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Now THIS Is a Blooper Reel!
If you've been to enough comedy blockbusters or watched enough television blooper shows, you may feel as if you have heard every line flub, seen every camera crash, and watched every animal embarrassment possible. But there are several things which separate the 'Mystery Science Theater 3000 Poopie!' bloopers from all the others.
First, the show has puppets. You wouldn't believe how funny a puppet decapitation can be.
Second, the surreal nature of the show itself. Even the few not-so-funny gags are watchable because everything looks and sounds so ridiculous.
Third, the performers are ACTUALLY FUNNY. The show is all about a guy and two robots heckling a horrible movie, and while most of the heckling is pre-written after watching the film several times over, the process still requires quick comebacks. And it transfers into 'Poopie!' Many times, the funniest part of a 'Poopie!' blooper is not the mistake itself but the remarks people make after it, the actors heckling each other. Only a few of my favorites: "Sing the Praises of Pants" becomes something completely different; Servo's remark "I love movies like that!"; and the Super Freak Out V. The Spider!
Most of the best stuff is in the first half (a kind way of saying it kind of loses steam over time), but there is enough stuff in the second half (including a great bonfire) to keep you watching.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
I don't know why, but I liked it.
I'll say this straight off: Pulp Fiction, unlike Tarantino's previous film Reservoir Dogs, is appropriately titled. Pulp is a publication which, according to dictionary.com, contains "lurid subject matter." This film is, put simply, trash.And I can easily see why this film may be a low point in American cinema. I can see how there can be a large amount of people who see the horrendous things this movie may or may not promote and call it the end of civilization. And I can easily see myself fitting into that crowd very well.
So why do I like PULP FICTION? I keep looking for reasons to hate it, but I can't find them.
Gratuitous violence? Can't people see that this sort of pointless bloodshed isn't entertaining? And yet I've seen worse: KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949) is about a man who is able to kill seven men and one woman (all played by Alec Guinness) to become the Duke of Chalfont. And how about Titus Andronicus? That Shakespeare was one sick mother-- Profanity? Isn't this level of f-word usage unreasonable? And yet only yesterday I encountered two men who had never seen the movie before and were dropping f-bombs like a WWII blitzkrieg. It's not unreasonable; it's a reflection of society. It's not pretty, but then I didn't expect the Muppet Movie on this one. The other forms of deviance in this film? One word: DELIVERANCE. Aesthetic self-indulgence? Hey, I sort of liked CITIZEN KANE as well. It uses a camera trick every second, and not one of them helps the plot itself. But I felt it worked. Some films are good because they have a great story. Some films are good because they look nice on the mantelpiece. (The best films, of course, are both.)
I don't know why I should hate PULP FICTION.
But if that's the case, then why should I like it?
Good acting? I've seen less wooden characterizations in children's nativity plays. Samuel L. Jackson does a good job, and Bruce Willis has my favorite performance, but everyone else seems a bit held back by their foppery. Stylish camera-work? Some angles were nice, creating some good opportunities for my laptop wallpaper, but nothing spectacular. Dancing? You call that dancing? Music? Well, yes, I suppose I do like it. But at two hours and more, the soundtrack isn't enough to like a film.
Well, here goes everything:
Maybe I enjoy this film because it can show that, beneath the violence and the cocaine snorting, there truly is a humanity of some sort. That's why the film opens with such a loving couple robbing a restaurant. That's why two killers can talk so much about foreign fast food. That's why Bruce Willis can go back to save the man who previously was trying to kill him. That's why the film ends with the return to the restaurant scene, with one final act of redemption. That's why the good people get off the hook and the bad ones are killed by toasters.
Maybe I like this film because it shows that even the lowest scum has a sense of humanity.
Maybe I like it because it proves that it's never too late to do right.
Maybe I like it because it has a (BLEEP)in' adrenaline-injected heart.
While I can't give it the full marks some believe it deserves (in my mind, Tarantino's other masterwork RESERVOIR DOGS was better), I do think this is something worth watching. Just remember, as mentioned before, that this truly is Pulp Fiction. But it's Pulp like you've never seen before.
An Unevenly Demented Treat
With the recent wave of wacky PG-rated CGI films and the never-ending fad of the fractured fairy tale, the low-budget B-List Hoodwinked still has a new trick or two for us.
It's a different take on the Red Riding Hood tale: the gruff Chief Grizzly is about to take in Red, Granny, the Wolf, and the Woodsman for breaking and entering, wielding an axe without a license, and possible connections to the current rash of goodie thefts, but the mild-mannered frog sleuth Nicky "Flippers" decides to take over investigations. From here, the four main characters each tell their sides of the story to clear up just what happened that fateful day.
This film is rather uneven, and one must expect that from what we are given. All the characters have something hidden in their characters: Red is a black-belt karate champion; Granny is doing extreme-sports (and she won't even tell her own granddaughter!); and the Wolf is a Fletch-inspired undercover journalist accompanied by a hyperactive squirrel photographer. These are the sort of jokes just bordering on the edge of cliché. So why is the Woodsman's tale so good? Kirk is not actually a Woodsman but a faintly Austrian actor. His Schnitzel song (which he sings as he sells Schnitzel-on-a-Stick to the children as a day job) and his first attempts at woodcutting (which he takes up to get in the mindset for a Paul Bunion Cream commercial) are comic highlights.
And these gags are surprisingly effective thanks to the rather jumpy animation. Most CGI animation is very fluid, true to life, but in Hoodwinked, the characters which are animated least fluidly make the best impression as they cut suddenly between poses. It's almost as if this movie could be a bit better hand-drawn rather than computer-animated. Watch the Woodsman and Twitchy the Squirrel; it's been a long time since somebody's facial expressions have made me laugh.
SPOILER: Nothing is remarkable about the voicework except for Andy Dick as Red's rabbit friend Boingo. Encountering each of the four main characters with a sort of David Spade snarkiness, Boingo's flair is all the more invigorating when we find that it is actually Boingo who is the evil genius behind the goodie robberies. His command to henchman Keith is memorable, and the simple demented glee with which he relishes his plot is darkly hilarious. (If I could just find a picture of Boingo, he'll become my new message-board avatar.)
This is truly something completely different. A lot of it is your standard (if interestingly twisted) take on the fractured fairy tale, but every now and then there is a minute of unmitigated hilarity. All-in-all, it's something I'd recommend you rent at Hollywood Video for one night with your Monty Python friends.
A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
A Great Movie about Telling Tales
Garrison Keillor, writer of the radio show A Prairie Home Companion, has always been a storyteller. The show's centerpiece, The News from Lake Wobegon, is a simple monologue about the goings-on in a small Minnesota town, a monologue which has the nostalgic appeal of a coupla guys sitting 'round an open fire or sitting on a boat trading stories while there is nothing else to do.
Curiously, the News from Lake Wobegon is absent from the film of A Prairie Home Companion, but in a sense it doesn't have to be. The entire film is Keillor's ode to the Storyteller. Each of the great characters of the show is dedicated to telling tales. From the very beginning, Guy Noir narrates like all hard-boiled private eyes do. Keillor's character keeps trying to tell a story which seems to include a naked man strapped to a large kite and his first job on the radio. The two Johnson Girls talk about the old days with their mother and the other sisters who were part of the group until various incidents took place. Even Dusty and Lefty have a few short stories (even if they only amount to dirty jokes).
The film itself tells the tale of the radio variety show's final broadcast and various events surrounding it, and in many ways the final show is the perfect place to talk about storieswith no other shows to look forward to, what other way to look but back? But the show also has a dark air about it. With the axing of the show imminent, death is the dark subtext in everyone's tale, and yet the show never seems to dip into the schmaltz. And it's not surprisingthis is the North that bred Fargo. Sugar just isn't done.
Robert Altman has his directorial trademarks in the work as well, although not as prominently as in others he has done. As usual, Altman wrangles multiple plot lines flawlessly, and with Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep we get the famous overlapping dialogue. But a lot of the movie is about actually understanding the story rather than getting it drowned outwhen characters talk over each other, it only adds to the tale they tell. When the Johnson Girls talk about their sister's donut shoplift, they are just like sisters; talking over each other but still telling the same story.
As far as performances, just about every one is satisfactory. Standing out are Streep, who has pinned down the cheery Midwestern mother to a tee, and Kevin Kline, obviously a bit influenced by his recent work on the Pink Panther remake in playing Guy Noir, Private Eye. Lindsay Lohan as Streep's daughter also does well tackling a two-sided personalitya girl fascinated with death and suicide while simultaneously willing to listen to Keillor's folksy tales like a girl hearing a bedtime story.
In fact, if there is a flaw in this film, it's that sometimes uneven atmosphere suggested with Lohan's character. Most of the film's brilliance readily credits Keillor's higher abilities as a writer, and so it feels a bit strange having cowboys Dusty and Lefty farting and telling dirty jokes in their moments. But the story often builds up to these moments in humor so that, while watching, they're perfectly all right. And in the end it's the in-the-seat movie experience that counts.
All-around, the film of A Prairie Home Companion is a charming and nostalgic ode to the storyteller we all occasionally are.
Whoops Apocalypse (1982)
Marshall's and Renwick's Cold War Comedy
As an American, my obsession with British comedy often results in multiple letdowns (e.g. getting the wrong SINGING DETECTIVE DVD for Christmas). My encounter with WHOOPS APOCALYPSE is one-of-a-kind: while I didn't get the apparently lesser theatrical-release version with Peter Cook, I did get a truncated version which turned the six-episode series into one long 138 minute film with a laugh track. While it certainly retains all of the most hilarious moments of the show, I can't feel that I've missed something.
Still, it's absolutely hilarious. Renwick and Marshall, writers of the show, are two of the greatest British comedy writers I have ever encountered. David Renwick wrote the poignant and occasionally gross-out sitcom ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE. Andrew Marshall wrote the equally quirky sitcom 2POINT4 CHILDREN. Together, they wrote for the cult classic radio sketch comedy show THE BURKISS WAY and this miniseries about Cold War brinkmanship.
U.S. President Johnny Cyclops, an obvious Reagan parody, is played perfectly as a nervous, naive showbiz icon by Barry Morse. John Barron portrays his almost Cheney-esquire adviser, The Deacon, with particular pomp. Peter Jones has the quavery voice which sounds simply ridiculous as the senile Prime Minister who believes he is Superman. But there is no denying that the show's true strong point is the writing, especially shining through in Ed Bishop's portrayal of Jay Garrick, fast-talking newscaster. (On a late edition of the news, he quickly reads out "I'm Jay Garrick, and you're an insomniac.") Overall, a grand comedy. I continue to search for copies of the full six episodes (as well as the original POLICE SQUAD! series), but meanwhile I watch my version as a double bill with the darker DR. STRANGELOVE.
Annie Hall (1977)
Great Art Comedy
ANNIE HALL is art comedy. I took some thought into terming it; "comedy art" suggests that its gags are artistic while my belief is that this is "art comedy", art that happens to make you chuckle. I consider MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and AIRPLANE! to be "comedy art". I consider ANNIE HALL "art comedy".
This is essentially a classic romance told in humorous form. Alvy Singer, played by Woody Allen, is a neurotic, Jewish, New York, stand-up comedian who refuses to change. Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton, is a capricious, Midwest raised, New York living, fashion setting woman who sings in a nightclub. It's the story of their love, a love which is not perfect but needed. There's happiness, sadness, symbolism, literary allusions, fourth-wall demolition, and even animation. There are struggles between fantasy and reality. There are bittersweet moments of romantic futility. There are two spiders the size of Buicks. It's wistful, it's psychological, and it's even funny.
If you only saw the earlier Woody Allen films, such as BANANAS or SLEEPER, before this movie, as I did, you may be surprised by the difference between this and those. Those films were more farcical, slapstick, and contained more music. ANNIE HALL does not have those sequences where a silent slapstick routine is set to sprightly music. In fact, not even the opening and closing titles have any music of any sort. There's a quick clip of music after a car ride, there's the music heard while in the movie theatre, and Diane Keaton sings twice (the second song is repeated before the end credits). But it's probably just as well. A slapstick routine would seem out of place in this touching, distinctly human story of imperfect but indispensable love.
Brewster McCloud (1970)
Classic Cult Classic: For the Birds
This movie is a million things at once. Some may find that as a bit of a turn-off, but then that's what a cult classic film is really about, isn't it?
Brewster McCloud is a reclusive boy who lives in the basement of the Houston Astrodome. He has a short job as chauffeur for a miserly old man. He is looked down upon for his meek appearance and his quiet manner. He dreams of building himself a set of wings and using those to fly away from all this suffering.
That's how the film starts, anyway. There are three basic stories in the movie: (1) Brewster McCloud's coming-of-age story, (2) the parallel metaphor of Brewster McCloud's dream of flying away from worldly sorrow, and (3) the murders of people who mistreat Brewster and who all die with raven droppings on their faces.
The real irony of this film is how the character of the Lecturer keeps pointing out similarities between the characters and certain birds, and yet the ending comes around, and we learn how unlike birds we are. There is so much information about birds, you wonder if this was an adult remake of an after-school special.
Overall, I'll have to use the word most of the other reviewers have used: quirky. There are things which are very different. There is the Pythonesque beginning where, as a woman sings the National Anthem and the credits roll, she stops, tells the band to try again in the right key, and the credits restart as well as the singing. There are small bits such as when a police officer holds up a lighter when his partner says there's only one way to know for sure if there's marijuana in a cigarette. And there is my favorite character, the Lecturer, who lectures the audience about the behavior of birds while he himself starts making strange noises and begins pecking at seeds...
The Meaning of Life (1983)
Just like old times
There are three main reasons why I like this movie. First, The Crimson Permanent Assurance is a great short going appropriately before the film. Second, the film has some great camerawork which helps quite a few of the jokes.
Third, and most importantly, this movie brings back the feel of the original Monty Python. The boys started as six people cramming as much as they possibly could into a thirty-minute BBC programme. Apart from "And Now For Something Completely Different," this is the movie that most closely captures the original spit-fire delivery of the original. The Birth Scene is a fine example: Once the baby comes out, the doctors "frighten" it, carelessly throw it into a towel, give the mother a quick glimpse, throw the baby into isolation, give the mother lots of happy pills, and then leave without another word. Classic.
Another great example: We get to watch the British Army at its finest. We find them to be friendly enough to give their officers some clocks and a cake. We find the officers democratic and humanitarian in letting the soldiers go see a movie. We watch as the soldier is calm in spite of the fact that he has one sock too many, and just when we think the army is just super... we go to "Find the Fish," a dada exhibition of curvy arms, elephant heads, and faucets for naughty bits.
A rugby match literally becomes a war zone. Guys come out of fridges to sing while someone else is getting his liver cut out. The obese Mr. Creosote eats immensely and throws up just as much. A man chooses to die from being chased off a cliff by nude women. The Python boys are in their old territory: sketches with no endings, inventively deranged concepts, and only the cartoons are loonier than the guys.
And, of course, fish.
The movie ends appropriately enough: we've come to expect an anti-climax for anything Python. And so, this movie is (obviously) for the fans. It's also a treat for anyone who won't mind watching some disgusting things for a good laugh.
Just sit back and try to enjoy it
I personally think the best way to watch a movie (for the first time, at least) is just to sit back, relax, and watch it. For this movie, it's pretty good on that level. The Monkees, TV's Marx Brothers, become Hollywood's anti-Prima Donnas. They're sick of doing whatever it is they are doing, and they want out. There are funny incidents such as Micky's tirade in the Wild West scene. There are strange lines such as Davy's order at the studio commissary. And, of course, the Monkees have songs that, while sounding nothing like "I'm a Believer," are enjoyable nonetheless.
From the English class perspective, this satire's theme is disillusionment. At every turn, there is something which turns out to be something else. A dramatic desert scene becomes a Coca-Cola commercial, a horror movie becomes a surprise birthday party, and the thing which makes the most sense is a talking cow being dragged around by Frank Zappa (who plays a music critic).
While not for everybody (this movie has been called the best and the worst) this movie has plenty of fun and memorable lines and scenes. Recommended for those who can open their minds to these interesting and mind-boggling incidents. Or for anyone who is taking drugs and doesn't have any Cheech and Chong movies. But mostly for the open-minded.
And on a personal note, I have lots of free time, and I'd really like to see this 110 minute director's cut I've heard about.
The Screwy Truant (1945)
The Screwball Squirrel cartoons are never favored for the annoying character. Rather, Screwball cartoons use some of Tex Avery's best gags. "The Screwy Truant" is a good example. In the course of the seven-minute short, Screwball spends time running away from the Truant Officer who is trying to get him into school. Along the way, there are characters lost in the wrong cartoon, the greatest of the sequences where the characters go in and out of doors in a hallway, and my personal favorite, the character finding a box simply labeled "Things to Hit (insert name of antagonist) With" followed by everything but the kitchen sink (well... never mind.)