163 ReviewsOrdered By: Date
Big Mouth (2017– )
Our eroding culture
21 October 2017
Every cartoon writer wants to hit with the next Simpsons or South Park. But minus the critical spark of wit and comic vision, all such attempts are doomed to wallow in the potty-mouthed and potty- minded musings of clear also-ran stand up comic wannabes. Ergo Big Mouth.

We stuck around through the first episode, willing to assume the series would simmer down, maybe deliver a few legit laughs and insights after getting the most transgressive ready-mades out of its system. Didn't happen. We turned off the second episode about ten minutes in, never to look back.

Without the distracting conceit of a demon spraying the room with verbal filth every couple of minutes, this series might have gone anywhere. There are, after all, universal elements of adolescent angst in the basic material. But the writers blew it, settling for -- or perhaps more pathetically, straining to finesse -- rude chuckles for potheads.

Another win for this packager, no question, and another dump on the audience, a part of which will accept any hogslop set down in front of them. Sad.
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All in the Family (1971–1979)
The painfulness of dated topicality, even when it is in tune with today's attitudes
4 July 2015
Warning: Spoilers
I had a relapse of All In The Family fever through much of this past Winter and Spring, when MeTV was showing two back-to-back episodes 8 to 9 evenings. I enjoyed it. I thought the comedy in the series stood up very well. But to a degree that surprised me, a lot of the "enlightened" speech-making by Michael Stivic -- Lear's mouthpiece, and the character with whom modern viewers should, theoretically, identify -- makes me squirm.

Those confrontational moments between Michael and Archie are a part of the nostalgic fabric of the series, and Stivic's one-note Liberal was unquestionably intended as part of the comedy back then. (--Stivic, the would-be hippie and thinker with the spreading waistline, waxes positively Gandhian between trips from the couch to the refrigerator and back.) Now, I can't say Stivic was often wrong in his confrontations with Archie. But when they set aside the comedy for one of his impassioned speeches, it's embarrassing. —Particularly his character's unflagging knee-jerk "I'm on the right side of history, and you're just a stupid old man anyway" smugness.

I also notice that where Archie was an unsophisticated, not terribly reflective type at the start of season one -- a credible real-life character -- by the time the series hit its stride, they were (over)writing him as a moron. Sure, the guy's bigoted in lots of ways. But maybe they went too far in trying to underscore how dense he is. Any word with more than one syllable is sure to be mispronounced by Archie, and every figure of speech he essays is mangled almost beyond recognition. I can understand the show's producers bending over backwards to set the record straight to this effect: "No, Archie ISN'T the right-thinking character in this show."* But it's another of the ways in which the show and characters were weakened by heavy hands.

On balance, I think the best things about the show are Carroll O'Connor in his greatest role and the great situational set-ups. (Archie, in the hospital for surgery, discovers he has a black doctor, and a black blood donor; Archie mocks Michael's gay friend, goading Michael to the point that he reveals to Archie that his own hero and close friend is a closeted gay.) The worst things are the too broad comedy and the dated topicality. For Lear, there was no place to go after this series but down. None of All In The Family spin offs can touch it.

*There was a backlash against Lear's political intent at the time, and some members of the Silent Majority half-kiddingly suggested Archie Bunker would make a great presidential candidate in 1972. Lear, his staff and the network somehow caught wind of what was going on out there in the heartland audience. I knew a lot of people Archie's age -- people a lot like the character of Archie Bunker -- who at the time commented without irony, "He's really telling it like it is."
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Fine mainstream western from era before High Noon
4 July 2015
As has been generally observed, John Ford was making adult westerns long before the release of the high profile 'adult western' High Noon, and he was doing it under the radar of 99% of the critics of his day.

While no Ford, Gordon Douglas directed lots of highly watchable films that likewise never got their due in their time. Doolins is one of these. As a well-known director for hire, Douglas once credited the existence of his entire oeuvre to having a family to feed.

--Fair enough, and a pretty bravely self-deprecating and self-aware attitude in a town of pretentious auteur-wannabes. I'd offer the opinion that Douglas was the average intelligent man making films for his peers. Because of that, his films remain worth a sit-through. (His Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye rivals Walsh's White Heat in energy and noir viciousness as a late Cagney vehicle.)

This is the best Randolph Scott western after the Boetticher films. Place it alongside other fine non-Ford westerns of the era, including Angel and the badman, Winchester 73 and Yellow Sky. It's definitely worth a watch.
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The Oscar (1966)
As a film, a B or B-; as a nostalgia piece an A+
15 February 2015
I'm less interested in the alleged camp value of this film that I am in the opportunity to again see so many of the names with which I grew up working. It was business as usual in those days fifty years past, and anytime they surface again, in any form, it is to treasure. This film IS Hollywood of the mid '60s.

The Oscar isn't any worse than 75% of the films of the era. --Or today, when you get down to it. In that day, an all-star cast was employed to conceal all inadequacies; these days, CGI fulfills the very same function. I get it. A lot of people don't, simply because CGI is so big and bombastic by its very nature as to overwhelm judgment. Another fifty years from now, I think there are going to be lots of films like The Oscar, films that people laugh at because they have nothing going for them but an obvious patch meant to cover their weakness. You can bet on it.

The film is built around three male roles, with everyone else more or less stepping out of their way for the big acting moments given to them. Boyd, always the stony-jawed, steely-eyed manly male actor, is exactly as you remember him. Tony Bennett does a really nice job, which is a pity, given this films negative rep. Milton Berle was a surprisingly good dramatic actor, and proved it in many films and TV shows, just like this one. Eleanor Parker rises above the secondary status to which the actresses in this film are consigned. She makes the development from haughty to pathetic entirely credible.

Bottom line: Enjoy it as a chance to see names, names, names, even if you don't buy the drama or the story. It comes straight from the heart of the last demi golden age, just past the decline and disappearance of The Golden Age of Hollywood. It commemorates this unique time and place as well as any film.
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Glad it still rates a 7.2 out of 10 by IMDb users
30 October 2014
It's a cute movie alright. I recalled it from a viewing 40-plus years past as closer in spirit and cumulative effect to It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World than a recent look back seemed to confirm.

The difference between the two films seems clear to me now. With Mad Mad, the force of the narrative is centrifugal. You have a sense as you watch it that anything might happen. Think of the demolition of the gas station by Jonathan Winters. Edie Adams and Sid Caesar dynamiting their way out of the locked hardware store, then hiring a sputtering antique plane to carry them perilously to Timbuktu and back. Mickey Rooney and Buddy Hackett trapped in a private plane they can't fly as the owner lies drunk on the floor behind them. The collision with the control tower. On and on.

The energy of Who's Minding is centripetal. As with any good caper film, everything finally stops down to focus on a single glimmering instant of opportunity. In many ways, Mad Mad World vs Who's Minding The Mint? is Around the World in 80 Days vs. Asphalt Jungle or Rififi. There are no set pieces here the equal of Mad Mad World's. There is some fine slapstick silliness, perhaps best exemplified by the single take, deep-focus scene of a long hallway with a series of near misses between guard, pregnant beagle and Uncle Miltie in drag as the father of our country played out on different levels. I enjoyed the ingenuity of that scene probably more than any other moment in the film, although Victor Buono's dignity going down with the dinghy is also pretty funny.

My real joy seeing this film now is in watching these actors work. Period. Not every film was great or golden. But it WAS a golden age.

Not very long after this film, the way movies looked, in terms of thinking about cutting and camera placement, the lighting and the film stock and the focal lengths -- changed forever. Not long after this, the only place you could see a film shot in the manner of a film like Who's Minding was on series television. Films went the way, visually, of the seminal Midnight Cowboy. And eventually, TV stopped looking like this film.

Today, I think I miss the stars more than the film style.
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Splendid mise en scene
15 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The way this film tells it's story is dazzling. A thing of beauty.

The one gripe I have about the film as a whole is that the male lead has nothing to offer to the female lead. He is just a festering, ape-like bag of hurt and neediness. He has zero conversation, apparently indicative of zero thought process. When she tries to leave, he beats her or tries to drown her.

The female lead is drawn, at some level, to the old watchman (another occupant of the bridge) who at least has some past normal life experience to which she can relate. He is a man with things to say, a man of deep ocean tides, not a man who has met life in the fetal position or failed to live at all.

I will not say the male lead destroys the film. It is still awesome in style to behold. The way it achieves story-telling things is a marvel.

But that guy. Oh, that guy.
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A funny thing happened on my way to despising this film
21 January 2013
The first 10 to 15 minutes of this film was repellent, and I was thinking about bailing because it appeared another king-size projectile of cinematic Tarantino sycophant vomit was hurling my way.

Then, something happened. Harry Dean Stanton showed up, and Christopher Walken, and Sam Rockwell, and a growing cast of characters inhabiting a truly special universe. The story took off. I stepped into the screen, and I could not leave.

At this point, almost 24 hours after seeing it, I know I will want to do it again. Seven Psychopaths is no doubt one of the best films, old or new, I have seen in a lifetime of active film-going.

In a world where everyone seems inordinately absorbed in yearning and striving to be perceived as original and quirky, this film's quirk and originality is as deep and rich and authentic as that of any film I have seen. It's successfully quirky, in other words, and not just another load of hipster/poser aspirational noodling.

(High marks for the soundtrack too.)

Check it out.
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Love the director, not so sure about this "masterpiece"
3 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Up front, I'll admit that I was somewhat disappointed by this film. I cherish Robert Aldrich for several films, and while on a string of viewings which included Attack, Ten Seconds to Hell, The Big Knife and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, I ordered this one as well to take a look at. Of these films, Deadly is probably my least favorite. There's a promise of a wild experience, both rooted in the era and ripping the lid off of it, that never quite materializes. The inflated cultural context many writers heap on this film is understandable in terms of championing Aldrich auteur-ism, but otherwise absurd. Sorry. The lower you keep your expectations, the greater the odds you might fall for it's loopy appeal.

The best part of the film, for this viewer, comes at the moment when Hammer finally gets the key and visits the terminal locker where the radioactive material is stored. As he loosens the straps on the big leather case a crack, a blinding glint of sunlight floods from the box and we hear a sound that sends a chill up our backbone: the hiss of a nuclear cobra as it were. Very good use of lighting and sound here. I wish more of the film had parlayed moments into something like this.

The thing that bothered me -- resulting in the disappointment I spoke of -- was the flatness and flat out ineptitude of nearly all the performances. The struggling thespians, as much as the fifty cent budget does, get in the way of the director's grand design. -- We know it can't work that way. The people are too poorly integrated, and the best compliment I can probably pay this film is to say that it is the best-looking dirt-cheap film I have ever seen 98% of the time. The people though... there's the killer.

The ending is a letdown too. How to say this delicately: Being able to tell that the blond in the burning bungalow is a mannequin completely ruins it by taking you out of the moment and then some. They should have ditched the scene altogether when they saw in the rushes what it looked like, or determined then and there that it was essential to re-shoot that one shot if they were going to release it at all. But they didn't, and this is one of those things that aficionados of this film will always, but always be asked to explain to anyone with whom they share it.

My six stars is for the Aldrich context, and for a couple of choice pieces of time this film contains. (OK, then, for precisely ONE piece of time it contains: the aforesaid scene between Hammer and the leather case. But who's counting?)
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Johnny Cool (1963)
Is this the Anti-Hero concept taken to it's logical conclusion?
10 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I think the ending of this film should be spoiled for two reasons: 1)There are so very many reviews online that make glancing mention of an ending which disturbs, without anyone ever going so far as to explain what, exactly, in this age when we have seemingly seen it all, could be disturbing about a 1963 crime film

and 2) Because the ending really IS pretty nasty, out-Quentining Tarrantino himself with almost offhand ease, you may opt not to watch at all.

Asher's direction (which takes lots of hits in online world) is blunt and nondescript, which I think works for an actively vicious film. To do stylish arabesques with the camera, or to seem to overly calculate the delivery would feminize this most crudely testosterone-driven of all films.

Silva is so good, you want him to succeed in all his brutal activity. Elisabeth Montgomery is, if anything, even prettier than you remember her. I don't really get what flips her to totally betray Silva as she does. Supposedly she realizes what a nutzoid killer he is. But one has the impression she has realized that for some time. Did she simply grow bored of Silva? Hard saying.

Okay, here it comes. Get ready for something so singularly distasteful, it bothers me to even type it in here. During the last few minutes of this film the Silva character, the new Johnny Cool, is placed in a straitjacket in order to subdue him, and then prepared to be buried alive in the coffin of one of the men he killed. He pleads first, then he struggles wildly as the inescapable nature of his fate closes in on him. It is a scene that makes you feel ill. It's the kind of fate you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy, and that in fact you'd rather not spend two seconds of your life imagining at all. The ultimate action isn't shown. But the last time we glimpse Johnny Cool, it is chillingly clear what is just seconds away from taking place.

It might be argued that this is a logical end for a pathological killer who has been an unstoppable killing machine up to that point, one whose enemies seem to have zero hope of ever catching him off guard. But I don't think the ending is accessible through normal ideas about logic or justice. It is not a return to center and balance. Not exactly justice. Even for a killer, this is an unforgettably awful way to die. Doubly so for a character, a true anti-hero, who has such charisma that you rooted for him no matter what he was doing. I doubt that this almost breezy tale of a professional killer bears such an abrupt shift to horror right at the end.

Overall, the film is enjoyable as a cheap crime film with hipster ambitions. But, as many have noted on the net, the ending dissipates the real fun, and coming right at the end, the whole thing is apt to leave a bad taste in the mouth. It is probably the ending that has effectively buried this film alive -- pun intended -- for generations, and kept it unreleased on regular DVD to this day.

Coda: I can see it being remade today with a different ending, a case some message board wags have pleaded. Jason Statham would be Johnny Cool. It would end with him being sealed in the coffin. The End But wait... That would be a trick false ending. As the hearse drove to the cemetery, it would pick up speed and zoom away. There'd be a crazy twenty minute car chase with the cortège careening through downtown L.A. after the hearse, through a million of dollars worth of car repair. Finally, after the last car in the cortège had been driven off a cliff in a burst of flame, we'd see the hearse pull down a side road and park on the shoulder of the road in long shot. The driver would get out and open the coffin, helping Statham out of the jacket. After that, the driver would remove the sunglasses and beard, take off the hat and shake her luxuriant hair loose, and babe and killer would drive on into the sunset. Oh yeah -- and there would be sacks of cash in the coffin that the wind would whip all around the inside of the hearse, like one of those "How many dollars can you grab" booths at a fair. Makes no sense, but it'd be a crowd pleaser. It would become your routine noughties action flick, in other words, amoral more through stupidity than anything else.

Hmm... maybe the current ending isn't so bad after all.
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Cold Turkey (1971)
Earns points only for the fragile nucleus of nostalgia here; Lear's smugness is it's ruin.
12 July 2011
This film would pretend to satirize and critique small town Babbitry. But I think what we are left with after watching it is the sense or the message that the damning failure of people in small towns all over America isn't that they are greedy or hypocritical, but merely that they are personally ridiculous. Lear could forgive them their addiction to tobacco, which is really just their conditioned response to manipulation by tobacco company execs. --What he cannot forgive is their being embarrassing to anointed, omniscient hipsters such as himself.

For example: What is the satirical strength -- or the purpose -- of fleeting, disjointed closeups of the hands of middle aged and elderly women tugging at and smoothing their girdles as they file out of church Sunday morning? There's a sense that Lear is addressing a grievance here, possibly working off a grudge or past slight. But what does Lear have, really, aside from contempt? And is the contempt really earned and fair? And is it entertaining in it's own right?

To that last, I say no. As a film, it is just too mean-spirited and misanthropic at it's core to be a rewarding or honest watch. It makes the fatal mistake of all diatribe literature, which his TV shows skirted because of the short format. His soured view is absolutely fatal at feature length, unrelieved as it is by frequent commercial breaks to dilute the rancor. In long form, it is too clear that Lear cannot create engaging and truthful characters. Even actors you always like -- Dick Van Dyke, Jean Stapleton, Bernard Hughes -- are weird jerks or Pavlovian puppets in Lear's hands. Apparently, nothing like entertainment value or human empathy can stand in the way of Lear's particular message nor his brand of "relevant" '70s evangelism.
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