What got me out of the house and into a seat at the theater last month? Illumination Entertainment’s incomprehensibly tolerable “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” did. Well, it wasn’t so much the movie itself that spurred me to go as it was my kids, who wanted to see it.
So as you can imagine, I did not expect to like it—the whole production gave me so many reasons to hate it, in fact! But for some reason I was fine with it. Like, I did not find myself actively disliking what was on the screen. It was mostly unremarkably acceptable, even kind of enjoyable! I won’t even attempt to analyze the reasons why. Sometimes we can’t explain how we react to movies, mostly because movies are not inherently logical. Movies make no sense! I’m okay with that.
To balance out my cinematic diet, I also watched a pretty healthy portion of classic silent cinema, which accounts for the unusually high number of movies in my roundup for the month: twenty-eight total, eight of which starred Harold Lloyd or Buster Keaton, and all of which are about a hundred years old now.
These are mostly one- or two-reelers, short films that go down incredibly easily. They’re a delight to watch and crackling with invention, and I almost constantly find myself wondering, “How did they do that?!”—not just the mind blowing practical stunt work, but also the hilarious gags that somehow still seem fresh. It’s hard to fathom how, after the subsequent century of filmmaking that followed the silent era, when nearly every trope was repeated endlessly, the works of these two geniuses still pop off the screen with endless, vibrant ingenuity. Watching Lloyd’s “Safety Last!” or Keaton’s “The General,” both monuments of the art form, is almost like seeing movies for the first time, so bright are the laughs and so kinetic is the action.
Here’s everything I watched in April.
“Beetlejuice” (1988) ★★ Rewatched. Mostly okay if you like Tim Burton.
“One Week” (1920) ★★★★ One of seemingly countless Buster Keaton shorts that, pound for pound, contain more excitement and invention than the entirety of most contemporary action franchises.
“Cops” (1922) ★★★½ Keaton lives out his horror of law enforcement.
“The Biggest Bundle of Them All” (1968) ★½ A zany 1960s heist comedy with a slack script and even slacker comedic chops, even if it sports a role for Vitorrio De Sica(!).
“Shin Godzilla” (2016) ★★★★ Beautifully realized, whip smart take on Godzilla shines the spotlight on the technocrats, civil servants and private/public partnerships that grapple with what to do about a monstrous lizard creature that emerges from the sea.
“The Way of the Dragon” (1972) ★★ It’s a tremendous shame that Bruce Lee never got one truly solid, top shelf, legitimately good script to work with.
“Grandma's Boy” (1922) ★★★½ Harold Lloyd in a typical setup: a meek man-child has to rise to the occasion. Even with a short runtime, Lloyd somehow manages to squeeze in a pretty full character arc, including a side trip to the Civil War.
“That's Him” (1918) ★★½ Another Lloyd short film, though this comedy of mistaken identity is pretty slight.
“Dr. Jack” (1922) ★★ Harold Lloyd as a country doctor who has all the answers can be fun, but somehow it doesn’t feel quite right.
“EO” (2022) ★★★★ A hauntingly affecting tour of human mendacity seen through the eyes of a heartbreakingly adorable donkey. This film is a real achievement even if it sometimes feels like a pretext for the director’s masterful aesthetic choices.
“Sing 2” (2021) ½ I actually like Bono but this is beyond the pale even for him.
“Shaun of the Dead” (2021) ★★★★ Rewatched. The one time that Edgar Wright truly hit it out of the park.
“Robbery” (1967) ★★★½ This heavily procedural heist film based on the real Great Train Robbery is all dudes all the time, so your mileage may vary.
“The Suspect” (1944) ★★★½ Gleefully polite fin de siècle noir set in London-town-upon-Hollywood puts Charles Laughton in a vice and squeezes tighter and tighter until someone does the sporting thing, cheerio, oi, bob’s yer uncle.
“Freaky Friday” (2003) ★★½ Starts off as a painful slog but when the body switch happens, Jamie Lee Curtis truly owns it.
“The General” (1926) ★★★½ Buster Keaton in an unexpectedly huge Civil War epic—they send a huge locomotive flying off of a bridge! Tons of fun, except for the distasteful romanticizing of the Confederate cause.
“RockNRolla” (2008) ★★ For Guy Ritchie completists only.
This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched in March, in February, in January, in 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.