Catching up on my movies log from late summer here. At the end of August I went to see “Bottoms,” the new comedy by Emma Seligman (who also made the scrappy “Shiva Baby”). There’s a lot of funny stuff going on in this madcap, subversive teen comedy, but watching it as a fan of slapstick is also an exercise in frustration. Like so many other films where realism and verisimilitude are distorted for the sake of the jokes, “Bottoms” continually hints at going for broke, truly unleashing a no-holds-barred sensibility that could elevate it into classic status. And time and again, it pulls back from the brink, opting instead for pro forma sentimentality or uninspired moralizing or just unnecessary emotional exposition. As a result the laughs are outweighed by the wasted potential.
What always confounds me about these movies is that we live in a time when it should be easier than ever, technically, to push slapstick comedies to their absolute limit. The kind of sight gags that legends of the form Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker used to produce were incredibly laborious and often difficult to set up in pre-CG Hollywood. Take for example the bar fight in an Old West saloon that was staged under water in their 1984 film “Top Secret!”; it only lasts for a minute or so but it’s a triumph of whatever-it-takes filmmaking.
With the robust CG-fueled toolbox at the disposal of today’s directors, those kinds of gags are infinitely easier to pull off. The onscreen rendering of absurd, surreal, completely unexpected non sequitirs of virtually any scale are now theoretically within the grasp of any comedy director. In fact, we should be living in a golden age of slapstick comedy right now; screens should be overflowing with 21st century riffs on “Airplane!” It’s a mystery—a frustrating mystery to me—why we’re not.
Here are all seventeen movies I watched in August.
“Desperately Seeking Susan” (1985) ★★★½ Not a perfect film, but an ideal vehicle for Madonna, and a lovely time capsule of early 80s New York.
“They Cloned Tyrone” (2023) ★★★½ The first hour of this loopy sci-fi horror comedy is practically on fire. The rest can’t match that, but this is still better than most original streaming productions. Doubly sad then that it just got lost in the shuffle.
“Spaceballs” (1987) ★★ Sadly this is just an amusing slog.
“The Goat” (1921) ★★★★ Buster Keaton takes on the police.
“The Frozen North” (1922) ★★½ Uncharacteristically brutal, even for a Buster Keaton joint.