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Saturday Night at the Movies by Dennis Hartley review archive

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Hullabaloo


Saturday, January 26, 2008

 
Saturday Night At the Movies

Divine Trash, Hidden Jewels-Part 5

By Dennis Hartley

This week I am continuing a series that I am posting on occasion, spotlighting some films you may have missed, and that your humble reviewer thinks are worth the search and a peek on a slow night (or this time of year, to keep you amused while you’re stuck in bed with the flu-like I was for most of last week). So drink plenty of fluids, infuse yourself with some C and echinacea, and take one of these every two hours:

Cabin Boy -This twisted little adventure tale is either a full-sail comedy classic or a rudderless shipwreck, depending on your opinion of star Chris Elliott. The man who created FDR: The One-Man Show and the short-lived cult TV series Get A Life embarks on a rollicking voyage through a sea of irony when his "fancy lad" books passage on the barely seaworthy fishing boat "The Filthy Whore". It’s kind of like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad on crack. Look fast for David Letterman’s hilarious cameo. Great support by Brian Doyle-Murray, Russ Tamblyn (as a Mer-Man!) and especially Ann Magnuson as a sex-starved, multi-limbed wife of a cranky ogre. The late Brion James (who you may remember as the replicant Leon in Blade Runner) gets to deliver the best line: "Oh-purple lightning. THAT'S always a good sign." Don't throw this one back!

Withnail and I -This brilliant 1987 film was an instant cult hit in England and has slowly gained devotees on this side of the pond. Writer-director Bruce Robinson maps the metaphysical death of the “swinging” 1960's through the story of two impoverished actors who slog through 1969 London with high hopes and low squalor. Richard E. Grant's turn as the alarmingly pallid and decadently wasted Withnail is the stuff of acting legend, and he is ably supported by the "I" of the title, portrayed by Paul McGann. The two flat mates, desperate for a break from their cramped, heatless apartment, take a road trip to the "country" (remember the "locals" in Straw Dogs?), and harrowing hilarity ensues. There are so many great lines, you might as well put quotation marks at the beginning and end of the script! The overall tone is reminiscent of the substance-fueled paranoia that pervaded Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, but filtered through a very wry British sensibility. Richard Griffiths excels as Withnail’s creepy Uncle Monty, and you won’t soon forget the scene-stealing philosophical drug dealer, Danny (Ralph Brown).

No Such Thing -Director Hal Hartley's subtly arch, deadpan observations on the human condition either completely grab you or leave you cold, and this modern Beauty and the Beast tale is no exception. A TV news intern (Sarah Polley) gets her Big Break when she is sent to Iceland to get the exclusive on a real “monster” (Robert Burke), an immortal nihilist who kills the boredom by drinking heavily and terrorizing whoever's handy. After her plane goes down en route, her cynical boss (played with relish by Helen Mirren) smells an even bigger story when Polley winds up as the "miracle survivor" of the tragedy. The Monster agrees to come back to N.Y.C. if Polley helps him track down the one scientist in the world who can be his Dr. Kevorkian and put him out of his misery. The pacing in the first half is leisurely yet compelling, with the Monster's morose, raving monologues set against the stark, moody Icelandic backdrop (I was reminded of David Thewlis’ raging, darkly funny harangues in Naked). Once the movie heads for New York, however, the story steers closer to satirical camp (a la Pecker) where the couple quickly become celebrities "du jour" with the trendy Downtown crowd. Obscure, but definitely worthwhile. This would make an interesting companion piece to the 2005 film, Beowulf and Grendel, in which Polley essentially reprises the same role.

J-Men Forever! -Woody Allen may have done it first (What's Up, Tiger Lily?) and myriad installments of Mystery Science Theater 3000 may have since run the concept into the ground, but IMHO Firesign Theater veterans Phil Proctor and Peter Bergman did it best with J-Men Forever. I am referring to the comedic concept of taking footage from corny, no-budget films and dubbing new dialogue. I originally became a devotee of this film after it aired several times on the USA Network’s after hours cult show Night Flight back in the early-to-mid 80s (alright, raise your bong if you remember that one!) The creators obviously had a sizable archive from the old Republic serials to dip into, so they were not restricted by the original narrative structure of one individual film. As a result, J-Men Forever benefits from a quick-cut style that keeps perfect time with the rapid-fire one-liners, double entendres and high-energy rock music soundtrack. Fans of irreverent (but smart) comedy will not want to miss. Schtay high!

All of these titles are available on DVD. Oh-and get well soon.

In case you want more ideas, here are the links to previous installments in this series:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4


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