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