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About the author: R.T. Firefly has been involved in the comedy business for over 30 years, from television and movies to stand up and writing.
PLEASE NOTE! The top ten are in order of importance.
11-100 ARE IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER.
Fat Head (2009)
If you can suffer through the bad attempts at comedy, this film is otherwise excellent.
A fantastic documentary with some real eye opening material, but the bad comedy, ug. Tom, leave the comedy to the pros. It would have been a much more enjoyable viewing/learning experience had it just been straight forward the entire way through. A must watch for excellent information on nutrition and how easily government and other fields can go astray.
This film came out in 2009 and the information in it did not hit the mainstream until around 2014 or so. In my observations there is no other field in the world as fraught with misinformation as nutrition. Most people just seem to make things up and/or adopt ideas that suit their image. Very little is understood about nutrition, but this movie takes a very scientific and un-opinionated approach. I appreciated that, a rare trait in a documentary now days.
Mr. Robot (2015)
Some decent acting, preposterous and cliché writing
The writing on this show is so bad it makes me laugh. If you are an Occupy Dolt Street goon, I'm sure it will play right into your "Freedom is the enemy" meme. Seriously, the name of the antagonist company is Evil Corp. That's not its nickname, that's the real name of the evil corporation where the evil white CEO beats up homeless people for his stress relief en lieu of a hand held smooshy face thing where the eyes bug out, I suppose. The author obviously feels logic is for chumps, and has his protagonists violating the very rules they condemn others for. The Characters are cliché and "dirtied up" for what passes for badass now in entertainment, and as usually happens in Hollywood, the wrong people are tagged as the bad guys, while the real bad guys are proposed as the solution. Some of the acting is decent, especially the lead, the tech specs are nice, but the foundation of the show, the story and the characters, are built on quicksand. Seriously, moral depravity and socio economic opinions aside, this show is filmed for adults, but written for junior high schoolers.
From the cult of New York sketch comedy comes the dud of the decade
I cannot think of when I've seen so much talent squandered in a comedic movie as with David Cross's 'Hits'. But then again, I'm not convinced this was supposed to be a comedy. It is possible Cross has gotten so advanced in his irony that this 90 minute critique of the unwashed flyover idiots - and the equally gullible New York "hipsters", and, honestly, everybody but Cross himself - is actually a hybrid documentary, the actors unawares they were executing the author's cunning critique of how gullible everybody in the world is, except the Davidians, of course.
Cross has talent like Amy Sedaris, Michael Cera and the always hilarious Dave Koechner, and uses them for all of a couple scenes each, never once putting them in a situation where they can show off their comedic abilities, rather, rolling out one tired, pandering inside joke after another. In one scene where Michael Cera sells pot to a few nerdy hipsters, the comedy centers around how particular some potheads are over their specific type of grass, a hilarious set piece if you happen to be one of the hundreds of people in the world that has witnessed such absurdities.
The script is trite, cliché and one dimensional. It is so clumsy getting out of the gate that a full 45 minutes in I still had no idea what the movie was about, nor had I laughed once, nor did I care about a single character. In the end, Hits is nothing more than a blathering and pointless monologue, typical of Cross in recent years, where he criticizes the minutia of people that are not as enlightened as he and his cult. To confirm that I'm not just using hyperbole, go to Youtube and look for Cross's diatribe on Jim Belushi, all because Belushi didn't sign an autograph once. It's proof positive Cross has lost his mind, and the defense of his idiotic actions in the comments section evidence of a cult.
It seems incredible that with all the success Cross had in the past with the highly acclaimed Mr. Show and his hilarious turn in Arrested Development, he could not find a better project to put his time and efforts into than... well, most everything he's done, and now this pointless waste of time. One has to wonder if maybe it was Odenkirk that came up with all those funny ideas on Mr. Show and Cross was just in the right place at the right time. He is a funny actor, no doubt, but I'm afraid he's become twice the gullible idiot of those he finds copious time to ridicule.
Wayward Pines (2015)
Like a lame version of Lost only lamer
This feels a lot like an M. Night Shamalama project. I suspect his hand is fairly heavy in the decision making process on this one. Matt Dillon is a fine and interesting actor, and drew me to watch the pilot He has plenty of company here with other fine actors, all of whom cannot save this train wreck of a show. The problem with Wayward Piles, as with most of Shamalamadingdongs work, is that it expects you to drop all pretenses of reason and believability and go for a ride with the silly, poorly conceived fantasies of the author. Nothing makes sense, but if you just turn off your brain and stop asking questions, then it might hold your attention. Unfortunately, even for those who are willing to, or long ago have, turned off their brains, this show feels set up for nothing more than an old fashioned Charlie Brown and Lucy missed football kick. I have no idea what the ending holds, as I only made it through three episodes before I couldn't take it anymore, but there seems to be only two ways for this to end. Either the city is real, in which case nothing makes any sense whatsoever, or it is imagined by a crazy Matt Dillon character, in which case it makes no sense whatsoever. Either way, the show is primarily nothing more than trickery to keep viewers confused so they might come back again to resolve things, which of course, will never happen in a satisfactory way. It seems the makers of Waylow Pines has borrowed ideas of several good shows, (i.e. Lost, Twin Peaks, The X-files et. al.) and ignored any of the important things those shows did to stay on the air for so long, while copying their grave mistakes.
I have only seen about 10 minutes of this, but it changed my life.
There is, or should be (was anyways) a 10 min. clip of this movie on Youtube featuring the punk/rockabilly band Jon Wayne. It turned me on to the band and genre they perhaps invented and was hilarious. It featured clips of the band performing live, clips of them in the studio and, for lack of a better way of describing it, clips like you might see at a night club of random public domain silliness. It also features a very crude but hilarious video of one of the members of Jon Wayne in a recording studio drunkenly "mixing" their best song, in my opinion, Mr. Egyptian.
If you are not familiar with Jon Wayne, they were a side project formed by some punk studio musicians (is there such a thing?). They played homage, tongue in cheek, to country music of the 60's and 70's, but beefed it up a bit with a rockabilly sensibility. This is very rare footage indeed and to my knowledge it is not available via conventional outlets. I would love to get my hands on a copy of this movie if anyone knows where to come by one.
Half hour Fox TV special that was ill-conceived but still a little funny (emphasis on 'little').
This half hour special (it's title declares it a "show", was this supposed to be a pilot?) was a goof on the Playhouse 90 genre, (i.e.) a play is filmed live on stage and broadcast. The difference being, what with this a Lovitz comedy special, he is lampooning himself and the genre. What would you call this, a mockudrama? At any rate, the episode had a sort of Damn Yankees feel to it. It centered on a baseball player, something about if he slides into home he will die from an old head injury, and, naturally, he must make up his mind at the end of the play whether or not to slide headfirst into home to win the game. He does and I can't remember what happens, which pretty much sums up this show. Which is not to say the show didn't have it's moments. At the top of the show Lovitz tells a row of illustrious directors, Rob Reiner, Ron Underwood, et. al., that if they see anything they like during the play simply pick up the phone in front of them and it would ring a phone on the stage. During dramatic moments Lovitz would gesture to the directors and the phone. When the phone would ring, it was always to offer work to someone other than Lovitz.
The thing was loaded with stars and for the life of me I couldn't figure out who was able to swing that. I remember a gag where Alex Rocco is shot through the glasses ala The Godfather and his last words are "Not the other eye", then they cut away to Duvall and Caan in the audience, high fiving.
The concept was really strange, and I like strange, but this just didn't work. It had it's moments now and then, Lovitz is a funny guy after all, but he strikes out here. Interesting how they list all the actors as themselves. As I recall they almost all played characters in the play. Not worth checking out, but at half an hour, not too painful.
There Will Be Blood (2007)
If your conscience has been seared into a fried clove of crispy black garlic... Have we got a film for you!
So you want to go see a movie. You check the IMDb and see this film is getting an 8.9 rating (#16 on the top 250). It stars Daniel Day Lewis, he's a great actor. The TV ads look smart, and what's that "milkshake" line about anyway? Off you go. Three and a half hours later you return home and go on the IMDb and vote it a 10 out of 10. Why? Because you are a secret mind-controlled drone of the company that made this film and you always do what you are told. That is the only plausible explanation I can come up with for the extraordinarily high ratings There Will Be Blood is receiving. That or your moral compass only points south.
This film is nothing more than a magnificently crafted pile of poop and frankly, I find its undeserving numbers highly suspect. There are plenty of examples where most every critic gets it "wrong" on a popular film, so no need to re-trod that ground (watch The Aristocrats if you don't believe me, I dare you). But a quick perusal of the IMDb comments index for this film seems to tell a different story than a movie voted higher than #18 Raiders of the Lost Ark or #36 Apocalypse Now. Searching in chronological order, about half the comments say they hate this film. Another quarter didn't think it was as good as everyone said, and only about a quarter praise the film. With that track record, this film should score somewhere in the 5 to 7 range. We should all hope that the studios have figured out a way to pump up IMDb scores. Otherwise, we live in a world where pointless violence and hypocrisy are celebrated as the ideal.
No doubt, this film has its merits. Daniel Day Lewis gives an award winning performance. I love it when an actor takes chances and I think it works here, many disagree. The film making is top notch, all the acting too. Most everything from cinematography to wardrobe is as good as it gets. Were this film to have a point, it all would have worked together for a powerful addition to the American film atheneum. As it is, it does nothing more than underscore tired stereotypes and leave its audience wondering why so much effort would be put into such depraved proclamations. Perhaps worse, it glorifies the most evil of human intentions.
Can we agree that more is required for a great film then just good film-making? Otherwise, Gigli deserved better treatment. Here, Daniel Day Lewis plays an oil man in the morally corrupt laissez-faire American big business culture (seen it) fighting with a morally corrupt Christian minister (seen it) in a society full of have-nots (seen it) controlled by gilded evil white men (that's new) and everything, eventually, adds up to nothing but gruesome, vivid murders and pointless hatred. Roll credits.
I found the portrayal of the young minister to be particularly vapid. Pastor of "The Church of the Third Revelation" please. Even the church name is painfully hack. Look, I can handle stock stereotypes, but can anyone in the film industry portray a Christian leader as anything more than a sad, money grubbing miscreant? And how many times are we going to need to see this before it gets tired? Not that any other religion or group could have taken its place. I wonder what the reaction to this film would have been had the Snidely Whiplash minister been portrayed as a Rabbi, and all the Jews in his congregation nothing more than gullible or emotionally weak? Never mind the cartoonish unfairness of it all, don't you think it makes for uninteresting character development? Whatever.
All the "smart" people will go away from this film figuring out that the world is a hopeless dog eat dog jungle. The rest of us will go home and do all the work that holds society together and hope for some other film to take our minds off things like this. 1 out of 10 for a pointless and grotesque story.
Stand-up Comics Take a Stand (1988)
Stand up comedy competition to benefit Cerebral Palsy
This was just a bunch of comedians doing stand up in a competition sub-titled, "The search for Hollywoods hottest new comic." Something like that. This was a benefit to raise money for United Cerebral Palsy. I believe this was the second of 3 or 4 annual televised competitions before the event ran out of steam. It came up during the "comedy boom" years of the late '80's. I'm pretty sure this aired in the U.S. on some crazy cable station like CBN (Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network) as it began to branch out into secular programing. Did they not later become the family channel, which was purchased by ABC? Something like that. At any rate - an interesting show if only to check out some then unknown comics that might be famous now, though I couldn't tell you exactly who the comics were.
Note: This was by no means a "10" as my vote would indicate, but it was also not a 3.5 show, per se. Just thought I would bring the score up to a more reasonable level.
Stalag 17 (1953)
A huge disappointment
How Billy Wilder was able to miss on such a monumental scale is beyond me, but he sure does with Stalag 17. This movie is not a train wreck, but it is a huge disappointment and certainly belongs nowhere on anyone's top anything list. The story is compelling enough. There is a rat in the POW barracks and nobody knows who it is. But any hope this movie has of making it is dashed by cartoon like performances, cliché characters, preposterous situations and eye rolling stupidity throughout. Do not believe the hype. This is not a good film. Some Like It Hot is a good film, The Apartment is a great film, many Wilder films are fantastic, but this... this is not just a strike, it's one of those misses where the batter falls down.
William Holden won the best actor Oscar for his performance as Sefton in this film, and he deserves it, but don't let that fool you. Aside from Holden, Stalag 17 feels more like "Springtime For Hitler".
Inherit the Wind (1960)
Inherit the Wind is to movies what Crispin Glover is to doll heads
Not many people know this, but Stanley Kramer did NOT direct this movie. His name is on the film, but that was merely a marketing ploy drummed up by the executives at United Artists. Inherit the Wind was actually the freshman outing by little known director and circus act promoter J. Worthington "Honest John" Foulfellow. You may know him better as the fox from the Disney movie Pinocchio (1940). Well, apparently one of the producers ran into Foulfellow at Shwab's drug store and, being the sly fox that he is, he convinced U/A to let him direct this film. Initial testing showed that people had an aversion to seeing a film directed by an animated fox, so Kramer's name was added as director.
With this is mind, it is much easier to enjoy the movie Inherit the Wind, taking it as a window into the cunning mind of a erudite swindler. At face value, one might consider the cartoonish behavior of the characters in this movie to be absurd, but when you realize Inherit the Wind was directed by a cartoon character, the movie suddenly makes perfect sense. As I understand it, the entire cast was originally supposed to be played by animated personalities, but when Bugs Bunny was held up by his contract at Warner Bros., Spencer Tracy was brought in to play the Henry Drummond role, and the decision was made to go with a human cast. I think this was a good choice. It gives the movie a much more ironic and paradoxical feel. Note the torch wielding peasants that want to lynch the "free thinking" teacher and picture a scene from Foghorn Leghorn and the barnyard dog, and you get the picture.
To me, the sheer genius of Honest John's work are the empirical aesthetic devices he employs to counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor. The movie is obviously mocking propaganda and how gullible those who think they are smarter than others can become. Yet if you are not careful, you will fall precisely into that trap, intuitively thinking the dialog is hack and the characters are cliché and formulaic. Another brilliant trap set by Foulfellow is the lack of historic accuracy in the film, as if to say, "The very premise this film is built upon is hype". Indeed, if one is not careful one can even walk away from this film thinking it completely sucks. If that be the case, all I can say is I pity you, you silly gullible philistine.
An extremely good piece of propaganda
This so called documentary highlights a new technique in revisionist history. It is one of the smartest films I have ever seen, but I say that in a bad way. It seems hippies have discovered they need not run from their failures, but, rather, just embrace them. Though I don't mean to grant significance to this project beyond what it possesses, I would like to warn people that this film is nothing more than thinly veiled propaganda.
First and foremost, 'The 60's: The Years That Shaped a Generation' is not about the decade the 60's. That is the first deception. But if you titled your film "Hippies: The People That Really Weren't That Bad" someone might think you have a bias. This is a film about hippies and, more broadly, the counter-culture revolution. Virtually nothing from '60's popular culture is discussed. Most of the film centers on the sociopolitical events that took place from 1967 to 1974. If you want to call that "the 60's" then so be it.
So far as I can tell, here is the thrust of this project: We hippies have a dilemma - When people look back on our legacy it is fraught with scandal, overt drug use, lawlessness, irresponsibility, reckless sexual behavior, snotty faced rebelliousness, naïveté and an overall creepiness factor. How do you 'spin' that? An epiphany is had. Why waste energy lying and running from your failures when you can just embrace them! Sure, we did drugs like Pez candy, but they were new and we were experimenting with everything 'new'. Sure, we behaved like dogs sexually, but we were shedding the ages of blind conformity. Sure, we had a complete and total disregard for authority, the same authority we now force others to accept as unmitigated truths, but did I mention Nixon yet? Here's the game plan with our project. First call it a documentary. People trust documentaries. Second, we tell people it's about "the 60's". That will cloak it in history, not opinion and sermonizing. Along those lines, we'll populate the movie with historians on our side and on their side we'll have villainized pundits. Third, we DO point out the faults of the hippies, but don't dwell on them. Just brush against them briefly in the context of history, and don't assign any culpability. Then quickly compare that to the faults of those we disagreed with and make sure we do assign culpability on their part (never mind the fact that most of those faults occurred in a different decade, apparently morality isn't the only ambiguous truth to hippies). Lastly, we leave open to speculation the failures of our efforts. We didn't all burn out on drugs and eventually need to "conform" in order to function on this planet. Who told you that? No, the problem was two of our leaders were assassinated and that took the wind out of our sails. Who would do such a thing? (if there's anything people love more than a spicy documentary, it's a good conspiracy!) It is worth noting that the murderers of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and their motives are not even mentioned. The film also does not mention why, with the wind gone from their sails, the hippies proceeded to have the worlds largest orgy on a farm in New York just a year later. Was that a Irish wake of sorts? Nor does it mention how their flaccid sails relate to the plethora of failed attempts on the part of the counter-culture to achieve "new freedom" in the years to follow. The wind has gone out of the sails and it's not our fault. In closing, we wrap every thing up with a wedding reception pass-the-mike for blessings, "look at all the great things us hippies have done with our lives". So, in a way, one could say the message is 'it doesn't matter how great the institution you tear down, what matters is do you drink organic shade grown cappuccinos'?
Many conservative icons appear in this film, and I can't say I blame them for taking the opportunity - who wouldn't want to give their opinion on what went wrong with the hippies - but how could you not know that the film makers of a PBS documentary on the '60's are NOT going to try to make conservatives look irrelevant, or worse? As such, all conservative comments are used to underscore the absurdity of a contrary view. Absurdities such as Robert Bork saying that rock music fueled the rebellion. He's such a cretin! Right out of Reefer Madness I tell you! Never mind that earlier in the documentary those on the left were bragging about how rock music fueled their rebellion. Hypocrisy must be relative, too.
The film itself is well made and, I think, very interesting. The producers are masterful in there imagery and the flow of the "story", however, I might recommend spending a few more dollars at the stock footage library. I saw some clips, notably, a police line advancing towards a rioting crowd, as many as three times for various emphasis. My criticisms of this film are not having to do with it being poorly made. As most reviews focus on this quality of a film, this review may seem a bit unfair. But with the making of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, et. al., I think people are beginning to realize there is more to movie making than just entertainment. No doubt there were many slick and "poignant" films made by the Nazi party, should their misrepresentations be ignored?
Robot Bastard! (2002)
Like watching money burn
Not cool, not funny, not stylish and not exciting. Why people pour so much time and energy into projects like this is beyond me. It served no purpose as a pilot, surely nobody would care to watch this, even on the Sci-Fi channel. There was nothing to "pilot". If it were funny, the crappy production value would be excusable. If it were stylish, it might be fun. If it had any kind of character development then someone might give a damn. This was a waste of time through and through. And to think, some guy probably took a year out of his life to get this made. If you want to watch a poorly made cardboard robot walk around for 17 minutes, than knock yourself out, otherwise watch the trailer on youtube and you've seen the film.
Surely the energy put into this project could have been better spent on a decent plasma TV or at least a real robot of some kind, one of those vacuum cleaner types perhaps.
The Green Mile (1999)
Partonizing and overwrought, but still a must see.
There are several things that bothered me about this film and I will get into that in a second, but first I must say The Green Mile has some of the best acting you will ever see in a movie. Tom Hanks has a special ability to make nothing seem like something. I often wonder if even HE knows what he's doing. You don't really notice it while he's doing it, but after the film find yourself feeling like you know the guy. Unlike being shocked by the sheer magnetism of a Marlin Brando, or the energy of Robert DeNiro, Hanks wins you over by appearing NOT to act. It's like you're watching a video of yourself going through what he is doing. Like you have lived it. Another special treat is gentle giant Michael Clarke Duncan playing the healer John Coffey. Such tenderness and control while holding back a flood of emotion, all without slipping into bathos is a rare thing indeed. Duncan should have won an academy award. A mesmerizing performance. Michael Jeter also turns in a fine performance as the Cajun convict Eduard Delacroix. Bonnie Hunt was doing such a good job I didn't even recognize her at first. The rest of the cast is all well chosen. Excellent performances all around.
My criticisms of the film are brief. I only mention them because were it not for these simple faults, I feel The Green Mile has a shot at the "greatest film of all time" title, and yes, I know that's saying a lot.
1) The movie was too long. There comes a time when you need to pick a storyline from the book and then throw the book out. Everything this film said and did could have easily been done in 2 hours and it would have had more impact. It also would have left the audience wanting more, like Apocalypse Now, vs. A.N. Redux.
2) I found the foul language and adult situations to be distracting from the topic and genre. A more traditional approach here would have made for a more timeless and accessible work. The language was too "on the head" (see point 4) 3) I didn't like the special effect of how John Coffey heals. It was too... Steven Kingish? A more subtle approach would have been more thought provoking, which leads me to my last point...
4) The movie frequently tries too hard. It has 17 endings, like with Shawshank, it has endless underscoring of its messages and points, it rambles, it over-explains, it hits the nail on the head -- twice, just in case you missed the first one. It would take pages to explain this point in detail, so suffice to say, if you agree, you know what I am talking about, and if you disagree, you will love this film all the more.
I know this is sacrilege to filmmakers and impossible, but I would love to see a highly edited version of this film. Take out the healing effects. Cut the modern day beginning and ending off. Remove the language (it's a cruel world, okay okay, I get it), cut massive amounts of build up and redundancies. Let us just watch those incredible performances tell this beautiful story and most of all, let us think. We are not all that stupid, Frankly.
Queen for a Day (2000)
short film with a humorous idea that fizzles out
Queen for a day is a 3 minute short, (40 seconds of credits at end, tt 3:40) about a guy at a gym that is a personal trainer to beautiful women. I must first say if this is writer/director Greg Coolidge first project, I am impressed. Production wise it is very slick and professional looking. I caught it on the Atom Films website. The acting is good, the camera, sound and lighting is excellent, everything works, except the execution of the idea. It is hard to say this is actually a spoiler for two reasons: 1) it is easy to see the premise of the joke from the very beginning, so the reveal is not news and 2) the joke really has an anti-punch line, which is why the short doesn't work.
It starts off with a funny, albeit juvenile premise; a gay guy is a trainer to beautiful women. This puts the women at ease and allows him to do all sorts of gratuitous fondling of them. It is soon revealed that, of course, he is not gay, but is working a scam. This is where the film falls apart. It ends with all the people around him actually being gay, which, aside from being implausible, is a sort of anti-punch line that leaves you with a "so what?" feeling. There is a rule in comedy which says "do not block", in other words, go with the idea, do not stop it. I suppose some gays may find the ending cute, but it certainly is not funny. It is a pity because the set-up was pretty strong. A little more work on the script and perhaps they could have come up with something worth watching. As it stands it is a pointless short with some humorous moments.
Midnight Run (1988)
Schizophrenic, but a must see
Midnight Run has every potential to be the best film ever made. It has a solid plot, a magnificent cast, superb dialog and a budget to back all this up. Unfortunately, it is directed by a schizophrenic named Martin Brest. I have no idea if Martin is actually insane or if he just acts like it, but it makes little difference as his movies all turn out the same: a good idea with good casting ruined by stupid decisions. He's like a mad scientist that builds a space ship, but then wants to fly it to Oregon to build an Indian casino.
This is a frustrating movie as it is always so close to being brilliant, then *POW* out of nowhere, and for no reason, it will turn into the Dukes of Hazard. This is the only film I can think of that I would love to see remade with its original cast. For the latter it is a must see. I can't remember liking DeNiro more than I did in this film, Grodin gives the best performance of his career and is just fantastic, Farina is perfect, Joey Pants is hilarious (I love Pants in almost everything he does mostly because I get the feeling he's not really acting).
When the movie works, it relies heavily on the talents of it's actors and the scripts great dialog. It's a very clever and smartly written comedy, but also a keen study of human emotions and relationships. This is probably at it's height in a heart wrenching scene between De Niro and his "abandoned" 14 year old daughter, a small part played perfectly by Danielle DuClos. The film rapidly deteriorates, however, every time it tries to pick up the action. Cue the goofy b-movie chase music, cue the bullets that just barely miss hundreds of times, cue the national guard sized force that just can't seem to get the job done. Cue dozens of eye rolling clichés and impossible escapes. Martin.... why? I firmly believe that if rather than the cartoonish action sequences, the film would have delved into a gritty, perhaps even frightening realism it could have been AFI top 100 material. The talent was certainly all there.
There is no getting around the bad parts of this film, they are too intertwined to avoid, but do not let that stop you from seeing it. The scenes with De Niro and Grodin (et. al.) are so good it should be on everyone's must see list.
It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1963)
Tedious and not funny at all
This film is not funny. You may say you enjoy it, you may sy you love it, it may even make you happy, but it is most certainly not funny. I enjoy comedy of all kinds. From Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and The Marx Brothers to Woody Allen, Niel Simon and The Farrelly Brothers. I like Monty Python and I like Martin & Lewis. I LOVE comedy. There is nothing about this film I did not "get". There is nothing to "get". This film is simply not funny. I am not stupid, a snob, a stick in the mud, jaded, too modern, too old fashioned, crude, juvenile or have no sense of humor. It is not my problem, it is the film's. It is not funny. Trust me. If you have not seen this film you are not missing anything. It plays like a 3 hour version of Mama's Family with massive stunt casting.
I am not here to disrespect anyone or ruffle the feathers of those who say they like this film, I just want to warn anyone who thinks they are going to see a comedy. This is not a comedy. Rent The Dish or The God's Must Be Crazy if you are looking for a new comedy to add to your list. Stay away from this film unless you enjoy not laughing. If you have a rib injury and need to avoid laughing, this is the film for you. If you are looking to laugh, you will feel like a tourist in Times Square playing 3 card monty. As Foghorn Leghorn would say: You'll, I say You'll get robbed, son.
I remember seeing a TV movie when I was young that I thought was hilarious, and then seeing the same movie when I was an adult. I was shocked at how unfunny the film was. Perhaps that is the phenomenon with this film, people saw it when they were young and remember it as a film they liked, but have not seen it since. I suppose it is possible to actually think this film IS funny, but that would only shed light on the infantile sense of humor that some people have. I can imagine showing this film to an audience of people that have never seen it and watching it illicit an uproar of cat calls and boo's.
To all who tell me not to judge what is funny and what is not, I sentence you to watch It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
Bottle Rocket (1996)
Good acting, bad script.
Bottle Rocket is not a bad film, but it is a disappointing film. The movie is solidly made; good directing, especially considering this was Wes Anderson's freshman outing, excellent acting all around, especially Owen Wilson in his screen debut, and a nice look, visually, but it suffers from a pointless script. The dialog is fine and frequently fun and quirky, but the entire script was pointless and meandering. It had no direction or objective and had constant implausible situations (e.g.) they allow civilians into the "yard" to visit prisoners in a state pen? It would have been nice to have spent more time developing the characters and finding out why they are the way they are, the thing that makes The Godfather so superb. I understand that this is a film about slackers, but the stakes were so low and so poorly executed that I didn't follow it, didn't buy it or didn't care. The movie The Full Monty had a similar basis and executed the idea superbly, so I don't feel it was that I didn't "get it". It is a pity because this movie has real potential. It is a fairly good watch so far as it is original and witty, but do not expect to follow any type of cohesive story, because there isn't one. Slight spoiler: Like the subplot of the lead's affair with the maid, it is beautifully executed, but it goes nowhere.
After watching Bottle Rocket I was left feeling like I had just eaten just one small hamburger at a drive in. It was good, but where's the beef?
The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
A valiant effort, ruined by socialist exaggerations.
I hesitate to write a bad review of The Grapes of Wrath because I know that to many people who view it apolitically, it is simply a very well made drama. To such people my criticism may seem merely like muckraking. If, however, you are observing the misinformation that the premise of this film is built upon, then I believe it legitimately fails. I understand the poetic license that artists take to make a good story, and I am willing to grant that license. However, I feel that, when tallied, this film's erroneous statements go far beyond the pale of poetry and cross into the realm of propaganda and silliness. It's the difference between "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" vs. Charlie Daniels "In America". The former inspires me, the latter is a joke.
Another aspect of the movie that bothered me was its disconcerting take on morals. It begins, fittingly, with someone being mocked for obeying a rule. Henry Fonda, a murderer just out on parole, berates a truck driver for obeying a rule that prohibits him from giving rides. What if Fonda had hijacked him, would the truck driver be a prude or an idiot? In the next scene, God gets the ax. Fonda comes across a disillusioned vagabond, the family's ex-parson. He brags that his sermons were emotional hype and confesses that he liked to sleep with the women that got caught up in "the spirit" at his meetings. Now, he says, he has lost hope. He does not state this as a fault, so much as it is confusing to him why "the spirit" has left him. Strangely, this later state of the preacher is looked upon by Fonda as being clairvoyant. Everything that happens in The Grapes of Wrath happens within the context of morality being a relative thing, certainly one devoid of divine appointment. Everything from lying to murder is excusable if done by the right people or for the right reasons. A few examples:
- Upon seeing Fonda out of prison, most of his family is hoping he broke out. His parole comes as a disappointment.
- The murder he was sentenced to seems irrelevant.
- The sharecroppers are willing to kill the owners of the land to stop them from evicting them (they don't because it "won't do no good" not because it would be morally reprehensible).
- (slight spoiler) Fonda murders another man for murdering his friend, and Fonda's mother not only excuses the murder without knowing what her son's motive was, but offers to cover it up by hiding her son.
I, personally, have a hard time rooting for such protagonists. I also found Fonda's character to be too abusive and insolent many times.
Overall, I find the authors socialist overtones cliché and cockeyed:
Its opinion of authority is comical. All cops are evil thugs, all employed towns people are absentee cowards, all successful businessmen are thoughtless criminals, and essentially everybody in the film that has employment are only out for themselves and their first impulse is always to be rude and uncaring.
The film's opinion of how people treated each other in the '30's is askew. No doubt, some people where cold and heartless, that is a given at any time, but where are the good people? There is not a single group or individual (with any means, that is) helping any of these people, esp. children? Where are the soup kitchens, churches, etc..? The premise of the script is built upon this nonsense. Quick research into the Great Depression will reveal a contrary reality. People where mostly very kind and helpful to each other. It's how we survived as a country. Many other countries turned to anarchy.
Its opinion of progress is very cockeyed. The tractors are pictured as giant evil job gobblers. In reality, modernization made it so poor people could get better paying jobs and live a much higher quality of life.
Its opinion of what role religion plays in American life is cockeyed.
Its opinion of land ownership is cockeyed. If I rent land, and the owner wants to take it back, that is part of my contractural agreement. Oddly, it appears the farm owners were actually doing them a favor by getting rid of them. If they were not successful, their grandparents should have thrown in the towel decades before. But I am expected to sympathize with this.
Its opinion of how the government helps people is not only cockeyed, it's backwards. If anyone is guilty of screwing people and taking away their rights, it's government. Reality is so much different that this issue becomes a farce. In one scene, the only thing missing from the government run workers camp were angles playing harps. You may argue that Roosevelt's WPA helped people, but many scholars argue that it actually prolonged the depression.
The entire premise of the "Okie migration" is not factual as presented here, Google the topic to find out. For example; the migration of the Midwest was transpiring since the teens. The bulk of it occurred in the 40's, not the thirties, as employment became abundant in California due to WWII. There are a plethora of other non-truths in this script. So much so that the movie was protested by many people in California. Steinbeck grossly misrepresents the facts.
I could go on much longer, but I am limited to 1000 words. All of this is not to say The Grapes of Wrath does not have good and valid points about how we should help people and think of them before profits. I just think they are lost in an ocean of deception and lies. As a movie making effort: 9.5 out of 10. As a whole: 3 out of 10.
Blackboard Jungle (1955)
Overacting, cartoonish stereotypes, a snail like pace and a script that says nothing make up this "classic" worshiped by the denizens of counter-culture culture. The only reason why this film could get any praise is because it was, perhaps, the first studio film to make an anti-establishment message, hardly a criterion for a good film. I happen to feel it fails both as a movie and a social soapbox, but from the looks of the impact it has had in the past 50 years, I guess I overestimate it's target audience.
My first complaint about Blackboard Jungle would have to be the direction. All of the (thirtysomething) high school students are overacting, especially Vic Morrow, who it appears is making a desperate attempt to emulate Marlin Brando. Morrow's brooding and prison like cockiness in this role may have been shocking at a time when most kids wore sweaters to school, but now it just comes off as obvious and annoying, like a cross between Arnold Horshack and Mike Tyson. The bad acting in this film seems to come in groups; All the male youth are clichéd thugs that look and talk more like they are auditioning for a Broadway musical than they are being a menace to society. In fact, the boys even dance with each other several times, a function that might come in handy if they are ever attacked by the cast of West Side Story. All the authority figures are all mean spirited boobs, the women are all damsels in distress, and the protagonists are all artsy academic types that honor a mob-like code of silence in regards to the trouble going on around them. Why notify authorities on a knife wielding teen when you could just show him cartoons? The story is no better. Liberal themes abound; bad behavior is never punished, it is only misunderstood, the "establishment" has no desire to fix problems, they only want to propagate them, all blacks are good people (and excellent musicians!) and concluding with the harbinger; everything you have been taught by traditional American society is wrong, and only enlightened academicians can save you.
Those who say they love this film will no doubt accuse me of not getting it, though that would be incongruous, as my major complaint about Black Board Jungle is that it hammers it's point home so relentlessly that it becomes a joke. I can imagine how teenage iconoclasts were inspired when they saw this film, not unlike how The Bad News Bears inspired a delinquent generation of foul mouthed kids in the 70's, but at least the latter was funny. I won't go into how ironic it is that the purveyors of such claptrap are the ones that are saddling society with so many rules that you can't even walk on a sand dune on Cape Cod without being imprisoned. Wait a minute... was that hate speech? I need to check this weeks p.c. updates to see what's okay to say and think. Well, if it was, I only said it because I'm a poor Hispanic crippled vegetarian.
Meeting Agnus (2002)
A 12 minute short that feels like a 3 hour Lutheran church meeting
Have you ever heard someone tell a joke which goes on way too long, so long that you realize it has gone far beyond what any possible punch line could ever recover it from, which, of course, proves true as the punch line is a pun along the lines of; "I left my harp in Stan Frans disco". Well, Meeting Agnus is like that joke, but without a punch line. Apparently director Alexander Pappas misunderstood the meaning of the word "short" in the phrase "short film". This is a tortuously long short that conveys a simple idea that could be told in about 12 seconds. Pappas does it in 60 times that.
It would help if the film explained who was who and why they were doing it, but then you would have nothing to guess about and you would know immediately that it stinks. Perhaps I am too harsh on it, as it was fairly well made and acted. I don't want to be hard on Pappas, he does an excellent job in all other regards. In fact, it probably could have been a good short if it had something called... what's the word... notboringashell? But don't take my word for it, google the title and see for yourself.
When watching bad shorts my nagging question is always "why?" Why was all this effort and money used to make something so mundane, so pointless? It's not like making a crappy feature, that you can trick people into buying; you can't sell a short. It is made primarily for the director. And another thing, I don't know what it is about amateur filmmakers that make them think that people would be interested in everything little thing they do, rather than what they say, but their films are almost always too long with no point. It's like a musician that thinks that watching him set up his equipment is as enjoyable as the song he plays, both of which he does poorly. In that regard, this short plays like a 12 minute version of "Shave and a Haircut".
Three O'Clock High (1987)
A great film that was never given a fair chance.
Another little known, rarely mentioned film that for unknown reasons fell between the cracks. When atrocities like The Wild Wild West and Men In Black I & II make hundreds of millions, it is an enigma that great films such as Three O'clock High languish in obscurity. I am an avid film buff but have no recollection of this movie ever being released. It only made 3.7 mil. at the box office, I wonder if the director stepped on the wrong toes and someone intentionally tanked the project? IMDb trivia says Stephen Spielberg executive produced it, but had his name removed from the credits. That is always a negative thing in Hollywood, something done in protest. Joanou's trivia says he once punched out a studio executive on the set, could this be that set? Very strange, and what a pity, because this is a very good film. I gave it a 10 to up it's IMDb rating, though it is probably more like an 8. It has it's moments, however, that are well worth checking out, that occasionally make it worthy of a 10.
One of the more enjoyable elements of this film is the photography. Director Joanou, who started in music videos, teams up with Barry Sonnenfeld, of Coen brothers fame, and makes for some highly stylized cinematography. Though some of it might seem passé today, keep in mind at the time it was made (1987) nobody was doing anything like it. Guy Ritchie seems to have been influenced by it... 13 years later.
Superb performances by the two leads, Casey Siemaszko and especially Richard Tyson as the bully. The only time I have seen Tyson match his caliber here was in, of all things, Something About Mary, but I still think he has it in him. He plays a great heavy. The film is a bit slow now and then. Certain bits could be completely removed and the film would be better off without it. Overall it is a good film and, save a little language, safe for kids. Also, great soundtrack by Tangerine Dream. Check it out.
Laugh Trax (1982)
Funny short lived sketch show
I remember seeing Howie Mandel for the first time on this TV show that aired in the early 80's (I could not tell you what network). He played a shoe salesman in one sketch wearing a rubber glove on his head and a giant glove shaped bag on his side (is that from his act?) at any rate, it worked for me and, trust me, I am not exactly a Howie Mandel fan. I thought the few episodes I saw were hilarious. The show had shades of Monty Python and SCTV. I am not sure who inspired it, though I see SCTV alum Jim Staahl was a writer. I just remember laughing my ass off. For some strange reason, at least in North Carolina, it aired in the afternoon. If Jim Staahl does not look exactly like Ed Bagley Jr., than the latter was on the show too. Strange it showing at that time of day. It would air soon after the show 20 Minute Work Out, another gem from the early 80's that seemed to come from out of nowhere, and disappear into the same. I would be interested in knowing where this show came from and why it died so quickly. Also, who were the cast members not listed? Strange also how this is the only comment on the show. I googled Laugh Trax and got nothing. Why isn't there any info on this show. What is going on here? This page looks like an abandoned warehouse. Heelllooo! ... loooo
looooo Fwwwwp! (dart to neck) Merv?.... black out
The Aristocrats (2005)
Like a insane dust bowl farmer in an acre of human waste, The Aristocrats tills the soil for laughs and after 89 minutes of plowing comes up with a wagon full of crap.
This documentary misses on every level.
The Aristocrats has many of the top names in comedy telling their version of the famous joke by the same title. As the joke goes, a man walks into an agent's office and pitches his act. The description of the act is the point of the joke, and a good comic can have a field day with it, all that matters is that what ever is described must be very juvenile and unsophisticated... very UNaristocratic. The punch line is the agent asking "What is the name of the act? " "The Aristocrats", is the answer, said with the snobbish flare of Jerry Lewis on a Larry King interview.
Where the producers/director of this film came derailed is in mistakenly believing that the joke is about nothing more that an opportunity to be obscenely crude and distasteful. The result is a 90 minute school yard joke, but with more gruesome and articulate detail, even to the point of morbidity. Comedy fans will be very disappointed, disturbed 10 year old boys will think they won the lottery.
I was amazed, considering the caliber of some of the comedians they were able to procure, that this was the path chosen to give the film it's voice. It seems obvious the creators were gunning for the more bankable "shock value" rather than the more risky intellectual route of offering the audience a glimpse into the mind of a comics comic. What a pity. What a waste. They had Don Rickles, one of the fastest minds in comedy, and they only used him for one line, but the never funny Bob Saget, one of the foulest and clueless in the movie, gets 10 minutes. Idiots.
The film also fails in its inexcusably bad cinematography and poor editing. With today's technology any moron with 800 dollars can get a professional grade digital camera and sound kit to shoot a movie. This film looks like it was shot on aunt Lolly's camcorder. Also annoying are constant extreme close ups for no reason (do I really need to see George Carlin's blackheads?) annoying jump cuts, shaky camera movements and stupid grainy black & white effects that do not fit the style of this sort of documentary. Note to amateur filmmakers: Quit trying to distract us by looking artistic - just lock down the damn camera and let us see what you got. A lame attempt at cinema verité will not cover for the fact that you suck.
Perhaps most frustrating of all is that most of the comedians telling The Aristocrats didn't even get the essence of the joke, but rather, as previously mentioned, looked at it as an opportunity to show off how well they could describe bowel movements and incest, usually in the same context. Another major principal missed by many was that for the joke to make sense, anything the "act" does must be repeatable, otherwise it is not an act, but just a one time event. Most comedians did not grasp this idea, and left the plausibility of the joke for the tantalizing trophy of being the "most offensive" (as if only a comedic genius could do that?). For example, raping and murdering your daughter (a theme frequented by many, along with a curious obsession with sodomy) is not something that an act could reasonably repeat. But more important to the joke, there is nothing that is UN-aristocratic about murder or rape or a preoccupation with feces, et. al.., they are merely dark and unspoken elements of society. In order for the punch line to make sense the details must be ridiculous from an aristocratic view point. Not only does this make better sense, but it is far more funny.
For example: A grandfather running around the stage naked with a roman candle stuck between his butt cheeks singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic, would not be considered aristocratic, and therefore, funny, whereas a grandfather that violently humiliated and sexually assaulted his grandson then murdered him, would not be funny, it would just be disturbing. Where's the comedy in that? More importantly, where's the creativity?
Is it just me, or is modern comedy turning rancid?
Return of the Secaucus Seven (1979)
My Clue guess: Col. Crapper in the bathroom with a plunger
Return of the Secaucus Seven begins with a shot of a man doing a half hearted job of plunging a filthy toilet, and goes down hill from there. Only desperately insecure ex-hippies or their sycophants could praise this very poorly made and unimaginative work. Nothing against writer/director John Sayles, he is excellent ... but not on this film.
I'm just trying to be realistic here for anyone looking for an unbiased opinion. Sayles was 28 or 29 at the time he made this and it was his first film, made by novices on a shoe string budget. Seriously now, how good could it be? Yet it is not the low budget feel that bothers me about this film, although it is quite annoying with it's monkey camera operators, stag film bad lighting and camcorder like sound. It is not the wooden and forced acting on the part of it's inexperienced cast, who, I am not saying is amateur, but every time they would speak their eyes would roll back in their head and the rest of the cast would mouth the line along with them. It was not the unattractive boring cast whose idea of an interesting character choice is singing like Dan Fogelberg on ludes or doing bad impressions of Humphrey Bogart. No, the thing that is really annoying about this film is it's tedious and pretentious script. To think that anyone would be interested in watching a film about a group of uninteresting unmarried unscrupulous 30 year olds kvetching about life as they jump from bed to bed is pretty cocky on the part of the author. If you are not going to have an interesting storyline, you had better have some damn good dialog, like in Diner or Manhattan, or at least an interesting character like in Yojimbo or The Good The Bad and The Ugly, or even Creature From the Black Lagoon.
Several here on the IMDb have praised this films dialog. My guess is they are members of a secret Hippie society that have a Gestapo like fervor for anything that espouses hippie virtues. In reality, the dialog is juvenile at best. It romanticizes such lofty ideals as bean farts and the nuances of puking. The rock band Rush is referred to as a "progressive" band (in 1980? What? Perhaps in 1975 stoner circles), a small tip off as to how out of touch the script is.
A large portion of the script is dedicated to events that have nothing to do with the story. I suppose this is to help develop the characters, but shouldn't those characters first be worth developing? Come on, John, it's bad enough we have to watch the actors suck at acting, do we have to watch them suck at charades as well? What would make you think we would enjoy watching them argue about obvious political opinions, girls playing Clue, or men diving naked into a river? (note major shrinkage factor in chilly New Hampshire water) Speaking of which, what's with that strange leg tuck David Strathairn did every time he took a dive? He looked like a Don Martin cartoon from MadMagazine. That was the final straw for me. I'll bet Richard Nixon could dive better than that. Hypocrites.
Shannon's Deal (1989)
An excellent show. Don't believe it's 5.8 rating, that's a network stooge conspiracy.
I don't know why Shannon's Deal is rated so low on the IMDb. It was a wonderful show with excellent writing and acting. Jamie Sheridon was born to play this part, or he made it look that way. He was superb as Jack Shannon, and I remember thinking he would was going to be huge, which has yet to happen, unfortunately (yet David Caruso is? Strange how that works). Shannon's Deal gets an IMDb 5.8? Impossible. Anyone that voted this show below an 8 is a liar. They most likely did not even see the show, or they are the bitter and twisted network stooge that pulled the plug on it and are now in a conspiracy to destroy it to cover for the fact that they don't have a human head. That's my theory. I gave it a 10 to help out it's overall score, which is definitely a stretch, but it is an 8 or 9, especially considering the crap that passes for Emmy nods and boffo ratings now days. What is up with John Sayles (writer) career? He is either the most nonchalant writer in Hollywood or the most desperate. He writes and directs some of the most beautiful works ever made, and then he plays Cop #3 in a B movie. What a strange career. Well he did an excellent job with Shannon's Deal. If this is available on DVD it is highly recommended.