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.