7.14.2018

It was 20 years ago today


On June 16, 1998, CBS aired a two-and-a-half hour special titled AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movies - a countdown of the 100 greatest American films of the then-past 100 years (1896-1996) as voted on by roughly 1,500 write-in ballots and submitted to the American Film Institute.
In partnership with Blockbuster Video, Newsweek, Entertainment Weekly, and several other publications and Turner-owned networks, this list of 100 movies was available on posters, on the video shelves, in print form, and several honest-to-god write-in checklists so we could all play along at home.

More than just a bit of exposition, this 'mega list' - as stuffy, predictable, and conformed as it was - started a small but significant shift in my movie viewing habits (even if it was only for a brief time). As someone who was (and still kinda is) deep into cataloguing and ranking this & that, this sacred inventory of mainstream cinema came at me with the timing and precision of Luke taking out the Death Star; this was a time when Titanic - a film that was already six months old - was not only dominating every plane of pop culture, but every facet of human civilization, period. Love it or loathe it, it's hard to remember a time when a movie was the most important thing in the world to anyone not living under a rock.


As Henry Hill said, "It was a glorious time" - especially to a young man who'd spent all of his life fascinated with cinema, and now - apart from floating around in Titanic culture - had found a published and critically-endorsed trail of breadcrumbs (across an admittedly safe terrain for sure, but professionally-approved nonetheless).
I may not've sat up and paid so much attention had the list not been so firmly legitimized in my own eyes due to the inclusion of Pulp Fiction, Fargo, A Clockwork Orange, Goodfellas, The Silence of the Lambs, and a handful of other 'teenage boy movies' that'd already worked their way into a space in my heart. By this rationale, I'd figured that The Apartment, It Happened One Night, Ben-Hur, The Sound of Music, and Citizen Kane must be at least of equal or greater value than, say, Dr. Stranglelove, Star Wars, Taxi Driver, and Jaws... (In some cases, yes - in others, no).

But there were, in fact, three films that very much fell into that sorta 'right place, right time' department that seemed to've already been circling my young self like the sharks of punk rock cinema that they are. With a bit of ambiguous hinting from my folks (Dad, particularly), this short list of 'must-sees' swelled in my brain as a short list of movies I must see.

A cassette tape of Midnight Cowboy had been in my parents' stash for as long as I could remember, and with some nest egg of my own cash accumulated from gifts or allowances or some place I can't remember, I'd purchased my very own brand new videotapes of Easy Rider and The Graduate.
These were the three that would define a summer - and in so many ways, my taste in film, the rest of my adolescence, and my life. But mostly, summer.


Totally separate from the exhilaration of the all-around innovative production qualities of editing, structure, cinematography, and performances (in particular the near-incomprehensible range of one Dustin Hoffman) was a more-than-refreshing step outside of the usual genre staples of a 15 year old boy in the 90s (action, violence, crime, monsters, sci/fi fantasy).
Alas, here were three films that were, genuinely, steeped in traditional (but still seemingly subjective to myself) themes of youth: freedom, alienation, sexuality, fear, courage, uncertainty, spontaneity, antiauthority, personal achievement, and catastrophic failure.

People, and institutions alike (see: American Film Institute) wax poetic about the 'power' of movies: they inhabit our dreams and transport us to magical places and sometimes manage to change our lives... for 2 hours.
What a buncha shit.
I don't know if it was a symptom of the times (when the tapes you owned + whatever HBO decided to air on any given day + whatever was available at the video store = 'never enough') or a characteristic of how passionate I once was about anything, but I used to watch certain movies in a repetitious cycle - religiously, if you will - often dominating an entire season, and sometimes even a year.
Jess, who shared this same habit around the same time calls them "obsession movies." And whenever it happened, it chiseled a unique notch in my timeline.
So, while I can go ahead and recommend these movies as a killer triple feature, it really goes above and beyond something like 'An Evening of Post-Classical Cinema From the Rock 'n Roll Generation,' or whatever... My experience with these films involved an ongoing regime and letting them dominate the rhythms and routines of my existence. And a major ingredient in succumbing to obsession movies properly is investing your non-screen time into the soundtrack albums.


Digital downloads weren't really goin' on in '98, and soundtracks to then-30-year-old movies were tough to come by on CD. But during the one stretch of time in the past century when vinyl was fucking dead as... dead, I managed to track down and acquire all three albums from flea markets and whatnot shops.
And while these movies have several fundamental similarities between them, and while I like them all for drastically different reasons, the three separate soundtracks from these three different movies feel as though they're part of one unified collection of pop/garage/psychedelia/country/folk/metal.
With modern technology, one can shuffle a digital collection of these songs and see just what I'm talkin' about here.


If you'd told me 20 years ago that I'd own these films as Criterion blu rays, I'd have said, "I don't know what any of those words mean."
But seriously, folks - now, during our holiday season (by which I mean the Barnes & Noble Criterion sale) I extend this recommendation to you; if you have none or some, get 'em all, learn 'em all, and give yourself a chance to transcend and evolve with some equality for all.

- Paul

7.06.2018

6.21.2018

From the Top of the Charts To a Space In Our Hearts

Alright, let's review yet again...
The year is 1994. Freddy is dead, Jason is in hell, and Leatherface can't even upstage McConaughey. The last Age of Movie Monsters was dying.
The Leprechaun and Candyman were living-dead proof that a return to gothic horror was a bit of a boring digression.
Coppola's followup to Bram Stoker's Dracula, (titled Van Helsing) was kaput, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein wasn't exactly franchise material.
All of this would eventually result in cinematic icons stumbling around in the darkness (Pinhead in space, Jason in space, Michael in some kinda cult, Freddy at home) and a string of wimpy slasher fare (Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend).
But in a year when the mainstream was actually producing exciting and interesting material, what would become of the punks and maniacs who once led us claws-first out of the mundane? Better question is: was there room left for someone new?

It's interactive, dude! You're in the game, man!

I remember the commercials for Brainscan around that time, and they intrigued me (but so did all horror) - due in some part to the idea that any movie with John Connor must be as violent and intense as T2. Additionally, the film had a creepily sleek (or sleekly creepy) look to it, and a premise that seemed unsettlingly mind-bending (Spoiler: it's not).
But all this was secondary to the very public partnership between the movie and Fangoria Magazine. While the periodical featured an onset cover story before its release, the magazine itself actually plays into the plot of the film - providing plenty of publicity stills of the characters kicking back and thumbing through back issues.

Not since The Wizard had there been such a joyous unity of my real-life interests and the realm of fiction.

I went to the theater the week after it came out... and saw PCU with David Spade and Jeremy Piven. There was to be no Brainscan on the big screen. Or on videotape or cable for that matter (which, thinking on it now, seem like the better 'n best venues for such an opus).


Cut to 24 years later when Jess and I spot the DVD for sale at Big Lots as part of a 4-pack titled Thrills & Chills Collection Vol. 3, which also includes The Craft, Fright Night, and something from 1989 called Monster High (which is so bad, it's bad). It sits on our shelf for a few months, and then on May 20 of this year, decades of mild curiosity is satisfied - and then some.

I don't think erections rape people. People rape people.

Not quite the Total Recall/Nightmare on Elm Street crossover I was expecting - largely due to its lack of action and gore. Still, though, there are remedial shades of Videodrome, Altered States, Flatliners, Rear Window, and others of a similar ilk that came before it (and a whole lot that came after).

So, to the uninitiated, here's what it is:
Edward Furlong plays Michael, a high-schooler who apparently lives alone in a beachfront mansion due to his mother's death and father's unexplained absence. He spends all of his time in his sprawling attic bedroom decorated with horror movie posters, talking on his futuristic computer/speakerphone with his friend Kyle, and spying on The Girl Next Door, Kimberly.
During a phone conversation, Kyle informs Michael of a new computer game he saw an ad for in (wait for it) Fangoria, titled 'Brainscan.' The game (confined to CD-ROM) puts the player in a first person hypnosis as they perform grisly acts such as home invasion, murder, and mutilation. And so we watch from Michael's virtual POV as he commits the simulated act of killing a man in his bed as he sleeps and severing his foot as a souvenir.
The next day, Michael goes to Kimberly's house and is greeted by her parents in one of the most bizarrely acted scenes ever put on film. Waiting in their living room for Kimberly, Michael witnesses news footage on the TV of the 'fictional' murder he committed, which turns out to be very real.
Sure enough, in Michael's very own attic/bedroom refrigerator in the severed foot of his victim. At this moment, his before-its-time 16x9 computer/TV screen spews forth the game's emcee/mascot, Trickster - out of 2D and into reality as a flesh and bone jester of sinister suggestion.
Trickster acts as the devil on Michael's shoulder - assuring him that what he's gotten himself into is merely a natural, humanistic thrill, and proceeds to find sneaky ways to encourage Michael to keep playing the game.
As Michael investigates his own supposed mayhem by snooping around the real life crime scenes, he begins to gain the attention of Detective Hayden (Frank Langella). What plays out is the predictable balancing act of police interference/dispensabilty of supporting players/persistent persuasion from the antagonist. 
Eddie Furlong and Frank Langella are excellent as Eddie Furlong and Frank Langella, respectively.
Jaime Marsh as Kyle is a composite of Bill, Ted, Pauly Shore, a Mountain Dew commercial, and an Alice In Chains video. In his small amount of screen time, he adds a much needed spoonful of personality to the picture, while simultaneously coming dangerously close to sinking the entire movie into farce. It's a delicate barometer, but it's portioned out expertly.
Amy Hargreaves's role as Kimberly mostly has her floating around her bedroom in her underwear looking sullen and worried about whatever - leaving all her scenes to play out like the darkest and dirtiest Clarissa Explains It All episode that never aired.
Obviously, the true standout performance (and character) in the film comes from T. Ryder Smith (who you probably remember from... nothing) as The Trickster.


The 90s needed a 90s adversary: disaffected, desensitized, tech savvy, and a huge Primus fan. As a very old fashioned Lucifer-type 'frenemy' who ends up being a little less Freddy and little more Pinhead (with a bit of the Joker and a lot of Tyler Durden), Smith lets his makeup and costume do most of the showboating while his performance is surreptitiously (and refreshingly) restrained.
Sure, there are outlandish outbursts of his 'quirks' (breaking his own fingers, poking out his own eyes, snacking on what appears to be a platter of hotdogs, pickles, bananas, and mustard), but it's all underscored with a dry wit and perverse delivery: "No country/western music, please. Every man has his limits."

If anyone's still scratching their heads over the record-breaking success of the recent screen adaptation of Stephen King's It, there's very little doubt that there is a remarkable thirst for the return of 'The Villain' in film. The Movie Monster. The enemy with charisma that you can't find in most horror cinema of the past 20 years. Brainscan, for all the other important stuff it lacks, at least has that in spades.
So like most monster movies, you wait out the plot crap in between the good stuff, but he's certainly one monster that earns his scenes - which are the best.

The real question is are you a winner or a loser?

If there is one outstanding reason to celebrate the movie as a whole, it's that it captures its time period with an almost sparkling expertise. I'd personally place it up next to Clueless, Speed, Reality Bites, and Romeo + Juliet as one of the most significant movies from the 1990s about the 1990s. With its controversial leading actor, all the hair & fashion, its soundtrack littered with White Zombie, Mudhoney, and Butthole Surfers, it almost seems like a put-on. Every teen bedroom in the movie prominently displays a poster for Aerosmith's Get a Grip album. Even the premise itself - ensconced in magazines and disc drives - could not be from any other time, before or after.
Just look at this extra:

Had this been a contemporary movie about the 90s and it featured a costume like this, I woulda said No way, that's way too over the top. But, there you have it.

But what is timeless and universal about the film is its themes and settings and characters; while there's no short list of 'the boy and his pet creature' stories to choose from, I wholeheartedly encourage anyone out there to double-feature this flick with Little Monsters. I could explain why (though I think the writing's already on that wall) but it's clear enough to anyone that Maurice and Trickster need to share a venue, and it needs to start happening immediately and consistently.


Due to a bizarre happenstance that I won't get into here, we've watched the movie once a week for the past month; it's become a bit of a Sacrament here at Bennet Media HQ, and it's now firmly anchored in our 'warm weather white pages' of what to watch when the windows are finally opened.
And within the past few months, Scream Factory has announced a special edition blu with a release date of August 28. The extras are still up in the air, but even still, the timing is serendipitous considering we just drank the Kool-aid only a month ago. And while we have plenty of faith in Shout!/Scream and their largely unblemished track record, I'm afraid we must insist on a very strong stipulation for the design of the disc itself:


- Paul

6.16.2018

The Three Stooges : Two Reels At a Time


The Three Stooges aren't as popular as you'd think.
Or, they're exactly as popular as you'd think.
In short, I don't know what you think.

I've never known anyone my age (other than Jess, maybe) who's had any interest in this institution of classic Hollywood cinema - let alone an intimate knowledge brought on by a lifelong love & fascination with it/them. In fact, the only people I've ever known to enjoy and comprehend it on the same levels as myself are from generations twice removed, and beyond, and are (stereo)typically male.
And there's a sort of conservative charm in that - which understandably results in their likenesses alongside golf, beer, and guns. And that very cultural mutation may be the reason they might seem foreign or antiquated to millennials - which is fair. But like any artistic enterprise (or anything at all from the past), stuff gets misguided into caricature and boiled down into soundbites, and if you or someone were to watch them for the first time, you or they may be influenced by those distortions.

So that's why I'm here: your friendly neighborhood Brighto salesman, here to make old bodies new & get at this thing the right way.

Most everyone already knows them on some basic superficial level: three "funny looking guys who hit each other a lot." And even to the casual fan, that's enough. But like anything else, the more you familiarize yourself with it, a subtext begins to emerge - intentional or not.
There are nuances in the performances, the stunts, the stories, the sets and the locations that not only add 'layers' in cinematic terms, but also make it a lot funnier.
More simply: they may be the pinnacle of 'broad humor', but if you care to look closely, there are details and subtleties and moments of comic timing that elevate them to the highest thermosphere of comedy.

I'll spare you (most of) the history lesson - who they were, their vaudeville roots, breaking away from Ted Healy, the studio battles, etc. - and swing it right into the shorts.
Naturally I've omitted some gems to successfully cork it to a numerically pleasing number. So, here are 20 of my favorites - in the order of when they were released - and most importantly, what makes them 'favorites' above all nearly 200 films.

- Paul


Punch Drunks (1934)
One of the rare setups where the three of them start out as strangers to one another.
A boxing manager (Moe) discovers a waiter (Curly) who possesses superhuman fighting capabilities triggered only by the tune of "Pop Goes the Weasel." With the aid of a street musician (Larry) and his violin, Curly becomes a heavyweight contender under the name "K.O. Stradivarius."
The championship is a lock - until Curly stumbles out of the ring and crushes Larry's violin - thus eliminating the only means of playing the imperative song.

It may be the earliest on the list (it was only their second short), but I'll usually say it's my favorite one. While they were still fine-tuning their timing, rhythms, and overall acting abilities, their energy was particularly high in this, their inaugural year. And while Moe is consistently my favorite Stooge throughout their career, and Curly is an undeniable force of comedic showmanship (especially throughout the 1930s), Punch Drunks is Larry's best stuff. Generally the cerebral one and rarely at the forefront of the physical stuff, this movie gives him plenty to do: at one point head down in a muddy pond - inexplicably at first - only to be pulled out by the others, soaking wet and gasping for air, before he proudly produces a large fish from his trousers and announces, "Look at that!"

Men In Black (1934)
Moe, Larry, and Curly are freshly graduated doctors scurrying around Los Arms Hospital, from patient to patient, from vignette to vignette, with no true thread to connect them, and each one framed by banter with the superintendent of the hospital, followed by the boys rushing into a supply closet each time to acquire a different mode of transportation to move about the hallways: horses, go-carts, a three-person bicycle, etc. 

The only short nominated for an Oscar.
This one is best for its one-liners and its relentless pace. The whole setup is a maddening loop of repetition, enveloped by the now-famous "Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard!" chant on the hospital loudspeaker. And while there are several exchanges of razor-sharp wittiness, the lowbrow and bizarre sometimes win out: Larry successfully cheats at a coin toss when he asks Curly to call 'heads or tails,' to which Curly replies 'Nung!' Which, naturally, is the right answer.

Uncivil Warriors (1935)
As soldiers for the North in the American Civil War, they're sent behind enemy lines under the aliases of Lieutenant Duck, Captain Dodge, and Major Hyde (Larry, Moe, and Curly, respectively) to get a numerical estimate of Southern soldiers. They're successful in deceiving their way into an enemy general's mansion for a dinner party, where they predictably slip up and reveal their identities as spies.

A running gag that appears in several shorts is: disastrous food preparation that goes unnoticed until it's too late. Whenever they get the opportunity to cook, one or all of the ingredients get lost in translation (soap, alum, bubblegum, jewelry, a decorative wooden fish). In Uncivil Warriors, a pot holder is mistaken for a cake. Icing is applied, and it's served and eaten - resulting in a slow, ominous build up to an inevitable orgy of coughing and screaming and feathers.

Pardon My Scotch (1935)
While the Stooges are left to mind a drugstore while the owner is away, a customer comes in asking for a "pickup." The boys pour a bit of every medicine into a rubber boot, which bubbles and rumbles and smokes - though the customer is elated with the effect the drink has on him and offers to distribute their concoction as their own brand of Scotch. They bring a barrel of the mixture to a party for a public taste test, and of course when they attempt to tap the barrel with a mallet, it explodes.

So rarely do they build, fix, or clean something with any amount of success, but in Pardon My Scotch, they do exactly that (even though it eventually blows up in their faces). But under all the mayhem of this one is a subtle subplot which finds Moe in an Ahab-like battle of spirit and stamina against the volatile elixir he helped create - literally pleading with the drink when it acts up ("Now, hold on now!") and strategizes on how to overcome it ("Sneak up on it slow..."). And in the end, he throws his entire body and soul into one final battle against the booze - and like Ahab, he is spectacularly defeated on an epic scale.

Hoi Polloi (1935)
Two wealthy professors make a wager that they can convert someone of lower class into high society. Enter three crude sanitation workers to set the premise in motion. What follows is the necessary series of etiquette training (table manners, dancing) leading up to the ultimate test: a high class shindig where the guys get to show off their newly acquired social skills. All does not go well. 

Things start to deteriorate at the party when Moe and Curly have a very public altercation regarding a bottle of champagne. But the best part of this is that Larry watches for a moment from across the room, and then makes his way over to them and attempts to intervene by authoritatively asking "What happened here?!" And just as those three words leave his lips, Moe unleashes a swift and powerful punishment on Larry that has to be seen to be believed.

Three Little Beers (1935)
The Panther Pilsner Beer company has hired "three new men" in their delivery department, and "everything's going to be all right now!" But when the trio haul a truckload of beer barrels to the Rancho Golf Club, they immediately abandon their duties and attempt to learn the game of golf in an attempt to win a hundred bucks in a tournament. They quickly learn the rules (and fashion) of the game, though talent and sportsmanship eludes them: driving balls into other players, digging up the grounds, and chopping down trees. 

The joy of this one is that it's solid all the way through - each sequence is a standout. And I think that goes for any short where, at some point, the three of them go off on their own to cause their own particular brand of chaos, at which point it becomes a sort of Altman-esque mosaic of storytelling. Probably the best thread in this one is Moe's, who attempts to hit the same golfball in what seems to be hundreds of times, until the entire green is hacked to pieces. When he's approached by a furious groundskeeper, Moe reassures him, "I'm gettin' better! See? The pieces are gettin' smaller!"

Movie Maniacs (1936)
On a freight train bound for Hollywood, Moe, Larry, and Curly dream of making it big as movie stars. After sneaking their way onto a studio lot, a series of fortunate circumstances and mistaken identity lands them with complete control of all production - including a movie shoot already in progress, which causes its stars and director to quit. As a result, Larry and Curly take over as the romantic leads (with Curly in drag) and Moe as director. Eventually the mixup is straightened out and their own film crew (plus a lion) chase them off the set.

The Boys' home on the train is classic depression-era Stooges - setup with a bed, clothesline, and stove (which all play into a series of physical bits). On the way to L.A., Curly understandably asks, "How are we gonna get in pictures? We know nothin' about movies." To which Moe replies with a smirk, "There's a couple thousand people in pictures now who know nothin' about it... Three more won't make any difference." Timeless.
Also, Curly (like Bugs Bunny) always looks good in makeup and a dress - especially when he's plucking his eyebrows with a pair of pliers.

A Pain In the Pullman (1936)
The Three Stooges are a comedy team (no stretch there), complete with a performing monkey named Joe. When they get news of work abroad, they catch a train - sneaking Joe on with them - and spend the rest of the movie confronting and irritating the other passengers, losing and chasing Joe, and struggling to sleep. 

For one sequence, they hijack the private compartment of Paul Payne, "The Heartthrob of Millions," and dine on crab with a young lady. After a brief argument as to what the shellfish actually is (Larry thinks it's a spider, but Moe sides with Curly that it is, in fact, a turtle) they proceed to crack it open and feast on the shell while discarding "the stuffing." The following 90 seconds is a quiet, frustrating ordeal as they struggle to eat the claws, resulting in painful chewing and intermittent choking scares. As Moe studies the crab leg in his hand, he mutters softly to himself, "...I like these little points..." And after a brief moment of deep thought, he smiles and announces to everyone, "Yeah, I like these little points."

False Alarms (1936)
As firemen, the Stooges are always missing calls - this time sleeping through the alarm. The Captain warns them they only have one more chance to get it together. Later, Curly leaves to visit his girlfriend and her two friends - who both need dates. Curly summons Moe and Larry by activating the fire alarm outside her apartment. They take the Captain's new car to meet Curly and luckily arrive before the rest of the Department does, and all six of them have to flee the scene before the hoax is found out. 

Too many great scenes and lines to list.
At one point, Moe pokes Curly in the eyes via telephone (much to Curly's confusion).
The packed car ride back to the station is some of the fanciest stunt driving I've seen put on film. Of course it ends in a horrible wreck before they reach their destination - leaving Moe as the only one left in the car. Miraculously, the accident placed Larry, Curly, and the three women in the trunk. When Moe pops the lid, Curly quips, "I'm sorry, there's no more room in here."

Slippery Silks (1936)
At the start, the Boys are furniture craftsmen - and almost immediately loose this job when they accidentally destroy an antique cabinet they've been commissioned to duplicate. As fortunate timing would have it, they're informed that they've inherited The Madame de France - a fancy women's fashion boutique. They turn their carpentry skills towards designing dresses, which results in all of their creations looking conspicuously like home furnishings: bureaus, hutches, etc. It all ends with one of their more spectacular pie fights.

When Vernon Dent (a regular costar) hands over a fragile $50,000 gadget to the Three Stooges, we know what will happen, but the fun is the how and the when. Only moments pass before the priceless box rides unnoticed along a conveyor and directly through a table saw. Then in a frantically sloppy attempt to piece it together, they end up gluing both halves to each of Moe's hands. After some bickering and eye poking, Curly shoves Moe, and in one terrifying second of film, Moe struggles to keep his balance without the use of his hands before quickly succumbing to fate (and gravity).

Dizzy Doctors (1937)
Moe, Larry, and Curly spend every day eating and sleeping while their wives are at work. When the women become fed up, they throw the guys out for good until they find employment. They're soon hired as salesmen - selling bottles of Brighto. And once they go out into the world to hawk this new product to people on the street, the punchline hits them: what exactly is Brighto? They split up around town applying it to people's clothes, shoes, and cars as a cleaner/polish. And after ruining plenty of property and lives, they discover that Brighto is actually medicine. So they haul a new batch to Los Arms Hospital and begin to administer it to a parade of eccentric patients in various unconventional ways.

While Curly's out on his own trying to sell to passing motorists, a man pulls up and asks, "Want a ride?" Curly answers, "No. Wanna buy a bottle of Brighto?" The man answers no, and without any hesitation and plenty of childlike glee, Curly, as he climbs into the man's car, exclaims "Then I'll take a ride!"
This is their Sgt. Pepper: they were at the height of their talents in every facet, and the story allows extra helpings of speaking parts, locations, stunts, and twists (even revisiting the site of one of their earliest shorts). With all its changes, this one could have been padded out into a feature without changing the structure. In fact, one of the tightest things about it is that it begins and ends in the same location with the same shot.

Playing the Ponies (1937)
Anxious to unload their failing restaurant, the Stooges sell the place to a couple of shady characters in exchange for their racehorse, Thunderbolt, with hopes of becoming rich at the track. They soon discover Thunderbolt is past his prime. But when curly slips the horse some spicy "pepperinos" he took from the restaurant, they cause Thunderbolt to run "like lightning" to the nearest trough. In a rare instance of inventiveness, Moe drives a motorcycle along the track with a bucket of water for the horse to chase. 

Attempting to get Larry up onto the horse before the race, he falls ass-first onto a pitchfork. The struggle for the three of them to "get it out" unfolds like a physical comedy ballet with some of Curly's best stuff.
Moe on the motorcycle is one of his more heroically badass moments, and we finally get to see these three losers work together without error, and it results in one of the few happy endings they filmed.

The Sitter Downers (1937)
The boys go on strike when the father of their three girlfriends will not consent to giving away his daughters to marriage. This makes the news and draws fans for the Stooges - so much so that they receive gifts, including property and housing materials should they finally get married. When dad breaks down and gives his daughters away, new problems arise when the wives will not approve of any kinda honeymoon until their husbands actually build this house themselves. 

In one of the longest setups for any gag they've ever done, Curly falls asleep with his feet in wet cement. He wakes up with a pair of concrete shoes, and Moe and Larry decide to use dynamite to get them off. The explosion sends Curly into a tree, and chunks of cement all over the worksite (including one large piece landing in a bucket of water). Moe, Larry, and the women manage to knock Curly out of the treetop with a long post, and Curly falls and lands on his wife, knocking her unconscious. Unable to wake her up, Larry runs to get the noted bucket of water and brings it to Curly. She begins to come out of it when Curly splashes a few handfuls on her, and then he hurls the whole bucket of water into her face - concrete and all - sending her back into oblivion. And apart from the sound design of the hollow knock the brick makes when it hits her, the funniest part of this is that Larry and Curly start an argument over what just happened, while Moe silently picks up the chunk of concrete with awe, trying to piece together in his mind the entire string of events that led to this moment.

Termites of 1938 (1938)
In an otherwise bizarre and convoluted setup, a wealthy woman requires a few male escorts to a dinner party, and instructs her housekeeper to get the number for the Acme Escort Service. Due to a miscommunication, the housekeeper gives her the number for the Acme Exterminators instead, and she gets three of the best. The boys show up and blend into the rest of the guests - still under the impression they're only there to exterminate pests. And when an actual rodent infestation is discovered, the boys get to work as they destroy the house in their pursuit.

Whenever the trio is forced to mingle with "regular people," their idiosyncrasies become amplified, and Termites puts their eating habits on display. Short of wearing my napkin around my neck or eating game bird with corn holders, the most important thing I took away from this one was mixing my peas with my mashed potatoes. Because of this, I've never known any other way.

A Plumbing We Will Go (1940)
On the lam after a policeman (Bud Jamison, another regular costar and chameleon) catches them trying to catch fish from a pet store aquarium, the trio hide out in a mansion (where else) as hired plumbers. To keep the charade believable, they attempt to fix the leak in the basement with some very destructive techniques: Larry digs tunnels through the yard while Curly constructs a towering maze of piping in the bathroom. Eventually Moe stops the leak by directing the water into the pipes that lead to the electrical appliances throughout the house. Eventually they're discovered and chased off the property by over a dozen cops, including a police motorcade. 

They're true artists when it comes to destruction, and they leave some of the biggest and best messes in this one.
In a peculiar attempt to fix the leaky pipe, Moe instructs Larry to simply hit it with a hammer. But when Larry brings the hammer too far back, he tears a hole in a larger pipe that begins releasing steam. They find a girdle amongst the owners' belongings and use it to patch up the freshly damaged pipe: wrapping it around and hooking it up, leaving a couple extra straps dangling above them. In what may or may not have been a bit of improvisation, Moe studies the straps and asks, "What do you do with these?" Larry sheepishly answers, "You swing on 'em, you know?" He tries to demonstrate, but Moe won't be having it.

How High Is Up? (1940)
After being chased (per usual) onto a construction site, the Stooges sign on to work along the steel beams of the 97th floor of a new building. What follows is a series of near-death balancing gags and mixing up their lunch with steel rivets. Conveniently, when they're forced to evade authority from their precarious surroundings, they employ a parachute that brings them down safely into their truck - only to drive themselves immediately into a traffic accident. 

A bit of the usual with plenty of good exchanges ("...That's a rivet!"), but the best part of this one isn't even part of the main story - and that's one of the reasons why it's great. Roughly 3 minutes of this 16 minute short film focuses on the fact that Curly can't seem to take off his sweater. He employs Moe and Larry to help him (either intellectually or physically) figure this out, and with a bit of yanking, some tire irons, a mallet, a pair of scissors, and plenty of confrontation, they all manage to work together to mildly succeed.

An Ache In Every Stake (1941)
Moe, Larry, and Curly are ice deliverymen, driving a wagon full of huge blocks of the stuff to people who've yet to upgrade to electric freezers. Their next stop finds them at a house at the top of a concrete staircase that seems to go on forever. After several disastrous attempts to actually deliver the ice, they get into a dispute with the hired help of the house, and they make amends by stepping in as chefs/bakers/waitstaff. Curly proceeds to stuff the turkey with every ingredient in the kitchen, Larry concocts a punch of every available liquor, and Moe makes a birthday cake consisting mostly of baking powder and butter. Though when the cake fails to bake correctly, they fill it with natural gas to give it more volume. And just as the birthday candles are blown out, everything explodes.

One of their most famous films, mostly for being one of Curly's most memorable performances. In a long stretch of screen time all on his own, we watch as he stuffs the turkey (with oysters still in the shell, eggs still in the shell, canned peas still in the can, and an abused loaf of bread), but not before he's ordered by Larry to "shave some ice." As a gag unto itself, he wraps a towel around the frozen block, covers it in shaving cream, and scrapes at it with a straight razor. But the real fun of this scene is Curly's impression of mundane barber banter as he engages in a oneway conversation with the ice:
"Tell me, is it as warm in the summer as it is in the country, or vice versa?"
"Are you married or happy?"
"Did you have a pink tie on? No? Well here's your lip."

Cactus Makes Perfect (1942)
Following his invention of a 'Gold Retrieving' device, Curly (along with Moe and Larry) heads out west to put it to use in search of a supposed "lost mine." When the device actually works, they have to balance the manual labor of excavating the loot with fighting off a couple of outlaws who attempt to steal it from them. 

One of the last truly great Curly films before his health (and performance) began to deteriorate. Fortunately it provides him with several opportunities to shine -- one in particular finds him with his head stuck in the mine shaft as Moe and Larry furiously attempt to free him with the use of crowbars. The shots alternate between Moe and Larry's efforts, and Curly's isolated head on the other side as he contends with the prying levers beating and tearing at his face.

Brideless Groom (1947)
Shemp stands to inherit $500,000 in accordance with his late uncle's will - under the condition that he gets married within the next 48 hours. With a bit of extra prodding from Moe and Larry, Shemp apprehensively starts calling up old girlfriends with marriage proposals, but no success. Though once word of Shemp's potential fortune makes it into the newspaper, his exes flock to his place and induce a rampage of greed and violence. 

A fan favorite that's always somewhere on TV (portions of it even appear in Pulp Fiction) and very easily the best of the Shemp shorts. The chaotic climax is some of their best choreographed brutality, but the true standout sequence of this one occurs when Shemp is placing phone calls to old girlfriends. Nearing the end of his black book, he drops his last nickel on the floor of the phone booth, and Moe squeezes into the small space to help him find it. Within moments, the phone cord, the phone line connection, the chained phone book, and various other wires all become entangled between the two Stooges - annoyingly at first, then increasingly more frustrating and alarming. Eventually, escape becomes obviously ineffective and worthless to them, and they accept their fate and begin to focus their struggle on simply maintaining some level of comfort.

Baby Sitters Jitters (1951)
In one of their simplest premises, Moe, Larry, and Shemp are babysitters - watching after a child whose mother is attempting to hide him from her husband after they've split up. Though as soon as the boys fall asleep, the baby is indeed kidnapped by his father, and now the three of them must go out and try to get him back.

The real spine of this short has very little to do with the plot; in one of the better kitchen mixups - and one of his best scenes - Shemp attempts to prepare some soup from scratch. And something we learn about Shemp very quickly is that he can't seem to read so well, and once he misreads 'soap' as 'soup,' there's no turning back. The laughs come from his bizarre phonetics of each ingredient as he reads them aloud with interest: 'sage' is 'saggy,' 'cayenne' is 'canninny' ("What, no pits it that?"), 'mustard' is 'moose star,' and 'cloves' are 'gloves' (and when he pours them in, he exclaims with mild delight, "Oh, little gloves!").

6.02.2018

Summer Starter Pack 2018

I sat through Solo rhetorically wondering to myself if old Larry Kasdan & his son Jon had ever, in fact, seen the Original Trilogy...
Intellectually I know they have (for obvious reasons) but the very fact that I kept on wondering was its own symbolic (though unintentional) protest sign denouncing this lethargic sidestep in: the world of Star Wars, character-driven storytelling, and cinema as a whole.
One probably needs to go back and look at Return of the Jedi - or even Force Awakens - for the earliest (and most recent) examples of Kasdan's curious misunderstanding of the character of Han Solo; whatever sarcastic swagger, menacing charm, and comic timing the character showed off in Eps IV & V had withered in the shadow of the Skywalker thread by ROTJ. And perhaps rightly so. But when the guy gets his own movie, there is no excuse.
Last January, I concluded my longwinded love letter to Star Wars with the declaration that, in regards to Solo, I'd never been so unexcited for a SW-related feature film - so, there was no disappointment to get the better of me. And that's why I needn't bother with any real review-review of the movie; a film this lazy doesn't garner that kind of attention. (I will say, though: Han got his last name from George Lucas - not from an Imperial desk clerk.)

What was exciting - sorta - was seeing a new Star Wars movie in the month of May: the way it was before the dark times... before the First Order... We haven't seen any of the Marvel or Fast and Furious films, so it's been a long time since we've been part of any kinda 'event movies' to kick off the Northern Hemisphere solstice. In the words of Clarice Starling, "It matters." Nothing signals the end of the school year like the smell of hot butter and the endurance test of brutal air conditioning; the movie itself is almost incidental (though a Terminator 2 or a Batman Returns woulda been nice. Heck, even Twister got me jazzed for the storm season).
But no -- I won't be playing Kessel Run in my backyard this summer or swapping stilted dialogue with my Paul Bettany action figure. Nope - per usual I think we'll turn to some old favorites (a lot of which were noted in last year's summer lineup) as well as embarking on some new adventures (soft drinks, video games, parenthood).
And as usual, you folks at home can play along! Join us in launching a summer of fun, and keep your distance from the multiplex - but don't look like you're trying to keep your distance! (In other words, fly casual.)

- Paul

Coke and Pepsi: an update
Well that lasted all of 2 seconds; sure enough, they couldn't leave well enough alone.
Pepsi has corrupted the blunt beauty of their 'retro branding' and branched out into three new designs: previous logos corresponding with their appropriate spokes-musicians.
While my own personal nostalgia for the 90s and 00s has been gaining some momentum, I would've been much more receptive to the idea of some kinda 'Decades Series' had the cans not been defaced with faux pop art depictions of Michael Jackson, Ray Charles, and Britney Spears. It's the toy company equivalent of bright neon guns: how can we possibly be expected to role-play these
fantasies when the props are not historically accurate?
So I grabbed myself a 12 pack of Britneys to assist me in closing out my great Pepsi experiment of 2018.

But God doesn't close a door without opening a Coke.
Without any warning, new flavors of Coca-Cola got out of my dreams and into my Walmart. Apparently the company had been experimenting and testing for some time before they settled on Georgia Peach and California Raspberry -- both released exclusively in glass bottles!
The bad news first: neither of them taste anything like Coca-Cola; without the packaging, one could be fooled into thinking they're drinking one of the thousands of carbonated 'fruit infused' beverages out there.
But the good news is they're a whole ton better than any of that fancy pussy water; the flavors are very close to the extremely rare & highly sought-after retro beverage Clearly Canadian (which isn't a bad thing). In fact, that comparison in and of itself is a magical tale of how a brand new beverage accidentally(?) served up a deep dish slice of nostalgia to all us children of the world.
It's still the real thing.




The Wraith Soundtrack
If you took The Crow and replaced the goth stuff with 80s cyberpunk, you'd be left with The Wraith (and a much better movie with a soundtrack that's almost too good to be true).
The tunes are half Miami Vice and half Headbanger's Ball, creating the perfect vibe for a sweltering beach party or a cool night drive - which equally and adequately celebrate the movie they're featured in.
The album is a little tough to get some hands on - as is its digital counterpart - but I'm sure you pirates can hunt it down (if you haven't already).
(* standout tracks)

"Where's the Fire" - Tim Feehan*
"Secret Loser" - Ozzy Osbourne
"Hearts vs. Heads" - Stan Bush
"Wake Up Call" - Ian Hunter
"Smokin' In the Boy's Room" - Mötley Crüe
"Addicted to Love" - Robert Palmer
"Scream of Angels" - Nick Glider
"Power Love" - Lion
"Those Were the Days" - Honeymoon Suite
"Never Surrender" - Lion
"Matter of the Heart" - Bonnie Tyler
"Hold On Blue Eyes" - LaMarca*
"Rebel Yell" - Billy Idol
"Young Love, Hot Love" - Jill Michaels
"Bad Mistake" - James House*


Freddy's Dead: Pop dream or horror nightmare?
The goofy lack of continuity in most of the old horror franchises allows the viewer to watch them in any order they please without concern over any sorta 'thread.' So while we reserve the Elm Street movies exclusively for warm weather, the only question it poses is where to start, and the inaugural chapter this season is the last (or is it?) in the series, and arguably the worst (or is it?).
The same way the 1970s broke up The Beatles, the 1990s killed Freddy Krueger; he couldn't survive beyond the decade he helped define: arcades, heavy metal, slasher flicks. The Fangoria Age. New Nightmare (1994) and Freddy vs. Jason (2003) merely pay homage to the once and true period of vibrant monster movies and expert makeup FX - and Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare is part of that period. (That is, to say, the end of it.)
I've never not had problems with the film - and they're probably the same problems you have. I also have no interest or energy in changing anyone's mind. But I will say that its amount of slapstick, eye-rolling one-liners, and unbalanced pace and structure is equal to, say... most 80s horror fare, up to and including the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. And if Freddy will truly be remembered as more of a Joker and less of a Dracula, then this is the singular film that truly allows him to shine. That, plus a 3D backstory (though sparse and predictable) is more colorful and riveting than the two sentences of exposition found in all the other installments.
And if you're looking for a narrative to tie it together, kung fu this: one theory floating around is that the John Doe character from the first act is actually Jacob (Alice's kid from Dream Child), which would indeed make him Freddy's son (kinda). Added to that is the notion that the Roseanne character is actually an older, unhinged Alice.


Super Mario All-Stars: Lost levels/lost mind
Four games in one? Can't be!
So rarely in any art or media has a centerpiece of pop culture been compiled, repackaged and reimagined shot-for-shot, beat-for-beat, polished and groomed. For a rehash of games we already knew inside and out, they certainly found ways to make it worth the price of admission.
Released in '93 (10 years after the original arcade game, and only 6 years after the American release of Super Mario Bros.) it was already a bold reminder of how the older games were considerably more challenging - with or without an extra 8 bits.
Though perhaps nothing was more challenging than The Lost Levels. In addition to the first three games, All-Stars contained this mysterious 'fourth' game. New in the US (it was originally Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan), it looks and sounds like the original SMB, but feels like you're doing long division under the influence of absinthe and paint fumes. I've yet to conquer it (or even make any serious effort to do so), and am strongly considering marathoning all four adventures as a serious summer side project.
#Priorities

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