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Robot Holocaust (1987)
It's not cheap to shoot in New York
There's some primo locations; the Brooklyn Naval Yard, Central Park...it might as well have been East Buffalo after a propane blast. There's repetitive set shots thru barbed wire and broken down buildings. It's been said you need NOTHING to film a post-apocalyptic world. Some genuine acting chops might have raised this 'film' above the stink line, in it's current form and it's occasional attempts at humor, it is a fine example of cinema de fromage. It makes 'Manos: The Hands of Fate' look like the Bard. And Valeria was just beautifully awwwwwwful. For those who think Ed Wood was the worst, let me assure you he did nothing that was this unprofessional. However, if you like "Laserblast" or "City Limits", this might be for you.
Joss or dross?
I just sat through end to end screenings of 'Firefly" and saw 'Serenity' a couple times on cable. I came away floored at the action, humor, and character interaction. You CARED about these people and their struggle, destiny and dignity. 'Dollhouse', as yet, hasn't displayed half the wit or hook of 'Firefly' or 'BTVS'. It's very hard for me to watch Echo and her protector interact knowing it's artificial and temporary. And I heard Olivia Williams' character icily declare "It's complicated..." in her proper diction twice too often in the first two episodes. I hear the ratings are faltering, and I see what the trouble is; even with dear Eliza (a stone goddess!) this 'Dollhouse' isn't a lot of fun to play in.
House Poor (2008)
Short, painful and awfully funny
Mindy Kaling's contribution to NBC's 'The Office' is the humor of discomfort, immaturity and blissfully ignorant victory. 'House Poor' taps into this rich vein of ouch humor. I saw some you tube videos of Mindy walking the Writer's Strike line in LA, so I was drawn into the premise of a successful young woman who recently purchased a home, and finds her steady stream of income interrupted. The economy's in a slump, everyone could use a little support. Call your girlfriends (Meredith! Busy!). I was ready for some bonding and commiserating. In short, Mindy dug a hole, spread some leaves and branches over it, and waited for me to come along...unaware. Ouch.
Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned (2007)
It all seemed so 'phoned in'
These holiday specials can be pretty over the top, this one not so much. I know it was widely viewed by a captive holiday audience in Britain. By the time they air in the states, these eps have usually had all the fun bits edited out of them to accommodate ads. It rendered this particular ep choppy, confusing, and messing up what was a mess already. So you get to see Kylie Minogue in a French maid's getup. I guess it beats waiting for her to wear same in one of her videos. The whole affair left me cold, but I have great hopes for the Tate logs. She's abrasive, sure, but the doe-eyed girlie thing has pretty much run it's course. Viva Who!
World Poker Tour (2003)
Shuffle up and deal!
This program is addictive on a couple levels. I know of more than a few people who have braved the confines of many a smoke-filled casino wanting to know if they, themselves, have the "nuts" for this game. Many come away totally hooked on the zen of no-limit Texas hold 'em. Secondly, its just good television! ESPN has their annual Reader's Digest round up of Binion's World Series of Poker. WPT is just a better show. The pacing, the commentary (by pro player Mike Sexton and 70's pretty-boy Vince VanPatten), the drama...2 hours a week pretty much fly by. I'd do well to mention some of the luminaries that have appeared more than once on the tour; there's hometown guys like Andy Bloch and Phil Ivey, flashy dressers like Paul Darden and "Devilfish" Ulliot, and self-described masters and prickly professors like Phil Hellmuth and Howard Lederer. Regardless of what you may think of their conduct and tactics, it's a gas to watch them play. I'm forgetting Scotty Nguyen and Men the Master...too many to mention here. The program itself is heavily edited, condensing marathon tournaments into 2 hrs of highlights. It runs on the Travel Channel, but if your idea of travel isn't sitting on your assets for 5 hours at a time, or watching other guys do it, this may no be your glass of bourbon. The only traveling these guys are doing is between the Bicycle and Commerce Casino. But sometimes ya just GOTTA go "All In!"
A Mighty Wind (2003)
a mighty wind of satire
The genius of much satire is to pick a subject so ripe for it, many people may not get it. That's the risk you take. The trouble with alot of the 'folks' who don't get this movie is the long memory required and an eye for detail and emotion. AMW is so pitch-perfect in both that it went by so fast and mentioned with such subtlety that it blows by like a light breeze, belieing the title. The three Steinbloom children represent what a wise friend of mine aptly called 'the 3 faces of guilt'. We could laugh good and hard at Jonathan's obsessive attention to things that could cause bodily injury, but blithely cut his secretary off at the knees when she suggests he get an important committment in writing. There's more obvious laffs (like a good Swedish boy's uncanny grasp of Yiddish), but I had a good internal chuckle at the quality of the artwork on the PLAYBILL for the event which looked like it was done by a stoned high school freshman drawn freehand with ballpoint pen and then xeroxed. My high school variety show was coming back to haunt me. There was also some pain with your humor, like Eugene Levy's haunting delivery of his lines, the hesitation serves to augment the conflict inside a guy who's life has pretty much gone to crap. And Catherine O'Hara was reminding me ALOT of Grace Slick on 'Behind the Music'. I imagine this was deliberate. Don't expect to be hit over the head by funny here. Having some miles under you and an eye for reference helps. Having parents or older siblings that listened to the folk of that era, invaluable! A few posters here have already dropped the punchline in the title song. All I'll say is you have to remember a time where that line may have been perfectly acceptable in that context. Really. I'm leaving alot out, but there was alot in there. There were many of the same ensemble players here that were in 'Best In Show'. I'd love to see this again, but I will balk at having to once more sit through the NEW Main St. Singers cloying rendition of 'Potato's in the Paddy Wagon'. I mean, ow!
The Gravy Train (1974)
a vague and twisted memory
I try to describe this movie to people or ask them if they've seen it and I always sound like a wombat. I just remember laughing myself wet the last time I saw it, sometime around 1985. I remember Stacey Keach or Frederick Forrest threatening some guy with a live lobster, and I remember the guy in the bathtub more annoyed than scared when they were dipping the plugged-in razor in the water. "I don't even know those guys!!" he wails as they leave. No, they don't make them like this anymore, and it's shameful. I truly think Tarantino might have been inspired by this movie when he and Clooney played the Gecko brothers in "From Dusk Til Dawn', only these brothers were A lot more fun. Pitiful, too, if it is locked away in some vault. It's the kind of movie that would turn up on FLIX at 4AM on a work night. And that's not a BAD thing...
The Goodies (1970)
"I spy with my little eye..."
I would not miss these guys along with Python when I was in high school, and I'm sure it warped me. I recall a jockey's uprising, no longer able to withstand the indignities of "Apart-Height". There was a couple of lucky scone miners who got squirted in the face when they hit a vein of strawberry jam. And of course, the longest game of 'I Spy' on record with only one piece of furniture in the room. Out of context, yeah, sounds daft, kinda like quotes from "The Aqua Teen Hunger Force".
Home Movies (1999)
could not be kept down
Originally produced to be shown on Monday night's after UPN's "Dilbert" (miss that one, I do...), we saw the first 4 shows in '99, it was canceled, and we went into mourning. When Adult Swim brought it back it was like Christmas, Mardi Gras and the 4th of July all in one. No other program, live or animated, has the rare beauty of HM. You have 8 year olds who are obviously in charge, the best friend with questionable hygiene, the "acceptably alcoholic" mother, the lonely-and-really-angry alcoholic soccer coach of lesser acceptability, the infant daughter who bears little resemblance to the ex-husband, the zombie-like science teacher, the passive-aggressive, meddling mother, the psychotic boss who insists on getting drunk with you after he fires you...every character they roll out is so obviously based on someone they know. Every week it gets more fleshed out, and better and better. This is a program I can't miss.
Sexy Beast (2000)
I'll take the boulder
In an almost mythical use of foreshadowing, the massive rock that just misses Gal is just a clue that something deadlier is on the way. Ben Kingsley was poisonous! I heard he was a menacing nightmare in this, but I had no real idea. I'm used to the passive, erudite types he usually plays. Forget that! He was robbed at the Oscars, but this isn't the usual kind of warm and fuzzy stuff the Academy embraces. And the choice of the Strangler's "Peaches" over the opening credits was the icing on the cake of rat poison. No! No! No! No! No! No!
Work Is a 4-Letter Word (1968)
Dreamlike satire about a young man who resists getting a job at the lone employing conglomerate in his dreary industrial town, but changes his mind when he discovers the plant's boiler room has the perfect climate to assist him with his pet horticultural (fungal) project. Many of the actors in this film also members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Also stars Beatles' friend and recording artist Cilla Black, but I date myself. If you can find this movie, watch it. It's twisted. Right up there with 'Billy Liar'. David Warner is perfect, a creepy combination of disaffected and keenly focused. Oh, where has this movie gone?
Pump Up the Volume (1990)
Stands the test of time
Excellent soundtrack, pertinent social commentary, and Slater's knack for acid monologue made this movie pretty engrossing. The quick shot of Harry's stack of cd's tells you he has exceptional taste and is a sharp and enduring character. The Arizona community these kids were relegated to was not without it's deep sense of isolation, from civilization and in-between the inhabitants. You feel like it might as well have been shot in the Northwest Territories of Canada. The houses don't look like homes. Under Harry, there was a real sense of community. And that's what I remember, 'cause it's been awhile since I've seen this. Should it come up on cable again anytime soon, I know I couldn't stop myself from watching it.
24 Hour Party People (2002)
so cool, you couldn't remember a thing
In the early 80's, Factory Records represented the epitome of cool; something unlike anything heard previously. This film lovingly re-creates the exciting, innovative early days of that experiment (Joy Division and Factory), and the ill-advised drug-fueled over-the-top waning days of it (Happy Mondays and the Hacienda) in a faux, broken-fourth-wall documentary style. Steve Coogan is hysterically funny as the fast-talking Tony Wilson, a man so totally enamored with his own b.s. when his final absolution from God comes, seems the guy is pretty familiar to him. He insists he's just a minor player in the Factory saga, so much so, he forgets to tell you about a rather large chunk of his own life, a fact that crops up later in the film, a latter detail that would line a tale told by someone who'd fried their brain out on fast living and chemicals a long time ago. The music is fabulous, the pacing is frenetic. Shot mostly in hand-held digital video, it reinforces the notion of not having a grip on the situation, which is a perfect framework for this story. The beginning credits are very difficult to read, done in some sort of animated photo-chemical wash. Don't bother trying to read them, the headache they give you won't help you enjoy the ride. Much like the perpetually late contributions from Tony's graphic artist, they are at once beautiful...and useless.
4 pints of Guinness later
Paul F. Tompkins used to do the scathing 'Us People's Weekly Entertainment Report' on "The Daily Show". I used to not laugh so I didn't miss anything. He is an alumnus of "Mr Show", probably the funniest show there ever was. His anger at stupidity is palpable, but most notably his own stupidity rankles him the most. In "Driven to Drink" he recounts a wasted night at Dirty Frank's in Philly literally sucking on a bar rag. I used to hang in Frank's. I don't doubt this story is true. I had tears in my eyes.