Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This Week in Tickets: 6 August 2018 - 12 August 2018

First full week after Fantasia, so time to start this back up, though there are still two more days from the festival and a few other stragglers. But like I say, you can't just pull out of a three-week Asian/genre festival all at once.

This Week in Tickets

So, I started off with a two-night double feature of Along with the Gods, watching The Two Worlds at home on Monday and then heading out to Boston Common for The Last 49 Days on Tuesday. It was going to be my first use of AMC A-List, but I forgot my passport at home (when you neither drive nor drink, you can sometimes get kind of lackadaisical about having any other sort of current photo ID), so I decided not to chance going without, because who wants the ushers at a theater you go to every week to remember you as "the guy who tries to bend the rules" rather than "the Caucasian guy who sees all the Asian movies and doesn't leave a mess"?

I get why AMC is asking for that - since they allow you to repeat movies, it would be very easy for a few people who only see one movie a week to share a membership - but ushers don't have time for that. Still had my ID anyway on my next two trips to AMCs - on Friday for a packed screening of Huang Bo's The Island and Saturday for a 3D screening of The Meg.

Those two combined would otherwise have cost $30, and I've paid $20 for the month. I suspect that AMC is not actually paying distributors based on the full price on the ticket, but whatever the minimum allowed is (maybe the $7.09 they get for 11am shows), and they've got more reason to just get people in the door so they can sell popcorn, so I figure this will last well past the end of MoviePass - which, to look at what's available on the app right now, is going to basically be A-List for Landmark.

Sunday, I only ventured into Davis Square to catch their Silent Laurel & Hardy Shorts, which Jeff & David mentioned might be their last "Silents, Please" of the year unless they could fit one into November; the place is going to be down to three screens for a while as construction goes on downstairs into October and it will be harder to shift things around. Not sure what they're doing down there, although I'm kind of hoping it's not putting in recliners - that might leave theater #2 with 50 seats and #3 with maybe 100, and that would make things nightmarish at IFFBoston next spring. Maybe they're reconfiguring some other way, putting a kitchen in where the Museum of Bad Art is or something. Or just doing boring but necessary work on the HVAC and stuff.

At any rate, it was, as usual, a fun time. There were little kids beside and behind me, and there's something delightful about little kids discovering the pure, unfettered slapstick of a classic silent. The pace isn't quite like any modern thing but it hits them perfectly. Even the jokes that don't are dated as heck kind of work because they just come off as silly and nonsense.

I've been letting my Letterboxd get behind lately, but I'll try to get back on top of that.

"Call of the Cuckoo"

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

So I looked it up, and the title actually can't a reference to H.P. Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu", since this actually came out first. It makes me wonder if the names of both reference some other bit of 1920s pop culture that has vanished into obscurity. Or it's just an odd coincidence.

The short often shows up in Laurel & Hardy collections like this one, but they're just part of the Hal Roach ensemble here, bit players in the story of a family that trades their house located across the street from an insane asylum for another sight unseen, only to find that the construction is shoddy at best and downright inexplicable at worst, leading to all sorts of slapstick insanity.

Director Clyde Bruckman oversees this twenty minute short, and it's a bit of a curiosity for that - he's the credited director on The General and a couple of Harold Lloyd's features, contributing gags to many more, but people seldom consider those films his, and maybe that's fair. "Cuckoo" is one gag after the other pulled off with competence and success, but it never quite displays the brilliance his work with those comedy geniuses has, the sympathetic characterization and strange logic that makes the slapstick disaster inevitable rather than arbitrary. It makes for a fair number of good gags that are taped together haphazardly, only occasionally reaching the heights of the delightfully surreal in a few spots (like when Mama Gimplewart starts mopping the pattern off the linoleum floor), or when the flustered couple's son has a withering look or comment.

Still, a good bunch of gags is a good bunch of gags, and the slapstick here is certainly the work of folks who know what they are doing.

"You're Darn Tootin'" (aka "The Music Blasters")

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

A thing about silent two-reelers is that you don't have to explain why these two people who clearly drive each other insane are hanging around together, because there's no time and the intertitles would make the exposition even more forced. Still, you've got to wonder about some of these Laurel & Hardy comedies, like "You're Darn Tootin'", where they're a pair because the actors are a team and it's very difficult to imagine a backstory that explains why Ollie didn't murder Stanley years ago.

That's the common thread for the three acts of this short, each of which features the pair as a whole not exactly being bright but Stanley constantly doing something that blows up in their faces, kind of making one wonder how they showed the basic competence to get to the point where these two players in the community orchestra got to the point where they could drive the conductor mad, and the whole thing is kind of on the same rickety ladder: The slapstick is executed with precision timing and there's a perfect switch between deadpan satisfaction and escalating shock buried in each gag, but there's always some little nagging question of why they're even doing this that "things kind of got out of hand" can only explain half the time.

"The Finishing Touch"

* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

Here, we see what is almost the platonic idea of a silent Laurel & Hardy short - a job that is straightforward but where they are completely overmatched (finishing up a mostly-completed house, that just needs windows, shingles, doors, and the like installed), well-meaning outside forces that are going to be drawn into the pair's ability to screw things up, plenty of bizarre physical comedy, and an eventual donnybrook. It's exactly what you expect, but directors Clyde Bruckman and Leo McCarey are excellent about making sure the timing is down to the second and all the characters are just the exact right functional caricature to lead the audience from one joke to the next.

Stan Laurel is taking a firmer hand behind these scenes by now, and he's got the pair's chemistry more or less figured out, and while these guys aren't really built to go back and forth, they aren't completely at odds, and the slapstick is a steady climb that's questionable at a few points (did people in the 1920s really fill their mouths with nails to bring them from one place to another?), but escalates to the point of mania by the end.

"Big Business"

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 12 August 2018 in Somerville Theatre #1 (Silents Please!, 35mm)

"Big Business" turns out to be a fun switch-up from the other parts of this program because, rather than naturally being cut into a few segments, that each have their own sort of rise and climax, this one looks like it's going to do that, as Stan & Ollie are traveling from door to door, trying to sell Christmas trees in sunny Southern California, encountering different challenges with different people… And then all hell breaks loose when a simple bit of slapstick silliness just keeps escalating, until the guy they're trying to sell a tree to (James Finlayson) completely loses his temper, lashing out against the pair, and they retaliate, and then and then and then…

It's kind of a jaw-dropping level of aggression, blowing well past reasonable and then just piling more and more on top. The slapstick is less pratfalls than vandalism and destruction, thoroughly mean-spirited, but directors James W. Horne & Leo McCarey play the audience like an instrument, making each bit of destruction a bit bigger than the last, speeding up the response, until Stan & Ollie are wrecking the house, the other guy is shredding their car, and what originally started it is almost lost.

If most silents feel like the ancestors of Mickey Mouse cartoons, this one's a Donald Duck.

Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds
Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days
The Island (2018)
The Meg
Laurel and Hardy

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