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.