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Been a Leary fan ever since
I thought this was the greatest show ever when it was on, but then again I was only 15 at the time and spent most of my free time riding my bike to the mall, playing video games with my dorky friends, and crying to REM's Green Album. This was a talk show in the early days of Comedy Central, before it was even called Comedy Central, when the channel was still called "HA!" The great Denis Leary co-hosted with a guy named Billy Kimball, who himself was the host of "Clash", another "HA!" show on at the time. As I seem to recall each show had a theme. One was about monkeys, specifically about how much Leary hated them. In it Leary told a great joke that went something like: If you take a hundred monkeys and put them in a room with a hundred typewriters, after a few weeks you know what you'll get?-- A hundred typewriters with monkey crap all over them. That one had me rolling for days. I'm serious. Good work guys. I still remember it fondly after all these years.
The Uptown Comedy Club (1992)
Really funny memories
This show was on in Los Angeles late on Saturday nights during the fall of 1992. I remember it being very consistently funny. It had a predominantly African-American cast, but there were a couple of white performers, notably Jim Breuer.
On each episode they'd have a "your mama's so..." contest. I remember hearing such great lines as "your mama's so black, when I look at her I think I'm asleep", and "your mama's so fat, she went outside wearing an "X" jacket and a helicopter landed on her back". That one still makes me laugh.
I hope the performers all went on to do bigger and better things, they certainly deserved to.
Beautiful Girls (1996)
An all-time favorite
I suppose objectively, this is no more than an average, or perhaps slightly above average film. But there's something about it that just gets under my skin, and I would consider "Beautiful Girls" to be one of my favorite movies. I know I'm not alone in feeling this way. I've met many others who share my sentiments towards it.
There's little plot, very little story. The film is all characters and atmosphere. It's greatest strength is in its casting. Each actor seems tailor-made for his or her role. There's a coziness and feeling of being at ease, and of being right at home while watching this movie. The ending finds just the right tone.
I can't argue with others who've found fault with specific instances of dialogue and certain character motivations. Yes, it does seem a little strange that a woman would be told she looks like Kathy Bates and not be upset by it. As I stated before, this movie is far from perfect, but who cares? You can love a movie like this for its faults, as well as for its strengths.
I would recommend this movie to just about anyone. I can't imagine very many people who wouldn't like it.
Small Wonder (1985)
A superlative artistic and philosophical achievement
What is the nature of the self? What does it truly mean to be human? Can man ever transcend the limitations of his physical being and come to understand what is meant by the words "ultimate reality"? Does God exist? Are we alone in the universe?
Throughout the course of human history, great minds have attempted to tackle such questions. Minds of men like Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates. Minds of men like Sartre, Nietzsche, and Freud. While few have had the courage to address the implications of these central existential dilemmas, even fewer have been able to offer any worthwhile insight on such matters, or do any more than merely scratch the surface with repetitive supposition and conjecture.
How rare it is when a work of art can at once synthesize, and then surpass the work of all that has come before it.
"Small Wonder" is just such an achievement.
If the Sistine Chapel were a sitcom, it would be "Small Wonder". If William Shakespeare had been writing sitcoms in the 1980s, he would have written "Small Wonder". If Leonardo da Vinci were alive today he would have painted the Mona Lisa with a pony tail and a red and white dress, and simply called his subject 'Vicki'.
The husband, the father, the inventor. All one man. Ted Lawson. In his workshop he creates a robot daughter who sleeps in his son's closet. Rather than cash in on his invention, which could have totally revolutionized the communications industry, the Lawsons vow to keep Vicki a secret, for some reason.
That one suburban schlub of a man can create life --does create life, in his basement, signifies, validates the presence of the divine in the banal. Man is divine, as he is created in God's image. Yet man can create man. Therefore...
Mrs. Poole, the neighbor, or was it Mrs. Brindle? I'm getting my shows confused I think. Anyway, Mrs. Brindle the neighbor who sits by idly, and had born of her womb a daughter with fiery red hair and marks of the devil all about her skin. Is Harriet Satan? Is Vicki Christ?
A theological treatment of "Small Wonder", in itself, would likely fill multiple volumes. I'm surprised more hasn't been written about the show.
In addition to such a captivating and intellectually challenging premise, the show also featured some of the most remarkable special effects ever to be put on film. Before or since. When Vicki would lift the couch, for instance, it was almost impossible to see the thick blue line around the couch's edges. Special effects which later influenced the likes of "Jurassic Park" and "Independence Day", no doubt.
I could go on and on about this show, but I won't. If you haven't seen every episode at least five times, consider yourself incomplete. I would be both enticed and excited by the proposal of opening up a school, (an Academy, if you will) where the curriculum consisted solely of screenings and discussions of episodes of "Small Wonder".
Would have been better if Bergman directed
I loved the Pippi films when I was little. I was always amazed by her superhuman powers and envied the life she led in Villa Villakula with Mr. Nilsson (her pet monkey), her treasure chest of gold, and a complete and utter lack of adult supervision. I read the books too, but always liked the movies better. I always wondered if maybe the English translations of the novels just weren't very good. They seemed a bit stilted.
Anyway, each of the Pippi films are pretty much interchangeable, and I remember at one point hearing that they were all filmed at the same time, which didn't come as a surprise. Each seems to involve Pippi, Tommy, and Annika (the two neighbor kids) engaging in a series of adventures that always end up making the local adults look like complete idiots, but in a rather harmless way. Pippi's father, an old, salty, sea-faring-type, pops up from time to time. He seems to have a remarkably close and loving relationship with his daughter, despite the fact that he's never around.
Watching these films now, it's obvious they were made on a very low budget. The English-dubbed versions used the same voice actress for the spoken parts of Pippi, Tommy, and Annika, who just modifies her voice slightly for each part. This is a bit distracting.
Even though it has to be acknowledged that the books made an important contribution to Children's Literature, time might forget these old Pippi movies. I hardly ever see them on TV anymore, and they're hard to find in the video store. They're kind of fun, kind of campy, but all in all, not worth going out of your way to see.
Winter of the Witch (1969)
A short film about magical pancakes
I remember watching this film a lot when I was in elementary school, on one of those old reel-to-reel classroom projectors.
Hermione Gingold (who played the mayor's wife in "The Music Man") plays a witch who befriends a young boy after he discovers her living in the attic of the new house he moves into with his mother. At some point the witch ends up making pancakes for everyone. The ecstasy induced by consuming these pancakes is depicted on film by showing the characters freeze up and stare out into space as fuchsia-colored spots dance around in front of their faces. The pancakes are a big hit, of course, and the mother, son, and witch open up a pancake restaurant. It sounds a little odd, I know, but it's actually quite entertaining. Definitely worth checking out if you can find it.
Newton's Apple (1983)
Science for younger viewers
This show was on public television for a number of years and went through several different incarnations during its lifespan. The original version was hosted by Ira Flatow (science correspondent for NPR) and was broadcast out of Minneapolis. Each 30 minute episode would contain five or six different segments related to science, and sometimes included questions from the audience, answered by an in-studio expert in the field.
The show was geared roughly towards 8 to 10 year-olds, who will likely find it entertaining, although educators should be aware that earlier episodes deal with technologies that are outdated.
Nonetheless, the show was a good idea, and made a sincere effort to make science interesting and accessible to children.
Mac and Me (1988)
Works on three distinct levels
'Mac and Me' is completely unlike any other film I've ever seen. Small children will probably enjoy it as a straight fantasy. College students and people with well-developed senses of irony will enjoy it in a completely different way. And older viewers are likely to appreciate it on yet another level for its genuine good nature and surprisingly heartfelt sentiments about issues such as friendship, family, and disability.
The alien in the film is funny but not scary looking and little kids will enjoy watching him get into mischief, make friends with humans, and try to get back to his family.
That said, there are also many, many scenes in this film that are of the "so bad they're good" variety. Almost to the point where one has to wonder whether or not the filmmakers knew that they were making an MST3K-style classic. Huge stretches of the film are laughably bad in a remarkably entertaining way. Most notable of these scenes are the one involving Mac being chased by all the neighborhood dogs while riding in a toy truck, the wheelchair-in-traffic scene, the wheelchair-off-the-cliff scene, and of course the infamous McDonald's song and dance number. Busby Berkeley and Ray Kroc would have been proud.
This film has received a lot of flack for being one big commercial, which it essentially is, but if I remember correctly, a portion of the proceeds went to the Ronald McDonald House children's charity. The lead character, Eric, is played by a wheelchair-bound young actor and refreshingly, his disability is not dwelled upon or focused on in any special way. He's shown as a completely normal kid (except for the fact that he has an alien friend, of course).
Surprisingly, despite all the ways in which this film is bad, one way it isn't is in its underlying sweetness. As implausible as everything else in the film is, the relationships between the characters come across as genuine and even quite poignant at times, especially the ones between Eric and Mac, and between Eric's mother and her two sons. This is by no means a deep film, but it does possess a real humanity.
Without a trace of sarcasm in my voice I would definitely say that this is a better film than E.T. If for no other reason than the fact that it's enjoyable on more different levels. If you're thinking about renting it I would definitely recommend it. There's something in it that everyone can enjoy.
The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)
Worth your while
Anyone who has an interest in the Lizzie Borden case will find this movie worth their while. The performances are all above average and the film does a good job of recreating late-19th century New England. The film focuses both on the murders of Lizzie's parents and her trial that followed. An interesting and highly plausible explanation for how the murders were committed (and by whom) is given towards the end of the film in a very effective and well directed sequence involving flashbacks, sound effects, and masterful editing.
The film also explores the complex relationships within the Borden household, and except for providing its own "solution" to the murders (the crime technically, to this day remains unsolved) sticks very close to the facts, as they're known.
A few scenes seem a little unnecessarily ghoulish. One in particular involves Lizzie as a little girl walking in on her father at work in the cellar (he once worked as an undertaker) embalming a corpse, another where he takes an axe to her pet pigeons. Although these scenes in themselves don't take anything away from the film, they take it further into a sensationalistic area than it needs to go. The mood of the film overall is creepy enough as it is.
Ultimately, the good subject material and high level of acting are what make this an above average film. As well, there's enough of an emphasis put on building suspense and telling a good mystery, rather than simply trying to extract a visceral response from the viewer.