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Of the four Peanuts films, A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN is the most left-field and experimental, containing a lot of sequences that push the envelope in terms of animation and visual representation, such as the extensive use of split screen, the Beethoven fantasia, the American national anthem sequence and Snoopy's ice skating segment. Although widely regarded as a "safe" comic strip, people tend to forget that Peanuts and the counterculture went hand-in-hand for a long time, as Schulz introduced the black kid Franklin, Peppermint Patty (who was kind of a hippie) and decided to name Snoopy's little friend after the daddy of all rock festivals. I can even remember a Peanuts strip that drew reference to the Who's 'My Generation'. The film looks somewhat dated today, of course, and Rod McKuen's awful songs don't help, but it's a pleasant period piece and closest in spirit to the original source material - BON VOYAGE, CHARLIE BROWN commited the cardinal sin of showing us a few adults (including Charlie Brown's father) and relocating the action to Europe, and not surprisingly it turned out to be the gang's final film. This one is recommended for fans of gentle, philosophical humour and students of experimental animation.
John Alderton plays Bernard Hedges, a too-sensitive teacher at a rough-as-guts comprehensive school whose unruly pupils alternate between siding with him and giving him a hard time. After a near-riot in assembly on the first day of term, Hedges asks his class why they didn't "jump at the chance" of going on an outward bound course, and Peter Cleall (who would later appear in the horrible CONFESSIONS OF A POP PERFORMER and a memorable public information film about fire safety doors) replies "Jump? We don't get the chance to even bloody hop!". Lines such as these are scattered through the screenplay, and still make me laugh years later. Hedges is outraged at the raw deal his class is receiving, and campaigns to get them out of the wicked city and into the great outdoors. After some juicy dialogue with the coach driver (Jack Smethurst of LOVE THY NEIGHBOUR fame) - "Shut your mouth and give your brains a chance!" - and a couple of politically incorrect diversions with the pakistani kid and the black kid (who later joined the British reggae band Aswad!) that will probably have to be cut for future showings - they arrive at the outward bound centre, and so begins a string of often very funny set pieces and episodes. There isn't much plot, but the spirited performances and the inventive naughtiness of the Fenn Street gang keep you engaged. Although the overall tone is genuinely innocent, it's likely that the politically correct chattering classes will frown at lines like "Get tarts up your belfry!" and one girl faking a rape scenario just to humiliate the rival posh kids. Overall this is a pleasant piece of nostalgia, hardly a night out at the pictures, but still engaging enough on a rainy afternoon.
The Peanuts TV specials of the 1960s and 1970s were mostly fine, and on occasion very touching and even profound, but by the time this one came out (along with the equally terrible episode in which Charlie Brown is turned invisible and actually gets to kick the football) the franchise was in terminal decline, and it was only a matter of time before we got the horrible sight of Snoopy in torn-up dancer's garb doing a lame spoof of FLASHDANCE. I remember watching this one as a kid and being terribly disappointed, not laughing much and being rather bored and resentful by the end - the Peanuts gang continued to be brilliant on the printed page, with Schulz keeping the quality high right to the end, but these once-decent animated shows began to stink as the likes of Garfield elbowed the gang out of the hearts and minds of the public. (Incidentally, the Garfield TV specials were even worse!)
The problem with WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT lies in the overweening coyness of its construction, and the fact that it wants to be two things at once. On the one hand, it aspires to be a slice of CHINATOWN-style film noir with all the gumshoe cliches intact, on the other, it simply aspires to be a goofy family film with something for everyone - not two genres that mix terribly well. When I first saw ROGER RABBIT at the cinema, I was about fifteen, and was just knocked out by the visual panache and special effects, but having seen it again a few weeks back I couldn't help feeling mightily disappointed. It would have been an interesting idea to have gone the whole hog and made this one for adults only, and made it the dark, sinister piece that lurks behind the kiddie-friendly facade. What's an overtly sexual character like Jessica doing in a children's film? Why do the weasels sport real knives, real guns and fire real ammo? Why are all these interesting political, racial and psychological subplots dangled before our eyes so briefly, before rapidly disappearing beneath another slew of not-too-funny slapstick gags and the inane babbling of the title character, who is irredeemably annoying throughout? A severe case of cold feet seems to have affected the entire crew, especially given the controversy surrounding the infamous 'in jokes' inserted by the animation team (and airbrushed out of the DVD release) and the fact that every potentially interesting idea ultimately comes to nought. I couldn't help wishing I'd left this film as a pleasant memory.
There are currently rumours doing the rounds that Rainbow was nearly axed
due to an 'obscene' edition being made that contained a lot of sexual
innuendo about balls, twangers, plucking and soforth, a clip of which was
shown on a late-night Channel Four comedy show. In fact, this edition of
Rainbow was never meant to be broadcast 'properly', it was an in-joke
performed by the cast and crew for a Christmas party at the production
studios. It has long been a tradition within the British television industry
for the videotape editing department to produce 'Christmas shows' consisting
of bloopers, X-rated moments and suchlike fare to be shown at the seasonal
gatherings, and the 'adult' Rainbow was produced with that in
Having said that, anyone with half an ear could tell you that Rainbow wasn't JUST for the kids. There was something disturbing about Geoffrey, a middle-aged man dressed up like a six year old but pretending to be twenty, living in a house with an obviously gay pair of puppets (George was the submissive half of the relationship, Zippy was the macho dominant half) and a camp six-foot talking bear, with three hippie folk-singers for neighbours. Adults had a lot of fun with it too, and Zippy continues to be a cult figure on the back of some Marmite sandwich spread commercials. A great series that holds many happy memories for thirtysomethings.
Most people's objections to FACES OF DEATH seem to stem from the fact that the film-makers were obviously straddling the line between documentary and exploitation about as expertly as an extremely drunk driver doing the straight line test. Horribly real scenes are cut and spliced with obvious fakes, cheesy gore effects are thrown together with genuine TV footage of disembodied limbs and innards, disturbing sequences are set to inappropriate library music like Dixieland jazz or slapstick tunes. But let's face up to an uncomfortable fact. FACES OF DEATH was nothing if not trendsetting. These days, 'reality' TV shows, including British television's long-running CRIMEWATCH UK, think nothing of running dopey reconstructions alongside unsettling closed-circuit television footage and grisly crime scene photographs. This make-do-and-mend ethic is at the heart of this film, only the makers draw their own boundaries and are a lot more economical with the truth. If the opening scenes of open-heart surgery give you the dry heaves, switch off, because things get worse. We see the workings of a slaughterhouse, a seal cull, a bullfight, a chicken decapitation, the infamous (but fake) monkey brains sequence, suicide leapers, executions, rotting cadavers, post-mortems, a siege situation...you get the idea. It's all exploitative, certainly, but if your tastes run to this kind of thing - and I watched this film for the exact same reason that I watched John Waters' PINK FLAMINGOS as a teenager, to face my fear of the gross and disgusting, to experience the exhilaration of burying myself in someone else's nightmare and realizing the world won't come crashing down about my ears after all - then FACES OF DEATH should certainly satisfy your cravings. It may even change your perceptions about a few things. It's certainly bizarrely uplifting, and actually manages to be somewhat ambitious in the sheer scope of its treatment of (human, animal, environmental, moralistic, ethical) death. Approach with caution.
I loved KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, but this film is so excruciating it gave me nightmares. Just about everything on offer here is painfully bad, and when an interesting idea does come up (the real-life reviews, with a Siskel and Ebert-type pair of bumptious critics discussing a loser's uneventful existence) it's either mishandled or overworked to the point of tedium. The level of humour is mostly childish or banal, and the running thread - a parody of zero-budget fifties science fiction - isn't nearly as clever or as knowing as it would like to be. The only bright spots are Ed Begley's inept Invisible Man parody, Don 'no soul' Simmonds (his rendition of 'Close To You' is both funny and touching) and the Video Date skit with Russ Meyer and Corrine Wahl, who would certainly be my dream date! On the whole, however, this isn't worth your time and I doubt if a few beers would improve matters. A waste of talent, if that word can be used in conjunction with Steve Guttenberg and Sybil Danning.
This is a real rarity from the early eighties when the 'alternative' comedy
boom still had a strong satirical element and had yet to degenerate into
juvenile playground humour. Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, the authors
of this brilliant series, were obviously both very interested in - and
experts at - the fine art of subverting television from within, and WHOOPS
is rooted in the tradition of their early work with Spike Milligan and the
little-known ITV series END OF PART ONE in that it contains beautifully
observed and often startling spoofs on all aspects of television
presentation (the inane underwear commercial that pops up in the middle of a
serious news bulletin is my favourite, but the topless newsreader is equally
hard to forget) that are all the more memorable for being placed within the
context of an essentially 'serious' sitcom. The series is a manic,
frantically surreal, extremely anarchic and very busy black satire on
international politics, presenting a world not far removed from reality in
which the President is a former B-movie actor, the British PM is insane, the
Russian premier keeps dying and being replaced by lookalikes, international
terrorists create ingenious havoc wherever they roam and diplomatic
incidents threaten global unity apparently every ten seconds. It's also a
world where a malfunctioning Space Invaders machine can trigger a nuclear
alert, so that should give you some idea of just how wacked-out and deranged
the satire we're discussing here really is.
Although obviously quickly made on a very tight budget and decades ahead of its time (television still hasn't really caught up with the breakneck pace of this show), WHOOPS is a memorable experience that really deserves a DVD release and a long overdue critical reappraisal. The crowning jewel of the series is undoubtedly the brilliant casting, as it's full of instantly recognizable faces, such as Geoffrey Palmer, the "I didn't get where I am today" boss from the REGINALD PERRIN series, Mr Price from PLEASE SIR, Mr O'Rielly from FAWLTY TOWERS, Alexei Sayle (in a startling wig), Richard Griffiths of WITHNAIL AND I fame, Leonard from BUTTERFLIES and countless others. This is very hard to find, but a couple of videotapes exist, so good luck in tracking them down! A feature film version was made in 1986 that's also worth checking out, even if it's a pale imitation of the lunatic heights scaled by the original series.
This is another gem from Chuck Jones, and one of Bugs Bunny's finest shorts. An obnoxious, portly magician makes the mistake of annoying the resourceful Bugs ("of course you realize this means war!") who pulls out all the stops to destroy the trickster's evening performance at the local theatre. The gags range from the subtle (Bugs made up as a sickly sweet schoolboy in a huge bowtie and sailor suit never fails to crack me up) to the broad (exploding cigars and boarded-up top hats) but none of them miss the target, and Mel Blanc offers another virtuoso performance as the voices of both characters. I watched this over and over again on video as a youngster, and it's still one of my all-time favourite cartoons. "What a performance Doc gave 'em! What a performance!"
Gorehounds won't be disappointed by PIECES, a rather late entry in the late seventies-early eighties slasher cycle which knows what the target audience wants and gives it to them by the bucketload. Right from the opening sequence in which a young lad is assembling a naughty jigsaw puzzle and promptly hacks his mother to death for spoiling his fun, this film is about as subtle as a bucket of lard. Despite the crummy performances, inane dialogue and laughable attempts at making this some kind of 'whodunnit' (always a bad idea in this kind of flick), PIECES does actually manage to muster some degree of morbid atmosphere and claustrophobic discomfort, particularly during the murder scenes. Having said that, the gore itself is strictly bargain basement and reminiscent of Monty Python, but the quantity is what matters here, and there's so much syrup in PIECES, the screen virtually drips with it. For all its sicko-cranky-misogynistic traits, however, PIECES is surprisingly funny and easy to watch, especially if you like this kind of thing, and the downright bizarre 'trick' ending manages to wipe out everything that's gone before, so you'll need to watch it a couple of times at least to get a real handle on what's happening here. Best watched late at night, preferably whilst in some kind of altered state, but there are far worse horror movies to kill time with.
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