Friday, February 17, 2006

A major pleasure, an interesting import and something very, very bad are featured in this week’s DVD column.

The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends

This themed collection from the 1970s Dick Cavett Show is my favorite so far because it features Cavett interviewing some of the most significant comics of the last century. They include Groucho Marx, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Carol Burnett, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Jack Benny.

The strength of Cavett’s interviewing style comes out with these shows. Cavett is clearly a fan, a colleague – he wrote and performed comedy before his talk show – and generally noisy. He switches gears quite often with his guests. At one point they may be doing schtick which he encourages, but then he will lead them someplace more serious and more interesting.

And Cavett had the daring to devote his 90 minutes to a single guest, something his peers at the time didn’t want to do. The result was these programs transcended the normal talk show and became more of a special event.

His program with Bob Hope is a great example. Hope was the smoothest most professional figure in show business. He was a veteran interview subject who knew what to say to sell whatever project he was promoting. With Cavett, though, he actually relaxed a bit and viewers saw more of the “real” Bob Hope.

As a Marx Brothers fan, the shows with Groucho are particularly fun. These are the programs in which Cavett gives up the reins a bit and allows Groucho to dominate and drive the conversation. Since Groucho was still mentally sharp, these shows are a treat. Groucho’s rendition of the song “Father’s Day” is worth the price of the set alone.

This is great stuff with interesting introductions that Cavett recently taped.

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The Jolly Boys Last Stand

Fantasy film fans know of actor Andy Serkis because of his performance as Gollem in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and his CGI modeling for the title character in King Kong.

Now they will actually get the chance to see him without make-up in this low budget British comedy that was made in 2000 and just now coming to this shore.
Director and writer Christopher Payne’s comedy looks at a soccer club named the Jolly Boys and how the members’ way of life is being threatened by its leader’s decision (Serkis) to get married and settle down.

Part improvised, part scripted and filmed apparently in locations without permission, this film cost about $11,000. Although it received good reviews, it didn’t get widespread release in Great Britain and is now finding an audience through its DVD release.

I liked the film. It mines a pretty familiar vein – man-children being forced to come of age – but unlike Hollywood movies of the same genre, this movie’s mock documentary approach lends a realism that adds to the humor, as well as the pathetic quality of grown men hitting strangers with large fish for laughs.

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Terror in the Tropics

Now, this is a difficult review to write. It’s tough to knock amateurs who think they’ve turned out a technically competent, clever little movie. Terror in the Tropics, despite its best intentions is a difficult film to watch.

Writer and director A. Susan Svehla took the format of the Carl Reiner/Steve Martin comedy Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid of mixing old footage with new footage. Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid succeeded because of a witty script and a seamless technical blending of the new and old material.

Terror in the Tropics, on the other hand, has an unnecessarily convoluted script that ultimately makes little sense and the technical aspects are lacking. Svehla takes movies featuring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney, Jr. and weaves that footage around a story involving a reading of a will – sort of.

Because the stock footage comes from different films of varying conditions, the older footage sticks out like a sore thumb. Svehla uses Lugosi footage the most and we get to see Lugosi at different times of his life, although that doesn’t match the context of the film.

Svehla also uses a significant chunk of footage from The Most Dangerous Game but did little to match the hair and costumes of her actors to those in the older footage.

The performances of her cast vary widely. Some seem to know what they’re doing, while others blow their lines on camera.

In the extras, we learn that the film was only supposed to be shot in one day, but shooting extended to four, and that Svehla’s intent was to replicate the cheesiness of the low-budget horror shows of the 1930s and ’40s. That’s a tricky thing to do and she doesn’t succeed.

Now if you want to see a truly funny homage to bad film making, check out The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra.

I understand that a sequel has been planned. I hope they reconsider or actually try to do something good.

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SRBissette said...

Hey, Mike --

Andy Serkis can also be seen, sans makeup (until his memorable demise) in Michael J. Bassett's UK WW1 war/horror film DEATHWATCH (no relation to the 1970s UK ecohorror TV series or film DOOMWATCH), which is worth a viewing. It's on UK DVD from Pathe!/20th Century Fox with extras, including a separate Serkis commentary track; the same extras are on the blandly packaged (not even a shot of the star Jamie Bell, who had some recognition in the US thanks to BILLY ELLIOTT) 2004 Lions Gate DVD release, which predated that company's hardcore horror push (with MAY, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, etc.).

What the Svehla's did with TROPICS actually sounds closer to the venerable CONFESSIONS OF A VICE BARON, which was compiled rather haphazardly of clips from a multitude of low-budget exploitationers that all featured character actor Willy Castello, loosely cobbled into a narrative with newly-shot (circa 1943) footage of Castello playing his character on death row (hence, the "confessions"). Budget-wise and time-wise, this was likely a lot closer than DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID to the Svehla opus, too!

SRBissette said...

Just a note -- Mike, the quotes on the DVD packaging of TROPICS you showed me today were pretty amazing. Ah, the lure of the blurb...

Marky Mark said...

Speaking of yesterday, I hate to break it to you but the "Zarbie and the Martians" CD
is lamer than a lame legless lizard with broken legs and no wheelchair and dead from being so lame he could not reach food that was just an inch away.

TRIVIAL TIDBIT: The first track contains a reading from War of the Worlds "written by Orson Welles". I'm not kidding. That's what the credits say. "written by Orson welles".

To be fair, the intended audience, 4-to-6-year-old girls (I assume???) may enjoy this CD.