Month: February 2012

Hairspray

2007

New Line Cinema

Directed by Adam Shankman

Produced by Craig Zadan, Neil Meron, Bob Shayne, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and Tony Emmerich

Written by John Waters, Thomas Meehan and Leslie Dixon

Based on the 2002 musical “Hairspray” and the 1988 film “Hairspray”

As you can tell from the credits, HAIRSPRAY has had a convoluted history.  It started out as a movie which launched Ricki Lake’s career (and her talk show sank what little there was of it).  But only did moderate business and became a cult favorite.  It then was turned into a Broadway musical that won a ton of Tony Awards and that’s when it became a hit.  It became an even bigger success when it returned to the screen as a big-budget musical.  And let me tell you, HAIRSPRAY did a whole lot to make me feel better the first time I saw it during a bad time in my life and when I saw it again recently I was happy that it had the same effect on me and made me feel good all over again.  Only a total Blue Meanie could dislike HAIRSPRAY and its right up there with musicals such as “Mamma Mia” and “Chicago” and classics such as “Little Shop of Horrors” “The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” and “Grease” that are among my favorites.

It’s Baltimore, 1962 and Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonski) dreams of only one thing: her favorite TV teen dance show: ‘The Corny Collins Show’.  The problem is that Tracy is what we today call “full-figured” but back in 1962 the ‘f’ word is used right to her face when she’s turned down at an audition to dance on the show.  That’s because all of the girls on the show are broomstick thin.  Tracy’s mother Edna (John Travolta) and her father, joke shop king Wilbur (Christopher Walken) in their own ways encourage Tracy to follow her dream and Tracy does have an advantage over most kids: despite her size the chick can shake her moneymaker like nobody’s business which is an attribute noticed by the black kids when she gets thrown into detention with them.  One of the kids, Seaweed Stubbs (Elijah Kelley) teaches Tracy some of his moves which are noticed by Link Larkin (Zac Efron) the lead singer/dancer on ‘The Corny Collins Show’.  Link’s never seen any girl move like Tracy and he insists that she try out again for Corny’s show.

Tracy tries out again and she does indeed land a spot on the show, much to the chagrin of Corny’s producer Velma Von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is using the show to promote her daughter’s future as a beauty queen.  Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) is not only Link’s girlfriend but also the front runner for “Miss Teenage Hairspray” both of which are challenged not only by Link’s growing interest in Tracy but Tracy’s increasing popularity not only among white teenagers but black ones as well since Tracy is very outspoken for integrating the all-white Corny Collins Show.  The show is notable for having a once-a-month Negro Day hosted by Seaweed’s mom, Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah).  Corny Collins (James Marsden) himself is with Motormouth and Tracy against Velma’s racist policies against having black and white kids dance together on the show since they see the changing times and know it isn’t long before some very old walls come tumbling down.

HAIRSPRAY covers a lot of ground for what is essentially a Feel Good Musical and I appreciated that.  It surely didn’t have to stretch itself to cover the rising Equal Rights Movement in America and address it through Tracy’s embracing friendships with blacks and a romantic subplot involving Tracy’s best friend Penny (Amanda Bynes) and Seaweed.  There’s a nice scene where a popular song ‘New Girl In Town’ is sung by a white girl group and intercut with a black girl group singing the same song.  When Velma complains to Motormouth about this, Motormouth responds by saying that the black girl group not only wrote the song, they recorded it first.  One is reminded of the Little Richard/Pat Boone ‘Tutti Frutti’ debacle.

The racial subplots don’t get in the way of the main story and in fact do exactly what subplots are supposed to do: support the main story and give us insight into other aspects of the characters.  But at the same time they put more meat on the bones of the main story and it would be hard to imagine HAIRSPRAY without them.  The interracial romance between Seaweed and Penny is handled with a lot more sensitivity than you would expect and it’s made clear that these two would have fallen for each other no matter what color they are.  In fact, due to Penny’s high school status as a Plain Jane and Tracy’s being overweight it’s made clear that they’re considered just as much outsiders by the white kids in their school as the blacks.  Which makes it all the more sweeter when by the movie’s conclusion, Tracy and Penny both get their hearts desire on the merits of their staying true to who they are.

I really love the acting in this movie.  Everybody looks to be having a total blast but nobody more so than John Travolta and Nikki Blonski.  Yes, that is John Travolta in a fat suit playing a woman and while it may come off at first as stunt casting, pay close attention.  Travolta wasn’t hired to convincingly play a woman: he was hired because he can dance and can do so in a sixty-pound fat suit and make it look graceful.  Which he does.  Travolta and Nikki Blonski have a great number together ‘Welcome To The 60’s’ and there’s a number where Travolta sings and dances with Christopher Walken that has to be seen to be believed.   It also helps that Christopher Walken himself is an old song-and-dance man from way back.  Travolta looks like he’s having so much fun that you can’t help but grin when you see him dance around in the outrageous 60’s dresses he wears.

Nikki Blonski carries a lot of the movie on her back and she does it willingly.  Her character is so full of energy, optimism and sheer joy that I fell in love with her right from her opening number ‘Good Morning, Baltimore’.  And I was rooting for her through the whole movie for her to steal Link’s heart as she stole mine.  Adorably cute doesn’t begin to describe her.

Queen Latifah has already proved in other movie musicals she knows how to steal a scene and she does so several times here.  But in fact, just like “Chicago” “Best Little Whorehouse In Texas” and “Little Shop Of Horrors” every song in HAIRSPRAY is an opportunity for whoever is singing to steal the scene and they do so.  Even Michelle Pfeiffer who doesn’t really sing but does that Talking-A-Song-Routine that Rex Harrison and Richard Harris perfected. Elijah Kelly and Taylor Parks steal ‘Run And Tell That’  Christopher Walken and John Travolta steal ‘You’re Timeless To Me’.  Hell, everybody steals.  And with good reason as they’re all great songs and great showcases for their talent.

So should you see HAIRSPRAY?  I’m gonna be honest with you guys: when I first saw HAIRSPRAY I was at a low point in my life.  In the hospital, flat on my back, unable to take ten steps without gasping for air.  So my emotional state at that time perhaps colored my perception of the movie.  But you know what?  I really don’t care.  HAIRSPRAY made me feel good then and it makes me feel good now.  It helped me get through a rough patch I was experiencing and I can think of no higher praise for a movie.  By all means check it out.  Matter of fact it would make a terrific Saturday Night Musical Double Feature with “Little Shop of Horrors”

117 minutes

Rated PG

The Hangover

2009

Warner Brothers

Directed by Todd Phillips

Produced by Todd Phillips and Daniel Goldberg

Written by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore

If you’ve been following my movie reviews for any decent length of time then you know that while I love comedies I rarely find any recently produced that do what I think comedies are supposed to do: make me laugh.  Not just chuckle, chortle or smile.  I want to walk out of the theater with my sides aching from laughing so much and so hard.   THE HANGOVER did that to me and I loved minute of it.  I was highly skeptical about seeing this movie due to all the hype.  Ever since I got burned on “There’s Something About Mary” and the first two Austin Powers movies I’ve been leery about comedy movies that get that kind of hype but in the case of THE HANGOVER, it’s deserved.

The movie actually starts off like a thriller or a mystery.  Four men are standing by a battered, beat-to-hell vintage Mercedes Benz somewhere in a desert.  The four men are just as battered, bloody and look as if they’ve been a street fight with one of the gangs from “The Warriors”.  One of the men is on his cell phone trying to explain to a hysterical bride that they have lost her future husband in Las Vegas and have no idea where he is.  In fact, they have no idea what has happened since none of them can remember anything after doing shots of Jagermeister on the roof of Caesar’s Palace a day ago.

Jump in the Wayback Machine and go two days back: Doug (Justin Bartha) heads for Las Vegas with his two best friends.  Phil (Bradley Cooper) is a high school teacher and Stu (Ed Helms) a dentist.  They’re joined by Doug’s future brother-in-law Alan (Zach Galifanakis) who they’re really not sure about.  Alan is somewhat eccentric in manner, speech, dress and…hell, he’s just odd, period.  Doug’s always wanted to have a bachelor party in Las Vegas and his buds are determined to see that he has one he’ll never forget.

It turns out the opposite: it’s the one that they can’t remember but it must have been one hell of a party considering that they wake up in a $4,000 a night suite, complete with tons of empty liquor and champagne bottles all over the place, a tiger in the bathroom, a baby in the closet, a chicken casually strolling around, Stu missing a tooth and Doug just plain missing.  Phil, Stu and Alan valiantly sober up and set out on a day long odyssey through Las Vegas, following the most improbable of clues (when and how in the hell did they steal a police car?) as they struggle to piece together exactly what happened the night before and find Doug to get him to his wedding on time.  Assuming of course that things didn’t get too out of hand and poor Doug is lying dead face down in a ditch somewhere.  Which is a distinct possibility considering some of the characters the boys run into.  Such as the Chinese mobster Mr. Chow who is extremely pissed off at our heroes for good reasons I wouldn’t dare reveal here.

That’s about all you need to know to go into THE HANGOVER since I really don’t revealing too much about a comedy movie.  What’s the point of me telling you the jokes and depriving you of a laugh?  Which is something about THE HANGOVER I really liked: it’s been my experience that trailers for comedies usually have the biggest and best laughs in the movie so that by the time you actually see the movie, it’s a let down because there’s no jokes in the movie that compare to the ones you’ve already seen.

I’m happy to report that such is not the case with THE HANGOVER.  The jokes you see in the trailer are far from the funniest ones, many of which couldn’t be shown in a trailer because of their sheer raunchiness.  For once, a comedy movie has kept its best gags where they should be kept: in the movie.

I really liked the performances in this movie because the cast is mostly unknown to me.  With the exception of Bryan Callan, who I know from ‘MADtv’ and ‘Fat Actress’ Mike Epps, Jeffrey Tambor and Rachael Harris, who co-starred with Callan in ‘Fat Actress’ the rest of the cast were fresh faces and that went a long way toward drawing me into the movie’s story in a way that I don’t think would have happened if more well-known comedic actors had starred in this.  And Mike Tyson really surprised me as he was remarkably funny in his performance as Mike Tyson.  He’s got quite a bit more to do with the plot than the trailer suggests and it’s a tribute to how clever the screenwriters are in the way they logically get Mike Tyson into the action.

And THE HANGOVER works on another level in that the actors don’t act like they’re in a comedy movie.  You know what I mean and if you don’t, check out one of the worst offenders of this; ‘You, Me and Dupree’.  THE HANGOVER’s comedy comes out of the situations these guys find themselves in and not oh-so-clever one-liners thrown in every couple of minutes.  The comedy comes from the circumstances and how the characters react to them.  The dialog is realistic and I found myself really caught up in the mystery of what the hell happened during that night and where the hell is Doug?

So should you see THE HANGOVER?  Without a doubt, yes.   It’s raunchy, crude, sometimes depraved, lewd and offensive.  But it’s also clever, sharp and funny from start to finish.  And that’s the best recommendation I can give any comedy.

Rated R: For language, sexual content including nudity and drug use.  The f-word and its many variations are thrown around with careless abandon so if you’ve got sensitive ears, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

100 minutes

Better In The Dark #125

 

Episode 125: THE BLACK RETURN OF THE SMILEY GANJA BUG GUY

It’s the winter of 2012, and all around the world, Better In The Dark fans know what time it is…Obscure Movie Time! Once more the Boys Outta Brooklyn dig into the apocrypha of motion picture history to present you with a six pack of filmic goodies! Among this year’s offerings are the African-American vampire oddity Ganja and Hess, the Anna Faris stoner comedy Smiley Face, the unlikely London set romcom/musical theater spoof The Tall Guy and the film a lot of BiTD fans demanded, the demented super-hero musical comedy featuring Christopher Lee, The Return of Captain Invincible! Plus, Richard Belzer infects Tom’s novel, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis creep out Patricia and Derrick doesn’t want to go to the same movie with a different name. If you don’t name your poison, we’ll have to call the boys in, so get to clicking!

BETTER IN THE DARK
Two Guys Outta Brooklyn Talk Movies
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The Long Goodbye

1973

MGM Home Entertainment

 Directed by Robert Altman

Produced by Jerry Bick

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett

Based on the novel by Raymond Chandler

When Robert Altman is cooking on all burners as in say, ‘MASH’, ‘The Player’ or ‘Cookie’s Fortune’ he’s a director to be reckoned with and you sit back and just revel in how many characters he effortlessly weaves in and out of whatever story he’s telling.  I’m a big fan of his ‘Popeye’ which is a comic book movie that even fans of comic book movies fail to remember but I think is a jaw-droppingly amazing piece of work.  ‘Nashville’ I could never quite get into but it’s widely regarded as his masterpiece while ‘Quintet’ and ‘3 Women’ are quite baffling and addictively dreamlike.  I don’t get what they’re about but for some reason I’m compelled to watch them anytime they’re being aired.  And then there’s the movie we’re talking about now: THE LONG GOODBYE.

I guess the best way to start off discussing THE LONG GOODBYE is to say that while it’s based on the classic 1954 Raymond Chandler novel of the same name featuring the iconic private detective Philip Marlowe, it’s set in 70’s Los Angeles.  So I think  I’m pretty sure in saying that a whole lot of the movie is a departure from the source material.  In fact, I’ll put myself out a limb and say I’m damn sure it is because probably the most memorable thing about this private eye/mystery movie is that nobody really seems to care about the mystery, if it gets solved at all or who done it, why they done it and how they done it.  It that respect, it shares something with a previous Philip Marlowe movie adaptation: the classic Howard Hawkes directed ‘The Big Sleep’ filmed with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall back in 1946.  That movie’s story was so convoluted that at the end there were two murders still unsolved and even Chandler himself had to admit that he didn’t know who killed the victims.  You watch THE LONG GOODBYE and by the end you realize that there’s a whole lot you don’t understand about who did what to whom and why.  But if you like Robert Altman or Elliott Gould or just like to watch a movie with a bunch of smart ass characters trying to out-smart ass each other, then you’ll probably get a kick out of this one.

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Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould) is your typical private eye: he lives like a slob, takes the cases nobody else wants and lives by a personal code of honor that is unexplainable.  You either get it or you don’t.  One hot summer night he’s woken up by his cat and has to go out to buy the only kind of cat food the finicky bastard will eat.  When he comes back home with the cat food Marlowe finds his old buddy Terry Lennox (former pro baseball player and author of ‘Ball Four’ Jim Bouton) waiting for him.  Terry’s had a fight with his wife, which isn’t unusual, but Terry’s request that Marlowe drive him to Tijuana is.  Still, Terry’s his boy so Marlowe does him the solid.

Turns out that Marlowe might have been better off giving Terry his couch for the night.  The cops are waiting for Marlowe when he returns home and haul him into jail as an accessory after the fact in the murder of Terry Lennox’s wife.  Even though Marlowe maintains that Terry wouldn’t kill his wife, he still can’t forget that Terry had some serious looking scratches on his face and hands and he did seem to be in an awful hurry to get to Mexico.  The cops turn Marlowe loose after Terry himself turns up dead, supposedly a suicide.  Even as Marlowe is trying to deal with this and find out exactly what happened the night Terry showed up at his apartment, he’s hired by Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt) to find her brilliant but alcoholic writer husband Roger Wade (Sterling Hayden) who’s gone missing.  And if that wasn’t enough, Terry’s ‘business partner’ Marty Augustine (Mark Rydell) leans on Marlowe a whole lot since it seems that Terry took off with $350, 000 of mob money and since Marlowe was the last to see him…

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Now when I lay it out like that you think that THE LONG GOODBYE is more or less your typical private eye movie but it isn’t. At times you’re not sure if Altman, Gould and the rest of the cast are taking this thing seriously since the whole movie is really carried by the definitely bizarre, eccentric and downright nutty characters that populate the story.  Elliot Gould’s Philip Marlowe leads the pack as he wisecracks at every opportunity and chain-smokes with a relentlessness I admire.  There’s even a scene where he’s hit by a car and is lying in the street with his still burning cigarette firmly in his lips.  In true private eye fashion he doggedly follows the trails of what seems to be three unrelated cases and finds that they all lead back to his friendship with Terry Lennox and that night he drove him to Tijuana.  And when he does put the case together and finds out who is behind it all and why, the ending is a true surprise.

But to get there…boy, is it a long strange trip.  Marlowe’s cat is a unusual character in its own cat like way but there’s also the five beautiful blonde girls who live next door to Marlowe who insist on exercising in the nude and whose only activity seem to be making and eating huge amounts of brownies (if you were around in the 70’s, you’ll know why) and a security guard who does impressions of 30’s/40’s movie stars and the slimy Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson) who has some kind of strange hold over the normally bombastic and dominant Roger Wade…well, I trust you get the point by now. THE LONG GOODBYE is not your typical gumshoe movie and if you expect a straightforward mystery, you’re not going to get it here.

You’ll probably enjoy things like Elliott Gould’s decidedly eccentric and quirky performance as Philip Marlowe that is unlike that of any other incarnation of Marlowe.  The story is definitely convoluted and I had to watch the movie three times until I felt I finally understood the connections between Terry Lennox, his wife’s murder, Roger Wade and his wife and Marty Augustine’s missing mob money.  I think you’ll also get a kick out of the music score which consists of the theme song ‘The Long Goodbye’ being played in a variety of styles from R&B, Muzak, disco, jazz, blues and even a version sung over a car radio by Jack Sheldon who sang many of the classic ‘Schoolhouse Rock’ and ‘Multiplication Rock’ songs.  And don’t tell me you don’t know who Jack Sheldon is.  Does ‘Conjunction Junction’ ring a bell?  And keep your eyes open for none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger himself as one of Marty Augustine’s goons in one of his first (might even be his first) movie roles.

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So should you see THE LONG GOODBYE?  Depends.  If you’re a fan of the quirky and offbeat, I’d say yes.  If you like Elliott Gould or the films of Robert Altman, I’d say yes.  If you’re a fan of private eye/suspense/mystery/detective movies, I’d say no.  After all, this isn’t a movie that all that concerned about who done it, why they done it and how they done it as it is with evoking a mood and a style.  It’s a movie that is solely concerned with us taking a look at these characters and what they do during a crucial few days in their lives.  I do admit, though, it’s a movie where you can easily imagine the characters having lives that continue long after the movie is over.

Rated R

112 minutes

The Richard Pryor Show

1977

National Broadcasting Company (Original Airing)

Directed by John Moffitt

Produced by Burt Sugarman

Written by Richard Pryor, Robert Altman, Sandra Bernhard, Vic Dunlop, Paul Mooney, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield and Robin Williams

Most people would know the brilliant Richard Pryor from his movie work and mainly hit Netflix to relive his amazing talent in that medium but if you ask them about his TV work you would probably get a look of bafflement.  Richard Pryor did a TV special for NBC and on the strength of that was then was given a contract for ten shows. Production was shut down after only four episodes were aired.  Fortunately we live in an age where nothing that has been televised is lost and THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW is available on DVD and while it’s nowhere near his legendary concert films, which is what you really want to see to get the raw Richard Pryor, his brief TV career is well worth a look at.

First of all, THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW is the only place you’re going to see Richard Pryor in comedy sketches with Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield, Johnny Yune, John Belushi, John Witherspoon (the voice of Grandpa on “The Boondocks”) and the legendary Paul Mooney who is probably the funniest man on the planet.  And before seeing this DVD if anybody had told me that Marsha Warfield could actually look hot I’d have called him or her a dirty liar.  But here she is and looking quite sexy in a couple of very funny sketches including one where she and Richard Pryor are in a restaurant and getting turned on by the ferocity in which they attack their food.

The sketch that is the major standout is the one where Richard Pryor is a bartender in the “Star Wars” bar of Mos Eisley.  Here he has to service all the major alien characters that we know and love from those movies.  And he acts just as we expect Richard Pryor to act in such a circumstance.  The best part is when Richard brings Greedo and the alien who looks like The Devil their drinks.  When you watch this scene you have to really look at Pryor’s face since he says absolutely nothing for two minutes and the aliens are gabbling at him in their own languages.  The live studio audience is cracking up and it’s obvious it’s not canned laughter.  The reactions are honest and it all comes from Pryor’s expressions.   It’s a brilliant example of how funny Richard Pryor could be when he said absolutely nothing and only worked with his facial and body expressions.

Another classic sketch is the one where Pryor is President Of The United States and he’s a press conference that starts off with the press (Robin Williams, Sandra Bernhard, Time Reid, Paul Mooney among others) asking him questions about such lofty matters as The Neutron Bomb, Space Travel and The FBI’s persecution of Huey Newton and quickly degenerating into questions about why does The President like dating white woman and who his momma sleeps with.

My personal favorite of the comedy sketches are the ones where Pryor plays Mojo, a crazed backwater spiritual healer who doesn’t really heal…when a paralyzed woman comes to him and says she can’t walk, the dreadlocked Mojo screams; “Of course you cain’t walk!  You in dat damn wheelchair!” He kicks her out of the chair into the dirt and hollas: “Let Mojo handle IT!”  And there’s an improv piece where Richard Pryor, Sandra Bernhard, Robin Williams, Tim Reid, Marsha Warfield and Johnny Yune all play out-of-workers trying to get their unemployment checks from Paul Mooney that has to be seen to be believed.

Think that’s all?  There’s also a sketch where Richard Pryor plays the only black person on a lifeboat after The Titanic sinks that doesn’t end the way you think and another where Pryor plays a wino in London who has an unfortunately hilarious run-in with a certain doctor named Jekyll which leads to…well, you can guess the rest.  And some of the other sketches show another side of Richard Pryor such as the one where he plays a man who walks into a gun shop, eager to buy a gun…until the guns start to talk to him and tell them their histories of death.   It’s effective and it shows a different side of Richard Pryor.  The man was a naturally gifted actor and this sketch is a nice little showcase for his talent as he reacts to the stories of death these guns are telling him.  And there’s another sketch where he plays a homeless man who puts on a pathetically earnest show for the neighborhood kids that says more about human nature than I’m comfortable with.

But I’ve saved the best for last: The DVD has Richard Pryor doing his legendary and totally uncensored version of what I call “The Miss Rudolph Story” but which is officially known as “Little Tiny Feet”.  It’s the story that Pryor does as his Mudbone character and he relates how he takes a friend of his who has been cursed with these…really, really BIG feet by a jilted girlfriend to the voodoo lady Miss Rudolph to get him cured.  What happens after Mudbone gets his friend to Miss Rudolph is one of the funniest stories I’ve ever heard and I’m not going to spoil it for you here.  Suffice it to say that I’ve heard the story perhaps 50 times in my life and the way Richard Pryor/Mudbone tells it, I laugh every time I hear it as though it were it the first time.  The DVD set also has a Celebrity Roast that his co-stars/collaborators on the show throw for Pryor and it has the version that was aired on NBC and the version they did for ‘themselves’, if you know what I mean.

So should you see THE RICHARD PRYOR SHOW?  That’s entirely up to you.  It all depends on how much you liked the man and his humor.  Personally, I think his genius lay in that he was and still is the best storyteller I have ever heard.  And the funniest.

God Bless You, Richard Pryor.  And thank you.

The Seventh Seal

1957                           

Svensk Filmindustri

Directed and Written by Ingmar Bergman

Produced by Allan Ekelund


I strongly suspect that THE SEVENTH SEAL is one of those movies that a lot of people say they’ve seen but they never have.  You know what I mean.  When you say that you’ve seen THE SEVENTH SEAL it seems to automatically cloak you in a shimmering, gauzy aura of intellectual film respectability.  Hey, anybody can say they’ve seen “Porky’s” or “Viva Las Vegas”.  But say that you’ve seen one of the true and honest masterpieces of world cinema, directed by the great Ingmar Bergman whose movies take us to existential levels that had never been imagined before he came along, people kinda take a step back and say ‘whoa’.  After all, if you can claim to have seen a movie that has been described as an epic insight into the spiritual and philosophical themes of Man then that must make you some heavy kind of dude (or dudette) right?  I mean, only people who are really into ‘Film’ can understand a movie that deals with nothing less than the meaning of God in a world of death and despair, right?

Nah.  Nothing of the kind.  THE SEVENTH SEAL isn’t a fun date movie to be sure but I think that the sheer weight of the reputation it has garnered over the years might cause people to stay away from it as I did when I was younger.  I’d heard a lot about the movie, of course and had even caught parts of it here and there when it occasionally aired on PBS way back in my late 20’s but it wasn’t until my mid 40’s that I sat down and watched the thing and discovered to my surprise that it wasn’t so bad.  And I suppose that as I get older the subject matter and themes of THE SEVENTH SEAL are becoming less and less of abstract notions and more of a spiritual reality to me.

Antonius Block (Max Von Sydow) is a weary knight returning to his native Sweden after spending 14 long years campaigning in The Crusades.  Accompanied by his faithful, sardonic squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand) they travel through a world in the grip of The Black Plague where everyone is either dying, praying not to die or going mad around them.  Antonius has lost his faith in himself, in Man and most of all, in God.  He and Jons stop at a lonely, rocky beach to rest themselves and their horses and it is on this beach that Death Itself (Bengt Ekerot) comes to Antonius to give him peace from his spiritual suffering.  Antonius suggests that they play a game of chess.  If Antonius wins, Death will leave him be.  Death seems to be amused by all this and he explains to Antonius that even if he does win, he gains no more than a temporary reprieve as no one can cheat Death.  But Antonius doesn’t intend to cheat Death.  He only wants to buy time so that he can come to terms with his spiritual quest to find for himself what was the meaning that his life in general and Life in particular has.  The game goes on through the entire movie as Antonius and Jons make their way home as you get the feeling that neither Death or Antonius are in a hurry to finish it because they know right from the start that it can have only one way to end.

Antonius and Jons meet several other characters that join them on their journey.  A troupe of performers, a blacksmith and his unfaithful wife,  and a girl who Jons saves from a brutal gang rape.  They all travel through this dark and dangerous world where they are witnesses to such sights as;  A hideous parade of plague victims.   Crazed monks and mutilated penitents savagely whipping each other bloody.  Madmen carrying massive, heavy crosses.  A young girl, her spirit as broken as her hands is burned at the stake for it is believed she slept with The Devil and brought the plague down on the world.  One of the performers sees visions of The Virgin Mary teaching The Baby Jesus to walk.

There’s always something interesting happening onscreen and I’m always amazed at how watchable the movie is.  You would think that a movie that has garnered such a massive academic and philosophical reputation over the years would be ponderously dull but nothing could be further from the truth.  THE SEVENTH SEAL actually has quite a lot of humor, most of it coming from the squire Jons who goes through the movie with a pragmatic, down-to-earth attitude.  There’s one scene where the blacksmith’s unfaithful wife is cajoling the blacksmith to take her back.   In the background Jons accurately points out to another character which female tactics she’s going to use to get her way before she even does it.  And there’s another scene where the unfaithful wife’s lover is up a tree and Death starts cheerfully sawing the tree down.  This will kill him, naturally.  The poor guy up in the tree asks if there is no reprieve for actors.  “Not your kind of actor,” Death replies with a slightly goofy grin.

The performances are not dull either.  They’re lively and energetic, providing a counterpoint to the seriousness of the material.  Max Von Sydow is really good here and it seems incredible that he could have ever looked that young.  This is the movie that of course has the classic scene of him playing chess with Death on the beach that has been parodied, copied, imitated and homaged up the wazoo but the scene still has an undeniable power and fascination even today.  And the final shot of Death urging the souls of those he is taking to the dark lands into a macabre dance is creepy and haunting.

So should you see THE SEVENTH SEAL?  I don’t see why you shouldn’t.  As I’ve said, it’s not a good ol’ fun time romp at the movies but it is an evocative exploration of a man’s search for the meaning of God in a world of madness, disease and despair and it’s done in a great visual style and with energy and flair.  I couldn’t relate to the themes of THE SEVENTH SEAL when I was younger but now that I’m quite a bit older I find a lot in THE SEVENTH SEAL that gives me food for thought as well as being a fine piece of entertainment as well.


92 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV Theme Song Fever: Part 2

Hey, how you doin’?  Hope everything is well with you and yours and I’m glad to see you’ve decided to come on back.  Stay awhile and let’s have some fun, okay?

You may remember a post I made a few days back: TV THEME SONG FEVER where I put up some videos of some of my favorite TV theme songs.  The response took me by surprise, to say the least.  Mostly it was you guys demanding to know why I left out this theme song or that one or to remind me of some that I had forgotten.  So I decided to do it again and so here we go with TV THEME SONG FEVER: PART 2!

This is a theme song I can’t believe I forgot the first time around as it’s one of the true classic TV theme songs.  And so ingrained in pop culture are THE JEFFERSONS that nowadays, whenever somebody becomes a success or moves into a bigger, better house, we say that they’re “Movin’ on up like George an’ Weezie”  This isn’t the original or even the intro as for some reason it’s virtually impossible to find.  But it’s a good cover of the song.  Enjoy.

In the interest of full disclosure I must confess to having a pervy old man crush on Mayim Bialik back her BLOSSOM days.  I am so happy to see her back on TV in THE BIG BANG THEORY.  The theme song for BLOSSOM was done by Dr. John, of all people.

This is one of those TV theme songs I can’t believe I forgot as I was such a huge S.W.A.T. fan back in the day.  I even liked the movie.

This is another theme song I forgot and this one I really should be taken out back of the barn and hosswhipped as THE FALL GUY has one of the absolute best theme songs of all time.  Sung by none other than the star of the show himself, Lee Majors who really ain’t bad at singing at all.  Somebody needs to get hold of Mark Valley and put him in a brand new FALL GUY series like right now

And this one needs no intro from me.  Quite frankly, that would spoil it’s glory.

When I was informed that I had to be a blithering idiot for not including the theme song to DOCTOR WHO I determined that it would be included in Part 2.  But which DOCTOR WHO theme?  It’s gone through some slight changes and tweaks here and there, regenerating much like The Doctor himself into different arraignments but still recognizable as the beloved theme song that has become as iconic as the John Shaft theme song or the Indiana Jones march or the James Bond theme.  Fortunately this video has all of them.

I have to admit that I really wasn’t as much in WHAT’S HAPPENING as a lot of you apparently were.  So here’s the theme song for you.

This is one of those shows that even though you may not ever have seen a single episode, you can sing the theme song.

This is a show I watched during it’s original run and I’m not ashamed to say I still watch the reruns to this day.  It’s one of those shows that like “The Honeymooners” and “I Love Lucy” we’ll still be watching 50 years from now.  It’s just that good, funny and honest.

I miss Bea Arthur.  The theme song was sung by the great, great Donny Hathaway

MONK is without a doubt one of the best detective shows ever.  And it had two of the best theme songs ever.  I loved both the first one with the mandolin and the second one, written and sung by Randy Newman.  But when it was changed, it set off a mini-war among MONK fans as to which one was better.  There was even a memorable episode guest-starring Sarah Silverman where the Monk Theme Song War was addressed.  Me, I like ‘em both so you’re going to get both:

And here’s the version of “It’s A Jungle Out There” that was done by Snoop Dogg when he guest-starred on an episode of MONK.

And I think we’ll end this with what I think everybody can agree is the undisputed King of TV Theme Songs:

The Spanish Prisoner

1997                           

Sweetland Films

Directed And Written by David Mamet

Produced by Jean Doumanian

I like the work of David Mamet a lot.   He’s a writer who knows how to write extraordinarily good dialog and no two characters in any of his works sound the same.  His movies are enjoyable just to listen to, not to mention their complex stories and plots.  I loved “House Of Games” which was about a psychologist delving into the world of con men and finding out she doesn’t know as much about psychology as she thought she did and I’ve seen THE SPANISH PRISONER twice now and you would think that after watching one time it would be spoiled for me but it wasn’t.  Even knowing what was going on and how the movie ended I found myself still being totally engrossed in what was happening and I credit that to the meticulously crafted story and terrific performances.  A lot of modern suspense movies are labeled ‘Hitchcockian’ but THE SPANISH PRISONER is one of the few that I can say actually deserves to be compared with Hitchcock’s best work.

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is a brilliant scientist flown down to Bermuda with his partner George Lang (Ricky Jay) by their boss Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara) for the purpose of giving a group of investors an update on ‘The Process’ Joe has invented.  We’re never told what ‘The Process’ is and it really doesn’t matter.  ‘The Process’ is the movie’s ‘MacGuffin’, which was Hitchcock’s term for whatever it was that got the plot rolling.  The important thing we need to know is that ‘The Process’ is worth a whole lot of money.  How much?  We never find that out either but during the meeting with the investors, Joe writes a figure on the blackboard that we don’t see but the investors react as if they’ve seen Jesus bring forth Lazarus.

Joe tries to engage Mr. Klein in discussion as to just how much of a bonus Joe and George can expect but Mr. Klein is suspiciously vague and just keeps reassuring Joe that he’ll be taken care of.  While this is going on, Joe is trying to puzzle out the really weird conversations his new secretary (Rebecca Pidgeon) assigned to him keeps initiating and he meets Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin) a New York businessman who is in Bermuda having an affair with his partner’s wife. Jimmy asks Joe to deliver a package to New York for him.   The package is meant for Jimmy’s sister but as Jimmy says later on, that was just an excuse so that Joe could meet Jimmy’s sister.  Jimmy likes Joe and thinks he’d be good for her.  Problem is, every time Joe’s supposed to meet her, she never shows up.  And while this may not seem like much, it proves to be very important later on.   Because while the friendship between Joe and Jimmy grows in surprising ways, Joe is becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the way Mr. Klein is treating him and all these elements make up the first half of the movie which may seem slow and nothing much happens but you’ve really got to pay attention because the second half is where it all pays off.

The problem with reviewing a movie like THE SPANISH PRISONER is this: everything depends on a first time viewer going into it cold, without having any idea of what it’s about because the story is put together so well that going into too much detail could unintentially spoil the experience of seeing it for the first time and I wouldn’t dream of doing that.  THE SPANISH PRISONER is a movie made for people who love the kind of plot that demands your attention.  It’s a thinking person’s suspense thriller and one you can’t shut your brain off on and coast along on autopilot.  And if you watch it with somebody who insists on talking while watching movies, kick ‘em the hell out of the room.  It’s not that kind of movie.  You miss something and you’ve missed a lot.

The performances are all absolutely first rate with Steve Martin easily walking away with the top acting honors.  Steve Martin is so good in this that if I had watched this without knowing a thing about Martin’s history as a comedian, I would have taken him for a career dramatic actor.  Yes, he is that good in this role.  He plays it absolutely straight with respect for the story and the character and it works supremely well.  Campbell Scott is an extremely appealing hero.  He’s a genius, yes, but he’s also a bit slow and dim when it comes to dealing with people and he’s charmingly simple and uncomplicated.  None of which helps him when he finds out what kind of shark pool he’s been thrown into and he has to smarten up damn fast if he wants to stay alive.

Rebecca Pidgeon plays Susan Ricci, the secretary and it’s the quirkiest, most eccentric performance in the movie.  She’s got an unusual way of talking and finishes her sentences as if she’s waiting to be patted on the head and told she’s a good girl.  Some of her scenes were irritating and others downright strange but by the time you get to the end, they make sense.  Ed O’Neal has a small but pivotal role.  I was disappointed that Ricky Jay didn’t have more screen time but he makes the best of it, dropping several lines of beautifully quotable dialog such as: “Beware of all enterprises which require new clothes”.

So should you watch THE SPANISH PRISONER ?  I’d most certainly say yes if you’re in the mood for a brain twisting labyrinth of a thriller where nothing and nobody is as it seems with wonderful dialog and great performances.  Turn your brain on and enjoy.

Rated PG

110 minutes

Better In The Dark # 54

 

 

BETTER IN THE DARK #54: INTO THE COLD, DARK WOODS

In this episode, The Guys Outta Brooklyn look at a point in the history of Disney where the company was losing money and the urge to experiment was high. From the big-budget science fictioner The Black Hole to the ground-breaking Tron to the slow motion accident that was The Black Cauldron, Tom and Derrick evaluate a sextet of Disney’s most peculiar releases. Plus video arcade memories, the ending of The Hunchback of Notre Dame you should’ve seen, and wacka-chickas. Lots of wacka-chickas. If you don’t want to be put on the game grid, get to clicking!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/eps-51-60/

 

 

TV Theme Song Fever

Every so often, on a Better In The Dark episode, you’ll hear Tom and I lament about there aren’t any real TV theme songs anymore.  Well, of course there are but we usually go on and on about the ones we grew up with that were small works of art in their own right and did the absolutely amazing job of encapsulating the essence of the show we were about to watch in 30 seconds.  I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of my all-time favorite TV themes songs for a bit.  You down?  Okay, then let’s start…

THE GREEN HORNET : A jazzy, hyped-up version of ‘Flight Of The Bumblebee’ with a standout trumpet performance by Al Hirt who must have had to take a couple of days off to recover as it’s done in a wild crazy style that promises action. Probably the best superhero TV theme song ever done although the theme for “The Greatest American Hero” ‘Believe It or Not’ comes damn close.  I have a personal theory that any movie adaptation of a TV show that uses the original theme song of the TV show will be a success and any that doesn’t will be a flop.  Soon as the recent “Green Hornet” movie started and the TV theme song wasn’t playing, I knew it was doomed to failure.

JONNY QUEST: A classic theme that lets you know right from the start of the show that you’re going to be in for 30 minutes of sheer adventure. Bold and brassy and in your face. Combined with the opening credits, it’s one of my all-time favorites as is the show itself.  I keep hearing there’s a movie in the works with Dwayne Johnson as Race Bannon.  Whoever is going to be in it, the movie won’t be worth two cents if they don’t reproduce the opening credits in live action.

SPEED RACER: Another perfect example of a theme song and opening credits that work together to give you a feel of what the show promises: flat out action and adventure.

And as an added bonus here’s the updated theme for the totally phenomenal SPEED RACER movie which to me is so utterly brilliant in so many ways the English language doesn’t have words for me to lavish the praise on this movie it deserves

THE WILD WILD WEST: A magnificently lush theme song that also does what I think a theme song should do: it tells you what kind of show you’re going to be watching. It’s adventurous, romantic and heroic.

HAWAII FIVE-O

THE ROCKFORD FILES: I have to admit that I don’t hold THE ROCKFORD FILES in as such high regard as a lot of people but I have to admit one thing: if I’m channel surfing and happen to stop when the opening credits are being run, the theme song catches my attention every time and I’ll stop to watch the show. So I guess it does its job in that regard. I dunno what it is about that theme song but it’s alright by me.

BATMAN: Who doesn’t know or love this one?

THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES: “The Ballad Of Jed Clampett” is a small masterpiece in that if you’ve never seen the show you get the entire premise right in that theme song.

THE BRADY BUNCH: Like the THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, the theme song does a wonderful job of summing up the entire show in a small amount of time.  Bonus points for anybody who can tell me the connection between a character from “The Brady Bunch” with a character from “Gilligan’s Island”

GILLIGAN’S ISLAND: Absolutely a work of genius. In 30 seconds, the entire premise of the show, the situation they’re in and the characters are introduced. I dare you, no, I double dog dare you to find a person on the planet that doesn’t know the theme song of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. Even if they’ve never seen the show I’m willing to bet you that they know the song.

IT’S GARY SHANDLING’S  SHOW:  Another brilliant theme song that tells you everything you need to know about the show in 30 seconds.  I think it’s probably my favorite of all time because it’s so wonderfully simple and encapsulates perfectly what the show is about.

WONDER WOMAN: I don’t think we’re ever going to get an new Wonder Woman TV show because Lynda Carter nailed it so well that there’s never been anyone since that even comes close.  The theme song and title sequence do their job in that they work together to tell you exactly what kind of show you’re going to be watching.  And I really can’t think of another superhero theme song that has so much of that genuine 70’s funk sound.

STAR TREK: VOYAGER: I love all the Star Trek shows (well, ‘love’ is too strong a word for “Enterprise”…tolerate is a better term) but the theme song for VOYAGER takes the prize for the best.  It’s stirring, heroic, classy and along with the opening credits captures the sense of wondrous exploration that I think is necessary for Star Trek.

THE AVENGERS:  Really, do I need to explain why it’s on my list?  I didn’t think so.

SPIDER-MAN: Really, do I need to explain why it’s on my list?  I didn’t think so.

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE: Really, do I need to explain why it’s on my list?  I didn’t think so.

And as a bonus here’s the Adam Clayton/Larry Mullen version from the first “Mission:Impossible” movie.  Despite whatever you think about the movie, you have to admit, these cats kicked ass with the update.

SANFORD & SON: Deserves mention here because as far as I know, it’s the only TV theme song ever done by Quincy Jones.  The theme song is so iconic that a whole episode of the TV show “Malcolm & Eddie” was based around Eddie (Eddie Griffin) trying to convince his partner Malcolm (Malcolm Jamal-Warner) that there were words to the SANFORD & SON theme song.

MAGNUM, P.I.: My favorite detective series.  The memorable theme song was the work of Mike Post who undoubtedly is the most famous and successful TV theme song composer of all time.  During the 80’s it seemed as if just about every TV show that was on the air had a Mike Post theme song.

TALESPIN: One of the best TV series ever made, animated or live.  Basically an animated remake of the 1982 ABC TV series “Tales of The Gold Monkey” it starred Baloo from “The Jungle Book” as a free-wheeling pilot in a vaguely 1930’s setting on the island of Cape Suzette where he flew a ramshackle plane called The Sea Duck and got into all sorts of Indiana Jones-ish adventures with his kid sidekick, Kit Cloudkicker. A great series with a kickass theme song.  The two-hour introductory pilot move, “Plunder and Lightning” is just about as good a pulp adventure story as you could want.