Mr. Bean and silence

Here are two of my favorite Mr. Bean clips.  One takes place in a library, and the other in a school exam.  I think the reason they work so well is because of the situation.  Both the library and the exam are places where quiet is expected, so Mr. Bean’s physical style seems natural.  The silence is normal and allows the audience to focus on the visuals and not be distracted by other sounds.   Places that have quiet imposed by rule have a certain tension, a certain formality.   Odd behavior is funnier when in happening in formal situations.  That’s why the Marx Brothers were usually juxtaposed with high society.

HA! @rowanatkinson just followed me on twitter!

The Three Stooges Movie

















I finally got to see the new Three Stooges movie from the Farrelly Brothers.  A week late, but still on the big screen.    I am always happy to see a slapstick movie in the theater.

There have been a few previous attempts to recapture great character comedies. “Brain Donors” (1992) was a pathetic run at doing Marx Brother style comedy. And I recently watched the awful “Little Rascals” feature from 1994. The highlight of that was a cameo appearance by Donald Trump as the parent of the rich kid. Trump, being himself, succeeded, where all the other actors were pretending to be other people, and they failed. Great characters are nearly impossible to reproduce with out the original actors.


The new Three Stooges, were… acceptable. Which is a success. Yes, I laughed. It wasn’t fall out of my seat funny, but there were plenty of good jokes, and they had the timing down pretty well. The most successful new Stooge, for me, was the young Moe, played by Skyler Gisondo during a short period in their back story.  He wore the wig well, and had the right nervous energy and verbal delivery.  They succeeded in pulling in all the old schtick, and then added in some fresh ideas. Times have changed, and the Farrelly’s did put their personal stamp on some of the material. The original Stooges wouldn’t have had a Catholic nun in a bikini, or a shot of a lions testicles, even if it did last less than a second.

The above shot wasn’t actually in the movie, and may be misleading in the content.  So don’t look at it.

Where the movie worked really well was with new characters. Larry David was very funny as Sister Mary-Mengele. And I think my favorite part may have been Moe becoming a member of the Jersey Shore cast and continually slapping, poking and bonking Snookie and the other idiots from that show.

There were just a few instances of digital effects being used. One involved Curly climbing a wooden ladder with a running chainsaw. He clips it to his belt, and climbs the ladder with the chainsaw dangling below, cutting the rungs neatly down the middle. I thought that worked well. Later, the Stooges are tossed over a 15 foot high wall, and we see them fly over the top, hit the ground head first, and get up, all in one shot. Obvious digital double work. In the old days, it would have been three dummies going over the wall, and a quick cut to them getting up. The old style was funny, but these days audiences expect more, and I appreciated the effort to update it, just to see what it looked like.  I do think they made an effort to make the flying bodies look somewhat like dummies, to fool the audience into expecting that.  It was a way to add something fresh to the show.

Another fun effect involved Sister Mary-Mengele being strapped to a table for a dental procedure.  When there is a knock on the door, they flip the table top over, and reveal a typical setting attached to what was the underside, including an open fish bowl that splashed water over the edge when it came around.

I applaud the PG rating, and was glad to take my 10 year old. A good portion of audience laughs were from the grown ups.  The Farrellys kept the story light, and the action moving.  I will probably watch it again on DVD.

Beginning, End, Middle

It is an often repeated mantra in animation that story is king.  I have read the book Story by Robert McKee, and if I were to write a feature screenplay I would probably refer to it often.   But it’s hard to imagine Chuck Jones or Nick Park using it for a funny animated short.  That’s because we don’t really want comedy to follow the rules.

If you are a student looking to create a short, funny film, here is a valuable clue on how to proceed. In some of Buster Keaton’s interviews, he describes his method of developing the stories for his movies. First of all, they didn’t start with a script.

“Well, we didn’t need a script. I knew in my mind what we were going to do, because with our way of working, there was always the unexpected happening. Well, anytime something unexpected happened and we liked it, we were liable to spend days shooting in and around that.”

Of course, everything really started with a character. In this case, Buster is bringing his personal character and style, and everything will be built around that. He and his gag men would work on devising a start, a scenario, a situation for him to be in. Generally it would be some sort of challenge, for Buster his manhood was often in question.  But the process from there is important to understand.

“…The main thing with laying out a story is, it’s easy to get a start, the finish is always the tough thing. So the minute somebody had an idea – we said what is it going to lead to? We don’t go to the middle of the story; we jump right to the finish. So the finish – this would be the natural finish- says now does that give us any opportunity for gags? Make it exciting, fast action sometimes, and a couple of outstanding gags.”

I have to point out that Buster’s method is exactly the same as that done in the Commedia Dell’arte.  The Dell’arte players would begin with a scenario, and have an agreed upon ending.  But all the action in the middle was created on the fly.

You see, in a comedy, there is an implied promise of a happy ending.  That is the “natural finish” Buster refers to.   The boy will get the girl, the fortune will be restored, the bad guy will be put out.  But the journey there needs to be full of surprises and uncertainty.  It’s all the business in the middle where the work happens.


The most violent Stooge sequence

I was out of town this past weekend, and was unable to see the new Three Stooges movie. Here is a re-post of an excellent Three Stooges video.

As soon as I saw which Stooge sequence this was, I wasn’t about to argue the “most violent” claim. Although I still distinctly remember another film where Moe brought a pickaxe down on Curly’s head, severely damaging a perfectly good pickaxe. I recommend watching it on youtube, at full screen. The little viewer reduces the impact.

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