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|23 reviews in total|
Trapped in a hellish copyright limbo for over a decade, Thom
Eberhardt's "Night Of The Comet" is a film whose reputation is due for
a serious rehabilitation. Generally--and wrongly--categorized with
typical 80s teen horror films, "Comet" is in fact a smart, skillful
parody of the low-budget sci-fi horror classics of the 50s, 60s and
70s--and a wry commentary on teen culture in the 1980s as well. For
those familiar with the original films, the parody "clues" are all over
the place--not least of which is that the early part of the film takes
place in the back of LA's classically offbeat El Rey movie theatre,
which is showing low-budget B horror movies. Most of the "scary" scenes
are preceded (subtly or otherwise) by the famous "red light" warning
used commonly in the 60s and 70s. And the apocalyptic plot, settings
and dialog, especially among the scientists, are straight out of the
Catherine Mary Stewart is by far the centerpiece of the movie as Reggie, the only teenage girl in Los Angeles who's both a lowly-paid theatre usher and an expert with assault weapons. She is most definitely *not* a Valley Girl. A pre-"Voyager" Robert Beltran is Hector "date night in the barrio" Gomez, the classic b-movie hero, and far more engaging here than his stoic, dry-as-bones role for the McTrek franchise. Kelli Maroney brings the totally 80s camp value as Valley Girl Samantha, who realizes with horror that her pool of potential Izod-clad boyfriends has just shrunk dramatically. Geoffrey Lewis sheds his mostly Western image here as the deliciously megalomaniacal leader of the researchers, whose taste for superscience soon gives way to a craving for hot buttered gray matter.
Eberhardt is a canny director who doesn't miss a trick--the scares are rare, but when they come, they'll get you. The gore is minimal, but the atmosphere of malevolence gets progressively thicker until the climax. The tightrope between comedy and fright is skillfully toed--undead droog stockboys, anyone? The effects may not be the digitized visual pablum people take for granted these days, but in a way they're more engaging for their rawness. Anyone who thinks this was a low-budget movie has never tried to completely empty out downtown Los Angeles at 7 am for a film shoot. Thom Eberhardt should be hailed for his brilliantly sharp, funny script and his deft execution as director.
Veteran sci-fi/indie/horror actress Mary Woronov is "Night Of The Comet"'s direct physical and spiritual link to the golden days of the genre. She's passing the baton here to a new generation of camp sci-fi/horror fans. That nobody has thus far picked up that baton is a tragedy.
To address a distressingly common misperception: the comet in question is *not* Halley's comet. Both in-film plot elements and the film's tagline suggest this comet only appeared once before, when it wiped out the dinosaurs. Halley's comet, on the other hand, has had more comebacks than Cher.
"Night Of The Comet" works pretty well the way a lot of people view it--as a simple 80s cheesy sci-fi comedy. But as with "Rocky Horror," if you've seen the original material it's spoofing, the results are a hundred times more rewarding. A future DVD release is a must.
Ed Wood was one of the greatest moviemakers in film history. Could he
direct? Not really. Were his movies technical masterpieces? Could his
actors act? Did he have huge budgets? No. We're here fifty years later,
talking about him, because he created worlds on film nobody had ever
seen before or since. His characters talked like nobody we've ever
heard before (though there are strong echoes in the works of Hartley
and Lynch). And unlike every Hollywood movie ever made, Ed ripped open
his heart and poured it out on the screen. Never more so than in "Glen
Or Glenda," his original avant-garde masterpiece.
Avant-garde? You heard me. What is the definition of avant-garde film? Some attributes are unconventional narrative, unique visual style, radical rejection of artistic or social norms, an often willful disregard for reality. Gloria Floren said "Avant-garde films are often iconoclastic, mocking conventional morality and traditional values; the filmmaker's intense interest in eccentricities and extremes may shock viewers. Indeed, the avant-garde film maker's purpose may be to wake or shake up the audience from the stupor of ordinary consciousness or the doldrums of conventional perspective."
Imagine if people viewed "Un Chien Andalou" or "Meshes Of The Afternoon" or "Eraserhead" with fratboy derision instead of holy reverence. They'd be viewed as unwatchable nonsense too. Everybody'd have a good snark watching for continuity errors and bad camera moves. Does "Glen or Glenda" rise to the level of those classics? Time will tell, but try this experiment: watch it as if it were, and see. The results may surprise you.
Here are some hints. Lugosi is not a mad scientist--he's God, looking down upon twisted human morality and "pulling the strings". The "green eyed monster" that "eats little boys"? Envy. Envy of women and in this case, their clothes. That envy has "eaten" vast amounts of Glen's life, it's been a torture to him. There are numerous references to that torture and misery. There's also an entire section devoted to judgment--human judgment versus that reserved to God.
The "nonsensical" stock footage of buffaloes and the army? It signifies the rush of adrenaline, fear and anxiety as "Glen" tries to confront his identity and "come out" to his girlfriend. Far from random, it's actually used with ingenuity and skill.
The symbology of scenes in which "Glen" battles his female self and resists the devil should be obvious. But then again, a generous viewing of "Glen or Glenda," rather than a beer-fueled "let's watch a crap movie" viewing, would reveal a great deal. Even the campy scene at the end, when Dolores Fuller relents and gives Glen her sweater, comes with the always-missed segment where God absolves Glen of his misery. There are a dozen moments like this. Sure, there are a dozen technical flubs and random nonsense too, but all good art is organic. There's a guy wearing a Timex in "Ben-Hur," for god's sake.
The "narrator" seems comical and dated to us, but in 1953 he was standard-issue, and the lines we now take as campy were then revolutionary, almost treasonous. A plea for tolerance for sexual and gender differences? Condemning the police for arresting gays and transvestites just for existing? During the McCarthy era, when all homosexuals were presumed to be communists? A film like that is bound to make some enemies. Especially a film that featured, not actors playing "deviants," but the deviants themselves, in their own words.
It's telling that the extreme-religious-conservative Medved brothers were the ones who named Ed Wood "worst director of all time." They must have thought they were really sticking it to Ed Wood for making all those subversively weird films involving crossdressing and homosexuals and society's outcasts. Thankfully, irony remains the most powerful force in the universe, and their mean-spirited declaration made Ed Wood a household name. Whether they admit it or not, a lot of this movie's detractors are laughing at the subject, not the movie. Many others are baffled by the unconventional narrative. Just because you don't get something, doesn't mean there is nothing to get.
It's easy to give any movie the MST3K treatment, especially ones that veer into uncomfortable or seemingly absurd territory. If you're looking for the worst movie ever made, go watch "Armageddon" or "Crossroads." If you're looking for THE pioneering moment in GLBT film history, the greatest and most underrated American DIY avante-garde feature of its time, or an experience that just might change the way you view movies and the world at large, start right here.
Writer-director Preston Sturges is generally regarded as one of the
greatest comic talents ever, and his impeccable track record--including
The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels--is more than worthy of the praise.
Often overlooked, The Miracle Of Morgan's Creek ranks with Sturges'
absolute best work.
Sturges takes an almost Capra-esque WWII America and turns it on its pointy little head, with Betty Hutton as a girl who's more than willing to give "the boys" departing for the war the utmost reason to fight for our country. Stripped of her usual production numbers, Hutton cranks up her comic acting skills and creates a surprisingly rich characterization of a young woman straining against the restrictive social attitudes of the time. Eddie Bracken is his usual self-effacing self, and his sad-sack Norval Jones is an earnest, often moving portrayal of the kind of understanding, devotion and love almost never seen in American movies of the era.
A "screwball comedy" only on paper, the often frenetic pacing and physical humor was sufficient to distract censors (and often audiences) from Morgan Creek's almost brutally derisive satire about the hypocrisy of small town "values" and military behavior during wartime, satire that still resonates given the current political climate. No target is safe, from "the troops" and bucolic Anywhere USA to state governors, the Dionne quints, and Adolf Hitler. Sturges pushed hard against the production code and probably earned a few ulcers slipping racy plot twists and subversive dialogue past the censors, but the results were well worth the Maalox. One of the funniest and most pointed satirical comedies ever produced.
Craig Ferguson is one of the brightest and funniest comic wits Great Britain has produced in the last ten years. Still, Ferguson's selection as host of the Late Late Show came as a big surprise. Known to American audiences mostly from his appearances on "The Drew Carey Show," Ferguson seemed like too much of an unknown quantity to host a nightly network talk show. Judging from his first shows as host, however--especially his smashing official debut--casting Ferguson may have been a stroke of genius. The irreverent Scot--a cult figure from his work on "Red Dwarf" and "Freakazoid"-- is lively, likable, sharp and captivating, gently mocking competitors like Conan O'Brien and Jimmy Kimmel and poking merciless fun at the dull conventions of late-night. Fans who may have worried that Ferguson's UK comic sensibilities would be blunted or watered down by US network standards should rest easy--at least in early episodes, he's at his best, and is a significant improvement from Craig Kilborn's snarky Hef's-grotto fratboy sensibilities. O'Brien and especially Kimmel should keep a close eye on Ferguson--this show is off to a bold start, and savvy viewers will find Craig Ferguson hard to resist.
In the 1970s, no hit film was safe from the clutches of ambitious TV
producers. "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" became "Alice," "Private
Benjamin" became, um, "Private Benjamin", and let's not even talk about
ABC's ill-fated attempt to turn "The Deer Hunter" into a sitcom vehicle
for Norman Fell.
In that vein, "Delta House" had the potential to be a worthy follow-up to "Animal House." It reunited much of the cast of the debaucherous 1978 classic as well as many of the original's creative team. Trouble was, "Animal House" was a raunchy R-rated movie, and in 1979, television was so squeaky-clean you couldn't even say the word "pregnant." ABC, land of "Three's Company"'s wacky-till-it-bleeds double-entendres, stuck "Delta House" in an early-evening timeslot worthy of "The Waltons" and surgically excised any trace of the original's humor, leaving the cast with nothing to do but pass around tone-deaf anti-establishment banter that even Dean Wormer would have found square. "Delta House" got promising ratings despite all this, but perhaps sensing the creative impossibility, ABC pulled the plug. The cast and crew deserve a medal for trying, but there was just no way to adapt a screamingly funny R-rated film for broadcast TV in 1979, and thankfully there still isn't. John Belushi's Bluto would have smashed this show to bits on a staircase.
Some show generate spinoffs. Others metastasize. "Happy Days"--itself a
spin off from "Love, American Style"--generated everything from
"Laverne and Shirley" to "Mork And Mindy" to the rarely-seen "Anson
Williams, P.I.". "Joanie Loves Chachi" was the final, genetically
damaged offspring of this long, inbred line.
The premise--and here I use the word "premise" in the broadest sense--is that our Chachi has left Milwaukee to start a singing career in that hotbed of the music industry, Chicago. Joanie went with him, of course, along with Al (who has opened a new restaurant to escape the long shadow of Pat Morita). Chachi and Joanie have a band with painfully zany characters. Chachi and Joanie sing and dance--usually several times--in each episode. Chachi and Joanie sing the theme song. The only minor technical problem with all this is that Chachi and Joanie can't sing a note.
Erin Moran and Scott Baio are as grating and unlikeable here as they were in "Happy Days," only here they're on screen for the entire 22 minutes. How the producers dreamed up a romance between these two is a mystery--they have no chemistry. It's like watching Al and The Fonz kiss. The spin off was clearly intended to breathe new life into the "Happy Days" franchise, but here the "sitcom hijinks" are as tired and threadbare as they were in the original's Richie-less last gasps. Also, the ethnic stereotypes would make any Italian cringe. They boycotted the Sopranos but not this?
To be fair, this show is such a relic of early 80s television cheese that it would have to have some retro entertainment value now, especially for those who were young enough to enjoy it the first time. The Fonz and the Cunninghams show up with alarming frequency, and kitsch/camp fans who loved master thespian Baio in "Charles In Charge" will find gold in his "singing teen idol" incarnation, especially since Leif Garrett never made a TV series. The Christmas episode in particular is amusing in retrospect. But viewing it without irony/unintended humor, "Joanie Loves Chachi" is difficult, bordering on painful, to watch. I knew Arthur Fonzarelli. Arthur Fonzarelli was a friend of mine. Chachi Arcola, you are no Arthur Fonzarelli.
Fred Allen was--with the possible exception of his "rival" Jack
Benny--the biggest star in the history of radio. He was Letterman to
Benny's Leno--an acerbic smartaleck who practically invented topical
humor/current political events satire. While he had numerous small film
roles and cameos (and later starred in TV's "What's My Line?"), "It's
In The Bag" was Fred Allen's only starring role in a motion picture,
and it was a good one.
The plot--Allen gaining, then losing, then frantically trying to recover an inheritance hidden inside one or more mystery chairs--is just a skeleton on which to hang the movie's wry jokes, strange interludes and satirical jabs at Hollywood stars. A trainload of radio and film comedians appear in this movie, including Jack Benny (with whom Allen shared a longtime "feud" that was as successful--and as manufactured--as anything the World Wrestling federation ever produced). Author and bon vivant Robert Benchley makes a strong appearance here, and Richard Wallace's steady direction manages to keep up with the comic mayhem.
Allen's irreverent humor, wild tangents and complete disregard for film conventions (including the sacred fourth wall) inspired Mel Brooks, who, drawing from its source material, made a version of "It's In The Bag" as his second feature, "The Twelve Chairs"--although literary purists who love the original darkly satiric Russian novel by Ilf and Petrov, take note: you will likely hate both these movies with a fiery passion. Even faithful Russian screen adaptations of that extraordinary book have failed to capture its greatness, and "It's In The Bag" doesn't even try--it's merely a sardonically humorous sendup of 1940s Hollywood in general and Mr. Allen in particular. It's no intricate Russian literary classic, but if you love vintage Hollywood comedies with an edge, you won't be disappointed.
"Beautiful Dreamer" is a lovingly produced account of the rise and
tragic fall of Brian Wilson and his subsequent musical and spiritual
rebirth, centered around the piece of music that was both his undoing
and his salvation--the legendary pop symphony "SMiLE." Using
straightforward narrative and extensive interviews from friends,
collaborators and "witnesses," David Leaf's film follows Brian from his
creative zenith with the Beach Boys, 1966's incomparable "Pet Sounds,"
through his creation with lyricist Van Dyke Parks of an even more
ambitious follow-up, 1967's ultimately-aborted "Smile" project.
Participants as diverse as Sir George Martin, Paul McCartney, Danny
Hutton of Three Dog Night, Elvis Costello, Leonard Bernstein (in
archival footage) and many others recall how Wilson inspired them to
create some of their best work, not least of which was the Beatles'
"Sgt. Pepper" album.
The documentary clearly puts the blame for Brian's collapse (and "Smile"'s failure) at the feet of the other Beach Boys and especially Mike Love, who envisioned the group as a "cash cow" as long as nobody messed with the cars/surf/girls "formula". Interviewees (Wilson's closest friends among them) debunk longstanding urban legends about Brian's alleged drug use and its supposed blame for his collapse, and the film offers glimpses inside Brian's paranoia--notably how he came to believe his composition "fire" was actually causing buildings to burn.
Most inspiring, the documentary shows how Wilson's backup band, the amazing alt-pop group the Wondermints, helped him to revisit the original compositions and augment and arrange the surviving segments into a cohesive score. It's truly inspiring to see Wilson's transformation from the throes of depression and mental illness to joyous, unencumbered musical genius as the completed "SMiLE" debuts to a sellout crowd in London.
Rich with rare archival footage and revealing interviews, "Beautiful Dreamer" handles its subject with care, giving both longtime Wilson fans and newcomers plenty to "smile" about.
It is my sincere personal opinion that Ed Wood made some of the
greatest, most imaginative, heartfelt and memorable films ever made. Ed
was the original DIY filmmaker, and while he lacked technical skill, he
more than made up for it with enthusiasm, plots, and especially dialog
phoned in directly from Alpha Centauri.
Having said that, "Necromania" will only interest the already-converted Wood fan trying to fill in the gaps between the end of Ed's "official" filmography and the unfortunate end of his life. The casual or first-time Wood viewer should stay away from this one like the plague. For Wood fans, there are items of interest here, not least of which is Ed's (apparent) final appearance in a feature-length film. There are plot elements (and here I use the word "plot" in the most generous of senses) reminiscent of Ed's 50s classics, set pieces that recall (and may indeed have been used in) "Bride of the Monster" and "Plan 9", a way-out score, and echoes of the trademark Ed Wood dialog that to this day puts Hal Hartley and David Lynch to shame. There's also more than a little tragedy on display here; the truly sincere fan of Ed Wood (and there are about five of us) has to watch this hugely creative and tremendously life-loving soul in near total decay, ravaged by the wasting effects of too much alcohol and too little self-respect. One can't help but wish he had lived long enough to revel in the anti-hero status that was just a few years off. He would have taken the derision gleefully, knowing that somewhere out there, one viewer in a million would see his films and "get it." That's the one he was making movies for. Who knows, maybe it's you.
(Disclaimer: despite what is presented in "Necromania," there is no established scientific or medical evidence linking necromancy to increased male potency.)
Is there, in the whole English language, a better word than "Manimal"?
I think not. And should you be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this
show, you'll never be the same again.
Putting the "high" in "high concept," Glen Larson's crime-fighting shape-shifter was a man who could turn into ANY ANIMAL. Any animal at all. As long as that animal is a panther. OK, in a pinch, he can do a hawk, but can we stick with the panther please? It's not so much that special effects technology didn't exist in 1983, it's just that network TV could not afford them. Production costs were high for all that Manimalization, and when low ratings did not quickly morph into Neilsen success, Manimal was hastily euthanized.
Simon MacCorkindale does fine work as the Manimal, but to modern eyes this show plays more like an extended Saturday Night Live skit, when the promise of a man who can be any animal turns into the reality of a guy being swapped out for the same piece of stock panther transformation footage week after week. Still, I sincerely hope Manimal is reissued, because for all its faults, it's a priceless slice of ridiculous 80s fun.
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