Monday, March 31, 2008

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane - before the 80's were really over

This movie has a lot going for it, despite its reputation. It has Dice Clay, Ed O'Neill (Al Bundy from "Married with Children"), Gilbert Gottfried, Priscilla Presley, Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger), Wayne Newton, Morris Day, Tone Loc, Motley Crue, and David Patrick Kelly (Sully from Commando- Remember when I said I'd kill you last? I lied.) Never saw it back in the day, so 18 years later, here we go. I was in college at the time. I could have had an 18 year old kid to share this with. Instead I have Johnny aka Darth Milk. Thankfully we both have the minds of 18 year olds (and that's being generous, there are some mature kids that age).

Of course he drives a Ford Fairlane.

Andrew "Dice" Clay was an 80's phenomenon, who got lost somewhere in the shock-jock wars of the 90's. I saw his stand-up act in 2001, and he was still hilarious. He gave up trying to be a shock jock onstage, and went back to his roots of playing the Dice character. To me, it's always been a bit of self-parody akin to Archie Bunker, but some people just never got it. He had a reality show last year on VH1, about trying to make a comeback; apparently he is touring again. Now that he's balding and gone to seed, the Dice character works even better; he reminds me of my old man; that certain species of Jersey or Brooklyn guy who wishes it was still the 50's.
Dice does Bogey.

The Adventures of Ford Fairlane stars Dice Clay as a "Rock 'n Roll Detective," helping the stars with stalkers and whatever. The problem is he gets paid in gold watches and koalas, which don't pay the fuckin' rent, if you know what I mean. The mystery begins when hair metal douche Bobby Black (Vince Neil of Motley Crue) is murdered on stage. It's a good start. I've never understood metal bands with guys in make-up, unless it was KISS. Speaking of which, Rikki Rocket from Poison allegedly stuck his rocket in some Mississippi gal without her consent. Maybe they'll lynch him for the good of humanity (and music).
The requisite Annoying Kid character.

He's back at his kickass bachelor pad, where we meet his smokin' receptionist (Lauren Holly) and The Kid, who thank my balls does not have a big part in the movie. He mimics Dice and has a Fred Flintstone ring that matches his missing Dad's. The kid is fucking annoying, but he only has a few scenes. His receptionist wears glasses so you know he'll snub her until the end.
Gottfried got fried. Oh!

Fairlane gets a call from his old buddy the shock jock Johnny Crunch (played by Gilbert Gottfried) who needs him for a job. He wants to find his "lost daughter" ZuZu Petals. They get a few points for the It's a Wonderful Life Reference. Seconds after paying Ford to find her, Crunch is electrocuted to death on the air. Shock jock, get it? Yeah. Though seeing Gottfried die is somewhat gratifying. When the cops show up, Lt. Ames (Ed O'Neill) has a chip on his shoulder against Fairlane because he slammed his disco band. And we have to see Al Bundy sing "Booty Time," the low point of the film. Renny Harlin might be best despised for making the crappy Die Hard sequel, ruining his wife Geena Davis's career with Cutthroat Island (though admittedly she looks great in a pirate costume) and being named "Renny," he should be skinned and basted with habañeros in a feces-encrusted corner of Hades for making Ed O'Neill humiliate himself in this fashion. Thankfully, like the Kid, Ed only has a small and thankless role here.
You stick to comedy and I'll stick to singing.

Dice gets mixed up with this broad Colleen, played by Priscilla Presley (yeah, I fucked 'er) who also wants to find this Zuzu dame. That also leads him to sleazy record promoter Julian Grendel, played by Wayne Newton. Whoever told this Danke Schoen dork he could act should jump in front of a bus on the Vegas strip. Dice even gets to bang out a tune at the studio, and it doesn't sound like shit. Sort of like The Stray Cats on a bad day. While following more clues, he gets attacked by snapperhead Robert Englund, one of Grendel's henchmen, on Johnny Crunch's boat. Englund is always entertaining, and he chews the scenery awesomely here as the British inflected bad guy.
Pardon me, do you have any Grey fuckin' Poupon?

Ford ends up finding Zuzu at Bobby Black's funeral, where that snapperhead shows up again. He throws her in a limo and takes off, but the Diceman chases them all over the cemetery in a hearse. But there's this dead broad in it, with totally rockin' tits! Oh! And she's floppin' all over the place. The film gets a lot funnier at this point; it's almost as if they were telling Dice to hold back, and then he said "fuck 'em," or maybe the beers just kicked in at the midway point. This movie definitely benefits from liberal application of alcohol.
I hope you signed an organ donor card, baby.Gives a new meaning to deadhead. Oh!

The mystery clues that keep popping up are CD's, which sound like R2D2 visiting the proctologist when you play it on a stereo. Turns out it's a computer disk, you believe that shit? From here on in it's more of your typical comedy thriller with broads gettin' whacked left and right, climbing down the Capitol Records building with Freddy Krueger hangin' from your balls, and jerkoffs blowing up your house and your car like you're in some fuckin' Illegal Weapon movie or somethin'. Not to say that the Diceman can't handle it, but give a guy a break, alright?
He shoots a cool looking knife. Boo!

I'm not gonna ruin the ending for ya, but you can bet that the Diceman shoots the balls off the bad guys or kicks a garbage truck up their ass, gets the hot broad (who just happens to be his receptionist with her glasses off) and finds the little bastard's father. Oh!
Happy ending, whoa-oh!

If you're a fan of the Diceman and you haven't seen this already, you owe it to yourself to look it up. It's pretty funny and follows the typical 80's formula. If you overlook Ed O'Neill embarrassing himself and the kid, you got the trifecta of 80's requirements- quotability, quirkiness, and quim. It may have been released in 1990, but the neon phone, big hair, hair metal, and presence of late 80's icons cement this as an 80's movie. It's best when Dice is acting goofy, but a lot of the time he's too serious. Casual Sex? is a bit better, but Dice has a smaller role. If you haven't seen it, it's one of the better relationship comedies of the 80's. This one is great fun for Dice fans, but was obviously torturous for anyone else from the reviews it got.

Beers Required to Enjoy: 1
Quotability Rating: High
Cheese Factor: Medium
Could it be made today? Larry the Cable Guy is doing it now, badly.
Gratuitous Boobs: A cavalcade of cleavage, but no nudity.
High Points: A car chase with hearses through a cemetery.
Low Point: Ed O'Neill singing "Booty Time"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Rutlemania! The Rutles show on tour

The Rutles are on tour, sort of. It's actually Rutlemania, which if you're old enough to remember Beatlemania, means it's a bunch of other guys touring playing their music. Somehow, it works. Neil Innes, who created and sang in the original Rutles, and also in the classic comedy group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band was in the audience and we saw him after the show. Eric Idle of Monty Python fame was also in the original group, and apparently also touring with them, but it was his birthday and he was probably with friends and family.

Proper application of T&A makes any show better.

If you don't know who the Rutles are, go to Netflix and rent The Rutles: All You Need is Cash, the 1978 mockumentary that predates, and inspired This is Spinal Tap. If you're a Beatles maniac like Master Comedian and Leading Asshole in the State Adam Wilson, there are so many jokes and homages that you'll be snickering like... Adam seeing a 'giner. If you're a fan like me, the movie is still great. So you'll be snickering like me, when Adam pronounces the word "vagina." It helps to know the basics of Beatles music and history so you can get the parodies, but the music is quite good in itself. Neil Innes and Eric Idle's musical backgrounds help a lot here, and a few of the songs sound so reminiscent of Beatles songs, but subtly so, that you'll be tapping your foot but also be amused at how they cleverly take the musical spirit of several Beatles songs and merge them into one that sounds good on its own.

Blue Suede Schubert captures the Beatles' early sound.

We saw them at the Blender theater in Gramercy, where I recently saw the Pillows. It's a well-designed small venue. They had chairs out for this show and we were in the second row. The show is part musical revue, part movie, and part Broadway. The new Rutles come out and play, with some dancing girls, then the stage goes dark as the projection screen shows clips from the Rutles movies. Many of the clips were from the sequel Can't Buy Me Lunch, which mostly consists of celebrity interviews, and is quite funny. Then there are some short vignettes with the band making jokes. It was a great time to remember the Rutles and re-live some of the great gags from the movie, such as when Ron Nasty, the John Lennon-alike, starts dating an avant-garde Nazi artist girl whose father "invented World War II."

You can be my Yoko Ono...

They had many costume changes of course, and when they reached the Tragical History Tour era they threw beach balls in the audience.

They even showed the Yellow Submarine animation spoof from the movie during this era, one of the more clever gags of the film.
Proper application of T&A can make any blog better.

They mimic every era of Beatles history, and end with a re-enactment of the rooftop concert, poking fun here and there.

John Lennon loved the movie, which is surprising since he takes the majority of the ribbing. McCartney apparently always answers "no comment" about it, Ringo liked the happy parts but thought the break-up stuff was too close to home, and George Harrison was actually involved in the writing of it.
Instead of just being Indian influenced, the George character is actually Indian in the Rutles.

The finale was excellent and instead of encores, they smartly segued into a medley of Beatles covers, including "Get Back," "I Saw Her Standing There," and "Twist and Shout." A great ending to a great show.

3 song medley.

After the show we met Neil Innes hanging outside the theater. He was talking to friends, so Adam and I just said we loved his work. At the time I actually didn't know he was in the Bonzo Dog Band, or I would have mugged him for a photo too. I hate being rude to celebrities, even minor ones, and he seemed preoccupied with friends. If he looked like he was sitting there with a "I hope someone recognizes me!" face on, I'd have done it. It was cool to meet him after the show anyway. Go see them if they come to your town!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Grimaldi's - Best Pizza in NYC?

The words "Best Pizza in New York" are rather loaded. With the multitude of Ray clones all claiming originality, with some even daring to dispute that New York style pizza is the best... let's leave those assumptions aside. I have not been to Napoli and had a "real Napoletano" pizza yet, but I know a good Margherita pizza when I taste one. The History of Pizza is an intriguing read, reminiscent of politics and chicanery under the Borgias, but thankfully that doesn't flavor the crust. Grimaldi's is one of the best.

Obligatory pizzeria kitsch.

Grimaldi's may be a tourist haven, being situated near the Brooklyn Bridge with a line out the door at nearly all times, but they remain authentic and make an excellent pie with the classic ingredients- fresh mozzarella, made on the premises; a bright, fresh, chunky marinara sauce; a bubbly, thin crust baked in a coal fired brick oven; and fresh basil leaves. This is thin crust at its finest, baked to perfection. It folds as well as a thicker slice, never cracks, and manages to hold its form when lifted to the mouth, even when laden with a topping or two.

Sinatra playing while Patsy herds customers.

The line wasn't bad; once you're on the sunny side of the street, it goes by quickly. You get a decent view of the waterfront from in front of the place, and around the corner is the Empire-Fulton state park, snugged between the river and some Civil War-era warehouses. Makes for a nice walk in good weather. We ended up there afterward.
The line outside Grimaldi's.

I've had Chicago pizza at a few of the favored places and I think it's its own creature; certainly delicious, but huge and stuffed with ingredients, a sledgehammer made of cheese and pepperoni aimed at your face. It has its place, but the New York slice as served at Grimaldi's is a work of art in comparison. It is a delicate work of deliciousness. You must be able to taste the dough and notice that each bite begins with a hint of char from the oven which promptly fades into crisp, subtle perfection. The sauce next, a fresh tomato flavor with a touch of acidity, with tiny chunks of tomato to give it texture. The fresh, made on the premises mozzarella with its rich milky flavor with a bit of salt and savor. Finally a bit of basil in every other bite, atop the other flavors, and whatever topping you may have chosen. It stands on its own without toppings, but slices of pepperoni curled into tiny teacups of chewy, smoky delight, the brims delicately charred and the bottoms slick with red oil, are worth a try. The sausage meat crumbled in just the right amount, with its delicate fennel flavor, are a perfect accompaniment as well.
Grimaldi's artful pie.

It's a slice worth waxing poetic over. On a Saturday afternoon you may end up waiting an hour or more for the line to whittle down, so Patsy can herd you in to a snug little table, elbow to elbow with your friends on a table barely large enough to hold a pizza pie. They have racks that efficiently allow you to dine with the pizza suspended above your beer and tableware. Once inside, the pizzas don't take too long to get to your table, and you can have a Brooklyn Lager, wine, or soda to quench your thirst from waiting in line. They also have a fantastic antipasto consisting of their homemade mozzarella, home roasted red peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, salami and other delights. We didn't get it this time, but next time I'm going to have to try it. The table next to us raved about it.
Fresh mozzarella, sauce, bubbly crust, basil. Perfection.

Firecracker and I only go when we have tourists to show around town; it's an addictive place and it's for our health that we limit ourselves this way. That being said, come visit us immediately so we can take you there. Today we were with John and Jerri, friends of hers from Louisiana. We hopped an A train down to High Street and walked under the bridge to find the line. A pie at Grimaldi's, a hot chocolate at Jacques Torres around the corner, and a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge is part of Sarah's NYC tour and at least you walk off some of the meal while drinking in a good view of the islands, and a good cup of Wicked cocoa spiced with cayenne.
Our place in the sun.

Grimaldi's contends with Totonno's (I visited the Coney Island location last year but they were closed after te New York Dolls concert) DiFara's, another Brooklyn fave that I have yet to visit, and Lombardi's in Little Italy, which was the oldest pizzeria in America, established in 1905. The original store closed, but a new one opened 2 doors down. I plan on comparing them all this summer so watch this blog, and my waistline.
The neighborhood is worth exploring. Dumbo ("down under manhattan bridge overpass") is a ritzy spot with upscale grocers, theaters and expensive condos, but the park gives an amazing view of Manhattan framed by two bridges. The parking isn't too bad either, if you drive in. Go grab a pie and walk it off.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Foot Fist Way and Stunt Rock!

Two movies I may never get to see, but must see, from the trailers alone. The Foot Fist Way stars Danny McBride from Hot Rod, an under-appreciated goofy comedy starring Andy Samberg. Danny wrote the movie as well, and it is currently seeking distribution. It's getting great word of mouth from Will Ferrell and the Superbad crew, and the trailer had me laughing.

It should be special fun for us who've dealt with dojo dorks. Not that I think all Tae Kwon Do practitioners are fooling themselves, but it always makes me smile when you spar with them and realize this is the first time they've been punched in the face. Then again I've been very lazy this year about going to mixed martial arts class so I shouldn't be shooting my mouth off.

According to IMDb it is getting a limited release on May 30th, so here's hoping NYC gets a showing. I'll be there.

Stunt Rock is a goofy 70's movie being shown around by Eli Roth, the guy who did Cabin Fever and Hostel. It's about an Australian stuntman who goes to L.A. to work, and helps out the Aussie hard rock supergroup Sorcery perform their stage act, which involves the Devil vs. Merlin. He also recounts famous stunts to his girlfriend, which is why the trailer has stunts from Gone in 60 Seconds in it, I presume. The film looks suitably ridiculous in a way only the 70's could tolerate, and I'm told it is mostly plotless rambling interspersed with rock concert and stunt footage. Which sounds fine to me, rather like The Song Remains the Same, or This is Spinal Tap meets Two Lane Blacktop.
Hopefully Roth's little road show can drum up enough interest to get a DVD release of this weird little movie, because while it's certainly drive-in grindhouse trash it's also certain to be entertaining as hell on many levels.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

80's Trash of the Week: Mazes and Monsters

In which Tom Hanks models for the cover of Led Zeppelin IV.

I've been trying to get a hold of this since Gary Gygax's death, and finally found a decent copy. This is the infamous "Dungeons & Dragons melts your brain" movie starring Tom Hanks. Written by Rona Jaffe and based on the true story of a suicidal college kid who was thought to be lost in the steam tunnels beneath Michigan state while playing a "live version" of Dungeons & Dragons, when he was actually hiding at a friend's place. Known as the "Steam Tunnel Incident," private investigator William Dear concocted the D&D theory and wrote a book about it.
You know it's a movie when he meets a girl through D&D who isn't crazy.

The movie begins awkwardly with a flash-forward to a reporter asking the cops what's going on. The cop tells him they heard someone went overboard while playing "Mazes and Monsters," and asks him if he knows about it. Chillingly, the reporter says yes... my kids play it. Do yours???

Then we segue to the college, with a sappy song played over. The film's greatest crime is this godawful theme song, "Friends in this World," and if you find a copy of this movie I defy you to listen to it more than once. It's likem "Gentle Ben," the heartfelt song about a murderous rat, except it's about remembering your batshit insane friends before they lost their minds.

We are then introduced to three kids with rich, annoying parents. Jay Jay walks into school wearing a Prussian helmet with a chin strap, which is an accurate portrayal of a D&D player in the 80's I guess. His mother is a decorator and just gave him an institutional room covered in white tile, so this is a boy in need of some escapism.
This is where you end up if you play D&D.

Jay Jay (Chris Makepeace, Rudy from Meatballs) also has a myna bird named Merlin that spouts things like "birds can't talk!" and is generally annoying. Robbie, played by Tom Hanks (from "Bosom Buddies"), is being driven to college by his hostile father and alcoholic mom, and has had trouble with "Mazes and Monsters" before. When he gets to school, he instantly sees a messily scrawled note looking for players of the game. Jay Jay put it there, and asks him if he plays, but he demurs and says he doesn't anymore.

Then he meets Kate Finch (Wendy Crewson, Spies, Lies & Naked Thighs) at a party and lets slip that he used to play. She's also a huge Mazes & Monsters nerd, and they bond instantly like Krazy-Glue because they both play 9th level characters. She lures him back into playing, and soon the group is playing obsessively, all night, in a room lit only by candles. Daniel is the "Maze Controller," and begins the game this way, in this cultish fashion:
I am the maze controller. The god of this universe I have created. The absolute authority! Only I know the perilous course you are about to take. Your fate is in my hands!
Evil dice of fate!

There we are introduced to the players and their characters, which will be a special treat for anyone who's played role-playing games.
Kate: "I am Glacia the Fighter. I have great strength and courage, strong armor and weapons, and I have won the mighty Talking Sword of Lothia."
Jay Jay: "I am Frelik the Frenetic of Blossomere. The cleverest of all sprites. Not so strong, but with enough tricks and powers to take me far and keep me safe."
Robbie: "I am Pardeux. A holy man. By reaching the 9th level I have acquired many magic spells and charms the greatest of which is the Graven Eye of Timur. But I also have a sword which I only use should my magic fail me."

See, Robbie needs a sword so he can hurt someone in the name of his wacky game later. Though it would be much funnier if he tried using spells and got his ass kicked, it wouldn't scare parents. Jay Jay seems the likelier candidate for going wacko, since he sits in his dorm room talking about suicide to his myna bird, so he'll be remembered forever by his fellow students. The game is pretty innocuous until Jay Jay's character gets killed in a pit trap "filled with gem encrusted spikes." Apparently it's a Tiffany pit trap.
Evil skeleton with the heart of a volleyball.

Jay Jay wants to bring the game to the next level, so he starts a new game in the local Pequod caverns, using props from the drama and science department. For those blissful enough to not know about it, this is called LARPing, short for Live Action Role Playing, and LARPers are made fun of by other nerds in the geek hierarchy. They all don spooky cloaks and carry lanterns and wander around the caves while Jay Jay dangles skeletons from the science department. But Robbie gets lost and hallucinates a demon, which he dispatches with his sword letter opener.

Robbie meets a demon in the cave and freaks the hell out.

See, Robbie's brother Hall ran away from home (with those crazy parents who can blame him) and Robbie has always blamed himself for it. Now when he dreams, he sees a mystical figure named The Great Hall who tells him he must be a holy man and forgo Kate and her feminine wiles, if he is to meet the Great Hall at the Two Towers. Despite calling himself Pardeux from this point on, and blessing people in the hallways, his friends don't notice anything wrong. Even when he breaks up with Kate and holes himself up in his room, they only notice a problem when he disappears one afternoon.
If I dreamt this shit I'd go poo-flinging insane too.

Eventually they get the police involved, and Murray Hamilton (The mayor of Amity in Jaws) already knows all about Mazes and Monsters. "Mazes and Monsters is a far out game. Swords, poison, spells, battles, maiming, killing."

It's only imagination!
Is it?

They search the caves, but Robbie has gone to seek the Two Towers in New York, of course. Befitting NYC in the early 80's, upon arrival he is immediately set upon by muggers. Of course, he sees them as demons, or whatever this green costume is supposed to be:
Gimme yo wallet, motherfucker!

They chase him blocks and blocks through the city, to typical scary 80's music, and have a West Side Story knife fight, but luckily Robbie is victorious:

The most memorable scene for me was when he calls them after stabbing the mugger, crying "There's blood on my knife!" Who'd believe this man would go on to win multiple Oscars? For me, he'll always be remembered in drag in "Bosom Buddies," with Peter Scolari. Sort of like how George Clooney will always be remembered for Return of the Killer Tomatoes. This was the scene that we mocked when me and my high school pals would play D&D in the basement. When we weren't spelunking in capes with battle-axes.

There's blood on my knife!

Now they know where he is, so they head into the fearsome clutches of old New York, before Giuliani turned the Deuce into Disneyland and the Lower East Side became the trendy place to drink. Like The Dictators say in "Avenue A"
When every memory is gone
and everything you know is wrong
Takin' the edge off on a beautiful day
with a Frappuccino and a créme brulee
yeah, you know it's all over
when you see a Range Rover
But enough nostalgic musing about New York in the 80's, it's much more fun to think about Tom Hanks talking to homeless people in the subway, asking about the Great Dragon above them. Yeah, Robbie, that's the C train you goof. He finds his way to the World Trade Center, if you hadn't guessed. Makes me wonder if Rona Jaffe found references to Tolkien in the back of the Dungeon Master's Guide, saw The Two Towers, and was inspired by the muses to make the connection to the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Never Forget!

When they finally track him down on the observation deck, he looks like he's about to jump. They stop him by saying the word "Game" which snaps him out of his fantasy world. He suddenly remembers it's all just a game, and breaks down crying, since he can't remember how he got up there.
Oscar gold.

The film, shamed by Hanks' terrific performance, abruptly cuts to the future, where three of the kids are driving back to college. Robbie is conspicuously absent. We soon learn that they are going to visit him. Since his caper, Kate has become a writer, and plans to write a story about how Mazes and Monsters helped them, but turned tragic for their friend; Jay Jay of the skeletons with a flashlight has found a new outlet for his mania, the theater department. And Daniel is learning to be a computer programmer, which means he's still playing Ultima Online somewhere.

When they find Robbie, his mother says he is under a doctor's care, and he sits by a lake dressed all in white. Sort of like Gandalf after the Balrog, to up the nerd quotient of this post. Once again, Robbie is talking about being Pardeux the holy man. You might think like I did, that he is just messing with them and it will all be happy ever after. But no, he's finally lost his mind, or as Elwood P. Dowd would put it, he wrestled with reality, and finally won out over it. Instead of telling him it's just a game again, they decide to play along, and go for a walk in the forest, trying to remember when he was a nice boy and not a crazy dragon-slaying wackadoo.
fig. 1, Dragon-slaying wackadoo.

This film holds a special place in my heart in the nostalgia section, despite being so awful. For a TV movie in the early 80's, it's surprisingly well made. The director knows how to work with a shitty effects budget, and keeps things shrouded in fog and darkness. He also lucked out in getting some decent actors, and some memorable faces like the mayor from Jaws and the cop from Strange Brew (Tom Harvey, if you were wondering). It makes RPG playing look like a séance, and shows the players as maladjusted weirdos with troublesome emotional lives. So at least it got that right. Anyone might show up at someone's house wearing a cape, or a Prussian war helmet for that matter. In the 80's, it could happen.
fig.2, Fat, dragon-slaying wackadoo.

The funniest thing is that this was released on DVD with an older Tom Hanks on the cover in front of a huge maze and a castle. "Danger lurks between fantasy and reality." Yeah, the fantasy that the cover of the DVD sells and the reality of the movie not having a maze in it. Imagine the poor bastard picking this up and thinking it was a modern horror film. Like Kate says, "the most frightening monsters are the ones that exist in our minds." I'd still want a refund.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Richard Widmark dead at 93

Probably most famous for his role as the psychotic, giggling criminal Tommy Udo in 1947's Kiss of Death, where he pushed a woman in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs, actor Richard Widmark has passed away at age 93.

In a 1995 interview, he said: “The businessmen who run Hollywood today have no self-respect. What interests them is not movies but the bottom line. Look at ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ which turns idiocy into something positive, or ‘Forrest Gump,’ a hymn to stupidity. ‘Intellectual’ has become a dirty word.”

Gotta love a guy like that. I hate Forrest Gump.

I first saw him as the bad guy in 1982's Hanky Panky, a silly comedy with Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner, but by then he had long dropped the giggle and looked scary enough just looming with his white hair and cold eyes. My favorite role of his were in 50's noir- Jules Dassin's Night and the City as a hustler wrestling promoter, and in Sam Fuller's excellent Pickup on South Street, as a pickpocket. I recommend both of those movies if you like the genre, they are top shelf, and both available on DVD. Kiss of Death is no slouch either, where Victor Mature plays a young ex-con trying to go straight, with Widmark coming after him, bent on revenge. It's worth it alone for Widmark's performance.

RIP, Mr. Widmark. Don't push any wheelchairs off the clouds up there.

Photo shamelessly nabbed from which you should check out, where nostalgia has never been so funny.

Putney Swope - Don't Rock the Boat... Sink It!

Putney Swope is probably best known for the reference in Boogie Nights; Don Cheadle's character, Buck Swope, is named after the film. It's somewhere between a 60's head film and a 70's rebel film. It succeeds in some ways and fails in others, but if you like the weird films of the 60's, it's a must. Filmed by Robert Downey Sr., it's the story of a Madison Avenue ad agency that puts its one black executive in charge, and the hijinks that ensue. I'm a big fan of Melvin Van Peebles's movies such as Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song and Watermelon Man, so was eager to see another film of this sort.

Putney Swope and his bodyguard

Putney Swope is the one black member of the board of an advertising agency; when the Chairman dies during a board meeting, they vote by secret ballot for the new Chairman, and since they all want a "token" vote for Putney... he gets elected by a landslide. He immediately takes over, renames the company Truth & Soul, Inc., refuses to advertise cigarettes or war toys, and brings in his afro and dashiki entourage.

It's less of a satire on race relations than a pointed jab at Advertising, and most of the best jokes are either the bizarre commercials Swope and crew come up with, how people and companies both eat it up, or the insane products the companies foist on the public. Swope isn't really a revolutionary, and this is certainly not a "Madison Avenue meets Blazing Saddles" kind of movie. It's more like The Magic Christian and other Terry Southern-inspired films of the 60's that attack the status quo. They poke at the revolutionary fervor of the 60's as well, with Antonio Fargas as a black Muslim and others.
Viva le revolucion, baby.

When someone from the Audie Murphy toy company is raving about their Junior Flamethrower that runs on ordinary lighter fluid, and Swope suggests selling a crappy window cleaner as a soft drink in the ghetto, you know their targets. The commercials themselves vary from amusing to insane, though in my opinion none of them do better than the skit comedy anthology The Groove Tube for laughs, but the satire is biting and poignant. For example there's this ad for Fan-Away, which shows a gal dancing in a trash-strewn alley with a bum passed out in it, and she says "You can't eat an air conditioner." This type of commercial actually made the air later, where street sensibility and an abstract concern about starving homeless people would be used to hawk products and a lifestyle, so the film was ahead of its time with this one.
Another was for Lucky Airlines, which just has 3 sexy girls in slow-mo bouncing their boobies in an airplane, and wrestling with a guy in his underwear, which would have been shocking in 1969 but with a few edits could be an ad today.

Tig Bitty Airline commercial

The commercials are in color and most of the movie is in black and white, so they pop out at you. My favorite isn't on youtube, sadly. A voice-over describes "Ethereal Cereal" and its health benefits as the camera slowly pans in on a black family at breakfast. The man of the family looks oblivious, as he boredly eats his cereal, when the voiceover asks him, "Jim, did you know it also has .002 ESP units of pectin?"
"No shit?"

The film isn't above having products like Dinkleberry's Chicken Pot Pies, either. It's actually quite a bit of fun, as Swope transforms into "The Man" he set out to crumble, begins donning a Fidel Castro outfit as his cohorts call him a cop out. The film starts to fall apart at this point, aiming for absurdity. Swope's rival turns out to be a dwarf, but nothing really funny happens with him. Mel Brooks has a tiny cameo as a customer in sunglasses who says "Forget it, baby!" when Swope takes over, and I wonder if this influenced Blazing Saddles in any way.
Mr. Big

The film does have its comedic moments like when the War Toy manager realizes he'll be out of a job:

A homosexual... or worse!

It also riffs on artists, such as when a photographer is trying to get a job with Swope, starting at an outrageous price and then bargaining himself down because he needs the work.

The sad lot of the freelancer.

The movie isn't perfect, and part of it comes from Robert Downey's decision to dub his own voice over Arnold Johnson's for Putney Swope. He has a plain, gravelly delivery that isn't obviously a dub, but it seems just off enough. He also does a lot of shots with Swope's mouth obscured to make the lip syncing easier. With the right actor this might have been a less forgotten classic. It definitely has its moments, and is commendable for its daring. It just lacks that spark that would catapult it into hilarity, and a more lively, charismatic star using his own voice would have done it.

Who was going to do it, though? Sidney Poitier? There weren't a lot of lead roles for blacks back in '69 and something like this could sink a career. Or make one. 5 years later Cleavon Little would be unforgettable as Bart in Blazing Saddles, but it would be his only lead role. So it's hard to fault it. It's still one of a kind, a great poke at TV commercials, and still funny today.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

For Your Height Only! Filipino Dwarf Spy Thriller

Weng Weng was a big action star in the 80's in the Philippines. Well, not physically of course. He was 2'9" but he had a lot of charm, style and some kick-ass kung fu moves. He starred in a number of James Bond spoofs, but For Y'ur Height Only was the first. The movies are delightfully tongue in cheek and all over the internet at this point, in fact I'm pretty sure most of the movie is on youtube, if you want to check it out yourself. It is also available on DVD and on Netflix. Or you can just watch this great fan trailer with many of the best scenes:

I'll come straight out and admit it- I've always been enthralled by Little People. It probably began with seeing Under the Rainbow and Billy Barty in Foul Play a thousand times on HBO as a kid. I even watched some of that reality show, "Little People, Big World" a few times. And I'm sort of a Peter Dinklage fanboy, but that's besides the point- this movie is hilarious.
It is considered bad form to make demands in a Klan hood.

The evil Mr. Giant has kidnapped Dr. Kohler and is holding the world hostage with his N-bomb. Mr. Giant is a shadowy unknown figure in the underworld with a huge army of bad guys in tropical shirts and mustaches. Thankfully the government provides Agent 00 with cool gadgets to defeat this menace. These include:
A Ring that Can Detect Poison! "This ring can detect all poisons. It's made out of gold. platinum was too expensive. Our budget is a problem"
A Tiny Jet Pack! This looks like two fire extinguishers and some hose, but it works surprisingly well.
A Remote Control Hat! Stolen directly from Oddjob and improved 100%.
A Tiny Break-Down Machinegun! Perfectly sized for Agent 00, this never runs out of ammo.
No nutsack is safe when Agent 00 is on the case!

He hunts down Mr. Giant's men at a dojo and even has a battle with samurai swords. His diminutive size makes it easy for him to sneak up on you and punch you in the nuts, though he is also capable of swinging up Yoda-style and choking you out with his legs, or sliding across the floor to trip you over and step on your neck.
Henchmen mystified by a hat on a string

When there are too many henchmen for Weng Weng to handle, he relies on the many gadgets they gave him. My personal fave was the remote-control Oddjob hat, which can be used to cloud men's minds. When things really get nasty it can also be used as a deadly weapon:

Agent 00 is just too much for them. The henchmen are assured that he's in league with Satan. "He's big pals with Lucifer!" They also compare him to an eel. "How the hell do you hold onto an eel?"
"Beaten by a lousy eel! We gonna hafta git outta town!" It's about as campy as What's Up Tiger Lily? and just as much fun.
Weng Weng isn't just a kung fu superstar, he's also a ladies' man. As any Bond clone must be, he is a killer with the ladies and rescues the "inside girl" they have in Mr. Giant's gang when she is exposed. And he is well rewarded.

When it's time for the final showdown, Agent 00 uses the last of his gadgets. I think he actually uses them in the sequence he is given them, which is either terribly clever or an amusing insight into how quickly the script was written. He jetpacks in to Mr. Giant's lair for the ultimate confrontation:
How can you not love a movie that makes a jet pack out of fire extinguishers? Besides, Weng Weng is so fetching in his white suit, and such a natural physical actor that the movie would be better without the campy dubbed dialogue. There are a lot of good sight gags, but the attempts at jokes added later by the dubbing team are pretty lame, like "Oh, I've got to run with these little feet!"
The best gag is that Mr. Giant is also a dwarf, albeit taller than Agent 00. They have their kung fu fight and of course our guy is victorious. Because height doesn't matter, when you're as smooth as Weng Weng!

There are a lot of "foreign oddity" movies, but the Weng Weng comedy/action spoofs are pretty entertaining in their own right, with that sort of quaint old-time charm of Hollywood silent films and stuff like Laurel & Hardy or the Three Stooges. There is a sequel called The Impossible Kid, which is pretty much the same movie with new gadgets and a lot more kung fu fights. He's got a little motorcycle, and fights a female karate master in her dojo. That will get its own review someday. It's actually better in some ways because the dubbing isn't insulting to Weng Weng. I also found another film called Wild Wild Weng, which despite sounding like a porno is another fun action flick that I need to watch sometime soon. when I do, you know you'll hear about it here.
Sadly, the big little star died in 1992. He'd been in movies since the 60's and is still listed as the shortest person in a leading role. It looks like fellow blogger Andrew Leavold is working on a documentary called The Search for Weng Weng that is coming out this year, and his blog has more information on the action star than I could ever hope to find. I'll be keeping an eye on his blog and hopefully will be able to see the movie.

RIP Weng Weng, you will live long in our memories.

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