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TODAY

Monday, October 16

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Airbags

Hey everyone. I decided to hold off on the War of the Worlds review until next week, and instead take a look at other offerings over the holiday weekend, including one very special program.


Safety Last! and the Harold Lloyd Film Series
The Music Box Theatre is doing something quite extraordinary in the next seven days, and I can't urge you strongly enough to see this incredible series. His silent and sound career existed in the shadows of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but some still consider Harold Lloyd one of the greatest comic actors ever to have made films. The athleticism is undeniable, although his acting probably isn't as polished as Chaplin or Keaton. For the next week, the Music Box is featuring eight of Lloyd's silent comedies and two of his rarely screened sound works in newly struck 35mm prints. In my lifetime, I've seen two of his films, so this opportunity clearly doesn't come around too many times.

One of Lloyd's more popular works is The Freshman, often ranked as one of the most financially successful comedies of the silent film era. The pacing of this movie--about a college freshman trying to make the football team--is relentless, and you will probably laugh more at this than any of the other films. The other Lloyd piece I'd seen before (and recently screened again) is the world-famous Safety Last!, which features one of the most famous images in screen history: Lloyd dangling from the hands of a giant clock high above the city streets below. These two movies are important landmarks in film comedy, and to pass up the opportunity to see them is unforgivable, says the snob in me.

Safety Last! is such a treat, and this print is extraordinarily clean considering the film's 1923 release date. The story involves a country boy (Lloyd) moving to the big city to make it big so he can bring his best girl (Mildred Davis) out to be with him and get married. His career as a department store clerk isn't bringing in much money, and his letters home to his girl have been filled with lies about how well he's doing. He inadvertently convinces her that he's filthy rich, and she decides to move to the city earlier than planned. Lloyd concocts a scheme to have a friend (Bill Strother) climb the side of the store as part of a publicity stunt to earn him some promised extra cash from the boss, but a series of wild happenings results in him climbing the building himself. The significance of that climb is as important to film history as Sir Edmund Hillary's scaling of Mt. Everest, but Lloyd's version is a little bit funnier.

Other films in the series include The Cat's Paw, Girl Shy (featuring a legendary chase scene), Movie Crazy, Speedy and Welcome Danger, perhaps the oddest film of the bunch. Originally shot as a silent film, then mostly re-shot for sound, the film's silent version has never been screened. What's playing at the Music Box is the silent version of the talkie film, struck for theatres that hadn't made the "sound" transition in 1929. UCLA restored this print recently, and the results are said to be spectacular.

The best thing about the series is that all 10 films are being shown as part of a double feature, and many of the silent films will include live organ accompaniment. Two for the price of one, folks. You can't beat that. Visit the Music Box website for the complete schedule of this extraordinary presentation.


Rebound
On an all-too-regular basis, I fear for the lives (and careers) of African-American stand-up comics, beginning with Richard Pryor and continuing with the talented likes of Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Bernie Mac, Chris Tucker and Eddie Griffin. On both the big and little screens, these men have made me laugh and think more than any other comics I've been exposed to, with the possible exception of Lenny Bruce. I worry about them so much, because whenever they make the inevitable transition to feature films, the studios put them through a comedy juicer, extracting all of the things about these performers that made them great and leaving us with the watered-down remains.

Sure, they have their big-screen moments once in a while, but if Head of State was your first exposure to Chris Rock or Bernie Mac, you'd never know that these men were comic geniuses. And isn't it criminal that there's an entire generation of young moviegoers who only know Eddie Murphy as The Nutty Professor, Dr. Doolittle and the voice of Donkey in Shrek? I miss the red jumpsuit and dirty jokes. In the struggle to get the widest audience possible, these men make PG- or PG-13-rated junk. The great irony is that the movies are so terrible that nobody goes to see them.

All of this preamble leads me to this: one of my favorite stand-up comics is Martin Lawrence. Like Bernie Mac, Lawrence doesn't tell jokes; he tells stories, some of the funniest dirty stories I've ever heard. And the guy has more heart in his storytelling than Garrison Keillor. Go rent his stand-up films You So Crazy or Runteldat, and tell me I'm wrong. But his feature films are almost universally, across-the-board, shit. Just before the screening of his latest tribute to crap, Rebound, they played a teaser trailer for Big Mama's House 2, and my heart sunk a little lower. It's not that I don't let out the occasional laugh at a Martin Lawrence movie; the man is naturally funny. But the films don't mean anything, they have no lasting value. Not all films need to, I accept that, but the gags are bad and uninspired, the characters don't behave like normal human beings behave, and the predictability factor is off the chart.

Perhaps the worst crime Lawrence's films commit is that they don't let Lawrence be Lawrence. They don't play to his strengths. Sometimes he makes a funny face and plays multiple characters (as he does in Rebound), but the films don't let Martin warm up to the audience. With Rebound, Lawrence plays a college basketball coach who is kicked out of the league and is forced to be the coach at his former middle school. His character is largely unlikable (which of course means redemption must be at the end of this rainbow), and you've pretty much figured out how things will turn out for all the characters within the first 15 minutes. The experience of sitting through Rebound is a seemingly never-ending waiting game with no payoff. The kids in my audience seemed to laugh a lot, so those parents reading should probably take note of that. Beyond that, what does Martin Lawrence have left to offer his oldest fans? If Rebound is it, I'm dropping out of the fan club.

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About the Author(s)

A Windy City resident for nearly 20 years, Steve writes about everything but movies at his day job for a trade journal publishing company. Using the alias Capone, he has been the Chicago Editor for Ain't It Cool News since 1998, and has been writing film reviews since he was a wee lad of 14, growing up in Maryland. Direct your questions or comments to .

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