Comedy

The Grand Budapest Hotel

TGBH

 

2014

American Empirical Pictures/Fox Searchlight Studios

Directed by and Screenplay by Wes Anderson

Produced by Wes Anderson, Jeremy Dawson, Steve M. Rales and Scott Rudin

Story by Wes Anderson and Hugo Guiness

One of the main characters in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL works in Mendl’s, a bakery that is renowned throughout the fictional European alpine country of Zubrowka. The confections that come out of Mendl’s are famous for not only tasting as if the angels themselves had baked them but they are also glorious works of art for the eye as well as for the tongue that one can spend hours just looking at, debating whether or not it’s too beautiful to be eaten.

That’s kind of an apt metaphor for this movie as well. Because THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is like a very rich cake or dessert that looks absolutely amazing and goes down very sweetly. Like other Wes Anderson movies, this one is an ornate visual treat.  A Wes Anderson movie doesn’t look like anybody else’s movies and I am thankful for that. He uses practical effects in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL such as miniatures, rear projection and matte painting. Right now some of you reading this are scratching your head and saying, “Why go through all that trouble? Why not just use CGI?” if so, then THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL in particular and Wes Anderson movies in general are not for you.

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The story of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is told in a flashback of a flashback and while that might sound confusing, it isn’t, trust me. We meet a Young Writer (Jude Law) in 1968 staying at the almost empty Grand Budapest Hotel. This once elegant establishment is slowly and stubbornly decaying beautifully. The Young Writer makes the acquaintance the hotel’s owner, Mr. Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham) who takes a liking to the Young Writer and over a long dinner tells him the story of how Mr. Moustafa came to own The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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We now go to the 1930’s where Mr. Moustafa worked as a lobby boy at the hotel. Zero (Tony Revolori) is taken under the wing of the hotel’s concierge, M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) who acts like a benevolent monarch to the staff and an extraordinarily capable servant to the guests. Especially the ladies. And most especially the ones who are old and rich. M. Gustave reserves very special services for them (and a few men as well, it’s implied)

The plot (such as it is) gets going when one of M. Gustave’s conquests, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton) dies under mysterious circumstances. In her will she has left M. Gustave a priceless Renaissance Painting. Gustave’s claim on the painting is put in jeopardy by accusations from Madame D.’s son Dmitri (Adrian Brody) that Gustave himself murdered Madame D. Gustave takes the painting and goes on the run with the faithful Zero by his side, determined to clear himself and restore his good name.

And that’s really all you need to know about the plot because Wes Anderson doesn’t seem very interested in it himself. As usual, the strength of a Wes Anderson movie is the visuals and the characters. And Ralph Fiennes is indeed quite the character. Ralph Fiennes without a doubt delivers the best performance in the movie. On one level the character is totally ridiculous, delighting in his own pomposity, given to reciting or making up poetry on the spot. But on the other he’s supremely devoted to his position and his respect for the tradition of The Grand Budapest Hotel that is both endearing and in its own way, quite noble.

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His chemistry with Toney Revolori is delightful and one of the pleasures of the movie is to watch the wonderful friendship that develops between Gustave and Zero. The movie is chock full of interesting, quirky characters played by many familiar faces from Wes Anderson’s usual repertory of actors who appear in his movies such as Willem Dafoe, who is blackly hilarious as a hit man, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman and Bob Balaban. But there’s a whole host of other actors who pop up in cameos that will give you a nice thrill when you see them.

How does this stack up with the other Wes Anderson movies I’ve seen? I wouldn’t put it on the same shelf as “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” “Moonrise Kingdom” or “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou” all of which are my favorite Wes Anderson movies. But I do rate it way higher than pretentious pap like “The Royal Tenenbaums” and “The Darjeeling Limited”

It’s a luxurious and downright opulent movie that presents us with an entire world that has weight and depth and texture. I truly appreciate movies that don’t look like other movies and present stories a little bit skewed and makes me cock my head a bit to the side while watching it. THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is well worth your time if you’re the type who likes your desserts just a little bit richer than is good for you. Enjoy.

Rated R

100 Minutes

The LEGO Movie

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2014

Warner Animation Group/Village Roadshow Pictures

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee

Screenplay by Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Story by Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord and Chris Miller

Based on Lego Construction Toys

The only people I can see having a problem with THE LEGO MOVIE are the same Batman fans who had a problem with the animated TV series “The Brave and The Bold.” Like THE LEGO MOVIE, “The Brave and The Bold” wasn’t afraid to poke fun at Batman and lighten up the character. Plenty of Batman fans absolutely detested “The Brave and The Bold” as they thought it was outright blasphemy that any trace of humor or comedy should or could be associated with Batman. Those are the ones who need to stay away from this movie, then. Me, I got a kick out of a Lego Batman who flies around in a Lego Batplane with his girlfriend composing heavy metal songs about what it’s like to be Lego Batman.

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Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a construction worker living in Bricksburg, a Lego city that apparently is one huge construction project. He cheerfully follows the instructions for his daily routine as laid out in his instruction manual and goes to work singing the only song that exists in this world; “Everything Is Awesome!” I song I guarantee you will absolutely not be able to get out of your head once you’ve heard it.

One day at work Emmet finds a mysterious red brick that seems to speak to him and gives him visions. He passes out and upon awakening finds the brick attached to his back and himself in the custody of Bad Cop/Good Cop (Liam Neeson)  the chief henchman of Lord Business. (Will Ferrell) Lord Business has possession of The Kragle, a superweapon that he intends to use to freeze the various realms of The Lego Universe in place forever. The only thing that stands in his way is a prophecy that was spoken to him eight and a half years ago by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) that a person called The Special would use The Piece of Resistance to stop The Kragle.

Emmet is rescued by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) from the clutches of Bad Cop/Good Cop and takes him to Vitruvius who explains that there are Master Builders fighting against Lord Business, so named because they are capable of building anything they need out of Legos without need of an instruction manual, simply using their own creativity. Other Master Builders are Lego versions of characters we’re familiar with such as Batman (Will Arnett) Superman (Channing Tatum) Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders) Shaquille O’Neal (Shaquille O’Neal) Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) William Shakespeare. (Jorma Taccone) And a few other characters we’re meeting for the first time such as Metal Beard the Pirate (Nick Offerman) Benny The Space Guy (Charlie Day) and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) a unicorn/anime kitten hybrid whose unrelenting optimism and upbeat cheerfulness borders on the frightening.

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Can Emmet overcome his lack of creativity and come up with a plan to unite The Master Builders into a team and defeat Lord Business? What is The Piece of Resistance and how exactly is it supposed to be used to stop The Kragle? And what is the secret of The Man Upstairs?

Finding out the answers to these questions is a delight for the audience to find out as the characters do and you’ll have a good time doing so. A movie like this walks a fine line in entertaining kids while keeping adults engaged and the adults at the showing of THE LEGO MOVIE Patricia and I attended sounded like they were having just as much fun as their kids. I know we were.

The more cynical among you would say that THE LEGO MOVIE is simply a 100 minute commercial to sell toys and you’d be wrong. The filmmakers have actually taken their time to tell a real story about creative freedom. Lord Business wants to lock everything into a set form, following a rigid set of rules and instructions while The Master Builders want everybody to be free to explore whatever it is they can dream up and create. But it doesn’t beat you over the head with that message and never forgets it’s supposed to be entertaining and funny as well. Chris Pratt is utterly charming as Emmet. Between this and “Guardians of The Galaxy” this is going to be a good year for him. Will Arnett walks off with the voice acting honors in this one as his Batman is so wickedly pompous. And Jonah Hill is right behind with his Green Lantern who so desperately wants to be Superman’s best bud and is constantly rebuffed by the Lego Man of Steel.

But it’s not really fair to single out one or two because everybody gets a chance to shine with their characters and get their funny lines or scenes as the rollercoaster plot takes us through various Lego worlds and to the final confrontation with Lord Business that definitely did not end the way I thought it would.

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So should you see THE LEGO MOVIE? By all means. It’s got terrifically colorful animation and and an outstanding voice cast. The story is simple enough for kids to grasp but witty enough that it doesn’t insult the intelligence of adults. This is the best kind of movie. One that does not want to do anything but entertain, make you feel good and send you home with a smile on your face.

Rated PG

100 minutes

The Wolf Of Wall Street

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2013

Paramount Pictures

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Produced by Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Riza Aziz, Joey McFarland, Emma Tillinger Koskoff

Screenplay by Terence Winter

Based on “The Wolf of Wall Street” by Jordan Belfort

I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. With THE WOLF OF WALL STREET this now makes five movies Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio have collaborated on and I’ve enjoyed all of them (yes, even “Shutter Island. So there.) up to now. It’s not that THE WOLF OF WALL STREET is a bad movie. At this point I don’t think that Scorsese or DiCaprio are capable of making a bad movie. But for me this wasn’t a very enjoyable or even satisfying movie.

It’s the story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) who in 1987 becomes a stockbroker at a well-established Wall Street firm. He’s as green as a Christmas tree until he’s mentored by his boss, Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey in a totally hilarious extended cameo) who introduces Belfort to cocaine and encourages him to adopt a lifestyle totally dedicated to making money and then spending it in as lavish a lifestyle as that money will buy.

To achieve this, Belfort decides to open his own firm, going into partnership with Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and hiring his friends, most of them petty drug dealers who Belfort trains to become as ruthless as he is in selling penny stocks. What are penny stocks you ask? Don’t worry if you don’t know. In one of the many breaking the fourth wall scenes in the movie, Belfort looks right at us in the audience and explains what they are and how he is able to manipulate them to grow his firm from working out of a dilapidated garage into a billion dollar company.

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And as the company grows, so does the excess. Belfort throws lavish parties in his home and in the office. Parties with plenty of drugs, hookers and booze. Belfort quickly becomes hooked on coke, Quaaludes and prostitutes but his real addiction remains making and spending money. Money that comes in so quickly and in such quantity that he soon is being investigated by FBI agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) With the help of Brad Bodnick (Jon Bernthal) another one of his drug dealing friends, Belfort begins transferring money out of the country and into a Swiss bank. Belfort is starting to hear words from friends and family he doesn’t like. Words like “securities fraud” and “stock manipulation” which can earn you a twenty-five year government sponsored vacation, if you know what I mean. With the threat of the FBI breathing down his neck and his home life in shambles, what’s a multi-millionaire drug addict to do?

 

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THE WOLF OF WALL STREET isn’t a story with a lot of surprises or twists and turns in the plot. We’ve seen it all before in other movies. In fact, if you’ve seen 2000’s “Boiler Room” starring Giovanni Ribisi, Vin Diesel and Ben Affleck then you have seen it as that earlier movie was also based on Jordan Belfort’s story. But for me it really isn’t a movie with much of a story at all. And even though I enjoy scenes of debauchery as much as the next guy, after the ninth or tenth scene of DiCaprio and his cohorts banging hookers while snorting blow offa their boobs I was tired of it already. You don’t have to keep hitting me over over the head with it. I get it, these guys like getting high and screwing prostitutes. Okay, fine. Let’s move on and tell the story.

I will say that when the movie goes into comedy mode it is very funny. There’s a scene where Belfort overdoses on Quaaludes that is absolutely hysterical and had not only myself but the entire audience Patricia and I saw the movie with crying with laughter. Yes, it’s that funny. As I mentioned earlier, Matthew McConaughey is also very funny in his brief but pivotal scenes. Jonah Hill continues to amaze me as I don’t find him funny at all in his comedies but he always makes me laugh when he’s being funny in a drama. Rob Reiner and Kyle Chandler also provide more than able backup in supporting roles as does Margot Robbie as Naomi Belfort. She’s a triple threat in that she’s unbelieveably gorgeous, wonderfully talented as an actress and gloriously uninhibited. I was pleasantly and delightfully surprised to see Jon Favreau and Joanna Lumley also show up doing their usual excellent work.

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But this is a movie that has a story that we’ve all seen way too many times already. It’s the rags-to-riches story of a guy with no conscience who rises to the mountaintop of power and wealth and brought down low by his flaws and weaknesses. There are plenty of individual scenes I liked a lot and made me laugh but taken as a whole, THE WOLF OF WALL STREET disappointed me. Still, it is a Scorsese/DiCaprio collaboration so that makes it worth one viewing at least. But if I were you, I’d wait to Netflix it. This isn’t a movie you have to rush to the theaters to see unless you’re a major Scorsese or DiCaprio fan.

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One word of advice: the movie is rated R but I honestly think that it earned and should have gotten the NC-17. There are many scenes with graphic language, drug use and explicit sex. This is a movie that pushes the R rating as far as it can go and I ain’t lying. In fact, I can’t remember the last movie I saw before this one that used the ‘F’ word and it’s variations so many times. So don’t go see it and then complain about the language, nudity, sex scenes and drug usage ‘cause I’m telling you. It’s there, there’s a lot of it and Martin Scorsese ain’t the least bit shy about showing it to you.

Rated R

179 Minutes

 

 

 

 

Last Vegas

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2013

Good Universe/CBS Films

Directed by Jon Turteltaub

Produced by Laurence Mark and Nathan Kahane

Written by Dan Fogelman

If you saw the trailer for LAST VEGAS you probably thought like me: that it would be a raunchy, senior citizen version of “The Hangover.” I imagined that Michael Douglas, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline got together after seeing the “Hangover” movies and said; “Let’s show these guys how it’s really done.” And you’d be forgiven for thinking that way because that’s precisely how the trailers sold the movie. Nothing could be further from the truth. LAST VEGAS is two things: a Lifetime movie made for men and a 105 minute commercial for Las Vegas.

Michael Douglas is Billy who decides at a funeral for a friend that he wants to get married and proposes to his girlfriend. He contacts his three best friends: Paddy (Robert DeNiro) Archie (Morgan Freeman) and Sam (Kevin Kline) who decide to throw him the best bachelor party ever in Las Vegas. They also think they can talk him out of marrying a girl young enough enough to be his granddaughter.

The situation is complicated by a couple of things: Paddy is still mourning for his wife who passed away a year ago. And he’s still pissed off at Billy for not coming to her funeral. Archie has to break out of his own house as his overprotective son won’t let him do anything since Archie had a minor stroke. Sam is bored to death living in a retirement community and sees the trip to Vegas as a way of getting back his zest for life.

This aging wolfpack heads to Las Vegas where they quickly become friends with lounge singer Diana (Mary Steenburgen) and she joins the guys on their last big adventure while becoming attracted to both Billy and Paddy and the two of them find themselves really becoming attracted to her.

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Trust me on this, I’m making LAST VEGAS sound a lot more than it really is. Considering the star power in this movie I expected a really outrageous comedy but what we get is a predictable, flat product. I’ve watched episodes of “Everybody Loves Raymond” that were raunchier than this movie. Which is really disappointing. I’ve seen these guys cut loose and get crazy in other movies and I was hoping to see that here. Nope. This is a movie made for senior citizens who don’t like to see violence, sex, drug use or a lotta cussin’ in their movies. It’s as bland as white bread with butter. And not that that’s a bad thing. I’m glad to see that Hollywood is acknowledging that there’s an audience out there who isn’t interested in seeing superhero movies, CGI blockbusters and hyper-violent action thrillers and are making movies for them so that they can get out and enjoy an afternoon or evening at the movies like everybody else. It’s a good thing.

To give them credit, Kevin Kline, Robert DeNiro, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen all look like they’re having fun working together. I only wish that Joanna Gleason had more to do here as she’s a very talented actress and what she has here is little more than an extended cameo as Kevin Kline’s wife.

The guys spend the movie flirting with young cuties, showing the kids how to get down and party, drinking, playing blackjack, teaching life lessons to a bully (Jerry Ferrara) judging a wet bikini contest and just hanging out in Vegas, making it look like a really hip and fun place to be. Like I said earlier, it’s a commercial for Las Vegas and on that level, it’s a pretty good one.

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Of course by the end of the movie, the guys have all resolved their personal problems, Paddy and Billy have kissed and made up and Diana ends up with one of them. There’s not a single surprise in the movie and it’s so structured by the numbers that you can safely predict what is going to happen and when. That’s not to say it isn’t amusing or cute. It is fun seeing DeNiro, Freeman, Douglas and Kline working together and they do their jobs. They’re just not stretching themselves. They’re basically doing riffs on their patented screen personas and they do it well.

No need to draw this out. Wait for LAST VEGAS to come to Netflix. Or if you really have to see it, then catch a matinee.

105 minutes

Rated: PG-13

The Family

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2013

EuropaCorp/Relativity Media

Directed by Luc Besson

Executive Producer: Martin Scorsese

Produced by Ryan Kavanaugh, Virginie Silla and Tucker Tooley

Written by Tonino Benacquista based on his novel “Malavita”

If you’ve seen the trailer for THE FAMILY then perhaps like me, you were expecting a mob/crime comedy with plenty of laughs and inside jokes at Robert DeNiro’s expense, poking fun at the numerous gangster roles he’s played with able backup from Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones who have made more than a few crime/mob movies themselves and know the genre.  And yes, there are some laughs in THE FAMILY at the beginning of the movie.  But the longer the movie goes on, the fewer the laughs and by the time it gets to the end there’s an appalling no holds barred bloodbath with a platoon of mob hitmen shooting it out with a pair of teenagers wielding automatic weapons like Rambo on his best day while Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer are locked in a hideously vicious fight to the death with a killer roughly the size of Richard Kiel.

Giovanni Maznoni (Robert DeNiro) was once one of the most powerful mob bosses in Brooklyn and as such became a threat to The Boss of Bosses, Don Luchese (Stan Carp) who orders a hit on Maznoni and his family that fails. Giovanni turns snitch and Don Luchese goes to jail.  The Maznoni family enters the Witness Protection Program under the supervision of FBI Special Agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones) and relocated to Normandy, France.

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This assignment is far from being easy duty for Stansfield. In fact, the Maznoni family are a collectively big pain in his ass due to the fact that they simply cannot stop being what they are: a mob family.  Giovanni has…anger management issues, let’s say and he’s easily irritated by such things as his tap water coming out brown and nobody taking it seriously. Wife Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) doesn’t take kindly to the stereotypical comments that she overhears by pretending she doesn’t speak or understand French. Her response to such is…explosive, shall we say. Daughter Belle (Dianna Agron) is a sweet, soft spoken girl who falls in love with a substitute teacher who tutors her in math. She also has a ferociously violent streak that a Klingon would envy. Son Warren (John D’Leo) is a grifter/forger/hustler who in no time at all has his own junior mafia in his new school.

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The situation is complicated by Giovanni writing a tell all book about his life in the mob. A book that both Maggie and Stansfield tell him can never be published. And through a really bizarre coincidence I just couldn’t buy, Don Luchese finds out where the Maznonis are hiding out and sends a hit team to whack ‘em out and that takes us to the blood-soaked final showdown between the mob and the Maznoni family.

Here’s what I liked about THE FAMILY: The performances are first rate but I wouldn’t expect anything less from old pros like DeNiro, Pfeiffer and Jones.  But the kids step up to the plate and hold their own with the seasoned pros.  Dianna Agron I know from “Glee” and I was surprised to see how well she inhabited this character. The movie was actually almost over before I finally remembered where I knew her from. Judging just by this movie I’d say she has a career in movies if she wants it.  John D’Leo is also a lot of fun to watch as he maneuvers his way towards running his school with the finesse and cold-bloodedness of a Michael Corleone.

I also liked how the movie doesn’t have the kids or the wife BMWing about how they want to have a normal life and why can’t they just be a normal family.  This is a mob family who have accepted and embraced their lifestyle.  They’re criminals and they don’t make any excuses for it. For them this is their “normal” life

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The direction by Luc Besson is also first rate as I would expect from the writer/director/producer of some of my favorite action movies such as “Leon: The Professional” “The Fifth Element” the “Transporter” series “Taken” “Taken 2” and “District 13.”  And I think that’s the problem with THE FAMILY. Luc Besson is an action director and he seems uncomfortable with the comedy in this movie which puzzles me as I’ve seen “Angel-A” a couple of times and I know he can do comedy. Maybe what threw me off is the level of violence in THE FAMILY which is really bloody and brutal and really doesn’t mesh well with the comedy. Oh, there are are funny scenes and funny lines, don’t get me wrong. But right after that we’ll get a scene like the one with DeNiro and the plumber.  It’s a scene that would have been more at home in “Goodfellas” or “Casino” than in a movie that is billed as a comedy.

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So should you see THE FAMILY? If you can catch a matinee, then I say Yes. But if you can’t you won’t miss out by waiting for it to come to Netflix or one of the movie channels. There’s really nothing wrong with THE FAMILY except for what I feel is an uneven tempo and off center mix of really violent violence with humor.  It’s as if Luc Besson really wanted to make this a full blown thriller but every once in a while an AD poked him with the script and reminded him he had to throw in a joke here and there.

112 minutes

Rated R

http://youtu.be/nwZNypYmPFE

Jenny Ringo and The Cabaret From Hell

Jenny Ringo amended

 

2013

A Chris Regan Production

Directed by Chris Regan

Produced by Andrea Regan

Screenplay by Geraint D’Arcy

When we last left our heroine at the conclusion of “Jenny Ringo and The Monkey’s Paw” she was trapped in her own existential personal Hell, her reward/punishment for sacrificing herself to save her friend and flatmate Gavin (Lukas Habberton) from the curse of The Monkey’s Paw. When JENNY RINGO AND THE CABARET FROM HELL begins we see that Jenny Ringo (Rosie Duncan) is back in London, once again sharing a flat with her slacker/stoner BFF and none the worst for her harrowing experience. Which means of course that now I will have to unmercifully pester Chris Regan until he comes across with the story of how Jenny escaped from Hell as I’m sure it’ll be a doozy.

If you haven’t seen “Jenny Ringo and The Monkey’s Paw” yet, I strongly urge you to do so as it gives the background about Jenny’s magical powers (she’s a Wiccan) which she uses in this short film to switch bodies with Gavin. Not that she planned to, you see. But in order to get the money they need to pay their rent, Gavin (in Jenny’s body) has to get a job as a singer in a local cabaret. Naturally it turns out that the cabaret and it’s sinister MC (Andromeda Godfrey) are not what they seem and it’s up to Jenny and Gavin to sort things out.

Like the first Jenny Ringo adventure, this one is a goofy mix of horror and comedy with a pair of delightful leads. Rosie Duncan is again wonderful as Jenny. She’s not as sarcastic or as snarky in this one. Maybe’s Jenny’s sojourn in Hell has made her kinder and gentler. She’s still no less the take charge, no nonsense Jenny I fell in love with in the first film.

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Lukas Habberton is a bit off his game in the first half of the story when it seems to me that he’s trying too hard to “act” but he redeems himself in the second half when Gavin and Jenny have switched bodies. The both of them do some really fine work with their respective body languages that convinced me more than anything else that the characters had actually switched bodies. Andromeda Godfrey makes the most of the screen time she has to create a creepy and credible antagonist for our heroes.

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As in the first one, there’s a musical sequence and I liked this one better than the one in the previous film since it’s performed by Lukas Habberton and Rosie Duncan and it’s a musical sequence that isn’t dropped in just for the sake of having one but it’s tied into the story’s resolution. This film doesn’t look as polished as the production looks to have been done on a smaller budget than the first one but it’s just as much fun. The ending gives a hint of further adventures for Jenny and Gavin and I hope so. JENNY RINGO AND THE CABARET FROM HELL is a well-paced, fun and entertaining 30 minutes and while watching it I felt like I was catching up with a couple of friends. It’s well worth your time. Enjoy.

JENNY RINGO AND THE CABARET FROM HELL is available for viewing online at Vimeo for those who bounce on over to www.jennyringo.com and sign up on the mailing list.

My Favorite Year

MY FAVORITE YEAR

1982

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directed by Richard Benjamin

Produced by Michael Guskoff and Art Levinson (Mel Brooks and Joel Chrenoff uncredited)

Unlike a lot of people I didn’t fall in love with Peter O’Toole from watching “Lawrence of Arabia.” I didn’t appreciate a proper respect of that role until I watched that movie years later and had some maturity under my belt. No, my love of Peter O’Toole came from a triumvirate of movies he made during the 1980’s. There was the absolutely brilliant “The Stunt Man” in which he played the deranged and possibly insane but undeniably genius filmmaker Eli Cross. There was “Creator” in which he played Dr. Harry Wolper, a Nobel Prize winning biologist obsessed with cloning his late wife. And the movie we’re going to talk about here; MY FAVORITE YEAR.

I link all of these movies as a loose trilogy as in all of them Peter O’Toole plays men of extraordinary gifts, charisma, intelligence and talent. Men who wish dearly that while they enjoy and relish who and what they are, we see glimmers that they aspire to be like everybody else and just be. It’s something I can relate to as I’ve felt that way ever since I was twelve years old. So it’s no wonder I identify with the characters Peter O’Toole plays in these movies as well as in “The Lion In Winter” (a good candidate for the most quotable movie of all time) Sometimes the only reason you’re the smartest and most charismatic person in the room is because everybody in that room leave you no choice but to be so because they don’t try to do so.

“The King Kaiser Comedy Cavalcade Show” is the hottest, funniest, and most successful TV show in the era of live television circa 1954.  They’ve booked as a guest-star Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) a near Errol Flynn level star of swashbuckler movies to come on the show. There’s a couple of things getting in the way. One is that Stan ‘King’ Kaiser (Joseph Bologna) is engaged in a legal war with a corrupt union boss named Karl Rojeck (Cameron Mitchell) who is upset at the series of ‘Boss Hijack’ sketches Stan Kaiser has been doing on his show and has taken out a contract on King.

The other thing is Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole) himself who is a raging alcoholic that is always in the news due to his outrageous drunken antics. But Swann is one of those drunks that everybody loves and he is still a semi-major star so junior show writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is assigned to babysit him. It’s most appropriate as Swann is one of Benjy’s heroes and Benjy speaks up for Swann when Kaiser wants to fire him. It’s a scene that sets up my favorite line in the movie as Benjy was convinced Swann was dead drunk when Benjy spoke up for him:

Benjy: “But…but you were out!”

Swann: “There is out. And then there is out.”

If you’ve seen the movie and you’ve seen that scene and O’Toole’s delivery then you’re probably chuckling or outright laughing by now. And that’s because a lot of the time in MY FAVORITE YEAR we’re laughing not just because of what Peter O’Toole says in a scene but how he delivers it.

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Benjy and Swann spend a lot of time in the week leading up to the show where Benjy has to keep Swann sober. And in that week they both have to deal with family issues.  Swann has dinner at the home of Benjy’s mother (Lainie Kazan) who after the death of Benjy’s father married a Filipino bantamweight boxer named Rookie Carroca (Ramon Sison) who is very precise about not only his marital status but the pronunciation of his name. Benjy has to explain to Swann that he changed his Jewish name to the more Angelo Benjy Stone to work in Hollywood. In return, Swann reveals that Swann’s young daughter Tess has been raised exclusively by her mother but Swann has secretly sent most of his money to raise Tess and that’s why he’s broke and doing television guest-spots.

MY FAVORITE YEAR is one of my favorite movies and one I’ve seen maybe forty times since I discovered it on cable and once it was available for VHS and then DVD I purchased it in both those formats. And I still watch it when it’s aired on Turner Classic Movies as they do so fairly often. MY FAVORITE YEAR is absolutely hilarious from start to finish and most of that is due to Peter O’Toole. He was nominated for Best Actor in The Academy Award that year and that he didn’t win was criminal. It’s a movie full of heart and truth about who we are and we we pretend to be in public and who we even pretend to be to ourselves.

If there’s any acting flaw in the movie, it’s Mark Linn-Baker. He’s our POV character and the narrator of the movie but he’s the least interesting and least likable. It’s easy for me to see why Jessica Harper’s K.C. character doesn’t want to have anything to do with Benjy as Benjy treats the ‘relationship’ they have as a comedy sketch. But Jessica Harper as usual is nothing less than perfect. Joseph Bologna is great as King Kaiser and I like his portrayal of the character as a mix of towering egomaniac and insecure little boy. And I love how King stands up to Karl Rojack in a truly sidesplitting scene where Rojack confronts Kaiser.

And I cannot leave off this review with giving major props to Lainie Kazan. This is the woman who was the physical inspiration for Jack “King” Kirby’s Big Barda character and if you’ve ever seen her in movies you know why.

So should you see MY FAVORITE YEAR? Yes. It’s a wonderful comedy that you can watch over and over again. Trust me on this. I haven’t spoiled 90% of the laughs in this movie.

But it’s also a great human story about heroism, family, personal belief and human strength overcoming human weakness. And it evokes a time in American television history worth revisiting. And it’s a terrific Peter O’Toole movie. And if all that isn’t enough to convince you to watch MY FAVORITE YEAR, I’m done.

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92 minutes

Rated PG

 

Back To School

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1986

Orion Pictures

Directed by Alan Metter

Produced by Chuck Russell

Screenplay by Steven Kampmann, Will Porter, Peter Torokvei and Harold Ramis

Story by Rodney Dangerfield, Greg Fields and Greg Snee

Rodney Dangerfield will always be renowned as one of the true legends of stand-up comedy. He’s one of the few comedians who could make an entire concert hall full of paying customers collapse into hysterical fits of laughter simply by saying one line; “I don’t get no respect!” As a kid I used to see him all the time on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” but I really didn’t understand his style of comedy until I was older. And certainly by the time he began making it big in movies like “Easy Money” and “Caddyshack” I was able to properly appreciate his humor and his jokes. Now most people hold up “Caddyshack” as the height of his movie career but for me it’s BACK TO SCHOOL. It’s one of the few comedies that I’ve seen multiple times but laugh every single time I see it as if I’m watching it for the first time. It’s got a great eclectic supporting cast; Sally Kellerman, Keith Gordon, Paxton Whitehead, Ned Beatty, Sam Kinison, Terry Farrell, M. Emmet Walsh, Burt Young, Adrienne Barbeau and Robert Downey, Jr. But for me the main attraction is Rodney Dangerfield front and center playing a really great, larger than life character as he breezes through the movie throwing off one-liners with a speed and delivery that would make Groucho Marx dizzy with envy.

Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) is the poster boy for self-made millionaires. He’s taken his immigrant father’s humble tailor shop and turned it into an national chain of Tall & Fat Shops. He went on from there to diversify until now he owns Melon Enterprises, a worldwide corporation. Thornton Melon is far from being a stupid man and in fact is quite intelligent and street smart, despite his boorish, rude and crude manner. But his one great regret is that he never got a proper education. He’s determined that his beloved son Jason (Keith Gordon) will get one at the prestigious Grand Lakes University.

After getting rid of his gold-digger of a wife (Adrienne Barbeau) Thornton heads to Jason’s college to surprise him along with his best friend/bodyguard Lou (Burt Young) and gets a surprise of his own: Jason had been telling his father he’s a straight A student and a star on the university diving team. Turns out that Jason is the team’s towel boy and a lousy student. Jason wants to drop out but Thornton hits on a novel idea to motivate his son: he and Jason will go to college together and both of them will get a proper education.

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The fun of BACK TO SCHOOL comes from seeing Rodney Dangerfield’s Thornton Melon effortlessly cause utter and total havoc while navigating his way around every obstacle with either his street smarts or his money. Upon being told he’s too old and too unqualified to attend the university, he promptly donates funds for the new Thornton Melon School of Business and before you can say ‘holla’ he’s registered. He turns his cramped dorm room into a luxury condo complete with hot tub. When he has problems writing a paper on the works of Kurt Vonnegut he calls up Kurt Vonnegut and has the writer flown in to the college for a session with Thornton so that Vonnegut can personally explain the meaning of “Breakfast of Champions” to him. When he throws a party he hires Oingo Boingo to play and has the campus cops deliver his booze and beer.

But the story takes a nice turn in that Thornton’s plans actually inspire his son to genuinely want to do better and become a good student while his dad lives out his college life fantasies partying and having fun instead of studying and doing the work. It’s a lot of fun to see the father and son reverse roles as they help each other grow up. There’s a subplot with Thornton romancing his English professor (Sally Kellerman) that really goes nowhere but it’s always fun for me to watch Sally work. And it may seem unusual to have Thornton be a former champion acrobatic diver until you do your research and find that before he became a successful comedian, Rodney Dangerfield actually was a performing acrobatic diver.

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What else can I tell you about BACK TO SCHOOL to get you to see it? The scene in the college bar where Thornton sings “Twist and Shout.” The diving competition where Thornton performs ‘The Triple Lindy’ a dive so dangerous it can kill if not executed perfectly. Thornton’s final exam where he has to recite Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night” The movie gets a lot more mileage out of Ned Beatty’s character being named ‘Dean’ Martin than you would think.

And the best thing I can tell you about BACK TO SCHOOL is that it’s simply a whole lot of fun to watch. The humor is fast, quick and the father/son story itself to me is quite heartwarming. Dangerfield and Gordon look nothing alike but they do have great chemistry together and they did convince me of their relationship. The entire cast looks as if they had nothing but fun making this movie. I know you’re going to have a good time watching it if you’ve never seen it. And if you have seen it before, it’s high time you watched it again. BACK TO SCHOOL is available on Netflix Instant. Put it on your Instant Queue right now.

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96 Minutes

PG-13

Better In The Dark #19: Take Us Out To The Game Of Your Choice

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While we’re all still coming down from tryptophane poisoning, join The Guys Outta Brooklyn as they discuss their favorite Sports Movies. Thomas and Derrick talk about such notables as both versions of The Longest Yard, the boxing classic The Great White Hope, and the cult hockey classic Slap Shot–and then go as mental as they ever have been over the sports movie spoof Dodgeball! Plus the guys talk about their own sports memories growing up. It’s third and long, so what else can you do but click that download button now!

http://www.betterinthedarksite.com/episode-archives/episodes-11-20/

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The Gang Vs. Trailer Park Boys

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