Category Archives: Short

Hard Luck (1921, Edward F. Kline and Buster Keaton)

Hard Luck starts as a… failed suicide attempt comedy. Nothing morbid, just absurd and slapstick. And a little dumb. Star, director, and writer Keaton always has dangerous ideas for ending his life, but never particularly good ones. There’s a lot of physical humor from Keaton during this section; situational physical comedy. Most of it is smaller scale, behavior gags. Keaton’s got some amazing stunts in the short, but they’re for little things the narrative requires to keep the situational comedy going. The way he jumps out of the way and whatnot. Hard Luck is micro-physical comedy. At least for the average Keaton. Rare grandiosity. Usually, Keaton and co-writer and co-director Cline keep it pared down. The first act has a lot of Keaton interacting with other actors, a lot with other actors reacting to him.

Keaton’s great at the little comedy moves. He’s charming and sympathetic while still seeming a bit dumb.

And then when he’s not actively trying to kill himself, he stills gets into quite a bit of trouble, leading to a somewhat different feel for the gags. They do get bigger, but with Keaton and Cline very subtly pacing them out. They percolate then explode.

Virginia Fox plays the society girl who catches Keaton’s eye before going on to catch the eye of outlaw Joe Roberts. Roberts’s pursuit of Fox is downright terrifying; Roberts comes into the short late and has no character motivation other than to attack Fox (his men are busy robbing her friends in the other room). Keaton’s showdown with Roberts is smaller scale gags again, but a (literal) explosion by the end.

Besides the solo slapstick and measured physical gags, there are also many involving animals (great and small). Hard Luck is full of big laughs, little laughs, big smiles, little smiles. Despite the dark opening, it’s pleasant once it gets going. Keaton and Cline are meticulous in their direction and assured in the film’s production. The short isn’t pompous or anything and it never self-aggrandizes, but if it wanted to do either, it could easily get away with it. Because Hard Luck is hilarious.

Keaton’s also very willing to embrace the absurd. It helps remind at the beginning we’re not watching a suicidal young man, rather Keaton in a slapstick comedy about a suicidal young man. The narrative distance feels instinctive, with Keaton and Cline staying relatively close but also skewed enough they can get away with Keaton’s plight being for laughs. It does, of course, help they’ve got so much great stuff in store for the rest of the short. Its energy can’t afford to fizzle.

And it doesn’t, not even at the very end, when Hard Luck takes a few breaths before delivering its final punchline.

Keaton’s great, Fox’s fine, Roberts’s hilarious (but still dangerous). There’s not much character for Fox or Roberts, but it doesn’t matter—Hard Luck doesn’t leverage everything off Keaton (but could). He delivers lots on his own, but even more as he fits into the somewhat rigid framework of the story. The short is brimming with energy and potential.

It’s a great success.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written and directed by Edward F. Cline and Buster Keaton; director of photography, Elgin Lessley; released by Metro Pictures Corporation.

Starring Buster Keaton (The Boy), Virginia Fox (The Girl), and Joe Roberts (Lizard Lip Luke).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE FIFTH ANNUAL Buster Keaton BLOGATHON HOSTED BY LEA OF SILENT-OLOGY.


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Moon Knight (2019, Caden Butera)

Technically, Moon Knight is awesome. Excellent composition, photography, editing. Director Butera also edits, also handles some of the photography. Unfortunately he also wrote the script, which is terrible.

Moon Knight is so terrible outside those technical qualities–sadly, costuming is not one of its strong suits either (no pun intended)–I’m going to take the time to set up a joke. Moon Knight, the Marvel Comics character (Moon Knight is a fan film, with technical qualities and special effects on par with most television), has never been popular. Marvel got forty issues out of the character in the early eighties but he’s never really caught on. He’s on his sixth series, which you’d think was pretty good but there’s still no crossover appeal.

Basically he’s a Marvel Comics Batman, just without the sidekicks and gadgets. He just beats up criminals at night in an outfit. A better outfit than what Butera uses here.

Anyway. So this fan film Moon Knight does the most important thing a Moon Knight fan film could do–it shows why you’ll never have crossover success with the property. Okay, so not a “ha ha” joke, but a sad one. Moon Knight shows exactly why no one would ever want to make a real Moon Knight movie.

Lead Tim Altevers doesn’t have much dialogue, but he’s got constant, terrible narration. Apparently a lady friend died or left him because he’s such a broody guy and so he tracks down mobsters and kills them. Some of them. Others get away to plot their revenge. All of the mob guys–the bosses and the little guys–are complete scum. Butera uses some “expository shortcuts” to get the characters there. The shortcuts are increasingly grotesque misogynistic rants. It’s utterly pointless, poorly written, and just a bad thing. At that point it becomes clear no matter how good Moon Knight can look, it’s never going to be any good.

Things get worse once Altevers puts on his silly costume and goes out to kill a bunch of mob guys outside a Habitat for Humanity ReStore (based on the truck). The fight direction is… okay, but not great. The special effects–lots of gore action–are good. The problem at this point is mostly Rylan Butera’s music, which actually has some good moments early on then gets bad then terrible then worse. Then goes on for another six minutes.

The script and superhero costume are a disaster. The music is a disaster–especially since if they’d gone heavy metal with Altevers’s vigilante spree killing it might’ve been a great scene, but whatever.

Moon Knight is a great example of excellent low budget, amateur filmmaking as well as a great example of terrible lower budget, amateur films. But it does show exactly what’s wrong with the comic book property getting exploited in other media.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Caden Butera; screenplay by Butera, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Doug Moench and Don Perlin; directors of photography, Dashawn Bedford and Butera; music by Rylan Butera; produced by Butera and Joe Cruzaedo Wagner.

Starring Tim Altevers (Moon Knight / Marc Spector), Bill Bancroft (Thug Bill), John Risky Boltz (Thug Risky), Morcedes Brown (Bushman), and Ben Burke (Thug Ben).


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Recorded Live (1975, S.S. Wilson)

Recorded Live is a student film. So director, writer, and animator Wilson’s flat composition gets some wide latitude. He’s got this silly slapstick score on a sound picture, with John Goodwin getting hired to work at an already strange-sounding TV studio only to arrive there and discover a sack of clothes instead of a boss. At that point, Live stops being–potentially–a slapstick about a weird TV studio and all of a sudden something else. Because it’s not that the boss (named W.H. O’Brien, which should’ve forecasted the stop motion) is a nudist, it’s because two reels of videotape has eaten him. But not his clothes.

The short starts getting pretty good at three minutes and then just gets better and better. It runs eight. Once the special effects start, while Goodwin is running around trying to save himself, Wilson’s plotting starts getting smarter and smarter. The reels of tape combine on the floor into a giant mess–Wilson’s definitely making this short for his seventies film school classmates, humor-wise–and it’s not until they have to start problem solving (in addition to listening and talking) they become dangerous. They’re a funny kind of dangerous before because it’s still a comedy, but then they get actually dangerous.

All because of how well Wilson plots the reveals and executes them through action with the stop motion animation. The short is this wonderful synthesis of inventive writing and special effects. Even after it gets really good, Wilson is able to up it even more.

Goodwin’s fine in the lead. His main line is “Hello,” as he explores the empty building. He handles the danger better than the comedy, which is quite a thing since he’s got so many effects shots to work in.

Recorded Live starts like a slight student film. A modern slapstick perhaps. Then all of a sudden it becomes this awesome horror thing. Wilson’s got his specific audience–people who think videotape is messy and hate erasing it when a magnet gets too close–but the phenomenal special effects make it transcend a target audience. The characterization of the videotape monsters or whatever, done through Wilson’s effects and the great sound (from Ben Burtt, so no shock great), is truly exceptional work.

Recorded Live is great.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, directed, and animated by S.S. Wilson; music by George Winston; released by Pyramid Films.

Starring John Goodwin (Mr. Aaines).


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The Window (2000, Jono Oliver)

The Window opens with a crowd on the street, looking up. There’s a title card, so it’s a good bet they’re all looking at a window. Pretty soon the cops show up–it’s set in Flatbush, Brooklyn–and ask what’s going on. Some people see Jesus up in the window, some people don’t. But it’s a big crowd; the people who see it are inspired (like senior Sarallen), other people are just hanging out. Responding cops Rosalyn Coleman and Marcuis Harris are divided too. Coleman doesn’t see anything, Harris kind of sees it. But they decide they need to do something, so they head up to the apartment (meeting Sarallen’s grandson, Chad Christopher Tucker, on the way–he doesn’t see it).

In the apartment there’s a similar divide. Husband Eric R. Moreland is just trying to enjoy his weekend, eat some lunch, watch a game. Wife Cheryl Monroe got home as the crowd was starting to gather and saw the Jesus too. So she’s calling up people from the church to come over–pastor Craig T. Williams is hilarious–while Moreland suffers losing his day.

Eventually Coleman decides the window’s coming out. Harris isn’t in complete agreement, but he’s fine with it. Meanwhile, a news crew has shown up and the window is on TV. And there are more cops, including Romi Dias who wants Coleman to hold off on taking out the window until her grandmother comes down to see it.

Writer and director Oliver keeps a relatively light tone and nimbly moves through the discussions of faith and, well, grime. Whenever the action isn’t on the street, where the film listens in on the crowd’s reactions (or just shows them), usually with a humorous bent (though everyone knows how much it means to Sarallen), Coleman’s the lead. And she’s a great lead. For most of The Window she operates with a quiet exasperation as she’s not only got to keep the variety of regular people in check, she’s also got partner Harris mildly aggravating the situation, not to mention Dias loudly aggravating it.

Besides Coleman, also exasperated husband Moreland gets the most to do. The film often plays Coleman and Moreland off one another, something the actors and Oliver handle beautifully. Oliver has this single shot in the bathroom–Jesus is in the bathroom window–with the camera pointing away from the window and it’s full of people. Seven at one point. And the emphasis has to bounce all around.

Outside Coleman and Harris’s initial discussion, Oliver’s script doesn’t spend any time on the questions the window (and what people see in it) raise. It’s present throughout, but the action is too busy with the practicality. The cops want to break up the crowd, Coleman’s going the fastest route.

Everything’s good throughout–Michael Pearlman’s photography is phenomenal, great music from David Abir (who eventually takes the whole thing on his shoulders)–but it gets even better once Coleman (and Oliver) really start dealing with things. Without any exposition, just reaction. It’s all about Coleman’s performance. And Oliver’s direction.

The Window’s kind of gently spectacular. Or more, first it’s gentle and good, then it’s quietly spectacular.

3/3Highly Recommended

CREDITS

Written, produced, and directed by Jono Oliver; director of photography, Michael Pearlman; edited by Daniel Carey; music by David Abir; production designer, Eric Oliver.

Starring Rosalyn Coleman (Officer Briggs), Marcuis Harris (Officer Turner), Eric R. Moreland (Lester), Cheryl Monroe (Lucy), Craig T. Williams (Brother Herbert), Virginia McKinzie (Sister Mary), Chad Christopher Tucker (Terrence), Robert Hatcher (Reverend Sinclair), Romi Dias (Officer Newman), Brian Cahill (Officer Doyle), and Sarallen (Mrs. Davis).


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