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A little workplace comedy with a big heart
Shelved follows the day-to-day lives of a fictitious group of librarians and regular patrons at the Parkdale Public Library in Toronto. Head librarian Wendy Yarmouth is relentlessly perky and naive, and finds herself struggling to make tough calls. Assistant head Bryce deLaurel is misogynistic and set in his ways. Junior librarian Jaq Bedard is snarky and likes to mess with others for her own amusement. New to the branch is Howard Tutt, who tries to prove to everyone that he's not elitist, but he consistently winds up tripping over his own feet. Sheila Boyd is a put-together part time worker who runs the community desk and is a love interest for Howard. "Unhoused Wendy" Brown is a homeless woman who uses the facilities while trying to get her life back together. And Alvin Canada is a pretentious businessman who uses the study room as his personal office.
In the 2020s, there's a real problem with comedies that are either mean-spirited or trying so hard not to offend anyone that they're just not funny. I'm happy to say that Shelved doesn't fall into either of those categories. The character of Bryce, for example, should be thoroughly unlikable. He says and does some awful things (that are also really funny), but it comes from a place of ignorance rather than spite, so his coworkers still like him despite his very glaring character flaws. The third episode featured a timely story centering on a drag queen heading up story time. It could have come across as either mean or preachy, but they handled it with subtlety, class, and humor. And speaking as someone who spent a year living in their car, I'm thrilled to see that Unhoused Wendy was treated with respect rather than being a total stereotype (she's a little stereotypical in her first outing, but gets better in later episodes). If all homeless persons were depicted like this rather than lazy losers and drug addicts, then I might not have had to endure what I went through.
There's a real heart in this show which is unusual for current TV. Comparisons to "Parks & Rec," "The Office" and countless similar workplace shows have flown fast and hard, but personally, I think it's more like "Schitt's Creek" with a little more ethnic diversity -- there's a broad range of eccentric characters who learn to put up with the quirks of the people around them, and even sometimes love them precisely for their quirks. That's life, folks.
I need to take a moment to gush about Lyndie Greenwood. Wendy is a total 180 from the characters that she's played in the past, and she's WONDERFUL in the role. Greenwood always shines brightly, but comedy seems to suit her really well, and I hope she gets more opportunities to be funny.
The season's currently halfway through, but I'm looking forward to the rest and hoping they get picked up for more. The show's really good, but it has the potential to truly become a classic if given the opportunity.
Heavens to Betsy (1995)
It doesn't deserve to be lost media
Country stars Luke and Betsy Baxter had a string of hit duets which led them to headline in Las Vegas, but after Luke suddenly dropped dead, Betsy heard the voice of God, who told her to return home to Grundy, Tennessee. Best friend Donna was elated to see her, but sister Lily was less than thrilled, perceiving Betsy as a irresponsible mess. Reverend Rockwood was also somewhat unsympathetic, although he liked having her heavenly voice in the choir. Before long, Betsy started seeing Herschel, her black guardian angel, who intermittently popped up to guide her in the right direction. She took a job waitressing at Spec's Diner, but after it was repossessed by the bank, she and passerby Joey bought it and went into business together. Angeline was Donna's teenage daughter, Charlotte was Lily's youngster, Bo was the local cop whom Betsy had a history with, and Mrs. Pepperwood was a spinster busybody. That gets the plot and primary characters out of the way...
Dolly Parton was very busy in 1994 with the release of her best-selling autobiography, a live album, and a line of makeup and wigs. The show got a lot of press and was supposed to debut in early 1995, but it suffered a series of production problems and has never officially seen the light of day. Which is a shame, because it's really not bad. To stick near her Tennessee home, Parton opted to shoot it at Nickelodeon Studios in Florida, and it was believed that this was gonna boost the studio into the big-time -- but it had exactly the opposite effect, pushing the studio into decline and eventual closure. Run-through rehearsals were blocked, shot, and sent on a satellite feed to Hollywood, where executives made their notes and faxed them back to the crew. This might've worked with 21st century video conference technology, but the lag in '90s communication was reportedly a nightmare for everyone involved, and resulted in a revolving-door of writers, producers, and actors.
Copies of the show began being passed around on VHS among Dolly's fans in the late 1990s, but I was never able to get my hands on them (there appear to be both rehearsals and the final cuts in circulation). Eventually, most episodes found their way to Facebook (only to vanish again), although only one episode was from the final taping with the audience, the rest were rehearsals, and the multi-generation video quality was pretty terrible.
Watching it, it was very evident that there were production issues. Guardian angel Herschel must've been added in the second show (which was missing), restaurateur Spec was the central focus of one episode and he was gone the next week, and other characters seemed to enter the ensemble only to be dropped or pushed into the background. It was definitely inconsistent... and predictably, there were WAY too many jokes about Parton's bust.
That said, it wasn't so bad that it should be locked away forever. Parton was her charming, quick-witted self, Connie Schulman was a hoot as her hick bestie, Boyd Gaines had some hilarious moments as the Reverend, loved to hate Connie Ray as her condescending sister, and Parton had great chemistry with John Caponera, her character's eventual business partner. Sure, it was a mixed bag, but there were certainly some funny moments (plus several musical numbers), and it was elevated by the cast.
Here's hoping that the final cuts all make their way online someday, either officially or unofficially. I understand why the powers that be lost faith in it, but it still should have burned off on TV over the summer of '95, cuz it's not so bad that it deserved to be lost media. There were WAY worse sitcoms that year (If Not For You, Simon, and the Get Smart revival all jump to mind), and honestly, it's less of a trainwreck than Dolly's now-most-recent film, Mountain Magic Christmas.
Pungo: A Witch's Tale (2020)
Better than IMDb suggests
Grace Sherwood has just inherited the home of an ancestor who was drown after being alleged to have been a witch. It's in disrepair, so she hires a pair of handymen to fix it up. Soon, the three of them -- and the house itself -- are sucked away to a parallel dimension where Grace comes face-to-face with her namesake.
This was VERY loosely based on a true story (the real witch of Pungo didn't drown) and it was clearly a labor of love for writer/director Philip J. Cook, so it's disheartening to see how brutal (and downright idiotic) some of these reviews are. It's very low-budget, the script is clunky in spots, the editing could be tightened, and the cast is green (the three leads are decent, others are just serviceable), but what it lacks, it more than makes up for in creativity and ambition. It's got an unusual story that mashes up horror, fantasy and sci-fi (the third act is pretty gonzo -- and I mean that as a compliment!), there are great visuals, cool locations, creepy monsters, well-placed jump scares, and pretty good FX. It's not perfect by any stretch, but it does have a helluva lot going for it.
We've reached an era when Hollywood refuses to make anything original, so this interesting indie is a breath of fresh air. It feels like the type of oddity that would have developed a big cult following if it had been released in the days of VHS rentals.
The Ink Thief (1994)
When the Waverlys move to a new home, young Samantha and Jim wander into an abandoned toy shop in the back yard, which they discover is home to The Ink Thief. The titular imaginary creature is supposed to provide inspiration for the arts, but the current Ink Thief has come to the realization that he can consume imagination from books, arts, and toys to boost his own powers, and he develops aspirations of becoming human. In his shop, Jim becomes transfixed on a book that unlocks all of the mysteries of the universe, so The Ink Thief takes the boy under his wing. Meanwhile, The Ink Thief's sister, librarian Mizz Tiggle, bonds with Samantha, introduces her to the rest of the Bumps (other imaginary creatures), and takes her on a journey to reunite the four elements (Earth, Water, Cheese, and Air) in an effort to defeat her self-centered brother.
Written by Paul Springer, who plays Toddy, The Ink Thief's dimwitted cat-man minion (he also penned a novelization), the show is definitely creative and unique. All of the cast devour the scenery and numerous actors appear in dual roles. Richard "Rocky Horror" O'Brien gives a tour-de-force performance as the title character and Joyce Springer is appropriately hammy as his sister. Springer is sympathetic, Richard Ridings deserves mention as the Thief's right-hand Rat-man, and Toyah Willcox gives it her all as the dog.
There are a few things that prevent the show from being truly great. First of all, it was more ambitious than the budget allowed. Featuring a mixture of primitive CGI, cel-animation, and blue-screen, it doubtlessly looked cheap in 1994, but some of it is almost painful 30 years later. Next up is the music. The Ink Thief and the Rock (the earth element) each have a showstopping musical number, but other songs feel completely random, and they wasted singer Willcox with a forgettable tune. The final problem is the ending. Without spoiling anything, it feels like efforts made in the previous episodes were relatively pointless and the takedown of the villain is sort of anticlimactic. As much as I hate to suggest it, the show might benefit from a reboot, or even a big-screen adaptation. There's definitely some brilliance here, but it doesn't quite reach the heights that it could have.
For fans of O'Brien and lovers of the weird, the show's worth tracking down. VHS rips have been circulating online for quite some time, but it's more recently been made officially available in the UK on amazon and BritBox. Hopefully, it'll get an American release someday.
Sundays with Sid Krofft (2020)
After 80+ years in showbiz, a living legend finally gets his due
Throughout the 1970s innovative puppeteer Sid Krofft and business mogul brother Marty were household names thanks to the myriad of bizarre Saturday morning and primetime variety shows that they produced. Unfortunately, a few epic flops and failed business ventures found the brothers left in the dust as the landscape of TV changed in the '80s. Although the Krofft name was once very well-known, the public never really had the opportunity to get to know Sid. He was seldom asked for interviews, his more-articulate brother tended to dominate conversations, and all that journalists wanted to discuss were their two biggest hits: H. R. Pufnstuf and Land of the Lost. Few were interested in relating stories that predated Sid's TV career and partnership with Marty, which was a travesty since he had a full 30 years in the entertainment industry before breaking into TV.
Enter Kelly Killian, an acquaintance and neighbor who imposed herself upon Sid when she realized he was in need of assistance following a surgery. Kelly grew up in the '80s, so his name wasn't especially impressive to her, but she was awed as he regaled her with tales of headlining in the freakshow, touring the world with his puppets, and hobnobbing with a variety of entertainment royalty (Sid's a shameless name-dropper!). They developed a genuine friendship and a few years later when everyone went into COVID lockdown, Kelly created an Instagram account, pointed a phone at Sid, and demanded that he speak. He hesitantly obliged.
Amazing, seldom-heard stories began spilling out, and as he realized that people were genuinely interested, his comfort and confidence increased. The first chunk of the 2020 episodes were filled with anecdotes about his life prior to television -- and frankly, those are the most fascinating tales -- but eventually, he began discussing each of the TV shows in-depth. In July 2020, bestie Paul Reubens Zoomed in as an inaugural guest, and other big-named friends, former coworkers, current business associates, and obsessive fans followed suit. Sundays with Sid started as a video journal, but gradually morphed into something of a talk show.
Sid repeats his most cherished stories often (remarking that it's just what old people do!), but his mind is sharp and even as a cynical 90-something, he exudes the vibe of an eight-year-old boy who's still in awe of the world. That's his inherent personality, so it's easy to see why so many celebrities love him and where all of those joyously deranged kiddie shows came from! Meanwhile, Kelly anchors things off-screen by directing him, providing occasional banter, asking probing questions, and dealing with the various technical annoyances. With zoom calls and split-screen audio commentaries, the show is sometimes WAY more ambitious than the $0 budget allows, but the crude nature makes it feel all the more appropriately Krofft-like.
What else can I say? Sid attended one of the very first screenings of The Wizard of Oz and can recall the precise date and theater. He became close friends with Judy Garland and Liberace, he was fired by Gypsy Rose Lee and Dean Martin, and he has a personal story about practically every other Hollywood legend (ranging from Walt Disney to Joan Crawford to Courteney Cox!). At the height of his fame, he delighted in masquerading as a snake farmer, and he later hit the town with an even more incognito Michael Jackson. He survived a lethal hurricane, one of his puppets literally ignited a fire, he was ripped off by McDonald's in a truly epic way, he briefly had his own theme park... and this is all just the tip of the iceberg!
Sid Krofft is a guy who's led a very interesting life and sorta revels in the fact that he's a weirdo. Being familiar with his TV resume helps, but it's not a prerequisite to enjoy Sundays with Sid. He's overflowing with fascinating memories, and it's truly awesome that he's found this weekly outlet to share them with the world!
VHS Nasty (2019)
Watch "Ban the Sadist Videos!" instead
As a young American horror fan, I was vaguely aware of the "video nasty" craze as it happened, because it catapulted back across the pond, resulting in increasingly ridiculous censorship. So when I noticed this doc on a streaming service, I figured there were many things that I didn't know about the British video crackdown. I was right, but certainly didn't find answers here.
The only thing that I can say about "VHS Nasty" that hasn't already been said is the interviewees aren't uninteresting, and several make valid points. This footage could have worked if it had been framed properly as a documentary, giving a more historical context to the story. Unfortunately, as is, it's just random people giving their thoughts and opinions. And since the opinions are largely the same, it quickly devolves into tedious redundancy.
I had no intention of writing a review for this, but because I watched it a few weeks ago, the algorithm gods recommended a 2005 doc called "Ban the Sadist Videos!" That one does a much better job of presenting the same story, with the aid of clips, vintage interviews, and insights from various industry persons.
Really, Raquel (1974)
An impressive cabaret and puppet show
After headlining her first TV special, a dumb joke erupted in Hollywood that Raquel Welch had lipsanc to another singer's recordings. In an effort to disprove the rumors, she hit the Las Vegas stage with a variation of this show on New Year's 1973. Once the Vegas engagement ended, she moved on to Reno (and possibly elsewhere), and then the production was shot as a TV special.
A few dancers aside, Welch's only costars are made of wood and foam, provided by Saturday morning moguls Sid and Marty Krofft. Sid had begun his career manipulating handheld rod puppets in carnivals, and this special provides a rare opportunity to get a glimpse of some of his tiny creations. After the Krofft brothers agreed to create the costumes for "The Banana Splits Adventure Hour," they became renowned for churning out costumed characters -- such as Ook the caveman and Oonk-Oonk the dinosaur, guest stars on their TV show "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" who make another appearance here.
"Really, Raquel" opens with a powerful rendition of "Let Me Entertain You" (including an excerpt of "Rose's Turn") from the Broadway musical "Gypsy." At the midpoint of the song, it abruptly turns into an overblown Busby Berkeley puppet production number, featuring eight tuxedo-clad dancers manipulating long rods, at the end of which dangled four identical miniature showgirls. It's quite an opening number, beautifully performed, shot, and edited.
She goes on to sing an eclectic array of songs, including Linda Ronstadt's "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight," Thelma Houston's "Cheap Lovin'," James Taylor's "Steam Roller Blues," Elvis Presley's "Saved," Duke Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me (But Don't Tease Me)," plus songs from Funny Girl, Porgy and Bess, and others.
One could say that the show is a giant exercise in narcissism - and it is - but Welch keeps her tongue firmly planted in cheek. She gives a monologue about her public perception and the realities, and she performs "A Medley of My Movies," featuring campy sendups of "One Million Years B. C.," "Kansas City Bombers," "Fantastic Voyage" and "Myra Breckinridge." There's also a frantic dance interlude where she's accompanied by two males in half-drag.
Welch is regularly upstaged by puppets, but she doesn't seem to mind (Marty has joked Raquel was miffed that the critics lavished the Krofft brothers with praise, even though they were never at the performances). A highlight of the show is a puppet symphony filled with a wide assortment of celebrities, including Frankenstein, Dracula, the Beatles, the 3 Stooges, the Marx Brothers, Carol Channing, Al Jolson, Alfred Hitchcock, Bing Crosby, Shirley Temple, Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Louis Armstrong, W. C. Fields, and Mae West. Some of these marionettes were featured at the legendary World's Fair show "Les Poupées des Paris," and it's a treat to see them preserved here.
Welch was quite the chanteuse and moved with elegant grace, but I'm not crazy about some of the song choices, and there's a yo-yoing rise-and-fall to them -- which is appropriate for a lounge act, but quickly grows tiresome on TV (admittedly, this could be my 21st century ADD). Although "portions of this program were recorded before a live audience," there's never a sense that she's playing to a crowd, it exudes that phony 1970s variety show vibe.
Minor criticisms aside, "Really, Raquel" is a wonderful record of a live stage show that must've been really impressive. It holds up for being what it is, and I hope someday, the special will attain a legitimate release.
Rutherford Falls (2021)
Depressing "comedy" filled with selfish characters
When the town decides to move the statue of the founder out of the middle of the street, it raises the ire of descendant Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms), who shoots off his mouth, setting the plot in motion. Looking to capitalize on Nathan's uncouth remarks is Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes), a self-described "shark" who owns the local casino. Terry proceeds to hire Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), Nathan's best friend, to aid in his quest to reclaim land stolen from his people. Meanwhile, there's the reporter (Dustin Milligan) who's searching for an angle for his story, and the Mayor (Dana L. Wilson), who wants to boost herself out of the town.
This show doesn't work because every single character is played as both a protagonist and antagonist. They're each only serving their own interests, which not only makes them all sort of loathsome, but it creates a depressing overall story. Reagan comes out virtually unscathed, and they deftly handled Nathan's brother (Ben Koldyke), but the balancing act was unsuccessful for nearly everyone else.
Compounding the problems is that it's not just played for entertainment -- no, nowadays, we have to bash viewers over the head with a message! The message that "white people are bad" is growing increasingly tiresome, and it's substantially more off-putting in this instance, since the Native Americans are depicted as a cruel and unforgiving people. (Seriously, who thought this was positive representation?)
I didn't want to write this review (particularly since I adore many cast and crew members), but it's a day later, and I'm still annoyed that I wasted five hours of my life on this show. The laughs were few and far between, and I felt worse when I was finished than when I started -- which is precisely what you don't want in a comedy!
The Melancholy Fantastic (2011)
A subdued variation of "May"
Melanie spends her days kicking around the family home, buying Hostess snowballs from the local mini-mart, visiting the library, and conversing with an eerie mannequin-headed doll named Mor. Over the course of the film, she builds a friendship with local goth outcast Dukkan, who's intrigued by the standoffish girl.
A few minutes in, and I was struck with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The basic story is identical to Lucky McKee's 2002 cult hit "May." I don't know if this was by design or total coincidence, but the similarities are undeniable. Where they differ is in the execution. With its bizarro lead character, flashbacks, montages, gore, and sumptuous musical score, "May" was boldly designed to grab people's attention. This one's a little more subdued and accessible to mainstream viewers.
True to its title, "The Melancholy Fantastic,"treats the story like a dramatic character study, relying on the performances to draw viewers in. And it works. Amy Crowdis is charming as the childlike Melanie (it's a shame that she didn't pursue more acting roles), and future-Penguin Robin Lord Taylor brings Dukken to life with a sensitive portrayal. The movie's well-paced (although intentionally slow), well-shot, it hints at the supernatural, and leaves you wanting more.
Although it feels like a remake, I'd certainly recommend this short flick if you like grim oddities.
The Big Bad B-Movie Show (2020)
A fun, corny, nostalgic throwback
The once-popular local-horror-host trend began in the 1950s, as television stations stocked their schedules with old films, and it pretty much ended in the late 1980s, when Elvira's popularity reached its zenith and black-and-white movies began vanishing from the airwaves. Not counting the plentiful online shows of the ilk, the ONLY horror host that I know of who still has a regular TV gig is Chicago's Svengoolie (who unfortunately, airs opposite this series -- although that's less of an issue in the age of streaming).
With dwindling content available due to the global insanity of 2020, the VP of Cleveland's CW affiliate, WUAB, decided to take a chance on licensing some cheap titles from Corinth Films, which has around 60 horror/sci-fi movies from the 1930s-70s in their collection (some are truly dreadful, but there are plenty of well-worn cult classics in the mix).
Zachariah Durr, one of the station's video producers who moonlights as a stand-up comic, jumped at the chance to host, and he roped in friend, acclaimed photographer, and fellow b-movie fan Laura Wimbels. They signed a contract for a full year, a storage room was converted into a set, and The Big Bad B-Movie Show was born.
Durr and Wimbels star as Leopold and Lenora, two oddballs who were accidentally sealed in the station's vault for decades, where they gradually "went mad" watching and rewatching bad movies. Leopold gives off an overt Gomez Addams vibe, and Lenora is like the hottie-next-door whom you don't realize is bonkers until after you've become trapped in a relationship with her... behind her husband's back!
Five weeks in, and little has been revealed about these hosts beyond what's stated in the intro -- initially, I thought they were supposed to be married, but he comes off more like her gay bestie than as a spouse. There have been several indications that Lenora has depth, and I'm hoping that they'll continue to expand on that and further develop the characters. They're appealing as one-dimensional cutouts, but they'd be more endearing if they delved a little more into their backstories (we had the luxury of getting to know MST3K's Joel and the bots through their ongoing banter, but Leopold and Lenora only appear at the breaks, they don't yak through their films).
Most of the movies run 60-70 minutes, which means that they have to provide a lot of padding for the 90 minute episodes. Durr has recycled several of his seldom-clicked YouTube sketches, fellow Ohio internet hosts The Mummy and the Monkey frequently provide material (and they even popped up in the studio on Halloween), there are oddball cooking segments, mock commercials and PSAs, Lenora's wacky HorrorScopes, plus vintage news footage, commercials, and bumpers culled from the WUAB archives.
The nostalgia factor is a huge part of what makes this show so special. It's not just the lure of the format, the old movies, or of glimpsing an ancient commercial with Ted Knight, sentimentality seems to permeate the production. Although a literal human leech has been the primary host of the cooking segments, they somehow seem like something from an '80s or '90s morning show. Lenora's HorrorScope readings sort of feel like a sendup of Miss Cleo and the Psychic Friends Network commercials. Remember those terrible educational films about respecting others who are different? Here we have Eli Moth, the unfairly persecuted mothman! I'm unsure if they're intentionally trying to evoke nostalgia (it's even rampant in the skits that Durr created before the show was conceived), but they're succeeding, and it works well.
The list of good things to come out of this year seems mindbogglingly short, but I'd definitely mark the creation of this show on that list -- it feels like comfort food at a time when many of us are starving for it. I have nothing but praise and well-wishes for the cast and crew, and sincerely hope that The Big Bad B-Movie Show remains on the air for many years after 2020 has become a distant memory!
Save Yourselves! (2020)
These two genres shouldn't work together... but they kinda do
The only spoiler is noted below.
Su (Sunita Mani, G.L.O.W.) and Jack (Stranger Things, Search Party) are in their early 30s and have become disconnected from each other because they're each so deeply connected to the internet. When a friend offers them a week at his cabin in the woods, they take the opportunity to unplug from the world... which renders them completely oblivious to an alien invasion.
This is a low-budget combination of a romantic dramedy and an alien invasion flick -- which shouldn't work, but it kind of does. The first portion is slow and dramatic (and a tad overlong) as they introduce the couple and their various quirks, which sets up some of the comedy when they're finally clued into the extraterrestrial "pouffes." Things pick up from there, and they throw in a few twists along the way -- although being an indie, there's a lot more talk than action. (SPOILER) I'm not going to outright spoil the ending, but I will say that it's not a traditional Hollywood ending by any means, and its ambiguity could easily make or break one's overall opinion of the film.
I was charmed by this little oddity, and thought it was kind of uplifting at the time of its 2020 release, when the everything in the world seemed equally as strange and bleak.
Entertaining... although Wes Craven should have received a story credit
Shortly after robbing a gas station, Mickey and Jules (ironically) run out of gas and break into a remote mansion where they find a young girl chained in the cellar. Weirdness quickly escalates when homeowners George and Gloria return.
It really bugs me that the word "original" is emphasized in 90% of the IMDb reviews. There's nothing remotely original here, the bulk of the story is blatantly ripped off from Wes Craven's underrated 1991 flick "The People Under the Stairs" (plus there's also a bit of "The Perfect Host" thrown in). It's lower budget and nowhere near as gonzo as Craven's film, but the numerous similarities are undeniable. That said, it's a pretty solid little remake that's stripped of many elements that Craven devised which stretched the boundaries of believability to their limits.
Jeffrey Donovan gives a standout scenery-chewing performance as George, even managing to make his character downright sympathetic. Kyra Sedgwick comes off slightly less sinister than Wendy Robie, but it's uncanny how similar their portrayals were. Bill Skarsgård and Maika Monroe were so likeable that it's easy to forget that their characters were also technically villains. The pacing is tight, there are a few memorable visuals, and lots of off-kilter black humor throughout.
Don't expect anything groundbreaking, but it's entertaining enough, and there are a helluva lotta worse ways to spend your time in early 2020, while the entire world is under quarantine. Just make sure not to hit "stop" before the cool animated end credits sequence!
Torchy, the Battery Boy (1959)
Increasingly charming first series. But then...
Torchy is a little doll who runs on batteries, with a flashlight (or torch) on his hat, which provides him various magical insights. He spends his days rocketing back and forth from earth, visiting his Geppetto-like creator, and Topsy Turvy Land, a magical world on a nearby star where all of the toys who were abused by their owners reside. He occasionally returns to Topsy Turvy Land with naughty children in tow to teach them lessons about behaving.
One of the greatest strengths of the first series is that it's serialized, with one episode picking up right where the previous one left off. Despite some minor continuity errors, it flows well, picks up new characters along the way, and features genuine character development (which is an oddity in a kiddie show!). For example, the deliciously bratty Bossy Boots gets what's coming to her, and although she backslides into her selfish ways, she tries to be a better person. I began watching the show for yuks, but I gradually found myself charmed by the ongoing saga.
Frankly, I don't know that much about Gerry Anderson (I only saw the Thunderbirds movie once when I was a lad), and I was aware he left for series two, but I was unprepared for the immediate deterioration of quality - and it's not just the puppet work that I'm talking about either (although that's not nearly as good in the second series). I'm assuming that Anderson and company were able to reign in writer Roberta Leigh, but once she was left alone at the helm, the show degraded into a meandering mess.
Series two has no linear continuity, and a couple of the stories seem to be placed between events from the first. That would be okay if they were telling quality stories, but the tales consistently take a backseat to Leigh's songs (which weren't so hot to begin with) and rehashed material. There was a pervading sense of sadness and isolation throughout the first series, but it's amplified tenfold in the second.
And then there's the recycling. Following the obnoxious earworm of a theme song (which even got stuck in Paul McCartney's head during the recording sessions for the Beatles' "Get Back"), series two features a recap of the plot in every episode. This seemed mostly like a way to pad the already-short running time. The first series had one song per show, but the second often has numerous tunes. I eventually lost count of how many times they used the EXACT same footage of Flopsy singing "Topsy Turvy Land" on the beach, but by the fourth time, I was rooting for the tide to drag the shrill little dolly away her away to her death.
I'm guessing that these stories hold up much better on the written page, and I think it's a shame that Leigh's tie-in storybook adaptations have been out of print for more than half a century. The show does have its charms (even at times in series two), but it's a product of a much more innocent era, which isn't apt to have enormous appeal for youngsters of today.
The Jesus Rolls (2019)
As Shock Treatment is to Rocky Horror
Bear with me for a paragraph. Most people don't know that there was a 1981 sequel to "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Brad and Janet returned (portrayed by different actors) in a new story that bore virtually no relation to the original. Fans expected "Shock Treatment" to be "Rocky Horror 2," which it definitely wasn't, so the film quickly vanished into obscurity. However, those of us who were able to overlook the ties to the previous movie were treated to a quirky oddity that presciently spoofed reality television decades before there was such a thing.
I wouldn't go so far as to say "The Jesus Rolls" is ahead of its time, but I can't help but draw comparisons to "Shock Treatment." Yes, Jesus Quintana originated in "The Big Lebowski," but if you're expecting more of the same, you're going to hate it. However, if you can just forget The Dude's adventure and accept this movie for the oddball little dramedy that it is, it's enjoyable.
Jesus gets out of jail, where he's met by his buddy, Peter (Bobby Cannavale). The duo sets off on a small-time crime spree, soon teaming up with hairdresser Marie (Audrey Tautou), and forming an unusual throuple.
Turturro imbues Jesus with a lot of extra dimensions (although frankly, that's something that many fans probably didn't want to see, as there's little mention of his prowess in the bowling lanes). The always-wonderful Cannavale is perfect as his self-centered sidekick. Tautou is charmingly odd as the duo's free-spirited not-girlfriend. And Susan Sarandon deserves an honorable mention for her hilarious and heartbreaking turn as a recently-paroled woman whom the guys briefly encounter. Other reliable actors like Christopher Walken, Tim Blake Nelson, J.B. Smoove, and Jon Hamm all essentially appear in cameos.
The film's biggest problems are that it lacks a strong plot and antagonists ( I've never seen the '70s French film that this was adapted from, but I surmise that's where these issues originated). Basically, it's a road trip movie where strange things happen to our protagonists as peripheral characters come and go. Road trip movies usually have something that the characters hope to accomplish when they arrive at their destination, but motive is largely absent here. Instead, it winds up being more akin to a character study. There's also a question of how much time passes. No major spoiler, but someone is injured at the beginning of the film, and they seem to have miraculously healed long before the credits roll. I only mention it because it doesn't seem to align with something that occurs at the film's conclusion.
The movie's not perfect, and it ain't Lebowski 2, but I was entertained for 77 minutes. Honestly, that's all I can ask of any film.
The first of two insulting 50th anniversary Scooby sequels
Way back in 1985, a pair of bumbling ghosts named Bogel and Weerd tricked Scooby and Shaggy into opening a chest of demons, and it was up to the beloved goofballs to return all 13 escaped specters into the mysterious box. To aid them in their mission, Scooby, Shaggy, Scrappy, and Daphne were joined by a young con artist named Flim-Flam, and a warlock named Vincent Van Ghoul (voiced by and modeled after horror icon Vincent Price). Unfortunately, the show was canceled with only 11 demons back in the chest.
"The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo" was a departure from the established formula. Although it wasn't considered a hit at the time, it immediately began to develop a cult following, which has grown in the ensuing decades thanks to occasional reruns and a DVD release. It was wildly irreverent and self-referential years before that became a standard, plus the ghosts were real. Vincent Van Ghoul went on to become a recurring character in "Mystery Incorporated," although in that incarnation, he became an outright caricature of the late Mr. Price.
So for the 50th anniversary of "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!," WB decided to greenlight two sequels, one that finally gave closure to the "13 Ghosts" and a follow-up to "Zombie Island," which is universally regarded as the best Scooby-Doo movie ever made. Both films give little nods and winks to their predecessors, but they each managed to disregard the established stories in really insulting ways.
This film begins with a promising prologue with Mr. Van Ghoul, which is followed by a brief recap of the show. But instead of picking up where they left off with Scrappy and Film-Flam in tow, it's the usual goings-on at Mystery Inc., with Fred and Velma being utterly oblivious to events that transpired while they were away at summer camp. It quickly becomes clear that the writer goofed by not cluing them in. Velma becomes obnoxious in her skepticism of the supernatural (which she's witnessed in many instances in many different timelines), and Fred is reduced to an endless barrage of unfunny gags as Daphne assumes the role of the group leader.
It takes way too long for the gang to be reunited with Vincent and Flim-Flam, who are both a shell of their former selves. Mr. Van Ghoul was charming as a washed-up horror actor in "Mystery Incorporated," so they made the colossal mistake of transplanting THAT version of the character into this story. Instead of being a powerful mystic, he's a powerless eccentric who continuously delivers insipid pun-filled one-liners. Flim-Flam fares slightly better. Now, the huckster does have a few shining moments where he feels like the original character, but they gave him absolutely nothing to do. If you snipped his few scenes out of the movie, it wouldn't change the story at all.
Furthermore, there's no Bogel and Weerd, or even Scrappy-Doo. Bringing Scrappy back for one final outing would have been the right thing to do, and since he was at his least annoying in the original show, maybe they could have even made him likable. The absence of the charmingly goofy Bogel and Weerd is downright unforgivable since, at the very least, they could've offset Velma's relentless ghostly skepticism.
What made the show stand out from the pack is that it dared to be different, with its regular throwaway gags and zany sense of humor. A few other Scooby iterations have come close to recapturing that feeling ("Frankencreepy" immediately springs to mind), but they didn't even attempt it here. And that might've been okay if they'd gone the darker route of the original "Zombie Island" or "The Witch's Ghost," which for a while seemed to be the intention. Sadly, the tiny bit of goodwill that they accrued is negated by the final act, in which the story suddenly devolves into a run-of-the-mill Scooby tale.
As a stand-alone Scooby-Doo film, it's overwhelmingly average. As a finale to the series, it ranks right up there with "Lost" and "Game of Thrones" as one of the most unsatisfying conclusions in television history.
Green Eggs and Ham (2019)
Feels more like Don Bluth than Dr. Seuss
Sam-I-Am breaks an endangered Chickeraffe out of the zoo and drags a reluctant Guy-Am-I on a road trip to return the animal to the wild. Along the way, they continuously cross paths with domineering mother Michellee and her precocious daughter, E.B., as well as a pair of bounty hunters.
This is easily the best adaptation of Dr. Seuss that I've seen since the author's death, although the bar's been set ridiculously low in that regard. The primary problem is that it seldom feels Seussian. The only character to speak consistently in rhyme is the narrator, who's primarily relegated to the opening of episodes. Okay, so enduring more than six hours of continuous rhyming would've become grating, so that can be forgiven. But it also lacks in the rampant off-kilter weirdness that was a hallmark of all of his works. There are occasional flashes of Dr. Seuss (the animals, town names, a hallucination sequence, an off-the-wall musical number), but they're few and far between. As has become standard in Hollywood of late, they're merely capitalizing on a name; this same story could have been told with original characters instead of defiling an established classic.
Overall, this feels way more like a Don Bluth production (Land Before Time, Secret of NIMH, All Dogs Go to Heaven, etc.) -- and I don't intend that as an insult. It's got wit, heart, three-dimensional characters, and gorgeous hand-drawn animation. I'm unsure if they were intentionally aping Bluth's style or if his long-unemployed animators worked on it, but it's a type of animation that we haven't seen in decades, which is welcomed and marred only by occasional splashes of cheap-looking CGI.
The show's other big problem is its non-ending. Although they wrap up the primary storyline, it's done in a manner that doesn't feel entirely fulfilling, and it certainly doesn't feel like Dr. Seuss (or even Don Bluth!). It's not really a spoiler to reveal that the fates of a few characters are only glimpsed as newspaper headlines in the final scene, where they also establish the plot for a second season. It just feels rushed and hollow. "Tune in three years from now to see how this story is resolved... unless the show's so successful that we decide to cheap out and have it finished in 2020!"
I'm a little surprised that I'd recommend giving the show a chance. If you can forgive that it bares very little resemblance to Dr. Seuss and overlook a few issues, it's an entertaining road trip adventure that's sure to entertain kids and the young at heart.
The Little Mermaid Live! (2019)
Neither fish nor fowl, but an ill-conceived hybrid
The Little Mermaid has been successfully transplanted to the stage, and live musical productions have been the rage on TV for a few years, so it seems natural that the current(ly-clueless) regime at Disney would want to exploit it. The way that it was promoted, I was fully expecting to see a televised variation of THE STAGE MUSICAL. Instead, it was primarily the animated movie with cutaways to live performances of the songs. Oh, those poor, unfortunate actors...
On their own merits, the live actors were quite good and would've been worthy of a rave review if they'd done the full stage show or even an abridged hour-long karaoke show like VH1's "Rocky Horror 25." Unfortunately, by seguing directly from the movie to the theatre, it becomes impossible not to compare the live performers to their superior animated counterparts. And to boot, there were sound issues, the continuously-panning camerawork was nauseating, and Disney resorted to stunt-casting celebrities instead of hiring the best singers for the material.
Auli'i Cravalho came close to capturing the essence of the Jodi Benson's recordings, although she still fell a little short. It's a shame that we didn't get to see her act out the rest of the part, because she seemed very appealing as Ariel. Queen Latifah had the daunting task of singing Ursula's "Poor, Unfortunate Souls." Again, impressive performance in its own rite, but she didn't match the frenzied, maniacal power of Pat Carroll's rendition. Shaggy landed the role of Sebastian simply because he's a famous Jamaican, but Samuel E. Wright he's not. (Plus, there's no logical explanation for why they dressed him in a shiny red coat that too-closely resembled Michael Jackson's iconic Thriller jacket.) John Stamos stepped into Rene Auberjonois's shoes as Chef Louis, but the funniest thing about it was that he flubbed a joke at the very end. As Prince Eric, Graham Phillips walked away pretty much unscathed because there's no basis for comparison -- the prince didn't sing in the movie, so his song just felt out of place.
In the end, it felt like an infomercial, pathetically attempting to persuade viewers to go out and see the stage show... or trying to build up excitement for the forthcoming live-action remake. Either way, they missed the mark. I didn't think it was even possible, but by half-assing it, Disney somehow managed to hit an entirely new low with their never-ending recycling of popular properties.
Let's Call It Quits (1974)
The Cunninghams quit smoking in the Brady house!
George Harvey (Tom Bosley) and his wife Maggie (Marion Ross) decide to give up cigarettes. Although Maggie muddles through, George has major difficulty kicking the habit. Hilarity ensues.
Devised like a sitcom, this 30 minute American Cancer Society PSA would probably be completely forgettable if not for the freak factor of seeing "Happy Days" actors Bosley and Ross cavorting around on the sets for "The Brady Bunch" and playing parents to the Bradys' cousin Oliver (Robbie Rist) and Disney/"Salem's Lot" brat Brad Savage. A few set pieces have been slightly altered, but it's unmistakably the Brady sets, with one noteworthy addition: a toilet! As for the content, the story is what you'd expect from a 1974 comedy - it's pretty dated, corny and heavy-handed.
For anyone who's familiar with the two hit '70s shows, there's something sorta surreal about this little-known mashup, and I'd suggest seeking it out.
The Hollywouldn'ts (2016)
Weirdly, the fake reviews aren't wrong
Frenchman Jacques has been obsessed with Hollywood since childhood. Now homeless in America but living the dream, he gets cast as an extra alongside struggling actress Peach, and the sparks immediately fly. Before long, Jacques crosses paths with a highly acclaimed but suicidal screenwriter. as well as a group of rejects who've given up all hope of breaking into the film industry. With exuberant enthusiasm, Jacques plays ringmaster and they quickly go to work making their own independent movie.
There are currently 117 other IMDb reviews, most of which suspiciously consist of about two lines and a perfect 10 rating. That sends up a red flag, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it's ACTUALLY a charming, feel-good movie. The characters are all lovable (or intentionally loathsome), there's a steady pace (despite its slightly overlong length), the acting is pretty solid across the board, and there are plenty of hilarious moments and a few unexpected twists. The only criticism I can muster is that if feels a tad cliched at times (particularly a montage), but given the nature of the La La Land setting and the story, that's probably unavoidable. Another reviewer griped about crude language, but it's set in Hollywood, after all (and I feel like I've been seeing WAY more f-bombs being dropped in reputable publications lately than I heard in this movie!).
The film rests squarely on the shoulders of Serge Ramelli (who also produced) and he is just delightful as Jacques. He's not your standard romantic lead, but he oozes charm and has a giddy enthusiasm which is perfect for the character. Leading lady Jessica Morris has been languishing in soap operas and b-movie horror for years, which is a shame because this movie showcases her star potential. In the hands of a lesser actress, the love story could have come across as really hokey, and I'm guessing her own experiences with the grueling casting process is what made her emotional vulnerability seem so real. Hari Williams is also a standout as Jacques's wisecracking homeless best friend, delivering his performance as the film's token black guy with absolute gusto.
If you're familiar with the behind-the-scenes insanity of the Hollywood scene, this quirky comedy is worth two hours of your time (including the scenes that play through and after the end credits!). And it just might give a glimmer of hope to some of those similarly hopeless individuals who've been struggling to make it.
Closed for the Season (2010)
Beyond Dream's Door, revisited
A young woman finds herself trapped in an abandoned amusement park, hunted by a Carny who seems hellbent on killing her, and she soon teams up with the caretaker's son as the park itself messes with their sense of reality and time.
I'm thankful that I wasn't deterred by other IMDb reviewers' assessments. Any potential spoilers are very minor.
While watching this, I couldn't help but keep recalling an obscure '80s film that I adore titled "Beyond Dream's Door." It featured the same type of tone, editing, mind-messing moments, cerebral dialogue, and pithy wit. After finishing, I discovered that the same writer/director made both movies. It was pretty obvious, although I had no idea Woelfel kept pursuing a movie career. The earlier film was slightly better (despite some painfully amateurish acting), but both films tread similar ground.
As for the ridiculously low rating and the plethora of merciless reviews, I get it, but I don't. The movie opens with a CGI rollercoaster ride that would have looked hokey in 1990, followed by nearly 10 minutes of our heroine aimlessly running around screaming. It wasn't a strong way to begin, and I'm sure many viewers had tuned out before the male lead even appeared. There are definite issues with pacing, unfortunate (and often unnecessary) FX inserts, it's very talky, and anyone watching for the abandoned park is sure to be disappointed (the oft-featured wooden coaster track, an overgrown ferris wheel, and a few crumbling stands are all that were left).
Where the movie excels is in its characterizations and dreamlike nature. The performances are solid (with horror vet Joe Unger giving an absolute tour-de-force as the Cheshire-Cat-like Carny), there's an intriguing mystery, and they did an excellent job subverting one's expectations with the quirky writing and clever editing. This ain't a mindless popcorn flick to half-ass watch while playing with your phone; it requires a functioning brain and an attention span (both things that I suspect are lacking in those who've heralded it as "the worst movie ever").
As I said before, it has some problems, but I certainly didn't feel like I wasted 2 hours of my life on it (as a matter of fact, it makes me wanna track down more of Woelfel's films). If you like independent horror movies with a high weird quotient, I'd certainly recommend it.
A fast-paced, frequently-funny time capsule
George Schlatter's late '70s reboot doesn't have a great reputation, and its primarily remembered today as the show that launched the career of Robin Williams. That's a little unjust on both accounts. "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" was already showing its age as the 1970s began, and it was finally put out of its misery in 1973. Four years later, producer George Schlatter assembled a completely new cast and rebooted the show for a series of six specials without the original frontmen... which was a mistake that literally cost him millions of dollars when Rowan and Martin sued.
The original show seemed to exist in a puff of pot smoke, but if there was one drug that fueled the frenzied new incarnation, it was cocaine. As a matter of fact, in a moment that I can't believe the censors let pass, an animated Robin Williams is shown sniffing coke, and then his head explodes and he dies! The Rowan & Martin show certainly never did anything so grim! A few of the hallmarks of the early version endured - most notably the wall of doors and the one-liner-filled dance sequences - but the show also liberally borrowed from SNL, Benny Hill, Love American Style, and others. Plus, each show featured an overblown original musical number performed by the cast (easily the weakest link in the show). The original had a zippy pace, but the speed here was positively frantic, with few routines lasting more than 30 seconds, and many confined to around 10. They managed to jam A LOT of material into 50 minutes.
Now, as for Robin Williams, as soon as the show wrapped, Garry Marshall had to buy out his contract in order for him to appear as Mork in "Happy Days," which turned Robin into an overnight celebrity. Cashing in on his sudden fame, NBC reran the shows for 6 weeks in 1979, touting him as the star. Unfortunately, he wasn't treated like anything special during the production, he was just one of about 14 members of an ensemble cast, each of whom was vying for screen time. Robin got to play a variety of characters (my favorite was a lab rat), but he was probably most often seen as a dimwitted cowboy.
The next most famous cast member is the flamboyant Wayland Flowers, who was well-known to viewers of daytime game shows and night time talk shows, thanks to his bawdy puppet, Madam, who received equal billing alongside him. On occasion throughout the series, Flowers traded Madam in for a black puppet named Jiffy, who seems shockingly racist by today's standards... but she's a riot!
Also seen were rubber-faced lizard-man Lenny Schultz, who mugged his way through most sketches while contorting his puss and flicking his tongue; doe-eyed Kim Braden, who portrayed a lot of very feminine characters like Dolly Parton; June Gable, who did a wicked impersonation of gossip columnist Rona Barrett; Michael Sklar, who seemed to be completely out of the closet at a time when very few men were; token black guy Ben Powers; and others.
One of the most interesting additions to the cast is Sergio Aragonés, a Mad magazine artist who is known as "the world's fastest cartoonist." Aragonés went on to create animated segments for the long-running "Bloopers and Practical Jokes" shows. We not only get some of the same animation here, but we see that Aragonés himself is the inspiration for the Luigi-like character seen throughout the Dick Clark shows.
As with the original, the humor is hit-and-miss... but when it hits, it hits hard. There are a lot of gags that derive laughs from subverting your expectations, and there's some very topical humor that's amusing if you're in on the joke. Bigot-crusader Anita Bryant was a regular target of ridicule, timely political references were worked in, ABC was humorously criticized for "jiggle-vision," "Soap" was denounced for being dirty, and "Donny & Marie" was just plain denounced! Between the mixture of comedy styles and all of the instantly-dated humor, the show is sort of a time-capsule of 1977.
Bette Davis got to ham it in a few skits, and Frank Sinatra was positively giddy when he got to pour slime on Rona Barrett, but other guests like Shirley MacLaine, James Garner and Roger Moore mostly appeared delivering one-liners. A lot of celebrities did appear though, and the creators often stretched and recycled guest-star material over several episodes.
All in all, it's a shame that this offshoot of the series isn't widely available anywhere. It's not Rowan and Martin's, and it's not The Robin Williams Show either, but some of the material holds up exceptionally well and other things would still seem funny today to those who were there.
Mickey's 90th Spectacular (2018)
Half good, half bad
It's Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday, and he's on hand for a star-studded tribute in front of a live audience.
Admittedly, I'm outside of the target demographic for this special at 41 years-old -- some of the younger stars were completely foreign to me (presumably the current crop of Disney Channel brats) -- but I've always been a sucker for a good Disney show. Unfortunately, I can't say that this was one.
There were a few skits with Mickey and Minnie Mouse (actors in costumes with impressive animatronic heads) which were generally cute. Folks like Kristin Bell and Leslie Odom Jr provided some history on the beloved vermin, while Tony Hale, Josh Gad and others delved into painfully unfunny comedy monologues (though Wendi McLendon-Covey's story about having a childhood crush on Mickey was both sweet and amusing). A handful of stars submitted short birthday greetings (Neil Patrick Harris, Kelly Rippa, Dwayne Johnson, etc.), plus Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake sent in reminiscences of their stints on '90s The Mickey Mouse Club. Original Mouseketeers Sharon Baird and Bobby Burgess were also on hand. These two are getting up there in years and seldom make public appearances anymore, so it seems thoroughly disrespectful that they weren't allowed to utter a single word! They're introduced, sit down next to Mickey, and then that's it! Why did they even bother to show up?
Some of the musical performances were exceptional (Odom, Sofia Carson, The Zac Brown Band) but others didn't fare as well... and why were Josh Groban, NCT 127 and Luis Fonsi performing non-Disney songs (furthermore, why was Fonsi singing a Spanish song in an English-language special)?!! Groban's song was okay despite being out of place, but I felt like I a victim of aural assault by the other two.
The thing that I found perhaps the most disconcerting was the array of clips that were utilized, since the title outright tells us that we have 90 years of Mickey Mouse footage to choose from. Yes, 'Steamboat Willie' was shown, along with a variety of clips from 'The Sorcerers Apprentice' (featured in virtually every one of the MANY montages) and other familiar classics... but the vast majority of clips seemed to be from the modern crop of Disney Channel Mickey Mouse shows, which are frankly very cheap-and-ugly looking.
It wasn't a total waste, but I wish I hadn't watched it live since there were WAY too many moments that I would've preferred to have fast-forwarded. If I'd been in the audience, my reaction may have been completely different, but running 2 hours (with nearly 40 minutes of commercials!), it felt like just another one of the annoying award show telecasts that we're inundated with every month.
Remarkable performances in a film that sticks close to the story
First, a little history to put things into context. By the time this movie aired on Halloween night 1994, America was completely sick of hearing about the Arnolds. Earlier that year, Roseanne joked that she, Tom, and their assistant Kim Silva were a thruple, but the situation changed when she discovered Tom and Kim had actually slept together. A tabloid frenzy ensued and dominated headlines as the Arnolds separated, with Tom being treated as an ousted Yoko Ono.
At the same time, there were a whole string of unauthorized TV movie docudramas in the works (Madonna, Liz Taylor, Nancy Kerrigan, etc.), so Fox and NBC each scrambled to to get a story about the power-couple's breakup on the air. Fox beat NBC by 3 weeks with their "Roseanne: An Unauthorized Biography," a reprehensibly inaccurate telefilm starring an utterly miscast Denny Dillon. Critics were uniformly disparaging, but no one showed more disdain for the movie than Roseanne herself. Probably driven by spite, Rosey quickly announced plans to host NBC's upcoming film and provide commentary, but she changed her mind and backed out ten days before the premiere. It's too bad that it didn't happen because it would've been fascinating and given this now-obscure movie a well-deserved boost.
Patrika Darbo and Stephen Lee had each guest-starred on "Roseanne" (Darbo was particularly memorable as a waitress whom Rosey had perceived as a doppleganger), and this might explain why their performances were so good -- as a matter of fact, Lee deserved of an Emmy for his thoroughly uncanny portrayal of Tom. Probably in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit, the Fox movie had played fast and loose with the facts, but the NBC film stuck relatively close to the true story... so much so that it almost feels like a love letter.
The popular sitcom is viewed peripherally, taking a backseat to the saga of the Arnolds, from their affair through their rocky marriage to their ultimate divorce. Roseanne is depicted as the brash and ballsy broad that she is, but we're also shown a woman who is struggling with the demands of fame, family, and the man-child who rocked her world off its foundation. Tom isn't portrayed as a villain, but rather as a drug-addicted sadsack who had fallen in love with TV's most popular and outspoken new star. Public perception was NOT on Tom's side at the time, but the writing and Lee's nuanced performance managed to make him seem sympathetic.
The movie does have some issues, most notably in how Roseanne is portrayed as a victim. While she was (and continues to be) one in many respects, we don't see much of the humor that she continuously uses as a coping mechanism. As such, she comes off looking sort of pathetic in spots. Now, that's not to say that there's no comedy, but strangely, it's Tom who instigates many of the film's moments of levity, dealing with Roseanne's tantrumatic kids, indulging in overblown shopping sprees with his bride-to-be and partaking in on-set shenanigans.
Another problem is the treatment of... well, most everyone else in the story. Roseanne's sister Geraldine has such a slight role that it's not especially clear who she is, John Goodman and Laurie Metcalfe seem almost sinister, and Rosey's kids are totally one-dimensional.
The script isn't perfect, a few details were altered, and the affair that ended their marriage was so recent and high-profile that they opted to gloss over it, but the performances are remarkable and if you're interested in the story of Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold, this is undeniably the best movie available.
A really pathetic excuse for a documentary...
The box for this video release leads one to presume that it's a 30 minute documentary jam-packed with celebrity cameos and behind-the-scenes secrets about the making of "The Flintstones." The summaries on video boxes were sometimes intentionally misleading, but this is easily the MOST misleading description that I've ever read.
The only original material here is about a 10 minute featurette which includes a few minutes of interviews with William Hanna & Joseph Barbera, and a couple minutes of athletes ripping off the then-popular "Bo Knows" Nike ads ("Fred knows football!"). This is followed by the complete episode "The Blessed Event" (aka the birth of Pebbles Flintstone) and a super-corny music video for "The Flintstone Bop," which includes a guy in a Fred Flintstone costume DJ'ing as a bunch of kids in neon-colored clothes bounce around.
Although the featurette isn't bad (it's well-made and there are few interesting tidbits of information), it leaves a lot to be desired if (like me) you were expecting a full documentary. The music video, on the other hand, is pretty appalling. All in all, a really cheap and cheesy release.
Dolly Parton: Treasures (1996)
A Music Video-Documentary-Commercial Hybrid
Dolly Parton's "Treasures" album was filled with an assortment of covers of popular songs. For the promotional TV special, they amassed a collection of interviews with the original singers and songwriters and interspersed it with historical clips.
The special has many things going against it, most notably the short running time, which is marred by clunky editorial choices. Studio footage is blended with seemingly-live performances in which Ms. Parton is lip-syncing to the album tracks, and she comments on each of the songs that she... ahem... performs.
So it's a music video commercial... but wait, it's also a documentary! Not only do we get interviews with composers (such as Kris Kristofferson, who's superimposed into one of Dolly's video segments in a truly bizarre manner!), but at random times we cut away to historical footage from the days when the songs were originally hits. That's right, we now interrupt this Dolly Parton lip-sync performance to show you something completely random.
The ideas behind this special were kinda awesome, and if they'd had a 2-hour timeslot it could have worked well, but at under an hour, they fell short in the execution.