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"Just one more episode ..."
If you like sketch comedy but have not yet discovered this series, take my advice - see this show. 'Portlandia' is, for me at least, the best American sketch comedy series I've seen since 'Upright Citizens Brigade'.
I don't know how accurately it depicts Portland and its denizens, but I do know that (A) it really makes me want to visit there and (B) it really, really makes me laugh.
Carrie Brownstein is new to me as comedian, though I of course know her musical work with indie darlings Sleater-Kinney. The brilliantly versatile Fred Armisen has deservedly earned a big fan base (including my family) through his work on SNL. Yet, who could have predicted that this combination of talent, in such an off-the-wall concept, could work so well? It really does, and I want to congratulate all associated with the series, notably the legendary Lorne Michaels for once again nurturing talents like Fred and Carrie and giving them the chance to do a great show like this.
Once you get the style and shape of the show, you'll be hooked. The sketches are, for the most part, really good and some (e.g. Chicken Farm, One More Episode of Galactica) are destined to become enduring classics.
The stars (in their multiple roles) are ably assisted by a fine cast of supporting performers and a BIG highlight of the series is the many surprising and hilarious cameo appearances, including people like Edward James Olmos, Aimee Mann and Greg Louganis (playing themselves) and of course the wonderful Kyle McLachlan as the Mayor. These bits work not only because of who the stars are, but also because in just about every case they are perfect for and in the sketch (c.f. Eddie Vedder's great cameo in the "boyfriend's tattoo" sketch).
Thanks Fred and Carrie and all the cast and crew - it's been a real delight to discover such a clever, quirky, inventive comedy series that consistently takes unexpected turns, gives a lot of laughs, and leaves you wanting more every time.
Fait Accompli (1998)
What was all that about?
To quote the esteemed Mr Maltin: "A ridiculous movie - I give it a two". As his CV testifies, Sekula is clearly a cinematographer of great talent, so it's not surprising that his directorial debut looks pretty cool - lighting, composition, framing etc are distinctive and impressive, some very cool locations that are well shot. In purely visually terms this could be considered a useful showreel for a DOP whose skills have made him the lensman of choice for a number of iconic films. But visual style is the ONLY thing happening here. Although it looks great, I have to agree with my fellow reviewers - everything else about this movie is a horrible, shambolic, incoherent mess, and it's sad to see a group of fine, photogenic actors being utterly wasted on a pile of pointless, rambling, vacuous, pretentious crap that does nothing and goes nowhere. This movie's alternative title, "Voodoo Dawn", is sadly apt - you *will* think you have been cursed by voodoo if you sit down to watch it, and tomorrow's dawn is probably the only memorable thing you will take away from it ... once you awaken, hours later, after having fallen asleep on the couch in the middle of this aimless, foetid fever-dream of a movie. I give it a 2 only because it looks cool. If you are foolish enough to view it, I strongly suggest that you get some friends together, get REALLY wasted, put on some Ry Cooder or Dr John, turn the sound down and make up your own story and dialogue, cos even that is going to be WAY more entertaining than the actual content of this overstuffed swamp turkey.
Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933)
A lost masterpiece!
A true eye-opener for film-lovers, this has to be one of the most inventive and subversive Hollywood films of the period. It's historically significant as one of the last two-strip Technicolor films, and boasts an excellent script. superb design by Anton Grot, great costumes and first-rate cinematography. Compared to the leaden pacing, framing and editing of so many other films of the era, it's strikingly dynamic in its presentation, with many very funny sequences, alongside some genuinely scary scenes. If for no other reason, it's worth seeing for the fantastic Glenda Farrell, who is absolutely outstanding and steals every scene she's in, including her hilarious (and remarkably racy) rapid-fire exchanges with Frank McHugh. Just see it!
Valet Girls (1987)
The Big Blow
I've seen some "bad-uns" over the last 50-odd years, but right from the credits, this rates as one of very worst movies I've ever seen. While it retains a VERY minor curiosity value due to the ultra-campy high-80s costumes and hair styles and the glimpses of '80s Hollywood, this is in every other respect irredeemable trash. I've seen porno films with better acting -- the inflatable alligator in the pool is by far the strongest performer -- and the same goes for the "script" (peee-euw!), cinematography and sound. I just saw this on TV as the late-night follow-up to 'Moonraker' -- one of the lamest of all Bond films -- but trust me, that comes off looking like 'Gone With The Wind' compared to 'Valet Girls'. Undoubtedly a film that all concerned wish they could erase from history and an experience to be avoided at all costs unless you grew up through the 80s, have a stash of industrial-strength drugs and for some reason want a cringe-laden laugh to remind you how bad that decade was at its worst.
From Noon Till Three (1976)
An unexpected treat and a little gem
I saw this at the drive-in many years ago as the support feature to 'Rocky', which I also unexpectedly liked. This wonderful little film caught me completely by surprise, since I had previously only known Bronson from his many boofhead action flicks. This beautiful little two-hander was a complete and delightful surprise, providing a fine showcase for the late, great Jill Ireland (a rather underrated actress IMO) and giving Chuck a rare chance to show that he was in fact a damn fine actor who was capable of much more than people gave him credit for. I can really only echo what others have said here -- it's a funny, intelligent, touching and very rewarding film that comes out of left field and will really surprise and please you if you give it a chance.
I just saw this stinky old boiler on TV. Best watched with a very large flagon of Dr Jurd's Jungle Juice at hand, this exploitorific cheese-fest is hilariously bad. On the (very slim) plus side, Raquel was in her physical prime, she looks good, and you get to see a fair bit of her, since she plays a go-go dancer; she had great legs, that's for sure. There's also some minor interest for screen buffs in the footage of Los Angeles ca. '69, and in spotting actors in minor parts who went on to better things. Veteran thesp Ron Rifkin ('Brothers and Sisters') delivers a toe-curling early performances as "Sailor" the "faggot junkie" barman who rats Raquel out to the bad guy. You might also recognise the gun-toting security guard in the hit-and-run scene -- it's a very early appearance by Gordon Jump, who gave such a lovely performance in 'Soap' as Piece of Chelief Tinkler.
The 'plot' of 'Flareup', such as it is, follows the travails of an exotic dancer (Welch) on the run from her murderous ex-husband (Luke Askew). This turkey is classic production-line Hollywood sludge -- a paint-by-numbers script, pedestrian direction, hokey shots, edits and effects, ultra-cheesy stock music, plywood sets, and performances to match.
The cast is as uniformly dreadful as the screenplay. Although Raquel is capable of fair performances in the right vehicle, this wheezy old clunker is SO bad that she doesn't really stand a chance, and neither does the audience. One of my favourite moments occurs when Raquel awakes up in the hospital, sees the Vegas cop who's pursuing her murderous ex, and asks "How did you get here?" -- to which he of course replies "In a plane." Oh the humanity ... And you won't be able to take your eyes off the doctor (Michael Rougas) who has what might well be one of the very worst walk-ons in the long sad history of bad cameos. I don't think I've ever seen anyone stand in one spot so badly before.
Raquel's love interest Joe (James Stacy) ambles through the film with a fixed look that's somewhere between bemused and embarrassed -- and no wonder. This bomb puts the cast through just about every made-for-TV cliché in the book, from Raquel's spectacularly dreadful turn in the dreadful nightmare montage, to the pure schlock of the 'romantic' horse ride along Leo Carillo Beach.
**Spoiler Warning** -- just about the only interesting thing in the whole film is the denouement, in which Raquel finally gets her own back, and hilariously enacts the title, by setting the baddie on fire. Whoever the stunt guy was really earned his money on this one -- he goes up like Yorba Linda in a heatwave. Yet even this fairly spectacular scene is compromised by the fact that one of the crew moves into shot near the end.
There are so many crappy things about 'Flareup' that it's oddly compelling; I found yourself wondering if this could be one of the worst films I've ever seen made. The answer seemed to be a resounding 'Yes' ... until I saw the film that followed it, Roger Corman's mega-trashy 'caged heat' classic 'The Big Doll House', which takes Awful to a whole new level. I can heartily recommend these two shlockers as a double-bill. You'll laugh yourself silly.
District 9 (2009)
Neil Blompkamp and the team have really delivered a great film here, in my opinion. One of the things I love is that it has obvious connections to other features with similar themes and settings -- notably the (soon-to-be-remade) '80s miniseries "V" and the excellent "Alien Nation" -- and yet it has a startlingly fresh and exciting approach all of its own.
Just about everything here appeals to me -- an intriguing story with powerful allegorical elements, and it's VERY political; it's skilfully told, with a good balance of action, drama and humour, excellent SFX (the aliens are terrific), strong performances and it's such a pleasure to see a film in this genre that doesn't regard all its viewers as uncritical clones of Comic Book Guy. It's quite gripping throughout and the final showdown between the hero and the security forces is tremendously exciting. The documentary style really works here and the hand-held camera work is for once a very effective tool, with Blomkamp very cleverly weaving us you in and out of the 'actuality' style.
The choice of setting is a brilliant touch in itself and it's good to hear Sarth Effrican accents right up front. It's terrific to see such an accomplished and thoughtful work coming from a country that was for a long time best known in films terms for the execrable 'The Gods Must Be Crazy'.
Unusually for a high-concept sci-fi flick, the plot elements are sparingly revealed, and many are left unexplained. It's also those rare movies with an ending wide open for a sequel ... but one that I'd really like to see. So many questions left deliciously unanswered ... what IS the story with the aliens? Why are they so seemingly so passive? Are they -- as it appears -- merely a degraded worker caste, or is there more to it than meets the eye? Will our hero be redeemed?
Sharlto Copley gives an amazing performance in the lead role and it's part of what sets this movie apart from prefabbed Hollywood dross like 'Aramgeddon' or '2012'. In the hands of Michael Mann or Roland Emmerich, the role would have gone to an obvious 'everyday hero' type like (urgh) Russell Crowe, but Copley fearlessly plays Wikus with such an amazingly convincing nebbish persona that it at first left me wondering whether the whole thing was heading for 'Scary Movie' territory. But fear not -- it rocks. I was blown away to discover that Copley was not a career actor and indeed had never acted until he appeared in the original short-film version. Incredible -- I predict big things for this guy.
I have no doubt that (at least in artistic terms) Blomkamp is going to be very glad indeed that he didn't end up directing Halo. This will undoubtedly come to be seen as one of the great sci-fi films of its time and I sincerely hope there is a sequel. A no-brainer for any serious sci-fi fan -- just go and see it.
To my mind, no-one has yet made a screen version of the Arthurian legends that really does them justice, and there's certainly been nothing that can compare even to modern literary interpretations like Mary Stewart's Merlin novels ('The Crystal Cave' and 'The Hollow Hills'). The best so far IMO was the recent Hallmark miniseries 'Merlin' with Sam Neill, which came closer than most, though it still left something to be desired. However it comes off looking like Shakespeare by comparison with the BBC's putrid confection. Despite the glossy production values, high-end SFX, spunky young leads and a solid supporting cast of British veterans, this laughable tripe is clearly aimed at the teeny Harry Potter market and is obviously cast in the same mould as the Beeb's equally execrable mauling of "Robin Hood".
If you're looking mindless sword-and-sorcery escapism, you'll probably have fun, but if not, be warned -- the connections to the Arthurian canon are very tenuous, to say the least. Don't expect *any* attempt at a faithful rendering of the original tales, or any attempt at veracity, either mythological or historical; this is basically about as "honest" a re-telling as the Hollywood Technicolor epics of the Fifties.
The basic premise is idiotic, but the real problem is the sudsy script, which gives the term "pedestrian" a whole new meaning -- think "Eastenders" in armour. It lacks intelligence, wit, depth, drama, tension or mystery, and the attempts at 'comedy' are puerile. If you have any love for the Arthurian legends you'll avoid this gift-wrapped turd at all costs.
Arabian Nights (2000)
Does TV get any better than this?
I have to add my praise to the many rave reviews for this outstanding miniseries. My family and I have watched this wonderful adaptation of the "1001 Nights" many times since we first saw it on Foxtel about four years ago and it has become one of my children's favourite programs and they know most of the script off by heart now.
I have a high regard for the many excellent Hallmark fairytale productions, but this is far and away their best. There is just so much to admire about it -- a funny, witty script, stunning locations, truly lavish costumes, superb makeup, excellent use of CGI effects, and above all, terrific performances from a star-studded cast, especially by the stunning Mili Avital and the very charismatic Dougray Scott, who carry so much of the story. And of course there are several other well-known stars -- like Andy Serkis and James Callis -- to be spotted in minor roles, a couple of years before they became famous.
I MUST select for special mention the brilliant dual performance by the great John Leguizamo as the two genies in the Aladdin story. His portrayal of the whining, obese Ring Genie is hilarious, and his Lamp Genie shows how CGI and good acting can work together to create an awe-inspiring character. How did he not get an Emmy for these performances?? The use of CGI is very good in this episode -- I love the cunning way that the smoke comes off the tips of the Lamp Genie's ears and fingers, and how it makes a smoke-ring every time he says a word with "O" in it. Very clever.
I also roundly applaud the decision to cast so many actors from Asian and African backgrounds, notably in the wonderful "Alladdin" story -- Jason Scott Lee and Vanessa Mae are both terrific, Vanessa Mae is utterly gorgeous *and* proves herself an excellent actor, and it's lovely to see screen veteran Bert Kwouk (Kato from the Pink Panther movies) as the Caliph. Why Jason Scott Lee not a MUCH bigger star, I have no idea -- he is truly marvellous in this role.
This is to all intents and purposes a flawless production and the best film or TV version of the Arabian Nights stories that I have ever seen. The adaptations are remarkably faithful to the original tales -- and I have read the entire Mardrus and Mathers' 4-volume translation, so I know what I'm, talking about -- but the script also has many witty additions. The exchanges between Aladdin and the Genie of the Lamp are hilarious, especially when the Genie mocks Aladdin for asking for a flying machine.
This is a gold-plated family classic which ought to be in the DVD collection of every school and of every family who cares about good, imaginative entertainment. 10 out of 10