Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Movie Reviews 314 – Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

September 15, 2017

Preceding the movie Shaft which arguably ignited the blacksploitation explosion of the 70’s and theaters subsequently being flooded with films based on the grittier aspects of African American ghetto’s, Cotton Comes to Harlem was one of the earliest efforts to test those waters. Directed by Ossie Davis (who also co-wrote the screenplay and provided some of the soundtrack) it delivers all the facets of sleaze, corruption, poverty and crime, but parcelled in the stereotypical slang and funk of the period and setting.

A slick urban preaching semi-messiah is scooping up donations from the poverty stricken residents of Harlem promising them a piece of land ‘back home’. But neighborhood cops “Gravedigger” Jones (Godfrey Cambridge) and “Coffin” Ed Johnson (Raymond St. Jacques) aren’t buying it. The police higher ups and even the municipal officials think self proclaimed “Reverend” Deke O’Malley (Calvin Lockhart) is clean, but when the money amassed is stolen by hooded thieves, Coffin and Gravedigger set their sights on O’Malley.

What follows is a twisted chase for a bale of cotton involving O’Malley’s girl Iris (Judy Pace), mobsters, bumbling cops and a ragged street scavenger (Redd Foxx), all culminating in Harlem’s famed Apollo theater.

This film brings out both the worst of the seedy New York neighborhood of that era including the crime, dingy housing, littered streets, and drugs, while at the same time exemplifying the pride and self respect of most of those living there. Their general distrust of cops and authority is cooled by the respect they have for Gravedigger and Coffin who end up showing their prophet for what he really is.

This was a movie I was looking forward to rewatching, not having seen it in over thirty years. Watching it now I found that some parts did not age as well. While the comedy works fairly well  for the most part, a number of attempts at slapstick feel visibly forced and fall flat. The message is also a mixed bag, Gravedigger and Coffin delivering on their promise to return the money but relying on a partnership with seedier elements to do so. Surprising for a comedy, Davis also injected quite a lot of nudity and sex into the story, something that was probably considered ‘de rigeur’ for audiences at the time and helping it at the box office. But that too is an indicator of how time have changed. I thought that introducing the Apollo as part of the story was probably something not given as much thought at the time, but now serves as both a great tribute and a memorial for anyone watching the movie today.

Certainly one of the better movies of the genre and worthy of viewing, but if you want to watch a more typical and representative movie, one with more flash, action and pezzaz, stick with Shaft or Coffy.

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Movie Reviews 309 – The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994)

August 4, 2017

Recovering from the shock that her young boy-toy has just asphyxiated himself in a ‘peroxide accident’, a middle aged transsexual reluctantly accepts the offer from her best friend to join a lip-synching drag queen roadshow driving across the Australian outback to get to a gig at a remote resort. Filled with sequined gowns, vehicle breakdowns, a constant stream of bitchy prattle and cat calling, Bernadette (Terence Stamp), Mitzi (Hugo Weaving) and third wheel Felicia (Guy Pearce) have the journey of a lifetime.

Endlessly forlorn and dour faced, Bernadette is the transsexual that slowly comes to terms with her recent loss and relationship anxieties. When she gets the call from Mitzi (also called “Tick”) to go on tour she mistakenly believes it will be just the two old friends only to learn that arch-nemesis Felicia will be joining them. Buying a broken down bus for the trip the trio depart for what will be a raucous, tumultuous odyssey.

From the very start Bernadette and Felicia are constantly at one’s throats and on one another’s nerves, the biggest point of contention being their staunch opposite respective views on ABBA songs. Things turn for the worse when Mitzi takes them on a shortcut across the desert where we learn secrets of his past and the real reason for taking on that particular job. When their bus breaks down in the middle of nowhere and a potential rescuer flees in shock they are finally helped by aborigines they come across celebrating a night festival in the wilderness.

The aborigines lead then to a small town where they meet ‘Bob’ (Bill Hunter) who not only comes to their rescue with his mechanic skills but is so thrilled with the girls that he convinces them to put on an impromptu show at the local bar. But the show reception is not what the girls expect and they are upstaged by Bob’s wife who puts on one of the most amazing burlesque performances you can imagine. Initially Bob had her locked down in their home as the show began, declaring that she was banned to enter the bar for some past indiscretion. She is shown screaming and battering her front door hoping to join the festivities. I could not fathom why she seemed euphoric when she stumbled across a horde of hidden ping pong balls but suffice to say that it was a pivotal moment and the resulting turbulence has Bob joining the trio for the rest of the trip.

The humour is ecstatic from the endless name calling to the modified tranny version of the road song staple “100 bottles of beer on the wall”. But while the comedy is paramount this movie doesn’t shun away from the darker side faced by those living alternative lifestyles. The presence of bigotry, ranging from nuanced to overt violence are addressed in the film’s more serious scenes. Equally discoursed are the interrelationship challenges and heartaches facing the girls because of their orientation.

Fantastic story and writing aside, the picturesque canyon vistas and sunsets are second only to the colorful flamboyant wardrobe – including a flip-flop shoe dress – and all the extravagance of Vegas showgirls. I could go on and on about the many odd scenes, memorable one liners and quirky nature of the film but honestly seeing Terence Stamp in drag is worth the watch alone.

Movie Reviews 304 – Night of the Living Dorks (2004)

June 24, 2017

The Germans were at the vanguard of horror movies in the silent era of the early 1920’s and even the cinema industry as a whole until Hollywood took over. Turning out classics like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu and The Golem, they trailblazed the path for future horrormeisters to follow. But after that seminal spurt and soon preoccupied with other irritants like inciting World Wars, the Germans contributions fell silent as others moved the stakes. It took until the turn of the century and the Zombie revival craze to bring them back into game with the surprise comedy Night of the Living Dorks (original title “Die Nacht der lebenden Loser”).

The story begins with a Haitian family besieged by a stalking zombie which gets sizzled by the torch wielding mother. The family are about to inter the zombies ashes when the burial urn is snatched and we follow it being exchanged from one trader’s hands to another as it makes it’s way to Europe.

There we are introduced to three dorks, Philip Fleischhacker (Tino Mewes), Weenie (Manuel Cortez) and Konrad (Thomas Schmieder), part of the ‘out’ crowd at their high school. Konrad is the most pitiful of the trio, keeping a valise full of spare eyeglasses as they get broken so often by bullies. He also keeps a detailed diary recording of every person who has harassed him over the years. Weenie is the chemically unbalanced and horny one who pilots a stolen van. And then there is our protagonist Philip, the common everyman who is infatuated by the high school princess Uschi (Nadine Germann) and clueless that his longtime friend and neighbor Rebecca (Collien Fernandes) – now hanging out with the Goth crowd – is secretly harboring a mad crush on him.

Desperate to get Uschi to go to the prom with him, Philip asks Rebecca and her Goth friends if they have any mystical love potion that can help him. As it so happens Rebecca and her Satan worshiping friends had a cemetery ceremony planned for that evening having gotten their hands on a urn (yeah, that one) and were planning on reviving the spirit of Kurt Cobain. But when the dorksome trio arrive at the graveyard that night they find that Rebecca’s friends Gunther and Frederik are more hopeless than themselves and the ashes wind up being blown onto the dorks entire bodies.

The next thing the boys know is that they are waking up in a morgue but chalk it up to being a dream or prank. When the boys finally realize that they are in fact now ‘living dead’ they first have a little fun with their newfound strength and abilities. But soon body parts start falling off and they get busy with staple machines keeping them together as Philip tries to get them out of the mess. Konrad on the other hand has decided that revenge can be sweet when you’re a zombie and after a falling out with the others begins tracking down all his former tormentors. Eventually Rebecca’s Necronomicon-like spell book gives them hope for a cure but for that to happen the boys have to handle hurdles that include Philip’s parents coming home, Uschi’s boyfriend and getting Konrad back.

The social media reviewers and ratings have not been kind to this film for some reason, but having seen scores of these ‘Zombedies’ myself (including Shaun of the Dead, the yardstick by which all such movies are compared to) I put it way ahead of most of those peers. While some of the sequences are predictable I found most of the gags to be genuinely funny and with a lot of originality as well. The goofy Goths are hilarious as they take Satanic ceremony shortcuts. The zombified dorks end up hosting an impromptu house party as Weenie lusts over a MILF teacher who incessantly brings up her past drug-fueled orgies. Philip is constantly harassed by Wolfe, Uschi’s jock boyfriend, and then there are his parents to deal with, a straight laced, stern father and a mom who wants Philip to get laid as long as it’s with Rebecca.

I also found there were a number of ‘easter egg’ type of gags such as Philip’s family name being Fleischhacker (Fleisch is German for meat), his friend being call “Weenie” but in the original German version his name is “Wurst” which means sausage (hence the English translation to Weenie). And I got a good laugh reading the sign for the school gym, the “Friedrich Nietzsche Gymnasium”.

Don’t let the ratings fool you, this one is worth watching.

To all my German cinefiles I say “Ich bin ein Zombie”!