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.