If you live near either of Oklahoma’s major metro areas, November presents a good chance to catch a few comedy classics on the big screen. If you are in the Oklahoma City area, be sure to make it out to the screening of Kind Hearts and Coronets on Sunday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. One of the greatest dark comedies ever filmed, Kind Hearts’ tale of murder is buoyed by a bravura performance by Alec Guinness as eight different members of the same aristocratic family.
Those in Tulsa, meanwhile, will want to make time for Circle Cinema’s silent screening again this month, as it runs a double feature of Laurel & Hardy mayhem. The great comic duo will be featured in two short films, Double Whoopee and Wrong Again, the latter of which was directed by frequent collaborator Leo McCarey, one of the finest comic directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Pipe organ music by Bill Rowland will accompany both shorts, and the screening also includes a bonus Felix the Cat cartoon.
The Criterion Collection comes through once again this month, releasing DVDs of two of the prickliest, best comedies of our young century. Punch-Drunk Love and The Squid and the Whale both start with well-worn premises (the joys of new love and the struggles of teenage life, respectively) but take these ideas in acerbic, unexpected directions. Punch-Drunk Love features Adam Sandler in a bold, revelatory role (no, really) while The Squid and the Whale was one of Jesse Eisenberg’s first substantial roles.
Directors Paul Thomas Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love) and Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) are among the most exciting directors working today, and they bring sure hands and eccentric touches to their material. In particular, The Squid and the Whale, in part a semi-autobiographical rumination on Baumbach’s own childhood, aches with pathos and real feeling. At once cuttingly specific and universally recognizable, Eisenberg’s reluctant navigation of the adult world, which both seduces and frightens him, will make you wince while you laugh.
Oscar season has started in earnest, and the new Nat Turner biopic The Birth of a Nation appears to be a bona fide awards contender. It’s a bit reductive to call the film an American Braveheart, but there’s a certain resonance with that previous Best Picture winner: historical setting, inspirational uprising story (here the tale of a brief but symbolically rich Virginia slave revolt), and a mix of melodrama and high violence. The two films also feature actors starring in their own directorial debuts.
At this stage, like Mel Gibson in 1995, Nate Parker is a better actor than director. His performance as Nat Turner anchors his film, giving it weight and pathos. His directing is less sure, as it often falls back on clichéd dramatic flourishes, often prompted by the pedestrian script (also penned by Parker). Still, the film has moments of real power that make it worthwhile, especially when it embraces the fever-dream qualities of Nat’s prophetic visions. The film’s not perfect, but its good qualities make it worth seeking out.