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Joe Besser and Shemp Howard
20 October 2010
This movie is of special interest to me as a Three Stooges fan, in that it features not one but two actors who were part of the Stooges at one time or other, Joe Besser and Shemp Howard. Joe, almost universally regarded as the least funny of all who were ever part of the trio, was the only member to have a more successful comedy career apart from the Stooges than with. Shemp, despite sometimes being compared unfavorably with his brother Curly, was a solid member of the trio for 10 years, while his career apart from the Stooges never really amounted to much.

In this movie we see both of those realities at work. Joe is, in a word, hilarious, and steals virtually every scene he is in. It's not much of a stretch to say that this is as much his movie as Bud's and Lou's. Shemp, on the other hand, plays a nearsighted buffoon, and his performance is nothing more than a running gag that involves him repeatedly running into things, which quickly grows tiresome.

Seeing Joe Besser's comedic talents on display here (as well as in other settings, like the post-Stooges Joey Bishop Show), leaves one marveling at how one so hilariously funny could have flopped so completely as a Stooge. Whereas Shemp will always be remembered as one of the Three Stooges and nothing else, and his performance in this movie does nothing to change that.
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Woman Haters (1934)
Bad start to a brilliant career
15 January 2010
This is simply their worst. I love the Stooges and can watch their stuff for hours at a time, but this one is unwatchable. It's worse even than anything they did with Joe Besser. Joe, at least, was funny in his own right, even if he didn't really fit well with Moe and Larry; if you tuned out the fact that it was the Three Stooges and thought of it as Mr. Jillson from the Joey Bishop show with a couple of supporting players, those shorts could be mildly entertaining. But no such mental sleight of hand is possible here. This is Moe, Larry, and Curly; they were never anything other than the Three Stooges, and this one just doesn't work.

Granted, it was their first effort as the Three Stooges sans Ted Healy; they were a new act, they probably had little control over content, and studio executives hadn't figured out yet how to best utilize their unique talents. I shudder to think what kind of place the world would be today if some genius at Columbia had watched this and liked it and decided that this would set the tone for the rest of the trio's career. Fortunately, that didn't happen. They would come back with Punch Drunks (which they co-wrote) and establish just who they were once and for all.

Not that the premise itself - three men make a pact to stay away from women, one breaks the pact and falls in love - didn't have potential. But the device of having them spend the entire time talking to each other in verse just doesn't work. And in hindsight, with their entire body of work in front of us, this just isn't THEM. They were the best at what they did, but this was something else, and it just didn't suit them.
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NCIS: Los Angeles (2009– )
15 January 2010
The two crossover episodes on the original NCIS in spring 2009 set my expectations high, but the actual series has been a disappointment. The main change between the two is the departure of Special Agent Macy and the addition of the Linda Hunt character. Macy, while not by herself an attraction to watch the show, was believable as the agent in charge, and that made the whole storyline believable. Linda Hunt is just not believable as a director of operations. If someone else was in charge and Linda Hunt was just a wardrobe and gadgets person, that might work, and might even enhance the series by bringing the kind of comic relief that "Q" has always brought to the James Bond films. But as it is, her presence just brings an undertone of absurdity to the whole operation.
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My wife and I loved it...
23 May 2008
...and so did the other six people in the theater. And this was opening weekend.

And it's a shame about all the empty seats, because it's very well done. What you need to realize is, this movie isn't intended to refute Darwinism, and those reviewers who criticize it for doing a poor job of doing so miss the whole point. It's not about the scientific validity of Darwinism versus intelligent design, it's about academic freedom, censorship, and double-standards. It's about people's careers being destroyed, not because they necessarily even advocate intelligent design, but just because they exhibit a willingness to let people who believe in intelligent design express their views.

The point is that the scientific establishment is exhibiting the same closed-mindedness, and acting upon that closed-mindedness in the same ways, as anti-evolutionists when they were in power before the Scopes trial. And in my opinion this movie documents its case very well.
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Screen Two: The Impossible Spy (1987)
Season 6, Episode 5
A so-so movie that I find myself watching again and again
17 January 2006
One who is not interested in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, sympathetic to the Israeli cause, and inspired by Eli Cohen's sacrifice for that cause, will probably find this movie boring. One comes away from watching this movie, not thinking about what a great movie he just watched, but about the life of Eli Cohen. And perhaps that's what the filmmakers intended.

I can't think of anything particularly good to say about the movie. It is somewhat slow-paced, and no performances particularly stand out. But I find myself going back and watching it again and again, because the story it tells is so interesting to me. While the acting and production do not draw attention to themselves with their impressiveness, neither do they distract from the story due to poor quality; everything about the movie is unspectacular but competent.

The only complaint I can make is about the portrayal of Cohen's wife. She comes across so annoyingly that in the end, after her husband's death, when she encounters the Mossad official who lied to her repeatedly, took her husband away and sent him on the mission that resulted in his death, one finds oneself sympathizing with the spy-master because of the awkwardness of the situation, rather than with the aggrieved widow because of her loss.
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The Siege (1998)
An equal opportunity offender
12 September 2005
Warning: Spoilers
The filmmakers have pulled off an amazing feat. They've managed to incorporate offensive stereotypes of Arab Muslims and offensive stereotypes of the American military into the same movie. Although it turns out that the Arab stereotypes exist only in the minds of the stereotypical military goons. Eventually the Arab community is joined by the Jewish community, the black community, the Italian community, the FBI, the CIA, and the courts in a united stand against the evil military. (I don't think that's a spoiler, but I'll put in the Spoiler Alert just to be safe.)

But you don't notice any of this until after the movie is over and you've had time to think about it. While watching, even on repeat viewings, this is an exciting and suspenseful thriller, made all the more believable by outstanding performances by Bening, who brings depth and complexity to a CIA agent who screwed up, and Willis, at his scary best as the "I am the law" general. Washington and Shalhoub are also very good. Even now, having figured out how ridiculous certain elements of the plot are, I will probably rent it and watch it again.
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19 January 2005
I saw this one years ago and one scene has stayed with me. Moe walks into a room, sees a portrait of Hitler, stops in his tracks, and cries, "Schickelgruber!" The body language and intonation convey a perfect combination of surprise, fear, and revulsion, but in the use of the name "Schickelgruber," he simultaneously conveys contempt. Here at the height of World War II, Moe managed in just a second or two with his facial expression, movement, and tone of voice, to perfectly capture the nation's disgust and loathing toward the Nazis and especially their leader, while figuratively sticking his tongue out or thumbing his nose or whatever on our behalf at the same time.

Moe's talent went way beyond the bullying "boss stooge;" here we see his brilliance as a social and political satirist captured in one quick moment.
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Men in Black (1934)
Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard!
17 January 2005
This belongs in their top tier, although there were others, such as Micro-Phonies and Punch Drunks, that were more deserving of Oscar nominations than this one. But if nothing else, the recurring loudspeaker announcement, "Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard," followed by Curly's "Woo woo woo woo," makes this a classic on two levels. First, it symbolizes all that the Stooges represent; my daughter loves to repeat the announcement when she is in the middle of doing something silly. Second, the absurdity of these three as physicians in a hospital; I imagine the terror I would feel if I were a real patient in a real hospital and heard this announcement over the loudspeaker. Throughout this short, you hear that announcement and you know that something horrible is about to happen, and the loudspeaker voice stays with you for months afterward.
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Score another for Christine McIntyre
17 January 2005
In addition to an above-average performance by the Stooges themselves, we get an early look at future Tarzan Jock Mahoney, and see Christine McIntyre demonstrate, albeit briefly, why I consider her to be one of the great unrecognized musical/comic actresses of the 20th century. It's a mystery why her career never attained the level of visibility and recognition she deserved. Here, although "Oh Elaine" is primarily the Stooges' number, it is her brief aria in the middle that elevates this short above the level of just another Stooges flick. The juxtaposition of her beautiful operatic delivery with such absurd and banal lyrics is nothing short of hilarious. Years after seeing this, I've forgotten most of the gags and pratfalls, but I can still picture and hear Elaine's impassioned musical promise to signal the threesome "when the coast is clear." Doesn't showcase her pure vocal skills to the degree of "Voice of Spring" in "Micro-Phonies," but by inserting her beautiful singing into the absurd setting of what we have here, we see her at her best as a musical comedian.
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Punch Drunks (1934)
Their single best performance
16 January 2005
In this early effort, rather than just watching the threesome run around and bash each other, there is genuine plot and character development. Instead of three barely distinguishable buffoons, we have three distinct characters interacting in an actual story line. They have a plausible initial meeting at a restaurant where Curly works as a waiter, Moe is a customer who discovers Curly's hidden boxing talent, and Larry the down-and-out musician who inadvertently plays the tune that sets Curly off. The plot device of having some stimulus turn Curly into an invincible destruction machine is reused in later efforts, most notably the mouse in the later "Moe, Larry, the cheese" routine, but they never really improve upon the use of "Pop Goes the Weasel" here. Larry is always at his best when he is able to play the violin in a way that fits plausibly into the plot, and Moe is actually sympathetic as the tough guy who takes the distraught Curly under his wing and makes him a success. The story is a real story, not just a loose string of slapstick antics; we actually feel tension and anticipation at the end as we watch Curly being beaten up by his opponent and wonder if and how Larry will find another way to play "Pop Goes the Weasel." Grade: A+.
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Micro-Phonies (1945)
Christine McIntyre is brilliant
16 January 2005
This is one of my two or three favorite Stooges shorts, and undoubtedly Christine McIntyre's best performance with the trio. She is good in a number of other shorts, but here she is absolutely brilliant. Her singing is not funny at all, in fact it is downright beautiful, but the plot is constructed in such a way that the singing enhances the humor rather than detracting from it. We listen to McIntyre sing the entirety of Voice of Spring no less than three times, but it never gets old, partly because we don't tire of her voice, and partly because it blends so well with the Stooges' antics. The use of operatic soprano in a comedy is reminiscent of Kitty Carlisle's role in the Marx Brothers' "A Night At The Opera," but the singing is much more a part of the comedy here than in "Opera," and McIntyre (perhaps more in other performances than here) exhibited a comedic talent of her own that Carlisle never did. The Stooges' buffoonery, McIntyre's singing, and a well-constructed plot combine for 5 out of 5 stars.
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