Cheaper by the Dozen

Steve's reviews.

Cheaper by the Dozen -- Films to Truckle to Moron Minds

A fellow worker supplied me with the following clipping. It came from Spokane's Spokesman-Review, Oct. 11, 1927. I have transcribed only the first half as the second portion is on another motion picture business matter:

FILMS TO TRUCKLE TO MORON MINDS

Producers Promise to Sterilize Movies Rigorously

TONE DOWN CRIME

Won't Portray Outlawry Too Vividly in Future, They Agree

...

Aimed at making the movies safe for the American moron, and so for the rest of the public, a resolution embodying a list of "won'ts" for producers was offered today by Louis B. Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, at the opening session of the trade practice conference called by the federal trade commission.

It was resolved that special care be exercised in the movie portrayal of theft, robbery, safe-cracking and dynamiting of trains, mines, buildings, etc., "having in mind the effect which a too detailed description of these may have upon the moron."

Among other won'ts which Mayer, speaking for the 45 companies comprising the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, Inc., asked the conference to adopt, were the film dissemination of profanity, portrayal of nudity, traffic in drugs, ridicule of the clergy, offense to any nation, race or creed, arson, use of firearms, technique of murder, methods of smuggling and sedition.

After some discussion from the floor, during which representatives of the three branches of the Industry-- the producers, distributors and exhibitors-- all expressed themselves in favor of the spirit of the resolution, it was put over for voting tomorrow ...

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 7

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Tony Rosato. This tape contains early mid-SCTV before Moranis joined. Women say the darndest things, Butch Grant Show, Earl and Floyd SCTV news, Rockin' Mel Slurp's SCTV disco, Liberace's tax advice, Bob and Betty, Mayor Tommy Shanks, Ronko Weiner Skinner, Count Floyd, Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Stewardesses, Pipeline, Paul Fistinyourface, Young Weasels, Undercover policewoman, Simple Touch Whitener, SCTV mailbag, Graft Cheese, Take the Money and Run, Natalie Ringnecker (a precurser to the Kids in the Hall Chicken Lady?), Taps Friendly No-Name Supermarket, Dining With LaRue (Johnny visits a French restaurant), Flaming Turkey, Big Giant Restaurant, Relaxing with Raoul, Endangered guns, Two Goofs Grocery Store, 7 warning signs of mental illness, Insights with Hugh Betcha, Socrates, Meet the Pawnbroker, Earthquake in Togo, Firing Squad: William F. Buckley vs. Meatloaf. These are very silly people who communicate the joy they must have been feeling when they put this together. Great stuff.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Brian Mills (1988, VHS). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, James Faulkner, Kristoffer Tabori. "This case possesses features that are entirely its own." One of the best of the Jeremy Brett series about the great detective. Director Mills appears to have had a limited output during his career, which is too bad as this piece is well crafted. It is grim, foggy, and the shots are beautifully composed. The landscape reminds me a little bit of the Ausable Chasm in Upstate New York. The whole color scheme is in a washed out earth tone that works with the feeling of the story. And speaking of the story, Holmes himself is absent during the middle third, which helps us concentrate more on the plot and less on a central character. And a great plot it is. The buttoned down stereotyped British politeness and rationality of the principal characters stands in sharp contrast to the paranormal superstition of the Baskerville curse and the substory of a murderous madman running loose in the moor. Conan Doyle's language is always a pleasure to hear, especially when delivered by this cast. It was also very nice to see an American portrayed in a BBC production in an admirable way rather than as an arrogant and ignorant jerk. The villain loses his way, both morally and physically, and pays the ulitmate price as the moor plays the part of judge, jury, and executioner. There are two parts I especially enjoyed in this one. First, an anthropologist/doctor looks at Holmes and says, "I covet your skull," adding, "Would you have any objection to my running my finger along your parietal fissure?" This gives Holmes a very rare outburst of laughter. Second, Holmes has been hiding out in a cave, and when Watson finds him, Holmes offers him "meager refreshment" which turns out to be a repulsive cold stew. "It's quite disgusting," says Watson, not touching it. Holmes: "Yes. Yes it is. It's better when it's hot." I guess you have to see Brett's delivery to have the full effect. I had to stop in the middle of this video for some reason, and when I came back it had somehow rewound to the beginning. And in the course of rewinding to where I left off, I noticed the sped up blinking of the actors and realized they were communicating something in Morse Code with their up-and-down eyelids. I dutifully recorded all this and found they were revealing the clue to the story. They were saying, "Joey did it." For those who are unfamiliar with the Jeremy Brett version of Sherlock Holmes, this would be an excellent place to start. As far as I am concerned, Brett's version of Holmes is definitive.

Pire Hara / directed by Mahvash Shaykh-Aleslami (2002, VHS off-air). This Iranian short film presents a lone fisherman who lives next to the Caspian Sea. We watch as he fishes, gets water from a well, washes his clothes, and shaves. There is no narration. Excitement plus!

Swimming With Sharks / directed by George Huang (1994, VHS). Kevin Spacey, Frank Whaley, Michelle Forbes, Benicio Del Toro. Yet another drama billed as a "comedy." Spacey plays the Boss from Hell, an executive in the movie industry who is an emotional, spiritual and even physical bully. "If you're not a rebel at the age of 20 you've got no heart," he says, "but if you haven't turned establishment by 30 you've got no brains." The story is too relentlessly brutal, mean-spirited and Darwinian to be considered funny, especially given the serious backstory of anger, fear and pain behind the major characters. Spacey's performance is so convincing, it makes me wonder exactly who and where he was drawing from to re-enact such traits. Great soundtrack, which also lends a more dramatic and less humorous tone to the story. I used the word "relentlessly," and the audience never really gets a chance to rest or feel any sense of relief from the nastiness and self-absorbed ambition of the principals. It is a difficult movie to take in at one unbroken sitting. The ending is European, and Spacey predicts it with the quote: "Everyone lies. Good guys lose. And love does not conquer all." He gives us a superb acting job, but I don't need to ever see this film again.

"Half-Wits Holiday" (Half-Wits Holiday & Other Nyuks) / directed by Jules White (1947, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Symona Boniface, Emil Sitka, Vernon Dent, Johnny Kascier. Very funny and very sad. First, the funny bits. Two professors debating nature vs. nuture make a bet that the pro-environment/anti-hereditary academic will be able to make "gentlemen" out of the Three Stooges within 60 days. This is basically a remake of their 1935 piece, "Hoi Polloi." The Stooges, when called "morons," proudly display their Amalgamated Association of Morons membership button and recite the Association's chant. In another classic Moe moment, he holds a book in an upside down position and attempts to read it, reciting nonsense words as only he could. The final scene, set at a hoit de la toit party, erupts into a big pie fight. This was the first appearance of Stooge regular supporting actor Emil Sitka. In terms of primal humor that makes me laugh out loud: 23 pies in the face, 10 head konks, 4 hits in the stomach using the drum sound effect, 2 each of face slaps, hair pulling, and swift kicks to the behind, and single instances of feet crushed, hand smashed, face kicked, hot cigar ashes dropped into mouth, falling on butt, hand chop to throat, jab to nose, nose bitten, face sprayed with champagne, falling on face, and a finger bitten. There are, incredibly enough, no eye pokes here, although the nose jab has the same sound effect and could easily be mistaken for an eye poke if casually observed. On the sad side, Curly looks awful and seems sluggish. You'll notice he is absent from the big pie fight. This was due to the fact he had a serious stroke on the set (May 6, 1946) before filming came to an end. Serious enough to end his career as a Stooge, making this short the swan song for the most beloved actor in the group. He was only 42. Curly did make a brief nonspeaking cameo appearance in one more Stooge short before his death at age 48, Jan. 18, 1952.

"The Dentist" (W.C. Fields, World's Funniest Man) / directed by Leslie Pearce (1932, VHS). W.C. Fields, Marjorie "Babe" Kane, Elise Cavanna, Bud Jamison. Basically three different skits cobbled into one short comedy. First we see Fields the cranky father and a visual gag with a block of ice. Second, we see Fields the unpleasant golfer. Third, Fields the misanthropic and incompetent ("Have you ever had this tooth pulled before?") dentist. In this last role he engages in some very risque and suggestive dialogue and choreography, enough so that I recall this being shown as an extra during a college film night in the 1970s for that very reason. Two supporting actors deserve mention. A very young Bud Jamison, a regular with the Three Stooges, shows up on the golf course. I didn't know until today he was dead by the time he was my age (let's just say, over 50 and call it good). The characters he played usually seemed so much older. One of Field's dental patients was played by Elise Cavanna, who had a pretty amazing career as a painter, dancer, and chef. Some good sight gags in this one.

The African Queen / directed by John Huston (1951, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Morley, Theodore Bikel, Peter Bull. Set in German East Africa in Sept. 1914, right after the start of World War I. Charlie Allnut (Bogart) is the Canadian skipper of the 30-ft steamer, African Queen. He's uncouth, his stomach growls, he drinks gin like water, smokes cigars, he needs a shave and his grammar is poor. Rose Sayer (Hepburn) is an English spinster and fellow Methodist missionary with her brother (Morley). Circumstance sends Charlie and Rose down the river together first as refugees, then as partners on a mission to serve England as they seek to sink a German warship (I like the cadence of that: "seek to sink a German warship." Try it as a mantra). They occasionally get a little help from Divine Providence. Charlie is a natural guy, and a foil for Rose who says, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put on this world to rise above." Yet the two travel into a more primal world that continues to separate them from the social roles they were expected to play and pares them down to their essence as the river flows on. He challenges her humanity and her Christian dogma and you can guess the result. As a love story, this is Bogart's best. Hey, the guy won an Oscar for this role! Sure, Rick in Casablanca was the perfect romantic lead, but most of us fellows can relate easier to the more realistic and less sophisticated Charlie. When we look in the mirror we want to see the former, but instead we have to accept we see the latter looking back at us on that pane of glass. This is a very rich movie, touching on a wide variety of human universals. Aside from the dated soundtrack (although animal noises are used to good effect) and the washed out color or lighting, this movie is about as close to perfect as they come. It has one of the all time great wedding scenes in all of movie history: "By the authority vested in me by Kaiser William II, I pronounce you man and wife. Proceed with the execution." Watch for a very young Theodore Bikel as a German officer in one of his first screen roles. If you are interested in a detailed behind the scenes making of this film, I would suggest Hepburn's book, "The Making of the African Queen, or, How I Went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind" (A.A. Knopf, 1987). I have a copy if anyone out there wants to borrow it.

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy / directed by Kelly Makin (1996, VHS). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, Paul Bellini, Selma Blair, Brendan Fraser (uncredited). The Kids give us a story about the underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry via the mood altering drug, Gleemonex. The genius of their humor is that what they portray isn't really that far from the truth, they merely highlight the surrealism that already exists in front of us but we don't see due to our sleepiness. This movie was panned by the critics and the Kids themselves apparently have a low opinion of it. Dave Foley, unfortunately, dropped out part way through the making of the picture due to apparent ego differences. But he still has a very funny presence in the tale. In spite of this, I really enjoy this film and don't understand why it didn't get a better reception. It is great to see the Kids show off their parade of characterizations in a high production value feature film. And it all fits together. Kevin McDonald was the right choice to play the main character, a scientist with an ethical struggle. McKinney must really despise corporate executives, as he plays them so well. Supposedly he based this one on Lorne Michaels. Scott Thompson's closeted Gay family man is brilliant, and makes me think of some certain politicians who have since become notorious. Bruce McCulloch still gets my vote as the most enigmatic and strangest of the Kids, and possibly the best actor of the bunch. His Cancer Boy character was quite controversial, and very funny-- in a sick way. Hang on past the credits for a last scene. Comedies generally have a short shelf life, but this one is quite rewatchable and deserves to be rediscovered a decade later. In many ways, it was ahead of its time and is funnier than it was in 1996.

The Curly Shuffle / produced by T.C. Furlong, Barney Schwartz and Mike Rasfeld (1983, VHS off-air). Jump 'N The Saddle Band, Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Shemp Howard. A music video dedicated to the Superstooge, Curly Howard. A true labor of love for and by dedicated fans. The editors made a very effective choice of clips.

"Waldorf Salad" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by Bob Spiers (1979, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Bruce Boa, Brian Hall, Ballard Berkeley. A poke at the British inclination to be ever-so-polite, even in the face of incredibly poor customer service. Basil Fawlty thrives in this kind of world. Who is going to complain about this guy in this kind of setting? An American, that's who. Bruce Boa plays the stereotypical pushy, direct, ethno-centric American tourist who we at first dislike but start to respect as he challenges Basil's elaborate network of lies and excuses with pure and simple responses like, "What a bunch of crap!" Inn fact (get it?), Basil's shortcomings make him more American than his countrymen. He is himself loud, pushy, self-absorbed and a bit sardonic. So in this episode he has met his match. Very nice direction in the opening dinner scene with so many substories taking place. My favorite line: The American has just said to Basil that he going to "bust his ass" if he moves. "Everything's bottoms, isn't it?" says Basil. The service at Fawlty Towers was recently brought to life the night before I watched this video when I was treated to the escapades of a Basil-type waitress who at first made me ticked off, then sociologically amused as I dined at a local place I won't mention but has the initials of the Olive Garden. Some people are born for customer service, others are not. Basil, and this waitress, are not. Watching this can be painful, and funny (both at Fawlty Towers or the Olive Garden). Take your choice.

Help! / directed by Richard Lester (1965, VHS off-air). John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Leo McKern, Eleanor Bron, Victor Spinetti, Roy Kinnear, John Bluthal, Patrick Cargill, Mal Evans (uncredited). An Eastern cult that practices human sacrifice must regain a special ring that has somehow become stuck on Ringo's finger. A spy/adventure spoof and the second film for the Fab Four as their empire continued to grow. As the tale unfolds, the Beatles perform several songs in a way that anticipates MTV and the gags make me think they must have influenced Monty Python to some degree. The delivery of the lines, however, is pure Beatles-- given in a whimsical deadpan. Ringo seems to be the only one who is able to go beyond being a singer and morph into an actor and still appear comfortable. The other three look like they are just walking through the set and want it over with. Still, there are enough funny bits to keep one engaged, and of course the music by the greatest rock band of all time. Some of the best visual jokes take place in the snow sequence.

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 3 (1989, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. Gunslinger, Mountain gorilla, Hoodlums hassling businesman for life, Citizen Kane, Alley narrative, the first appearance of the old married couple Fran and Gordon (Scott and Bruce) in the salty ham sketch. This last bit of writing and acting made me feel like they took another step in sophistication and both of these characters remained interesting throughout the Kids' run.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 8

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Barefoot Contessa / directed by Joseph L. Mankiwicz (1954, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Ava Gardner, Edmond O'Brien, Marius Goring, Rossano Brazzi, Warren Stevens. Humphrey Bogart made some really great films in the 1950s. This is not one of them. Mostly set in a conquered Italy where the royal grandeur of the past is in a state of decay, the story begins at the rain soaked funeral of the title character (so much for the surprise ending!) where different graveside attendees give us voice-over flashbacks. Bogart portrays a writer/film director who plays the role of a father figure for Hollywood's newest discovery. This movie feels unfinished, as if we are watching a draft that still needed some filling out. I'll start with the weaker parts: The soundtrack is overbearing and distracting in that special 1950s way. The performances, with one exception, are stiff and stilted. The dialogue is basically made up with philosophic tidbits out of Bartlett's. These characters talk at each other, not with each other. There is little character development or spark, which is strange since the climax of the story is supposed to be a crime of passion. But perhaps I'm being ethnocentric here. Someone I know who is familiar with Italian culture tells me this film really captures the essence of Northern Italy. Teasing story hooks are inserted but never used again, such as academic references to Faust or Bogart's struggle with alcohol. Most of all, the tale has no middle. First we see the title character as a poor girl in Spain, then suddenly she is an international star with three smash movies to her credit. And she hasn't changed one bit. Kinda static, ya think? Bogart wears an annoying bowtie through most of the story and this makes me very sad. More than you can imagine. But there are parts I enjoyed. The Cinderella references were consistent and well-used. Gardner's opening scene is one in which she does not actually appear, instead we have a beautiful slice-of-life pan of the Spanish audience watching her dance. The scene where the two corporate executives have an argument over who is sleazier is priceless. And for those of you who subscribe to the "Big Head" theory of stardom, meaning the camera really liked actors with huge melons on top of their shoulders, Bogie's cranium seems unusually enormous here. Mankiewicz also wrote this story, giving us his view of the real world he has to deal with, including being a toady to producers and being a father to actors. Bogart has many quotes about movies and life mirroring each other. There are some awkward moments where raw sexual topics are dealth with, but Mankiewicz actually did a pretty classy job considering the constraints of the era. I enjoyed watching the great character Edmond O'Brien in his role as a hustling, fast-talking publicity man. He won an Oscar for this part. The only time the screen livens up is when he appears, giving us the sole character who really grows to any degree. My favorite quote in the story comes from him: "Mind you, if there is one thing I know about its Mr. John Q. Public. He wants clean people on the screen for himself and his children to look at. Don't let the eggheads tell you he wants high class acting and fine stories and fancy dialogue. He wants to forget his troubles for awhile and look at clean people. He wants to escape. He doesn't want to look at drunks, hopheads, sex maniacs, divorcees, communists, murderers ..." Obviously this was before the days of the Fox Network.

Angel and the Badman / directed by James Edward Grant (1947, VHS). John Wayne, Gail Russell, Harry Carey, Symona Boniface, Richard Farnsworth (stunts). This was the first movie produced by American Western icon John Wayne, and as the very first frame portrayed a pair of guns being used I anticipated a typical shoot-em-up, but I was surprised-- and impressed-- by the time it was finished. There is a lot here we expect to see in a John Wayne story: cattle rustling, dance hall girls singing modern songs with high production values in some backwater saloon, shootouts, barfights, the big duel scene in the dusty street, a bad guy named Hondo, calling women "dames" ... basically, a West that never was. Yakima Canutt, the Whitman County native who became one of Hollywood's most legendary stuntmen, was the director of the action. And yes, John Wayne really does move like Albert in the Birdcage, especially in the last shootout scene. Wayne plays a gun worshipping rogue who is rescued by a Quaker family when he falls from his horse, wounded and delirious. In a scene that would provide any Freudian with enough material for a full academic article, Wayne's delirium is so restless the doctor cannot keep him down. So a perceptive Quaker places an empty pistol in Wayne's hand, and the patient peacefully settles like a baby with a pacifier. Ooookay. In this pre-High Noon Quaker/Western, the peaceful philosophy of the Friends is presented against the violent surroundings of the Old West. It is a tale of Karma, and Wayne finds himself in an ethical struggle that is surprisingly complex. The now stereotypical ending of the pacifist resorting to firearms was not used, and Wayne's ending of the story seemed refreshingly out of place for the era, as the Cold War and Red Scare was just starting to heat up and the Age of Fear was getting underway. Watch for Farnsworth as a stunt man, and Three Stooges regular Symona Boniface in the role of a dance hall madam.

A Mighty Wind / directed by Christopher Guest (2003, DVD). Mary Gross, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban, Paul Dooley, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, Jim Piddock, Don Lake, Deborah Theaker, Fred Willard, Ed Begley Jr., Michael Hitchcock, Larry Miller, Jennifer Coolidge. Part of a series that includes This is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman, and Best in Show, this informal ensemble group once again creates a mockumentary with a humane sense of fun. The formula is not unlike the previous Guest films: a collage or mosaic of characters are presented and they come together in a public presentation where story conflicts are resolved and in the final scenes we get to see them after a time lapse of six months or so to see if they learned anything. It's like an Altman piece except funny. These are all good movies and I appreciate the fact the humor in them is not mean-spirited. In this one, a televised folk music reunion is held, composed of groups from the late 1950s/early 1960s that remind one of the Kingston Trio or Peter, Paul, and Mary. The music was all original for this story and it sounds perfectly authentic as do the "archival" clips (speaking as one who lived through the original folk era). Whether by accident or design, the story really hinges around two characters, played by SCTV alum Levy and O'Hara. Their onstage kiss creates one of the most poignant moments in any of these Guest films. The chemistry between the two comedy veterans is apparent. Although Levy's expression and off-centered soul patchy beard are pretty cartoony, he somehow seems more true to life for me than most of the other characters. Not to take away anything from the other actors here, as the entire cast is pretty strong and fun to watch.

"Dennis Moore" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 18, episode 37) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1973, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Fred Tomlinson Singers. Sir Kenneth Clarke boxing match, Dennis Moore and the lupine, Zodiac, High cost of medical care, TV4 or not TV4?, Ideal Loon Exhibition, Poetry/Short stories as a disease, Prejudice. As I watched this, I was reminded I first saw Cleese in a mid-1960s bit of Terry Gilliam-created fumetti for Help! Magazine ca. 1964. Help! also introduced me to several future underground cartoonists, like Robert Crumb, Jay Lynch, and Skip Williamson. Such a short review, and yet I can still digress at light speed.

Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp / directed by Dave Fleischer (1939, DVD). Voices by Margie Hines, Jack Mercer, Carl Meyer (all uncredited). A Max Fleischer produced version of the Aladdin story as told with Popeye and Olive Oyl. In 1939, this color version must have been quite a treat, especially at a record 22 minutes, the longest Popeye cartoon ever. Fleischer produced 108 Popeye cartoons, and only three of them were in color. This was the final one of that trio. Hines and Mercer, the voices of Olive Oyl and Popeye, were married in that year, adding some zest behind the dialogue. And speaking of which, much of it was spoken in poetry, or in little subversive asides (Popeye: "I never made love in Technicolor before"). Popeye sings, which sort of hurt my ears. The genie is of an ethnic type I can't quite identify, but it would appear it has German as a native language. The use of caption boards to fill in gaps in the action harkens back to the silent era. The backgrounds are very Art Deco. Fleischer cartoons are worth rewatching just so you can catch all the background activity and muttered wisecracks on the second round. Even with this one, which is relatively mild by Fleischer standards. Still, great stuff.

"Legion" (Red Dwarf ; VI, byte 1) / directed by Andy DeEmmony (1993, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Nigel Williams. The crew is taken captive by a laboratory-created "gestalt entity" named Legion ("Call me Legion for I am many") who needs them in order to exist. Before we are introduced to Legion and his cultured environment, the deplorable and pathetic nature of the boys' condition is contrasted. For example, when Rimmer tells Kryten to put the ship on Red Alert, the response is: "Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb." Rimmer gains a hard light drive. A nice tight story with good dialogue, antimatter chopsticks, Dan Quayle references, some funny Rimmer/Kryten slapstick, and the usual insults.

Scrooged / directed by Richard Donner (1988, VHS). Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait, David Johansen, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Michael J. Pollard, Alfre Woodard, Jamie Farr, Robert Goulet, Buddy Hackett, John Houseman, Lee Majors, Brian Doyle-Murray, Mary Lou Retton, Michael O'Donoghue, Miles Davis, Paul Shaffer. An update of the classic tale by Charles Dickens. The entertainment industry sure likes to use cinema as a mirror, and Murray gives us a modern day Scrooge through the identity of television executive Frank Cross. And what a Scrooge he is. What other small hearted, self-absorbed, narrow-minded, petty executive would tell people they are out of a job right before Christmas? Wait. I forgot. Gov. Gary Locke did that in person to the entire staff of my agency-- right before Christmas not too many years ago. Actually Gary was more of a Grinch than a Scrooge. Anyway, on to happier topics. I have always enjoyed Bill Murray's performances since his SNL days and he is really in top form here. As a product of the same decade as Mr. Murray, I feel as if I have grown in a parallel way with the types of roles he takes. His characters in The Royal Tenenbaums, Lost in Translation, and Broken Flowers connect with me now where a decade ago I would've felt unengaged. This particular movie came around during my early stage of being a parent, where for the first time in my life I had to really and seriously get out of myself. It is also a story of a control freak who is losing control, and as the Ghost of Christmas Past says, "Frank, let me sum this up for you. You don't know who you are. You don't know what you want. And you don't know what the Hell is going on." Carol Kane is charming as the Ghost of Christmas Present, melding together the personalities of Glenda the Good Witch with Moe Howard (a Stooges eyepoke block is even employed by Murray at one point). Seeing old classic actors like Forsythe, Mitchum, and Houseman gives the story some weight. Co-writer O'Donoghue made his final screen appearance in this story, and he apparently was not happy with the final product. Having followed O'Donoghue's brand of very dark humor from his National Lampoon days and into the first seasons of SNL, I find it hard to believe he had a hand in much of the screenplay-- except for the sideshow of the censor always getting injured, which was a weak distraction and should've been cut. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Johansen) delivers my favorite line. He's a taxicab driver, and as a former cabbie myself I laughed at this exchange: Claire: "Taxi. Can you get me to the IBC building in three minutes?" Ghost of Christmas Past: "Which floor?"

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Martin Short, Juul Haalmeyer, Dr. John. In this batch: Martin Scorsese's Jerry Lewis Live, Battle of the PBS Stars, Merv Griffith Show, Cosmos Behind the Scenes, William F. Buckley vs. Fonda and Hayden, Fantasy Island, Rhoda, Edith Prickley, My Fair Lady, SCTV News, Woody Allen's My Life One More Time, Lee A. Iaccoca's Rock Concert, Angie Dickensen for Fancy Free, Merv Griffin Show Special Edition, Great White North- New Boots, Swingin' With Mother Nature, Human Sexual Response with Dr. Cheryl Kinsey, John McEnroe and Robert Young, Great White North- Carpets, Chicks in Their Underwear, Polynesiantown (crane shot!), Ted Gordon- Overbooked Attorney, Ricardo Montalban School of Fine Acting, Great White North- Microwave Ovens, Gangway for Miracles, Doorway to Hell, Mayor Tommy Shanks on Gun Control, Walter Cronkite's Brain with David Brinkley, Pet Peeves of the Stars, Mrs. Falbo's Tiny Town Visits Prison, Days of the Week, Network War, Night School Hi Q. Martin Short really added some energy when he joined up.

"The Greek Interpreter" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Alan Grint (1985, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, George Costigan, Charles Gray, Alkis Kritikos. An interpreter of Greek is unwittingly used as a tool in a kidnapping/torture situation and turns to Holmes for help. The main villain, played by George Costigan, gives us an all-out and effective impersonation of a young Peter Lorre. It is dead on, so much so that it acts as a distraction. Although some of the atmosphere shots are recycled (or will be used later) from other Holmes episodes, the dark and moody visuals along with the soundtrack stick to the story very well. The mystery in the title story is really only secondary, however. For it is here that we learn about the existence of Sherlock Holmes' smarter brother, Mycroft, and the Diogenes Club. "It is the oddest club in London," says Sherlock, "And my brother one of the oddest men." Mycroft's downfall is that he just plain lazy, which is actually pretty entertaining to watch. As Holmes explains, "If the art of the detective began and ended in reasoning from an armchair, my brother would be the greatest criminal agent that ever lived." But you can see these two brothers share the same genetic love of ham when it comes to playing to the camera. Charles Gray is a pleasure to watch as Mycroft. In this early episode in the series, Holmes is still lean, high-strung and predatory, creating a stark contrast to his older brother. Mycroft is the only character who can get away with addressing the Great Detective as "Sherlock," and sometimes he lets slip some fact his younger brother would prefer to keep quiet-- such as when Mycroft observed, "You retain your low opinion of women?" Gray, who also played Mycroft in the Nicol Williamson version of Holmes in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), went on in the Brett series to portray the older brother in only three more episodes. A pity we didn't see more of him in the course of the stories.

Und Tschüss / directed by Walter Feistle, Stefan Schneider (1993, VHS off-air). Set in a German train station, this was filmed in a single 5 minute take by a roving camera. It has a very crisp, sharp color and lighting with a slightly soupy soundtrack. Overlapping little dramas of various couples are laid bare in public as we eavesdrop. In almost all cases the universal act of the kiss is employed, but as if seeing this through a prism we find it has many different and individual nuances. Impressive how much can be packed into a single camera sweep. There are no teenagers or children in here. Nor anyone who looks over the age of 45. Everyone is youngish and attractive and white. In that regard it resembles an advertisement for breath mints in 1987 South Africa.

Tank Girl / directed by Rachel Talalay (1995, VHS). Lori Petty, Ice-T, Naomi Watts, Malcolm McDowell, Iggy Pop, James Hong. I am not part of the target audience for this movie and I wouldn't have been in 1995 either. The comic book series this is based on is unfamiliar to me, so I approach this work fairly cold-- except my daughter and her friends made fun of it as a film that "sucked" (what a horrible and overused word). This is somewhat ironic since Tank Girl sort of reminds me of a certain young lady I know pretty well. I picked up my copy when the local video rental store was dumping their VHS collection for cheap prices. And you know, it isn't all that bad. Not great. But not a disaster either. Yes, it is aimless and sloppy. And the prosthetics on a group of beings that were laboratory created is pretty bad. But this story has some nice moments. Lori Petty as Tank Girl is pretty likable. Malcolm McDowell plays a villain we love to hate. There is so much here a real cinema snob would tear apart, so I'll highlight the good stuff. This is based on a comic book, and actual drawings and animation are woven into the action as an enhancement and also to remind us, hey, this is a cartoon brought to life. Don't expect Shakespeare. We all know comix are, thank God, art for the lowbrow. For the rest of us. The real life lighting and coloring has a comic book feel to it. The scene where Tank Girl falls in love with a tank with background music from Shaft is very nice. What this tale does to Cole Porter's music would probably, I'm guessing, delight him. The lab-created beings pray to the Spirit of Freedom by dancing. In a world where water is scarce (the year 2033) the water utility company runs everything-- sort of like the big oil companies do today in our Age of Petroleum. There are themes of environmentalism, gender, libertarianism, and bioethics. This film could be shaved down another half hour without losing any plot (such as it is), but for what it is it is what it is. Hey Peter, do you like that last sentence? My favorite line comes when Tank Girl holds a Madam hostage: "Everybody drop your guns, or I scrape off all her makeup-- this might take a really long time."

"Horses' Collars" (Half-Wits Holiday & Other Nyuks) / directed by Clyde Bruckman (1935, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Dorothy Kent, Fred Kohler. Sort of a mix between Sherlock Holmes and the Old West. In this early short (only their 5th), they are a little more courageous and clever than their later selves. This one has the now classic Curly line, "Moe! Larry! Cheese!" as he goes beserk whenever he sees a mouse. This one has 19 face or head slaps, 17 punches in the face, 6 head konks, 3 hits in the stomach, and one each of a double face slap and an eyepoke. This last action is very interesting to watch in stop action. Curly closes his lids in anticipation and Moe expertly places his fingertips on the far outside edges of his brother's eyes. Then Curly gives him a dirty look that looks like it is more than acting. In other Stooge shorts I have noticed the eyepoke is made directly under the eyes rather than outside of them. An interesting and, by necessity, exact science this eyepoke business. Apparently in 1935 the Stooges had yet to learn the humorous value of the slapstick sound effect, since they were used sparingly here. Fortunately for the world, they grew into it. And we are all the richer for it.

Cheaper by the Dozen -- Index

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad: 34
14 Carrot Rabbit: 53
The 39 Steps: 19
2001: a Space Odyssey: 27
3000 Miles to Graceland: 56
'A' gai waak = Project A: 34
AARP Presents the 2000 Presidential Race Video Voters' Guide: 1
"The Abbey Grange" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 28
About Schmidt: 2
"Acrobats" (I Married Joan): 30
Adaptation: 4
The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew: 30
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: 5
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Vol. 3: 72
The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Vol. 4: 73
The African Queen: 7
"The After Hours" (The Twilight Zone): 65
"Akim the Terrible" (Flash Gordon): 70
Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp: 8
Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution: 33
Aliens Among Us: 41
"The All-England Summarize Proust Competition" (Monty Python's Flying Circus); 66
"The Allergy" (I Married Joan): 63
Amadeus: 1
The Amazing Adventure: 44
Amazing Grace with Bill Moyers: 45
America 1900 (The American Experience): 47
American Beauty: 48
Angel and the Badman: 8
"The Anniversary" (Fawlty Towers): 17
"The Ant, an Introduction" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 47
Approaching the Apocalypse (The Century: America's Time): 57
"Archaeology Today" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 43
At Mother's Request: 5
At the Circus: 1
"The Attila the Hun Show" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 42
Auntie Mame: 37
"The Awakening" (Doctor Who): 23
Baby Be Good: 64
Baby Sitters: 46
"Back in the Red. Part 1" (Red Dwarf): 51
"Back in the Red. Part 2" (Red Dwarf): 52
"Back in the Red. Part 3" (Red Dwarf): 53
"Back to Reality" (Red Dwarf): 62
"Backwards" (Red Dwarf): 65
"Balance of Power" (Red Dwarf): 38
Bambi Meets Godzilla: 35
The Barefoot Contessa: 8
Barry Goldwater: Photographs & Memories: 43
"Basil the Rat" (Fawlty Towers): 19
The Bat (1926): 45
Batman (1989): 38
Batman Returns: 40
Be Human: 33
The Beast of Yucca Flats: 41
"The Beast Within" (American Gothic): 63
Beat the Devil: 47
Before Women Had Wings: 37
Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla: 28
Best in Show: 30
The Best of Dana Carvey: 60
The Best of Ernie Kovacs. Vol. 1: 25
The Best of Ernie Kovacs. Vol. 2: 24
The Best of the Benny Hill Show. Vol. 2, 4: 3
Best Years (The Century: America's Time): 48
"Better than Life" (Red Dwarf): 39
Betty Boop and Grampy: 61
Betty Boop and Little Jimmy: 65
Betty Boop and the Little King: 67
Betty Boop with Henry the Funniest Living American: 48
Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions: 31
Betty Boop's Ker-Choo: 34
Betty Boop's Rise to Fame: 27
"Bev's Boyfriend" (I Married Joan): 33
"Beyond a Joke" (Red Dwarf): 49
The Big Chill: 51
Big House Bunny: 31
Big Jake: 52
The Big Lebowski: 54
The Big Snooze: 24
The Big Trees: 72
The Bigger They Are the Harder They Hit: 47
The Birdcage: 1
The Bishop's Wife: 55
A Bit of Fry & Laurie: 56
The Black Cat (1941): 2
Blackmail: 14
The Blair Witch Project: 4
Blaze: 58
Blazing Saddles: 57
"Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 65
Blood on the Sun: 53
"Blue" (Red Dwarf): 48
"The Blue Carbuncle" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 3
Blue Ice: 61
"Body Swap" (Red Dwarf): 69
Bonanno: a Godfather's Story: 63
Boobs in the Woods: 52
Booby Dupes: 18
"A Book at Bedtime" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 9
Boom to Bust (The Century: America's Time): 41
"The Boscombe Valley Mystery" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 40
Bowling for Columbine: 6
"Brad's Class Reunion" (I Married Joan): 62
"The Brain of Morbius" (Doctor Who): 10
Brazil: 9
Breakfast at Tiffany's: 64
Bride of the Monster: 10
Brideless Groom: 26
"The British Showbiz Awards" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 11
Broken Flowers: 65
"Broken Toe" (I Married Joan): 61
Broom-Stick Bunny: 26
"The Bruce-Partington Plans" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 49
Bubba Ho-tep: 12
Bugs Bunny Rides Again: 27
"The Builders" (Fawlty Towers): 1
Bullet to Beijing: 68
Bulworth: 14
Bunny Hugged: 39
Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo = The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: 62
Busy Buddies: 23
Butterfly Dance: 3
"The Buzz Aldrin Show" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 27
Das Cabinet de Dr. Caligari = The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: 15
Caccia alla volpe = After the Fox: 9
The Caine Mutiny: 19
Call of the Wile: 53
The Cameraman: 69
"Camille" (Red Dwarf): 1
The Candid Candidate: 68
Candidate for President: 51
Canicule = Dog Day: 63
Cannes Man: 20
"Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg" (Can't Cook, Won't Cook): 65
Capote: 60
"The Cardboard Box" (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes): 44
Carnival of Souls: 22
Casablanca: 73
Casablanca Express: 43
"The Case of Harry Crocker" (Sherlock Holmes): 35
"The Case of Lady Beryl" (Sherlock Holmes): 53
"The Case of the Cunningham Heritage" (Sherlock Holmes): 36
"The Case of the Texas Cowgirl" (Sherlock Holmes): 73
Casino Royale (1967): 51
"Cassandra" (Red Dwarf): 55
"Castrovalva" (Doctor Who): 51
Cataloging Sound Recordings on WLN: 53
Cat's Eye: 55
Catty Cornered: 20
"A Change is as Good as a Rest" (Are You being Served?): 40
Lo chiamavano Trinità = They Call Me Trinity: 63
Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan = Godzilla vs. Gigan: 67
Chinatown: 36
The Choice 2000 (Frontline): 25
"Christianity & Judaism" (The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith: a Bill Moyers Special): 20
"The Christmas Show" (Dear Phoebe): 43
A Christmas Story: 28
Cinderella (1997): 34
City Slickers: 72
Civilians at War (The Century: America's Time): 45
Clases de ruso: 10
Claws in the Lease: 16
Close Encounters of the Third Kind: 71
A Close Shave: 54
"Clothes Budget" (I Married Joan): 69
Club Paradise: 25
Coffee and Cigarettes: 24
College: 27
La collina degli stivali = Boot Hill: 61
Comic Relief: Doctor Who - The Curse of Fatal Death: 47
"Communications Problems" (Fawlty Towers): 15
"Confidence & Paranoia" (Red Dwarf): 41
Continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità = Trinity is Still My Name: 64
Cookoo Cavaliers: 17
Copacabana: 22
"The Copper Beeches" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 24
Cosi: 1
Crash Goes the Hash: 2
"The Creeping Man" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 27
Crime of the Century: 2
Cromwell: 4
"The Crooked Man" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 19
Cry, the Beloved Country: 6
The Curly Shuffle: 7
Customers Wanted: 16
"The Cycling Tour" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 3
Cyrano de Bergerac (1990): 15
"D.N.A." (Red Dwarf): 3
Damned If You Don't (American Gothic): 55
Dances With Wolves: 17
"The Dancing Men" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 14
The Dangerous Brothers Present: World of Danger: 60
Dante's Peak: 59
Dark Command: 62
The Dark Eyes of London: 45
Dark Passage: 19
Dead Again: 55
The Dead Pool: 53
"Dead to the World" (American Gothic): 57
"The Deadly Assassin" (Doctor Who): 12
Death Becomes Her: 43
Death to Smoochy: 44
Deja Vu (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 26
"Demons & Angels" (Red Dwarf): 61
Denise Calls Up: 45
"Dennis Moore" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 8
The Dentist: 7
Dentist the Menace: 54
Dersu Uzala: 68
The Desperate Hours (1955): 39
The Devil Bat: 29
"The Devil's Foot" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 34
D'Fightin' Ones: 44
Die, Monster, Die!: 13
Dillinger and Capone: 40
"Dimension Jump" (Red Dwarf): 34
Dimension One Spas UltraLife Series Video Owner's Manual: 67
Dinopoodi: 55
The Dirty Dozen: 41
"The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 41
Disorder in the Court: 22
The Dizzy Acrobat: 35
Do-It-Yourself Gumby: 70
"Doctor Death Takes a Holiday" (American Gothic): 70
Doctor Who Then & Now: 49
Doctor Zhivago: 59
Don't Look in the Basement: 39
Don't Misbehave Indian Brave: 57
Down From the Mountain: 64
Dracula (1973): 65
Dracula, Prince of Darkness: 67
Draw: 38
"Dreams" (I Married Joan): 66
Dressed to Kill: 70
Droll Weevil: 58
Drowning Mona: 70
The Drowning Pool: 43
"Duct Soup" (Red Dwarf): 46
"The Dying Detective" (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes): 42
"E. Henry Thripshaw's Disease" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 6
Ed Wood: 57
Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora: 32
The Education of Gore Vidal: 13
"The Eligible Bachelor" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 33
Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: 30
Elvira's Haunted Hills: 33
Emma Goldman (American Experience): 34
"Emohawk: Polymorph II" (Red Dwarf): 64
"The Empty House" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 16
"The End" (Red Dwarf): 26
The Enforcer (1951): 34
The Epic Journey : Lewis & Clark in the Northwest: 53
"Epideme" (Red Dwarf): 11
Evil Roy Slade: 36
The Execution: 25
"Eye of the Beholder" (American Gothic): 52
"Eye of the Beholder" (The Twilight Zone): 71
"The Face of Evil" (Doctor Who): 14
"Face the Press" (a.k.a, "Dinsdale!") (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 23
Fahrenheit 9/11: 27
The Falcon and the Snowman: 24
"Fall Out" (The Prisoner): 68
False Alarms: 46
Family Plot: 37
Fantastic Voyage: 3
Farewell to the 4th!: Link to the Past-- Gateway to the Future: 21
Fargo: 22
Fatal Glass of Beer: 9
Fatty Joins the Force: 62
Faust, Eine deutsche Volkssage: 60
Fei ying gai wak = Operation Condor: 28
Fellini - Satyricon: 43
"The Final Problem" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 15
A Fireman's Life: 63
Firestarter: 48
The First Lady: Public Expectations, Private Lives: 16
Fish Heads: 35
Five Easy Pieces: 50
Flat Foot Stooges: 49
Flat Heads: 59
Flawless: 39
Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: the Plan 9 Companion: 29
For Scent-imental Reasons: 38
Forbidden Planet: 40
"Four to Doomsday" (Doctor Who): 56
Frantic: 41
French Rarebit: 40
The Frisco Kid (1979): 62
From Here to Eternity: 56
From Jesus to Christ (Frontline): 57
From Nurse to Worse: 4
From "They" to "We": The McCleary Bear Festival: 59
The Fugitive: 63
"Full Frontal Nudity" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 45
The Full Monty: 64
Funny Bones: 67
"Future Echoes" (Red Dwarf): 28
G.I. Blues: 65
G.I. Wanna Home: 5
Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen = Gamera, the Guardian of the Universe: 68
A Gem of a Jam: 48
The General: 70
Genuine, die Tragödie eines seltsamen Hauses: 17
George Wallace: 32
"The Germans" (Fawlty Towers): 12
"Get Well, Officer Schnauser" (Car 54, Where Are You?) : 29
Ghost: 29
Ging chaat goo si = Police Story: 11
Glen or Glenda: 30
Gli amanti d'oltretomba = Nightmare Castle: 55
Go Fish: 35
Godzilla (1998): 36
Godzilla, King of the Monsters: 37
Gold: 58
Gold Rush Gumby: 59
"The Golden Age of Ballooning" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 13
"The Golden Pince-Nez" (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes): 32
The Golf Specialist: 5
Gorilla My Dreams: 42
"Gourmet Night" (Fawlty Towers): 6
The Graduate: 27
Grampy's Indoor Outing: 69
A Grand Day Out: 49
Grave Indiscretion: 24
Great Guy: 55
"The Greek Interpreter" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 8
The Green Mile: 21
The Grizzlies: 4
Groundhog Day: 22
Gulliver's Travels: 64
"Gunmen of the Apocalypse" (Red Dwarf ): 10
Half-Fare Hare: 18
Half Shot Shooters: 51
Half-Wits Holiday: 7
"Hamlet" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 18
Happy Days (The Century: America's Time): 50
The Harder They Fall (1956): 1
Hare-Abian Nights: 42
The Hare-Brained Hypnotist: 43
Hare Conditioned: 45
Hare We Go: 51
Harrison Bergeron: 3
Hate Jennifer Show: 3
Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb: 23
Heart and Souls: 4
Heaven Scent: 52
The Heckling Hare: 49
Hell in the Pacific: 6
Help!: 7
Here Come the Teletubbies: 71
"The Hero" (The Guns of Will Sonnett): 20
High Diving Hare: 35
High Noon: 9
High Sierra: 11
Hoffa: 14
Hoi Polloi: 46
Hollywoodland: 72
"Holoship" (Red Dwarf): 37
"Home of the Week" (I Married Joan): 29
Home, Tweet Home: 55
Homefront (The Century: America's Time): 47
"Honey Trap" (Thin Blue Line): 31
Horses' Collars: 8
"The Hotel Inspectors" (Fawlty Towers): 10
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959): 50
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1978): 73
The Hound of the Baskervilles (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 7
House Cleaning Blues: 70
House of Dracula: 16
House of Frankenstein: 17
The House of Yes: 19
The House on Carroll Street: 37
House on Haunted Hill: 18
How High is Up?: 10
"How Not To Be Seen" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 46
"How Smart Can You Get?" (Car 54, Where Are You?): 25
"How to Recognise Different Parts of the Body" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 45
"How to Recognise Different Types of Trees from Quite a Long Way Away" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 36
Howdy Doody's Christmas: 40
The Hudsucker Proxy: 44
Hung faan aau = Rumble in the Bronx: 26
The Hunt for Red October: 47
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte: 49
I Dream of Jeanie: 71
I Love You to Death: 35
"The Illustrious Client" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 36
Imaginary Crimes: 70
The Impractical Joker: 71
In Search of Shakespeare: 25
In the Bag: 64
In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great: 59
Incident on a Dark Street: 26
Independence Day: 27
Indestructible Man: 47
Indictment: The McMartin Trial: 24
"Inhumanitas" (American Gothic): 68
"The Inquisitor" (Red Dwarf): 46
"Intermission" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 58
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956): 58
Invisible Ghost: 51
Invitation to the Wedding: 52
Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers: 50
Is My Palm Read: 50
Isn't She Great: 21
It: 39
It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: 60
"It's a Living" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 41
"It's the Arts, or, The BBC Entry to the Zinc Stoat of Budapest" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 53
"It's Your Funeral" (The Prisoner): 66
"I've Been Here Before" (Car 54 Where Are You?): 28
J.P. Patches: 40
Jackie Brown: 42
Jail Bait: 49
"The Jail Bird" (I Married Joan): 67
Jamaica Inn: 15
"Jealousy" (I Married Joan): 65
Jerks of All Trades: 33
The Journey of Sacagawea: 3
Juno and the Paycock: 27
"Justice" (Red Dwarf): 5
Kansas City: 1
KCTS : the Black and White Years: 12
The Keeper of Traken (Doctor Who): 48
Key Largo: 3
Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy: 7
Kids in the Hall: Same Guys, New Dresses: 6
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 1: 4
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 2: 6
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 3: 7
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 4: 9
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 5: 11
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 6: 12
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 7: 14
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 8: 16
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 9: 17
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 10: 19
Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 11: 38
Kids in the Hall. Season 2, episode 1: 71
Kids in the Hall. Season 2, episode 2: 72
Kill Bill. Vol. 1: 70
Kill Bill. Vol. 2: 67
The Killing: 69
The King is Alive: 61
The King of Comedy: 62
"The Kipper and the Corpse" (Fawlty Towers): 9
Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye: 63
"Kryten" (Red Dwarf): 38
"Krytie TV" (Red Dwarf): 56
L.A. Confidential: 65
The Lady Vanishes: 10
Land of the Falling Lakes (Nature): 36
The Laramie Project: 66
"The Last Day" (Red Dwarf): 71
The Last Detail: 32
The Last Man on Earth: 53
The Last of Sheila: 31
The Last Time I Saw Paris: 59
The Last Vampyre (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 25
The Last Way Out: 33
The Late Show: 29
Laura: 35
Lawrence of Arabia: 50
"Learning to Crawl" (American Gothic): 71
"Legion" (Red Dwarf ): 8
Lennon Legend: the Very Best of John Lennon: 36
A Library For All: 11
The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby: 31
Life of Brian: 55
"Light Entertainment War" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 16
The Lion in Winter: 46
The Little Lost Pony: 69
Little Miss Sunshine: 57
Little Red Riding Rabbit: 58
The Little Shop of Horrors: 47
Little Swee'pea: 14
"Live From the Grill-o-Mat" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 39
"Living Doll" (The Twilight Zone): 70
Logopolis (Doctor Who): 50
Lonesome Dove: 23
Long xiong hu di = Operation Condor 2: 45
Lost in Translation: 21
Lost Souls: 71
"The Lure of Light" (Flash Gordon): 71
"Mabel's Dress" (I Married Joan): 32
Magical Mystery Tour: 70
Mai nei dak gung dui = Fantasy Mission Force: 44
Malice in the Palace: 25
The Maltese Falcon: 67
Man of the Frontier: 16
Man on the Moon: 66
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): 20
"The Man With the Twisted Lip" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 30
Manhattan Triangle: 42
"Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the 20th Century" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 52
La Marche de l'empereur = March of the Penguins: 38
Mark Russell Comedy Special (2000): 11
Mark Russell's '94: 1
"Marooned" (Red Dwarf): 66
Married to the Mob: 61
La Maschera del demonio = Black Sunday: 17
"The Master Blackmailer" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 5
The Master of Disguise: 62
Matchstick Men: 3
"The Mayor's Fancy Dress Ball" (Keeping Up Appearances): 38
The Mazarin Stone (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes): 48
"Me²" (Red Dwarf): 42
The Meanest Men in the West: 63
Medici : Godfathers of the Renaissance: 26
Meet John Doe: 59
"Meet the Beetles" (American Gothic): 58
"Meltdown" (Red Dwarf): 35
Men in Black: 5
Merry Mavericks: 55
"Michael Ellis" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 14
Midnight Run: 65
A Midsummer Night's Dream: 6
A Mighty Wind: 8
"Miles Cowperthwaite, Part Two: I Am Nailed to the Hull" (Saturday Night Live): 20
Mischief: 9
The Mission: 13
The Missouri Breaks: 18
Mom and Dad Save the World: 32
"The Money Programme" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 21
More Pep: 36
"Mountain Lodge" (I Married Joan): 36
Movies, Money, Murder: 50
"Mr. and Mrs. Brian Norris' Ford Popular" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 64
"Mr. Neutron" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 19
Murder: 24
Murder on the Orient Express: 46
"The Musgrave Ritual" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 21
My Dear Secretary: 71
My Man Godfrey (1936): 47
Mysterious Fires: 55
The Mystery of the Hooded Horseman: 9
"The Naked Ant" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 57
The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!: 34
"Nanarchy" (Red Dwarf): 13
"The Naval Treaty" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 16
Needful Things: 58
Next Time: 56
Niagara: 32
Night and the City (1992): 42
Night Falls on Manhattan: 29
Night of the Ghouls: 38
The Night Stalker: 49
Nightcap: 5
Ninja Death. 1: 39
Nixon: 41
"Njorl's Saga" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 62
No! No! A Thousand Times No!!: 37
North by Northwest: 43
"The Norwood Builder" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 10
Nothing But Trouble: 73
Nothing to Lose: 58
À nous la liberté: 62
The November Conspiracy: 23
Now Playing Felix: 44
"The Nude Man" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 5
Number Seventeen: 17
O Brother, Where Art Thou: 24
Ocean's 11 (1960): 54
Old Dracula: 26
"Only the Good-- " (Red Dwarf): 59
The Others: 50
"Ouroboros" (Red Dwarf): 45
"Out of Time" (Red Dwarf): 18
Out West: 52
The Outlaw: 11
Outrageous Fortune: 59
Over Beautiful British Columbia: An Aerial Adventure: 20
Over the Edge (The Century: America's Time): 44
Over Washington: an Aerial celebration: 22
"Owl-Stretching Time" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 50
The Package: 61
The Painted Desert: 17
Pao Da Shuang Deng = Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker: 28
"Parallel Universe" (Red Dwarf): 64
Pardon My Scotch: 20
Paris brûle-t-il? = Is Paris Burning?: 22
Paris, Texas: 50
The Party: 22
"Party Political Broadcast" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 38
Patterns: 21
Pencil Mania: 66
The People Under the Stairs: 1
"The Pepsi Syndrome" (Saturday Night Live): 11
Per un pugno di dollari = A Fistful of Dollars: 44
Permanent Midnight: 46
Personal Services: 32
"Pete. Pt. 1" (Red Dwarf): 57
"Pete. Pt. 2" (Red Dwarf): 58
Peter the Great: 3
The Petrified Cheese: 41
The Petrified Forest: 5
The Phantom Creeps: 54
The Pianist: 61
Piano Tooners: 62
"Pilot" (American Gothic): 50
The Pink Panther: 20
Pire Hara: 7
"The Plague Sower" (American Gothic): 69
Plan 9 From Outer Space: 6
Plane Dumb: 69
"Planet of Evil" (Doctor Who): 9
Point of Honor: 69
Poisoned Dreams (The Century: America's Time): 54
The Political Dr. Seuss: 15
"Polymorph" (Red Dwarf): 68
Poor Cinderella: 63
Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba's Forty Thieves: 9
Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor: 13
Portrait: Humphrey Bogart and Hollywood's Gangsters: 45
"Potato Boy" (American Gothic): 56
Pots and Pans: 69
Presidential Bloopers: 18
Presumed Innocent: 19
Primary Colors: 29
"The Priory School" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 18
"The Problem of Thor Bridge" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 37
Le Procès = The Trial: 25
The Producers (1968): 31
Project Reject: 33
"Psirens" (Red Dwarf): 6
"The Psychiatrist" (Fawlty Towers): 4
Psycho: 35
Pulp Fiction: 37
Punchy Cowpunchers: 53
Una Pura Formalità = A Pure Formality: 23
"Quarantine" (Red Dwarf): 58
I quattro dell'Ave Maria = Ace High: 54
"Queeg" (Red Dwarf): 62
The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis: 13
The Quiet Man: 60
Rabbit Transit: 73
Rage at Dawn: 12
Raising Arizona: 30
The Rat Pack: 24
Rat Race: 51
Rebecca: 66
"Rebirth" (American Gothic): 64
"Reborn in America" (The Struggle for Democracy): 15
Recording 'The Producers': a Musical Romp with Mel Brooks: 21
"The Red Circle" (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes): 46
Red Dawn: 68
"Red Dwarf A-Z" (Red Dwarf): 14
Red Dwarf: Smeg Outs: 42
Red Dwarf: Smeg Ups: 32
"The Red-Headed League" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 13
The Red House: 73
Repo Man (Video Version): 29
The Reptile: 20
"The Resident Patient" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 11
"Resurrector" (American Gothic): 67
Return of Desperado: 16
Rhodes: 29
Rich and Strange: 30
Richard III (1995): 60
"Rimmerworld" (Red Dwarf): 16
"Ring of Fire" (American Gothic): 65
Road to Hong Kong: 38
Rocket Gilbraltar: 52
Rocketeers: 72
Romance With a Double Bass: 31
Rosemary's Baby: 25
Roswell: 26
"Royal Episode 13" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 61
"The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes to the Bathroom" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 56
The Royal Tenenbuams: 39
Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy. Pt. 2: 23
The Ruggles Christmas Eve: 42
Rush Hour: 21
Rush Hour 2: 34
Rushmore: 32
Ruthless People: 22
The Rutles: All You Need is Cash: 60
Sabotage: 12
"Saboteurs From Space" (Flash Gordon): 72
Sabrina (1954): 2
The Saddest Music in the World: 5
Saddle the Wind: 49
Sahara Hare: 28
"Salad Days" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 1
San shi liu mi xing quan = The 36 Crazy Fists: 47
Sandwiches That You Will Like: 17
Santa Fe Trail: 19
Sasquatch: 4
Saturday Night Live Goes Commercial: 67
Saturday Night Live Presidential Bash (1992): 13
"A Scandal in Bohemia" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 12
The Scared Crows: 72
Scarlet Street: 6
"Scott of the Antarctic" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 49
Scrooged: 8
SCTV: 2, 5, 7-8, 10-11, 13, 15, 18, 21, 23, 31, 33, 34, 37, 56
Sea Turtles: Ancient Nomads: 14
The Searchers: 72
"The Second Stain" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 20
Secondhand Lions: 11
Secret Agent: 22
Seeds of Change (The Century: America's Time): 39
"The Senior Citizens Outing" (Keeping Up Appearances): 37
Sentimental Women Need Not Apply : a History of the American Nurse: 54
"Sex and Violence" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 31
Shane: 23
The Shawshank Redemption: 49
Shell Shock (The Century: America's Time): 40
Shenandoah: 2
Shi di chu ma = The Young Master: 43
Shin Zatôichi monogatari: Kasama no chimatsuri = Zatoichi's Conspiracy: 36
The Shining: 25
Shopping: 2
"Shoscombe Old Place" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes): 30
A Shot in the Dark: 18
Siege of Boonesborough: 66
The Sign of Four: 33
"Silly, But it's Fun" (Good Neighbors): 18
"Silver Blaze" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 38
Sing a Song of Six Pants: 44
"The Six Napoleons" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 31
The Sixth Sense: 73
The Skin Game: 28
Sleepy Hollow: 37
Sleuth: 33
Sneakers: 66
Social Ballroom Dancing: 44
"The Solitary Cyclist" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 17
Some Like It Hot: 51
Something to Sing About: 57
Song of the Thin Man: 60
Soylent Green: 39
"Spam" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 59
"The Spanish Inquistion" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 24
"The Speckled Band" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes): 21
Squirm: 40
The St. Louis Bank Robbery: 63
The Stan Boreson Show: KING's Klubhouse. Vol. 2: 72
Starting Over (The Century: America's Time): 59
"Stasis Leak" (Red Dwarf): 61
The Stepford Husbands: 28
The Sting: 73
"Stoke Me a Clipper" (Red Dwarf): 44
The Stooges Story : Four Generations of Stooges: 68
Stormy Weather (The Century: America's Time): 43
The Stranger: 9
Straw Dogs: 42
Strictly Ballroom: 58
"Strong Arm of the Law" (American Gothic): 60
Stuart Saves His Family: 56
"The Subworld Revenge" (Flash Gordon): 73
Suddenly: 2
Sunset Blvd.: 68
Swimming With Sharks: 7
The Swiss Conspiracy: 42
A Swiss Trick: 67
The Sword of Lancelot: 73
Tank Girl: 8
Telling Lies in America: 10
Terrorform (Red Dwarf): 48
"Thanks for the Memory" (Red Dwarf): 41
They Made Me a Criminal: 31
Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead: 12
The Third Man: 13
This is Spinal Tap: 15
Thomas Jefferson: 19
Three Amigos: 46
"The Three Gables" (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes): 45
Three Pests in a Mess: 48
"Tikka to Ride" (Red Dwarf): 20
Time After Time: 60
Time Bandits: 31
"Time Enough at Last" (The Twilight Zone): 69
The Time of Your Life: 54
"Timeslides" (Red Dwarf): 70
To Have and Have Not: 12
"To Hell and Back" (American Gothic): 61
"To Serve Man" (The Twilight Zone): 69
Todo sobre mi madre = All About My Mother: 43
The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. May 22, 1992: 19
Tony Lovello: 54
"Toody Undercover" (Car 54 Where Are You?): 26
Torn Curtain: 34
Tortoise Beats Hare: 71
"A Touch of Class" (Fawlty Towers): 14
Toy Joy: 54
The Trail: Lewis & Clark Expedition 1803-1806: 52
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre: 13
"A Tree Grows in Trinity" (American Gothic): 51
Trick or Tweet: 32
Trip for Tat: 40
Truly, Madly, Deeply: 57
The Truman Show: 66
The Tune: 40
Tupperware! (American Experience): 15
The Tuxedo: 18
U.S. Mexican War: 22
UHF: 73
Unbreakable: 28
Und Tschüss: 8
The Undefeated: 36
Under California Stars: 6
Unforgiven: 63
Unhook the Stars: 30
Unpinned (The Century: America's Time): 56
"Untitled" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 54
Utopia: 64
Vampirella: 2
Vegas in Space: 66
Vengeance Valley: 14
Vietnam: Present Tense: 57
The Villain: 4
Vincent: 15
Vincent & Theo: 72
The Violent Years: 67
"Waiting for God" (Red Dwarf): 39
Waiting for Guffman: 10
"Waldorf Salad" (Fawlty Towers): 7
"The War Against Pornography" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 68
WarGames: 60
"Warriors of the Amazon" (Nova): 23
Watergate Plus 30 : Shadow of History: 12
"The Way We Wear" (Smithsonian World): 16
"The Wedding Party" (Fawlty Towers): 2
Welcome to Collinwood: 47
Welcome to Mooseport: 15
We're No Angels(1955): 48
West Virginia: 17
Wet Hare: 41
What's Opera, Doc?: 48
White Heat: 25
"White Hole" (Red Dwarf): 72
White Zombie: 30
"Whither Canada" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 29
Who Buried Paul McCartney?: 21
Whoa, Be Gone: 29
The Wild Bunch: 4
The Wild World of Obscuro Comix (Piece of My Mind): 27
"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" (The Twilight Zone): 68
Wishful Thinking (1957): 56
Wishful Thinking (1990): 28
"Wisteria Lodge" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes): 35
The Witches of Eastwick: 51
Without a Clue: 30
Wonder Boys: 22
The Wrong Trousers: 52
X: 12
Yard Work Made Easy: 53
Yat goh hiu yan = Mr. Nice Guy:52
Yo-Yo Ma Inspired by Bach: 2
Young and Innocent: 25
The Young Poisoner's Handbook: 4
"You're No Fun Anymore" (Monty Python's Flying Circus): 46
Zardoz: 23
Zatôichi abare tako = Zatoichi's Flashing Sword: 32
Zatôichi Jigoku tabi = Zatoichi and the Chess Expert: 35
Zatôichi kenka-tabi = On the Road: 26
Zatôichi sakate giri = Zatoichi and the Doomed Man: 33
Zatôichi senryô-kubi = Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold: 27
Zoku Zatôichi monogatari = The Tale of Zatoichi Continues: 24

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 1

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

AARP Presents the 2000 Presidential Race Video Voters' Guide (2000, VHS). The CIA could learn a thing or two from AARP. Maybe we wouldn't be in the Iraq mess today if AARP had handled the "WMD" intelligence. How AARP manages to track us down when we hit age 50 mystifies me. In my mind, you shouldn't be allowed to join anyway until you are a true senior citizen, age 65. No, I am not a senior citizen-- yet, wise guy. I'll have you know I acquired this cassette as a result of cleaning out stuff at the family home after my Father died. This video covers four topics: Social Security, Medicare, long term care, and managed care. Each topic is introduced by a little drama of senior citizen actors portraying a mealtime discussion on the topic at hand. These are the kind of actors you see on local TV advertising, not polished, obviously reciting a script, and charming to watch. Then AARP honcho Horace Deets presents the issue in AARP-talk, and finally we get to see Vice President Gore and Gov. Bush present their views. First, let me say I did not vote for either one of these clowns in 2000 (I was rooting for Bradley and McCain in the primaries). That being said, I was struck by how Bush came across as the same tongue-tied oaf that we know today. Although he looked much younger, he still had that constipated expression and whiney delivery that we have grown weary of. I can't believe he was elected. Oh. I forgot. He wasn't. Gore was also comical to watch. The talk down goody goody who measured his words like steps through a minefield. What struck me the most about Big Al was how much he has relaxed since 2000. In terms of living a happier life, Gore turned out to be the true winner of the 2000 election. It was a jolt to hear the AARP people talk about the budget surplus, reminding me how quickly Bush and his drunken sailor Party regulars spent our tax dollars into deficitland. It would be an interesting exercise to compare the Bush promises in this video to the reality since 2001.

The Birdcage / directed by Mike Nichols (1996, VHS). Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Calista Flockhart, Hank Azaria. My picks for this "Cheaper By The Dozen" list are strictly random, so it strikes me funny that this movie, of all movies, follows my reference in the previous review mentioning the Republicans. I was going to use the G.O.P. = Gay Old Party joke, but that would be too obvious. The plot hinges around the comical attempt of a gay couple to pass themselves off as straight to a homophobic, career-first, far-right Republican U.S. Senator (Hackman), who is a potential in-law. Nichols has a great eye for visual composition and color and I can watch this movie over and over just for the enjoyment of how the shots were set up. The "I just never realized John Wayne walked like that" straight-practice scene is one of my favorites. Williams appears to be a bit miscast, which might explain why the couple in the original French version, La Cage Aux Folles (1978) seem to have more chemistry. Hank Azaria singing "She Works Hard the Money" is my favorite bit of music. This film was Hollywood's answer to the Republican "revolution" of 1994. The number of "family values" politicians who have been caught in sex scandals, gay or otherwise, since 1996 keeps this film topical.

Cosi
/ directed by Mark Joffe (1996, VHS). Ben Mendelsohn, Barry Otto, Toni Collette, Rachel Griffiths. Uncredited cameo by Paul Mercurio. A rookie directs a group of mental patients in a production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte. There are subplots of infidelity and "who is really sane anyway?" This is like a few other offbeat Australian films (Welcome to Woop Woop, Strictly Ballroom) where the central character is a bland prettyboy overshadowed by the colorful cast of supporting characters. This film really belongs to Barry Otto, playing the role of a manic visionary mental patient who originated and pushed the whole idea of performing Cosi. I'm not trying to be obnoxiously politically incorrect here when I use the word "half-baked" to describe the overall feeling of the story, but that is really the impression I have. Almost as if they decided to go ahead and produce this movie even though the script wasn't complete. Still, it is fun. Includes pyromania, a bad toupée, a Collette solo song, and a very nice "goodbye" scene.

"The Builders" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by John Howard Davies (1975, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, David Kelly. Fawlty Towers, was, quite simply, the best sitcom of the 20th century. Very rewatchable and always funny. They only made a dozen of them. This one is the second episode. Hotel owner Basil Fawlty, a man surviving at the end of his mental rope, attempts to save a few English pounds by having a cheap contractor change the lobby area. But, Basil gets what he pays for. When his wife Sybil discovers that Basil has changed contractors behind her back the fur flies. The dialogue has no fat and not a minute is wasted. David Kelly (later in Waking Ned Devine) is entertaining as O'Reilly the contractor. Sybil, as she hits O'Reilly with an umbrella: "O'Reilly, I have seen more intelligent creatures than you lying on their backs at the bottoms of ponds. I have seen better organized creatures than you running round farmyards with their heads cut off. Now collect your things and get out!! I never want to see you or any of your men in my hotel again."

The Harder They Fall / directed by Mark Robson (1956, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling. This movie makes me think of the Three Stooges' leader Moe Howard. I'll get to that. Bogart plays an unemployed and once respected sports columnist who gets hired by the sleazy Steiger as a publicity man promoting a fighter who wins fixed boxing matches. Bogart's character is named Eddie Willis. Pretty neat, eh? The film has that gritty black and white hardboiled 1950s exposé visual that gives it an almost documentary look. Steiger, the method actor, and Bogart, the classic, throw sparks as you detect their personal dislike was not limited to the characters they played. The was Bogie's final film, and he reportedly did not wear make up, a decision that really worked for the role. Oddly, Bogart wears a bowtie through the whole film. Actually, I have a family photo taken in the old Jeffers Studio in Olympia from 1960 right here where my Dad and I are both wearing little clip-on bowties. What was the deal with that anyway? Something has changed since those days. Today a man with a bowtie is suspect. I don't know what for, but they are suspect. They also tend to drive those little Cooper boxes. This film is sort of a time jolt for me. I'm used to associating Bogart with the 1930s-1940s. Seeing him in a world with cars and fashions that are within my memory seems out of place. Indeed, in the story, and in real life, Bogart was out of place by 1956. The story is based on a novel by Budd Schulberg, who (brush with fame) was a friend of an Los Angeles attorney I once knew. After this attorney died he was buried very close to Moe Howard. And there you have it.

Kansas City / directed by Robert Altman (1996, VHS). Jennifer Jason Leigh, Harry Belafonte, Miranda Richardson, Dermot Mulroney, Steve Buscemi. Set in Kansas City, 1934, the Pendergast-controlled city of Altman's youth (In case you think I'm picking too much on the Republicans in these reviews, let me say the Democrats in this movie are nothing more than mobsters). A small time hood robs a prize patron of a gambling joint/jazz club run by a crime boss named Seldom Seen (Belafonte) and is caught and held. Meanwhile, the hood's moll kidnaps the wife of a prominent Democrat in an effort to force an exchange of hostages. There are too many subplots in here involving political power and corruption, love, and race, and too many actors for decent character development-- although I don't think Altman was too concerned about the latter category. His movies tend to present us with group snapshots. Belafonte is great singer, but the film was not able to convince me that he was really the ruthless tough guy he was supposed to play. The screen lit up whenever Steve Buscemi made his all too brief appearances, and this story could've used more of his presence. But, put the story and personalities aside and enjoy the generous helpings of great music as Altman has a unique way of weaving it into the movie, along with the visual look of the world he is presenting. The man knows his lighting. The ending left me feeling depressed, but I'm glad I watched it. I bought it at Grocery Outlet for less than 3 bucks, so I can't complain.

Amadeus / directed by Milos Forman (1984, VHS). F. Murray Abraham, Tom Hulce, Elizabeth Berridge, Jeffrey Jones, Vincent Schiavelli. How fitting this one is on the same review list as Cosi. The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is told through flashbacks by his mentally-institutionalized rival, Antonio Salieri. Beautiful visuals, wonderful acting, a well told story, and the music, the music! When this film was first released, I recall the Guild 45th movie house advertising it as, "Amadeus-- A Wild and Crazy Guy!" which is about right. Don't let the fact this movie is historically inaccurate get in the way of enjoying it. I understand Hulce is now one of us Washingtonians, quoted in the IMDB as saying, "Up in Seattle people look after their lives in a way you can't do in New York or Los Angeles." Brush with fame: back in the early 1980s, my brother was present in the same room with Hulce when he learned he gained the title role of this movie. I'm available for autograph signing.

At the Circus / directed by Edward Buzzell (1939, VHS). Groucho, Chico, Harpo Marx, Kenny Baker, Florence Rice, Eve Arden, Margaret Dumont. The young heir to great fortune forsakes his economic class and attempts to keep a failing circus alive. The highlight of this film is Groucho singing "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" (written by Arlen and Harburg, which involves yet another brush with fame for me, but this is getting embarrassing, so I'll pass). I love Groucho, Chico is OK, but I find Harpo really annoying. Part of the appeal of the Marx Brothers was their anarchy, fast pace, and expert use of puns. But their films always suffered from two handicaps. First, they included a romantic subplot involving uninteresting characters. Second, Harpo's maudlin performances on the harp always gave me the creeps. Curly Howard could probably beat the crap out of this guy. Perhaps through digital magic we can do that now.

Mark Russell's '94 / directed by Robert Lower (1994, VHS on-air). Mark Russell was kind of a mainstream and safer version of Tom Lehrer. A musical political comedian who appealed to people of an older generation. In fact, this tape was from my parent's estate, and when I say "older generation" to you Olybloggers, you know I mean really old since I am easily the same age or older than most of your parents. In this tape, Russell recaps the big stories of 1994, including jokes about Tonya Harding, Nelson Mandela, North Korea's nuclear capability, Boris Yeltsin, Nixon's funeral, Cuban refugees, Princess Di, Pope John Paul, the Religious Right, Newt Gingrich, Sonny Bono, and Oliver North's run for the U.S. Senate (I had forgotten about that last one). He has musical numbers devoted to Lorena Bobbitt, a prophetic tune about Clinton's bimbo problem, Ames spy scandal, Vietnam as a tourist destination, Summer of 1994, New York State politics (including Rudy) and the O.J. trial. In keeping with the general theme of this review list, Mark Russell wears a bowtie as part of his persona, but in his case it works. His best line, which ties into the first review here, is about the Republican health care plan: "Just say no-- to illness!"

"Salad Days" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 16, episode 33) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Storage jars. Rogue cheddar.

The People Under the Stairs / directed by Wes Craven (1991, VHS on-air). Brandon Adams, Everett McGill, Wendy Robie, Ving Rhames. I have never made it through this movie. A boy breaks into a home and discovers he has entered a private Hell constructed by a very twisted couple. This isn't my imagination, the weapon-loving two-faced villains are made to look and talk very much like Ron and Nancy Reagan. But like I said, I have never survived an entire showing of this story. I guess having survived two terms of the original Reagan movie-- well, that wore me out and put me off any remakes.

"Camille" (Red Dwarf ; IV, byte 1) / directed by Ed Bye (1991, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen. "Oh, spin my nipple nuts and send me to Alaska." Red Dwarf is the sort of cult program that won't make any sense unless you have seen the very first episode, then all will fall into place. Without getting into the background of the series, the story is this: A space crash survivor named Camille is taken aboard Red Dwarf. All four crew members perceive a different Camille (Camille=chameleon, get it?), each perception being what they want to see. Makes me think of the comments on the recent Port protest, actually-- except the difference here is that characters woke up to fact they were operating under a delusion. There is a Casablanca-referenced subplot demonstrating how it can be noble to lie. This episode is mainly focused on Robert Llewellen's always enjoyable performance as Kryten, the android, and his efforts to become like a human. The laugh track detracts from the writing.

Cheaper by the Dozen 2

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Sabrina / directed by Billy Wilder (1954, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Francis X. Bushman, Harvey B. Dunn (uncredited), Nancy Kulp (uncredited). Call this one the Ugly Duckling story, or Cinderella, or the Tortoise and Hare. Sabrina (Hepburn) is the daughter of the Larabee family chauffeur. David Larabee (Holden) is the rapidly-approaching-middle-age playboy younger Larabee brother, Linus (Bogart) is the too-old-for-this-role workaholic older brother. Sabrina is in love with the oblivious David, she travels to France and the duck returns as a swan. Only then does David falls in love with her, and Linus is sent in to fix the situation. There is a lot in this film about social and economic class, the dual yet unequal worlds of servants and the served. As Sabrina's chauffeur father points out, "Democracy can be a wickedly unfair thing, Sabrina. Nobody poor was ever called democratic for marrying somebody rich." Watching the effervescent Hepburn slowly wake up the soul of the stick-in-the-mud Bogart is really at the core of the story. Apparently, in reality, Bogart and Holden hated each other, and when asked how he liked working with Hepburn, Bogart said, "It's ok, if you don't mind to make 20 takes." There is a great cooking school scene on how to crack an egg. Bogart's bowtie is not too distracting, since it sort of fits his character.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Martin Short, Juul Haalmeyer Dancers. Second City TV falls in the middle of the Monty Python-SCTV-Kids in the Hall continuum. But where the first group was radical at the time, and the last group had an edginess, the Canadian SCTV ensemble had warmth. Python and the Kids seemed to be in a seek and destroy mode with the subjects of their humor. The SCTV cast, filled with dead-on impressions of the rich and powerful, were able to pull it off without being cruel or cynical. The premise is that the Second City TV network is a local television station for the town of Melonville. We, the audience, get to watch the televised fare of SCTV, enabling the cast to satirize all those broadcasts us Boomers knew only so well. On another level, we are treated to the backstory, the SCTV staff and citizens of Melonville comprised of original characters like the McKenzie Brothers, Guy Caballero, Ed Grimley, Edith Prickley, the Shmenge Brothers, and newsmen Floyd Robertson and his bowtie wearing co-anchor, Earl Camembert (in his case, the tie is perfect for the role) and many more. This show might not age well unless you were born 1946-1964. It is jammed with Boomer cultural references and pokes fun at icons that were part of our upbringing. Born out of improv, the early shows had writing that was more hit and miss-- the skits had an on-stage feel. As the series progressed, so did the production values, in spite of Johnny LaRue having a hard time getting crane shots. The humor also depends on a certain amount of character development, so the more you watch, the funnier it gets. This particular aging home VHS is filled with early broadcasts (with Harold Ramis) and several Christmas shows. My favorite bit in here is John Candy playing a very drunk sleazy producer named Johnny LaRue, freezing his butt off as he finds no one to interview for his Christmas Eve evening live broadcast "Street Beef" on the streets of Melonville (and, this one includes a crane shot joke). I also enjoyed Catherine O'Hara as the downward spiral singer Lola Heatherton backed up by the inept Juul Haalmeyer Dancers during her TV Christmas special.

Shenandoah / directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (1965, VHS). James Stewart, Doug McClure, Patrick Wayne, Katharine Ross, Tim McIntire, Denver Pyle, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Warren Oates (uncredited). A strong anti-war story wrapped inside a family movie, I saw this one in a theater when it was first released. James Stewart, who I normally detest, is great in this role. Probably because he isn't being James Stewart. He plays the role of a widower Virginia patriarch, attempting to run his farm and raise his family in spite of the Civil War going on all around him. Anti-government, anti-slavery, and living only within the bounds of his property, he pretty much reflects my father's family in Virginia at the same time period, which is probably why he took me to see this film. A lot of big issues are packed into this story. Check out the "Plot Keywords" assigned by IMDB: Interracial Friendship, Horse Thief, Stabbed In Stomach, Church, Interracial Relationship, Father Son Relationship, Death, Southern U.S., 1860s, Virginia, American Civil War, Anti War, Farm, Widower, Wedding, Son, Rancher, Prisoner Transport, Prisoner Of War, Father, Duty, Birth. Whew! The "Stabbed in Stomach" keyword is particularly unique, and when I looked this is the only "Stabbed in Stomach" movie in my collection, thank goodness. George Kennedy's vacant-eyed brief appearance as a Union colonel is one of the more memorable scenes, as he captured the weariness and insanity of the War Between the States in the way he moved and talked. Filmed as the Vietnam War was heating up, this movie came in under the radar as an anti-war statement made all the more surprising since it was mostly delivered by Stewart, a staunch conservative. But then again, so was my Dad, who came around to oppose the War as well. So much for stereotyping. Stewart's line toward the end of the movie is worth remembering: "It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning. And the politicians who talk about the glory of it. And the old men who talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home."

Shopping / directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (1994, VHS). Sadie Frost, Jude Law, Sean Pertwee, Marianne Faithfull, Jonathan Pryce. Set in a dark, dirty industrial urban jungle somewhere in the UK, where tribal moderns live on the edge of survival, to go "shopping" means driving an expensive stolen car into a posh retail store via the display windows and robbing the place as fast as one can before law enforcement officers arrive. For one criminal (Pertwee) this activity is strictly business, and he approaches it as any normal capitalist-- including cutting deals with upstanding citizens. But his rival (Jude Law), going "shopping" is just part of being an adrenalin junkie, it is an art form. Pertwee is the standout performer in this tale as he approached his role with lots of fire and predatory movement, although Pryce plays the "tired and worn out" authority figure quite well. The "Shopping" universe has the feel of being in a sudden post-apocalyptic place, yet we somehow know the Hellish conditions we are seeing come instead from a gradual breakdown of the economic/social/political system. Mannequins are employed throughout the story as both objects of envy (they wear and possess prized material) and disdain, perhaps supplying us with how the "Shoppers" perceive the consumer middle class. There is only one scene in the film where the principal characters are shown in company with normal citizens, as the criminals case out a huge mall before attempting to rob it. "Look at them," observes Law, "the living dead," and he walks among them as if they were made of vapor. The mall is the place where we see a world of light, and a live string quartet playing Mozart is in sharp contrast to the techno-punk music of the rest of the movie. Director Anderson had trouble releasing this film in the UK, where some theaters refused to show it. In the United States, we were offered the movie in slightly edited form as a direct-to-video release.

Suddenly / directed by Lewis Allen (1954, VHS). Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates, Paul Frees. This film reminds me of three Bogart movies, Petrified Forest, Key Largo, and Desperate Hours-- three situations where normal people in safe and familiar places, like a restaurant or at home, are held hostage by gun toting psychopaths. Suddenly is not quite up to the level of the other three but it is still worth checking out. The story takes place in a small town called Suddenly. Contract killers, working for a client (or country-- remember this is the Cold War) who is never named, take over an average home in order to use it as a sniper's nest to assassinate the President of the United States. I don't know if this is urban legend or not, but supposedly when Sinatra heard that Lee Harvey Oswald watched this picture on television shortly before Nov. 22, 1963, Ol' Blue Eyes had the movie pulled from circulation. It was not seen for years, and then entered the public domain, where cut-rate places like Front Row Entertainment of Edison, NJ (apparently now defunct) distributed cheaply made and badly reproduced copies with chunks of the original missing like the one I have. At least my copy is in the original washed out black and white. One outfit colorized their version, giving Frank brown, yes, brown eyes! Guns and their use are a major part of this movie, and NRA types will love the fact that the most anti-gun person in the tale finally resorts to using one (High Noon style). On the other hand, Sinatra the killer declares, "Without the gun I'm nothing, and I never had anything before I had one." The fixation on firearms is so pronounced here that I'm sure Freudians would have a field day. Some of the major characters are WWII veterans, and the issue of whether war is murder or heroism is touched upon. I never liked Frank Sinatra very much, but over the last couple years I have started to appreciate him more as an actor and singer. His performance as an insecure and ruthless psychopath is excellent. I don't think it is the contrasting wooden acting by everyone else that makes him so convincing. There are also some choice lines about gender like, "Ellen, will you please stop being a woman?" Sterling Hayden (remember "Precious bodily fluids" in Dr. Strangelove?) plays a law enforcement officer who delivers his romantic lines in the same tone as he conducts police business. Paul Frees, who we Boomers know as the voice of Boris Badenov, plays one of Sinatra's goons. James "For the Love of Mike!" Gleason appears as the same character we see in all of his films. My favorite line comes from Sinatra: "Booth! Ha! I'm no actor! Bustin' my leg on a stage so I can yell 'Down with tyrants!' If Booth wasn't such a ham he might've made it." No one in this movie wears a bowtie.

"Crash Goes the Hash"
(From Nurse to Worse & Other Nyuks) / directed by Jules White (1944, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent, Bud Jamison. This is one of the more coherent stories from the Three Stooges. Mistaken for reporters, newspaper editor Fuller Bull hires the boys to cover the engagement of upper class twits. Being imposters yet again, the Stooges infiltrate a high class party while posing as servants. This one has many classic tried and true Stooge jokes, such as the parrot getting inside a cooked turkey and walking and talking. Best threat by Moe in this one, "One of these days I'll tear your tonsils out and shove it in your eye!" Excluding the big fight scene with the bad guys, this one has 11 head konks, 3 face slaps, 3 eye pokes, 2 stomach punches, 2 ice tongs used on a cranium, 2 classic hand waves in front of a face, a foot crunch, a triple head knock, a triple face slap, a nose caught in a door, and a bitten index finger. All with great sound effects. Not too shabby. My numbers might be off, since it was hard to keep up with the ballet of violence at the very end. I have always wanted to see a remake of Deliverance using the Stooges. Moe as Reynolds, Larry as Voight, Curly squealing like a pig, Shemp as the dueling banjo fellow except instead of a guitar he'd simply have dueling heeb-beeb-beeb-beeebs. The new version would have better sound effects too. With computers, we can do it. Oh, back to "Crash Goes the Hash": Curly had the first of his strokes when this was being filmed. The first scene was filmed last, and you can see something has happened to him. This was also Bud Jamison's final appearance in a Stooge short after a long career of being a great straight man for them.

Vampirella / directed by Jim Wynorski (1996, VHS). Talisa Soto, Roger Daltrey, John Landis, Forrest J. Ackerman (uncredited). Oink. So this is a film directed by Jim Wynorski, based on a story by Forrest J. Ackerman, and produced by Roger Corman, i.e., don't expect Academy Award winning material here. In fact, don't expect to be able to sit through the whole thing. I have tried a couple times and couldn't do it. Vampires from space walk among us. There is a vampire hunter named Van Helsing. Roger Daltrey is the bad guy, and I think an awful lot of Keith Moon's ham rubbed off on the guy. The difference is, I really enjoyed Keith Moon's over the top performances and his version of ham was totally unique. His solo album, Two Sides of the Moon, is actually pretty fun, if you can get past the fact he was totally blitzed during most of the recording. Did you know Moon died very close in time to Ed Wood? Not sure what that means, but I thought it was worth pointing out. Oh. I digress. Easy to do when digression is more interesting than the movie I'm reviewing. to sum up: Lots of ham. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of ham. A virtual pig lot! This is one I'll call an oinker.

Yo-Yo Ma Inspired by Bach / various directors (1997, VHS off-air). Yo-Yo Ma, Mark McKinney (uncredited). Gifted cellist Yo-Yo Ma collaborates with artists in other mediums, combining their art forms with his interpretation of the music of Bach. Kabuki, ice skating, story telling, dance, architecture, gardening, and a portrayal of Bach himself are set to music. If this is the kind of thing you like, then this is the kind of thing you'll like. The six parts play at over five hours, probably not a good idea to watch them all back to back. I find the cello to be a sad instrument. Even when playing joyful music, there is an undercurrent of sorrow in the cello. And Yo-Yo Ma is too good at this. Some of his collaborations work, like the movement pieces with skaters and dancers, and others don't. I liked the narrative by Bach himself. Look for a walk-on at the start of the "Six Gestures" segment by Kids in the Hall member Mark McKinney. I was caught up enough in the music and great visuals that I failed to notice or care about how many people, if any, were wearing bowties. However, I did have a disturbing dream shortly after watching the whole set. Yo-Yo Ma's childhood home was open as a tourist attraction, and it was packed with gawkers. "Look, there's where Yo-Yo watched TV when he was little! Hey, there's the room the where the spoons are kept!" Etc. Pictures were taken, home videos being recorded. Every room in the house had a Yo-Yo Ma concession stand and salesperson selling Yo-Yo Ma CDs, buttons, pens, yo-yos, little tiny toy cellos, and junk like that. And somehow I knew most of the people there had no idea who Yo-Yo Ma was except that he was famous-- and that was good enough. Weird with a beard, man.

About Schmidt / directed by Alexander Payne (2002, VHS). Jack Nicholson, Kathy Bates, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Howard Hesseman, Angela Lansbury (uncredited), Rush Limbaugh (uncredited). Jack Nicholson was given a Golden Globe for "Best Actor in a Drama" award for his role as 66 year old Warren R. Schmidt, and responded, "I'm a little surprised. I thought we had made a comedy." Indeed, that is how it is billed on the VHS cover. And it does have many funny moments, but the humor is bittersweet. This is a drama, and one of Nicholson's finest performances. Warren Schmidt, a company man and an obedient husband, experiences two major life changes one right after another when his wife suddenly dies shortly after his retirement. When his only child, a daughter, prepares to marry a young man he doesn't approve of, Warren struggles to learn the art of acceptance. He narrates his own story through letters to a little boy in Africa he adopted through the Childreach organization, and through these exercises in freewriting he looks at the past with regret, and looks to the future with lonely uncertainty. He's like Yo-Yo Ma's cello, even when he's close to being happy there is a foundation of sadness, which makes me realize a prominent cello is what is missing from the soundtrack. The method of telling the story is brilliant, allowing us to get a peek inside the mind of this passive-aggressive man. Kathy Bates flamboyant character provides an excellent foil to Nicholson, and Dermot Mulroney provides painfully realistic comic relief. The two best moments of the film are scenes where Warren recognizes the world is not all about Warren: the wedding speech and the final scene. And a paradox hits. Once he knows the world is not all about him, he can see the impact he has on it and that he can make a difference.

The Black Cat / directed by Albert S. Rogell (1941, VHS). Basil Rathbone, Hugh Herbert, Broderick Crawford, Bela Lugosi, Gale Sondergaard, Alan Ladd, Marlene Dietrich (uncredited). This is a fun film supposedly based on Poe, but good luck finding any connection. Rathbone and Lugosi add the touch of horror, Herbert and Crawford bring the comedy, and Sondergaard is incredibly over the top and a joy to watch. A young Alan Ladd is just sort of there. A wealthy cat lady is mysteriously killed when one of her heirs becomes impatient for the inheritance. Revolving doors, secret passages, evil laughs, hands reaching out from behind curtains with bottles of poison, shadowy figures, Lugosi's cryptic eyes, Rathbone's oily smoothness, Sondergaard's wonderful overacting! This movie is a winner. Broderick Crawford was only 30 when this was made, but even back then he seemed like an old man. Maybe this is due to the fact that we Boomers always associate him in his gruff role in the 1950s TV show, "Highway Patrol" and won't allow him to ever be young. A bit of Washington State trivia: Albert S. Rogell, the director, grew up in Spokane.

Crime of the Century / directed by Mark Rydell (1996, VHS). Stephen Rea, Isabella Rossellini, J.T. Walsh, Michael Moriarty, David Paymer. Based on the book "The Airman and the Carpenter" by Ludovic Kennedy, this made-for-TV HBO movie presents a heavy-handed slanted case in favor of Bruno Richard Hauptmann being railroaded into a conviction and execution over the 1932 Lindbergh baby kidnapping and murder. Without having an opinion on the case, I can see this is very effective as a propaganda piece. Hauptmann is presented as a total victim, a pawn in a political game by career-building men demanding a patsy. "Someone must die for the baby," Rea as Hauptmann says, "And I'm the one picked out to die." In spite of the fact you can hear his Irish brogue inside the German accent, Rea helps us understand, whether guilty or innocent, how Hauptmann must've felt in his last weeks. Investigator Col. Norman Schwarzkopf and Attorney General David Wilentz, two men instrumental in sending Richard to the electric chair, are singled out as real snakes in this one. Rossellini is wonderful as Anna Hauptmann, making you believe why the real-life Anna, who died in 1994 at the age of 95, defended her husband in a 60-year crusade. Moriarty is excellent as NJ Gov. Harold G. Hoffman, who had serious misgivings about Hauptmann's guilt but was powerless to stop the execution. There are many bowties in this movie, but they all play only supporting roles.

"The Wedding Party" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by John Howard Davies (1975, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs. Contains one of my favorite exchanges of the entire series. Major: "She's a fine woman, Mrs Fawlty." Basil: "No, no, I wouldn't say that." Major: "No, nor would I." Basil's prudishness and misinterpretation of surrounding events is the key to the big joke in this one. It was much funnier in 1975 when the sexual revolution was still unfolding and there were more people like Basil running around. Today this episode just seems quaint but still very funny. Cleese's choreography and manic movement are in hyperdrive.

Cheaper by the Dozen 3

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Harrison Bergeron / directed by Bruce Pittman (1995, VHS). Sean Astin, Miranda de Pencier, Christopher Plummer, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Howie Mandel, Nigel Bennett, Buck Henry, John Astin (uncredited). Vonnegut stories, as wonderful as they are, never seem to translate well to the screen. This one, originally made for the small screen via Showtime, is about as good an effort to bring one of Kurt's stories out to the light of day as I've seen. Set in the year 2053 after the Second American Revolution, the world has taken the appearance of the 1950s, except that citizens wear brain altering bands around their craniums in order to keep them from having creative or original thoughts. It maintains citizens as "equal." Mentally-gifted people are selected and recruited into a small corps of elite who keep the Machine running. This a libertarian/authoritarian morality tale, with characters who are not emotionally complex. This last point is not due to poor writing or bad acting, it is merely illustrating the natural consequence of a system where all thoughts are under government control. Eugene Levy in his role as the simplistic President sort of anticipates George W. Bush. Like a lot of Vonnegut stories, the humor is dark, the world is not fair, yet there is a faint ray of hope as the human spirit refuses to be crushed. Loyalists to the Left or Right can use this film to bash the other side.

Key Largo / directed by John Huston (1948, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, Lauren Bacall, Lionel Barrymore, Claire Trevor, Dan Seymour, Jay Silverheels (uncredited). A great film by a great director with a great cast. Also the last of the movies with that Bogart-Bacall chemistry. But, there are still some flaws. A criminal invades an innocent setting and takes hostages while the outside world is temporarily oblivious. In Petrified Forest and in the Desperate Hours, Bogart is the invader. But in this one he is one of the captives. He is more suited to play the invader. Maybe it is the script and the fact Hollywood didn't faithfully follow the original, but Bogart's mood swings and introspection don't seem all that convincing. Although this is pretty much known as a Bogart film, he is not one of the strongest actors in the story. Everything revolves around Edward G. Robinson, who is disturbingly convincing as an Al Capone type of gangster. It is his character who gets the buildup, his character who shapes the destiny of the others. He's an updated version of Little Caesar, deported and returned, and meaner than ever. Bogart is a returning WWII vet, giving the audience an opportunity to hear that the fight against evil didn't stop when the war ended. Normally in that era, that meant fighting "subversive" elements, and even Robinson's character at one point says, "After living in the USA for more than thirty-five years they called me an undesirable alien. Me. Johnny Rocco. Like I was a dirty Red or something!" Al Capone had some great quotes along the same lines: “Don't you get the idea I'm one of those goddam radicals. Don't get the idea I'm knocking the American system,” and, “This American system of ours, call it Americanism, call it capitalism, call it what you will, gives each and every one of us a great opportunity if we only seize it with both hands and make the most of it,” and, “Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class.” Like Capone, Robinson's gangster brags about how many politicians he has bought and paid for. The knot that the three main players find themselves in throughout most of the story can be summarized in a brief but powerful scene where Robinson whispers something obscene in Bacall's ear. She spits on him. And Bogart defuses the situation with fancy talk, maintaining the status quo. But it all comes to a head, John Huston style. Claire Trevor plays the usual quintessential drunk bad girl, but this time they gave her an Oscar for it.

The Best of the Benny Hill Show. Vol. 2, 4 (1981, VHS). Benny Hill. British comedy is so extreme. When it is good, it is really good, and when it is bad, it is Benny Hill, may he rest in peace. You can't even apologize for him by saying, "Well, it was funny at the time. You have to take that into account." I was a TV viewer when he broke into the American entertainment market, and the only thing funny about his humor was how cluelessly tasteless and offensive he was, which, I admit, was sort of fascinating for the first few minutes. That was a few decades ago and he hasn't gotten any funnier. Benny was alleged to have been born on the very same day Lenin died, which raises some interesting reincarnation scenarios. Now that's funny!

Fantastic Voyage / directed by Richard Fleischer (1966, VHS). Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, Donald Pleasence, Arthur O'Connell, Arthur Kennedy, James Brolin. Sometimes I wonder how Richard Fleischer, the son of madcap genius animator Max Fleischer, could direct movies that have a tedious and slow pace. In this SF story, a medical team is miniaturized and in a specially constructed submarine enter the body of a scientist (who has crossed the Iron Curtain to help our side) in order to remove a blood clot from his brain. The color is in garish and groovy 1960s style and the music sounds like it was composed for TV, which, in fact, is where composer Leonard Rosenman made his bread and butter. Fleischer spends much too much time showing us all the technology making this Fantastic Voyage possible. At first it is interesting how the entire operation mimics the Mission Control of space flight, but after a while it gets tiresome, then outright boring, then humorous. Perhaps at the time the tension came from the audience wondering whether or not we were going to score a big Cold War win by really landing on the Moon or not. That was still three years away. When I was a kid, astronauts were national heroes and throughout the 1960s every detail of every manned rocket launch was aired live. In 1966 the opening sequence of this movie might have been tapping into a national anxiety that does not exist today. Stephen Boyd has the pretty boy role. Raquel Welch doesn't get a chance to act. Donald Pleasence is as hammy as ever. I particularly enjoyed Edmond O'Brien as the cigar chomping, coffee guzzling military man at Mission Control (CMDF = "Combined Miniature Defense Force," I'm not kidding)-- one of the few real characters in the whole story. The great Arthur Kennedy plays the egotistical yet philosphical surgeon, "The medieval philosophers were right. Man is the center of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space, and there's no limit to either."

Matchstick Men / directed by Ridley Scott (2003, VHS). Nicholas Cage, Sam Rockwell, Alison Lohman. A coming of age movie. The principal character is actually a con artist approaching middle age, but it isn't a midlife crisis in the sense that we know it. He never really grew up. He became isolated and emotionally retarded. He developed a catalog of obsessive-compulsive habits. And out of nowhere a daughter he never knew he had walks into his life. Parenthood does have a way of waking you up and bringing you to a sort of reality that requires being grounded, even if they show up 14 years too late. So it is a coming of age movie. Nicholas Cage is fun to watch in this story. Much of his world revolves around carpets, a theme in this film from start to finish. Ridley Scott knows how to tell a tale and he employs some great cinematic tricks showing us how the world looks through the eyes of Cage's character. This movie must be viewed twice to really appreciate it, and it is more fun to see on the second go-around-- almost like watching a sleight of hand artist at work in slow motion. Cage is paired with a fellow matchstick man who plays Oscar to his Felix. My favorite quote is when Cage visits a psychiatrist: "Look, Doc, I spent last Tuesday watching fibers on my carpet. And the whole time I was watching my carpet, I was worrying that I, I might vomit. And the whole time, I was thinking, 'I'm a grown man. I should know what goes on my head.' And the more I thought about it... the more I realized that I should just blow my brains out and end it all. But then I thought, well, if I thought more about blowing my brains out... I start worrying about what that was going to do to my goddamn carpet. Okay, so, ah-he, that was a GOOD day, Doc. And, and I just want you to give me some pills and let me get on with my life." This movie deserves a sequel. I'd like to know what happened down the road.

"The Cycling Tour" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 16, episode 34) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Chiefly Palin and Jones in a rare half-hour tale. Leon Trotsky makes an appearance, which is kind of strange since the Benny Hill review mentioned Lenin. Nice emergency room scene.

Peter the Great / directed by Marvin J. Chomsky, Lawrence Schiller (1986, VHS). Maximilian Schell, Vanessa Redgrave, Omar Sharif, Trevor Howard, Lawrence Olivier, Jan Niklas, Elke Sommer, Ursula Andress, Helmut Griem, Jeremy Kemp, Graham McGrath, Denis DeMarne. This was originally broadcast on NBC as a six-hour miniseries and apparently is difficult to locate in DVD format. Filmed in Russia, with beautiful production values, this biopic covers the life of Peter the Great, the Russian Tsar who Westernized his country. Even though this was made for the small screen it visually has a feature film feel through much of the story. The cast is uneven. This was among the last of the screen appearances of Olivier and Howard (who had a nice bit as Isaac Newton), both of them basically had cameo roles. Jeremy Kemp is always fun to watch. Vanessa Redgrave makes a great schemer. There are a couple distracting things about watching this on VHS if you are expecting the timing and pace of a theater-released piece. First, all the action takes place in measured chunks, and it is easy to see where the commercial breaks were inserted. Secondly, as my partner in viewing pointed out, the music was too overpowering in attempting to direct us on how we should feel about a scene. But this was primetime NBC. PBS could've released the exact same production without any music and it would've fit right into that particular network market for the most part, they allow their viewers to think for themselves. The character of Peter was played by four actors. Peter the child (McGrath), Peter the young man (Niklas), Peter in his prime (Schell) and Peter the ancient narrator (DeMarne). Niklas appears to have the lion's share of the screen among these four, and he brings energy to the role. There was another unidentified actor playing Peter, perhaps DeMarne again. Here's how it worked. Schell supposedly left production to meet another commitment, so they filmed about 8 major scenes with a stand-in, employing tricks like back of the head shots, lots of shadows, out of focus distant angles, etc. But it fails to work. It gets in the way of the story. It was like when Ed Wood used the chiropractor Tom Mason as a stand-in for Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space, or like when Jules White employed Joe Palma to stand-in as the Fake Shemp so he could complete a few more Three Stooges shorts after the Nov. 22, 1955 death of Shemp Howard. There is only one Bela, one Shemp, and one Maximilian. The latter became more interesting to watch as his soul eroded, as the ravages of being Tsar ate away at him. And Schell played it well. My favorite line came from the cruel, despotic yet paradoxical Peter himself, who said to his friend as he watched the exiled Sophia give a last kiss to her equally exiled lover, "Don't mock them, Alexander. Love in any form is rare enough."

"D.N.A." (Red Dwarf ; IV, byte 1) / directed by Ed Bye (1991, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen. While in the course of salvaging a drifting space vessel, the crew encounters a device called a transmogrifier. This technology can alter the DNA of any living thing. Kryten the android, who has a bit of organic matter in his brain, briefly turns into a human being. The scene where Kryten asks Lister questions about his human body is one of my all-time favorite moments in the entire series. We also get to see Robert Llewellen without all that makeup and the guy is a very expressive comedian. There is another great bit where the entire ship shuts down due to the vain Cat insisting on using his hair dryer. Oh, and this one includes a very unique monster defeated by lager in there as well.

The Journey of Sacagawea / directed by Alan Austin (2004, VHS off-air). Rita Coolidge, narrator. This is an hour long documentary originally broadcast on PBS about the teenage girl who opened a continent. Her story is nothing short of incredible. This Shoshone girl was kidnapped from her Idaho tribal grounds and taken to the Dakotas by the Hidatsa. She was either purchased or won in a game of chance at the age of 13 by the French fur trader Charbonneau. When he was hired by the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a guide and translator, she was part of the deal. During the journey she gave birth to a son, saved the Expedition's journals from vanishing downstream, and her presence seemed to bring calm to encounters that otherwise could've turned hostile. There is no doubt she was one of the most valuable members of the Corps of Discovery. One could even make the case that the whole enterprise would have collapsed without her. She was a participant, along with the African American slave York (who is strangely missing from this documentary) in the symbolic and historic Nov. 1805 vote among the Corps about where to set up a winter camp. There are some maddening mysteries concerning her life. No one really knows how her name was pronounced, or what she looked like, or when and where she died. Sacagawea was an amazing woman, a legend in the history of the United States. Then I have to ask myself: Why is this documentary so boring? On the face of it, the method of giving us the information should work. We have Native and Anglo talking heads, actors reading the journals of Lewis, Clark, and Gass, dramatization that is subtle and effective, filmed on location with beautiful landscapes. But it all has a much too laid back tone. The music, although very nice by itself, for the most part seems more suited for a documentary about some New Age concept than for Sacagawea. There is a feeling of sedation about the whole documentary, almost as if the folks who put this together considered themselves too cool to be visceral. This was a compelling bit of history that was squandered.

Hate Jennifer Show (1978, VHS off-air). Gilda Radner. A show within a show. In her Saturday Night Live character of Judy Miller, Gilda presents a Brownie-uniformed girl putting on an imaginery TV show, "Hate Jennifer Show," illustrating all the shortcomings of her sister. When I first saw this when it originally aired, I thought it was clever, but not much more. Of course, it was buried in among all the other skits and I was probably not really paying attention anyway. 1978 was the tail end of my undergraduate years. If you've been there in Almost-Graduatedland you know what I mean. Besides, at Evergroove, 1978 was the Year from Hell, and we were all distracted. So years, nay, decades later I find this little snippet of the "Hate Jennifer Show" buried in a homemade video about something else and was able to appreciate it for itself. Gilda was wonderful. She really captured the essence of little girls when they are feeling bratty. Since I originally viewed this broadcast, I have raised a daughter to adulthood and possess a much different appreciation for Gilda's genius today than when I saw it almost 30 years ago. If you've been there in Father of Daughterland you know what I mean.

The Blue Carbuncle (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by David Carson (1984, VHS). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Ken Campbell. Set in the background of a Victorian Christmas, this tale of greed stars Jeremy Brett as the one and only actor who can claim Holmes. Brett set the bar on his interpretation of the great detective. And this is an early one of the series, before he got sick, and when he had the spark-- back when Holmes zeroed in on his prey like some kind of predatory animal with a crazy primal energy. Conan Doyle's language and the way it is delivered is worth the audience time alone. The attention to period piece detail in here is amazing, considering this was made for television and was a series. The role of James Ryder, played by Ken Campbell, is incredibly sleeeeeazy and pathetic. According to IMDB, Campbell "Auditioned in 1987 for the role of the Seventh Doctor in Doctor Who, but was turned down, apparently due to his audition performance being considered too disturbing for television." And you can see why, after watching this Holmes episode. Human greed and unpleasantness is exposed in this tale in gradations in a very subtle way. Even the most likable characters have to dirty their hands in little ways in order to survive. In the end, Holmes turns existential and becomes a law unto himself. It helps that the victim of the crime is a Queen of Mean type. One important detail about this video, my big black cat, Spooky, was furiously chewing on the clipboard as I attempted to make notes during viewing. So I was distracted and will cling to this cat-chewing explanation in response to any subsequent complaining about my treatment of this work.

Butterfly Dance
/ directed by William K.L. Dickson (1894 VHS off-air). Annabelle Whitford. One of the very first motion pictures, lasting less than two minutes, it was filmed in Thomas Edison's Black Maria studio in New Jersey. Young Annabelle dances around with a long gown and butterfly wings. Filmed over a century and a decade ago. Probably more electrifying to audiences in 1894 than a zillion dollar piece of cultural flotsam distributed and advertised by the Big Boys today. Ms. Whitford died when I was in elementary school. It astounds me how new we are as a nation and technological powerhouse.










Cheaper by the Dozen 4

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Grizzlies (1987, VHS off-air). Peter Coyote, narrator. Although this National Geographic television documentary is an hour long, I have seen only the last 15 minutes of this one. The first part of it was taped over with a cartoon class I gave to the kids at Lincoln School back in 1987. Weird to think that those little guys are now approaching 30. There was a book I drew for early readers for the Olympia School District called "Odd Dog" back in the 1970s and all of these students had used it. Actually, Odd Dog was sort of a prototype of Morty the Dog, the cartoon character I later created and he turned around and bit me and became my nemesis. I gave three presentations that day, the groups of children got older with each one. The youngest folks really got into the magic of cartooning and being creative, responding with joy and wonder. But by the 3rd grade they were already asking, their eyelids heavy with world-weariness, "How do you make money at this cartooning thing?" Sad. Oh. The grizzlies. Peter Coyote, who was probably narrating from a script while safe in some air conditioned studio in L.A. when the guys out in the field were in danger of becoming bear fecal matter, sure sounds a lot like Henry Fonda if you squint your ears. I came in on this one while the scientists were tranquilizing a grizzly and then attaching a collar to it with a transmission device so they could always track it. I'm sure the other bears all made fun of it later. I once knew a tall, thin fellow named Peter (not Coyote), from Brooklyn, N.Y. who was an outdoor federal employee in Alaska. This happened in 1979. Peter happened upon a grizzly and in order to scare the thing he raised his hands in the air. The griz sniffed at him and than gave Peter a whack on the head with that giant paw. So Peter curled up into a ball and the bear began batting him around. Fortunately, Peter's fellow Feds flew by in a chopper and scared the bear away, but Pete was pretty scraped up and bruised for a long time. Back to the review: If you enjoy seeing lots of bloody fish at a river in Alaska as the grizzlies chow down, then this documentary has quite the finale for you.

"From Nurse to Worse" (From Nurse to Worse & Other Nyuks) / directed by Jules White (1940, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent, Johnny Kascier, Joe Palma. These are the Three Stooges in their prime. In order to collect on an insurance policy, the Stooges cook up a scheme where Curly pretends to be crazy and acts like a dog. But things go wrong during the medical examination by Dr. D. Lerious (Dent) and most of the action consists of an elaborate chase scene. I was ironing shirts as this was playing, so I can't really provide an accurate count of head konks, face slaps, eye pokes, etc., but there was plenty of slapstick action, including a chunk of Larry's hair being pulled out (with that velcro-type sound effect) and Curly's nose being pinched in scissors (with the nutcracker sound effect). Curly is especially great in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog. Hmmm. Dylan Thomas' literary work of the same title also came out in 1940. Coincidence? Or was the Bard of Wales influenced by Curly? At any rate, this one is classic Stooges. Fun story that actually ties together at the end, a parade of strong regulars supporting the stars, fast pace, great sound effects, and Curly unleashed!

The Villain / directed by Hal Needham (1979, VHS). Kirk Douglas, Ann-Margret, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Paul Lynde, Foster Brooks, Ruth Buzzi, Jack Elam, Strother Martin, Mel Tillis, Robert Tessier, Ott. This film is a very long 89 minutes. Basically the bad guy tries to stop the good guy and heroine in a setting and style that is very much like the Coyote and Roadrunner animations, complete with cartoon humor music and sound effects. The difference is that the Warner Brothers cartoon is funny and this is, well, 89 minutes long. I'm betting most folks associated with this film wish it had never been made, especially the current Governor of California. The best part of this movie is the running "smart horse-dumb owner" relationship between Kirk Douglas and his steed, Whiskey. The rest of the humor is made as if presented to a child, yet the subject matter is adult and was socially insensitive even in 1979. This includes alcoholism jokes (Brooks), sex jokes (Ann-Margret), stuttering jokes (Tillis), old biddy jokes (Buzzi), Native American jokes (Lynde) and rape jokes (Lynde again). This was Paul Lynde's last screen appareance. What a sad way to go. Former stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham, who also brought us such films as Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit, and Hooper, had been raked over the coals by the critics when he was active in the trade. In response, Needham printed a rebuttal picturing a wheelbarrow of cash-- no doubt pushed as he laughed all the way to bank.

The Young Poisoner's Handbook / directed by Benjamin Ross (1996, VHS). Hugh O'Conor, Antony Sher. I found this film to be very uncomfortable yet it had a story that was told by an expert. This is a biopic of the English psychopathic serial poisioner Graham Young, which gives the title a double meaning. This work is well made, well acted, and thoroughly depressing. O'Conor's narration is flat and unemotional-- like any good psychopath. And effective. The opening scenes really set the stage from the get go for what is to come: "I was very young when I realized I had a gift for chemistry. My earliest memories were quite often spent in the serenity of my parents home [kid stares at test tube while parents loudly argue in background. Father is heard to yell something about spouse wearing a low-cut dress at a party] gazing at some new found wonder of scientific discovery. [Now he is a teenager, transfixed by a pharmacy store display window] By the time I was in my teenage years I was beginning to see life as it really was, a series of illusions that only the scientists could strip away." And so, starting with his stepmother, Young begins to experiment with the art of poison. The building of suspense is so subtle, as it slowly dawns on us viewers that the average appearing routine motions of life can become quite fatal. It disturbs us to see how someone like Young can walk among us and pass as normal. The director respects the intelligence of his audience and does not resort to musical cues or other methods of rubbing our face in it. Called "Wickedly funny" by one quoted reviewer on the container, I'd have to disagree. It might be wickedly something, but funny is it not.

Adaptation / directed by Spike Jonze (2003, DVD). Nicolas Cage, Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, John Malkovich (uncredited). First off, let me say I think the name "Spike Jonze" is really contrived and pretentious, and someone who hides his real name behind such a moniker is bound to produce a piece of confusing and dysfunctional junk as this. Still, inside all those disorienting flashbacks and stories within stories there are some great moments. Cage plays twin brothers, age 40. A terrible age to be. Trapped and overwhelmed by stupid, trivial second-guessing self-absorbed thoughts, which the script does a good job of capturing, the main character is totally ruled by fear. Throughout the story, we hear the negativity he is feeding himself. In the first minute of the film we hear him ask himself in his head, "I need to turn my life around, what do I do?" Hey, by age 50 you don't care anymore, but he doesn't know that. His Doppleganger twin is more open, free. Although he comes across as less intellectual and more fun-loving, he seems more emotionally mature, and utters the best line of the story: "You are what you love. Not what loves you." Streep plays an ambitious NYC writer who is not a sympathetic character. But she is smart enough to see the forces guiding the story, "What I came to understand is that change is not a choice." Streep and the two Cages give strong performances, but Chris Cooper as the eccentric Florida redneck really outshines them both, which is saying a lot. As a rural con man, he is great at delivering the line, the B.S., the romance, with passages like, "Adaptation's a profound process. It means you figure out how to thrive in the world," which he proceeds to do as a B.S. artist. So this is a film with great acting by all the main actors, but suffers from a bad narrative style. I blame the director. Brian Cox is fun to watch as a playwright seminar teacher, I wish his role had been more prominent. This is not what I would consider a humorous film, yet the package has a blurb about it being a "stunningly original comedy." What is it with these recent sad-feeling films billing themselves as comedies when they are not?

The Blair Witch Project / directed by Daniel Myrick, Eduardo Sánchez (1999, VHS). Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard, Michael C. Williams. A great example of how a low-low-budget film without any star power can still be a box office blockbuster. Now that several years have passed and the Internet hype and marketing have evaporated, this movie can be viewed cold. Here is the premise: three young adults venture into the Maryland woods as they prepare a documentary on the legend of the Blair Witch. They vanish, but their videotapes and film are found. This surviving footage comprises the entire film. Since there were two or three cameras used, the story seesaws between being in color and black and white. As they are all hand held, the action is frequently choppy and the audience is continually left off-balance, trying to gain a solid footing. I first saw this in the old Das Kapital Mall megabox theater, and got severe motion sickness. This is one movie where it is better to view it on the tube. The initial buildup, where local residents are interviewed about the Blair Witch, clips along at a good pace and keeps us engaged. Once the three enter the woods, the story swings between brain numbing boredom and moments of intense fright. The scenes in the latter category are very effective, particularly when filmed in black and white. There is something especially disturbing about the ghosts or spirits of children, and the directors really exploit that. At one point in the story the three encounter some "crazy shit" icons made out of sticks hanging in the woods, which reminded me of the kinds of things I would encounter when walking through the Evergroove woods in the 1970s. The F-word is used generously throughout the story, so much so that it was sort of comical, but it also pushed me away. In movies like Midnight Run the f-word is used just as much, and it somehow works. But in this one it doesn't. Probably because the long moments of nonaction are filled with lots of whining involving copious use of the F-word. Maybe it just pushes a button for those of us who have survived parenting a teenager. In spite of the movie's uneveness, it remains impressive in being original and providing some truly frightening scenes.

Cromwell / directed by Ken Hughes (1970, VHS). Richard Harris, Alec Guinness, Robert Morley, Dorothy Tutin, Frank Finlay, Timothy Dalton, Patrick Wymark, Patrick Magee, Charles Gray, Nigel Stock, Basil Henson. Starting with Oliver Cromwell at his farm in 1640, the film traces the English Civil War through the lives of Cromwell and King Charles I. In fact, this film could easily have been entitled Charles I, or Cromwell and the King, since much of the story is presented as a personality-driven conflict between these two (Harris as Cromwell, Guinness as Charles). In spite of the historical inaccuracies, and there are many, pains were taken to film on location and have the actors actually resemble the historical characters they were portraying. In many ways the story reflects our world in 1970 more than the mid-1600s. A social and political revolution results in dashed hopes and idealistic notions get flushed down the toilet. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Some of the cinematic devices used are holdovers from a bygone era. The epic battle is remarkably free of mud and gore. The music is overwhelming and over the top, much like the acting from some of the great hams of British cinema. Guinness plays Charles with a fatalistic detachment. Dalton is funny then tragic as the foppish then discredited Prince Rupert. Robert Morley steals all his scenes as the aristocratic Manchester. Richard Harris is never satisfied with merely speaking his lines, rather he utters each word as part of a pronouncement. Harris does that thing where he starts off in a low, hoarse whisper and then finishes with a high-register screech, with lots of table pounding. If you enjoy ham like I do, he is a joy to watch. Since he is playing the part of a religious fanatic, Harris' acting style sort of fits the role. I had a couple of Puritan ancesters who rose on the Cromwell wave. History recorded that these forefathers of mine took some big sticks or sledgehammers and whacked away at the graven images on Wells Cathedral, destroying tons of artistic treasures. Don't ask me how, but somewhere in this house I have a piece of Oliver Cromwell's chimney.

"The Psychiatrist" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by Bob Spiers (1979, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Basil Henson. When a psychiatrist becomes a guest at the hotel, Basil goes through incredible contortions to be as "normal" as possible, prompting this aside from the doctor, "There's enough material there for an entire convention." Produced at a time when puritanical attitudes about sex and the stigma of psychiatry had more tension behind them, and hence drew more laughs. But Cleese's comic timing is timeless and a joy to watch. By coincidence, actor Basil Henson, who had the title role of this episode, also had a bit part in the previously reviewed Cromwell.

Heart and Souls / directed by Ron Underwood (1993, VHS). Robert Downey Jr., Charles Grodin, Alfre Woodard, Kyra Sedgwick, Tom Sizemore, David Paymer, Elisabeth Shue, B.B. King. A cute film in the best sense. In San Francisco, 1959, a city bus carrying four strangers crashes as it swerves to avoid hitting another vehicle. All four passengers die and find themselves as spirits locked into being companions with a baby who was born in a 1958 Rambler at the crash site. The baby grows up to be Robert Downey Jr., who turns out to be a funnier actor than I expected. Since his body can be taken over by any of the four ghosts, this role also gives him a chance to showcase his versatility. Charles Grodin is well cast as the librarian who is stuck wearing the same bowtie for over 30 years. Tom Sizemore, the 1950s hood, gets all the good lines. There is a lame and unconvincing love interest side story, but otherwise this film is steeped in romanticism designed to pull at the heartstrings, which it does well. Includes hints at reincarnation, and has a special appearance by the great B.B. King.

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 1 (1989, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. The final part of the great Monty Python-SCTV-Kids in the Hall continuum. It has been over a decade and we are still waiting for a comedy troupe to pick up the baton dropped by the Kids when they disbanded in the mid-1990s. This one includes the Eradicator! The head crushing Mr. Tyzik. The real cause of cancer. Kathie and Mississippi Gary. And one of my favorites, the Pear Dream.

Sasquatch / directed by Jonas Quastel (2002, DVD). Lance Henriksen, Andrea Roth. Also released in the theater under the title: The Untold. This is the heartwarming story of a ruthless CEO and a Sasquatch. When a small jet with the daughter of this CEO vanishes in the Cascades, the father sets out with a search party after the authorities give up. But as we get to know the members of the team, the only person we really like is the Washington State resident guide, who says at the start of story, "I'm going to regret takin' this job, aren't I?" The answer is yes, but not as much as we are going to regret sitting through this turkey. Oh. There is another character we can admire. The Sasquatch. Especially when he starts picking off these jerks one by one. Here are some interesting facts about the Washington State Cascades I didn't know until I saw this film: 1. The Sasquatch is a fierce and hostile creature who enjoys tearing off the limbs of humans. 2. Grizzlies live in the Cascades. That piece of news must have been in the part of the video that was taped over the first title I reviewed in this list. 3. There are big chunks of time when it doesn't rain around here. 4. We have lots of thunder and lightning in Western Washington. Actually, to be fair, I am assuming this story takes place in the Washington Cascades, so perhaps I'm just being nationalistic about my native state. It was actually filmed across the border in British Columbia, and maybe up there the Sasquatch is a fierce and hostile creature. But here in the Evergreen State, in the happy land of the Mountain Beaver, Giant Palouse Earthworm, Geoduck, Banana Slug, and Crazy Donkey, our Sasquatch is a shy creature of mystery. The most hostile thing about him is the reported stench. Over a couple decades ago I was acquainted with Grover Krantz when we both worked at WSU. Grover was the national academic authority on our bigfooted friend, and if you listened to him with an open mind he could get you into being a halfway believer. Also, if you live out here in the Washington sticks, away from the I-5 Roman Road, you hear stories. And possibly see things in the woods you can't explain away. But don't watch this movie to get any answers. Sasquatch deserves better than this.

The Wild Bunch / directed by Sam Peckinpah (1969, VHS). William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Edmond O'Brien, Jaime Sánchez, Ben Jones, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, Albert Dekker. Let's go. This is a great film and one of the best Westerns ever made. This could only have been successfully produced in that time between JFK's death and Reagan's election. Starting with Nov. 22, 1963 we entered an era when the violence we saw on the news was worse than what we were presented in fiction. Assassinations, riots, Chicago in '68, Kent State, Watts, and every single night the Vietnam War and the blood that came with it invaded our living rooms via Cronkite, Huntley, and Brinkley. The news doesn't do that anymore, not since Reagan. Even showing flag-covered caskets of our fallen soldiers is considered bad taste. Peckinpah's Wild Bunch is an incredibly violent film where the gore is artistically presented in slow motion, but not prettied up. The film reflects the era in which it was made. From railroad executives to military leaders to ruthless robbers, the basest parts of human nature rule almost everyone in this story. Holden plays the aging leader of an Old West outlaw gang, out on their last job. It is 1913 and they are already antique relics from bygone days. "We gotta start thinking beyond our guns," he says to his men, "Those days are closing fast." But, in fact, they have already closed. They are on a death march and they know it. The one member of the Wild Bunch who is not a complete sociopath is a Mexican appropriately named Angel, who actually feels love for a woman, a sense of community with his native village, and a belief in a political cause. So naturally he gets snuffed, but in the process stirs the others to meet their destiny. The film is taut, never slow, and somehow is able to contain a rich mixture of zooms, cuts, and fast edits without making my eyes hurt. The whole male bonding thing in this film has, as the psychiatrist in the previously mentioned Fawlty Towers episode says, "enough material for an entire convention." In a movie filled with amazing scenes, there are two that really stand out. First, when the Wild Bunch cross the border into Mexico, they briefly stay in Angel's village and it is the only place in the story where we witness warmth and peace. As the Bunch ride away, the villagers form an aisle and serenade them. All involved seem to know the outlaws will never come back. The other big scene is the final "long walk," as the quartet walk into certain death with a mission. So much is conveyed just through body language. The only words being Holden giving the order, "Let's go." And after a pause, Oates replies, "Why not?" This was Albert Dekker's final film before his bizarre death. A very strong cast by all the principals and one of Holden's very best performances.

Cheaper by the Dozen 5

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Men in Black / directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (1997, VHS). Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D'Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tony Shalhoub, Siobhan Fallon, David Cross. A buddy film that could be called "Dragnet in the Twilight Zone." A very well made comedy action story playing with our urban legends regarding UFOs and government coverups. It feels like a watered down Tim Burton film. Great chemistry with the cast, particularly Jones' poker-faced Jack Webb deliveries combined with Smith's wiseass asides. D'Onofrio appears to have had the greatest acting challenge in this movie, playing a giant insect inside an ill-fitting human skin, and he is hilarious. Gun enthusiasts probably won't appreciate the way they are portrayed through D'Onofrio's character (Alien: "Place projectile weapon on the ground." Edgar: "You can have my gun, when you pry it from my cold dead fingers." Alien: "Your proposal is acceptable.") The special effects are fun, and I was impressed by the expressions given to the various aliens. One unintentional chilling moment: Smith asks Jones about the secrecy and coverups, "Why the big secret? People are smart, they can handle it." Jones replies, "A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it." And in the background shot we see the yet to be destroyed World Trade Center.

"The Nude Man" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 17, episode 35) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. The Nude Man. Amazing Mystico. Mortuary Hour. Olympic Finals of Men's Hide and Seek. The Cheap Laughs come to visit. Planet Algon. Frequent use of the 16 ton weight. Not one of their best. This episode lacks energy and has the feel of burnout.

The Petrified Forest / directed by Archie Mayo (1936, VHS). Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart. In a remote part of America, a criminal and his gang take over a roadside inn and hold the innocent civilians hostage. Included among the captives is a disillusioned and drifting stranger who develops a budding romance with the young woman who works at the inn. A terrific storm beating at the sides of the building serves to heighten the dramatic tension. I could be describing the 1948 film, Key Largo. In that one Bogart played the drifter. In this 1936 movie he is better cast as the criminal. Leslie Howard, the star of this story, insisted that Bogart play the role for the camera as they had performed this play on the stage together. This picture was a career-maker for Bogart, it also typecast him for a few years. But he was so good at it. He even looked like Dillinger. Interesting that this was Bogart's first big role in movies, and in his second to the last movie, Desperate Hours (1955), he essentially plays the same character, but with much more complexity. Oddly, Edward G. Robinson, the invader in Key Largo, was supposed to have the criminal part in Petrified Forest but something happened. Instead of Florida, this story takes place in the Godforsaken desert of Arizona. And in the 1948 film the drifting stranger was a WWII vet, where in this movie he is a pre-war wispy, self-pitying failed writer. He is like the tumbleweeds he walks among. Directionless. Also broke, but he can quote Villon with ease. He regards the Bogart criminal with admiration, and the two of them share a resigned acceptance of an early death. The story was written at a time when outlaws like Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, and John Dillinger were almost regarded as modern Robin Hoods during the Depression. Howard plays the role well, even though the character himself is insufferably self-absorbed and becomes less likable as the tale progresses. The supporting cast is full of wonderful character actors. There are some nice little spinoff bits about economic class, race, gender, and nationalism that made me laugh out loud. Bette Davis was formidable even when she was young, although I don't think I've ever seen her take on another role like this one-- a dreamy intellectually inclined girl trapped out in the desert. A nice film to get a sense of the era.

"Justice" (Red Dwarf ; IV, byte 1) / directed by Ed Bye (1991, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen. Basically three different ideas cobbled into one story. First, A case of Space Mumps makes Lister's head swell to an enormous size. When it finally pops and explodes in a disgusting pus-filled way all over the vain Cat, it is one of those litmus tests in humor. Some have likened this scene to the eye-poking, pace slapping, head konking Three Stooges, and use it as an example of why Red Dwarf is not only juvenile, but also very much guy-humor. Personally, I don't buy that gender stereotyping. Men and women can both appreciate gross visual jokes with equal glee. Second, Rimmer is put on trial by an automated judge when a brain scan reveals Arnold blames himself for the death of most of the Red Dwarf crew (minus Lister). Kryten represents Rimmer as his defense attorney in one of the all time great trial scenes of television. Raymond Burr would be green with envy. And finally, a Simulant, who surface in the series occasionally as beings to be feared, give the boys a merry chase. Disjointed but fun.

The Saddest Music in the World / directed by Guy Maddin (2003, VHS). Mark McKinney, Isabella Rossellini, Maria de Medeiros, David Fox, Ross McMillan, Claude Dorge, Talia Pura. In a film one fellow viewer felt should be retitled "The Worst Movie in the World," we have a cast of excellent actors trapped inside a motion picture that is too impressed with itself. The story is set in Winnipeg, 1933. A beer company sponsors an international contest to determine which country produces the Saddest Music in the World. The back stories include the dynamics of what must be Canada's most dysfunctional family, lost loves, artificial glass legs filled with beer, tragic flashbacks, dreams that would delight any expressionist, a child's heart preserved and floating in a jar filled with tears, and a soundtrack of warring music-- sad, ethnic and nationalistic. All of this takes place in the dead of winter, where the landscape is given a naturally surrealistic soft glow. But the picture starts to "radiate badness," as another member of the audience declared as she walked out of the room before five minutes passed, right from the first frame. The camera angles are off-balance, the texture is grainy, the movement has the halting look of stop-action claymation, the black and white 1930s feel shifts to blue or orange hues, and occasionally into color during important scenes. The story itself is weird enough without having to make the viewer work through these contrived tricks in order to figure out what the heck is going on. I did make it to the end of this 100 minute skid to a fiery Roger Corman's Poe-cycle type finish, but only because I took it in small doses. I first saw this a couple years ago and was hoping time might improve it. Nope. But. There were some fine moments buried in there. Claude Dorge and Talia Pura were wonderful as the fakey announcers. The standout performance in this one belongs to Ross McMillan, who played the melancholy cellist, Roderick Kent-- a name no doubt inspired by Poe's Roderick Usher, another over-the-top melodramatic and oversensitive tormented soul. The only part of the entire story that seemed real or human were the all too brief scenes where Roderick plays the cello solo amid all the razzamatazz. For my money, the cello is the Saddest Instrument in the World. I wonder what Yo Yo Ma would say? One happy accident associated with this movie: The character played by Maria de Medeiros makes frequent reference to her tapeworm and how it gives her intuitive clues of prophecy. When she mentioned it near the end of the story, I suddenly remembered I had yet to give one of my cats, Spooky, his worm pill. Giving a pill to a cat is usually not very fun and generally results in getting bit or scratched. Fortunately, this cat was so bored by the film he had left the room and feel asleep. And he was still drowsy when I went in to administer the pill, so it was done with no problem.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato. In this tape, mostly the early stuff tailor-made for Boomers. Lots of short sketches. Later they developed more theme-based shows: Floyd Robertson and his bowtie wearing co-anchor, Earl Camembert, Philosophy Street, S&M Airlines, Fistful of Ugly, Another earthquake in Togoland, Dining with LaRue, Lin Yee Tang, Therese et Joe, An evening with Col. Sanders, Welcome back President Kotter, Glass Menagerie, Alistair Cook's Armenia, 20 depressing hits by Connie Franklin, Taxidermist date, Guy Caballero, Perini Scleroso, Great White North, Monster Chiller Horror Theatre, Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Stewardesses, Gerry Todd Show (a concept that anticipated real VJs), Crazy Hy's, Bob Hope in Taxi Driver, Sid Dithers, Edith Prickley, Bobby Bittman, Molly Earl, Bill Needle, Big Brother is watching, Biller Hi-Lite, Bad acting in Hollywood, Enough About Me, Hats of the West, Alfred Hitchcock presents Murder is Bad for Your Health, Fish Police, Lincoln-Douglas debates, Mohicans galore, Cretin's Island, Mike's Mercenaries, Fighting Air Dogs Over the Pacific, Phil's Nails, Big Jim McBob and Billy Sol Hurok, The Heys of Our Lives, Death Takes No Holiday, Those Two Zany Ambulance Drivers, and Tex & Edna Boil's Organ Emporium.

"The Master Blackmailer" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Peter Hammond (1991, VHS). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Robert Hardy, Colin Jeavons, Sophie Thompson. An unusual and excellent Sherlock Holmes adventure, with a rare glimpse into parts of Holmes' personality that hardly see the light of day. This one is about secrets, and we are let in on a few secrets about Sherlock. We see a paradox of two men who are isolated from common human emotion locked in a primal struggle. At the conclusion, as Watson begins to record the tale, Holmes stops him, "No Watson. There are certain aspects of which I am not proud. Please, bury this case deep in your pocket." It is easy to see why. First, there is little actual mystery to solve. The entire story hinges on how the incredibly crafty villain will be caught. And in this, we see how much Holmes is ruled by pride. This is not Holmes the detective we are seeing, it is Holmes the single-minded hunter, a man who will justify some pretty low means to attain some high-minded ends. Second, Holmes has to go undercover and in the guise of a plumber he manipulates a young woman into falling in love with him in order to gather information. Her name is Aggie, and she demands of the Holmes/Plumber, "Give us a kiss." And Holmes replies with true sincerity, "I don't know how." This one-time-only onscreen kiss of the misogynistic Holmes in this series apparently really upset some Holmesian purists. But I thought it was great. It revealed how isolated he is from common human experience, and how far he was willing to go to get at his prey. It also seemed to mildly confuse the Great Detective who was normally so in control of his emotions. Third, much to Watson's disgust he resorts to breaking and entering, like a common criminal, in order to get his hands on some evidence. And finally, he witnesses a murder and hides the evidence implicating the guilty party, once again placing himself in the role of being English judge and jury. As always with this series, the production values are top notch, and we are offered a rare peek into underground Victorian Gay culture at the start of the story. You can see Jeremy Brett was starting to get ill and puffy at this point, but he continues to command the stage and is thoroughly engaged in his role. Even when he plays Holmes in disguise, you still know you are watching Jeremy Brett. He was a ham in the best sense, as he clearly enjoyed doing what he was doing, not unlike Vincent Price, and that enjoyment is contagious. Robert Hardy was very effective as the reptilian blackmailer, Charles Augustus Milverton. At one point in the story, when he visits 221B Baker St., Milverton is treated like a dangerous animal by Holmes and Watson, the latter picking up a chair as if he was a lion tamer. Like J. Edgar Hoover, a real-life famous blackmailer who Milverton sort of resembles, there are hints that the holder of secrets himself is in the closet, guilty of the same sort of hypocrisy we have now come to expect from too-many-to-count "family values" Republicans who have been revealed to have secret lives. As Holmes says, few other villains give us this sense of revulsion. The scene where Milverton collects his karma with overlapping dialogue is creative, original, and brilliant. There seems to be a theme of young women flinging themselves up to windows in this story, and I figure that is because they are in a lot of pane.

Nightcap / directed by Lars Skorpen (2001, VHS off-air). Ellen Horn, Sven Wollter. This subtitled short film is about two mature Norwegians in the uncertain dance of courtship, particularly at the point where the date actually ends. The man is needy. The woman is surrogate Mom and in control. Short, sweet, and leaving us at a loose end. Filmed at night. And for such a brief film it seemed a bit confusing.

At Mother's Request / directed by Michael Tuchner (1987, VHS off-air). Stefanie Powers, Ray Baker, E.G. Marshall, Doug McKeon. Meaner than Leona Helmsley! Crazier than Joan Crawford! It's the biopic of Frances Schreuder, the NY socialite who was convicted of having her son murder her miserly Utah-based wealthy father so she could speed up the inheritance. I don't know why I don't remember the real life case when it hit the media in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Maybe I was having a life back then. Anyway, CBS ran this as a prime time made for TV movie a few years after the trial. My copy is incomplete. Looks like I missed the first half. Part of it was covered up with a National Geographic documentary about grizzlies, which in turn was mostly covered up by a video of a cartoon class I taught at Lincoln School. It all sounds so Darwinian-- a term appropriate to the people in this broadcast. At any rate, from what I did see of this movie, all the main characters look so clean cut and wholesome. Even the Utah prison scenes look like a Disney set. Powers gets partway there as the unhinged psychopathic control freak, and she has her moments. It probably would've been better if I had seen the first half and witnessed how she developed the character. Whoever taped this included all the commercial breaks from over 20 years ago, and that was a trip. Constant interruptions during moments of suspense. I have not had television for almost a decade now, and I was reminded how incredibly annoying those breaks were. The Schreuder murder, brought to you by: Slimfast! Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everybody did? Dentyne! Safeway! Philadelphia Cream Cheese! AirCal! Johnson's Baby Oil! Children's Tylenol! Vaseline Intensive Care! Flintstones Vitamins! Sucrets! American Airlines! Advil! No wonder our concentration spans are so shot.

"G.I. Wanna Home" (From Nurse to Worse & Other Nyuks) / directed by Jules White (1946, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Symona Boniface, Ethelreda Leopold. This one is sometimes called, by mistake, "G.I. Wanna Go Home." But in fact the boys are back from WWII and are caught up in the postwar housing shortage. The whole set up and presentation of not finding a home due to the prices and shortages could easily be applied today. They finally set up an "outdoor house" on an empty lot as their brides wait. One of Curly's last appearances onscreen. His former manic energy is subdued, and Larry appears to have been given a more active role in order to pick up the slack. The old "live bird inside a cooked bird" (this time a goose) gag is used yet again. Lots of head konks (13 by my count), face slaps (6 single and 1 double), and stomach hits (8), so the sound effect guys were busy. Other single shot injuries include: needle jabbed in butt (Oing!), eye poke (just a single instance. Most interesting. And the victim was a landlord), ear pull, door closed on nose, hand wave in front of face (I love that!), kick, eggs on face, body falling out of tree on top of another, hair pulling, bowtie pulled back and then let go (I have always wanted to do that!), nose bit by parrot, foot in face, leg bit, people crushed when triple decker bunk bed collapses. Regular supporting actress Leopold's last appearance with the Stooges. I kept notes while watching on old outdated stationary from the Washington House of Representatives (I'm not sure why I have some, but I do), which somehow seemed fitting.

"The Golf Specialist" (W.C. Fields, World's Funniest Man) / directed by Monte Brice (1930, VHS). W.C. Fields, John Dunsmuir, Shirley Grey, Al Wood. The very first talking picture by Fields. I was surprised to learn he had appeared in about a dozen silent movies since 1915. His voice and delivery are such a major part of his comedy, that the technology of sound motion pictures was just waiting for this master of the insult and the adlib. In this one Fields is relatively thin and sports a comic moustache. He plays con man J. Effingham Bellweather staying in a Florida resort. Most of the film is spent on a stage while we wait for him to swing a golf club, using the repeated line "Now stand clear and keep your eye on the ball!" as sort of a buffer between each joke. Apparently this was a stage routine brought to the screen, without taking advantage of the medium with things like location shots, zooms, frequent cuts, crane shots, pans, etc. There are some clumsy visual jokes, but most of the humor is verbal. I always loved the way he used, as he does here, the name "Godfrey Daniel!" as a swear word. His caddy is the straight man, and the part owes a lot to the poker-faced Buster Keaton as he continually screws up without changing expression. Says Fields, "I wouldn't have you with me again as caddy for all the tea in China, all the tea or coffee or chop suey or whatever it is there they have so much of. As I said I'd like to wring your neck. Like to wash it first and then give it a good wring. Give it a ring they'd hear for miles, miles." Fields' films enjoyed a revival of interest in the late 1960s/early 1970s. He was a bit ahead of his era in terms of cynicism, so it isn't a big mystery why you couldn't get away from him during the Nixon years. Since that time he has sort of faded away. Perhaps his jokes about women and alcoholism don't seem so funny anymore. I once knew a guy who was acquainted with Fields. He said the screen persona was no act.

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert / directed by Stephan Elliott (1994, VHS). Terence Stamp, Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter. A film with breathtaking scenery, great acting, and some laugh out loud moments. But it deals with a culture that seems so strange to me. Kangaroo crossing signs at roads, steering wheels on the other side of the vehicle, weird accents, bathrooms called "the loo," outback Aborigines who appear to exist on nothing. Yes, I'm talking about the culture of the rural Australians. Like a lot of Aussie films, I am not able to watch the whole thing in one sitting. Maybe my attention span is too American. Also, be sure to hang on to the movie after the credits. I have noticed those crafty Downunders like to sneak in a real zinger scene after all the names roll by. My favorite scene is the surreal "I Will Survive" number with the Aborigines. Oh, yeah, there is that whole drag queen thing too, but that is incidental.

Cheaper by the Dozen 6

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault: These are chosen at random, I swear.

Bowling for Columbine / directed by Michael Moore (2002, DVD). Michael Moore, Charlton Heston, Marilyn Manson, Chris Rock, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dick Clark, Richard Herlan, Fritz Hollings, James Nichols, Joseph Lieberman. This is not a documentary. This is Michael Moore's maudlin, yet powerful feature-length op-ed piece on our American gun and fear-based culture in the wake of the Columbine killings and 9/11. Frankly, the whole issue of gun control is one I can take or leave. It does not get me excited either way. Reading long impassioned threads on blogs about the subject make me yawn. Both sides present their statistics, etc. to prove their case, as Moore does here. I was given this DVD as a gift when it first came out, and only now have seen it a second time. To make his point, Moore uses some political activist publicity gimmicks. He obtains an interview with NRA honcho Heston under false pretenses, and then ambushes him. The soundtrack uses a menacing base to give gravity to certain segments, just like you see in political ads. Actually, as a cinematic essay, it is kind of cheesey. Still. There is more to like than dislike here. Terry Nichols' brother, James, comes across as a real nutjob, I mean really nuts, as do the members of the Michigan Militia. Yes, Timothy McVeigh country. Moore showed two cases, one being Columbine, where Heston and the NRA would hold pep rallies in towns that had just been the site of a school killing. Nice public relations there, NRA. What were you guys thinking? Chris Rock has a hilarious bit on bullet control. U.S. and Canadian cultures are compared in order to discover why their homicide rate is so incredibly low next to ours. A cartoon, "Brief History of the United States of America" kicks off a theme of how we live in a culture of fear. I have not had TV for almost a decade now, and whenever I do watch the news when visiting somewhere it does strike me that Moore is right on target here (no pun intended, really). The American media really does fan the fear, it is easy to see if you stay away from TV for awhile. Try it. And the whole fear industry includes the sales of firearms. I grew up around guns out here in logger country. The stereotype of the pickups with guns was par for the course and we didn't think much of it. My grandfather openly carried a pistol, even after he took three bullets in a gunfight that killed two other guys. My father had a loaded shotgun in the closet and he carried a concealed pistol. My ancestors shot and killed their way on the pioneer line across this continent dating back from Jamestown and the Mayflower (probably helping to wipe out my other ancestors-- the Shawnee). So when it comes to guns and America, I'm a real living product. When I was younger, I was against gun control on libertarian grounds even though I did not want to own one. But I have grown away from that and now recognize the paradox: To want a gun (hunters excluded) requires living in fear, and living in fear doesn't sound very libertarian to me. It sounds like living in fear. Maybe I started to change my view when I became a parent and didn't want a firearm in my house. As I pass the torch to the next generation some old time honored traditions, like having loaded firearms around the home, are worth a second look before blindly repeating some vague platitude about the 2nd Amendment. I feel more free without a gun than with one. Also, the growing strident tone of the gun lobby turned me off as it started to sound obsessive and, well, almost like a cult. But, maybe you have a different view. So shoot me. Back to the movie. In short, good message delivered in a hokey, grandstanding way.

Cry, the Beloved Country / directed by Darrell Roodt (1995, VHS). James Earl Jones, Richard Harris. Based on the novel by Alan Paton, the story is set in 1946 South Africa. The racial and economic injustice of that country is interpreted through the lives of two fathers (Jones and Harris), one black, one white. Jones, who plays a preacher, has a sister who is a prostitute, a brother who is a fire and brimestone yet athiest politician, and a son who is a murderer-- of Harris' son. This is a story with strong Christian themes, e.g., Jones' son is named Absalom. And Jones must have the patience of Job to endure the cascading misfortunes heaped upon him. As the preacher goes on a quest to bring together his fractured family, we ride along and are exposed to a country that reminds us of the segregated South and the American West of the conquered Indians. The one institution in this movie where people come together regardless of race is the church, the community of preachers. Christianity is portrayed as a unifying force, transcending race and politics. An oasis of hope in a brutal world. Yet not effective as a agent of broad social change. This is South Africa right after WWII, before Apartheid became law. Paton must've felt the iron was hot for action when he wrote this story, hoping to seize the moment. But it would take decades before a new system would happen. For us too. The language in the film is formal and almost Biblical. Jones and Harris give very understated, muted performances, and it works. Harris sticks with just whisper mode and we never get to see his trademark shouting here. These two great actors share the screen in only three scenes, and they are the most powerful moments of the story. Forgiveness and acceptance are shown as powerful tools for healing.

"Gourmet Night" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by John Howard Davies (1975, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, André Maranne, Steve Plytas, Allan Cuthbertson. "Ducks off, sorry." Frenetic and fun. In an attempt "to keep the riff-raff away" Basil institutes an elite "Gourmet Night" to attract a "better" class of clientele. Actually, I first started feeling sorry for Basil given the circumstances beyond his control and rude people thrown his way. But he managed to shake off any pity I might have for him by his reaction to events. As always, first-rate writing and cast. Fans of the Pink Panther films might enjoy seeing André Maranne. My favorite exchange in this one: Sybil: "I don't believe it." Basil: "Neither do I. Perhaps its a dream. [Bangs head several times on the counter] No, it's not a dream. We're stuck with it." I have felt that way many times. Daily, in fact.

Hell in the Pacific / directed by John Boorman (1968, VHS). Lee Marvin, Toshirô Mifune. Primal. An amazing movie in many ways. The premise: a downed American pilot and a Japanese soldier share a small isolated island during the twilight of WWII. The film has only two actors. And they are both superb, each able to carry the story, but with very different styles. I found it interesting that Boorman even used some Japanese cinematic tricks, like the intense zoom, to accomodate Mifune's method of acting. Boorman's decision to not use distracting subtitles for Mifune's dialogue was a great choice, we can pretty much tell what he is saying anyway just through the power of acting. The director has a respect for the audience I appreciate. Both actors in real life actually served in WWII, with Marvin being wounded by Japanese fire, which might account for the authentic feeling of his performance. This Robinsonade tale was made in 1968, a true year from Hell for Americans, when our country was experiencing a ripping and tearing of our national identity which has only grown wider since then. Vietnam; Martin Luther King-- one of the greatest Americans of the 20th century who really represented the ideals of this country-- was assassinated; Robert Kennedy-- who was still waking up but had potential-- was assassinated; Andy Warhol-- who represented our future self-indulgence-- was shot by a crazed feminist but lived on (how symbolic); Chicago Dem convention and Mayor Daley's machine; Pueblo incident; LBJ basically resigns from office; My Lai Massacre; George Wallace runs as a racist populist which results in turning the South into a Reagan Republican stronghold in the future; Richard Slimeball Nixon is elected with a minority percentage; The Phoenix program established by CIA; The Pope condemns birth control; The White Album, the Beatles' worst, is released; An electronic media that had a spine, not afraid to show flag-draped caskets, not as cowed by the government, and not a total brown-nosing suck-up toady like Fox gave us daily reports; And I was a teenager in 1968 and can remember almost all this stuff. WWII was the war of our parents. We heard about Hitler and Tojo all the time. It was still fresh in 1968. Boorman's film was no doubt an effort to bring some understanding to the era-- to give us tolerance. Yeah, sure, good luck in 1968. We are shown two men who trade testosterone dominance. One them even pees on the other to establish territory. How primal is that? They take turns being captive, but eventually make their personal peace. Not unlike the three male cats in my house. The American and Japanese soldiers' effort to survive both environmental challenges and cultural prejudices surpasses their allegiance to nationalism, a lesson we have yet to learn as a global community, so in this regard I salute Boorman. In trivial ways this film is not great. The weirdass and invasive soundtrack by Lalo Schifrin, a respected Hollywood composer, might work in another film, but not this one. Also, Lee Marvin actually sings in this movie. At first it is done as an effective method of psychological war, but later it hurts the audience as well. The film has a very unsatisfactory and abrupt ending. When they find a slight bit of relief, with modest modern comforts, they start to turn nasty and nationalistic again. And, surprise, alcohol was involved. Then there is a big explosion. Almost as if the writers and directors thought, "OK, I'm done now. Let's go home. There's a big game on TV I need to see."

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 2 (1989, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. 30 Helens, Cabbage Head, Buddy, Having a period at the poker table. They are still sort of stagey in this early episode and playing to the studio audience rather than the camera. Fun.

Scarlet Street / directed by Fritz Lang (1945, DVD). Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea. There is no one in this film who deserves any sympathy, and that is how director Fritz Lang wanted it. A meek middle-aged bank clerk (Robinson) with an avocation of painting saves what he thinks to be a damsel in distress during a rainy Brooklyn night. One thing leads to another and soon the clerk, the girl, and her con-artist boyfriend are caught up in a game of mutual deceit. But it is the clerk who is the biggest con-artist, and biggest victim, as he duped himself into thinking he would actually be attractive or interesting to a wild woman young enough to be his daughter. And the awakening is cruel as she ridicules him near the finale: "How can a man be so dumb? I've been waiting to laugh in your face ever since I met you. You're old and ugly and I'm sick of you! Sick, sick, sick!" Robinson was younger than I am today when he made this film, and boy, what a feel-good feeling it was to watch him being told off. Right. The night scenes in this story have an atmosphere I'll call the Cynical School of Expressionism. The whole tone is something like "Alfred Hitchcock presents Walter Mitty Goes Postal." Lang's European eye coupled with the American hustle pace is sort of depressing as it depicts the speed of the downward spiral involving embezzlement, fraud, identity theft, homicide, domestic violence, and legal prejudice. Lang, a refugee from Hitler's Germany, presents a tale where everything is rotten to the core, from personal ethics to the court system. And there is no typical American happy ending here, folks. It is strange to see Robinson play a non-tough guy, but he pulls it off well, a tribute to his artistry. Dan Duryea is especially slimey as the con artist boyfriend. The song "Melancholy Baby" is the audio thread throughout the entire movie. This is a public domain movie, and apparently good copies are hard to find. My copy, from Digiview Productions is not in great shape, but I have seen much worse in the public domain prints. Lots of bowties in this one.

Under California Stars / directed by William Witney (1948, VHS). Roy Rogers, Trigger, Sons of the Pioneers, Andy Devine. Roy Rogers plays himself, the King of the Cowboys movie star who is just a regular guy. Even though it is 1948, everyone on the Roy Rogers Ranch still uses a horse as the chief form of transportation. The bad guys horsenap Trigger ("The Smartest Horse in the Movies"). And man, they are real bad. They need shaves, they fight dirty, and they use a crippled little kid and his cute dog to spy for them. Reeeeal bad. The adulation paid to Roy by everyone else in the story is sort of disturbing and cult-like, which makes this horse opera a little different than most. It was shot in a pastel "Trucolor." Stock character Andy Devine is his wonderful self and the Sons of the Pioneers join Roy for several musical interludes between fight scenes with those darned bad guys. Actually, Roy was still a hero to many of us boys when we were growing up. Later he became an outspoken Christian conservative, and most of us didn't. In fact, toward the end, we snickered at him. But when he passed on we knew a real authentic good guy was gone. My copy was produced by Madacy in the 1990s. I have had some experience with this company in a previous job, and whenever I see their label I say in a flat monotone, "Oh. Madacy. The mark of quality." For example: when I popped my copy of this movie into the ol' VCR player, I thought I was going to watch the 1946 Randolph Scott drama "Abilene Town." That is what it says on the label on the cassette and the container. It took my tiny two-cylinder brain a few seconds to figure out Randolph Scott was not going to be in "Under California Stars." Their new slogan, "Madacy: We Like To Mess With Your Head!" or "Madacy: Where You Have A 50/50 Chance Of Actually Watching What We Advertise!" or "Madacy: What The Hell? Why Not?" or "Madacy: So You Didn't Get To Watch What You Were Expecting-- Deal With It!"

A Midsummer Night's Dream / directed by Michael Hoffman (1999, DVD). Kevin Kline, Michelle Pfeiffer, Stanley Tucci, Rupert Everett, Calista Flockhart, Sam Rockwell, Gregory Jbara, David Strathairn. This film is beautifully shot, has a wonderful soundtrack, great production values, a big name cast, and is b-o-r-i-n-g. I will tell you why. By now you might have guessed that I purchase most of my VHS/DVD entertainment at the bargain bin, which is where I found this one, I think. Don't get me wrong. I love Shakespeare. The comedies I tend to get mixed up with each other-- except for this one. My favorite line: "Reason and love keep little company nowadays" I like to translate as: "Fondness makes the head grow absent." Set in Italy at the turn of the 19th/20th century, you would think the location, time period, and cast would make this a great film version of Shakespeare. But most of the actors here seem somehow intimidated by the Bard of Avon, using craft instead of art when they recite their lines. Shakespeare wrote music, not dialogue. I didn't hear any music, only words being recited. This was my third viewing of this movie and I have learned to fast forward to the good parts-- and by that I mean the substory of Bottom and Company as they prepare the play within a play. Kevin Kline, Sam Rockwell, Gregory Jbara and the others in this thread of the tale present the only part worth watching. In fact, I wish I could just isolate their scenes into a little mini-movie since their chunk is as good as the rest of it is bad. Kline is perfect as Bottom who is turned into an ass (get it?). I was happy to see the director did not use heavy prosthetics over Kline's face once he turned into a donkey. We got to enjoy his use of facial expression that way. But on then other hand, when Bottom transformed he basically looked just like me-- down to the strawberry blonde coloring, even matching the gray patch in my beard, except I don't have giant ears on top of my head. After I realized this physical similarity, it was disturbing to hear him called a "monster." Now I know why children cry and dogs growl when I walk into a room. Kline and his group knew how to sing Willy's lines and give them cadence and life. Sam Rockwell steals their last scene in an unexpected and beautiful way. This is a magical play, the best comedy in Shakespeare's works. Just not the best version. So watch this one, but use your fast forward button liberally.

"E. Henry Thripshaw's Disease" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 17, episode 36) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Fred Tomlinson Singers. And speaking of Elizabethan English writers: Tudor jobs, The life of Sir Phillip Sidney, Gay boys in bondage by William Shakespeare, "Am I disturbing you?", Church of St. Looney of the Creambun and Jam, The free repetition of doubtful words thing, "Is There?", Thripshaw's disease, Silly noises, The vicar and sherry. Palin has the most comic energy in this one.

Plan 9 From Outer Space / directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1959, VHS). Bela Lugosi, Vampira, Tor Johnson, Gregory Walcott, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Carl Anthony, Paul Marco, Dudley Manlove, Joanna Lee, John "Bunny" Breckinridge, Lyle Talbot, Criswell, Conrad Brooks, Tom Mason. "Can you prove that it didn't happen?" Don't you hate it when you enjoy what you think is a nice little secret and then everyone finds out about it and it gets to be a big deal? That's what I experienced with Ed Wood movies in general and this one in particular. There is a natural evolution for Woodians. First, you laugh at his movies, then you slowly start to realize the guy really was a true visionary. A conceptualist. A genius. His work was totally unique, there was no other director like him. But as you reach these last stages of Wood enlightenment, the rest of the world is just starting to discover him-- and they laugh. And if you try to explain the gifted side of Wood and his masterpiece, Plan 9, no one will take you seriously. Wood first came to my attention in the early 80s when this movie was touted inaccurately as "Worst Film of All Time" in the book "The Golden Turkey Awards." Then I fell in with a wild crowd of bassoon players, which included a veterinarian in Burien who showed cassettes on Beta and a librarian who had a lawnmower that was previously owned by Mason Williams, and we watched Ed Wood movies with morbid fascination until all hours. Those were the days, before Tim Burton mainstreamed Ed. Plan 9 was Wood's attempt to lift the veil on the government's secrecy concerning UFO activity. Through the aliens, the brutal every-man-for-himself and ignorant nature of our modern American society is revealed. What makes this movie so interesting is that Wood built the whole thing around a few minutes of footage of Lugosi, right before Bela's death in 1956. In the course of telling the story Wood asks the audience to suspend expectations of several natural consistencies, like day and night going back and forth in the course of a few minutes, different actors playing the same character, scars that move around, etc. The cast is wonderful. Wood must've been a very gifted director to bring out such unique and spirited performances from his actors. They might not be polished, but they have spark. Since Wood didn't really believe in more than one take, you are watching some pretty spontaneous and improvisational moments on the screen. Plan 9, watch it once and laugh, watch it twice and think.

"Psirens" (Red Dwarf ; VI, byte 1) / directed by Andy DeEmmony (1993, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Jenny Agutter, C.P. Grogan. A funny, slacker space opera version of Ulysses and the Sirens. This is the start of their phase in the Space Bug. A little lesson on seeing what we want to see. The test to determine the real Lister is my favorite scene. By this point in the series most of the tight dialogue had been replaced by one-liners, but it is still worth enjoying.

Kids in the Hall: Same Guys, New Dresses / directed by Dave Foley (2001, VHS). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, Paul Bellini, Conan O'Brien. A sort-of-documentary about the Kids' 1999-2000 reunion tour. The ambition, the ego, the drama, the robot dog! Probably not all that interesting to anyone unfamiliar with the great comedy group, and even then it gets sort of tedious. Mostly shot with a shakey and choppy camera, I suspect much of the wittier dialogue gets lost in some of the poor audio. We do a get a glimpse into their personalities and the dynamics of the group. They argue and bicker and have spats, yet it all works when the Kids hit the stage. It becomes obvious many of the characters we have grown to love seem be extensions of some part of each actor's personality. Some of the scenes I enjoyed included when Bruce talks about why a comedian should never crouch on stage (they lose power), the visit to Conan O'Brien, and a fascinating breakfast meeting where, among things, they beat themselves up over their 1996 movie "Brain Candy" (which I loved, even though it got panned). One of the few complete sketches we get to see is the hilarious "Jesus 2000," demonstrating how some capitalistic types have attempted to absorb Christianity. It is unfortunate they chose the name "Kids in the Hall," since it now has become something of a stigma as they approach middle age. All five of these men are excellent comedians with very different styles of humor, and they are never boring. Hang on past the credits on the VHS version, as there are more goodies that are probably packaged as extras on the DVD: Paul Bellini speaks, Kids' true confessions, Kevin eating soup (my favorite bit in the whole video), Dave's eye surgery, Bruce interviews himself.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 52

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Boobs in the Woods / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called a paltry attempt at entertainment as the cartoon Stooges encounter a witch who wants to cook and eat Curly Joe. Although this is not pornographic as the title suggests, it is indeed an obscenity in the world of animation.

Invitation to the Wedding / directed by Joseph Brooks (1985, VHS). Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Paul Nicholas, John Standing, Elizabeth Shepherd, Susan Brooks, Edward Duke, Allan Cuthbertson, Aimée Delamain, Ronald Lacey, Jeremy Clyde. A sappy and horsey romantic comedy with a twist of English eccentricism. This ultra obscure movie appears to be missing from several online filmographies of Ralph Richardson which seems strange as it is his final starring role in front of the motion picture cameras-- Wikipedia (as of this writing) drops the ball yet again. Charmingly low-budget, this feature includes a cowboy hatted Gielgud affecting a Texas drawl and pretending to be a helicopter riding evangelist. The truly odd and very talented Ronald Lacey plays both roles of a husband/wife legal team. And yes, that's Jeremy Clyde in the credits, remembered by Boomers as half of the musical duo Chad & Jeremy. Fawlty Towers fans will recognize Cuthbertson and Delamain. There is also the obligatory Evil Real Estate Developer character. The comic timing doesn't really click for this American viewer, but I found myself enjoying the characters anyway. Richardson was the dotty bishop who accidentally joins two strangers in Holy matrimony and then has to set things right. It was nice way for Sir Ralph to say goodbye. The climatic wedding scene did surprise me and the final few minutes of the movie saved the picture.

The Trail: Lewis & Clark Expedition 1803-1806 / directed by Robin D. Williams (1996, VHS). Robin D. Williams (Narrator). A 90-minute travelogue retracing the steps of the Corps of Discovery starting with Jefferson at Monticello and concluding at Fort Clatsop, Oregon. This is not a Big Picture history, rather it is a detail-oriented description of the actual Expedition. The narrative digresses and presents events out of sequence too often in order to be considered a good general introduction. But if you are already somewhat familiar with the history of the trek this is filled with great trivia. It is fascinating to see some of the places they visited in their present day form. Several living Anglo descendants and relatives of principal historical characters are shown but we never hear them talk. The musical soundtrack is right out of Hokeville. In some of the historical re-enactments, both Anglos and Native Americans are wearing sunglasses! Williams includes a little postscript at the end paying tribute to Western artists John Clymer, Bob Scriver, and Charlie Russell. No matter how their adventure is interpreted through present day political/social/ethnic lenses, the Lewis and Clark experience does make an engaging and incredible story.

"Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the 20th Century" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 3, episode 5) / directed by John Howard Davies, Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. Confuse-a-cat, Swiss watches at the customs station, A duck and a lizard and cat discuss customs enforcement, Man in the street, Crooked law enforcement raid, Newscaster arrested, Match of the day, Body building, Management training course applicant interview, Careers Advisory Board, Encyclopedia salesmen. The whole ensemble takes part in Confuse-a-cat, a favorite skit among cat lovers. It includes a penguin on a pogo stick-- yes I know it is an old chiche but I have still have a soft spot in my heart for that tired old stereotype. The interview sketch is classic Cleese/Chapman and even though it is more of a traditional gag routine than we are used to with this group, it still makes me laugh.

Yat goh hiu yan = Mr. Nice Guy / directed by Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (1997, VHS). Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Miki Lee, Karen McLymont, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Barry Otto, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Set in Melbourne, Australia, Jackie plays a TV cooking show chef who finds himself placed by accident in the middle of a war between rival criminal gangs. Directed by fellow martial arts star Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (who also has a brief comic role), the action sequences are excellent-- and exhausting to watch! In the case of the blue door construction site scenes, the direction is downright artistic. Classic good guys against bad guys plot, spiced with Jackie's great sense of comic timing. It was fun to see Australian character actor Barry Otto in the cast. One of the better Jackie Chan films. This has another Chan ending where law enforcement turns a blind eye while Jackie kicks butt. Wink. Nudge. Real life is a little more complicated as Jackie has discovered this season when making public statements on international politics. Jackie Chan has done more good than ill in the world, so give the poor guy some slack.

"Back in the Red. Part 2" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Mac McDonald, Andy Taylor, Graham McTavish. You don't have to know anything about nanobots, prison space ships, androids, or the sexual magnetism "virus" to appreciate the performances of Chris Barrie and Robert Llewellyn in this episode. Both of them were given great scenes by writers who knew how to exploit the talents of their subjects. The whole series started declining at this point, but there are still some very fine moments. This version of Rimmer is perhaps the most weasley of all, and Kryton proves he cannot be reprogrammed. Tarantino fans should catch the fleeting tribute to Reservoir Dogs.

Rocket Gilbraltar / directed by Daniel Petrie (1988, VHS). Burt Lancaster, Suzy Amis, Patricia Clarkson, Francis Conroy, Sinéad Cusack, John Glover, Bill Pullman, Kevin Spacey, Macaulay Culkin, Angela Goethals, Sara Rue, James McDaniel, David Hyde Pierce. The family clan gathers to celebrate the 77th birthday of the patriarch, but a twist develops. He dies. OK, I am a spoiler, but the film is over 20 years old and besides, the first three quarters of this story is about as boring as it gets. My own father had a heart attack on his 75th birthday and was gone a few days later, so this movie was a little uncomfortable to watch during the interesting 4th quarter. The bad parts: The infomercial soundtrack really kills the story. The child actors are not convincing as children. They are mouthing lines that sound like they came from adult writers second-guessing how kids talk. Well, actually, I guess that extended to the adult actors as well. There did not appear to be Big Issues that had be resolved as a family. This is great in reality, but pretty pedestrian entertainment onscreen. The ending was something you could see coming from a mile away. Now the good parts: Lancaster was excellent as the serene, somewhat disengaged elder who has more in common with his grandkids than his adult children. It is strange but sort of nice to see two great actors from completely different eras like Lancaster and Spacey in the same Celluloid frames. David Hyde Pierce as the pretentious caterer deserved much more time in front of the camera. Middle-aged self-absorption was demonstrated in a variety of ways. And although the ending was predictable, it remained well done and effective.

Heaven Scent / directed by Chuck Jones (1956, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). "Did you know," asks Pepe Le Pew as he hangs on the edge of a cliff by his back paw, "that when you are in love it is almost impossible to get insurance? But then, security isn't everything." In this plot, we are given yet another example of how cats are smarter than dogs, but not as intelligent as a skunk. The Chuck Jones style of animating generic cats is beautiful. But once you've seen one Pepe cartoon, you've seen most of them. Great movement pieces. The conclusion was probably Hitchcock's inspiration for the naughty conclusion to North by Northwest in 1959. This cartoon would never even in a minute be considered appropriate for children today, but I probably saw it dozens of times on afternoon TV in the 1960s.

Out West / directed by Edward Bernds (1947, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Christine McIntyre, Norman Willis, Jock Mahoney, Vernon Dent (uncredited), Stanley Blystone (uncredited), Heinie Conklin (uncredited). The Three Stooges migrate to the Old West on the advice of a physician. It seems Shemp has the "biggest vein you ever saw" on his leg. Of course, bad guys interpret this as a gold vein and the misunderstandings compound. Very tight writing for a Stooge short (they must have caught Clyde Bruckman on a good day), but at the expense of sound-effect enhanced hitting, poking, and slapping. The meager violence count: Head konk 8, and one each of smashed hand, ear sawed with hacksaw, neck sawed, and face slap. Yet, and I realize I say this with the consequences of being a pariah across the board, I find Shemp funnier than Curly. The Shempster was the greatest Stooge of all. There. I said it. Hey, I love Curly too! Really. You Curly fans can put your weapons down. America is a free country. I can prefer Shemp if I want to.

The Wrong Trousers / directed by Nick Park (1993, VHS). Peter Sallis (voice). Amazing stop-action animation and a true-to-life exposé on the evility of penguins. Nick Park's ability to infuse expression into his non-speaking characters is the work of a master cartoonist. Sufferers of sphenisciphobia would do well to avoid viewing this brief movie. This is sort of comfort food in the realm of entertainment. Brilliantly done nonthreatening and easy amusement yet imaginative and creative. A wonderful family short film.

"Eye of the Beholder" (American Gothic) / directed by Jim Charleston (1995, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, N'Bushe Wright, Michael Burgess, Bob Hannah. Set in the South Carolina town of Trinity, where good ol' boy law enforcers are the Tool of Satan! OK, some would say far so good. But then add a bewitched mirror for your narcissistic needs and the killer crow and this soap opera becomes a bit different. This episode does not survive a repeated viewing very well. Somehow I discovered if you freeze-frame this story at any segment it suddenly becomes ridiculous in a very hammy fashion and you wonder what else the actors could've done for a living. Cotton candy.

Big Jake / directed by George Sherman (1971, VHS). John Wayne, Richard Boone, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Bruce Cabot, Bobby Vinton, John Doucette, John Agar, Ethan Wayne, Maureen O'Hara. In my day, that is the era when Baby Boomers still had clout, we would've called this movie Big Jerk since that is how we viewed Marion Morrison (John Wayne's real name) at the time. A child on the U.S./Mexican border is kidnapped. He happens to be the grandson of a wealthy matriarch. In order to get her grandson back, she calls on the services of her ex-husband: "It is I think going to be a very harsh and unpleasant kind of business, and will, I think, require a very harsh and unpleasant kind of man." (i.e., John Wayne). Richard Boone, as usual, is great as the villain. You know, over the years I have come to appreciate a lot of John Wayne's better qualities in spite of the fact I never liked him when he was alive. But this movie does nothing to enhance his image with me. Watching innocent people, including children, getting killed by gun wielding outlaws isn't my idea of good entertainment. Not in this movie, not in real life. This mainstream attempt to compete with Sam Peckinpah was just the wrong move by all concerned.

Cheaper by the Dozen 53

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Cataloging Sound Recordings on WLN (1992, VHS). Bob Richart, Steve Willis (Host). Almost an hour and half of pure excitement as catalog librarians discuss the details of data entry into a bibliographic utility that is now extinct. WLN was originally an acronym for the Washington Library Network, then it became the Western Library Network, and finally it just stood for "WLN." The utility was initially a division of the State Library, but by 1990 had separated from the government sector and became a private nonprofit based in Lacey. At the end of the decade it had been gobbled up by Darth Vader = OCLC. Many examples of bad versions of Beatle songs covered by other artists are used as case studies. Bob Richart rolls with whatever bizarre question he gets with considerable calm and self-assurance.

The Dead Pool / directed by Buddy Van Horn (1988, VHS). Clint Eastwood, Patricia Clarkson, Laim Neeson, Evan C. Kim, Jim Carrey, Guns N' Roses (uncredited), Eric Douglas (uncredited). The last (so far) of the Dirty Harry series, that lovable Bay Area cop who speaks softly, has a big gun, and creates giant holes in people. Americans who are not patient with the slow, inconvenient convolutions and constitutional protections of the criminal justice system find Dirty Harry's penchant for killing first and asking questions later to be a simpler solution. Eastwood knew his audience and how to pander, but even when this film was released the content was becoming dated. A few details: look for a young Jim Carrey playing the part of a rock musician. And a real rock group, Guns N' Roses, at a funeral scene. In Dirty Harry's hands, the Oldsmobile is a deadly weapon, once again proving this make of automobile was much more exciting than the general population realized. Eric Douglas, may he rest in peace, has a brief appearance as another notch on Harry's considerable body count. Eastwood's face is a bit ravaged here, and his range of expressions move from numb to more numb. To be fair, I only saw the first half, since the 20 year old cassette finally croaked about halfway through the film. This isn't bad for what it is, but I did feel a sense of relief after that technical glitch released me from the motion picture.

The Last Man on Earth / directed by Sidney Salkow (1964, DVD). Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart. Set in the near future (1968) Vincent Price lives a solitary existence as the last human being alive, without an audience for this delightfully hammy performance. Well, almost no one. When the sun goes down the evening is filled with the walking dead. Unburied victims of the pandemic that killed off the population. By day, Vinnie gathers his essentials and drives stakes into the hearts of the sleeping zombies. In addition to the stake, they can be kept at bay by mirrors and garlic, sort of combining the zombie/vampire undead genre. Perhaps not the most comfortable film to watch in light of our current H1N1 problem. Price gets around in a 1950s Chevy wagon, but all the other automobiles in this story are little round Fiats. Filmed in stark black and white, this is a much better movie than the 1971 remake The Omega Man which stars that other shameless ham, Chuck Heston. Price's performance is much more sophisticated and sympathethic than the latter. Besides, how can anyone not like Vincent Price? Heston, on the other hand, was just a total jerk. My big question during the whole story: How did the Last Man on Earth get that professional looking haircut?

Yard Work Made Easy / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). Gumby's pony pal Pokey (who has a very disturbing way of laughing) introduces the concept of robot slave laborers to do the yard work while the masters go play and have fun. Of, course things initially go very wrong. Bizarre, as usual.

Call of the Wile / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called an infirm attempt at entertainment as the cartoon Stooges hunt a mountain lion. One of the worst animated stories I've ever seen.

Blood on the Sun / directed by Frank Lloyd (1945, DVD). James Cagney, Sylvia Sidney, Wallace Ford, Marvin Miller, Rhys Williams, Hugh Beaumont (uncredited). A strange and unusual WWII propaganda film worth seeing, but more for academic reasons than for entertainment. Cagney is an American journalist working on an English language newspaper in Tokyo during the Herbert Hoover era. He's pugnacious, irreverent, pushy, anti-authoritarian-- in short, the way Americans like to see themselves particularly when viewed against the foil of a militaristic regime. "The higher up you go, the lower grade people you meet!" Cagney's investigations uncover the existence of the Tanaka Memorial, a document outlining Japan's step-by-step plan for total conquest (take over China, then East Asia, on to the U.S., etc. etc.). At the time (1945) the Tanaka Memorial was viewed by the Allies as something of the Japanese version of Mein Kampf. Although still a matter of some debate, most historians now feel the document was a forgery. Far from belittling Japanese culture Cagney's character has adopted many customs of the country, not the least of which is the use of Judo. It was also interesting to see the nation was not viewed as an evil monolith, Japanese anti-fascists had a role in the story. A wounded Cagney delivered the final line, perhaps helping Americans justify the fight: "Forgive your enemies, but first get even!" This motion picture fell into the public domain and as a result many of the available copies are of poor quality. My DVD (Genius Entertainment) is a dark, murky print with fuzzy audio.

The Epic Journey : Lewis & Clark in the Northwest / directed by Ben Saboonchian (2003, VHS off-air). Steve Raible (Host). A Lewis and Clark documentary originally created by the staff of KIRO-TV and broadcast on that network. Uses the traditional formula of a host, expert talking heads, dramatic readings of diaries, and onsite visits to examine Lewis and Clark's expedition through the Pacific Northwest. The PNW part of their story really starts at the dangerous encounter with the Nez Perce. Director and writer Saboonchian then traces them to the Dismal Nitch, the point on the mouth of the Columbia where they almost gave up. Their somewhat miserable winter at Fort Clatsop is extensively covered. The legacy of this journey, both good and bad, is examined in an even-handed manner. Of the many documentaries to emerge from the Corps of Discovery bicentennial commemoration, this is one of the better efforts. The writing respects the intelligence of the audience and the photography is outstanding. The Fort Clatsop replica shown in this film later burned in 2005 and new one was erected in 2006.

"It's the Arts, or, The BBC Entry to the Zinc Stoat of Budapest" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 3, episode 6) / directed by John Howard Davies, Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Arthur Figgis, It's the Arts, Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm, Smut, Criminal gang that doesn't break the law, Crunchy frog, Dull life of a city stockbroker, Theatre sketch, Scotsman on a horse, Splunge! There's enough here to insult a lot of people: Native Americans, women, Gay culture, and law enforcement officers. But if they were victims of their era Monty Python also supplied some little gems like the Crunchy Frog and Splunge skits. Comedy usually has a short shelf life. In spite of some of the traits in this episode we would call regressive today, the fact this group still makes us laugh four decades later is a testimony to how far ahead of their time they were.

"The Case of Lady Beryl" (Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Jack Gage (1954, DVD). Ronald Howard, Howard Marion-Crawford, Archie Duncan, Paulette Goddard, Peter Copley. Another Holmes episode where the name Oberstein is equated with foreign spies willing to buy secrets. Watson continues to facilitate the competition between Holmes and Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade. Ronald Howard's version of Holmes is absent-minded, eccentric, self-absorbed. He does not possess the predatory hunter quality required for playing the character. Holmes seems to lack any sort of drive here. However, he does use the word "cranium" in this episode and that goes a long way with me. Lots of dramatic big face close-ups. Fortunately, they are interesting countenances. The Brits are not as obsessed with Cookie-Cutter Pretty as we are, and I applaud them for it.

"Back in the Red. Part 3" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Mac McDonald, Yasmin Bannerman. Much of this episode is spent in something called "Artificial Reality," and once that is over the Cat declares that real "reality sucks." This one pretty much belongs to the Cat, which is unusual as he gets most of the best lines and has a scene stealing dance number with small spaceships. There is a weird claymation segment that is a bit creepy since it makes me think of (shudder) Gumby and Pokey. Holly's role is brief but very significant. The end result is that the RD crew get sentenced to two years in prison. The writers who cooked this up probably had good intentions, but they really killed the series once the prison ship portion began. Audiences wanted these characters to explore the limitless possibilities of outer space. The lack of boundaries was part of the charm. But instead, and ironically, while in space they were confined in cells. Bad choice.

14 Carrot Rabbit / directed by Friz Freleng (1952, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). The eternal Bugs Bunny vs. Yosemite Sam conflict starts off in the Klondike Gold Rush area, but eventually has a surreal ending at Fort Knox. The State of Washington actually makes an appearance in this cartoon. Freleng uses the slow fall down a steep cliff gag in a way that seems to echo the style of Chuck Jones in the Roadrunner/Wile E. Coyote series.

Punchy Cowpunchers / directed by Edward Bernds (1950, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Vernon Dent, Emil Sitka, Jock Mahoney, Christine McIntyre, Kenneth MacDonald, Joe Palma. Set in the Old West of 1868, the U.S. Army sends in the Three Stooges as undercover agents to break up a gang of outlaws. In terms of satire and sendups, this might be one of the best written (Bernds was writer as well as director) Stooge shorts ever. But in terms of the good old visceral guy-thing of seeing injurious slapstick performed by total experts, the boys are slowing down. Violence count: Head konk 20, Punched in face 5, one each of face slap, nose pull, butt burned by fire, butt hit by giant plank, kicked in butt. No eyepokes, no hits in stomach. Some scholar needs to track the Three Stooges violence count during their long and wonderful career, dissect and analyze it, and share their findings so we can appreciate the deeper meaning of this comedy team.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 54

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

A Close Shave / directed by Nick Park (1995, VHS). Peter Sallis (voice), Anne Reid (voice). Another entry in the very excellent stop-action animated series starring inventor Wallace and his silent but expressive dog Gromit. This episode has got it all: romance, action, mystery, comedy, science fiction, sheep liberation, a prison break. Kids should love this, and Park has packed in quite a number of subtle jokes that will appeal to adults as well. Great work by a master.

I quattro dell'Ave Maria = Ace High / directed by Giuseppe Colizzi (1968, VHS). Eli Wallach, Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Brock Peters, Kevin McCarthy. My VHS copy of this film was originally a rental for the Safeway in Ballard, and as such it was sort of beat up. In fact, the first few minutes were so chewed up I nearly surrendered and was about to toss out this cassette when suddenly it regained viewability. I'm glad I didn't throw it away, for I was treated to one of the most enjoyable Spaghetti Westerns ever. Apparently this is the middle part of a movie trilogy by director Colizzi, who died at the age of 53 in 1978. Wallach plays Cacopoulos, a half Greek, half Native American outlaw running around a landscape in Spain with Italian actors dubbed in English-- all pretending to be in the Old West. To make matters even more off center, Colizzi throws in circus performers now and then in sort of a Fellini way. The Hill/Spencer duo, in one of their early films together, work well with Wallach. Colizzi managed to make a very entertaining Italian Western without taking himself too seriously. The humor in this is easy, natural, and made me laugh out loud several times. Wallach has real spark, you get the sense he is really enjoying himself, and that feeling is communicated. He's a lot of fun to watch in this role. Washington State native Kevin McCarthy was very effective as an oily casino owner. The final showdown gun battle is truly unique and is presented as almost a dance. After seeing this motion picture I want to hunt down the other five films Colizzi directed in his brief career. I'm surprised this work isn't better known among fans of Westerns.

The Big Lebowski / directed by Joel Coen (1998, DVD). Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, David Huddleston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Tara Reid, Peter Stormare, John Turturro, Sam Elliott, Aimee Mann, Ben Gazzara, Flea. I saw this film when it was first released and didn't like it at all. As a fan of the Coen brothers I felt disappointed by this effort. Viewing this a decade later I must say my opinion has changed. But annoying aspects of the motion picture remain: The Ol' Western Cowboy narrator (Sam Elliott) just gets in the way, both at the opening and conclusion. He should've been ditched from the script. The plot is weak, and the movie rides on the colorful character portrayals by the amazing actors in the cast. One has the impression this movie was one big in-joke for the Coens, but we are never let in on the gag. Toss in a bag full of quotable lines, and you have a cult film in the making. On the other hand there are a lot of positives here. The soundtrack is great, the acting is superb, the dialogue is filled with ear worms, the visuals are sophisticated. The Turturro/Bridges/Buscemi/Goodman/Gipsy Kings sequence was a work of genius. Huddleston, as the Big Lebowski, sits in an executive suite not unlike the Oval Office, and his appearance, condition, and sleazy behavior anticipates Deadeye Dick Cheney. The bureaucracies and abuses of law enforcement agencies and funeral parlors are skewered and we see how the coin of the realm tips the scales of justice. My fellow Boomers will enjoy the references to the TV series Branded, and will nod in sympathetic recognition to Goodman's Vietnam delayed stress syndrome behavior. In fact, we already know a lot of people in this story. This work fits into the series of Coen regionalism movies like Raising Arizona, Fargo, and O Brother, Where Art Thou. This time it is set in Los Angeles, one of my favorite big American cities (yes, I prefer L.A. to the Bay Area). Anyway, I found myself wondering when these filmmakers were going to get around to recording the strange denizens of the Pacific Northwest. But then, as I realized The Dude (based on Jeff Dowd) had once been part of the Seattle Seven, I knew the central core character was actually a product of our obscure corner. The Dude Abides.

Poisoned Dreams (The Century: America's Time; v. 4) / directed by Roger Goodman (1999, VHS). Peter Jennings (narration), John Lewis, Richard Reeves, Janet Leigh, Jeff Greenfield, John Updike, Sargent Shriver, Robert McNamara, Sergei Khruschev, Ted Sorenson, Martin Scorsese, Julian Bond, Andrew Young, Tom Wicker. A documentary covering the years 1960-1963 in the United States. Woolworth's sit-in and the fight against segregation, JFK/Nixon presidential campaign emphasizing their Cold War credentials and including the first televised presidential campaign, the Space Race as an "aggressive manifestation of the Cold War," Bay of Pigs, Berlin Wall is built, Home bomb shelters, Nuclear war drills at school, Cuban Missile Crisis, Freedom riders in the Deep South, Eyes on the prize-- the power of nonviolent civil disobedience, George Corley Wallace, Martin Luther King and the March on Washington, Peace Corps, "Special Forces" sent to Vietnam, Buddhist monks burns selves in protest in the streets of Saigon, Assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, JFK assassinated. Now, for the first time in this series, I clearly remember every single event recounted. I must say I found myself wondering why this film didn't mention one U.S. citizen who was a true hero for us kids-- astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth in space. His capsule toured the country and I recall seeing it on display at the rear entrance of the Legislative Building. This is a good documentary to watch in order to see how far we have come in such a short time.

Sentimental Women Need Not Apply : a History of the American Nurse / directed by Diane Garey and Lawrence R. Hott (1988, VHS off-air). For some reason I have only the very last minute of this documentary. But the quote by a working nurse in that final clip is worth preserving since I have such a high respect for this line of work (I even worked as a nurse's aide in my distant past): "I think most people who go into nursing, go into nursing because they care. And sometimes you have to think back, think of yourself, and see, well, I care but what am I getting out of this? And so, nursing is a low paying field, and we are probably losing many good people because of this. But I think caring-- I think it's still there-- but I think we have to guard it, as we guard freedom, so that we don't lose it." Then cue the cello music. God bless the nurses.

The Phantom Creeps / directed by Ford Beebe, Saul A. Goodkind (1939, DVD). Bela Lugosi, Robert Kent, Dorothy Arnold, Regis Toomey, Lee J. Cobb (uncredited). Originally released as a serial about a mad scientist who planned on taking over the universe. One headline in a newspaper (Star Dispatch) reads: "MAD GENIUS RUNNING WILD! DOCTOR ZORKA ALIVE, MAY BE INVISIBLE TO HUMAN EYE" Oh how I have longed to read that headline in the Olympian. Aside from the laughable special effects, this is as boring as a normal episode of Dr. Who. In fact I spent most of my time during this movie sorting through my bills and financial papers. The scene where the airplane spirals down to Earth came about just as I was looking at my retirement portfolio. Then I realized the doomed path of the aircraft pretty much matched how I felt about the Cheney/Bush induced result of the latest fiscal report from my provider. Lugosi, as always, commands the story whenever he appears on screen. There is a pretty awesome looking robot he plans to use as one of his ultimate weapons to become the "Master of the Universe," but it seems mere bullets are enough to knock the thing out of commission. Oh well. Lots of great old automobiles featured here for classic car fans.

Toy Joy / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). Gumby and Pokey go wild in a toy shop. The scene where Gumby rides a giant hobby horse is obviously a nod to Dadaism, as the word "dada" supposedly means "hobbyhorse" in French. Pokey's signoff, "Crazy, man!" reveals his Beat sensibilities. This is too disturbing for children. Keep them away from Gumby.

Dentist the Menace / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita, Emil Sitka. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called a pale attempt at entertainment as the cartoon Stooges attempt to pull Curly Joe's sore tooth. Not as bad as the others in this series but still bad.

The Time of Your Life / directed by H.C. Potter (1948, DVD). James Cagney, William Bendix, Wayne Morris, Jeanne Cagney, Broderick Crawford, Ward Bond, James Barton, Paul Draper, Jimmy Lydon, Reginald Beane, Tom Powers, Natalie Schafer, Howard Freeman. Based on the play of the same name by William Saroyan, this film carries the feeling of still being on stage. Cagney holds court at Nick's Saloon in one of his finest performances. The story, such as it is, presents us with a collage of interesting and eccentric characters without going over the top and wearing us out in the manic screwball pace so common in other comedies of that era. Whimsical, warm, at times a little sad, there are moments of real beauty in the slices of life we observe as we pull up a seat next to Cagney and peoplewatch. We see a parade of reliable and familiar character actors. Tom Powers was very effective as a sadistic blackmailer. Natalie Schafer gets to play the young version of Lovey Howell. The movie has some unusual features worth pointing out. First, Reginald Beane has an opportunity to portray an African American who is a real person and not a stereotype. Second, we get to see a 1948 television in action. Third, Cagney plays with a wind-up penguin, a sure sign that something bad is about to happen. William Bendix is wonderful as Nick, the owner of the saloon. My favorite quote comes from Cagney: "Living is an art, it's not bookkeeping. It takes an awful lot of rehearsal for a man to get to be himself."

Tony Lovello / directed by Tony Lovello (2001, VHS). Tony Lovello. In case you haven't guessed from the title, director, and main actor, this video features Tony Lovello, who is also known as the "Liberace of the Accordion." Actually, that nickname is very well deserved. Tony is a gifted musician and his live performances are Liberace-like in the sense you can tell he's having fun and enjoys entertaining people. Part of this video is instructional, where Tony stands in front of a stationary camera in his basement in Lexington, Ky. One thing I noticed right away is that his live, onstage persona has much more spark than his solitary basement self. No doubt the audience energizes him. I gained an appreciation for the way he combines music and talking in his mini-lectures. Although the homemade production values of Tony's videos (I've seen about three of them) have a certain charm, it would be interesting to see what a professional videographer could do in showcasing Tony's considerable talent. No, I don't play the accordion, but my Grandfather killed a couple guys and was wounded in a shootout in Mt. Sterling, Ky. in 1931, which is near Tony's home. That's about the closest connection I have.

"Untitled" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 5, episode 10) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Lingerie shop robbery, David Unction, It's a Tree, Vocational guidance counselor, The larch, Disease of chartered accountancy, Daredevil feats of Ron Obvious, Buying a cat in a pet shop, Interview for a new librarian, Vera and her lovers. Eric Idle does another David Frost impression in the "It's a Tree" skit. They must've really hated that guy. I really like the idea of hiring wild animals to be librarians.

Ocean's 11 / directed by Lewis Milestone (1960, VHS). Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Angie Dickinson, Richard Conte, Cesar Romero, Patrice Wymore, Joey Bishop, Akim Tamiroff, Henry Silva, Buddy Lester, Norman Fell, Red Skelton, George Raft, Hoot Gibson (uncredited), Shirley MacLaine (uncredited). Filmed at a time when the Rat Packers were all JFK Democrats at the top of their game. The story concerns a group of WWII buddies who reunite in order to rob millions of dollars from five Las Vegas casinos. But most of the performances have the feel of someone just walking on and sort of following the script. The adlib patter demonstrates to the audience they are not as funny as they think they are. In the presence of Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin jokes about making women slaves. Real cool, Dino. No real acting is taking place, with the exception of Conte and Lester. The Rat Packers apparently alternated between showing up in front of the cameras for the movie, and then showing up in front of the live audiences for their Vegas routine. Sleeping was optional. There isn't really any sense of suspense, which is sort of strange for a heist movie. Skelton, Raft, and MacLaine had nice cameo roles. If you find yourself feeling guilty when you realize you want the thieves to get away with it, that will be corrected. In a church, no less. Actually the ending scene was pretty good (although I saw it coming a mile away) and one of the better jobs of ensemble acting in the whole story.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 55

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"Cassandra" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Geraldine McEwan, Mac McDonald, Graham McTavish, Jake Wood, Shend. In Greek mythology Cassandra had the power of prophecy but was cursed by the fact no one would believe her. In fact, the term "Cassandra Warning" has even been used here on OlyBlog on occasion. In Red Dwarf, Cassandra is a computer with 100% prophetic accuracy, and became so annoying her keepers banished her to languish at the bottom a moon sea. Geraldine McEwan met a special challenge in acting the title role due to the fact she had to emote purely from facial expression since she was filmed from only the neck up, which gave her chance to deliver some pretty heady lines (nyuk, nyuk, nyuk). Too bad she didn't get a chance to share dialogue with Norman Lovett's Holly. This episode has an interesting mixture of "guy humor" with some sophisticated concepts, like free will vs. determinism. At one point in conversation with Cassandra, Lister announces his allegiance to the mainstream, romantic view of free will: "If the future's all worked out, horoscopes and all that stuff, it means we're not responsible for anything we do. It means we're just actors sayin' lines in a script that's been written by somebody else. I don't want to believe that. I want to believe I'm in charge of me own life, me own destiny ... Tomorrow's a new day, a fresh page in a book that's not been written yet. What happens in the future is up to me, not some predetermined destiny smeg." No sooner does he utter these stirring lines when he is proven totally wrong. I love it.

Home, Tweet Home / directed by Friz Freleng (1950, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voices). So. Cats eat birds. That is how Mother Nature works. It is all natural. So then why are cats portrayed as the bad guys in these cartoons? Were we trying to beat down our animal instincts in the 1950s or what? Personally, I would give a good sum of money to see Sylvester consume, in a natural bloody fashion, that disturbingly fetus-headed yellow Tweety-Bird. In the Warner Bros. mammal vs. bird universe (Sylvester/Tweety, Roadrunner/Coyote) I find myself siding with the predator. I guess that means two things: 1. I'm doomed to always siding with the underdog, and 2. I'm doomed. Period. Some good visual gags in this cartoon, particularly the bubble gum sequence. Very nice job by Carl Stalling of matching the music to the action. God, after all these years of watching cartoons I have to admit I really despise Tweety Bird. I would love to see his scattered remnants in Sylvester's scat. I hope you all notice Tweety doesn't actually have wings but little tiny arms with hands. Creeeeepy. That bird is obviously the byproduct of nuclear bomb testing.

Merry Mavericks / directed by Edward Bernds (1951, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Emil Sitka. This short combines the Old West cowboy stories with the haunted house genre. Visually, and I'm writing in relative terms here, this is one of the better Three Stooges episodes I've seen. The Shempster still rules as the greatest Stooge! Violence count (somewhat meager, I'll admit): Head konk 6, Face slap 3, Punch in the eye 2, one each of finger bitten, foot stomped, and boot spur in butt.

Damned If You Don't (American Gothic) / directed by Lou Antonio (1995, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Lucas Black, Sarah Paulson, Muse Watson, Brigid Brannagh, Steve Rankin. OK, so I originally read the "FBI Anti-Piracy Warning" as "FBI Anti-Parody Warning." Yes, in spite of the built-in humor of this series, it remains too serious on balance and something worthy of parody. More self-involved than it should be. This episode demonstrates how cutting cards with the Devil has consequences, placing you in a realm beyond that of human law. Oddly, the justice dealt by Hell in this narrative doesn't really seem that unjustified. Score one point for the Forces of Darkness. Sheriff Buck, the epitome of good ol' boy law enforcement, is some sort of demonic godfather, trading "favors." Nice eerie linking shots. Those of you who are in the midst of raising teenage daughters (as I once was) might want to pass this one up and move on. Nothing to see here. Nothing. Move along. The bad guys win in this one.

The Bishop's Wife / directed by Henry Koster (1947, VHS). Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Elsa Lanchester, Regis Toomey. One of the better Christmas films. "Sometimes Henry, angels must rush in where fools fear to tread." What an interesting and conflicting movie to watch right after the previous entry. Either way, whether we mortals are dealing with angels or demons-- we're screwed! Interesting how a right-wing law enforcement officer is actually a tool of Hell in the previous review while an angel is viewed as a social radical in this work. This particular angel (Grant) recognizes the value of good librarianship, "This card index file is in an awful mess. Think I'll reorganize it." I instantly liked him after that line. Who else could've pulled off the role of an angel with such class? Quite odd to see the normally suave David Niven in the role of a stick-in-the-mud bishop paired with the luminous Loretta Young.

Cat's Eye / directed by Lewis Teague (1985, DVD). Drew Barrymore, James Woods, Alan King, Kenneth McMillan, Robert Hays, James Rebhorn. Three tales by Stephen King are linked by a tabby cat with an attitude and the Police song "Every Breath You Take." The 3 story device and the cat does remind me of some Roger Corman films of the 1960s, but this 1985 creation lacks the delicious hamminess of Corman's work. Still, these are nice little minifilms. The first two deal with addiction, one with nicotine the other with gambling. The third concerns a strange little troll, which was something of a fad in the 1980s (as evidenced by the 1984 motion picture Gremlins, which I can't believe I paid money to see in a theater at the time). When you view this in terms of defining "troll" as in Internet it becomes funnier as the little guy attempts to suck the positive lifeforce out anything it touches. The special effects here were pretty good, truth to tell. Standout performances by James Woods as the nicotine addict, Alan King as a Mob figure, and especially Kenneth McMillan as the sleazoid high-rolling Atlantic City gambler. The soundtrack is quintessential 80s. The feline subplot is a little hard to follow, but then cats are supposed to be enigmatic. Cats rule, dogs (and trolls) drool, man.

Dead Again / directed by Kenneth Branagh (1991, VHS). Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, Derek Jacobi, Andy Garcia, Robin Williams, Wayne Knight, Hanna Schygulla. Whenever I buy a used VHS cassette and notice the previous viewer stopped the tape halfway through and didn't rewind, I usually take that as a bad sign. Sure enough, as I watched this sordid narrative of murder, reincarnation, karma, hypnotism, scissors and gender roles, I did find the first half to be quite slow. But it picked up as the unexpected twists presented themselves. Billed as a murder mystery, there are subtle parts that are actually quite funny-- on purpose I think. Garcia, Williams, and Knight are delegated to the status of supporting character actors and all three really spice up the movie. Garcia was arresting as an old man in a nursing home and stole the picture in the few minutes that scene took place. Williams is astoundingly toned down yet very effective. Good choice by Branagh to show the past lives sequences in black and white. Jacobi gives us an inside joke when he repeats part of his role in I, Claudius during a key scene. Interesting mix in the cast and an elegant, if odd, way of solving a decades-old homicide. Personally, I find the whole concept of reincarnation to be very disturbing. I hope it isn't true.

Gli amanti d'oltretomba = Nightmare Castle / directed by Mario Caiano (1965, DVD). Barbara Steele, Paul Muller, Helga Liné. This is sort of like the previously reviewed Dead Again, except some small details like this film is in black and white, clumsily dubbed from Italian to English, includes disturbing scenes of sadism and torture, and has choppy editing which makes the story hard to follow. Like a twisted version of the Patty Duke Show, Barbara Steele plays dual roles with equal effectiveness. She is the movie ("You can kill my body, but I'll never leave you in peace! Never! Never!") her and that amazing haunting face born for Gothic horror films. Muller is chillingly and calmly psychopathic while Liné is freaked out in a moon age daydream, oh yeah. Ennio Morricone's soundtrack perfectly fits the genre. The brutality and violence is presented in a very matter of fact way and left me feeling depressed. I don't need to see this movie again. I'm glad it wasn't in color.

Mysterious Fires / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). Here's the REAL Nightmare Castle! Don't watch this before going to bed, it will makes your dreams toxic. Don't watch this while under the influence of any mind altering substance, the experience will scar you for life. Don't allow children to see this. This story involves a castle, a knight, a dragon and Gumby extending his eye like a telescope. There is something really off when it comes to cadence of the dialogue, as if the characters are talking like a pasted letter kidnap note. By the way many years, er, decades ago I created a delightful Gumby-like character called Mukey the Mutant Membrane. Even my own daughter thought Gumby was more "refreshing" than Mukey, but I have to tell you I think ol' Muke would be the perfect icon for rallying people if the H1N1 virus gets worse. Better than Gumby would be.

Dinopoodi / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita, Emil Sitka. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called a very sad attempt at entertainment as the cartoon Stooges win a prize, a strange animal called a Dinopoodi. You know, I recently purchased a new food sensation called Lil' Joey Pancake Pockets. Here's what it is: A box with 20 little pancakes, each individually wrapped one about the size of a furniture cup (and just as tasty). You pop one in the microwave for 15 seconds and it is ready to eat. Each one contains a strawberry filling. On the surface of the pancake is a cartoon face of Lil' Joey itself. A "joey" is apparently a baby kangaroo. If you think about it, eating a pancake with a pouch filled with red gooey stuff can be kind of gross if you start equating it with baby kangaroos in development. Anyway, the last couple times I had these treat I had to chase it with a bottle of that pink stuff and some Tums. So this morning I'm not sure which one made me feel more ill, this cartoon or Lil' Joey.

Great Guy / directed by John G. Blystone (1936, DVD). James Cagney, Mae Clarke, James Burke, Henry Kolker, Joe Sawyer. It is public vs. private sector as Cagney fights for protection of the consumer as a rep of the New York City Dept. of Weights and Measures. Respectable businessmen are revealed to be total crooks and are willing to play hardball to preserve their rackets. "What's the use of trying to be subtle?" Cagney asked himself before telling off one such pillar of capitalism, "I might as well be myself." I agree. It is fun to watch his character make a sincere attempt, and continually fail, to refrain from using his fists. There is a strong thread of celebrating Irish-Americans as the true keepers of the American spirit. The final few minutes on my copy (Genius Entertainment) became a digital train wreck, but I saw enough to know the good guys won. One of the few big star movies of the short-lived Grand National Pictures.

Life of Brian / directed by Terry Jones (1979, VHS off-air). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Neil Innes, Charles McKeowen, Spike Milligan, George Harrison (uncredited). The best of the Monty Python movies. Although the film was heavily criticized by the Religious Right at the time it was first released, the Pythons equally made fun of Left extremist groups. Basically, the guys were ridiculing mindless followers of all political stripes and flavors. This story follows the life of an alternative Messiah-by-circumstance who existed at the same time and same place as Jesus Christ. Great production values and standout performances by Palin as Pilate, Jones (disturbingly) as Brian's Mother, Cleese as a Basil Fawlty figure who serves as the MC at a stoning, and Gilliam as various old crazy coots. Graham Chapman, may he really rest in peace, was terrific as the title character. Apparently Keith Moon was supposed to be in this, but the poor sod had to go and die which was a tragic loss since the guy was a natural ham. A great film with a strong libertarian/individualist message and an excellent effort by one of the top comedy ensembles of the 20th century.

Cheaper by the Dozen 56

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes to the Bathroom" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 6, episode 11) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. Bathroom jokes, Mary Bignall's Wonderful Jump in 1964, The World of History-- 1348 Black Death, Undertaker Jokes, Inspector Tiger and Lookout of the Yard and Constable There'samanbehindyou, Jimmy Buzzard on English Football, Interesting People, The World of History-- Social Legislation in the 18th Century, Famous Battles. This episode has more complex interweaving of skits than usual, which would be interesting except for the fact the material is not really the Python's best work. We do, however, have a rare glimpse of Terry Gilliam in drag in the final scenes.

Next Time / directed by Alan L. Fraser (1998, VHS). Christian Campbell, Jonelle Allen. "Washing is a lot more involved than you think, isn't it?" A 19-year old artist from Ohio settles into a regular schedule in a Los Angeles laundromat and strikes up a friendship with a middle aged African American woman. Set against the background of the L.A. riots of the early 1990s, this very low budget independent production is an intense and uncomfortable feature-length discussion on racism and the limits of gender friendships. There are a lot of washing references like the difference between colors and whites, airing dirty laundry, etc. I like the way Fraser had the two strangers go through that initial dance of mistrust when first striking up a conversation. I've actually washed clothes in L.A. laundromats in neighborhoods like the one in this film. In fact, at the time I think I was a 19 year old hick just like the kid in the movie. And my dim memory recalls I struck up a conversation with a person who informed me of the assault that had taken place earlier that week in the same place we were sitting. So I sort of connected with the guy in this story. Fraser has no explosions, special effects, killing, crane shots, or glorifying of firearms here. It isn't visually captivating and the soundtrack is sort of OK. The motion picture is pretty much just interesting dialogue delivered by two very good actors in a laundromat filmed mostly at eye level. This work is more appealing as an academic and thought-provoking presentation than as entertainment.

"Krytie TV" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Graham McTavish, Jake Wood. It is really sad to see this episode when compared to their earlier and sharper work. Cheap laughs that are so cheap the creators had to employ cheap laugh tracks to the degree they really distract from the cheap plot and cheap dialogue. The laugh track is used in a way here that makes me think of cooks attempting to cover up a bad dish with lots of spices that happen to be at hand. The really tragic part is that the actors remain as good as ever, they were just given an awful script.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Martin Short, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, John Cougar [Mellencamp], Dr. John, the Tubes. Gerry Todd audio games, The William B. Show [where Martin Short really shines as ancient songwriter Irving Cohen], Sunrise Semester-- Ed Grimly's lecture about snakes [one of my favorite Grimly skits], Phil's Nails, Edith Prickley selling cheap advertising minutes, The Nutty Lab Assistant, Duard Weese designated driver, Spam Dagger [Andrea Martin portrays a small press poet I'm sure she based on people I knew in college], Dwayne Millage's towel dispenser, LaRue Toys, Sammy Maudlin Show, Evelynn Wolf School of Speed Eating, Bobby Bittman's version of On the Waterfront, English for beginners, Gene Shalit's Critics' Special [I'm sure the SCTV cast enjoyed this revenge piece aimed at entertainment critics], Tim Ishimuni Show [Dave Thomas was trying to be Peter Sellers, but his ethnic humor using Asians just comes off as racist. Not sure what he thinking], Jake La Motta's Raging Bull-B-Que, The Fishin' Musician, The Rowdyman, Magnum P.E.I., Hello Metric Au Revior Avoirdupois, Moose Beer, It's a Canadian Fact, Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice, SCTV strike comes to an end, Rhoda, My Fair Lady, SCTV News, My Life One More Time, Lee A. Iococca's rock concert [Chrysler was in trouble back then too], Fancy-free, The Merv Griffin Show special edition, Great White North-- new boots, Jackie Rogers' Swingin with Mother Nature [Jackie Rogers is one of Martin Short's most disturbing characters], Human Sexual response with Dr. Cheryl Kinsey, McEnroe coffee, Great White North-- carpets, Polynesiantown [John Candy gets his crane shot], Ted Gordon-- overbooked attorney.

Stuart Saves His Family / directed by Harold Ramis (1995, VHS). Al Franken, Laura San Giacomo, Vincent D'Onofrio, Shirley Knight, Harris Yulin, Lesley Boone, Julia Sweeney, Joe Flaherty, Robin Duke, Lewis Arquette, Steven Kampmann, Phil Hartman (uncredited voice). The apparent United States Senator from Minnesota said he was inspired to create the sensitive, sincere yet bumbling 12-stepping Stuart Smalley as a result of attending Al-Anon meetings. This movie bombed at the box office (losing over 10 million bucks) and today it is very difficult to find. That is a real shame since this was one of the best comedy films of the 1990s. Franken has a gift for making us laugh at some of the extremes of 12-step programs without trivializing the reason for their existence. He manages to work in every 12-step bumper sticker slogan you've ever seen into the dialogue. Although comedy normally has a short shelf life, this motion picture is funnier today than it was in 1995, possibly due to our growing social awareness of substance abuse, alcoholism, overeating, dysfunctional family dynamics, interventions, etc. Al was ahead of his time. Great cast, good soundtrack, perfect comic timing with some moments of true serious drama without being maudlin or sappy. An amazing balancing act between humor and sorrow, there is no other movie like this. 

3000 Miles to Graceland / directed by Demian Lichtenstein (2001, VHS). Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Courteney Cox, Christian Slater, Kevin Pollak, Jon Lovitz, Ice-T, Paul Anka. Film editing by Michael J. Duthie, Miklos Wright. It's a bad sign when you're bored before the credits are over. Here's a case where the fast forward button can be your friend. At the place where I labor and make my contribution to Western Civilization there was a booksale to raise money for the Combined Fund Drive, I think, and this videocassette was included. When I bought it, someone who has known me for almost three decades warned me not to do it. She said I would regret it. I should've listened. If you like movies with mindless graphic violence, high murder counts, lots of gunfire and explosions, and Stupid Crap like that then this is the film for you. Yes, I used the term "Stupid Crap," which should be the new title for this motion picture the next time they print it up on DVD. There isn't a single character in this entire work I found myself caring about. Well, OK, I did cheer for the law enforcement officers hunting down the principal players. The plot in an nutshell: a small group of Elvis impersonators rob a Las Vegas casino and then things unravel after their getaway. This film earned five Razzie Award nominations in 2002: Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Costner), Worst Supporting Actress (Cox), Worst Screenplay, and Worst Screen Couple (Russell with either Cox or Costner). But let's not end this on a negative note. All six of you who pay attention to these reviews have no doubt noticed I made the unprecedented action of listing the film editors (Michael J. Duthie and Miklos Wright) in the credits. This is due to the fact that even though this effort is a cinematic disaster, I recognize they actually did a great job in attempting to salvage this-- I saw form over content in their role. Although they were working with substandard material, I was impressed with their links and timing from scene to scene. Another nice feature of this work was the fact the concluding action took place in Washington State (Mount Vernon!). I also admired the ending sequence when the kid dropped his toy six-shooters into Puget Sound from a sailboat as a form of rejecting all he had witnessed from the adult world. That one action was the only sane image in the entire picture.

"Potato Boy" (American Gothic) / directed by Michael Nankin (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Joe Inscoe. An episode that was not aired during the series' original broadcast run 1995-1996 on CBS. Not so much of a story as it is a group portrait of the citizens of Trinity, S.C., where the supernaturally Satanic Sheriff serves as the narrator. Sort of like reading an evil version of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. Sheriff Buck pretty much sums up his role when he says: "Some folks would lay all of Trinity's troubles at my doorstep, but Hell, you might as well blame a trailer park for attracting lightning bolts and tornadoes. I mean, I had a hand in certain things-- but everybody's got free will. I just give them enough rope to hang themselves." The Potato Boy himself is easily one of the strangest characters in any of the entire American Gothic stories.

A Bit of Fry & Laurie / directed by Roger Ordish (1987-1990). Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Aimée Delamain. This UK comedy loves wordplay and stepping out of a comedy skit and into "reality" in the same tradition as John Cleese and Graham Chapman. Many of their sketches, such as the excellent Derek Nippl-e Reports a Stolen Car, ends with Fry punching Laurie in the face. See, even some of the most sophisticated comedians still have to resort to the time-honored Three Stooges method of physical humor in order to get a laugh. I particularly liked their musical spots. Fry as Michael Jackson was very funny, and Hugh Laurie's takeoff of maudlin Rock songs about America was my favorite of all. That last bit ended, by the way, with Laurie getting punched in the face.

Unpinned (The Century: America's Time; v. 4) / directed by Roger Goodman (1999, VHS). Peter Jennings (narration), John Lewis, Dennis Hopper, Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, Sargent Shriver, Keith Richards, Peter Coyote, Stephen Ambrose, Colin Powell, John Updike, Julian Bond, Neil Simon, Pat Buchanan. Covers the U.S. from 1964 to the election of Nixon of 1968 with a very diverse panel of talking heads. World's Fair 1964, Freedom Riders, UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement (Mario Savio is shown but not identified) spreads to other schools, Vietnam War, War on Poverty, Selma March, LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act, MLK and Malcolm X, Black Panther Party, Riots of the Summer of '67, Rock music, Haight-Ashbury, LSD, Feminist movement, Widespread (even by the middle class) questioning of the U.S. role in Vietnam, Antiwar demonstrations turn violent, Tet Offensive, LBJ decides not to run for re-election, MLK assassinated in Memphis, RFK assassinated in L.A., 1968 Democratic Convention, Election of Richard Milhous Nixon. Here's what I didn't see: Barry Goldwater and the birth of the Right-wing movement that would rule America in later years, Eugene McCarthy, George Wallace's electoral vote-grabbing third party bid for the White House, the influence of television, the USS Pueblo Incident, Andy Warhol, Alexander Dubcek, Adam West as Batman, the Beatles. I became a teenager in those years and I recall my Father proclaiming, "Thank God I have no daughters!" To me, this film is more like an incomplete scrapbook than a true documentary. The impact of the murders of MLK and RFK seemed downplayed in this film. Lyndon Baines Johnson is the most tragic of all U.S. CEOs. He is among the greatest of all Presidents when it comes to civil rights, environment, funding for education, outer space exploration. Johnson heroically went against his own stereotype to twist arms and enact legislation to make the American dream come true for everyone. Yet he had this little problem called Viet Nam that nullified all his domestic accompliments. That LBJ domestic/foreign conflict wasn't really covered here in a coherent manner yet it remains one of the more interesting stories of that time period.

"Four to Doomsday" (Doctor Who) / directed by John Black (1982, VHS off-air). Peter Davison, Stratford Johns, Matthew Waterhouse, Sarah Sutton, Janet Fielding, Philip Locke, Burt Kwouk. Although Davison is starting to get his bearings and displays more confidence in the role of the Doctor, this program still suffers from cheap sets, overacting, melodramatic single electronic keyboard soundtrack, slow and convoluted plot, and incredibly hammy dialogue ("So perish all who threaten my mission!"). For some fans all of these negatives are what makes the series so charming. But I don't happen to be a fan, so to me it is just bad. I will say it was enjoyable to see Burt Kwouck attempt to play a serious character. I'm sure I wasn't the only viewer who kept waiting to see him become Cato and ambush Inspector Clouseau.

From Here to Eternity / directed by Fred Zinnemann (1953, VHS). Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Donna Reed, Frank Sinatra, Philip Ober, Ernest Borgnine, Jack Warden, Claude Akins, George Reeves. This feature-length big budget soap opera was considered quite daring and boundary-pushing at the time, winning 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor and Actress (Sinatra and Reed). Set in a Pearl Harbor military base on the eve of Dec. 7, 1941, it is interesting to see how quickly the war propaganda evaporated by the early 1950s and audiences were ready to dive back into personal stories. In fact, if anything the American military is portrayed here as little better than prison. Montgomery Clift's loner soldier with individualist values reminds me very much of Cool Hand Luke, which is indeed set in a jail. Filming this in black and white was the right choice, giving the story a crisp and military look. Thanks to the Korean War, Americans had grown jaded about jingoism in 1953 and Joe McCarthy's antics were about to catch up to him. As this movie demonstrates, the 1950s was not the placid era pop culture has made it out to be. The characters in this tale were all trying to take their hidden lives and fit into a system that demanded conformity. Donna Reed said it best, "Nobody's going to stop me from my plan. Nobody. Nothing. Because I want to be proper ... Yes, proper. In another year I'll have enough money saved. Then I'm going to go back in my hometown in Oregon and I'm going to build a house for my Mother and myself and join the country club and take up golf. Then I'll meet the proper man with the proper position to make a proper wife who can run a proper home and raise proper children. And I'll be happy because when you're proper you're safe." And we Boomers know she actually accomplished her goal with the Donna Reed Show (1958-1966)! But striving for such security came at a price and created a growing tension that later broke big time. Terrific performances by Lancaster (to Kerr, "I wish I didn't love you. Maybe I could enjoy life again") and Clift ("Nobody ever lies about being lonely"). Although Sinatra is not one of my favorites, I must admit he was pretty good. Maybe not Oscar winning good, but good. When the actual Japanese sneak attack takes place it served to put all the little personal dramas into perspective. I thought of Bogart's line in Casablanca, "It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

Wishful Thinking / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). No, this is not the 1990 Murray Langston film. That one seems like Citizen Kane when compared to this lame-o claymation starring Gumby, Pokey, Prickle, and Goo. The others attempt to discover what Prickle wished for when he blew out his birthday cake candle. Just what the heck is Goo supposed to be, anyway? For some reason she makes me think of a tumor running around loose in the world. Another disturbing episode in this Hellish series.

Cheaper by the Dozen 57

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Don't Misbehave Indian Brave / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called just. plain. bad. as the cartoon Stooges play the roles of Native Americans attempting to stop a wagon train. Offensive and shoddy.

Something to Sing About / directed by Victor Schertzinger (1937, DVD). James Cagney, Evelyn Daw, Wlliam Frawley, Mona Barrie, Gene Lockhart, Philip Ahn, Dwight Frye. Hollywood looks at itself with a sardonic eye and reveals the personal cost of celebrity status in an entertaining and irreverent manner. Cagney, that spring-coiled banty fighter, is the main star in this musical comedy. I really enjoyed the way he moved throughout this picture. He had a style I'd call "punch-in-the-nose ballet." No other cinematic tough guy possessed the versatility of this amazing actor. Great 1930s patter (Cagney to female lead vocalist Daw when offering champagne: "C'mon canary, get your nose wet.") and conventions in film storytelling. Frawley was always old even when he was young. Dwight Frye (most famous as Renfield in Dracula) is a hoot as the studio make-up artist. But of all the supporting actors, Korean-American Philip Ahn (1905-1978) steals the show as the Japanese houseboy who breaks the stereotype when convenient and makes fun of racist perceptions-- decades ahead of his time. It really is something to sing about. The story also includes catboxing. Yes, you heard right. Catboxing. Evelyn Daw had a wonderful singing voice, but her talent was misdirected here. She really belonged in a more formal and classic venue, her role called for someone with a more pop culture touch. Even so, this is one of the better Cagney films of the 1930s and a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately it tanked at the box office and eventually broke Grand National Pictures, which was a shame. Definitely worth a look by Century 21 viewers both for entertainment and academic pleasures.

Little Miss Sunshine / directed by Jonathan Dayton, Valerie Faris (2006, DVD). Abigail Breslin, Greg Kinnear, Paul Dano, Alan Arkin, Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Beth Grant. It is impossible for me to watch this film without laughing out loud and then find myself crying. Screw Disney, when it comes to the best family film of all time, this one wins the prize. An extended family travels from Albuquerque, NM to Redondo Beach, CA in a failing VW van in order to deliver their youngest member as a contestant in the Little Miss Sunshine talent competition. Along the way they learn a few unpleasant truths and the patriarch dies. The casting here was 100% perfect. The script is tight and funny. The seam between comedy and tragedy is flawless. But maybe my view is colored by the fact my Dad died at the same time this film was released and I found a special connection with Kinnear's character. As far as child actors go, Breslin is terrific as the little unspoiled girl and innocent on who everyone else pins their hopes. Actually I took my daughter to a preliminary meeting for our local festival "princess/queen" role many years ago, and found the whole thing to be incredibly creepy. For better or worse, I decided to end our involvement on the spot. Looking back I wonder if I made a mistake. Such are the guilt trips of parenthood-- a topic covered in this film with great humor and sensitivity. The character to follow in this story is Kinnear, as he goes through the greatest and most positive transformation. Arkin has supplied me with a template for how I intend to conduct myself in my senior years, especially if I become a grandfather. I like to think I would've supported my daughter the same way Kinnear did. A beautiful film, especially for daughter dads, and on my list of top ten movies of all time.

"The Naked Ant" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 6, episode 12) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Connie Booth. Suicides jumping off a tall building, "Spectrum" looks at what is going on, A small boarding house in Minehead Somerset, Mr. Hilter and his friends, Reporting a burglary, Upper Class Twit of the Year, Ken Shabby wants to get married, Wood Party, Talking heads on politics, 16 ton weight. Cleese's impression of Hitler ("Hilter") making a speech is a highlight, along with the Upper Class Twit of the Year competition.

"Pete. Pt. 1" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Graham McTavish, Mac McDonald, Shend. Disjointed and patchedworked, but it does include McTavish calling himself "Nicey" Ackerman, and ends with a fun dinosaur scene. Compared to earlier episodes the soundtrack has been significantly changed for the better and the special effects have grown more sophisticated.

Truly, Madly, Deeply / directed by Anthony Minghella (1990, VHS). Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, Bill Paterson, Christopher Rozycki, Deborah Findlay. In a grief that borders on madness, a woman pines for her dead lover only to find he has returned in an all too human state. In this story about letting go, we are never quite sure if he is really there, a tulpa of torment, or completely in her head. Slow moving but sophisticated, the movie has nice visual composition and the use of the cello both in the soundtrack and as a prop was the perfect choice for the sound of the story. Stevenson's acting is very natural and believable. Granted, Rickman is supposed to be dead, but that is no excuse for mumbling his words so badly that his lines simply get buried (har-de-har-har). The group of dear departed guys he invites over to endlessly watch old classic movies on VHS in the living room was my favorite part. Someone made the right decisions in shabby costuming and in casting wonderful faces for this crew. Their deceased state is very subtle. I saw this work back in the 1990s and liked it better then than now. Of course, this time I watched it on a screener copy, a video provided to reviewers. Every five minutes the words "Demo Tape Only. Sale or Rental Prohibited" ... etc. etc. would scroll across the bottom of the frame. That has a way of distracting the viewer, so I'll make allowances.

"Dead to the World" (American Gothic) / directed by James A. Contner (1995, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Lucas Black, Sarah Paulson, Nick Searcy. Another episode top-heavy and jam packed with ethical themes covering friendship, parenthood, good and evil, and the presumption of free will. Are we running from Satan or the from the Evil within ourselves? I did enjoy little Caleb refusing to shoot an arrow through a crow because, "I don't kill nothin' I don't eat," but then feels ill after being duped by ego into doing just that. The evolving character of the Deputy (Nick Searcy) as he begins to rebel against the Devil's authority makes him one of the most interesting characters in the series and the actor I find myself following the closest on my second try at this soap opera.

Blazing Saddles / directed by Mel Brooks (1974, VHS). Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Alex Karras, Burton Gilliam, David Huddleston, Liam Dunn, John Hillerman, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie, Anne Bancroft (uncredited), Richard Farnsworth (uncredited), Ben Frommer (uncredited). Using Western movie conventions as his vehicle, Mel Brooks put together a work that can be viewed as either one of the most tasteless and offensive lowbrow films of the mid-1970s, or a risky and provocative comedy willing to tackle the racial tension of the era. Actually, it is a lot of both. I saw this when it was first released and the Olympia audience was alternately squirming uncomfortably in their seats or laughing their asses off. Without question, the belch and fart scene was the show stopper at the time. No one had ever dared to portray those natural functions in a major motion picture before Mel. One has the impression a lot of the jokes were crammed in the story just to get them out of the way and to keep the audience distracted from the fact there was no real story. But Brooks knew what he was doing-- in sorting out the film, viewers spend years recounting scenes and reciting lines like "Mongo only pawn in game of life," or, "Oh Lord, do we have the strength to carry on this mighty task in one night, or are we just jerking off?" And my favorite, when the Waco Kid (Wilder) is consoling the African American Sheriff (Little): "What did you expect? Welcome Sonny? Make yourself at home? Marry my daughter? You gotta remember these are just simple farmers. These are people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know-- morons." Three and half decades later, this movie still has the power to offend and to make us laugh.

Approaching the Apocalypse (The Century: America's Time; v. 5) / directed by Roger Goodman (1999, VHS). Peter Jennings (narration), Buzz Aldrin, John Glenn, Stephen Ambrose, Pat Buchanan, Dennis Hopper, Charles Champlin, Tom Wicker, Oliver Stone, John Updike, Leonard Garment. The 1969 Moon landing, Silent Majority, Spiro Agnew, Easy Rider, secret war in Cambodia, Kent State, hardhat riot backlash, Attica Prison riot, Vietnam gets worse, Nixon visits China and the USSR, Hanoi Hilton, Watergate, Agnew resigns, Nixon declares "I am not a crook" but later resigns, Vietnam falls to the Communists. One thousand years from now, if schoolchildren will know anything about our sliver of existence, it will be the fact that in 1969 humans walked around on the Moon for the first time. All that other stuff which looms large for us-- Nixon, Watergate, Vietnam-- will be found in the footnotes. Even so, there were some topics I was hoping to see covered in the 1969-1974 segment that were omitted: abortion, 18 year olds get the vote, Archie Bunker, Chappaquiddick, Clifford Irving's Howard Hughes hoax, My Lai Massacre trial, D.B. Cooper and the rise of skyjacking, gasoline shortage and fuel prices exceed a buck a gallon. It was something of a bummer era and this documentary captured that feeling.

Vietnam: Present Tense / [directed by?] Seth Rolbein (1988?, VHS off-air). In what he calls "Polaroid Television," Rolbein takes a tour of a more settled Vietnam. Not a returning veteran, and a self-confessed innocent, he reintroduces us to a country we had tried to forget for a dozen years or so. Sadly, the tape reached the end about four minutes into the documentary. And thus my review of this work is concluded.

From Jesus to Christ (Frontline) / directed by William Cran (1998, VHS off-air). Here's the premise: "That story, of a man called Jesus of Nazareth, a who became Jesus Christ, was originally told by his first followers. And then retold in accounts by later believers in the Gospels. So began the building of a religion. Now it is our turn, with the help of scholars and historians, theologians and archaeologists to return to that time and use our best efforts to understand that story of a man born in obscurity and whose name a faith was made." Sophisticated editing and direction, with a host of thoughtful talking heads and high production value visuals. And completely boring. Students of the Bible might find this interesting, but I found myself dozing and then using the fast forward button a lot. If I may inject a pointless story here just to pad this review, last week I was at a social function in Springfield, Oregon and a woman approached me and asked, "Is Dominic the AntiChrist?" I must've looked puzzled, which I indeed was, so she added, "You're a preacher, aren't you? You should know." Uh, ooooooooookay. I never did find out who Dominic is/was (much less the AntiChrist deal) or why she thought I was a preacher. Maybe it's some kind of Oregon thing.

Ed Wood / directed by Tim Burton (1994, VHS). Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, G.D. Spradlin, Vincent D'Onofrio, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, George "The Animal" Steele, Conrad Brooks, Gregory Walcott, Korla Pandit. Overlooked by the public and ignored at the box office, this is my favorite Tim Burton film. Shot in glorious and appropriate black and white, this not entirely accurate biopic is based on Rudolph Grey's excellent book, Nightmare of Ecstasy: the Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. Burton was able to produce a film that could appeal to the uninitiated and seasoned Woodians alike. His portrayal of Wood and his fellow "Hollywood Bottomfish" (as Maila Nurmi "Vampira" used to call herself and the group) is humorous without being condescending, human without being sappy. Wood's sincerity and enthusiasm attracts us to his corner, even though we know from the outset he's doomed. Depp is hammy as usual, perhaps a bit too hammy. Landau won a very deserved Oscar for his brilliant rendition of Bela Lugosi. The decaying horror star always managed to bring some class to even the worst of movies, including Wood's. Landau was able to capture that presence. Bill Murray as Bunny Breckinridge is another fun supporting role. Real life Plan 9 From Outer Space actors Brooks and Walcott briefly appear. The soundtrack reminds us that although we can laugh at them, this is essentially a story about twilight people struggling to have a place in the world. We get to see Wood at his peak, but the subsequent years of runaway alcoholism and producing cheap porn movies and books were yet to come. We know this will be his fate as we see him in the 1950s, and I'm afraid he knew it too. But that didn't stop him from trying, which is part of the appeal of Wood and his work.

Cheaper by the Dozen 58

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Gold / directed by Peter R. Hunt (1974, DVD). Roger Moore, Susannah York, Ray Milland, Bradford Dillman, John Gielgud. Sometimes I wonder how we survived the cheesey 1970s. Set in a South African gold mine, this confusing tale of corporate intrigue and personal politics might be interesting if you are into geology or mining engineering, but for the rest of us this is very slow. In fact, the only speedy action in this story is that it becomes quite boring very fast. The direction here was not good-- a strong cast was wasted. Roger Moore, who I must confess was my favorite Bond (hey, Shemp was my favorite Stooge, too. So I march to a different drummer. Big deal), has great comedic talents that work well even in serious drama. But his skills were squandered here. Gielgud as a villain was nice casting. Too bad Hunt didn't know what to do with him. Dillman had a chance to really act a little bit in spite of the production, and his performance presents us with the most complex of the characters in this work. In the end he gets chased around by a sociopath in a Rolls Royce. Nice. Although the still existing (1974) Apartheid policy is not directly addressed, Moore does slip in some two-fisted protests to that odious institution. Children get killed in this film and I don't like films where children get killed-- I wouldn't have liked this movie anyway, but that really nailed it down for me.

Droll Weevil / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called below adequate as the cartoon Stooges work as cropdusters in a military attack on helmet-wearing insect pests. Not quite as bad as the others in this series I've reviewed. But still pretty awful.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers / directed by Don Siegel (1956, VHS). Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Virginia Christine, Sam Peckinpah, Whit Bissell (uncredited), Richard Deacon (uncredited). One of the very best of the 1950s S.F. films. Even though my version had been sacrilegiously colorized by Pop Culture infidels (Republic Pictures), that desecration wasn't enough to deter me from enjoying the full brunt of the message delivered in this story. For anyone with an interest in the history of Post-War America, this work is a cultural touchstone. With a very low budget for special effects, director Siegel was able to instill a sense of horror in a very subtle, methodical and sophisticated way. Left and Right actually meet on this movie, forming a civil libertarian point of view-- I'm sure both sides have claimed the film as their own. I see this as a nonpolitical yet social rejection of the kind of conformity expected from those operating in the white collar world of the 1950s. That is the beautiful part. No matter what the original intention was, the motion picture leaves us all with an open ended interpretation and uncertain conclusion. A bit of trivia-- fellow Boomers will recognize Virginia Christine, the Folgers Coffee lady, in early scenes. Local trivia: Seattle native McCarthy once appeared at Olympia's Washington Center in the 1980s in a one-man performance of Give 'em Hell, Harry.

Little Red Riding Rabbit / directed by Friz Freleng (1944, DVD). Mel Blanc (voice), Bea Benaderet (uncredited voice), Billy Bletcher (uncredited voice). One of those cartoons that turns back on itself, where the characters are self-consciously playing a part in a script. Interesting to hear more voices in here beyond Mel Blanc. Benaderet (known to most of us as the voice of the original betty Rubble) gives us a very grating and obnoxious bobby soxer playing the role of Little Red Riding Hood. Bletcher is the voice of an especially dim wolf. There are some Hollywood in-jokes long since lost. Drawn in a classic "How to draw cartoons" style, Bugs seems more sadistic than usual. Watch for the Rosie the Riveter WWII reference.

"Intermission" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 6, episode 13) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. A short intermission, A medium sized intermission, Vegetarian restaurant, A whopping great intermission, Pearls for swine, Albatross, Police romance, Me doctor, Historical impersonations, 16 ton weight, Fairy stories about the police, Probearound, Dr. Large-- psychiatrist and his colleague, Smile. Not one of their best. In fact, it seems like the material was pretty thin here. I did enjoy watching Graham Chapman as a surgeon ("If you'll just step through here I'll slit you up a treat!") evicting a group of squatters living inside Michael Palin's body.

Needful Things / directed by Fraser Clarke Heston (1993, VHS). Mac von Sydow, Ed Harris, Bonnie Bedelia, Amanda Plummer, J.T. Walsh, Ray McKinnon. It is difficult to watch this Stephen King-based movie and not draw comparisons to the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick. Except you are not meant to laugh as much, although there are several subtle comic bits beween the scenes of violence and carnage. Like Witches, the Devil arrives in a New England town in a black Mercedes and amplifies the pre-existing vices. In this case mostly hate and avarice. Heston, who I was prepared to write off as someone who was riding on his name, turned out to be a better director than I expected. Much better. I particularly liked his use of color, his timing, and his focus on small details to make a point. Not a great story, but there are moments. Such as when a Catholic priest and Protestant minister are praying over the bodies of two murder victims, competing in loudness for the ear of the Lord. In this tale, religious fanaticism is playing right into Satan's hands, or claws. Von Sydow and his gold teeth make for very creepy Prince of Darkness. Amanda Plummer's crazy lady role was beautifully executed (in acting, I mean). J.T. Walsh has become the new George Kennedy, an all around great character actor. Ed Harris is a worthy hero and plays his part well. Being a resident of a small town myself, I connected with Sheriff Ed Harris' line when he broke up an insult filled shouting match between his deputy and a councilman: "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! You know you guys, I moved here and I thought, 'Great! I'm out of the big city and I'm finally in a place where everybody isn't going to be crawling up everybody's asshole every day. A place where maybe my biggest nightmare was going to be getting some goddamn cat out of a tree.' But forget that! Everybody is insane everywhere!" Yup. That's about the size of it.

Nothing to Lose / directed by Steve Oedekerk (1997, VHS). Martin Lawrence, Tim Robbins, Michael McKean, Steve Oedekerk, Patrick Cranshaw. A desperate man in Los Angeles picks the wrong guy on the wrong day when he attempts carjacking a SUV driven by an advertising man having a nervous breakdown. Before you know it, the two of them are in the middle of the Arizona desert, making joint plans for a major heist. But neither one are very good criminals when it comes down to it. This comedy/action film starts off having a great existential premise with lowbrow highlights and slowly turns into a conventional movie by the second half. Some keywords for the story would include: Socio-economic class, race relations, family values, spider-on-your-head. Parts of the soundtrack seem as if they came directly from that other buddy picture, Midnight Run (1988). There were a couple supporting actor highlights. First was the scene where our main guys rob a convenience store with old Patrick Cranshaw behind the cash register. Robbins asks Cranshaw for a critique, comparing his hold-up style with Lawrence. Shades of Monty Python. Also good was director Oedekerk's short role as a security guard who lives in his head.

 

"Pete. Pt. 2" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Mac McDonald. The second part of the story where a dead sparrow is transformed into a living T-rex and runs amok aboard a ship in space. The best part of this episode is the escalation of the Captain's annoyance with Rimmer and Lister-- reminiscent of Chief Inspector Dreyfus dealing with Inspector Clouseau-- giving us some of Mac McDonald's finest scenes in the whole series.

"Quarantine" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ron Grant, Doug Naylor (1992, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge, Maggie Steed. Rimmer contracts a holo-virus and goes mad. Using a literal translation of the Space Corps Directives as his guide, he locks up the boys in quarantine which includes a perpetual tape loop of Reginald Dixon organ music. But when he decides to punish them with "W.O.O." (without oxygen) severe steps much taken. You won't believe this, but one of the symbols of ultimate destruction in this story is that of Mr. Flibble-- a PENGUIN! With a BOWTIE! All six of you regular Cheaper by the Dozen readers know this is Double Trouble! Rimmer, what a smeg-head!

Strictly Ballroom / directed by Baz Luhrmann (1992, VHS). Paul Mercurio, Tara Morice, Bill Hunter, Pat Thomson, Peter Whitford, Barry Otto. Slightly campy and maudlin, with lots of purposefully bad hair, this Australian film remains an inspirational celebratory expression of the human spirit through the art of dance. The method of storytelling never quite settles and the pace lurches in several places between bouts of brilliant editing, creating sort of a rough ride for the viewer. The tale didn't really grab me until the hero (Mercurio) leaves the weird world of ballroom dancing competition and learns how to really dance by real people in the streets. He then returns to the formal world to lead a revolution from within. A wonderful cast. I'm thinking Bill Hunter must be sort of like the Freddie Jones of Down Under. There is probably a law that states he must be in almost every major motion picture down there. I loved Barry Otto as the odd father. The final dance scene is on my list of all-time great movie moments and never fails to move me. A good motion picture to watch if you're feeling down.

"Meet the Beetles" (American Gothic) / directed by Michael Nankin (1995, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Lucas Black, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Campbell and his Chin, David Lenthall. When a South Carolina State Police officer (Campbell) comes to investigate a murder in the town of Trinity, he winds up implicating Sheriff Buck and then stealing his girl. Cole and Campbell are a lot of fun to watch as two roosters pecking at each other, making this one of the better episodes in the series. The soundtrack follows Campbell around with a classic Peter Gunn detective saxophone. But when two law enforcement officers get in a fight, the one who is Satan will probably win. It was good to see David Lenthall as the Coroner again, a very underused character in this soap opera. There is whole undercurrent of "Who am I?" amid the various subplots that seemed contrived. But it had a very nice, if unlikely, ending

Blaze / directed by Ron Shelton (1989, VHS). Paul Newman, Lolita Davidovitch, Richard Jenkins, Robert Wuhl, Jeffrey DeMunn, Blaze Starr. When we think of current Louisiana politicians in trouble, we think of Rep. Jefferson and Sen. David "Diaper Boy" Vitter. Although these two provide a lot of entertaining copy, they can't hold a candle to one of the most flamboyant governors to ever serve in that state (and that is saying a lot) Earl Kemp Long (1895-1960). Although many biopics tend to exaggerate the facts, this one appears to water them down. Covering events in Gov. Long's final years, we watch as he falls in lust with stripper Blaze Starr and keeps her as sort of a trophy mistress (Long was still married at the time, but the movie neglects to mention this. See? Watered down). As portrayed by Newman and Davidovitch, Long and Starr are not so much in love as they are partners and comrades in world of hardball politics in the Bayou State. I loved this bit of dialogue-- Blaze: "You know Earl, in a certain way, we're both kinda show business." Long: "Well you are catching on to the wheels of government real quick, child." I remember Liz Taylor making the acting/politics observation during the 1976 Republican Convention when she was married to Sen. Warner (R-VA) and I couldn't agree more. More cunning than smart, Long is shown bluffing, charming, acting, and bullshitting his way out of one tight scrape after another, including being committed to a mental institution while still Governor! Haskell Wexler's camera work and an old timey soundtrack enhance the fine performances by both of the stars. Blaze Starr herself has a cameo role. A fun film for all you political junkies out there.

Cheaper by the Dozen 59

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Starting Over (The Century: America's Time; v. 5) / directed by Roger Goodman (1999, VHS). Peter Jennings (narration), Stephen Ambrose, Pat Caddell, Tom Wolfe, Lois Gibbs, Richard Viguerie, Barry Rosen. 1976 Bicentennial celebration, Vietnam War and Watergate are finally over, Jimmy Carter's election, Disco music, Studio 54, The vogue for self-examination, Feminist movement heats up, The hard winter of 1977, Energy shortages, Japanese import automobiles cripple Detroit, Love Canal, Bussing, Harvey Milk, Religious fundamentalists in both the U.S. and Iran flex their political muscle, The "Moral" "Majority," Three Mile Island, Gas lines, Carter's "malaise" speech, Camp David Accords, Hostages in Iran, Hostage rescue fails, Reagan wins in 1980. This was the time of outsiders. In our state Dixy Lee Ray ascended to the Governorship at the same Jimmy became President. Four years later the voters booted both of them out. Carter, who seemed well meaning and a truly decent man, appeared to be in over his head. Dixy just simply seemed out of her head. We learned the hard way that maybe real professional politicians weren't so bad after all. Although I found this program to be woefully incomplete, I will say it does provide a good backdrop and sets the stage for Reagan's victory. At the time I just couldn't understand how that guy was able to fool so many people, but this documentary does help in making sense of that election. Gerald Ford was basically passed over in this series, getting barely any mention in this or the previous installment-- an oversight I find very wrong even though I was not a political supporter of his. Also missing here were the Nixon/Frost interviews, the Jonestown Massacre, John Lennon's murder, Star Wars, Saturday Night Live and the humor of despair, the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Olympics, and the natural disaster we Washingtonians all know and love, the May 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Dante's Peak / directed by Roger Donaldson (1997, VHS). Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan. And speaking of eruptions, did you know there are six volcanoes in Washington State? St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Glacier Peak, Baker, and Dante's Peak. That last one, which exists only on film, is the main star of this effort. Many of the early shots look very much like the Over Washington work. Although I like the idea of volcanologists as sort of detectives, the actors in this story are literally dwarfed by the great scenery and breathtaking special effects. I must admit I did hit the fast forward button on a frequent basis through this thing when the little banal human drama was the focus. But nobody watches disaster movies for fine acting anyway. I knew a guy who died in the St. Helens eruption, and I can't begin to imagine what his last moments must've been like. This film might give me a clue. The effects seemed pretty authentic and match what us mossbacks remember from May 1980. The filmmakers really duplicated the same angry churning massive column of ash and smoke we witnessed. The devastation we saw in eastern Washington a month or so later was beyond description-- although this film captures the grainy nature of it. I recall being in a bar in Ballard while the news was covering the event during that week, and the patrons were chanting "La-VA! La-VA! La-VA!" Humor is the light to help us through dark times, and this motion picture could've used a little of that. Later that summer I dug postholes and strung barbed wire on the family farm near McCleary. Every time that digger hit the dirt a little cloud of ash would puff up. I'm probably doomed now from breathing in that stuff.

From "They" to "We": The McCleary Bear Festival / directed by Steve Willis & Susan Brown (1997, VHS). Steve Willis (Narrator), Ellsworth Curran, Marj Farrar, Norman Porter, Edith Caldwell, Barney Caldwell, Pam Ator, Donald Gary Dent, George Meyer, Stub Creekpaum. OK, as I have said before, these films come up at random in my selection list and it is strange how timely they can be. First off, the 50th-anniversary Bear Festival is taking place as I write this. Secondly, we have had a recent horrific episode of a child vanishing in this town, earning us national news, and I dare say this will be a cloud hanging over our municipal celebration. In making this half hour documentary I really came to appreciate how difficult it is to create any sort of moving picture presentation. Susan and I had at least 10 hours of footage filmed in a period of almost a year and we boiled it down to 30 minutes. This piece attempts to demonstrate how a run down company town which could've died like Bordeaux in 1941 turned into a real municipality. It is a story of hope and independence about a special place residing in a twilight zone where the Olympia and Aberdeen spheres of influence don't quite touch and has been consistently underestimated by outsiders. The role of the half-century old McCleary Bear Festival is used as a thread to measure that inspirational effort-- a community case study once praised by presidential candidate Norman Thomas as a positive model of Socialism! Rare 1960 footage of Porter and Curran is shown. The film is divided into chapters, the most entertaining being "What Does Bear Stew Taste Like?" which includes comments by long ago OlyBlog contributor V-ster, who I miss from our online (and McCleary) community. As an aside, the work also covers Windsor Olson (died 2007), the Chief SOB (Save Our Bears). Local Chamber of Commerce types were upset with this video since it asked some uncomfortable questions, but these were the same people who got their shorts all twisted up when I ran Morty the Dog for Mayor in 1999. So be it. Many changes in our town since this title was produced, and as I watched it again I realized it is now a period piece. The town portrayed in the documentary no longer exists. Available from various area libraries.

Gold Rush Gumby / directed by Art Clokey (1956, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). The absolute worst of all the Gumby episodes I've seen. Gumby, Pokey, and Nopey (a dog who, unlike Pokey the Pony, is a real animal who does not speak English but instead barks with a "Nope." Weird with a beard, man) visit the "Pesky Indian Reservation" (in 1956 the "Pesky Indians" are portrayed as Hollywood Old West stereotypes) and use a Geiger counter to find gold. Somehow, Gumby eventually winds up pulling the Pesky Indian Chief's sore tooth. I could go on but instead I'll use the previous sentences as a prism in sort of a game to see how many incredibly technically incorrect, wrong and immoral things there are about the premise of this claymation you can find on your own. It is dawning on me Gumby was a real putz.

Flat Heads / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita, Emil Sitka. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called a sad echo of their former glory. The Stooges fix a flat tire on a bank robbers car. The entire first half of the cartoon is basically a tape loop. A sad conclusion for a once great comedy team. I'm glad this is the last one of these I have to review as it brings me pain to view this poor excuse for animated entertainment.

Doctor Zhivago / directed by David Lean (1965, VHS). Omar Sharif, Julie Christie, Geraldine Chaplin, Rod Steiger, Alec Guinness, Tom Courtenay, Ralph Richardson, Rita Tushingham, Klaus Kinski. Clocking in at over three hours, this is another epic by David Lean on the scale of his previous Lawrence of Arabia. But this time we have snow instead of sand dominating the background. The critics hated this film, but the public loved it. Viva Vox Pop, man! I side with the groundlings. Doctor Zhivago is traced from his days as a young Russian medical student on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution to the era of Stalin. In this story, the world-shifting events we witness are overshadowed by the interweaving tales of universal personal politics. The visuals were not quite as stunning as Lawrence, but the engaging method of storytelling and the rich soundtrack more than make up for that. I like the way Lean used indirect methods to reveal events. As the Tsar's police are tearing into a peaceful protest march, we don't see much of the actual carnage. Instead the director focuses on Zhivago's horrified expression as he watches the massacre. There are a couple places where we peek through windows and can only see but not hear conversations. Even incidental and linking shots are little cinematic gems all on their own. When the entire country became unhinged and daily living turned into a Darwinian struggle to survive, Zhivago managed to remain at his core a poet-- which meant he become a dangerous man in a system demanding the surrender of individualism. A fantastic cast. Sharif and Christie have never been better. Rod Steiger is a pig and a ham, and I can say that without being redundant. The evolution of Courtenay's pure-hearted revolutionary into a cold-blooded despot is a fascinating study. Klaus Kinski has a brief but very memorable role ("I am the only free man on this train," the handcuffed Kinski declares, "The rest of you are cattle.") Ralph Richardson's Shakespearian posturing fits the character he portrays ("I wish they would decide, once and for all, which gang of hooligans constitutes the government of this country.") Rail transportation of various types, along with their sound effects, is almost as ever-present as the snow and ice in this tale-- and used to wonderful effect. Zhivago's ultimate fate is one of those heartbreaking scenes that sticks with you. A beautifully horrific motion picture that could be considered a Gone With the Wind for Boomers.

In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great / directed by David Wallace (1998, VHS, off-air). Michael Wood (Host). This four-hour documentary features Michael Wood, an enthusiastic historian who literally walks his talk as he performs historical field work retracing Alexander the Great's 20,000 mile journey of conquest from Greece to India. Citing classic sources as he travels and interviewing the descendants of those who fell in the wake of the little Macedonian, we learn that from the point of view of the conquered Alexander wasn't so Great. One frequent folktale persisting beyond borders or culture is the fact that Alexander had horns! Wood's hair-raising experiences in modern Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, revealed some universal things have not changed in the past 2000+ years regarding violent conflict. I like the approach of this historian. At one point, after personally duplicating one of Alexander's difficult sneak attack routes, Wood concludes: "I learned three things about Alexander that day. That he didn't always think things out ahead. That he was an obstinate man. And also, and most important of all, he was lucky." Wood frequently addresses the charisma Alexander must have possesed in order to keep his troops together and get them to perform some truly harebrained feats. A superb work, well-balanced, engaging, and original. I'd like to see Wood attempt to cover D.B. Cooper. And I bet he could solve the mystery!

The Last Time I Saw Paris / directed by Richard Brooks (1954, VHS). Elizabeth Taylor, Van Johnson, Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Eva Gabor, Kurt Kasznar, George Dolenz, Roger Moore, Peter Leeds, John Doucette, Celia Lovsky, Lomax Study (uncredited). Based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's Babylon Revisited but set in post-WW II Paris, this tale of people living a "lifetime of last days" demonstrates the limits of fun and alcoholism. Most of the characters seem to be airy, one-dimensional, and self-absorbed (well, after all, this is Fitzgerald's work we are talking about). The camera loves Elizabeth Taylor in this film and she basically saves this work from being a total flop. Van Johnson, playing a responsible innocent in a nest of manipulators, was a bit miscast-- although I did enjoy the scene where he ascends the home stairway rehearsing both sides of the spousal fight he is expecting. Johnson's best scenes are at the conclusion. His attempt at novel writing results in the pangram "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." Now we know the inspiration for The Shining's "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"! A bit of trivia: George Dolenz, who played one of the few admirable characters in the story, was the father of Monkees drummer Micky Dolenz and the family resemblance is strong. Roger Moore is very young in this but has already perfected his screen persona. Donna Reed and Eva Gabor, I'm afraid, don't pose the threat to Liz they were intended to be. Walter Pidgeon was surprisingly good as the good-time eccentric patriarch. I wish you luck finding a decent copy of this movie. It fell into the public domain and I'm betting most available prints are as dog-eared and chipped up as mine (from the short-lived Burbank Video, a subsidiary of The Michigan Property and Risk Management Co., a subsidiary of the Handleman Co.).

Meet John Doe / directed by Frank Capra (1941, VHS). Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart, Regis Toomey, Sterling Holloway, Vernon Dent (uncredited), John Hamilton (uncredited). "If it's worth dying for, it's worth living for." It is easy to dismiss Capra's films as sentimental and jingoistic nonsense, the Norman Rockwell of the motion picture world. But his argument that most people are basically good and decent is a premise that we need to revisit in Century 21. In Capra's world, the common people are usually victimized by Dick Cheney types. In fact, Edward Arnold's portrayal of a secretive and evil political mastermind was the very picture of our most recent former Vice President. In this fast-paced story we have many familiar characters: Stanwyck as the aggressive female reporter who has a romantic side. Gleason as the hardbitten newspaper editor. Brennan as the comic relief sidekick. Cooper as the pawn was a good casting choice. He's kind of a blank, which works for the story. I've always been fascinated by his comic book presentation. Cooper can deliver all of his lines with his mouth closed, just like characters in comics who talk with word balloons but their mouths are drawn with straight lines. Since Cooper started his career as a cartoonist, believe it or not, all of this makes perfect sense. Capra has some views on journalism as entertainment we can (sadly) relate to today. He also busts the myth that it is only in recent times we have not taken the time to get to know our neighbors. This was presented as a highly disturbing issue in 1941. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, Capra presents a scenario showing how easy it would be for America to be turned into a fascist or communist state. It also demonstrates how quickly opportunists can co-opt grassroots movements to increase their personal thirst for power. I like the way Capra kept the soundtrack silent for the high-impact important scenes. True to his belief, he respected the intelligence of his audience and had faith in his script, he did not need to herd the viewers by music. I was really impressed by James Gleason's performance as the newspaper editor. The alcohol-induced scene where he spills the beans to Cooper is wonderful. He talks about WWI while the 1941 audience is anxious about WWII. Capra's signoff line, "The people, try and lick that!" is a vote for the democratic process. Hard to believe a fine movie like this fell into the public domain. Fortunately, my copy (UAV Corp.) is in pretty good shape. As a very odd footnote, I bought this video recently at a local Goodwill. When I pulled it out of the container, out fell six Seroquel pills and three Percosets. Some of them were actually rattling around inside the cassette itself. Yow! A very interesting story is behind this, I'm sure. I mixed the pills with cat litter and threw them out. How this reflects on the movie I cannot say.

"Spam" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 12, episode 25) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. The Black Eagle, Tobacconist meets a man with a bad Hungarian/English phrase book, Alexander Yacht in court, Protest crowd, 2001 a Space Odyssey by Gilliam, World Forum, Communist game show, Green Erasmus, Ypres 1914, Italian masters of the Renaissance, Royal Hospital for Overacting, Flower arrangement by D.P. Gumby, Spam, A historian, Marx and Guevara in bed. I originally saw Python in their last season under strange circumstances. I was a swing shift nurse's aide working for $1.90 an hour in a now extinct group home for developmentally disabled adults on East Bay Drive. The manager of this enterprise later served time in the Big House for embezzling State support funds. Anyway, following a surreal day of labor and after we managed to get the residents in bed and settled down, a couple of us aides would go in the community room and watch the then radical and super-weird Monty Python on PBS while we hoped no emergencies would arise. Back then, Python was dangerous and Dada and under the circumstances I could really connect. I suppose this episode was rerun during that time. No matter how dated they might seem to today's viewers (comedic efforts have such a brief shelf life), Python created a milestone upon which subsequent comedy efforts have been built.

Outrageous Fortune / directed by Arthur Hiller (1987). Shelley Long, Bette Midler, Peter Coyote, George Carlin, Robert Prosky, Robert Pastorelli. A pre-Thelma and Louise comedy action buddy picture where the Cold War intrigue takes a back seat to the gender war theme. And men don't fare too well in this story. It is no accident the movie ends with Shelley Long taking over a traditionally male role and playing the title character of Hamlet on stage. With so many Shakespearian references, this movie should have been entitled, Hell Hath No Fury. There are apparently two versions of this motion out there. The original, which I recall renting 20 years when it was first released, was much more interesting than the namby-pamby watered down edited copy I just saw. When first released, this film was filled with irreverent zingers. But they were stripped out the copy I purchased used. Yet there is nothing on the container to indicate this cassette has been Republicanized. The result of this editing is that an ordinary and conventional comedy is turned into something below average that can't be saved-- even by Long, Midler, Coyote, and Carlin. So if you must see this, try and find a really old VHS that was obviously a rental copy in it's former life. If you hate heights as much as I do, the final showdown scene might make you squirm a bit.

"Only the Good-- " (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Mac McDonald, Graham McTavish, Heidi Monsen, Ed Bye (uncredited). The final episode of the 8-season Red Dwarf series ended with a dramatic cliffhanger as microbes ate away at the mining ship. A rich and disjointed story featuring a reverse universe, Kryten wishing Christine a "fantastic period," the Cat in drag, and Rimmer at war with a dispensing machine. Actually, Chris Barrie pretty much dominates the tale from start to finish. Only Rimmer would think of kneeing the Grim Reaper in the groin in order to cheat death. A bittersweet and inconclusive signoff for the RD crew. I understand they have recently reunited and I'm hopeful to track down their effort.

So What's the Deal With All Those "Cheaper by the Dozen" Reviews Showing Up in Recent Posts?

About once or twice a year I go through the "Cheaper by the Dozen" movie reviews and wipe out the dead links. In the course of doing so, the system apparently kicks the posts into the "Recent posts" category.

Originally just about every single review had a link when these were posted 2007-2009. Now maybe of a quarter of them, or less, remain. Just demonstrates the volatile and temporary nature of Internet, I guess.

 

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 60

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Richard III / directed by Richard Loncraine (1995, VHS). Ian McKellen, Annette Bening, Jim Broadbent, Robert Downey Jr., Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, John Wood, Maggie Smith, Jim Carter, Edward Hardwicke, Tim McInnerny, Bill Paterson, Denis Lill, Dominic West. All my fellow buddies of the Bard need to see this abridged and classy interpretation of a play that, until I saw this film, never really grabbed me. The title character always seems so one-dimensional and the supporting folks more complex as they grappled with their willingness to enable. Set in the UK in the 1930s, the producers imagine a military uniformed Richard taking over the throne under the cloud of fascism. McKellen's natural delivery of Willy's language gives it life and music. A wonderful cast. The only person missing was Freddie Jones, and how they managed to skirt the English law requiring him to be in every film production is beyond me. The fine acting was framed by a director who had a good eye for well composed shots. Also, some of the best lines were not spoken, but given in body language. Listen carefully to the words of the song during the Big Band music dance scene at the opening and you'll hear Marlowe's "Come live with me and be my love ..."

The Rutles: All You Need is Cash / directed by Eric Idle, Gary Weis (1978, VHS). Eric Idle, John Halsey, Ricky Fataar, Neil Innes, Michael Palin, George Harrison, Bianca Jagger, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Bill Murray, Ron Wood, Terence Bayler, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Lorne Michaels, Mick Jagger, Roger McGough, Paul Simon. Quite possibly the earliest Rock mockumentary feature-length work, predating This is Spinal Tap by six years. This very thinly disguised humorous tribute to the Beatles made perfect sense to those of us who grew up with the Fabs when it was released in 1978. To subsequent generations a lot of the comedy based on the greatest Supergroup-of-all-time trivia is possibly diminished or even lost. There are four Pop influences blended together to form this beautiful little work: Monty Python, Bonzo Dog Band, Saturday Night Live, and the Beatles themselves (or at least one of them). Python-- Eric Idle wrote and co-directed the film, and also played the McCartney character to devastating effect. During the Monty Python's Flying Circus television series, Idle was terrific in the serious BBC documentary host role he used in many short skits. That concept was extended here, and Idle himself plays a dual role as the main onscreen narrator. The presence of Palin in a couple places only heightens the welcome Python ambiance. Bonzo Dog Band-- In the 1960s this group was obscure but gained a hardcore American following. I first heard them in the 1970s and instantly loved their music. They had even appeared in the cast of the Beatles ill-fated motion picture, Magical Mystery Tour. Neil Innes was not only connected to the Fabs, but he had appeared in several Python episodes as well and in the feature film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. A very gifted composer and singer, Innes played the Lennon character with deadly accuracy. Saturday Night Live-- Lorne Michaels served here as Executive Producer and hauled in members of the early SNL cast to fill in supporting roles. Radner, Belushi, Aykroyd, Murray, Franken (see the current Senator from Minnesota with wild hair!) and Davis supply brief bits to add some spark, and all of them give some American spice to a piece that has a mostly Brit feel. Michaels himself makes an appearance as an actor! The Beatles-- George Harrison appears in one part of the film as a journalist. This gave the Rutles the official stamp of approval. That was a Big Deal in 1978. I must say as an artist and producer, George was my favorite ex-Beatle. Apparently John loved the Rutles, Ringo was ambivalent, and Paul was chilly. The Rutles managed to really capture a lot of the Beatles sound and formula through different eras (thanks to Innes), and many of the parody songs really are quite good on their own. A brilliant work that, unfortunately, might only appeal to an audience within a certain age range. If I'm wrong, I'm glad.

Song of the Thin Man / directed by Edward Buzzell (1947, VHS). William Powell, Myrna Loy, Keenan Wynn, Dean Stockwell, Patricia Morison, Gloria Grahame, Jayne Meadows, Don Taylor, James Burke (uncredited). The final installment of the six-film Thin Man series which began in 1934. This is a tired, predictable entry into the canon. The alcohol-induced snappy patter of detectives Nick and Nora Charles has slowed down. (Snappy Patter, doesn't that sound like the name of Vaudeville performer?) During the Depression they were a diversion, but after WWII it was time to move on. This one has lots of tried and true movie staples that worked in the 1930s (Irish cops, "Follow that car," gathering the suspects for the Big Showdown, hobnobbing with Big Bugs, Cute dog, etc.), but seem outdated in 1947. In fact, Nick and Nora appear to be hopelessly out of date and time as they have difficulty deciphering Jazzman Keenan Wynn's slang. Dean Stockwell was a kid once, and the fact he was in this movie as a child actor makes it tremendously weirder than it would be otherwise. This is a film really made for musicologists. Not only is it a snapshot of "dangerous" music at the time, but there are a string of scenes where the primary characters expose us to a wide variety of popular music played at different clubs as they search for a singer. Powell was a very natural and talented actor, and it is only through his efforts this movie is worth watching at all.

WarGames / directed by John Badham (1983, VHS). Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Michael Ensign, Maury Chaykin, Eddie Deezen, Jim Harriott. Mix fear of computer technology with Cold War anxiety and you have a film that really pushes some hot buttons for Americans. At least it did during the Reagan years when the President's saber rattling rhetoric and military adventurism had many citizens very concerned. Teenage hacker Matthew Broderick breaks into a DoD computer by accident and engages the machine in a nuclear war game. Problem is, the computer can't distinguish a game from reality. The gizmos in here all looked so modern when this was first released: floppy disks, dialup, Telnet, dot matrix printers, VHS. Even that Galaga game-- which I enjoyed playing as well in 1983. Still, I love the fact our hero had to use the library in order to solve some of the major puzzles. And he used a card catalog! Part of this was filmed in Seattle and on Anderson Island (they tried to pass off the latter as being somewhere in Oregon). Some of you might recognize real-life TV newsman Jim Harriott as himself in one scene. One major weakness, supposed Seattle boy Broderick pronounces the name of the Beaver State as "Ory-gone." A fun period piece with a universal message.

"Strong Arm of the Law" (American Gothic) / directed by Mike Binder (1995, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Matt Craven. Four Yankee shakedown artists terrorize business owners in Trinity, S.C., but learn the hard way it doesn't pay to cross Sheriff Buck. Although director Binder's roving camera technique got on my nerves this episode had more focus than usual, keeping the plot tight. Most of the time the camera was very close to the action, putting us right in there. We are starting to see the Sheriff using his demonic supernatural powers in a more overt way now.

The Best of Dana Carvey (1999, VHS). Dana Carvey, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Jon Lovitz, Phil Hartman, Adam Sandler, Jan Hooks, Nora Dunn, George Wendt, Linda Hamilton, Tim Meadows, Kevin Nealon, Mike Myers, Sean Penn, Corbin Bernsen, Del Zamora, Michael McKean, Danny DeVito, Robin Williams, Chris Farley, Dennis Miller, George H.W. Bush, Patrick Swayze, Chris Elliott, Julia Sweeney, Sigourney Weaver, Kristy Alley. When Saturday Night Live first aired in 1975 I was in college and part of the original target audience. Before ditching the television set in 2000, I would catch the show off and on over the years. The era of Dana Carvey and Phil Hartman is my favorite period of SNL. They had a high concentration of talent in that cast, with the gifted Carvey presenting some of the best characterizations and impersonations. In this collection we see him as: Ross Perot, John McLaughlin, Hans, Church Lady, Garth, Senor Marco the Pepper Boy, Massive Headwound Harry, Regis Philbin, George Michael, Prince Charles, Robin Leach, Dustin Hoffman, Woody Allen, Robin Williams, Jimmy Stewart, George Burns, Strom Thurmond, Paul McCartney, Frank Zappa, Bob Dylan, Dennis Miller, Tom Brokaw, George H.W. Bush, Johnny Carson, Grumpy Old Man, Italian Waiter, Keith Richards, Quiz Masters Contestant, and George F. Will. Fun stuff. Like eating candy.

Capote / directed by Bennett Miller (2005, DVD). Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Chris Cooper, Clifton Collins Jr., Mark Pellegrino, Bob Balaban. A classy biopic tracking the activities of Truman Capote during the period he was researching and writing In Cold Blood (1959-1966). Hoffman won a well deserved Academy Award for his portrayal of the title character. Capote, with the help of old friend Harper Lee, initially begin investigating and uncovering material for writing magazine articles about the murder of a rural Kansas family, but as the story grew as big as life they realized they had a major book in the making. In the course of getting to know the Kansans and interviewing the imprisoned killers, we realize the title of Truman's book, In Cold Blood, could well describe the author himself as much as his subjects. But then, with Capote, everything he did was about himself, all topics in all situations came back to him being the center of attention. We see the author is actually a more devious and bigger con artist than the murderers, and Truman knew it. As Capote himself is quoted regarding one of the sentenced men: "It's as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. One day, he stood up and went out the back door while I went out the front." I really enjoyed the director's visual composition, use of muted color, and subdued soundtrack. Also the little touches like the reference to Beat the Devil and the ever mysterious use of the number 237, which I suspect is starting to become a cinematic in-joke. I find it interesting that after their Kansas experience, Harper Lee became famous as the author of To Kill a Mockingbird and then retreated from public view, while Capote was showered with fame for In Cold Blood, but never really wrote anything again on that scale. Instead he became a television personality and appeared to make a living just being a famous person. The fact he was turning into a modern Narcissus fascinated by his own reflection in a pool of alcohol is hinted at in this motion picture. But here's the deal-- for all of Capote's faults, In Cold Blood is one great book. I recall being impressed by the work when I first read it a few short years after it was released, but having difficulty reconciling the amazing writing with the public clown I kept seeing on the tube called Truman Capote. His post-In Cold Blood career might be worth a sequel movie.

The Dangerous Brothers Present: World of Danger / directed by Paul Jackson (1986, VHS). Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Norman Lovett, Jennifer Saunders. OK, I'm sure this series of skits could've been considered anarcho-on-the-edge when they were originally unleashed in the 1980s. But today it seems like a lot of yelling with violence that makes the Three Stooges look like Quakers. Loud, lowbrow, and exhausting to watch. It is possible the Dangerous Brothers served as an inspiration a few years later for the Sizzler Sisters, as seen on Kids in the Hall. A good video to pop in the player if you want to drive away unwanted guests.

Faust, Eine deutsche Volkssage / directed by F.W. Murnau (1926, VHS). Gösta Ekman, Emil Jannings, Camilla Horn, Frida Richard, William Dieterle, Yvette Guilbert. Atmospheric, creepy, and dreamlike-- this classic story based partly on Goethe's version must've blown audiences away in 1926 with visual effects that, over 80 years later, remain impressive. My copy (Kino Video) is in pristine condition, which helps in erasing the time barrier. It has a haunting and sophisticated soundtrack composed by our own Timothy Brock and performed by the Olympia Symphony Orchestra, so I imagine there are many copies of this thing floating around Oly. Fantastic work guys! Emil Jannings was very effective as that bastard, the Dark Prince, and it is one of the great weaknesses of silent films that we are unable to enjoy the treat of what he sounded like when he threw back his head and let go with a wicked laugh. Interesting to note Mephisto's appearance anticipates Lugosi's Dracula by a few years, except for the cute little tail. He literally looms over the lives of the characters, striking deals, exploiting faults, and appealing to the baser side. How fitting that Jannings himself later became an enthusiastic Nazi, endorsing the same sort of evil havoc in real life he is portraying in this motion picture. But in the end, "Say the word and you'll be free. Say the word and be like me. Say the word I'm thinking of. What's the word? The word is Liebe."

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time / directed by John Trent (1975, VHS). Anthony Newley, Stefanie Powers, Isaac Hayes, Yvonne De Carlo, John Candy. What can you say about a movie where the first three scenes include bathrooms and what people do in them? With a cheesey soundtrack, made-for-TV feel, visually flat directing, the title of this film probably expresses what the writers must've felt after they viewed the finished product. Anthony Newley, one of the worst singers in entertainment history, is better as an actor. In fact, his expressive version of ham is the only part of this effort worth watching. He did seem to enjoy himself as he performed a series of pranks, political dirty tricks, and exercises in social engineering. Now for the part that really amazed me-- the brazen dishonesty in packaging this thing by the now (I assume) defunct EDDE Entertainment. Marketed in VHS in the early 1990s, they shortened the title to simply A Good Idea! starring John Candy with the actor's mug taking up most of the display space. For some of us old SCTV fans, this is a draw. Problem is, the young Candy is only on the screen for a few minutes. It was his first credited role in a feature film. Nowhere, even in the small print, does the container mention the name of the main star-- Anthony Newley. Bogus! Bogus! Bogus! Lame! Lame! Lame! Shame! Shame! Shame!

Time After Time / directed by Nicholas Meyer (1979, DVD). Malcolm McDowell, John Warner, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Cioffi. With the aid of his Time Machine, H.G. Wells chases Jack the Ripper from 1893 London into 1979 San Francisco. When this was first released I saw it in a movie house and because someone else was driving, I had to sit through the entire picture. In more than a couple home viewings I have tried to give this title another chance but I always find myself hitting the fast forward. It really starts bogging down very quickly. Up to 1979 McDowell was known for daring and risky film roles, and then suddenly he popped up in this very commercial and conventional venture. Maybe I'm still harboring a three decade old disappointment in entertainment expectations. The movie isn't all bad by any means. When Wells (McDowell) finally tracks Jack the Ripper (Warner) to a Bay Area hotel room, Jack flips stations on TV going from one violent scene to another and then declares: "The world has caught up to me and surpassed me. 90 years ago I was a freak, today I'm an amateur." We also get to see Jack in quite the Disco-liscious dance club. But when I go through my next round of thinning out the video vault, this one is departing the shelves and finding a new home.

The Quiet Man / directed by John Ford (1952, VHS). John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Ward Bond, Victor McLaglen, Mildred Natwick, Francis Ford, Arthur Shields, Tiny Jones (uncredited), Philip Stainton (uncredited). This major contribution to Hollywood's long love affair with Ireland and Irish-Americans is one the Duke's best films. Master director John Ford, who we associate with black and white Westerns, gave us a romantic comedy shot in color in an idealized Ireland. This guy really knew how to compose a shot and frame the characters-- the film is worth watching just for his visuals if nothing else. Ford's direction is like poetry, the form of his work is frequently more captivating than the content. Wayne, as the Irish-born American returning home, finds himself navigating through a crowd of odd and quirky personalities as he attempts to settle down and marry. He's still John Wayne and still walks like Albert in the Birdcage, but I suspect this role was a bit of a stretch for him-- and John Ford for that matter-- and it worked. Some interesting observations here on the American/Irish cultures clashing. Although the story is set in the 20th century, it is difficult to pin down in what year the story takes place. O'Hara (who speaks the native tongue at one point in the story) and an aging Fitzgerald are wonderful, but I especially enjoyed the performance of the blustery Victor McLaglen. McLaglen delivers my favorite line in the story, "He'll regret it til his dying day! If ever he lives that long."

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 61

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"Broken Toe" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1953, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Geraldine Carr. This episode was originally filmed in the Jurassic Period of television. The setting was mostly in a hospital, which was a very frightening place to be in 1953. For a few brief seconds a married couple can be seen in the same bed, probably a first for TV viewers. Best scene: in an effort to be closer to her hospitalized husband, Joan attempts to check into the facility as if she was getting a motel room. By the time Joan Davis was my age, she was dead as the result of a heart attack. And that's too young. This series had a brief revival in the early 1980s through CBN reruns (where I first saw this series), but she deserves more recognition as for being the warm and likable comedienne that she was.

The King is Alive / directed by Kristian Levring (2000, VHS). Miles Anderson, Romane Bohringer, David Bradley, David Calder, Bruce Davison, Brion James, Peter Khubeke, Vusi Kunene, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer, Chris Walker, Lia Williams. A group of mostly Europeans find themselves stranded in a north African desert. In the face of struggling to have their basic needs met, one of them cooks up the idea to produce a version of King Lear as a way of keeping the group occupied. Hey gang, let's put on a show while we barely manage to meet the requirements of primal existence! Not exactly the feelgood movie of the year as the players peel back the layers of European civilized behavior and start to act like normal urban Americans. This Danish film was the fourth to be produced under the terms of the Dogme 95 rules: [1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found). 2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot). 3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; shooting must take place where the film takes place). 4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera). 5. Optical work and filters are forbidden. 6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.) 7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.) 8. Genre movies are not acceptable. 9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm. 10. The director must not be credited.] Noble motives. How precious. And how limiting to creativity. Who died and made the authors of this document God? This motion picture appears to follow the Dogme 95 standard, and the result is one visually amazing but essentially boring and pretentious bit of whiney, hand-wringing twaddle. So call me a barbarian. I'm OK with that.

Married to the Mob / directed by Jonathan Demme (1988, VHS). Alec Baldwin, Michelle Pfeiffer, Joan Cusack, Mercedes Ruehl, Matthew Modine, Oliver Platt, Dean Stockwell, Trey Wilson, Colin Quinn, Tracey Walter, Al Lewis. A quirky comedy about a young Mob widow who attempts to reinvent herself and live a normal life, gaining unwanted attention from both the F.B.I. and her old circle. Stockwell as the crime kingpin and Ruehl as his jealous wife really steal the show. Modine's character (who by the way had 4 cats in the story) didn't seem convincing as a federal agent, so his unprofessional transformation from investigator to lover wasn't all that intriguing. Baldwin's role was too brief. The excellent David Byrne soundtrack gives the work some edge. Hang around to watch the final credits for the frosting. Still holds up well after two decades.

"Royal Episode 13" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 12, episode 26) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. The Queen might be watching, a coal mine in Llanddarog Carmarthen, Toad elevating moment, All purpose truss, Goldfish, Birdwatchers' eggs, Pigeon fanciers, The insurance sketch, The Queen tunes in, News at ten, Intensive care unit exercises, St. Nathan's Hospital for Young Attractive Girls Who Aren't Particularly Ill, St. Gandalf's Hospital for Very Rich People Who Like Giving Doctors Lots of Money, Exploding version of "Blue Danube," Dormitory in a girl's public school, Invasion of Normandy, Pepperpots in a submarine, A man with a stoat through his head, Lifeboat, Cannibalism, A visit to the undertaker, Studio audience storms the stage in utter disgust, The Queen tunes in again. Interesting how Python mixes their most utterly tasteless jokes with the UK royal reverence into one episode, creating a stormfront of comic tension that was probably more effective with their fellow Brits than with us Yanks.

The Package / directed by Andrew Davis (1989, VHS). Gene Hackman, Joanna Cassidy, Tommy Lee Jones, John Heard, Dennis Franz, Pam Grier, Thalmus Rasulala. A well crafted military-industrial-complex thriller set in the final treaty-making days of the Cold War. Certain shadowy US/USSR parties join forces in planning to stage an incident in order to keep the conflict alive. The story moves from East Berlin, to D.C./Arlington, to Chicago during the Christmas season where the "Peace on Earth" theme provides a contrasting background. Includes Chicago Nazis, Jackie Brown, and, believe it or not, at least four Oldsmobile Cieras, one of which is a chief action car! Yes! More confirmation of the excitement factor of this much-maligned extinct make and model of car. Nice casting, but more Pam Grier please. The original 1989 audience had more buttons to push than today's viewers. First, the official ending of the Cold War itself was a welcome event, but there was a lot of uncertainty that came along with it. Now we have a whole generation of Americans who never grew up with the Soviet Union as our Nemesis and Bad Guy. Second, there are lot of unspoken nods to the JFK assassination: snipers, alleged coverups, the use of a "patsy." That 1963 scab won't heal until all of us who remember it are dead, and maybe even that won't keep it from being an unresolved point of pain. There are some interesting conflicts between military and civilian cultures as we see Hackman operating between the two while solving the mystery.

The Pianist / directed by Roman Polanski (2002, VHS). Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Emilia Fox, Ed Stoppard, Julia Rayner, Jessica Kate Meyer. The greatest film by one of the world's greatest living directors. This motion picture is in my top ten of all time. You know how a movie can be so bad that you can't watch it all the way through? Well, this is the only film I've seen where it is so good I wasn't sure I could watch it all the way through. It is that powerful. Based on the real life story of Jewish/Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (1911-2000) with a little of Polanski's own biography thrown in. Through a series of small miracles and his own personal Akido, Szpilman somehow survived the nihilism of Nazism when living as a resident of the Warsaw Ghetto. Right from the opening scene, we see the attempt by Szpilman to live a life dedicated to his music even in the face of Nazi bombing. And this concept of art (in this case, music) as salvation even when basic needs are stripped away continues through the story. Polanski demonstrates the consequences of late radicalization in the face of a very subtle, very evil governmental brutality as if he was peeling back the thin layers of an onion. In many of his movies, Polanski has piano music played by "someone down the hall" as an effect. Well, here we get to meet the guy at the keyboards. Brody has the perfect face for this role. Cartoonists recognize the enormous power of eyebrows in emoting certain expressions when we draw faces. Brody has those eyebrows, and they were used to amazing effect. I also like Polanski's use of muted color and the contrast he produced when it was employed with a bright background light. In addition to Szpilman, another true-life hero portrayed in this story (by Kretschmann) is German Army Captain Wilm Hosenfeld, who knew old Adolf "Stinky McFartomatic" Hitler was a deranged psychopath. Hosenfeld worked to shield Szpilman and other Jews from Der Schicklgruber's twisted genocidal murder rampage. Poor Poland. When the Soviets drove out the Nazis they got Stalin in place of Hitler, which was not really much of an improvement. A cinematic masterpiece.

"Stasis Leak" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, Clare Grogan, Mac McDonald. Not one of my favorites. A garbled and confusing episode involving time travel and alternative universes. The Cat says it best when multiple selves of his crewmates show up, "If he's you and you're him, and you're him and he's him, am I still me?"

"Demons & Angels" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Rob Grant, Juliet May, Doug Naylor (1992, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Hattie Hayridge, Robert Llewellyn. Thanks to a "Triplicator" device, the RD crew meet their "lower" and "higher" selves aboard two other Red Dwarf ships. This episode is easily one of the very worst in the entire series. Some sample dialogue-- Kryten: "These are our higher selves. They are the people we could've become if all negative aspects of our characters were removed" / Rimmer: "You mean hippies?" / Kryten: "With respect, Sir. You think Jesus was a hippy" / Rimmer: "Well he was. He had long hair and he didn't have a job. What more do you want?"

La collina degli stivali = Boot Hill / directed by Giuseppe Colizzi (1969, VHS). Terence Hill, Woody Strode, Bud Spencer, Glauco Onorato, Victor Buono, Lionel Stander, Eduardo Ciannelli. One of the better Spaghetti Westerns told by a gifted director who died too soon. Provides a unique blend of circus images, Jazz soundtrack, Shakespearean references, and close-ups so close the human face can be considered part of the landscape. The whole circus thing really made this surreal, particularly the scene where little people in clown suits gang up and beat the bejeezus out of a villain in the middle of a dusty street. The Hill-Spencer duo is back again, along with the chemistry and subtle humor. This boils down to an economic tale, with Big Business screwing over the working stiffs. Strode, Stander, and Ciannelli (in his final film) are very strong supporting characters. I was looking forward to Buono being his usual hammy self, but he seemed more toned down than I expected. Onorato, as the chief bad guy enforcer, looks too much like Hill. I kept getting confused over who was who at the start. My copy was reproduced from a chipped up print (SBR, Inc.), but in a way that made it feel more authentic. Magnifico!

"To Hell and Back" (American Gothic) / directed by Oz Scott (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, William Morgan Sheppard. Maybe the title should've been "To One Hell of a Relapse and Back." Actually, this program is sort of like that family show, The Wonder Years, except it is seen through the eyes of a small town South Carolina boy who possibly possesses hidden supernatural powers and regularly converses with his deceased and angelic sister. Oh, yeah, and the Sheriff is either Satan or one of his top minions. Plus, the neighbor digs a grave-like hole in his pumpkin patch at night and howls at the Moon. But wait, there's more. The local schoolteacher is a nymphomaniac and the local doctor is a recovering alcoholic who carries the guilt of losing his family to a car wreck. Except for those things, it's pretty much like The Wonder Years. In this one Dr. Crower takes a sip from a bottle and has one Hell of a relapse, courtesy of Sheriff Buck. Oh, I almost forgot, there's a ghost dog in here too.

Blue Ice / directed by Russell Mulcahy (1992, VHS). Michael Caine, Sean Young, Ian Holm, Alun Armstrong, Bob Hoskins, Charlie Watts. An early 90s version of a hardboiled detective/spy story. Slow at the start, but it does pick up a little in the middle, this is the story of a retired British spy called back into solving a mystery by circumstance. "Blue Ice" is a reference to the fatal randomness of enormous chunks of ice falling off of jets, a bit of natural anarchy totally accepted by hero Caine, who appears to be one of the few actors having any fun in this film. While all others are deadly serious here, Caine sort of floats above the material in an airy and almost comedic way-- and saves the picture as a result. Nice soundtrack, helped by the fact the retired spy now runs a Jazz nightclub (shades of Peter Gunn!) Bob Hoskins brief role had real spark, and although it was probably a good thing to limit his appearance to just a few minutes, he helped jumpstart this thing when the tale needed it. Watch for Stones drummer Watts in the house band. Caine and Holm, distinguished actors who were both (give or take a couple years) 60 in 1992, look pretty ridiculous running around with guns in suspense-filled shootouts. The drug-induced interrogation scene is very trippy, corny, and came in from Left Field. I'm sure this motion picture was panned when originally released, but it has enough eccentricities to make me like it.

Betty Boop and Grampy / directed by Dave Fleischer (1935, DVD). Mae Questel (uncredited voice). A black and white movement piece with no real story. About as close to total form as I've seen in a Betty Boop cartoon. Basically, Betty and her pals go to visit crazy inventer Grampy and then engage in being wild and musical party animals. A lot of fun. I'm betting this little gem helped some folks, at least for a few precious moments, forget there was an economic Depression. And it could probably help coax some modern viewers out of the Blues as well. The opening scenes provide a good example of how Fleischer used his special depth perspective technique in the backgrounds. As an aged and hairy-faced crab myself, I shellfishly love the fact that the old guy with the beard was the last person still up and dancing while everyone else had crashed.

Cheaper by the Dozen 62

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Dark Command / directed by Raoul Walsh (1940, VHS). John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Walter Pidgeon, Marjorie Main, Joe Sawyer, Stanley Blystone (uncredited), Yakima Canutt (uncredited). A movie made on the eve of the United States entry into WWII and set on the eve of the Civil War. With Bloody Kansas as the stage, this is a thinly disguised and inaccurate depiction of how Quantrill's Raiders terrorized the prairies. Although not as blatantly pro-slave holding culture as another 1940 Western, Santa Fe Trail, there does seem to be an effort to appease Southern audiences and include them in the definition of "American"-- after all, we're all going to need each other when we get into this war in Europe and the Pacific. John Wayne is the honest and good Big Galoot, Walter Pidgeon the over-educated and slick bad guy. A very young Roy Rogers has long hair and shouts out a silly "Yip!" from time to time. My copy has been colorized, and this is a case where it enhanced the film. There are guns galore. Looks like Republic Pictures sunk more bucks into their production budget than usual for this work.

Fatty Joins the Force / directed by George Nichols (1913, VHS). Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Dot Farley, Edgar Kennedy, Mack Swain. Fatty joins the local police force to impress his girl, but discovers the job is harder than he thought. I made it about 5 minutes into the story before this 20-year old VHS cassette finally died. Yes, I see it was produced by my old friends at the short-lived and cheapo Burbank Video. Fatty seemed to share, along with Curly Howard, John Belushi, Chris Farley, John Candy, etc., the Curse of the Large Comedian. One of Mack Swain's earliest appearances on film. Local trivia: Swain died in Tacoma, Aug. 25, 1935.

Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo = The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly / directed by Sergio Leone (1966, VHS). Eli Wallach, Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Aldo Giuffrè. Beautiful, classy, epic and pretentious, this is the Clintessential Spaghetti Western of all time. It is ironic the title divides the characters into classifications, as Leone really took the old stereotypes and muddied them up. All three are mercenaries, chasing down a buried pile of money against the backdrop of Civil War carnage. Filmed in Spain with a literal army of Spanish extras and Italian supporting actors, the entire setting is a little surreal. Although Eastwood and Van Cleef are perfectly cast, it is Wallach who walks away with the film in his pocket. As The Ugly, we learn some of his biography and his semi-comic performance helps give him a closer connection with the audience while the Good and the Bad are more remote. Aldo Giuffrè is memorable as the jaded and alcoholic Union captain-- more of a comment on the wars of the 1960s than the 1860s. The amazing soundtrack was expertly woven into the story. Impressive production values. The final Mexican standoff scene remains one of the best of the genre. I had not watched this film since the late 1970s, and it has gotten better with time. I guess that's the sign of a classic.

Piano Tooners / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). Bonnie Poe (uncredited voice). Van Beuren Studios was a short-lived animation house that seemed very influenced by Max Fleischer. Tom and Jerry, a tall and short duo, were counted among the Studio's stars. These two fellows predate the cat and mouse team we think of today when these names are used. Lots of primitive but funny sight gags in black and white, with some risque and trippy asides. There is even a toilet flushing in this one! Mostly a musical piece with very little dialogue. Bonnie Poe took a break from being the voice of Olive Oyl for Fleischer to moonlight here.

The Frisco Kid / directed by Robert Aldrich (1979, VHS). Gene Wilder, Harrison Ford, Val Bisoglio, Vincent Schiavelli. A freshly minted rabbi (Wilder) is sent from Poland to San Francisco in 1850. In the process of the overland part of his journey from Philadelphia to the Bay Area he encounters swindlers, Amish, railroad workers, Native Americans, a posse, monks who have taken a vow of silence, and a holdup man (the last character played by a very young Harrison Ford). An eccentric, ecumenical, and charming film about faith. Also a strange buddy picture, with Ford basically being the guardian angel for Wilder's Candide. Probably the only Western you'll ever see with a Jewish-Native American rain dance scene. I'm certain I saw Wallace Shawn on the screen a couple times, but he doesn't turn up in the credits. Maybe it was his double. One of Wilder's most intelligent and thoughtful comedies. And overlooked. Although he was great in the Mel Brooks films of the same era, this motion picture is a departure from that strain of humor and appears to be trying for a different sort of audience. The second-to-the-last film for Aldrich, a director who made his name with action and drama films. Ironically, the fact that Aldrich was out of his element with comedy probably helped give this story the unconventional edge that makes it so appealing.

"Brad's Class Reunion" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1952, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Elvia Allman, Hal Smith. Joan and her aunt fear Brad will rekindle an alleged old flame when he attends his out-of-town class reunion. Hilarity ensues when the two attempt various methods of social engineering to manipulate him into staying home. OK, I'm lying. It isn't really all that hilarious. But it is interesting as a sociological period piece. The theme song of the series can be an incredibly annoying earworm if you let it.

The King of Comedy / directed by Martin Scorsese (1982, DVD). Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Diahnne Abbott, Sandra Bernhard, Shelley Hack, Ed Herilhy, Joe Strummer, Joyce Brothers, Victor Borge, Frederick De Cordova, Tony Randall. "Better to be King for a night than schmuck for a lifetime." An uncomfortable motion picture that really defies any sort of categorization and I'm not sure we have caught up to the message in this work yet. More terrifying than any of Scorsese's other pictures (which is saying a lot) due to the fact it is closer to our normal American experience-- except we have a chance to experience the price of celebrity status from the point of view of the celebrity himself. As I watch De Niro and Bernhard wonderfully portray star-obsessed pathetics with painful personal lives they need to escape, I can't help but feel the 1980 assassination of John Lennon by a twisted mental case was the inspiration for this story. Mark David Chapman, James Earl Ray, Lee Harvey Oswald: Why are assassins and the snob set usually known by all three names as opposed to the rest of us wage slaves? Interesting, eh? Anyway. This film was a big risk for Scorsese, De Niro, and Lewis, as all three seriously broke type here. De Niro wants a shot on late night TV so bad as a standup comic, he's willing to kidnap a popular host so he can get his big break. His fanatical and delusional drive, aided by the amazing fangirl performance by Bernhard, is more frightening than any of the Mob figures in Scorsese's other work. I love the fact the director has De Niro and Bernhard having a fan argument on the street with a "Chock Full o' Nuts" store sign in the background. It is difficult to tell when the fantasy sequences of De Niro's character begin and end as the story progresses. Was the final scene for real, or in his head? Very nice writing there. Jerry Lewis showed us he can really act. He is terrific as the jaded late night TV host, and we really feel an authentic sense of what daily life must be like for people who are well known in TV and movie land. This is his best film, although I'd say Funny Bones is a close second. The biggest weakness in this movie is the fact that in the scenes shot on the streets, normal passerby people stand and stare at the cameraman and the actors-- a real illusion-breaker. But all in all, a movie worth the viewing time even a quarter century later.

The Master of Disguise / directed by Perry Andelin Blake (2002, VHS). Dana Carvey, Brent Spiner, Jennifer Esposito, Harold Gould, James Brolin, Edie McClurg, Jessica Simpson, Kevin Nealon, Bo Derek, Jesse Ventura (uncredited). Filled with jokes about farts and big butts, this is a very disappointing movie. Seeing the cast list, I had high hopes, but all that talent was shot to Hell. I found myself just waiting to see what sort of character Carvey would morph into while enduring the filler time as I would if I was having a root canal and trying to think of other things to keep my mind occupied. Yes. This film is a real stinker. Unlike Peter Sellers, who Carvey appears to be emulating, Dana does possess a likable warmth and that alone keeps this thing from being a total waste. I particularly liked his Turtleman character. If you rent or buy this motion pictuire, just save yourself the trouble and fast forward to the ending credits. The extensive outtakes and bloopers they run are far more interesting than the movie itself. Carvey's incredible talent deserved a better venue than this.

"Njorl's Saga" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 13, episode 27) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Connie Booth, Frank Williams. Njol's saga-- Iceland 1126, Murder trial, Njorl's saga pt. 2, North Malden, Bleeding trial, Stock market report, Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion visit Jean-Paul Sartre, Norl's saga pt. 4, Whicker's World. Tight writing and nice interweaving of skits. Michael Palin as Police Constable Pan Am giving evidence in court is not to be missed.

À nous la liberté / directed by René Clair (1931, VHS). Henri Marchand, Raymond Cordy, Rolla France, Paul Ollivier. This little French gem of a film is a talkie without much talk. In the early days of sound, directors appeared to be willing to take more risks, as Clair seems to have done here (either that or the conventional ruts of soundtrackiness had yet to be set). This is more like a silent film with a supplied musical soundtrack. There is much more singing than talking in the story, which is just as well since the minimal English subtitles are white on white anyway. There are better subtitled versions out there. Mine was from a 1994 Hollywood Select Video VHS cassette, that had the tag on the container, and I'm transcribing it as it reads: "Resopnsibility Is Hell." Not a good sign. Probably just as well the English subtitles were far and few between. The story begins with two convicts who work in a penal sweatshop producing toys as part of a prison industry. They make an escape attempt. One succeeds, the other is caught. The prisoner who gains his freedom uses his criminal cunning to become a respected captain of industry, which is where he sits when his tardy mate catches up to him. Visually sophisticated, with pointed parallels between prison life, industrial employment, and school. Sometimes it is hard to tell the prison scenes apart from the industrial worker scenes. In a bit of irony, the money/wind section of the story suggests God, via the force of nature, is a Marxist. Accused of stealing a lot of the material from this movie when he made Modern Times (1935), Charlie Chaplin agreed to settle out of court.

 

"Queeg" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, Charles Augins. Red Dwarf computer Holly appears to be screwing up more than usual to the point where he is "like a blind, old, incontinent sheepdog." After an electrical disaster when the crew are the victims of Holly's miscalculations, Rimmer explodes, "You are a total, total-- a word has yet to be invented to describe how totally whatever it is you are-- but you are one, and a total, total one at that!" Enter the backup computer, the Queeg 500. Sort of a cross between HAL and Bogart's Capt. Queeg. Holly's goodbye scene is right of 2001: A Space Odyssey-- with a smaller budget but more emotion. Rimmer's holographic freakout is an amazing scene, where Chris Barrie basically imitates the entire cast. One of the better episodes in the series.

"Back to Reality" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Rob Grant, Juliet May, Doug Naylor (1992, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Hattie Hayridge, Robert Llewellyn, Timothy Spall, Lenny van Dohlen. What would you do if you woke up and discovered your whole life had actually been a virtual reality game and you had been immersed in it so long you had forgotten you a "real," and incredibly sad, existence? Complete with a Despair Squid and Timothy Spall, we get to see the regulars reluctantly step outside their normal characters. Considered one of the best stories in the Red Dwarf run, and for good reason. The last we see of Hattie Hayridge as Holly in the 1990s, I'm sorry to say.

Cheaper by the Dozen 63

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Lo chiamavano Trinità = They Call Me Trinity / directed by E.B. Clucher [Enzo Barboni] (1970, VHS). Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Farley Granger, Ezio Marano. "This was a quiet town before you came-- disgusting town-- but quiet." This Hill/Spencer half-brother teamup differs a little from the earlier Colizzi directed Italian Westerns in that it is more conventional and comic, but no less entertaining. Although they have less than pure motives, the siblings find themselves coming to the aid of Mormon pioneers who are caught between slick land grabbing capitalists and a Mexican bandito gang. With the exception of Ezio Marano's rendition of Weasel, the supporting cast is very weak and filled with Western movie stereotypes that have been Italianized. One hired gunslinger even looks like Monty Python's Michael Palin in a black cowboy outfit and moustache. Oh, I'm sooooo scared. Hill is more playful than in his 1960s Colizzi versions of the Stranger in Town. As Trinity, Hill is fast on the draw, apparently with eyes in the back of his head. Except for Gene Wilder's Waco Kid, Trinity is the fastest ever. See, here's the rule. The more comic the cowboy, the faster the draw. The soundtrack, which I enjoyed very much, is something like Herb Alpert performing music from the old 1960s Prisoner TV series, or like what lounge songs would've sounded like ca. 1870. The humor of rationalization from all parties in this story, plus the Hill (right of the Devil)/Spencer (left hand of God) chemistry, is well worth watching for any Western aficionado.

"The Beast Within" (American Gothic) / directed by Michael Lange (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Jeff Perry, Lynda Clark. Deputy Ben's brother, Artie, shows up with a time bomb embedded in his body. The clock dramatically ticks as this soldier with various types of PTSD, holds Sheriff Buck and three others hostage. This reminds me of an old joke that was told to me many years ago by Olympia's old friend Lynda Barry, and remains one of my favorites. An employee of Safeway inadvertently insulted a mentally fragile customer. This customer went home fuming, and decided to have the employee killed. But the guy was also very cheap, and in the course of asking around discovered there was a hitman who lived in a cardboard box at the edge of town who would kill anyone for a the sum of one dollar. The hitman was named Artie. Taking his one buck payment in advance, Artie wasted no time getting to the store. Upon entering Safeway, he saw the intended victim and stalked him until he reached a deserted aisle and strangled him to death. But, oops, another employee saw the deed, so Artie chased him down and throttled him too. But, uh-oh, a third employee saw the second employee get killed, so Artie had to go and wring the neck of that one as well. Right after the third one breathed his last, the police closed in and nabbed the culprit. The next day the headlines read: "Artie Chokes Three For A Dollar At Safeway!" Anyway, this joke is more interesting to me than the above listed episode of the series.

Bonanno: a Godfather's Story / directed by Michel Poulette (1999, VHS). Martin Landau, Tony Nardi, Edward James Olmos, Zachary Bennett, Robert Loggia. "Power perceived is power achieved." One of the more interesting Mob movies out there due to the fact it is based on the autobiographies of Joe and Bill Bonanno and actually co-produced by the latter. It is not so much about personalities as it is the organizational history and evolution of the professional Code of Ethics of the Mafia as presented by insiders. As one would expect from a work where Mob guys offer their own view of themselves, this needs to be viewed with a very critical eye concerning the interpretation of events. But it is sad to see how cozy the man we knew as "Joe Bananas" in the 1960s and his pals became with government officials. The Feds are basically portrayed as just another Mob family, except much bigger. I must say the Bonanno version of the JFK assassination as a Mafia hit and the reasons behind it pretty much corresponds with my own theory of that event which marked our Boomer childhood. The narrative includes confusing flashbacks and the assumption the viewer is familiar with Mob minutiae in the same way we know traditional American history. Real news footage, particularly regarding the Kennedy family, is used at times. Whenever a scene begins with the camera focused on well polished shoes as they enter a room, the director is letting us know a hit is about to happen. The Sicilian scenes include some very nice camerawork. Olmos and Loggia have only brief roles, and Landau, the headliner, just sort of shows up as the old Bonanno now and then, not unlike Lugosi in Plan 9 From Outer Space (which makes sense since Landau won an Oscar playing Lugosi in Burton's Ed Wood). The little known Tony Nardi must carry the picture as the idealized autobiographical Joe Bonanno, and given his restrictions he performed splendidly. This was originally made for Showtime TV and does have a small screen feel. A good film to use as a springboard for a MPA or political science thesis.

Poor Cinderella / directed by Dave Fleischer (1934, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). The Cinderella story as told through Betty Boop. Fleischer Studios must've spent a bundle on this one, opting for color (and giving Betty red hair!). The backgrounds are dimensional, but the action seems less busy. Looks like they used their real-life rotoscope (tracing over real live film figures) mashed in with conventional animation. The effect is jarring-- but that is the price of experimenting. The Rudy Vallée animated tribute was fun. The cartoon had an overall nice design and included lots of music, complete with singing mice, lizards and horses. The singing pumpkin, however, creeped me out.

Canicule = Dog Day / directed by Yves Boisset (1984, DVD). Lee Marvin, Tina Louise, Miou-Miou. O badly dubbed, o badly dubbed, how I love a film that's flubbed. Well, OK, I don't really love flubbed films. At least not in this case. This French bomb lost me right away when they let a child get shot and killed in the opening action scene. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of this sorry motion picture as the story, believe it or not, went downhill from there. An American bank robber escapes a botched robbery and hides out in the barn of the winners of the Worst Family in France Award. Prison for Marvin would've been better than dealing with these "psychopathes." Marvin, who was getting old and wonderfully weathered by this time in one of his final feature films, deserved a better vehicle for his talents. Hey, just today I discovered Lee and I are very distant cousins after I viewed this! This makes me extra disappointed to see him in this film with the appropriate English title of Dog Day. It has an out-of-place soundtrack as bad as any normal film from the 1970s. It has a child actor even worse than the kid in Shane, and that's saying a lot, folks. The only exciting part in this motion picture is the appearance of an Oldsmobile convertible in the final scenes. The car doesn't take part in action sequences, but just the fact it shows up is pretty exciting. That should give you a clue on the thermometer of suspense as the movie reaches a climax. Don't buy it, don't check it out of the library, don't rent it. If it somehow falls into your hands, throw it away. If you are a fan of Lee Marvin like I am, then turn around, walk in the opposite direction and pretend you never heard of this film.

The Fugitive / directed by Andrew Davis (1993, VHS). Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, Sela Ward, Julianne Moore, Joe Pantoliano, Andreas Katsulas, Jeroen Krabbé, Nick Searcy, Jane Lynch. A superbly crafted action-suspense picture in the tradition of Hitchcock's innocent-man-on-the-run-out-to-prove-he's-innocent, man. It has been four decades since I've seen the original television series starring David Janssen, but I have good memories of the 1960s series being a high quality production. Harrison Ford's fugitive seems less complex than Janssen's, where Tommy Lee Jones as Gerard the hunter was more dimensional than his TV counterpart-- so I guess it all equals out. It isn't surprising Jones won an Oscar for this performance. This almost plays as if the film was some kind of weird buddy film, as the hunter and the hunted who is also a hunter (got that?) develop a relationship of mutual respect. Katsulas was chillingly creepy as the enforcer protecting the real bad guys. American Gothic fans will enjoy seeing Nick Searcy playing the same law enforcement character here as he does in his series. From the amazing train wreck scene to the final shot, the story never flags. This well made motion picture is a fine tribute to a well made television series.

The St. Louis Bank Robbery / directed by Charles Guggenheim, John Stix (1959, DVD). Steve McQueen, Crahan Denton, David Clarke, James Dukas, Molly McCarthy. Cheapo, but worth watching. This motion picture was released under the title: The Great St. Louis Bank Robbery, but there was nothing "great" or epic about this real-life heist gone wrong at all. Dramatized and filmed in hard edged black and white, using the actual location and even some of the people involved in the event, the work has an almost documentary feel to it. Although the story has a slow start, it becomes more riveting as we get to know the biographies of the four holdup men. Most interesting of all was the chief instigator and brains of the outfit, the fedora and bowtied Crahan Denton. We watch this misogynistic ex-con use a sort of world-weary casualness to mask a desperation and anger. His whole act starts to crumble as the story progresses, and Denton, who should be a familiar face to all Boomer TV children as one of those guys we all saw but could never name, was terrific in this transformation. Steve McQueen was practically a baby here. I love the cars in this movie, the automobiles of my childhood. Local trivia: Crahan Denton was born Arthur Crahan Denton in 1914 in Seattle. His father, Arthur Peebles Denton, was elected King County Engineer and served from 1913-1917. The Dentons left their home on E. Mercer St. for out-of-state in 1917. Crahan Denton died in 1966 of a sudden heart attack.

A Fireman's Life / directed by Vernon Stallings, Frank Tashlin (1933, DVD). Originally entitled: Hook & Ladder Hokum. A black and white cartoon starring the human Tom and Jerry as fireman battling a house fire. Simple and primitive even by 1933 standards, it has a cranked out feeling. Tashlin's directorial debut.

Unforgiven / directed by Clint Eastwood (1992, DVD). Clint Eastwood, Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Richard Harris, Jaimz Woolvert, Saul Rubinek, Frances Fisher. About as close to perfect as a Western can be. Eastwood takes the iconic characters of this genre and strips away their mythic gloss, leaving the viewer with a collection of morally ambiguous and very flawed players. Wyoming, 1880: An aging and reformed gunslinger (Eastwood) is persuaded out of a retired life of pig farming to collect a bounty offered by a group of prostitutes to kill a customer who cut up one of their number. Hackman is a sadistic sheriff who runs his town as his own little fiefdom and presents himself as the chief point of conflict in the story. The other individuals in this tale, although all of them interesting on their own, pretty much exist as foils for teaching us more about Eastwood and Hackman. As Karma and Destiny collide in the world of frontier and gender justice, Eastwood's relapse into his former "wicked ways" was beautifully subtle and seemed authentic. The violence and guns were not glorified, there was no heroic swelling of the soundtrack when a firearm was used to settle an issue. Freeman's disgust with himself for joining in the gunplay was a great moment. Richard Harris was his hammy self, but Eastwood as director knew how to make that pork enhance the story without derailing the narrative. Woolvert in the role of the trigger happy Schofield Kid, a punk who got way in over his head when it came to killing and violence, eerily looked and talked like George W. Bush. Eastwood's use of deep and rich color, and his classy composition with the camera gave this motion picture the look of a Remington painting. In the chronology of Westerns, this one built upon the attention to historical realism set by Lonesome Dove (1989), and helped lay the groundwork for the future Deadwood series.

"The Allergy" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1955, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Dick Elliott, Robert Foulk. Joan discovers she is allergic to her husband in the midst of his campaign for election to a judgeship. The situation gives Davis a chance to display her talent for comic facial contortions. One of the better choreographed episodes in the series. We also see Joan playing political hardball. The sad part of this story is that our expectations about political campaign spouses has not really evolved all that much since 1955.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye / directed by Gordon Douglas (1950). James Cagney, Barbara Payton, Helena Carter, Ward Bond, Luther Adler, Barton MacLane, Steve Brodie, Rhys Williams, William Frawley, William Cagney (uncredited). "I always thought that when people carried guns they were afraid of something." And so they were. Of Cagney. Told through flashbacks in court testimony, seven defendants accused of conspiracy and murder testify on the events and singular personality (Cagney) that led them to this sorry fate. Produced right on the heels of White Heat (1949), it would be tempting to wonder if this film was trying to ride on the success of that earlier work. If so, it missed the mark. Oh, this one has plenty of the right Warner Brothers crime film ingredients: chain gangs, prison breakout, crooked cops, fedoras, heists, bad girl Barbara Payton throwing things at walls, cheap hideouts, Ward Bond (his tie was too short) and Barton MacLane, black and white sort of film noir look, etc., but the story goes all over the place. This includes a visit to a spiritual group of pre-New Age seekers, and a crazy rich girl. It was almost as if someone accidentally let some pages from another script slip into the narrative. As the Happy Sociopath, Cagney the coiled dancer prowls across the screen and appears to be ready to erupt into a destructive frenzy at any second-- and sometimes he does! Although the visuals here are not all that great, I was really impressed with the camerawork, the pans and zooms smoothly keeping up with Cagney. Apparently this motion picture was considered too violent in 1950 for some regions, it was banned in Ohio. Probably a career peak for the doomed Barbara Payton. Luther Adler was especially good in the role of the underworld attorney. Trivia, according to the IMDB: "The film that Phil Spector and Lana Clarkson were watching in Spector's chauffeured car on the way to his Alhambra mansion the night of her murder."

The Meanest Men in the West / directed by Charles S. Dubin, Samuel Fuller (1967, VHS). Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Lee J. Cobb, Charles Grodin, James Drury, Michael Conrad, Doug McClure (uncredited). Ah, Goodtimes Home Video, the mark of [and here stevenl widens his eyes and affects a tone of mock seriousness] "quality." Some twisted editor took episodes of the 1960s televisions series The Virginian (a fave of my Virginian raised father, by the way) and cobbled them together in a tale about two half-brothers. During my college years in the 1970s I had a fling with filmmaking. One time I went into the editing room, removed all the discarded film from the trash, and spliced it all together into an instant Dada mashup-- an hour long piece of junk I very rightly entitled Scum. It had several showings on campus, but given the number of splices I almost always had to stop and rethread the thing several times per viewing after the thin strips would snap over and over. Anyway, to get back to my point, these patched together scenes from different episodes of The Virginian have much the same feeling of disjointedness as Scum. Although Marvin and Bronson are the stars, they never appear together. Bronson has always had a weird and distant screen persona so perhaps he is in his element, but it pains me, once again in such a short time, to pan a Marvin movie. I will say there are two parts that are actually quite good. The opening wagon train shots during the title and credits were well done, and there is an oasis in the story where Marvin has a dialogue with the kidnapped Lee J. Cobb, the judge who sent Lee up the river in earlier years. But the soundtrack is TV bad, we are expected to accept Charles Grodin in the role as a hardened thug (Yeah. Right.), and we all know the real Meanest Man in the West was John Astin's Evil Roy Slade. There are themes of loss, abandonment and betrayal-- oh, wait-- I was attempting to describe the story but I guess I inadvertently outlined the feelings of those of us viewers who were suckered into watching this bowser.

Cheaper by the Dozen 64

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"Mr. and Mrs. Brian Norris' Ford Popular" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 13, episode 28) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Lulu, Ringo Starr. Mr. and Mrs. Brian Norris' Ford Popular, Schoolboys' insurance scam, How To Do It, Pepperpots with adult child, Spontaneous human combustion, Farming Club presents The Life of Peter Ilytch Tschaikowsky, Trim-Jeans Theatre Presents, The wandering mouth, The Fish Slapping Dance, Sinking ship, BBC budget in trouble, Puss in Boots, Lulu and Ringo and the It's Man. Typical Python Dadaism that seemed wild and radical at the time but tame today. However, the Fish Slapping Dance with Palin and Cleese will always, just like Ernie Kovacs' Nairobi Trio, be universally funny for decades to come. To deconstruct it and figure why would ruin the fun.

"Parallel Universe" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, Suzanne Bertish, Angela Bruce, Hattie Hayridge, Matthew Devitt. A very unusual and watchable episode. First off, we have a chance to see Danny John-Jules as Cat not only sing and dance, but also act like a real cat when he encounters a Dog. Barrie and Charles are pretty bad as musical backup, but I applaud their willingness to play along and be good sports! The crew (except Cat) get to meet their female counterparts in a parallel universe. In fact, the female version of Holly (called Hilly here) later became a regular in the series. Although Red Dwarf superficially appears to be drenched in Guy Humor as a rule, this particular entry is easily the most feminist of the entire canon. Bertish and Bruce did a very good job in providing a gender mirror for Rimmer and Lister. I like this one.

"Emohawk: Polymorph II" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Andy DeEmmony (1993, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Ainsley Harriott. An uneven entry with wild Silly Putty plot twists including: Lister getting married to a Gelf (a creature that looks like Sasquatch), the appearance of Duane Dibbley and Ace Rimmer (two fave characters of RD fans), a drone law enforcement space vehicle, and a trading negotiation that smacks of historical Euro colonialism. Arnold Rimmer gets a preview of what it will be like to be Ace. This episode will make no sense whatsoever to the uninitiated. The common problem of not being able to easily join the RD story at any point is a strength in building a hardcore cult following, but a weakness in gaining new viewers.

Continuavano a chiamarlo Trinità = Trinity is Still My Name / directed by E.B. Clucher [Enzo Barboni] (1971, VHS). Terence Hill, Bud Spencer, Harry Carey Jr. Another entry into the excellent Hill-Spencer spaghetti Western series. The plot, such as it is, really consists of very funny loosely linked comic vignettes-- several of them revolving around food or economic class cultural divisions. Among the more memorable bits: A visit to the parents place and a family dinner where manners are optional, a holdup of travelers where the robbers give the victims money and fix their broken wagon, a saloon card game with a slapping scene not to be missed, loutish behavior in a fancy pants French restaurant (apparently all ad-libbed by Hill and Spencer), and a mule whisperer. I was impressed by the fact this motion picture included lots of belching and farting a full three years before Mel Brooks honed those natural acts to comic perfection in Blazing Saddles. Until I saw this, I had no idea the Italians were so far ahead of the United States in this area of bodily function comedy. Two complaints. First, as usual with this series, the climatic fight was overly long and became tedious. Second, my copy was cheaply produced (Direct Source Special Products, Inc.) and the tape was obviously recycled. In addition to the constant high-pitched buzz, I could also hear the faint audio of the previously taped program. Maybe the DVD version is better.

"Rebirth" (American Gothic) / directed by James Frawley (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, Danny Masterson. In this supernatural soap opera, the Satanic Sheriff Buck finally becomes aware he has an angelic nemesis in the form of Merlyn's spirit. The series is going up a notch by being more overt with Buck's oogly-boogly side (shape-shifting, making "things happen," appearing out of nowhere, etc.) and mixing it with the rural good old boy crooked law enforcement officer stereotype hassling the longhairs. This episode demonstrates, through Sarah Paulson, that being dead might not be a great career move. Visually well directed, but the soundtrack is uneven-- I wish they had been more consistent with sticking to the Stevie Ray Vaughan sound.

Breakfast at Tiffany's / directed by Blake Edwards (1961, VHS). Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen, Martin Balsam, John McGiver, Alan Reed, Mickey Rooney, Orangey, Mel Blanc (uncredited voice). "There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl. She lived alone except for a nameless cat." The star of this movie was the song thread, "Moon River," sung in a touching way by an actress who couldn't sing (it didn't matter, we love her anyway), and later to become Andy Williams' signature piece and covered by many others. The story is a watered down version of Capote's novel concerning a friendship between a call girl and a kept man, the action is pretty dull but the dialogue is sparkling. Between the script and the soundtrack this is a film you can almost listen to rather than watch. But you have to view it anyway in order to see both Hepburn and Peppard give the greatest performances of their careers. Even though I make that bold statement, I admit they really have no chemistry, yet that actually fits with Capote's story in a sad way. As the egocentric Holly Golightly, Hepburn appears to be representing the majority of Capote's personality, where Peppard's rendition of Paul "Fred" Varjak (the struggling writer) is Truman's grudging practical side. With Truman, everything was always about Capote. Mickey Rooney (who is incredibly still alive and working at the age of 147) in the role of Mr. Yunioshi was a big mistake. Peter Lorre, Dave Thomas, Peter Sellers, Mickey Rooney-- great actors I enjoy and respect-- all of them made the error of attempting to portray Asian characters and it. Just. Didn't. Work. It comes across as racist and cheap. There are several buttons to push for cat-lovers and librarians in this motion picture as well as a typical Blake Edwards "wild" party scene with Mancini audio that later became a staple in the Pink Panther movies. The mobster Sally Tomato character seems like a tribute to real-life Joe Bananas. A nice JFK-era period piece-- daring but still safe. "No matter where you go, you just wind up running into yourself" was the Capote way of anticipating the modern "Wherever you go, there you are."

Baby Be Good / directed by Dave Fleischer (1935, DVD). Mae Questel (uncredited voice). Betty gives a bratty little boy a morality fairy tale in an effort to get him to behave in this black and white cartoon. Pretty tame and visually unexciting for a Fleischer piece. Even the music seems uninspired.

Down From the Mountain / directed by Nick Doob, Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker (2000, DVD). Fairfield Four, John Hartford, Alison Krauss and Union Station, The Cox Family, Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, The Whites, Chris Thomas King, Colin Linden, Emmylou Harris, Mike Compton, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Holly Hunter, Tim Blake Nelson. Part documentary, part interviews, part live concert, this well-edited film presents the old-timey country music from the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou performed by the original artists with a bit of backstage coverage. The performers are not Hollywood-pretty, they are much more interesting and real-life than that and the music reflects their experience. Two musicians in particular really caught my interest. First was Johnny Hartford. It was strange to see someone I originally became aware of when he was young appear on stage as an old man about to die from cancer (he died in 2001). He knew his time was short, which gave a special meaning to his renditions. As he was the MC for the live concert, there was ample opportunity to see how music sustained his spirit. Very inspirational. Someone made a great choice in casting when giving Hartford that role. He also calls himself "a frustrated librarian" (!) in an interview. Second, and more personal for me, was Dr. Ralph Stanley. The caption at the movie's start states: "Ralph Stanley came down from the mountains to Nashville ..." and this is followed by film of the road from the area of Clintwood, Virginia to Nashville. I've been on that very road myself, but going the other direction. The Clintwood region is the ancestral home of my surname, where they lived since the pioneer era. Mountain people. On Dad's side I'm a first generation West Coaster, so the whole Cumberland thing is almost like Europe to me. Anyway, my father always said our family was not very musical even though we seemed to be surrounded by gifted songsters all around. Instead, he claimed, we were the type of folks who led lives that helped provide the material for the songs: moonshining, shootouts, fighting, murder, gambling, drinking, leading lives of crime, escaping chain gangs, poisoned by jealous lovers, nutball fundamentalists, eccentric extremists, consorting with "sorry women," etc., etc. We were Hatfield allies in the Hatfield-McCoy war. But somehow, some members of our dangerous gene pool managed to marry into other families that were proper types and had musical talent. One of Dad's cousins (now dead) married Ralph Stanley, so I guess Stanley was a convoluted in-law for awhile. I was actually at Ralph's house many years ago. Stanley's sing-song accent is very hard for me to listen to without getting a lump in my throat and having my eyes well up, recalling a whole generation of my Virginia Mountain people who settled out here but now are gone. Oh, I digressed again. Sorry. This film is one of the better music documentaries out there.

The Full Monty / directed by Peter Cattaneo (1997, VHS). Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, William Snape, Steve Huison, Tom Wilkinson, Paul Barber, Hugo Speer. "You have to speculate to accumulate." Equalized by unemployment, a half-dozen laid-off northern England industrial wage slaves decide that perhaps it is time to find an alternative method of earning an income-- i.e., becoming male strippers. And that means everything off-- the Full Monty-- a very big risk. Sort of makes you wonder about the origin of Monty Python's name, if you know what I mean. Anyway. With a great soundtrack and superb direction, this story is perhaps one of the best movies I've seen about being male in this modern world. It addresses our pride, compartmentalizing, rationalizing, desire for male comradeship, need of approval from women, fatherhood, being a provider, societal expectations, depression, and sense of body image. And all of it done without stupid guns, hitting, pole dancing scenes, chasing women or action music. This one is jam packed with beautiful and very human comic detail. The unemployment line scene where the boys practice their dance steps is one of my favorite moments buried in the narrative. A keeper with a message of hope, although salvation might not be in a form you expect. A great movie worth your time.

Gulliver's Travels / directed by Dave Fleischer (1939, VHS). Jessica Dragonette (voice), Lanny Ross (voice), Sam Parker (uncredited voice). An interesting subject choice in 1939, where Jonathan Swift's giant walks into a world filled with silly little people who go to war over nothing at all. This was the first feature-length color cartoon by a studio other than Disney, evoking Walt's alleged response, "We can do better than that with our second-string animators." I hate to say it since I usually prefer Fleischer to Mickey Mouse, but he might've been right. This work appears to bury many of the best trademarks of the Fleischer crew in their attempt to imitate Disney and appeal to a conventional audience. That old unpredictable zaniness and dangerous edge just isn't here. The "rotoscope" method of animated drawing, i.e. tracing an image over a live actor, was used for the "serious" characters like Gulliver and the romantic Prince/Princess couple. The silly characters, which consisted of basically everyone else, were drawn in traditional cartoon fashion-- a somewhat unsettling mixture of styles. This would've been much more interesting as an all rotoscope motion picture. A lame-o soundtrack which is unfortunate as this is part cartoon/part musical, but singer Lanny Ross (The Prince) was born in Seattle in 1906, so there's a local trivia bone to chew on while enduring the songs. My crappy low quality copy was the product of Silver Screen Video, a "fine, fine" company I have written about before when I reviewed another 1939 film, They Made Me a Criminal. This cartoon will be of interest to cartoon buffs and historians, but I doubt a general 21st century audience will be spellbound by it.

In the Bag / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). A short black and white musical cartoon set in the Old West starring the human Tom and Jerry. A classic example of the style widely imitated by several underground cartoonists of the 1960s and 1970s with an equally trippy series of sight gags.

Utopia / directed by Léo Joannon (1951, DVD). Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Suzy Delair, Max Elloy, Adriano Rimoldi, Luigi Tosi. Also known as Atoll K, Laurel and Hardy's final feature film and only post-WWII movie is generally panned as a disaster even today. The duo had been off the screen for six years, and their shocking deteriorating condition took audiences aback. This was distributed by the appropriately named Exploitation Productions Incorporated. Filmed in France and very badly dubbed, conventional wisdom has this pegged as one of their worst efforts. But I don't agree. I'll grant you, I'm not a big fan of Stan and Ollie. I'm more of a Three Stooges man, but I recognize the genius of Laurel and Hardy. They had a warm and gentle humor and I find it interesting that the folks I know who consider themselves enthusiasists of their work are themselves warm and gentle people. In spite of all the many strikes against this motion picture, I was still impressed by this veteran duo's timing and chemistry. There were several comic stunts where Laurel took a fall and I wondered if he was going to be able to get back up. It made me a little on edge, asking "Is this guy going to croak before the film is finished?" That actually enhanced my viewing experience in a sick way (like I said, I'm a Three Stooges man, not warm and gentle). The political message of the boys claiming an uncharted island and forming a government followed by the inevitable consequences was actually brilliant. The fact that Laurel and Hardy can still click and connect with a non-fan like me through all the faults of this production is a real testimony to their talent.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 65

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"Jealousy" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1954, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Geraldine Carr, Hal Smith, Philip Van Zandt. Joan plays with fire as she confuses, in that Eisenhower-era way, jealousy for love. Good episode to watch as fodder for an academic program studying monogamy, but almost embarrassing to view as entertainment. Yup, watching an upset and distraught Brad run around the living room with a rifle in his hand is a real laugh riot.

L.A. Confidential / directed by Chris Hanson (1997, VHS). Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey, James Cromwell, Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, David Strathairn, Matt McCoy, Paul Guilfoyle, Brenda Bakke, Ron Rifkin. This jaded film for a jaded era is a well made crime drama about police, politics, and celebrity in 1953 Los Angeles. Bribes, payoffs, porn, narcotics, publicity hounds, explosive violence, police brutality ("I admire you as a policeman - particularly your adherence to violence as a necessary adjunct to the job"), prostitution, blackmail, land developers pulling strings-- a veritable multi-layered rich cheesecake of sleaze. Film Noir, but in broad daylight. Film Smog. This is a filtered, conventional, and too-late-to-have-much-punch Americanized version of Polanski's Chinatown. Like Jackie Brown, which was curiously released in the same year, the two main stars were relative unknowns while the Big Names were given supporting roles. Spacey and Basinger are the two to keep your eye on as the story unfolds, Spacey for his artful character evolution and Basinger for a great performance. Crowe and Pearce (both obscure at the time) were excellent as the two main opposing personality pillars of the narrative. I like the color scheme and look of this film. The same sort of warm and lurid glow you would see employed on the cover of a 1950s seedy gossip magazine. There is a nice little motion picture bonus comment on image vs. reality after the final credits have rolled. I wonder what the reaction would be if we could go back in time and show this to a 1953 L.A. audience?

Midnight Run / directed by Martin Brest (1988, VHS). Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto, John Ashton, Dennis Farina, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Foronjy, Danielle DuClos, Philip Baker Hall, Jimmie Ray Weeks, Tracey Walter. The story about the rewards of redemption. A bounty hunter captures an embezzler and transports his prisoner from New York to Los Angeles. But the bounty hunter (De Niro) isn't a normal bounty hunter, he's an ex-Chicago cop with a score to settle. And the embezzler (Grodin) isn't a normal embezzler, he's a PC accountant who took 15 million from the Mob and gave it to charity. You can watch the Mob, the Feds, and a rival bounty hunter try to track and stop them in an age with no cell phones or Internet. One of the best of the buddy films, almost, just within reach right up there with the king of them all, Rubin and Ed. The use of the F-word is so frequent in this movie it starts to become inoffensive white noise, unless Grodin uses it, and only then does it have any power. Grodin takes it upon himself to give De Niro lectures and nagging advice on diet, smoking, family relationships, giving tips to waitresses, financial investments, etc. The timing and cadence of these exchanges is like poetry delivered by two true artists. A tight soundtrack well suited for each scene. I was impressed we learned a lot of biographical information about the two main characters without the use of flashbacks-- it all came out when it related to the action at hand. Although billed as an action/comedy, there are several scenes with real emotional meat. One prime example being the uncomfortable moment De Niro meets his pre-teen daughter for the first time after nine years (child actor DuClos was amazing here). One of my favorite motion pictures.

"Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 14, episode 29) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Richard Baker. Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror, Talking in anagrams, Merchant banker and charity, Pantomime horses fight to the death, Nature documentary, Hungry buildings on a rampage, The House-Hunters, NCP Car Park, Names in lights, Mary recruitment office, The straight man wants the laughs, The man who makes everyone laugh whether he likes it or not, The Bols story, Talking with pauses, BBC interrupts this program to provide a depressed announcer with a job, BBC TV news read by Richard Baker, The Pantomime Horse is a secret agent film. More than usual playing around with words and English language conventions in this one. Chapman is always great as an English military type. The Merchant Bank sketch anticipated the Reagan era, the irony being that fundamentalist anti-evolutionists endorsed an economic theory that was totally Darwinian-- a paradox that exists to this day concerning various issues including health care. A great entry into the Python canon. Cleese and Jones were perfectly cast here.

"Backwards" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1989, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge, Tony Hawks. The first episode of a new season, ushering in Kryten and the Hayridge version of Holly as regular characters, and introducing the Starbug spacecraft. It would also appear their production budget went up a few notches. In a Star Wars type of scroll, the jump in storyline is explained thusly: "RED DWARF III THE SAGA CONTINUUMS The Story So Far... Three million years in the future, Dave Lister, the last human being alive, discovers he is pregnant after a liaison with his female self in a parallel universe. His pregnancy concludes with the successful delivery of twin boys, Jim and Baxley. However, because they were conceived in another universe, with different physical laws, they suffer from highly accelerated growth rates, and are both eighteen years old within three days of being born. In order to save their lives, Lister returns them to the universe of their origin, where they are reunited with their father (a woman), and are able to lead comparatively normal lives. Well, as normal as you can be if you've been born in a parallel universe and your father's a woman and your mother's a man and you're eighteen years three days after your birth. Shortly afterwards, Kryten, the service mechanoid who had left the ship after being rescued from his crashed vessel, the Nova 5, is found in pieces after his space bike crash lands onto an asteroid. Lister rebuilds the 'noid, but is unable to recapture his former personality. Meanwhile, Holly, the increasingly erratic Red Dwarf computer, performs a head sex change operation on himself. He bases his new face on Hilly, a female computer with whom he'd once fallen madly in love. And now the saga continuums." Got all that? In this story, the crew land on a version of Earth-UK where everything is backwards, including the language. It is very Pythonesque, and the mention of a bank robber named "Michael Ellis" seems like a conscious recognition of this influence. Includes one of the most unusual barroom brawls you'll ever see. One man scolds the boys in backwards talk, but apparently in real life the actor was saying: "You, I'm pointing at you, but I'm not actually addressing you. I'm addressing the one prat in the entire country who's actually bothered to get hold of this recording, turn it around and actually work out the rubbish that I'm saying. What a poor sad life he's got!" A strong contribution to the series.

"Can't Smeg, Won't Smeg" (Can't Cook, Won't Cook) / directed by Ed Bye (1998, VHS off-air). Ainsley Harriott, Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett. This is a special edition of a UK cooking/game show, hosted by Ainsley Harriott, where the contestants are the Red Dwarf cast members staying in character. Performed in front of a live audience, it should be no surprise Chris Barrie is very good on his feet in improv, but I wasn't prepared for the fact that Danny John-Jules really appeared to be more in his element on stage than the other actors. Even so, I couldn't make it through this without hitting the fast forward button. For diehard RD fans only.

"The After Hours" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by Douglas Heyes (1960, VHS). Anne Francis, Elizabeth Allen, James Millhollin, John Conwell. A shopper finds herself trapped in a department store after closing time. Although you'll probably see the ending within the first few minutes, the story will still capture your interest-- chiefly due to Anne Francis' acting. An interesting take on the conformity of the 1950s and how cult-like it can feel while on the cusp of the swinging 1960s. Every Boomer will recognize TV James Millhollin, who adds some shameless comic relief mugging to the viewer.

"Ring of Fire" (American Gothic) / directed by Lou Antonio (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Brenda Bakke. "The secret history of the South," advises a wise woman, "is hidden in blood. Genealogy. Family." In investigating the untimely death of her parents, Gail makes a deal with the Dark Forces. Not exactly a case of the truth setting you free. An unusual entry into this series: we see the inside of Sheriff Buck's house and get a glimpse at some of the weird Gothic stuff he's into. This narrative leans more on traditional horror devices than others. Apparently "Ring of Fire" never aired.

Broken Flowers / directed by Jim Jarmusch (2005, DVD). Bill Murray, Julie Delpy, Jeffrey Wright, Sharon Stone, Frances Conroy, Jessica Lange, Tilda Swinton. As a graying and now invisible lifelong bachelor and former Don Juan, Bill Murray presents us with a docile and understated shell of a man. An anonymous letter informs him for the first time he has a son out in the world, out there looking for his father. Murray's amateur sleuth neighbor becomes so wrapped up in the mystery that he compiles all the clues, forms a plan, and initiates an itinerary of detective footwork for his passive friend. In tracking down the five women who were the potential mother, each awkward encounter contributes to a regressive trend that results in a battered Murray standing at a lonely intersection with no real resolution. I like the way Jarmusch had the women become emotionally farther away with each segment until finally Murray finds himself talking to a grave headstone. This could almost be a sequel to Lost in Translation. The comic formula is something like a 21st century Buster Keaton film-- deadpan reaction to surrounding craziness-- except in this case the slapstick is mostly emotional. The scenes are highly compartmentalized (fitting for Murray's character), some of them seem like outtakes from Jarmusch's previous movie, Coffee and Cigarettes. Pay attention to the color pink, and rear-view mirrors. Wonderful soundtrack, great visuals, one of the best Bill Murray motion pictures I've seen.

Betty Boop and Little Jimmy / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). Betty Boop is trapped on an exercise machine while Little Jimmy seeks a rescuer. The final scene is freaky, even for a Fleischer cartoon.

Dracula / directed by Dan Curtis (1973, DVD). Jack Palance, Simon Ward, Nigel Davenport, Pamela Brown, Fiona Lewis, Penelope Horner, Murray Brown. This is surprisingly good considering it was a made-for-TV movie in 1973. It does have drawbacks, such as a typical (i.e. Bad) made-for-TV soundtrack and it drags in places, but I still found it engaging even though I'm not a fan of the vampire genre. Palance is certainly creepy enough for the role. In fact, when I took the DVD off the shelf I started to imitate his voice and my cat Charlie ran away in fright! In this story, Dracula is portrayed as a man of action, a former military commander, a cut-throat (heh!) business executive, and a just plain dirty old man. Palance's take on the character is pretty original, which is saying a lot considering the small army of actors who have played the role. Filmed in Yugoslavia and England, the production values are top rate for a television production. A little trivia: the initial scheduled broadcast date had to be delayed. Apparently it was supposed to originally be released on the same day Vice-President Agnew resigned after pleading no contest to criminal charges involving failure to report his bribe money to the IRS, or something like that. Looks like that evening they just substituted one vampire story for another.

G.I. Blues / directed by Norman Taurog (1960, VHS). Elvis Presley, Juliet Prowse. It has been said that all of Elvis' movies were really bad. And this one is no exception.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 66

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Siege of Boonesborough / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). The horror! The horror! Amazingly, this Gumby and Pokey claymation actually has a premise based on some historical fact. Daniel Boone was indeed captured by the Shawnee, lived with the tribe for awhile, and then escaped. He returned to Boonesborough in time to help defend the settlement against attack. But that's about as close as this gets to real history. In this presentation, a giant talking green piece of clay uses psychological warfare to trick the Indians into thinking Boonesborough was more heavily fortified than it really was. "You don't have to fight if you know the right trick to peace," Gumby victoriously proclaims at the end after outsmarting those simple Natives. Writing as one who has both Shawnee blood and ancestors who were Boone's contemporaries in those hills, I see there are enough stereotypes here to offend everybody. There is something about the cadence of their speech, in this and other Gumby episodes, that has a tentative and  anxiety-producing quality.

Pencil Mania / directed by John Foster, Vernon Stallings (1932, DVD). The human Tom and Jerry star in an animation that turns back on itself. A great example of the cartoon as almost pure form with bare content. Lots of music including a very bizarre version of "Yes We Have No Bananas." This is one case where I would love to see a colorized rendition. If there were more cartoons like this around, the world would have no need for recreational drugs.

Vegas in Space / directed by Phillip R. Ford (1991, DVD). Doris Fish, Ramona Fischer, Lori Naslund, Jennifer Blowdryer, Freida Lay, Ginger Quest, Tippi, Miss X. A campy space opera billing itself as "The First All-Drag Queen Sci-Fi Musical Ever!" Although the special effects, acting, and plot are just as incomprehensible and over the top as any average 1970s-80s episode of Dr. Who, the crew behind this effort know this is going to be an object of humor and look like they having a lot of fun. Actually, it has a much better soundtrack than any Dr. Who I've seen. Lots of garish color, but a significant portion of this movie is in black and white (no doubt a Woodian budget ploy somehow worked into the storyline). I have tried two or three times to sit through this entire picture but have yet to do so. The novelty wears thin pretty fast. I'm surprised this was made in 1991, I would've guessed ten years earlier. The sets and costumes are, as you would expect, at least half the show. The alien cityscape, made up of lamps, salt shakers, and other household items, was particularly clever.

"Dreams" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1952, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus. Joan fantasizes about what she could've been if she hadn't defined herself as the spouse of a judge. Her daydreaming takes her to the occupations of cosmetics CEO, star athlete, and international diplomat. Loving yet condescending, Brad manages to trick Joan into seeing the error of her silly ways. In the end, there is no place like home and being a good wifey. In this episode where the very concept of feminism is a source of comedy, it is easy to why Pat Robertson's CBN Cable Network would revive this series in the early 1980s.

The Laramie Project / directed by Moisés Kaufman (2002, VHS). Peter Fonda, Nestor Carbonell, Camryn Manheim, Steve Buscemi, Christina Ricci, Janeane Garofalo, Mark Webber, Amy Madigan, Summer Phoenix, James Murtaugh, Terry Kinney. A dramatized documentary about the social impact of the 1998 beating death of Gay student Matthew Shepard by two local boys in Laramie, Wyoming. Well edited but yet very uneven, the bulk of the film consists of actors posing as residents being interviewed. Although the dialogue comes from actual field work by the writer (Kaufman), the fake testimonies were, well, fakey feeling. The faces were too pretty. The delivery too articulate. Another major chunk of the movie, the trial of the accused murderers, was much better. Kaufman used the device of having the principal character, Matthew Shepard, never appear. His portrait was painted only by the words of those around him. Mark Webber as one of the killers, Amy Madigan playing a police officer, and Terry Kinney in the role of Matthew's father deserve special mention for standout performances. Some of the best scenes in the motion picture involved crowds, such as when the townsfolk met a barrage of television cameras at the courthouse after the trial, or the spontaneous crowd that marched in the local parade in memory of Matthew. It was interesting to see how the people of Laramie fought against becoming a city indentified chiefly by a dark incident (like Dallas, Waco, or Centralia) and wrestle with the limits of their self-proclaimed libertarianism.

Man on the Moon / directed by Milos Forman (1999, VHS). Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Richard Belzer, Vincent Schiavelli, Paul Giamatti, Peter Bonerz, Courtney Love, Jerry Lawler, Bob Zmuda, Tracey Walter, Judd Hirsch (uncredited), Carol Kane (uncredited), David Letterman (uncredited), Christopher Lloyd (uncredited), Norm MacDonald (uncredited), Lorne Michaels (uncredited), Paul Shaffer (uncredited). This biopic on the life of Andy Kaufman is no more or less inaccurate than most other Hollywood dramatizations of real lives. Here, Kaufman (Carrey) himself tells the viewers at the outset the story has been shuffled around a bit. Although Kaufman had a short life and career (he died in 1984 at the age of 35) he was an important figure in the history of American comedy. He wasn't so much a comedian as he was a comic illusionist who enjoyed using music in his routines. Something of an Ernie Kovacs for the 1970s-1980s. Interesting that both men died at a young age. Kaufman was unpredictable, unorthodox, brilliant, ahead of his time, out of his mind. People either loved or hated him. Ever since I first saw him on SNL in the 70s, I enjoyed his work. Many of the head games he played with his audiences made me wonder if he really didn't have much respect for us. But toward the end, the world had started getting the joke and warming up to him, and I detected in his humor he was responding in kind by the mid 1980s. Jim Carrey is a totally different body type than Kaufman, but his performance was so dead-on you hardly notice. Carrey was perfect in the sense that he made this a work about Kaufman and not about himself. Beautiful job. This film is a nice tribute to a great artist. We miss you Andy.

"The All-England Summarize Proust Competition" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 15, episode 30) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Fred Tomlinson Singers. The The All-England Summarize Proust Competition, International Hairdressers Expedition attempts to climb Mt. Everest, A Magnificent Festering, Calling the Fire Brigade, Party hints by Veronica Smalls, Communist revolutions, Life and soul of the party tape, Travel agency, Anne Elk's theory on the brontosaurus. I think this installment would mark the point where Python started going into Dada Hyperdrive. Even so, these seemingly compartmentalized skits are woven together by some very original threads, really requiring the viewer to watch the entire show from the start if any of the sketches are going to make any sense (such as it is). I know someone who looks just like John Cleese in the role of Anne Elk.

"It's Your Funeral" (The Prisoner) / directed by Robert Asher (1967, VHS). Patrick McGoohan, Derren Nesbitt, Annette Andre, Mark Eden, Andre Van Gyseghem, Martin Miller. In this Cold War Teletubbyland, where a thin veneer of quaintness attempts to cover a world of eeeevil, the Prisoner (#6) finds himself being used as a tool in the palace intrigue of the upper echelon. Nesbitt, as #2, plays the part like a blonde James Mason. The premise of assassination, a patsy, and government engineering of information regarding the crime was fresh on the heels of Dallas, but before the 1968-1972 season of political killing. Although this series is supposed to be somewhat cryptic, this particular entry appears to have fallen on the floor, then been picked up, and patched back together in a way that mixed up some of the original pieces. The lack of privacy outlined in this story as a vision of invasive horror in 1967 has become more and more a fact of life today.

Rebecca / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1940, VHS). Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Judith Anderson, Nigel Bruce, Reginald Denny, C. Aubrey Smith, Leo G. Carroll. Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. A classic, Oscar winner, in the list of top films, bla bla bla. I found it boring and thought the thing would never end, although the pace did pick up after a very slow start. This was Hitchcock's first American movie and probably his most romantic. I'm guessing Hitch didn't get to exercise as much control over the final product as usual, this doesn't really feel like one of his efforts-- although we are treated to the usual lineup of his boorish, rude, mean, pompous, self-righteous and generally unpleasant cast of characters we neither like or respect. Set in a Gothic English mansion, you can watch this and see where Roger Corman got the idea for all those motion pictures starring Vincent Price pining for his dead wife, surrounded by portraits of ancestors, before the whole place goes up in a blaze of dramatic flame. Cheeeesey soundtrack, but it is filmed using the same deep focus method Welles employed the following year for Citizen Kane. I'm sure this probably would've been more impressive on the big screen. Olivier, Fontaine, Sanders and Anderson were well cast and play their stereotype-flat characters as best they can. In fact, the most interesting person in the film was Rebecca, who we never see. Free of conventional flashbacks, Hitchcock used the device of showing home movies to visually recall scenes in the past. As this motion picture droned on and on I kept saying aloud, "I can't believe they gave this thing the Oscar."

"Marooned" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1989, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge. One of my favorites. Lister and Rimmer find themselves marooned in Starbug, crashed on an icy planet. As Lister forages to eat and struggles to stay warm, the two enemies present us with one of the most dialogue-rich episodes in the series. Mostly funny with some sprinkles of drama. This could easily be on stage. I particularly enjoyed the conversation about literature, civilization, and survival as Lister is forced to burn some of the last ever copies of classic books in order to stay warm. Also, we see Lister eat a can of dog food, and Rimmer tells us that in a previous life he was Alexander the Great's chief eunuch.

Sneakers / directed by Phil Alden Robinson (1992, VHS). Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, David Strathairn, Dan Aykroyd, River Phoenix, Mary McDonnell, George Hearn, James Craven, Ben Kingsley, James Earl Jones. You have to like a film that ends with a newscaster reading, "In a surprise announcement, the Republican National Committee revealed it is bankrupt. A spokesman for the party said they had plenty of money in their accounts last week, but today they just don't know where the money has gone. But not everybody's going begging. Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the United Negro College Fund announced record earnings this week, due mostly to large anonymous donations." Hmm, I wonder if there is a connection? The odd cast combines into a likable team of cyber security experts, all of them veterans of living on the edge, or just beyond reach, of the law. A clean and entertaining action film that combines the best elements of Angels with Dirty Faces, WarGames, The Big Chill, and any heist movie. Smooth editing, nice use of deep, shadowy color, and a classy soundtrack. Enjoyable performances all the way around, but I particularly liked Strathairn as the blind electronics guy. Using gee-whiz technology in the plot is always questionable, running the risk of the motion picture becoming dated too quickly. But the story here transcends that problem and remains interesting. Kingsley has some lines that anticipate the future: "There's a war out there, old friend, a world war. And it's not about who's got the most bullets, it's about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think. It's all about the information."

The Truman Show / directed by Peter Weir (1998, VHS). Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Ed Harris, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Paul Giamatti, Harry Shearer, Philip Baker Hall, Philip Glass. "How's it going to end?" Truman Burbank (Carrey) is unaware that from birth he has been the star of his own "reality" show. Television producers and directors have gone to extraordinary lengths to produce an entire town, filled with actors and located on an island but in fact is in an enormous enclosed set in Los Angeles. We join Truman as the truth slowly dawns on him, as he goes through the stages and degrees of social and personal alienation, and as he discovers who he is, questioning his own sanity. Not unlike most normal Americans. This is a terrific concept and story, great direction and well told. Jim Carrey was better than OK, in fact I'm impressed he took on this film, but I'm not sure he was the best match for the title role. He still carried the gifted comedian shell around him, or perhaps I was just projecting my own preconceptions. Someone like Edward Norton might've had a better chance of connecting with the audience. Ed Harris, as the obsessed and arrogant television arteest, was amazing to watch. Philip Glass fans should enjoy his contributions to the soundtrack, as well as his cameo appearance on the keyboards. We Boomers can remember the precedent for the Truman Show, An American Family, a PBS series in the early 1970s documenting the Loud family in Santa Barbara. That early reality show captivated audiences the same way the fictitious viewers of the Truman Show were involved.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 67

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Dimension One Spas UltraLife Series Video Owner's Manual (1997, VHS). Produced by Imageworks in San Diego, this 20 minute video acts as a supplement to the printed manual. Workmanlike and plain, it outlines the basics in hottub ownership: Delivery, Start-Up, Operation, Care and Maintenance, Safety. Many of the pointers could be applied to makes other than UltraLife. I particularly enjoyed the part where the narrator precautioned consumers against soaking in the water alongside your pet porcupine. Ha ha. Just kidding. My hottub had a good decade-long run, but then became such a pain to maintain I just gave up. It hasn't been turned on in over a year and I'm still trying to figure out what to do with the unit. Suggestions for what to do with a dead hottub are welcome. Here's a special offer by stevenl! I'll give away this video for free, but you have to take the hottub with it. While I am it, I have a free couch/bed too!

"Resurrector" (American Gothic) / directed by Elodie Keene (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Jake Weber, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Greg Travis, Irene Ziegler. Although raising the dead is a theme in this well made entry in this soap opera, it also pits the media and law enforcement against each other. It becomes a battle of power vs. ambition, and power wins. This one has a great freaky and open ending. And now I'll take a detour just to pad this out. The child actors in here are very good at giving an authentic performance. The little guy who plays Boone reminds me of a buddy I had when I was attending Roosevelt grade school on the Eastside during the JFK/LBJ years. I'd go to his house, knock on the door, and usually his teenage sister would answer. She wouldn't talk to me directly, just sort of regard my presence as if I was something odiferous stuck on the bottom of her shoe, and then yell to her brother, "Hey! Your stupid little friend is here!" Ah, such warm nostalgic memories. If not for this episode, I probably would've gone the rest of my life without being reminded of that oh-so-pleasant little ritual whenever I visited my pal. Hence, for me, "Resurrector" is an appropriate title.

Saturday Night Live Goes Commercial / directed by James Signorelli (1991, VHS). Victoria Jackson, Kevin Nealon, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, A. Whitney Brown, Dana Carvey, Chevy Chase, Jane Curtin, Joan Cusack, James Downey, Nora Dunn, Anthony Michael Hall, Phil Hartman, Jan Hooks, Jon Lovitz, Dennis Miller, Garrett Morris, Eddie Murphy, Bill Murray, Mike Myers, Laraine Newman, Joe Piscopo, Randy Quaid, Gilda Radner, Chris Rock, Roseanne, David Spade, Terry Sweeney, Lily Tomlin, Danitra Vance, Damon Wayans, Robin Williams, Stevie Wonder, Akira Yoshimura. This is a collection of the best SNL parodies of commercials during their first 16 years. They still hold up well. Although all of the actors are good, Dan Aykroyd and Phil Hartman are the two who really seemed to be in their element in this particular avenue of humor. "Happy Fun Ball" ("Do not taunt Happy Fun Ball") is my favorite in this collection. I think their "Cluckin' Chicken" fast food commercial (my all time fave-- and I'm not even a vegetarian) was too new to be in here. The Jackson/Nealon narration links need to be cut if this is ever re-released.

 

Betty Boop and the Little King / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). The Little King was a newspaper comic strip by Otto Soglow that existed from the 1930s to the 1970s. As I recall, it ran in the Daily Olympian. The main character never spoke and managed to give a very human face to royalty. Well, actually, not quite human. The way he was drawn left little room for facial expression, so most of his attitude was through action. Not unlike Henry, another silent character teamed up with Betty Boop the previous year. Apparently, The Little King had a short animated run over at Van Beuren before hopping over for a special appearance at the Fleischer studio. In this cartoon The Little King leads a double life, with Betty Boop inhabiting the fun half-- but the amazing Fleischer dimensional backgrounds threaten to be more attractive than the main action. One unusual bit of trivia my fellow cartoonists might be interested to hear: The Little King actually speaks in this work, and he sounds like he wears loose fitting dentures. An animated oddity that comes across as a strange hybrid.

 

Dracula, Prince of Darkness / directed by Terence Fisher (1966, VHS). Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Andrew Keir, Francis Matthews, Suzan Farmer, Charles "Bud" Tingwell, Thorley Walters, Philip Latham. A good, solid entry into the Dracula filmography. This was presented in Hammer style, i.e.. muted color, slow pacing, a world where the heroes are wooden and boring and the bad guys are far more intriguing. Actually, Andrew Keir was pretty interesting as the monk with an attitude who went after the Count. To me, Bela Lugosi will always be the definitive cinematic Dracula, but Christopher Lee is a very close second. Since Drac didn't show up in the story until fairly late in the game, half of the tale's suspense was wondering when he'd appear. Apparently Lee took a look at the script and thought it was so terrible he refused to talk, so he didn't. Seriously. Although we miss out on hearing this great actor delivering the sort of cultured menace we all love, I must say the wordless hissing he used actually worked in creating an otherwordly, and very eerie, being. This would've shocked Lugosi's original audience in the early 1930s, but today it seems pretty tame. Yet. There were several parts that still made me cringe. Slicing the neck of a freshly murdered hanging upside-down human in order to drain blood into Dracula's coffin was sort of gross. Hey, maybe that's just me. Philip Latham as Klove, Dracula's butler, was as frightening as his master. When some of the slow parts dragged on I found myself wondering things ... things like, "Does Dracula ever have to go to the bathroom? If he can't be in running water, how can he stay clean? Or does he? And, if he can't use a mirror, how does he comb his hair and always look so well groomed?" You know, important stuff like that.

Funny Bones / directed by Peter Chelsom (1995, VHS). Oliver Platt, Jerry Lewis, Lee Evans, Leslie Caron, Richard Griffiths, Oliver Reed, George Carl, Freddie Davies, Ian MacNeice, Christopher Greet. I had not seen this film in awhile and I forgot how good it was. In fact, I'd venture to propose that this work, after Rubin and Ed, is one of the most overlooked masterpieces of the 1990s. This has the magical mixture of being complicated yet easy to follow, director Chelsom is a true Celluloid maestro. Set mostly in Blackpool, England, two sets of brothers grapple with comedy and death. This film makes an attempt to dissect the anatomy of the comic impulse ("I never saw anything funny that wasn't terrible, didn't cause pain ...") The older set of siblings are on the descent, while the younger pair are literally getting their act together. In the latter couple, one of them is "too educated to be funny" while the other is a comic savant. The story really centers around Lee Evans, who exhibits comic skills that would've worked well in the silent film era. Chelsom has a real eye for finding and capturing humanistic art in simple acts. I like this director. Visually rich with a great soundtrack. Carl and Davies as the old Vaudevillian Parker Brothers were lovingly portrayed as a salute to the stage entertainers of a past era who were not immortalized on film. The flashbacks were creative, original, timed and edited into the main trunk of the story with expert weaving. The Big Names in the cast list were pretty much sent into supporting playerland, giving then unknowns Platt and Evans a chance to shine, which they both pulled off admirably. Oliver Reed sort of showed up without much to do. Lewis played himself, as he did in King of Comedy, stepping outside his shtick to play himself doing his shtick. I'm not a Lewis fan, but I have to admit he was great in this title. I don't understand why this movie continues to be such a big secret. It deserves greater exposure and recognition. And Jerry Lewis deserves plaudits for having the guts to step outside his formula at the risk of losing his fans.

Chikyû kogeki meirei: Gojira tai Gaigan = Godzilla vs. Gigan / directed by Jun Fukuda (1972, VHS). Hiroshi Ishikawa, Yuriko Hishimi, Minoru Takashima, Haruo Nakajima. Two words came to mind as I watched this, "Stupid," and "Ridiculous." It's just. So. Bad. And not even funny. I did like the fact the hero was a cartoonist, so that is a bonus. Also the fact grown people are discussing "Monster Island" (the place where ol' Gojira and his pals reside) as if it was a bland fact of life. Plus, military leaders are able to recognize and name individual monsters by their shapes on radar. Wouldn't you have loved to sat in on the class that taught that particular skill? This is the last Godzilla film where Haruo Nakajima is running around in the Big Reptile suit. By 1972 the giant radioactive lizard, with a score of motion pictures under his belt, had transformed from a villain to a hero. So different creatures had to be introduced in order to represent the bad side, namely King Ghidora and Gigan. Godzilla had a little quadruped buddy, Anguirus, to help him out. Not unlike the team of Gumby and Pokey, except the latter team is a far more terrifying sight to behold. Godzilla and Anguirus actually speak English a little bit. Buster, one of the cats who lives in my house, was transfixed during the big showdown scene as Tokyo once again gets flattened. It was as if he was studying Gozilla's fighting technique. I found that slightly disturbing.

A Swiss Trick / directed by John Foster, Vernon Stallings (1931, DVD). A chiefly musical cartoon featuring the human Tom and Jerry. Yodels, the Alps, Swiss cheese, and a few other stereotypes of Switzerland act as comic props. You can tell the cartoonists are just playing around with the novelty of having sound in their film. Probably pretty amazing in 1931, but it comes across as almost tedious today. Has a light tone until the creepy ending.

The Violent Years / directed by William Morgan (1956, DVD). Jean Moorhead, I. Stanford Jolley, Timothy Farrell, Harry Keaton (uncredited). "So what?" In that slip of time between Bride of the Monster and Plan 9 From Outer Space, Edward Davis Wood, Jr. stepped outside his legendary director role and wrote the screenplay for this exploitation film about bad girls running amok. I don't know why Wood wasn't hired to direct the thing as well, since his fingerprints are all over this work. The disjointed dialogue, Timothy Farrell, continuity problems between day and night, lots of focus on those beautiful mid 1950s cars-- all very Woodian and wonderful. In this morality tale where sexual innuendo runs through almost every scene, parental spoiling and neglect is to blame for everything wrong with modern youth, and religion and physical punishment possess the cure. Wood also suggests Communists are behind the spree of widespread vandalism. A fun and corny snapshot of an era. You can almost feel the 1956 hormonal tension, right before all Hell breaks loose in the years to come. For some unknown reason the newspaper headlines used as part of telling the story include side articles about commuter fares. What's up with that? Some Woodian trivia: actor Jolley (who played the Judge) and Wood died within three days of each other in Dec. 1978. Coincidence?

"The Jail Bird" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1955, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Harry Bartell, Sheila Bromley, Harry Guardino, Barney Phillips, Sid Tomack. This was the 98th and final episode of the series, and Joan Davis went out with one the best segments in the entire run. A crow trained in larceny befriends Joan, bringing her purloined jewels. Joan begins to doubt her sanity and slips into existential despair. This story is a nice testimony on the power of love (expertly played by Backus). Also, Davis performs what I would nominate as one of the best double-takes of 1950s television in this story. This was the final bow for Madonna Josephine Davis, who died of a heart attack in 1961 aged 53-- the same age of death, by coincidence, as the above mentioned Ed Wood. Joan-- a very funny comic who deserves more recognition for her contribution in the history of entertainment.

Kill Bill. Vol. 2 / directed by Quentin Tarantino (2004, VHS). Uma Thurman, David Carradine, Chia Hui Lui, Michael Madsen, Daryl Hannah, Michael Parks, Samuel L. Jackson. Sometimes I wonder if Quentin Tarantino has painted himself into a corner with his obsession of cramming his movies with allusions to Boomer pop icons. We old guys watch his films, and after those little bits of trivia subliminally fill our heads we leave feeling strangely comforted. But we're dying off, and if Quentin wants to stay in the game he might have to discover those younger audiences and, shudder, change. This is sort of a backhanded feminist martial arts revenge piece (all the killers in this one are women). Honing pop and junk culture into a fine art, Tarantino has rearranged and interwoven the Asian martial arts genre with the Western. Nobody has more creatively applied soundtracks than this director, and in this case much of the music sounds like it was lifted right out of a Sergio Leone film. Visually exciting and the pace never bogs down. Who would've thought Uma would've been so effective in the role of a warrior? She's amazing. I never liked David Carradine (may he rest in peace), not even in this role. But the Superman/Clark Kent bit was good. That was lifted right out of a book I have, The Great Comic Book Heroes, by Jules Feiffer. It was a fitting idea to bring to the dialogue, since it was consistent with Uma's character. Feiffer wrote, "The truth may be that Kent existed not for the purposes of the story but the reader. He is Superman's opinion of the rest of us, a pointed caricature of what we, the noncriminal element, were really like. His fake identity was our real one. That's why we loved him so. For if that wasn't really us; if there were no Clark Kents, only lots of glasses and cheap suits which, when removed, revealed all of us in our true identities-- what a hell of an improved world it would have been!"

The Maltese Falcon / directed by John Huston (1941, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Gladys George, Peter Lorre, Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick, Sydney Greenstreet, Ward Bond, Jerome Cowan, Elisha Cook Jr., James Burke, John Hamilton, Walter Huston (uncredited). Not just a private eye movie, this is THE private eye movie. John Huston's astonishing debut effort as a director set the bar for this genre. Although washed through the censors of the era, Huston was able to artfully suggest the racier parts of Dashiell Hammett's original story, creating the effect of allowing the audience to fill in the blanks and thus making the screenplay steamier than if it had been more blatant. Great performances all the way around, there is not one wasted second in the pacing. This was the first of nine movies to pair Greenstreet with Lorre, two enjoyable hams who seemed to derive more spark by trying to outdo each other in going over the top in their own way. Bogart's posthumous career enjoyed a spike in the early 1970s, partly due to his antihero image being rediscovered and embraced by the youth culture, and also by Woody Allen's popular play and film, Play It Again Sam. At Evergroove, The Maltese Falcon was a particular favorite. If you ever get a chance to see this on the big screen, go.

Cheaper by the Dozen 68

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"The War Against Pornography" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 15, episode 32) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Tory Tours, The war against pornography, Mr. Gumby sees Dr. Gumby and declares "My brain hurts!", Gumby surgery room, Gilliam uses Adlai Stevenson's face in a collage cartoon, Documentary on molluscs, Gilliam uses John L. Lewis' face in a collage cartoon, Today in Parliament, The Tuesday documentary, The Children's story, Party political broadcast, Match of the day, Politicians: an apology, The hip Navy interviewed by a morphing pirate, Royal Navy-- something other than else, The lake in the basement, Mr. Badger is interviewed. A good, classic entry into the Python series. This one includes one of my all-time favorite Python lines, this time delivered by a very officious Navy man (Graham Chapman): "And may I take this opportunity in emphasizing that there is no cannibalism in the British Navy. Absolutely none. And when I say 'None' I mean there is a certain amount." It crosses my mind that Gilliam, the only American born member of Python, frequently employs faces taken from figures in United States history as sources for his cartoon collage animations, especially unsuccesful Vice-Presidential candidate John Alexander Logan (1826-1886). As it so happens, unsuccessful Vice-Presidential candidates used to be an interest of mine. I even published a book about them over two decades ago. But that's in the sordid past. So let's move on.

"Fall Out" (The Prisoner) / directed by Patrick McGoohan (1968, VHS). Patrick McGoohan, Leo McKern, Kenneth Griffith, Alexis Kanner. Should be entitled "Cop Out." Almost, nearly, just about as bad as Zardoz, and that's pretty bad. The final installment in this excellent but short-lived series was incoherent, disappointing, and seen by many as completely avoiding any recognition of the investment of time by devoted fans to the story. Hence, "Cop Out." It was almost as if McGoohan said, "Screw it," and hid behind the curtain of surrealism in an effort to just end the franchise ASAP. The public was so angry at being cheated apparently McGoohan didn't feel safe walking the streets and went into hiding for awhile! Most of the action takes place during some kind of trial, with strong themes of what was then called "The Generation Gap" threatening the established order. I did like the ironic use of the Beatles' "All You Need is Love" at one point. I'll be fair-- as a stand alone bit of late 1960s case study weirdness, this actually isn't bad. In fact, if compartmentalized and isolated as a monographic film it is indeed fun if you're into the bizarre. What makes it awful is how inconsistent and jarring this segment is with the other episodes in the series. We viewers arrived at the door with expectations and anticipation, but were bascially abused-- in a cinematic sense.

Red Dawn / directed by John Milius (1984, VHS). Patrick Sawyze, C. Thomas Howell, Lea Thompson, Charlie Sheen, Darren Dalton, Jennifer Grey, Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, Powers Boothe, Scott Phillips (uncredited). A well crafted piece of Fear Culture propaganda and Cold War cheerleading, and it played well to the NRA faithful back in 1984. But if I had a Paranoia Meter, the needle would be pegged on this baby. Illegal immigrants' efforts to infiltrate and sabotage our defense system paid off, allowing the Soviets and their South-of-Our-Border commie allies to invade the Midwest-- but wait, there's more. The story starts out with paratroopers killing school children. Registered gun owners are rounded up. Patriots are placed in "re-education camps" and many are executed by firing squad. Who can save us? A group of kids escape to the woods, managing to use guerilla warfare techniques in fighting the swarthy and ethnic bad guys. And somehow those children usually maintain their 80s hair without muss or fuss! The body count in this tale must be incredible. This rolls like an adolescent fantasy for nationalist conspiracy screwballs and firearms fetish freaks everywhere. I cringe to see fine actors like Johnson and Stanton deliver the nonsense dialogue they were paid to babble. This is one big political advertisement for a sick segment of the lunatic fringe, a rather ironic label since Theodore Roosevelt invented the term and the director is a TR admirer. Believe it or not this is currently being remade, so perhaps we have not progressed as much from the time of Ron the Con as I thought. Just so I'm not totally negative, I liked the sweeping landscape shots, some nice work there. The direction was good as craft, but not art. Brush with fame: Back in the Newave Comix era I used to correspond with an excellent cartoonist from Albuquerque named Scott "Scooter" Phillips. Scooter shows up several times as a prominent extra in the course of the story, most notably as the flag bearer on the right during the Soviet parade, and also second from right in the row of Soviet commandos in the briefing scene. He reported his experience as an extra was a lot of fun. Frankly, that's the only reason I went to see Red Dawn when it was first released, to support Scooter. Phillips is now a film director. Back in 1986 he wrote to me, "Hey! In the biker movie script me and Howie [John Howard, another great NM cartoonist!] are writing, there's one biker we'd like to call Morty Dog, if it's okay with you. We don't have a lot of work left on the script, but the way we write it could be 2029 before it's done." Only 20 years yet to go!

"Polymorph" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1989, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge. The Red Dwarf version of Alien. Funny yet some dialogue is more contrived than usual. We see Lister without fear, the Cat without vanity, Kryten without guilt, and Rimmer without anger. Rimmer's biography is padded a little more when we meet his mother and see a home movie of how he was treated by his brothers. The Polymorph can change it's shape at will, including into Lister's boxer shorts-- a scene that ranks as one of the favorites among fans, a fact demonstrating what a Guy Program this really is. We also hear Arnold singing "All You Need is Love." Hey, didn't we also hear that in the just previously mentioned "Fall Out" episode of The Prisoner? There are no coincidences in life.

Sunset Blvd. / directed by Billy Wilder (1950, VHS). William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Jack Webb, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner. It took a lot of courage for silent film star Gloria Swanson to come out of retirement and essentially play a caricature of herself. Using silent film melodramatic acting conventions in a modern 1950 Wilder film, she was terrific and mesmerizing as a living relic existing in her own time bubble. Holden as her gigolo and von Stroheim as her butler/ex-husband are classic enablers, and both actors were superb in their renditions. In fact, this is probably one of Holden's best movies in the early half of his career. There are no characters to like in this dark work. Hollywood condemned itself here, where an actress was considered a has-been at age 50, tossed aside and then is seen no more. Fortunately that perception has slowly changed in the last six decades. A terrific case study concerning the downward slide after achieving tremendous success at a young age. This movie changed the way I see Swanson's earlier work. Not long ago I saw Beyond the Rocks (1922) on the big screen at the Washington Center (complete with live organ music) starring Valentino and Swanson. The appropriately entitled Sunset Blvd. made me appreciate the passion that went into those silents a little bit more. Note some of the odd walk-ons, such as DeMille, Hopper, and Keaton. Cataloging trivia: although the posters, VHS container, etc. all use the title Sunset Boulevard, the film itself, which is the chief source of information for library catalogers, uses Sunset Blvd. as the main title. 

The Stooges Story : Four Generations of Stooges (1990, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Curly Howard, Ted Healy, Joe Besser, Joe DeRita, Emil Sitka, Bud Jamison, Dee Green, Christine McIntyre, Ed Wynn. A badly patched together and low budget documentary on the history of the Three Stooges. A narrator talks over movie stills and public domain film clips. Heavily padded with extended scenes from Disorder in the Court, Brideless Groom, Sing a Song of Six Pants, and an episode of the Ed Wynn Show. Looks like something any normal Joe could put together at home and post on YouTube. A true Stooge scholar would turn away and then spin on the floor a few times yelling "Woop! Woop! Woop!" in response to this work.

"Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by Montgomery Pittman (1961, VHS). John Hoyt, Jean Willes, Jack Elam, Barney Phillips, John Archer, William Kendis, Morgan Jones, Gertrude Flynn, Bill Erwin, Jill Ellis, Ron Kipling, Rod Serling. The chain-smoking Rod Serling does it again by presenting us with another classic in television history. Two state police officers attempt to determine which one of the seven snow-bound and stranded bus passengers in a diner is an alien. Filled with actors you recognize but can't name. Jack Elam is great as the crazy old coot. Comfort food entertainment for the typical Boomer. Nice low-budget twist ending. Mind games in the JFK era. I loved this series when it originally aired and still do.

"Inhumanitas" (American Gothic) / directed by Bruce Seth Green (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Pat Hingle, Wayne Dehart. Merlyn and Sheriff Buck have it out, and the Sheriff gets his butt kicked-- finally. Apparently Buck has some kind of deal with the local priest: in exchange for protection, all juicy confessions are reported to the man with the star. Looks like Trinity, S.C. is not a good town for Catholics. More emphasis on God, church, religion, and redemption than usual-- which actually comes closer to the core of the main conflict in this supernatural soap opera. Very well directed, with nice special effects and creative lighting. Pat Hingle as the priest is one of the best guest actors in the entire series. Sheriff Buck also employs his usual tricks of bestowing heart attacks upon men of the cloth who won't play ball, and allowing sleazy people (in this case a greedy attorney) to sell their souls in exchange for the always ironic payback.

Bullet to Beijing / directed by George Mihalka (1995, VHS). Michael Caine, Jason Connery, Patrick Allen, Mia Sara, Michael Gambon, Michael Sarrazin, Lev Prygunov, Burt Kwouk. A comeback film for the 1960s Cold Warrior, British spy Harry Palmer (The Ipcress File, etc.), played by Caine. But by 1995 the Cold War was over, the Soviet Union no more, and a small army of unemployed spooks on both sides are now peddling their skills on the open market. Not a great film, not even a good one, but it is still fun to watch Michael Caine in the role of the tired, mature spy. Caine is always good, no matter how bad the film-- Michael has real screen presence that surpasses weak scripts. Lots of dry humor, much of it at the expense of the crumbling Russian economy and poor technology. Filmed in London and St. Petersburg, Russia, the prevailing color is blue, giving the entire motion picture a muted and downplayed feeling. I found the Russian location shots to be more interesting than the convoluted plot. The music appears to have been lifted from an infomercial (or at least that is what it sounds like) and if this is ever re-mastered I'd be interested to see how far an improved and appropriate soundtrack would go in saving this movie. Still, when I learned this was made for Showtime TV, I was impressed it had such good production values for television. More interesting as a curio than as entertainment.

The Candid Candidate / directed by Dave Fleischer (1937, DVD). Jack Mercer (uncredited voice), Mae Questel (uncredited voice). With Betty Boop's campaign help, Grampy is elected Mayor by a one vote margin. He quickly discovers holding political office is no bowl of cherries, but with the aid of his thinking cap comes up with some wild technological solutions-- Fleischer-style. Fun stuff. My DVD (Digiview Productions) used a master copy that was pretty scratched up, giving the impression the entire cartoon took place during a light rain. Actually, for us Western Washingtonians, that should seem normal.

Dersu Uzala / directed by Akira Kurosawa (1975, VHS). Maksim Munzuk, Yuri Solomin. A remarkable film where Dr. Zhivago meets Yoda. Set in the Siberian wilderness in the early 20th century, a Russian survey geological survey party encounter a local hunter. Dismissed at first as a crazy old eccentric, the surveyors quickly gain a healthy respect for Dersu's lifetime of experience living in the forest as he saves their lives several times over. The lead surveyor forms a bond with Dersu, learning to appreciate the hunter's spiritual connection with the wilderness as if he was a poet. But eventually the realities of age and encroaching civilization change things. This film is as pleasantly incongruous as a Spaghetti Western. Japanese director Kurosawa brings his amazing visual sensitivity to a group of Soviet actors in a country not known for sosphisticated filmmaking (I saw a Soviet version of Hamlet once that was like something Ed Wood would've produced). Also, the actors, all of them terrific, were portraying real Russians, not Soviets, since the story took place in the Tsar's reign. It was almost as if the Soviets needed a talented outsider like Kurosawa to poke through the artificial government religion and come in under the bureaucratic radar to give their true Russian soul a voice in the repressive days of 1975. Dersu represents humankind on a level more spiritually connected with our primal survival instincts in the wild, and his "retirement" in an urban environment is not unlike that of a sad, caged and beautiful creature of the woods stuck in a zoo. There are many parallels with European relationships to Native Americans in this tale. I appreciated the fact this was a rare narrative about male bonding that didn't come across as a high-fivin' beer commercial, or was filled with macho bravado, or have sexually suggestive overtones. It was pretty straight ahead, direct and honest about male friendships. My copy (Kino Video) had excellent letterboxed and always readable subtitles. Based on a true story.

Gamera daikaijû kuchu kessen = Gamera, the Guardian of the Universe / directed by Shusuke Kaneko (1995, VHS). Tsuyoshi Ihara, Akira Onodera, Shinobu Nakayama, Ayako Fujitani. One of the best of the giant Japanese monster films, which is like saying the best of the selection of cheap cigars that don't have worms in them. A guy in a costume dressed up as a giant fire-breathing turtle with tusks who can also spit fire and fly like a spinning saucer saves the universe from enormous reptile birds. Relatively speaking, the production values are good. I always enjoy watching guys in suits and ties seriously discussing how to handle enormous monsters running amok in a city. Perhaps this should be a question for candidates for your local municipal offices? The English dubbing here is funny, one young woman has a Valley Girl voice. Much of the story is told via TV newscasters or headlines, which somehow adds to the humor factor. As usual, one young person has a telepathic connection with the giant (we Boomers learned this convention early through our hours spent watching the breakthrough show Gigantor). And concerning the telepathic kid, Sarah felt it was especially important I point out the heart-rending piece of dialogue from the subject's father, "Why must you share Gamera's suffering?" Those giant Japanese monsters can sometimes be an enormous pain in the ass. Talk about enabling! Although I consider this the best of the Big Japanese Monster films, it remains a case where the fast forward button is your friend. I'm done with this genre.

Cheaper by the Dozen 69

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Little Lost Pony / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). StevenL is flat on his back, electric sweat exuding from every pore, staring up at the textured ceiling with eyes wide, gasping out, "The Horror! The Horror!" We see Gumby in the role of a child. We see Gumby's mother, the Blockheads, Farmer Glen, and learn the "origin" of Gumby's pony pal Pokey-- a match made in Hell. At one point Gumby earns "X"s for eyes as he overconsumes ice cream, and Pokey has one of the most disturbing laughs I have heard recorded on film. I can't help but notice the video versions I find online have had the audio remastered so the dialogue is not nearly as haunting and soul-rending as the original (my copy is from a 1987 VHS videocassette produced by the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing company named "Family Home Entertainment"). Although Pokey supposedly has escaped from an innocent book about farm animals, if you remove the dust jacket you'll find it was a disguise for hiding the content of the real monograph underneath-- The Necronomicon! The gentleman who gave me this video when it was new is someone I have known since 1958 (a year after this episode was created) when we were innocent little kids. Today he is a highly placed and respected member of Olympia's legal community. Sometimes I wonder if he got to where he is by selling his soul to these clay demons. Chilling.

Plane Dumb / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). A racist cartoon where the human Tom and Jerry don blackface before visiting Africa. The act of disguising themselves somehow makes them talk and act like movie stereotype African-Americans. This has more dialogue than I'm used to hearing with this duo. I felt embarrassed as I watched this. Not because we have come a long way since this cartoon was created, but because we still have a long way to go almost 80 years later.

"Clothes Budget" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1954, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Fritz Feld, Bernard Gorcey, Adele Jergens. Joan's attempt at 1950s-style upwomanship concerning an evening gown backfires, leaving her with the fancy gown as the only article of clothing she has to her name. There is a reason fashion and fascism sound so much the same: Hence the tension from which Joan Davis played as a source of comedy. Joan needs to have someone in the 21st century act as her champion, devoting time to bringing attention to her gifted comedic contribution to American culture.

The Killing / directed by Stanley Kubrick (1956, VHS). Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Vince Edwards, Elisha Cook Jr., Joe Sawyer. An early effort by director Kubrick where he gets his feet wet, before he discovered the Big Face ploy. This hardboiled heist story is well told, in spite of the fact the narrative is chopped up into nonsequential chunks, not unlike the later Tarantino films supposedly influenced by this work. The Dragnet type choppy and matter of fact narration is sort of comic. And the suspense timing is really off, but Kubrick is already exhibiting talent in his lighting (black and white here) and visual composition. There is a good argument in this motion picture for why private enterprise is really more of a failure than public service during the concluding scenes. The racetrack bits remind me that as I was growing up my Dad would take me to Longacres (a now defunct local horseracetrack), or cheap arcades on the coast, and there was always some guy behind a counter with slicked back hair, a pot belly, cigarette dangling from his lower lip, and a nose exactly like mine who turned out to be a cousin of some sort. The universe as presented in this motion picture is not unfamiliar to me. Anyway, I like the ending of this movie-- Hayden's criminal character has sort of an existential acceptance of responsibility for his fate. Not a great film, but worthy of a view by Kubrick fans.

"Body Swap" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1989, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge. An age old device where characters exchange bodies, in this case Rimmer and Lister. As Rimmer points out, "You've reached that age, Listy. When you're younger you can eat what you like, drink what what you like, and still climb into your 26 inch trousers and zip them closed. Then you reach that age, 24 or 25, your muscles give up with a little white flag and then without any warning at all you're suddenly a fat bastard." For me, that was back in the early 1980s. Depressing. The Cat tells us the meaning of "Jozxyqk."

"Time Enough at Last" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by John Brahm (1959, VHS). Burgess Meredith, Vaughn Taylor, Jacqueline deWit, Rod Serling (narrator). A mild mannered bank clerk has one passion-- reading. His great joy is to sit in the bank vault and quietly enjoy books away from his nagging wife and stern boss. He is in this very vault when an H-bomb devastates the city, leaving him as the sole survivor. As his existence becomes a lonely life in the twisted wreckage, he contemplates suicide, but then discovers the ruins of the public library. Wallowing in books galore, he's in hog heaven until Serling treats us to the trick ending. I don't know why this is one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone, but it usually is mentioned when Boomers get together and recall the stories. I suppose it has to do with the real threat of nuclear war during the early 1960s and how that became branded in our little brains. Even though the carnage of the bomb was really cleaned up for 1959 black and white television and might seem tame by our special effects expectations today, I remember very well this particular installment of the series scared the living crap out of me when I watched it on our old Motorola on Eastside St.

"To Serve Man" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by Richard L. Bare (1962, VHS). Lloyd Bochner, Susan Cummings, Richard Kiel, Rod Serling. A big-craniumed alien race called the Kanamits visit Earth and offer to eradicate hunger, war, and usher in a new Eden. Their manual is a book called "To Serve Man." It almost seems too good to be true. Funny how when Earthlings talk about the questionable promises of the Kanamits it sounds to my ear like the questionable promises of the Candidates. Coincidence? Another enormously popular episode in this series, usually evoking a recitation of the giveaway key line.

"The Plague Sower" (American Gothic) / directed by Mel Damski (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Paige Turco, John Mese. No, this isn't H1N1. One of the creepier entries into this series, leaning more on the horror aspect. The lines between Good and Evil become more blurred here, as Merlyn brings down Old Testament style buckets of blood as a form of punishment for sinners. Some major shifts in this soap include formerly good guys (Dr. Matt and Gail) taking irreversible steps to the Dark Side, while Selena edges back to the Light. We also learn Sheriff Buck was at one time in his past a soldier against Evil. A new character is introduced, another doctor, who appears to be the most formidable human the unearthly Buck has yet to encounter. Nice soundtrack, good special effects.

The Cameraman / directed by Edward Sedgwick, Buster Keaton (uncredited) (1928, VHS). Buster Keaton, Marceline Day, Harold Goodwin, Sidney Bracey, Harold Gribbon, Vernon Dent (uncredited). One of Keaton's last great silent pictures. Playing the stoic-faced but plucky little underdog, Buster attempts to make a name for himself as a newsreel cameraman. Two scenes really stick out. First, Keaton has a bit involving several flights of stairs, and a creative "elevator crane" was used, cutaway fashion. The effect is almost like reading a comic strip, panel to panel. Second, one part of the story has Keaton, with a little monkey on his back, running around Chinatown in the midst of a violent gang war-- a scene which taken out of context and viewed by itself is almost Dada-like. Although this is a wonderful film, it doesn't seem quite as tight, focused, or outrageous as some of his other silent feature-length movies. But he was still the greatest silent film comedian. I even have a cat named Buster, in his honor.

Grampy's Indoor Outing / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936, DVD). Mae Questel (uncredited voice). When rain prevents Betty Boop and the Little Jimmy from going to the carnival, the kid has a meltdown and throws a fit. Instead of teaching the little monster a lesson about how to deal with disappointment, Grampy steps in and provides the brat with an indoor amusement park cleverly created from common household items as only Fleischer could dream up. And they said we Boomers were spoiled!? Now the truth comes out! Anyway, who is this Little Jimmy and why does Betty Boop always seem to be taking care of him? Little Jimmy would be in 70s now, and a cartoon updating us on what happened to this kid (if he aged like normal humans) might be a nice project for one of my comix art colleagues out there. But not me. I'm strictly a lines on paper guy, animation is not my thing.

Point of Honor / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). Gumby and Prickle (apparently a dinosaur of uncertain origin) fight over a totally stupid "point of honor" involving a shapeless glob of toxic waste with long eyelashes named "Goo." An episode demonstrating the idiocy of both genders in certain social rituals. Easily one of the most insipid animations I've seen in a long time. Bad even by Gumby standards. And that's pretty bad. The usual Gumby weird cadence of speech is evident here.

Pots and Pans / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). One of the better efforts by Van Bueren Studios concerning the human Tom and Jerry. This primitive but funny animation includes lots of "suicide food" as our heroes operate a diner. The music in the kitchen made up of household items was wonderful. It reminded me of an Evergreen retreat back on the mid-1970s, somewhere up in Mason County where a lodge type kitchen existed. We students were cleaning the diningware and as we had possession of the utensils started to jam. It was magical and one of my best remembered spontaneous musical moments.

Cheaper by the Dozen 70

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Dressed to Kill / directed by Roy William Neill (1946, DVD). Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Patricia Morison, Edmund Breon, Frederick Worlock. For a public domain film I bought in the bargain bin for a buck, this is surprisingly good. This was the final appearance (out of 14 movies!) of Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes teamed up with Bruce as Watson (also Roy William Neill, who had directed so many of the Rathbone/Holmes titles, died shortly after the motion picture was finished). But long after 1946, for the next four decades until Jeremy Brett came along, Rathbone was the definitive Holmes. And a good one he was. Unlike Brett, Basil's Holmes is slightly more personable, and not so dark, laserlike or eccentric. With Brett, Holmes himself is the show, but with Rathbone the story takes center stage. Both actors were great for the role at the time they played them. This story is not bad. Fans will recognize elements of The Six Napoleons and also A Scandal in Bohemia. There are references to Irene Adler, Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist, and even a setup for the future spoof film, Without a Clue (plates for 5 pound notes!) It is a little disconcerting to see Holmes and Watson running around London in a 1946 setting with modern automobiles, telephones, etc. Part of the charm of the original Holmes is the fact he has a modern mind in a Victorian world, but in this case he doesn't seem so unique. Moral of the story for villains: If you're going to leave the hero in a death trap, then stick around to witness the death. Jeez, you evildoers never learn.

The General / directed by Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton (1926, DVD). Buster Keaton, Marion Mack. The greatest silent picture ever made, and one of the best movies of all time. As a Confederate train engineer chasing Union troops who hijacked his locomotive, The General, Keaton is at his peak. His comic stunt timing here has deservedly become the stuff of legend. About as pure and beautiful as comedy can get, with a tight story that doesn't waste a single frame. An underdog in an underdog rebel nation, the choice to place Keaton's character as a citizen of the Deep South was brilliant. We know his cause is doomed from the start but admire his tenacity. Romantic without suffocating in sentimentality, funny without being cute, action-packed without being mindless-- Keaton was ahead of his time and for my money was far superior to the silent comedy superstar of the era, Charlie Chaplin. Some Pacific Northwest trivia: This was filmed in Oregon. I first saw this title in the late 1960s with a bunch of old guys who were born around the time this movie was made (Well, they seemed old to me at the time, although all of them were younger than I am now!) One of them had checked the movie reel (yes, a movie reel in those pre-VHS/DVD days) out of Olympia Public Library along with a projector and screen and set up an outdoor showing on a warm summer night. This is the way silent movies should be viewed. Especially this one.

Imaginary Crimes / directed by Anthony Drazan (1994, VHS). Harvey Keitel, Fairuza Balk, Kelly Lynch, Vincent D'Onofrio, Chris Penn, Elisabeth Moss, Seymour Cassell, Annette O'Toole, William G. Schilling. Based on the autobiographical work of Seattle native Sheila Ballantyne, but set in Portland in the early 1960s, this coming of age melodrama didn't grab me the first time but during the second viewing a few years later I was impressed. A rare case where narration works, a world-weary girl describes life with a widowed father who engages in one small time hustle con game after another. "Never has a man," she says, "less equipped for parenthood tried so hard." I found an uncomfortable connection with Keitel as the daughter-Dad wracked by self-doubt and guilt. Although his case was extreme, there are some parenthood universals in there for those of us who have raised children to adulthood. The portrayal of writing as a form of therapy, coping, and self-discovery with a devoted teacher as a mentor was a ray of light in this story. Great performances by Keitel and Balk. Child actor Moss was also quite good. My favorite ironic quote came from conman Keitel who spoke of himself in the third person: "Your Daddy knows about college. Your Daddy knows about professors. I know. Don't think I don't know. I've been around. Those pinko intellectuals will distort your values and do everything in their power to turn your head around and ruin everything that I, and all decent upstanding Americans-- like your Daddy-- hold precious." Keitel's character later winds up being imprisoned for fraud.

Kill Bill. Vol. 1 / directed by Quentin Tarantino (2003, VHS). Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu, Vivica A. Fox, Daryl Hannah, David Carradine, Michael Madsen, Julie Dreyfus, Chia Hui Liu, Michael Parks, Michael Bowen. Sophisticated camp. For action/martial arts fans, this is like eating candy, and gets my vote for Tarantino's most amazing visual ride combined with original soundtrack selections. Last month I watched Vol. 2, and seeing these two out of sequence didn't seem to make much of a difference, given the director's nonlinear method of storytelling. In fact, in some ways, I liked the story better when I switched the order of both parts. More violent and bloody than Vol. 2, with a much higher body count, Vol. 1 is also more intricate and varied. As usual with Tarantino, this is a real homage smorgasboard to pop/junk culture, including Manga, Leone, Peckinpah, Green Hornet, Zatoichi, and all those nameless HK fight films. One thing about Tarantino films that resonates: this guy loves and cares about movies and that energy really comes through for the viewer. He's not cranking out something in order to just make a buck. It's almost as if this fellow is a motion picture evangelist. Even if I'm not crazy about the subject matter (which in this case I'm not) it is still a joy to see his handiwork. Uma Thurman is no slouch either-- she makes a convincing blonde warrior. Jackie Brown remains my favorite movie directed by Tarantino but both of the Kill Bill films are high quality as well.

Magical Mystery Tour / directed by Bernard Knowles, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr (1967, VHS). George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Vivian Stanshall, Neil Innes, George Claydon, Ivor Cutler, Mal Evans, Derek Royle, Jessie Robins, Victor Spinetti. Not everything the Beatles touched turned to gold, as evidenced here by the Fabs and their staff aboard a tour bus crossing England in search of a script. John Lennon called this "The most expensive home movie ever made," which is a pretty accurate description. But there are parts of this work worth defending, and when I go through my next round of thinning out the video vault this one will be a keeper. First, there are the songs (Magical Mystery Tour, Fool on the Hill, Flying, I am the Walrus, Blue Jay Way, and Your Mother Should Know) presented as encapsulated music videos long before MTV became reality. Also, the Beatles' anticipated some of the UK Dada comedy that was later perfected by Monty Python. In particular the scene where Lennon the fancypants waiter serves a customer with shovel-loads of food brings to mind the Mr. Creosote restaurant bit in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). There is another Python connection in this movie with the appearance of the Bonzo Dog Band during the stripper scene. Band member Neil Innes was close to being an unofficial member of Python as he appeared in several of their TV shows and movies, as well as being the John character in the Rutles. Another bit of Python trivia: Derek Royle, the tour guide, was later the Corpse in Fawlty Towers' "The Kipper and the Corpse." I suppose I also can't let go of this video, as bad as the film is, in the same manner I can't let go of the Fabs music. So I'm a Boomer trapped in the amber of their songs, I confess. There are worse musical traps to fall into.

"Timeslides" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1989, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge, Robert Addie, Emile Charles, Koo Stark, Ruth Wax. As Kryten develops photographs in the darkroom, he discovers the developing fluid has mutated. This oddity has enabled the crew to actually step into photographs (when projected from a slide) and revisit time past. Lister and Rimmer attempt to alter their past by visiting their younger selves to give them advice and warning-- which of course screws up the causality/fate thing. Eventually, Rimmer must go and "rescue" the alternate universe Lister from a life of wealth and power because, as Arnold said, "It's my duty. My duty as a complete and utter bastard!" I did enjoy the scene where Lister steps into a photo next to Hitler during a speech and warns the crowd about this loser being a psychopath with one testicle. Graham Chapman was scheduled to play a newscaster in this episode, but then he had to go and die on us.

"Living Doll" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by Richard C. Sarafian (1963, VHS). Telly Savalas, Mary LaRoche, Tracy Stratford, June Foray (voice), Rod Serling (narrator). "My name is Talky Tina, and I'm going to kill you!" says a doll to a cruel and controlling stepfather of a little girl. Telly Savalas matches wits with a sinister doll voiced by veteran cartoon sound actress June Foray (Rocket J. Squirrel, Natasha for Jay Ward and Witch Hazel, Granny for Chuck Jones, to name a few). Since the doll's facial expressions are not changed by fancy special effects, it is pretty amazing how much of a personality Foray was able to give this object purely through speech. The story keeps us wondering (until the end) if the events we are seeing are all in Telly's head or really happening. Nice atmospheric woodwind soundtrack, unusually effective for a television piece. As I recall, about the same time this program aired there was a popular talking doll being advertised called Chatty Cathy, so the script was riding on a new fad.

"Doctor Death Takes a Holiday" (American Gothic) / directed by Doug Lefler (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Paige Turco, John Mese, Veronica Cartwright. Everything goes up a notch. Selena is done. Dr. Crower has figured out that Lucas Buck is really Lucifer Buck. And a former lover of the Sheriff who is now quite mature (suggesting Buck has not aged at all in decades) returns to correctly inform the world he is "pure otherworldly evil." Interesting that actress Cartwright both in this episode and in The Witches of Eastwick movie plays a Cassandra obsessed with exposing Satan's agenda-- and in this story she pulls a Forrestal. She's very good at portraying these crazed type of characters, I might add. Mese as the newly arrived doctor in the strange town of Trinity, South Carolina is the first really refreshingly normal person to show up in the series.

House Cleaning Blues / directed by Dave Fleischer (1937, DVD). Jack Mercer (uncredited voice), Mae Questel (uncredited voice). Great fun! As Betty Boop whines about cleaning up her house after some wild orgy the night before, Grampy swoops in and applies his amazing Max Fleischer inventions to the task of clearing the mess while accompanied with jaunty music. His secret? He takes speed. Or at least that's what I heard from a reliable source and I know he wouldn't lie. In the early part of this cartoon Betty has several unsettling expressions of consterantion I have never seen in her other appearances.

Drowning Mona / directed by Nick Gomez (2000, VHS). Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Neve Campbell, Jamie Lee Curtis, Casey Affleck, William Fichtner, Marcus Thomas, Tracey Walter, Will Ferrell, Brian Doyle-Murray. OK, so this film is supposed to be an embarrassment to everyone who appeared in it. In this dark comedy/murder mystery set in a small town, conventional reviewer wisdom has the script as clunky and dysfunctional as the Yugo, an automobile which happens to be an icon in this work-- every one of them with personalized license plates. I found it well directed, well acted, and badly written. Although I did enjoy this more on the second round compared to the time I first saw it when it was new, the film still remained in the sphere of badness. But I never used the fast forward button, so that's a positive sign. A lot of the comedy here stems from the discomfort everyone feels when a very unpleasant, annoying, abusive, and unpopular person dies. DeVito as the law enforcement investigator holds this thing together, and there is something about him that is comforting. Plus, he's always fun to watch. Jamie Lee Curtis deserves recognition for taking a risk on such an unattractive role and making it funny. I can easily see this odd motion picture eventually being rediscovered and gaining a cult following. It has an extensive and creative use of flashbacks. In some ways the dysfunctional and eccentric setting made me think of life here in McCleary, I'm sorry to say.

"Akim the Terrible" (Flash Gordon) / directed by Wallace Worsley Jr. (1954, DVD). Steve Holland, Irene Champlin, Joseph Nash. Akim is one bad guy in a comical costume on a planet of bad guys in comical costumes, "spreading the doctrine of evil." He has some sort of brainwashing device, turning good people into submissive minions. "The old, the weak, the sick shall perish by my hands," and no, those are not the words taken from the Republican health care plan, but an example of the sort of wacky and crazy things those poor victims of Akim's eeeeevil technology will utter. Washington State native Steve Holland (1925-1997) starred as Flash Gordon in this short-lived (30 episodes, 1954-1955) DuMont Television Network ancestor to Star Trek. Steve cut a dashing figure, but an actor he wasn't. For some reason this was filmed in West Berlin, so most of the other cast members have German accents-- giving the whole enterprise a slightly off-kilter feel. You have to give them all points for trying in the days of early pioneer TV. The fact this snippet still exists from a network long extinct is really remarkable. Interesting to see Flash as a bureaucrat since he spends the majority of screen time in an office setting at the Galaxy Bureau of Investigation.

Do-It-Yourself Gumby / directed by Art Clokey (1957, VHS). Art Clokey (voice). Gumby has a machine where he can type a request on a keyboard and have any material object he desires. Pokey, Prickle and Goo are there too. The story's moral teaches us about overconsumption, technology running amok, and learning to clarify what we really want out of life. In just a few minutes this claymation covers a wide variety of Spiritual Big Issues. You could look at this cartoon in this manner, or, you could simply say it is an insipid piece of work. I tend to lean toward the latter category. Pokey, who is a pony, is shown eating roasted turkey and for some reason that really bothers me. A lot. The best part about this particular Gumby title is that it is the last one I need to review! Thank God! The long nightmare is over! If I never see another Gumby episode for the rest of my life I'll count myself a very lucky man in my final minute.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 71

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

My Dear Secretary / directed by Charles Martin (1949, DVD). Laraine Day, Kirk Douglas, Keenan Wynn, Rudy Vallee, Florence Bates, Alan Mowbray, Irene Ryan, Grady Sutton, Ben Welden (uncredited). This is a screwball comedy at half speed, with some very strange casting choices. Douglas is a best-selling novelist who avoids his writer's block by feeding a gambling addiction and romancing whoever happens to be his secretary that week. Laraine Day is the secretary who derails his pattern. Neither one of these otherwise fine thespians really have the snap in their patter, the gift of double-take, or the cadence of comedy in their presentation. As a consequence, the small army of familiar character actors pick up the slack and salvage vast portions of the story. Keenan Wynn as the amoral opportunistic sidekick reveals he has a strong comic streak, but I kept wishing the role had gone to Vincent Price, who he seems to be imitating. Lots of messages about men = chaos, women = order. The feminist moments in this movie took me by surprise, making me wonder (considering the era and setting) if this was by accident or just my 21st century serious interpretation of something considered humorous in 1949. Watch this as a double feature with Wonder Boys (2000) starring Kirk's son Michael as a best-selling novelist who avoids writer's block by feeding a marijuana addiction.

I Dream of Jeanie / directed by Allan Dwan (1952, DVD). Ray Middleton, Bill Shirley, Muriel Lawrence, Eileen Christy, Rex Allen, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Glenn Strange (uncredited). Although billed as biopic on the life of 19th century pop composer Stephen Foster, this low-budget (although in color!) Republic Pictures effort has very little to do with historical reality. In fact, as the story slogs on it has little to do with Foster himself. As a light bit of musical Americana it seems to celebrate the 1950s more than the 1850s. Most of the cast are singers, not actors. Am I the first person to think the actress Sarah Jessica Parker went back in time and appeared under the name Muriel Lawrence? The resemblance is eerie-- except Parker can really act. The storyline treats us to wooden displays of turmoil and the universal struggle between pop and hoit-de-la-toit cultures. Foster's debt to African American musical influence is acknowledged at the start of the film, but the motion picture takes a real unfortunate nosedive (and never recovers) after an embarrassingly lengthy Christy Minstrels show in blackface. The one actor here who really acts is Ray Middleton. He treats the role of historical showman Edwin P. Christy as something of a cross between Col. Tom Parker and Vincent Crummles-- and takes over the screen whenever he appears. My favorite scene is the part where Stephen Foster and his dog sing a duet.

Kids in the Hall. Season 2, episode 1 (1990, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. Spring, Comfortable, Trucker #2, Hard day, Off swingin', The doctor, Bobby and the Devil. An episode that improves with each skit. Foley's monologue as a failed physician who is revealing his own professional shortcomings is a bit frightening ("How far can you coast on charm? Well, pretty far, actually.") The standout writing and acting is "Bobby and the Devil" with McCulloch as the teen rocker vs. Satan (McKinney) in a Metal guitar duel. McKinney's body language is priceless. It helps that most of this bit was created as a short film rather than a sketch in front of a live audience.

Lost Souls / directed by Janusz Kaminski (2000, VHS). Winona Ryder, Ben Chaplin, Sarah Wynter, Philip Baker Hall, John Hurt. "What do you want to bet," Sarah said as the initial credits rolled, "It is going to have Gregorian chants in some way?" I never hung around long enough to see if she was right. Twice I have tried to sit through this bowser, and twice I failed to complete the journey. The plot has something to do with liquid, madness, numerology, Satan, AntiChrist, exorcism, religious faith and a bunch of other delightful topics people were uptight about at the turn of the millennium. A lot of very creative visual tricks are employed by the director, such as slow motion, extreme close-ups, strange angles. Unfortunately most of these shots, interesting though they may be, have little to do with the story and are more distracting than anything else. It comes across as pretentious film school showing off. But I did like the stark high-contrast lighting and visual composition. Ultimately I had to give up and, I'm not kidding here, went to watch my laundry go through the final spin cycle-- a far more interesting form of entertainment.

"The Last Day" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1989, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge, Gordon Kennedy. The mechanoid Kryten 2X4B-523P is told his life as a valid household appliance is over, and his termination must take place before his replacement android arrives on board Red Dwarf. But here's the deal: Kryten has evolved since his factory release and has developed too human traits. Lister urges him to fight back, but Kryten believes in a Silicon Heaven as a final reward. When Lister asks if that is the same place as Human Heaven, Kryten makes one of the most daring lines ever uttered on television during the era of the Reagan/Bush/Thatcher Jihad, one of the reasons I love this series: "Humans don't go to Heaven. Someone just made that up to prevent you from all going nuts." Since Kryten's number is up, Lister organizes a big bash and we get to see all the crew members get drunk. "I think," says Kryten, "I feel a Jackson Pollock coming on." On the hangover morning after, the guys decide to stand by their mate and not allow him to be replaced. "You would gamble your safety for a mere android?" asks Kryten, "Is this the human value you call ... friendship?" Lister brings it all down to Earth (so to speak) as only the BBC can, "Don't give me this Star Trek crap! It's too early in the morning." Rimmer does a nice brief imitation of Kryten at one point. Good episode showing us rare and sensitive sides of the regular characters without losing any of the humor. The remastered version for VHS/DVD release has a less charming soundtrack than the original broadcast off-air recording I am reviewing.

"Eye of the Beholder" (The Twilight Zone) / directed by Douglas Heyes (1960, VHS). Maxine Stuart, William D. Gordon, Rod Serling (narrator). Although the punchline is predictable, this tale on relativity, conformity, and tolerance remains engaging. Since human faces are absent on the screen during the majority of this episode, most of the expression is conveyed through hand motion and voices. The script must have been incredibily restrictive for director Heyes, yet he performed an impressive job given the limitations. I would suggest "watching" this by closing your eyes and just listening to the audio until it is obvious the main character's head wrappings come off. Then it will be time to open your eyes. Yow! In 1960, this tale was a condemnation of the previous decade and "Glorious Conformity."

"Learning to Crawl" (American Gothic) / directed by Michael Lange (1996, DVD). Gary Cole, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Paige Turco, John Mese, Ted Raimi, Stuart Greer, Regan Forman. Satan wears a badge, speaks with a Southern drawl, and takes his kid fishing. Oh, right, and on the side there's a near death experience, a hostage situation, and lessons for the child on how to use his powers against people. The story has the romantic premise that human beings actually have free will, and Sheriff Lucifer Buck is always there to assist you in making the choice in favor of your dark side. Corny but sort of fun.

The Impractical Joker / directed by Dave Fleischer (1937, DVD). Jack Mercer (uncredited voice), Mae Questel (uncredited voice). Irving, who looks the traditional goofy googly-eyed cartoon character, has played one practical joke too many on Betty Boop. She turns to Grampy for help. The result is a joke war, Grampy vs. Irving, demonstrating quite bluntly how sometimes humor is really a form of aggression. How many times have we seen sopmeone poke and dig, and when confronted they get mock wide-eyed and declare, "What's the matter, can't you take a joke? Lighten up!"

Close Encounters of the Third Kind / directed by Steven Spielberg (1977, VHS). Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, Cary Guffey, Luis Contreras, J. Allen Hynek (uncredited), Howard K. Smith (uncredited). Believe it or not, I never saw the original, so I have no idea how different this "Collector's Edition" VHS is from the screen version, but I must say this is one fine movie even after three decades. At the time, even from the periphery, I was aware this film had transformed the popular view of UFOs from something that needed to be feared and destroyed to something that needed to be studied as another culture. In Spielberg's idealistic vision, even though the alien ships land in the USA, the group coordinating the first contact is international. The second unlikely scenario is that scientists simply working to push the frontiers of knowledge have more clout than the military. The script is a bit half-baked when it comes to human relationships. The main hero basically forgets all about his wife and three children as he pursues his obsession with alien ships, and there doesn't appear to be much of an inner struggle there. Even so, Dreyfuss is at his best as the everyguy who has his life changed forever. The rest of the casting was dead-on as well. Cary Guffey was an exceptionally good child actor. Melinda Dillon is one of the more overlooked actresses in modern times, and she was great in this as she is in other efforts. Teri Garr showed us she isn't just about comedy and Truffaut showed us he isn't just about directing. And Bob Balaban had hair! The special effects were classy, particularly the way the ships and aliens were filmed in a method that shrouded them in bright light or shadow, still leaving something of mystery. I like the way music becomes an important method of communication. Brilliant.

"The Lure of Light" (Flash Gordon) / directed by Wallace Worsley Jr. (1955, DVD). Steve Holland, Irene Champlin, Joseph Nash. Breaking the sound barrier was still gee-whiz stuff in 1955, so now let's head for the breaking the speed the light. Steve Holland's version of Flash Gordon is no Ace Rimmer, he spends most of his time behind a desk dealing with bureaucracy. I nearly fell asleep. Since this was filmed with an American starring cast in West Berlin, most of the supporting actors have German accents-- some so thick I cannot understand their lines. One advisor to Flash reminded me very much of Werner von Braun, the German-American rocket scientist. Brush with fame: Here in McCleary I once hosted one of the original band members of the Butthole Surfers, a fellow who went to school with von Braun's kids. He didn't have a favorable opinion of them, I wasn't sure why. Also, fans of Tom Lehrer's satirical songs from the 1960s can stop hating von Braun-- turns out the V-2 and NASA scientist's suit was an urban myth according to a 2003 interview with Tom.

Here Come the Teletubbies / directed by David Hiller (1998, VHS). Rolf Saxon, John Simmit, Nikky Smedley, Pui Fan Lee, Simon Shelton. The title of this journey into terror should be said out loud in the same tone you would reserve for, "Zombies are approaching from across the grassy knoll!" These characters have already been covered in OlyBlog when I compared the show in some detail with The Prisoner series, and also pointed out a concept that was possibly swiped from Red Dwarf. You'd think a baby's face (representing innocence) superimposed over the sun (radiant and positive life force) would be a super amazing wonderful image. But two rights don't make a righter right. The Sun Baby freaks out most adult viewers. Teleytubbyland is crawling with rabbits, symbols of fertility, warning the audience more of these weird nuclear accident byproduct Teletubby creatures are coming if we keep messing with technology! Televisions embedded in their abdomens. Antennas sunk deep into their craniums, receiving radio signals for thought control. A windmill distributes some kind of sparkly drug to keep their behavior in check. They eat something called tubby custard but looks like cat puke. The seams and zippers on their surprisingly sordid and worn-looking costumes are plainly visible. The soundtrack is filled with a wide variety of gastrointestinal sounds, which is not only a passive-aggressive method of communication, but also probably making Teletubbyland a place where you would think twice before taking a nice deep breath. The smartest character in the show is the vacuum cleaner, Noo Noo. Jerry Falwell thought he was breaking some kind of big news when he accused Tinky Winky of being gay (purple, triangle, red "bag" [i.e. purse]), but those of us familiar with the show replied, "Yeah. We know. So what?" Jerry entirely missed the Big Picture here, allowing himself to be sidetracked on one his many pet little bigot trips when he could've been a real hero and warned the world about the insidious evil plan of this series to weld the brains of our children to television. I'm guessing Jerry just didn't like the competition-- but he had no need for worry, he was much funnier. When our OlyBlogger comrade Olymp-ian was in Puerto Rico I sent him a talking Laa-Laa doll, and I understand after the long trek that figure was greeted with multiple sharp knife stabs by surrounding witnesses screaming in horror as the package was opened. Although Sarah watched this video and said, "I don't see how this would teach anything other than stark fear," my cat Charlie sat and stared at it in an enthralled state.

Tortoise Beats Hare / directed by Tex Avery (1941, DVD). Mel Blanc (uncredited voice). Bugs Bunny reads the title and opening credits and is angered by this predetermined conclusion to the story. In this tale where the rabbit attempts to fight fate, we see a rare case where Bugs Bunny is bested. Might be a good short film for a college philosophy class discussing predestination.

Cheaper by the Dozen 72

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from the dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Big Trees / directed by Felix E. Feist (1952, DVD). Kirk Douglas, Eve Miller, Patrice Wymore, Edgar Buchanan, John Archer, Alan Hale Jr. A sleazy and psychopathic con artist (Douglas) manipulates his way into the giant redwood forests of California in 1900, and uses the tenants of free enterprise, charm, and libertarianism as his cover story and justification for cutting down the trees. He comes up against a group of religious colonists who are not named but have Quaker-like beliefs. They hold the Old Growth trees as a part of God's sacred handiwork, and regard the forest as their church. This conflict of pacificism in the Old West vs. the reality of violence has been the staple of several Westerns. The best of this genre was John Wayne's Angel and the Bad Man (1947), which had a suprisingly unexpected and idealistic ending. This film, however, was much more typically cynical and mundane. As any TV watcher will tell you, pacificists don't make for good entertainment unless they break their code of conduct and kick butt, preferably with lots of blood and killing. It was interesting to see the heroes in this 1952 story were Christians saving trees and breaching dams, while the secular bad guys viewed timber as nothing more than a crop to be harvested. The narrative (no flashbacks) quickly develops into an interesting series of Machiavellian maneuvers resulting in the idealistic characters being dead and the ethically challenged landing in a dysfunctional place at the conclusion. Watch Edgar Buchanan's wise fool role as a measurement for the hypocrisy of others. In the end, the main psychopath guy is still a psychopath. We have the impression he switched sides as a matter of convenience but never really transformed his inner self in the process. Some details: Although a donkey engine and springboards were shown, the director would've done well to display just how hard and incredibly dangerous life as an early logger was in 1900. In a way, timber barons like the Douglas character were throwing young men into a war zone. I like the fact a cat named "Tom" turned out to be pivotal part of the plot. And here's a Washington State connection: John Archer died in Redmond in 1999. This is a depressing motion picture.

"White Hole" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye, Paul Jackson (uncredited) (1991, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge, David Ross (voice). Talky Toaster is back, and Holly's IQ has been jacked up 12,000! Nice to see Hattie Hayridge given a chance to expand her role a bit. The crew encounter a white hole in space, an anomaly that spews out time in little jagged slivers ("Time is occurring in random pockets!") bringing to mind a storytelling style we see in a typical Tarantino film. Lister's talents as a pool player basically save the day. Only on Red Dwarf. Some more random pockets: "Whitehall" used to be a telephone prefix in Oly, alongside the better known "Fleetwood." In fact, it was our prefix up there on Eastside St., which might be how I thought of "White Hole" when I used the concept myself in my comic The Big Picture Picture Book (1983).

The Searchers / directed by John Ford (1956, VHS). John Wayne, Jeffrey Hunter, Vera Miles, Ward Bond, Natalie Wood, Harry Carey Jr., Patrick Wayne, Henry Brandon. On one hand this is a brutal, harsh, matter of fact look (in 1956 terms) at the war between Native Americans and Western Civilization. On the other it is a sappy piece of Western movie stereotype. The core of the story is strong. The Duke, in one of his very best performances, plays a man who lives on the margins of society. In 1868 Texas, he's a Confederate soldier who refused to surrender. His post-war activities, the story suggests, involve various amoral acts of mercenary work in Maximilian's Mexico-- or worse. We never quite know. We also don't know why his brand of racisim against Native Americans actually slops over into the realm of genocide. He comes across as so extreme even the other Indian fighters think he's obsessed. Wayne's character as warrior is pretty primal. His philosophy of warfare is alien to his colleagues. At one point he actually scalps an Indian. By never openly revealing the source of Wayne's hatred, or what drives him, this dark figure remains somewhat mysterious and remote during the entire motion picture-- and he's not a person to admire. It was an atypical role for this actor. His subdued, malevolent manner was well played and is the only part of the film that outshines the incredible landscapes that rule this Ford-directed epic. The sideplots and supporting folks are pretty ordinary, with the exception of Ward Bond as a preacher/Texas Ranger and Henry Brandon as Chief Scar. I wouldn't agree with some film buffs that this was the greatest Western ever made-- far from it-- but my respect for the Duke's acting went up a couple notches after this last viewing.

The Stan Boreson Show: KING's Klubhouse. Vol. 2 (199-?, VHS). Stan Boreson, Doug Setterberg. "Zero dacus, mucho cracus / hallaballu-za bub / That’s the secret password that we use down at the club. / Zero-dacus, mucho-cracus / hallaballu-za fan / Means now you are a member of: KING’s TV club with Stan." And thus began and ended every episode of Stan's afternoon kid's show on KING-TV in Seattle during the 1950s and and 1960s. Stan's show had a few things in common with his competition over at KIRO, J.P. Patches. Both lived in shacks, both had a cast of funny supporting characters with many of the roles performed by the star, both used drag humor before we kids knew the term, both were aired live and had camera and sound crews that played jokes on the air requiring an improv response, both stars advertised for their commercial sponsors as a seamless part of the show, and both appeared to be having a blast doing what they were doing. But there were some big differences between Stan and J.P. For openers, Boreson's main act was affecting a thick Scandinavian accent and singing comedy songs. Decades before Weird Al, he mocked popular tunes while playing an accordion. His show really wasn't for kids, although we could enjoy it on some level. His pace was slower than other children's programs, and much of the humor was over our heads. But he was still likable. And, unlike all the other local shows for kids, Stan was 100% Puget Sound. His show was definitely one that couldn't have been produced anywhere else, except for maybe Minnesota (ironic, since that is where J.P. Patches migrated from). One thing that really hit me after watching this video was how young he really was back then, when we thought he was an old guy. In this compilation we see No Mo the dog, the Old Timer in the Closet (it had a literal meaning in those days), Foghorn Peterson, the Swedish Answerman, and, unfortunately, Sam Samoto (not one of Stan's better moments in ethnic humor). Lots of music and animals-- including a caiman!!! Stan even reviews the book Who's Who at the Zoo by Olympia's own Gordon Newell. A must-see video for anyone interested in the history of local television. We were thrilled when he came to the McCleary Bear Festival a couple times back in the 1960s. Stan was, and still is, a PNW icon.

Rocketeers / directed by John Foster, George Rufle (1932, DVD). One of the better human Tom and Jerry cartoons, although the animation is very primitive. A rocket trip to the Moon fizzles fast and our heroes spend most of the story underwater, dealing with weird creatures, skeletons, and mermaids. Fun.

Vincent & Theo / directed by Robert Altman (1990, VHS). Tim Roth, Paul Rhys. I'm sorry, am I supposed to like this? How can anyone take a fascinating figure like Vincent Van Gogh and make him so boring? It is dawning on me, slowly, that I am not sophisticated enough to be in the Robert Altman Appreciation Society. The dialogue consisted of mostly mumbling or shouting. The soundtrack, which appeared to be switched from another movie, was inappropriate and frequently overshadowed the actors' lines. Unlike Altman's other ensemble pieces such as Nashville, Kansas City, Gosford Park, or the incredibly boring The Company, this film is really focused on two people. The director still treated the story as if he had to leave lots of room for others to walk in and liven up the joint. But they don't. I will give Altman this: as usual his visual sense is wonderful, particularly in color and lighting. He managed to make the film look like Van Gogh himself had a hand in the cinematography. Basically this motion picture quickly became background noise as I camped out in the living room to pay my bills and engage in other household paperwork. I'll sum this title up in one word: Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle. Vol. 3 (1990, VHS). voices by Bill Scott, June Foray, Paul Frees, Hans Conried, Charles Ruggles, Edward Everett Horton, William Conrad, Daws Butler. The videos and DVDs reviewed in Cheaper by the Dozen are selected at random, which is why it is sort of spooky the container of this Rocky and Bullwinkle collection pictures "Vincent Van Moose" (complete with bandaged antler) right after the Vincent & Theo entry. But unlike the previously listed title, this one is good. The Moose and Squirrel didn't have a long run originally, but they made a big impression. The cheap, almost abstract animation was compensated for by the excellent writing, liberal use of puns, and very talented cast of voices. Like the best of children's programming, the scripts were presented on two levels so adults could get some of the in-jokes while still connecting with us little radar eared crewcut Boomers. This compilation includes Mr. Know-It-All, those Cold War villains Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, Fearless Leader, Capt. Peachfuzz, Dudley Do-Right, Snidely Whiplash (I love that name), and Aesop and Son. Also an episode of Fractured Fairy Tales. This one should wake up a lot of memories for you old folks, and introduce one of the great cartoons of all time to a new generation.

The Scared Crows / directed by Dave Fleischer (1939, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). We see a more streamlined Betty Boop. She's less cartoony, taller, thinner, with a head that is in normal proportion to her body. In spite of this modernization, she still wears high heels while working in the garden. Most of this cartoon is spent with Betty and her dog Pudgy battling a bunch of crows that look like they took the day off from being mascots for the old Yard Birds store. Unlike Van Gogh, Betty and Pudgy refuse to surrender to their surrounding reign of chaos and despair. Nice work.

City Slickers / directed by Ron Underwood (1991, VHS). Billy Crystal, Daniel Stern, Bruno Kirby, Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Jack Palance, Tracey Walter, Josh Mostel, David Paymer, Bill Henderson, Phill Lewis, Yeardley Smith, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jayne Meadows (voice). This film has an odd OlyBlog association for me. The cassette was originally presented as gift, back when the title was fairly new, from none other than V-ster, a name you pioneer OlyBloggers might recognize. In many ways she was the one who, through her connections, indirectly got me hooked me up with this here crazy online Oly hyperlocal concept cooked up by Rick "Caiman Master" McKinnon. Turned out V-ster knew my taste in movies. Although I normally am not a big fan of sentimental comedies, this one is really a winner. Three screwed up urban men in their late 30s are staving off middle age by deliberately seeking adventures like running from the bulls in Spain. The bovine theme continues when they sign up to become weekend cowboys on a vacation cattle drive in the Southwest. But as events unravel, things get too real and they learn their priorities in life the hard way. Sort of like Lonesome Dove. Sort of. Kinda. Hmm. Well, not really. Forget it. But both have lots of cattle and dust. Crystal is the smartass with a heart, Jack Palance is the hardened trail boss who has to herd the city slickers as much as he does the cattle. Their combined and reflected comic timing is beautiful. In fact, Palance even won a well-deserved Oscar for Supporting Actor here. I had not seen this motion picture in a long while, but it still had me laughing out loud many times over, although the laughs came from a different place this time. During my first round with this work, I found myself connecting with Crystal, the family man hitting midlife very hard but putting up a brave, and very humorous, front. This time I was seeing the story through the eyes of Palance, the grizzled old guy, "You city folk, you worry about a lot of shit, don'tcha?" Josh Mostel's and Crystal's ice cream dessert Old West showdown is one of those great classic Western movie moments. Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern as the other 2/3rds of the City Slickers trio complete the perfect casting in this story. Larry Fine always said comedy works best in threes. This film helps to build his case.

"Saboteurs From Space" (Flash Gordon) / directed by Wallace Worsley Jr. (1955, DVD). Steve Holland, Irene Champlin, Joseph Nash. Primitive special effects, slow pace, German extras with accents so thick they can be barely understood. This is some serious, and slightly off center, Camp with a very jarring start and finish. Flash and his pals battle "The Most Diabolic Intellect in the Universe," as the Bad Guy shuts down Earth's infrastructure as a method of blackmail in order to gain the best scientific minds as recruits to his cause (whatever the heck that might be). Of course, only the fists of Flash can solve the problem. The fowl from the order of Psittaciformes that inexplicably inhabits Flash Gordon's rocketship keeps repeating "Don't crash, Flash! Don't crash, Flash!" That bird is the best actor in the cast. No need to watch this one twice for the "deeper meaning."

Hollywoodland / directed by Allen Coulter (2006, DVD). Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, Ben Affleck, Bob Hoskins, Robin Tunney, Lois Smith, Jeffrey DeMunn. This is a very good film about a dead superhero saving the life of a cheap private investigator. The alleged 1959 suicide of actor George Reeves is the center of this mystery based in L.A. For those not in the know, Reeves was TV's Superman in the 1950s. We kids who soaked the show up like a sponge had all bought the urban legend Reeves died as the result of jumping off a building while under the delusion he could really fly like the Man of Steel. I was an adult before I learned he was found dead with a single shot to the head. But as popular as the Superman show was, I think we Boomers sensed Reeves wasn't really into it. There was a distance there. Unlike true believer Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger, Reeves' Superman had a sad undercurrent-- we could tell he didn't want to be there. This motion picture packs in a lot of Big Themes: the price of fame, ambition, the world of cinematic illusion, abandonment, parenthood, secret lives, being a victim of typecasting. Two sets of parallels are taking place here. First, the secret life of Reeves himself compared to that of Clark Kent=Superman. George was a probable alcoholic, a kept man, a party guy. All of this swept under the rug. The defender of "Truth, Justice, and the American Way" had to be squeaky clean. Like Superman, Reeves had a secret identity. Interesting the director chose to show George in his later private life wearing Kent-type glasses. Second, the P.I. looking into Reeves' death finds himself identifying with the focal point of his query and uses the information he gathers to make an important personal decision. The two main characters in the story (Brody and Affleck) are only on the screen at the same time once-- and one of them is a corpse! Brody has one of those faces just born for the big screen in the style of those classic stars from the 1930s. Lois Smith, Diane Lane, and Ben Affleck were exceptional in their roles. This was Coulter's first feature film as a director, although he has extensive TV experience. I must say his sense of visual composition and choice of soundtrack was wonderful. Freeze frame this baby at any point and you'll see an image that has been carefully thought out and composed. I hope Coulter makes more movies. This guy has the gift for direction.

Kids in the Hall. Season 2, episode 2 (1990, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. Cops- O Canada, Trappers, Cabbage Head meets old friends, You're fired!, The loner, Simon and Hecubus, Buddy the baseball coach. This crew must really have a strong dislike for corporate types, as their spot on humor is pretty deadly.  One of McDonald's best characters, Simon, shows up here.

Cheaper by the Dozen 10

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"Gunmen of the Apocalypse" (Red Dwarf ; VI, byte 1) / directed by Andy DeEmmony (1993, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Jennifer Calvert, Dennis Lill, Elizabeth Hickling, Jeremy Peters, Dinny Powell, Stephen Marcus. If you enjoy classic Western movies like I do, then you should get a kick out of this one. Watching Chris Barrie slip occasionally into an American Western accent is pretty amazing. One problem with this series is this-- the concepts are so out there and convoluted that attempting to summarize any plot is almost too much. Basically, the Dwarfers enter Kryten's dream via a computer game in order to fight a virus that is disabling the ship at it heads for a certain crash landing. The game is set in the Old West and is entitled "Streets of Laredo." Hmm. It was also in 1993, the same year this was produced, that Larry McMurty's novel The Streets of Laredo, a disappointing sequel to the very excellent Lonesome Dove, was published. Interesting. I prefer this Red Dwarf tale to McMurtry's book of the same title. At any rate, Lister, Rimmer and The Cat find Kryten in the role of a drunken town marshal. As they feed him dry coffee grounds to sober him up he is asked if he knows who he is. In response, Kryten offers about as concise a description of the plot as possible: "I'm some kind of robot who's fighting this virus and none of this exists, it's all in a fever-- except for you guys who really do exist only you're not really here you're really on some spaceship in the future. Hell, if that's gotta make sense I don't want to be sober!" Dennis Lill plays it straight and is effective as a bad guy. The soundtrack in this episode is exceptionally good, being a sophisticated blending of traditional Western film music with the strains of the Red Dwarf theme song.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Martin Short, Talking Heads, the Plastics. There's justice for everybody, Half wits, Towering inferno, Shirt glue, Happy Wanderers, Carl's cuts, Guy Caballero editorial, Indira musical featuring Slim Whitman, My bloody hand, Money talks with Brian Johns, Midnight video special, Billy the Kid starring Ed Grimley, Happy Wanderers salute John Williams, Days of the week, Logos galore, Monster Chiller Horror Theatre, "Funny Stuff" produced-directed-acted by Bobby Bittman, Cooking with Marcello (he barks at a chicken just like Curly Howard!), Hawaii five-Ho, Hollywood salutes its extras, Live or mamorex, Great White North (topic: exercise), Howard's Bristol Cream, Siskel and Ebert. You can really tell Flaherty was a fellow avid fan of Mad Magazine in the 1960s. Robin Duke deserved more airtime. Somewhere in the middle of this for about 15 minutes someone taped a bad Japanese cartoon on a network we couldn't get. You can barely make out the pale images in the white pixel blizzard and can only hear the highest pitches in audio.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Levon Helm. Roto-Rooster, Play it again Bob, Trial of Oscar Wilde, Eskimo arts, Earl Camembert in St. Lucia, 5 Neat Guys, One on the town, Yuri-- getting to know you, You! with Libby Wolfson, Slappy 2000, G. Gordon Liddy in Will: the movie, Wide world of high voices, Greek travel with Alki Stereopolis, SCTV news with Floyd and Earl, Mel's Rockpile with special guest Richard Harris, Veronica Swansong, Ronny Barrett's sports, Taxi driver starring Gregory Peck, Big money making idea, Urgent message from Guy Cabellero, Sammy Maudlin, Bob Hope in China. "Play it Again, Bob" is a takeoff on the "Play it Again, Sam" Woody Allen movie, with Moranis as Allen, Thomas as Bob Hope, and Flaherty as Bing Crosby. One of the best bits ever in SCTV. Thomas always seemed to do his best work with either Moranis or Catherine O'Hara-- when left alone he would sometimes slip into embarrassing ethnic roles that don't really survive the test of time (he says he was inspired by Peter Sellers). I didn't start watching SCTV until their last couple seasons in the early 1980s, and it is hard to convey today just how wonderfully weird they were at that time. The rest of the comedy world has sort caught up to them, but a quarter century ago they were out there on their own, made even stranger by the marginal time slots they were assigned. Once I had discovered them, I felt like I was being let into some fun secret. This was a show made for Boomers. The rest of you might need annotated notes to get many of the obscure references, little details that can only be understood as the result of spending countless hours wasting our lives in front of a TV screen in the 1950s-1960s. SCTV was our therapy, helping us purge all that toxic garbage from our systems.

"The Norwood Builder" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Ken Grieve (1985, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Rosalie Crutchley, Colin Jeavons, Helen Ryan, Jonathan Adams, Matthew Solon. What can you say about an episode where a new client introduces himself to Holmes with this remark, "I am nearly out of my mind. I am the unhappy John Hector McFarlane." Jeremy Brett is in top and tight form with his unique brand of wonderful and studied ham in one of his earlier appearances as Holmes. The tale affords Holmes the opportunity to don a disguise, which always brings out the extra bacon in Brett's strutting across the stage. I wouldn't have it any other way. This one has the usual attention to period detail that helped make this such a high quality series. We are shown how firefighting worked in the 1890s and given a glimpse into the subculture of homeless veterans. Jeavons was the perfect choice to play Inspector Lestrade, the Scotland Yard official who is frequently in competition with Holmes. In this story we are given the impression Sherlock's main motive in solving the crime has more to do with his ego in outdoing Lestrade than it does with serving the cause of justice, although it is clear the Great Detective is also energized by the hunt itself. Director Grieve made some artistic choices that really worked. The whole visual feel was closed in, almost claustrophobic, which was perfect for the plot. The up close and well composed camera shots helped build the tension and kept us focused. Grieve's choice to use music sparingly and mostly as a linking device between scenes was masterful. In this case we see Watson more than usual in the role of supportive friend when Holmes gets depressed, making Sherlock a bit more human. "Capital!"

Clases de ruso / directed by José Antonio Bonet (2001, VHS off-air). Luis Tosar, Vieta Alvizkaya. The more I think about this short film the more I like it. A bachelor in Madrid goes on a blind date with a mysterious Russian woman. And the evening has plenty of, forgive my pun, red flags. At first I thought I was watching a weirdass subtitled artsy film about isolated people in modern society-- the kind I saw about every other day in college in the 1970s. But, this one has a twisted conclusion that saves the story. Although not billed as a comedy, I laughed out loud at the ending, which I suppose reveals my Charles Addams sense of humor. Good use of color and opening/concluding music. Worth hunting down if you can find it.

Telling Lies in America / directed by Guy Ferland (1997, VHS). Kevin Bacon, Brad Renfro, Maximilian Schell, Calista Flockhart, Paul Dooley, Luke Wilson. This is yet another *yawn* coming of age story set in Ohio in an earlier era, this time in Cleveland 1960-1961. Coming of age stories do not hold my interest as I get older. But my daughter watched this particular movie over and over when she was a teenager still living at home so I guess I was not in the target audience. A young refugee from the 1956 Hungarian uprising is bullied at his Catholic school, failing in academics, and incompetent at his job at a market. He inflates his sense of self-worth with a flood of lies to everyone. A sleazy rock radio disc jockey breezes into town and sees in the kid a young con-artist in the making and becomes his mentor. When the DJ tells his protege, "I think you're slicker than two snakes screwin' in a barrel of snot," he means it as a compliment as he involves the teen in a payola scandal. This is an odd movie. It has a strong cast that was wasted. There is nothing here you have not seen before. However, the production values were strong. Good color, warm and nostalgic lighting, a decent recreation of the world at the start of the 1960s. I was reminded of the teenagers I used to observe during the era of this story who hung out at King's, a drive-in that was on the east end of the 4th Ave. bridge, where the Bayview parking lot is now. There are some aspects of this tale I enjoy, particularly Kevin Bacon's character. He gives us a convincing portrayal of a real scummo living on the edges of the law. Bacon even wears the "asshole hat" that has been celebrated here on OlyBlog, a very nice detail to note. Brad Renfro actually wears a bowtie during a big courtroom scene. It looks ridiculous, but just a few feet away from me as I type this is a family photo that was taken in the old Jeffers Studio in 1960, and my Father and I are wearing our matching clip-on bowties! I also have a crewcut and ears that were loaned out to NORAD for help in radar tracking, and hence suggest the lack of crewcuts in this film is one small production mistake. This was one of Renfro's earliest movies, and guess what? This is the only Renfro movie I have ever seen. "But stevenl," you might say, "That is because you only watch crappy bargain-bin videos. Perhaps you need to get out more." But if I did, who else would clumsily cover these half-forgetten bits of cinematic history, films that are not bad enough to be cult-classics, yet not good enough to be remembered? As a bit of trivia, this movie was one of seven seized by the Screen Actors Guild in 2004 and sold at public auction in order to pay back wages and residuals. Seems fitting.

"How High is Up?" (Half-Wits Holiday & Other Nyuks) / directed by Del Lord (1940, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent (uncredited), Bruce Bennett (uncredited), Duke York (uncredited), Cy Schindell (uncredited), Bert Young (uncredited). A series of solid gags divided into two groups: the first battery of jokes revolve around Curly attempting to remove a sweater that is too tight, which somehow morphs into the second set (in a link that only the Dadaistic Stooges can provide) of bits based on their experiences as skyscraper construction workers. The entire short opens with a classic "snoring with the bug" ploy. Watch for Tacoma native and well-known actor (Treasure of the Sierra Madre) Bruce Bennett (who died last year at age 100!) get mad over a hole in his lunchpail. Curly is energetic and "on" in this one, and we can easily see why he was the most popular of the Stooges. Primal physical humor statistics here: Head konks, 31; Rivet driver on head, 5; Stomach hits, 4; Walking into steel post, 2; one each of: knocked on butt, face slap, nose crush, nose bopped, double ear pull, eating a hot metal rivet, rivet driver on butt, rivet driver on stomach, hot coals on butt, hot rivet down back of shirt, eye poke. Sound effects include a meat sizzling sound when hot rivets and coals come into contact with skin. The lone eye poke scene is a fancy one. Moe attempts the single hand/two finger eyepoke, which Curly cleverly thwarts by placing his hand on the bridge of his nose as he celebrates his thwartiness with a "Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk." Moe then falls back to Plan B, giving Curly the two hand/both index fingers eyepoke, thus overcoming the obstacle placed in his path and realizing his goal of injuring Curly's eyes and also satisfying our never ending thirst for violent punchlines.

Waiting for Guffman / directed by Christopher Guest (1996, VHS). Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban, Paul Dooley, Parker Posey, Don Lake, Deborah Theaker, Fred Willard, Michael Hitchcock, Larry Miller, David Cross, Linda Kash, Lewis Arquette, Matt Keeslar, Brian Doyle-Murray, Paul Benedict. The best of the Guest. This little gem is the warmest and funniest of Christopher Guest's mocumentary series of films. The citizens of Blaine, Missouri produce a play celebrating their 150th birthday. Eugene Levy's hand in writing the script can be seen not only in the music, but also in the gentle and humane humor. The total lack of self-awareness in the characters is endearing. We find ourselves getting caught up in their hopes and can feel their little triumphs and disappointments. In short, we care about them. Christopher Guest is wonderful as Corky St. Clair, the not-really-in-the-closet big fish in the little pond who, in spite of his comic overtones and incredibly inept dancing, really does have something positive to bring to this little town as he stirs up a few dreams. It must be difficult for professional actors like this ensemble to act in a film where they portray small town amateur thespians. The movie has a low-budget feel, yet seems much more conducive to repeated viewing than the higher financed Guest films that came later. Maybe the low overhead forced the story be more personal.

The Lady Vanishes / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1938, DVD). Michael Redgrave, Margaret Lockwood, Paul Lukas, Dame May Whitty, Cecil Parker, Linden Travers, Naunton Wayne, Basil Radford. A spy thriller with several English characters aboard a train as it hurtles through a fictitious European country where the officials dress like Nazis. Although the pace of the suspense is much slower than we are used to today, that is more than compensated for by Hitchcock's intriguing use of the camera and the parade of fun personalities. Tiny little model villages and trains were used in some of the shots, which I found charming. Michael Redgrave plays the hero, and wears a bowtie through most of the action. Not only that, it is a bowtie with little polka dots. I don't get it. What am I missing here? Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford are a couple of cricket-obsessed upper class twits, the kind Monty Python like to make fun of, and their obliviousness to the mayhem taking place around them as they revel in their self-absorbed world is typical cynical Hitchcockian comic relief. The duo were such a smash hit as a result of this movie they became a comedy team and subsequently appeared as the same kind of characters in almost a dozen more films. In one point of the story the Brits are under fire while their passenger car is stranded on the tracks. The very polite ("A nasty jam, this. Don't like the look of it") and unflappable resolve they exhibit seemed liked an eerie foreshadowing of how the admirable and brave people of England would take the pounding from Hitler's V-2 rockets a short time after this movie was made. Dame May Whitty is a delight to watch. One of the better early Hitchcock stories.

Bride of the Monster / directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1955, VHS). Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Tony McCoy, Loretta King, Harvey B. Dunn, George Becwar, Paul Marco, Don Nagel, Ann Wilner, Dolores Fuller, William Benedict, Ben Frommer. "One is always considered mad, if one discovers something that others cannot grasp!" The badness of Ed Wood films is the stuff of legend, and a good deal of the laughs from Tim Burton's Ed Wood came from the backstory involving Bride of the Monster. Yet, this was probably one of Wood's tamer and more commercial products. It does have many Woodian features: bad stunt doubles, stock footage, cheap sets, lots of poor acting, incredibly disjointed dialogue, angora fetish, fascination with whips and torn clothes. Yet, there are some high points here that can be used as a measure of how far he had fallen between this one and the not much later Plan 9 From Outer Space. In this 1955 feature, Wood is consistent about day and night, he knows how to give Lugosi effective interior lighting, the music actually matches the action on the screen, lightning is used as a creative divider between scenes. Some of the actors, like Harvey B. Dunn, Tor Johnson, Ann Wilner, George Becwar, and Don Nagel performed workmanlike and adequate jobs. Lugosi, in one of his very last films, is incredibly melodramatic and cadaverous but somehow gives this Z-film a sense of dignity. He also delivers one of the truly great lines of his career: "Home? I have no home. Hunted, despised, living like an animal! The jungle is my home. But I will show the world that I can be its master! I will perfect my own race of people. A race of atomic supermen which will conquer the world!" And he frequently does that double-jointed Hungarian hand mesmerization thing in order to control people. It is no accident that a real snake-like villain in this wears a bowtie. Harvey B. Dunn, who plays the Chief of Police, looks a lot like Sen. Mike Gravel, but not as crazy.

"The Brain of Morbius" (Doctor Who) / directed by Christopher Barry (1976, VHS off-air). Tom Baker, Elisabeth Sladen, Cynthia Grenville, Philip Madoc, Colin Fay. It's all about karma. This is a very serviceable story, the slow spots being more tolerable than most tales about the Doctor. This one borrows from two classics of literature and mixes them up in space opera. First, a mad scientist and his hulking Tor Johnson-like companion Condo (a "chickenbrained biological disaster") assemble pieces of bodies in order to construct a new home for the Brain of Morbius. Morbius was an evil Time Lord who was executed for being a genocidal maniac many years before, but his brain somehow lives on in a jar. All this scientist needs to complete the task is a human head. Frankenstein. Meanwhile, a group of Weird Sisters led by an Ada Doom wannabe (she saw "something nasty in the woodshed") perform unintentionally humorous rituals and possess some paranormal powers. MacBeth. While the Sisters are pretty over the top, the mad scientist approaches his role as if he is in a Shakespeare play and actually does a not-too-bad job. The word "cranial" gets used. Although the Doctor and Sarah are the only characters to exhibit any sort of humor, there is much to laugh at here. Unfortunately, the funny spots are in places that are supposed to be high drama. When the Brain of Morbius is knocked to the floor by the oafish Condo, the rubber prop sort unceremoniously plops. My mind kept going back to an episode of Red Dwarf where Lister was reduced to being a brain in a jar as well and that didn't help me take this as was intended. Also, the mad scientist's final product is a creature that looks like the star of a 1950s film directed by William "One-Shot" Beaudine. A couple unusual details here: first, the Doctor actually murders a human with cyanide gas. Very unlike him and not too sportsmanlike. Secondly, there is a "mind-war" scene where we see all the previous incarnations of this UK icon.

"The Hotel Inspectors" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by John Howard Davies (1975, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Bernard Cribbins, James Cossins. An excellent example of perfect comic timing in this "televisual feast" as a fussy and verbose little man with a Hitler moustache brings out Basil's alternating surly and fawning sides as he suspects the little fellow is really an undercover hotel inspector. Watching Cleese change gears throughout the show is part of the fun. In this 4th of the 12 episodes, the cast is really hitting their stride and the characters have been solidified. One of my favorite ending scenes in the entire series.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 11

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

High Sierra / directed by Raoul Walsh (1941, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Ida Lupino, Arthur Kennedy, Cornel Wilde, Joan Leslie, Henry Hull, Henry Travers, Jerome Cowan, Willie Best, Barton MacLane, Zero the Dog. This movie is a problem. Pablo Picasso supposedly once said, "There are only two types of women - goddesses and doormats." That quotation says a lot more about that old Bald Fraud than it does about women. He was really saying, "There are only two ways to treat women - like goddesses and doormats." I have never liked Picasso (and I can remember when he was alive). What an unimaginative and self-centered asshole. He was an artist alright-- a con artist! In this movie, Bogart plays Roy Earle, a criminal who shares Pablo's view of females. Earle was a Dillinger type of outlaw, one of those Robin Hoods of the Midwest who terrorized banks during the dark years of the Great Depression. But unlike most of his real-life peers, Earle was captured alive and imprisoned. Eight years later palms were greased and he was paroled from the Joint in order to make a heist for some bigwig. While on the road Earle met a family and fell for a young woman with a club foot. He paid for her corrective surgery, hoping this act would bring them together and utimately provide him with a fairy tale ending for the Hellish existence he had led thus far. But she rejects him. The key scene in this story is when she is enjoying her new ability to dance and to carry on with sleazy guys who wear thin moustaches and greased back hair, and then rejects the older Earle in a very blunt and humiliating way. The Goddess turns out to be human. Realizing that he must live with the cards fate has dealt, he falls back on the companionship of the trampy Ida Lupino (who was incredible in this story as the doormat) and begins the process of acceptance. Not just accepting Lupino, but also the idea that he is going to die very soon as a natural consequence of his actions. Even out of prison he remains in prison. Bogart's taut and distrustful response to everything, his severe haircut, the dramatic landscape, the sharp black and white non-color all communicate an intense and urgent sadness. Yes, I really said "urgent sadness." I apologize. It seemed like an appropriate phrase at the time, but I won't retract it since my guilt prevents me from avoiding any sort of critical punishment I so richly deserve. Anyway. At his last stand he unleashes a Tommy gun at the coppers, and you can see this is his idea of liberation, when he seems to be his real self. Happiness is a warm gun. Willie Best plays a black stereotype comic-relief character written in such a racist manner that his presence seriously mars the entire movie. It is hard to say whether or not this movie was more insulting to women or to African Americans. And yet, in the middle of this mess Bogart gave us a complex and engaging portrayal-- I can't imagine any other Warner Brothers tough guy pulling this role off as well. Pard was played by Bogart's real-life dog, Zero. Seeing Cornel Wilde and Arthur Kennedy as young actors is fun as both of them later became seasoned stars. And if you enjoy WB gangster films, there is enough of the formula and regular supporting actors here to keep you happy. But. This movie is a problem.

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 5 (1989, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. I've lost my Indian drum, Lawyers named Gerald, Head crushing of the In-Crowd, Grandpa Pooped (includes all five Kids), Vacation on Scott, Are extraterrestrials dull? If Elvis was my landlord. This one is a little more out there than their past shows. I'm hurt and wounded by the fact that just because aliens wear cardigan sweaters, glasses, neckties, and have thinning hair they are considered dull. And furthermore, I would like to say I ... ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Secondhand Lions / directed by Tim McCanlies (2003, DVD). Michael Caine, Robert Duvall, Haley Joel Osmet, Kyra Sedgwick. Who says a family-oriented movie has to be sweet and boring? There were parts of this one that had me laughing to the point of tears in my eyes. Set in the early 1960s, a sullen boy is foisted off on two aging great uncles by his irresponsible mother. Uncle Garth and Uncle Hub live in a rural Gothic mansion with no telephone or television and have a passion for being left the Hell alone. For entertainment they sit on the porch and wait for slick salesmen to show up, and then use them as target practice with their rifles-- all fired with deadpan expressions. These two really remind me of my Father (in fact Duvall and my Dad were born less than two weeks apart) and I would've been about the same age as the kid in the story when I lived on our farm in the 1960s. And get this, the kid grows up to be a cartoonist! Yes! Michael Caine somehow has a convincing American Southern accent, and Duvall is playing an understated version of Lonesome Dove's Augustus McCrae-- much to my delight. They are a hoot and so is this movie. Director McCanlies knows how to unfold a good story.

The Outlaw / directed by Howard Hughes (1943, VHS). Jack Buetel, Jane Russell and her Breasts, Thomas Mitchell, Walter Huston, Ben Johnson (uncredited). Bad, bad, bad. When it comes to directing and producing a motion picture, Howard Hughes was as bad as Edward D. Wood, Jr, but without the freaky charm. Hard to believe two fine actors like Mitchell and Huston allowed themselves to get roped into this dog. Of course, it is the notorious backstory of this movie that makes it part of legend-- how Hughes centered an entire story around Jane Russell's breasts and thumbed his nose at the censor. Hughes was nuts, you know. Late in his life one of his regular perching spots was a hotel in Vancouver, B.C. called, I think, the Bayshore, or something like that. Once I was up there when he was in the city and the two top floors had all the drapes pulled and guys with shades and walkie-talkies dressed in suits were patrolling the balconies. If the same imaginative energy he put into his private life had somehow been creatively channeled into his moviemaking, he could've been a great director.

Mark Russell Comedy Special / directed by Gary V. Reinbolt (2000, VHS off-air). Mark Russell. Taped in late Dec. 2000, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Bush vs. Gore. Russell is getting older and crankier, with a slightly more cynical edge. Devoted almost entirely to the fiasco of the 2000 Presidential election, Russell has his work cut out for him in this broadcast. Normally, a political comedian opens our eyes and uses humor to enlighten us. But in this case real life was so incredibly weird Russell can only stand on the sidelines and recount (no pun intended) the current events-- they were so absurd they don't need underlining. I always liked the Russell trademark of singing some his jokes while playing piano, it makes me think of Vaudeville showmanship. His humor was traditionally gentle compared to his peers, but in this one I sense he is getting fed up. It is strange seeing Russell make jokes about Bush and Gore as I associate him with the Reagan era. Since the Bush administration has taken over, it seems America has become more polarized than usual. Russell's brand of comedy now comes across as too humane to tap into the public outrage and convert it to laughter. Today, comedians like Lewis Black and Jon Stewart are meaner, and in the end, funnier for Century 21.

"The British Showbiz Awards" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 18, episode 39) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1973, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. The British Showbiz Awards presented by Her Royal Highness the Dummy Princess Margaret, Wilde-Whistler-Shaw, Powder my nose, Charwoman, Pasolini's The third test match, New brain, Donating urine, Wife swapping events, Grandstand, Dirty vicar sketch. One of their most misogynistic broadcasts. The very last of the TV series Full Monty, as this was Cleese's final appearance. The others would continue in the next (and concluding) season without him. The more surreal-than-usual tone (and that's saying a lot, folks) which would soon dominate the whole tenor of the show is already starting here. Makes me wonder if Cleese's role in the writing was to serve as some sort of brake or provide grounding. The Wilde-Whistler-Shaw skit stands out as the best in his one.

Ging chaat goo si = Police Story / directed by Jackie Chan (1985, VHS). Jackie Chan, Brigitte Lin, Bill Tung, Maggie Cheung, Yuen Chor. I don't know why or how Jackie Chan has managed to stay alive all these years, but I'm glad he has. This movie has all the best elements of a Jackie Chan story: Buster Keaton type physical humor, nonstop action, badly dubbed English, a parkour ballet, Hong Kong cityscape, and a hero worth cheering for. No one is going to fall asleep watching this baby. Lots and lots of broken glass, especially in the final fight scene which takes place in a shopping mall. There's a little scene at the end where Jackie beats the crap out of a drug lord and his slimey attorney while the police look on with benign approval. Lots of winking and nudging among law enforcement in parts of the story.

"Epideme" (Red Dwarf ; series VII, byte 3) / directed by Ed Bye (1997, VHS). Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Chloë Annett, Gary Martin (voice). An intelligent but deadly virus with a wacky sense of humor (it can talk) invades Lister's body. I found myself missing Arnold Judas Rimmer. Although the production values are higher by this point in the series, the writing has disintegrated from smart dialogue to a string of one-liners. Granted, some of those one-liners are pretty funny, but the show has seen better days. Gary Martin really gives this episode some punch as the voice of Epideme, sounding a bit like Jim Carrey-- only better.

"The Pepsi Syndrome" (Saturday Night Live) (1979, VHS off-air). Bill Murray, Richard Benjamin, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Dan Aykroyd, Laraine Newman, Garret Morris, Jane Curtin, Rodney Dangerfield, Gildna Radner. A classic skit from the old days of SNL. A technician at the 2-Mile Island nuclear facility spills a soft drink on the control panel, causing a nuclear meltdown and giving SNL a chance to spoof The China Syndrome, and the 3-Mile Island disaster. President Carter (Aykroyd) visits and is inadvertantly exposed to massive doses of radiation-- causing him to grow over 90 feet tall. When asked how big he is, Rodney Dangerfield walks on and gives a string of gags, including, "I don't want to upset you lady, he's big, you know what I mean? Why he could have an affair with the Lincoln Tunnel! I mean, he's really high! He's big, I'll tell you! He's a big guy!" Back in 1979 more nuclear power plants seemed like a definite possibility, and the hip young viewers of SNL who knew better were a prime audience for this kind of humor. Nowadays, being critical of nuclear energy is mainstream, but in 1979 it was still considered radical. 3-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the revelation of the huge and deadly leaks at Hanford while the Feds covered it up changed public perception. And then there were little local stories. Tales like this: Out here in Grays Harbor County the WPPSS plants failed due to economic mismanagement. I'm happy they never went online. Why? First, the thing was sitting on the Satsop earthquake fault line, which has already had two quakes over 5 point just in Century 21. Second, a buddy of mine who was a nurse at St. Pete's had weekly stories about WPPSS workers being brought in due to injuries sustained on the job while being drunk or on drugs. Great! Third, my folks gave a guy in a suit a ride when his car broke down around here. Turned out he was employed by WPPSS. When asked how the project was going, the man answered, "I'll tell you one thing. When they turn that thing on I don't want to be around." Really inspires confidence, eh?

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Martin Short, Juul Haalmeyer Dancers, Mean Joe Greene, Rocky Bleier, The Tubes, Ian Thomas Band, Fred Willard, Harold Ramis, David Rasche. -- Sammy Maudlin Show with Danny Thomas, Home Hollywood Squares, You! with Libby Wolfson, I'm taking my own head screwing it on right and no guy's gonna tell me that it ain't, Critic's corner with Bill Needle, Norman White and the White Scat Chorale, Theatre beat with Bill Needle, Big Dude TV dinner, Dick Cavett interviews himself, Money talks with Brian Johns, Videodating, Mean Joe Greene playhouse, Big Dude and the kid, Brooke Shields show, Johnny LaRue over budget, Lunch time street beef, Identical bellhops, Murder in the cathedral NASA style, Identical cheese hostesses, House in a box, Days of the week, Identical OPEC oil ministers, 5 Neat Guys gold, Wrong side of the bed, Melvin and Howards, Harry the guy with the snake on his face library of distinction, The Rosemans, Great White North (topic: Space), The Cow-- the one beer to have when you're only having one, SCTV news, Lola Heatherton bouncing back to you, Video dinner, Mamorex, Basic photography, Freddie de Cordova show, Midnight express special, Irwin Allen show, Great White North (topic: Whether you should go bowling loaded), Cooking with Marcello, Men on women, "Mr. Know -it-all" the life of Nostradamus, Great White North (topic: Twist-off beer caps), Days of the week, McKenzie Brothers need a topic and find Ian Thomas, Finian's Rainbow Meat, Nightline Melonville, Rome Italian style, The young and the wrestling, Brian Johns visits William E. Douglas, Make me barf, Dailing for dollars, My factory my self, Dental floss-- use it, Emergency caterers, Bittman brothers, Double love, For lifers only, Count Floyd and blood sucking monkeys, Noise pollution, Floyd shows up drunk on Nightline Melonville, Invisible Man with Gov. Jerry Brown and Linda Ronstadt, Revenge, Days of the week, 12 angry men, Harry's scramble days, Guy Caballero writes a bad check, Carl's cuts, Scenes from an idiot's marriage, Melonvote. -- Andrea Martin's Libby Wolfson character is in two extended stories. First she produces a play ("I'm taking my own head screwing it on right and no guy's gonna tell me that it ain't") and in another she runs for town council. Both segments are a riot to watch, and the writers did a terrific job of tying the story into a broader tapestry of other running jokes. Rick Moranis presents us with videodating before such a thing existed in real life. Catherine O'Hara's "Lola Heatherton bouncing back to you" is one of the more amazing pieces of acting in the entire series. Robin Duke is a physical comedian in the tradition of Joan Davis and Imogene Coca. Count Floyd and the blood sucking monkey monologue is one of my favorite Flaherty bits. It has an improv feel to it. Martin Short makes a better Jerry Lewis than Jerry Lewis. What impresses me about the SCTV ensemble was their ability to impersonate real people or create new characters with very little prosthetic effects. They simply used acting as their special effect.

"The Resident Patient" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by David Carson (1985, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Tim Barlow, Nicholas Clay, Patrick Newell. A tale of guilt and justified paranoia. The supporting actors seem stagey and not as comfortable as Brett and Burke. Director Carson also made some poor choices in lighting-- the entire program has sort of a flat, washed out look. This one does have a very nice part when Holmes bursts into a room where the body of a homicide victim is still hanging from the ceiling, and the Great Detective can barely conceal his glee in having a crime scene to investigate. Considerable time is spent following his little flourishes and keen observations as he deconstructs the crime. For once he is working with a sympathetic police inspector, so we get to see Holmes unleashed in his pure form. We join the Inspector, Watson, and the others as we all stand in awe of Holmes' deductive abilities. A very straight-ahead and entirely rewatchable Holmes story. A fun violin ending too.

A Library For All (2004, VHS, off-air). Eric Liu, Deborah L. Jacobs, Rem Koolhaas, Joshua Ramos, Greg Nickels. Originally aired on KCTS, this is a friendly and fluffy look at the new downtown central Seattle Public Library building, hosted by one of the Library Board members. It is more a celebration than a critical-minded documentary, which is fine as long as the viewer is not expecting real journalism. This is, after all, a pretty amazing building. And there is no doubt Seattle is a great library town. The fact that Seattle citizens have a good solid record of supporting their public libraries reflects well on their city. I also appreciated the comments made in this visual essay about why libraries are still important in Century 21. I was an employee of SPL right at the very start of the 1980s. I worked in the downtown branch, where the new library now sits. During my tenure there as a low level drone, the card catalog was retired and was replaced by a "ROM Reader," a machine that spun spools of microfilm. In the basement, where I worked, there were rumors of Victorian era ghosts wandering through the storage areas. We had a uniformed Pinkerton security guy, who went crazy every Thursday afternoon (or was it Tuesday? I can't remember). He knew what we all knew. And it was this: Once a week on a certain day within a brief scope of time in the afternoon, an enormous woman would visit the library and arrive in one of the two entrances which were on different floors. She alternated in an unpredictable fashion, hence driving the Pinkerton crazy. And here was her game-- if left alone, she would climb on top of a very public table and disrobe until all her clothes were off. Every week. Sometimes the Pinkerton could stop her at the door, sometimes not. In 1980 from the top floor we all could see the angry, churning volcanic plume of St. Helens turn into an anvil and head east. Across the street from the front entrance was a Henry Moore sculpture. And all those books! What a great library. I have a lot of fond memories of SPL. As innovative as the new building is, that physical structure remains secondary to the mission.

Cheaper by the Dozen 12

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead / directed by Gary Fleder (1995, VHS). Andy Garcia, Christopher Lloyd, William Forsythe, Bill Nunn, Treat Williams, Jack Warden, Steve Buscemi, Fairuza Balk, Gabrielle Anwar, Christopher Walken, Don Cheadle. "Give it a name." Made right on the heels of Pulp Fiction, it is difficult not to draw comparisons. One wonders how much influence Tarantino had on Fleder. This dark tale had many elements that should've combined to create a great motion picture. Strong cast, vibrant visuals, lots of action, terrific soundtrack. Standout performances by Treat "I am Godzilla! You are Japan!" Williams and Steve Buscemi-- and the others weren't too shabby either. But the great motion picture didn't happen. Instead we got sort of a hokey and less imaginative version of a Tarantino movie. The hoke arrived in a trio of fatal scripting mistakes. First, the normally wonderful character actor Jack Warden was assigned the task of being the narrator, filling the story holes for the audience as he sits in a diner. The story doesn't tell us the story, instead he tells us the story. No. No. It doesn't work. Second, the characters are speaking in a slang that does not exist in real life. It is special to them. And it is really corny. It has a clumsy and artificial sound to it. Clockwork Orange this isn't. And finally, the characters are all cartoony, and I strongly suspect they are not meant to be. How bad is this film? Not real terrible but it is awful enough that I can watch it only in short increments.

To Have and Have Not / directed by Howard Hawks (1944, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael, Walter Sande, Dan Seymour, Marcel Dalio. No reference to whistling will be mentioned in this review. This movie is an earthier version of Casablanca. William Faulkner co-wrote the screenplay to this adaptation of a Hemingway novel. Contrary to Casablanca, Bogart gets the girl, both on screen and in real life. The Bogart/Bacall chemistry is powerful and undeniable. And we get a front row seat. Like Casablanca, Bogie is an expatriot (named Steve!) who does not want to get involved in that little international dispute between the French and Germans. But this time it takes place in Martinique-- and there's even a popular gin joint with a piano player. This film has a couple supporting familiar faces from Casablanca, making the scenario more familiar. Where the former movie was nobly romantic, this one is sexually charged. I defy you to find another place in cinema where cigarette lighting has been consistently developed into such an art form. You can't. Why? This movie had true love fueling the scenes. Although director Hawks was jealous, he knew spark when he saw it and stepped back to let it happen on screen. And for that, we thank him. Walter "Was you ever bit by a dead bee?" Brennan is the sidekick, the alcoholic as comic relief (complete with humor music) and Bogie enables him something fierce. Some Hollywood bigwig decided Bacall should sing in her cinema debut, and that was a major mistake-- but really, in the end, who cares? We want to cut her some slack since she shines in every other way. Seymour is really sliiiiimy as the local gestapo chief. Unlike Major Strasser of Casablanca, Seymour's character appears to be a Frenchman who turned against his people. *Shiver* Sliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiime. He's really good at it too. There is a quiet moment in the film where Bogart has a conversation with "another crazy dame," the spouse (Dolores Moran) of a freedom fighter. During this small sliver of the story, Bogart's acting transcended his era. He hated method actors, but I swear as I watched him listening to the dreams and fears of Moran's character he stepped out of time and wasn't being Bogart of the 1940s. For an amazing few minutes he is captured on film acting as if he is acting, and not being Humphrey Bogart. In the 1950s (my favorite Bogart era) he took risks like this, so maybe this few feet of film was a precursor to his later artistry.

Watergate Plus 30 : Shadow of History / directed by Foster Wiley (2003, VHS off-air). Alexander Butterfield, Jeb Stuart Magruder, Hugh Sloan, John Dean, Egil "Bud" Krogh, Richard Reeves, Leonard Garment, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Carl Bernstein, Howard Baker, Samuel Dash, Fred Thompson, Lowell Weicker. A nice, basic explanation of the Watergate scandal as told by some of the surviving players three decades later. Not a bad introduction for anyone who did not live through the political affair that paralyzed, mesmerized and polarized Americans for over two years. Interviewees includes Nixon's own staff, reporters, and Ervin Committee members. Up front I'll tell you I was a McGovern volunteer in 1972 and I see the term "McGovernite" as a good thing. I'm proud I worked for George. If there ever was a choice between good and evil in any Presidential election, 1972 was it. And America overwhelmingly chose evil. It was funny how Nixon won 49 states yet by 1974 you couldn't find anyone who admitted voting for him. So that's my bias and you can measure my following summation accordingly. This documentary points out what I have always suspected, there is no way the Watergate would've been broken into if J. Edgar Hoover had been alive. Even a nut like Hoover knew this plan was too crazy. But Jedgar died shortly before, and that gave Nixon and company the green light. Yes, I said Nixon. According to Magruder in this video, Nixon had prior knowledge and approval of the break-in. And there was another tidbit that was new. It dawned on me after hearing Kissinger on the tapes egg Nixon on about closing the Pentagon Papers leaks, that Henry bears some responsibility for the creation of the "Plumbers" which in turn led to Watergate. I always felt Kissinger belonged in prison anyway, and this only confirms my view. There are several conspiracy theories related to why the Watergate was really broken into, but this documentary does not address this, although Baker and Thompson do pose some open questions on the motives of Nixon counsel John Dean and his willingness to spill the beans. Strange to see memories presented as old history. The Ervin hearings, the fear of McGovern as if he actually had a chance of winning (What? Even we knew he didn't have chance!), the infamous Nixonian paranoia, Haldeman's cold-blooded stare at the hearings. I was in DC when Butterfield revealed the existence of the tapes in 1973 and let me tell you, that town went apeshit! I have never seen anything like it. Everyone knew Nixon was finished by that point. He was done. Yet we had to endure another year of him. Still, in hindsight we have to give Tricky Dick his due. He opened China, he went to the Soviet Union-- two decisions that a Democrat couldn't have made without charges of being soft on Communism. Leave it to George W. Bush to, and I never thought I would ever say this, make Nixon look like a statesman. In Century 21 we now have the same kind of sleaze but without the foreign policy smarts. Several of those interviewed here expressed the view that nothing has been learned from Watergate except, "Don't get caught." Personally, I think putting a live penguin in the Oval Office would be a good thing, because, as Sarah says, "It keeps a man honest when a penguin is watching." How many times have we heard that sage advice, and how many times have we ignored it at our peril?

X / directed by Roger Corman (1963, VHS off-air). Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, Don Rickles. What can you say about a movie that starts off with a long shot of a severed eyeball, followed by that eyeball floating a steaming beaker and then concluding the story in a revival tent meeting filled with nutcases? It's Roger Corman! The master of low budget cinema. Lurid color, spirals, Theremin soundtrack, cheap camera effects-- but it all works. Corman was an artist and very resourceful at what he did, i.e., direct entertaining films with basically no money in the 1950s-60s. In this tale of hubris, Dr. Xavier (get it, X=Xavier?) gives himself the power of x-ray vision. His optometrist pal tries to dissuade him at the start of the story, but the die is cast: Optometrist- "My dear friend, only the gods see everything." Xavier - "My dear doctor, I'm closing in on the gods." This was filmed during Corman's Vincent Price/Poe cycle, 1960-1964. But unlike Vinnie, Milland does not court the audience. We never really connect with him. The whole x-ray thing was a great concept and this story screamed out for 3-D glasses-- that might've helped in making us care about Milland's character-- or maybe not. Don Rickles must've been granted permission to ad-lib or the role was written for him, as he doles out the insults as only he can. He's pretty good in the character of the sleazebag hustler. There's a swinger party scene that cannot be missed where Milland does a dance much like the twist and he can see everyone through their clothes. In one car scene where we can see the stock footage background through the rear windshield, there is no car newer than 1956, which was sort of weird for a 1963 movie. It is very odd to watch a Corman film from this era that does not end with a giant fire. Specifically, the same giant fire stock footage he used over and over in several stories. I could make a corneacopia of eye puns, but I'll put a lid on it. No need to lash out at me. Suffice to say just be a good pupil and learn from Dr. Xavier's mistakes.

Sabotage / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1936, DVD). Sylvia Sidney, Oskar Homolka, Desmond Tester, John Loder, William Dewhurst. I'm a little nervous about reviewing this one. It's too good, and it speaks just as much for Century 21 as it did for 1936. The only negative thing I can say about this film is no reflection on Hitchcock, but rather the technology that brought it to me. The print I have has terrible audio. Fortunately, thanks to the fact Hitch had his start in silent films, he knew how to tell a story by showing rather than telling, so I could still follow the plot. This movie was based on Joseph Conrad's Secret Agent (a story I had to read in college), which was a much darker and more cynical tale than the one Hitchcock presented to us. In both stories, an innocent child named Stevie(!?!?!) is sent out to deliver a bomb in an act of terror in London. In the movie, the child is not expected to die, but as he carries the bomb he goes on a vision quest much like Billy from the Family Circus when he covers a multitude of stopping points between point A and point B, and the time delay results in the kid's death when the bomb explodes. On a crowded bus. And a puppy dies too. They killed Billy! And Barfy! When Conrad wrote the original story in 1907, he was thinking of anarchists. In 1936, Hitchcock made the villain be from some unspoken continental European country as in, er, Germany. In Century 21 we would first assume this villain was either a homegrown killer-of-children right-wing anti-government sociopath like Timothy McVeigh or part of some plot by the truly evil religious fanatic Bin Laden (actually, not much different than McVeigh). So. This movie will hit some buttons. We see the human ripple effects of terrorism. Captive animals are used as a metaphor-- birds, fish, a dog. The Bombmaker, who is a comic figure, is also a pet shop owner. The link between comedy and tragedy, where the root of all comedy is tragedy becomes clear. In a movie within a movie, some of the most important action takes place behind the screen of a motion picture house where the central characters live real lives, dysfunctional though they may be. What is showing on the screen acts as a foil to what is taking place in real life. The masses drink up the pleasant fiction while the non-fiction machinations take place behind the movie screen. During one very tragic sequence, a funny cartoon is being played. Alfred Hitchcock was one twisted guy. What a macabre sense of humor. The part of this story that was really chilling was how Hitch was able to anticipate the peculiar flavor of the psychopathic disease of the Nazis. The villain in this film is banal, a nothing, a loser, not unlike Hitler's chief of genocide, Heinrich Himmler. At the end of this version, everything is blown to Hell. But out of the ashes a new life can be found. This conclusion, as I recall, wasn't the case in the Conrad story. It would've been interesting to see Alfred Hitchcock's interpretation of the world situation today. Somehow I think it would be too horrifying for him. Things he thought were shocking (he died in 1980) we now take for granted as normal. The world, sad to say, has caught up to Alfred Hitchcock.

Bubba Ho-tep / directed by Don Coscarelli (2002, VHS). Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis, Ella Joyce, Bob Ivy. "It's time for A-C-T-I-O-N!" Some conspiracy theories turn out to be true. The King lives! And it's up to Elvis (with the help of JFK) to stop an ancient Eyptian soul-sucking mummy from killing all the residents of a rundown nursing home in east Texas. The mark of a really well made low budget film is having the audience be unaware that they are watching a low budget film-- and this is a well made low budget film. It is carried by wonderful acting, smart dialogue, creative lighting, nice camera tricks, and a subtle soundtrack. The story has just the right blend of humor and horror. The scarab fight scene alone is worth it. Excellent writing and sensitivity to the challenges of turning invisible to society as one ages (Elvis: "Get old, you can't even cuss someone and have it bother 'em. Everything you do is either worthless or sadly amusing.") Bruce Campbell is amazing as The decaying King of Rock and Roll, and hooking up with Ossie Davis as President Kennedy (no kidding) creates an unlikely buddy picture with a crazy chemistry that works. Also one of the few movies using narration where that device is effective. When the real Elvis was alive, I regarded him as a cardboard cutout. Campbell's Elvis softened my opinion, with self observations the King himself might not ever have realized: "Here I was complainin' about loss of pride and how life had treated me, and now I realized-- I never had any pride. And much of how life had treated me had been good. The bulk of the bad was my own damn fault. Should've fired Colonel Parker by the time I got in the pictures. Old fart had been a shark and a fool, and I was even a bigger fool for following him. If only I'd treated Priscilla right. If I could've told my daughter I loved her. Always the questions. Never the answers. Always the hopes. Never the fulfillments." I love this movie.

"The Deadly Assassin" (Doctor Who) / directed by David Maloney (1976, VHS off-air). Tom Baker, Bernard Horsfall, Peter Pratt, George Pravda, Hugh Walters. I am not a Dr. Who devotee, but I know enough to recognize an offbeat episode when I see one. First off, the Doctor is without companion. He is operating totally alone. Secondly, we get a few more clues concerning his mysterious past as he finds himself on his native planet of Gallifrey, home of his fellow Time Lords. Here's what I don't get about this place which is supposedly so advanced: they have a strict hierarchy with corny rituals, stupid titles and impractical uniforms. They use torture and capital punishment. There are apparently no women around. Media manipulation is standard. All the Gallifrey action takes place in a studio, making it a claustrophobic place. The chief law enforcement guy has a Czech accent while everyone is oh so very English. We also meet The Master in a new incarnation. "Who is The Master?" The Doctor answers, "He's my sworn arch-enemy. A fiend who glories in chaos and destruction." The Master in this episode is hidden under a hideous costume, so to make up for the lack of facial expression we get delightfully hammy intonations in the spoken lines even through that rubber mask. Most enjoyable. I guess a "hammy Master" can be abbreviated to "hamster." Ohhh, I am soooo scared. There are several cheesy and choppy zooms to bulging eyes. The electronic keyboard soundtrack is as dramatic as a piano at a silent film melotrauma. Thirdly, there is a "Matrix" sequence where the Doctor enters the Jungian collective memory of the Time Lords. This part is on film rather than video, and it is shot out of doors. In a rock quarry in fact, a traditional Dr. Who all-purpose location. The "Matrix" segment showed up at a point in the episode where I usually find myself losing interest in the normal tediousness of these stories, but this was weird enough to keep me absorbed. It was like combining Un chien andalou with The Naked Prey (did you know both Dali and Cornel Wilde died in 1989? It's a fact). A better than usual Dr. Who story, but I still found myself thinking all those actors were old enough to get real jobs so I guess my mind still wandered a bit. Oh, I almost forgot, we learn the Doctor is an accomplished cartoonist as we look over his shoulder when he is on trial.

"The Germans" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by John Howard Davies (1975, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Louis Mahoney. Quite possibly the most famous of the dozen episodes in this series, chiefly due to Cleese performing a Pythonesque silly walk as he imitates Hitler and the incredibly goofy Nazi goosestep. Most popular or not, this one is among the more uneven stories in the FT canon. It took awhile for the victors to laugh about our own nervousness concerning the Germans and WWII. Movies like One, Two, Three (1961), The Producers (1968) and television shows such as Hogan's Heroes (1965-1971) were early efforts. By 1975, writers Cleese and Booth were able to update this fear by connecting it with jokes making fun of racists and sexists. Basil seems more vicious than usual here, but then he receives a head injury and is without any social check. Unleashed, he is a monster. The fire drill scene is painful to watch, and Andrew Sachs was seriously burned in the course of performing. The Manuel, Major and moosehead bit is very good.

KCTS : the Black and White Years (1994, VHS off-air). Greg Palmer, Norman Boulanger, Jack Norman, Robin Brumett, Bob Newman (Gertrude!!), Bob Flick, Lew West, Hoge Sullivan, Leon Lishner, Dick Kinsman, John McShane, Jean Walkinshaw, Barbara Fowler, Norm Jensen, Richie Meyer. A 40th anniversary tribute to the early pioneers of KCTS (K=Community Television Service) covering the time period when we Puget Sound Boomers were first exposed to educational television. It was all in black and white, it was live, it was local. Olympia's TCTV and stations like it have picked up where KCTS left off after they started running national programs. Some of the early programs included Face to Face, Linden Mander's University Conversation, and Opera with Stanley Chapple. In 1973 a decision to run the Senate Watergate hearings unedited cranked up the viewership, and the arrival of Back East hustle man Richie Meyer brought the station into modern times and running nationally syndicated programs, ending an era of charming and amateurish black and white production. I guess we couldn't stay tucked up here in our own little isolated corner forever without the outside world bursting in eventually. KCTS was originally associated with the UW but was released as a state agency by the 1980s, the first such case in Washington State history (The second such case was WLN, a bibliographic utility that was released in 1990, and my employer at the time). I never noticed KCTS was only available in black and white in those days since most everyone I knew had only black and white sets. Color TV was still an unusual thing for the normal working families. Greg Palmer, who I always enjoy watching and is now a unique Puget Sound TV figure himself, was the right choice for hosting this program.

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 6 (1989, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. 30 Helens agree, Lackadaisical homeowner robbed by listless robber, Running faggot (only Scott Thompson could do this and get away with it), 29 Helens agree, Flogging business executives, The trucker, Can I keep Mr. Stevenson? (McCulloch was always great at playing annoying little boys). The Kids are really fascinated with the business world in this one, from corporate CEOs to small business entrepreneurs. Very top heavy with Foley and McDonald this time. McKinney has a brief gem in his trucker character monologue-- truly brilliant. Comedy is supposed to have a short shelflife, but after two decades this stuff remains very funny. KITH approach comedy, in some ways, as if it was poetry-- stripping everything down to the essentials and using kind of a shorthand.

"A Scandal in Bohemia" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Paul Annett (1984, DVD). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Gayle Hunnicutt, Wolf Kahler. An important chapter of the BBC Holmes series on several levels. To begin with, it was the debut of Brett in a role that had belonged to Basil Rathbone for many decades. But in one mere program, that was erased. Today, there is no other Holmes than Jeremy Brett's version. We see him playing the violin, using disguises, there are references to his use of morphine and cocaine, and his enormous ego is on display. Always called "my friend and colleague," this Dr. Watson is not the bumbling Nigel Bruce fool we associated as Rathbone's sidekick. Jeez, the guy was a doctor after all, he couldn't have been that dumb. This Watson is sort of our human connection, providing us with a front row seat to this otherworldly being known as Sherlock Holmes. We also see that right from the very start the producers of this series employed great care in successfully giving us a sense of time and place. The impressive production values never faltered during the entire run. But there are some features of this episode that turn out to be anomalies in hindsight. First, no cops. This is one of the few stories where we do not see the Great Detective interacting with law enforcement, having to defend his unique line of work as consulting detective. Second, his prey is more sympathetic than his client. He is working for an Old World member of the royalty and going after a New World woman, Irene Adler of New Jersey, in a supposed blackmail case. But Holmes has to adjust his low opinion of the female gender with Adler. "To Sherlock Holmes," Watson tells us, "She was always 'The Woman.'" A rare example of Sherlock being outsmarted, although the result could be called a draw. He would keep a photo of her in his desk drawer forever after, and in later stories we got a peek at it now and then when other treasures were deposited there. And last, we see Holmes laughing here more than any subsequent story. Granted, some of the laughter is in the form of a cynical chuckle, but it is still a laugh. He also gloats more than we are accustomed to seeing later. A long time ago, when the Washington Center for the Performing Arts was still the Olympic Theater and the BBC had not started the Holmes series yet, there was a Rathbone Holmes movie showing down there. I went to it, and was startled to see a small army of moviegoers turn up with deerstalker hats and other traditional Holmes attire. I can see how the stories could inspire people to acts of homage like this. I'm sure sometime in the future another actor will interpret Holmes in way that will speak to the generation of that time, but for now Jeremy Brett's interpretation remains definitive to me. Nobody likes a smartypants, but we love this guy anyway. Rest in peace, Jeremy.

Rage at Dawn / directed by Tim Whelan (1955, VHS). Randolph Scott, Forrest Tucker, Mala Powers, J. Carrol Naish, Edgar Buchanan, Denver Pyle, Ray Teal, Chubby Johnson. This is a surreal Western in many ways. It is also basically a bad movie that is hard to sit through. It is loosely based on the real life of the Reno brothers, a dysfunctional family of train robbers who were active in Indiana right after the Civil War. Yes. I said Indiana. Somehow the Hoosier State in 1866 had cowboys, sagebrush, cactus, pine trees and hills. Aside from having a few ancestors plant themselves there in the pioneer days on their trek West, here is my experience with Indiana: It was 1979 and I was enjoying a few beers with some of my newfound train pals as we took Amtrack through the northern part of Indiana at night. We were in the open area between cars. The train was rumbling along very slow and we went alongside the outside wall of the Crayola Color Crayon factory. I mean right up close. We could've easily thrown things through their open windows. I suspect Crayola supplied the color for this movie. Inside we saw the workers handling giant blocks of primary colored wax or whatever. We yelled, "Hi Mr. Color Crayon! Hi Mrs. Color Crayon!" OK, I did mention alcohol was involved? Anyway, that is all I know about Indiana. Well, that, Dan Quayle, and this movie. Sad, isn't it? Anyway. This film starts with a bank robbery that is ambushed, and seems like a rough draft of the Wild Bunch intro. Forrest Tucker is effective as the growling leader of the Renos, and might be the best actor in this movie. The Renos, like other early American clans, including my own family, had their own code of justice and administered it accordingly. Of course, what goes around comes around. The local judge, sheriff, and prosecutor have all been bought by the Renos, and when a local citizen sees these scumbags walking down the street he observes, "Nobody to blame but ourselves. We voted them in." How refreshing to hear a voter take responsibility. So, how many of you who voted for the current "Decider" are willing to say the same? Randolph Scott, the star and hero here, was a figure from the days of my parents. Western fans speak of him with great reverence. To me, he's just a guy who is crowding 60 by 1955. Speaking of which, it is too weird to see a film that was released when I was alive looking like something from the 1930s.

Cheaper by the Dozen 13

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Mission / directed by Roland Joffé (1986, VHS off-air). Robert De Niro, Jeremy Irons, Ray McAnally, Liam Neeson. I bet I'm the only person to review this movie who mentions Jimmy Durante in the text. Set in the high mountains of South America in the 1750s, this tale presents an idealistic Jesuit priest (Irons), a slave-trading mercenary (De Niro), and a crafty political figure (McAnally). Well written in the sense that it can be looked at in several different ways and remain engaging. It is a story about idealism, cynicism, and realism. No, wait. It's about religion, the military, and politics. No, wait. It's about imperialistic dominant cultures and a portrayal of an early version of the military-industrial complex. No, hold it. It's about redemption and relapse. It's about making a choice to run away or connect with humanity. It's an allegory for the Reagan era. It's whatever you want to see. Although music has a central role in the story and there are some fine musical moments, the soundtrack is generally annoying. However, this is one of those movies that would have a quote from a critic declaring it to be "Visually Stunning!" which it is. My copy was taped off of NBC back in 1991, and the commercials were included. I love the way they'll run a bouncy ad for Budweiser immediately after a well-acted emotional scene. Also the way they breathlessly promote the upcoming news, "News at 11! Body pulled from river! Boy attacked by giant snake! Plus, Mariners highlights! Fear, fear, and sports!" This film is not the feel-good-movie-of-the-year. It makes me appreciate that great quote from the late Jimmy Durante, "Why doesn't everyone leave everyone else the Hell alone?" This film has a real bummer of an ending, and in the final result the losers in the struggle between the three main characters are the Native Americans.

"The Golden Age of Ballooning" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 19, episode 40) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1974, VHS). Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. The Golden Age of Ballooning, the Norwegian Party, Zeppelin, the German Cabinet (dead) in the sitting room-- no! the drawing room, Mill on the Floss. Lots of turning back on itself and ample use of jokes about the French and Germans. This was the first episode of their final season, and John Cleese had left the group to create Fawlty Towers. His absence is conspicuous. But in some ways the final six shows are my favorites. Although Cleese was a funny guy to watch, as in his famous "silly walks," his real humor was in his dialogue. He was really a wordmaster and liked quick, fast jokes. After his departure the group became more narrative in their stories, and the visual jokes increased. Plus they employed a little Dada that previously was not so evident.

Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936, DVD). Voices by Jack Mercer, Mae Questel, Gus Wickie (all uncredited). The first of the Technicolor Popeye cartoons. Popeye, with Wimpy in tow, rescues Olive Oyl from the clutches of Sindbad (Brutus). The villain lives on an island populated by enormous wild animals, fun monsters, and a two-headed giant. The Fleischers used a multiplane camera, creating an amazing 3-D effect. The use of comic sound was expertly applied, and for once I have a copy with decent audio. I laughed out loud at the use of Sousa music when Popeye goes into his Spinach Berserkergang. Clocking in at 16 minutes, this is longer than an average Popeye cartoon but it goes by fast. This film was nominated for an Oscar, and in 1994 was voted number 17 in the "50 Greatest Cartoons" list by 1000 animation professionals. Although I would have chosen some other Fleischer titles, this one placed the highest on that roster for that studio. I would love to view this cartoon on the big screen.

"Nanarchy" (Red Dwarf ; series VII, byte 3) / directed by Ed Bye (1997, VHS). Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett. The second of a two-part story, the first being "Epideme." Kryten employs the use of nanobots to replace and rebuild Lister's arm. Holly (the Lovett version) is rediscovered and he still kicks bottom. Back in the late 1990s, this episode was my introduction to the whole concept of nanotechnology. Not being an avid SF reader or very inclined to follow science and technology news, it took a BBC comedy show to bring me up to speed.

Saturday Night Live Presidential Bash / directed by Dave Wilson (1992, VHS off-air). Dana Carvey, Phil Hartman, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Benjamin, A. Whitney Brown, Gary Busey, Chevy Chase, Ellen Cleghorne, Jane Curtin, Rodney Dangerfield, Nora Dunn, Chris Farley, Michael J. Fox, Al Franken, Tom Hanks, Buck Henry, Jan Hooks, Eric Idle, Jon Lovitz, Tim Meadows, Dennis Miller, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Kevin Nealon, Ron Nessen, Laraine Newman, Randy Quaid, Gilda Radner, Ron Reagan, Chris Rock, Julia Sweeney, Terry Sweeney. History majors with a sense of humor will love this one. Broadcast on the weekend before the 1992 Presidential election, this special presented a compilation of the best political skits in the (then) 18 year history of SNL. Hosted by Hartman as Clinton and Carvey as both Bush I and Perot, no party or candidate is spared. This made me laugh out loud in several places no matter what era they were covering or what party they were ridiculing, but I'm sure part of that was due to the fact that I have vivid memories of political figures now obscure. I was in college when SNL first aired and had more or less followed the show for the first 15 or so years. The cast in the late 1980s/early 1990s had some real spark, and this sampler will show you why. Younger viewers might need footnotes to get some of the jokes. Hartman and Carvey were among the very best in SNL when it came to political humor. Some of the political game players portrayed include: Bill Clinton, Admiral Stockdale, Ted Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Barbara Bush, Tom Foley, Jack Kemp, George H.W. Bush, Ross Perot, Dan Quayle, Strom Thurmond, Gerald Ford, Clarence Thomas, Sam Donaldson, Joe Biden, Pierre DuPont, Sandra Day O'Connor, Diane Sawyer, Nancy Reagan, Pat Schroeder, Peter Jennings, Michael Dukakis, Cap Weinberger, Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Bob Dole, Lillian Carter, Barbara Walters, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, David Eisenhower, Roslyn Carter, Walter Cronkite, John Dean, Anita Hill, Billy Carter, Pat Robertson, Howell Heflin, and David Frost. Ron Nessen and Ron Reagan appeared as themselves. Some of the standouts for me were Hartman's Clinton and Reagan, Carvey's Bush I, Perot, and Strom Thurmond, Jan Hooks as Nancy Reagan, Jon Lovitz as Dukakis, Aykroyd's Bob Dole, Gary Busey's Billy Carter, and Al Franken's very excellent Pat Robertson. I miss Phil Hartman.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Tony Rosato, Martin Short, David Rasche, Bill Murray, Linda Hopkins, Hall & Oates. Melonvote, Way to Go Woman, Mailer vs. Vidal, The Expert from Kovak, Benny Hill Street Blues, National Midnight Star, Gerry Todd Show, Crazy Hys, (Bing) Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Carpets Galore, Ride Like the Wind, DiMaggio's on the Wharf, Ethel Merman's Wake Up and Love Me, Great White North (topic: dog scoops), Mr. Boom Microphone, Days of the Week, An Evening with Edith Prickley Live from the Melonville Baths, Monster Chiller Horror Theatre, Dr. Tongue's 3-D House of Slave Chicks, Stars in One with Brock Linahan, Joyce de 1/2 Witt's Half Legs, Edison Gum, People's Court, Farm Film Celebrity Blow-up with Dustin Hoffman, Al Peck's Used Fruit, Days of the Week, Larue Fish Flakes, Sammy Maudlin Show, Chariots of Eggs, Conversational New Yorkese, Sweeps Week, Night of the Prime Time Stars, The Long Hard War, Murray's File, Shower in a Briefcase, Donohue, Great White North (Topic: back bacon, snow chains), SCTV Satellite, 60/20 with Earl Camembert, Tex and Edna Boil's Organ Emporium with Free Budgies, The Lone Ranger Show, Pirini Scleroso Chateau la Feet, Farm Film Celebrity Blow-up with Neil Sedaka, Scrapco Presents Artisans and their Art, Days of the Week. -- Blame Ed Grimley. I had occasionally run across snippets of SCTV as I compulsively tapped the remote button late at night, like any normal person in my gender, but it was Martin Short's character, Ed Grimley, that suckered me into SCTV in early 1983 during the "Night of the Prime Time Stars" episode. Then television viewing was never quite the same as the SCTV world opened up. Disjointed notes on this disjointed tape: John Candy was one angry guy, and his humor seems to come from a well of rage. Flaherty's Bible, I would bet money, was Mad magazine. If the skit involved music, that meant Eugene Levy, probably the most complex cast member. O'Hara is delightfully unhinged. Bill Murray has a nice guest shot as Joltin' Joe DiMaggio. This was irreverent comedy with a heart, a rare combination in the "Age of Malaise and Despair." In "An Evening with Edith Prickley Live from the Melonville Baths" Flaherty gives us his Heston impression, which was sort of eerie to watch on the same week Chuck died. Hyperlocal trivia connection: "Melonvote" has two candidates we never see named Haskall and Wexler, in honor of director and cinematographer Haskell Wexler. Wexler's son lived in Olympia while attending TESC in the 1970s and was a roomate of one of my buddies.

"The Red-Headed League" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by John Bruce (1985, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Roger Hammond, Tim McInnerny, Eric Porter, Richard Wilson. This is a case Holmes finds "Most refeshingly unusual." And even though "it is quite a three pipe problem," plus requires a violin concert to meditate upon, it is obvious the Great Detective has solved this case in his head early on and only needs to act upon his theory to make it true. This is the most humorous of all the Brett Holmes episodes and can make me smile after repeated viewings. There is even a rare point where both Holmes and Watson share a healthy bond of laughing out loud at an inappropriate time. The Darwinian world of London street life is captured very well as background, and the outdoor camera shots are beautifully composed. The beat of hooves upon brick must've been a peculiarly urban sound in the 1890s, as well as the hawking of products. Richard Wilson was wonderfully over the top and has excellent straight-faced comic timing as conman Duncan Ross. This episode gave us our first glimpse of the evil Professor Moriarty. At the conclusion of the story, Holmes quotes Flaubert in French, fittingly translated into: "The man is nothing, the work is everything." No matter what some of you say (You know who you are. Yes, you! And you! ), I am not a candidate for the Red-Headed League. I come from a long line of red-heads, I brought a beautiful red-headed girl into the world, but I myself am a blonde. OK, OK, a strawberry blonde. Anyway, I enjoy this episode. Jeremy Brett is still lean, hungry, energetic and a joy to watch in this one.

The Question of God: Sigmund Freud & C.S. Lewis / directed by Catherine Tatge (2004, VHS off-air). Declan Conlon, Peter Eyre, Simon Jones, Armand Nicholi. Parenthood cured me from spinning my wheels when it came to the Big Picture. It seemed that one day I was sucking down a beer while sitting on the floor of a student apartment (sans chair or couch) engaged in "what does it all mean?" discussions with other questioning souls, and the next day I'm married, a homeowner, and trying to get that spoon of babyfood into my infant daughter's mouth as she spreads it all over herself and the highchair tray. Of the two scenarios the latter one is more connected with the Big Pic for me, but as a participant I did not have the luxury of thinking too hard about it. So when I viewed this video, all 4 hours of it-- Yes, 4 hours-- it was like going back a few decades. This is not only about the question of whether or not God exists, issues such as love, morality, evil, suffering, happiness and free will are tackled. Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis are used as representatives of opposing views. What could be (and sometimes is) a program that has the potential to be mind-numbingly dull is partially rescued by use of documentary film and photos, dramatization, and interviews with scholars. There is even a debate between the two principals as portrayed by actors. The fast-forward button needs to be hit once the roundtable discussion from talking heads presents itself. Remember, this baby is 4 hours long. But all in all, the narrative is given in a way that most of the time kept my interest. It seems to me that Freud vs. Lewis boils down to science vs. Christian faith, logic vs. romanticism. I like the way this program demonstrated how events in the personal lives of these two shaped their views, and how they both responded to the dark side of human nature (both world wars, anti-semitism, and the rise of Hitler), and the dark side of nature nature (the influenza pandemic, which claimed the life of Freud's daughter). Lord of the Rings fans might enjoy the Tolkien/Lewis connection being covered. My mind likes Freud, my heart likes Lewis.

The Third Man / directed by Carol Reed (1949, VHS). Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee, Lee Strasberg (uncredited). Set in Vienna after WWII, the city is occupied by the four Allied powers and the war-weary citizens are walking on eggshells, scraping by to make a living. It seems that after the War there were a host of films examining the nature of personal evil. Just because the Nazis had been vanquished didn't mean evil itself had as well. This is a movie that should never be colorized. It is darkly humorous with snappy and jaded dialogue. The story moves right along and keeps us hooked. There are amazing faces among the supporting cast of odd characters. The zither soundtrack is fresh and original-- and acts as a commentary on the action. And the film has a perfect ending in the final shot. Harry Lime, played by Welles, becomes the central character by pure buildup. His screen time is minimal. In fact, Welles has only one scene with any extended dialogue in which he utters the key line of the story to Cotten's character, "What do you believe in?" It is presented as almost a throwaway piece of the script but Welles delivered it so expertly. He really could act when he wanted to. Joseph Cotten as the American writer of cheap Western paperbacks who drinks a little too much was perfectly cast. Why is that whenever I mention Cotten I'm frequently met with, "God, I hate that guy"? I don't get it. Trevor Howard as the British military cop makes a good foil for Cotten. This movie entered the public domain awhile back and as a result many cheap copies, like mine, were cranked out. My Goodtimes Home Video version used a print that was not of the highest quality, to be charitable, even though the container claims "Guaranteed Superior Quality Video Tape and Recording." Plus, sometimes the videocassette itself sort of wobbles in the player, sometimes not. Today I was lucky. It is interesting to contrast the feeling of this movie with another internationally made title at the start of that decade, Casablanca. By the end of the 1940s, romanticism and idealism were seen as costly extras in a world getting sucked down into fear and the Cold War. The British Film Institute called this movie the best British film of the 20th century. The American Film Institute placed it at number 57 in the top 100 American movies. The film deserved to placed on those lists, but this story does not belong to any one country.

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre / directed by John Huston (1948, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston, Tim Holt, Bruce Bennett, Barton MacLane, John Huston (uncredited), Robert Blake (uncredited). Set in Mexico in 1925, three down-on-their-luck Americans set off for the Sierra Madre in search of gold. One of them (Huston) is a grizzled veteran of such expeditions, and acts as the foreshadower. "When the piles of gold begin to grow," he warns in advance, "That's when the trouble starts." Another, stiffly played by Tim Holt, is an innocent. Holt's stilted but sincere performance actually enhances his character as he serves as sort of an everyman plug-in, tempted over and again by greed with varying degrees of success and failure in this moral struggle. But it is Fred C. "I need dough and plenty of it" Dobbs, played by Bogart, who serves as the sacrificial lamb to the God of Greed. With each frame his thin veneer of civilized behavior is stripped away in increments until he is transformed into a primal demon motivated by paranoia and avarice. Both Hustons, father and son, won Oscars for this picture. But Walter Huston was really more of a co-star than a supporting cast member. This is the role where Huston gave the world the "Walter Huston Dance," and shared one of the most infectious laughs in movie history a couple times in the story. One of the all time great fight scenes takes place here, Bogart and Holt squaring off with Barton MacLane in a Tampico bar. There is no action music, no magic spring back up when being hit. It is stark, graphic and brutal. And powerful. The soundtrack is OK when the scenes take place in cities or villages, but up in the mountain shots it gets monotonous. Maybe I should say "mounotonous." Heh. The visuals are pure John Huston, with that trademark sideways lighting and visual clarity. I always liked the language in this story, e.g. Dobbs: "Do the mug in, I say ... All three of us haul out our cannons and let him have it." Dobbs' use of English was an inspiration for me when I wrote dialogue for Morty the Dog. Watch for uncredited performances by director Huston (man in white suit) and a very young Robert Blake, the little boy who sells Dobbs a lottery ticket. I saw this on the big screen at Evergroove in the 1970s, and when Huston said, "We've wounded this mountain. It's our duty to close her wounds. It's the least we can do to show our gratitude for all the wealth she's given us. If you guys don't want to help me, I'll do it alone," the audience cheered. One of the best of the Bogart movies.

The Education of Gore Vidal / directed by Deborah Dickson (2003, VHS off-air). Gore Vidal, Eli Wallach, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., George Plimpton, Joanna Woodward, Sidney Lumet, Spalding Gray, Charles Durning, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Anne Jackson, Karenna Gore, Paul Newman. An admiring portrait of that bastard child of the governing class, Gore "I have my own TV crew at all times" Vidal. Although I suspect he is personally unpleasant to be around, I have always enjoyed Vidal's preoccupation with power politics and his refreshing cut-through-the-crap analysis of United States domestic and foreign policy. He was also an early pioneer in coming out of the closet, featuring Gay characters in his novels for a mainstream audience-- something that took some guts at the time. I first became aware of him while watching the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, engaged in debate with William F. Buckley (Vidal called him a "crypto-Nazi" on live TV), the both of them barely able to conceal their rage. Vidal repeated this performance with Norman Mailer shortly after. But man, could that guy write. Back when I read fiction, I read his novels Julian, Washington D.C., Burr, Lincoln, 1876, and Empire. In this documentary Schlesinger states, "History is an argument without end," and Vidal presents his historical arguments through the vehicle of fiction. Attacking the work of generations of American hagiographers, Vidal's novels present our founding fathers and icons like Lincoln in more human terms. I found Burr and Lincoln to be among the very best works of historical fiction I have ever read. But for all of Vidal's enthusiasm in attacking the act of worshipping our leaders, this is a pretty fawning piece of documentary work. There isn't a lot here that is critical or challenges Vidal's philosophy. And I'm saying this as someone who likes him! This visual essay needed a Little Vidal to cover the Big Vidal, someone sharp tongued, nasty, and funny. Just like Gore himself. A few bits of trivia: Part of this was filmed at his home in Ravello, Italy-- and fans of the Bogart movie Beat the Devil (one of my favorites) will recognize the terrain. Also, this documentary might well be the very last time we ever saw George Plimpton and Spalding Gray on film.

Die, Monster, Die! / directed by Daniel Haller (1965, VHS off-air). Boris Karloff, Nick Adams, Freda Jackson, Suzan Farmer, Patrick Magee. This has all the hallmarks of a typical American International "horror" film of the 1960s: surreal credits in gaudy colors, frightened villagers warning the stranger to stay away from "that place," a mysterious fog enveloping an islolated estate, a creepy and decaying mansion, menacing characters in black shrouds, portraits of mentally deranged ancestors, a strange butler, a patch of land where nothing will grow, unearthly howls of dubious origin, horrible unGodly experiments, hideous mutations, Patrick Magee, killer plants, skeletons, a family cemetery, a big fire at the end! Whew. Well, you say, if this is American International it has got to be directed by Roger Corman and it must star Vincent Price. But no. If you are used to the Corman/Price works, this one will strike you as very different even though the externals are all there. In his directorial debut, Haller is subtle and subdued compared to Corman. Even his colors are muted in comparison. The performances of Vincent Price were always a special treat for me to watch. Just by appearing on screen, he could elevate any film. He was fun. But he was never one to instill horror. Karloff does. With the exception of The Conqueror Worm, Price always evokes our sympathy no matter what his role. Not Boris. Karloff had more gravity than Price when it came to playing the heavy. Nick Adams, as the romantic lead, is a cut above most of the actors Corman cast into the same roles. For starters, he can act, which is usually a good thing if you are being paid to pretend on the screen. It is a very weird feeling to see a building burning down at the end of an American International movie that isn't the same stock footage Corman used in most of his films during the 1960s. This one is a bit too slow, although just watching the initial setup of the locale and characters is very good. Then turn it off after the first 15 minutes or so.

Cheaper by the Dozen 14

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Blackmail / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1929, DVD). Anny Ondra, John Longden, Donald Calthrop, Cyril Ritchard. A fascinating cusp film on many levels. First, it is sort of a hybrid between the silent and sound eras in motion pictures. Second, it was released in early Oct. 1929. By the end of the month the Great Depression was underway, making this movie a last gasp of the Jazz Age before we entered harsh reality. And finally, Hitchcock's quick artistic use of the new audio technology really establishes him as a film genius. Apparently Hitch had already filmed a portion of this story before the new sound technology became available to him. So he backtracked and either dubbed in the sound or reshot. His main actress had a thick continental accent, so he had another actress speak into the microphone while the onscreen character mouthed the words. It all works, in sort of a surreal, Dadaist way. Like I said, the guy was a genius. And this is credited as Britain's first talkie. He had an immediate grasp of this new audio technology and knew how to exploit it. We experience the senses of a murderess as she hears a third-hand account of her deed and only hears the word "Knife" in the chatter. We hear a bird chirping in an annoying way during a key scene (what is it with Hitch and birds, anyway?). This has the usual Hitchcock voyeurism and low opinion of human nature-- in this regard he was way ahead of his time. Anny Ondra is still in silent film mode as she acts the part of a woman who is bored with her workaholic Scotland Yard boyfriend and then inadvertently murders a slimeball she had been flirting with. Using classic silent film overstatement with off-camera speaking is unique to this movie, I suspect. And quite odd, yet engaging. Fellow Boomers will enjoy seeing a young Cyril Ritchard, who we all knew as Capt. Hook in the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan. I would say this movie is a must-see for any student of film history. Plus, it is just good entertainment. Not too shabby for being almost eight decades old.

Bulworth / directed by Warren Beatty (1998, VHS). Warren Beatty, Sean Astin, Christine Baranski, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Nora Dunn, Larry King, Oliver Platt, Jack Warden, William Baldwin (uncredited), George Hamilton (uncredited). A very half-baked film. The premise: In 1996 during the primary season, a veteran liberal Democratic Party U.S. Senator from California feels he has sold out to the new "Contract on America" reality and arranges to have himself offed by a hitman as a form of penance, or suicide. It is never really explained. In the meantime he ventures into his campaign without the restraints of social or political checks and says what he really thinks, or at least he does in the early part of the story. By the end he is merely repeating what he has been told by others (albeit the voiceless disenfranchised), without the use of critical thinking. I'll start by what I didn't like: I did not like Beatty's appropriation of rap culture. Seeing a 60-year old (which means he's now 70, yow! I can remember when he was on Dobie Gillis!) rich white guy attempting to perform rap type music and lyrics really makes me feel uncomfortable. Plus, his rap wasn't that good. Here's what I liked: The Angel of Death character shadowing him was not a gun-toting assassin, but a camera-carrying stalkarazzi. Nice plot device, and a character assassin if not a real one. I really enjoyed it when Bulworth talked to the press drawing from his own experience. Beatty got extremely provocative here and I found myself, even a decade after he made this, still cheering him on for the truths he was telling ("Yeah, yeah / You can call it single-payer or Canadian way / Only socialized medicine will ever save the day! Come on now, lemme hear that dirty word - SOCIALISM!"). The character of Bulworth may have been an idealist in the past, as evidenced by his office photos alongside RFK, but by 1996 he is an empty person. And we never know who he really is other than a half-mad cipher. I can't think of a real-life parallel in recent history, although Vice-President Rockefeller got a little odd 1974-1977. Eugene McCarthy went way out there in the 1970s as an independent, but he was more articulate and subdued than Bulworth. The Dems keeping Gene off the NY ballot in 1976 handed the election to Carter. And Mike Gravel is not exactly screwed on too tight, but I enjoy his frankness. I'm digressing as usual. Bulworth is a fun film for political junkies, no matter what the party affiliation.

"The Face of Evil" (Doctor Who) / directed by Pennant Roberts (1977, VHS off-air). Tom Baker, Louise Jameson, Leslie Schofield. The Doctor does battle with a deranged computer. This is the episode featuring the debut of regular companion Louise Jameson in the role of Leela, a warrior savage who wears a skimpy leather outfit. Apparently the producers thought the show needed some more sex appeal. This program has a theme of critical thinking in the face of fundamentalism. Although the Doctor can be a bit preachy himself at times, he does have a couple quotes in this one I really liked: "Never be certain of anything. That's a sign of weakness," and, "The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views." Ahh, so many people who are wrong on the Internet. So little time. Tom Baker seems to be totally at ease as the Doctor and in this story you can easily see how he managed to charm his way into being the most popular of all the actors who portrayed the Time Lord. By the way, I once had a car that sounded just like the TARDIS when it started up.

"A Touch of Class" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by John Howard Davies (1975, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Michael Gwynn, Robin Ellis. "A gin and orange, a lemon squash, and a scotch and water PLEASE!" The premier episode of this excellent series. It doesn't have the feel of being a pilot or an introduction as the characters establish their identities very quickly. Aside from the Major being a bit more on the ball than subsequent shows, the roles were pretty consistent throughout the dozen stories. In this tale, Basil's snobbery gets the better of him when a con artist posing as an English lord sees an easy mark. The tall Cleese is able to bend and twist and actually make himself smaller than the lord he is busy trying to impress. There is a great moment of comic timing when Basil realizes he's been had. We actually feel a small measure of remorse for him, which is saying a lot since he's such a dreadful man. Notice at the opening credits during the long shot of the hotel itself, there is a cacophony of caws from a murder of crows to set the tone. One of Michael Gwynn's final appearances on camera, he died the following year.

Hoffa / directed by Danny DeVito (1992, VHS). Jack Nicholson, Danny DeVito, Armand Assante, J.T. Walsh, John C. Reilly, Frank Whaley, Kevin Anderson, Tim Burton (uncredited), Bruno Kirby (uncredited). Jimmy Hoffa: working class hero or thuggish demagogue? The story of labor leader and anti-hero Jimmy Hoffa as told through a series of flashbacks in the heads of James R. and his sidekick as they unknowingly wait to be assassinated at a remote diner. Much like the subject of the appropriately named James Riddle Hoffa himself, this film generates mixed feelings. Hoffa's cause, which was noble, involved getting his hands not only bloody as he fought in literal class warfare alongside the working men in this economic struggle, but also dirty as he found himself having to partner up with some unsavory characters in his political journey, including the Mob and Richard Nixon. He was one of those larger than life public figures for us Boomers and his disappearance only added to the legend. Nicholson was both nominated for Best Actor (Golden Globe) and Worst Actor (Razzie) for the same role! Here's my take on that: He wasn't playing Jack Nicholson, he was actually acting. Viewers expecting to see a Jack Nicholson movie will be disappointed, and I suspect the Razzie nomination was a way of punishing him for breaking type. Personally, I enjoyed his portrayal of Hoffa. He really captured an individual who was single-minded and driven-- leaving it to the audience to decide what motivated the labor leader. Director Devito employs some original visual tricks during timelapse and flashback transitions. The hunting trip scene is a priceless gem of a scenario of workaholics who can't let it go. Although I do not give this movie high marks for historical accuracy, the dialogue from the RFK/Hoffa exchange at the Senate hearings is apparently verbatim, and very well played. The film is a bit too long and could've been trimmed down in places. Tim Burton is supposedly one of the corpses in a funeral setting. The Nicholson/DeVito chemistry is surprisingly effective. My favorite line takes place while Hoffa and his Watson, Bobby, are handcuffed and being driven to prison: Bobby: "I can't even scratch myself" Hoffa: "Do you itch?" Bobby: "No." Hoffa: "Then what the f*** are you complaining for?"

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 7 (1989, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, Nicole de Boer. Hotel La Rut, Plummet, First Poem, Fletcher Christian, Joymakers. By their 7th show they are settling into a formula where there will be a running skit throughout the program (in this case, "Hotel La Rut"). "First Poem" gives us an early look at McCulloch's teenage rocker character and his girlfriend, Laura-- one of my favorites in their impressive parade of personalities. Foley has a good monologue about Fletcher Christian-- the shoe salesman. I think they were reaching a bit to fill time in episode 7. It lacks the punch of the earlier shows.

"The Dancing Men" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by John Bruce (1984, DVD). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Tenniel Evans, Betsy Brantley, David Ross, Eugene Lipinsky. "I'll order Jeremy Brett with extra ham, please." This was Brett's second time on screen as Holmes, so he is still very "on." Compared to other episodes in the series, this one seems edgier, the people are rude and stressed out. The circumstances of the story are harsh and tragic. We see a Chicago gangster and how foreign that must seem to the English. We see the classic detective interviewing the gathering of servants scene. And we enjoy watching the local cop admiring Holmes' methods of detection, muttering "Wonderful" as he scribbles field notes. Holmes' parlor tricks of observation in a casual way appeared to have taken more work than the big case here, as most viewers will not have trouble being a step ahead in solving the so-called mystery. But, in spite of the simple script and the generally sad theme of this tale, Brett is well worth watching. As always, very impressive production values. Some BBC trivia: David Ross, who played Inspector Martin, later portrayed the first Kryten in Red Dwarf and was also the voice of the Talkie Toaster. I bet that was information you were dying to know.

Vengeance Valley / directed by Richard Thorpe (1951, VHS). Burt Lancaster, Robert Walker, Joanne Dru, Sally Forrest, John Ireland, Carleton Carpenter, Hugh O'Brian, Ray Collins, Harvey B. Dunn (uncredited). Actually this should be entitled, Denial River Valley, as a family of classic enablers pay the price for years of sweeping everything under the rug. Before the days of DNA testing, the question of paternity when a single frontier woman gives birth to a son brings everything to a head. Set against the backdrop of a cattle ranch, the film starts slow and just as I was about to give up on it, the pace quickened. What kept me hooked was Robert Walker's portrayal of the sociopathic weasel brother, his Cain to Lancaster's Abel. His character is fixed, he never changes. We keep waiting for his moral struggle to begin, but it doesn't happen. Instead, those around him must adapt. The direction on this was awful. The color was flat, beautiful vistas gone to waste, the ending was abrupt, and the music was typical oater fare. The story and actors deserved better. Ed Woodians will enjoy looking for Harvey B. Dunn.

Sea Turtles: Ancient Nomads / directed by Robert Nixon (1988, VHS off-air). A documentary courtesy of the National Audubon Society. Actually, the tape is incomplete, so I only a saw a portion of this. Nice cinematography. Back in the JFK era little pet turtles were all the rage. Mine lived in a plastic bowl that included a tiny fake palm tree. None of our turtles lived very long. They were eventually banned from pet shops due to salmonella outbreaks. The turtles in this documentary are much larger. Did you known that back when South Puget Sound Community College was still known as Olympia Vocational Technical Institute their mascot was a turtle? Hey, I hijacked my own review! Not real helpful, am I?

"Michael Ellis" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 19, episode 41) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1974, VHS). Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. One of my favorite Python episodes, this one is a real narrative from start to finish. Packed with wonderful surreal visual jokes as little asides, the Michael Ellis saga is worthy of repeated viewings. Apparently the script came from discarded scenes originally meant for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which means that even though John Cleese was no longer present as a cast member, his writing was still contributing to this one. If anyone doubts my assertion that Graham Chapman was probably the silliest person who ever graced the screen, simply watch this installment. Lots of terrific characters here. I particularly enjoyed Palin as Queen Victoria. The lack of Gilliam animations in this tale is made up for by Gilliam himself appearing with more frequency.

Little Swee'pea / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936, DVD). Voices by Jack Mercer, Mae Questel (both uncredited). A short black and white Popeye cartoon. Popeye has his hands full trying to keep tabs on the wandering Swee'pea while visiting the zoo. In the process he tangles with an elephant, hippo, leopard and, yes, a caiman. I would suggest all OlyBloggers study the caiman interaction very carefully and take notes. Very nice blending of the visuals with the music. Quality background graphic work too. This is one black and white film I wouldn't mind seeing colorized. Popeye has a nice little song at the end after spending a day with Swee'pea, "There's no ifs or maybes, I'll never have babies, I'm Popeye the Sailor Man."

"Red Dwarf A-Z" (Red Dwarf ; series VII, byte 3) / directed by Ed Bye (1998, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Hawking, Hattie Hayridge, David Ross (voice), Brian Cox. A Red Dwarf 10th anniversary video Festschrift using the alphabet to highlight certain aspects of the program. Includes film clips and interviews. This is followed by a series of numerous "smeg ups," or outtakes-- although they appear to be sort of tacked on as an extra. This won't really help the uninitiated understand the premise of Red Dwarf. For that, you really need to see the first episode. Then all will fall into place. For the rest of us, this is a fun portrait. Includes testimonials from Patrick Stewart, Stephen Hawking, and a couple Daleks. I always loved that scene with Ace Rimmer sky surfing on a caiman and defeating the Nazis. What a guy!

Cheaper by the Dozen 15

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"Reborn in America" (The Struggle for Democracy) / directed by Michael Girard (1989, VHS off-air). Louis L'Amour, Sen. Paul Simon, Jimmy Carter. OK, I am not sure at what juncture in history this program began, since my copy starts at a "now-in-progress" point, but the theme is the history of democracy in the United States. Using dramatization, interviews, and good old fashioned documentary investigation, the American episode of this apparently international in scope Struggle for Democracy series tracks our system of government from the Mayflower Compact (at least where my copy starts) to the era of George Herbert Walker Bush. Tracking the evolution of the concept of democracy, this segment links the Puritans to present day New England town meetings (and they are not like the Norman Rockwell romanticized version). It demonstrates how the crowd who wrote the Constitution (a much different mix than those who signed the Declaration of Independence) were terrified of democracy as we know it today. In the end, as we see in several modern (1989) case studies, it all boils down to money. Louis L'Amour in what was probably his last filmed interview describes the effect of westward expansion on the American development of self-government. Sen. Paul Simon, who was a presidential candidate in 1988 (and would've fared better without the bowtie (I said be careful his bowtie is really a camera)) and ex-President Jimmy Carter weigh in on the effect of money in politics. One theme throughout the entire chronology, the wealthy classes will always subvert the system in order to maintain their power. I was disappointed to see this documentary did not cover the fact the term "democracy" was basically a dirty word in America until World War I. In fact, the shutting out of vast portions of our citizens throughout history due to race, gender, or lack of property ownership was sort of glossed over. I believe this was a Canadian produced documentary (the interviewer using the term "oot" instead of "out" is a big clue) and sometimes those friendly neighbors to the North are too darn polite. But what it lacks in historical completeness it makes up for in showcasing three modern examples of how decent and grassroots local efforts were brutally crushed by both major parties in Massachusetts, Colorado, and California. The coin of the realm still tips the scales of justice. In terms of being a true democracy, the United States has made great strides, but has a long way to go.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Martin Short, Harold Ramis. Krishna Sings Manilow, Give 'Em Hell Larry, Vic Arpeggio Private Investigator, Ben-Hur, Masquerade Funeral, Top Secret Feminine Product, Tobacco Paste, Dialing for Dollars. Flaherty in his Peter Gunn take-off as Vic Arpeggio reminds me of a Don Martin drawing. For those of you who have not had the joy, Martin was the best cartoonist to come out of Mad magazine, a publication I'm sure influenced Joe. John Candy plays Ben-Hur as if he was Curly Howard, and Harold Ramis has a hard time keeping a straight face. And so do we. This tape also includes ca. 1988 advertisements from the very odd Glen Grant Chevrolet in Burien and an infomercial on hair restoration, both of which are far weirder than anything SCTV could cook up-- and that is saying a lot! This is why I don't read fiction anymore. Real life is much more bizarre. SCTV did a good job in providing the mirror.

"The Final Problem" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Alan Grint (1985, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Eric Porter. One of the pivotal episodes, where The Great Detective faces off with his main nemesis, Professor Moriarty. It is strange to see Holmes as the prey rather than the hunter. After foiling a grand criminal conspiracy masterminded by the Professor, Holmes survives three attempts on his life. In a state of agitation (which is still relatively calm in comparison to the rest of us) Sherlock, with Dr. Watson alongside, attempts to vanish in Switzerland. But as we all know, all roads in this story lead to Reichenbach Falls, where this was filmed on location. Eric Porter was the perfect choice for the role of Moriarty. Gentlemanly and chilling, Porter has claimed this character as much as Brett has claimed Holmes. Oddly, in real life, the two actors died within a few months of each other in 1995. Conan Doyle attempted to kill off Holmes for good here, but the public wouldn't let him do it. Having created a fictional character myself (Morty the Dog) who took on a life of his own, I can (on an infinitestimally smaller scale) understand the creator's impulse to kill off and move on. A popular character is a blessing with an underside that you don't want to examine too closely. Alan Grint was one of the better of the many directors who had a hand in this series. He took advantage of the dramatic landscape and he knows how to effectively use music without clobbering us. This was David Burke's final appearance as Watson. When Holmes returns (oops, I gave it away) we have a new actor in the role. Burke performed a great service by smashing the stereotype of Watson as a bumbling dimwit, and creating an intelligent character who was a true "friend and colleague" to Holmes.

The Political Dr. Seuss / directed by Ron Lamothe (2004, VHS off-air). Traces the life and career of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known to generations of Americans as "Dr. Seuss." Using film clips and interviews, we see how Geisel, described as a "personable zealot" used his "moral imagination" to spread his progressive views on race, populism, and the environment. He was from a German-American family, which I found interesting since many of America's foremost cartoonists in the 1800s/early 1900s were either German or German-American. Using his lecture-attending time in college to draw cartoons instead of taking notes, he perfected his style (I can empathize. I sold my grad school lecture notes doodles after I got my degree). Geisel moved into the world of gag cartoons and advertising, but eventually made his name as an ardent anti-Hitler editorial cartoonist for the left-wing PM magazine. During World War II the Army teamed him up with Spokane native Chuck Jones and they produced the Private Snafu animated training films. He moved into the realm of children's books after the War. Using a world of allegory in his creative thinking, the specific original source of the spark was buried by the time his books reached our grubby little hands when I first starting reading his stories. I had no idea until I was an adult that Yertle the Turtle was based on Hitler, for example. I ate his stuff up and consider him to be one of my main influences as a cartoonist. The way everything in his drawings look like they are on the edge of falling over, the energy, the cadence of his words, the celebration of fun, all appealed to me. The Cat in the Hat is a work of subversive genius. I always wondered why more of his books were not among those that right-wing fundamentalist Republican book-banners attempt to have removed from libraries-- Seuss was every bit as good as Vonnegut and Salinger. By the time I had moved on from Dr. Seuss to Robert Crumb, Geisel had changed the tenor of his books. In the late 1980s, I was updated to his work as I read his stories to my daughter. I found his later tales, dating from the 1970s onward, to be a bit preachy and heavy-handed. Even so, as one person says in this documentary, "He made it a joy to learn to read." And he did.

This is Spinal Tap / directed by Rob Reiner (1984, VHS). Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Rob Reiner, Tony Hendra, Bruno Kirby, Ed Begley Jr., Fran Drescher, Patrick Macnee, Dana Carvey, Billy Crystal, Howard Hesseman, Paul Shaffer, Anjelica Huston, Fred Willard, Paul Benedict. "Such a fine line between stupid and clever." The idea of using a fake documentary as a movie vehicle was used before this one, most notably in Take the Money and Run (1969), and Real Life (1979). There was even a rock and roll fake documentary making fun of the Beatles, The Rutles (1978). But This is Spinal Tap is the one that first comes to mind when the term "mockumentary" is brought up. Meaner, sharper, and more biting than its descendants Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, Mighty Wind, etc. by the same ensemble, the brilliance of Spinal Tap is that it isn't really that far removed from the rock group reality at that time. MTV was just getting off the ground and not only were we treated to pretentious, self-important, pompous rock stars on video, but we got to see them interviewed and get televised backstage looks and realized they really were pretentious, pompous, and self-important. The self-seriousness of the real life rock groups is part of what makes this so funny. The actors accurately captured the sounds of each era as "documentary" film clips followed their careers from 1955 to the early 1980s, by which time they had become aging has-beens. Some of the music is actually pretty good, although the lyrics are super crude. Watch this on close-captioned sometime. My favorite scene is when the oblivious Nigel (Christopher Guest) sits down at a piano and plays a beautiful and delicate piece, totally contrary to what we have heard so far. When asked what this bit of musical serenity is entitled, Nigel responds with a blank and clueless tone, "Lick my love pump." What would Amadeus say?

Tupperware! (American Experience) / directed by Laurie Kahn-Leavitt (2004, VHS off-air). Kathy Bates (narrator). Tupperware is not just a product, it is a way of life. In the 1950s the invention of Earl Silas Tupper revolutionized food storage. It also provided an rare opportunity where housewives could remake themselves into businesswomen, gaining a measure of financial independence during the Dark Ages of feminism. The unique and much copied marketing method was the brainchild of Tupperware sales CEO Brownie Wise, who rose to become one of America's most visible female corporate executives in the 1950s. This well-made documentary really clips along, keeping us engaged with lots of film footage and interviews with Brownie's son, cousin, and several 1950s-era Tupperware saleswomen. It chronicles the abrupt purge of Wise in 1958, as "Tupperware, a company built by women, was ultimately run by men." And when I say "purged," I mean wiped from the memory of the company's history-- they even went to the trouble of burying copies of her book, Best Wishes, Brownie Wise. But it also traces her legacy. This film earned Kahn-Leavitt a well deserved Emmy nomination. It would appear this story, with the same director, will soon be remade as a motion picture drama. And I want to see it when it is released.

Welcome to Mooseport / directed by Donald Petrie (2004, VHS). Gene Hackman, Ray Romano, Marcia Gay Harden, Maura Tierney, Christine Baranski, Fred Savage, Rip Torn, Edward Herrmann (uncredited). Normally, whenever I see a film that was a "box office bomb" I try to be charitable when reviewing it. For example, I thought Tim Burton's Ed Wood was his best ever movie, yet it was one of his least profitable. However, in the case of this movie I must say it deserved to be a bomb. It isn't totally bad, only mostly. Even before the opening credits are over you already know these things: The viewing experience will be awful, the "eccentric small town" angle will get old fast, and the ability to endure sitting through this dog will depend on the performances of Hackman and Romano. Fortunately, both of the main actors are fun to watch. Hackman can save any film. Here's the plot in a nutshell: an ex-President and a plumber run for mayor in small Maine town, and in the process also have a contest concerning the affections of the same woman. So, is this a political, or, a romantic comedy? Well, it can't decide, and neither can we. The supporting actors in Hackman's world, including Christine Baranski and the great growling Rip Torn, as well as a grown up Fred Savage, help carry his side of the story. There are a few fun little political jabs in there, but nothing really knee-slapping or eye opening. Romano's half isn't so lucky. Ray himself, who apparently is a TV star I have never seen before (I realize this will make me come across as snob, but I'm OK with that) has a great deadpan delivery, but his portion of the tale was pretty lame in spite of his acting. I felt like his talent was wasted. Here is a cue. Hit the fast forward whenever the schmaltzy romantic music rears its ugly head. This story had a good concept but something went horribly, terribly, tragically awry.

Vincent / directed by Tim Burton (1982, VHS off-air). Vincent Price (narrator). The animated short film story of a seven-year old who worships Vincent Price, even to the point of reading Poe, digging in the family garden to exhume his "dead wife," and feeling like the house which is keeping him "prisoner" is alive. Price himself provides the narration in that honey flavored hammy voice we all know. How could anyone dislike this guy? Price was one of those actors who immediately evoked sympathy and connection. How he ever became linked to being a heavy in horror movies is beyond me. Even in his very best film, Theatre of Blood, where he is an actor serial killer knocking off critics in Shakespearean ways, we are still rooting for him. (Back in the mid-1990s I emerged from a risky surgery, apparently still under sedation, and announced a Price line from Theatre of Blood, "You see! Alive in triumph, and you thought me slain!") Price had a special balance of dignity and fun, yet he was never really as frightening as say, Lugosi, Karloff, or Lee. He had more range, and more humanity in his characters. I miss him. Burton's animations have a certain style which is far creepier than anything Price played, and this one is no exception. When his animation is used to augment live action such as in Beetle Juice, it is very effective. But when it is the sole fuse for expression, it gets tiresome. Even this short film tests my tolerance. And I'm not sure why. In fact, aside from his animated work, I consider Burton one of the greatest living directors. I will say this in his defense of my own criticism, at least his animations have a personal stamp. You know a Tim Burton produced animation when you see one. And I respect that. I just don't like them.

Jamaica Inn / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1939, DVD). Charles Laughton, Maureen O'Hara, Leslie Banks, Robert Newton. Even great directors can produce a dog. This one is so bad Hitchcock didn't bother to make his trademark cameo appearance at any point. Apparently this film was really directed by Laughton's enormous ego as he luxuriated in a smug and sadistic role. Let's move on. Nothing to see here, folks.

Das Cabinet de Dr. Caligari = The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari / directed by Robert Wiene (1920, VHS). Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski. Considered one of the original horror films and an important landmark in the Expressionist art movement, Caligari has survived almost 90 years without losing any power. The static camera, before the days of pans and zooms, gives the movie a stagey feel, as if we are watching it live in a theater. Without any sound, or much artistic supplement with camera tricks, the actors really have to work extra hard to keep our attention. Add to that the very interesting angular Expressionist sets that threaten to be more interesting than the characters moving around them, and the thespians' challenge becomes all the greater. But it all works and results in a creepy and fascinating story. My version (Kino Video, 1996) has highly "augmented" the original. The film has been color tinted, where the entire frame is either sort of a blue or an orangish hue. The caption cards have been remade to mimic the Expressionist style, and they are in color. And finally I noticed the music was of exceptionally high quality. The two themes of sleep and madness, which run through the entire tale, are woven together in a haunting manner and fit the movie like a glove. Never overpowering, but always enhancing. Then I looked at the container and realized the soundtrack was composed and conducted by none other than our old Olympia friend known by many OlyBloggers, Timothy Brock. In fact, Tim probably gave this cassette to my family. Trivia buffs will enjoy knowing Conrad Veidt later went on to become an outspoken anti-Hitler activist and fled Germany due to his religious faith. One of his last films was that of the evil Major Strasser in Casablanca. Von Twardowski had to become a refugee as well due to his sexual orientation. He also portrayed a Nazi in Casablanca. Caligari is one of the best of the bunch from the silent era and a must-see for anyone who collects important cultural references in their cranium.

Cyrano de Bergerac / directed by Jean-Paul Rappeneau (1990, VHS). Gerard Depardieu, Jacques Weber, Anne Brochet, Vincent Perez, Roland Bertin. A long, rambling, visually lavish story about a soldier in the service of art and romance who can single handedly battle 100 men, but is too frightened to tell the women he loves about his feelings. Part of his insecurity traces to the enormous size of his schnozz, but fate offers him a proxy-- a brave but inarticulate pretty boy-- who presents Cyrano's letters and poetry as his own. A convoluted and dishonest way to communicate, which is just one of the many reasons Freudians would have a field day with the title character. The film could've been tightened up a bit. And maybe this is just my American taste, but I like stories that show rather than tell complicated relationships. A lot of the first minutes of the tale are spent explaining who is who to the audience. These are not major problems. The subtitles are always readable, the translation is smooth. The cinematography is rich and worth the time invested alone. But really, this is all about Cyrano, which means this movie is about Depardieu. Cyrano is always the center of attention. He reminds me of that quote about Theodore Roosevelt, "the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral." Reciting poetry during swordfights, he seems to embody to best and worst of French culture. The best being an appreciation for beauty, romance, poetry, gallantry, music, free thinking; the worst being extreme vanity, a thin skin quick to being insulted, a phobia of looking foolish. Am I generalizing when I say those who generalize hate being generalized themselves? For such an extraordinary fellow, his problem appears to be a common one. At one point after a vainglorious I-gotta-be-me-me-me rant, Cyrano's pal sums up the whole ball of wax with, "You act proud and bitter, but I know that she refused your love." Depardieu has no trouble commanding the screen. It is impressive how he can portray a larger than life figure without becoming an over-the-top ham, but he does. There is a battle with the Spanish Army in here, and the reasons for this war are not given. Perhaps the French viewer knows the historical reference. To me, with no reasons for the war outlined, the slaughter seemed abstract and pointless, which was probably the whole point of the story anyway. As Cyrano says, "Fate's a jester," as the last scene competes with Dr. Zhivago for life-is-cruel missed connections. The final pan had me mesmerized.

"Communications Problems" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by Bob Spiers (1979, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Joan Sanderson. Probably one of the most mean-spirited of the dozen episodes, a guest named Mrs. Richards is so dreadful she accomplishes something we previously had thought impossible-- we feel sympathy for and side with Basil. Packed with an unusually high number of great and quotable one-liners, this one is still hard to sit through without feeling anxious. Perhaps this is due to the fact that for once we find ourselves rooting for Mr. Fawlty, but in the end we know he will be crushed by the Gods, as always.

Cheaper by the Dozen 16

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

House of Dracula / directed by Erle C. Kenton (1945, VHS). Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Lionel Atwill, Onslow Stevens, Martha O'Driscoll, Glenn Strange, Skelton Knaggs. Within a few minutes you know this film is going to be very bad and very fun. Elements of past box office success stories were thrown together in a jumble and produced sort of a corny horror stew with no real plot. Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster, a mad scientist, hunchback nurse, angry villagers storming the castle, Jekyll/Hyde type transformations, a big fire at the end. Onslow Stevens as the scientist who appears to run a halfway house for monsters has the central role by default, and perhaps this should be entitled House of Relapse. Carradine is not really all that terrifying as Dracula. The fact that Dracula chooses to wear a bowtie is his most frightening trait. Director Kenton made good use of lighting and shadows, and a couple of the special effects involving wolf-to-man and bat-to-man were surprisingly good. My favorite scene was when the scientist, who had been transfused with vampire blood, looks in the mirror and sees-- nothing! There are days when I know how he feels.

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 8 (1989?, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. Ping Pong (running gag), Vacation, Chain Gang, The Banker Doesn't Like us (running gag 2), Dinosaurs, Tony Comes to Dinner. Includes a Buddy monologue and the "Nobody likes us" mopey guys. "Vacation" is the standout skit here, along with "Tony." The Kids had a gift for making dysfunctional family situations funny in a way that I have not seen with other comedy ensembles. The dynamics in these family pieces are more sophisticated and complex than their other work.

"The Naval Treaty" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Alan Grint (1984, DVD). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, David Gwillim, Alison Skilbeck, Gareth Thomas. "Watson here will tell you I never can resist a touch of the dramatic." Yeah, right. A touch. Holmes saves the British government from its own failures in Homeland Security. His performance is edgier than usual. We also get a clear look at his discomfort with women. His client, played by Gwillim is even more over the top in hamminess than Brett. Although Holmes calls this case "one of the darkest I have ever investigated," it really seemed pretty tame compared to others. Watching him verbally tear down a snotty Scotland Yard inspector and unleashing his rage at being forced to work with lunkheads was a scene where the smell of pork hung heavy in the air afterward-- a little gem to behold.

Man of the Frontier / directed by Reeves Eason (1936, VHS). Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Francis Grant, Champion. In a land where water is gold, saboteurs threaten an irrigation project. This has a weird mix of an Old West with 1930s setting. Although everyone rides a horse, there are little touches of modern life in here like men wearing fedoras, dams with electric generators. This has the obligatory goofy sidekick, and you can always tell which cowboy is played by Autry as he's the only one not covered with dust and manure. He's sort of a stuck-up prick in this story too. Lots of music here, with "Red River Valley" being the running theme. An African American tap dancer named Iodine plays the 1930s stereotype in a saloon scene. There is also a very strange band playing crazy music with found objects-- the highlight of the entire film. During a labor riot the soundtrack is playing the music of Wagner. Interesting movie if you are into cinematic oddities, but even so I'm glad it was only 55 minutes long. Also released under the title Red River Valley.

Return of Desperado / directed by E.W. Swackhamer (1988, VHS off-air). Alex McArthur, Robert Foxworth, Billy Dee Williams, Marcy Walker. Think Johnny Depp trying unsucessfully to pull off a Clint Eastwood imitation and you'll get the idea. My cat Spooky tried to swat him and his horse and they rode across the screen, which shows that even a cat didn't buy it. This appears to be part of a made-for-TV series where a made-for-TV mysterious stranger rides into a made-for-TV town on a made-for-TV personal quest, but in the meantime gets wrapped up in some little made-for-TV soap opera that will involve made-for-TV fighting for made-for-TV justice. There will also the made-for-TV "pillar of the community villain" (who actually tells his henchmen, "And this time, no slip ups!" Holy 1930s, Batman!) and the made-for-TV hero charming the made-for-TV ladies. The music is far worse than the usual made-for-TV music, it also includes special and annoying "suspense sounds." I will give this episode a few positive points. The opening scenes take place on the trail and there are some very nice shots of the lone rider in the Old West. The writers also made an attempt, albeit in a cleaned up made-for-TV style, of recognizing the role of African-American involvement in the Union Army and their subsequent trek West. The videotape came to an end before the story concluded, it probably had another quarter hour to go, but somehow I felt more relieved than shortchanged.

"Light Entertainment War" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 20, episode 42) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1974, VHS). Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Neil Innes. Up Your Pavement, What is a Hen Teaser?, R.A.F. Banter, Not Taking War Seriously Enough, "Anything goes in, anything goes out, fish, bananas, old pajamas, mutton, beef and trout," Bloody repeats!, The Public Are Idiots, What a Lovely Day, Woody and Tinny Words, Show Jumping, When Does a Dream begin? Python continued to get stranger in their final season. The opening credits appear in the middle of the program. The court-martial scene is particularly Dada-like. This episode has a lot of turning back on itself, using the device of cast members watching earlier parts of the program on television. Bonzo Dog Band fans will enjoy the appearance by Neil Innes, who wrote the music that opens and closes the show. Neil himself appears at the end. Graham Chapman is at his best playing the upper class Englishman discussing "woody" and "tinny" words.

Customers Wanted / directed by Dave Fleischer (1939, DVD). Jack Mercer (uncredited voice), Pinto Colvig ( uncredited voice), Mae Questel (uncredited voice). Wimpy goes to the carnival and through viewing short scenes at Popeye's and Bluto's competing arcades, we see an anthology of rerun scenes of the two characters beating each other up. The Fleischer brothers must've been getting tired at this point. Not one of their best, although Wimpy's mercenary attitude gives us a fine lesson of capitalism at work.

"Rimmerworld" (Red Dwarf) / diected by Andy DeEmmony (1993, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Elizabeth Hickling. Rimmer accidentally finds himself an "Adam in his own Eden" as he uses his own genetic material to populate a barren planet. In the almost 600 years it takes his crewmates to catch up to him, Rimmerworld has evolved into a civilization of "backstabbing slimeballs." It's not nice to mess around with Mother Nature. This episode doesn't really have dialogue so much as four guys constantly insulting each other in creative and funny ways. There is a nice plot link with "Gunmen of the Apocalypse," featuring a brief appearance by Elizabeth Hickling.

"The Way We Wear" (Smithsonian World) / directed by David Grubin (1988, VHS off-air). James Earl Jones, Kristoffer Tabori, Milos Forman, Annette Bening. Traces the sartorial rules through time and how "dress makes actors of us all" as we don the garb of our social class. Includes interviews with fashion critics, designers, retailers, and staff on a movie set (Valmont). It moves a little slow and could use Mark McKinney's "Nina" character to jazz it up. The talking heads also need captions to tell us who they are. A high school student writing a paper about fashion might find this documentary a good place to start. I must admit I'm "fashion-challenged," so I watched this film as an innocent. It did inspire me to go to my favorite clothing outlet (Goodwill) and purchase a red shirt, a color I never wear, just to see if it will change my attitude. Wearing a necktie, I can testify, definitely has an impact on the way I am treated in public. And when this item of apparel is adorned I am always aware that I am in a costume. Can anyone out there tell me why wearing green will make people distrust you? This is stated a couple times in this documentary as fact without any explanation.

Claws in the Lease / directed by Robert McKimson (1963, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice), Nancy Wible (voice). Sylvester and son attempt to leave their junkyard lives behind and become domestic cats. Their adopted owner turns out to be Ethel Merman on steroids. Sylvester eventually surrenders himself to the malignant forces of fate. When his poor son grows up, he will require therapy.

"The Empty House" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Howard Baker (1986, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Colin Jeavons, Eric Porter, Patrick Allen. The fans wouldn't let Conan-Doyle live in peace unless Holmes was brought back from that fatal duel with Moriarty. In this tale, set three years after Reichenbach Falls, we get to see what a dreadful man the Great Detective really is as his love for hammy drama supercedes his sensitivity for others when they are all given near cardiac arrests as he surprises his old friends upon his return from a watery grave.The mystery in this episode really isn't much of a puzzler. Mopping up the last of Moriarty's henchmen, Holmes sets a trap for the "Second Most Dangerous Man in London" in a well-timed scene of suspense and takes the case in a very personal way. Holmes' rant once his foe is captured is one of his more passionate moments in the whole series. Hardwicke makes his debut as the new Watson. He's crankier and more mature than Burke, but just as good. Hardwicke's Watson also seems a little more thoughtful. In the start of this new season, Brett has lost a little of the lean and predatory look, so perhaps this new Watson was a good match for the new Holmes, just as the old Watson was a good match for the old Holmes. We get a rare look at Watson's rather sterile medical consulting office, and later we see him relax by lighting up a big cigar and wearing, I kid you not, a fez! But basically, no big brain teasers here, it is pretty much a simple celebration of Holmes' return. As Mrs. Hudson observes, "Once again Mr. Sherlock Holmes is free to devote his life to examining those interesting little problems that the complex life of London so plentifully presents."

The First Lady: Public Expectations, Private Lives / directed by Ricki Green (2004, VHS off-air). Barbara Bush, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Betty Ford, Stockard Channing (host). A slightly fluffy documentary using the 2004 election as a backdrop. Covers First Ladies starting with Eleanor Roosevelt, but pretty much skips over Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, and Pat Nixon. Ignoring Bess Truman is an oversight. Although she was not a major public figure, her influence seriously deserves more attention. It was good to see Lady Bird Johnson's courage during her civil rights tour of the Deep South recognized. Although I voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 I didn't dislike President Ford, and I admired Betty Ford. She came to Oly in that campaign and we got to hear her (with daughter Susan) on the steps of the Legislative Building. She had guts and she used her First Lady status in a frank and creative way. Includes interviews with four First Ladies and historians, and many film clips, including one of my all-time faves. President Reagan has been asked a question by the press, and he just sort of stands there, like a bobblehead, saying, "Uh, duh, I, er ..." and Nancy whispers loud enough for the mikes to pick up, "We're doing everything we can," which the Leader of the Free World repeats verbatim for the record. Hillary watchers might want to see this documentary to help put her career in context.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 17

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Cookoo Cavaliers / directed by Jules White (1940, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Dorothy Appleby (uncredited), Lynton Brent (uncredited), Anita Garvin (uncredited), Bob O'Connor (uncredited), Blanche Payson (uncredited). The Stooges are fishsellers, attempting to market fish without the the benefit of ice. This affords them the opportunity for several smelly fish gags (Get it? Smelly fish gags? Nyuk nyuk nyuk). In true Stooge fashion, the plot somehow twists into their purchase of a hair salon in Mexico. Curly is in fine form. Larry is in Fine form too, but he is, after all, Larry Fine. This one is a bit different since the victims of their mayhem are beautiful women. The eyepokes here are more anemic than usual. Although other forms of violence are accompanied by sound effects, the eyepokes are strangely silent. Another odd few seconds on this short film takes place right after Moe uses a mallet to whack cement off someone's face, he celebrates by making an obscene gesture. Here are the statistics on injuries. As usual, head konks rank high: head konks 23, face slaps 5, hit with mallet 5, hit with mallet and chisel 4, hair pulled completely out 4, hit in face with fish 3, shot in butt by revolver 3, hair grabbed 2, eye pokes 2, jackhammer on cranium 2, and one each of double stomach hit, nose grab, pinched arm, stomach hit, both ears yanked, kicked in butt, peppered in face with small chunks of dry cement, ear pulled.

Sandwiches That You Will Like / directed by Rick Sebak (2002, VHS off-air). A fun documentary that skips around the United States in search of popular and unusual restaurant sandwiches. Interviews cooks, critics and customers in this culinary tour. I enjoyed hearing the different dialects more than the exposure to weird food. Sandwiches featured include the PB&J, roast beef, St. Paul, chipped ham, barbeque, pastrami. The Philly cheese steak rivalry between Pat's and Geno's caught my interest. In Maine there is a place that serves lobster sandwiches complete with the claws. The different regional words for a certain type of sandwich favored Back East was fun. Is it hoagy/submarine/hero/poor boy/Italian/grinder? When I lived in Vermont we called them grinders and I lived on them. The history of the sandwich was briefly covered. Sebak visited the town of Sandwich, Mass., and the sight of a law enforcement vehicle with the words "Sandwich Police" on the side made me laugh. The segments are put together like a crazy quilt and it works. Sadly, there is no mention of Marmite.

West Virginia / directed by Mark Samels (1996, VHS off-air). Richard Thomas (narrator). A profile of a state continually on the crossroads of history. Presented in a style that imitates Ken Burns, there is some amazing footage of West Virginia's natural settings. This was originally presented as a documentary mini-series, and my copy stops at 1865. Born out of the Civil War, West Virginia has seen conflict between the Shawnee and the Scot/Irish, German, Swiss settlers, the French vs. the English, Lord Dunmore's War, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Hatfields vs. the McCoys, labor wars, and class conflict. Important characters like Chief Logan, John Brown, and Stonewall Jackson are presented. My own family lived just over the border in the very western part of Virginia, but they took part in the history of West Va., from my Shawnee forebears to the sawed-off Scotsmen who fought at Point Pleasant to the Germans who "went native." My great grandfather even named one of his sons after the head of the Hatfield clan during the big feud. Every now and then you read about parts of different states that felt disenfranchised enough to make noise about breaking away. Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Northern California, Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho/Western Montana. But West Virginia actually did it. There is something about the independent spirit of West Va. that I admire. It is a dangerous place to underestimate. Samels did an excellent job in telling the story and enabling us to be interested in history without falling asleep.

La Maschera del demonio = Black Sunday / directed by Mario Bava. (1960, VHS off-air). Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi. This Italian Gothic horror film is noted for having been a major influence on American director Tim Burton. And you can see the proto-Tim in the black and white visuals and quality of lighting. So I'll give it its due in terms of importance. But I really didn't like this one. It was badly dubbed, a big chunk of the budget appeared to have been spent on dry ice, and it lacked a central hammy character like Vincent Price who in turn would've enabled us to connect with the story. The violence and gore seem especially brutal for the era-- in fact this movie was banned in England for 8 years. Barbara Steele, who had a real screen spark, plays two parts in what amounts to a sick and twisted version of the Patty Duke Show, where (sing the rest of the sentence) servants of Satan are two of a kind. There are a couple actors who are Dave Foley and Curly Howard lookalikes, but by the time they arrived I was hitting the fast forward button a lot. After viewing this I felt yukky and wanted to take a shower. If the object was to creep me out, it worked.

Number Seventeen / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1932, DVD). Leon M. Lion, Anne Grey, John Stuart, Barry Jones. A confusing film that will befuddle all viewers. If seen in the spirit of Dada it becomes fun. The whole story (such as it is) basically takes place in two locales: a deserted house and a train. My copy (Diamond Entertainment) was not able to clean up the muddy soundtrack on this public domain film, so a lot of the dialogue was garbled to boot. Yet the first few minutes of the story have no spoken words at all, and the actors, apparently all veterans of the silent era, know how to visually overplay their their roles. Leon M. Lion plays his part for laughs in a macabre setting that provides us with an early demonstration of Hitch's warped sense of humor. The fight scenes are pretty basic. Guys hitting each other in the face without fancy choreography or exciting action music. The film is sped up a bit in order to add some pizazz to these action scenes, and the result is unintentional humor of the Stooge kind. There is one helluva rip-roaring runaway train sequence at the end that was impressive considering it was filmed over three quarters of century ago. An interesting movie oddity.

Genuine, die Tragödie eines seltsamen Hauses / directed by Robert Wiene (1920, VHS). Fern Andra, Albert Bennefeld, Lewis Brody, John Gottowt, Ernst Gronau, Harald Paulsen, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski. Fresh on the heels of Caligari, director Wiene brought forth another expressionist horror film and it is weird with a beard, man. Actually, I'm not being fair, since my version (Kino Video) is only a 19 minute excerpt. But somehow I suspect the full-length movie isn't much more coherent. Hopefully they made this as a comedy and not some sort of serious artsy-fartsy allegory because it is pretty funny in places. And, unlike Caligari, the sets and costumes in this one are very playful. According to the Internet Movie Database, "The full-length version can only be viewed at the Munich City Film Museum archive in Germany." Why?

Dances With Wolves / directed by Kevin Costner (1990, VHS). Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnell, Graham Greene, Rodney A. Grant, Robert Pastorelli, Maury Chaykin. If this could be classified as a Western, I'd call it one of the best Westerns ever made. As the Sioux shaman Kicking Bear says, "I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life there is one that matters most. It is the trail of a true human being." And this movie is about human beings, not typical Celluloid stereotypes-- almost. Plot in (very) short: a decorated Civil War vet asks to be stationed on the frontier and finds himself isolated at a deserted fort. During this vision quest, he adopts a lone wolf as his totem and extension of self. He also gets to know a neighboring Sioux tribe and eventually becomes a member of their community. But "civilization" eventually catches up to all of them. The film is long, an epic 3 hours. I had to watch it in segments over the course of a few days. The canvas on which this story is painted is open and stunning, making me sorry I never saw this on the big screen. The Sioux speak their lines in the native language, so most of the tale is subtitled. This was a brilliant choice. Just hearing the cadence and feel of the words can say a lot about a culture. As Costner's character leaves the Anglo world, he is basically a straight man in an existential Western comedy. Chaykin and Pastorelli have brief but memorable roles as fringe people on the edge of Western civilization. But I do have some issues with this great movie. Although Costner has shown he is a great director, someone else needed to be the leading man here. As actors, I always confuse Costner with Gere and Cruise. It isn't fair, I know. But the three of them seem interchangeable somehow. Costner used a device where the narration came from his diary, but he read it as if he was a 7th grade student reciting an essay in monotone in front of class who could care less. I'm sure this was deliberate, and if the tone had evolved or gained more passion in the course of the story I'd understand. But it didn't. We also were never given a backstory on where his character's character came from. He just is. I guess that's OK but the historian in me wants to know. He was still good in the role and maybe it was a positive thing that the leading man was really a supporting actor for the scenery and concept. The idea of Western culture trivializing and wrecking anything beautiful was pretty blatant here-- to the point where the story started slipping into TV bad guys. But, as if to confirm Costner's point, when the Internet Movie Data base assigned keywords to this spiritual, moving, sensitive, brilliant motion picture, the first one on the list is "Male Rear Nudity." Nice. All in all, an amazing and impressive movie in spite of the flaws.

"The Anniversary" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by Bob Spiers (1979, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, Ken Campbell, Una Stubbs, Robert Arnold, Pat Keen, Roger Hume, Denyse Alexander, Christine Shaw, Brian Hall. One of the more overlooked of the episodes, this one is unusual in several respects. We have a glimpse at Basil and Sybil's social circle, and you have to wonder why these people put up with the Fawltys. In addition we see, for a brief tiny iota of a nanosecond, Basil actually planning something selfless for his spouse on their 15th anniversary. But then he gets into a situation where he piles on lies upon lies as usual. Polly actually tries to extract a price for her enabling this time, and we see very little of hotel guests here. This is the only episode I'm aware of where we see the lobby for a brief moment from the point of view of coming in through the front door. BBC character actor Ken Campbell plays a Fawlty friend who is apparently in this social group for the entertainment value, poking at Basil with little cynical observations. As it turns out, that is a very good defense after stepping into the world of Basil Fawlty.

House of Frankenstein / directed by Erle C. Kenton (1944, VHS). Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Lionel Atwill, Glenn Strange, J. Carrol Naish, Elena Verdugo. A much more coherent movie than Kenton's subsequent House of Dracula, but that isn't saying a lot. Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster, a hunchback assistant, and a mad scientist are crammed into the story. The thread here is Karloff as the crazed and revenge-driven scientist. All the other monsters react to him, not too much with each other. Carradine once again plays Dracula and once again the most frightening thing about him is the fact he wears a bowtie. By the way, did you know that when the sun hits a vampire they turn into a skeleton and their clothes also disappear along with the flesh? Why is that? And when he turns into a bat, what happens to his clothes? Chaney brings back his role as Wolfman, the poster boy for obsessive/compulsive disorders. Naish brings more complexity to the hunchback stereotype than we are used to seeing in these B-horror films. Oh, I forgot, there was another monster in here. The torch-bearing mob of angry villagers. This needs to be considered as a single entity and also as a monster, in many ways more horrifying than supernatural ones.

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 9 (1990, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. A Place to Die (running joke), Secretaries, Preacher Character, Weston the Confidant to the Stars, Teddy Bear's Picnic. A quote I enjoyed from the workplace-based "Secretaries" sketch: "There's gossip, and then there's common knowledge." McKinney's preacher-like sermon on the validity of the use of the preacher character by comedians is the gem in this episode, "Televangelists and preachers are fast eclipsing rock and roll musicians as the drug popping, tax weasling, prostitute pumping bad boys of pop culture. It's Bible Belt Babylon down there." What happened to McDonald in this one? He has one walk-on.

"The Solitary Cyclist" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Paul Annett (1984, DVD). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Barbara Wilshire, John Castle, Michael Siberry, Ellis Dale. For whatever reason, Holmes and Watson get a bit tetchy with each other. Watson is sent on an errand and when he returns Holmes goes through a long list of what was bungled. Watson, looking wounded, asks the Great Detective, "Did I really do remarkably badly?" Holmes gives him a direct and candid affirmation, "Yes." The tavern scene, where Holmes asks the owner for information and then finds himself in a bout of fisticuffs was, as Sherlock himself later tells Watson, "Absolutely delicious." In a couple spots the soundtrack nearly kills the story. At the conclusion Holmes' use of cocaine is noted. John Castle gives his role the usual gravity we are accustomed to seeing no matter what or who he plays. BBC trivia: director Annett is the father of Red Dwarf actress Chloë Annett.

The Painted Desert / directed by Howard Higgin (1931, VHS). William Boyd, Helen Twelvetrees, William Farnum, J. Farrell MacDonald, Clark Gable. Giving us a black and white movie after presenting a title like "The Painted Desert" seems like some sort of cruel joke, but those were the limitations of 1931, and the scenery is still amazing. The lack of a real soundtrack and the mostly wooden yet somehow strangely melodramatic performances make me think this story would've been better as silent picture, as it could've been just a few years before. The two most interesting actors in here represent the distant past and future of 1931 thespianism. William Farnum, who was born in 1876, is very over-the-top but it is easy to imagine him on stage, acting alongside one of the Booth brothers. Clark Gable, making his first appearance in a talkie after a few years of being a supporting actor in silents, plays a villain. His distinctive growl and star quality presence on film is already apparent. There is excellent crowd murmuring in this one. I kept rewinding and playing it over and over since it was as pleasant as hearing the ocean tide. Boyd was later known to a couple generations of us as Hopalong Cassidy. I even had a white Hopalong hat, just like the one he wore all through this movie. The great thing about his character in this story is that he promotes peace, man. And, thank God, he doesn't sing.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 18

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Missouri Breaks / directed by Arthur Penn (1976, VHS). Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid, Kathleen Lloyd, Frederic Forrest, Harry Dean Stanton, John McLiam, John P. Ryan, Luana Anders. A Western for the "Age of Malaise" of the mid to late 1970s. I saw this film on the big screen (either in the State or Capitol theaters) when it was first released. Back then, as now, I thought this was one of the oddest films I've seen set in the Old West. A frontier Montana rancher, who is fond of hanging horse thieves, hires a "regulator" to track down a gang of rustlers. Brando is the hunter, Nicholson the prey. But Brando's character gets out of control and kills just for the sheer joy of it. According to director Penn, Brando the actor went out of control as well, using cue cards and yet improvising. His performance is erratic, lazy, and egotistical. He is basically a big, hammy mumbler in this one. It appears he is there merely to collect a paycheck. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, Brando is interesting to watch. Nicholson on the other hand is totally professional and his character is thoroughly embedded into the plot. The production values are good and the muddy ramshackle frontier settlements seem realistic. The John Williams soundtrack is really hideous. Williams is good at what he does, but this was not the type of movie where his music belonged. Stanton and Quaid were excellent supporting actors, and along with Nicholson seem to have puzzled expressions in their scenes with Brando, as if they were thinking, "Is this guy out of his tiny little mind or what?" There are many great one-liners in here that are not punched but subtle parts of the dialogue. My favorite came from Quaid: "Life is not like anything I've ever seen before."

"Hamlet" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 20, episode 43) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1974, VHS). Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Connie Booth. Hamlet on the couch, Bogus psychiatrists, Nationwide, Police abuse, Wedding night, The Killer vs. the Champ, The Robinsons radio show, Pepperpots in the park, A room in Polonius' house, Epsom boosterism, Queen Victoria handicap, A ham in the castle. Since Hamlet is my favorite play, I'm rather fond of this one. Palin plays a London Bobby who opens beer bottles with his teeth. I knew a guy who called himself Bullet back in the 1970s who did that. Today he would be probably just be starting the journey into senior citizenship if he is still alive. I wonder if all of his teeth have remained intact? This episode hits Shakespeare, sports, psychiatrists, police, and doctors. Terry Jones is downright too convincing when he dresses up as a nasty old woman (or, a "Pepperpot").

Presidential Bloopers (1999, DVD). Mike Jerrick (host). An 45-minute unfunny scrapbook of film clips showing political leaders in more human terms as they fumble both in body and words. Covers FDR to Clinton. These are not the real political whopper bloopers, like Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica, or invading Iraq. Instead we see scenes like Ford falling, LBJ showing his surgery scar, Bush the First puking in Japan, Nancy feeding Ron his lines in a stage whisper, etc., etc. All presented in sort of a cute, comic sound effect manner. Some non-Presidents included as special guest star human errorers: Dukakis, Quayle, Dole, Ted Kennedy, Jerry Brown, Biden, Gore, Bentsen, James Baker, Yeltsin, Thatcher, Bess Truman, Goldwater, Roger Clinton, Billy Carter, Rudy, Pat Buchanan, Gingrich, and McCain. Entertainers Chris Farley, Pearl Bailey, and Sammy Davis Jr. show up too. A lot of energy in this production was centered on the Bush/Quayle team, particularly Dan. True, Quayle was not the most articulate Vice-President, but compared to Old Deadeye Dick, he doesn't look so bad these days. And speaking of Cheney, the most interesting part of this DVD for me was a clip of Quayle on a bus accompanied by his entourage. Sitting next to him was, I'm pretty sure, none other than Lewis "Scooter" Libby. One of the sad parts of this collection are a few of the Reagan "bloopers." I had grown to really detest him during his two terms, but I still felt bad for Reagan as it seemed pretty obvious in hindsight some of his speaking errors toward the end were due to the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. Jerrick's presentation as host sort of reminded me of Fred Willard. He did make one aside that turned out to be prophetic. He predicted (and this was in 1999) that Rudy would run for President.

"Out of Time" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Andy DeEmmony (1993, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen. Some pretty wild concepts in this one. Lister discovers he is actually an android, not human. The ship flies in and out of "unreality pockets." And finally the Starbug quartet meet their future selves from "15 years hence." The episode begins in the usual comedic manner but ends in a cliffhanger, and a more dramatic note. Rimmer actually displays courage and backbone as he prepares for battle, "Better dead than smeg!" One throwaway line from Lister always made me smile. When he realizes Kryten is not telling him the full truth he says, "Don't Nixon me, man."

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Tony Bennett, Great White North Dancers. SCTV top brass decide to take the McKenzie brothers' nice little local show and turn it into a big prime time special. Total disaster follows. There is a touching final scene when Tony Bennett shares a beer with Bob and Doug. Eugene Levy as a TV salesman (used cars this time) always makes me smile. John Candy briefly appears as the completely zoned Mayor Tommy Shanks.

Half-Fare Hare / directed by Robert McKimson (1956, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (uncredited voice), Daws Butler (uncredited voice). Bugs Bunny hops a freight train (no pun intended, but now that it is out there I may as well run with it) and finds himself sharing a car with two hungry hoboes with a taste for rabbit. They are cartoon versions of television characters Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton of "The Honeymooners." By 1956 TV was universal enough for these names to be cultural icons. There is a funny and unexpected scene concerning a Florida Alligator Farm tank car. Two giants of cartoon voices, Blanc and Butler, teamed up on this one. Bugs Bunny meets Yogi Bear.

"The Priory School" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by John Madden (1986, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Christopher Benjamin, Alan Howard, Nicholas Gecks. If you type in the words "hammy" and "actor" in the Google image search, Jeremy Brett (along with Vincent Price and Charlton Heston) will appear at the get-go on the first page of results. It is fitting. For even though Brett's health is obviously starting to fail at this point in the series, his showmanship and intensity still carry the day. Direct to the point of rudeness, Holmes locks into the pursuit of this case like a falcon. Set in the countryside, the scenes are dark and swirling. In fact, the climatic scene even takes place in a cave. How much darker can you get than that? We are given a mini-portrait of the British class system, and in his disregard for such distinctions while working on the mystery at hand Holmes seems more American than English. There were a few spots where the soundtrack was invasive. The story itself was left with too many unexplained loose ends and we come away from it with a sort of jaundiced view of human nature, but it was so well directed that it kept my interest. Madden knew how to let Holmes' unspoken expressions speak volumes through the use of perfectly timed close ups.

A Shot in the Dark / directed by Blake Edwards (1964, VHS off-air). Peter Sellers, Elke Sommer, George Sanders, Herbert Lom, Graham Stark, André Maranne, David Lodge, Burt Kwouk. It is a bit strange to watch this right after seeing a Sherlock Holmes adventure. The second of the Clouseau films and the first to bring us Herbert Lom as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, Burt Kwouk as Cato, and Sellers using an exaggerated accent. Although this is the least tedious of the Sellers/Clouseau stories, it still has not aged all that well. The Mancini soundtrack, the presence of Sommer, the nudist colony gag, and the use of Cato leaves no doubt you are smack in the middle of the 1960s. George Sanders made this movie, and Sellers, much funnier by being such a great deadpan straight man. For my money Herbert Lom as Dreyfus was the best part of the Pink Panther series. The twitch, the nervous laugh, the rage at having his fate intertwine with Clouseau. "Give me ten men like Clouseau," he says, "And I could destroy the world." Sellers was always sort of an uneven comic to me, someone who could alternate between brilliance and dullness in the space of a few minutes.

Booby Dupes / directed by Del Lord (1945, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent, Rebel Randall. Another one where the Three Stooges start off as fish peddlers. In a plotline that is unusually coherent, they set off to buy a boat and catch the fish themselves, eliminating the middlemen. It has a period piece ending, American fighter pilots drop bombs on the boys as they are stranded at sea, mistaking them for Japanese sailors. This is a rare Stooges short in that we are deprived of the classic eyepoke. However there are a wide variety of other forms of violence, all accompanied by the appropriate sound effects. My count: 7 head konks, 6 hits to the stomach, 5 face slaps, 3 nose pulls, 3 jabs to the stomach with a sharp stake, 2 records smashed over the head, 2 cheeks pinched, 2 garbage lids shut on craniums, and one each of hit in the back of the neck by a record flying like a frisbee, fishbones stuck on butt, head squashed in giant hot laundry press, tongue pulled, head stuck in ice cream vendor machine, neck choked, head stomped on, foot bitten, shin hit with wrench, nose twisted with wrench, handsaw scraped on neck, foot nailed to wood, running propellor hitting butt, bite on hand. Contrary to a porn reference, the title is a play on Betty Boop's signature "Boop Boop de Boop" line.

The Tuxedo / directed by Kevin Donovan (2002, VHS). Jackie Chan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jason Isaacs, James Brown, Bob Balaban (uncredited). I was a latecomer to Jackie Chan movies. My daughter and her friend Elisa made me take them to this film in Olympia when it first came out and I went along to be a supportive and dutiful father. Also they needed a driver. But I was surprised how much I enjoyed this action-comedy. So I set out to find his earlier films and got hooked. This guy is great! I think his low-budget middle period is my favorite Chan cinema era. I would really like to get into detail about this particular title, but my copy just sort of fell apart so now I'll have to throw it away and it has been too long since I last viewed it to have a fresh perspective. My copy was originally a VHS rental the local video store was ditching when it went 100% DVD. At first the vids were 5 bucks, then 4, then 3 and so on. When they were down to a buck you can imagine what treasures awaited the seeker of junk culture. I snapped up his one during the 5 buck phase.

"Silly, But it's Fun" (Good Neighbors) (1977, VHS off-air). Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith, Paul Eddington, David Battley. A cutesy, heartwarming Christmas special of this UK situation comedy about two couples-- one attempting to live a simple self-sufficient life and the other living in the traditional consumer-driven materialistic rat race. As sociology, especially considering when it was filmed, it is interesting. I also like the fact that in British TV, the actors look more like real people and not squeaky clean dolls. But as entertainment it makes me ill as I am highly allergic to concentrated doses of cute and heartwarming. I will confess a couple lines did make me laugh, but it wasn't worth the horror of watching the whole thing. If I wasn't ironing my shirts I would've used the fast forward button.

House on Haunted Hill / directed by William Castle (1959, VHS, off-air). Vincent Price, Carolyn Craig, Richard Long, Elisha Cook Jr., Carol Ohmart, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum. In describing the history of killings in the House on Haunted Hill, Elisha Cook Jr. says, "It's a funny thing, but none of the murders here were just ordinary, just shooting or stabbing. They've all been sort of wild, violent, and different." He could've been easily describing the movies of director William Castle, who enjoyed using gimmicks to draw in the audiences. In some theaters, this film had a part where a plastic human skeleton would glide across the ceiling on a wire to correspond with the screen action. Castle called this effect "Emergo." He really didn't need these extra lures, Castle was a fine director on his own. For someone who cranked out "B" horror flicks, his work was better than most in that genre and the plots of the stories he told were weird enough to be their own gimmick. Castle had a special gift in the way he visually composed group shots. In this story, which I call House of Hokey Hamfest, a group of over-the-top actors are trapped for an evening in a mansion filled with horror and murder mystery cliches. This is a very fun movie and makes no sense at all if you are foolish enough to apply real world logic while piecing it together. Vincent Price is wallowing in pork in a suave way here, and Elisha Cook Jr. is just as melodramatic. Hey, it even has Robert Mitchum's sister, Julie! Filmed in glorious black and white, which is perfect for the setting.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 19

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The 39 Steps / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1935, DVD). Robert Donat, Madeleine Carroll, Lucie Mannheim, Godfrey Tearle, Wylie Watson, Ivor Barnard (uncredited). The King of the "Innocent Fugitive" genre movies. And so Hitchcockian. A man falsely accused, Freudian train images, a blondy blonde heroine, a smorgasboard of the little cruelities of human nature, themes of trust and paranoia, sudden and surreal scene changes. Dark and murky visuals as the Canadian hero spends most of the story on the run throughout Scotland. The story begins and ends with a very rowdy London audience attending a live variety show. And, as only Hitchcock could do, tragedy was presented against the backdrop of light entertainment, as he did in Sabotage. This use of diversion-seekers at both start and finish makes it appear almost as if Hitch was trying to make us see ourselves and become interactive with the story. His lifelong theme of spies serving unnamed enemies is all over this one, although one member of the spy ring does have a little Hitler toothbrush moustache. Hitch knew his era and realized what buttons to push in order to rile his contemporary viewers in 1935. The plot also moves along at a quicker pace than most others in the 1930s. Great little details, such as the newspaperboy insistently hawking the news of a murder in the background-- news the hero would just as soon be forgotten. Other directors might kill the scene with corny music, but here the boy's voice is soundtrack enough to create a feeling of total anxiety. There is a fun short clip of an early police helicopter. I first saw this movie on the big screen in college, and although the TV screen version is not bad, this film really deserves mondo wall space.

The Caine Mutiny / directed by Edward Dmytryk (1954, DVD). Humphrey Bogart, José Ferrer, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray, Robert Francis, May Wynn, E.G. Marshall, Lee Marvin, Claude Akins, Jerry Paris, Whit Bissell (uncredited). "Everybody's a screwball in some way. That doesn't make them crazy," or so says Lt. Steve Maryk as he wrestles with the moral decision over the mental health of his commanding officer Capt. Queeg aboard the WWII minesweeper Caine. Although Queeg (portrayed by Bogart) is the center of attention in this tale, the real central character is Lt. Maryk. And as Maryk, Van Johnson's performance as a good soldier trying to do the right thing is excellent. I like Johnson's complex Maryk performance better than Henry Fonda's hero in the parallel comic version, Mr. Roberts (1955). Bogart as the paranoid Queeg uncannily anticipated the body language and mannerisms of the future President Nixon with a little of Fred C. Dobbs thrown in. The climatic courtroom scene was one of Bogie's greatest moments on screen. Fred MacMurray, who I normally can't stand, really worked in the role of a weasle-like Svengali. Watch for Lee Marvin and Claude Akins in the comic relief supporting roles. Ferrer's brief but powerful presence helped add some punch to the story as it started to flag. Yes, this film is long. Too long. It has a totally pointless and insipid romantic subplot that only dilutes the picture. At the risk of bringing out the 9-year old boy in me, ditch the gushy love stuff and use the fast forward through these scenes. The soundtrack is very repetitive and annoying. The direction traditional and workmanlike-- not bad but nothing special. Wouldn't mind seeing this tightened up, re-edited, and rereleased with more of a focus on the dynamics of the mutiny itself.

Dark Passage / directed by Delmer Daves (1947, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Bennett, Tom D'Andrea, Clifton Young, Douglas Kennedy, Rory Mallinson, Houseley Stevenson. In a sick way, the "It's a small world after all" theme could be applied to this movie, but it would detract from the classy ambiance of the telling although it does seem strange how coincidentally tight the social connections are in the plot. This cinematic tale is told in three parts, all centering around Bogart. First, we see Bogie escape from prison from his point of view. This means the camera shows the way the story unfolds literally through the eyes of the beholder. His voiceover is provided. It is 3-D without the "3." Second, we see Bogie swathed in wrapping from his plastic surgery, he can't talk, so he's a surreal mime although there are moments where his voiceover continues. Finally we get Bogart unleashed, but by this time he's become some kind of passive/aggresive thing, something most in the audience can't identify with. But we still find ourselves on his side, even if he does have a magic ability to have multiple crimes not perpetrated by him hung on his neck ("The Indian Sign" he calls it). In this sympathy, we find ourselves allied with Bacall's character, who really steals this movie. Bogart is more victim than victor here, and the sense of justice being realized just doesn't happen in a way that satisfies. A great job of casting in this story, 100 % perfect I'd say. I especially liked the cabbie as a hero (my old occupation!) (D'Andrea), the reprobate plastic surgeon (Stevenson), and the "Baker" blackmailer guy (Young) who looked liked an evil Jimmy Carter. Moorehead and Bennett were wonderful in their roles. Plus a whole parade of Warner Brothers character actors you've seen a gazillion times but could never quite name. There are some clumsy continuity problems with quick close-up cuts and then back to the action. Watch this in the three parts I have suggested with breaks for popcorn, urine relief, or feeding your pet porcupine and it will be much less laborious and resentment-inducing. Not a great movie, but unusual and worth watching at least once.

"Basil the Rat" (Fawlty Towers) / directed by Bob Spiers (1979, VHS). John Cleese, Prunella Scales, Connie Booth, Andrew Sachs, John Quarmby. Don't watch this one right before you go out to a restaurant. In this final episode of the series, Fawlty Towers gets a visit from the Health Inspector. We finally get to see Manuel's room and meet his pet, Basil, a "Siberian Hamster" who is, in fact, a giant rat. And he gets loose. My cat Buster actually got interested once the TV cat started yowling in the FT kitchen. The final scene is priceless and guest actor Quarmby really played his part to perfection. Cleese and company finished the series off with a gem. There are only a dozen of these shows. It is nice to see that such a fine program didn't degrade over time but stayed consistently fresh and funny.

The House of Yes / directed by Mark Waters (1997, VHS). Parker Posey, Josh Hamilton, Tori Spelling, Freddie Prinze Jr., Geneviève Bujold, Rachael Leigh Cook. A very dark and sophisticated story set in Washington D.C. in 1983. A young man brings his well-adjusted fiance home to meet his incredibly dysfunctional family, most notably his on-the-edge twin sister. Making a bid for the normal world, he attempts to draw belated boundaries around his point of origin with tragic results. Maybe it's all relative (nyuk, nyuk). "Excuse me," the mother says as she prepares dinner, "I'm going to baste the turkey and hide the kitchen knives." Originally written as a play, the movie does have a stagey feel and almost all the action takes place in one house, the House of Yes. I liked the lighting, the soundtrack, the pacing, and it was nicely choreographed. I'm dimly aware Spelling and Prinze were mostly associated with teen films and TV, but I'm not familiar with their other work and was able to appreciate their superb acting here without any prejudice. Nobody has directly told me I'm supposed to dismiss them as actors. Disturbing but effective chemistry between Posey and Hamilton. Includes themes of incest, murder, Jackie O., and the JFK assassination. Viewers more worldly than myself might call this a comedy. I see it more as a Morality Tale.

 

Thomas Jefferson / directed by Ken Burns (1997, VHS off-air). George Will, Gore Vidal, Daniel Boorstin, Garry Wills, Ossie Davis (Narrator), voices by Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sam Waterston, Julie Harris, Derek Jacobi, Arthur Miller, George Plimpton. A favorite subject for students of paradox, Thomas Jefferson remains one of the most enigmatic of our Founding Fathers. A visionary who was also a captive of his era, he articulated the spirit of American liberty and human rights in the beautiful Declaration of Independence, yet was a total racist when it came to Native Americans and African Americans. He was a champion of small government and states' rights, yet took matters into his own hands as President when ordering an embargo and arranging the Louisiana Purchase. A small army of historians and writers tell us how Jefferson's contradictions reflect the conflicts in the founding and early years of the United States. Such disparate characters as George Will and Gore Vidal share their insight. Ken Burns is one of the few documentarians that has such an indentifiable personal style, raising the sharing of history to an art form. I love the way he'll focus on some inanimate object and through the voiceovers give that item a lot of meaning. He really has a creative gift for telling the story. The choice of Ossie Davis as the narrator, with a voice that is elderly and not smooth, took me off-balance at first. No fault of Burns, but unfortunately I kept associating Ossie's speech with his character in Bubba Ho-tep ("I'm thinking with sand here!"). I've done the Jefferson pilgrimage: visited Monticello, Jefferson's grave, Williamsburg, University of Virginia. It wasn't until later I learned Tom and I share (with thousands of others) immigrant ancestors, Christopher and Mary (Addie) Branch who came to Virginia in the 1620s. So this American Renaissance Man is a distant cousin! Neato. Historians will probably never let the dust settle on Jefferson. Since this was filmed in 1997, DNA tests have concluded that slave Sally Hemings' children were fathered by a member of the Jefferson family. Just one of the many continuing controversies surrounding a man who served as President two centuries ago. I was really struck by Jefferson's radical educational vision in establishing the University of Virginia. I think he would've been right at home during the McCann years at The Evergreen State College when that institution had a more libertarian bent.

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 10 (1990, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson. Hoopla, McGuillicutty and Green, Wake up!, MacIntyre name, One step at a time, Nobody likes us, McGuillicutty and Kurosawa, Three for the moon. It amazes me to see how this group can cram so many terrific concepts into a mere 30 minutes. They are really hitting their stride with this episode. Hard to pick a favorite moment, but I'd say McKinney was great as the scene stealing yet wordless sister in "Wake up!" and he had a nice moment in "MacIntyre name."

"The Crooked Man" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Alan Grint (1984, DVD). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Lisa Daniely, Denys Hawthorne, Norman Jones, Fiona Shaw. Holmes, who seems a bit petulant, is dragged into a mystery by his friend and colleague Dr. Watson. This story has no sense of urgency or dire consequence and seems more subdued and sad than exciting or brain teasing. It is obvious from Brett's appearance he is giving his nervous system to the series. Holmes is as other-wordly as ever, and nowhere is this more evident than in a scene that takes place in a raucously warm bar. Even Watson is smiling, but the Great Detective will have none of it. Norman Jones as the Crooked Man comes across as a less intense version of Anthony Hopkins. In the end, this is more a love story than a mystery.

Santa Fe Trail / directed by Michael Curtiz (1940, VHS). Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, Van Heflin, Ward Bond. Rather than being about the Santa Fe Trail, this grainy and washed out (at least my public domain copy is in that shape) film is an incredibly inaccurate version of the life of J.E.B. Stuart, starting with his attendance at West Point in 1854 and ending with the execution of abolitionist John Brown in 1859. Most of the story is set in Bloody Kansas, where abolitionists are portrayed as dark characters. They are accompanied by low, brooding music. They are humorless, skulking, abusive. They have 5 o'clock shadows. African Americans are on display in the stereotypically comic way we associate with racist movies. They are like simple children, the pawns of the treasonous John Brown. Yes, abolition of slavery is considered treason in this story, written by Robert Buckner-- a Virginian. The good guys, on the other hand, are clean and reasonable people with combed hair, lots of gleaming teeth, and accompanied by happy action music. Stuart (Flynn) with his West Point pals Custer (Reagan), Hood, Pickett, Longstreet, Sheridan are all military comrades under the wise and watchful eyes of Robert E. Lee and Sec. of War Jefferson Davis. Needless to say, this was aimed at audiences in the Deep South of 1940, the South of Legal Apartheid. Forget Bedtime for Bonzo, this was the movie Reagan really should've been ashamed of. The heroes in here are about as interesting as the flat figures in a Communist propaganda poster. But, there is one scene with them that is sort of good. The soldiers are being told their future by a Native American fortune teller, who informs them they will soon be enemies in a great war. It is the only part of the tale where the "good guys" get to really act. But it is Massey's performance as John Brown the religious fanatic that capures our attention. His execution scene (oddly without John Wilkes Booth or Stonewall Jackson, who were also there) was well played. It would've been fitting to end the story right there, but no, they had to tack on a final bit for a minute or so where Stuart gets married (which actually happened a few years before Brown was captured). So: scene of great significance making you stand back and say, "Whoa Dude! That's like too much pathos!" is quickly followed by a happy wedding scene on a train which in turn is quickly followed by "The End," complete with jaunty showtune type music. A bad ending to a bad movie.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. May 22, 1992 (VHS off-air). Johnny Carson, Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen, film clips of: Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, Groucho Marx, Tiny Tim, Ed Sullivan, Jay Silverheels, Muhammad Ali, Jack Benny, Racqual Welch, Mel Brooks, Jimmy Stewart, Loni Anderson, Robin Williams, Bette Davis, Billy Crystal, Madonna, Michael Landon, Jane Fonda, George Foreman, David Letterman, Elizabeth Taylor, Bob Hope, Judy Garland, Louie Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Bobbie Gentry, Richard Harris, Errol Garner, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler, Dionne Warwick, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Ethel Merman, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jackson Five, Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Liza Minnelli, Willie Nelson, Crystal Gayle, Roy Orbison, K.D. Laing, Dolly Parton, Tina Turner, Al Green, B.B. King, Pointer Sisters, George Benson, Manhattan Transfer, Dizzy Gillespie, Anita Baker, Liberace, Itzhak Perlman, Yo Yo Ma, Luciano Pavarotti, Elton John, Whitney Houston, Crosby Stills & Nash, Paul Simon, James Taylor, Garth Brooks, Joe Cocker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, ZZ Top, John Wayne, Charlton Heston, George Carlin, Henry Fonda, Rick Nelson, Gig Young, Jackie Cooper, George Raft, Milton Berle, George Gobel, Lauren Bacall, Jim Henson, Peter Falk, David Susskind, Sylvester Stallone, Carol Burnett, Alan King, David Brinkley, Betty White, Neil Simon, Bob Uecker, Richard Pryor, Gregory Peck, Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett, Ronald Reagan, Bing Crosby, Orson Welles, Jodie Foster, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Brokaw, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Natalie Wood, Lucille Ball, Edgar Bergen, Andy Kaufman, Gore Vidal, Freddie Prinze, Sam Kinison, Danny Thomas, Truman Capote, Anthony Quinn, William F. Buckley, Buddy Rich, F. Lee Bailey, Tony Curtis, Eva Gabor, Sid Caesar, Vincent Price, Clint Eastwood, George C. Scott, Red Skelton, Hubert Humphrey, Stevie Wonder, Fred de Cordova. This was Johnny Carson's final appearance after three decades as host of the Tonight Show. There were no special guests, just Johnny presenting a quick-paced film tribute to his guests of the past, plus a short mini-documentary on the prep work behind the show. Nearly all the tapes for the first decade are gone, which is criminal considering what a late night institution this series had become and Carson's iconic status. He seemed to have capitivated a certain generation of Americans, mostly my parents' age, and Letterman and others followed in his wake with fresher material for the younger set. But Carson knew when to stop and retired undefeated. A tad bit maudlin when it came to Ed and Doc, but otherwise not as drenched in gush as it could've been. Celebrity addicts should love this final show. Just the cast list alone should provide enough keywords to give OlyBlog a slight spike in hits!

"Mr. Neutron" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 21, episode 44) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1974, VHS). Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Douglas Adams (uncredited). Another Jones/Palin long narrative episode, this one being centered on Mr. Neutron, the most dangerous man in the universe. A hilarious showcase for a parade of characters including Mr. Neutron himself (Chapman), Mrs. S.C.U.M. (Jones), an American military commander obsessed with body odor and who will seem disturbingly familiar in his attitude toward terrorism (Palin), the bitter and negative Mr. Entrail (Jones), and super spy Teddy Salad (played by a dog). When the last named character appeared on the screen I was actually eating a salad. There are no coincidences. Gilliam's animations are more a coherent part of the story than usual. Look for the writer Douglas Adams in a guest cameo supposedly in drag as a Pepperpot. On the writing of this episode, Graham Chapman has been quoted as saying, "Bits and pieces were snipped and added by the rest, but that was predominantly Mike and Terry. There was a great relief when they read off this enormously long sketch. We thought, 'Well, that's next week done! Jolly good-- we can get off early this afternoon.'"

Presumed Innocent / directed by Alan J. Pakula (1990, VHS). Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield, Greta Scacchi, John Spencer. Hmm, strange that this film is the next one to randomly come up in my list right after I go to jury selection. Actually, attending the jury thing at the county courthouse over in Montesano was more interesting than this movie, and I didn't even get picked for duty! Innocent man who happens to be an urban prosecutor is charged with the homicide of his former lover-- but they've got the wrong man, blah, blah, blah. And as the hero struggles to prove he is innocent, the walls of his compartmentalized life begin to crumble. Original? This has the feel of a melodramatic made for TV mystery. It even seems slow when I use the fast forward button. Harrison Ford, who I normally admire as an actor, goes through his vast catalog of wounded and hurt expressions. If he isn't emoting wounded or hurt, then he gives us this sort of half-smile smirk which, no fault of his, we have since associated with George W. Bush. This is not a compliment to Ford and now I'll have to try real hard to ignore it in his other work. Raul Julia as the defense attorney saves this film from being a total waste. Until he walks into the screen, the audience is left out in the cold, distant and unconnected from the mystery. Julia provides us with a human connection, inviting the viewer not to give up on this dog just yet. Paul Winfield as the Judge is the only other character with any human spark. Most of Ford's films are worth seeing. But this is not one of them.

Cheaper by the Dozen 20

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"Tikka to Ride" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1997, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellen, Michael Shannon, Toby Aspin. One of the very best of the RD episodes, and it could not have been made in the United States, even in 1997. Why? Because, in the twisted way Red Dwarf concepts operate, JFK had to save his legacy by assassinating himself. He was, in fact, the mysterious figure on the Grassy Knoll. But this one tastes better than it smells. Starting a new season with a more lavish budget and higher production values, the director was able to work in a number of immediately recognizable images we Americans associate with Dallas Nov. 22, 1963. This use of cultural shorthand is very effective. Better than usual dialogue. Includes themes of fate, causality, and cannibalism. See Kryton swear, smoke, and not give a smeg about anything once his guilt chip is removed. There is also a scene where he has a little TV screen on his abdomen which is used to fill in part of the story. Three months after this show was broadcast, the Teletubbies used the same idea as they made their debut. Coincidence?

"Miles Cowperthwaite, Part Two: I Am Nailed to the Hull" (Saturday Night Live) (1979, VHS off-air). Michael Palin, John Belushi, Laraine Newman, Gildna Radner, Dan Aykroyd, Tom Davis, Al Franken, Garrett Morris. Monty Python meets SNL, and it doesn't really age very well. In 1979 mixing Dickens with gay S&M might've been cutting edge funny, but the whole "manly men" crew aboard the Raging Queen comes across as being filled with offensive stereotypes in 2008. Belushi is clearly reading his cue cards, and his comic timing has degenerated. Since he is a central character the whole sketch suffers. Even the excellent Michael Palin can't save this one.

Catty Cornered / directed by Friz Freleng (1953, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voices). Two gangsters have kidnapped Tweety. Sylvester performs an unintentional rescue as he captures the bird for purely venal reasons. This is a nice, solid, standard Freleng cartoon with wonderful caricatures and tight comic music by Carl Stalling. The politician at the end of the story looks to me like Hiram Johnson, a U.S. Senator from California who died in office in 1945. Blanc gets a chance to voice tough criminals and Irish cops. I wish just once Sylvester was allowed to eat that damn bird.

"The Second Stain" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by John Bruce (1986, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Patricia Hodge, Stuart Wilson, Harry Andrews, Colin Jeavons. This is one of a sub-genre of Holmes stories where government officials (in this case the Prime Minister himself) come to Baker St. for help in locating sensitive government documents that are presumed to be stolen. Against a backdrop of pre-World War I Europe, Sherlock's efforts result in staving off probable war yet again. As usual, Holmes seems unimpressed by the aristocratic status of his clients, a trait that endears him to American viewers. As he moves through the jungle of high society and politics, we have a chance to see how adept he is in the art of bluffing. The language is more formal, which somehow increases the tension as passions are seething under a thin cover of civility. John Bruce was one of the better visual directors in this series. His compositions, timing and use of the subtle zoom give his episodes a much different look than the several other directors. Classy stuff for television. He also had an ability to bring out the best in his star. Jeremy Brett is in top form here as in the other Bruce-directed episodes. There is a little touch here from The Master Blackmailer, where the very same words are uttered as a blackmailer baits his prey. Lestrade makes an appearance, well-meaning but dumb as ever. This was one of the last appearances on film by the great character actor Harry Andrews, who made a great Prime Minister. Most interesting of all was another glimpse into Holmes' view of women. In discussing the motives of a wife who sought information, Holmes looks at his friend and colleague and says, "The Fair Sex is your department, Watson." He adds, "And yet the motives of women are so inscrutable. How can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes or their most extraordinary conduct may depend on a hairpin or curling tong." The story is good, but Brett remains the real show.

The Pink Panther / directed by Blake Edwards (1963, VHS off-air). David Niven, Peter Sellers, Capucine, Robert Wagner, John Le Mesurier, Claudia Cardinale. A movie that started two series by accident. David Niven has top billing here and it looks like he was supposed to be the big name. This elegant leading man from the ghost of cinema past was a living link to an earlier era of screwball comedy. But it was Sellers as the comic relief who grabbed the limelight. This supporting character, Inspector Clouseau, went on to be the star in many more movies. The other career that was made with this film had to do with the credits. The animated and worldess Pink Panther (directed by Friz Freleng), who moved to the jazzy Mancini sound, became a regular cartoon character in his own right. The Clouseau we got to know in later stories is not fully formed here. In this debut piece he's married, not quite as incompetent, and his accent is not so outrageous. Dreyfus and Cato do not exist yet. There are lots of bowties here, which is a bit disturbing. In spite of the fact this has one of the better car chase scenes in filmdom, I have a hard time sitting through this movie more than once every decade or so.

Over Beautiful British Columbia: An Aerial Adventure (1996, VHS off-air). Although almost an hour long, this could be cut off at any point, which is in fact what KCTS does when it uses this as filler following a program with an odd playing time. The BC landscape is showcased in an aerial sweep that includes narration, music, and natural sounds. The narration and music could easily be ditched, the cinematography speaks for itself. Good viewing if you want to zone out.

Pardon My Scotch / directed by Del Lord (1935, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Symona Boniface (uncredited), Nat Carr, James C. Morton, Billy Gilbert (uncredited), Al Thompson (uncredited). A very early Three Stooges comedy centered on the repeal of Prohibition and the crisis in meeting the consumer demands of thirsty boozing Americans. We see the Stooges pose as Scotsmen and enjoy the spectacle of them sabotaging a hoity-toity party. I particularly enjoyed the way they expressed their disdain for Billy Gilbert's opera singing. Although there is more of a balance between their verbal and physical humor than in later years, there is one scene (where Curly cuts a tabletop with a circular saw) that results in Moe taking an unexpected fall. The old trooper gets up, positions himself for the camera, and delivers a double face slap. What the audience doesn't know is that Moe actually broke a few ribs and right after the slaps-- he fainted! The fall and resulting slaps remain in the final product. I didn't know this backstory at the time I watched, but there was something about the stunt that made me utter the word "Ouch!" out loud even though I was alone (well, with four cats). You have to admire that kind of professionalism. I fail to understand why the Stooges have not gained the sort of entertainment historical respect they really deserve. Proof? Even today, decades after the last of the main actors have died, their very name evokes a strong pro or con reaction. The Marx Brothers got the feature films and became the darlings of the academics, but it is the study of the Stooges that really deserves serious consideration and should be worked into the curriculum of higher education. For those of us who relish the visceral pleasure of this comedy group, here's the violence count: the ever popular head konks: 11, Face slaps: 3; Hair pulling: 2; Double face slaps: 2; Nose tweaking: 2; and one each of double head konk, eyepoke, and nose bite. The eyepoke is performed not with fingers but with two long dinner rolls.

"Christianity & Judaism" (The Wisdom of Faith with Huston Smith: a Bill Moyers Special) / directed by Pamela Mason Wagner (1996, VHS off-air). Huston Smith, Bill Moyers. Part of a TV miniseries covering the major religious faiths of the world and using as a premise this quote from writer and theological scholar Huston Smith: "If we take the world's enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race." Smith makes several theological observations on topics such as prayer, the crucifix symbol, Jesus as a person, the concept that God is Love, of "ethnic religions" requiring bloodlines. His delivery has a confident serenity without being pretentious. I must confess I am not really all that interested in comparative religion, or religion in general, so as an unripe audience member I was not taken in by the subject. But I suppose it is good for me to think about such things as I am entering the Back 40 of life, so I'll consider my viewing time akin to eating a vegetable I don't particularly want. Yeah, I know it's good for me. There. I ate it. Happy? Now give me a cigar for dessert. This is made all the more curious as Smith and I were both raised in the same church, Methodist. But my lack of enthusiasm on the topic is no reflection on Smith and Moyers. On the contrary, it is refreshing to hear a public conversation on faith that is intelligent and positive. Smith's presentation, if you read between the lines, does suggest there is a sphere of spirituality, and a sphere of religion, but the two do not always (perhaps seldom) overlap. I did perk up when he said that although he considers himself "flat-footed" on the paranormal, Smith described a "visit" from a recently deceased family member.

The Reptile / directed by John Gilling (1966, VHS off-air). Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Ray Barrett, Jacqueline Pearce, Michael Ripper. This low budget but atmospheric story is set in the misty moors of Cornwall in the 1800s. A man dies a horrible death when his skin turns green and he foams at the mouth "just like the others." His brother and sister-in-law arrive to inherit the house and when he first steps into the local tavern the patrons all get reeeeeal quiet and then leave when he innocently asks the location of his new home. Yes, that house of eeeeevil. It was about this time that something really scarey and unexpected happened. My videotape ran out. The person who recorded this just sort filled out the end of the reel. So there you have the first 15 minutes or so.

The Man Who Knew Too Much / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1934, DVD). Leslie Banks, Edna Best, Peter Lorre, Frank Vosper, Nova Pilbeam. Now they know how many bullet holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall. Far superior to Hitchcock's 1956 remake of the same title. Fans of Hitch will recognize all the hallmarks: average people being thrown into a situation requiring above average thinking and courage, being shot at in crowd/audience situations, mysterious foreign powers out to sink England, blondy blonde heroine, a cavalcade of petty crimes by all humankind as a backdrop for a couple big ones. It all fits together in a tidy fashion here, moving along at a fast (for the 1930s) pace and actually pretty funny in several scenes. The part of the story where the hero winds up in the chair of an evil dentist was especially primal. The characters were very British: for example, one man gets shot in the middle of crowded dancefloor. "Oh look," he calmly observes as the blood from a bullet hole begins to spread across his shirt-- he says it as if he just spilled a bit of soup. Peter Lorre plays hot compared to the English actors around him. Undisciplined and emotive, Lorre comes across as a malevolent chubby cherub in his first English-speaking role. He had just arrived in London as a refugee from the Nazi Germany and supposedly his command was English was so bad he merely repeated his lines in this film phonetically. Personally, I think this bit of Lorre lore is hogwash for three reasons: 1. Wikipedia, the crap pile of information resources, repeats this as fact. 2. Lorre's performance is too good. 3. Author Donald Spoto in The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock (1983) makes no mention of this and in fact suggests Lorre knew enough English to spin a joke, "Lorre and Hitchcock shared an unconventional sense of fun, and often when a camera shot was ready the crew would find them huddled together in a corner, where they were trading the latest dirty stories." There is no soundtrack other than the music that is "live" in a scene. Hitchcock was trying to use the sound of those funky 1930s automobile horns as an auditory comment in several places, but the purpose and meaning escaped me. But all in all, one of the better Hitchcock movies of the Depression Decade.

Cannes Man / directed by Richard Martini (1996, VHS). Seymour Cassel, Francesco Quinn, Rebecca Broussard, Johnny Depp, Treat Williams, Jim Jarmusch, James Brolin, Ann Cusack, Benicio Del Toro, Dennis Hopper, Julian Lennon, John Malkovich, Chris Penn, Frank Whaley, Luana Anders, François Petit, Lloyd Kaufman, Peter Gallagher, Lara Flynn Boyle, Robert Evans, Richard Martini, Jim Stark. An unknown and underappreciated contribution to the mockumentary genre, this story does to the film industry what This is Spinal Tap did to rock culture-- except in a more subtle and sophisticated manner. A con artist producer (Cassel) makes a bet with another movie person that he "could take any schmuck and make him the flavor of the week" at the Cannes Film Festival. It is part My Fair Lady and part Half-Wits Holiday with a generous dose of cynicism tossed in. Francesco Quinn did a fine job playing the role of the dimskull schmuck. For some reason it took me awhile to warm up to the motion picture. I liked it much more the second time around after I let it sit on the shelf for a couple years since the first viewing. Aside from Cassell and Quinn, most of the other actors make merely cameo appearances although we do get to see Broussard, Cusack, Depp, and Jarmusch for several scenes.

"The Hero" (The Guns of Will Sonnett) / directed by Tom Carr (1967, VHS off-air). Walter Brennan, Dack Rambo, Robert Wilke, Patricia Barry, Dennis Cross, William Fawcett, Pepe Callahan. The quasi-religious soap opera set in the Old West usually included the cranky Brennan uttering the catch-phrase, "No brag, just fact." But not in this episode, unfortunately. This installment includes a bank robbery, Apache Indians, a corrupt sheriff, bad guys with 5 o'clock shadows, lots of obligatory gunplay, and an arrow in the back. The premise of the show, a grandfather and grandson searching for their missing son/father, doesn't figure into this one. In spite of fine actors like Brennan and western stalwart Wilke this is pretty standard fare for 1967 primetime, except for the moralizing message by Brennan at the conclusion. How and why I even have this is beyond me.

Cheaper by the Dozen 21

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Farewell to the 4th!: Link to the Past-- Gateway to the Future / directed by Mike Williams, Susan Willis (2001, VHS). Deb Vinsel (narrator), Rhonda Foster, Derek Valley, Stan Biles, David Goodyear, Sara Gore, Pat Greenup. You know, I have a random system for selecting what titles to review. They choose themselves. During the height of the OlyBlog gun debate I found Bowling for Columbine was next in line. Now that the Oly isthmus is becoming an issue, this timely TCTV video pops up. A warning, I have friends and a relative associated with this production, so I am biased. This 20 minute video is a fond goodbye to the old 4th Ave. Bridge (1921-2001) which we all knew and loved and was taken away from us by the Feb. 2001 quake. This documentary was produced the following October. It is well researched (by Shanna Stevenson), starting with the importance of the area to Native Americans and covering all the attempts by early Olympia residents to connect the Westside with downtown through a series of short-lived spans. The story is told in a coherent narrative with excellent historical graphics. Lots of very interesting photos and maps of the isthmus as it built up over time and of the estuary before it became the FLOD. I'm not sure Lana Tremblay's poem, "Farewell Old Friend," really belonged in this, but that's my only reservation in this excellent local work. I particularly enjoyed hearing Sara Gore's story about being born on the old bridge as her family didn't quite make it to the old St. Pete's Hospital (where my brother was born) when it used to sit on the top of the steep West 4th Ave. hill. I know this would take staff and money, but I think it would be great if TCTV could release a lot of their fine local documentaries like this one on DVD to local libraries. Hmmm. I smell a grant writing opportunity here.

The Green Mile / directed by Frank Darabont (1999, VHS). Tom Hanks, David Morse, Bonnie Hunt, Michael Clark Duncan, James Cromwell, Michael Jeter, Graham Greene, Doug Hutchison, Sam Rockwell, Harry Dean Stanton, Dabbs Greer, Gary Sinise. "We each walk a green mile." This beautiful movie is one of the best of the Stephen King-based screen efforts. The Shining (with Nicholson) remains my favorite, but this is a close runner up. Told in a modern day flashback, a nursing home resident describes his experiences of miracles that took place when he was a guard in a Deep South prison death row cellblock. The story is broad and rambling (3 hours), wrapped around some big issues: racism, capital punishment, treatment of elderly, abuse and corruption of authority. Darabont, who also did a great job directing the other King-based prison story Shawshank Redemption (1994), must have a gift for timing in keeping us hooked in a movie of this length. The casting for this film was excellent. Although Tom Hanks as the central character still played Tom Hanks (but how can you not like this guy? He was still perfect for the role) there is a wonderful collection of supporting characters in the tale. I didn't recognize Sam Rockwell or Graham Greene until the credits rolled. In this King story, the supernatural force might be a mixed blessing but it isn't evil. The evil here is very human, and chillingly displayed by the petulant and sadistic prison guard Percy Wetmore (Hutchison). Dabbs Greer, making his final feature film appearance here, was a very familiar face to those of us raised on 1950s and 1960s television. There is a fun little side story concerning a mouse, giving us a diversion in this place where keeping one's humanity is difficult in inhumane conditions. I knew a guy who worked with King in Maine in the 1970s. He claimed that at night they'd go to a bar and he described in great detail how King, in his size-too-small polyester shirt, would have his face lit from below by the lights of the old pre-computer pinball as he obsessed on the game. True or not, that's the image I always have when King's name comes up-- even in connection with an incredible movie like this one.

Isn't She Great / directed by Andrew Bergman (2000, VHS). Bette Midler, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, David Hyde Pierce, John Cleese, John Larroquette, Paul Benedict, John Cunningham. The biopic on the life of Jacqueline Susann, the best-selling author who took literature another notch closer to the LCD. This film was unfairly panned by the critics when it was released. Midler even gained a Razzie nomination for worst actress of 2000 for her role in this (Madonna won that year for The Next Best Thing). I think if you approach this story as if the characters have been distilled into living cartoons, it is actually very funny even with the serious themes. Susann (Midler) and her husband/promoter (Lane) are entirely blind to their own absurdity, and come across as noble champions of all that is vulgar, coarse and crass. Lane is perfect as the tireless cheerleader for Midler, even when the chips are down: "Sweetheart, things are going to turn around. Any day now. Any second. It's just the business. Peaks and valleys"-- but it is a valley that brings her the "mass love" Susann requires, Valley of the Dolls. When Susann was alive I recall that in addition to the subject matter of novels, it was rather shocking to have a woman writing this kind of stuff. In her own way she was a feminist, although that was not really addressed in this story. There is a very touching thread through the film where Susann talks to God while looking up at a hugh tree in Central Park, revealing her ambitions. Burt Bacharach, who I have grown to respect as I get older (I can't believe I'm saying that), composed the title theme. A very fitting and excellent choice. I believe the sort of critics who panned this movie come from the same place as the many publishers (who later kicked themselves, I'm sure) who initially rejected Susann's manuscripts.

"The Speckled Band" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by John Bruce (1984, DVD). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Jeremy Kemp, Rosalyn Lander, John Gill. This is a dark and morose episode, unusual in that Jeremy Brett has toned down his normal ham and gives us more subdued and human Holmes. We actually see him shake with fear and admit this case is more of a test of courage than his average fare. Also, director Bruce, one of the best in this series, appears to be more comfortable setting up shots in urban areas than in rural ones. I didn't get the visual impact from this one that his other efforts gave me. On the other hand, Bruce tooks pains to duplicate some key scenes with the classic original illustrations from the printed stories. Here's the deal with the story: A paranoid control freak runs a dilapidated country estate. He lives in such fear that he has the grounds patrolled by mankilling big cats at night (oddly, no penguins appear here) (nor caimans) (both of them = animals of eeevil). He is also a physician and portrayed by British character actor Jeremy Kemp, an over-the-top thespian who is a delight to watch and perfect for this role. Living with him in this crumbling mansion are two step daughters. One of them dies horribly yet mysteriously uttering ... last ... words ... "Speckled ... Band ..." Nnngh. Click. Die. So the surviving daughter employs Holmes to figure out what the heck is going on. Holmes, clearly enjoying and relishing the challenge, immediately deduces the step-father is guilty, and in the course of his investigation utters two quotes I have always enjoyed. Quote 1: "Ah Watson, it's a wicked world. But when a clever man turns his brain to crime, it's the worst of all." Quote 2: "When a doctor goes wrong, he's the first of criminals. He has nerve. He has knowledge." Here's a hint for the viewer. Do not watch this if you have a problem with reptiles.

Who Buried Paul McCartney? / directed by Wouter van Opdorp (2005, DVD5). Alex Bennett, Russ Gibb, Tim Harper, Fred LaBour, Les Marshak, Barry Stoller, Tom Zarski. When I was in high school and college the Beatles were still considered hot. And party conversation would occasionally turn to the rumor that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash and had been replaced by a substitute. Clues had been left on album covers, in the lyrics, and in the backwards messages if you rotated the album in reverse. Originally made for Dutch television, this excellent 25 minute documentary lets the American participants reveal the story. Like the secret messages on the albums, the film walks in reverse, starting with the Columbus Day 1969 phone call to a Michigan radio station that sparked an international pressquake. As if tracing a virus, the rumor is tracked back to Terry Knight's Saint Paul 45 single in May 1969. Commenters covering the time period before Knight's single make only cryptic statements, suggesting the whole thing was invented as a marketing device by the Fabs themselves. I especially enjoyed music entertainer Fred LaBour's moments onscreen, including his outrageous cowboy getup-- in Michigan?!? But he was candid and funny. Now to reveal my bias. I'm in the credits in this one. And believe me, my role leading to contributing to this documentary has a history that is much, much stranger than the McCartney death hoax. I'm not kidding. Most of you wouldn't believe me if I told you, it was a long and winding road. It'll make a fine book someday. In the meantime, see if you can catch this DVD as a fine example on how to study the anatomy of a rumor. The late Lynn Hansen's hard to find book, Number 9 is a great resource (I say with prejudice) for picking up where this video leaves off. SPSCC has a copy.

Lost in Translation / directed by Sofia Coppola (2003, VHS). Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris. A couple, no, a few, well "several" years ago I was reclined in my dentists' chair getting my teeth cleaned by a substitute teeth cleaner. Somehow she figured out we were in the same age bracket and she asked, "Been to your 30th high school reunion yet?" I replied I would within the year. There was a pause. "So," she lifted the metal tools in the air, holding them aloft over her shoulders, tilted her head, and asked pointedly, "How do you like midlife?" And then we both broke into a genuine spontaneous bittersweet laugh. The laugh of relief, of survivors after a horrible accident. Another pause, then she said, "I prefer to call it a 'Midlife Awakening.'" This movie is a case study in Midlife Awakening meeting 20-Something Angst. Boomer meets GenX. Murray and Johansson literally wake up in Tokyo, and then find each other as strangers in a strange land where the social expectations of Western culture do not apply. They can reset their own boundaries and be who they really are with each other, i.e., essentially decent people in a place where a man and woman can be friends and knowing they have to live in the moment. Some man/woman relationships are more complicated and harder to explain than others. Alongside the theme of sleeping and waking up, we see Murray go into monotone when talking to his wife on the phone, or into sleepwalking mode in the course of his occupation. This is billed as a comedy, but as Murray sings, "What's so funny about peace, love and understanding?" I'd have to classify this as something else. But I'm not sure what. Lots of culture clash material and none of the Japanese is subtitled, so we are as lost as the American characters. Coppola appears to have filmed this with a hand-held most of the time, giving the story a quasi-documentary feel, as if we are on a field trip observing these two people. Apparently the beautiful ending was an ad-lib, and it feels very authentic. One of Bill Murray's best movies, maybe even the very best. In many ways this could be considered a prequel to the other most excellent Murray film, Broken Flowers.

"The Money Programme" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 14, episode 29) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1972, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Fred Tomlinson Singers. Money Programme, Elizabeth I Episode Thlee, Dead Unjugged Rabbit Fish, Church Police, Meanwhile in a jungle restaurant next door, Ken Russell's Gardening Club (1958), British Explorers' Club, Argument Clinic, Flying Fox of the Yard, This Show is Under Arrest. Lots of law enforcement humor here and having the show turn back into itself with actors asking about the script. Employs a Beatles-type false ending. Argument Clinic is one of the better Python skits, John Cleese's fingerprints are all over it. For some reason the argument piece really caught the attention of my cat, Buster. Idle anticipates his future career in musical comedy with the opening number about money. Terry Jones continues to be disturbingly effective in drag.

Patterns / directed by Fielder Cook (1956, VHS). Van Heflin, Ed Begley, Everett Sloane, Beatrice Straight, Elizabeth Wilson, Andrew Duggan, Lauren Bacall (uncredited). This is another hard-hitting social gritty black and white film (made grittier by the awful "Goodtimes" 1985 VHS copy I have) from the 1950s. This time the target is the Darwinism within the corporate world. Rod Serling wrote this precursor to Swimming With Sharks, and I wonder why I never heard of it before-- it is an excellent motion picture given the limitations of the time in which it was made. Set in NYC, it depicts the Eisenhower-era corporate generation. Everett Sloane seems a little like a white collar Lee Van Cleef in his role as the brutal CEO. Ed Begley is terrific as the representative of the old days, as the soul of a bygone era when a handshake was good enough. And Heflin really is at his best as the honest country bumpkin being used as a tool by upper management. The characters might be a little too flat and good/evil, but Serling's unexpected conclusion saves the picture. And yes, Lady Macbeth can look and talk like June Cleaver. A couple detail notes. Although Lauren Bacall supposedly has an uncredited walk-on in this film, I couldn't spot it. Also, a local connection: Character actor Andrew Duggan, making an early film appearance here, once acted with Oly's own Malcolm Stilson, back in WWII I think.

Recording 'The Producers': a Musical Romp with Mel Brooks / directed by Susan Frömke, Kathy Dougherty (2001, VHS). Mel Brooks, Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Gary Beach, Cady Huffman. "It ain't no mystery it if it's politics or history, the thing you've got to know is everything is show biz." This documentary covers a studio recording session for Mel Brooks' musical version of The Producers. I have always considered the original 1968 Zero Mostel/Gene Wilder piece as one of the best movies of the 1960s. And although I really enjoy Nathan Lane's work and admire Mel Brooks' energy (I hope I have that much spark when I'm in my 70s) I could not sit through the film version of the musical. I understand it was great onstage, however. Mel is one of the last of his era, and it is fun to watch Mr. Showbiz preside over his creation. Amazing vocals by Lane, Beach, and Huffman. Matthew Broderick does a pretty good Brando imitation at an informal moment, no doubt gleaned from his co-starring role in The Freshman. (Hey, another brush with fame: my brother once played a game of pool with Broderick. I wonder who won?) Brooks reveals some of the background to the original Mostel movie in the course of telling us about the new musical. In making the absurdity of Adolf Elizabeth Hitler the centerpiece of his joke, Brooks joins the Three Stooges, Chaplin, Spike Jones, and the Olympia clowns in using humor as the most devastating weapon. Although "Springtime for Hitler" remains in the show ("The biggest best thing I ever did," says Brooks) there are many new songs, the best being "Heil Myself!" I like this documentary better than the later feature film.

Rush Hour / directed by Brett Ratner (1998, VHS). Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, Tom Wilkinson, Chris Penn, Philip Baker Hall. Go Jackie! A big budget action comedy and an early American showcase for the incredible Jackie Chan. I found myself missing the low budget effects and bad dubbing of his previous films, but this is still very entertaining for Chan fans. Action: Lots of explosions, gunplay, suspense, car chases, and martial arts (Chan never kills anyone here with a gun). Comedy: funny moments in law enforcement intra-politics, Hall as the cranky police captain, Chan's great physical Keatonesque sense of timing, Tucker's big mouth, and the "War" music sequence. A good, basic cop buddy film with a culture clash twist. There is no mushy love stuff here. One of the things I admire about Jackie Chan is that he always seems cognizant of his standing as an international star, particularly with his influence on children. His values are such that I would consider him the Hopalong Cassidy of this generation. Good mindless fun for those of us who still have the 9-year old boy within. Go Jackie!

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato. SCTV, when it was originally aired, had a magic that is somehow washed out in the new DVD compilations. Hard to explain why. Maybe the re-release is too slickly packaged and presented. At any rate, this VHS cassette I was hoping to review, all of it off-air, has finally croaked and is not playable. The VHS player pukes it back. It is perhaps only a couple decades old. Such is the fleeting nature of archiving pixels. Who knows? Perhaps all the passion and deep thought that has been invested in OlyBlog will soon be blown away like dust in the wind as well. Print it all off on acid-free paper, folks.

"The Musgrave Ritual" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by David Carson (1986, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, James Hazeldine, Michael Culver, Johanna Kirby. The butler did it. This is a more macabre than usual episode, even though Holmes is on vacation! Some interesting bits of trivia here. In one scene we see Holmes enjoy a long hearty laugh. We also hear about some of his pre-Watson early cases. There is a history lesson concerning the big mistake the UK made in bringing back the monarchy with Charles II. And there are two messages in this one: First, never cross a crazy Welsh woman. Second, "The answer lies in trigonometry!" This is a mere sideshow in the body of Holmes' work. There are some beautiful outdoor shots in this episode.

Cheaper by the Dozen 22

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Party / directed by Blake Edwards (1968, VHS off-air). Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Gavin MacLeod, Steve Franken, Allen Jung. Man, this is one groovy scene. Boring, but groovy. Sellers plays a socially inept film extra from India who is accidentally invited to a posh Los Angeles party. The music is by Mancini, and Claudine Longet favors us with a song. Some hip teenagers make an entrance with a baby elephant covered in cool slogans. It is, after all, 1968. Sellers, who specialized in ethnic humor, couldn't get away with this role today. Basically this film is a series of visual jokes. Steve Franken as the drunk waiter and Allen Jung as the cook provide supporting comedy and in some cases steal the scenes from the star. This movie is an incoherent period piece with some moments of real humor between long expanses of tedium.

Over Washington: an Aerial celebration (1989, VHS off-air). Before they take us Washingtonians away to the Soylent Green Factory, we get to watch this beautiful film. It is called "going home."

Disorder in the Court / directed by Preston Black [i.e., Jack White] (1936, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Sol Horowitz (uncredited), Jenny Horowitz (uncredited), Bud Jamison (uncredited), Suzanne Kaaren (uncredited), James C. Morton (uncredited), Harry Semels (uncredited), Al Thompson (uncredited). One of the most well-known of the short films of the Three Stooges due to the fact it is in the public domain and can be cheaply reproduced-- which it has over and over again. The serious and formal courtroom is the perfect setting for the boys as they wreak havoc in big and little ways. Although Curly's taking the oath scene is not an original idea to the Stooges, they give it a special spin. The real-life parents of Moe and Curly appear as jurors and even get konked on the head with a mallet! Larry goes crazy for a precious few seconds, beating his chest like Tarzan and yelling. The actor playing the District Attorney looks just like our own Ungovernor George Turner. The violence starts right off with a good, solid eyepoke which I always enjoy. Here's the count: The ever-popular head konk 12, face slap 5, eye poke 4, hair pulled 3, and one each of knee whacked, falling backward in chair, cello bow in mouth, foot hit with mallet, head mashed in letter press, shot in butt, scalp creased by bullet, nose crunched, finger bitten by parrot, and ear pulled.

U.S. Mexican War / directed by Ginny Martin (1998, VHS off-air). Bruce DuBose (narrator), voices by Ed Begley Jr., Ricardo Montalban, Barry Corbin, Shelley Duvall, Frederic Forrest, Dwight Yoakam. A documentary showing the step-by-step methods in which the United States invaded and swiped a huge chunk of North America from Mexico (1846-1848), thereby making itself a transcontinental power. Although Martin's method of presenting the narrative appears to be influenced by Ken Burns this work is more direct and less artistic, giving it the feel of an assignment a group of students might watch on a TV screen that has been wheeled into the classroom. Originally presented as a PBS miniseries, the video begins with social and political themes in the first half but as one would expect becomes primarily military in focus during the second part. Talking head historians from both countries give us a well balanced point of view. I particularly enjoyed John Eisenhower (American) and Luis Garfias (Mexico) revealing how personal politics among leaders impacted the outcome of battles. Martin also used re-enactments as well as actors reading from actual journals and letters from participants and observers, including the ribald recollections of American Sam Chamberlain. In a bit of irony, we see Mexico at first invited Americans to occupy Texas in the 1820s. But as the colonists increased in number at an alarming rate, Mexico attempted to close the border to no avail. Basically, Texas' initial Anglo population were mostly illegal aliens. We also see young American military figures like Robert E. Lee and U.S. Grant getting their training for the Big One. Grant, by the way, hated the Mexican War and to his dying day thought our conduct was a disgrace to us as a nation. This documentary introduced me to the Batallón de San Patricio, a group of mostly Irish Catholic American soldiers who crossed over joined the Mexicans and are still considered national heroes there today. Although Martin touches on most of the high (or should I say "low") points of the War, there were a couple details I was looking for that never surfaced. First, the colonization of the Great Salt Lake area by the Latter Day Saints began when that region was still within Mexico's boundaries. That was not an insignificant development. Second, I have always been curious if the old rumor that Mexican leader Santa Anna introduced chewing gum to American culture while on a visit to New York is really true. Anyway. There are some parallels to today that make this worth watching, e.g. President Polk's equating domestic antiwar criticism to not being patriotic.

Wonder Boys / directed by Curtis Hanson (2000, VHS). Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Frances McDormand, Robert Downey Jr., Katie Holmes, Rip Torn, Richard Thomas, Alan Tudyk. This is an Americanized version of Butley, where we see the life of an English professor fall apart within a short space of time. Bloated, drifting, and limping from a dog bite, Michael Douglas plays it subdued as he avoids his midlife awakening by getting lost in creating a second novel that will follow his smash best-seller from years before. But as he tells us in the course of typing page 2611, "And the ending kept getting further away. But the ending was there. I knew it. I could almost see it." But he doesn't work very hard in attempting to find his voice, residing instead in the complacent womb of his fame and marijuana. But life takes over. You can run, baby, but you can't hide from age. Douglas plays a straight man to a supporting cast of colorful characters. My copy, which was previously a rental-- the property of the QFC at North Bend, has a sticker that says "Comedy" on the container. OK, maybe it is a comedy. But the fact is I have to stop and think about it. I have, in my past, been an employee in the academic world. In fact, I've been a faculty member in two institutions of higher learning and man, this film confirms why I am glad to be out of that gilded cage. Before you say I was crazy for walking away from a safe tenured job, see this movie. Great supporting cast and another entry in the "Frances-McDormand-is-pregnant" subgenre. Although this work was panned when it was first released, I liked it very much. I have a co-worker who has sort of a "thing" about Michael Douglas, and not in a "good" way. She also has a "thing" about misplaced and "abused" quotation marks. At any rate, on her "filing" cabinet is a Michael Douglas "portrait" complete with "googly eyes" stuck on the image. And here's the "kicker," the eyes are "different" sizes. This "gives" the "whole" "thing" an "insane" "quality." Uh-oh, I just ran out of quotation marks. Need to run to the store and buy some more.

Secret Agent / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1936, DVD). John Gielgud, Peter Lorre, Madeleine Carroll, Robert Young, Percy Marmont, Sebastian Cabot (uncredited), Michael Redgrave (uncredited), Michael Rennie (uncredited). Another Hitchcock spy movie involving a train, but this time the enemy nation has a name-- Germany. None of the major characters are very likable, so when Gielgud and Carroll wrestle with ethical problems concerning murdering enemy agents we can't really care enough to feel empathy. However, I'm sure British audiences in 1936 were starting to ask themselves if it came to it, could they respond to Hitler without turning into the same sort of monsters the Nazis had become. Gielgud was awful, wispy, and snippy. Peter Lorre, a supporting actor, takes over every scene he is in, and when he is not on camera you wish he'd hurry back. A difficult story to follow for a variety of reasons. The suspense factor is not as taut as in other Hitch films of that era. Also, and this could be the fault of my copy, the lighting is so dark and murky and the sound is so muddy it is hard to decipher the action. The soundtrack is sometimes inappropriately cheerful in a way that wasn't meant to be ironic. It was just ill-chosen. There are a few scenes that are very effective. The howling dog. The chocolate factory chase. A story device is used frequently where the sound is drowned out by machines or giant bells and Hitchcock employs his tricks from the silent film era. The characters can hear each other, but we are left to wonder. Early uncredited appearances by Sebastian Cabot and Michael Rennie. Here's a bit of Evergroove trivia: In the 1970s there was a rumor on campus that Sebastian Cabot had a brother who was a faculty member at TESC. Cabot died in British Columbia in 1977.

Carnival of Souls / directed by Herk Harvey (1962, DVD). Candace Hilligoss, Art Ellison, Herk Harvey (uncredited). I first became aware of this incredibly odd low-budget film from a woman who had previously had the honor of being someone who had sat on a couch in the living room of Trent Harris (director of Rubin and Ed, and, Plan 10 from Outer Space). Hey, that's good enough for me. Filmed in Kansas and Utah with an all-organ soundtrack, this black and white movie increases in bizarrity with each scene, building a foundation of twisted assumptions that hooks us and makes the viewer become a believer. There are some several truly inspired shots in here: the dress shop scene, the part with the possessed organ music, the climatic "Carnival of Souls" that comes right out of German Expressionism, and many others. Hilligoss' overacting works for what this is. The supporting players are all super-strange characters: the landlady (Take all the baths you want), the Gene Amondson lookalike minister, the sleazy neighbor, the psychiatrist-- all pillars of reality that fail in the end. I love the frames of the minister and the psychiatrist together toward the conclusion. This film includes a scene that is one of my all-time favorites in any motion picture. Hilligoss is playing the church organ, and the minister remarks to a cleaning lady, "We have an organist capable of stirring the soul." This little slice could be on a filmloop for an hour and I'd laugh until my buttocks fell off. Unfortunately, as this movie fell into the public domain, it was distributed by various companies with different chunks missing, and many of these versions are missing this crucial scene. My copy, thanks to someone who cared and doggedly hunted it down, is the best on the market I've seen so far, MM Image Entertainment.

Copacabana / directed by Alfred E. Green (1947, VHS). Groucho Marx, Carmen Miranda. Poor Groucho. Poor Carmen. This is a fun period piece for the first quarter or so, but it gets old real fast. It is pretty obvious neither one of the stars are really into this-- victims of their own typecasting. Too many musical numbers and not enough of the unleashed Groucho. Miranda's main act with the cranial fruit, when one views it over half a century later, is really incredibly bizarre. I will say this is a rare example where colorization probably enhances the motion picture.

Fargo / directed by Joel Coen (1996, VHS). Frances McDormand, William H. Macy, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare, Harve Presnell, Kristin Rudrüd, John Carroll Lynch, José Feliciano. Brutal, bleak, and beautiful. Another Pregnant McDorman Film, but in this instance they gave her a well-deserved Oscar. About the same time I first saw this amazing movie I was also reading Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, by Dr. Robert D. Hare. The Coen brothers really had the psychopath team down pat, with one of them the talky Buscemi ("The little guy, he was kinda funny lookin'") and the other being the quiet man of action. Also, as Hare points out, psychopaths can be respected members of the community as well, such as Oldsmobile dealers. Set in a blank slate Minnesota winter, the characters spend more time communing with television than they do with each other. Aside from business/customer service/sales talk or police interviews, there is little real human communication taking place-- and what little there of that is inept and clumsy. Except in the very final scene. The Coen hallmark of using regional peculiarities as in the "Minnesota nice" dialect sort of upset a number of transplanted Minnesotans I know out here, but as an outsider I thought it really enhanced the narrative. The climatic capturing-the-bad-guy scene won't make you feel chipper (nyuk, nyuk). Terrific soundtrack that brought to mind a Ken Burns documentary. I did have one major disappointment. All these years, since the film was made in 1996, I thought the Olds Ciera in the story was the just the same as my beloved '96. But, as I was re-educated at the story's introduction the fictional "true" events took place in 1987. Olds just didn't change the Ciera design very much for over a decade. Sorry, didn't mean to go off-course like that. One of the better, if not the best, efforts by the Coen brothers and a must-see cultural landmark.

Groundhog Day / directed by Harold Ramis (1993, VHS). Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, Robin Duke, Harold Ramis, David Pasquesi, Scooter the Groundhog. "What if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today." This story of a man condemned to relive the same day over and over is really a wonderful case study of Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus. A totally self-absorbed jerk basically has to repeat a period of time until he becomes a real person-- and that change can only come from within. One of the horrible punishments he receives is hearing Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe" on the radio alarm every. single. morning. Like the title character in the movie Charly, we see Bill Murray evolve through the various stages and passages of life, from rebellious teenager, to angst-ridden suicidal 20-something, to the existential depression of middle age, to accepting responsibility for his actions, etc. etc. Murray has a lot in common here with the role he played in Scrooged. This is an entertaining romantic comedy fantasy but I'd like to see this remade as a serious drama. Don't get me wrong, this is a great film as it is. But given the intrinsic story possibilities of all the alternate realities Murray could dive into, and some of the meaty topics of fate, death, and love that were touched upon, the multi-sequel potential could even spark an entire television series. And I want the creative consulting fee when one of you readers steal this idea.

Paris brûle-t-il? = Is Paris Burning? / directed by René Clément (1966, VHS). Jean-Paul Belmondo, Charles Boyer, Leslie Caron, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Alain Delon, Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, Gert Fröbe, Yves Montand, Anthony Perkins, Claude Rich, Simone Signoret, Robert Stack, Orson Welles, Billy Frick, E.G. Marshall (uncredited). A sprawling film based on the book by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre and doctored for film by none other than Gore Vidal and Francis Ford Coppola. The setting is the 1944 liberation of Paris. An international effort, this story really has no central character, except for maybe the City of Paris itself. Will it survive the War, or, as Hitler would have it, be entirely destroyed before falling into the hands of the Allied liberators? This almost 3-hour epic was presented in black and white, and is interwoven with actual footage from WWII, giving the whole thing a semi-documentary feel. Why feature films in the 1960s felt it was necessary to give us an "overture" I'll never know. The dubbing is weird all the way around, made stranger by the fact that Hitler (played by Billy Frick, who apparently made a career out of playing Old "Stinky McFartomatic" Adolf) is the only person in the story to speak in his native language and have subtitles. The narrative is given in three threads: First, we have the German occupiers. General Dietrich von Choltitz, portrayed by Gert Fröbe, is the closest the film has to a key character. In the German split between the regular army and the SS, Choltitz falls into the camp of the former. A good soldier all of his life, the General finally comes to terms with the fact his Fuhrer is out of his tiny little mind. Swedish consul Nordling (Welles), who helped talk the general out of destroying Paris, asks, "Why has Hitler ordered the destruction of Paris?" "Because," the General replies, "He is insane. I know it." Ya think? As Napoleon said of Andorra, "It is too amazing to invade. Let it stand as a museum piece," so Choltitz came to realize Paris belonged to the world. An amazing realization for a Hitler minion. Fröbe played it well. The real life Choltitz died the year this was filmed. The second thread is the most complicated, following all the factions within the French Resistance. Like all other progressive movements in history fighting the dull and brute force of regressivism, there is always disagreement about which direction to head. OlyBloggers know all about this. I'll grant you WWII was still pretty fresh in the minds of many viewers in 1966, but today I found this part of the story hard to follow. The writers assume I know more about this slice of history than I do. I had to go back and read about what I had just seen to understand it all. The third thread concerns the Allied military forces, basically the Americans and the Free French. There are several American star walk-ons here, with no effort to make the stars look like the historical figures they are supposed to portray. It was fun to watch Tony Perkins as the green private, though. Claude Rich as Général Leclerc really dominates the show here. The scenes of liberation as the Parisians realize the Allies have arrived are among the most moving moments I've seen in any war picture. An odd movie filled with flaws, but well worth watching.

Ruthless People / directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker (1986, DVD). Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater, Bill Pullman, Anita Morris. An over-the-top comedy where nice people in the age of "Greed is Good" find themselves resorting to desperate measures, such as kidnapping. Sort of like Fargo-- in reverse. How nice are the heroes? As Judge Reinhold says, "I'm no criminal. I can't even sell retail. And that's legal!" DeVito's comic ruthlessness is very fun and Pullman (in his movie debut) is wonderfully stupid. The credits, with music by the Rolling Stones just for the film, are presented in the animated tradition of Blake Edwards/Pink Panther. This movie has three directors. That's how many it took to handle all the big 80's hair in this one. The police chase scene in Los Angeles anticipated O.J.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 23

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Zardoz / directed by John Boorman (1974, DVD). Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Sara Kestelman, John Alderton, Niall Buggy. "The gun is good. The penis is evil. The penis shoots seeds, and makes new life, and poisons the earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the gun shoots death, and purifies the earth of the filth of brutals. Go forth and kill!" Any piece of dialogue mentioning the gun and the penis so close together can only mean one of two things: 1. The NRA is finally coming to terms with itself. 2. Zardoz. This film is a case study where the elite (in year 2293) actually encourage lavish gun use as a method of population control and keeping the undesirable classes in a state of paranoia, fear, and chaos. They deliver firearms via a giant floating head known as "Zardoz" that makes Godly pronouncements and pukes out ammo through its mouth. Where do I start with the worst film I have reviewed for this column thus far? OK. I'll begin with the positive. Boorman, the director who had previously given us the very excellent Deliverance and Hell in the Pacific, used his cinematic tricks to provide the audience with great landscape visuals. The soundtrack, which is mostly drek, does include Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A, op. 92, 2nd movement at appropriate moments. The library is seen as something good here, a key to the truth. The colors are nice. Wait. I'm thinking. I know there are other good things I could say. Hmm. I guess they flew out of my brain. I first saw this film in a theater in Seattle in 1977 and came out wondering what the heck I had just subjected myself to, and over three decades later I still wonder. It gets worse with each viewing. This movie is weird with a beard, man. Wait, not a beard. A goatee applied with a felt tip marker. I'm not kidding. Right from get-go. Hamminess abounds from the very first nanosecond. Too horrifying to elaborate in detail. The horror! The horror! This is a simple moralistic allegory involving education/economic class, treatment of elderly, Third World labor, violence in society, romance killed by industry, democracy, sexuality, eternal life, fabulous interior decorating, conformity, apathy, etc., etc. You know, the usual stuff. Boorman really tried to cram a lot of Big Issues in here. He did manage to unintentionally capture the feeling that 1974 was the nadir of American post-WWII culture up to that time. Sean Connery runs around in a bandito moustache, big red diaper, and ponytail. If he wanted to get away from being Bond, James Bond, he got his wish. John Alderton "Friend" does his best Paul McCartney imitation. The beautiful Charlotte Rampling seems out of place. There are obligatory psychedelic montages (bad) and "hall of mirrors" shots (very bad). So, you might ask, wasn't Ed Wood supposed to be the worst filmmaker in this era? It is true that in 1974 Wood wrote and acted in a film called Five Loose Women. But Ed had an excuse. He had no budget. He was an active alcoholic. His unique brand of filmmaking was unrecognized in 1974. Meanwhile, Boorman was flush with success. Plan 9 From Outer Space actor Gregory Walcott was quoted in the book Nightmare of Ecstasy, "Ed's films are in another category. Three rungs below B movies-- dingy, third-rate fringe type films. Ed had poor taste and was undisciplined. He had no taste. If he had 10 million dollars it [Plan 9] would have been a piece of tasteless shit." Well, all I can say is Zardoz makes Wood look like Orson Welles. Wood, at least, was giving his films everything he had. Boorman was squandering his genius here. He had no excuse. So what is worse than watching this sluggish chunk of junk? Watching this sluggish chunk of junk with John Boorman's comments on the DVD version, that's what! No apologetics or rationalizations are going to save this one.

Lonesome Dove / directed by Simon Wincer (1989, VHS). Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones, Danny Glover, Diane Lane, Robert Urich, Frederic Forrest, D.B. Sweeney, Rick Schroder, Anjelica Huston, Chris Cooper, Timothy Scott, Glenne Headly, Barry Corbin, William Sanderson, Barry Tubb, Steve Buscemi, Frederick Coffin. The epic primetime broadcast television (CBS) miniseries that changed the way Americans viewed Westerns and opened the genre to a whole new audience. Set in the first cattle drive from Texas to Montana ca. 1877, this six-hour cowboy soap opera is as expansive as the land they cover. Life is dirty, dusty, and death can come easy. The attention to historical detail is impressive. Seeing the beat up Alamo as incidental background and the ruins of Adobe Walls were nice touches. In the long parade of little human dramas presented here, the main stem of the story centers on two aging former Texas Rangers who have fond memories of "the sunny slopes of long ago." One of them (Duvall) is romantic, sentimental, playful, a philosopher, a ladies' man, "It ain't dyin' I'm talkin' about. It's livin'!" The other (Jones) is restless, practical, direct, uncomfortable around women, and "not much of a mentioner." But it isn't exactly a Buddy Film. There is enough traditional Western iconography here to satisfy fans of the genre, but the story presents the characters as human beings instead of stereotypes. Basically faithful to Larry McMurtry's novel, the teleplay made some good choices in deleting a few scenes from the book that didn't work anyway. Great casting and superb performances. Next to Tender Mercies, this is Duvall at his best. Cooper and Buscemi in supporting roles demonstrate why both later became well-known actors. The soundtrack is near perfect, and brings to mind the same sort of music from The Magnificent Seven. What makes this quality production so amazing is that it was made for television. And broadcast TV at that, not cable. With the exception of Urich (who played his part well) all of the main actors were movie stars, not TV people. Director Wincer also likes using expensive crane shots. At the time the Western was a fading genre, but this miniseries helped revive it with a new spin and paved the way for later non-traditional interpretations.

"Face the Press" (a.k.a, "Dinsdale!") (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 7, episode 14) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Face the Press (Chapman: "I'd like to answer this question in two ways. Firstly, in my normal voice, and then in a kind of silly high-pitched whine"), New Cooker Sketch, Small White Pussy Cat For Sale, Ministry of Silly Walks, Ethel the Frog, Piranha Brothers, Harry "Snapper" Organs. More drag humor than usual in this one. In the start of their second season the Silly Walks skit appeared and has remained one of the most well known Python segments ever. When John Cleese dies (which I hope won't be for a long while) his obituary will list the Silly Walk as one of his major contributions to Western Civilization. Ironic how a comedian who is so gifted in wordplay is remembered for physical comedy. Apparently Cleese himself is not fond of being asked to replay this role. A few years later in "The Germans" episode of Fawlty Towers, Cleese imitates Hitler and announces, "I'll do the funny walk" and does a modified goosestep. The audience exploded into the loudest applause of that entire series. Another strong portion of this Python show is the mockumentary on the Piranha Brothers, two criminals who we never meet but are profiled by others.

The November Conspiracy / directed by Conrad Janis (1994, VHS). Paige Turco, Dirk Benedict, George Segal, Elliott Gould, Conrad Janis, Bo Hopkins, Lois Nettleton, Maria Grimm, Jeffrey Lyons. Apparently originally released under the title The Feminine Touch, this political conspiracy thriller with Turco as the heroine seems almost like a television pilot for the Lifetime Network. The murky hard-to-follow plot involves a presidential candidate and his running mate, apparently Democrats, and one big clue to who the Bad Guy is should be that he has a photo of LBJ on display in his study. How bad is the plot? I could leave the room for several minutes if I wanted to deflate helium from the floating porcupine in the garage, return, and not miss anything important. It has a very made-for-TV feel to it, including the small budget which is unfortunate seeing that having a presidential candidate as a main character, especially in crowd scenes, requires big production values. Lots of dead bodies, lots of slow motion violence, sometimes repeated in case we didn't get enough the first round. Conrad Janis needs to cut off that ponytail for his role. It didn't work. Segal sleepwalks through this. At one point he delivers the lines, "This is a dangerous game you're playing, Jenny. A deadly game" with the same amount of passion and intensity as if he just said, "I think it's time to get a haircut." But there was one part of this film that really made me sit and take notice: the required exciting car chase scene included an Oldsmobile Ciera! Yes! Looked like a 1992-1993 model. Can you believe it? That was my favorite moment of this motion picture.

Una Pura Formalità = A Pure Formality / directed by Giuseppe Tornatore (1994, VHS). Gérard Depardieu, Roman Polanski. One of those undiscovered little gems where the truth shall set you free. Depardieu is a famous reclusive author, finding himself in an odd police station after wandering through a stormy night in a state of blackout. Polanski is the chief inspector. The former is a bloated hulk, confused, feeling vaguely guilty about a murder that has yet to be clarified. The latter comes across as a cranky little pixie, trying to get to the heart of the mystery. Though obviously a low budget production, it has a higher quality feel to it. Like Bubba Ho-tep, it is all accomplished with fine acting and artistic lighting. There is little action in here, but the tight dialogue (via excellent subtitles) will keep you riveted. The police interview is part interrogation, part therapy. The soundtrack is noninvasive, most of it consisting of the sound of rain and the drips through the ceiling-- Western Washingtonians should feel right at home. Rainfall and lightning are also part of the commentary throughout the story. Worth repeated viewings.

Ruby Ridge: An American Tragedy. Pt. 2 / directed by Roger Young (1996, VHS off-air). Laura Dern, Randy Quaid, Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce, Joe Don Baker, Bob Gunton, Robert Harper, Dianne Ladd. The Weavers made some bad choices, but the Feds made even worse ones in this TV docudrama miniseries covering the Ruby Ridge Siege of 1992. Based on Jess Walter's book, Every Knee Shall Bow, the program appears to be making an attempt to be unbiased. I only have Part 2, and it has a very hard and brutal start-- it begins with the death of young Samuel Weaver, shot in the back by the Feds. And the situation gets worse from there. Although I instantly felt sympathy for the Weavers in this film at the start of Part 2, it kept ebbing away every time they opened their mouths. Also when the camera would pan across the crowd of their swastika-bearing supporters at the gate I found my own boundaries of free speech being tested. But, as fanatic as the Weavers were, they did not deserve the treatment they received from the Police State. All the Feds really accomplished was to help create martyrs for the white supremacy movement. Randy Quaid is a great actor, but I'm not sure he was the right choice for Weaver. Quaid has a kind and soft face. The real Weaver has always struck me as a modern day version of John Brown in his portraits at least, with that sort of hungry fanatic sharpness in the facial features. Both of them even grew beards later in life. Ironic, eh? Lots of screaming, crying, shooting, shouting in this one, as you would expect. And overacting. But there's overacting, and then there's courtroom overacting. Joe Don Baker portrays celebrity attorney Gerry Spence, who consults with Weaver, "I want to make one thing clear right off, Randy. I don't hold with any of your beliefs, I don't agree with any of them. But this is not going to be a trial about your beliefs. Not if I can help it. This is about whether a citizen is protected by the Constitution of this land. About whether he's entitled to believe what he wants without worrying about some fat bureaucrat in Washington stepping in and killing him for it." Taped off of TV, the ads were included and by coincidence promoted upcoming news coverage of the Montana Freeman standoff (it was 1996). This miniseries was later released on VHS under the title: The Siege at Ruby Ridge.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Martin Short, Carol Burnett, Dave Edmunds. Catcher in the Rye Rye, Brock Linahan interviews Steve Roman, Days of the Week (Carol Burnett cameo), Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein, Dutch of Duke St., Benny Hill Dutch, Brock Linahan goes home, Words to live by with Mr. Mambo, Kottler and Meltzler, Monster Chiller Horror Theatre presents Tip O'Neill's 3-D House of Representatives, The Snake Channel, Starting Out with Bill Needle, SCTV News with guest Walter Cronkite, Great White North-- Why are parking lots so small at donut places?, Mating Game, "Annie" with the original cast 15 years later, Great White North-- Canadian geography, Johnny LaRue's Discount Deprive-O-Rama, Tex and Edna Boil, Maudlin's Eleven, Wall St. Journal, Sea Talk, Adventures of Shake 'n' Bake, Henry Moore for American Express, Midnight Cowboy remake, Norman Gorman performs Hamlet, Cheryl Kinsey sexologist, Merv Griffin Show, Guy Cabellero on the third season, ParticipAction, Flashing eyes, Mel's Rockpile, Krishna sings Manilow, Give 'em Hell Larry, Vic Arpeggio, Convert-a-toup, Turk Gruman police dispatcher, I was a teenage Communist (with Dave Edmunds), Elementary drawing with Salvidore Dalí, Lawn ornament daze-- Tex offs himself, Edna Boil and Edith Prickley, Drinking and smoking on TV, Concerned advertisers, Western Redundancy Playhouse Theatre, Edna Boil's auditions, Quincy-- cartoon coroner. These are very silly people. If you are not a Baby Boomer some of the humor might be elusive but SCTV is well worth the time just for the characterizations and oddball writing. John Candy, we miss you.

Shane / directed by George Stevens (1953, VHS). Alan Ladd, Jean Arthur, Van Heflin, Brandon De Wilde, Jack Palance, Ben Johnson, Edgar Buchanan, Emile Meyer, Elisha Cook Jr., Nancy Kulp, Clayton Moore (uncredited). A beautiful Western populated by pure stereotypes. And it is this purity that makes it so beautiful. A gunslinger tries to run from his past, embracing the domesticity of the sodbusters vs. the twilight time of the cattle drivers. But Alan Ladd as the outdated gunfighter is never going to fit in with families and churchgoing types. He knows it, we know it, everyone knows it. Even his horse knows it. There's the dramatic tension. We basically spend the whole film waiting for him to once again don his shootout duds, be who he is supposed to be, and go finally kick some serious ass-- just like we did later with Eastwood in his classic Unforgiven. A lot of beloved Western conventions here: Stranger in town, Barfight, Man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, Touching funeral scene, Thug has a change of heart and turns informer, Spiffy gun twirling, Spurs jingling, A country dance. Great casting. Jack Palance, in one of his early movie roles, is effectively snakey as the mercenary killer. I always like Alan Ladd as the hero. He gives the rest of us sawed-off blonde guys some hope. Also, Ladd carried a sadness around with him in real life that was brought into his rendition of Shane and it made the character real. The one exception to the great casting would be Brandon De Wilde as the Shane-worshipping kid. He is quite possibly in the top ten list for Most Annoying Child Ever Onscreen. I've seen the most angelic person I know make wisecracks involving homicide when this child shows up in the story. Stevens' direction is very workmanlike, although he did allow a modern white truck to be filmed as it is booking along the horizon in the background when we first see Shane riding into view. The Rockies and big sky loom over the tiny dwellings of the town as Stevens shows us just how isolated the early pioneers were. This is meant to be viewed on a big screen.

"The Awakening" (Doctor Who) / directed by Michael Owen Morris (1984, VHS off-air). Peter Davison, Denis Lill. About the last ten or fifteen minutes of this story was all that remained after it was taped over in favor of something good. From what I can glean, I didn't miss much. Usual cheap effects, hammy acting, cheesey electronic keyboard soundtrack. Granted, Davison had a tough act to follow with Tom Baker, but I never thought he really belonged in the part. His face didn't have the stamp of experience on it like the previous Docs. Although in the Age of Yuppies, he might've been the perfect mirror for the audience. So what do I know?

Busy Buddies / directed by Del Lord (1944, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent, Fred Kelsey, Eddie Laughton (uncredited), John Tyrrell (uncredited). In this eyepokeless episode the Stooges make Dada-type plot shifts from working in a restaurant, to hanging posters, to taking part in a cow milking contest. I always love it when a dummy is obviously used a stand-in when someone is supposed to be thrown several yards in the air. Some Stooge historians have observed that Curly is already showing signs of his impending stroke in this one, but I don't see it. It is true all three of them appear tired. Apparently they were on a grueling entertain-the-troops schedule at the time. The Primal Violence Roster: The always top-of-the-list head konk 15, Flung at great distance 6, Milk squirted in face 2, Kicked in butt 2, and one each of stomach hit, hot soup on butt, nose pulled with tongs, fried eggs on face, tongue hit with paintbrush, pie in face, ear pulled, hand crushed, water squirted on face, shin kicked.

Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb / directed by Del Lord (1938, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, (following are uncredited): Bobby Burns, Bud Jamison, James C. Morton, Jean Carmen. Curly wins a radio contest sponsored by the Coffin Nail Cigarette Company. In anticipation of getting their major chunk of change, the Stooges rent expensive rooms in the Hotel Costa Plente. But soon they fall victim to three gold diggers and their pet monkey. For the Stooges, this is a tight script. Still playing the class warfare card, they gave the rest of us a chance to laugh at the rich. We also get to see Larry's special technique at cheating in card playing. The violence factor is pretty low compared to later years in terms of quantity, but the sort of abuse they dish out here still appeals to the primal laughing nerve: Head konk 16, face slap 4, glue in mouth 2, splashed with buckets of water 2, one each of hair pulled, hot water on butt, kick in behind, eye poked, ink sprayed on face.

"Warriors of the Amazon" (Nova) / directed by Andy Jillings (1996, VHS off-air). Joe Morton (narrator). An anthropological documentary on the nearly extinct Yanomami people of Venezuela and Brazil. It looks really good, but about five minutes into this, the tape ended. Obviously someone just recorded it by accident to fill out the remainder of something else. Oh well. SPSCC has a copy, but I think you have to watch it on site. Timberland has a copy too.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 24

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Murder / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1930, DVD). Herbert Marshall, Norah Baring, Esme Percy, Phyllis Konstam, Edward Chapman. A "highbrow shocker" play within a play within a play. The principal characters in this "wrong person convicted of murder" story are all actors playing actors. In order to trap the suspected real killer, the "play scene" from Hamlet acts as the inspiration. And there are audiences everywhere-- a Hitchcock hallmark holding up a mirror to you and me. The crowd that gathers around the murder scene. The crowd that attends the trial. The crowd at the circus that witnesses a horrible death. Hitchcock also offers up more cynical little observations on human nature, from petty bribery by the hero to peer pressure in the jury room when a life is at stake. The leading man, an actor, states, "We use art to criticize life." The choreography in this film is comic, in contrast to the plot and dialogue, which created a tension that kept my interest. Apparently the script was not entirely finished at the time of filming (this was only Hitchcock's third time filming a talkie, and I guess he hadn't developed a production pattern yet) so the cast had to improvise in many places, which gives the tale a lurching effect. As usual, this director liked to innovate. Murder is supposedly the first motion picture to use the technique of a voiceover to reveal the thoughts of a character. The tragic character who is "half-caste" is sort of mysterious. Does this status have a racial meaning, or does it have something to do with his transvestite life (a rather daring subject for 1930, I suppose)? Except for the bowtie, Herbert Marshall does an elegant job of playing the hero. Baby boomers will remember Marshall in the role of Inspector Charas in The Fly (1958), as he and Vincent Price observe a fly in spider web with a human head pleading "He-e-e-elp me-e-e-e-e-e!!!" Legend has it these two great actors required multiple takes for that scene and they finally had to not look at each each in order to complete it as they would just break out in uncontrollable laughter otherwise.

The Best of Ernie Kovacs. Vol. 2 (1952-1956, VHS). Ernie Kovacs, Edie Adams, Jack Lemmon (narrator). The wild and live pioneer days of 1950s television, in contrast to the social reputation of that decade, was a time when many gifted creators were "trying it on." This was the right time and place for a poetic comedian named Ernie Kovacs who immediately realized the full potential of the medium. How far ahead of his time was he? Here's what I remember: My parents were big fans, and I can dimly recall how shocked they were at Kovacs' death as a result of a car accident at age 42 in 1962. Then he sort of faded away in social conversation until the 1968 appearance of Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. The newer show had built their format around the Kovacs formula of fast-paced, quick gags, many of them strictly visual. And Kovacs was correctly rediscovered by the public as the "owner" of this concept. So he was about a dozen years ahead of his time since his main show ran in the mid-1950s. This particular "Best of" volume is chiefly comprised of his musical humor pieces with very little dialogue. It is sort of like Fantasia, only live, and in black and white, and a lot funnier. As it is always with experiments, some of his jokes work, others don't. The Swan Lake ballet seriously performed by dancers in gorilla suits is one that works. The Nairobi Trio, used several times throughout his show, is a quintessential Kovacs mixing of musical and visual humor. In this volume they perform the "building blocks" number. We also get to meet Kovacs regular character Percy Dovetonsils reading a couple odes. Although he was known for his rapid fire speed, what was fast in the 1950s can seem slow today. Ernie would be 89 years old if he was still with us, but given the enormous influence he had on television comedy, I guess he still is.

Coffee and Cigarettes / directed by Jim Jarmusch (2003, VHS). Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinqué Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joseph Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr., Renee French, E.J. Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach De Bankolé, Cate Blanchett, Michael Hogan, Jack White, Meg White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Katy Hansz, The GZA, RZA, Bill Murray, William Rice, Taylor Mead. Like coffee, this film must be an acquired taste. I gave up on the first try, put it away for awhile, came back, and finished the voyage (in 3 or 4 sittings) on the second attempt. In a bit of foreshadowing, I knew I might be in trouble after I popped the VHS into the machine and was treated to a preview of The Saddest Music in the World. But as it turns out, Jarmusch had a good idea here. Eleven brief encounters are presented like a book of short stories. Filmed in black and white, it has the feel of an edgy college project-- but I like that. All the meetings somehow involve cigarettes, along with coffee (or tea in some cases). A checker visual is always present, usually in the tablecloth but also on cups, napkins, light fixtures. The dialogue is such that the graphics make me think of the game of checkers, as if the characters are in some sort of social gamesmanship-- which indeed all of them are. But as Steve Coogan says here, "Comedy's such a difficult thing." And there are a few flaws that almost kill this film. First, Jarmusch has all the actors playing themselves. And you know, they are not as interesting as they think we think they are. Apparently, much of the dialogue is improvised-- and it drags. He also filmed this over a very long period of time, over a decade, and there is not much momentum. It lags and jerks in fits and starts. The final story does incorporate lines from some the previous entries, and it seems to me with a little more planning, the 11 scenes could've had more small connections like this providing the audience with more hooks. The best of the lot here was "Cousins?" with Molina and Coogan. If you really want to see a great film by Jarmusch, I suggest Broken Flowers. But not this one.

The Falcon and the Snowman / directed by John Schlesinger (1985, VHS). Timothy Hutton, Sean Penn, Pat Hingle, Joyce Van Patten, David Suchet. In the Summer of 1974 I was staying in Santa Barbara, California. Here's the kind of a geek I was in those days: I am in beautiful, sunny Southern Cal. with all sorts of diversions around me, both healthy and not, and I'm a young man. And what am I doing? I'm glued to a television in a small apartment watching the House impeachment hearings concerning the case of Richard M. Nixon. And I'm cheering. America works! But not too far away there was another young fellow about my age who was the son of an agent of the F.B. of I. According to this movie he watched the same live impeachment coverage and declared, "I don't care what these people say, this man is innocent!" as the House voted to throw the bum out. His name was Christopher Boyce. It was in this year, 1974, Boyce got a paper-pushing job in national security and as he encountered "Standard Program of Denial Recommended" papers from his superiors, he began to realize just how unAmerican our sanctioned spooks really were. He had a front row seat to the mischief the CIA was causing in all sorts of foreign governments, including our allies like Australia. Rather than becoming radicalized, he became disillusioned-- and greedy. So in 1974-1975, while I'm attending Evergroove and getting sneered at by my fellow locals as I'm doing dangerous things like writing papers about the meaning of Andy Warhol, good Republican boy Boyce is photocopying state secrets for the Reds. His childhood pal and former fellow altar boy, who also happened to be a drug dealer, enabled him to sell classified information to the Soviets in Mexico. Boyce (Hutton) earned the name "Falcon" from his hobby of falconry, and his pal Daulton Lee (Penn) the "Snowman" from his use of cocaine. Hutton and Penn's chemistry make this a movie worth watching. Although Boyce (Hutton) is the character going through the inner ethical struggle, I somehow found myself drawn more into the drama of Lee (Penn) and his world of lies built on fabrications built on a drug haze. Penn is really superb here. Their whole spygame collapsed not due to diligence of the Feds. Lee's arrest was just a fluke of mistaken identity-- by Mexican law enforcement. Real life always trumps fiction. David Suchet as a member of the Soviet group is a strong supporting actor and deserved a more prominent place in the credits. I strongly suspect Pat Hingle is merely Lyle Talbot somehow reconstructed and given a new lease on existence for another half century or so. I was disappointed to see the film ended with the duo's arrest and imprisonment in 1977. Boyce's subsequent 1980 escape from the prison at Lompoc (ironically, home to a few Watergate figures), his career as a bank robber in Idaho and Washington, and 1981 capture in Port Angeles cheats us out of a cinematic footnote I was hoping to enjoy-- if for no other reason than to see the Evergreen State as part of a Big Story. As I recall the burger joint where Boyce was arrested started marketing "Spyburgers" to cash in on their fame.

Grave Indiscretion / directed by John-Paul Davidson (1995, VHS). Alan Bates, Sting, Theresa Russell, Lena Headey, Trudie Styler, Jim Carter, Anna Massey, John Mills. This odd movie belongs to Alan Bates. The rest of cast is good, but Bates as Sir Hugo dominates the screen in his portrait of an eccentric and morbid member of the UK upper class. He's a real prick, but an entertaining and droll one. Sting is effectively chilling as the cunning butler who slowly takes over the role of master of the house. He is inscrutable, but his evil is clearly visible under a thin veneer of formal ceremony. Very well played. Apparently set in the 1940s, the fascination with dinosaur fossils on the part of Sir Hugo serves as a springboard for themes of predatory behavior, death, and survival. Crows (the descendants of dinosaurs) serve as a chorus throughout the story, sometimes they are even present in the house during meals. The most interesting and human relationship in this tale is between Sir Hugo and a nearby pig farmer. Tantalizing clues about their close friendship and history are never fully explained, but it adds some spice. Visually rich in a dark, swirling way but wallowing in disturbing scenes (such as a big dinner where the guests unknowingly consume a missing poet, or the discovery of a dead cow in the water, or Sir Hugo gleefully feeding live maggots to a giant toad at the dinner table), this isn't exactly the feelgood movie of the year. This is not a tight film, it rambles around. The use of voiceovers didn't work, but the story's splendid finale (without dialogue) makes up for that. This movie is hard to track down. It was originally released under the title The Grotesque, and later in the United States as Gentlemen Don't Eat Poets (I like that one). Grave Indiscretion is the U.S. VHS title. This has never, as far as I can determine, been produced on DVD for an American market.

Indictment: The McMartin Trial / directed by Mick Jackson (1995, VHS). James Woods, Mercedes Ruehl, Lolita Davidovich, Sada Thompson, Henry Thomas, Shirley Knight, James Cromwell. This was originally released as an HBO docudrama covering the seven year-16 million dollar case of the McMartin family, accused of running a child care center where bizarre ritualistic sex abuse was supposedly taking place. It resulted in no convictions. Solidly on the side of the McMartins, the story is told through the eyes of their defense attorney, Danny Davis. Portrayed as an opportunist, his aggressive cynicism eventually responds to a higher calling as he watches a modern day Salem Witch Trial unfold, "This case is a nightmare. They've got the train on the tracks, it's rolling and winning them votes and sound bites but no one's willing to put on the brakes!" The case itself takes a backseat to the public hysteria, while the media feeds the flames. This is really more a story about the legal system and news coverage than it is about child abuse. But it is a very uncomfortable film to watch on any level. I found myself wondering how the child actors in this thing fared later in life, since it seemed many of them had some fairly traumatic lines to deliver. The casting for this was 100% spot on. James Woods as Davis and Mercedes Ruehl as the prosecuting attorney were well matched and equally nasty. Henry Thomas and Shirley Knight, as two members of the McMartin family, were outstanding. Frankly, I don't remember this case in real life. I think it was just buried in the whole Satanist/Geraldo wave of nonsense that was being dangled in front of our faces by the media back then.

"The Copper Beeches" (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Paul Annett (1985, DVD). Jeremy Brett, David Burke, Joss Ackland, Natasha Richardson. The story opens with Holmes and Watson having a little spat over the creative enhancements the latter employs in the course of providing written accounts of the Great Detective's exploits for all the world to read. But the real source of the tiff becomes apparent when Holmes admits he's bored. "The days of the great cases," he proclaims with that special Brett melodrama, "are past." But then a client with a very strange problem arrives. As far as mysteries go, most of the viewers will have figured out the solution long before the credits roll. But there are some weird characters and situations here that make this episode fun to watch. A slightly seedy country manor with the master of the house possessed by a creepy kind of cheer. Surly servants, one of them usually drunk. A killer dog roaming the grounds ("Someone's loosed the dog! It's not been fed for two days!"). Spikes, bars, and locks. A sadistic and unpleasant red-headed boy. Someone locked in the tower room. The whole thing borders on Gothic. But still, an average Holmes episode. Not terrific. Not horrible. Worth an hour of time. The original story is a quick read and filled with some great quotes I wish had been worked into the televised version.

Zoku Zatoichi monogatari = The Tale of Zatoichi Continues / directed by Kazuo Mori (1962, DVD). Shintarô Katsu, Tomisaburo Wakayama. The second (and last black and white) film of the long-running Zatoichi series. Zato Ichi is a masseur who roams the countryside of Japan in the era just before the arrival of Commodore Perry. He advertises his services by blowing a high-pitched whistle. The setting is not unlike that of American Westerns, where law enforcement is a Darwinian proposition. Ichi likes to drink, he gambles, he enjoys the company of loose women. Wherever he goes he's the stranger in these here parts. Although he at first appears lazy, when thugs or samurai try to mess with him they discover he's an expert swordsman. Oh, did I mention he's also blind? Ichi has a unique style of swordfighting, presented as poetic choreography. Since he's blind and needs to frequently stop to hear his bearings, the cadence of the action is not like normal cinema fare. All the subplots share a need to settle scores with the past, and since Ichi is the Mysterious Stranger With a Past, there are a lot of scores to settle. Ichi and his brother are played by real life siblings, something I started to suspect before the movie was over. I have probably seen about half of the 26 (1962-1973, 1989) Zatoichi films, but this is the only one where I've seen him get seriously hit in swordplay. Beautifully composed visuals, cheesey soundtrack, abrupt ending. Katsu instantly engages the audience and never lets us go. I was first introduced to this great series by none other than OlyBlog's own Rick. Little did we know as I watched my first Zatoichi in his living room that I would be reviewing them in this yet-to-exist blog a few years later.

The Big Snooze / directed by Bob Clampett (1946, DVD). Mel Blanc (voice), Arthur Q. Bryan (voice). This was the swan song for Surrealist Clampett from Bugs Bunny cartoons. Starting out like a typical Elmer Fudd vs. Bugs story, it suddenly takes a jarring turn when Elmer quits the whole animation game, tearing up his "contract." Then, as Elmer takes a Big Snooze (a play on Bogart's Big Sleep), Bugs realizes he really needs Elmer. "We've been like Rabbit and Costello!" he pleads. So, with the use of "Nightmare Paint," Bugs enters Elmer's pink cloud dream, sabotages it, and presents the audience with a series of images worthy of Dali. The DVD version does not censor the scene where Bugs takes the special sleeping pills enabling him to enter Elmer's dream ("Take Deze and Doze") which has been deleted from broadcast versions.

"The Spanish Inquistion" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 7, episode 15) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Jarrow 1912, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, Zany link, Door-to-door novelty salesman, Decapitation animation, A tax on "thingie," Uncle Ted, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition 2, Comfy chair, Semaphore version of Wuthering Heights etc., Central Criminal Courts charades, Waiting for the Spanish Inquisition. In the first half the actors are all searching for lines, turning the skits back on themselves. Terry Gilliam is incredibly over the top in the role of "Cardinal Fang."

O Brother, Where Art Thou / directed by Joel Coen (2000, VHS). George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Chris Thomas King, Charles Durning, Michael Badalucco, Ray McKinnon, Daniel von Bargen, Stephen Root, Gillian Welch. "It's a fool that looks for logic in the chambers of the human heart." Another amazing Coen brothers film with a regional feel, this time in Mississippi during the Great Depression. Loosely based on Homer's Odyssey, those of you who were forced to read this in high school or college, like yours truly, will enjoy finding all the allusions. And there are many that have been covered ad nauseam in other reviews. Also references to The Wizard of Oz as well as other Coen titles. But there is another cultural reference, perhaps unintended, that a very observant co-worker of mine pointed out: The Three Stooges. The three convicts do have a similar dynamic. To underscore this point, there is a scene where the trio are in a movie house and I do believe the film on the screen features Ted Healy (1896-1937), the actor who gave the Stooges their cinematic start. Wonderful characters portrayed by wonderful actors. I'm aware some TV watchers who followed Clooney in his series, whatever it was, were not pleased with the choice to cast him in the lead role. This film was my first exposure to his acting and I thought he was great as the "know-it-all who can't keep his trap shut." He could easily be one of my relatives on my paternal grandfather's side of the family: a vain ladies' man, a verbose storyteller, a nonbeliever living in the Bible Belt, a con artist who isn't as bright as he pretends to be. I even had an uncle who escaped a chain gang! The white-robed Hardshell Baptists who meet at the river would be my paternal grandmother's family. My great-grandfather on that side would tell you the world was shaped like a cube because the Bible made a reference to the four corners of the Earth. Seriously. This story has an effective sepia tone, giving the beautifully composed scenes a period feel. Although the acting, plot, and visuals are all Academy Award worthy, it is really the music that is at the heart of this motion picture. It almost seems as if the plot revolves around the soundtrack more than anything else. Here's my name-dropping brush with fame: Dr. Ralph Stanley, one of the vocalists in here, was once married to my Dad's cousin. I've actually been to Ralph's house in the area of Clintwood, Virginia, the ancestral home of my surname. Great music, great movie.

The Rat Pack / directed by Rob Cohen (1998, VHS). Ray Liotta, Joe Mantegna, Don Cheadle, Angus Macfadyen, William Petersen, Zeljko Ivanek, Bobby Slayton, Dan O'Herlihy. This HBO made-for-cable-TV movie, it is safe to say, probably upset the Sinatra and Kennedy families. The title is misleading-- this isn't about the Rat Pack, it's about Sinatra and JFK and the Mob. The Rat Pack was, in my memory, a group of unfunny and maudlin Vegas entertainers who thought they were really hip, and a certain segment of people in my parent's generation bought the illusion. Most people my age (we're talking Boomer) considered them a joke. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop. The acting and direction of this film is good, my complaint here is with the script. The plot (set in 1958-1962) revolves around the assumption that Sinatra, in an effort to add Washington, D.C. as one of his power points alongside Vegas, L.A. and Chicago, uses his Mob connections to help JFK get elected. After the very questionable 1960 victory of Jack Kennedy (Illinois and Texas returns were, well, sort of "funny"-- this was one of Nixon's Six Crises), the Mafia felt betrayed when Attorney General Robert Kennedy actually tried to enforce the law. Although JFK's assassination is not covered here, the set up for certain conspiracy theories is pretty clear. RFK has not fared well in film docudramas, here and in Hoffa and George Wallace he is portrayed as a rich and spoiled Puritan. He deserves better than this. Someday, someone, somewhere, is going to make a motion picture where the complexity and evolution of Robert Kennedy is accurately covered. Anyway. Sinatra gets in over his head when he tries to transfer his entertainment power to the political ring. Easy to do. As he tells JFK, "You're going to be going toe to toe with Richard Nixon for the romantic lead in a movie called 'Presidential Politics.'" He was right, politics has a lot in common with the entertainment industry, as old Ron the Con proved. But Sinatra didn't recognize the difference between publicity and power. Real power. And his lesson was very hard. Frank "My Way" Sinatra, who was accustomed to getting whatever he wanted, met his match with old Joe Kennedy (played by Dan O'Herlihy in his final screen appearance), who told Ol' Blues Eyes the facts of life. The real pivotal character here is Kennedy-in-law Peter Lawford, a guy who just wanted to act in motion pictures but was stuck in between the pitch and fell of mighty opposites. Lawford, not Sinatra, should've been the central character here. The actors who represented the real Rat Pack did a fine job, really, but special mention should be reserved for Bobby Slayton who played Joey Bishop. Slayton's presentation was the most dead-on to the real guy, yet Bishop's role in the Rat Pack was really minimized in this film. Joey had a talk show for a brief time in the late 1960s with a really super-annoying theme song as I recall. Rat Pack brush with fame: I saw Sammy Davis Jr. signing autographs at Disneyland in 1971.

Cheaper by the Dozen 25

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Rosemary's Baby / directed by Roman Polanski (1968, VHS). Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Patsy Kelly, Elisha Cook Jr., Charles Grodin, William Castle (uncredited), Tony Curtis (uncredited voice). It has been four decades, and parts do seem a little corny today, but Polanski's work still holds up as a rival to Hitchcock in the Suspense Department. Filmed in NYC, the story opens and closes with aerial views of the Dakota while Farrow sings a haunting tune, plus many exterior shots of the infamous building appear in the story as well. The entrance where John Lennon was murdered in 1980 is featured frequently. This brings to mind the Beatles/Manson/Polanski/Tate Helter Skelter connection and once you start thinking about all the odd and tragic little premonitions in Rosemary's Baby you'll find real life more chilling than fiction, and then the scripted tale doesn't seem quite as frightening in comparison. Let's not forget Farrow and the Fabs in India as part of a cult. Nice quirky Polanski touches like clocks ticking, piano music down the hall. Some of the best dream sequence clips from the 1960s. Polanski has made the suspense all the more gripping by never letting us see the title character, we can only guess what is going on by the reaction of the other players. Mia Farrow, who was previously known as a television actress in an evening soap opera called Peyton Place (we kids were not allowed to watch this program as it was too "adult"), turned into an overnight film star as a result of her role as the waifish Audrey Hepburn-like Rosemary. And she deserved the recognition. Hard to believe old B-movie gimmick master William Castle was the producer here, someone must have convinced him to step aside as director. But Elisha Cook Jr. does show up as a nod to Castle, and William himself has a walk-on as the Man at the Phone Booth. Tony Curtis is the voice of the blind actor on the phone. Do not see this movie if you or your partner are pregnant. It just isn't a good idea.

"How Smart Can You Get?" (Car 54, Where Are You?) (1962, VHS off-air). Joe E. Ross, Fred Gwynne, Paul Reed, Al Lewis, Bea Pons, Richard Morse. Two NYC policemen named Gunther Toody and Francis Muldoon (Ross and Gwynne) are just plain funny to look at as great comic characters before they even utter a sound. Toody the squat, lowbrow, talky clod with Muldoon the tall, thin, brooding, sensitive intellectual provided TV viewers a humane humor during more innocent times. This show, which ran 60 episodes from Sept. 1961-Sept. 1963, probably would not have survived much beyond the 11-22-63 JFK assassination had it attempted to continue. Imagine the hilarity of Toody and Muldoon swinging billy clubs and shooting tear gas at antiwar protesters, or the comedic situations of being in Serpico type plots. I remember watching this show when it originally aired and really liking it, so it is a little nostalgic for me. In this episode, headquarters attempts to split up the boys and pair them up with more "appropriate" partners, but to no avail. Gunther Toody has got to be one of the all time great names in fiction. Joe E. Ross acts like he's always plugged into an electrical outlet.

In Search of Shakespeare / directed by David Wallace (2003, VHS off-air). Michael Wood (Narrator). "It's easy to get carried away, isn't it, looking for William?" so asks documentarian Michael Wood. I'll admit, I only have half of the miniseries here, but what I've seen makes me want to hunt down the missing chunk. Wood's style of presentation is enthusiastic and infectious. We see him digging through archives and libraries. He visits sites where Shakespeare was known to have lived and worked. He tries to trace the life and literally walk the steps of the great writer who turned the English language into music. Wood's elfin appearance made my cat Spooky so hungry, he actually whapped his paws on the screen trying to catch the guy. There are very few talking heads here, and no attempt to imitate Ken Burns (which is something I'm starting to resent in more recent documentaries). Wood has his own style, and a great ability to teach by using classy cinematic shots and deliberate step-by-step building his circumstantial evidence that Shakespeare was an underground Catholic who was navigating dangerous waters between the government and the Religious Right. He also gives a stab at identifying the Dark Lady of the Sonnets. But Shakespeare is an elusive character. Wood does his best to reveal Shakespeare the man, but as if in reply through the character of Hamlet, the Bard of Avon wrote: "Why look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass: and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ; yet cannot you make it speak. 'Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me you cannot play upon me."

The Shining / directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980, VHS). Jack Nicholson. Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson. One of the career highs for all concerned. What makes this horror film truly frightening is the common and banal subject matter-- a dysfunctional family going over the edge. Basically, this is about a recovering alcoholic and the consequences of one the worst dry drunks and relapses on film. Nicholson's odd cadence of speech, his sarcastic response to his family, his subtle stages of sinking into an evil pit-- as Bogart was the actor of his generation, so is Nicholson to ours. In fact, you could compare Bogart's performance in Treasure of the Sierra Madre to Nicholson here. Both actors expertly played the gradations to Hell. Nicholson's character's turning point came with the quote: "God, I'd give anything for a drink. I'd give my Goddamn soul for just a glass of beer." And so he does. Danny Lloyd gets my nomination for one of the great child actors of the 20th century. He has to stay away from Room 237 (which of course he doesn't), he has a supernatural premonitional "friend" named Tony who lives in his mouth and speaks through the index finger of his juvenile host, and he encounters a very creepy set of twins ("Hello Danny. Come and play with us. Come and play with us Danny. Forever, and ever, and ever.") Lloyd really carried his weight in this film and it is a tribute to Kubrick that he managed to coax such a performance. Shelly Duvall was perfect in her role. The right blend of fear and steel. Kubrick used his trademarks of big faces and wide angle symmetry. Some visual cues: the color is muted, except for red. The backgrounds are filled with Native American icons (this has another tired "Indian Graveyard" premise). Lots of mirror play here, as if they are a doorway. Stephen King, who wrote the original story, apparently did not approve of this film. Personally, I think this is one of best movies ever based on one of his novels. Sorry Mr. King. The soundtrack is outstanding. Kubrick freely used the music of György Ligeti without much regard for legal formalities (I suggest Robert W. Richart's György Ligeti, a bio-bibliography (Greenwood Press, 1990) for more information on this interesting composer). My VHS copy includes a "Making of" documentary by Vivian Kubrick. These type of backroom peeks, or options to use comments by the principals on DVD versions really diminishes the magic of the main show for me.

Malice in the Palace / directed by Jules White (1949, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Vernon Dent, George J. Lewis, Frank Lackteen, Everett Brown (uncredited), Johnny Kascier (uncredited), Joe Palma (uncredited). I like Shemp more than Curly. The Shempster's shameless mugging was priceless. I know Curly is the People's Choice, and that is just fine. Curly was great. He makes me laugh a lot. I just happen to get more laughs with Shemp. This particular Stooges short is in the public domain and has been reproduced by all sorts of clowns, including characters selling VHS tapes out their car trunks in New Jersey. In this case my Reagan-era copy ("unconditional lifetime guarantee" says the container) comes from Trans-Atlantic Video, Inc. This episode pokes fun at the the Arabian stereotype, having the distinction of offending more people in 2008 than it would've in 1949. The first half of the jokes take place in a cafe, the second half in the Palace of the Emir of Shmow. The Stooges show up at the palace inexplicably dressed up as Santa Claus. Violence count: 25 head konks, 7 instances of food on the face, 4 stomach hits, two each of eye pokes, water on face, and face slaps. One each of chin hit, nose clipped, karate chop to the neck, a kick in the butt, and filled with water like a water balloon.

Le Procès = The Trial / directed by Orson Welles (1962, VHS). Anthony Perkins, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Orson Welles, Akim Tamiroff. "The logic of this story is the logic of a dream-- a nightmare." Welles is unleashed here, giving us his worst and best. Preachy mumbly dialogue combined with amazing black and white Wellesian visual compositions. My copy was purchased used, and I see the previous viewer stopped the video halfway through, not a great sign. My copy came from the "quality" Madacy outfit, meaning the sound was out of sync and scratchy and the graphics were poppy and scraped. Based on one of Kafka's unfinished stories, this tale follows the tribulations of a man who is accused of a never identified crime. And woven into this very dreamlike world is a strong theme of sex vs. love, the latter of which appears to be an elusive quantity. Anthony Perkins' trademark nervous and vulnerable twitchiness is perfect for his role as the accused Mr. K. Old radio man Orson Welles felt compelled to read the opening to us, as well as orally present the acting credits at the conclusion. This movie can be tedious, but it does anticipate Gilliam's view of bureaucracy in Brazil, Beatlemania (which would arrive in the U.S. two years later), and the federal system of justice under the administration of George W. Bush.

White Heat / directed by Raoul Walsh (1949, VHS). James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Margaret Wycherly, Fred Clark, Steve Cochran, Jim Thorpe (uncredited). The last of the great Warner Bros. gangster/prison films. James Cagney, an aging, thickening relic of bygone days (but not played as such) is a total sociopath with a migraine mother complex. In the Age of Fedoras Cagney's criminal character is far more interesting than the dry and passionless law enforcement types on his tail, who spare no expense in time informing us about the technical details on how they snare their prey. When Cagney blows up at the end in a blaze of glory, it was not only goodbye to his character, but also a farewell to a genre. And what a way to go. I don't have many of my old boyhood relics, but one of my few surviving toys is a metal gasoline tanker truck, just like the one used in this movie. Oh, how I recall the many happy hours of playing "White Heat" with this toy truck. "Top of the world, Ma!"

Young and Innocent / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1937, DVD). Nova Pilbeam, Derrick De Marney, Percy Marmont, Edward Rigby. There are some Hitchcock staples here: innocent man on the run, climatic scene in front of an audience, trains, and lots of odd supporting characters. But if Hitch was a pioneer in the creative use of sound in the early 1930s, by decade's end he was returning to being visually innovative. In fact, there is a strong theme of eyes and seeing-- the villain's nervous eye twitch, the use of glasses as a disguise, children playing blindman's bluff, the song "Three Blind Mice" used as part of the soundtrack. Nova Pilbeam plays a young woman who is half child, half adult. This romantic murder mystery is lighter fare than usual for the director. The screen even looks brighter than his normal dark and shadowy mysteries. There is an amazing crane shot where the bad guy's identity is revealed and a mineshaft rescue scene that brings to mind the conclusion to North by Northwest. Moves along pretty slowly.

The Best of Ernie Kovacs. Vol. 1 (1952-1956, VHS). Ernie Kovacs, Edie Adams, Jack Lemmon (narrator). One of the greats from the Stone Age of television. You get the sense you are watching an experiment in progress. Some of his ideas were brilliant, others fell flat. Most of his humor used music or sight gags and employed form over content, such as the always funny Nairobi Trio. Two characters he created, Percy Dovetonsils (reading a poem about dieting here) and the German radio DJ Wolfgang Sauerbraten seem more odd than funny today.

Club Paradise / directed by Harold Ramis (1986, VHS). Robin Williams, Peter O'Toole, Rick Moranis, Jimmy Cliff, Twiggy, Adolph Caesar, Eugene Levy, Joanna Cassidy, Andrea Martin, Brian Doyle-Murray, Joe Flaherty, Steven Kampmann, Robin Duke, Mary Gross. A strange mix  in casting, with all that talent-- gone to waste! Director Ramis, who followed this one with Groundhog Day and Stuart Saves His Family (two excellent films) never seemed to get a handle on any story. Williams and O'Toole have enough ham between them to start a pig farm. A Caribbean resort on a former British colony finds itself a target in a political-capitalistic-real estate conspiracy. SCTV fans might be disappointed to see Moranis, Levy, Flaherty, and Duke not really using their natural humor-- although Flaherty does put a lot of energy in his all-too-brief appearances. Even Robin Williams seemed a little restrained. Andrea Martin is the only cast member who came close to a standout performance. The drug jokes really date this film. I will say there is a great soundtrack, courtesy of Jimmy Cliff who sings and isn't a half bad actor.

The Execution / directed by Paul Wendkos (1985, VHS). Loretta Swit, Rip Torn, Jessica Walter, Barbara Barrie, Sandy Dennis, Valerie Harper, Michael Lerner. This made-for-TV movie is set in Los Angeles in 1970. Five WWII German concentration camp survivors discover the Nazi maniac who tortured them when they were young girls is alive and well and running a restaurant in Malibu. So they set out to murder, no, "execute" him. This was an uncomfortable film to watch, not so much for content as for the bad acting, bad direction, bad dialogue, and bad music. It is just plain bad. Sandy Dennis and Rip Torn were well cast, but I had a difficult time accepting Loretta Swit (the main character) in the role of holocaust survivor. You would think a story like this would be filled with suspense and taut with ethical questions concerning justice vs. revenge. But the treatment was sloppy, melodramatic and unfocused. Too many subplots. There was a potentially great scene when a prosecutor enters a synagogue and witnesses 150 people all confessing to the same murder as a show of support. But it fell flat. The subject isn't trivialized, but the story seemed more like a predictable knee-jerk reaction than a real exploration. Rip Torn plays his part as the disguised Nazi well, but has to mouth some real awful script lines. Ever see that brief clip where Norman Mailer and Rip Torn get into a fight and Mailer tries to bite off Rip's ear and Rip tries to beat Norman's head with a hammer? Now that is much more interesting than this movie.

The Choice 2000 (Frontline) / directed by Michael Kirk (2000, VHS off-air). Tipper Gore, Laura Bush, James Sasser, Mary Matalin, Dick Morris, Karen Hughes. A PBS look at the two major party presidential candidates of 2000 in human terms. Fascinating how this documentary shows us two Americas: the ruling class and the wage slave class. Both of these gentlemen came from the former. Actually, we are never shown the wage slave class here. The Gore/Bush stories are mostly told by family and friends, but even so some zingers get in there. Gore's studied calculations, his enlisting during Vietnam as a political move, his use of marijuana and how that was handled with the press later, and the incredibly maudlin speeches about his personal crises are touched on. Bush's alcohol intake, possible cocaine use, his questionable military record and party hardy frat boy years are examined. By my calculations he developed that whiney tone we now all know so well about 1988, but the cocky smirk came much earlier. This documentary isn't really about their political views, rather it covers their political styles and how their upbringing shaped the way they approach the job of governing. When we elect a President we are electing an icon, a symbol, a style as well as a package of issues. Speaking as someone who didn't vote for either one of these guys, I found the coverage to be fairly presented. I'm sure partisans for either one would've wanted more critical coverage of the other fellow.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 26

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Incident on a Dark Street / directed by Buzz Kulik (1972, DVD). James Olson, David Canary, Robert Pine, Richard S. Castellano, William Shatner, Gilbert Roland, David Doyle, Kathleen Lloyd. "Ex-seminarians and ex-liberals, they make the best prosecutors." This film was originally produced as a TV pilot for a series that was supposed to be called The Prosecutors, following the exploits of lawyers from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. But the timing was bad. 1972 was the year of the Watergate break-in, which started a series of actions including the arrest and conviction of former USAG and Nixon henchman John Mitchell. I bought this copy for a buck at an Elma grocery store, basically looking forward to enjoying a bad period piece and Shatner's histronics. I was surprised. Yes, it is dated, but considering what else was on the TV screens in the early 1970s, this really wasn't so bad. You could see the influence of the then-new box office hit, The Godfather. The Mob boss here was played by Golden Age of Hollywood figure Gilbert Roland. Shatner portrays a slimey contractor, and was subtle enough to rob me of the joy of the overacting I was expecting. However, his wardrobe made up for that. This has the slight feeling of those 1950s gritty realistic urban movies.

The Last Vampyre (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Tim Sullivan (1993, DVD). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Roy Marsden, Freddie Jones. Set in the fear-based social politics of a small English village, this episode has Conan-Doyle poking fun at Bram Stoker. There is a long set-up showing us the dynamics of a dysfunctional family in a nearby manor. The acting is stilted enough to make me relieved when Holmes and Watson finally make their appearance. Holmes, who flatly states "Vampires don't exist," sets out to catch one. Or better yet, debunk one. By the time the story is over it is difficult to tell which one is more unearthly, Holmes or the alleged vampire. Jeremy Brett was in bad shape here, in this later part of the series. He had lost his lean and hungry look, his speech was slurred, many lines were swallowed. The director chose to use a harsher light than usual, which only magnified Brett's condition. It is in this story Holmes makes reference to the Giant Rat of Sumatra, "The story of which the world is not yet prepared." I think there is a law in Britain that Freddie Jones has to appear in almost everything. Although the subject matter was unusual and the director used some elegant visual tricks, this is not one of the better shows in the series. The use of Peruvian pipes in the soundtrack gets annoying.

Zatôichi kenka-tabi = On the Road / directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda (1963, DVD). Shintarô Katsu, Shiho Fujimura. It's the Old West in Japan. Dusty streets, roving gangs of outlaws, the Bad Girl who turns out to have the Heart of Gold. And the Lone Man with the Reputation who makes his solitary way to the horizon line at the conclusion. These Zaotoichi films should appeal to anyone who enjoys American Westerns, as they have many of the same qualities. "There is no one," says the Blind Swordsman, "worse than a samurai." And surrounded by wickedness Zatoichi proceeds to clean house. In addition to being an expert with the sword, Zatoichi is a gambler and likes to drink, and realizes the fair maiden he is saving and falling for can never have a life with him, for he is a rambling guy and a marked man. Wonderful camera shots, tight story and beautiful little details, one of the better entries in this parade of films featuring the amazing Shintarô Katsu. Moral of the story: Don't mess with Zatoichi.

Broom-Stick Bunny / directed by Chuck Jones (1956, DVD). Mel Blanc (voice), June Foray (uncredited voice). Bugs Bunny has the misfortune to knock on the door of Witch Hazel while trick or treating on Halloween. Directed by Spokane native Chuck Jones, this has the "new" and more abstract designs and backgrounds. A great "movement" piece, especially in the choreography of Hazel.

Deja Vu (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 8, episode 16) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. Flying lessons, hijacks, McTeagle the poet, Scottish stereotypes and complaints, door to door psychiatrist, complaints about complaints, 16 ton weight, It's In The Mind-- Deja Vu. Lots of taxidermied animals blowing up throughout. Chapman and Jones in the "Flying Lessons" sequence is one of the all time great silly Python moments.

Old Dracula / directed by Clive Donner (1974, DVD off-air). David Niven, Teresa Graves, Peter Bayliss, Nicky Henson, Freddie Jones, Carol Cleveland, Luan Peters. Head for the fast forward button. Originally released in the UK under the title Vampira, this was renamed upon American distribution to suck off the success (get it?) of the just produced Young Frankenstein. And yes, this is another UK vampire film with Freddie Jones. How does he do it? Also look for the Fawlty Towers and Monty Python connections here. Cheesey mid-1970s period piece where Bram Stoker meets Blaxploitation films as Dracula revives his spouse Vampira, who comes back as a beautiful and young African American woman while David Niven, who I thought had more class than this, is on the Back 40 and apparently willing to act in anything. Painful and embarrassing to watch.

"The End" (Red Dwarf ; I, byte 1) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules. If you are going to watch any of the BBC's Red Dwarf episodes, you must begin with this one. Otherwise you will be forever second guessing why things are the way they are. The lowest ranking crew aboard the mining spaceship Red Dwarf are Arnold Judas Rimmer and Dave Lister, who include among their duties changing the nozzles on chicken soup dispensing machines. Rimmer is Felix to Lister's Oscar. Lister smuggles a pregnant cat on the ship, Frankenstein, and refuses to surrender it to the Captain, who wants it destroyed as an unauthorized safety menace. Frankenstein is never caught, but Lister is sentenced to a stasis chamber for 18 months, sort of like a cryogenic cell. 3 million years later he is released, informed by the now senile computer Holly that a radiation leak killed the entire crew and it has taken this long for the radioactive danger to abate. Meanwhile, his cat had given birth to a litter that over the years, evolved into a human-like form, producing the vain, self-centered and vacuous Cat character. Holly has also reproduced Rimmer as a hologram to keep Lister from getting cabin fever. Over the course of the series other characters were added. In these earliest of Red Dwarf episodes the dialogue seemed just that, dialogue. Later the scripts consisted of one-liners, the special effects gained a bigger budget, and laugh tracks dominated. It almost seemed like the show, unfortunately, started pandering to an American audience-- a big mistake. But it had a very promising start. If they ever produce a remake I have two cats that look just like Frankenstein, and I'm sure they would pass the audition.

Hung faan aau = Rumble in the Bronx / directed by Stanley Tong (1995, VHS). Jackie Chan, Anita Mui, Françoise Yip, Bill Tung, Marc Akerstream. This was Jackie Chan's breakthrough movie to a North American audience. Everything about this film is off-center. Set in New York City, long shots showing the Statue of Liberty and the WTC towers are supposed to convince us we are watching the story in that location. But the close shots show clean streets with uncongested traffic, polite people and the cars have Beautiful British Columbia plates. Parts of the movie are dubbed, badly, with weird inflections. Punked out gangs look like Disney supplied the wardrobe. Produced to be marketed to two different cultures, you get the feeling the filmmakers never quite decided who their audience was supposed to be. And I say all this in admiration as it sets sort of a surreal tone and doesn't really matter in the big motion picture. What matters is Jackie Chan, who is unique in his ability to mix comedy, action and charm. He's like a kick-ass Candide caught between a street gang and the Mob. This film has an amazing chase scene featuring a giant hovercraft storming through the middle of the city. Great stuff.

"Toody Undercover" (Car 54 Where Are You?) / directed by Nat Hiken (1962, VHS off-air). Joe E. Ross, Fred Gwynne, Bruce Gordon, Barney Martin. Although he might be the joke of the Department as a police officer, it turns out when Gunther Toody goes undercover into the Mob he is a criminal genius. As chief of the Toody Gang he leads his cohorts on daring and unorthodox big-scale crimes, eluding his fellow police officers in the process. Lots of familiar TV faces here of guys you've seen a zillion times but don't know by name. Simple, innocent hamminess abounds. One of the better episodes.

Medici : Godfathers of the Renaissance / directed by Justin Hardy (2004, VHS off-air). Peter Guinness, Pip Torrens, James Innes Smith, Ian Bustard, Niccolo Cioni, Massimo Marinoni (narrator). Hey, here's some red meat for my fellow liberal arts majors! This documentary on the 250 year reign of the Medici family over the cultural/social/political/religious life of Florence uses talking heads, silent dramatizations, and an annoying narrator to track the history of this amazing family. The 4-hour PBS miniseries begins in 15th century Florence with a family of bankers who win the political lotto when their investment in the campaign of dark horse Pope John 23rd pays off in their participation of the spoils system once the new Pontiff takes office. Knowing the value of symbolism, the Medicis see art, architecture, and later the sciences, as an extension of power. But they also have an excellent eye for great art and are not afraid to explore the dangerous boundaries of humanism in an Age of Creativity. The greatest artists and architects of the Florentine Renaissance were all connected to the Medicis: Brunelleschi, Donatello, Da Vinci, Verrocchio, Botticelli, Michelangelo and many others. The Medicis married into royal families and produced three Popes. In exploring the political struggles of the family, the documentary unintentionally reveals the cultural foundation for the Mafia, and some of the talking heads even make references to this effect. The violence, politics of personal loyalty, use of bribery, dispensing favors, nepotism, rival families fighting for power all sounds very familiar to American Mob watchers. The galaxy of characters to cross the stage here includes some formidable Medici enemies: Savonarola the Nutjob bookburner, Machiavelli the truth-teller, and Martin Luther, who came in under the Catholic radar as a Medici Pope underestimated him. Throughout the series the relationship between faith, fear, and fanaticism are constant threads. The documentary ends on a dark note with the Medicis ceasing to support Galileo in the 1630s when he was arrested and denounced by the Inquisition as a heretic for having the nerve to suggest the Earth revolved around the Sun.

Roswell / directed by Jeremy Kagan (1994, VHS off-air). Kyle MacLachlan, Martin Sheen, Dwight Yoakam, Bob Gunton, Kim Greist, Peter MacNicol, Philip Baker Hall. In real-life 1947 the U.S. military reported it had recovered a crashed flying disc of an other-worldly nature, then backpeddled hours later with an explanation it was really a weather balloon. The public fall guy was an officer named Jesse Marcel who did his job like a good soldier, but as this tale unfolds through a series of flashbacks 30 years later, the cost of maintaining a public fable has weighed heavily upon him and he doggedly investigates to learn the true story. Told through Marcel's point of view, the film leans toward the theory the crash was an actual alien event, and the government has been engaged in a massive cover-up ever since. There is a strong hierarchy of power theme in this movie-- the limits of personal power, the ability of the government to control information and lives, the possibility that Homo sapiens are not on the top of the food chain. Martin Sheen's character, a mysterious walk-on, basically is used as a device to highlight several conspiracy theories, but in his own hammy way he does ask some good questions about perception regardless of what the viewer might think really happened at Roswell in 1947. MacLachlan plays a convincing Marcel, both the young and old version. Dwight Yoakam as the rancher who first found the debris was especially fun to watch. The soundtrack was very good for a made-for-TV movie. Jeremy Kagan's use of black and white-to color fades, hand held cameras, cuts and angles reveal him as a student in the Oliver Stone School of Directing. Kagan's technique, however, isn't quite as distracting.

Brideless Groom / directed by Edward Bernds (1947, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Christine McIntyre, Dee Green, Johnny Kascier (uncredited), Emil Sitka (uncredited). "Hold hands, you lovebirds." Shemp has only 7 hours left to get married as a condition for inheriting half a million bucks. Dee Green was quite possibly one of the best supporting actresses in the entire Three Stooges parade in her role as the homely Miss Dinkelmeyer. The violence in this one is hard to quantify. There are two scenes where physical blows are released in a frenzy, all perpetrated by females against the guys. Shemp's nose was broken by Christine McIntyre ("You're not Cousin Basil?") and the event was kept on camera. What a trouper! Here's the mayhem stats as best as I could keep track. Sadly, no eyepokes: 20 head konks, 16 face slaps, 4 each of hits on the arm, hair pulled, shin kicked, 2 each of hit by door, punched in the face, needle jabbed behind leg, piano lid dropped on head, and one each of hand crunched, hand bitten, hot iron on hand, hot iron on butt, piano wire snapped on face, kicked in the behind, head put in vise, sitting on an open bear trap, vase smashed over head. This was the public domain short briefly seen in Pulp Fiction.

Cheaper by the Dozen 27

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

2001: a Space Odyssey / directed by Stanley Kubrick (1968, VHS). Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, Leonard Rossiter, Douglas Rain (voice). I wanted to start off by using the old saw "In space no one can hear you snore," but I can't honestly use it concerning this story about the first manned flight to Jupiter. Pretentious and tedious, this film is also enigmatic and beautiful. An overture and intermission is in there in order to give the audience a chance to buy overpriced popcorn. When this was released in 1968, most of us were still trying to adjust to the fact that Americans were actually going to walk around on the Moon. Even for those of us who were teens, who were born in a world with 48 stars on the flag, where Elvis was still driving truck, Segregation ruled the South and Sputnik, the first satellite, had yet to be launched a lot had happened in a short time. Kubrick was able to tap into that. But the film is very dated now. Just get a load of all those hexagons. This is not particularly engaging as a story with the exception of the portions involving the ship's computer, HAL. In fact, "I'm half-crazy" HAL is far more interesting than any of the human actors. The shots where we see the astronauts from HAL's point of view are particularly chilling and the computer's homicidal crimes are portrayed in a quiet way-- a decision in storytelling separating Kubrick from second-rate directors. It is after HAL's departure from the plot that the movie goes quintessentially 1968, presenting us psychedelic special effects worthy of an Iron Butterfly concert. The conclusion was a cop-out. And very long and drawn out one at that. The special effects extravanganza, which is impressive throughout most of the story, includes Kubrick's trademark Big Faces and symmetrical compositions. A year after this film was released, Armstrong and Aldrin made their lunar visit. I was camping that night, and from my primitive campfire with the sparks climbing into the stars, just stood staring at the Moon and knowing that in a 1000 years hence this was probably going to be the only event in my lifetime that would be in any sort of chronology detailing the highlights of human history. Many of us felt that way. Total wonder. Kubrick captured the feeling of the day but I'm not sure he was able to transcend the "you had to be there" level to later generations.


The Wild World of Obscuro Comix (Piece of My Mind) / directed by Steve Whalen (1993, VHS). Steve Willis. Originally presented as part of SPSCC's Piece of My Mind series. When I played this the cats left the room, my companion claimed she was, er, "tired" and needed to sleep, the house itself snored and even I got drowsy. This was me 15 years ago giving a lecture about the evolution of comic art leading to "Newave" or "Obscuro" comix. I was a college faculty at the time, so it is very lectury. I'm using an overhead projector, which gives you an idea of how exciting this is. When I gave this talk at the Olympia Community Center I had no idea it would be broadcast over and over on TCTV for a year. Otherwise I would've combed my hair. Only the most esoteric of comix historians would be interested in this presentation. I say "Um" a lot, which I tend to do in front of cameras. This video might still be available at SPSCC, otherwise, you are out of luck. Heh-heh. Bil Keane, City Limits Gazette, and Morty the Dog get a special mention. The first thing I noticed when viewing this was back then I had thick hair and a thin body. Now I have thin hair and a thick body.

Juno and the Paycock / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1930, DVD). Barry Fitzgerald, Edward Chapman, Sidney Morgan, Sara Allgood, John Laurie. A tragicomedy based on the play by Sean O'Casey, so much for the Luck of the Irish. Set against the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s, O'Casey attempted to cram all of Ireland's troubles into one dysfunctional family. Alcoholism, poverty, gunfire as background noise, unwanted pregnancy, snitching, vanity, maternal heroism-- O'Casey packs in so many issues concerning Ireland in the Jazz Age that it seems too much. And it is. This was a stage play and in Hitchcock's second talkie he did not employ any special audio or visual tricks, other than changing his focus on a stationary camera. One has the feeling he wanted to get this one out of the way in order to work on something he really cared about. As a static-staged play, which is basically what we see, we are offered several Irish and one Jewish stereotype. There is a mini oral essay on Theosophy that is weirdly out of place. The dialect is difficult to decipher, but from what I can make out the dialogue is clever. The cadence of the speech is pure music. Not a typical Hitchcock movie. Probably of most interest to O'Casey scholars or students of Irish history. Basically a downer story that must have appealed to Hitchcock's cynical view of human nature. But once he got it, he didn't know what to do with it. Worth watching once.

Betty Boop's Rise to Fame / directed by Dave Fleischer (1934, DVD). Mae Questel (voice), Cab Calloway (voice), Max Fleischer, Dave Fleischer. A black and white cartoon featuring real life animators Max and Dave Fleischer interviewing cartoon creation Betty Boop. Betty performs a variety of bizarre and risqué musical numbers. Get the children out of the room when she presents her Hawaiian song and dance.

College / directed by James W. Horne (1927, DVD). Buster Keaton, Anne Cornwall, Harold Goodwin, Snitz Edwards, Madame Sul-Te-Wan. The bookish and clumsy Buster Keaton attempts to win the heart of the girl of his dreams by making his name as an athletic star. Keaton was a brilliant comedian, the best of the silent film era. The visual gags in this film include Buster as a soda jerk and a waiter (uncomfortably in blackface as a disguise, with some interesting social commentary back-in-the-kitchen scenes), and we also see him involved in college activities such as hazing, baseball, track and field, and rowing. Although he plays a klutz, Keaton had to be a superb athlete in real life to perform these stunts. This 1992 Film Preservation Associates release includes a soundtrack by John Muri playing the organ just as if you were watching the film in a theater. Nice touch.

Fahrenheit 9/11 / directed by Michael Moore (2004, DVD). The most maudlin of documentarians covers the most incompetent of American Presidents. To call this a documentary is sort of stretching it. This is propaganda designed to push a point of view. It just so happens I agree with Moore's politics when it comes to the subject of this film, but I'm aware he is trying to persuade, not inform. This work is much more sophisticated, less gimmicky, and has better direction than his previous Bowling for Columbine. Some of the truly inspired choices of music with news footage makes me think I'm watching a creative online mashup rather than a movie with soundtrack. Starting with the stolen Presidential election of 2000, Moore tracks the first term of George W. Bush and includes: the Bush family/bin Laden family connection, the WMD lies, Enron, Halliburton, Unocal, the totally bogus invasion of Iraq with the Democrats sitting on their hands doing nothing and the media not asking hard questions, the "Patriot" Act, the Saudi influence in Washington D.C., "Mission Accomplished." Taking a pro-soldier/anti-war stance, Moore has some pretty disturbing interviews and footage of our men and women over there in New Vietnam. Washington State's own Rep. Jim McDermott has some great comments on the Bush administration's use of fear as a political tool. Since 2004 we have been treated to Abu Ghraib, Alberto Gonzales, the fiasco of Katrina, waterboarding, economic recession and an obscene national debt. Not a record to brag about.

The Graduate / directed by Mike Nichols (1967, VHS). Dustin Hoffman, Ann Bancroft, Katharine Ross, William Daniels, Buck Henry, Norman Fell, Alice Ghostley, Richard Dreyfuss (uncredited). I'm sure Mike Nichols has made a bad film sometime in his career, but I have yet to see one. Before the word "cougar" entered the social vocabulary, there was Mrs. Robinson in this amazing period piece that still holds up four decades later. The Generation Gap had never been quite as severe in recent history as it was in the 1960s/early 1970s. The "adults" in this story are all "Mr." or "Mrs.," while the young folks are on a first name basis. Supposedly this film was a casting nightmare before everything settled. It is hard to imagine anyone other Hoffman and Bancroft in their roles, both of them portraying parallel lives of emptiness. One being emotionally all used up, the other too afraid to take a first step. Hoffman really captures that "out of college money spent/See no future pay no rent" feeling many of us went through. Our drifting around with no direction while having a degree in hand drove some of our parents crazy. Nichols' uses water as a symbol throughout the story as a place of solace and redemption for Hoffman's character: the fish tank, swimming pool, fountain at Berkeley, Elaine's tears, rainfall. At one point we even see Hoffman drinking a can of pre-pulltab Olympia Beer ("It's the Water!") with a clear view of Tumwater Falls on the label. A couple points of trivia: see if you can spot a young Richard Dreyfuss giving an uncredited one-liner, and, my fellow comix historians will enjoy spotting the Print Mint in a background shot (An aside for comix guys: made me think of our old late friend Clay Geerdes and our day touring Telegraph Ave.). The Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack is about as perfect as a soundtrack can get.

 

Independence Day / directed by Roland Emmerich (1996, VHS). Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Robert Loggia, Randy Quaid, James Rebhorn, Margaret Colin, Harvey Fierstein, Adam Baldwin, Brent Spiner, Harry Connick Jr., Tracey Walter (uncredited). Pulls out all the stops and delivers amazing special effects and action. Total candy. Smith, Quaid, and Spiner manage to bring a comic timing to their dramatic roles and it works. This story about an alien invasion is packed with small humorous details. I especially enjoyed the HAL reference on Goldblum's laptop and Smith's "Welcome to Earth" punchline. Punchline. Ha. Get it? Somehow in this extravanganza Emmerich managed to include the 1990s obligatory stripper pole dance scene. The panic-in-the-streets footage of downtown New York, with skyscrapers melting down would become reality within 5 years, making this tale more sobering than originally intended. That, coupled with Katrina wiping out New Orleans, made the film's premise of American cities vanishing in minutes not so fictitious. Bill Pullman plays the President. It was hard for me to accept him in that role since I had just recently seen him in Ruthless People, where he played a character who was, as I said in my review, "wonderfully stupid." Oh. Wait. Right. Never mind.

"The Creeping Man" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Tim Sullivan (1991, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Charles Kay, Adrian Lukis, Sarah Woodward, Colin Jeavons, Peter Elliott. Yes, Hell hath no fury like an evil-scientist-pumped-up-on-monkey-glands scorned. In what Holmes calls an "Odd affair," a connection is made between a string of monkey thefts and a mysterious nocturnal intruder at a country estate. Nice production values of a tough London street scene and the tension between Holmes and Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade is a fun running joke. This tale has more of a credibility stretch than most of the other stories about the Great Detective. Brett is aging but still has his elegant hamminess, especially when he delivers lines like, "When one tries to rise above nature one is liable to fall below it. The highest type of man may revert to the animal when he leaves the straight road of destiny." Tim Sullivan has a distinct use of lighting (as he did with "The Last Vampyre") that seems too harsh for the series. You won't see Peter Elliott's face in this. He's in the gorilla suit. Apparently Elliott is one of the world's foremost gorilla suit actors. So if you're a Don Martin National Gorilla Suit Day fan like me, you'll want to check this out. Oot. Greet.

Zatôichi senryô-kubi = Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold / directed by Kazuo Ikehiro (1964, DVD). Shintarô Katsu, Shogo Shimada. It seems to be a law when an excellent series becomes popular the quality starts to degrade. This sixth entry in the Zatoichi series would be a point in favor of that hypothesis. Although the film still has some of the visual poetics of earlier entries, it is Cormanesque in it's cheesiness: bad montage sequences, awful soundtrack, garish color, the violence is more graphic and brutal. The bad guys are really bad. They are dirty and they swear and sneer. The evil tax collector looks like Jack Palance and has a perfect sinister chuckle. And attempting to decipher the complicated political and social structure Zatoichi has to navigate through probably requires a crash course in Japanese history. This is not to say this isn't entertaining, far from it (I love Corman's work). Just don't expect the sophistication of the earlier Z-guy films. We learn the story is set in 1843, giving us a solid reference point. The movie begins and ends with villagers (who turn very ugly in the course of the story) celebrating with music, and one of the best scenes in the entire Zatoichi run is when he joins them by playing the drums. We also see our antihero gambling, drinking, and whoring. He has a few self-esteem issues, including making a statement that if the world worked as it should, he wouldn't be in it. Although most of the supporting characters are pretty flat, Shogo Shimada is engaging as Boss Chuji.

Bugs Bunny Rides Again / directed by Friz Freleng (1948, DVD). Mel Blanc (voice). Set in the Old West, we see Yosemite Sam in his element. Poking fun at many conventions in Western films, you've seen a lot these gags in other WB cartoons. I'm pretty convinced Sam must share my Scottish heritage: a sawed-off little red-haired guy with a short temper. I wonder if Mel Blanc's voice hurt after a recording session of providing Sam's voice?

"The Buzz Aldrin Show" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 8, episode 17) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1970, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin. Butterfly (nice Gilliam animation), Gumby men, Architect sketch (includes Cleese as a proto-Basil Fawlty. Also the whole sketch reminds me of the Isthmus housing proposal), How to recognize a Mason, Insurance sketch, The Bishop! (the visual gags here are pure Terry Jones), Living on the sidewalk, East Midlands Poet Board (Jones as the lonely housewife is rather frightening), Nude Man comments (Chapman, who else?), Chemist sketch (Idle and Palin, quite good here), Words not to be used on the BBC. Oddly, Carol Cleveland is absent.

Cheaper by the Dozen 28

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Fei ying gai wak = Operation Condor / directed by Jackie Chan (1991, VHS). Jackie Chan, Carol 'Do Do' Cheng, Eva Cobo, Shôko Ikeda, Aldo Sambrell. Not to be confused with the real-life Operation Condor of the 1970s, a highly organized campaign of terror, torture, and assassination by the right-wing governments of South America performed with the aid of the United States. In this Operation Condor, Jackie Chan not only is the star, but also the director and co-writer-- basically giving us Jackie in his pure form: an action hero with superb comic timing. Badly dubbed with weird inflections, the Indiana Jones/Nazi gold plot (such as it is) is hard to follow, but who cares? Filled with bad Mideastern and German stereotypes, the villains all have the look of the henchmen in the Adam West Batman series of the 1960s. Apparently Jackie sees women as lovable but basically ineffective in a charming way when it comes to doing battle with the baddies. Fast-paced, incredibly corny, and funny-- with half of the laughs being unintentional. Go Jackie!

"Future Echoes" (Red Dwarf, series I, byte 1) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, John Lenahan (voice). Thanks to the senile spaceship computer Holly attempting to attain beyond light speed, the crew have a chance to see "future echoes," images of events that will happen in the future. Lister gets an opportunity to see himself at age 171 and he learns he will have two sons, anticipating a hook into a later episode. Talky Toaster makes his debut (I wish I had one). Holly performs a passive/aggressive act upon Rimmer's hairstyle. Favorite line: "Everyone dies. You're born and you die. The bit in the middle is called 'Life' ..."

Pao Da Shuang Deng = Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker / directed by Ping He (1994, VHS). Jing Ning, Xiaorui Zhao. A tale of forbidden love set in China on the eve of the Xinhai Revolution. My Western filter translates the title to mean Red as in love, Green as in jealousy. A young girl inherits control of a fireworks factory, making her the virtual manager in a company town. Along comes the lone antihero drifter, an artist, and, well, you know the rest because you've seen it a zillion times. As A. Whitney Brown said, "There are a billion people in China. It's not easy to be an individual in a crowd of more than a billion people. Think of it. More than a billion people. That means even if you're a one-in-a-million type of guy, there are still a thousand guys exactly like you." The portrayal of corporate slavery is brutal at times in this film, but that is offset by the gushy and slow-moving melodrama. The voiceovers of the two main characters is jarring. Background animal noises are used as signatures of moods: barking dogs means there is too much testosterone going on, caged birds reflect the character of the heroine, rooster's crow is pride, etc. Although the visuals in this movie are outstanding, it is difficult to tell if the haze in most shots was an intentional way of demonstrating the town is Fireworks Central, or if that was really a reflection of China's current pollution problem. There is an amazing and eerie scene with dancing monks that was all too short. Also a fireworks contest that should be included in the Darwin Awards. The ending has a couple nice bittersweet twists but it sure felt like it took a very long time to get there.

"I've Been Here Before" (Car 54 Where Are You?) / directed by Stanley Prager (1963, VHS off-air). Fred Gwynne, Joe E. Ross, Jake LaMotta, Dort Clark (uncredited). Toody shows classic symptoms of A.D.D. when he cannot concentrate on his police textbooks and instead watches the "Crimebusters" television program every night. But as it turns out, the broadcast helps him solve crimes where the books fall short. Yes, that's boxing legend Jake LaMotta in the credits. He plays a thug named "Bugsy." Joe E. Ross is a trip.

Sahara Hare / directed by Friz Freleng (1955, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). Bugs vs. Yosemite Sam with the stage being the Sahara Desert, which Bugs mistakes for Miami Beach when he first arrives. Sam's camel is a nice touch. The TV version omits Sam's acts of violence against the animal. Daffy Duck makes a cameo appearance. Although at one point Bugs calls to Sam, "Yoo hoo, Mr. A-rab!" the little red-haired varmit hunter is still the crusty character out of the Old West: "Great horny toads! A trespasser! Gettin' footy-prints all over my desert!" Mel Blanc must've had a blast doing what he did.

"The Abbey Grange" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Peter Hammond (1986, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Anne-Louise Lambert, Oliver Tobias. In a case Holmes calls "exceedingly remarkable," he wonders why the victims of a mansion invasion and assault (which resulted in the murder of a family member) would shield the perpetrators. More so than most episodes, we really do get the sense we are watching the story unfold through the eyes of Holmes' friend and colleague, Dr. Watson. As in some other stories, Holmes presumes to take the law into his own hands and acts as judge. But this time he appoints Watson as the one-person jury, "Vox Populi, Vox Dei." Perhaps it is the fact he is one quarter French that the Great Detective has a soft spot for crime passionnel. Brett is in wonderful form, giving us entertaining glimpses of Holmes' enormous ego, discomfort with women, and dedication to justice. We get to actually hear Holmes say, "The game is afoot." Hammond's direction jumps around a little too much for my tastes. It is slightly scattered in a way that seems inspired by Oliver Stone-- it isn't to the point of wrecking the story, it's just a little annoying.

The Stepford Husbands / directed by Fred Walton (1996, VHS). Donna Mills, Michael Ontkean, Cindy Williams, Louise Fletcher, Jeffrey Pillars. This made for CBS TV movie could've been entitled Invasion of the Body SNAGgers. What can you say about a film that starts out with a downer shotgun murder/suicide? As it turns out, they are the lucky ones, being spared the humiliation of having their acting careers damaged by close connection with this bowser. In a scenario that would confirm the worst fears and paranoia of conservatives who enjoy using the term "FemiNazi," the men of Stepford are "rehabilitated" from angry, punch-in-the-nose, sports-loving, scotch-drinking, shopping-hating normal guys into docile, domestic, obedient and passionless drones who always put the toilet lid back down. There is no middle ground in Stepford. Louise Fletcher picks up where she left off from her role as Nurse Ratshit in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. I found almost all of the acting in here to be stilted and awkward, with the exception of Jeffrey Pillars who played the before-and-after beer swilling neighbor. The best scene in this movie was where we see Donna Mills using the newspapers on microfilm in her local public library to solve a major mystery. In the end, love conquers all. Isn't that nice? Remember, the "fast forward" button can be your friend, or better yet, the "eject" option.

Unbreakable / directed by M. Night Shyamalan (2000, VHS). Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Robin Wright Penn. M. Night Shyamalan knows how to tell a story. His ability to reveal the essence of a character within just a few minutes is a form of cinematic poetry. The world of superhero comic art and comic books serves as the stage for the adventure of two opposites. Willis is good as the quiet and somewhat sad hero attempting to find a purpose in the world. Jackson is incredible as the twisted comic art dealer who considers his subject with such gravity that it becomes very funny. He wears the clothes, drives the car, maintains the expression, and holds on to an obsession worthy of a supervillain. The director visually presents the tale as if it was a comic book. Certain colors are associated with definite characters or types, many of the shots are framed as if they were cartoon panels, and several images are given to us from a "skewed perspective" (mostly, but not always associated with Jackson): mirrors, reflections, upside down points of view. The camera does a lot of panning, following the dialogue from speaker to speaker. The long unbroken pan where Willis emerges from the hospital and is reunited with his family is one of the most amazing graphic tricks in the story. Very nice soundtrack, and Shyamalan does something I'll call an "audio zoom," playing with sound the same way a camera zooms in and out. Maybe this is due to my own activities as a cartoonist, but I believe this is a better film than his previous Sixth Sense.

Wishful Thinking / directed by Murray Langston (1990, VHS). Murray Langston, Michelle Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Billy Barty, Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini. The "Unknown Comic" unmasks himself and writes, directs and acts as the lead in his own movie. In it he plays an agoraphobic screenwriter who is subject to a major scam but still finds his true love. This mixture of Walter Mitty with Gaslight is low brow, low grade, low budget, and the low tide in jokes. Yet I still laughed at many parts. There is a major element missing, perhaps in the comic timing. It almost has the feel of film that has been dubbed into English. Yet Langston was able to deliver the same sort of delightfully bad jokes here and there that he did onstage. As an in-joke, a bank robber in the story wears a bag over his head just as the Unknown Comic did. A college student probably could've produced and directed a motion picture just like this one. But they didn't. Langston did. I've seen worse from bigger directors with bigger budgets. One word: Zardoz. Wishful Thinking is good for watching during a pizza party after an evening of bowling. Once. Nice to see Billy Barty again.

The Skin Game / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1931, DVD). C.V. France, Helen Haye, Edmund Gwenn, Phyllis Konstam. Awful and barely watchable. A class war involving land use between old money and nouveau riche families descends into hardball sleaze-- including blackmail. Slow, yet it has a hurried feeling. Murky and melodramatic. The most exciting scene where we see a glimpse of the Hitchcock we love was the auction action early in the story. I do believe I heard someone emit a flatulent sound and Hitch just left it in. After all, this was the early era of talkies and cinema audio was novel. Farts happen in real life, why not include it? Hitch always was a pioneer. Phyllis Konstam as the Bad Girl was the only cast member allowed to act and not merely recite lines.

Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla / directed by William Beaudine (1952, DVD). Bela Lugosi, Duke Mitchell, Sammy Petrillo, Charlita. Petrillo and Mitchell had made a short-lived career as Martin and Lewis copycats. They could be seen on the nightclub circuit in the early 1950s. Before Jerry Lewis shut them down, they managed to get one movie under their belts. Duke Mitchell, who treats us to a few musical numbers, is no Dean Martin. It doesn't help that his movie wardrobe made him look like a supporting character out of The Birdcage. Petrillo's Jerry sometimes out-Jerrys Jerry. He manages to be almost as annoying as that kid in Shane-- quite an achievement! While Mitchell and Petrillo were on the on the way up (granted, it was a short ride), Lugosi was in descent. Yet he was still very much the Big Star here. Hey, his name was in the title! Even in double Z films in the last decade of his tortured life, Lugosi was able to bring a certain decayed elegance to the worst of films. He does get to use the line, "a very interesting cranium!" and also explains the theory of evolution as he performs ungodly experiments in genetics. The plot includes Hollywood's idea of an aboriginal tribe, gorilla suits, and a real chimp-- so as we all know, no good can come from this combination. William "One Shot" Beaudine rivals Ed Wood in the Bad Director Department. Beaudine has several Woodian touches, such as inappropriate music for the action, lots of stock footage, no-budget production values. But he lacks Wood's enthusiasm, vision, and, yes, I'll say it, genius.

A Christmas Story / directed by Bob Clark (1983, VHS off-air). Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Jean Shepherd (narrator). One of the all-time great family films presenting Jean Shepherd's view of the Christmas season in an Indiana town around 1939 through the eyes of a 9-year old boy. With the anticipation of Christmas morning as the hub, we follow the boyhood rituals of dares, dealing with bullies, manipulating adults, getting punished with soap in the mouth, sibling relations, and daydreaming. The central character, Ralphie, desires a Red Ryder BB-gun rifle and is met with the "you'll shoot you eye out" response from the world of grown-ups. Thus his challenge and quest is set. Shepherd's writing and delivery really make the movie, particularly concerning the father, played by McGavin. In describing the Old Man's battle with the oil furnace, Shephard tells us: "In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenity that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan." I particularly enjoyed Shepherd's comment on the Old Man and his car: "Some men are Baptists. Others Catholic. My father was an Oldsmobile man." There is one part where the mother (wonderfully played by Dillon) scoffs at the Old Man's interest in a newspaper article about a man swallowing a yo-yo, to which he replies, "What do you mean 'silly'? That's real news! That's not like politics slop!" Shades of Carl Kolchak! The scene where Ralphie visits Santa is priceless, and something of a coming of age for him in a myth-busting way. Impressive production values throughout the film and excellent casting. The soundtrack alternates between inspired (using classical and popular music of the time) and sappy. This movie served as template for the television series Wonder Years.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 29

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Flying Saucers Over Hollywood: the Plan 9 Companion / directed by Mark Patrick Carducci (1992, VHS). Forrest J. Ackerman, Carl Anthony, Stephen C. Apostolof, Conrad Brooks, Joe Dante, Drew Friedman, Rudolph Grey, Valda Hansen, Paul Marco, Harry Medved, Sam Raimi, Harry Thomas, Vampira, Gregory Walcott. Container title: The Ed Wood Story. In spite of having the feel of an amateur production, or maybe because of it, this is the best of the attempts I've seen to document the phenomenon of Ed Wood and his unique method of filmmaking. Short-sighted critics who have called his movies and novels, "the triumph of will over talent" might change their minds after hearing some of the backstory. This is very much a video version of Rudolph Grey's excellent biography, Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. It also reminds me a little of those Michael Wood documentaries, tracing the actual footsteps of the subject himself. We see where Ed Wood lived, where he liked to hang out, film locations, and the remains of the cramped little studio where Plan 9 was filmed. One of the many film critics interviewed made the point that Wood didn't employ "special" effects. When he used cheap flying saucer models on fishing line they were "symbolic" effects. In addition to Wood, coverage is given to characters out of what Walcott calls the director's "menagerie": Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Vampira, Criswell. Criswell was a psychic and I recall buying his book, Criswell Predicts, in Ralph's Thriftway in the 1960s. Among other things he predicted the end of the world in 1999. My father saw the book in my possession and just scoffed about Criswell finding another sucker. I was disappointed to see little mention of "Bunny" Breckinridge or Dudley Manlove in this documentary. My fellow comic art practitioners and comrades will enjoy the interview with Drew Friedman, who immortalized the cast with his amazing illustrations on a special card set. In case you sequential art guys want to look at Wood's work and laugh, Drew puts us in our place when he says, "The lowest kind of artist you can be is a cartoonist."

Ghost / directed by Jerry Zucker (1990, VHS). Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Goldwyn, Vincent Schiavelli, Stephen Root. "The love inside, you take it with you." After watching a performance of Macbeth, Patrick Sawyze is killed by a mugger and finds himself part of a new subculture-- the dead community. On the cusp of the 1980s/1990s, this film brings all the sappy sentimentality of the earlier decade in a use-it-or-lose-it last effort before the later decade declares romanticism to be dead. For some reason I just couldn't warm up to Swayze and Moore's characters and literally fell asleep while watching this. Moore's haircut made her look like Emilio Estevez (see below). MTV's influence can be seen in the famous pottery scene, a mini-music video within a movie. Whoopi Goldberg provides some campy and much needed comedy, basically saving the story. Vincent Schiavelli as the bi-polar ghost is a hoot, giving us one his most memorable performances. The special effects are not really all that special, but they are still effective. I liked the director's use of color, particularly when it was used to enhance the feeling of a ghost walking through a wall or door. The soundtrack is designed to hit your heartstrings, so bring out the hankies if you cry at movies. When I wasn't sleeping through this, I found myself paying attention to odd details. For example, there seem to be a lot of left-handed people in the cast. My VHS cassette copy of this bit the Big One after this viewing, the tape just mangled or something. I had to bury it in my VHS cemetery next to the pets. Kind of fitting.

"Home of the Week" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1954, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Beverly Wills. Joan Davis was NBC's answer to Lucille Ball in this short-lived (1952-1955) series about a crazy manic housewife married to an easy-going judge. By today's standards, this show appears to be something out of the Ice Age of television. The sets are static, the cameras are merely recording the action, the humor is so innocent it goes over our Century 21 heads. Most adult Americans were radio-oriented in the early 1950s, and this series has the look and feel of a radio broadcast that is enhanced with some of Davis' slapstick vaudeville routines of doubletakes, mugging, and pratfalls. The husband/wife roles as portrayed by Davis and Backus are the kind of thing we Boomers liked to ridicule a decade later. Yet there is still something attractive and charming about this series. It is so earnest and simple and warm. In this episode, Joan almost lands her husband in prison on bribery charges when she borrows expensive decorations to outdo a neighbor to have the "Home of the Week" feature in the newspaper.

Repo Man (Video Version) / directed by Alex Cox (1984, DVD). Emilio Estevez, Harry Dean Stanton, Tracey Walter, Olivia Barash, Sy Richardson, Fox Harris, Zander Schloss, Miguel Sandoval, Richard Foronjy, Jimmy Buffet, Michael Nesmith (uncredited). About as perfect a film that ever existed. An aimless "white suburban punk" finds himself almost by accident employed as a Repo Man, or repossession agent= basically stealing automobiles from delinquent auto loan payers. Or is it an accident? As Miller the repo yard grease monkey tells us, everything is connected in a "lattice of coincidence," including the story's hub: a hunt for a 1964 Chevy Malibu with dead aliens in the trunk, spirited out of a secret New Mexico government installation by a lobotomized scientist. At the risk of sounding like an old Evergroover, I think Miller actually makes a lot of sense. Set in Los Angeles with a strong Punk culture backdrop and ironically released in "1984," this movie seems like a response to the paradox of Reagan-era Big Government/Big Brother/Big National Debt merging of church-state-media, capturing the feeling of alienation many of us felt in the 1980s when it came to our government. For in spite of Ron the Con's rhetoric, the Feds became bigger and more secretive than ever. And class division grew wider. So here we get to see the flipside of the Big 80s. There is also a jab at Scientology, and I wonder if Cox was "so sued" by that cult as a result. In the late 1970s I drove a taxicab and sometimes I think Alex Cox had visited our HQ, as the Repo Man office and atmosphere was so familiar! Just like the Repo Men, we had all sorts of unwritten rules and codes we lived by but always broke. Great casting and a career highlight for Estevez, Stanton ("I don't want no Commies in my car! No Christians either!"), and Walter as far as I'm concerned. The soundtrack still holds up after a quarter century, including cuts by Iggy Pop, Circle Jerks (who briefly appear in the story), and best of all the Plugz. A very tight script that moves along at a quick pace and provides us with a treasure trove of very quotable lines. The plot has many little spurs and cryptic, unexplained actions and quotes, but that really enhances the film and gives the audience sparkly enigmas that has made this title still so interesting after all these years. As I recall, this movie was released in two forms on the same day. First, on the movie screens, and second, as a VHS video. And they are different. The version that is sometimes run on television is the movie screen edition and it has more focus on Otto's parents who are addicted to televangelism and marijuana. A period piece but also far ahead of its time, anticipating and influencing the edgier works of the next decade. Thank you Alex Cox for one of the best films ever.

The Devil Bat / directed by Jean Yarbrough (1940, DVD). Bela Lugosi, Arthur Q. Bryan. There is enough corn in this baby to start an ethanol factory. Cheap sets, bad acting, low budget special effects, newspaper headlines, secret doors, ungodly experiments in evil laboratories with lots of electricity-- the main thing that really makes this worth watching is Lugosi's acting, you know, how he does that thing where he is menacing in a stately way. He plays a "kindly village doctor" (now there is a stretch) who has a secret agenda for revenge. It seems he gave a corporation his secret formula for perfume and aftershave, and in a bad business decision, he opted to cash out his discovery rather than risk profit sharing. But when the corporation made millions, he wanted revenge. So he invented an aftershave/perfume that would attract the attention of the homicidal giant bats he developed. When you view this and see the sort of "bombastic ignoramus" forces Lugosi is up against, you start realizing he is the hero of this story and you want him to emerge victorious. This film is a lot of fun and a special bonus is seeing Arthur Q. Bryan, the original voice of Elmer Fudd, in the role of a newspaper editor.

The Late Show / directed by Robert Benton (1977, DVD). Art Carney, Lily Tomlin, Bill Macy, Eugene Roche, Joanna Cassidy, Howard Duff. Raymond Chandler meets the 1970s. This was a DVD I bought from the bargain bin at Grocery Outlet several months ago. It just looked interesting and I knew nothing about it. But I was unprepared for how good it was. A real sleeper that deserves more recognition. Carney, who started specializing in playing senior citizens with issues at this point in his career, is a private eye who has seen better days. He has a hearing aide, he limps, and his ulcer sometimes immobilizes him. Tomlin is a flakey and floaty young woman who wants help finding Winston, her missing cat. Although both of these fine comedians bring some bathos into the story, it is their dramatic side that engages us. Carney in particular gives a strong and complex performance. Tomlin makes a reference to the Thin Man series and it makes sense. Many of the great old 1940s detective story devices, lingo, and sleazy characters are here, but against the foil of the Jimmy Carter era. Tomlin is usually in scenes bathed in warm colors, Carney gets the black and white visuals, as if he stepped out of an old movie. Washington State native Howard Duff has a brief but important role.

"Whither Canada" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 1, episode 1) / directed by John Howard Davies, Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. Famous deaths, Italian language class, Whizzo Butter and a dead crab, It's the Arts, Sir Edward's latest film, Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson, Picasso's cycling tour, Extended Gilliam cartoon, Funniest joke in the world. They are still forming their timing and chemistry in this one. "Two Sheds" is the most polished skit in the lineup and "Funniest joke" is the most ambitious. My God, this is almost 40 years old. The cast look like babies. Hard to believe.

Night Falls on Manhattan / directed by Sidney Lumet (1996, VHS). Andy Garcia, Ian Holm, James Gandolfini, Lena Olin, Shiek Mahmud-Bey, Colm Feore, Ron Leibman, Richard Dreyfuss, Paul Guilfoyle. A young and idealistic newly elected NYC District Attorney learns the hard way about the grey areas of the law. In this muddy swirl of politics and campaigning, backroom deals, bribes and cops on the take, someone tells the crusader, "You want clean hands? Become a priest!" (OK, so it was 1996). I kept wondering how Toody and Muldoon would fit in. Funny how a movie that has so much going for it somehow fails to excite my interest. Great acting by Garcia, Holm, Gandolfini-- and incredibly hammy performances by Leibman and Dreyfuss, which were fun but not really appropriate. Lumet's choice of zooms and pans, as well as the subtle and noninvasive soundtrack, had authentic class. One not nice character, played by Feore, was obviously trouble from his first frame as evidenced by the fact he was the only person with the ever-odious bowtie. The courtroom scene could've used better audio. Basically, this movie was a downer, not something to view if you're already depressed. Still, Lumet gets points for getting his hands dirty, respecting the intelligence of his audience and not delivering the predictable American film finish.

Primary Colors / directed by Mike Nichols (1998, VHS). John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, Adrian Lester, Maura Tierney, Larry Hagman, Diane Ladd, Paul Guilfoyle, Rob Reiner, Geraldo Rivera, Larry King, Charlie Rose, Bill Maher. A cinema à clef (is that a real word?) about Bill Clinton's 1992 run for the presidency. John Travolta presents a good superficial imitation of the charismatic dreamer and Empathizer-in-Chief, and Emma Thompson captures the spirit of his spouse, you know, the one who really runs the show. Elaine May's screenplay tracks the progress of this unknown Southern governor ("Jack Stanton") in the Democratic Party primaries through the eyes of a young African American campaign aide. We see the candidate's idealistic side, his "Comeback Kid" persistence, his genuine connection with working people. And we see his flaws: flashes of anger, dealing with bimbo eruptions, covering up a radical past, embellishing the truth, and eating lots of junk food. The James Carville-like character (Thornton) comes across as psychotic. Kathy Bates is in a supporting role as a symbol and reminder of the old days in 1972 when us young folks at the time sincerely felt that particular campaign was good vs. evil if ever there was one. Bates as a contrast to her more practical peers results in one of the most interesting conflicts presented in this film. She also demonstrates the inevitable heartbreak of political activists who attach themselves to personalities rather than ideas. Mike Nichols' direction is, as always, amazing. The guy really knows how to visually compose any scene. As nasty as some of the situations are in this story, this film was probably a little too idealistic about how our political process works. The issue of campaign finance was a big missing chunk, for example. As for Bubba, I think he was a lot more intelligent than Travolta played him-- at least from the neck up. The film includes a clip of that incredibly annoying kid from Shane. When I first saw this movie in a theater, there were less than a half dozen of us in the audience. Why? Everyone was at home glued to the tube watching the even more dramatic story unfold on the news concerning the real President Clinton. Larry Hagman is terrific as a political rival, and had some words that are worth noting: "You know, the world is getting more and more complicated and politicians have to explain things to you in simpler terms, so they can get their little oversimplified explanations on the evening news. And eventually instead of even trying to explain things they give up and just start slinging mud at each other. And it’s all to keep you excited, to keep you watching ..." Words to remember a decade later.

Rhodes / directed by David Drury (1996, VHS, off-air). Martin Shaw, Frances Barber, Joe Shaw, David Butler, Ken Stott, Washington Xisolo. "I shall work for the furtherance of the British Empire, the recovery of the United States of America, and the bringing of the whole civilized world under Anglo-Saxon rule. What a dream! Yet it is possible. It is probable." So wrote Cecil John Rhodes, the South African Brit who provided the world with a classic case of the relationship between capitalism and imperialism. He is also the subject of this 6-hour PBS TV miniseries produced in the then new Mandela era. Filmed with wonderful production values, the late 19th century frontier setting brings to mind the many parallels between European land grabs in Africa and Americans taking the Old West, with the same sort of criminal treatment of the native peoples and willingness to go to war with rival invaders. The father/son combination of Martin and Joe Shaw portrayed Rhodes as old and young, showing his story in a series of confusing flashbacks. In this biopic, he is painted as a money and power-driven megalomaniac who has no use for emotional attachments, although there are suggestions here he was affectionate toward at least one young male secretary. Like Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Shaw plays Rhodes as someone who is consumed by greed in increments until at life's end his face is a dark mask of anger and bitterness. Good performances by Barber as nightmare stalker Princess Catherine Radziwill, Ken Stott as the fun-loving rival and later business partner Barney Barnato (who paid dearly for this association), and Xisolo as Lobengula ("What do you know about time? Time is made for slaves.") The director has an effective technique of overlapping sound from one scene to the visuals of another, usually as a way of demonstrating a difference in perceptions between the characters. But for all the impressive qualities of this movie, there are many major flaws. I had difficulty following some of the dialect. The line, "Is he off his head?" at first sounded like, "Is he office head?" which of course made me laugh pretty hard at the play on words once it dawned on me. The line "Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!" was used by Rhodes when the body of his dead young assistant was carried away. I have been told by America's Best Playwright that the "Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!" device is always a sure sign of shoddy writing and cheap theatrics. It should be added that I figure the more "o"s in "No" the worse it is. For example, "Noooo!" is not as bad as "Noooooooooooooooooooooooo!" The soundtrack could've been more diverse. The same theme was frequently brought in to punch up the pace a bit, and in a very short time it became repetitive and annoying-- a common weakness of TV miniseries. In spite of these artistic bad choices, this is worth checking out if you enjoy history, politics and even Westerns.

"Get Well, Officer Schnauser" (Car 54, Where Are You?) / directed by Al De Caprio (1961, VHS off-air). Joe E. Ross, Fred Gwynne, Al Lewis, Charlotte Rae (uncredited). A wonderful romp through an innocent and funny parade of comedic expressions and double-takes. Gunther Toody helps the FBI track down "No Face," a notorious bank robber. In the process of his police work, Toody disguises himself as a Beatnik. Yes, a Beatnik. 1961 style. This episode is worth seeing just for this. I laughed out loud many times. 1960s television character actor Charlotte Rae, a well known fixture to those of us from that era, and Al Lewis, are both very good. When I was a kid I probably watched this with a very serious expression of soaking in information about the world out there. I can still recite the lyrics to the Car 54 theme but I'd be hard pressed to name my current County Commissioners or City Councilpeople. Sometimes I think my brain needs an enema.

Whoa, Be-Gone / directed by Chuck Jones (1958, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). Another bit of insanity where the Coyote repeats his compulsive behavior and fails to capture the roadrunner. Two thoughts here: First, where do I find a copy of the Acme Catalog? Second, why do I identify with the coyote more than the roadrunner?

Cheaper by the Dozen 30

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

"The Man With the Twisted Lip" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Patrick Lau (1986, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Eleanor David, Clive Francis, Denis Lill, Albert Moses. Holmes investigates the apparent murder of a society gentleman, and his path takes him through the seediest parts of London. Interesting portrayal of opium dens and the society of beggars. Apparently open use of opium had yet to be illegal in the early 1890s. Strong themes of double lives, double lies, compulsion and addiction. Brett is in great form, enjoying his dramatic hamminess as much as we do. Very atmospheric and well directed.

The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew / directed by Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas (1983, VHS). Rick Moranis, Dave Thomas, Max von Sydow, Paul Dooley, Lynne Griffin, Angus MacInnes, Buddy the Dog, Mel Blanc (voice). Take off, eh? Filmed in Hoserama, the McKenzie Brothers of SCTV stretch a late night cult joke into a feature length movie back when rampant alcoholism was still funny. It takes Canadians to play with Canadian stereotypes, and as I saw this in a theater a quarter century ago when it was first released I have to admit I laughed pretty hard. I'm older and wiser now. Loosely based on Hamlet (set in a brewery, it produces Elsinore Beer), you can have fun finding all the little connections with Shakespeare's greatest work. The Ghost of the Father was handled in a clever way. He communicates through electronics. The Brothers seldom let you forget you are watching a movie, as they turn the medium back on itself by discussing cinematic conventions such as being able to drive without ever having to look at the road. Although the film isn't exactly stellar, Moranis and Thomas do have a great comedic chemstry. But their humor seems better suited to the original short SCTV spots.

Unhook the Stars / directed by Nick Cassavetes (1996, VHS). Gena Rowlands, Marisa Tomei, Gérard Depardieu, Jake Lloyd, Brittney Lewis. Subtle, sophisticated, well acted, almost European in tone, the director respects the intelligence of his audience-- and this is as boring as Steve Forbes. B-O-R-I-N-G. God, I died. A widow finds herself on her own for the first time in her adult life after her angry daughter leaves home. But her wild and crazy neighbors keep her occupied as she agrees to baby-sit their little boy. During this transition she discovers the difference between lonely and being alone, and the boundaries of enabling others. The director uses no flashbacks, telling the story in a straightforward narrative, allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks. We see an elegant parent/child role reversal in the course of the film. The ending was subdued and enigmatic, but I liked it (To be frank, mostly I liked it because I was grateful this movie was finally coming to a conclusion). Depardieu's presence, welcome as it is here, seems really out from left field and exotic. Apparently filmed in Utah, this is the final film appearance of the Rubin and Ed poster girl, Brittney Lewis. Now for some nepotism: This movie marks the directorial debut of Nick Cassavetes, son of the starring actress, Gena Rowlands.

Without a Clue / directed by Thom Eberhardt (1988, VHS). Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Lysette Anthony, Paul Freeman, Nigel Davenport, Pat Keen, Peter Cook. "Watson, I was once a figment of your imagination. But now, Sherlock Holmes belongs to the whole world." The premise is Dr. Watson (Kingsley), who is a gifted detective with a "hobby" of writing, had to find an actor to portray Holmes in order to satisfy the public and police and disguise his crime-solving activity ("It was about nine years ago. One of my patients was a Scotland Yard inspector investigating the Paxton murder case. I give him the name of the murderer, but gave credit to a nonexistent detective. At the time, I was hoping for an appointment to the staff of a rather conservative medical college"). His "Holmes" (Caine) is an actor as well as a drunk, womanizer, gambler, general pain in the ass, and no detective ("I couldn't detect horse manure if I stepped in it!"). In the course of solving a case we encounter familiar characters such as Mrs. Hudson, Inspector Lestrade, the Baker Street Irregulars, John Clay, and Professor Moriarty. This is very funny, and even more so if you are a fan of the Jeremy Brett series, as Michael Caine's version is a polar opposite. Well directed with strong production values. Worth watching a second time just to observe all the detail going on in the background. Peter Cook has an all too brief appearance in the role of Norman Greenhough, publisher of the Strand. Caine and Kingsley click as comedians. A keeper.

Rich and Strange / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1931, DVD). Henry Kendall, Joan Barry, Percy Marmont, Betty Amann, Elsie Randolph. Darkly humorous, risque, and flat out bizarre, this has to be the weirdest movie ever made by The Master of Suspense-- and one of my favorite Hitchcock films from his British film days. A bickering English middle class couple inherit a small fortune and set out to travel the world. After a series of mishaps and adventures, they end up where they started out-- bickering at home. Apparently none the wiser for their experiences. Nausea is a constant thread throughout the story. Although this is a talkie, there are many silent film conventions: melodramatic acting, thick make-up, caption cards, a lot of visual storytelling. In fact, the dialogue is so sparse this could almost be considered a movement piece. Hitchcock is never more a choreographer with crowds as he is with this work. Although this is mostly a comedy, there are dramatic moments. At one point the subjects of death and birth are addressed when the couple are aboard a Chinese junk, a sobering contrast to their silly little foibles. The timing is frequently off-center and some of the cuts are almost Woodian. Hitch seems to be experimenting with different visual techniques all at once, depriving the tale of a consistent style. The romantic musical chairs aboard a ship as each person discovers their deep inner idiot brings to mind many parallels with the Bogart movie Beat the Devil (1953).

Best in Show / directed by Christopher Guest (2000, VHS). Jay Brazeau, Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Lewis Arquette, Bob Balaban, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, Patrick Cranshaw, Jennifer Coolidge, Jane Lynch, Don Lake, Deborah Theaker, Linda Kash, Larry Miller, Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, Jim Piddock. The creative ensemble that has no name once again come together for another Guest-directed film. This one centers around a dog show, and the dogs themselves are far more intelligent than their owners. Like the other movies in this series, the humor is refreshingly warm and humane. Even the unlikable yuppie couple, expertly played by Posey and Hitchcock, evoke sympathetic feelings. As in Mighty Wind, SCTV veterans Levy and O'Hara possess the moment in the story with the most emotional punch. And like that later film, Levy's cartoony character somehow seems the most real. How does he do it? I love the way writers Guest and Levy paired certain types of dogs to certain people. McKean singing over the phone to his canine is one of my favorite scenes. Balaban, Willard, and Lake have basically played the same character in each of these Guest pieces, which is OK as they are good at it. Guest's ability to be so different in each one (This is Spinal Tap, Mighty Wind, Waiting for Guffman) is very impressive. This might sound strange coming from a guy who created a comix character called "Morty the Dog," but I actually prefer cats. I grew up with dogs on a farm and enjoyed their companionship and devotion, but cats are far more interesting to me. Dogs drool, cats rule, man.

Raising Arizona / directed by Joel Coen (1987, VHS off-air). Nicholas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson, John Goodman, William Forsythe, Frances McDormand, Randall "Tex" Cobb. "OK then." One of the masterworks by the Coen brothers, I'm crappin' you negative. Using their love of regionalisms, the Coens set this story in Arizona, where a criminal recidivist and former policewoman swipe a quintuplet in order to have their own instant family. The tight rhythm, the soundtrack, the comic timing, the plot twists and interweaving, the acting-- all near perfect. To this day I still use this film as the high mark for measuring Cage and Hunter's subsequent performances. The use of the World Anthem in the soundtrack somehow works. After two decades the movie seems better than ever. Trey Wilson's (Nathan Arizona) early demise shortly after this was filmed was a loss to the industry, but at least his acting was recorded in a truly great title. Having grown up in a 50' x 10' mobile home myself, I laughed at how the place got destroyed in the course of a fight. This one deserves a sequel.

Elvira, Mistress of the Dark / directed by James Signorelli (1988, DVD off-air). Cassandra Peterson and her Breasts. "Revenge is better than Christmas." The credits should tell you everything you need to know about this movie. But it isn't as bad as Zardoz. Nice car. I enjoyed Elvira's humor when it was fresh, but the expiration date has long-since passed.

Glen or Glenda / directed by Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1953, VHS). Bela Lugosi, Edward D. Wood Jr. (as "Daniel Davis"), Lyle Talbot, Timothy Farrell, Dolores Fuller, Conrad Brooks, Captain DeZita. "Only the infinity of the depths of a man's mind can really tell the story." Originally produced as a way to exploit the sensational 1952 Christine Jorgensen sex-change operation, Ed Wood in his role as writer/director/star basically hijacks the premise and makes this a thinly disguised autobiographical account of the guilt and Hell of being a transvestite in the same society that was allowing Joe McCarthy to run amok. You will never see another movie like this. More or less given as an audiovisual essay, the film includes lots of inexplicable stock footage, Wood's unique writing ("The world is a strange place to live in. All those cars. All going someplace. All carrying humans, which are carrying out their lives."), and bad actors struggling to deliver surreal dialogue. Wood operates in a world where symbolism doesn't have to be universal, and if the audience can't figure it out that's their tough luck. Lugosi, on the downward spiral of addiction at this point, was included simply for star power. His role is apparently one of a God-like narrator ("Pull the stringk! Dance to dat vhich one is created for!") but who mostly reacts to the unfolding story with nothing more than a catalog of wonderful and hammy facial expressions. An original film by an original filmmaker and one the bravest works of American cinema to appear during Ike's first term.

"Acrobats" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1952, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Elvia Allman (uncredited), Geraldine Carr (uncredited), Joe DeRita (uncredited). Another Joan Davis episode about a ditzy housewife in a series that is essentially televised radio. Some time-honored TV situation comedy devices here, although in 1952 they were still novel. There are vicious adventures in hat shopping plus a scene where she potentially ruins her husband's career by acting badly in front of a V.I.P. at a fancy restaurant. Davis was a physical comedian, and just when it was dawning on me she was sort of the female answer to the Three Stooges, who should make an appearance in the role of a waiter but Joe DeRita? DeRita was later "Curly Joe" during the final years of the Three Stooges.

"Shoscombe Old Place" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Patrick Lau (1991, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Ronin Ellis, Jude Law. An ordinary story with some extraordinary hammy acting by almost the entire cast. Brett himself is just past the cusp of being brilliant and starting on the loss of spark. There is one fleeting moment when he was handed a human bone someone found in an incinerator, and he briefly gets that fire of joy, but for the most part we see a very subdued and wrecked Holmes. The lighting in this episode was very unflattering to all concerned. The Gothic setting and ham made me think of a Roger Corman Poe-cycle film, and I mean that as a compliment. Oh, if only Jeremy Brett and Vincent Price could've shared the screen! Director Lau did use nature very effectively here. Nice landscape shots and using bird sounds to generate a mood. Also enjoyed the use of seeing things from a dog's point of view for part of the story. Robin Ellis is one of the few actors to have the distinction of having appeared in both the Holmes series and in Fawlty Towers ("A Touch of Class"). Oh, yeah, this one includes a young supporting actor with a small but important part named Jude Law.

White Zombie / directed by Victor Halperin (1932, DVD). Bela Lugosi, Madge Bellamy, Joseph Cawthorn, Robert Frazer, John Harron, Brandon Hurst. This could be subtitled: Be Careful What You Wish For. Bela Lugosi is in his prime, deliciously menacing in the grandfather of all zombie movies. Although my copy (Diamond Entertainment) has poor audio and some jarring splices, the overall visuals are good-- the creepy mood and environment created by the director scared the bejeezus out of me. Lugosi is a zombie master who uses the poor non-souls as workers in his sugar mills. The scene where we see him in his element, among the exploited walking dead while they labor, seems almost like a statement on the condition of wage slavery. Still very watchable today and does not seem to suffer from the slow pace of storytelling as much as other films of that era. Robert Frazer in the role of a wealthy man who strikes a deal with the Devil (Lugosi) and then pays the consequences is especially strong as a supporting actor. John Harron, the quasi leading man, has a Washington State connection. He appeared in 166 films, mostly uncredited, many of them big budget features for Warner Bros. Around Thanksgiving 1939 he came to Washington to vacation and go fishing, but became ill and died in a Seattle hospital at age 36. Madge Bellamy has the quintessential Depression-era beauty face. Some excellent camera tricks, such as the silent zombie profiles against the moonlit night sky, all in a row, and the use of Lugosi's eyes in certain situations. I normally don't care much for zombie movies, in fact I can't stand them, but I dig this one. Heh.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 31

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Last of Sheila / directed by Herbert Ross (1973, VHS). Richard Benjamin, Dyan Cannon, James Coburn, Joan Hackett, James Mason, Ian McShane, Racquel Welch. There has been a long standing rumor around McCleary that James Coburn, or George Peppard, or some actor of that ilk had a buddy around here. And whenever James Coburn, or George Peppard, or that ilkish actor wanted to get away from the fast lane of Hollywood and disappear, they would hide out up here for awhile. I mention this because that bit of gossipy trivia is far more interesting than this movie. This has the feel of those role playing murder mystery games, except it is more fun when you're with your friends in the living room than watching it in a bad film. Although the setting is exotic and the premise is full of suspense, the story quickly bogs down. It also has an enclosed made-for-TV feel. I found myself looking forward to James Mason's appearances on the screen, as he is always fun to watch no matter how awful the script. Actor Anthony Perkins was a co-author of this story. His true talent was in front a camera, not behind a typewriter.

"Sex and Violence" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 1, episode 2) / directed by John Howard Davies, Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. Harold the clever sheep, the French, A man with three buttocks, A man with two noses, Arthur Ewing and his musical mice, This is your moment Arthur Pewty, Victoria and Gladstone, Coal miner son visits playwright father, A Scotsman on a horse, The Epilogue: A question of belief, The mouse problem. Michael Palin seems to be having a hard time keeping a straight face. Lots of characters named "Arthur" in this one. "The Mouse Problem" remains a classic and is the standout sketch in this episode.

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby / directed by Alberto Cavalcanti (1947, VHS). Cedric Hardwicke, Stanley Holloway, Alfred Drayton, Derek Bond. Social injustices of 1830s England, particularly "education" for the lower class, is exposed through the eyes of the pure-hearted hero, Nicholas Nickleby. A fun array of Dickensonian characters populate this rambling tale: Vincent Crummles, Wackford Squeers, Newman Noggs, Miss Knag, Sir Mulberry Hawk, Frank Cheeryble, and many others. Cedric Hardwicke is very effective as the evil old skinflint, Ralph Nickleby. He's sort of like Scrooge, but not as lucky in the end. Stanley Holloway also stands out as the over-the-top leader of a theatrical group. Wonderful casting and the direction really highlights the weirdness and eccentricity of the main players.

The Producers / directed by Mel Brooks (1968, VHS). Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andréas Voutsinas, Estelle Winwood, Mel Brooks (uncredited), William Hickey, Barney Martin. One of my favorite films of the 1960s and the best ever by Mel Brooks. The memory of Hitler was still fresh enough to leave Brooks open to charges of bad taste, but Mel knew what he was doing when he created this cinematic candy he wanted to originally entitle Springtime For Hitler. If humor is the release of tension, then he really knew what buttons to push while putting this movie together. Zero Mostel is the center of attention here, and what a ride! An amazing performance by the King of Combovers as the unscrupulous down-on-his-luck Broadway producer who romances little old ladies in order to charm the checks out of them. Gene Wilder, then an unknown, is perfect as Leo Bloom, the sheltered and neurotic accountant who inadvertently provides Mostel with the scheme to find the worst play ever written, oversell the shares, and then take the money and run after the play flops. Every scene is like a little self-contained mini-movie, and could be played out of context and remain funny. There are many great quotable lines and situations in this work that have made their way into our collective culture, but one of the overlooked parts that never fails to crack me up is the sight of a hundred Hitlers onstage creating chaos as they practice their speeches all at once. After 40 years this movie is politically incorrect in so many ways, but somehow the dated jokes remain funny-- I still laugh, but the laughter is coming from a different place.

Romance With a Double Bass / directed by Robert Young (1974, VHS). John Cleese, Connie Booth, Freddie Jones, Andrew Sachs. A short film based on a story by Anton Chekhov. Filmed during the brief time between Cleese's Monty Python and Fawlty Towers series, the humor in this quirky little movie is mostly visual. There are moments where we see flashes of Basil Fawlty emerging. Freddie Jones is very good in a supporting role as the musical conductor. A look at a slice of pre-Revolution Russian society. Includes what the Pythons called full frontal naughty bits. Apparently this was originally created for broadcast on British television.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Martin Short, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Eugene Fodor. "Oh that Rusty" examined by Brock Linahan, Edna Boil solo, Nasex nasal deoderant, Edith Prickley on safety in the home, Angus Crock's cooking, Great White North-- what bugs us, Quincy cartoon coroner, Farm Film Celebrity Blow Up-- Meryl Streep, Pepsi test with Pirini Scleroso, Small town dick, New York rhapsody (guest star Eugene Fodor), Rent-a-retort/Hire-a-harpie, Reel love with George Carlin, LaRue-tachi, Don Rickles love, Pepi Longsocks, Sammy Maudlin and Lola Heatherton, Bobby Bittman's anti-drug crusade, Wet nurse, Merv Griffin revisits the 1960s, Al's Sanitone drycleaning, Slinky the toy from Hell, Great White North-- mouse in a beer bottle, Mayor Tommy Shanks, Mrs. Falbo's Tiny Town, G. Gordon Liddy's version of Goldliocks as a gun crazed sociopath, Edna's back, Communicating in Italian, Great White North-- snow chains, Count Floyd presents Death Motel, Penolta M-X, SCTV janiotorial strike, Sid Dithers, Pierre Trudeau and Edith Prickley in Studio 54, SCTV partnerships with CBC, Monday night curling, Headline challenge, It's a Canadian fact, The Rowdyman, Magnum P.E.I., Hello Metric, Moose Beer, Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice, Joni Mitchell "For dogs only," Do-it-yourself advertising with Phil, Chick Monk roadie for the defense, Great White North-- Star Wars, SCTV news, Mr. Earl doll, Guy Caballero, Video Tech videocassettes, Star Wars pt. XXXIV-- Return to Planet of Empires, $Dailing for Dollar$ with Walter Cronkite, Gerry Todd telepathy channel changer, Sammy Maudlin's 23rd anniversary show, Pit Stop extra dry, Sermonette by "Father" Raoul Wilson, Those funny guys, SCTV sports central, Hefty, Shoplifting doesn't pay, 50 Psalms, Emergency orderly, Court clerk, Library police, Exorcising with Linda Blair, Earl Jr. reads the news, Chickadee Chickette Chicken Style Loaf, Leave it to Beaver, Goodbye America with Heraldo Rivera at Johnny LaRue's Penthouse Party, Quik Wash Dish Laundry, Children on booze, Blind fists of the furious dragon, Dr. Tongue and his animal friends, Family detective, Nothing to sell, Winning chess with Boris Morris, Bill and Mike dolls, SCTV news-- Earl's white suit, Sleepfast. My cat Buster became transfixed when Andrea Martin appeared in the faux kid's show, "Mrs. Falbo's Tiny Town." Go figure. Even though I'm a big fan of SCTV, I have to say their earliest televised work doesn't really survive the test of time too well. Their later efforts, such the mini-movie "Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice" still has the zing even today. This comedy group is really for a Baby Boomer audience. More than most comedy groups, the SCTV crew experienced the most growth and change before our eyes.

Big House Bunny / directed by Friz Freleng (1950, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). In order to escape gun-crazy hunters, Bugs Bunny accidentally breaks into prison where Yosemite Sam works as a guard. Two jokes, one involving an electric chair and the other the gallows have been censored from the televised version. Prison is just a state of mind here.

"The Six Napoleons" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by David Carson (1986, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Gerald Campion, Vernon Dobtcheff, Colin Jeavons, Steve Plytas, Marina Sirtis, Eric Sykes. "Observe, and learn," so says Holmes. One of the better stories and episodes of this series. Director Carson used the technique of panning the camera here to great advantage. The composition of his shots, such as suggesting through visuals Holmes is an avenging angel in the mortuary scene, are inspired. He also inserted a gentle sense of humor that enhanced the movement of the story. The relationship between Holmes and Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade has never been as complicated as in this tale. Their competition has always been present, but in this story we also see their mutual respect. The early Mafia in London provides a backdrop for this interesting plot. The stereotype of English reserve and Italian passion are reinforced by Conan Doyle. The supporting actors make it hard to resist connecting them to their better known works: Plytas (Fawlty Towers), Sirtis (Star Trek Next), Sykes (Theatre of Blood). Brett, Hardwicke, and Jeavons used acting teamwork to provide a great piece of entertainment.

They Made Me a Criminal / directed by Busby Berkeley (1939, VHS). John Garfield, The Dead End Kids, Ann Sheridan, Claude Rains, Ward Bond, Arthur Housman (uncredited). A tale of Darwinian survival in the 1930s-- with the moral that you can't run away from yourself. I always thought Busby Berkeley only directed weirdly choreographed musicals, but here we have a rare exception. Another anomaly is Claude Rains cast as a tough NYC cop and not as a suave character (it doesn't work). Garfield plays a boxer who has a clean public image but is kind of rough around the edges in private, to put it mildly. Circumstances forces him to flee New York and, living life as a 1930s hobo, he finds himself in Arizona at an orchard of some kind-- with the Dead End Kids! They are there as punishment. These NYC refugees form a bond and Garfield rediscovers his humanity. The Dead End Kids are not really kids any more by this time, yet they still had a few more films to go. The gas pump scene will blow your mind. Arthur Housman, professional drunk with a long list of film credits as a professional drunk, has a role. My copy has an awful audio and tracking, yet it says "LIFETIME - WARRANTY" on the cassette label. I'm talking to YOU, Silver Screen Video of Ocean,NJ! Oh. They appear to be defunct. So much for the promises of private enterprise. Which sort of feeds back into the plot of this movie.

"Honey Trap" (Thin Blue Line) / directed by John Birkin (1995, VHS off-air). Rowan Atkinson, Mina Anwar, James Dreyfus, Serena Evans, David Haig. "The public distrusts clever police officers. They think they're up to something." OK, here's the deal. I inherited this tape. I don't know this series and have had a very negative reaction to Atkinson in his past endeavors. But. He's not bad here. It is awkward coming into a BBC sitcom that has established characters and understood in-jokes. To make this even more inaccessible, the version I have has a delay in the audio lip-sync, and that coupled with the UK accent makes it a bit difficult to follow. Set in an English police station, this story revolves around guy-type cluelessness and the consequences of such a mindset. I particularly enjoyed the character of Detective Inspector Derek Grim as played by David Haig. A pompous ass who uses such malapropisms as "slippery as an owl." But as screwed up as this police station is, I suspect the portrayal here is watered down compared to real-life situations in many American municipalities.

 

Betty Boop's Crazy Inventions / directed by Dave Fleischer (1933, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). An exercise in animated surrealism as Betty and pals demonstrate a variety of inventions, many of them powered by animal labor. At the end a sewing machine runs amok. Not a pretty sight. KoKo the Klown gives me the Kreeps. But Betty is A-OK, "Made of pen and ink, she can win you with a wink!"

Time Bandits / directed by Terry Gilliam (1981, VHS off-air). John Cleese, Sean Connery, Katherine Helmond, Shelley Duvall, Ian Holm, Michael Palin, Ralph Richardson, Peter Vaughan, David Warner, David Rappaport, Kenny Baker, Malcolm Dixon, Mike Edmonds, Jack Purvis, Tiny Ross, Craig Warnock, Jim Broadbent, Charles McKeown. A beautiful and darkly whimsical journey into the imagination of a child, wonderfully played by Craig Warnock. As one cartoonist to another, I salute Terry Gilliam as one of the most visually magical and creative directors of our time. Themes of good and evil, along with characters consumed by consumerism, dominate the story. Former Monty Python members Michael Palin and Gilliam scripted this piece, giving it an offbeat edge. One wonders if the dwarf company of bandits is a reflection on the Python group itself? George Harrison was one of the producers and provided some of the soundtrack. Fun and fast-paced storytelling, with an excellent cast. We meet Napoleon, who has a classic case of Short Man Syndrome ("Five foot one and conqueror of Italy! Not bad, huh?"), Robin Hood, and Agamemnon. David Warner is both menacing and very funny as Evil. On the other side, Ralph Richardson is quite convincing as The Supreme Being ("I am the nice one."). Although Gilliam's later films had more sophisticated production values, they grew darker and more serious. This one is his Midsummer Night's Dream and one of my favorites.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 32

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Ed Wood: Look Back in Angora / directed by Ted Newsom (1994, VHS). Conrad Brooks, Dolores Fuller, Kathy Wood, Stephen C. Apostolof, Joseph F. Robertson, Gary Owens (narrator). A cleverly edited documentary on the life and work of filmmaker Edward D. Wood, Jr. using clips from his own movies supplemented with testimony from a few people who knew him. The obscure film footage is impressive, and Newsom clearly studied his topic. The fatal flaw in this piece was the selection of Gary Owens as the narrator. Owens is very good at what he does, which is being a comic voice, but his tone and delivery trivialize the content of this documentary. Yes, Ed Wood is generally regarded as an incompetent director and easy to laugh at. I could tell Newsom was trying to go beyond that ha-ha view, but his own narrator undercut the message. Next time pick James Earl Jones. Now that would be something.

George Wallace / directed by John Frankenheimer (1997, VHS). Gary Sinise, Mare Winningham, Clarence Williams III, Joe Don Baker, Angelina Jolie, William Sanderson, Skipp Sudduth. These titles are reviewed on strictly a random basis, so it seems more than a coincidence that I have the opportunity to view a docudrama on the life of George Wallace, the champion of American Apartheid, on the occasion of the 2008 presidential election. I recall Gov. Wallace in the news as a nasty little man wearing a perpetual curled lip of hate. His racist brand of populism had a strong following and in 1968 he had one of the most effective third party runs in U.S. history as a candidate of the American Independent Party, winning the electoral votes of several Southern states. Although he returned to the Democratic Party and made Prez runs in 1972 and 1976, he really was a transitional figure in leading Deep South Democrats into the Republican Party. Arthur Bremer's assassination attempt in 1972 at Laurel, Maryland left Gov. Wallace wheelchair bound for the rest of his life, and was a major factor in liberalizing the Governor's political views. This TNT mini-series opens the story in the middle with the 1972 shooting, gives us the beginning in a series of flashbacks starting in 1955, and then follows with his post-attack life and career. Starting out as a moderate Democrat, Wallace basically sold his soul to the Devil and sunk into a moral abyss of pro-segregation, police state enforcement, red-baiting, and blind nationalism in order to build a political power base. Then Karma hit back. And hit back hard. In the end we see Gov. Wallace as a broken man who seeks redemption and forgiveness, not only from God but also from the very people he brutalized. Gary Sinise is very good as Wallace, yet he lacks the edge of Wallace's real surly nastiness many of us remember when he was in full throttle. Frankenheimer made effective use of horrific archival footage. I also liked the way he switched between color and black and white. It does seem symbolic that in the 1960s, color television was a novelty most of us didn't have, so our memories of news events are, yes, black and white. Political junkies will enjoy this film, but for any viewer this will help put Barack Obama's amazing victory in historical context.

"Mabel's Dress" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1954, VHS). Joan Davis. Jim Backus, Geraldine Carr, Hal Smith. One of Joan's antics results in a misunderstanding that ostracizes her (and her husband) from a big neighborhood birthday party. At first Joan and Brad attempt to entertain themselves with their own party, but as that falls flat they manage to worm their way to the event anyway with a nice birthday cake, which, unknown to all, will explode when the candles are lit. Innocent, innocent, innocent times. Interesting that this couple do not own a television set in 1954 or even make a winking nudge-nudge know-what-I-mean reference to sex. The fear of not being part of the immediate community is very real here-- an anxiety that seems quaint today in this age of personal abuse and dehumanizing your political/religious/philosophical opponents and putting decals of Calvin pissing on whatever you don't like on your SUV back windshield. Although the sets were limited and static, Joan Davis was a great physical comic and live-wire. One of the more overlooked comic actors of early television. Her crime was dying young and not being around to ballyhoo herself later.

"The Golden Pince-Nez" (The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Peter Hammond (1994, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Frank Finlay, Charles Gray, Christopher Guard, Patricia Kerrigan. A very strange episode in the Holmes series, but one of Brett's better performances in this final period as his physical condition deteriorated. Dr. Watson is absent from the tale, and in his place we have Mycroft, Sherlock's smarter (and lazier) brother-- a novel foil-- and we see some new sides of The Great Detective. Mycroft possesses their father's magnifying glass (a point that annoys Sherlock), giving us a brief glimpse of the sibling rivalry between the Holmes brothers and a very rare reference to their parentage. In another scene Mycroft quotes their father while dispensing advice. Set in the early 20th century, there are references to embryonic Soviet revolutionaries and the radical concept of women fighting for the right to vote. Charles Gray was every bit Mycroft Holmes as Brett was Sherlock. Two enormous hams who fit together well and were a pleasure to watch. It is a pity Mycroft didn't appear in more episodes. Director Hammond's contribution to the series disintegrated in the course of time. His first story, "The Master Blackmailer," was brilliant. But a few years later his direction came across as someone who is a victim of Attention Deficit Disorder. It is almost as if he is tossing in visual distractions as a way to create an enigma on purpose. It feels artificial and pretentious.

Zatôichi abare tako = Zatoichi's Flashing Sword / directed by Kazuo Ikehiro (1964, DVD). Shintarô Katsu, Tatsuo Endo, Takashi Etajima, Naoko Kubo. Zatoichi fans appear to have unfairly categorized this film as one of the ordinary and average entries into the long series of Z-man titles, but I beg to differ. It is true there is more talk and less action than most, but the story is tight and the characters are interesting. I enjoyed the mix of comedy in the drama. The visual composition of the story is elegant. The soundtrack is minimal and less cheesey than the earlier Zatoichi movies. We are starting to see more blood now. Some of the scenes that stick: foes who resort to using firearms are portrayed as dishonorable, Zatoichi's atrocious eating habits are worse than ever, the sword fight in the river was beautifully choreographed. The fireworks serving as a symbol of independence from oppression should be something that clicks with American viewers. As usual, Z-man finds himself as the anti-hero in the middle of a power struggle between two bosses, but in this case one is good and the other is not. Obviously the 1840s definition of "gangster" is different than what we know, as the Blind Swordsman tells off the evil boss, "It's not the place of a gangster to go strutting around in broad daylight like he owns the world. A proper gangster bows his head and politely yields the way to the common folk."

The Last Detail / directed by Hal Ashby (1973, VHS). Jack Nicholson, Otis Young, Randy Quaid, Clifton James, Carol Kane, Luana Anders, Gilda Radner, Don McGovern. One of Jack Nicholson's best kept little secrets, a hidden gem in his already impressive resume. Two Navy chasers (Nicholson, Young) are assigned to escort a young klepto sailor (Quaid) to military prison where he will serve an 8-year stretch. They attempt to show the kid one last good time before his imprisonment. This is sort of the military version of the later Midnight Run, where captors form a bond with the captive. And like that later movie, profanity is raised to the level of poetry and ceases to be offensive. Most of my favorite lines I can't repeat in mixed company, but here are a couple of the more acceptable toss-offs: "I wouldn't shit you, you're my favorite turd"; And Nicholson's response to some Marines who are making fun of his pants while standing at a urinal: "If I was a Marine I wouldn't have to f*** with no 13 buttons, I'd just take my hat off." The sailors are fully aware they are treated like second class citizens in the late Vietnam War era as they navigate through the civilian world. Quaid is a big, lumbering baby of a man by the name of Meadows. As Nicholson's character "Bad Ass" Buddusky summarizes his prisoner: "Let me tell you something about a kid like Meadows. He's the kinda guy, he's goin' to the brig, secretly he's probably glad. On the Outside too many things can happen to him-- all of it bad." He might as well be describing himself, a Navy lifer who later tells us how stale and flat the nonmilitary life was for him. Ashby gave this work sort of a grainy, documentary feel. I viewed this in a theater when it was initially released and I recall it was the first time I ever saw Quaid, Kane, and Radner. It was also my first exposure to the whole Nichiren Shoshu chanting thing, which I originally thought was merely invented for the story. Most important of all, this film introduced me to the term "Let's shag ass," as in "Let's go quickly." An unusual and excellent movie.

Mom and Dad Save the World / directed by Greg Beeman (1992, VHS). Teri Garr, Jeffrey Jones, Jon Lovitz, Thalmus Rasulala, Wallace Shawn, Eric Idle, Kathy Ireland. So the title gives away the ending. Who cares? A silly and fun fantasy family film with sets and costumes that look as if they had been inspired by Dr. Seuss. Wallace Shawn's role was too brief. The final film for Thalmus Rasulala. Although Eric Idle's cameo appearance does have some Monty Pythonesque dialogue, that influence pretty much starts and stops right there. Garr and Jones make a believable married couple. Lovitz cracks me up as the sociopathic alien leader Tod. I particularly got a kick out of the musical chorus singing his praises. Light candy.

Niagara / directed by Henry Hathaway (1953, VHS). Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters, Don Wilson. A Korean War vet with delayed stress syndrome is married to an unfaithful wife with murder on her mind. Marilyn does steal the show, but the story itself really centers on characters played by Cotten and Peters. Monroe is amazing to watch, but she is so evil here that in the end she loses our sympathy. And in a nice flip, Cotten the bad guy becomes sort of a good guy. Well, not really, but unlike Marilyn at least we can understand his motives. Some good plot twists and great automobiles in that Sears catalog Technicolor! They knew how to design them back then. This was probably pretty racey stuff in 1953. Director Hathaway is no Hitchcock, and several opportunities to build suspense seemed squandered to me. As usual, Joseph Cotten, the actor all my friends love to hate for reasons I can never understand, is terrific. What is the deal with hating Cotten? I can be on a nice walk with a pal, and then out of the blue in context with nothing he or she will exclaim, "I hate Joseph Cotten!" in an almost Tourette-like outburst and then proceed to talk about another topic as if nothing happened. In fact, I think Mike Gravel did this several times while making speeches during the 2008 primary season. "Our educational systems needs a I HATE JOSEPH COTTEN! complete overhaul and as President that will be my top priority." Or maybe I just dreamt it.

Personal Services / directed by Terry Jones (1987, VHS). Julie Walters, Alec McCowen, Shirley Stelfox, Danny Schiller, Ron Pember. Follows the scrap race of an English prostitute from the slums to the suburbs. Inspired by the real life experience of Cynthia Payne, an entrepreneur who made it big catering to the kinky desires of a long line of sad old men who were part of the British Establishment. Payne's highly public arrests and trials lifted the lid on a subculture that was quite different than the image of famous British reserve. Julie Walters is every bit as good here as she was in Educating Rita, determined to do what she has to in order to survive, making the best with what she has. All of the characters here, the providers and the clients, seemed trapped and are only dimly aware of that fact. Walters/Payne's twist was in providing a suburban middle-class "House of Cyn," a place with a strange sense of community where the socially/sexually isolated could feel part of something. Director Jones makes creative use of long pans in the first quarter of the film as a way of setting up the characters. He seemed to have dropped that technique as the story unfolded. Apparently there are only four major motion pictures that ever been banned in Ireland. Three of them were directed by Terry Jones, including the title I am presently reviewing (the other two were Monty Python films). And yet my copy, according to labels on it, was originally a rental videocassette from the family-oriented Safeway in Tacoma ("Be Kind, Please Rewind"). Go figure.

Red Dwarf: Smeg Ups (1994, VHS). Robert Llewellyn. In his role as Kryten, Llewellyn hosts nearly an hour of painful outtakes, screwups, and flubbed lines in the Red Dwarf series. This is not something we should be seeing. Actually, it isn't even all that funny-- especially when compared to the finished product of the show itself. Maybe bloopers have more punch when the premise for the facade isn't comic. If Red Dwarf was a serious drama the contrast would make this video more amusing. For diehard fans only who have seen all the episodes. Normal people will not be able to make heads nor tails of this.

Rushmore / directed by Wes Anderson (1998, VHS). Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Olivia Williams, Seymour Cassel, Brian Cox, Luke Wilson. A coming of age story, but for which character? A 15 year old private school student and a middle aged industrialist fall in love with the same woman. The awkward adolescent who lies about his father's occupation and the flawed mentor/substitute Dad evoke memories of Telling Lies in America (1997) with Kevin Bacon and Brad Renfro. Wes Anderson's method of telling a story is engaging. His choices for the soundtrack are original and his employment of slow motion, odd camera angles, and off center conversations are expertly woven into the story without being distracting. Brian Cox is one of my favorite character actors, and he is well cast as the Rushmore school director. Jason Schwartzman has the perfect face and expression for the role of the kid. Bill Murray is more subdued than you might be used to seeing, but he has to be in order to fit into the story. My favorite scene is when Murray is in a hospital elevator on his way to visit a patient. He's drinking a beer, his hair is messed up, he has two lit cigarettes in his mouth. When Schwartzman asks how he's doing, Murray deadpans, "I'm a little bit lonely these days." Anderson must enjoy bringing the cast together at the end as if he was giving us a comedy from Shakespeare.

Trick or Tweet / directed by Friz Freleng (1959, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice), Daws Butler (voice). Sylvester and an orange cat named Sam attempt to out-trick the other in an effort to have the honor of consuming Tweety. The Sam cat is actually pretty annoying. I'm glad it didn't become a regular character in the Warner Brothers lineup. In an urban setting with lots of falling from great heights.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 33

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Sign of Four / directed by Peter Hammond (1987, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, John Thaw, Kiran Shah, Jenny Seagrove, Ronald Lacey, Emrys James. "There's something Devilish in this, Watson." In this feature-length special episode, we are treated with a weirder than usual cast of characters presented with a slightly macabre sense of humor. We also get to see some old faves, like Toby the Dog, the Baker Street Irregulars, and Holmes donning another disguise, giving him the opportunity to serve up an extra slice of ham. From personal choices of individuals to crooked British colonial officers in India, there is an undercurrent of being forever chained to corrupt decisions and facing the consequences. Dr. Watson starts to fall in love with a beautiful female client. Director Hammond did a fine job, but there are warnings he is about to go goofy on us, as he certainly did in the later The Golden Pince-Nez (1994). For one thing, he continually uses mirrors in his shots even though this device, as far as I can ascertain, adds nothing to the story or even serves as an allegory or symbol of anything. It just looks cool. Or so he thought. Parts of the soundtrack, by an unfortunate coincidence, sound very close to that of Disney's The Little Mermaid, which was released a couple years later in 1989. Worth viewing for the personalities alone.

Sleuth / directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (1972, VHS). Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine. This 20-year old videocassette, a product of the old Video Treasures company, has finally bitten the Big One. Consequently, it gets tossed in the Biz Bag and there will be no review of this film. Well, that one was easy.

Jerks of All Trades / directed by George Cahan (1949, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Emil Sitka, Symona Boniface, Joseph Kearns. A TV pilot for the Three Stooges that was never aired, chiefly due to contractual conflicts with Columbia Pictures. Filmed before a live audience, the boys are incompetent paperhangers and painters working for a hoit-de-la-toit household, hearkening back to their days in the early 1930s film shorts. The action has the feel of Vaudeville and considering the venue they have excellent timing-- no doubt helped by the veteran Stooge fellow sufferers Sitka and Boniface. It is strange to watch the mayhem without the accompanying sound effects. There is also a most unusual eyepoke Moe delivers to Shemp-- in backhand! Moe: "Wait a minute! Remember we are gentlemen first, and our feelings come second." Shemp: "Well, let's get out of first and shift into second." It is at this point Moe administers the backhanded eyepoke in a very elegant and professional manner. What an artist! For awhile the head konks and the face slaps were in a horse race as far as quantity goes, but in the end there is a plethora of craniums getting pounded. Violence count: Head konks 23, face slaps 15, hair pulled 4, two each of stomach hits, eye pokes, and pie in face. One foot stomped, one shin hit.

Alice Waters and Her Delicious Revolution (American Masters) / directed by Doug Hamilton (2003, VHS off-air). Alice Waters, Marion Cunningham, Jacques Pepin, Peter Sellars, Calvin Trillin. A documentary profile of Alice Waters, the Berkeley chef who was influential in the then-revolutionary concept of raising organic food, eating locally grown products, and using the culinary arts as a metaphor for how to approach life. Setting out with the modest goal of simply creating a nice restaurant, she was a major contributor in showing Americans a different way to grow and prepare our meals. Of all the talking heads who comment on Waters' work, my favorite is theater-opera director Peter Sellars when he compares an agri-biz tomato with an organic one as if he was casting Stallone or a fine actor for a Shakespeare play. I did find myself starting to nod off and dream about eating a cheeseburger-- that is to say my attention span was not strong enough to sustain me through this profile. This really says more about me than the quality of the documentary. Those of you who know me know vegetables are not my friends. Marmite on toast and a cheap cigar is my kind of breakfast. But I do admire Waters even if I choose not to follow that path.

Be Human / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936). Mae Questel (uncredited voice). A very dark and unsettling cartoon. Betty Boop calls on Grampy to teach a lesson to a sadistic farmer who is brutal to his animals. Far from funny, the violence here (by all characters involved) is outright disturbing. Not recommended for children-- or adults for that matter.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Robin Duke. "Crazy Crafts with Molly Earl." As dotty old Molly Earl, the hostess of her own local craft TV show, Robin Duke created her most memorable character in the SCTV universe. In this installment Molly is a bit hungover and her guest is some guy she met in a bar the previous night who says his name is "Bob." A fun personality piece.

Elvira's Haunted Hills / directed by Sam Irvin (2001, DVD). Cassandra Peterson, Richard O'Brien, Mary Scheer, Scott Atkinson, Mary Jo Smith. Dedicated to Vincent Price, Elvira pays homage to Roger Corman's Poe cycle of the 1960s. Set in Carpathia in 1851, Cormanesque/Poe standbys are used: garish color, a "living" castle, a gallery of evil and twisted ancestors, the lord of the house pining for his dead wife, extreme overacting, a wild coach ride, a family curse, screaming in horror on a regular basis, catalepsy, dream sequences, being buried alive, torture chambers. In some cases, the dialogue is right out of Corman/Poe/Price films. In addition to Elvira's normal lowbrow humor, there are brief nods to other films such as The Shining ("Heeeeere's Johan!") and Titanic, as well as movie conventions like bad dubbing and an all too brief bit with Elvira snoring like Shemp Howard. You don't have to be a Corman aficionado to enjoy this, but it might be funnier on a more sophisticated level if you watched, say, House of Usher (1960) or Pit and the Pendulum (1961) first. This film is an improvement over Elvira's earlier Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (1988).

"Bev's Boyfriend" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1953, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Beverly Wills. Joan attempts to play matachmaker between her little sister, Bev, and hotrod-infatuated Tom. But as she tries to steer (ha!) Tom toward Bev, the plan backfires (ha! ha!) and Tom falls in love with Joan. Now that crazy Joan has real trouble to deal with. Prehistoric, man. Jim Backus is particularly good in this one.

"The Eligible Bachelor" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Peter Hammond (1993, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Paris Jefferson, Bob Sessions, Simon Williams. Ok, so I can only review half of this. When this originally aired, the first part was taped on a Memorex videocassette, the second on a Konica. The Konica "Super SR High Performance" tape konked out and was refused by the player. Eject. Eject. Eject. No big loss, actually. This is a very weird and weak Holmes episode. Themes of madness weave through the plot. Dr. Watson serves more as a psychiatrist than companion as Holmes attempts to decipher the badly filmed dream sequences invading his head. The Great Detective's mental breakdown in a very cruel way seems to mirror the same sort of anquish actor Jeremy Brett was suffering at the time. Director Peter Hammond (who turns 85 today, as I review this), has started his dive into the deep end. He begins to toss images and sounds into the story that have no bearing on the plot. Almost as if he is experimenting with some stew. His earlier efforts in this series were masterful, but the guy just sort of went McCain on us. In spite of this, I do like the images of a wedding being held with the participants in funeral garb, and also the suggestion that Dr. Watson and Mrs. Hudson are partners in enabling an emotionally unhealthy, if gifted, man. Holmes is bored. And he rationalizes this sin by his defeat of the ultimate evil villain, Dr. Moriarty: "Without him, I have to deal with distressed children, cat owners-- pygmies! Pygmies of triviality! You see, Moriarty combined science with evil. Organization with precision. Vision with perception. I know of only one person he misjudged. Me." Brett's deterioriating condition is evident here right from his first scene, although he does have his moments. This episode is not one of the better products in the series.

Zatoichi sakate giri = Zatoichi and the Doomed Man / directed by Kazuo Mori (1965, DVD). Shintarô Katsu, Kanbi Fujiyama. The Blind Swordsman sets out to clear the name of a man wrongfully sentenced to be executed. As usual, the lone stranger who cleans up Dodge meets up with a beautiful woman and a gang of thugs. The plot is more disjointed than others in this series, but the visuals are well worth the time. A con artist monk provides some comic relief, including a very good Z-Man impersonation. Remember when Jim Nabors as Gomer Pyle would at first come across as a twangy hick and then shock everyone with an amazing baritone singing voice? Zatoichi is sort of like that. A fumbling blind man, easy to underestimate, suddenly transforms into a whirling force of death! The final fight scene ("I have no desire to kill anyone else. Kindly step aside.") is one of the more complex action sequences in the Zatoichi films. Very nice concluding and contemplative shots of the lone antihero on the beach.

The Last Way Out / directed by Mark Steensland (1997, VHS). Kurt Johnson, Katie Brown, Karyn Casl, Kevin Reed. Several years ago my friend Jim showed up at the door excitedly waving this videocassette around declaring he had found the worst film ever made. As much as I respect Jim's opinion, I must say I don't agree. Far from it. For openers, Zardoz still holds that special distinction in the almost 400 movies reviewed in this column thus far. Steensland's work is sort of like Raising Arizona except it is filmed in black and white, and is presented as a film noir drama, and has a cast you never heard of. OK, it is nothing like Raising Arizona, except that the main character is a reformed criminal who gets a visit from the old gang. Kurt Johnson, the star, could be Bill Pullman's brother. This film has the look and feel of a very well made college cinema project. Kind of like a rough draft. Considering the probable limited resources of the filmmakers, this isn't really so bad. Interesting to watch just as an obscure oddity. The twist ending is a clever bit of writing.

Project Reject / directed by Paul J. Smith (1969, VHS off-air). Daws Butler (voice). A Walter Lantz animation from the era of crappy cartoons. Chilly Willy the penguin engages in anti-colonial warfare with a U.S. military base in Antarctica. A cheaply produced, unfunny bit of junk. And of course I don't have to tell you that penguins are not the most trustworthy of animals. There is one brief moment where Willy develops a Satanic expression, complete with horns, but it passes quickly. Those few seconds are the only interesting moments in the story.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 34

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! / directed by David Zucker (1988, VHS). Leslie Neilsen, Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Reggie Jackson, Dick Vitale, Curt Gowdy, Joyce Brothers, John Houseman (uncredited). A movie that freely careens down the trail blazed by Mel Brooks. Nonstop lowest common denominator humor. When I laughed out loud at several parts, which I admit I did, even my cats gave me looks of admonishment. This one follows the "Ancient Ming Vase Rule." If an ancient Ming-dynasty vase is mentioned, it is marked for destruction. Leslie Neilsen started a whole second career as a comedian in the late 1980s. When I was growing up he was a serious leading man in dramatic works. The initial shock of seeing him outwardly play the same sort of character in a comedy setting was pretty jolting at the time, and that bit of tension contributed to the joke. Although Neilsen's screen persona had a rebirth, it was at the price of his old movies. Not too long ago I saw the original Poseidon Adventure (1972), and when Neilsen as the Skipper sees the tsunami headed his way I kept waiting for the punchline. This was John Houseman's final screen appearance.

'A' gai waak = Project A / directed by Jackie Chan (1983, VHS). Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Set in Hong Kong supposedly in the 19th century, when British colonials are present and pirates are terrorizing the surrounding waters. Jackie is a sailor and here we see him during one of my favorite periods of his career. The English dubbing is badly matched and very hokey. The choice of costumes and technology can't quite decide what era in history we're supposed to be watching-- but it is still a great film. Jackie makes the martial arts art. Lots of humor and nonstop action including a very wild barfight scene (between sailors and policemen). Sammo Hung Kam-Bo plays Jackie's criminal-minded sidekick who says, "I've found that there are four types of people in the world: rich, poor, cops, and thieves." The relationship between these two men gives the story a sense of fun. In an uncharacteristic move, the final nemesis is defeated by rolling him up in a carpet and then tossing in a hand grenade. Not real sporting, guys! As usual, Jackie dubs himself in English, which comes across as surreal but adds to the quirky charm. Unlike later Chan movies, this one does not conclude with outtakes.

"Dimension Jump" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1991, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Hattie Hayridge, Robert Llewellyn. "For every decision that's made, the alternative decision is played out in another reality." And in one of those other other realities, Arnold Judas Rimmer is not a smeghead-- he's a beloved action hero called "Ace" Rimmer-- "what a guy!" Ace can repair complicated rocket engines, fix broken limbs through surgery, make computers blush, and has a fabulous sense of fashion. He jumps dimensions during a test flight and meets his dimensional counterpart. The entire cast has a chance to play completely different characters. This is the only time we see more of Hattie Hayridge than just her talking Holly head, and one of the few where Llewellyn shows up without his Kryten getup for a brief while. Chris Barrie in his dual roles demonstrates yet again why he's the best actor of the bunch. The premise of this episode is intriguing, as many of them are in this series. It would please me to know that somewhere in another dimension there is another me who did not make that foolish decision in the 1970s and today does not have a talking frog growing out the top of his cranium.

Rush Hour 2 / directed by Brett Ratner (2001, VHS). Jackie Chan, Chris Tucker, John Lone, Roselyn Sanchez, Harris Yulin, Alan King, Don Cheadle (uncredited). Another guy movie. And another funny action movie with jokes about ethnicity and culture. Starting in Hong Kong and ending in Los Angeles, Chan and Tucker once again team up to fight crime, following "the rich white guy" behind the nefarious scheme. One buddy picture element I missed in this title was the original building of the chemistry between two opposites. Here the premise is that they are already friends, pretty much forcing the viewer to see the initial story in order to appreciate why these two characters are thrown together. A stupid plot, but who watches a Jackie Chan movie for the storyline anyway? The evil woman in the tale looks like a little kid. Don Cheadle has a very nice, and uncredited, appearance for a few minutes.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Robin Duke, Tony Rosato, Martin Short, Robin Williams, Bonar Bain, Juul Haalmeyer, Natalie Cole, Boomtown Rats, Ben Vereen, Juul Haalmeyer Dancers. Count Floyd, Astrology with Angus Crock, Great White North-- the best groups, SCTV news, Earl Camembert at a pit bull dogfight, Comment by David Brinkley, Gizmo Communications (where Rick Moranis anticipates the Internet a decade ahead of time), Sermonette with Rabbi Karloff, Church of Unlimited Credit (a nice Robin Williams preacher bit), The Bowery Boys in the band, John Houseman reads the Melonville phonebook, Sammy Maudlin with Sandler and Young/Pavarotti, Peter Pan musical starring Devine in the title role, Farm film celebrity blow-up-- Brooke Shields, Zontar (a nice take-off on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is woven into other sketches and elevates SCTV into another level of comedy evolution), National Midnight Star, How "Nosy" the short-haired terrier dog got his name, Teacher's pet with Ricardo Montalban and the Boomtown Rats, Love slaves of the Southwest, Gerry Todd audio games, William B. Show, Ed Grimly lecture on snakes (by Martin Short, and one of the most brilliant pieces of comedy from the SCTV series), Shower in a briefcase, Bobby Bittman and Ben Vereen, Bittman "retires" in Idaho from show business (SCTV starts becoming less compartmentalized here, bleeding skits into each other), People's Global Golden Choice Awards, People and Things, Bobby Bittman comes out of retirement, We're your phone company, No-frills name-change attorneys, Surgical clinical instruments for sale, Farm film celebrity blow-up-- the guy who taught Travolta disco dance, Wok on the wild side: Case of the stir-fry corpse, Donahue on pornography, Just for fun-- Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn- Aaron Copland- Betty Friedan (in this last skit-- an obscure brush with fame. I drove by Solzhenitsyn's house in Vermont in 1979. It was surrounded by a high fence. Pretty exciting, eh?)

"The Devil's Foot" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Ken Hannam (1988, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Denis Quilley, Damien Thomas. There is real feeling of sadness throughout this tale of cocaine, madness, and murder in Cornwall. Holmes, run ragged by his occupation and drug addiction, attempts to recharge himself in the country. There is a poignant moment when he realizes Dr. Watson's warnings about the dangers of cocaine are correct, and with ceremony buries his needle in the beach sand. But the convalescence is short-lived when a very bizarre murder takes place and the locals turn to the Great Detective for help. In the course of the investigation, Holmes subjects himself to yet another mind-altering drug, "The Devil's Foot," and we are treated to a Dali-like dream hallucination sequence. When Sherlock snaps out of it, I believe it is the only time in the entire series he addresses Dr. Watson as "John." Director Hannam used the Cornwall landscape and ancient stones to wonderful effect in setting the mood. Denis Quilley is every bit as over-the-top as Brett, and he helps makes this one of the better BBC Holmes stories. You can tell both of these gentlemen probably loved acting live on the stage more than anything. This episode includes one of my favorite pieces of dialogue-- Holmes: "I followed you." Dr. Sterndale: "I saw no one." Holmes: "That is what you can expect to see when I follow you." For not the first or last time, Holmes plays judge and jury. For such a distant character he appears to have a soft spot for crimes of passion.

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad / directed by Nathan Juran (1958, VHS off-air). Kerwin Mathews, Kathryn Grant, Richard Eyer, Torin Thatcher. This trippy fantasy film scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. Ray Harryhausen's animated dragons, cyclops, and reptilian dancers might seem quaint today, but they were state of the art back in the era of Big Fins. I have fond memories of watching the Sinbad movies on rainy Saturdays before the days of cable networks, when local independent broadcast stations (around here that would be channels 11 and 13) played them between commercials. When I watched this one tonight, I still expected Ralph Williams to show up every five minutes to fast-talk one of his used cars. For a long time, I thought Baghdad was just like the way it is portrayed in this movie. Interesting to note the premise of this tale hinges on a potential war that will lay Baghdad to waste unless certain steps are taken. The WMD in this case is an enormous crossbow. Included here are two-headed monster birds, a fire breathing dragon, cyclops, a great little genie, a princess who was miniaturized, an evil magician, streams of wine, etc. Great stuff in a world with rules for survival that are not that much different than our own. Kerwin Mathews (1926-2007), who played the title role, was born in Seattle!

Torn Curtain / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1966, VHS). Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, Ben Frommer (uncredited), Peter Lorre Jr. (uncredited), Wolfgang Kieling, Mort Mills, Lila Kedrova. One of Hitchcock's last films and what a sadly uninspired piece of work it is. With all due respect to the late, great Paul Newman, this isn't one of his best efforts either. Julie Andrews was OK, though. The story drags along as Hitch pulls out the same themes he has used for decades: spies, double lives, personal dramas taking place before a big audience, blonde heroine, international intrigue, conflicted loyalties, trust and betrayal, fugitives from authorities. Hitchcock's only real departure from his formula was in the infamous farm scene, where Newman and the farm woman demonstrate how much work it takes to really kill a human being. And the vignette was well directed and acted. The soundtrack picks up as the story progresses, but at first it smothers the action (such as it is). The characters on the other side of the Iron Curtain (hey Cold War babies, remember that term?) are stereotypes, and Newman/Andrews have about as much chemistry as McCain/Palin. When a motion picture is this sterile, you find youself drawn to the incidental details. For example, I note the fact this was one of the first appearances in American cinema of a partially clad unmarried couple in the same bed. An East German lights up a cigar and says, "Cuban. Your loss, our gain." Ed Woodians will enjoy seeing, in color, Ben Frommer as an annoyed plane passenger. One blogger has pointed out this movie joins a long list (most famously including The Shining) that uses the number 237. Even cartoonists do. Most of all I was intrigued by the appearance of Peter Lorre Jr., who had a key role as a taxi driver. Lorre Jr. was actually Eugene Weingand (1934-1986) and not related to Peter Lorre. He attempted to change his name to Peter Lorie, cashing in on his slight resemblance to the famous actor. The latter successfully went to court to prevent this moniker metamorph from stealing his fame, but died shortly after, apparently allowing Weingand the freedom to use the name "Peter Lorre Jr." He appeared in a few supporting roles and worked as a horror show host in Austin, Texas in the 1970s. I recall seeing Lorre Jr. in The Cat Creature (1973), where his brief bit consisted of falling on the floor with a knife in his back as he uttered "Ga-a-a-k!!" Well anyway, if you watch Torn Curtain, you now know the backstory on the cab driver.

Emma Goldman (American Experience) / directed by Mel Bucklin (2004, VHS off-air). Blair Brown (narrator). A well-made documentary on social/political activist Emma Goldman (1869-1940). Employing autobiographical writings, dramatizations, photos, newspaper headlines, and film footage, we follow the journey of this woman who is called by the various talking heads (including E.L. Doctorow and Andrei Codrescu) "operatic," "difficult," "possessed," "religious," "militant," "volatile," an "enlightened fool," and "awkward, onery and a pain." A hero to some, terrorist to others, the documentary traces her arrival to the U.S. from Europe in the 1880s and her allegiance to anarchism and feminism; her involvement with violent protest in the 1890s; her defense of McKinley assassin Leon Czolgosz in 1901; her rise as a popular speaker and editor in the early 20th century; the persecution she suffered as a free speaker and WWI opponent; her deportation (said a reporter, "With Prohibition coming in, and Emma Goldman going out, it will be a dull country"); her brief residence in Bolshevik Russia and subsequent disillusionment; and finally her "intellectual exile" and love/hate relationship with the United States. Although far ahead of her time on issues of social justice, this film has more focus on the character of the messenger than it does on the message she carried. It is interesting the historians and writers who seem to admire her the most are also the same ones to point out her biggest flaws, and how she frequently hurt the very causes she was attempting to help (e.g. collaborating in the attempted murder of Henry Clay Frick). Director Mel Bucklin provided just the right balance of capitivating visuals and talk, along with a fair treatment of a very controversial figure. Classy job.

Betty Boop's Ker-Choo / directed by Dave Fleischer (1932, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). Betty participates in an auto race, and somehow her cold helps her win. This cartoon clips along at a fun, zany pace. A great example of why Fleischer animations continue to delight us.

Cinderella / directed by Robert Iscove (1997, VHS off-air). Brandy Norwood, Bernadette Peters, Veanne Cox, Natalie Desselle, Paolo Montalban, Jason Alexander, Whoopi Goldberg, Victor Garber, Whitney Houston. An old fairy tale and Rodgers and Hammerstein musical retooled and retold for an audience in the final decade of the 20th century. Disney ran the risk of being called too politically correct when operating on the premise people of different races came from the same biological families, but I applaud their creative multicultural approach. And hey, it's a fairy tale, the fear of being tagged "politically correct" shouldn't stop anyone from doing the right thing. I'm not fond of musicals in general or Rodgers and Hammerstein in particular, but I recognize this was a quality production. The sets and costumes alone make this fun for kids and non-cynical adults. Whitney Houston as the Fairy Godmother doles out wisdom as if it came from a Melody Beattie book, emphasizing self-esteem. Remember, it's the 1990s. Jason Alexander was the big surprise for me. Who knew the guy could sing and dance? The only singing I knew he was capable of could be heard in his recording for George Costanza's phone answering machine. Alexander and Bernadette Peters enjoy a comic spark when they appear together-- it looks as if they are on the verge of cracking up with laughter in their scenes. Cox and Desselle are memorable selfish step-sisters, but it is Peters who steals the show as the step-mother. Not really my cup of tea, but it smells good from here.

The Enforcer / directed by Bretaigne Windust [and Raoul Walsh, uncredited] (1951, VHS). Humphrey Bogart, Zero Mostel, Everett Sloane, Ted de Corsia. "It always worries me when these hoodlums get religion." Made at a time when Estes Kefauver's U.S. Senate committee was taking a highly publicized look at organized crime, this feels more like a documentary with bad dramatizations than a feature film. Based on Murder, Inc., I believe it was this motion picture that introduced the terms "contract" and "hit" to Americans. Told mostly with flashbacks in the black and white world of fedoras, split windshields, and cigarettes, Bogart seems worn out. He's also, much to my mystification, wearing a bowtie throughout the entire story in his role as the hardball district attorney. Yes. A bowtie. That nefarious decorative garb that chills me as much as penguins do. Don't even get me started on the topic of penguins wearing bowties. Anyway. Zero Mostel shows up as a low-level criminal (even back then he had a bad combover). It seems so odd to see him share the screen with Bogart. Two screen legends from different eras in a short overlapping time period. Zero, along De Corsia, is one of the few characters with any pizazz or energy here. Apparently director Windust fell seriously ill in the course of filming, so Raoul Walsh was a gentleman and finished the job without taking any credit.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 35

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

Go Fish / directed by Rose Troche (1994, VHS). Guinevere Turner. A first movie for both director Troche and main star Turner. Filmed in black and white, the production is obviously very low budget and has an experimental feel. The story centers around the complicated relationships of a small group of lesbians. Several different methods of storytelling are quilted together here, never giving the audience a chance to settle into the tale. Also, this film has the highest concentration of just plain bad acting I've seen short of an Ed Wood motion picture. Really bad. Really. Bad. There are moments of brilliance in some shots, reminding me this work was no doubt a labor of love rather than an attempt at commercial profit. And although I strongly sympathize with such motives, the final product is hard to watch.

I Love You to Death / directed by Lawrence Kasdan (1990, VHS off-air). Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, Joan Plowright, River Phoenix, William Hurt, Keanu Reeves, James Gammon, Victoria Jackson, Phoebe Cates (uncredited), Lawrence Kasdan (uncredited). When a devoted wife and mother discovers the womanizing ways of her man, she and her small band of supporters decide to bump him off. The problem: he's more difficult to kill than Rasputin. A macabre comedy about one of Tacoma's more dysfunctional families. Although the story is pretty thin, the characterizations are very funny by all the principal cast members. Includes Italian and Yugoslavian ethnic roles, as well as a couple stereotypical drug space cases. At one point Kline, with his comic Italian accent and red plumber clothes, along with the soundtrack, brought to mind one of Nintendo's Mario Brothers off to save the Princess. I always enjoy seeing movies, such as this one, where a key moment in the plot takes place in a library. Everyone in this story apparently has to learn the hard way.

High Diving Hare / directed by Friz Freleng (1949, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). In the Old West, the daredevil star of Bug Bunny's vaudeville high-diving act is delayed, causing audience member Yosemite Sam to go ballistic and demand Bugs himself perform the feat. Sam's anger management problem results in his many involuntary leaps from the high platform while Bugs remains safe. Sam could benefit from reading The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus. Apparently a Native American reference was cut when this cartoon was redistributed for broadcast television, as well a scene with Sam throttling Bugs.

Zatoichi Jigoku tabi = Zatoichi and the Chess Expert / directed by Kenji Misumi (1965, DVD). Shintarô Katsu, Mikio Narita. My favorite entry into the long line of Zatoichi films. The Blind Swordsman reveals many facets of his character here: we see him as a hustler at the gambling dens; overcome with emotion when he receives the gratitude of a little girl when he saves her life; as a detective solving a murder mystery; a man who is self-described "dirt" wrestling with his complex feelings about women; and, of course, the deadly sword-flashing fighter. He strikes up an uneasy and tentative friendship with another loner, the Chess Expert-- one of the most interesting supporting characters to inhabit the Zatoichi universe. The story threads are cleverly woven and more sophisticated than usual in this series, with sharp and crisp moments of drama and suspense. The technical film quality seems to be of a higher caliber than earlier entries, as if the Z-Man movies were granted a bigger budget at this point. If you are new to the Zatoichi story, this wouldn't be a bad one to start off with.

Laura / directed by Otto Preminger (1944, VHS). Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Vincent Price, Judith Anderson. Oh, the games that people play. And what an unpleasant group of people we have here. In this great murder mystery, the title character appears to be a magnet for jerks, "I must say, for a charming intelligent girl you have certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes." The chief dope, played by the catty Clifton Webb, really hijacks the show, followed closely by Vincent Price who comes across as suave and slimey in this tale. Two Spikes kept entering my mind during this movie. First, the insistent theme music had been covered by Spike Jones and his version kept running through my head. Second, Laura's situation with those of the male gender brought to mind Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It (1986). Dana Andrews is thoroughly unlikable as the hardboiled detective.

The Dizzy Acrobat (1943, VHS off-air). Ben Hardaway, Mel Blanc (uncredited voices). Woody Woodpecker at the circus. The drawings look as if they came out of a classic "How To Draw Cartoons" book. I kept waiting for this one to get funny, but it never happened.

"The Case of Harry Crocker" (Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Sheldon Reynolds (1954, DVD). Ronald Howard, Howard Marion-Crawford, Archie Duncan, Eugene Deckers, Harry Towb. Every generation has its own version of Sherlock Holmes. For my parents it was Basil Rathbone. For us Boomers it was Jeremy Brett. But there are a host of lesser knowns, such as Ronald Howard (son of Leslie) who starred as Sherlock in a short-lived British television series during the mid-1950s. This Holmes comes complete with the deerstalker hat but that's about as far as any similarity goes with Rathbone or Brett. Howard's rendition is that of a slightly absent-minded and bemused character. This Holmes has warmth, and lacks the cold other-worldly quality we know and love. Eugene Deckers, who plays a vaudeville escape artist wrongfully accused of murder, is great fun to watch. He brings to mind the actor Sylvester McCoy. Lots of fun with little comic touches in this one. Inspector Lestrade comes across as an angry lout. The bad guy here has the surname Willis. Hmm, imagine that. A criminal named Willis. Hard to believe. I'm shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Psycho / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1960, VHS). Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Simon Oakland, Mort Mills, John Anderson. The darling of film studies classes and Hitchcock's best movie. Alfred Hitchcock cannibalized his own work so often that after a time it is hard to distinguish between titles when discussing his art. But this one is unique. Not only did he break many of his own patterns, but he contributed a landmark to cinematic history. A brutal, violent "B" horror film with style and class, enhanced by the black and white low budget production values. The killing off of a major character midway through the story, the use of bird, blade, mirror, and voyuerism symbols is now the stuff of legend. Most everyone here has some dark secret to conceal. The use of pans to silently tell important parts of the tale is visual poetry. The strident string soundtrack is extremely effective. I personally enjoyed seeing all those great old cars I remember so well from my childhood. Dig that lineup of Edsels at the used car lot! Anthony Perkins as the dangerously fragile Norman Bates ("Baits") gave us a personality profile that balances on the quirky and menacing. It is Perkins who carries this movie into the 21st century. Other Hitchcock films seem dated, but Norman Bates was ahead of his time in terms of serial murder weirdness. This doesn't speak well of our era, but it does show how Hitchcock anticipated the future. Years later I must say I laughed at Perkins during a SNL hosting stint when he advertised the Norman Bates School of Motel Management. Please note there was no mention of showers in this review, well, except for my using the word "showers" when I mentioned I didn't mention showers.

"Meltdown" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1991, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Hattie Hayridge, Robert Llewellwyn, Clayton Mark, Kenneth Hadley, Martin Friend, Stephen Tiller, Jack Klaff, Tony Hawks, Michael Burrell, Forbes Masson, Roger Blake, Pauline Bailey. When the crew visits a planet inhabited by wax droids in the middle of a wax war, Rimmer seizes command and goes power mad in this antiwar allegory. The bad guys include Hitler, Capone, Mussolini, Richard III, Napoleon, Caligula, Rasputin, and James Last. The good guys have among their number Elvis, Lincoln, Einstein, Stan Laurel, Marilyn Monroe, Mother Theresa, Pythagoras, Noel Coward, Queen Victoria, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Probably the only bit of media where Winnie-the-Pooh is shot by a firing squad. Rimmer's behavior will unfortunately seem familiar to all Americans.

Bambi Meets Godzilla / directed by Marv Newland (1969, VHS off-air). A cheaply animated black and white film less than two minutes long that probably had more social influence per frame than any other cartoon of the late 1960s. It parallels the birth of underground comix and could be considered a close cousin of that genre in its iconoclastic humor. Most of the work is taken up in clever opening and ending credits. The last note comes from the Beatles' "Day In The Life," and really heightens the joke as it jarringly follows Rossini's "Overture from 'William Tell': Ranz de Vaches." This cartoon was a regular staple in Evergroove's Friday Night Films in the 1970s and we never got tired of it. But now, after a hiatus of a few decades, I see it with fresh eyes-- and I find it as disturbing as (in the words of my favorite OlyBlogger) a "featherless penguin." This is Newland's best known title in spite of the fact he went on to be a producer and director in other projects, making him sort an Orson Welles trapped by his success right out of the starting gate.

"Wisteria Lodge" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Peter Hammond (1988, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Freddie Jones, Kika Markham, Donald Churchill, Basil Hoskins. An unusual Holmes case in several respects. First, the Great Detective encounters a local law enforcement officer who possesses native investigative gifts that demand respect. In many ways Inspector Baynes is a rustic, provincial version of Holmes. But in reality, Holmes gives Baynes his due as Freddie Jones (Baynes) is every bit as hammy, if not more so, than Jeremy Brett. This is not a competition of detective skills, it is a contest of pork. The interaction between these two is the real show, the rest of the episode is mere filler. Another uncommon aspect of this story is our glimpse into a social justice network out to assassinate a fascist Latin American dictator in exile-- a concept I certainly didn't expect to encounter in a story set in the 1890s English countryside. Director Hammond has daring visuals and uses his trademark overlapping dialogue technique, but seems to toss in the tired "symbolic" use of mirrors for no reason whatsoever. The soundtrack is cornier than most Holmes episodes. Brett is energetic and in great form.

Fish Heads / directed by Bill Paxton (1980, VHS off-air). Robert Haimer, Billy Mumy, Bill Paxton, Barry Hansen. Between the death of vinyl and the advent of the co-opting status-quo MTV, there was a brief moment in time where young music was alive again. Classic Rock died when Nixon resigned, Disco took over and reigned as a brief anethesia. But then out of the desert, slowly over the horizon, came a decentralized and populist form of music. The print form of this expression was called Newave, and later, zines. In music they were called Newave as well but also "Garage Bands." The thread was universal. The "We Are The Media" theme celebrated here on OlyBlog is an old message in a new technology. Before Internet, the same impulse was communicated through photocopies or sound cassettes. I was very involved in the former at the time in the comix format. This Barnes and Barnes (Haimer and Mumy) video has the feel of a home movie and is a rare video representation of this weird cusp of the end of the FDR Republic and the start of the Ron the Con Republic. It is also pretty hilarious no matter what the social/historical background might be.

Cheaper by the Dozen 36

12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:

The Undefeated / directed by Andrew V. McLaglen (1969, VHS). John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Antonio Aguilar, Roman Gabriel, Lee Meriwether, Ben Johnson, Dub Taylor, John Agar. A Western that turned out to be better than I expected partly due to the odd premise. After the end of the Civil War, a group of Confederate soldiers and their families head for Mexico, where they hope to resettle. They cross paths with ex-Union soldiers running a herd of horses South of the Border to sell to Emperor Maximillian's military forces. The Reb leader (Hudson) and former Union Colonel (Wayne) strike a friendship and join hands when they find themselves going from the American Civil War to a Mexican civil war. There are several layers of enemies becoming friends and alliances changing at the drop of a hat. These are manly men doing manly things, like drinking and fighting with humor music in the soundtrack, and bonding like crazy. John Wayne has his usual punch-in-the-nose way of discussing things. Rock Hudson is actually pretty good aside from his unconvincing Southern accent. Lee Meriwether, the most overlooked Catwoman, was just wasted as background. Dub Taylor lends his familiar face, making this an official Western. Ben Johnson looks as if he just stepped off the set of The Wild Bunch, which he had completed filming the year before-- also set in Mexico. Look for Ed Wood pal John Agar in the cast. Director McLaglen's earlier film, Shenandoah (1965), had a strong antiwar message. Although there is a smattering of that here, by 1969 McLaglen appears to be making a plea for unity as America was being torn apart.

Land of the Falling Lakes (Nature) / directed by Michael Schlamberger (2004, VHS off-air). Jay O. Sanders (narrator). Normally I don't associate wild forests with Europe except in fairy tales, but Croatia's Plitvice Lakes National Park is the kind of place that could serve as a setting for a story out of the Brothers Grimm. This documentary does have some geological coverage, but most of the focus is on the wildlife of the Park. There are the usual suspects: bears, wolves, otters, boars, owls, etc., all chomping on each other. But the strangest of all is a blind cave salamander called the Olm, once thought to be a human embryo. Schlamberger's incredible cinematography traces the natural cycle of all four seasons. This soundtrack could easily be ditched in favor using just the natural sounds. The music is either New Agey or too obvious, like the use of tribal drums whenever the wolves show up. Personally, I'm now more convinced than ever my cats would try to eat me if I slept in too late and didn't feed them on time. Oddly, none of the feline-type creatures in this house reacted to any of the animal sounds in this documentary, including those made by wolves or wildcats. The importance of this little bit of trivia will soon be apparent in the following review.

More Pep / directed by Dave Fleischer (1936, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). Pudgy, the performing dog, is too sleepy to go through with his onstage act. The animator (supposedly Max Fleischer) asks for Betty Boop's assistance as she emerges from an ink bottle almost like a genie out of a lamp. The subsequent zany action includes live film of parades, city scenes, and so on. Meanwhile, Spooky, one of the cats who chooses to live here, became very interested in Pudgy when he appeared on screen. Spooky batted at the pixels, then went behind the set, found nothing, and decided to jump on top of the TV. Unfortunately while climbing up there he knocked over a stuffed fake penguin (we all have one on top of our televisions, right?) who was wearing a leaf hat, or as they call it in Vietnam, a Nón lá. You know, those broad, conical straw-type hats. Penguin and hat fell over and in turn knocked down a plastic tree and a fake leopard skin fez I have on top of the VCR/DVD player. Spooky briefly looked at the screen from his upside-down position, lost interest in Pudgy, and then jumped to the floor and ran off with a piece of the plastic plant between his teeth. I found it later in another room. No doubt he was reacting to my concluding comments in the previous review.

Chinatown / directed by Roman Polanski (1974, VHS). Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Diane Ladd, Roman Polanski, James Hong, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrell Zwerling. Right from the starting credits to the expensive crane shot at the end (eat your heart out, Johnny LaRue), Polanski has captured the essence of the detective/mystery genre just as much as George Stevens did with the Westerns in Shane. This film is so good I can even forgive the decision to present it in color. Set in 1937 Los Angeles, Nicholson is perfect as the private dick who knows Chinatown is not a geographic place but a concept. Polanski throws in very subtle bits of humor, such as naming the coroner "Morty" (get it?) and presenting himself in the role as a tough guy with Short Man Syndrome. John Huston, the director who set the bar on this style with Maltese Falcon decades earlier, is a living link to the past in his role as the totally evil man with money. His smug rationalizations for amoral acts in the name of real estate development is thoroughly chilling because it sounds so familiar, status quo and bland. Polanski's talent for storytelling and suspense picks up where Hitchcock left off.

Evil Roy Slade / directed by Jerry Paris (1972, VHS). John Astin, Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn, Henry Gibson, Edie Adams, Pamela Austin, Milton Berle, Luana Anders, Pat Morita, Ed Begley Jr., Pat Buttram (narrator), Dom DeLuise, Penny Marshall, Jerry Paris, John Ritter, Billy Curtis. Sometimes you really can't go home again. When this television pilot originally aired in 1972 my Dad and I thought it was great. Then it went out of circulation. We kept the memory of it alive by recounting some of the funnier scenes over and over again. Then, a quarter century later, it was released on VHS. I must say it didn't age very well. The manic John Astin plays Evil Roy Slade, the meanest, most evil man in the Old West. Every week there was supposed to be a special guest "hero" who would fail to defeat Roy. You can tell the writers were inspired by Mel Brooks, but it doesn't quite make the grade. However, in between the awkward and socially insensitive jokes there are some moments that are truly funny. Mickey Rooney as the robber baron who built a railroad empire with a telegraph and wore down his index finger as a result is presented as the stuff of legend, including a song cowboys sing around the campfire, "Stubby index finger/Typing out your code/Stubby index finger/Looking like a toad." Rooney calls his incompetent nephew (Henry Gibson) a "Flimp," as a form of insult. Interesting word. The scene where psychiatrist Dom DeLuise attempts to have Evil Roy shed all his weapons and walk across a room unarmed is Astin's funniest bit. Dick Shawn as glitzy singing lawman Bing Bell saves the tail end of the program. I think if the pilot had made him the central character it might have lasted longer than one show. There are several parts where painfully obvious jarring voiceovers were patched into the running dialogue, almost as afterthoughts. Ed Begley Jr., Penny Marshall, John Ritter, and Pat Morita all show up as fresh faced supporting players. As I said, this was funnier in my memory than in fact, but I did enjoy all the laughs Dad and I had in retelling it. And that's worth something.

Godzilla / directed by Ronald Emmerich (1998, VHS). Matthew Broderick, Jean Reno, Maria Pitillo, Hank Azaria, Michael Lerner, Nancy Cartwright. I more or less previously reviewed this movie in OlyBlog 9/16/2006 (and gained remarks from The Fire Inside) in the comments thread for theunabonger's "Downtown Power Outage 8/11-8/12."

"Mountain Lodge" (I Married Joan) / directed by Ezra Stone (1954, VHS). Joan Davis, Jim Backus, Beverly Wills. Joan and Brad thought they would give each other a nice surprise when she bought a motor boat and he purchased a mountain cabin without consulting the other. Problem was, both emptied out their $1100 joint bank account by writing checks for $1100 each on the same day. Instead of just communicating directly with Brad, Joan decided to sabotage their cabin experience to dissuade him from wanting to keep the property. What follows is a nightmare in survivalism as they run out of food and have no transportation back to civilization. Hilarity ensues when one of them falls victim to cannibalism while the survivor is rescued-- only to be sentenced to a lengthy prison term. Ha Ha! Just kidding.

"The Illustrious Client" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Tim Sullivan (1991, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Anthony Valentine. The videocassette finally croaked just as this was starting, so I had to throw it away. It has been a long while since I watched this, but as I recall it was about a homicidal womanizer and left me feeling sort of creepy. Also, this is the only film I've seen where an ancient Ming vase is mentioned and remains unbroken at story's end.

Shin Zatôichi monogatari: Kasama no chimatsuri = Zatoichi's Conspiracy / directed by Kimiyoshi Yasuda (1973, DVD). Shintarô Katsu, Yukiyo Toake, Eiji Okada. The final installment of the original consecutive series of films concerning Zatoichi, the blind swordsman. The Z-man still has atrocious eating habits and continues his love of gambling, but there are some changes from the earlier entries. The mood is grimmer, the visuals are darker, the injustices more brutal. Zatoichi pays a visit to his childhood home after being away two decades and has a bittersweet reunion with some old friends. One of them has now become an arrogant s.o.b. with plans to privatize the village quarry for his own profit. "Your character, it seems," says Z to the greedy capitalist while in the middle of using his flashing sword to dispatch the minions, "won't improve until you're reborn." Zatoichi also displays a superstitious side, we discover he is a reader of omens. At times he almost displays a sixth sense about events taking place beyond hearing range. The action is pretty much concentrated in the later half of the story, with plenty of severed limbs and gushing arteries. The graphic nature of the fight scenes runs parallel with the rest of the film industry in both the United States and Japan at the time. By 1973 we had all become used to seeing much worse on the evening news night after night. The soundtrack is quite sparse and what there is of it is used almost invisibly as subtle highlighting. My copy, produced by AnimEigo, actually includes footnotes with the English subtitles. At first it was distracting, but I soon found it really helped fill in some cultural blanks for this old Westerner. I wasn't crazy about the use of modern slang in the translation, however.

Lennon Legend: the Very Best of John Lennon / directed by Simon Hilton, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Joe Pytka, Bruce Westcott (2003, DVD). John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Miles Davis, George Harrison, Dick Cavett, Fred Astaire, Andy Warhol, Timothy Leary, Mal Evans, Brian Epstein. A collection of 20 music videos presenting the work of John Lennon during his post-Beatle career. A wide range of songs here, concerning guilt (Jealous Guy), anger (Instant Karma!), love (Love), and utopianism (Imagine). As someone who grew up with the Fabs, I particularly enjoyed "(Just Like) Starting Over," and "Working Class Hero." Both visually eloquent presentations of Lennon's life and career should awaken some memories for my fellow older Boomers. "Whatever Gets You Through the Night" uses animation based on Lennon's playful Thurberesque drawings. John, Paul, George, and Ringo have been apart for nearly four decades and we can compare their individual music to their collective efforts. Musically, none of them came close as single artists to what they achieved as a group, but some curious things became evident. George turned out to be the one who maintained the Fab sound. Paul, in hindsight, was actually much more experimental than we gave him credit for, and did a lot to give Lennon's drive some shape. Ringo, who'd a thunk it, was actually an excellent drummer. If you have listened to as many cover versions as I have, you'd hear what I mean. Lennon was only 40 when he was murdered Dec. 8, 1980. He had been out of the public eye for awhile and we were just getting to know this interesting artist again when a mentally ill man with a handgun killed him. Strange days indeed. Once in awhile I find myself wondering what John Lennon the senior citizen would've said about this crazy world of ours. But as it is his song "Imagine" still manages, after all these years, to get Regressives all hot, bothered, and bent out of shape while at the same stirring the imagination of visionary idealists. Not a bad legacy for a working class kid who just liked to make music.

How to Recognise Different Types of Trees from Quite a Long Way Away (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 2, episode 3) / directed by John Howard Davies, Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland, Ian Davidson. The larch, Mr. Harold Larch in court, "Curse you, Inspector Dim! You are too clever for us naughty people," The larch, Bicycle Repair Man, Filthy bastard Commies!, Story time, Restaurant sketch, Purchase a past, Collecting milkmen, Six o'clock news reader is kidnapped, The larch, School boys interviewed, Nudge nudge. A slide show about the larch serves as an unlikely leitmotif. One of my all-time favorite Python bits, up there in the top ten, is the "Restaurant sketch." The timing, the tension going up a notch every time the chain of command rises higher, the fuss over a small detail, the perfectly cast characterizations-- beautiful.

The Case of the Cunningham Heritage (Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Jack Gage (1954, DVD). Ronald Howard, Howard Marion-Crawford, Archie Duncan, Ursula Howells. Set in 1897, Dr. John Watson returns to London after being wounded in the Afghan campaign. Seeking a place to live, he meets Sherlock Holmes through a mutual acquaintance and they move to Baker Street. The single-minded Holmes is already established as a private consulting detective, and quickly earns Watson's respect. Their partnership begins immediately as Holmes is called into a murder case. Watson proves his usefulness not only for his medical knowledge, but also for his ability to throw a punch. Includes Lestrade, one of the Baker Street Irregulars, and a reference to playing the violin. Something tells me we will hear no mention of cocaine use in this mid-1950s series. Howard has a soft interpretation of Holmes. If the episodes lasted longer than standard TV show length, I'd probably fade and fall asleep on the couch. But these are OK for my simple and basic short attention span.

 

Cheaper by the Dozen 37

Pulp Fiction / directed by Quentin Tarantino (1994, VHS). John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Eric Stoltz, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Maria de Medeiros, Rosanna Arquette, Uma Thurman, Frank Whaley, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Quentin Tarantino, Harvey Keitel. One of the best movies out of the 1990s. It is almost as if Tarantino shot a normal film, cut it up in the editing room, threw the pieces on the floor, and then randomly spliced it back together out of sequence. Almost. Tarantino's nonlinear and ultimately circular method of storytelling demands a little more work than usual from the audience, which we are more than willing to do as he fills the screen with dynamic action, intense characters, and smart dialogue. You can tell this was put together by a pop culture junkie as this story is jam packed with Boomer icons in almost every frame. I particularly enjoyed the references to the "Durward Kirby Burger" (anyone else out there remember him?), the brief clip of Clutch Cargo on television in the Willis/Walken flashback (Clutch Cargo was one of the weirdest cartoons ever), and of course the nod to the ultimate in hip places, McCleary, Washington, when Travolta pours a glass of McCleary Blended Scotch Whiskey in Uma's home. The soundtrack, exclusively composed of pop songs and surfer music, only enhances the cultural pizza concept. Basically the tale is quilted together by a series of individually titled mini-movies. Although each one is strong enough to stand on its own, they are connected in fun ways. My favorite is "The Bonnie Situation," featuring Travolta, Tarantino, Keitel, and the really amazing Samuel L. Jackson. I'm sure this part was inspired by The Cat in the Hat: Thing 1 and Thing 2 have to clean up the spot before Mom comes home. But in this case the "spot" is lots of blood and a corpse. Keitel's ominous bowtie adds to the sick humor. The one character I found myself caring about and cheering was the boxer, played by Bruce Willis. Perhaps this was due to the fact he is the only person in the tale who exhibits a heroic quality, doing something just because it is the right thing to do. And we like heroes. A movie that demands to be viewed multiple times for those not easily offended by strong language.

"Holoship" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Juliet May (1992, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Hattie Hayridge, Jane Horrocks. When the crew finishes watching a romantic movie, and Lister is in tears, Rimmer offers his own review: "I thought it was the worst pile of blubbery schoolgirl mush I've ever been compelled to endure. I consider it an insult to my backside who was forced to sit here growing carbuncles through such putrid adolescent slush." But then he is abducted and beamed aboard a Holoship, run a by a crew of fellow holograms. And they are snobby and arrogant, so of course Rimmer wants to join them permanently. But he soon finds himself in a situation where he must chose between his career or romantic love. An unusual episode in this series, where Rimmer actually experiences some emotional growth. This one has a tighter script with more focus than we are accustomed to. Jane Horrocks adds some class to this story.

SCTV (1976-1984?, VHS off-air). Joe Flaherty, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Catherine O'Hara, John Candy, Rick Moranis, Harold Ramis, Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud. Bob's Big Guy Restaurant, Earl Camembert on urban transit, Tracking the unknown with Edith Prickly, Count Floyd, Dr. Tongue's Evil House of Pancakes, Irv Goldfarb Show, Maurice Wong's Bali Indonesian Cuisine Restaurant, Laser-Matic Quickflash, Sunrise Semester with Moe Green (bookkeeping), Unnecessary surgeon ("No ailment too small, no fee too high"), Ted Gordon-- malpractice lawyer, Johnny LaRue exercise show, SCTV news with Floyd and Earl, Wara! Wara! Wara!, Backstage, Gregory Peck on "Stop those depressing ads," The girls of Vienna, LaRue goes beserk, Yoga with the Swami, SCTV news, Captain Combat, Cooking with LaRue, Gus Gustofferson-- security guard, Spray-on-socks, Sunrise Semester-- classical Greek, Sammy Maudlin show with Lorna Minella/Bobby Bittman/Trish Nutley (who tells them all off), Shakespeare's greatest jokes, Match unto my feet, Backstage, Ronco no sweat sauna air conditioning system, Crosswords (with Richardson and Gielgud), The Exorcist of Oz, $211,000 triangle, Words to live by. This is mostly early SCTV, offering us glimpses of prototype characters to come. Richardson and Gielgud seem very out of place, although their brief "Crosswords" skit has some charm. The production values are really low-rent in this phase of the series and the ensemble is still attempting to find a voice. A rough draft feel and perhaps only funny to hardcore fans with an academic bent.

"The Problem of Thor Bridge" (The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Michael A. Simpson (1991, VHS off-air). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Daniel Massey, Celia Gregory, Niven Boyd, Andrew Wilde. This was the final time Simpson acted as a director in any filmed effort, and it is a shame as this was a very good episode in the series. Most of the premise of the story was revealed in the clever silent opening sequence, where the dynamics of a dysfunctional family was revealed through window openings, almost like panels in a graphic novel (I'd use the older term "cartoon" or "comix," which is actually more appropriate, but they lack the cultural gravity of "graphic novel". O Brave New World!). Jeremy Brett gives us the Holmes we love in an energetic performance. As a point of trivia, I learned I share a Huguenot heritage with the Great Detective in this story, but I doubt we are related. For openers, he is a fictional and last I looked, I'm still very real. Wait let me check to make sure. [Whacks self in face]. Yup, I'm here. Holmes seems more absent-minded and distracted than we are used to, and Watson plays the role of a true partner providing essential and practical help. Daniel Massey, who is an eerie echo of his father, Raymond, plays a brash, bossy, and wealthy former U.S. Senator from the Far West. Massey's American fits the British stereotype ("These Americans are readier with their pistols than our folks are"). A good, solid episode.

Auntie Mame / directed by Morton DaCosta (1958, VHS off-air). Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Fred Clark, Roger Smith, Peggy Cass, Lee Patrick, Lee Waterman, Yuki Shimoda. In the twilight of the Men's Fedora Era, we are treated to a contrived and stagey idea of what an eccentric free spirit is supposed to be. The dialogue is sarcastic and mean. The acting belongs on a stage, not a screen. The main character is too manipulative and vain to warrant a lot of sympathy. There are some fun wordplays, such as an estate in Georgia called "Peckerwood" and a WASP enclave called "Mountebank." The line, "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death," starts to feel condescending after repeated utterings.

"The Senior Citizens Outing" (Keeping Up Appearances) / directed by Harold Snoad (1995, VHS off-air). Patricia Routledge, Clive Swift, Josephine Tewson, Judy Cornwall, Geoffrey Hughes, Mary Millar. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground in British comedy. On the one hand there are works of genius like Fawlty Towers, and on the other we have programs like this one. I realize Hyacinth Bucket has quite a following of devoted fans. I suspect, like many other BBC offerings, this series is an acquired taste. Part of the joke is the persistent cluelessness of the obnoxious main character. But there is something missing. It feels like the comic timing is not quite on the mark.

No! No! A Thousand Times No!! / directed by Dave Fleischer (1935, DVD). Mae Questel (voice). Presented on a stage for an audience, Betty and her handsome boyfriend fend off the advances of an oily villain. Poking a little fun at the old fashioned melodramas, but seems kind of tame for a Fleischer cartoon.

Before Women Had Wings / directed by Lloyd Kramer (1997, VHS off-air). Tina Majorino, Ellen Barkin, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Stiles, John Savage, Burt Young, William Lee Scott. Set in Florida in the early 1960s, this made-for-TV (ABC) movie is a case study in family violence and alcoholism-- including all the enabling, lying and covering up by the victims. The visuals are in a soft sepia tone, giving the whole presentation the feeling of being a memory. Indeed the voiceovers of the little girl would suggest that, but it is confusing. Her language and vocabulary sound like it comes from an adult, and she is talking in hindsight, yet the voice is that of a child. The soundtrack is pure made-for-TV and designed to hit the heartstrings. This is a hard topic to present on prime time television, so I salute the producers (Jay Benson, Kate Forte, Oprah Winfrey). Interesting that the character portrayed by Oprah sort of mirrors her role in our culture as the dispenser of advice-- advice gained only by life experience. For all the weaknesses in the dialogue, the acting is high quality. I was especially impressed by Tina Majorino, who was only 11 or 12 at the time. She managed to hold the story together in a convincing way.

Family Plot / directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1976, VHS). Barbara Harris, Bruce Dern, William Devane, Karen Black, Ed Lauter, Cathleen Nesbitt, Katherine Helmond. This light dark, or dark light comedy was Hitchcock's final film and one of his more underrated works. The story centers on two couples. Although all four people are con artists, one couple (Dern/Harris) is clearly more likable and "good" while the other couple (Devane/Black) are bad-- bad enough to cross the moral border and perform murder to get what they want. The two sets are mirror images of a sort. Harris as a fake psychic lapses into a weird voice as she "channels" lost loved ones. Harris' mannerisms and method of talking eerily anticipate J.Z. Knight's schtick. Supposedly, Ramtha contacted Knight less than a year after this movie was released. Coincidence? Bruce Dern is her smarter-then-he-looks taxicab driving boyfriend. I'm glad when I drove a cab I didn't have to wear a stupid cap and (shudder) bowtie like he did. William Devane is quite possibly the most evil and repulsive villain I've seen in any Hitchcock movie, which is saying a lot. Hitchcock brings in some his standard tricks, like creative crane shots (the cemetery scene is beautiful) and reusing the North By Northwest idea of a car careering out of control down a winding road on a cliff. In one scene we see a sign for Bates St. He also has, as the title suggests, a strong family theme throughout the story-- looking for lost family members, scenes in family settings like a church or a Mom and Pop diner. There are two or three curious references to the Mormons, perhaps included due to the LDS emphasis on family. John Williams' appeared to have adapted his soundtrack around Hitchcock's quirky personality with real sensitivity to the story. Unlike many Hitch films, this one didn't have a big conclusion in front of an audience. It finishes with Barbara Harris giving the movie/video/dvd viewer an intimate wink. Alfred gave us an unexpected and twist ending to his whole career with that wink.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters / directed by Ishirô Honda, Terry O. Morse (1956, VHS). Raymond Burr, Takashi Shimura, Akira Takarada, Momoko Kôchi, Akihiko Hirata, Frank Iwanaga. Gojira re-released in Anglo form. He's big, he's in a bad suit, he breathes smoke, his acting is almost comical, he's-- Raymond Burr! Hehe. No, silly, it's Godzilla, King of the Icons! The original 1954 Japanese-only Gojira was censored for all references to Americans messing with atomic weapons in wartime. Then a chain pipe-smoking Canadian posing as an American journalist "Steve Martin" (no kidding) was added to the story in the editing room. Apparently, Burr's scenes were all shot in a 24 hour period in the United States. The end result is a clumsy comedy. Burr is just about the only cast member who has lips that match the words when he talks. When most Japanese actors talk to him in the same camera shot, we only see the backs of their heads. The continuity problems are a bit jarring, especially when Burr's wounds move around his face from scene to scene. Frank Iwanaga, who was filmed with Burr in the American version, is a true fireball of blandness. Like many other Godzilla films, this one is sluggish. Even the orgy of horrible destruction as the giant radioactive reptile destroys Tokyo fails to make me feel justified in the time invested watching this. This early Godzilla sort of resembles a deranged Muppet. At the very end, my interest picked up a little when a Japanese scientist discovered a lethal atomic-like weapon to kill the creature, and the people go through a debate on whether or not to use it. In light of Japan being on the receiving end, twice, of such concentrated destruction, this scene added some pathos to the story. But of course by this time I'm almost numb with boredom. One line did sink in, "You have your fear which might become reality, and you have Godzilla, which is reality." There's a lesson there for all of us. In spite of the flaws, this is Citizen Kane when compared to the 1998 Godzilla version.

The House on Carroll Street / directed by Peter Yates (1988, VHS). Kelly McGillis, Jeff Daniels, Mandy Patinkin, Jessica Tandy, James Rebhorn, Gregory Jbara, Trey Wilson, Kenneth Welsh. This is Alfred without the Hitchcock. An HBO movie set in the Red Hunting days of 1951, this tale of suspense involves commies, Nazis, and a conspiracy by a right-wing Joe McCarthy-type American politician to smuggle German war criminals into the U.S. for "national security" work. There are many Hitchcockian tricks and themes employed: voyeurism, secret agents, expensive crane shots at cemeteries, chase scenes involving big audiences, a blonde heroine doubting her own sanity, trains, using a famous landmark (in this case, Grand Central Station) for the Big Scene. The central character is named Emily Crane, perhaps a sister to Psycho's shower girl, Marion Crane. But having many of the same ingredients of a Hitchcock does not a Hitchcock movie make. This film has a made-for-TV schlocky soundtrack, a soft-focus look, a lack of tartness in the dialogue, a lack of tautness in the plot, and a sudden, unsatisfactory lame-o ending. It is filled with loose-ends and the talents of many fine actors are squandered. Jessica Tandy and Trey Wilson sort of show up and vanish with little impact on the story. James Rebhorn has about two seconds of motion picture time, and no lines. Jeff Daniels has a goofy and kind face, I was never convinced he could be an agent for the F.B. of I. Mandy Patinkin's ("Oh, no! This movie has the [shudder!] 'Curse of Mandy!!'" declared a fellow film reviewer when Patinkin's name appeared in the opening credits) hamminess as the evil Senator was enjoyable, I must admit. I was able to make it through this work in one sitting for various reasons: I had a nice bowl of popcorn; the production values were good and I'm a sucker for 1950s cars; there was a fight in a bookstore among all those monographs, giving us exciting mono-a-mono action (a little pun there for you librarians); the government was portrayed not as a powerful monolith but more accurately as a confederation of warring gangs. Still, for no apparent reason I felt compelled to take off my shoe, calmly wag it at the screen in an act of apparent half-hearted scolding, and then put it back on my foot. Who knows why? I sure don't.

Sleepy Hollow / directed by Tim Burton (1999, DVD). Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Caspar Von Dien, Jeffrey Jones, Richard Griffiths, Ian McDiarmid, Michael Gough, Christopher Walken, Lisa Marie, Christopher Lee, Martin Landau (uncredited). In this dark, swirling tale spiced with humor and populated by over-the-top actors (even the horses are big hams), the real stars are director Burton and soundtrackmeister Danny Elfman. The 1799 New York City slicker Ichabod Crane visits the sticks and attempts to use scientific methods of criminology but finds himself faced with a supernatural foe. From the first minute there is no mistaking we are watching a visually rich Burton film, and I found myself settling in with high expectations to enjoy a tale told by a master storyteller. I was not disappointed. Burton chose to use muted earth tones throughout the story, creating an atmosphere of reading a story on parchment-- very fitting. Lots of comic fainting, maybe too much so. You can tell Burton owes a lot to Vincent Price and Roger Corman. The moral of this story: real estate is the root of all evil.

Cheaper by the Dozen 38

Kids in the Hall. Season 1, episode 11 (1990, DVD). Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney, Scott Thompson, Paul Bellini. Night of the Living Dead ("We're safe. But for how long?"), Baby don't smoke, 30 Helens agree coleslaw deserves another chance, Business meeting in a fire, Foley as Clint Eastwood, Bruce and Karen, 30 Helens agree Hawaii was better before, Clem tells stories in the barbershop. The opening and closing skits are strong. "Night of the Living Dead" boils down the whole zombie genre in a just a couple minutes. The concluding piece employs all five Kids, is well cast, and a fine bit of writing. "Business meeting in a fire" was probably funnier before 9/11. McCulloch's soliloquy about his girlfriend Karen is good medicine for anyone currently in a breakup.

La Marche de l'empereur = March of the Penguins / directed by Luc Jacquet (2005, DVD). Morgan Freeman (narrator). A documentary feature film that is part of the Penguin Thing still in process. Here's what I mean by Penguin Thing: Remember back about 20 years ago you could not get away from cutesy little bears and balloons? They were everywhere, in advertisements, on clothes for kids, Care Bears, etc. Now it is the Penguins' turn. But unlike the cuddly little bears, there is something inherently sinister about this Antarctic fowl. Burgess Meredith was able to capture the essense of the evil within this beast when he played the role of Batman's arch-nemesis, the Penguin. Anyway, back to the movie at hand. In the original version, the birds were given human voiceovers, so the audience watched as French-speaking Penguins struggled to survive in their harsh climate. Fortunately, the American rendition presented this more or less as a documentary, with Morgan Freeman's excellent narrative delivery. The cinematography here is amazing and I was riveted for about 15 minutes, then I stopped watching. How exciting can this be? I mean, c'mon, get real. Actually, I would argue this film needed no human voices at all and would be improved by only nature sounds in the soundtrack, allowing the action to act as explanation.

"Party Political Broadcast" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 21, episode 45) / directed by Ian MacNaughton (1974, VHS). Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. Most awful family in Britain 1974, Icelandic Honey Week, Graham Chapman the doctor, Ballerina military and the churchman are fond of each other, An appeal on behalf of extremely rich people who have absolutely nothing wrong with them, Finishing the sentences, Terry Jones in drag walks to Stonehenge, Walking Tree of Dahomey, Primitive batsmen of the Kalihara, Party political broadcast on behalf of the Liberal Party. This was the final installment of the Python's television series, and they made their exit testing the boundaries of primetime surrealism. Some of the material here still has the bite of Dada three and half decades later. Douglas Adams is said to have a hand in writing the "Most awful family in Britain 1974" skit. I got interested in Monty Python during their last season, so there is a bit of nostalgia for me in viewing their late TV work. There was no one else like them at the time.

Night of the Ghouls / directed by Edward D. Wood Jr. (1959, VHS). Kenne Duncan, Duke Moore, Tor Johnson, Valda Hansen, Johnny Carpenter, Paul Marco, Don Nagel, Harvey B. Dunn, Tom Mason, Anthony Cardoza, Karl Johnson, David De Mering, Criswell, Henry Bederski (uncredited), Conrad Brooks (uncredited), Mona McKinnon (uncredited), Edward D. Wood Jr. (uncredited). Supposedly a sequel to Bride of the Monster, this is one of the final Wood horror films before his descent into porn. It doesn't take long for those who have acquired an appetite for Ed's movies to know they are in for a classic Woodian experience when they see hallmarks such as: Criswell stiltingly reading cue cards in the introduction, Paul Marco as Kelton the Cop, drunks as comic relief, major problems in continuity and editing cuts, the humorless Duke Moore, Tor Johnson as Lobo, use of stock footage in inexplicable ways, dialogue spliced together like the cut out letters of a kidnap note. And of course, the usual cast of weird characters. But getting past the fact we are supposed to laugh at Wood's earnest but inept workmanship, there are a few impressive moments in the direction. By 1959 he had learned the trick of how good lighting can enhance a low-budget effort, and there are many shots in this one that appear to be the product of a more visually sophisticated mind than we normally associate with Wood. At times the motion picture has the feel of something out the era of German Expressionism. And the amazing seance scene is easily the most bizarre piece of Dada in any Edward D. Wood Jr. title, and that is saying a lot! With no Lugosi around anymore to "save" the picture, the film lacked a real star or any single actor with Bela's charisma. Because of this we see an unvarnished Wood carrying more of the burden in providing a watchable piece of entertainment. His use of echo sound whenever the dead would rise and talk was actually quite good. And the bit where Duncan as "Dr. Acula" (get it?) the fake psychic kisses a check for 10 grand from a client and declares, "Barnum sure was right," was an intentionally funny moment. Yes, the plot centers around a couple of con artists who pose as those who have the gift of communicating with the departed. There is little doubt Hitchcock saw this movie before directing Family Plot. Joke. As usual, Wood's movies from this era feature great cars from the 1950s. Love that Oldsmobile Duke Moore the "Ghost Chaser" is driving around.

"Balance of Power" (Red Dwarf, series I, byte 1) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, Mark Williams, Clare Grogan. A very early episode in the series, when the dialogue was sharp and really all you needed. Most of the focus is on the relationship between Lister and Rimmer. There is a bit of pathos as Lister sits alone in the mess hall, missing his old mates. Although Rimmer is not a sympathetic character, Chris Barrie does manage to steal the show just through wonderful acting and comic timing. The Cat learns how to order an unlimited supply of fish from a vending machine, and then gets sick. I'm sure my cat Buster would do the same if he could. This episode includes a talking toilet.

"Kryten" (Red Dwarf, series II, byte 1) / directed by Ed Bye (1988, VHS). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, David Ross. The crew respond to a distress call from a crashed spaceship to find only one survivor-- a crazed android named Kryten. No doubt based on J.M. Barrie's Admirable Crichton, the droid is programmed to serve and seems at a loss when he steps aboard Red Dwarf. The David Ross version of Kryten seems more sensitive and vulnerable than the later Robert Llewellyn interpretation. He was also more in the role of being a straight man. In this prequel-packed episode, we see Lister immediately setting to work to free Kryten from his programming of enslavement, and there is a convoluted peek at the future "Ace" Rimmer. The Cat and his narcissistic struggle in peeling himself away from a mirror was a nice moment. As much as I like this episode, my favorite part came from Holly the computer, who when sending out his own distress call pretty much summed up the celebratory defeatist philosophy of the series: "As the days go by we face the increasing inevitability that we are alone in a Godless, unihabited, hostile and meaningless universe. Still, you got to laugh, haven't you?"

Road to Hong Kong / directed by Norman Panama (1962, VHS off-air). Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Joan Collins, Robert Morley, Walter Gotell, Roger Delgado, Dorothy Lamour, Jerry Colonna (uncredited), Dean Martin (uncredited), David Niven (uncredited), Peter Sellers (uncredited), Frank Sinatra (uncredited), April Ashley (uncredited). This cassette crashed within a few minutes, so I am unable to review the final installment of these Crosby/Hope Road to ... movies. However, a few months ago I did see the scene with Peter Sellers in one of his ethnic roles, this time as a doctor in India. I'm not sure his brand of humor really worked with Crosby and Hope. Der Bingle looked old and not well. To tell you the truth, I never really thought Bob Hope was all that funny (although I did enjoy the time he was given some kind of medal by Congress and in his thank you speech he said how honored he was, as a comedian, to be recognized by his peers). Maybe someday I'll see the whole thing, but I'm in no hurry.

For Scent-imental Reasons / directed by Chuck Jones (1949, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). Did you know that little stinker, Pepe Le Pew, won an Academy Award in 1950 for Best Short Subject? No, he wasn't the short subject, the cartoon itself was. This very cartoon. It can be argued, with great validity, that Pepe Le Pew cartoons are insulting to gender roles, insulting to the French, and insulting to skunks. Yet he's my favorite Warner Brothers character and always makes me laugh. Terrible isn't it? I think we cigar smokers feel a bit of empathy for the little guy.

"Silver Blaze" (The Return of Sherlock Holmes) / directed by Brian Mills (1988, VHS). Jeremy Brett, Edward Hardwicke, Peter Barkworth, Malcolm Storry, Russell Hunter. Set in the country and within the world of late Victorian era horse racing culture, we are several steps behind Holmes as he solves two cases: that of a horsenapping, and a murder. Like the BBC version of Red-Headed League, the Great Detective operates with a sympathetic inspector and a wealthy and doubtful client. Holmes always seems a little outside his element yet more condescending than usual when outside of London. The soundtrack is slightly invasive but not too distracting.