12 mini-reviews for the short attention span, taken from dark corners of stevenl's video vault:
Boobs in the Woods / directed by Eddie Bernds, Eddie Rehberg, Sam Cornell, Dave Detiege (1965/66, DVD). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Joe DeRita. A series of lame cartoons with the Three Stooges voicing their own animated selves had a short-lived career. The aging Stooges themselves appeared on film to introduce and conclude the cartoons, woefully with little violence or sound effects. This particular episode can only be called a paltry attempt at entertainment as the cartoon Stooges encounter a witch who wants to cook and eat Curly Joe. Although this is not pornographic as the title suggests, it is indeed an obscenity in the world of animation.
Invitation to the Wedding / directed by Joseph Brooks (1985, VHS). Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Paul Nicholas, John Standing, Elizabeth Shepherd, Susan Brooks, Edward Duke, Allan Cuthbertson, Aimée Delamain, Ronald Lacey, Jeremy Clyde. A sappy and horsey romantic comedy with a twist of English eccentricism. This ultra obscure movie appears to be missing from several online filmographies of Ralph Richardson which seems strange as it is his final starring role in front of the motion picture cameras-- Wikipedia (as of this writing) drops the ball yet again. Charmingly low-budget, this feature includes a cowboy hatted Gielgud affecting a Texas drawl and pretending to be a helicopter riding evangelist. The truly odd and very talented Ronald Lacey plays both roles of a husband/wife legal team. And yes, that's Jeremy Clyde in the credits, remembered by Boomers as half of the musical duo Chad & Jeremy. Fawlty Towers fans will recognize Cuthbertson and Delamain. There is also the obligatory Evil Real Estate Developer character. The comic timing doesn't really click for this American viewer, but I found myself enjoying the characters anyway. Richardson was the dotty bishop who accidentally joins two strangers in Holy matrimony and then has to set things right. It was nice way for Sir Ralph to say goodbye. The climatic wedding scene did surprise me and the final few minutes of the movie saved the picture.
The Trail: Lewis & Clark Expedition 1803-1806 / directed by Robin D. Williams (1996, VHS). Robin D. Williams (Narrator). A 90-minute travelogue retracing the steps of the Corps of Discovery starting with Jefferson at Monticello and concluding at Fort Clatsop, Oregon. This is not a Big Picture history, rather it is a detail-oriented description of the actual Expedition. The narrative digresses and presents events out of sequence too often in order to be considered a good general introduction. But if you are already somewhat familiar with the history of the trek this is filled with great trivia. It is fascinating to see some of the places they visited in their present day form. Several living Anglo descendants and relatives of principal historical characters are shown but we never hear them talk. The musical soundtrack is right out of Hokeville. In some of the historical re-enactments, both Anglos and Native Americans are wearing sunglasses! Williams includes a little postscript at the end paying tribute to Western artists John Clymer, Bob Scriver, and Charlie Russell. No matter how their adventure is interpreted through present day political/social/ethnic lenses, the Lewis and Clark experience does make an engaging and incredible story.
"Man's Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the 20th Century" (Monty Python's Flying Circus ; v. 3, episode 5) / directed by John Howard Davies, Ian MacNaughton (1969, VHS). Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Carol Cleveland. Confuse-a-cat, Swiss watches at the customs station, A duck and a lizard and cat discuss customs enforcement, Man in the street, Crooked law enforcement raid, Newscaster arrested, Match of the day, Body building, Management training course applicant interview, Careers Advisory Board, Encyclopedia salesmen. The whole ensemble takes part in Confuse-a-cat, a favorite skit among cat lovers. It includes a penguin on a pogo stick-- yes I know it is an old chiche but I have still have a soft spot in my heart for that tired old stereotype. The interview sketch is classic Cleese/Chapman and even though it is more of a traditional gag routine than we are used to with this group, it still makes me laugh.
Yat goh hiu yan = Mr. Nice Guy / directed by Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (1997, VHS). Jackie Chan, Richard Norton, Miki Lee, Karen McLymont, Gabrielle Fitzpatrick, Barry Otto, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo. Set in Melbourne, Australia, Jackie plays a TV cooking show chef who finds himself placed by accident in the middle of a war between rival criminal gangs. Directed by fellow martial arts star Sammo Hung Kam-Bo (who also has a brief comic role), the action sequences are excellent-- and exhausting to watch! In the case of the blue door construction site scenes, the direction is downright artistic. Classic good guys against bad guys plot, spiced with Jackie's great sense of comic timing. It was fun to see Australian character actor Barry Otto in the cast. One of the better Jackie Chan films. This has another Chan ending where law enforcement turns a blind eye while Jackie kicks butt. Wink. Nudge. Real life is a little more complicated as Jackie has discovered this season when making public statements on international politics. Jackie Chan has done more good than ill in the world, so give the poor guy some slack.
"Back in the Red. Part 2" (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, Graham McTavish. You don't have to know anything about nanobots, prison space ships, androids, or the sexual magnetism "virus" to appreciate the performances of Chris Barrie and Robert Llewellyn in this episode. Both of them were given great scenes by writers who knew how to exploit the talents of their subjects. The whole series started declining at this point, but there are still some very fine moments. This version of Rimmer is perhaps the most weasley of all, and Kryton proves he cannot be reprogrammed. Tarantino fans should catch the fleeting tribute to Reservoir Dogs.
Rocket Gilbraltar / directed by Daniel Petrie (1988, VHS). Burt Lancaster, Suzy Amis, Patricia Clarkson, Francis Conroy, Sinéad Cusack, John Glover, Bill Pullman, Kevin Spacey, Macaulay Culkin, Angela Goethals, Sara Rue, James McDaniel, David Hyde Pierce. The family clan gathers to celebrate the 77th birthday of the patriarch, but a twist develops. He dies. OK, I am a spoiler, but the film is over 20 years old and besides, the first three quarters of this story is about as boring as it gets. My own father had a heart attack on his 75th birthday and was gone a few days later, so this movie was a little uncomfortable to watch during the interesting 4th quarter. The bad parts: The infomercial soundtrack really kills the story. The child actors are not convincing as children. They are mouthing lines that sound like they came from adult writers second-guessing how kids talk. Well, actually, I guess that extended to the adult actors as well. There did not appear to be Big Issues that had be resolved as a family. This is great in reality, but pretty pedestrian entertainment onscreen. The ending was something you could see coming from a mile away. Now the good parts: Lancaster was excellent as the serene, somewhat disengaged elder who has more in common with his grandkids than his adult children. It is strange but sort of nice to see two great actors from completely different eras like Lancaster and Spacey in the same Celluloid frames. David Hyde Pierce as the pretentious caterer deserved much more time in front of the camera. Middle-aged self-absorption was demonstrated in a variety of ways. And although the ending was predictable, it remained well done and effective.
Heaven Scent / directed by Chuck Jones (1956, VHS off-air). Mel Blanc (voice). "Did you know," asks Pepe Le Pew as he hangs on the edge of a cliff by his back paw, "that when you are in love it is almost impossible to get insurance? But then, security isn't everything." In this plot, we are given yet another example of how cats are smarter than dogs, but not as intelligent as a skunk. The Chuck Jones style of animating generic cats is beautiful. But once you've seen one Pepe cartoon, you've seen most of them. Great movement pieces. The conclusion was probably Hitchcock's inspiration for the naughty conclusion to North by Northwest in 1959. This cartoon would never even in a minute be considered appropriate for children today, but I probably saw it dozens of times on afternoon TV in the 1960s.
Out West / directed by Edward Bernds (1947, VHS). Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard, Christine McIntyre, Norman Willis, Jock Mahoney, Vernon Dent (uncredited), Stanley Blystone (uncredited), Heinie Conklin (uncredited). The Three Stooges migrate to the Old West on the advice of a physician. It seems Shemp has the "biggest vein you ever saw" on his leg. Of course, bad guys interpret this as a gold vein and the misunderstandings compound. Very tight writing for a Stooge short (they must have caught Clyde Bruckman on a good day), but at the expense of sound-effect enhanced hitting, poking, and slapping. The meager violence count: Head konk 8, and one each of smashed hand, ear sawed with hacksaw, neck sawed, and face slap. Yet, and I realize I say this with the consequences of being a pariah across the board, I find Shemp funnier than Curly. The Shempster was the greatest Stooge of all. There. I said it. Hey, I love Curly too! Really. You Curly fans can put your weapons down. America is a free country. I can prefer Shemp if I want to.
The Wrong Trousers / directed by Nick Park (1993, VHS). Peter Sallis (voice). Amazing stop-action animation and a true-to-life exposé on the evility of penguins. Nick Park's ability to infuse expression into his non-speaking characters is the work of a master cartoonist. Sufferers of sphenisciphobia would do well to avoid viewing this brief movie. This is sort of comfort food in the realm of entertainment. Brilliantly done nonthreatening and easy amusement yet imaginative and creative. A wonderful family short film.
"Eye of the Beholder" (American Gothic) / directed by Jim Charleston (1995, DVD). Gary Cole, Paige Turco, Jake Weber, Brenda Bakke, Sarah Paulson, Lucas Black, N'Bushe Wright, Michael Burgess, Bob Hannah. Set in the South Carolina town of Trinity, where good ol' boy law enforcers are the Tool of Satan! OK, some would say far so good. But then add a bewitched mirror for your narcissistic needs and the killer crow and this soap opera becomes a bit different. This episode does not survive a repeated viewing very well. Somehow I discovered if you freeze-frame this story at any segment it suddenly becomes ridiculous in a very hammy fashion and you wonder what else the actors could've done for a living. Cotton candy.
Big Jake / directed by George Sherman (1971, VHS). John Wayne, Richard Boone, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Bruce Cabot, Bobby Vinton, John Doucette, John Agar, Ethan Wayne, Maureen O'Hara. In my day, that is the era when Baby Boomers still had clout, we would've called this movie Big Jerk since that is how we viewed Marion Morrison (John Wayne's real name) at the time. A child on the U.S./Mexican border is kidnapped. He happens to be the grandson of a wealthy matriarch. In order to get her grandson back, she calls on the services of her ex-husband: "It is I think going to be a very harsh and unpleasant kind of business, and will, I think, require a very harsh and unpleasant kind of man." (i.e., John Wayne). Richard Boone, as usual, is great as the villain. You know, over the years I have come to appreciate a lot of John Wayne's better qualities in spite of the fact I never liked him when he was alive. But this movie does nothing to enhance his image with me. Watching innocent people, including children, getting killed by gun wielding outlaws isn't my idea of good entertainment. Not in this movie, not in real life. This mainstream attempt to compete with Sam Peckinpah was just the wrong move by all concerned.