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Living in Captivity (1998)
Not that I'm bitter or anything
The concept of this show was great - three couples of different ethnic backgrounds living together in a nondenominational suburb. Some of the episodes were hysterical! The one I remember best was when Will (Matthew Letscher) proposed his hand in marriage to Becca (Melinda McGraw). However, since Becca wanted a Jewish wedding, Will had to convert, but "What about my...shmeckel?" Shelly Berman guest starred as the mohel. It is too bad the series got cancelled, but what do you expect in a society where humour is equated with potentially offensive material, leaving only the drek that fills most of the available prime time airtime? Exactly.
The Golden Girls (1985)
Dorothy was actually older than Sophia...
Picture it. Miami. 1985. A middle aged schoolteacher named Dorothy Zbornak (Beatrice Arthur) has recently ended her 38-year marriage. Meanwhile, her elderly mother named Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty), who recently suffered a stroke, recently became homeless after her nursing home burned down. Together with Rose Nylund (Betty White), they move in with Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan), and the rest is history. Dorothy played the straight woman to Rose's good natured ditziness, Blanche's nymphomania, and Sophia's old world wisdom. With four older women as its key performers, The Golden Girls could get away with being one of the dirtiest comedies ever aired on prime time television. Not many writers from other series would have had the gaul to incorporate "slut," "shmuck," and various references to sexuality and homosexuality into the script. It was also one of the funniest. Besides the one-liners (ie. "A toilet in front of the television? It's an old lady's dream!"), the friendly hostility expressed by the characters, especially Sophia, was all the more reason to watch. Other noteworthy characters included Dorothy's ex-husband Stan (Herb Edelman), the priest Uncle Angelo (Bill Dana), and Burt Reynolds as himself ("If I'm not, I must be wearing the wrong underwear"). And who could forget Rose's St. Olaf stories...
One Ringy Dingy, Two Ringy Dingy
"Laugh-In" was a solid mix of one liners, sight gags, and other forms of sketch comedy. Designed to be a satire of its times, "Laugh-In" is probably better remembered for its catch phrases, including "Sock it to me," "Very interesting," and "Here come da judge, here come da judge." And let's not forget The Groaning Wall. The variety series was hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, and launched the careers of Goldie Hawn, Richard Dawson, and Steve Martin. After six years on the air, "Laugh-In" bowed out of the prime time spotlight. Now if only Some Newer Latenight variety show had the same common sense to quit while it was ahead.
Le dîner de cons (1998)
Find the Idiot in the Police Lineup
This is the story of Pierre Brochant (Thierry Lhermitte), a Parisian who organizes a monthly idiot dinner. Whoever brings the biggest idiot to the dinner wins the prize! On this occasion, he decides to bring Francois Pignon (Jacques Villeret), an eccentric goof who builds monuments out of matchsticks as his hobby. Without giving away much of the plot, at the end of the movie, audiences are left wondering which one is actually the bigger idiot. Between the slapstick, the dialogue, and the Abbott and Costello references (remember Marlene Sasoeur?), I laughed nearly nonstop throughout the whole movie! Just don't drink a king size soft drink before watching...
The seventies featured several groundbreaking sitcoms. One of those was "Taxi," perhaps one of the first major serials which focused exclusively on the work environment - in this case, the Sunshine Cab Company in New York - rather than on the family. Perhaps the most vital cast member was Louie DiPalma (Danny DeVito), the fiendish yet lovable curmudgeon who owned the company. Each remaining character had a unique love-hate relationship with Louie, and their own story to tell, all of which contributed to each week's plot. Other characters included Alex Rieger (Judd Hirsch), aspiring actor Bobby Wheeler (Jeff Conaway), ex-boxer Tony Banta (Tony Danza), divorced mother of two Elaine Nardo (Marilu Henner), and designated oddball Jim Ignatowski (Christopher Lloyd). And, of course, there was Latka Gravas (Andy Kaufman), the affable mechanic of an indeterminate ethnic origin, whose dialogue may be translated into "This will make you laugh" in any language. One can only imagine how hilarious episodes featuring Kaufman as Tony Clifton might have been. When one considers what roles some of the cast members have played since, one can see that there was a lot of talent on this show. It also served as the lynchpin for subsequent television sitcoms, including "Cheers" and "Frasier".
I Liked It. Well, EXCUUUUUUUSE ME!
Am I the only one who liked this movie? After hearing nothing but bad press about it for years, I finally went out and saw it. I thought it was one of the most fun flicks I'd seen in years. All the characters were named after Beatles songs! Starring Billy Shears (Peter Frampton) and the Hendersons (the Bee Gees) "were all there" as well, "Sgt. Pepper" featured Strawberry Fields (Sandy Farina) as Billy's leading lady, and Mr. Mustard (Frank Howerd) was "such a mean old man." Let's not forget Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (Dianne Steinberg), the Sun King (Alice Cooper), and Sgt. Pepper played by an old Beatles protege (Billy Preston). The movie also depicted countless cover versions of Beatles songs, including Earth Wind & Fire's "Got to Get You Into My Life." As the narrator, Mr. Kite (George Burns) even covered "Fixin' a Hole." Critics of the movie should be so critical"when they're 64," let alone 82! Sure, the plot wasn't worthy of a Kubrick screenplay, but what could be more accurate than explaining how corporatism is anathema to the fun of music, and how profound an impact the Beatles had on later artists. Look for Dame Edna (Barry Humphries) in one of the many crowd scenes. I have one final case for "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band." It had one of my favourite comedians (Steve Martin) singing one of my favourite Beatles songs (Maxwell's Silver Hammer). I'm picking out a thermos for this movie!
Small Time Crooks (2000)
Woody's Back, Baby!
Ray Winkler (Woody Allen) is looking to get rich quick. So he decides to build a tunnel to break into a bank, but not before asking his wife Frenchy (Tracy Ullmann) to open a cookie shop as a front. Typically, Winkler's plan falters, but the cookies are a smashing success. So much so, that they become wealthy overnight. Will high society accept these latter day Kramdens, and how will affluence change their lives? In a movie full of classic lines, perhaps the top banana belongs to David (Hugh Grant). As a veiled illusion to Oscar Wilde, he comments on owning "a picture of himself in his closet that keeps on getting younger." Despite playing along an all-star cast including Jon Lovitz and Michael Rappaport, the only memorable supporting performer was May (Elaine May). If film critics were judge Allen's movies for what they are, rather than for who wrote and directed them, they would be in for a pleasant surprise with "Small Time Crooks." It is perhaps the Woody Allen's best movie since "Radio Days."
Annie Hall (1977)
If movies were beers, this would be "Finster Light!"
A few years back at a birthday party for my grandmother, I noticed that there was one other large party in the restaurant. While they were quiet with proper etiquette and table manners, we were animated and boistrous with a minimum of two arguments per 15 minutes. I turned to my mother and said "It's just like the Halls and the Singers." You can tell that Annie Hall was one of Woody Allen's older movies based on the character he plays. As Alvy Singer, Allen plays a short neurotic Jewish New Yorker who is obsessed with death. "Sun's bad for you. Everything your parents say is good for you is bad for you. Sun, milk, red meat, college..." By contrast, Diane Keaton plays the title character, a pretentious WASP who is obsessed with life and her favourite expression is "La-de-dah." Oh yeah, she just happens to be Allen's girlfriend. The movie serves as an introspective commentary on the evolution of a relationship, and how Alvy Singer perceives his rapport with Annie Hall. For instance, is her family truly a clan on anti-Semites, or is that just how Alvy envisions them? The movie costars Tony Roberts, Carol Kane, and Paul Simon, with a guest appearance by Marshall McLuhan as himself. One can see that it had a profound affect on the postmodern entertainment industry, as many aspects of the relationship between George and Susan on Seinfeld can be traced back to Annie Hall.
City Slickers (1991)
Hey Curly! Wanna buy a pair of gloves?
This is one of my favourite movies. On his 39th birthday, Mitch Robbins (Billy Crystal) realizes that he hates his life. His job doesn't interest him, he thinks his kids don't admire him, and he's dreading an upcoming family vacation to Florida. As a present, his friends Ed Furillo (Bruno Kirby) and Phil Berkowitz (Daniel Stern) decide to take him on a two-week cattle drive in New Mexico and Colorado. Ed, meanwhile, is at odds with his wife over the prospect of having children, while Phil's marriage is in jeopardy after his wife learns that he committed adultery. On the drive, however, Mitch learns from Curly (Jack Palance), an intimidating old cowboy who leads the trip, what the most important thing in life is, and that he'll find out what it is when the time is right. City Slickers serves as a commentary on about three lifelong friends, whose midlife crises suddenly pale in contrast to cattle driving, baseball, and the days of "Mitchy the Kid." Some of the more memorable lines from the movie include "Yes, that's right. We're black AND we're dentists!" and also "Hey Curly, killed anyone today? Day ain't over yet." For the record, Billy Crystal says "Hello-o" seven times in the movie. Some of his costars include Patricia Wettig, Helen Slater, Josh Mostel, and especially Norman. Finally, in watching City Slickers, baseball fans everywhere will now have memorized "who played 3rd base for Pittsburgh in 1960." Don Hoak!
This is the reason why I use an alias...
All right! All right already! I admit it! I used to watch this show because I had a crush on Linda Lavin as a kid! There, the world knows it now! Satisfied!? Now, I watch the reruns because I think the show provides humour that is light and clean and that doesn't make you think too much. Based on the movie "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," Alice Hyatt (Lavin) plays a broke, recently widowed mother of Tommy (Philip McKeon). Her car broke down in Phoenix en route to Hollywood, leaving her stranded in Phoenix. Working for Mel (Vic Tayback) the penurious tubby tyrannical proprietor of Mel's Diner, she befriends fellow waitresses Vera (Beth Howland), an innocent simpleton, and Flo (Polly Holliday), a high octane nymphomaniac whose homespun Texas manner provides the perfect foil for the street tough, New Jersey-bred "new girl in town." Flo is an even better foil for Mel, and never hesitates to retort him with some valuable advice..."Kiss my grits!" The show definitely had a split personality: funny until 1980 when Flo left, and then it went straight downhill for the next five years. Cameo players such as Andy (Pat Crenshaw), Travis (Tom Mahoney), and Henry (Marvin Kaplan) were valuable to the show, as were George Burns, Telly Savalas, Art Carney, and Martha Raye. Equally memorable were some of the one-liners, including "Can you read lips? [Raspberry!]," "Don't be rational when I'm hysterical," and "If we get out of this alive, I'm going to kill you!" One of my favourite episodes revolved around an ex-gangster wanted by the FBI and the mob, coupled with a whiny truckdriver whose rig full of peaches broke down outside the diner. Not the basis of a James Joyce or a Henry Roth novel, but entertaining nonetheless. At least the early episodes were.