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.