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House of Fools (2014)
Theatre Of The Absurd
The Theatre Of The Absurd evolved during the middle years of the last century and Reeves and Mortimer have been attempting to adapt it for TV for the past twenty-five.
First they tried the variety format; "Vic Reeves' Big Night Out" ('90-1) then the game-show format; "Shooting Stars" ('93-'11, on and off) and have now tackled sitcom; "House Of Fools" ('14-?) And along the way, they have dabbled with popular drama, sketch-shows and just about everything.
But it is with "House Of Fools" that they have finally found their calling.
The tone is set by a Keith Mansfield KPM (library) number, accompanying a Seventies sitcom pastiche title sequence then the characters enter, one at a time, singing their introductions to the tune of "Day Trip To Bangor" (didn't we have a lov-er-ly time ) Released from any obligation to establish realistic narrative, the absurdist "plot" develops, with Reeves and Mortimer employing their usual cartoonish, surreal devices.
And they are in no small way aided by a superb supporting cast which includes the luscious Morgana Robinson (I would) and in particular Matt Berry; his appearances on "The IT Crowd" were just plain weird, with him delivering his lines like they were on cue-cards he was seeing for the first time but on this show, the style is perfect.
A second series of "House Of Fools" has recently been commissioned. I for one cannot wait
The Big Mouth (1967)
Three reasons for watching this monstrosity
If you are a Jerry Lewis fan, you have probably heard that this film made in the Golden Year of 1967 is the biggest pile of poop he ever made (although we have yet to see his "The Day The Clown Cried" and it is unlikely we will at least, while Jerry lives). And that would be a fair description of this turkey.
However, it is still worth a look for three reasons.
First and most important, he re-creates his Nerd character (Professor Julius Kelp) from "The Nutty Professor" imagine a DVD of deleted scenes from THAT you would pay money to see those, would you not? This is the next best thing.
Second comes an extended shot of the late Charlie Callas (no relation to Maria) doing his "manic twitch" routine it is almost worth watching this abomination for that alone. This was Charlie's ONLY film appearance and came about after they met on the Merv Griffin Show and he impressed Jerry so much, the latter promised to use him in his next project. Sadly, it turned out to be THIS.
Last is a bizarre, two-minute cameo from Harland Sanders yes, the old cross-eyed "colonel" himself. Many people today are unaware that the character on the KFC logo was once actually a REAL PERSON and he makes a fleeting appearance in this dross.
Why? Well, perhaps HE was a fan of Jerry Lewis' movies although it is unfortunate that he chose THIS one to make his film debut in
Not as bad...
You could be forgiven for believing Elaine May's "Ishtar" was one of the five biggest financial disasters in Hollywood the others being Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate", "Waterworld" with Kevin Costner, "Gigli" with Ben Affleck and "The Bonfire Of The Vanities" with Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis and others.
But you would be WRONG. These five films are merely the most FAMOUS fiscal flops (alliteration!)
There are DOZENS that equal and even surpass them. Ever heard of "Mars Needs Moms"? Precisely.
Released (or more properly escaped) just three years ago, THAT box-office bomb barely clawed back twenty of the one hundred and fifty big ones it cost to make.
And back in the days of the Studio System, the number of films that are considered to be classics today is equalled by those that just DISAPPEARED.
The studios figured that releasing them would cost more in DAMAGE to their studio and stars than the bombs would net so cut as much usable material (like battle scenes which could be used as stock footage) from them as possible and BURNED the rest.
However now that the Studio System is long gone, EVERYTHING gets SOME sort of release.
Thus "Ishtar", which cost $55M to make (a big budget in 1987) was eventually released, netting just $7M at the US box office.
But this does not tell the whole story. The worldwide figures are unavailable then you have to factor in video, TV and latterly, DVD rights. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that overall, the movie is still a long way short of covering its production costs.
These were worsened by the studio's insistence on giving the film high production values. The reason being that having heavyweights like Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty (who had championed Elaine May in the first place) on board, they were not about to scrimp it.
Which is the film's first problem. Elaine had envisioned it as a "Road To " movie (although it comes across more like those Sixties Bond spoofs like "Danger Route" and "Our Man In Marrakesh") with a modest budget, shot locally not an epic, part-made in Morocco.
Furthermore, the studio insisted on paying both its lead actors a fortune while both would have been happy with far less.
To make things worse, the political situation in North Africa at the time was TENSE.
Then to cap it all, just as the film was nearing completion, David Puttnam (now LORD Puttnam) was brought in as the studio's new head of production. He hated Beatty, Hoffman and production cost waste in equal measure and publicly condemned the movie on the basis of all three.
And all along the way, there had been a plethora of problems and fallouts too numerous to mention here all of which conspired to CAPSIZE the film before it had a chance.
So what is "Ishtar" actually LIKE? Well, most of those who decried it never even SAW it. It is actually not that bad.
Beatty and Hoffman's chemistry is pretty good, Charles Grodin is as funny as ever and the "blind" camel steals every scene he is in (the camel originally "signed" for the part got eaten instead).
Plus Paul Williams' songs are realistically awful (Beatty and Hoffman play bad singer-songwriters) Dave Grusin's score is fine, May's script and direction is okay (although after "Ishtar", she never got to direct another movie) and altogether the film lopes along agreeably, never becoming boring (which is more than can be said for the other four films listed above).
So if you find this piece in your DVD hire shop or it turns up on your TV schedules give it a try.
It may not be in my All Time Top Ten Movie list or even my top hundred but it is NOT as bad as many would have you believe.
On its original release, it was well received at its three premieres, hit Number One at the box office during its opening week and almost all of IMDb's 121 reviews (written by actual PEOPLE) are POSITIVE.
And it is now available on Blu-Ray.
I finally saw it a few days ago on DiggerMovie HD and LOLed many times (particularly during the scenes involving that camel). And as Elaine herself once said, "If all of the people who hate "Ishtar" had SEEN it I would be a rich woman today."
A Touch of Cloth (2012)
Zuckhams Rides Again...
Thirty years ago, Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker created a spoof genre that has often been imitated, but never equalled - until now.
"Airplane!" and "Police Squad!" heralded a new style of comedy, which mixed sight-gags - some in the background - with dead-pan delivery of absurd cliché lines by famous, serious actors.
The sheer number of jokes often required several viewings to get them all.
And now, Charlie Brooker has taken that formula to the max. "A Touch Of Cloth" - a reference to the popular but tedious police procedural, "A Touch Of Frost" - crossed with what happens to people who do not make it to the bathroom in time - does to Brit cop shows what "Police Squad!" did to Quinn Martin productions.
It's all there - background gags like the poster showing items of fruit, with the title, "Fruits Which Are Not Oranges" (a reference to the controversial drama series, "Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit") and the "Now Wash Your Hands" sign in the toilet - featuring a silhouette wearing a police helmet.
And cliché lines like, "You can't go in there - it's impossible!" - but John Hannah opens the door anyway - to reveal a blank wall.
Hannah was the perfect choice to head up the cast. Like Leslie Nielsen and Lloyd Bridges before him, he has played his part for real.
Created as an 85 minute movie, "A Touch Of Cloth" is split into two TV episodes. And this is genius, because this formula really only works in 40 minute segments. Go for longer and "laughter fatigue" sets in - and the audience begins to anticipate the gags.
This is intended to be the first of three such forays - the second is already in production - and I think there are still plenty of "...-cloth" gags left...
Nice film, great SCORE...
This film was called "L'Etrangere" (The Stranger) in France, "Sex With A Stranger" in Britain and "Sin With A Stranger" in the States - which says a lot about attitudes to sex in those three countries, in 1968.
Of course, had the film been released just two years later, the story would have been very different.
But in '68, the British release of the film had its sex scene EVISCERATED by the British censor - perhaps if they had just called it "The Stranger" and argued its case...
Its star, Marie-France Boyer was an actress, singer and writer whose film career spanned the sixteen years between '59 and '76 - after which she concentrated on her writing.
Today, at 73, she still writes, but in 1968 she was a BABE - and "L'Etrangere" was her most memorable piece. It tells the story of a "mystery" - an ethereal girl who turns up at an idyllic farmhouse and seduces the young man who resides there.
Despite ticking the "spoiler" box, I'll not reveal more - suffice to say it does not end well.
But the most memorable aspect to this film is the music. Composer Romuald Figuier (here, just called Romuald) opened his long career with this film, giving it everything he had.
And the film is worth watching just for that...
Best Of British
Forget the reviews that harp on about "Casino Royale" - the fact that an important plot point was lifted from that book is IRRELEVANT to the enjoyment to be had from one of Britain's Best Sixties Movies.
And don't concern yourself with Warren Beatty either. Only hired to sell the movie Stateside, he sleep-walks through it, while awaiting fame as Clyde Barrow, George Roundy, et al.
Instead, delight in the performance of the lovely Susannah York (who sadly passed, earlier this year) who sparkles in this project - the sterling work by the bizarre Murray Melvin - the excellent wallow in Napoleonic evil, delivered with relish by the great Eric Porter - and above all, the outstanding turn from the incomparable Clive Revill (who, at 81, is still with us).
After memorable appearances in many British movies, Revill relocated to America in the early Seventies and squandered his talents as one of the great character actors on TV fare (although he did get to shine as Villain Of The Week in a Columbo).
But here, he excels as a quirky Scotland Yard detective, in possibly his best outing ever. Truly he was one of those rare actors who always gave more than was on the page.
Add to these a slew of Sixties kitsch - and not forgetting a literate script - and you have one of the Great British Sixties Movies. Enjoy!
The Reckoning (2011)
Another confused attempt...
In 1970, Richard Matheson wrote a short story called "Button, Button" (after the kids game - Button, Button - Who's Got The Button?) The plot involved a dilemma - would you kill a stranger for a large amount of money.
A woman is given a box containing a button - all she has to do is press it...
In 1986, the story was used as an episode of the revival of "The Twilight Zone".
In 2009, it was expanded to movie length, for a Cameron Diaz vehicle called "The Box".
Two years later, the idea resurfaced in "The Reckoning". This time, the woman was Ricky Gervais' little Scottish chum in "Extras".
The problem with all this is that the original source material was a SHORT STORY. And within those confines, it works fine.
But by trying to develop it to movie length, the idea becomes submerged.
And in "The Reckoning" it DROWNS. The improbabilities and illogicality of the development kill the spark of the original concept stone dead.
One to avoid.
Weather Girl (2009)
An Indie That Is Better Than Many Blockbusters
I have often wondered what a movie peppered with sitcom stars (who work WAY harder than "serious" ones) would be like. Now I know. It's GREAT!
Containing stars from series like "Two And A Half Men" and "The New Adventures Of Old Christine" (and starring one of the snobby duo from the latter) this movie is better acted than most "rom-coms" that inhabit mainstream cinema today.
And while any movie that is written and directed by the same person should ring alarm bells - there are exceptions. And "Weather Girl" is definitely one of them.
It is a damn shame this movie got so little exposure in the theatres - but if it pops up on telly or you see it down at your local video-hire shop, check it out.
Okay, it's no "When Harry Met Sally" - but it will entertain you WAY more than a lot of the tosh that masquerades as cinematic entertainment these days.
Lie to Me: Saved (2011)
A Flawed Masterpiece
The series was reaching its end when this offering was made (although the writers/cast may not have KNOWN that).
As usual, our twitchy hero acts everyone off the screen - but is let down by a major faux pas from the writers.
The plot involves a twist on the Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy which beggars belief, but is at least an ORIGINAL IDEA, which you will NOT see coming, I promise.
However, the writers failed to do their research. The devices the emergency services have, which trigger traffic signals to go green in front of them, only over-ride max times and computer instructions.
They DO NOT and CAN NOT over-ride the signals' basic safety protocols.
If, as shown in this episode, they caused green conflicts (greens in both directions) or even instant changes (no ambers or intergreens) the EMERGENCY vehicles would leave a series of COLLISIONS in their wake.
As you may have gathered, I am a retired traffic systems engineer.
However, that said, this episode is possibly the most exciting and unusual of the series. So WATCH it - but do not worry the next time you are driving.
If someone T-bones you at a signal-controlled crossing - they will merely be DRUNK.
The Invention of Lying (2009)
A Ricky Gervais Movie.
I have given this a ten/ten - not because it is the best movie ever made - but because it is DIFFERENT. ORIGINAL. Two words that rarely grace write-ups of today's movies.
The premise is absurd (if it's an alternate world, how come Napoleon still invaded Russia in 1812?) so you will need to suspend disbelief.
As the late, great Don LaFontaine would have said, "in a world where..." - in this case, the filters between people's brains and their mouths are MISSING, so people constantly blurt out the first thing that comes into their heads, without any consideration for their fellow-humans' feelings.
It is thus a BLEAK world (which is cleverly in direct contrast to the beautiful locations the movie was filmed in).
However, along comes Ricky - who discovers fame and fortune when he begins to buck this trend. But it cannot win him what he ultimately wants - a pretty but self-obsessed American woman.
Oh, he could win her by lying - but he has too much integrity for that.
And although this writer has ticked the "spoiler" box - he is saying no more. You'll have to SEE the movie.
It is peppered with cameos and small roles being played by famous actors. They obviously wanted to come along on THIS ride - because they wanted to take part in something that was DIFFERENT. ORIGINAL.
Which is where this writer came in...