christopher Guest as one such - reading a book on camera) that work once but then are repeated over and over, beating the gag into submission. Ideas like the use of lying to make people feel better are similarly used once to affecting and comedic effect but then overplayed.
And before you know it you're bogged down in a film about perception of others and looking beyond the surface that could have been reached by any number of devices, making the lying thing irrelevant!
Like Bruce Almighty the concept can only get the film so far before you notice you have almost no interest in the characters, there is no discernible plot and we're going to descend into sentimentality without passing through palpable drama or achieving any resolve.
Disappointing is the only appropriate word.
Me and Orson Welles (2008)
Orson Welles is alive and well and residing in the body of British actor Christian McKay! McKay is simply stunning here as Welles - the look, the eye-brow, the mannerisms, the bounce, the voice - never have i seen Welles, as a character, better done. Many have tried few have succeeded (although i have a soft spot for Vincent D'Onofrio's Welles-cameo in Ed Wood.
The same can be said in general for Richard Linklater's film in terms of featuring Welles and using the whole "putting on a show" theatrical device. I didn't like Oliver Parker's Fade To Black with Danny Huston hamming Welles. RKO 281 was solid and Tim Robbins' Cradle Will Rock was a noble, if unsatisfyingly drear effort. Aided by McKay's towering achievement, a (mostly) superb supporting cast and a deft lightness Linklater has delivered his best film in years.
To my mind he can be hit (Dazed & Confused, Before Sunrise) and miss (A Scanner Darkly, Fast Food Nation), but this is firmly in the hit category.
Other non-Welles films, such as Kenneth Branagh's In The Bleak Mid-Winter, have failed in their attempts to have fun at "putting on a show" format because they are too in love with moments that have that "you just had to be there" element. Christopher Guest made a go of it in Waiting For Guffman, but then he was mocking the pretensions so many others embrace as part of the scene. Somehow McKay's (as Welles) enormous personality and Linklater's breezy "makes it look so easy" style make you feel like you are there in Me & Orson Welles and it works to great effect - tantalising the viewer with moments and flashes of the play to come without giving it to you until the right time. The 'Me' of the title really becomes the viewer. You are swept along me both filmmaker and Orson (and it really does feel like Orson. After a few moments i never doubted the Linklater had somehow resurrected Welles and saddled him with Zac Efron!) And this brings me the film's one real problem (and surely a marketing nightmare for the distributors!) Now i'm no Efron hater, i haven't seen any of the HSM movies, but he was fine in both Hairspray and 17 Again but here he has to register in a fantastic ensemble of actors and he simply doesn't. Admittedly he is hamstrung a little by the role. Since the story and Linklater's direction make the viewer feel like 'Me' observing Welles as he creates his legendary production of Julius Caesar and the Mercury theatre company it is easy to kind of forget about Efron's Richard, or at least to dismiss him as Welles so often does. He just makes no impression at all. He's not bad he's just not really significant.
This leads to the inevitable problem that as we reach the films final act, once the play is done and Welles is off screen you feel like the movie is over. You've seen everything there is to see here, it is time to move along. But no, because Efron's story is unresolved so we get another 10 minutes of him and his ending. But you simply don't care. Once McKay/Welles had gone off with his supporting cast the movie was over, it just didn't know it! Amongst the supporting cast Claire Danes continues in display as easy charm, effortlessly likable and curiously beautiful in her quirky angular way. Zoe Kazan (last seen in Revolutionary Road) is a delight as the underused other woman in Efron's life (although if she'd been used more it would have meant more Efron, less Welles so maybe that's a blessing in disguise). James Tupper is excellent as Joseph Cotten, a great match for McKay's Welles. If they ever (God forbid) remake The Third Man they have the cast! Ben Chaplin is also marvellous as George Couloris. I'm constantly impressed by Chaplin and have no idea why he isn't a bigger name. Kelly Reilly doesn't have much to do but look gorgeous, which, naturally, she does with ease. Eddie Marsan seems miscast as John Houseman. I like Marsan but he didn't fit the bill for me here.
Ultimately this is McKay's show. He gives an electrifying performance at the center of a movie that while it is about Welles efforts to put on Julius Caesar is a charming, funny and swift-paced joy; but unfortunately it also has to make space for Zac Efron and his own storyline and there-in lie the flaws.
How you market this i don't know! I can't imagine Efron fans getting excited about a film set in the 1930s about the creation of an historic theatrical production staged by a man who's been dead for 25 years! And on the flipside i nearly didn't see it because i dismissed it, on first awareness, as a Zac Efron movie and so not for me. Only on a second invitation did i notice it was directed by Linklater (always interesting, if not always successful) which charged my want to see it.
Ultimately though if you want to see it because you're an Efron fan, well go see it because your guy's in it and because you'll get to see something a bit different from what you're used it. And maybe you'll like it. If you're not an Efron fan, never fear, you can all but forget he's there and just enjoy Linklater at his breezy best and the best performance of Welles on screen since the great man departed this earth (and took possession of McKay!)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Great fun, a real surprise
It just goes to show how wrong you can be. I had not expected to like this film. I was disappointed by both the Kill Bill films (although i preferred the second) and Death Proof (although it was better in the shorter cut of the double-bill release). I love Reservoir Dogs, admire Pulp Fiction and think that Jackie Brown is Tarantino's most mature piece of film-making - technically his most superior - including the last great performance elicited from Robert De Niro. Since then it seems to me while his films have been okay (i haven't hated them) he has been treading water in referential, reverential, self-indulgent juvenilia.
Then i read the script last year for Inglourious Basterds - and i hated it! Sure it had some typical QT flourishes and the opening scene was undeniably powerful. There were a couple of great characters. But on page it was more juvenile rubbish, largely ruined by the largess of the uninteresting Basterds of the title. It made me seriously contemplate not seeing the film. The trailers did nothing to convince me. I only changed by mind when i had the opportunity to see the film with a Tarantino Q&A following in London. I figured it would be worth enduring to hear him in Q&A as i know from interviews how entertaining he can be in person.
So little was i prepared for the sheer exuberant fun and brilliance of Inglourious Basterds.
Easily Mr Tarantino's best work since Jackie Brown it is a triumph.
Yes the references are there but they do not interfere with the story, they are not the driving force. Yes Eli Roth is stunt casting but he works fine, with little to do but look aggressive, and does nothing to hurt the film as i had feared. While i admired Mr Tarantino for using stuntwoman Zoe Bell as herself in Death Proof in order to amp-up the exhilaration of the major stunt scene her lack of any acting ability in a key role was a problem for the film. The same could be said of Tarantino's own appearances in several films, especially Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn, which Tarantino wrote.
What really makes this work is how BIG it is. The spaghetti western vibe to much of the style, dialogue and performances is wonderfully over the top without descending too far into the cartoon quality of Kill Bill. The violence is so big. The audacity so big. Brad Pitt is so big! In the trailers the Hitler moment and Pitt's performance bothered me but in the context of the film they are hilarious. Pitt is actually brilliant here, exactly what he needs to be. He is Mifune's blustering samurai in Yojimbo, he is Robards Cheyenne from Once Upon a Time in the West, there is a very James Coburn vibe to him, and of course a suitably Lee Marvin edge.
Christoph Waltz (who i did not previously known) and Melanie Laurent (who i first noticed in a brilliant French-language British short film by Sean Ellis) are sensational and i expect to see both used a lot more in the future. Tarantino has clearly not lost his eye for casting, which seemed to desert him in Death Proof. Waltz is equally large in his performance. Chilling, yet theatrical. He is Fonda from OUATITW, Van Cleef from Good, The Bad & the Ugly. And Laurent is suitably Cardinale innocence but tough, a fighter. They both dazzle here.
That every member of the cast gets the fun to be had from what they are doing while not indulging themselves in just having fun and trying to get laughs helps tremendously. The laughs - and there are loads - come organically. Only Mike Myers comes close to tipping the wink and pushing it too far but his scene is reigned in just enough - with the help of a fantastic Michael Fassbender who seems pulled directly from the mold of Attenborough's Great Escape leader.
All the actors shine and Tarantino throws in wonderful flourishes, but ones that work with the story. The introduction of Schweiger's Hugo Stiglitz is a riot. After a sensational slow-burn opening and a glorious intro to those inglourious Basterds the pace never lets up and over two and half hours flies by.
It also looks beautiful, marking this as a return to real film-making rather than just self-indulgent silliness. The musical choices, as always, are inspired from Morricone on.
The film is audacious and hilarious. After a summer when nearly every film has disappointed me it came as a huge surprise that the real fun and entertaining, but also involving and impressive film should be this one, when i would never have believed it from script form. Welcome back QT.
Never Weaken (1921)
Another delightful Lloyd/Davis film with some of the best of his trademark stunts
Never Weaken came a year after the brilliant Haunted Spooks and touches on some of the same ideas but plays in a very different ways, including featuring an extended sequence of the stunning stunt-work best associated with Lloyd.
Where Keaton had his dour expression and acrobatics and Chaplin had the pathos and funny walk of the tramp Lloyd is best remembered for his effervescence and his stunts. The stunts are never better represented than here which sees a protracted, thrilling and funny scene when Harold finds himself stranded on the beams of a building under construction. One gag in this sequence involving a ladder is as good as they come but the whole sequence is a delight.
It might surprise people that a key theme here involves attempted suicide, something Keaton often tackled, but is less associated with the happy-go-lucky Lloyd, but it was something he visited on multiple occasions. Perfectly demonstrating what a fine line exists between comedy and tragedy this scene here explores the banalities that intrude and the difficulties of going through with such an act that when dwelt on are extremely astute but while watched are hilarious. The suicidal scenes of Haunted Spooks have bigger, and funnier gags and this is one extended scene here instead of a series of vignettes but still inspired as Harold figures out how to do it, dismissing various ways for funny, but oddly real reasons. The sequence is at it's best though when he delays the act because he gets caught up in the triviality of a miss-spelling in his suicide note! Lloyd regular (and later his wife) Mildred Davis again appears as the love interest, though has little to do here compared to some.
The film is intriguingly split into three distinct segments, the slapstick laughs of the first section where Harold is trying to get patients for the doctor Mildred works for so she won't be fired; the smart wit of the suicidal second section; and then the thrilling stunts of the final section. Whichever part of Lloyd's art you like best Never Weaken can offer it to you, however as a whole it does feel a little like 3 10 minute shorts playing one after the other.
Typically the title cards remain the most inspired and beautiful of any US silent comedian.
Well worth catching. If you don't know Lloyd you couldn't get a better introduction to his talents.
Haunted Spooks (1920)
Inspired, hilarious, ingenious - the first of Lloyd's shorts to truly grab me
I in the process of watching or revisiting all of Lloyd's short and feature work and the first few shorts i've watched that i had not previous seen, most notably Number, Please?, have not seemed to have the inspired genius of his features, relying more on the tired run-fall down-slapstick violence and chases of the over-rated Keystone films and Roscoe Arbuckle. They certainly had good moments but were did not offer the Harold of the features.
In Haunted Spooks though we have a film that is ingenious, hilarious and inspired.
From a wonderful introduction to Harold (he's in frame a good 30 seconds before you see him, a truly brilliant reveal) the invention never lets up. The film could easily have sustained 4 reels or more, there is so much going on.
The highlight is a hilarious sequence where Harold, left suicidal by yet another rejection, tries to find ways to do the deed. The result of one attempt involving drowning is priceless and as funny a gag as Lloyd ever produced. Another involving the typical self-absorbed nature of people as a man pauses him in another attempt to ask for a light and then the time while failing to notice the circumstances is equally riotous. It is a gloriously dark vein of comedy for Lloyd, and one he would revisit, that brings to mind Keaton - who often got great fun out of the subject, perfectly demonstrating the fine line between tragedy and comedy.
Here Lloyd does the same perfectly. To so generally happy a character as Lloyd generally portrayed (in contrast to Keaton's more dour screen persona) is ought to be a sad moment (and is one Chaplin would have milked for sentiment) but the triumph of humour over the tragedy is his genius. I know some over-serious types find the subject distasteful but that is to miss the comment which is the fine line between tragedy and comedy, a subject all the finest of the silent comedians (Chaplin, Lloyd, Keaton) understood well and exploited to wonderful effect.
Thankfully the overt ugly and lazy slapstick of violence and chases is largely missing here in favour of genuine laughs and ingenious devices. Bizarrely in the haunted house section of the film there is even a moment that evokes thoughts of FW Murnau's Nosferatu despite the fact that Lloyd's film pre-dates the German masterpiece by 2 years (and it's US premiere by 9).
Mildred Davis, Harold's future wife, is as delightful as always but it is Harold's maturing in comedic styles here that marks this out as a special piece. The only vague marring of the film is a racial stereotyping of the servants in the house - an unfortunate byproduct of the time that seen through modern eyes gains a more negative aspect - but we must remember the time in which the film was made and not judge too harshly for that - in fact Lloyd gives the moment of triumphant discovery to the butler, ably demonstrating his generosity in not always taking centre-stage (in fact Lloyd is missing from probably a quarter of the film entirely).
It is also interesting to note that the accident with a prop bomb which claimed index finger and thumb from his right hand and nearly killed him happened during production of Haunted Spooks, halting production for some months, and the prosthetic glove by wore to disguise this is first evident here. Indeed there are scenes clearly showing his real hand and others with the much lighter in colour prosthetic.
A must see for anyone who not only wants a good laugh but wants to see the mastery of Lloyd at his best in his shorts.
The Electric House (1922)
Not his funniest, but technically astounding
What makes The Electric House such a must-see Keaton short is curiously not the showcasing of the great man himself but that of the technical prowess of his technical director Fred Gabourie. Gabourie had built The Boat and worked with Keaton since 1920's One Week, which was the one with the ingenious portable house, and he would progress with Keaton from the shorts to the features. But never were the technical gadgets Keaton used and Gabourie had to make work practically better displayed than in The Electric House. Keaton really lets Gabourie's gadgets take centre stage here and it is a chance to marvel at a master at work.
In a strange way it's almost too brilliant because the laughs don't really play as well. Whereas in One Week or The Boat the gadgets and physical comedy worked in perfect harmony in The Electric House Keaton lets the film get a bit bogged down in watching the gadgets at work.
Nevertheless in these days of CGI and visual cheats it is stunning to see these practical effects in full flow. Gabourie was clearly a genius, one whose name deserves to be held in the same light as practical effects masters like Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen and Stan Winston.
Lesbian Vampire Killers (2009)
Wishes it were Shaun of the Dead with Vampires
There is one word for this film: Weak. If you think you're going to get Shaun Of The Dead with vampires as one comment suggests you will be massively disappointed.
This film is not without it's laughs, but sadly they are few and far between and mostly in the trailer (the werewolf line is still the best in the whole film so work out how much that made you laugh in the trailer, figure that's the best you're getting and decide from there).
It is only 87 minutes but it still manages to get dull, something Shaun avoided. It does not have the deft lightness, charm and flow of Shaun and this is largely due to sub-Carry On writing that thinks it's funny when you are rolling eyes and groaning. The direction is lazy and feels more like one of the standard rubbish 'Brit comedian(s) comedy' like Sex Lives Of The Potato Men or Parole Officer. It's better than Potato Men of course - on a sort of level with Parole Officer I suppose or the Oz comedy Black Sheep.
Perhaps if Horne and Corden had written it, as Pegg and Wright did for Shaun, it would have worked for them better. But this is a weak film that only comes off as the pair trying (and failing) to do their own Shaun. Avoid unless a die-hard Horne and Corden fan, and even then you'll have to talk yourself into enjoying it if you're sober!