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The Battle of Gettysburg (1955)
Who needs actors when you've got statues!
This bizarre little educational short attempts to tell the story of the battle of Gettysburg without a single live actor appearing on screen. Leslie Nielsen narrates as we are treated to footage of empty fields, cannons, and statues of Civil War Heroes. Some sequences are quite informative, though a long way from being entertaining. This is probably a film better suited to Civil War enthusiasts than the average viewer.
The Screwy Truant (1945)
As good a Screwy gets
I've said it before and I'll say it again, I don't really care for the character of Screwy Squirrel. Of all of Tex Avery's wonderful cartoon creations, he is the one I could really do without. That being said, The Screwy Truant has to be one of, if not the best cartoon featuring this extremely annoying character. In this one Screwy is chased by a truant officer dog. The result is some very funny gags that remain fresh due to the fact that they have not been over used in other cartoons. My favorite bit involves Red Riding Hood and the Wolf getting lost in the wrong cartoon.
Don't go along for this ride
In 'Quicksilver,' Kevin Bacon is a stock market big shot who loses everything and ends up a bicycle messenger. From there, the film can't make up it's mind what on earth it's about. Drug dealers, rival bike riders...they're all here. This film just coasts around for awhile, but there's nothing interesting along the way. About the only thing this film has going for it is it's synthesizer score by Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks.
Happy Days with swearing and nudity
In "Mischief" we have the awkward teenage boy, who's never had a date, taken under the wing of the new kid in town, a delinquent with a heart of gold. He helps the kid win the girl of his dream, etc, blah blah blah. Haven't we seen this a million times before? The chicken race, the evil ex-boyfriend, the half naked kid climbing out of the his girlfriends bedroom window...it's all here. Not an original idea to be seen! On the good side, the performances are quite good...that still can't save this dud.
Bedtime for Sniffles (1940)
In this short, Sniffles the mouse is trying not to fall asleep so he won't miss the arrival of Santa Claus. Needless to say, he doesn't have much success...and neither did I. I found the images and sounds that made Sniffles droopy eyed had the same effect on me. This isn't a bad short, just don't view it late at night.
Alias St. Nick (1935)
...or Santa Claws.
In 'Alias St. Nick' a cat tries to get his Christmas dinner by playing Santa Claus for a family of mice. This short is pretty low on humor, it goes for cuteness instead and suffers for it. Some fun voice characterizations is about all this short has going for it.
School Daze (1988)
I am a big fan of Spike Lee's work. No matter what his subject matter, he has consistently been able to create films populated with vivid and intriguing characters. Such can not be said of his second feature 'School Daze.' In fact, if there was a great big dictionary of film terminology, the entry for "Sophomore Slump" should say "...See 'School Daze.' I think the biggest problem here is that there is no focus. One minute it's a frat house comedy, the next it's a musical, the next it's a drama. The film only dwells on the negative sides of all it's characters, thus we have no one to root for. A brief appearance by Samuel L. Jackson is fun, however. But the ending of the film is one of the worst endings I've ever seen on screen. I know I'm being pretty harsh, perhaps it's because I expect so much more from Spike Lee. Of course, this was his second feature, and he did follow it up with 'Do the Right Thing.' So I guess we can forgive him.
One Ham's Family (1943)
One nasty pig
'One Ham's Family' is a twist on the Three Little Pigs story. Here the wolf attempts to catch the pigs on Christmas Eve by dressing up as Santa Claus. There are some funny bits here, I mean it is Tex Avery...you were expecting a tear-jerker? However, the little pig that does battle with the wolf is a thoroughly unlikeable character with a voice that is at times very difficult to understand. I guess I've always felt that Avery was more successful with characters who, though they did some nasty things, still had a sense of innocence to them...like Droopy. Here, the pig is just plain nasty.
Seasin's Greetinks! (1933)
I just couldn't help but laugh at this silly little Popeye short. In this one, Popeye buys Olive some ice skates for Christmas. Of course, Bluto tries to cut in on their winter wonderland. How can you not laugh at this. I mean, it's Christmas day, yet Popeye and Bluto can still find it in their hearts to beat each other to a pulp.
Fishy Tales (1937)
During an exhibition of his shooting abilities, Alfalfa accidentally shoots Butch with a suction cup dart. Butch, of course, wants to fight, so to get out of it Alfalfa fakes a leg injury. A newly caught fish, courtesy of Buckwheat, is used to simulate the bum leg. 'Fishy Tales' has some good situations for comedy, but they are delivered too quickly. The humor never has much of a chance to develop. Alfalfa still provides a few good laughs during the scene in which Butch examines the bum leg, though.
Free Wheeling (1932)
It's all downhill
In 'Free Wheeling,' Dickie is one sick little boy. Or at least his mother thinks so. Turns out, though, that the cure is some time out with the gang. So Stymie and Breezy take him for a ride in their cab which ends up sailing down the road, out of control. Most of 'Free Wheeling' is build up to the final downhill chase, which ends up being only mildly amusing. Spanky, of course, has some great lines and a wonderful scene with a monkey. 'Free Wheeling' will leave you with a smile on your face, but the gang has been much funnier than they are here.
Don't get your hopes up
'Schlock" is the often talked about, but rarely seen, first film from John Landis. The story concerns a prehistoric ape man, played by Landis, terrorizing a California community. 'Schlock' is of interest mainly because of what Landis went on to do later. Is it great filmmaking...not by a long shot. There are some good moments, but the comic timing Landis displayed in films like 'The Blues Brothers' and 'Animal House' just isn't there yet. I am a huge fan of Landis' work, but it's his first film...one shouldn't expect greatness. The best thing about 'Schlock' is the ape suit made by Rick Baker. It's very expressive, and seems somewhat out of place in this low budget environment.
Road to Zanzibar (1941)
On the road again
Hope and Crosby are on the road again. This time, Hope is a daredevil called Fearless Frazier, Crosby is his shifty promoter. There are plenty of good laughs in 'Road to Zanzibar,' but the story is confusing. They just jump from one comic situation to another without much tying it all together. Still, I laughed quite a bit. A favorite scene of mine is where Hope and Crosby mourn the death of Dorothy Lamour's character, who they think was eaten by a crocodile.
Washee Ironee (1934)
"Loads" of fun! Get it? Wash...Loads...ah never mind
In 'Washee Ironee,' rich kid Waldo longs to join Spanky and the gang in a game of mud football rather than play his violin for his mother's fancy bridge party. When he sneaks away to join the gang, he ends up covered in mud, which means that gang needs to help him get cleaned up before his mother finds out. I remember watching this short on TV as a kid and thinking how great it would be to get mixed up in something like this. This short is lots of fun and is still very funny to this day. Of course, many of the best bits belong to Spanky. Look closely for an early appearance by Billie 'Buckwheat' Thomas, though not as Buckwheat. Buckwheat is played by a girl in this one. Also watch out for edited versions. The cut I saw on TV as a kid had an entire sequence missing involving Spanky going to a laundromat for help from a young Asian boy. The scene where the gang tries to communicate with this boy is certainly not politicly correct, but I'd still rather see the film in it's original form.
Mike Fright (1934)
Hal Roach's revenge
In 'Mike Fright' Spanky, Stymie and gang try to get on a radio amateur show as The International Silver String Submarine Band. They compete against a variety of different children, all groomed to perfection by unseen stage mothers. One has to think that 'Mike Fright' was, in a way, Hal Roach's revenge. One can only imagine the countless stage mother's and obnoxious children he had to deal with. Of course, the kids Roach made a part of his gang were not these kind of primped and polished little munchkins. He always went for just plain kids who loved to have fun. That's what makes the Our Gang shorts so great. Seeing the gang up against their exact opposites in this short makes for some great comedy. My favorite scene features Tommy Bond and Alvin Buckelew sabotaging Leonard Kibrick's trumpet performance by eating a lemon. Interesting to note that Bond and Kibrick would be partner's in crime as Butch and The Woim in later Our Gang Shorts.
Zucker style gags make this one worth a look
In 'The Last of the Secret Agents,' Marty Allen and Steve Rossi end up being recruited by a very secret organization to help stop the evil force known as THEM. The evil genius behind THEM has managed to find the missing arms of the Venus Di Milo, so now he wants the rest of the statue. There are some sequences here that are very funny. The scene in which Allen and Rossi discuss marriage was my favorite. Most of the best gags in the film are in the style that would later be perfected in movies like 'Airplane' and 'The Naked Gun: from the files of Police Squad.' There are, however, plenty of sequences where the gags just plain bomb. Marty Allen seems to have gone to the Joe Besser school of comedy (shave his head and he'd almost look just like Besser). His buggy eyes and constant whining are probably not everybody's taste, but he does have some very funny moments. Nancy Sinatra sings the title tune, but her role in the film is pretty much a glorified cameo.
The Girl Can't Help It (1956)
I can't help it, I like this movie!
In 'The Girl Can't Help It," Tom Ewell is a down and out agent hired by a gangster to turn his talentless girlfriend, Jayne Mansfield, into a star. Mansfield is certainly the highlight of the film. She turns in a very funny performance. On the other hand, Ewell seems to just be going through the motions at times, his performance is pretty flat (insert your own joke about Jayne Mansfield's anatomy here). However, there are some very funny scenes with Mansfield and Ewell. Overall the film is still very enjoyable. The soundtrack is awesome, a who's who of early rock n roll. Though, at times, the film makers seem to be stretching for excuses to include these rock cameos.
Taking Care of Business (1990)
Grodin saves the show
In "Taking Care of Business," James Belushi escapes from prison to see the Cubs in the World Series. He finds the datebook of overworked Charles Grodin and assumes Grodin's identity. The film is somewhat enjoyable, yet through it all I couldn't quite shake the feeling that I've seen all this before. There's not much that's original here. Grodin, saves the film. As always, he's a treat to watch. A big downside to the movie is that it has about 2 endings too many. But, it's not a complete loss, director Arthur Hiller has certainly done worse...he's also done much better.
Muscle Beach Party (1964)
Despite it's title, "Muscle Beach Party" is a pretty weak entry in Beach Party series. This time around, Frankie, Annette and the gang battle with a group of Muscle men led by their trainer, Don Rickles. All the while, an Italian Countess is trying to steal Frankie from Annette. Unlike the others in the series, "Muscle Beach Party" seems to have an overall negative tone. Every character seems angry at somebody. Most of the film's good moments belong to Buddy Hackett. Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper isn't around this time and he is missed.
Beach Blanket Bingo (1965)
Eric Von Zipper is my Idol
Let's make one thing clear, "Beach Blanket Bingo" is certainly not the artistic high-point of this medium called cinema, but that doesn't mean it's not fun! Frankie and Annette are back with all their beach buddies, including one named Bonehead (Goo-Goo or Poo-Poo to his friends). In this one, Frankie decides that sky-diving is the way to Annette's heart. There's also a subplot involving a mermaid love interest for Bonehead. The best reason to watch this film is for Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper. He's the perfect comedy bad guy. He is my idol (Watch the movie and you'll understand that last line)! Don Rickles is also loads of fun, especially in one scene where it appears he was allowed to improvise.
Modesty Blaise (1966)
Modesty Blaise misfires
I wish I could tell you what on Earth happened in this movie, but I'm still trying to figure it all out. The story made absolutely no sense. It has something to do with super agent Modesty Blaise going after some bad guy who's out to steal some diamonds. A movie like this needs a good villain, this film has a villain who somehow pulls off being both campy and boring. His only crime seems to be in his choice of decorator. What makes it worse is that the good guys are ten times as boring as the villains. 'Modesty Blaise' is a huge misfire.
Road to Utopia (1945)
Crosby and Hope go North
Crosby and Hope are at it again, this time searching for gold in Alaska. The great lines don't run as fast and furious here as they do in some of the other "Road" pictures, but there are still plenty of laughs to go around. The film loses some points in two areas: the unnecessary and unfunny commentary by Robert Benchley and the simple fact that the premise of the film is completely ridiculous. I still cannot figure out why Crosby and Hope would spend half the film pretending to be two men they know are wanted killers. Of course, thanks to movie magic, the local authorities seem to ignore this. However, these things don't detract much from this very funny film.
Dog Gone Modern (1939)
Ho-hum, except for the piano sequence
Here's another short featuring the two curious dogs, not my favorite Warner Brothers creations. Here, the dogs wander into a futuristic house where they battle with technology. A great setting, unfortunately there are many wasted opportunities for comedy. The piano sequence, however, is far above the rest of the film. A better version of this short is "House Hunting Mice" which uses several of the same gags.
How to Play Golf (1944)
Golf Goofy style
'How to Play Golf' is wonderful entry in the series of Goofy Sports shorts. The opening line, "Contrary to popular belief, Golf is not a waste of time," is great! Many sequences involve Goofy being instructed on golf by a stick drawing. The idea is a clever one which pays off with some big laughs. Occasionally, though, the idea is over-used. What works about 'How to Play Golf' is that the humor appeals to those who love golf and those who hate it, count me in the latter category.
Hare Force (1944)
The Rabbit that came in from the cold
In 'Hare Force,' Bugs Bunny is brought in on a cold winter night, where he must share the warm fire with a dog named Sylvester. Of course, Sylvester gets jealous and the two battle it out. 'Hare Force' certainly has some funny bits, but nothing spectacular. Over all, the film seems to drag a bit, pretty unusual for a Bugs Bunny short.