Monday, April 29, 2019

Musical Monday with the Pet Shop Boys

It's a great video for one of the best songs from the Pet Shop Boys! Here's hoping you have a great Monday!

Sunday, April 28, 2019

'Hey There' is non-stop fun with great performances by all lead actors

Hey There (1918)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, William Blaisdell, and Harry Pollard
Director: Alfred J. Goulding
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

A man (Lloyd) goes to great lengths to return a letter dropped by a beautiful actress (Daniels). His attempt at gallantry throws an entire movie studio into chaos.

There are few films where "action-packed" is a more apt discriptor than it is for "Hey There". From the first fade-in to the final image of Harold Lloyd's character in the street, there is not a second wasted. Even better, as tightly packed as the script is with non-stop gags, its so well crafted that it provides some very nice character-defining moments that greatly enhance the film and give Bebe Daniels, William Blaisdell, and Lloyd to engage in acting that goes beyond merely clowning around. The writer of the film is unknown, or I'd be praising him by name.

This is another one of those films where Lloyd plays a guy on the make, but he comes off as more likable than in some of the others, partly because he's trying to do a nice thing (even if his motivations aren't entirely pure), and he's not intentionally trying to be an ass.

While the storytelling and performances by the actors are excellent, the film is made even more worthwhile by the way it takes a couple of silent movie tropes and demolishes them. One of my favorite bits in the film revolves around the nearly obligatory scene where a character in a rediculously bad disgusie tries to bluff one of the other characters.

I think even if you don't usually like silent movies, you might enjoy this one, due to the non-stop comedy and solid acting by the performers. That is doubly-true if you enjoy "behind the scenes"-type fictionalizations of the movie business and the personalities who work in it. (If you're a lover of hashtag activism, the film might also hold appeal, because it shows that directors have been sexually harassing actresses since the dawn of filmmaking.

I've made it easy for you to watch "Hey There" by embedding it below, via YouTube. The last bit of the movie is in bad shape, and I think a small or two piece may be missing toward the end as well, but it won't detract much from your enjoyment..

Friday, April 26, 2019

'Catch-As-Catch-Can' is a shaky start for the Todd/Pitts comedy series

Catch-As-Catch-Can (1931)
Starring: ZaSu Pitts, Thelma Todd, Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams, Al Cooke, Eddie Dillon, and Reed Howes
Director: Marshall Neilan
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When ZaSu (Pitts) and a professional wrestler (Williams) bond over their shared backgrounds as country folk, Thelma (Todd) and his manager (Howes) move to turn the bond into romance. When the ladies attend his big match to inspire him to fight, there's as much action in the audience as in the ring.

"Catch-As-Catch-Can" was the first true installment in the series of films that producer Hal Roach intended to use as a vehicle to create a female comedy team with the box-office might of Laurel & Hardy. While watching it, a thought kept popping into my head: There were better films later in the series, and Thelma Todd had enjoyed better vehicles in the Charley Chase films.

This isn't a bad film... but it's not exactly good either. It's nicely paced, all the actors do good jobs bringing to life a cast of pleasant and likable characters, but it's a little light on comedy. In fact, the first five-ten minutes of the film, which spends time setting up the two co-workers and roommates who are ostensibly the focus of the film, offer only a few mild chuckles... unless one thinks that a pair of home sick small-towners in the big city are funny just for being small-towners in the big city? The laughs don't even come from the main characters, but are instead generated by a drunk (Al Cooke) who first causes difficulties for Thelma and ZaSu at work, and then later at the wrestling match.

The fact the drunk is the source of comedy is sort of an early warning for what occurs in the second half of the movie, when the action movies to the sports arena. Technically, it's all extremely well-staged and filmed, and, as mentioned above, the actors are all great, but there are so many bit- and secondary players doing comedy routines that it feels like the main characters are almost being crowded out of their own picture. This sense is strengthened by the fact that those secondary players are also the ones who deliver most of the laughs.

Maybe my problem with the film is that the main characters get to mostly remain genteel and emerge from the evening's activities with their dignity mostly intact (even if poor ZaSu will need a hat)? This is not something I'm used to in these Hal Roach short films, especially when it comes to Thelma Todd. Todd usually manages to keep projecting poise and dignity even while her character is being subjected to, or taking part in, the most ridiculous slapstick situations. Even in the films where Todd is the "straight-woman", she usually gets to show off that remarkable ability to some degree.

"Catch-As-Catch Can" is a pleasant enough film, although it's an inauspicious beginning for Pitts' and Todd's run together. Since I intend to watch and review all of the films they were teamed for, I hope that this one is the exception rather than the rule. (I know that they made better films together than this one, since I've watched and reviewed a few of them already; this is the weakest of their 17 films together that I've seem so far.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Spacegirl Adventures, Part Seventeen

During 2011, I reposted the "Spacegirl" strips by Travis Charest here at Shades of Gray. Then I caught up to where he was, and I stopped. Charest continued, but I ended the postings here on a cliffhanger.

Today, those posts resume. I plan to post two "Spacegirl" strips every other Wednesday until I catch up with Charest again. Then we'll see how long it goes before she returns to this part of the galaxy. (In addition to the comic strips, I'll be posting an illo or two of a Space Girl by Charest or some other artist.)
The Space Girl of "Spacegirl" by Travis Charest

by Travis Charest

What Has Gone Before; On the run from her superiors, Spacegirl, has just escaped from a ship carrying a deadly life form. She is trying to reach the airlock of a nearby space station... without getting killed by its defensive cannons first.

By Bryan Baugh

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

'Convict 13' is a wonderful blend of slapstick and absurdist humor

Convict 13 (1920)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Joe Roberts, and Sybil Seely
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A series of events leads a golfer (Keaton) to be mistaken for an escaped convict and get dragged off to prison. That's when things get really crazy.

Sybil Seely and Buster Keaton in "Convict 13" (1920)

The first few minutes of "Convict 13" is a fun bit of comedy based around golf, which at that time was a growing craze sweeping the nation, flowing downward from the upper-class to engage anyone who had the money for clubs and the time to play. It offers up a little social commentary that's relevant even today, as well having an African-American play the part of a black caddy rather than have someone in black face doing it. The part was substantive in the opening scenes, which makes this even more remarkable.  (I recently watched a Harold Lloyd picture that I think was from this same year, and there were numerous men and women made-up to look as if they were African-American but weren't.)

With no warning, however, the film takes a turn for the humorously bizarre. After he gets hauled off to prison in case of mistaken identity, his problems keep escalating following failed escape attempts, foiling his execution in place of the prisoner he's been mistaken for, and finally a prison riot during which his girlfriend, who also happens to be the warden's daughter (played with great charm by Sybil Seeley).

As with a couple of the other early Buster Keaton films I've written about here, I don't want to go into too much detail about the storyline and the wonderful blend of absurdist humor and slapstick gags that come rapid-fire at the viewer, because it would spoil a lot of the fun. (I will say that "Convict 13" has one of the funniest aborted executions scenes you are likely to ever see. Additionally, Sybil Seely really gets to show off her comic chops in this one; it's easy to see why Keaton reportedly wished he could have been able to work with her on more films.)

Although it's a little slow at first, once "Convict 13" gets going, it turns into a hilariously wild ride. What's more, it's tightly scripted, so gags set up other gags as the film unfolds. It is so good that I am even able to overlook the fact that it concludes using what I find one of the most annoying ways to wrap up a story, be it fiction or film; in fact, if I were to set aside my biases, I might even say that this is one of those very rare creations where that ending is actually appropriate.

I recommend that you sit back and watch this great movie, right now, via the embedded YouTube video below!

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Milla Jovovich Quarterly on Musical Monday

In 2016, Milla Jovovich made her directorial debut at the helm of the video for a single from UK musician Sohn. She also stars in the haunting piece of film, which sees her giving a dramatic non-verbal performance in front of a screen where she's giving a dramatic non-verbal performance while a third image of her is being projected upon her face and bare shoulders. You can check out the excellent song and even more excellent video below.

Milla will be back for another appearance next quarter... and hopefully she'll seem a little happier then!

NOTE: This post was originally slated to appear in February, but I forgot to let it "go live." (It was probably Fate, given that Milla Jovovich can currently be seen in theaters as the villain in the new "Hellboy" movie. I hope to get around to seeing it this weekend! I trust she will be as spectacular as she always is!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

'Broad Minded' is an uneven comedy with a great performance from Bela Lugosi

Broad Minded (1931)
Starring: William Collier Jr., Joe E. Brown, Thelma Todd, Ona Munson, Bela Lugosi, Marjorie White,  Margaret Livingston, and Grayce Hampton
Director: Mervyn LeRoy
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When Jack (Collier) is ordered by his father to give up his idle life of partying and womanizing, he drives cross-country with his cousin Ossie (Brown), from New York to California. Along the way, the two make an enemy (Lugosi), and find a pair of new girl friends (Munson and White). But then the life they knew in New York catches up with them in the form of an actress who is friends with Ozzie (Todd), and Jack's ex-fiancee, who was partly responsible for his exile (Livingston).

"Broad Minded" is an uneven comedy that features a talented cast who are doing their best with a sloppily written script. It's possible that some jokes made sense to audiences in 1931 have lost all context and meaning nearly 90 years later, but even allowing for that, more jokes fall flat in this film than not.

This is the first time I've come across Joe E. Brown in a film, although I have been vaguely aware of the name; he's one of those once-famous film stars that has since become all-but-forgotten. Although William Collier Jr. is arguably the main character of the story, this is very much Brown's picture, with much screentime devoted to him doing physical bits, being generally goofy, and showing off his unnaturally large mouth. Because of so much of the film's comedy revolves around Brown, his character is also the main victim of the sloppiness of the script. On the one hand, we a supposed to believe that Ossie has a wholesome image and is viewed by Jack's father and others as responsible and mature enough to be a role-model for the hardpartying Jack to follow onto the straight-and narrow. On the other hand, Ossie is a college dropout who parties even harder than Jack, is a bigger womanizer than Jack, and doesn't make any effort to hide what he is. The writers also couldn't seem to make up their minds whether Ossie is dumb as a post, or an intelligent guy who just doesn't care about anything but making life fun for himself and those around him. He's written as both ways as the film unfolds. Beyond this, I can't really judge Brown's performance, because I have nothing else to measure it against.

The rest of the film's characters recieve very little development, and they are pretty much the stock figures you'd expect to find in a comedy from this period. Ona Munson and Marjorie White are nothing more than pretty love interests for the two main characters (and they don't do much aside from looking pretty and to be there for Brown to bounce jokes off); Grayce Hampton is the old, bitter aunt standing in the way of the young couples having fun; and so on. Only William Collier Jr. breaks the mold a bit, as Jack is more interesting and charismatic than many romantic leads from movies of this type. I think it's more Collier's credit as an actor than it is to the writers; he gave his character more life than it probably deserved.

Meanwhile, Thelma Todd, who appears late in the film in a pivotal role, isn't as good here as she was in other films she made around the same time. She holds the screen like she always does, but she seems stiffer and less lively than I think I've ever seen her--and that includes films where her only function was to stand around and be pretty (the sort of roles performed here by Munson and White). Perhaps Todd was one of those performers who needed the right partner to play off (as seen in her excellent films co-starring with Charley Chase)

Among the cast laboring in this substandard movie, however, it is Bela Lugosi shines the brightest and puts forth the most effort. "Broad Minded" is among the best performances I've seen from Bela Lugosi--and may be the best. He, as the closest thing it has to a villain, gets to be menacing, funny, and even just plain emotional when he thinks his beloved Gerdie is cheating on him with Collier, Brown, or perhaps even both. Lugosi shows here that he had a much greater range than he was allowed to show in almost any other picture he appeared in. "Dracula" may have been his break-through role, but it also put him in a box that I think did his career a great deal of harm, and ultimately robbed audiences of what could have been many great performances.

In the final analysis, "Broad Minded" has enough entertaining bits--the opening debauched "baby party" held by Jacks soon-to-be ex-fiance and every scene featuring Bela Lugosi--to make it enjoyable, but it's not a movie that needs to be high on your list of priorities.

On a personal note that has very little to do with "Broad Minded", I found a bit of the "road-trip" portion of the film fascinating. When I was a kid in the 1980s, we traveled throughout the United States. One of the trips, I remember a couple kitchy Indian rest-stops/cafes like the one Jack and Ossie stop at in this movie. Part of me is now tempted to take a drive through Nevada and Arizona to see if any such places still exist, or if America has changed more in the past 30 years than it did in the 50 years between the release of "Broad Minded" and my childhood.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

We're getting ready for Easter...

... but we're running a bit behind on the decorations. Jean Arthur stopped by to help, and we're working as fast as we can!

Friday, April 19, 2019

Horror master Ito adapts 'Frankenstein', and tells the weird tale of Oshikiri's many lives

Frankenstein (2018, Viz Media)
Story and Art: Junji Ito
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Junji Ito is an undisputed master of horror comics. He is one of the few creators who can make comics as unsettling as a good piece of horror fiction, or a well-made horror movie. He's been writing and drawing horror tales since 1987, and he's only been getting better as the years have passed; almost every artist reaches a peak and then starts to decline... Ito, thankfully hasn't gotten to that point yet.

One of the most recent collections of his work to be printed in English is "Frankenstein." The book draws its title from a rare long-form effort, an adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel that takes up roughly have the pages, with eight shot horror tales, and two cute little pet stories, filling the rest of book.

Ito's "Frankenstein" is a little over 180 pages in length, and it is one of the best comics adaptations of Shelly's novel that I've read; it's almost as good as the one by Mike Friedrich and Mike Ploog published by Marvel Comics in the early 1970s, which remains my favorite. Where the Marvel adaptation took its visual inspiration from Universal Pictures movies released during the late 1930s and early 1940s, Ito's visualization of Victor Frankenstein and his creation seemed more inspired by the movies from the 1950s and 1960s released by Hammer Films; there is more than one panel where Frankenstein has an uncanny resemblance to Peter Cushing. The monster also bears a passing similarity to the make-up job on Christopher Lee in 1957's "The Curse of Frankenstein"... but it's a very slight one.

Lovers of Ito's typical style may find his "Frankenstein" adaptation a little long-winded, because it contains none of the Lovecraftian horror they are used to. Further, unlike his other adaptation of a classic--his take on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves", which can be summarized as "Tomie Meets Fantasy"--Ito doesn't stray far from his source. Some events from the novel are condensed or glossed over, but it's far more faithful an adaptation than most, and thus it's something that may be appreciated more by general horror fans, or fans of gothic horror, than Ito's dedicated followers.

In fact, the only thing about Ito's "Frankenstein" adaptation that I'd peg as Signature Ito is the appearance of the monster. Everything else about the story seems more restrained and in keeping with the tone and style of the source novel than his usual output. This makes the grotesque nature of Frankenstein's monstrous creation such a striking element that the reader easily shares in the horror felt by the characters in the story. On the reverse side, Ito's characterization of the monster is such that the reader initially feels great sympathy for it, because all it wants is safety and acceptance and love. Once the creature realizes it will never have those things, and embarks on its quest for revenge against Frankenstein, the reader loses that sympathy, although retains a full understanding of why the monster behaves as it does, even if Frankenstein may not. At the end of the adaptation, however, readers will once again feel sympathy for the monster, because, like an abused child or animal, all the violence and acts of evil it committed were a cray for its creator's acceptance, attention, and even the love it so desperately wanted.

Also included in this collection are all the tales focusing on a teenaged boy named Oshikiri. The first couple of tales seem like they are completely unrelated except for the fact that they, strangely, feature the same main character. There appears to be no continuity between them since in the first story he is a psychopathic killer and in the second story he's a lonely boy who becomes attracted to a similarly lonely girl... who turns out to be unhinged. The strange twist ending of the second story, however, sets the stage for the revelation in stories that follow that Oshikiri's house is riddled with portals to other realities, and that people are passing back and forth between them, sometimes at will, sometimes by accident. The last tales in the Oshikiri Cycle (to give the group of stories a name) are a two-part tour-de-forces that include everything regular readers associate with Junji Ito's work--unexplained supernatural horrors, strange bodily transformations, and creeping insanity--and ends with a very creepy final image that implies the multi-universal horror continues on.

Rounding out the book are two stand-alone horror stories and two brief tales about Non-Non, Ito's mother's dog. The pet stories have a charming, rather than chilling, vibe to them, just like the cat stories in Yon & Mu. The two horror stories are some of the weaker efforts I've seen from Ito, with mercifully brief "The Hell of the Doll Funeral" being among his worst (treading similar ground to that he covered so much better in "Dying Young"  from the Flesh-Colored Horror anthology), and "Face Firmly in Place", a tale that must have been inspired by Ito's days working in the dentistry field, but which, while a solid excursion into terror, is undermined by an unrealistic situation--unless clinics and hospitals in Japan are run in a completely incompetent fashion.

Despite the inclusion of two weak short stories, this book is a great read that I recommend highly. Once again, I feel that Ito's work will appeal to horror fans who even like to say they don't like "manga". In fact, those two weak stories barely impacted my rating at all... I'm giving the book Eight Stars because I will forever knock a Full Star off any book that features the sort of sloppy translations that have become the accepted standard in the marketplace where the book reads from what is normally the back and to the front and from right-to-left, because that is how it reads in the original Japanese. Most readers don't mind, so it's just my personal issue. .

Monday, April 15, 2019

Musical Monday: The Connells

The Connells was a great "jangley guitars" band that deserves to be far wider known than they are. Their "Fun and Games" album was a fantastic effort, and it's one that finds it way into my CD player every so often even now. (After I got over my music burn-out--which followed my years as a music reviewer--"Fun and Games" was even one of the first albums I turned to.)

Here's one of the many under-appreciated Connells song. Hopefully it will help to get your week off to a great start!

Friday, April 12, 2019

'The Flirt' will give you a few chuckles

The Flirt (1917)
Starring: Harold Lloyd, Bebe Daniels, and Harry Pollard
Director: William Gilbert
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A man on the make (Lloyd) takes a job as a waiter so he can flirt with a pretty cashier (Daniels).

As I sample Harold Lloyd's short films, I am finding myself more annoyed than amused by them. So far, I haven't bothered writing up any that annoyed me, because the comments would basically be the same: "I barely made it through this film, because Lloyd's character was such an unpleasant jerk I had no reason stick with it."

"The Flirt" was, fortunately, not one those. Its a brief film (7 minutes long) that sees Lloyd play the sort of unpleasant character that was his stock and trade in his early pictures--a self-centered jerk who goes looking for trouble and causes chaos everywhere he goes through indifference to others and laziness. I found that character tolerable in this one, in part because he is set up from the beginning as a total heel, but also because his obnoxious behavior is very, very funny in this one.

The film opens with Harold in the park looking for a beautiful girl to hit on. He spots Bebe Daniels, follows her to work, and proceeds to wreak havoc in a retraunts dining room and kitchen as he tries to create a window of opportunity to flirt with her. The five minutes of the film where Harold "works" in the restaurant are a series of rapid-fire series of sight-gags and prat-falls that culminate in a patron becoming so frustrated that he goes on a shooting spree in an attempt to give Harold the sort of tip he so richly deserves. In addition to Lloyd's antics, there's a burly uncredited actor who plays the eatery's chef who also gets to be quite funny--and who at one point also nearly gives Harold what he deserves. This film also sits better with me than other Lloyd films I've seen, because of the ending. It's about as perfect and amusing as I could have wished for.

I've embedded "The Flirt" below, and I encourage you take a few minutes to watch it. If you like absurd physical comedy, I think you'll enjoy this one, even if the lead character is a bit unpleasant.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

'The Boat' is another must-see silent flick

The Boat (1921)
Starring: Buster Keaton, Sybil Seely, and Eddie Cline
Directors: Buster Keaton and Eddie Cline
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

A husband (Keaton) builds a boat in his garage and takes his family sailing. Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.

I read somewhere that "The Boat" was, in Buster Keaton's mind, viewed as a sequel to "One Week", a film about the doomed effort by newly-weds to a home from a kit. At one point, Keaton even suggested that the two films be combined to form a single longer feature, although that never happened.

"The Boat" is another masterful mix of aburdist humor, slapstick and set construction, none of which I want to go into detail about because it will spoil the surprises and the laughs. There is also some impressive miniature effects when the boat is caught in a storm and capsizes again and again and again (which is where some of the impressive sets and stunt work also come into play).

The final five or so minutes of the film get a little too intense for me, and I found laughing despite myself--especially at the joke around the boat's name, Damfino--but that intensity gave the film's conclusion (and the SECOND joke based off the boat's name) that much more impact.

This is another film that makes it clear why Buster Keaton is considered one of the masters of early filmmaking. I think it would be entertaining to anyone who enjoys absurdist humor, especially if it is darkly tinged. That's even if you usually say you don't like silent movies. I've made it easy for visitors to watch this great little movie, as I've embedded it below, via YouTube.


Sunday, April 7, 2019

'The Pip from Pittsburg' deserves its reputation as a comedy classic

The Pip from Pittsburg (1931)
Starring: Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, Carleton Griffin, Dorothy Granger, and Kay Deslys
Director: James Parrott
Rating: Ten of Ten Stars

When Charley (Chase) thinks his buddy Griff (Griffn) is forcing him on another terrible blind date, he does everything he can to make himself unattractive--not shaving, dressing like a slob, and eating a fistful of garlic. When his date turns out to be the beautiful and charming Miss Todd (Todd), Charley tries to make himself presentable on the fly.

By the time "The Pip from Pittsburg" was made, Thelma Todd was about to be headlining her own series of comedies for Hal Roach, so this was the second-to-last film she'd make as Charley Chase's leading lady. However, the best was saved for last as his is unarguably the best picture they made together... and one of the best comedies either one of them appeared in.

The film hits the ground running with a gag within the first ten seconds and then keeps the laughs coming until Chase and Todd tumble from a balcony at a charity dance thrown into chaos. Like other great Chase comedies, this is a carefully orchestrated and tightly scripted affair. The pacing and comic timing are stop-on, with the plot setting up the gags, the gags unfolding with perfect precision while driving the story forward so the next gag can be set up.

All cast members give excellent performances. Unfortunately, the majority of the time Chase and Todd share the screen together is a comedic dance scene like "The Real McCoy" so we don't get any of that fantastic interplay between them that was in "Dollar Dizzy" and "Looser Than Loose". In fact, like in "The Real McCoy", Todd doesn't have much to do in this film except be pretty and charming, but since she excels at both of those, I can't complain too much. Further, the way Chase goes about cleaning up his appearance while a dance unfolds around him more than makes up for any nitpicking I feel inclined to do. Like the rest of the film, it's a multipart routine that's brilliantly and precisly executed. (It's such a well done and funny series of gags that I even forgive Chase's character for being something of an unpleasant jerk.)

"The Pip From Pittsburg" is genuine comedy classic, and it's one of the seventeen films included in the two-DVD set Charley Chase at Hal Roach: The Talkies 1930-1931. It's a must-see if you've enjoyed any comedies starring Charley Chase, Thelma Todd, and/or  Dorothy Granger. While Granger is still clearly learning the ropes at this point in her career, she does a nice job with a rather small part.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

'Table for One' is a great read

Table for One (2004)
Story and Art: Bosch Fawstin
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Will's obnoxious boss bet him that he wouldn't last one year as a waiter in his restaurant. It's now one year later, and Will intends to collect the money owed and leave the place behind. Unfortunately for Will, his boss won't let him go quietly...

"Table for One" is a small story that deals with a single night, but it's a night that will looms large in the lives of most of the characters. Although I appreciated the film-noirish aestitic of the book's art and tone from the first pages, I felt it was a little on the talkie side. I was drawn into the story by the artistic style and the fact that Fawstin is a good enough writer that each character had a unique voice, but I felt that what I was reading might have been better served by the film medium. I've been saying that more and more about modern comics, because, increasingly, artists and writers don't seem to understand the difference between film and comics. That wasn't the issue with Fawstin's book; here, I just felt that maybe comics wasn't right vehicle for the story he wanted to tell.

But then I hit the spread on pages 21 and 22.

I have read thousands of comic books and graphic novels. I have edited hundreds of comic book pages. That two page spread is one of the very best examples of comic book storytelling that I have ever seen. It captures the hustle and bustle of a busy restaurant dining room and tracks Will's movement from table to table as he waits on the guests and hears parts of their conversations. Those two pages capture both movement and the passage of time in such an artful way that it puts Fawstin on a level of skill that few creators reach. Those two pages also proved that my feeling about Fawstin choosing the wrong vehicle to tell his story were absolutely wrong.

That fantastic two page spread also marked the point where the story kicked into high gear and the dramatic stakes were raised and then raised again. While I wished I knew more about how the diner who insisted he be called God by the restaurant's owner fit into the picture, there was more than enough drama and brilliant storytelling to satisfy me. I loved the way Will and his relationship to the various characters unfolded as I turned the pages. The book even came to a perfect end that contained elements that I knew were coming and other elements that were pleasant surprises... but all of which were perfectly conceived and expertly executed.

"Table for One" is available at Amazon. com via the link below, or directly from Fawstin's online store at this link. I recommend getting it, and I recommend getting the autographed version so you can send a few more dollars in the direction of this brilliant creator.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Abbott & Costello are great in an otherwise mediocre movie

In Society (aka "Abbott & Costello In Society") (1944)
Starring: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Marion Hutton, Kirby Grant, and Ann Gillis
Director: Jean Yarbrough and Earl C. Kenton
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A series of mistakes and bad assumptions lead to a female cab driver (Hutton) and her incompetent plumber friends (Abbott and Costello) to be drawn into the social machinations of high society, as well as an art heist.

"In Society" is one of the weaker Abbott & Costello films. It's main problem is an unevenness of tone and energy. When it's Abbott & Costello are being mischievous and/or destroying property, the film is lively and full of energy. When the rest of the cast are off in other scenes setting up the plot or moving it forward, things are stilted, overly stagy, and borderline dull. It doesn't help matters that the obligatory songs in the film are performed by Marion Hutton--a pretty lady but a so-so singer and an awful actress. Her film career consisted of just four entires, and this was her only starring role... and judging from her performances in this film, it's no surprise why what is.

Another aspect of "In Society" that bothered me is that Abbott & Costello's standard characters have been ramped up to the point where Abbott is so vicious toward Costello that I had a very strong dislike for him, a dislike that was intensified by the fact that Costello was so dim and childlike in the way he played that he came across as simpleminded or even retarded, which made Abbott's behavior seem even more reprehensible. I had a similar reaction to Abbott's character in "Hold That Ghost", but it was more intense here. 

For all I didn't like about the film, I loved the four major comedic set-pieces that A&C have in the film--and they got a full star in my rating by themselves--the bit where Costello sets up work for their plumbing company; the bit where he argues with a police officer about honking a car-horn at night; the bit where they destroy the bathroom in a mansion; Costello trying to get directions from people on a city street; the pair disrupting a gathering of snooty rich people; and the climactic scene where they are chasing thieves on a fire truck are them at the top of their game (even if I think that chase scene relies a bit too much on stock footage).

"In Society" is nowhere near the best Abbott & Costello film, so you can save it until you've watched the others included in eight-movie collection The Best of Abbott and Costello Volume 2.