Film Review: Robot Carnival (1987)

Release Date: July 21st, 1987 (Japan)
Directed by: Hidetoshi Oomori, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Katsuhiro Otomo, Koji Morimoto, Mao Lamdo, Takashi Nakamura, Yasuomi Umetsu
Written by: Hiroyuki Kitazume, Katsuhiro Otomo, Mao Lamdo, Takashi Nakamura, Yasuomi Umetsu
Music by: Joe Hisaishi, Isaku Fujita, Masahisa Takeichi

A.P.P.P., Studio 4°C, Diskotek Media, Streamline Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

Robot Carnival is a pretty neat and interesting picture.

The film is an anime anthology where everything in it has the theme of robots. It also has a steampunk and cyberpunk aesthetic throughout the picture. Another interesting thing about it is that most of the film is actually silent in regards to dialogue.

The biggest thing that made me want to check this out, however, is that it features a story by Katsuhiro Otomo before he worked on the film adaptation of his megahit manga Akira.

Otomo’s contribution to this film is the opening and ending scenes. Both are fairly short but they act as the bookends to all the short stories in-between. These segments also feature a massive city structure on treads, rolling over the countryside. It’s actually pretty damn clear, once seeing this, that the Otomo segments were the inspiration behind the novels and film adaptation of Mortal Engines.

All the other stories are pretty cool and unique. It’s honestly a mixed bag, really, but it is cool seeing all of this as a larger body of work where its segments have a nice variance in art style and narrative structure.

This is a pretty chill and kind of relaxing anime to sit through. Each film is straightforward and just a neat, simple concept that has been realized and presented in all its glory. While everything has its own feel to it, the picture, as a whole, has a pretty consistent vibe.

I wouldn’t categorize this as a classic but I can see why many have held this in pretty high regard. I see it as more of a sampler of what many of these creators were capable of before they went off to make their own, larger features.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other cyberpunk and steampunk anime of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Film Review: Cops (1922)

Release Date: March 11th, 1922
Directed by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Written by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Virginia Fox, Joe Roberts, Edward F. Cline, Steve Murphy

Joseph M. Schenck Productions, 18 Minutes

Review:

“I won’t marry you until you become a big business man.” – Mayor’s Daughter

Cops is a Buster Keaton movie I hadn’t seen until now. Like a lot of his pictures, you can actually find a good copy of it on YouTube for free.

Overall, this was energetic and fun but I probably wouldn’t put this near his upper echelon of stuff, even his shorts. I enjoyed One Week a lot more and found it to be pretty damn hilarious from top to bottom.

Cops does have some good gags and sequences but it’s a lot more grounded than Keaton’s best work, which often times gets surreal and over the top (in a good way).

This also feels like a much smaller picture than many of his others, even One Week, which was mostly filmed in a large dirt covered area near train tracks. The only thing in this that felt somewhat grandiose was the finale that saw Keaton running away from what looked like a hundred or more cops.

This was definitely charming in that typical Buster Keaton sort of way but everything, other than the closing minutes, felt pretty subdued and light.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films, as well as Charlie Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s.

Film Review: One Week (1920)

Release Date: August 29th, 1920
Directed by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Written by: Edward F. Cline, Buster Keaton
Cast: Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, Joe Roberts

Joseph M. Schenck Productions, 25 Minutes (TCM print), 19 Minutes (1995 Film Preservation print)

Review:

“Now look at the darned thing!” – The Bride

One Week is a fairly early movie in Buster Keaton’s career but I wanted to revisit it, as it is one of my favorites.

It’s actually the first film where he is the star and it also has Sybil Seely playing his wife. She would be featured in other early Keaton films.

As a kid, this was one of my top Keaton films because it’s just really damn good and the physical comedy here is just on another level. Plus, it’s a short film, so it used to pop up on TV early in the morning quite a bit.

The story revolves around two newlyweds that are gifted a “build-it-yourself” portable house. Keaton, as the Groom, does his damnedest at trying to build their new home but he’s terrible at it, which leads to a great series of gags and still, some of the comedian’s best.

Looking at it through a modern lens, it’s impressive for the time. I’m not sure how they were able to pull off some sequences and there are really big things that happen in this that exceed the scope of a typical movie for the time.

For instance, there is a bit where the entire home is spinning as people tumble in and out of it. There is then the big finale, which sees the house get decimated by a real life train. I’m guessing it wasn’t hard to get permits back then.

At the end of the day, this isn’t Keaton’s best film but it is a good example of how far ahead of the competition he was in his first starring role.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films, as well as Charlie Chaplin’s and Harold Lloyd’s.

Film Review: The General (1926)

Also known as: The Engine Driver (original script title)
Release Date: December 25th, 1926 (El Paso premiere)
Directed by: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
Written by: Al Boasberg, Clyde Buckman, Buster Keaton, Charles Henry Smith, Paul Gerard Smith
Based on: The Great Locomotive Chase by William Pittenger
Music by: William P. Perry (1926), Carl Davis (1987), Robert Israel (1995), Baudime Jam (1999), Joe Hisaishi (2004), Timothy Brock (2005), Angelin Fonda (2017)
Cast: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack

Buster Keaton Productions, Joseph M. Schenck Productions, United Artists, 67 Minutes, 80 Minutes (1982 cut), 83 Minutes (1962 cut), 75 Minutes (2003 alternate cut)

Review:

“[to the recruiter who rejects him] If you lose this war, don’t blame me.” – Johnnie Gray

While I’ve reviewed several Charlie Chaplin films, as well as a few Harold Lloyd ones, I’m surprised that I haven’t reviewed any Buster Keaton pictures yet. Granted, I haven’t watched any in awhile but I’ve been itching to revisit The General, as I hadn’t seen it since my film studies class in high school, over two decades ago.

What I like about Keaton’s movies, especially this one, is the high emphasis on plot. He is a physical, slapstick comedian and he employs the style in his performances but he still makes a well plotted film that doesn’t mostly rely on his gags and his stunts.

The General is a great example of this and it is a true cinematic classic of its time.

What really stands out, at least to me, is the scope of the film. It feels large and epic when compared to other motion pictures that are similar. Silent comedies were typically filmed indoors and outside sets usually didn’t have a lot of scale. The General takes advantage of the environments it’s filmed in, especially during the iconic locomotive chase scenes.

Additionally, it has amazing cinematography with stellar shot framing, lighting and use of natural environmental texture, weather and color tinting.

It has a well structured, layered plot, which moves briskly and doesn’t get too hung up on staying in one place for too long or overdoing a gag.

I also really like the plot. It sees Keaton’s Johnnie Gray, a locomotive operator, get rejected by the love of his life because he won’t join the military and fight in the Civil War. As time goes on, she is taken hostage by Union raiders who steal his train. Propelled by the undying love in his heart for his woman and his train, Johnnie takes to the rails to hunt down the enemy and get his loves back.

The story then expands into different directions but it stays pretty focused on moving forward and it employs a level of character development that wasn’t common in 1920s pictures.

Keaton and Chaplin are often times compared and you have people that are either in one camp or the other. Despite similarities in their physical comedy, I think that their films are very different. I think that The General showcases their differences pretty well.

Also, unlike Chaplin’s films from the ’20s, this feels like a true blockbuster movie of its age.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Buster Keaton films.

Film Review: Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)

Release Date: October 14th, 1888 (UK)
Directed by: Louis Aimé Augustin Le Prince
Cast: Annie Hartley, Adolphe Le Prince, Joseph Whitley, Sarah Whitley

Whitley Partners, Original length 4.33 seconds, 52 frames at 12fps

Review:

How do you review something that is less than five seconds long? Let alone something completely devoid of plot? Well, you can’t.

The reason I am talking about this film though is due to its historical significance.

It is the oldest surviving film, at least that anyone knows about. Maybe there are some other experimental pieces buried in a European cellar somewhere but who’s to say?

Now some people may say that 1877’s Sallie Gardner at a Gallop is the first “motion picture” but it wasn’t shot with a single camera, it was shot with multiple cameras with each photo frame being used like a flip book or animation.

Louis Le Prince, this film’s director, was a French artist and inventor and this short clip was a test of his newly invented motion picture camera. While his invention and this film are significant, Le Prince didn’t have a direct influence on what would become the motion picture industry.

Le Prince also made a few other short film clips but two years after this experiment, he vanished… literally. No one knows what happened to him but it’s suspected that he committed suicide due to impending bankruptcy.

Some have thought that this film may be cursed. Because in addition to Le Prince’s disappearance, Sarah Whitley, one of the people in the scene, died ten days after filming. Le Prince’s son, Adolphe, was also shot to death. However, that happened a few years after he testified in court in defense of his father’s inventions against Thomas Edison. But some people like to connect all of this to the film clip like it’s some 1880s Poltergeist.

Anyway, the clip is pretty basic and straightforward, as you can see for yourself below. It’s not really reviewable but it is worth shedding some light on for its place in early motion picture history.

Rating: NR/10
Pairs well with: other very early and experimental films.

Film Review: The Mechanical Man (1921)

Also known as: L’uomo meccanico (original Italian title)
Release Date: November, 1921 (Italy)
Directed by: André Deed
Cast: André Deed, Giulia Costa, Gabriel Moreau, Mathilde Lambert

Milano Film, 80 Minutes, 26 Minutes (surviving footage)

Review:

Most of this movie has been lost to the sands of time.

26 minutes have survived and instead of fan made trailers or clips, I put a video featuring all the remaining footage at the bottom of this review.

What gives this film a unique place in motion picture history is that it was one of the very first science fiction movies from Italy and it was the first film in the world to feature a battle between robots.

The entire film was considered lost for decades but some reels of the Portugese version were found. These were eventually combined into the 26 minute cut that can be seen today.

This film’s director (and lead actor) had experience in slapstick comedy, so he brought that into this picture. Now his skills aren’t quite on the level of the greats like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton but he still brought a certain energy to the production.

The story revolves around a scientist who has made a remote control robot. This robot, as would become a sci-fi trope, possessed superhuman strength and speed. Some criminals end up killing the scientist in an effort to steal his robot making secrets. They are caught but eventually, the gang leader gets out and kidnaps the scientist’s niece, forcing her to give up the blueprints. The robot is then used for crime and even commits murder. However, the scientist’s brother creates a second robot to face off with the now evil one. The big robot battle takes place in an opera house.

While the film isn’t superb, I like it a lot because of the premise, which was pretty far ahead of its time. Also, the special effects for 1921 are top notch. For this era, this really is a blockbuster.

Nowadays, this movie is in the public domain. So you can easily find it online (see the video below) or find cheap copies of it on DVD.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other silent films like 1922’s The Headless Horseman, 1910’s Frankenstein and 1918’s The Ghost of Slumber Mountain.

Film Review: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Also known as: The Lodger (shortened title)
Release Date: January, 1927 (London premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Eliot Stannard
Based on: The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Cast: Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, June Tripp, Malcolm Keen, Ivor Novello

Gainsborough Pictures, Carlyle Blackwell Productions, 74 Minutes (National Film Archive print), 90 Minutes (TCM print), 67 Minutes (video version), 98 Minutes (Ontario version), 92 Minutes (2012 theatrical version), 90 Minutes (2012 restoration)

Review:

“Tall he was – and his face all wrapped up.” – Female Eyewitness

Being a big Hitchcock fanboy, I thought I really owed it to myself to go back and look at his really early work. So, with this, I went back to the silent era. This was also made before he made his way to Hollywood and became the premiere director of his time.

The Lodger is a dark and dreary film but it does have its lighthearted moments too. Hitchcock, even as early as 1927, was able to create a good balance between an intense thriller vibe and humor. This skill allowed him to lighten the tension, at the right moments, and he could do that like no other director from his era. And, in fact, seeing it used so well here, shows me that he was ahead of his time in how he constructed the narrative of his thrillers.

Another thing that was ahead of its time or, at least, much more advanced than the industry standard, was how Hitchcock did the title cards in his film. Many of them were animated and had a life and vibrancy that was unseen. He also used really interesting colors with them, which provided a bit more tonal context. You couldn’t watch this compared to what was common at the time and accuse this film of lacking energy.

Also, Hitchcock did a lot of interesting shots of people in close ups, reacting to things. While that’s not uncommon for the 1920s, he did it in a more avant-garde way.

Ultimately, this film really felt like Hitchcock was experimenting with a lot of techniques and style but it works really well here.

The story deals with a serial killer. He is only described as being tall and having a scarf around the lower half of his face. Not too long after that, a mysterious man moves into a room in the neighborhood and he fits the description of the killer, who is still at large.

I don’t want to spoil anything beyond that but this almost has a plot that feels noir in its style. But then a lot of Hitchcock films had noir qualities and tropes.

For 1927, this is a really solid motion picture. It was a very effective thriller that had me engaged from start to finish. It has an atmosphere that envelops you.

What The Lodger really showed me, however, is that Hitchcock was a pretty capable director from the get go and a true auteur.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other very early films by Hitchcock.