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The Nutty Professor (1963)
This is Jerry's masterpiece
This Jerry's masterpiece -- his Annie Hall -- the one for the ages that will be re-watched however the rest may (or may not) endure.
Jerry-as-professor is a variant on Jerry's usual screen idiot, but with amusing double-talk, and good physical comedy. He also manages to convey real pathos under all the clowning.
Jerry's smarmy "Buddy Love" character is surprisingly complicated -- an ass and a bully, but with hints of vulnerability and pathetic drunkenness. "Ain't enough you got the best? You want me to be on-time too?" The character anticipates his "Jerry Langford" in the King of Comedy. It's a self-less performance -- playing an unflattering part very very well.
The alluring and wide-eyed Stella Stevens helps too. :)
Sweet Charity (1969)
One of the most gruesome movies ever made
Shirley MacLaine is radiant in this movie because she is radiant. She's also hopelessly as phony as a 2-headed nickel, as is this movie's world view. There is a reason it flopped when first released.
- its view of men and women as hookers and Johns is offensive
- the view of hookers as hearts-of-gold, going out there vulnerably each time hoping "this is love!" is idiotic
- its view that some guy would go as far as her potential groom and pull the plug is offensive
The realities are people with put up with practically anything, including any past their lovers may have, if they get the real goods in return; and perpetual losers in love like Shirley's character may have a screw loose themselves in terms of what they expect, or their interpretation of who's at fault when it all ends. This whole movie plays like a psychopath's rationalization for bad behavior filled with awkward dance scenes. Put a big smile on girl, and mug!
THAT being said, there are a few moments the movie briefly transcends its flawed premises. Sammy Davis Jr., who also often came across as a smarmy guy wearing a smiley-mask, gives an electrifying and amusing performance that goes far to explain his reputation for greatness. The acting in general is fine, as long as you look at the actors as no more real than the plastic figures on top of a wedding cake.
And of course, there's Shirley. Soooooo charming.
But I'd rather watch Ms. MacLaine ANOTHER 10x in "The Apartment" than watch Sweet Charity, which to me is a sick puppet-show of a movie written by people who tried to learn about love from the encyclopedia.
The Departed (2006)
Everyone shoots everyone. ooops I gave away the plot!
Jack Nicholson does his impersonation of Rip Torn, Dicaprio and Damon are distinguished only because one of them (but which?) has some facial hair, and all of them and everyone else puts on a lousy "Southie" Boston accent so even the actors natively from there come across as fake. Except a few actors put on a fine Irish Brogue so you know they're Irish. Such entertainments are needed in this remarkably plot-free orgy of camp, grumbling, meaningless shootouts and poignant cell phone usage. I haven't counted to see if cell phones are used as often as guns, but no doubt a future thesis on the theme is lurking.
Jack Nicholson at one point refers to the John Hancock building. That's a building in Boston. Wow, Nicholson was so in character he might have just winged that.
Everyone calls everyone else a rat, or an undercover, and sometimes they say things like "He's undercover!," What undercover?" "No, he's my undercover." Abbott and Costello more humorously expressed it: Who's rat's on first?
There's also authentic Hollywood crime lingo, like "were you tailed" (a play on rats perhaps).
Everyone informs on everyone else and in the end, everyone shoots everyone else, except one person who's character is so vague you can look him or her in the eye and not know who. "I want my identity back," says one character, mysteriously. All of this highlights the key themes of the film, that everyone is everyone else, and in the end, only cell phones survive.
There's also a lot of looking in cell phones, presumably because to Hollywood types, even more than the rest of us, looking at cell phones is done often and always is a thrill.
This movie is a really good argument for having movies directed instead of run by mugging improvisers; alternatively a future film can dispense with actors entirely, and focus entirely on cell phones and computer screens.
However the City of Boston, played largely by itself, is convincing.
Galaxy Quest (1999)
Does 2 things perfectly
Galaxy Quest manages to both BE a science fiction movie, and to mock the genre (especially Star Trek) -- but to mock it more lovingly and aptly than any parody ever. These lines from the movie say it all:
Fan: But I want you to know that I'm not a complete brain case, okay? I understand completely that it's just a TV show. I know there's no beryllium sphere...
Actor who plays captain: Hold it.
Fan: no digital conveyor, no ship...
Actor who plays captain: Stop for a second, stop. It's all real.
Fan: Oh my God, I knew it. I knew it! I knew it!
None But the Lonely Heart (1944)
Cary's vanity project flops for the reason vanity projects flop
The film supposedly involves Cary Grant playing himself on sets that evoke his impoverished English childhood, in an anguished drama involving a mother that evokes his anguished mother.
I don't know how much of the film had personal meaning to Cary (and how much of the meaning was generated by a publicity department, or imagined by fans) but the result is unsatisfying. Cary despite his genuine Cockney childhood is not convincing as a Cockney, and he comes across as the main wrong note in the film. Like the rest of the sentient universe I am a huge fan generally, and if one felt like arguing, one could argue that Cary's ineptness because it is so rare is revealing. It suggests a conflict -- seen especially early in the movie -- between being Cary Grant, being that English street character he spent his entire life disguising, and whatever this part required. So maybe something personal was at stake, but that's not necessarily the formula for a good movie, and here it isn't.
The sets are great though, in a dark "foggy old London curiosity shoppe" kind of way. Ethel Barrymore is... well, Ethel Barrymore and enough said. Eternally noble Jane Wyatt is eternally noble (but we love her that way); in fact everyone is fine, including the fog, played by itself.
Except Cary and the story.
"and for several days, will not come off the wall"
Whether a comedy meets the test of time takes, well, time... and Zelig passes. I originally described Zelig as a "one joke movie," but added it is a pretty good and very original joke (even if there are echos of Robert Crumb's comic book history of the early mysterious life of Mr. Natural). Now I see Zelig as much more.
Woody's deadpan faux history is a very loving evocation of the 1920s and 1930s through its use of tasty bits of period film. It also manages to mock documentaries themselves, and (with its riotous use of prominent real world geniuses who deliver many of the funniest lines of the film) to mock intellectual pretension generally, and psychology in particular.
But in the end it is a love story, and a metaphor for the struggle of immigrants to assimilate, giving the film a bittersweet quality not often seen in Woody's films.
Silly, ridiculous, and giggle-ishious. You keep expecting the inventiveness to flag and it never. Fun & highly recommended.
A Bit of Fry and Laurie (1987)
Those who are only familiar with Hugh Laurie's work as the lead of "Dr. House, MD" will be fascinated to compare his earlier work in Hugh & Laurie which, while hilarious, fails to convince that Mr. Laurie had a life as an English wit and comedian before his present incarnation as a brilliant but acerbic and pain-damaged American doctor who never returns my requests for a consultation.
Like Dr. House, this earlier Laurie plays piano, and can burst derisively into shrill fake laughter to humiliate his adversaries. There are even moments in which Hugh plays an American character (isn't that what's going on in his piano playing bit in 1.2 where he earnestly sings "America" until Fry pushes him onto the floor?); which is much as Dr. House on occasion puts on a mock English accent who's imperfection makes him more convincingly American.
Much of Hugh & Laurie is inscrutable, and while a laugh track helps to educate Americans about which parts are funny, it does not reveal which parts are surreal because the humo(u)r is surreal, and which parts are merely English.
Fun and strange structure well suited to the movie's purpose
(This contains a "spoiler" only in the limited sense that it mentions the movie involves Dresden during WWII, and what happened to that city).
I hadn't seen this movie since... well, probably since it first was released, and I wasn't prepared for how great it is. There is nothing "allegorical" it. The parts set in WWII are realistic, and are directly based on Kurt Vonnegut's wartime experiences as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany's Dresden, safe deep below ground while the city was firebombed at the end of the war; resulting in more damage and casualties than Hiroshima, and arguably with a lot less purpose.
Being "unstuck in time" is a great description for the way our brains really work most of the time -- at any one moment reflecting on a particular childhood afternoon during 6th grade, or reliving an argument or love scene from the night before, or fantasizing an imagined future. Then the street light changes, and for that instant at least you're back on Second Avenue, looking both ways for traffic...
This movie's great achievement is to mix up stories from WWII, the present, and an imagined (or if you prefer, extraterrestrial and mildly pornographic) future in an amusing and bittersweet way; and in way that makes psychological and dramatic sense. The most awful things cannot be confronted directly (think about Sauron in the "Lord of the Rings" who is all the more horrible because we never hear him directly -- his voice is issues only from proxies). For Vonnegut, the horrors of Dresden were impossible to write about in a completely direct way, which makes the movie's structure not only fun, but also deeply "right." As to the acting, Michael Sacks is great as Billy Pilgrim, and Eugene Roche great as Edgar Derby; but Valerie Perrine despite having less screen time as Montana Wildhack practically steals the show. Gorgeous, charming, luscious, perfect! What Tramfalmadorian for "hubba! hubba!"?
Fun, campy historical clips, but in the end like waking out of a dream into horror
I always knew the day was coming. We all knew. There's only so much oil in the ground, and one day we'll run short. But isn't there supposed to be enough coal to use instead? And wind power, or something. Things for future generations to worry about.
Then this documentary hit me smack between the eyes. Oil makes the fertilizer that is the reason for the first time in world history practically no one lives on farms. When the inevitable oil shortages hit, a lot of things -- air travel, many drugs, plastics, life in the suburbs -- will become impossible. But the craziest insight from the documentary is this: oil gives us so much energy with so little effort, that without it our lives must change. Even if substitutes and conservation are implemented immediately, at best they'll smooth our landing into a strange post-oil world which (the documentary claims) could be starting NOW.
Despite its gloomy message, the documentary is often highly entertaining. It contains fabulous historical footage (sober images of dark urban factories, and campy funny stuff from the 1950's) which reminds us of why we moved to the suburbs in the first place. It also offers hope that a massive effort started now could both ease our transition from oil and make the world a better place.
My only complaint about the documentary is that it does not spend time on the mystery of why we are finding this stuff out now. How can this be a big emergency all of a sudden? We knew in the 1970s we should be preparing for a post-oil world -- and we started to prepare with alternative energy research and smaller cars. If our failure to follow through on President Jimmy Carter's initiatives 25 years ago has doomed us to a hard landing in a post-oil world, why was no one shouting about it on soapboxes?
In the end I found the documentary highly persuasive; and it left me with the terrible chill of being dragged out of a very lovely dream. This is must viewing for everyone not afraid to face a very likely near future that we still have time to do something about.