Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Guilty, guilty pleasures

Yes, I can appreciate the great movies – most of them, at least – but I find that I'm drawn to films that live on the fringes of polite movie society.

"The Mad Doctor of Blood Island" is a thoroughly unhinged mad scientist movie shot in the Philippines with an American cast, but a decidedly different point of view. I will watch damn near any film shot in that nation in the 1960s and '70s. They look and feel different, even if an American director is on board.

"The Fiend of Dope Island" is the kind of film that makes me wonder, "Just why did they make this thing?" Bruce Bennett was an Olympic athlete who was slated to play Tarzan at MGm before an injury prevented him from doing so. He made a number of low budget films under his real name of Herman Brix in the 1930s, but changed his name and appeared in a string of big budget A films for major studios. By the late 1950s, he appeared in this pt boiler. He also co-produced. It has an evil hypnotic char,

Few films deserve more of revival than "Shakes the Clown." Starring, written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, "Shakes" gives all of us who grew up mistrustful of clowns plenty of ammunition. Very funny and in highly questionable taste, "Shakes" is one of my favorites.

There are few films from the 1970s that I love more than this movie created on a dare by Joe Dante and Allan Arkush when they were cutting trailers for Roger Corman's New World Pictures. Made in 10 days and utilizing a lot of existing footage from other Corman movies, it has a true charm and stars an actress who is largely forgotten today, Candice Rialson. She was a young woman who should have been a major star, but spent most of her career in low budget films. She could have done much, much more.

By the way the trailer is not safe for work.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I've been watching a lot of DVDs for work and here's a few of them.

The Three Stooges

Like many Stooge fans I was very uncertain whether or not I should spend the cost of a movie ticket to go see this homage/rebooting of the venerable slapstick trio. After all, I couldn't see someone "being" Buster Keaton's or Charlie Chaplin's on-screen character in a new movie, so why the Stooges?

Fanboys hadn't been so divided about a movie since Tim Burton cast Michael Keaton as Batman.

Now that the film is on DVD, I'm willing to risk the time and reduced cost of admission to see it and I have to say that I enjoyed myself thoroughly with this love letter to Moe, Larry and Curly.

Rated PG, the film has just three gags that are more attuned to modern comedy conventions, with all the rest falling squarely in the Stooge's tried-and-true brand of ultra-violent slapstick.

Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly are clearly devoted fans and they cast this film carefully with three actors who did the Stooges proud Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe, Sean Hayes as Larry and Will Sasso as Curly. Sasso had perhaps the most difficult assignment, considering how many people love Curly, and he carried it off well.

Hayes actually brings something extra to Larry and does a great reaction bit when Moe throws a live and irritated lobster down Larry's pants.

Acknowledging the beautiful Christine McIntyre, the long-time Stooge co-star who could either be a heroine or a villain the directors cast Sofia Vergara as the bad guy, something the actress seemed to enjoy.

The directors even used some of the original sound effects from the shorts and ended the film in a very appropriate Stooge manner.

Now if you don't like the original Stooges, you won't like this film, but if you're a Stooge fan, watch it.

By the way, at the end of the film is a short piece designed to keep youngster from doing things such as hitting each other over the head with a sledgehammer. I wondered if 20th Century Fox attorneys demanded this sequence to lower the studio's liability?

Pirates! Band of Misfits

Some people get all excited by a new animated release from Pixar, but I get twitchy when I learn that Aardman Studios have a new project. The people who brought audiences the adventures of Wallace and Gromit and "Chicken Run" are not only amazingly talented animators specializing in stop motion, but also are vastly clever.

"The Pirates!" may not be the studio's most laugh-out-loud film, but it provides a very enjoyable 90 minutes or so.

The story centers around The Pirate Captain, a man determined to be voted Pirate of the Year, but is so ineffective he doesn't have a chance. His men admire him, though, and stick with him when the ship's beloved pet Polly, the last dodo, is suddenly sought after by Charles Darwin who is in love with Queen Victoria!

This mixing and matching of real people and fictional characters — along with pirates of the 18th century with the technology of the latter 19th century is part of the film's unique charm.

To appreciate the animation one must watch the documentary that is included on the Blu-Ray (but not on the DVD). The process is astounding.

The voice cast is headed up by Hugh Grant, who does well, and also includes Martin Freeman and David Tennant.

For a great family night, get your hands on this film.

Girls Gone Dead

The late great David Friedman, producer of dozens of exploitation films, explained in many interviews that when you make such a movie you better be prepared to at some point give audiences what they expect.

This limp dishrag of a film purports to be a clever, sexy spoof of horror films, but instead is so dreadfully inept, your finger will be on the fast forward button throughout most of the film.

What can I say about a film whose cover graphics features an actress who doesn't appear in the film? Case closed.

I don't care how desperate you are standing at the Red Box on a Saturday night eager for something new to watch. Rent this and you will be sorry.

The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Favorites

In this era and anything-goes comedy, one might think that episodes of a television variety show from the 1970s wouldn't have much to offer today's viewers.

If the show was "The Carol Burnett Show," that assumption would be wrong as this new five-disc collection shows.

Burnett was on television from 1967 to 1978 with a highly rated variety show. For readers younger than the age of 40, variety shows once roamed airwaves in the same numbers — almost as reality shows. They were a mainstay of television programming and Burnett's was consistently at the top of the heap.

Besides being an incredibly talented performer — fearless in doing almost anything for a laugh — Burnett surrounded herself with talent with her supporting cast and in the writers' room.

This collection features a selection of shows picked by Burnett and boy are there some great comedic moments here, including the hilarious send-up of "Gone With the Wind" and the skit about a nervous new dentist with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman.

As a kid, I hated "McHale's Navy" — I still think it's stupid — and at first I didn't care much for Tim Conway. His work on the Burnett show was a revelation to me, though. He was an amazing — and to his fellow performers, challenging — ad libber who would go off script as a comic inspiration hit him.

The collection also features several of the "Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggans" sketches, which featured Conway as a frustrated boss and Burnett as the world's most dense secretary.

Vicki Lawrence, who was hired to play Burnett's sister in skits, also came into her own when the writers developed a recurring sketch called "The Family," in which Lawrence played the matriarch of a Southern family. The skit was so successful it was spun off as a separate series called "Mama's Family."

The set also has many extras, including some of Burnett's work on "The Garry Moore Show," plus many behind the scenes interviews.

This collection shows just how comedy has changed on television and not necessarily for the better.

The Dictator

If you're like me, you probably cringed so much through "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," that you skipped Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up film, "BrĂ¼no."

I admired "Borat" for its sheer comic audacity and for Cohen's satiric nerve, although I have to admit that watching two men wrestle in the nude wasn't my cup of tea.

Cohen returned to the screen in this far more conventional comedy that I certainly found funny with its political incorrectness.

Cohen plays Aladeen, the life-long dictator of a small northern African nation. He believes his people actually like being oppressed and uses his position to do outrageous actions to bolster his own ego, such as competing in a race and using the starter's pistol to wound his fellow runners.

During a trip to United Nations, Aladeen is a victim of a coup by his trusted second-in-command, but he manages to escape with his life — but not with his trademark beard.

Alone in New York, he accidentally meets the super liberal manager of an organic food store (played by Anna Faris with her usual cuteness) who believes he is a victim of the dictator's oppression. Aladeen isn't used to kindness and changes for a moment, until he hatches a plot to grab back his power.

Although "Borat" was studded with satiric digs, "The Dictator" is fairly standard in its storyline — funny but nothing new. It isn't until its conclusion that Cohen gives a biting monologue that certainly hits home this election year.

Although undoubtedly not for everyone, "The Dictator" provides some good laughs.

Absolutely Fabulous 20th Anniversary

Have you ever run into anyone who is determined to not act or dress their age and follow youthful trends despite the fact that such an effort makes them look pathetic and desperate? That's the premise on which Jennifer Saunders has based her hit television show "Absolutely Fabulous."

Saunders plays Edina Monsoon, an over-the-hill party girl obsessed with high fashion and fame, who supposedly has a public relations and management business, but really relies on alimony from her two husbands. Her best friend, Patsy Stone, played by Joanna Lumley, is also a fashionista, working for a style magazine. Stone is so burnt out from alcohol and drugs that she's not even sure how old she is.

Together, they attempt to stay up on the trends and appear to be important members of British society. Needless to say, they fail miserably.

Monsoon's problems are exacerbated by her mother and daughter, neither of whom is impressed with her shallow life.

Saunders' scripts are laced with biting social and pop culture satire as well as moments of old fashioned slapstick and politically incorrect humor. What has always been remarkable is the number of people from British fashion and entertainment who have been guest stars on the show, some even gladly suffering jokes at their own expense.

The show was a hit on Comedy Central and on BBC America and although the initial run ended years ago, Saunders and Lumley have reprised their characters in a series of specials.

This DVD contains the three latest shows, aired in Great Britain in 2011 and this summer. They are a scream with Saunders' scripts deftly referring to the ages of the characters.

I particularly enjoyed the show about the summer Olympics, which was broadcast in the UK in July.

If you already an "Ab Fab" fan, this DVD is a must-have. If you're not a fan, you might find the shows a little difficult to understand. As a writer, Saunders likes to build her comedy on the backstory she has developed, which will cause a person new to the series a little difficulty.

The extras on the disk include a short episode design to raise funds and awareness for a British charity and the making-of that show.

Watch a little "Ab Fab"online and then try this very funny DVD.


A "cleanskin" is a person involved in some sort of undercover operation who has no record, a point that is pivotal in this very good and intense thriller about a series of terrorist attacks in London.

Sean Bean plays Ewan, a former British commando now employed as an operative by a branch of the British Secret Service. His current job is to follow the illegal sale of a box of plastic explosives to get at a terrorist cell.

There is a security breach and armed, masked men hijack the explosives. It is now Ewan's job to find the explosives before suicide bombers can use them.

What complicates his assignment is that his bosses need to have this operation completed before an up-coming election, so they can keep their jobs.

This is a gritty, no-wisecracking kind of action thriller and Bean does a great job as an emotionally broken man driven by the need to stop the terrorists before they can act.

What makes this film even more interesting is that director and writer Hadi Hajaig includes the backstory of the lead terrorist to try to show how this man made the decision to attack the country of his birth. This adds greater dramatic depth to the film.

Add a major twist ending and you have a really effective thriller. Be warned, though, the film doesn't mince on the violence, which may offend some people.

© 2012 by Gordon Michael Dobbs