12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:
Rat Race / directed by Jerry Zucker (2001, VHS). Breckin Meyer, Cuba Gooding Jr., Seth Green, Vince Vieluf, Whoopi Goldberg, Lanei Chapman, Jon Lovitz, Kathy Najimy, Rowan Atkinson, John Cleese, Dave Thomas, Amy Smart, Deborah Theaker, Wayne Knight, Kathy Bates (uncredited). An updated version of 1963's It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Since I saw the original in a theater when it was first released, comparisons cannot be helped. The Century 21 version is better. It's a little wilder yet the plot is a bit tighter. The problem with comedy is that it generally has a short shelf life. Stanley Kramer was a great director of dramatic films, but Mad World was sort of a weird detour for him. Zucker, on the other hand, is experienced at this kind of thing. We're not talking about Citizen Kane here, we're talking about getting cheap laughs. And this movie is filled with them. This is sort of a comic buffet. Lots of master comedians in the cast, and if one of them gets bogged down in a slow spot just hang on for the next bit. The story does have a sluggish start, but once Atkinson and Cleese show up the spark begins. As the tale progresses I found myself laughing the hardest at Amy Smart in the role of a woman scorned armed with a helicopter, the Lovitz family entanglements with American Nazis, and most of the all the Cathy Bates squirrel seller thread which was hilarious. One thing Mad World had that I found myself missing in this story was the game of seeing nonstop cameos by big name stars. But other than that, Zucker's is the superior film. Mad World's characters were over the top in ways that made them more memorable, but on the other hand Kramer allowed his comedians to be self-indulgent and the pace bogged down as a result. The timing is more precise in Rat Race. Very nice (if overly politically correct) ending to this film. A finer movie than I expected it to be.
"Back in the Red. Part 1" (Red Dwarf) / directed by Ed Bye (1999, VHS off-air). Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Norman Lovett, Mac McDonald, Andy Taylor. OK, let's see if I can sum this up in a way that makes any sense. The space mining ship Red Dwarf has been reconstructed by nanobots. Not just the structure of the craft itself, but also the original crew from 3 million years previous before the massive radiation leak killed them all. And as our guys reboard this vessel, they are arrested on various charges. From this point on they will remain in prisoner mode until the series ends. The laugh track is suffocating. The dialogue is made up almost completely of one-liners which are occasionally funny. On the positive side, Chris Barrie returns as Rimmer. First we knew his human self, then the holograph persona, and now we meet his nanobot-rebuilt version. Interesting to see how far the Lister character has evolved since the series began, and the script does highlight that fact. I did enjoy the scenes where Kryten chats with the psychologist and The Cat is medically examined. OK, I didn't really sum this up in a way that makes any sense to those who have never seen the series. It is an acquired taste and not the sort of story you can jump into cold. This is how cult programs start.
Hare We Go / directed by Robert McKimson (1951, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). Bet you didn't know Queen Isabella talked liked Mae West, or that Columbus had an entirely Italian crew that jumped ship, or that Bugs Bunny was the real discoverer of America, or that Columbus was sort of a modified version of Elmer Fudd, etc., etc. Bet you didn't know that. As accurate as any Wikipedia entry.
Some Like It Hot / directed by Billy Wilder (1959, VHS). Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, George Raft, Pat O'Brien, Joe E. Brown, Nehemiah Persoff, Mike Mazurki, Harry Wilson, Beverly Wills, Paul Frees (uncredited). Two speakeasy musicians witness a St. Valentine's Day Massacre type execution in Chicago, 1929. In order to escape certain death, they disguise themselves as women and flee to Florida as part of an all-female touring band. Americans were not used to cross-dressing humor in 1959, and if you add Marilyn Monroe to the cast you have yourself a film bordering on scandal for that era. But Billy Wilder knew what he was doing and exactly how close to the edge he could take this thing. Wisely shot in black and white, the gender-switch main narrative is set against the backdrop of old gangster film stereotypes including icons Raft and O'Brien. Everybody wants to be Cary Grant, even Tony Curtis who employs a little inside Hollywood humor while imitating Grant in some scenes. This movie is now a half century old, and as time goes by much of the humor has faded-- except for Jack Lemmon. He didn't steal scenes, but his performance still gets the most laughs even after all these years. This is really his movie. The final line, "Well, nobody's perfect," is one of the all time great cinema signoffs.
Half Shot Shooters / directed by Jack White (1936, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Curly Howard, Vernon Dent, Stanley Blystone, Harry Semels (uncredited), Johnny Kascier (uncredited). Scripted by the mercurial Clyde Bruckman, this is quite possibly the most violent and mean-spirited of all Stooge entries. The story opens with the Three Stooges sleeping in the trenches of 1918 WWI Europe while surrounded by shooting and carnage. Their commanding officer physically abuses them as he informs the boys peace has been declared. That whole setup could've been the basis for ironic and dark humor in the hands of a director like Terry Gilliam. But in this case it was just wrong. Once the Stooges have been discharged, they seek revenge on the officer by giving him the what for, which includes pulling out his armpit hair! This is even too much for me. But wait, there's more. The plot fast forwards to 1935 and the unemployed Stooges are tricked into rejoining the Army, and guess who is once again their commanding officer? During a training exercise, the trio manage to be left alone with an enormous cannon, and inadvertently destroy an allied military ship as well surrounding civilian homes and factories. At the end they are killed. Good thing they never made it into a nuclear missile silo in later years. The natural gifts of Howard, Fine, and Howard were pretty much squandered in this episode. This was Vernon Dent's first of many Stooge appearances. Violence count (excluding the cannon): Ever-popular head konk, 27; Face slap, 9; Whacked on butt, 7; Hit in stomach, 6; Kicked, 3; Armpit hair pulled, 2; Eyepoke, 2.
The Witches of Eastwick / directed by George Miller (1987, VHS). Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, Veronica Cartwright, Richard Jenkins, Carel Struycken. A predictable but well made 1980s comedy horror celebrating the untapped power of women and the bottomless stupidity of men. Even if one of those men happens to be the Devil himself. This could be considered a gender war movie. Nicholson, who plays the "horny little Devil" is quintessential Nicholson here, and he was the right actor for this role. I must say I found myself siding with him throughout the story even if he did wear a bowtie most of the time. I mean, c'mon. He was summoned. The Witches got what they asked for. What's their problem? Veronica Cartwright's supporting role as the straight-laced town pillar is worthy of special attention. She was a wonderfully wild-eyed and intense Cassandra. The Devil was very good at telling the Witches what they wanted to hear. Satan's use of electronic media made me think of George Harrison's "Devil's Radio" song. Fire is used effectively throughout the movie as a malevolent symbol (or maleviolent symbol). My favorite line that I can repeat in mixed company: When the Devil is asked why is there so much pain in the world, he responds, "Well, we don't deal the deck down here, we just play the percentages." The thing about Nicholson is we know he can really act, Hoffa and About Schmidt is proof of that, but even when he is pandering to the popular image we have of him (as he does here), he's amazing to watch.
"A Tree Grows in Trinity" (American Gothic) / directed by Michael Katleman (1995, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, Nick Searcy, David Lenthall. More medical, legal, and supernatural coverups when a denizen of Hell under the guise of the chief local law enforcement officer continues to intimidate the citizens under his jurisdiction as he continues to press forward his agenda of eeeevil. Bottom line: the Status Quo is a pretty container, a container that holds A MORAL CESSPOOL OF INSIDIOUSNESS!!! Interesting to see in this episode print journalists are presented as real threats to Satan's plans. Go free press! David Lenthall as the compromised coroner deserves some recognition for helping to carry the creepiest and best executed scenes. Too bad his character was sporadic in the series and not a regular. The severed head of his favorite pet goat left in the fridge as a warning was sort of a charmingly humorous mixture of The Godfather and stereotypical Satanic symbolism. I'm glad it wasn't Gogo the goat who ran for President in 1996.
The Big Chill / directed by Lawrence Kasdan (1983, VHS). Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams, Don Galloway. A good movie to "watch" while ironing your clothes. The action is not even mildly interesting, but the dialogue can be engaging and the soundtrack is terrific. Here's the premise: a bunch of former campus radicals, now on the cusp between young adulthood and middle age, reunite for the funeral of the most idealistic among their number-- a suicide. It would be easy to dismiss this as a film about Boomers examining their own navels, but that generation (which includes this reviewer) doesn't have a corner on many of the universal issues covered in this story: grief, acceptance, rationalization, adjustment, regret. There was an earlier independent film called Return of the Secaucus 7 (1980) I saw in a hole-in-the-wall place in Seattle when it first came out. Comparisons have been made between the two, but there is one big difference. Secaucus was released when my generation saw the dream was falling apart. Chill was produced after it was declared dead like their friend in the story, when Reagan was sworn to office in 1981. Michael: "I don't know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalizations. They're more important than sex."/Sam Weber: "Ah, come on. Nothing's more important than sex."/Michael: "Oh yeah? Ever gone a week without a rationalization?" Even Ron the Con himself was a liberal who became a conservative. The election of Obama and the rejection of the fundamentalist agenda by the voters must be as hard for young conservatives as the elevation of Reagan was for us. But history teaches us the pendulum swings Left and Right. I'm curious if a 30 something year old Republican these days would find anything in this film that emotionally connects or if they see it as a period piece. Brush with fame: I had an apartmentmate in college who once worked in a flowershop in L.A. and sold flowers to Meg Tilly. Exciting, eh?
Casino Royale / directed by Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge (uncredited) (1967, VHS). Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Orson Welles, Joanna Pettet, Daliah Lavi, Woody Allen, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, Charles Boyer, John Huston, Kurt Kasznar, George Raft, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Terence Cooper, Barbara Bouchet, Jacqueline Bisset, Ronnie Corbett, Bernard Cribbens, Graham Stark, Anjelica Huston (uncredited), Burt Kwuok (uncredited), John Le Mesurier (uncredited), Peter O'Toole (uncredited), David Prowse (uncredited), David McCallum (uncredited). There might be other movies as bad as this, but few so lavishly bad. Rarely has so much talent been flushed down the toilet so quickly. I mean, just look at the cast. What promise! What happened? The only reason this doesn't rank as low as Zardoz in the 600+ reviews I've given so far is the fact this is presented as comedy. Speaking as one who lived through the entire 1960s, this production is as disjointed, chaotic, garish, overblown, offensive, wasteful, and over the top as the decade in which it was made-- so in a way it is valuable as a cinematic fly in amber. Watching it all these years later is like eating stale party food the morning after. Actually, I must admit I have a guilty pleasure in eating salty corn chips with congealed pools of grease, and so I must confess there were parts of Casino Royale I laughed at. Well, actually there was only one part: The Berlin scene where the set was made in homage to Das Cabinet de Dr. Caligari. The film went into a spiral and as the circle ever widened the story grew worse with each frame. The only consistent thread was the music of Burt Bacharach, by far the best feature of the movie. View this as an academic exercise, and you'll be satisified. View it for entertainment, and you'll want your money back, even if it you saw it for free. Oh. Yeah. I nearly forgot. This is a James Bond movie.
"Castrovalva" (Doctor Who) / directed by Fiona Cumming (1982, VHS off-air). Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Sarah Sutton, Matthew Waterhouse, Anthony Ainley, Michael Sheard. "I'm the Doctor," declares Davison in his new role, "Or will be, if this regeneration works out." But it doesn't. And never does. And so the hokey aspects of this series remains hokey without the benefit of a strong central character to justify watching the thing. The new Doctor appears to be too vulnerable and so sensitive as to be invisible. But I did find three parts of this episode to be worth a positive mention. First, we are treated to a tour of the depths of the TARDIS, one of the most fascinating time and space travel devices ever presented on screen. Second, there is an important librarian character and the library plays a key role. Third, the Master (arch-enemy of the Doctor), played by a grown man, actually utters this line out loud for all the world to hear: "The Universe is purged of the Doctor and his impossible dreams of goodness."
Invisible Ghost / directed by Joseph H. Lewis (1941, DVD). Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire. St. Clair Vision strikes again. This DVD just won't play nice. Hence you are spared from my observations on this feature film which I have never seen.
Candidate for President / directed by Art Clokey (1956, VHS). Voices by Art Clokey, Dick Beals, Norma MacMillan. Yes, it is Gumby, that claymation character who still shows up in nightmares for those of us unfortunate enough to remember the original series. After being nominated by a dog at a political convention, Gumby sends his political advisor (who happens to be a small dinosaur named "Prickle" accompanied by a vague blue glob called "Goo") to study Mt. Rushmore and then literally dive into history books to meet the former US CEOs and see what makes a great President. Maybe instead he should've asked Henry Clay. Nyuk, nyuk. I seem to recall that WSU students in the late 1980s had quite a campus wide rift between followers of Gumby and followers of Pokey. I guess you could mark me down in the Pokey category, he always seemed a more sardonic and cut-the-crap kind of guy to me. But both of them were just regular guys, they had feet of clay.