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Put "Tron" Back In Theaters!!!
I hope some smart person from Disney is reading this: if ever there was a movie crying out to be re-released into movie-theaters, it's "Tron," the dazzling sci-fi film from Walt Disney Productions. If it were released into theaters today, "Tron" would be a smash hit, 'cause the movie-audiences of today would understand it a heckuva lot better than the movie-audiences of 1982.
"Tron" tells the story of a young computer programmer named Flynn (Jeff Bridges) who gets sucked INTO a computer, and must fight for his life playing life-or-death video games, run by the evil Master Control Program. With the aid of a good warrior program named Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), and Tron's significant-other Yori (Cindy Morgan), Flynn must put a stop to the MCP and set things right in the computer world once again before returning to his own world.
With breathtakingly beautiful computer-animation (and the very first film to use computer-animation extensively), and presenting an original, dazzling world where energy lives and breathes inside a computer, "Tron" was way ahead of it's time. This may explain why the film was greeted with incomprehension from critics and audience members alike back in 1982.
The problem was, back in 1982, there was no such thing as the Internet, and, apart from business types, most people didn't really know diddlysquat about computers yet. As a result, the computer jargon heard throughout "Tron" went sailing over most audience members' heads, and for many, the story was difficult to follow. Critics complained that "Tron" was all special effects and no story. And, for the final insult, "Tron" wasn't even NOMINATED for Best Visual Effects at Oscar time, presumably because the Academy in 1982 didn't recognize computer-animation as "genuine" visual effects, i.e. "it's animation, not visual effects," they thought to themselves. "The Abyss" changed all that in 1989, but that was a big seven years after "Tron." Obviously, everyone in 1982 had missed the film's point.
But the passing of time has been very kind to "Tron." Today, the film has a major cult following, and is recognized by many as the landmark sci-fi film that it truly is. Looking at "Tron" today, the movie has aged very well indeed, like a fine wine. Now that time--and people's knowledge of computers--has finally caught up with "Tron," now would be the PERFECT time for the world in general to take another look at this amazing film.
Message to Disney: put "Tron" back in theaters! Clean it up with a new remastered print & remastered sound, and let the world rediscover this sci-fi classic. It WILL be a smash hit! In 1982, people just didn't understand "Tron." Today, they will. Trust me. :-)
Le roi de coeur (1966)
A Foreign Film Classic
It's World War I, and a Scottish Private named Plumpick (Alan Bates) is ordered to infiltrate a French village and stop a bomb that the Germans have planted from going off. Upon arriving, Plumpick discovers the entire village deserted, except for the patients of the local insane asylum, who have been left behind. The patients soon escape the asylum, play dress-up with the various clothes they find lying around the village, and take it over. Not only this, but they crown Plumpick their king! With the German army still in the vicinity nearby, Plumpick must find the bomb, diffuse it, and save his "subjects" from certain death....
An all-time foreign film classic, "Le Roi De Coeur," aka "King Of Hearts," is a marvelous movie, full of sweetness, charm, and both clever comedy & fine drama that also comments very well on the stupidity of war. Alan Bates, who sadly passed away recently, is simply wonderful as Private Plumpick, as is the lovely Genevieve Bujold as the young patient named Poppy that Plumpick falls for, and Adolfo Celi is quite funny as Plumpick's stuffy superior officer. The rest of the film's big ensemble cast, whether playing the asylum patients or various soldiers, are all excellent, too.
The only thing that stops "King Of Hearts" from being perfect is that it *could* very well be argued that the insane asylum patients in this movie aren't...well, *insane* enough. They may speak strangely to one another or to Private Plumpick, but, for the most part, they act & behave quite coherently. But other than that, "King Of Hearts" is a very charming foreign film, and one of the very best films of the late, great Alan Bates. Definitely seek this one out.
One, Two, Three (1961)
Perfect, Hysterical Madcap Comedy
C.R. MacNamara (James Cagney), a soft drink executive stationed in West Berlin with his wife (Arlene Francis) and two kids, is given the task of looking after his boss' wild daughter, Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin), who flies in for a visit. But when Scarlett runs off and marries a young Communist named Otto (Horst Buchholz)---and with MacNamara's boss flying in to West Berlin in a matter of hours---MacNamara has to race against the clock to turn Scarlett's rebellious new husband into the perfect son-in-law, or risk losing his job....
Billy Wilder's "One Two Three" is one of the greatest comedy films ever made. This wonderfully zany 1961 gem is a lightning-paced, hysterical farce (and with it's classic instrumental theme of "The Sabre Dance," you know you're in for a rollicking, rapid-fire comedy). Based on a French play, much of the movie plays out like a stage comedy, as Wilder simply turns his camera on the actors and lets them do their thing. The entire cast is simply superb, their comic timing perfect. James Cagney gives one of his all-time greatest performances as C.R. MacNamara. In almost every scene, with the bulk of the script on his shoulders, Cagney is sharp, quick on the draw, and just plain hilarious as the bewildered executive. Arlene Francis lends fine comic support as Cagney's sarcastic wife, Horst Buchholz is very funny & perfectly cast as the rebellious Otto, and the gorgeous Pamela Tiffin is simply a riot as the hot-blodded, dim-witted Scarlett. But ALL the actors in this movie are funny & terrific. Billy Wilder's direction is marvelous, and his script co-written with I.A.L. Diamond is clever and hilarious.
Some may find the quick pace of "One Two Three" a little exhausting, as the movie's energy level remains high from beginning to end, rarely stopping for air, but it works for me. This movie is pure farce, plain and simple. It makes no apologies for what it is, and it's goal is to make you laugh loudly. "One Two Three" is one of the most hysterical movies I've ever seen in my life, and it never fails to give me bellylaughs. Thank you Billy, Jimmy, and all the rest for this magnificent comedy gem.
Lost in La Mancha (2002)
Brilliant Documentary Of A Director's Worst Nightmare
Filmmaker & Monty Python alumni Terry Gilliam has dreamed for years of making a movie about Don Quixote. He finally got the chance to make his dream movie, "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote," in 2000, starring Johnny Depp and, in the title role of Don Quixote, French actor Jean Rochefort. But due to budget problems, shooting schedule problems, horrible weather problems, and the unfortunate ill health of actor Rochefort, the production was a disaster from the word go. After only 6 days of troubled shooting, "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" was completely abandoned.
Fortunately, out of the wreckage of Terry Gilliam's never-finished film comes "Lost In La Mancha," a brilliant documentary that captures everything that went wrong with the movie, from the first eight weeks of pre-production (which wasn't smooth sailing either) to the disastrous six-day shoot that followed. We see both sides to Gilliam throughout the movie---one minute he's giddy with delight at making his dream movie, the next minute he's blowing his obscenity-laden top over his project collapsing all around him. And it's not just Gilliam who suffers, as *everyone* involved with the movie, both in front of & behind the camera, gets dragged down right along with him as all hell breaks loose on the doomed production.
Watching "Lost In La Mancha" is not only fascinating, but it's also very educational, giving the viewer a first-hand look at what goes on behind the scenes of mounting a movie, including all of the business aspects involved such as financing & other professional agreements that have to be made before a single frame is shot. It's also a sad documentary to watch, too. Looking at all the terrific hardware, costumes and set pieces that were created for the movie (including marvelous life-size marionette puppets that can march in perfect synchronicity), plus the widescreen footage of the scant few scenes Gilliam shot before the production was shut down, the viewer is given a genuine glimpse of the movie that *might* have been, and is all the more saddened---and sympathetic with Gilliam & his team---because of it.
Happily, though, all is not lost for "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote" just yet. Terry Gilliam is reportedly preparing for a second attempt at shooting the movie, and, having seen the movie's potential in this excellent documentary, I wish Gilliam all the best in the world in finally bringing his Don Quixote movie to the big screen. Judging by the glimpses of it in "Lost In La Mancha," I definitely believe it will be a truly great movie. :-)
Logan's Run (1976)
Before Luke, There Was Logan
In the year 2274, a faction of the human race, following global war and other apparent catastrophes that have ravaged the Earth, live together in a giant domed city, completely sealed off from the outside world. Here, in this bubbled society, the young, healthy, beautiful people who populate it live in total and complete pleasure, free of labor & strife, and free to do anything & everything they want, sexually or otherwise. It's a total state of hedonism.
But there's one catch: no one is allowed to live past the age of 30. On your 30th birthday (known as "Lastday"), the little jeweled lifeclock attached to your hand blinks, and you must be expelled from this society of pleasure through an arena event known as "carrousel," in which, the city's young people believe, your soul is "renewed," afterwhich you will be reborn into the city's society and start all over again.
But some 30 year-olds in this city know the real truth about carrousel---that it is, in fact, a death sentence---and they try to escape. They're called "runners." The domed city has a faction of policemen who hunt down runners, and they're called "Sandmen." Logan (Michael York) is a 26 year-old Sandman. Life in the city is good for him, but suddenly, he is given a secret mission by his boss---the city's master computer---that will change him. Logan's assignment is to go undercover as a runner, escape the city and go outside, where he is to find a so-called haven for escaped runners called Sanctuary, and destroy it. But Logan soon learns the truth about carrousel himself, and, with the aid of a beautiful girl named Jessica (Jenny Agutter), whom he falls in love with, he must now figure out how to free his people from their horrible fate at the age of 30....
1976's "Logan's Run" is an all-time science fiction classic, and one of my personal favorite films ever since I first saw it on TV as a kid. I've always been fascinated by the storyline, and although the film's Oscar-winning visual effects have long since been surpassed, they're still quite colorful to look at (including the groundbreaking use of holography). There's fine performances all around, such as the perfectly-cast Michael York as Logan, the very lovely Jenny Agutter as Jessica (she & York have terrific chemistry together), as well as the delightful Peter Ustinov as Old Man (who Logan & Jessica discover living alone with his cats outside the city), Richard Jordan as Logan's best friend Francis, and there's even an enjoyable appearance from Farrah Fawcett (Majors) in her sexy, 70's prime, as an attractive assistant working in a facelift shop called New You. And director Michael Anderson steers the film quite nicely from beginning to end.
Some have criticized "Logan's Run" as being too long, saying that the film bogs down in the middle when Logan & Jessica get outside the city and meet the Old Man. I say hogwash---I've always enjoyed this part of the film, featuring Ustinov's charming turn as the Old Man. Besides, it's an important part of the story, as Logan & Jessica fall in love with one another, and learn through meeting the Old Man that there IS, in fact, life after 30. Without this segment of the film, "Logan's Run" would be pointless. It's there for a reason, and I like it just as much as the rest of the film.
Upon it's release in 1976, "Logan's Run" was arguably the "hippest" sci-fi film ever made up to that point. Then, of course, the original "Star Wars" was released the following year, which pretty much knocked "Logan's Run" off the sci-fi pedestal. But no matter---the film remains an enduring classic of it's genre, with a big following to this day. Over 25 years later, "Logan's Run" is still a ton of futuristic fun. :-)
Life of Brian (1979)
I Think God Has A Sense Of Humor, Don't You?
And in the 1979th year of Our Lord, God took in a screening of Monty Python's "Life Of Brian," and thought it was funny.
He did NOT think the film was blasphemous or offensive in any way. Yea, God did admire it's incredibly clever pokes at religion and at religious fanatics, for God Himself knew the virtue of being able to laugh at one's self. He also knew before He even walked into the theater that the title character, Brian, was NOT Jesus Christ, but merely a man who was born at the same time as Christ---right next door, in fact---and became mistaken for a messiah. God settled into His seat, with popcorn in one hand and diet soda in another, and had a rollicking good time.
He recommended "Life Of Brian" to His Son, Jesus, who went to see it the following week. He, too, thought it was a hilarious film, and immediately sang the praises of the Monty Python troupe---John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam & Michael Palin---for creating such a wonderful spoof. And He recommended the film to His friends. Have an open mind, He told them, and have fun.
But God and His Son were quite puzzled why so many people in the Bible Belt community were so upset by "Life Of Brian"---especially the ones who hadn't even bothered to SEE the frigging film for fear of being damned for all time. And They both shook their heads in dismay. It's only a movie, They thought, and a very funny, harmless one at that. Get a life!
But God gave Monty Python's "Life Of Brian" the power to overcome such ridiculous adversity, and today, well over two decades later, the film is rightfully regarded as a comedy classic, and one of the Python's finest works. It's *still* not a film for everybody, but does it have to be? If you're in tune with the Python's style of zany comedy, you'll enjoy "Life Of Brian."
And praise be to Saint George Harrison, late of The Beatles, for lending the Pythons a hand in making this wonderful movie. :-)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
My Favorite Disney Film
Disney adapts the famous novel by Victor Hugo into their 34th animated feature, telling the story of the lonely, deformed Quasimodo, the secluded bellringer of Notre Dame, who lives by himself in Notre Dame's church towers, with only three stone gargoyles named Victor, Hugo (get it?), and Laverne for company. At the gargoyles' playful urging, Quasi sneaks away from the church one day to attend the Festival Of Fools, and makes his first real human friend in the beautiful gypsy girl, Esmeralda. But soon, after Quasimodo is ridiculed by the crowd for his appearance, he and Esmeralda find themselves in trouble with Quasimodo's wicked stepfather, Frollo, the ruler of Notre Dame. With help from his three gargoyle friends, as well as the kind soldier Captain Phoebus (who has fallen in love with Esmeralda), it's up to Quasimodo to save Esmeralda and the town of Notre Dame itself from Frollo's evil control....
If you've been reading some of my other reviews, then you know by now that I'm a big fan of Disney animated features: "Snow White," "Fantasia," "Tarzan," and "Atlantis," to name but a few (and I do plan on reviewing more Disney films in the future). But now that I've just gotten reacquainted with Disney's 1996 film, "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame," finally released on DVD, I know now beyond the shadow of a doubt that this beautiful animated film is indeed my favorite Disney feature of them all (okay, so "Fantasia" arguably remains the best *animated* of the lot, but it certainly didn't have an actual plot). I don't think I've ever cried so much during a Disney movie. "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" is, quite simply, a glorious triumph for Walt Disney Productions.
Granted, the Disney team have "Disney-ized" Hugo's original novel, such as turning it into a musical, including sidekick stone gargoyles that come to life, as well as the obligatory happy ending, but no matter. This is a truly wonderful animated film through and through that will touch you right down to your very soul. It's very well-written, surprisingly dark at times, gorgeously animated, very funny AND very dramatic at turns, with a first-rate voice cast including Tom Hulce, Demi Moore, Kevin Kline, Tony Jay & Jason Alexander, and beautiful, memorable songs by Alan Menken & Stephen Schwartz. And I promise you, there won't be a dry eye in the house at the film's end, mark my words.
HOW, in Heaven's name, did the Academy overlook "Hunchback Of Notre Dame" altogether in 1997? Not even any nominations for the music! Absolutely outrageous. Perhaps with the five previous Disney films in a row being honored by the Academy, from "The Little Mermaid" through "Pocahontas," the Academy simply wanted to take a break from nominating Disney films, not realizing how truly brilliant "The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" was. How very unfortunate that "Hunchback" had to fall victim to the Academy's ignorance that year.
Still, it takes nothing away from the remarkable achievement that this Disney film is. Against all the odds, the Disney team transformed Victor Hugo's novel into a truly lovely tale for all ages to enjoy. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll enjoy the music, you'll be moved. Step aside, "Beauty And The Beast"---"The Hunchback Of Notre Dame" is the REAL Disney masterpiece from the last few years.
The Producers (1967)
Before Broadway, There Was The Movie
A down-on-his-luck Broadway producer, Max Biolystock (Zero Mostel), is reduced to funding his shows by romancing old ladies for cash. Enter neurotic accountant Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), arriving at Biolystock's apartment to do his books. Upon discovering that Biolystock had extorted $2000.00 from his last Broadway flop, Bloom, simply on a whim, mentions to Biolystock that he could've made a fortune on the flop if he'd only gotten more money from the old ladies. Needless to say, this revelation gets Max's mind working---get the old ladies to invest $1,000,000 on what Biolystock knows will be a surefire flop, then run off with the excess cash! Max convinces the gullible Leo to join him on the scheme, and off the two men go, on a crusade to produce the biggest disaster Broadway has ever seen. They come across a god-awful work written by a former Nazi (Kenneth Mars) called "Springtime For Hitler," and decide to produce it. If it's a flop, Max & Leo will become rich. But if it's a hit, they'll go to jail....
If you're one of the infinite many who've been unable to secure any of those scorching-hot tickets to Mel Brooks' current Broadway phenomenon, "The Producers," there's always this, the original 1968 movie version to watch & enjoy. This Oscar-winner for Best Screenplay is a comedy classic, and easily Mel Brooks' masterpiece, a brilliantly funny film that hasn't aged a bit. Zero Mostel & Gene Wilder are hilarious & perfectly cast as the con-artist producers, with terrific chemistry between them (just their opening scene together, including the great bits about Leo's blue blanket, and Leo terrified of being jumped on by Max, is already one of the great filmed moments of comic acting). Kudos all around to the rest of the cast, too: Kenneth Mars as the deranged Nazi playwright of "Springtime For Hitler," Christopher Hewett as the no-talent gay director who only makes "Springtime" even more misguided than it already is, Dick Shawn in an outrageous performance as L.S.D., the hippie ham who lands the coveted role of Hitler (his audition song, "Love Power," is a major highlight), and the gorgeous Lee Meredith as Ulla, Max & Leo's dimwitted secretary. And then there's the "Springtime For Hitler" production number itself---yes, it's everything you've ever heard about it, a wonderfully hysterical "you gotta see it to believe it" moment in film comedy.
Mel Brooks' direction is spot on, and his hysterical screen writing here has never been better (though his co-writing with Gene Wilder on "Young Frankenstein" comes close). His Oscar win for the screenplay was very well deserved, indeed. "The Producers" is a timeless comedy classic, and the defining moment of Mel Brooks' long illustrious film career.
Song of the South (1946)
This Disney Classic Deserves To Be Re-issued!
I think it's a great shame that the 1946 Walt Disney classic, "Song Of The South," has been banned in the U.S. because some civil rights groups **15 years ago** complained that the movie was racist and they did not want it to be shown anymore. And Disney, not wanting to offend anyone, bowed down to their demands and yanked the film from public viewing in North America, where it has not been seen since. The only way you can watch "Song Of The South" now is if you still own a laserdisc player and you're willing to spring for a costly Japanese import disc, OR if you manage to track down a UK VHS copy of the film released in 1997 and have it transferred. Well, having viewed a transferred VHS copy of "Song Of The South" recently, I can honestly say that this is a marvelous Disney movie that is NOT racist and does NOT deserve to be hidden away.
While I can certainly understand the concerns of the civil rights groups over "Song Of The South," the fact that the movie is set during the turn-of-the-century South when many blacks served subservient roles is NOT a good enough reason to hide the film away from the public. This is not an issue of racism, it is simply a historical fact. Furthermore, the black characters in "Song Of The South" are all treated with respect. They are not treated badly, nor are they spoken to badly. Further still, are we going to destroy all copies of "Gone With The Wind" just because it features a black maid? Think about it.
What also upsets me about the shunning of "Song Of The South" in the U.S. is that most Americans will now never get to see anymore the marvelous performance of James Baskett as the loveable storyteller Uncle Remus (and Baskett DID win an Honorary Oscar for his fine work in this film, lest we forget). Nor will Americans ever get to see again the wonderful Disney artistry on display in "Song Of The South" that perfectly blends live action with animation (the very first film to do so, if I'm not mistaken). They won't get to enjoy the hilarious adventures of Brer Rabbit ever again. Nor will they be able to sing along with the Oscar-winning song, "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah" anymore. All of this, in my opinion, is very, very shameful.
I strongly implore Walt Disney Productions to reconsider re-issuing "Song Of The South" in North America, if *only* for a limited time on home video, so anybody Stateside who wants the film can finally have it. And with all due respect to the civil rights groups who complained about "Song Of The South" back in 1986, I strongly implore them to seriously rethink the ban that they had Disney place upon the film. On the Grammy telecast this past year, just before mega-controversial rapper Eminem took the stage to perform "Stan," the Grammy president came onstage to give a little pep talk about freedom of speech & freedom of expression. He said that we cannot ban certain artists and their work just because it makes certain people uncomfortable. The EXACT same thing can be said for Walt Disney's "Song Of The South."
Better To Watch At Home!
A squeaky-clean young couple, Brad & Janet (Barry Bostwick & Susan Sarandon), get a flat tire on a late rainy night, and decide to stop off at a nearby castle to use the residents' phone and call for help. What they don't realise is that these are no ordinary residents: Dr. Frank N Furter (Tim Curry), with assistance from his servants Riff Raff (Richard O'Brien), Magenta (Patricia Quinn), and their ragtag bunch of fellow Transylvanians, has his own diabolical plans for the evening, set against a kick-butt rock 'n' roll music score....
Call me a twisted "Rocky Horror" fan, but I actually prefer to watch this cult classic movie-musical in the comfort of my own home, rather than going out to one of those midnight theatrical screenings that have made this 1975 film so popular. Oh, I'm sure there's great fun to be had at a midnight showing, but the fact is, you're not going to see or hear very much of the movie itself, what with the audience shouting & throwing stuff at the screen literally every two seconds (think of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" on speed), as well as the live cast performing in front of the movie screen! If you want to really *see and hear* "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" as you would any other film, watch it on video first. Then, when you've got the movie firmly etched in your head, head out to the theater. But NOT before!
Having said that, this movie version of the hit stage musical written by Richard O'Brien (Riff Raff himself), is a ton of great, naughty fun. It wonderfully sends up B-movie sci-fi/horror flicks, with a playful, healthy dose of blatant sexual innuendo thrown in for good measure. Classic, memorable rock 'n' roll tunes written by O'Brien throughout, including "The Time Warp," "Sweet Transvestite," "Hot Patootie"....the list goes on and on. And, of course, you have a spectacular cast, led by Tim Curry, who IS the larger-than-life Dr. Frank N Furter, and a young, attractive Susan Sarandon, who simply lights up the screen as Janet. But everyone else, including Barry Bostwick, Meatloaf, Little Nell, Patricia Quinn, and Charles Gray all make excellent contributons, too.
I love "The Rocky Horror Picture Show": it's very funny, sexy, and brilliantly performed, with great rock 'n' roll music t'boot. But I, personally, still prefer to watch it at home, where I can see the film in peace & quiet without being yelled in my ear, getting soaked, or having rice & toast tossed all around me!