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Out of the Blue (1979– )
Pretty dreadful
18 April 2006
An angel named Random is sent to watch over a woman who's had to take in her nieces and nephews after the death of their parents. Of course, the children quickly find out that Random has magical powers while the adults are clueless.

The sole reason that this series seems to be remembered is because it's assumed that it's yet another "Happy Days" spin-off (the lead character, Random, appeared on a "Happy Days" episode). Wrong. If this was a spin-off, then so was "That's My Mama." As a fan of both Dixie Carter and Eileen Heckart, I sought the series out... and was extremely disappointed with what I found.

While the premise has been done to death, it can STILL work if correctly executed. It didn't work here at all. The writing was bad, the effects were worse, the children were obnoxious, and all of the adults (except for Heckart) seemed completely miscast. Both Brogan and Carter seemed uncomfortable with their roles. Heckart made the most of the drivel she was given, and aside from her performance, the only redeeming thing about the show was an obnoxiously catchy theme song.
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The Devil and Daniel Mouse (1978 TV Short)
10/10
Utterly charming
16 April 2006
In exchange for fame as a rock star, Jan Mouse unknowingly signs a contract for her soul with Bealzabub.

Yes, the story's been done to death (another commenter mentioned the very similar "Phantom of the Paradise"), but this has to be one of the most charming versions. Rooted in the '70s, the animation is truly dazzling at times, the music (by The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian) is diverse and infectious and the film itself is entertaining enough for both children and adults. Not too many '70s made-for-TV specials can boast all of that.

While Mrs. Daniel Mouse is the star, it's the Devil who steals the show, constantly morphing and contorting with ease as he subtly growls his dialog. One of the greatest villains to grace any screen, it's almost a shame that Beal didn't appear in a theatrical film where he had exposure to a wider audience.

It seems that "Daniel Mouse" is under-appreciated by fans of the much darker "Rock & Rule," the film that it inspired, but it appears on the 2-disc DVD set of "R&R" (where I first discovered it). Just a warning: the DVD version has been slightly trimmed, but it can be found in it's entirety for viewing online. While this is certainly more sugary and family-oriented than the later film, it's WAY above average fare for TV from that era... I'd certainly liken it to a good Disney production.
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Free Spirit (1989–1990)
My memory didn't lie
14 March 2006
This series -- and particularly Corinne Bohrer -- left an indelible mark on my memory. For eons now, every time I've seen Bohrer on commercials (unfortunately that seems to be her career nowadays) or in films/TV, I smile and say, "Winnie." I've revisited other fondly remembered shows from my childhood and found that they were pretty awful, so I figured that this one surely must be too. So when I found most of the episodes for download on an Alyson Hannigan page, I was simultaneously excited and apprehensive about tainting my memory of the show. This is one of those cases where my memory didn't lie.

Bohrer is truly delightful as witch Winnie Goodwin, who (rather derivatively) finds herself living with the Harper family, where the kids know that she's a witch, but the widower Dad doesn't. Just as I'd remembered, she's essentially a witch version of Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) from "Friends" -- Phoebe even seems to have ripped off Winnie's wardrobe. Franc Luz, who plays father T.J., seems to be a Bob Saget doppleganger, but he was still very good in the role (sadly he now works as a tour guide). All three of the children were charming in their roles (Hannigan was obviously destined for great things, but it's fun to see her in this very early performance).

From my perspective now, I figured that the show's shortcoming would be the writing, but was pleasantly surprised to discover that the writing's pretty solid. Yes, it has the obligatory '80s sappy sitcom moments, but the dialog was generally above average -- and the cast could make even the corniest of jokes fly with their fantastic delivery. Some of the story lines were a bit cliché, but not in a bad way...

I'm really not sure why this show vanished as quickly as it appeared. Another commenter said that it was up against "The Simpsons," but only two of the last episodes of this show aired up against the long-running hit. The show certainly hasn't aged as badly as others in the same genre, such as "Small Wonder," "Down to Earth" or "Out of This World" (not that I'm knocking those shows -- they just really show their age).
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The Charmings: The Witch Is of Van Oaks (1987)
Season 2, Episode 3
The Charmings got their groove back
14 March 2006
The transition from Caitlin O'Heaney to Carol Huston as Snow White Charming between seasons was particularly difficult for regular viewers. O'Heaney played the role to campy perfection, while Huston played it pretty straight. While the previous two episodes of the series weren't bad (there wasn't a BAD episode in the entire run), they lacked the punch that had made the first season so hilarious.

But in this episode, the cast seemed to slip back into the groove that was reminiscent of the first season -- and Huston really began to make the role of Snow her own. The writing was sharp, the cast was all in top form, and "Addams Family" veteran John Astin was brilliantly cast in a large guest role (it's a shame the show didn't last long enough for him to return). On the flip-side, some of the special effects were truly terrible (they often tried to pull sight gags that were beyond their budget), but it still worked within the context of this broad farce.

All-in-all, one of the best episodes of season 2.
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The Naked Truth (1995–1998)
A textbook example of why shows shouldn't be "retooled"
5 March 2006
1995 was an incredible year for sitcoms... unfortunately, very few of the astronomical number of sitcoms made it past their freshman season. Among the few survivors were "The Naked Truth" and "The Jeff Foxworthy Show," both of which went though incredibly awkward transitions from ABC to NBC.

When this series premiered, it was radically different from the rest. Delving into the uncharted territory of "tabloid journalism," Tea Leoni starred as Nora Wilde, a Pulitzer-nominated photographer who, after losing her funds in a nasty divorce, reluctantly wound up working at The Comet, a "National Enquirer"-like tabloid newspaper. Celebrity cameos and inside-jokes abounded, and Leoni was heralded as the "new Lucille Ball" (a moniker that suited her zany antics). Among celeb cameos were Anna Nicole Smith (Nora was sent out to steal her urine for pregnancy testing), Tom Hanks (who got to be oddly perverse), Rip Taylor (in one of his funniest roles ever) and Michael York as Nora's ex, Leland.

The Comet was run by ruthless Camilla Dane (the irrepressible Holland Taylor) and owned by Sir Rudolph Halley (charasmatic Tim Curry, who made several guest appearances). Other photographers included Nicky Columbus, a handsome love-interest for Nora; T.J., a black dude who seemed blind since he was always clad in dark shades; and the aptly-named "Stupid Dave" Bippenwhacker, a developmentally challenged paparazzi member. Regularly seen were Mr. Donner, the owner of Nora's building (it should be noted that she originally lived in the same set that was used for "One Day at a Time" and the final seasons of "Gimme a Break") and her former step-daughter, Chloe -- who doubled as her best friend, since they were similar in age.

ABC rather abruptly pulled the plug on the series, but NBC gave it a new lease on life. Nearly a year after ABC aired the unofficial "season finale," "The Naked Truth" returned to the air on NBC. Gone were both Mr. Donner and Chloe, and added to the cast was Les Polanski (George Wendt), a meat-mogul who bought The Comet from Sir Rudolph Halley. While the series quickly slipped back into a groove (thanks in no small part to frequent guest-shots by Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal as Nora's parents, who eventually bought the apartment across the hall from Nora's), the outrageous antics from the season on ABC were significantly toned down as they molded it into the standard "girl-in-the-big-city-working-for-a-paper" niche that most of the other NBC sitcoms were into at the time. Dave was no longer "Stupid Dave," he was Dave Fontaine, who was slightly smarter than he'd been the previous season. Camilla and Les had a brief but torrid affair and the season eventually ended on a high note. As "The Naked Truth" finished its abridged second season, George Segal struck gold on "Just Shoot Me," another NBC girl-in-the-city-working-for-a-magazine series.

When the show returned for season three, gone was the majority of the cast. Camilla moved to editor The National Inquisitor and dragged Nora and Dave along with her. Now Dave was no longer "stupid" at all -- he was brilliant, in fact (I had a real hard time buying that transition). George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore were never mentioned again (though Dave did eventually move into their apartment, where Nora revealed that the former tenants were murdered -- "and you can thank me for that too"). New to the cast were Tom Verica as her new love-interest, Jake Sullivan; Amy Hill (who I ADORE but is certain death when it comes to series) as belligerent Suji; the illegitimate son of Bing Crosby, Bradley (Chris Elliot); and fastidious fact-checker Harris (Jim Rash). Unfortunately, the celebrity cameos completely deteriorated by this point, the writing was sub-par and the show was stuck on Monday nights with other soon-to-be canceled series "Suddenly Susan," "Caroline in the City" and (the hilarious) "Fired Up." As the third season progressed, Dave was eventually altogether written out of the show; then-unknown Sarah Silverman made an unfunny guest-appearance as an Alyssa-Milano-like former child star; and the possibility of a love-connection between Jake and Nora was quickly put to rest when Jake began having a secret affair with Camilla (though NBC aired the episodes totally out of order, creating confusion for viewers). As another commenter noted, the third season was "ugly." NBC pulled the plug for good long before the season had finished, and many of the episodes remained unaired until USA ran the series briefly during their USA.M. comedy block.

Ironically, the *tabloids* cited Leoni for the demise of the series -- they said that she'd become increasingly unruly since getting together with David Duchovney (whom she soon married -- and who provided one of the funniest jokes in the second-season finale). I can't blame her personally but instead I blame the constant retooling of the initial gem-of-a-show, coupled with increasingly bad writing. The final episodes of season three were among the best (for whatever that's worth) but NBC didn't even bother to air them.

Overwhelmingly fantastic first season, but as another commenter put it, in order of seasons, it went "the good, the bad and the ugly."
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Hobbs End (2002 Video)
7/10
Horribly-marketed, well-crafted psychological thriller
17 February 2006
A woman in an isolated farm house takes in a man under the assumption he's her new handyman.

Before I say anything else, I should say that "Hobb's End" feels like it could have originated as a stage-play (it could have been successful on the stage)... or '70s movie-of-the-week. To say that it's slow and talky is an understatement.

This film seems to have gotten a horrible rap, mainly due to the fact that it was marketed to the wrong sort of audience. Not that there's a huge audience for this sort of movie. The packaging depicts a man with a bloody chainsaw (no chainsaw is even used in the film) and the description on the back blatantly gives away the twist. The body count is low, the gore is barely seen and the film crawls along from start to finish. Not exactly the slasher film that the box leads you to believe it is. And to boot, the audience is enticed early on with a tale of a "curse" that really has nothing to do with the plot.

The film fits into more of a "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"-type psychological-drama category, but there are many factors (revealed late into the film, but disclosed on the box) that push it into the horror genre. The story unfolds at a slow pace with lots of twists and distractions, and a good chunk of the dialogue has a payoff of some sort or another.

Taking into consideration what sort of film it REALLY is, it's quite good. Catarina Conti gives a fine performance as the heroine. At times she comes off sort of wooden, though it's because of the character and not her performance. Brennan Elliot gives a very layered performance as a psychopath that's really quite intriguing if you're up to going with it. The production values are modest at best ('70s TV-movie really does come to mind) but it's well-filmed with some beautiful snowy scenery. Perennial soundtrack band Wild Colonials provide the songs in the film, beginning with an infectiously goofy ditty called "Quarrel-Tet" that plays over the opening titles (a song that it's hard to shake from my head once its in there).

The film is not for most tastes, but it's a good risk for lovers of plays or those up to taking a chance on a film that's more talk than action.
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3 Women (1977)
8/10
Beautiful and surreal, but plot less, pretentious and ultimately pointless
11 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I have to say up front, if you don't like artsy films, run! A decade and multiple viewings after my first exposure to "3 Women," I remain ambivalent in my feelings for it.

To provide true spoilers would be nearly impossible, since there is no discernible plot to this film – merely themes. Introverted Spacek (fresh from "Carrie" and tackling a somewhat similar role) befriends outgoing Duvall, who no one really likes. The third of the three women is artist Rule, who has little screen time or purpose to her presence.

The entire film feels like a dream (or a nightmare, depending upon your tolerance for it) and ends with the most ambiguous final scene ever, leading one to wonder if perhaps it was the dream of one of the three characters (or perhaps it's the ending itself that was the dream). There's plenty of pointless dialogue and situations, and weirdness abounds. The performances are excellent, the visuals stunning and the score is appropriately inscrutable. If only there were any sense to be made from it.

After 27 years, it finally received the lavish video release that it deserves, complete with a stunning widescreen transfer and an audio commentary by director Robert Altman (though the commentary fails to shed much light on the enigma that is "3 Women"). Like all Criterion discs, the price tag conjures up images of rape (I don't get why Criterion discs are 5 times the price of their studio-released counterparts), but it's well worth it for those willing to take the risk.
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Desecration (1999)
6/10
Fantastic visuals… but lacks a coherent story
11 January 2006
Tomaselli obviously has a flair for creating eye candy. Although a few of the effects in this film are hokey and ultra-low-budget (the model plane, the scissors), the majority of the visuals are fantastic – reminiscent of many Euro-shockers and the first "Evil Dead." However, what the film lacks is a coherent story. I'm not a moviegoer who needs everything spelled out – "Black Christmas," for example, was creepy because we barely see the killer, let alone find out his motivation. "Donnie Darko" remains an enigma even to the writer/director. "Burnt Offerings" leaves you to decide exactly what happened in the house. But at least the aforementioned have some sense of logic.

The principle story here is about a boy who's dragged to Hell by his dead mother as she attempts to escape. Or so they say. However, nothing that happens within the film justifies that plot line – and it all completely lacks logic. If Tomaselli had ended the film in the traditional Hollywood "it was all a dream" way, perhaps I could forgive the film for lacking sense. As is, it feels like an overlong student film.

The acting is horrendous all around, with the exception of the boy who plays Bobby. The old lady (who can't act, but I've seen in a slew of films) is annoying and, unfortunately, has the dominant part. The few male actors all sound like they're reading off cue cards, and then there's the nuns – but if you can't say something nice….

The DVD ends with an "excerpt from the original short film" on which this movie was based. I don't understand why it's not the complete film (the provided scene is exceptional) nor is there a commentary or any other extras. Enigmatic films such as this ALWAYS benefit from commentaries.

Those seeking something out of the norm might enjoy this, as well as stoner horror buffs. All others, avoid it.
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Tourist Trap (1979)
8/10
A curio with some great moments
11 January 2006
A group of 20-somethings find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere, take refuge in Chuck Connors' museum, and discover that the mannequins are surprisingly lifelike.

Okay, so there's not much story and you never care for the characters. What makes "Tourist Trap" a memorable film are some truly striking visuals, some genuine scares, a lot of senselessness that's never explained and Pino Donoggio's clockwork musical score. To give too much away is to ruin this one for anyone who hasn't seen it.

Fans of unusual horror films, take notice of this one; others, enter at your own risk... and anyone who's ever been at all creeped out by a department store mannequin, beware!
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At Home with the Webbers (1993 TV Movie)
8/10
Uneven fun – Jennifer Tilly was never better!
11 January 2006
Pre-dating the whole reality TV craze, "The Webbers" is about "an average American family" who agree to have their daily life broadcast on TV. Dad's a psychiatrist lacking patients; mom's a sad and horny housewife; son's isolated himself from the world after the death of his beloved girlfriend; and daughter's an aspiring sculptor obsessed with male nudes.

The film is hit-and-miss from start to finish, but when it hits the mark, it's a bullseye. Fans of Jeffrey Tambor in "Arrested Development" would probably get a kick out of his warped character here; fans of David Arquette would probably enjoy his sensitive portrayal. Jennifer Tilly, however, devours the scenery at every opportunity, in a portrayal that's hilarious and far more three-dimensional than the standard airhead bimbo that she always gets stuck playing (she even gets to sing a fun little song here!) – she's still an airhead and a bimbo, but it's a really juicy role. Robbie Benson also gives a memorably campy performance as a lecherous TV exec who tries to pit members of the family against each other to sustain high ratings.

It's a shame that this one went straight to video where it remains unnoticed all these years later. It's uneven, but has some fantastic moments, and it's a worthwhile time waster for fans of the cast, as well as those who are annoyed by reality TV.
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Family Plot (1976)
8/10
A fun ending to Hitchcock's career
11 January 2006
Phony medium Barbara Harris and her bumbling boyfriend Bruce Dern set out to find a customer's lost heir in order to reap rewards of their own. They soon cross paths with jewel thieves William Devane and Karen Black. Misunderstanding ensue.

From the opening titles to the final wink at the audience, this film has Alfred Hitchcock written all over it. What sets it apart from the other films from the end of his career is a somewhat zany sense of humor – easily the most intentional humor since "The Trouble with Harry." The film is highly uneven at times – Harris, for example, goes obnoxiously over-the-top (perhaps at Hitch's direction) during a drunken car ride – but like any film Hitch directed, the pros outweigh the cons. The cast appears to have had fun with their roles, the visuals are generally striking and the story features a lot of clever twists. While it's hardly a masterpiece like some of the other films that Hitchcock directed, it's a fun way to pass two hours of your life.
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The Letter (1940)
4/10
Dull and thinly plotted
11 January 2006
I can't understand the big deal about this film. After a beautifully filmed opening sequence, "The Letter" deteriorates into a mind-numbingly boring waste of time. The plot is obvious – Bette Davis murders a man whom she claimed tried to rape her -- and then an incriminating letter that she'd written to him on the same day surfaces.

The film coasts on Davis's charm as a rather loathsome character, with only her performance, some great cinematography and a clever (albeit completely predictable) ending to hold it together. The story's thin, most of the acting is atrocious, the dialogue is even worse… and then there's the score – easily the most obnoxious and redundant musical score that's ever assaulted my ears. If it's your cup of tea, good for you, but I personally found it to be a pretty dull waste of time.
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The Sadist (1963)
10/10
WAY above average b-movie fare
11 January 2006
While I've long been familiar with z-movies "Eegah!" and "The Wild Guitar," this film, from the same people, slipped under my radar for years – which is really a shame. Every bit as good as any big-studio, low-budget production from the era (perhaps even better than most), "The Sadist" is truly a gem that'll never receive the recognition it deserves.

Loosely based on serial killer Charles Starkweather, Arch Hall Jr plays Charlie Tibbs, a psychotic delinquent who, aided by his girlfriend, holds three travelers hostage at gunpoint as they attempt to fix their broken-down car, which Charlie intends to use for his getaway. The film is slowly paced and has little plot, but there's so much going for it – particularly as the tension begins to mount. The acting is fantastic all around, not the hokey z-acting that I anticipated. The characterizations are rich and layered, Hall being a completely convincing standout (despite his "Cabbage Patch Kid" looks). The cinematography is fantastically detailed, with a variety of haunting visuals and innovative shots. The musical score is unobtrusive and perfectly suits the on screen action (and lack thereof).

The thing that astounds me most is how well this film has aged. The junkyard location is sort of timeless, the dialogue isn't stilted and dated like most other films of the era and no pop culture (except Coca-Cola) date it to any specific place and time. Even "Psycho," a film whose success they'd intended to ride the coattails of, is far more dated than this one. It's a psychological character movie, pure and simple. And it's because of the simplicity of the whole thing that it'll continue to stand the test of time. The one and only complaint that I have is the title, that doesn't quite suit it. Nonetheless, it's a great classic thriller and I hope that it will find the audience that it deserves on DVD.
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7/10
Uneven, but not without its moments
11 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I'm still not sure what to make of this one. "Wet Hot American Summer" chronicles the final day of summer camp in 1981. Knowing that premise, and knowing that it was a quasi-reunion of the comedy troupe from "The State" (which aired on MTV a decade ago, and once on CBS), I was expecting a "Dazed and Confused" spoof of the '80s "Meatballs"-type camp flicks. Instead of spoofing those films, it's like one of them – the fact that it takes place in '81 is only incidental.

The cast is broad, diverse and they have incredible chemistry. I feel the need to say this because without all of the big and small-screen players, the script would not have worked at all. Some of the scenes and characters are consistently funny. Paul Rudd, for example, gives one of his funniest performances ever as a horny counselor who's too busy playing tongue-tag with beautiful girls to care about the safety of the campers (and what he does to two campers who know too much is absolutely riotous!). Other characters get off to a good start, then collapse under silliness. Ken Marino as the smooth-talking stud who's really a virgin, chews the scenery at first – but his storyline ultimately fades to utter stupidity (and he's noticeably absent for a good chunk of the film). And then there's Chris Meloni as the Vietnam vet turned camp cook, and Molly Shannon as the whiny divorcée art director. Both actors have a few funny lines (though Meloni's funniest scenes, where he berates a camper about corn, were cut out) but there's a lot of total stupidity to their parts.

Despite the film's shortcomings, I was completely with it for the first hour. There were a few times when I thought, "this is inane," but something funny was waiting in the next scene. In the last half hour though, it loses all point and direction, collapsing under the weight of a lot of overlong, unfunny skits, beginning when camp counselor Janeane Garofolo pointlessly destroys the nurse's office. From there on in it's all downhill until we reach the final scene – a scene that's so anti-Hollywood that it's fantastic.

A good time-waster for a dull TV night, but really nothing more.
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10/10
THE original black comedy
11 January 2006
Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) knows that his family is eccentric, but after discovering that his spinster aunts have been murdering gentlemen and burying them in the cellar, he comes to realize that his entire family is insane.

Taken directly from the stage, complete with several original cast members, this remains one of the most important films in the history of cinema. Loaded with zany characters, absurd situations and biting satire, "Arsenic and Old Lace" is the granddaddy of black comedies. Decades before Kevin Williamson wrote "Scream" and Joe Dante made any of his films, Joseph Kesserling loaded this production with self-referential inside jokes and comedy that paved the way for films that followed – films that ranged from "The Trouble with Harry" to "Heathers" and beyond.

The production values are slick but modest – the majority of scenes play out in the Brewster sisters' sitting room, though with the outlandish goings on, one hardly notices how stagy it appears. The cast is near perfection, and appeared to have been having as much fun as the viewers. Peter Lorre is a particular standout as the creepy cohort of Jonathan Brewster (sadly, Boris Karloff, who originated the role of Jonathan on the stage was not contractually allowed to reprise it in the film – but Raymond Massey is a more than adequate replacement). Frank Capra's direction is on-the-ball every time, undoubtedly focusing on the greatest moments as he saw them on the stage. A five-star film in every way, "Arsenic and Old Lace" is a must-see for all lovers of dark humored comedies.
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10/10
A weird and wonderful black comedy
11 January 2006
The discovery of a dead body in the woods of a quaint New England town leads to a chain-reaction of complications and misunderstandings amongst a small group of townspeople – each afraid that they will be blamed for the death of this stranger.

This one's certainly a contender for the oddest film that Alfred Hitchcock ever directed – but that's a wonderful thing. Admittedly, I'm not familiar with everything he ever directed, but I can't think of another film that was a flat-out comedy. That's not to say that his signature isn't all over it – in addition to the macabre premise, there are plenty of tense moments as discoveries are made about the recently deceased Harry.

The look of the film is simplistic, yet it's lushly photographed with fun camera-work that keeps us from directly seeing Harry's face (except once, when we first see him). The cast is utterly charming, and all manage to pull of dialog that would surely come off corny in the hands of lesser actors. A very young Shirley MacLaine and pre-silver haired John Forsythe show some incredible acting and comic timing. Bernard Hermann's score is whimsical and helps set the tone for the whacked-out, off-kilter hilarity that fills the screen. All in all, a great gem that should be seen by all lovers of dark, tongue-in-cheek comedy.
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7/10
Surprisingly Hollywood-influenced
10 January 2006
Parliment sends in a spy to help shut down a kinky sex club -- but the spy soon gets sucked into that world.

When a video is released with innovative packaging for a film that you've never heard of, it's a good sign that they're compensating for the film itself (this DVD comes bound in an S&M leather hood). Who knew that a film with the word "pervert" in the title could be so dull?

Disappointingly for this British import, it has a very generic Hollywood feel to it. The plot is pretty basic, the sex club scenes are surprisingly un-shocking (perhaps I've just become desensitized as I've aged), and the ending is predictably weak.

However, it's not without its moments, though many of the quirkiest scenes come so far into the film that one may be tempted to hit "stop" before they've reached that point (as I did the first time). If you stick with it long enough, there's some good payoffs. The acting and characterizations are above average, particularly on the part of the lead Mistress. Also notable is the beautiful cinematography, though there's a lot of music-video-style editing during the sex club scenes that's pretty annoying.

I can see how the film could gain a minor cult audience (though not the "Rocky Horror" audience as the US packaging suggests) and I didn't hate it... it was just a letdown. If it looks like a film that might interest you, by all means, check it out. Just don't expect too much.
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Party Girl (1996– )
Taylor sparkled -- completely different from the film
4 January 2006
Christine Taylor gave one of her most enchanting performances in this barely-remembered sitcom. Starring as free-spirited Mary, Taylor embraced the airhead blonde stereotype, but there were glimpses of humanity beneath it all. Unfortunately, with only four episodes, she never got a chance to develop it. Swoosie Kurtz showed her comedic chops (like always) as Mary's haggard aunt, librarian Judy. The interplay between the two actresses was fantastic, but throw in Merrin Dungey as Judy's ass-kissing assistant, Wanda, and it was near gold.

In a supporting role as Mary's gay best friend, Derrick, was John Cameron Mitchell (who went on to write/direct/star in "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"). Epitomizing the catty queen stereotype, it was obvious that Mitchell was destined for great projects. The only weak link in the show was Matt Borlenghi as Oneal, a dopey bartender who never really meshed with the rest of the characters. I can't blame Borlenghi, as it seemed that it was the was writing of his character that was the problem.

Now, about the film that this series was based on... I love Parker Posey (whose shoes Taylor filled in this incarnation) but I wasn't a huge fan of the film. Other than having the same characters/situation, the show and film had little in common. The film was extremely dark. When it was transferred to the sitcom format, it fit into a sitcom mold. It's difficult to compare the two, since they weren't very much alike.

I can't really understand why this and its companion show, "Lush Life," were the first casualties of the '96-'97 season. Both boasted big names, sharp (quotable) writing and great chemistry within the cast. It should also be noted that both series were canceled after the stars appeared on the short-lived morning show "FOX After Breakfast" (shows had a habit of being canceled mere days after their stars appeared on that talk show). Ten years later, I still find myself using quotes from this show... it deserved a better than FOX gave it.
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Cinderella (1977)
9/10
A diamond in the buff (where's the widescreen DVD?!!)
7 August 2005
Warning: Spoilers
As others have previously commented here, this version of Cinderella is a true gem. A campy, near-porno retelling of the classic tale, b-movie goddess Cheryl "Rainbeaux" Smith takes the lead in what is perhaps her greatest screen performance. In fact, it's Smith who makes the film work. The renowned nympho somehow managed to convey such innocence and conviction as the lead that it's a shame she never snagged a leading role in a Hollywood production (the girl had some real acting chops and could've gone far had her situation been different). Cinderella herself is played totally straight while the rest of the cast ham it up. Even though she practically begins the film topless (singing with her corset flying in the breeze), one can still see this character as virginal – a true testament to Smith's acting abilities.

Kirk Scott (best remembered as Christian Slater's psychotic father in "Heathers") devours the scenery whole in nearly every scene he appears in. An equal mix of bumbling, inept and commanding, Scott was perfectly cast as the hunky Lord Chamberlain. Character actor Sy Richardson is also particularly memorable as the Cinderella's "fairy godmother" (emphasis on the word "fairy"), a petty thief who stumbles into the cottage seeking refuge and winds up befriending our heroine. Boris Morris was also outstanding as the giddy King, and Pamela Stonebrook gave an appropriately campy performance as the horny Queen. Both the King and Queen seem so utterly familiar to me that I'm certain their names must have been aliases. Yana Nirvana and Marilyn Corwin are also deliciously campy as the bisexual step-sisters who pleasure each other with spinning-wheel powered… Well, you have to see it to believe it. Evil stepmother Jennifer Doyle is okay, though she feels like she stepped straight out of Robert Altman's "Popeye" (which was filmed three years later). Brett Smiley was either miscast as the Prince, or simply badly written – you never really have sympathy (or a fondness) for the prince after his initial appearance/song.

The comedy is hit-and-miss (most of it is a bull's-eye) and the songs have a tendency to get stuck on a loop in your brain. The mere uttering of the line, "Ooooh, a snapper," is instantly familiar to anyone who's sat through this film. The songs are catchy and delightfully dirty in lyric without ever being profane. If this were made today, they'd have certainly shoved in the f-word at every chance, but the word never surfaces once…

The only real shortcoming of the film is the sex scenes. Meant only to titillate, not excite, the sex is a little too hard for an R-rating, but a little too soft for triple-X. If they had been shooting for an R-rating, it would have been so much better – the film grinds to a halt each time the characters stop to get it on (or watch others get it on). If they'd shot for a triple-X, the scenes that halted the film might've felt worthwhile. How titillating the scenes are is a matter of taste (I'm gay and being that there's only 3 or 4 brief glimpses of penis, they don't do much for me), but all of the people that I've made sit through the film through the years have griped that the Buttgammon scene goes on far too long. The only sex scenes that really work are a dream sequence (perhaps the only filmed sex scene ever to involve popcorn!), a royal ball attendant's seduction of her husband and the "happily ever after" ending. Much of the nudity is for comical effect of one sort or another, and that seems to be where the film works best. This gripe aside, they certainly blended the sex and story better than any other film in the genre ("Alice in Wonderland," "Beach Blanket Bango," etc.).

The film greatly benefits from unusual angles and some innovative camera-work, which, at times, make you forget that the film is as low budget as it was. Many of the songs play with few cuts (the Prince's "My Kingdom Won't Cum" features no cuts – just one continuous, wandering shot) and thankfully the cast did very well, lipsynching to their pre-recorded tracks (major props to Kirk Scott and Pamela Stonebrook for their lipsynching abilities). There are many elements that elevate this beyond that standard sexploitation film, not the least of which is the cinematography.

With Smith's cult fanbase and so many truly awful old films receiving lavish DVD releases these days, it astounds me that there's yet to be an official DVD release. The net's overrun with bad bootlegs with abysmal picture/sound quality. I've introduced the film to tons of people since I first saw it 15 years ago, and whether they were straight or gay, male or female, I've yet to find anyone that didn't like it (though I tend to surround myself with friends who are equally bent). I'd love to see this get the widescreen release with remixed audio that it so desperately deserves, so future generations can experience this '70s sleazefest for what it is – a true gem. If the aspect ratio listed here is correct (2:35-1), more than half of the picture is cropped on the TV/Video prints…. Come on, Charles Band, and get a DVD distributor for this gem!
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Serial Killer (2002 Video)
1/10
Too few redeeming qualities
25 May 2005
It was obvious to me when I rented this that it was a no-budget film. I'm often attracted to the cheapies merely BECAUSE they have no budget -- a lot of them seem to try harder to make up for lack of money. Every now and then I'll stumble on gold ("Evil Cult," for example) but this is not one of those instances. That said...

The story (if you want to call it that) revolves around a novelist who's writing a book titled "Serial Killer." We soon learn that he's being interviewing killers and one is sending him videos of his victims. It could have been interesting, but instead it goes off in an entirely different direction. There is a twist ending (which is basically given away on the back of the video box), but by the end one hardly cares anymore -- and it's not particularly shocking.

The sole purpose of this film seems to be to showcase a variety of women nude and tied up in X-rated positions. That wouldn't bother me if it were particularly erotic -- but it's not erotic in the least. Instead, it's dull, tedious and downright inane (one of the nude women is laughing through her supposedly terror-filled dialogue). Which brings me to the acting (again, if you want to call it that). The lead serial killer is passable, and might even be a good b-movie actor if he toned it down a notch. Save for two or three women who are seen for a few seconds, the rest of the acting is completely atrocious. Quite frankly, I've seen better acting in bad '70s sexploitation films. I was oblivious to Joel Wynkoop's status as a b-movie actor until I read another comment here, which would explain why his scene seems to drag on endlessly, but I hardly understand why he has any status.

My biggest complaint about the film is one that most people probably wouldn't give much thought to. The novelist gives an autograph that reads "YOUR DEAD." Now, any published writer would know that "your" is possessive and the correct spelling of that would be "you're." Had they not drawn attention to that note (twice) it wouldn't have bothered me so much, but I was already irritated that I'd shelled out a few bucks to rent it and found that grammatical error added insult to injury.

Bottom line: avoid this pointless home movie unless you want to see a bunch of women naked. Even then, I wouldn't recommend it (I'd be quicker to point you towards quasi-redeemable trash like "The Cheerleaders" or any Nazi Hellcamp flicks).
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10/10
A cult sex comedy musical... for kids
19 April 2005
My summary line is sort of strange, but gimme a chance to explain. As has been stated in a few of these comments, "The Pirate Movie" is a big cult movie. In terms of cult status, I'd certainly liken it to "Rocky Horror" or "Donnie Darko" -- not that it shares many common factors with either of those, just that there's this big audience that REALLY loves it. As with several other big flops from this era ("Midnight Madness," "Zapped!"), HBO is probably solely responsible for turning this into the cult phenomenon it is -- after all, they ran it endlessly in the early '80s.

But the real reason I felt it necessary to leave a comment is something that's barely been touched upon here. While many people have said, "I loved this when I was a kid," it's yet to be stated that this seems to be the key to loving the film. I saw it when I was a kid and loved it. I've shown it to kids, and they've loved it. However, the adults that I've shown it to (including several who usually go in for this type of film) hated it. My best friend watched it for the first time last night and, even though he's usually open to a movie like this, he griped all the way through it. His three year old son, however, was glued to the TV.

The saving grace for this film is that, while it IS technically a sex comedy, it's surprisingly innocent. A song called "Pumpin' and Blowin'" could very easily have been lewd and vulgar, but it's disguised as a bubblegum pop anthem (complete with animated characters). And that's the case with a lot of the jokes. While they're not squeaky-clean Disney fare from that era, it's all mainly innuendo, with nothing blatantly obvious: "You'll be hung," Kristy McNichol says, to which Ted Hamilton replies, "Oh I am -- and very well, thank you." How many kids are actually going to get that joke?

If you loved it as a kid, get the DVD and show it to your kids (though I'd avoid the dull director's commentary). If you have kids, show it to them. But if you're going into it for the first time as an adult, chances are it's not for you.
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Girls on Top (1985–1986)
Go into it without preconceptions and you might enjoy it
7 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Just to note, I think the only real spoiler here is the set-up that's established in the first episode.

When I stumbled upon the now long out of print videos of this series, I had never seen "Ab Fab," "The Vicar of Dibley" or "French and Saunders." I was familiar with Tracy Ullman and Ruby Wax (as well as "The Young Ones," which this is always compared to), but I had not yet been subjected to the "Ab Fab" experience. That out of the way... It became very clear to me very quickly that this series had a lot of potential. It was witty, edgy and had five of the wackiest characters I'd seen from Brit TV at that point.

To summarize the characters/plot (since I haven't seen an in-depth summary anywhere on the net): Dawn French portrayed Amanda Wripley, a neo-Nazi feminist writer (for "Spare Cheeks" magazine) who is homeless. She cons her way into getting a flat in Chelsea, owned by Lady Carlton (Joan Greenwood), an insane romance novelist who adores her deceased dog, Josephine, so much that she sent the canine to the taxidermist after her death. Upon arriving, Amanda discovers the previous tenant, Candice Valentine (Tracy Ullman), is still occupying the flat. A slutty bar-hopper, Candice gives a very phony story about an illness that she has, and she herself cons Amanda into letting her stay. Meanwhile, nearly retarded Jennifer Marsh (Jennifer Saunders), a school chum of Amanda's, arrives hoping to share a pad with Amanda. The trio soon discover that none of them have the funds to pay the rent. Enter Shelley DuPont (Ruby Wax), a loud-mouthed failed American actress who's leeching off of her parents, running through their wealth like water, while trying to make it big in England. Personalities clash and hilarity ensues. "That's this - interesting."

While far more coherent in storytelling than it's male counterpart, "The Young Ones," some of the episodes missed the mark but the characters were so well developed and the one-liners were so hilarious that you nearly don't notice. Stories revolved around Shelley's acting career/social status (or lack thereof), the other girls wanting Candice out of the apartment, Jennifer's stupidity, Amanda's horniness... and it ended with one of the weirdest finale episodes it's ever been my pleasure to see (a finale that ranks right up there with "I Married Dora" on the weirdness scale). Despite some criticism that Ullman was underused, I thought her character was delightful and I was sad to see her go in the second series (though her departure was hilarious -- each of the other ladies thought that they killed Candice). Just as the series ended, it seemed as if the actors/writers had hit their stride, and it's a shame that the show didn't continue. Sadly Joan Greenwood passed away shortly after the show went off the air anyway -- and I can't imagine the show without Lady Carlton's Alzheimer's-induced rantings.

Now, the videos/DVDs... The Canadian company that released the series didn't put much care into the release. The picture quality's pretty good for an '80s show shot on video, though some have complained of audio problems. The original 3-VHS set was released in stereo that was not mono compatible -- the sound on the DVDs is far better. But then there's the DVDs themselves. Episodes are scattered across two 2-disc sets (when they could have easily been shoved onto one 2-disc set) and the episodes are completely out of order (to include Ullman in both releases). On the video release (and original airings, I'm sure), halfway through each episode it would go to the theme, pause, say "End Part One" and immediately come to "Part Two." These title cards have been omitted from the DVDs, making the picture/audio choppy in each episode. I sort of wish that BBC video would do an official release, but I've got them all now, so I can't complain.

If you're going into this for the first time, go in without preconceptions. While it IS French and Saunders, this was their first big series, and it shows since it is a little rough around the edges. Personally, I like that roughness. It works for the characters, the stories and the series. And it made me seek out "Ab Fab" (which I'd avoided since I loved "High Society" -- which was unjustly referred to as an American-Ab-Fab-rip-off).
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10/10
Grab some beer and invite your friends!
5 April 2005
This film has always stayed with me, but after having just seen the trailer (er... music video) at movieflix.com, I had to write about it.

I found this and thought it was gonna be an '90s soft-core musical, along the lines of "Beach Blanket Bango," "Cinderella" (1977) and "Cinderella 2000." While the three of those are also party movies, this one falls into another category entirely -- namely the Mark Pirro category. With insane films like "Curse of the Queerwolf," "Buford's Beach Bunnies," and the more mainstream "My Mom's a Werewolf" (which he scripted), Pirro has a style all his own. I'm sort of scared of the other trailer I just saw for his newest film, "Rectuma."

As was pointed out before, it's not gory enough to be horror; not "nudist" enough to be pornographic; not funny enough to be a true comedy. It's a film that was probably fun to make, and it was made to be made fun of. It's brash, offensive and politically incorrect (moreso than the hilariously offensive "Queerwolf")... and it's filled with bad dialog/acting, crazy HALF-naked zombies and songs that you can't get out of your head, no matter how hard you try.

It's not "Citizen Kane," but it is what it is -- and for what it is, I give it a 10. Grab some beer, pop some popcorn and invite all your friends to laugh and sing along with the zombies from the "Nudist Colony of the Dead!"
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8/10
Not Romero's vision, but it's not supposed to be
12 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I must preface this by saying that I am a fan of the original (1978) version of the movie (though to this day, I can't understand the appeal of the original "Night of the Living..."). Unlike many fans of the original, however, I found this version more than satisfactory. It's been my position for eons that if someone is going to do a remake of a classic film, they need to bring something new to the table -- and that's exactly what the re-makers of "Dawn of the Dead" have done. The original went for the satire of consumerism, while this one plays out merely for character pathos and scares. While satire seemed to work for the Romero version (though it ultimately collapsed under its own weight with a silly biker invasion), it simply couldn't work today... at least not as the semi-spoof that the original tried to be.

This far-less-intimate version follows the exploits of a gang of people who wind up taking refuge in a shopping mall, whilst hoards of zombies congregate outside of the walls (in the original, the zombies were loose within the mall itself). These zombies are from the "28 Days Later" school of zombies -- they move swiftly and are relentless in their hunger for human flesh. While the characters are secondary to the action (particularly in the version I saw at the theatre), all of the actors seem to bring a flair to the characters that they portray. And the ending, which ultimately plays out through the ending credits, is superior to the biker-invasion-cum-escape that Romero left us with in the original version.

Minor spoilers for the original: The Romero version featured some scenes that I really miss in this version -- including the infamous screwdriver-through-the-head (though homage was paid with the mallet-through-the-head) and a slide down the the railing of the escalator, but the original was its own entity. Nothing like it had existed before it... and nothing ever will again.

Though this version doesn't keep the tight photography and innovative camera angles used in the first version (with many scenes that have been endlessly imitated), it does its best to deliver scares for a new generation. What more can you ask of a remake?
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The Trip (2002)
10/10
I've never identified with a film more... a different take
6 May 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw this film for the first time today, and I was blown away! I saw the trailer for it on a DVD of another (very bad) gay movie, and figured it was going to be along the lines of "Trick." God, was I wrong! This roller-coaster-ride is in my opinion the greatest gay film ever made (and I've seen a LOOOOT of movies). Male/female, gay/straight, I'd recommend this movie to anyone and everyone. The general consensus here is that the film is fantastic, but those who hated it can't seem to say WHY they hated it, or their reasonings don't bode well with me. I have now read (or at least scanned) each and every comment left here, so instead of rehashing the plot and how good I think it was, here's a comment from a different perspective.... (Possible/probable spoilers)

At the risk of being the kid at the end of the movie who thanks Alan for writing his book: thank you Miles Swain for making this film. I have never found a film that I could identify so strongly with. I'm 27, so I didn't live through Harvey Milk and Anita Bryant, (while I didn't go through the BIG anti-gay stuff, I came out ten years ago, pre-"Will and Grace," when gays still weren't mainstream) but my "Tommy," who was 12 years older than me, did live through that era. He would have absolutely loved this film... if he hadn't died two years ago.

And so this leaves me being Alan... too close to Alan. When it's right you just know, and like Alan, I was pushed out of the closet abruptly when true love came knocking. Though far less uptight than Alan, I was also extremely self-loathing to the point where I could've (and probably did) called someone a "faggot." Suddenly, like Alan, there was my Tommy, the missing piece of my puzzle - and life was worth living despite the turmoil. Almost instantly, we were living together. Ironically, after four years together some factors were introduced that began to drive us apart (nothing as drastic as a breakup but conflict nonetheless). Another three or four years where we kind of drifted apart, like Alan and Peter. But love conquers all. In the end, it was painfully clear that despite our differences and problems, we completed each other's puzzle. And then he died. Two years later, I'm still here and okay. Saddened that I'm alone, but okay.

Now, the reason that I've shared all of this is mainly because of the comments here. Even many who said that they liked the film said that parts were unrealistic... I'm living proof of the realism of the story. A big complaint seems to be the ending of the film, the non-Hollywood-happy-ending. Swain was going for realism here and he captured it beautifully - from the humour of life to the drama to the action to the heartbreak. While many people find the VERY ending to seem hokey and contrived, I found it to be quite poignant - it shows that Alan's alright two years later.

Now, rehashes of previous statements: Why the HELL didn't FOX Searchlight or some other big distributor pick up this film? It's not sexually exploitive like most gay movies and it seems to go over well with straight people. Matter of fact, I never push gay movies on my straight best friend, but I'm gonna make him watch this one. The film deserves a wider audience (and a better promotional campaign than it had).

If only Hollywood could produce something that moves me as much as this... then again, if they did, this wouldn't be the gem that it is. Thank you again, Mr. Swain.
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