Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Movie Reviews 450 – La Femme Nikita (1990)

September 18, 2020

Most North American audiences were first introduced to the Nikita story by the American adaptation, Point of No Return which is a pretty decent film in its own right. Other incarnations include two acclaimed television series, one from right here in Canada. But the original French film La Femme Nikita by director Luc Besson is, as is usually the case, far superior and well worth seeking out.

To those unfamiliar with the story, Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a rebellious young woman who gets into serious trouble with the law but instead of merely being incarcerated for her crimes she is enlisted into a covert government organization and is trained to be a super agent with emphasis on killing skills. As a mock funeral has already been held, so as far as the world knows she is already dead, so her choices are to either agree to the recruitment or to be ‘disposed of’ for real. Not much of a choice really.

At first a captive in a semi office-prison facility under the watchful eye of her mentor and recruiter Bob (Tchéky Karyo) she shows great potential in all areas of her training such as hand-to-hand combat and firearms. But her rebellious spirit has not been abandoned completely much to the consternation of some of her instructors and the leader of the organization. She does find a friend in the grooming and etiquette teacher Amande (Jeanne Moreau) who transforms that ragged punk youth into an elegant beauty,  which can be her greatest weapon under some circumstances.

Invited to a ‘dinner date’ by Bob who has clearly fallen for her, she is led to believe that it will be nothing more than a private affair within the cafeteria until Bob surprisingly not only leads her out of the facility but escorts her to the fanciest posh restaurant in Paris. Only there she learns that romance was not the reason for this trip, and in fact she is about to start the first of many missions in her new career.

Now given the latitude to live by herself, her tumultuous clandestine operations become more complicated when she falls for Marco (Jean-Hugues Anglade) a grocery store clerk. Accepting tickets for Venice as a gift from ‘uncle’ Bob results in yet more complications for a mission, one that goes terribly wrong and requiring calling in  Victor “The Cleaner” (Jean Reno). But the cleaner wants more than just to scrub the operation and the resulting melee will be unlike any mission she has been on before.

On the face of it, La Femme Nikita (also released in some instances simply as Nikita) is nearly non-stop John Woo style action that has dizzying mood shifts to go along with Nikita’s Jekyll/Hide transformations as she is called to duty. But it also offers tender moments setting up the Nikita/Bob/Marco love triangle to the point that you forget this is an action film at all, even if only for a few moments. When Jean Reno barges on screen, the very manner of his entrance is enough to signal that the film is now on an altogether different trajectory from a both bullet count and laughs perspective. I suspect that Victor “The Cleaner” was the inspiration for Harvey Keitel’s “Cleaner” character Mr. Wolf in Pulp Fiction, although they are dissimilar in many ways, indicative of how Quentin Tarantino adopts characters but makes them his own.

The film sidesteps any discussion regarding the ethics of a government agency that skirts it’s own laws and that enlists deadly mercenaries to deal with troublesome individuals, albeit seemingly deserving of their fates. Nikita’s issue with her involvement is purely from a point of view of freedom and having paid one’s dues. Even finding love in the complicated manner that she does, comes second to being free.

Unless you abhor some of the over the top action sequences, it’s hard for anyone not to love this film. And anyone who can enjoy a Jean Reno performance (if it were even possible not to) will have reason enough to watch this by his presence alone.

Movie Reviews 449 – The Legend (1993)

September 11, 2020

I had to navigate the filmography of the many Jet Li films with the word “Legend” in the title to figure out which of the many movie series’ The Legend fits into. Which is kind of fitting since Li himself is hard to peg in the pantheon of “Legendary” cinematic martial artists. Arguably, among the three heavyweights, Li never had the physical acumen of Bruce Lee, nor the comedic chops (see what I did there?) of Jackie Chan. But when it comes to actual acting skills and range, Li easily tops both among these predecessor wuxia warriors.

As in many martial arts films, the theme of supremacy over challenged opponents is front and centre but surprisingly Li not only shares the limelight but is in some ways outshone by women combatants which figure just as prominently here. While Li is undoubtedly the superior fighter throughout, it is his mother played by longtime martial arts mistress Josephine Siao that stands firmly next in line followed closely by her sometime nemesis in this film, Siu-wan (Sibelle Hu).

The plot intertwines two families, that of Fong Sai-yuk (Li) and that of Ting-ting Lui (Michelle Reis), the girl he falls in love with. Ting-ting’s dad, affectionately called “Tiger” Lui (Chen Sung-young), is something of a village bully who hopes to buy up all the land but at the same time wants to maintain a humble image to others. The Fong family is a particular irritant to him as Sai-yuk’s father is one of the few holdouts refusing to sell. When Lui offers up his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can defeat his wife(!) Siu-wan, the prospective men are quickly disposed of until Sai-yuk hears of the challenge and starts fighting her in a battle where the first opponent to touch the ground fails. But when Ting-ting flees right in the midst of the fighting, she is secretly substituted for a servant and upon noticing this Sai-yuk purposely loses. This results in Sai-yuk’s hooded mother (Siao) fighting Siu-wan in the same aerial manner, the latter thinking it is his brother and developing a spirited kinship as she fights.

It gets a little convoluted but the two families end up pitted against a mean governor acting on the behalf of the emperor and who is trying to get his hands on a list of the members of a secretive Red Flower Brotherhood fighting for justice.

While this is very much a comedy there are many touching moments and not only between the two young lovers which are hardly the most prevalent. The two elder women end up forming a tight bond that ends in a tearful dying moment. Sai-yuk’s mother swoons to any and all poetry which is played both for laughs and more poignant and intimate scenes. There are some running gags, Lui always trying to remain humble being one, but at the same time the film is distressingly sombre and violent.

But this is a martial arts film and in that regard there are plenty of nifty action sequences, again some on the lighter side, some with deadly consequences. The opening sequence had me worried as it was not only disjointed but also has some appallingly cheap special effects but those that turned out to be nothing but a silly dream sequence and thus purposely created for that effect.

Alternately titled simply as Fong Sai-yuk, there are conflicting views on whether the wuxia character was a real person living sometime during the Qing dynasty or whether he was just a fictional character. There was even a Fong Sai-yuk television series at one point but I’m unable to ascertain if that was a spinoff from these movies or a take on ‘the legend’.

All in all another great Jet Li film and another to add to the list of movies such as Fearless and Unleashed where he is much more than simply a fine fighter. Looking forward to finding The Legend 2 (A.K.A The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk 2) sometime soon as it seems to be equally acclaimed.

Movie Reviews 448 – It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963)

September 4, 2020

Movies that feature a true ‘all star’ cast are nothing new, but when it comes to unadulterated comedies, the pickings are pretty slim. Ironically one of the best is also one of the earliest, featuring a veritable Who’s Who of Hollywood and television talent at the time. Not only does It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World have a legendary leading cast, but it has a script that is just as inspiring.

It all begins on a desolate desert highway with a speeding car weaving through the few vehicles and then plunging down an embankment and crashing among the rocks below. The vehicles stop and the occupants descend to find a dying old man (“The Schnoz” himself, Jimmy Durante) who tells them of a fortune, the spoils of robbery fifteen years prior, hidden below a “Big W” in a seaside park in a town called Santa Rosita some 200 miles away. Before the authorities arrive the man kicks the proverbial bucket (literally and figuratively) leaving the witnesses to question what they heard. Fearing that telling the cops will needlessly detain them for further questioning, they reluctantly agree to withhold the part of the money when questioned by detectives who soon arrive on the scene.

But no sooner are they back on the road that they start jockeying for the lead, evidently all having bought into the dying man’s tale. After a quick stop to discuss the matter in the hopes that an amicable agreement can be made regarding distribution of the money should they find it, the groups soon split up, opting for a ‘winner takes all’ approach. Thus begins a greed fueled, no holds barred, multi-state chase on land, air and unintentionally in a river.

The initial crazed group of participants are as varied as can be. Two young men, Benji (Buddy Hackett) and Ding (Mickey Rooney) heading out to Vegas for some fun. The Crumps, Melville (Sid Caesar) and Monica (Edie Adams) as a couple on their second honeymoon. Lennie (Jonathan Winters), a lone truck driver hauling furniture and finally Russel (Milton Berle) and Emeline (Dorothy Provine) Finch seeking some rest after his recent breakdown but inexplicably hauling his ever yapping, loudmouth mother-in-law (Ethel Merman).

Unbeknownst to this medley of money mad moochers is the fact that they have been under the constant watchful eye of the authorities under the guidance of the Captain T.G. Culpeper (Spencer Tracy) who was the detective on the case at the outset, and now looking for redemption. Adamant that the treasure remained hidden in his town of Santa Rosita all these years and now hoping to retire with the closure to the case as the final feather in his cap, his plans crumble before his very eyes as he faces one crisis after another.

They don’t make them like this anymore. While some slapstick certainly comes into play this comedy relies on insane characters at their worst, betraying one another, creating new allegiances as they cross paths and getting into the craziest of situations. To sweeten the pot the film has an ever growing list of other equally absurd characters joining them in swelling ranks for the mystical treasure. We get to enjoy gap toothed Terry-Thomas, Phil Silvers of Sgt. Bilko fame, Gilligan’s Island millionaire Jim Backus, and with a memorable dance scene that puts Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to shame, Dick Shawn as a hyperactive beatnik beach bum and his silent cohort dancer Barrie Chase.

If that weren’t enough there are brief cameos from a number of other legendary comic stars including Norman Fell, Columbo’s Peter Falk, Jerry Lewis, Carl Reiner, Jack Benny, Don Knotts, Buster Keaton (sadly in a ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ moment), to name just a few, and most fittingly The Three Stooges in one of their last appearances. There are plenty of other recognizable faces (and voices such as Selma Diamond’s if you listen carefully) and spotting them all is part of the fun.

There is no shortage of favorite scenes and this film replete with explosions, stunt driving, and more crashes than a demolition derby. All two hours and forty minutes (not including the audio intermission) is capped by one of the most jaw dropping finales where the entire cast are finally reunited at their target only to have one more surprise in store for them.

The poster artwork by famed MAD magazine artist Jack Davis is not an exaggeration of the frenzy in this film and fittingly MAD counter parodied with a pocket sized paperback edition appropriately titled It’s a World, World, World, World MAD.

Frustratingly, my MGM DVD menu teased special features on the reverse of the disc but it was a single sided DVD (legitimate!) and the box makes no mention of additional features. I suspect that there was a Special Edition variant release at the same time but MGM did not bother making different discs with the feature on it.

In these trying times when it seems like the world has indeed gone mad, it’s nice to know that there was a time when a “mad world” was just a playful notion. Thankfully, we can return to those times, at least for two hours and forty minutes. Not including intermission.

I never get tired of watching this one.

Movie Reviews 446 – Stalag 17 (1953)

August 21, 2020

Stalag 17 has always been one of my favourite WWII movies and a film that was on my DVD search list for a long time. As luck would have it, when I recently acquired an entire box full of free DVDs whose actual contents were a mystery, there it was at the very bottom. Score!

Now the first thing about the title is that it would sound awfully familiar to anyone who used to watch the old Hogan’s Heroes sitcom which took place in Stalag 13, “Stalag” being the German term for prisoner-of-war camps. While there are a few similarities including a doltish sergeant Schultz as a character, the similarities pretty much end there.

Another one of director Billy Wilder’s acclaimed films, this comedy drama sometimes gets short shrift only because he was such a prolific and successful director. And with a competing roster that includes Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot, Witness for the Prosecution , The Apartment, Ace in the Hole , and Sunset Boulevard, who can you blame?

William Holden, being no stranger to playing a POWs as he did in The Bridge on the River Kwai, won the Academy Award for Best Actor playing J.J. Sefton, one of the inmates in Stalag 17. Ostracized not only because he trades with the German guards for favours, but also because he runs a bunch of schemes such as mice races earning him cigarettes and dough from the other inmates.

Sefton’s troubles begin when two escapees are shot the minute they make their break, a sure sign that the Germans were tipped off and laying suspicions that Sefton may have been responsible. When two new prisoners arrive after blowing up a German ammunition train and one of them is soon summed by the Commandant, Colonel von Scherbach (marvelously played by renown director Otto Preminger), only those sharing Sefton’s barracks could have spilled the fact that the new prisoners were involved in the sabotage. Now convinced that Sefton is the stoolie the former mere antagonism by his fellow captives turns to violence with a vicious beating and the confiscation of his lucrative personal goods chest. Not only is Sefton now a complete pariah, but what bothers him most is that there is a traitor among his fellow cabin inmates who no longer has to fear suspicion given that a convenient, yet innocent, scapegoat has already been identified. Even once Sefton does figure out which of his mates is the turncoat he realizes that merely outing the enemy in their midst would only be a temporary setback for them. Sefton must use his conniving mind for his greatest scheme of all if he is to come out on top this time.

Wilder brilliantly lays out a hilarious comedy while not sacrificing a moment of drama with many characters playing equally in both dispositions. Among the comedic elements, front and center are Harry “Sugar Lips” Shapiro (Harvey Lembeck) and Stanislas “Animal” Kuzawa (Robert Strauss) the former goading the latter who fantasizes romancing famed war pin-up Betty Grable. Other amusing characters include a prisoner unquestioning his wife’s highly questionable letters, while on the darker side we have a shell-shocked prisoner who no longer speaks and only finds solace playing his prized ocarina.

Fans of the original Mission Impossible series will take note of a young Peter Graves as the designated Security Officer, and future director Don Taylor among the POWs.

Watch this for the drama or watch it for the comedy, either way you will be entertained with a brilliant screenplay that straddles the dichotomy right down to the very last words.

Movie Reviews 445 – The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

August 14, 2020

Roman Polanski is one one those polarising (no pun intended) people who is equally celebrated as an artistic genius and reviled as an accused child rapist. That being said, any time his name comes up it is just as likely that neither his accomplishments nor his deplorable past be the first thing that spring to mind, but an episode in his life that he has been indelibly associated with despite not even being present when it took place.

The event in question of course is the brutal slaying of his wife Sharon Tate, then eight and a half months pregnant with their child at the time, at the hands of Charles Manson’s cult in the first of a two night killing spree in which five people were murdered in early August of 1969. Most accurately filmed in the docu-drama Helter Skelter, and most recently turned on its head in a parody, alternate sequence of events in Quentin Tarantino’s masterful Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the shocking Tate-Labianca murders remain a historical defining milestone of human heinousness.

Directed by Polanski and starring both he and Tate, The Fearless Vampire Killers was the couples single professional collaboration, and with perhaps the exception of Valley of the Dolls, Tate’s most noted role. Dark associations aside, this movie is something of a standout in Polanski oeuvres as it is a comedy and a far cry from the drama that has been a staple of his illustrious career.

Featuring great cinematography by Douglas Slocombe, a vibrant color palette and assortment of odd looking almost caricature-like characters (I’m including the diminutive, barbed nose Polanski in that group), the film is a treat to watch, at least from a visual perspective. But the plot is a piecemeal of horror and vampire clichés and the comedy, bordering on slapstick at times, isn’t very funny.

A Van Helsing stand-in, Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) travels to Transylvania with his bumbling trusted assistant Alfred (Polanski) hoping to prove his discounted theories on the existence of vampires. After nearly freezing and being rescued and brought to a local pub, they notice the abundance of garlic strings, but any mention of nearby castles or ethereal spirits are rebuffed by the townsfolk. Only when the Innkeeper’s daughter Sarah (Tate) is whisked away in the middle of the night do Abronsius and Alfred have the opportunity to make their way to the mountaintop castle lair of Count von Krolock (Ferdy Mayne) to rescue the dear girl and hopefully put an end to the local scourge.

The film consists of a lot of slinking around the castle, late night snowy sleigh rides, a hunchback to contend with, and last be not least a glorious midnight ball of coiffed and pasty vampires. And while the film has a PG rating there are a number of ‘booby’ close calls. One thing I really love is the theme music which is a catchy chant with a touch of harpsichord.

I suspect that Polanski purists may not revere this film when comparing it to the many great films he has given us over the years. There’s no comparing it to Chinatown, The Pianist, Repulsion, his one other pure horror, the acclaimed Rosemary’s Baby, which he made the very next year, or even The Tenant. Truth be told, most of the attention it does get is due to the historical aspect of Tate’s inclusion. And yet there is still something about it that draws me to rewatch it on occasion. If nothing else, it is unique in many ways.

Movie Reviews 443 – Under the Rainbow (1981)

July 31, 2020

Under the Rainbow is one of the oddest and most un-PC films I’ve ever watched on the big screen as a teen, but for reasons that confound me I never forgot about it and had to see it again, if for no other reason than to confirm it wasn’t something I just dreamed up. I recall a lazy afternoon where a friend and I were scouring the “Now Playing” section of the local newspaper – that’s how we did it in those pre-computer, pre-Internet days – and deciding to go see it as there was nothing else of interest we hadn’t already seen. So this was already a non-standard movie going affair from the start. The only notable attraction in the film ad was that it starred Carrie Fisher, still riding high on her Star Wars notoriety. It also listed Chevy Chase but even then that was no draw for myself as I already loathed him as a comedian whose only track record was being the former SNL news anchorman. I hadn’t heard hide nor hair about it since then. One of those films shuffled under the rugs.

The title is a play on Over the Rainbow, the theme song of The Wizard of Oz movie and it is the behind the scenes filming of that film that is the setting for this comedy. To be precise, it is largely focused on the 150 ‘vertically challenged’ actors that were hired to portray the diminutive “Munchkins” in The Wizard of Oz. If legend and gossip are to be believed, those hired Munchkins, holed up in a hotel for months on end as the gruelling shooting for Oz wore on, were a drunken hoard of sex crazed maniacs that partied throughout the night and consistently got into trouble both on and off the set. In fact, a chaperone of sorts was hired to control and contain them lest their antics hold up shooting even longer.

This brings us to Under the Rainbow where that exasperated chaperone Annie (Fisher) shepherds the ‘little people’ into the Culver Hotel just across the studio where OZ is being filmed. There are only two other groups staying in the hotel. The first are a bus full of temporarily stranded Japanese tourists, all men wearing traditional white suits, a point that will be significant later. The second group is a travelling Austrian Duke (Joseph Maher) and his wife (Eve Arden) under the protective custody of U.S. Secret Service agent Thorpe (Chase), given worries of an assassin on the duke’s trail and the impending breakout of World War II.

Together these three groups will the intricately intertwined when Otto, a Lilliputian Nazi secret agent (Billy Barty), is scheduled to hand over U.S. invasion plans to a Japanese counter-agent (Mako) in the very same hotel. Otto is told to make contact with a white suited Japanese man, while the other is to look for a midget (their term, not mine). While both evil agents try to sort out which of the myriad other hotel guests are their supposed contacts, agent Thorpe fumbles at protecting his monarch charge while a real assassin hopelessly navigates the boisterous and meddlesome hotel invasion.

Yes, there are a lot of contrived and hokey wee folks slapstick, lame jokes, and even and oft scantily clad Fisher whose wardrobe is right up there with her golden bikini from The Empire Strike Back. Chevy Chase is … well Chevy Chase. And the film has one of those silly grand finale chase scenes where everyone heads from the hotel to the Oz film set to wreak havoc not only on OZ but Gone With the Wind.

But the film does have some genuinely funny scenes, a neat ‘wrap-around’ story with a short actor hoping for a Hollywood gig which kinda works, a recurring gag regarding the Duke’s wife’s dog ‘Strudel’, and some nice weaving of words in multilayered script.that play on the overlapping plot points.

Definitely an anachronistic oddity, and probably not for everyone, but sometimes this is exactly the kind of movie one needs for a change.

Movie Reviews 434 – Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1991)

May 15, 2020

To say that there is some violence in Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is like saying Jackie Chan knows a bit about martial arts, an understatement if there ever was one. Based on a Japanese manga and two subsequent animes. I’ve had this DVD for sitting on my shelves for years, but I was always under the impression that this was a ‘straight up’ martial arts film. An error on my part perpetuated by the fact that it had no discernible actor credits, and for that reason it regrettably languished in my pile until this week. The fact that this was something out of the ordinary escaped me as I frankly never noticed the somewhat obscure details on the cover hinting of weirdness, but to be fair the artwork on my DVD (not the poster shown here) looks more like a traditional combat film.

Once the movie begins however, all notions of ‘regular’ fly out the window. Set in the ‘future’ year of 2001 where penal institutions are corporately run (ironically semi-prescient I realize), Ricky (Siu-Wong Fan) is just arriving at a prison to the usual taunts and mistreatment by his new captors. But rather than taking it in stride he immediately lets it be known that he will not be messed with, whether it be at the hands of the corrupt guards or any of the jailbird gangs.

With the warden currently away on vacation the prison is under the command of gluttonous “Cyclops Dan” (Mei Sheng Fan) who has one removable bad eye (containing breath mints) and a double clawed prosthetic hand. From his food filled office with a sizeable collection of pornography videocassettes he directs the three prisoner cell block gang leaders, and more importantly, the illicit drugs they produce within the penitentiary walls.

Through a series of heartwarming flashbacks we learn how Ricky ended up in prison and how those events loosely tie into the gang members he ends up brawling in there. But as bad as it is at first, it is nothing compared to the battle that ensues once the warden himself returns to the prison and learns of this new superhuman prisoner who has destroyed his sideline narcotic operation.

As corny as the action sequences are, Siu-Wong Fan’s physique is impressive. While he is no Bruce Lee by any stretch, he does have the washboard abs and notable upper bulk to carry the part. But the comparisons end there as the fights are poorly staged, relying solely on the outrageousness and the resulting spurting fountains of blood for entertainment value.

It’s non-stop nails to the (obviously rubber) faces, fists through abdomens, exploding heads, popping eyes (I lost count), zapping electrical charges, dismembered limbs, and flying slabs of styrofoam concrete. You get the picture. There is a fleeting semblance of a plot and a hockey backstory explaining Ricky’s superhuman strength, but this is mostly one battle or torture scene to the next. Basically Ricky and the righteous inmates who cheer for him against the warden, Cyclops Dan and the three gang leaders, each of which has a notable combat specialty and who look like discotheque escapees. As an added bonus, all the dubbed dialogue is delivered in 70’s jive talk. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but it makes the film just that much more outrageous.

In a nutshell, Riki-Oh is an onslaught of over-the-top fight sequences featuring some of the most blatantly cheesy special effects and doused in gallons of corn syrup blood that will have you grinning more than cringing.

I was hoping that my Media Asia Group DVD would have some extra features with more information on the film itself but it only contained some trailers. The good news was that those trailers for the films (Heroes Shed No Tears, Last Hurrah for Chivalry, Duel to the Death, and Magnificent Butcher in case you were interested) were awesome, each more mind blowing than the last.

 

Movie Reviews 432 – Evil bong (2006)

May 1, 2020

I’m a huge fan of B-movie producer, director and writer Charles Band and the many films he created with his mini-empire of companies, the most notable being Full Moon Features.  For those who aren’t familiar with his low budget movies – over 300 films and still going strong – he has a tendency to revisit titles that gain traction, creating such series’ as Subspecies, Trancers, Demonic Toys, and my favorite by far, the many Puppet Master films (the first six films in the series I reviewed here and here).

Now with Evil Bong I had no idea what I was in for other than what the title offered and as it was in one of those multiple film horror boxes (8 films on two disks, half being Band films) I did not even have a decent cover photo to rely on. But the title pretty much says it and as the title credits rolled to the tune of a Rasta-like score, the cast of unknowns ended with none other than the godfather of ganja himself, Tommy Chong so I knew I was in for a good, if not high, time.

A pointdexterish dweeb answering an ad to share an apartment ends up living with three airheads: a surfer dude, a jock, and disinherited wealthy washout. When one of the doobie boys comes across an ad in High Times magazine for a vintage, reputedly haunted bong he responds to the ad while dismissing the seller’s unusual warning. When said bong arrives it is an intricately decorative piece with a nondescript inlaid female face, but the boys are more interested in lighting her up than heeding any caution.

The surfer dude is the first to succumb to the bong’s trance, fiendishly smoking the skunk until his essence is spirited away to some mystical dimension strip joint! But the gals there give him more than a show and he soon succumbs to them, his body dying in real life back in the pad. As the other boys try to hide the body, they too soon fall prey to the bong’s life sucking aura, as the bong begins developing facial features and world domination ambitions. Their only hope lies with a stoner former owner of the bong (Chong) to destroy it.

While not as imbued with a more intricate plot as is found in most earlier Band productions, it nevertheless does contain some of his staples, notably some animatronic puppetry and buxom babes. As one can imagine there are plenty of corny dopey scenes (aside from the actual dope) including a variety of ‘killer’ bikini tops in the dreamlike strip joint that are used as the coup-de-grace killing of the victims.

While the film is funny at times I will be honest and say that given the subject matter, which I felt would provide plenty of fodder for laughs, I felt it wasn’t as imaginative as I had hoped. Chong is well Chong, but minor roles by talents Bill Mosely and Phil Fondacaro are wasted here.

I was in a good enough mood to watch the entire end credits which surprisingly contained a trailer for the sequel Evil Bong 2: King Bong which honestly looked more interesting. And like so many other Band films, Evil Bong has developed into an entire series, eight to be exact (at least so far) if you count the Gingerbread Man Vs. Evil Bong crossover. Enough to satiate any craving and give you the munchies.

Movie Reviews 427 – Our Man in Havana (1959)

March 6, 2020

If you ask almost anyone today to name a film with Alec Guinness the answer will almost surely be Star Wars, which is a shame as it was a far cry from his best performances. Sir Alec Guinness’ career was well established long before he portrayed Obi Wan Kenobi in the 1977 blockbuster, the role that much to his chagrin, came to define him for future generations. Already having earned a Best Actor Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai, the multi-faceted actor also had some serious comedic chops in films like The Man in the White Suit and my favorite, Our Man in Havana.

Good hearted vacuum salesman Jim Wormold (Guinness) finds himself stuck in pre-revolution Cuba, eeking out a living and trying to keep ahead of expenses that his daughter Milly (Jo Morrow) keeps ringing up. Seeing as Milly has just acquired a fondness for horses, Jim is more than intrigued when a mysterious bowler wearing fellow brit enters his shop and suggests they meet later and for a chance to earn some dough. The bowler man is agent 59200 working for Her Majesty and he recruits Jim (now agent 59200-5) to be ‘their man in Havana’. Confused as to what his duties are really supposed to be the one thing that is clear to Jim is that he is encouraged to recruit others to work for him, preferably people well placed to report anything of significance. At the encouragement of his friend Dr. Hasselbacher (Burl Ives) begins falsifying reports and cashing in on pseudo-recruits, real people yet none knowing they are supposedly working as spies.

With horse maintenance, training and country club fees swelling Jim decides that he can really soak his new bosses by reporting that a new nuclear complex is being built on a remote part of the island. To make his case convincing Jim invents a plane pilot who supposedly discovered the compound and for good measure even draws up a bunch of fake blueprints inspired by characteristics of some of the vacuums in his shop.

But his fabrications turn out to be more successful than intended. When word gets around of this covert facility to the upper echelons – even so far as the Prime Minister’s office – headquarters decides that more resources and seasoned personnel need to be sent to aide Jim in Cuba immediately. Now not only must Jim keep his new secretary (Maureen O’Hara) and a photographer fooled, he must contend with an inquisitive Cuban captain (Ernie Kovacs) doting his daughter.

Based on a Graham Green novel, this is a fantastic black comedy highlighting the absurdities of the entire espionage establishment and its self propelling machinations. Loosely based on actual false reporting events by some operatives, the film is all the more ironic in that Castro’s post revolution regime allowed the film to be shot in Havana believing that the plot elements mocked the fallen Batista military dictatorship.

If you’re going to have a Guinness and it’s not the stout beer variety… get an Alec.You can’t go wrong.

January Movie Marathon – 2020 Edition

January 24, 2020

Time for my annual 31 Movies in 31 Days challenge that I’m glad to report was successful with one caveat. In past years these were January challenges where the movies had to be watched during the month alone. Suspecting that I would be a bit busier this year I cheated a bit by shifting the challenge to begin Christmas day,and gave myself 31 days from that point, so ending January 24th (today!), which also made more sense given that those interim days between Christmas and New Years are really prime relaxing viewing days. My suspicions were correct and even with the shift I just made my quota!

Unlike previous years where my movie viewing was across the gamut of genres and eras, my son and I decided to binge rewatch all the Harry Potter movies so the scale is slightly tipped in favour of those eight movies. But I think the others films preent are a nice variety regarding content and quality. In the order in which I watched them, here are my short reviews.

#1 – Dead Snow (2009) My second viewing of this Norwegian Nazi Zombie film was not as memorable as the first time I watched it at the Fantasia film fest years ago. A bunch of young adults shack up in a remote cabin for a few days of skiing the slopes when (surprise!) World War II era SS troops led by recalcitrant commandant disturb their snow bound vacation. Some fairly funny bits and I did love the Nazis popping out of the snow like Whack-a-Moles at and arcade.

#2 – The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)  As are all the Roger Corman Poe adaptations, this one is a very loose interpretation of the source material. But with Vincent Price and Barbara Steele headlining you really can’t go wrong. And damned if there really isn’t a pit and a giant human slicing pendulum in it and other interesting devices in a torture chamber.

#3 – Christmas with the Kranks (2004) Well I had to watch at least one Holiday film for this list, didn’t I? Sadly, there are a lot better than this one. Even Jamie Lee Curtis as the wife of a couple who decided to forego Christmas for a cruise couldn’t really raise my interest above “Meh.” Should have gone with other Christman movie standards like Die Hard, Gremlins, (Yes, those last two are Christmas movies!), A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life. I guess you could say this one left me Kranky.

#4 – Mommie Dearest (1981) The legacy of silver screen diva Joan Crawford is not so much her films as the events described in the tell-all book “Mommie Dearest” (adapted here) by her daughter after her death in which she revealed that her troubled childhood included beatings with coat hangers. It made headlines at the time and I can’t get it out of my mind that arch enemy Bette Davis must have loved every minute of it. Faye Dunaway nails it as Joan. (Disclaimer: No Nails were used in the beating of the children.)

#5 – Ransom (1996) Mel Gibson turns the cards on Gary Sinise, his son’s kidnapper by putting a ransom on his head rather than paying one, much to the surprise of his own wife (Rene Russo). A decent thriller although Mel is over the top at times as is the entire premise. Much better Gibson/Russo chemistry in Lethal Weapon 3 and Gibson is crazier in that one as well.

#6 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001) It’s been a long time since I watched the Harry Potter series. The first movie about the boy wizard, introduces us to Hogwarts, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Snape, McGonagall, those other meddling kids (Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley), a few muggles and not to forget: Quidditch!

#7 – The Night Strangler (1973) This was the second Kolchak TV movie before the The Night Stalker TV series. (I already watched The Night Strangler  pilot movie which started it all a month earlier). l Always wanted to watch the proto-X Files series and I’m finally getting around now 47 years later.  This one has Kolchak (Darrin McGavin) being aided by an exotic dancer (Jo Ann Pflug) solve the mystery of a recurring murderer popping up every few decades since the civil war.

#8 – Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber (2002) Harry, with the help of Ron, Hermione, Dobby the elf, Moaning Myrtle (not a porn star as you would be led to believe), and a book previously owned by Voldemont himself rescue Ron’s sister from the titular chamber. And of course more Quidditch!

#9 – Halloween (2019) I was very excited to hear that there would be another Halloween reboot after the dismal last entry in Rob Zombie’s reboot. The fact that Jamie Lee Curtis was returning in her original role sealed the deal. Now I have to admit that this was not as good as I had hoped and the slow, predictable start nearly had me give up on it entirely but stick with it to the end, bear some of the sillier aspects, and it does carve out a place for itself in the Halloween pantheon. At least it’s a lot better than some of the others.

#10 – The Rock (1996) When a bunch of uber-patriot elite Marines feel slighted by their country they take over Alcatraz and threaten to launch missiles they’ve set up on the isle of the former prison. Without any accurate blueprints and layout of the compound they ask a current convict Sean Connery who is also being screwed over to help.The plot is as convincing as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but it’s Bad-Ass Connery so who cares?

#11 – Godzilla VS. Hedorah (1971) Read review here.

#12 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004) Someone is out to kill Harry, Ron’s rat escapes, and there’s a werewolf. If nothing else, this was an excuse to get Gary Oldman into the storyline. And there’s a game of Quidditch against a team with the unlikely name of Hufflepuff.

#13 – The Thirteenth Floor (1999) Twists and turns galore as character’s jack-into a 1930’s virtual world with mols, cops, murder and mystery. Sure the effects are dated (even for that time) but this is all about plot and plotting and the truth is a doozy!

#14 – Red Eye (2005) Nearly the entire film takes place within the confines of an airplane as a hotel manager is coerced by a terrorist (Cillian Murphy) to make particular arrangements for a special guest.

#15 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005) Not just any Quidditch but nothing less than the World Cup of Quidditch. And then a Tri-Wizard tournament! Sounds like a lot of fun except for that Voldemort dude killing folks.

#16 – Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007) Harry Potter gets expelled from Hogwarts! Actually one of the better films in the series but (egads!) no Quidditch! Includes one of the most wasted character names in cinematic history: Nymphadora Tonks. Nuff said.

#17 – The Purge (2013) The Purge series of films set in a not too distant future America in which once a year, for 24 hours, people can kill one another to ‘purge’ pent up frustration (the thinking being that it’s somehow better in the long term). This first movie has an upper scale family being safely locked in their home until one of the kids decides to ‘save’ a stranger being hunted. But the stranger ends up being the least of their problems.

#18 – Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009) The ‘blood’ in the title must be indicative of the many fluids in the plot including love potions, poison, liquid luck, and mead. My least favorite of the series and more a setup for the ending in the next installment.

#19 – Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) Read review here.

#20 – First Strike (1996) Jackie Chan dishes out his usual “Chan-anigans” as a Hong Kong cop helping the CIA nab an arms dealer in Australia and meeting up with some Russians. I think they were going for International appeal.

#21 – The House that Dripped Blood (1971) Read review here

#22 – Dead Reckoning (1947) Humphrey Bogart has to track down his best friend and fellow former paratrooper after he ditches at a train stop just before the to are set to receive prestigious war medals in Washington. Following a byzantine set of clues (including a false name to begin with) he finds that his buddy was an accused murder on the run. But why did he suddenly go back to the scene of the crime and them seem to disappear altogether. Bogey has to rely on his buddy’s former gal (Lizbeth Scott) but can he even trust her? (prosecution witness?)

#23 – Duck Soup (1933) You can never go wrong with The Marx Brothers’ vaudevillian humour. Between Groucho’s fire-a-minute witty one liners, Harpo’s voiceless antics, and Chico’s accented haggling and scheming, who needs a plot? But if things like that are important to you, Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) is sworn in as the new leader of Freedonia to remedy their cash shortage, while his brothers are bumbling infiltrators sent in from a rival country hoping to start a war. I won’t mention Zeppo.

#24 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010) Harry and his friends ‘jump the shark’ with this entry in the series. What began as a fun, interesting saga with great characters has transgressed into a dark, repetitive here as they set up the finale in Part 2. And not even one damn Quidditch game (although a Snitch figures prominently in the plot).

#25 – Romeo Is Bleeding (1993) A greedy cop (Gary Oldman) earns a little extra side income by tipping off the mob on informant hideout information but things start to go wrong when they take out an informant about to spill their secrets but also take a few cops with them in their assault. Not only can he not back out of their little deal, but he is now being forced to take out one of those informants on his own. But Mona (Lena Olin) is no mere informant, but a mob hitwoman who took out the previous informant and a roomful of cops. Intense, action packed, saucy and sentimental.

#26 – Forbidden Planet (1956) Read review next week here!

#27 – The Money Pit (1986) Mid-eighties rom-com where a young couple (Shelley Long and Tom Hanks) are suddenly in need of a place to stay and chance upon a mansion that needs a little work but is surprisingly within their limited means. But as all “too good to be true” parables their fortunate find ends up putting a strain on their relationship as their dream house begins to crumble before their very eyes. Corny but fun.

#28 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) I must admit that my disappointment with part one of this finale was fully redeemed with this satisfying ending. All the questions, some looming since the very beginning, are answered here although not always to fan’s hopes. Which is as is should be. My one complaint was that a lot of scenes seemed to be pilfered directly from other blockbusters including Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. How many times must we see hordes of evil creatures descending on an isolated hamlet backstopping the forces of good? How many times must we see the two most powerful characters, good vs evil, deploy mystical weapons against each other, streaming in mid air (conveniently in different colors), to determine which is stronger?

#29 – Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935) One of nearly fifty movies featuring the illustrious pulp-era Chinese sleuth (the first few being silent era films and many of the others now lost). Hard to believe that it’s been nearly 40 years since the last, loosely based on a real life Hawaiian detective of Chinese descent. Scored ten DVDs last week so I’ll be enjoying a few more. This one even has Stepin Fetchit who only adds to negative stereotypes depicted in these films. (The DVDs even include a warning lest some be offended.)

#30 – Watching the Detectives (2007) Not the Elvis Costello song but a film about a versed film buff (Cillian Murphy) who owns and runs a low key video rental store whose life gets turned around when he meets quirky Violet (Lucy Liu) who lives her life on the edge, moment by moment while playing sophisticated, agonizing pranks on him. Some pacing irritants but the characters make up for it. I must confess that I just loved all the movie references bantered between all the video store employees although the message of the film is to abandon viewing and start to live instead. Disingenuous as had I done that I wouldn’t have watched this film.

#31 – Fury (1936) This was Fritz Lang’s first American film after escaping an increasingly Nazi led Germany. Spencer Tracy is a hardworking, honest man saving every penny so that he can get married to the love of his life. But life throws him a curveball just as he has finally saved up enough and is on his way to meet his fiance when he is thrown in jail suspected of being a member of a group of kidnappers that have taken a child. As word of the capture spreads across the grapevine, the overzealous townsfolk have made up their mind and storm the jailhouse which is soon engulfed in flames. Miraculously managing to escape the inferno, the innocent man, now out for blood himself, decides to lay low as a number of the lynch mob are put on trial for his murder having established that they had the wrong man. Great suspense and pathos.