Monday, April 04, 2016

7 Days in May | Batman v Superman, more Buster Keaton, and gothic romance

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)



I'd strongly considered skipping this in the theaters, but my movie buddy (and fellow Mystery Movie Night podcast host) Dave helped me remember that we see bad movies all the time. So, with the idea in mind that I was treating BvS no differently than an Uwe Boll movie, off we went.

And it was better than I expected, though that's a really low bar. It's built on the very shaky foundation of Man of Steel, which notoriously presented a brooding, selfish Superman. Because of that, the citizens of Superman's world can apparently react to him in only one of two ways: a god to be worshipped or a monster to be destroyed. One character pays lip service to a third option - that he's just a man doing the best he can - but that's not really explored.

In order to get the fight of the title in, Batman is forced to see Superman as a monster, but in an unconvincing way that makes Batman seem pretty dumb. So most of the movie is a bunch of people acting shallowly or stupidly. Lex has an interesting point of view - that Superman is a god and therefore must be destroyed - but Lex is so clearly insane that it's hard to take him seriously either. He's basically the Joker Lite.

Without anyone to care about, there are no stakes and most of the film is pretty dull. That changes somewhat once Lex's plan finally becomes active though. There's suddenly something to lose (in a contrived and cliché way, but still) and some of the action scenes are pretty cool, if not particularly thrilling. I even like where the relationship between the main characters ends up. It's just boring to watch them get there.

Affleck makes a fine Batman and I'm interested in seeing a solo film with him as long as Snyder and Goyer aren't creating it. Almost as interested as I am in the Wonder Woman film. BvS only teases what the character will be like, but so far so good. I'm hopeful about her and Aquaman's movies, but will need convincing about the Flash and Cyborg.

The Son of Tarzan (1920)

The first Tarzan serial starts off strong as it presents Tarzan, Jane, and their son living as the Greystones (ugh) in England, then works on getting Jack separated from his parents and off to Africa. Once he hits the jungle though, the story becomes repetitive for many, many chapters, with the same two or three people continually escaping from and getting recaptured by the same two or three other people. It picks up slightly at the end when Tarzan finally also returns to Africa and some new things start to happen. But even then a lot of the characters are still going through their usual and repetitive paces.

The print I watched was pretty murky, but the action would be hard to follow even on a clearer print, because the editing is super choppy.

On the positive side, it looks like the actor who played the adult Korak had a nice rapport with the elephant who played Tantor. Those characters made a great team and there seems to be some actual chemistry between them as they roam through the jungle together.

The Haunted House (1921)



Basically a harbinger of Scooby Doo with Buster Keaton (on the run after being framed for a bank robbery) and the cast of Faust simultaneously try to hideout in a house that's haunted by a gang of counterfeiters. Some great gags as usual, but also some truly spooky imagery.

Hard Luck (1921)

All over the place without much story to tie it together. Opens with down-on-his-luck Buster Keaton trying to kill himself in various ways, then turns to a brief adventure of his getting hired to hunt an armadillo, but that quickly becomes a fishing gag that finally leads to escapades at a country club.

There's about three minutes of missing footage, so that might explain some of the disjointedness, but as entertaining as Keaton films always are to me, this isn't one that I'll revisit a lot.

The Haunted Castle (1921)

No relation to The Haunted House. I watched this because someone described it to me as a gothic romance, but the building this takes place in is neither haunted (unless we're talking about the metaphorical sense) nor a castle. The Troubled Mansion doesn't have the same ring to it, I guess.

It isn't a horror picture at all, but a murder mystery that takes place a few years after the commission of the crime. Director FW Murnau's style isn't as developed as it would become in Nosferatu the following year, so except for some awesome black makeup around the lead actress' eyes, it's not even that visually interesting. Fortunately, it's only an hour long. I didn't enjoy it much.

The High Sign (1921)

Cute and very funny short in which Buster Keaton fakes his credentials to work at a shooting gallery. His alleged marksmanship gets him offered jobs to simultaneously murder and protect a millionaire and his daughter. One of my favorite Keaton films.

The Goat (1921)

Hilarious comedy-of-errors about Keaton's being mistaken for an escaped criminal. Lots of slapstick chases with some ingenious surprises.

The Three Musketeers (1921)



Excellent adaptation that doesn't try to cover up the intricacies of Dumas' plot. Milady de Winter's role is simplified by ignoring her backstory, but there's still lots of maneuvering and intrigue to go with the swashbuckling. And Douglas Fairbanks is tops when it comes to swashbuckling, of course. His D'Artagnan can be annoying, but that's as Dumas wrote him.

The Play House (1921)

Sometimes, silent films can lead to some uncomfortable places, like this Keaton short that includes a minstrel show and the star in blackface. That's a quick bit though and the rest of the film is a lot of fun. It starts with a fantasy sequence in which Keaton plays every performer in a vaudeville show plus the entire audience, then goes into shenanigans behind the scenes of the real thing. A big highlight is when he accidentally frees a trained ape and has to perform as its substitute in the act.

The Boat (1921)

Sybil Seely is back! I love her team-ups with Keaton. This one has them as a couple who - with their two young children - attempt to launch a homemade boat. I prefer The Navigator when it comes to nautical Keaton, but still plenty of laughs here. And did I mention Sybil Seely is in it?

The Sheik (1921)

I've always wanted to see this Rudolph Valentino classic, but I didn't finish it. Agnes Ayres plays a spoiled bigot, but she doesn't deserve to be kidnapped and held indefinitely by Valentino's even more unpleasant character. Once they began to inexplicably fall in love, I checked out.

The Castle of Wolfenbach: A German Story by Eliza Parsons



On to some reading, I'm a fan of gothic romances and seeing Crimson Peak last year got me in the mood to read some. I love Castle of Otranto, Frankenstein, and Dracula, though I had a hard time getting through The Mysteries of Udolpho. Jane Austen may have called them "horrid novels," but I have a fondness for the twisty, coincidence-filled plots about guileless maidens and the wicked counts who try to control them.

Castle of Wolfenbach is a good one. It's full of the problems these kinds of books have: everyone is one-dimensional and there are so many counts and countesses that I literally lost track of them all. But as an oasis from more complicated literature, I enjoy the absolute goodness of the heroes in Wolfenbach and seeing the villains get their comeuppance.

Also, in addition to haunted rooms and secret passages, this one's got pirates.

The Octopi and the Ocean by Dan R James

This graphic novel has a cool idea to make humans pawns in the war between the octopi and the sharks. And James' whimsically surreal art makes it even more fun. It can be hard to decipher in places, especially toward the end where the story takes a creepy, darker turn, but it's a great concept and I love looking at it.

The Odyssey (All-Action Classics #3) by Homer, Tim Mucci, Ben Caldwell, and Emanuel Tenderini

The Odyssey isn't one of my favorite stories (Homer's classic is more episodic than I like), but if I'm going to read it, Ben Caldwell's All-Action Classics version is how I want it.

The All-Action series is excellent. It emphasizes the best parts of any book, but in a way that flows beautifully as a story and retains the spirit of the original work. There have been many attempts to adapt classic literature for kids - or just for people who don't think they like classic literature - but All-Action Classics is the best. Caldwell's art is exciting and fun to look at and he's working with writers like Tim Mucci who deeply understand the source material and what makes it great.

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