Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Almost every week I run a DVD column in our 'papers and I thought to stir up some comment I'd share some on this blog.

The most daunting part of this assignment is finding the time to watch the films. Sometimes I just don't want to watch something for work, and beleive me, sitting through some of the tripe I have to watch is no damn fun.

By the way, I spoke to Pastor Tom Crouss about his Mr. Hetero Contest and that piece will be up tomorrow night. it was an interesting conversation.

The Lenny Bruce Performance Film

No one paid quite the price for his comedy as did Lenny Bruce. The pioneer in plain speaking died a broken and shunned man, drained of his earnings from years in show business from his legal battles over obscenity.

Before Richard Pryor and George Carlin became known for their use of profanity, Bruce was blazing that trail. Unlike those two comedians, Bruce never saw the acceptance of his brand of comedy.

Bruce wasn't a "blue" comic like Red Foxx. Bruce used profanity to make a point. I have to admit that his stream of consciousness form of story telling is not among my favorite and this performance film shows Bruce at a low point of his life certainly not the best time for his creativity.

Shot with a single camera in black and white in a San Francisco nightclub in 1965, Bruce discusses at length his legal problems with a sympathetic audience. He rambles at times and frequently looks away from the camera and audience. I got the impression that at times he was speaking more to himself.

The next year he would be found dead.

The one extra on the disc is a cartoon of one of Bruce's most famous bits about the Lone Ranger. It's pretty funny and quite adult. The print quality is quite good on the cartoon and acceptable on the feature.

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Margaret Cho: Assassin

Margaret Cho's fans like to compare her with Lenny Bruce and say that she is some sort of spiritual child of his. While I find Bruce incomprehensible at times, Cho is just plain boring.

Cho seems to feel that her profanity-laden political humor is somehow making a difference in American discourse. In one of the disc's extras, a documentary on Cho's comedy tour, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show is described as being "owned" by Viacom, the corporation that owns Comedy Central. Cho, on the other hand, is characterized as a comic that is truly free to say anything.

It's this sanctimonious self-promotion that ruins what few laughs there are on this disc.

The job of the comic is to be funny. You can be controversial and political, but you've got to be funny. Making obscene references to George and Laura Bush isn't funny. It's playing to a like-minded crowd.

Other extras include a short documentary about a gay Asian-Canadian man, a look at Cho's hobby of belly dancing and a poorly animated music video.


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I liked this dumb western re-telling of The Taming of the Shrew when I was a kid. Of course, the crush I had on Maureen O' Hara undoubtedly was a factor.

As part of Paramount's John Wayne collection, McLintock is the recipient of the full DVD treatment. There are great interviews with O'Hara and Stephanie Powers; commentaries with other cast members and director Andrew McLagen; several documentaries on the making of the film and the career of producer Michael Wayne; a photo gallery; and the original trailer.

But how does this film play now? It really doesn't have much of a plot other than Wayne's cattle baron character reconciling with his estranged wife. He does this with doses of understanding followed by argument. Ultimately he publicly spanks her with a coal shovel and chases her around the town, much to the amusement of the residents.

To say that this film isn't politically correct is an understatement. Although a dark comedy such as The War of the Roses can actually portray domestic violence in a humorous way, the violence in McLintock is far more problematic. Unlike War, this is not a dark film at all. In fact, it's about the only truly overt comedy Wayne ever did.

So how do you reconcile the spanking and humiliation? Well, you can either take this film as a silly comedy made at a less sensitive time or you can be offended by it.

It's your call.

I have to say that it does have one of the finest collections of character actors assembled for a western. I have to like any film just a little bit that puts two of the screen's finest geezers, Chill Wills and Edgar Buchanan, in the same production.

I'm sorry. I love a good geezer.

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The Kingdom: Series One

Imagine a television mini-series that is a cross between ER, a daytime soap opera, and one of the best ghost stories ever committed to film that's The Kingdom.

Now if you remember an American version of this production a terrible cup of weak tea called Kingdom Hospital please don't hold it against the original. Danish director and writer Lars Von Trier created something so singular that no adaptation could have captured its unique blend of satire, humor and chills.

The Kingdom is the name of a large hospital which is haunted by both ghosts and a very live and vindictive doctor from Sweden. He has been banned from practicing medicine there and hates the fact that he is forced to live in Denmark. Between his medical incompetence and the supernatural events taking place, being a patient at The Kingdom is a daunting proposition.

This disc has a great little documentary and commentary by the director. It's unrated, but probably would warrant an "R" rating. It's not for kids.

It's so involving that you might be tempted to watch all four and a half hours of it in one sitting. I did.

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The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation

This fine documentary is a little mis-leading. This isn't a look at the Beatles or the rise of the hippies or the Kennedy presidency. It's not a nostalgic film at all.

Instead, this two-hour production is about the political turmoil of the late 1960s and into the Nixon presidency. It shows just how social and cultural events of the latter half of the decade made a very real impact on the government and how history was altered.

It's a great film to show kids who think hippies were quaint or that the music and fashion of the era were "retro."

Packed with archival footage and contemporary interviews with people who were part of the revolution that took place, The Sixties is history at its most involving.

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SRBissette said...

Ah, the long hours of the video columnist -- I know it well! Great writeups, Mike, though the fans of Cho may come a-knockin' at your door.

I enjoyed McCLINTOCK! on the big screen when I saw it as a kid, too, primarily for the huge mud-pit wallow setpiece. I tried to watch it years ago (when there was that feud between two competing "authorized" vhs versions), and found it damn near impossible to endure. You're right, the incredible supporting cast of geezers is all that makes it palatable today. Relevent to the 1960s doc you cite, I think it was the one-two punch of Wayne's swaggering manhandling of O'Sullivan in McCLINTOCK! and subsequent war-mongering of THE GREEN BERET -- both films I saw in theaters with my father -- that made Wayne such a loathsome patriarchal figure to me and my circle of friends by the time we were old enough to be enjoying Zappa records.

Marky Mark said...


SRBissette said...

Hey, for someone who CALLS me when I don't post daily, you're sure draggin' your blogboy ass!

SRBissette said...

Posted Dec. 7th:

"By the way, I spoke to Pastor Tom Crouss about his Mr. Hetero Contest and that piece will be up tomorrow night. it was an interesting conversation."

Tomorrow, tomorrow, there's always, to-morrow --

SRBissette said...

BTW, the above comment was posted on Dec. 11th. Days, DAYS later...

Kip W said...

I remember howling at McLintock! in the thee-yater years back, and I still watch it when it comes on TV. It's clear that the film is (as Maltin says in his *** review) not for feminists, but then again, my feminist sister still enjoys it as much as I do. It's full of little touches I enjoy, like Wayne's daughter's callow suitor ("I said what I said and I'll stand by it to the death!") and the egg race, and it's full of character actors I like to see, even if I can't remember their names. The mud pit part is okay, but it's not my favorite part of the movie any more.

Interestingly, there's a cheap collection of John Wayne DVDs that's mostly really old stuff, and it includes McLintock! Is this a different competing authorized version?

There aren't a lot of westerns I feel like sitting through, although a couple rise to the status of favorites -- Westward The Women comes to mind most readily. I'll watch it to the end any time I stumble over it on the TV, which is vanishingly rare, unfortunately. It's a harrowing wagon train pic that earns every emotion it reaches for, from sorrow at losing a character we've come to care for to... well, why spoil the ending?