The Shrimp on the Barbie

The Shrimp on the Barbie. Unity Pictures 1990.

Before watching the movie:

I’m not sure I’ve encountered a solo Cheech Marin vehicle before (aside from that weird kids’ songs album where he’s a school bus driver). I’ve only ever seen him since Tommy Chong or in an ensemble or as a cameo.

It’s also an interesting idea to blend him with Australian culture. I certainly never would’ve thought to put the two together. He can be the scruffy, embarrassing fish out of water anywhere, but Australia isn’t really a common setting to throw such fish into.

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Snuffy Smith, Yardbird

Snuffy Smith, Yardbird
(or Private Snuffy Smith)
Monogram Pictures 1942

Before watching the movie:

This is based on the newspaper comic strip (Barney Google and) Snuffy Smith, that’s coming up on its hundredth anniversary and is still in newspaper comics today that one could argue that fresher strips deserve, except at this point all the new strips worth reading are webcomics. In that hundred years, the focus shifted from city slicker gambler Barney Google to the hillbilly rascal Snuffy Smith, to the point that Smith was added to the title by the 1930s and Google was written out by the 1950s, only very recently being remembered by the current writer(s).

It looks like it’s going to be hard to tell what the movie changed from the strip and what the strip itself changed between the 40s and the time I became familiar with it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Snuffy’s moonshining, which seems to be a major character point here, was a bigger part of the strip that got deemphasized to the point of nonexistence by the 90s for the purpose of making the funny papers safe for children who might accidentally learn about alcohol and lawbreaking otherwise.

After watching the movie:

Snuffy Smith is a moonshiner in the hills outside the Appalachian town of Hootin’ Holler, who defends his still from the Revenuers with the help of his friends. When revenue agent Ed Cooper tracks Snuffy back to his cabin, he goes to his friend Saul’s cabin to hide out, and arrives while Saul’s daughter Cindy is being courted by Don Elbie, a Hootin’ Holler native now a US Army Private. As Snuffy is impressed by Don’s khaki britches, gold buttons, and description of “all the food you can eat, a nice place to sleep, and $30 a week”, and as he interfered in Saul trying to run off Don for blood feud and daughter-protection reasons and so now can’t hide out there, Snuffy decides that joining the Army sounds like a pretty good deal. However who does his sergeant turn out to be but Sgt. Ed Cooper! Also there’s a distilling accident that turns Snuffy’s dog invisible.

The concept of “cartoon character joins the military” stories during the 40s is pretty well-traveled. Popeye didn’t wear his iconic outfit before he joined the Navy, and of course Disney and Warner Bros. characters made propaganda cartoons that are still enjoyed today. Everyone was making “the characters you love join the military to do their part for their country (so how about you do too?)” movies. So it’s not too weird to take a hillbilly with no interest in leaving his part of the hills and drop him into the military. What’s odd is that he doesn’t just enlist or get drafted, he tries to enlist, gets refused for very good reasons, and then the General is accidentally indebted to him, and gives Snuffy special dispensation, to a point.

The invisible dog is a much more random element, and what’s bizarre is that an entire movie could be done with that, but instead, it’s a really minor thing that’s used for some jokes here and there, but mostly just gets Snuffy out of some scrapes in the third act. Snuffy and Loweezy don’t understand why this batch turns things invisible, and Snuffy suggests he’ll paint his still with it to hide it from the Revenuers for good, but then the Army calls him up and tells him he can’t bring his dog, so he just pours the invisible spirits on the dog and brings him anyway. That’s weirder than anything that I can imagine happening in the comic.

So like a lot of the propaganda wartime “join the army” stories, this is all about being at a camp still at home. The rising action is mostly concerned with Snuffy’s division winning a wargame with a special new gunsight that Don invented, but there’s also American fifth columnists trying to steal the gunsight to sabotage the army, which would be the most bizarre thing about the movie if not for the invisible dog that’s mostly ignored.

I understand why this exists, but also, the entire thing is a “why does this exist?” Most pieces make sense on their own, but they add up to something highly unusual and not necessarily good. The parts that aren’t confusing are fun, though.

Anger Management

Anger Management. 
Columbia Pictures 2003.

Before watching the movie:

This is another movie I’ve been pretty sure would show up here eventually since almost the beginning. Back when Adam Sandler made movies people wanted to watch, I guess.

It’s been quite clear that this is about a guy and his therapist living together and driving each other crazy, but it wasn’t as apparent until I saw what I’m looking at now that the patient isn’t actually all that explosive, except around his eccentric therapist.

The “client and patient shackled together and nearly kill each other” concept is similar to Analyze This and What About Bob?, the former to the point (at least on the surface) that if this movie and Analyze This weren’t five years apart I’d call them duelling movies.

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In Bruges

In Bruges. Blueprint Pictures 2008

Before watching the movie:

I vaguely remember this movie being around when it came out. I remember being vaguely interested in seeing it, but also having the sense that I probably wouldn’t get to it until it was bloggable. Somehow, I’ve been blogging long enough that even though this came out a year before I started blogging and I avoid reviewing movies less than ten years old, this is now bloggable. That is just completely wrong.

This is a dark comedy about hiding out in an unfamiliar but lovely town after a crime goes sideways. It’s kind of also a travel movie, and I think being a travel comedy in central-ish Europe is what made me associate it with If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium. Which is an entirely different kind of movie. Also, for the uneducated Americans, and I include myself in that statement, the poster I found helpfully notes that Bruges is in Belgium.

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In The Army Now

In The Army Now. Hollywood Pictures 1994.

Before watching the movie:

So Pauly Shore made a movie about bumbling through the military. I have a sense it will be more like At War With The Army than Stripes. I don’t think Pauly Shore is worth the many vehicles he got in the 90s, but he’s not the anti-comedy people seem to make him out as.

His partner in comedy is Andy Dick here, and I’m kind of looking forward to his awkward but slightly less creepy than Woody Allen style.

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Safety Last!

Safety Last! Pathé  1923.

Before watching the movie:

For the first time in 20 years, works copyrighted in the United States are entering the public domain, after being put in a freeze by the Copyright Term Extension Act, because who cares if everyone who participated in creating these works are probably dead by now when there’s still profit to be had? Well, as of the beginning of the month (January 2019), works published in 1923 have finally had their copyrights expire, and among them is this iconic film that nobody seems much interested in the plot of.

To be fair, the stunts and slapstick routines are likely more the point of the movie than the story they’re hung upon, but as far as I can tell without reading too far ahead, this is the story of a young man’s misadventures in becoming respectable enough for his girlfriend to marry him. The reason everyone talks about it though, is because of the iconic, very real, and dangerous scene where Lloyd hangs from a clock, which has been homaged endlessly. To me, and probably others, “a man dangles from a clock hand” is a Back to the Future reference, but when Christopher Lloyd did it, the filmmakers were referencing Harold Lloyd. But there’s still a lot of story to get to that point.

After watching the movie:

Young Harold gets on the train from his small town to go to the big city and make his fortune, promising to send for his girl to come and marry him when he’s done so. Big city living is hard, and money is scarce, especially since Harold is buying expensive jewelry to send home for the purpose of keeping up a narrative that he’s doing better than he really is, working as a harried sales clerk at De Vore’s department store living paycheck to paycheck. One day, Harold runs into an old friend from back home who’s now working as a policeman, and tries to show off to his roommate Bill that he can get away with messing with policemen. Unfortunately, Harold and Bill then proceed to prank the wrong policeman, who chases Bill up the side of a building and swears to arrest him if he ever sees his face again. Meanwhile, Harold’s mother suggests to his girl that if he’s got enough money to be buying her jewelry, it’s not safe to leave him alone in the city. Trying to keep up the charade in person now, Harold needs something big to secure his fortune in a hurry. Perhaps a daredevil scaling the 12-story building, sponsored by De Vore’s?

Though the plot is thin and mostly moves from setup to setup while laying the foundation for the climb that makes the final act of the movie, it’s fairly cute in execution. Aside from the climb, the physical comedy isn’t of the remarkable spectacle that I’m used to from Keaton and Chaplin, but it’s entertaining, and often clever.

From the legend of the clock-hanging moment, I was a little let down by its significance in the moment. It’s just one more gag in the climbing sequence, and one or two other moments seemed more precarious. The drama of the moment has been rendered obsolete by iteration. Harold Lloyd dangling from the hand of a clock six or seven stories above a city street doesn’t thrill me because every homage since has been made more dire through increasingly modern techniques.

The rest of the movie is, while not a monumental work of cinema, as suggested by how much people remember the plot leading up to the climb, a charming romp that does what it sets out to do, and is a perfectly good way to pass 70-odd minutes. But the moment it’s remembered for doesn’t live up to the hype anymore. It stands out only in relation to what came before it, but most of what I know is what’s come after it. The legend is bigger than the film.

The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock

The 30-foot Bride of Candy Rock. Columbia Pictures Corporation 1959.

Before watching the movie:

It seems like the 50s and 60s had a fascination not just with science shenanigans making small things gigantic, but making women gigantic in particular, and apparently even Lou Costello got in on it.

This is notably the only film Costello made without Abbott, and I’m not sure how that will work out because while in modern comedy, comedians work solo just fine, I know that back in the day it was considered correct and proper to pay Abbott more than Costello because anyone could be a comedian, but a good straight man for the comedian to play against was worth his weight in gold, and that’s something that’s evident in the duo’s greatest hits.

After watching the movie:

Artie Pinsetter is a broke garbage collector who studies science in his spare time and hopes to make his name by uncovering an atomic energy source behind the strange activity in the cave outside of town. His girlfriend Emmy Lou wants him to marry her already, but he’s too preoccupied with his research, and after an argument, she runs into the cave and suddenly grows to 30 feet tall. When Artie tries to explain what’s happened to her wealthy uncle Raven Rossiter, he says that Emmy Lou has gotten “big”, and Rossiter assumes he means she’s pregnant, and sends a priest to perform a shotgun marriage so they won’t wreck his chances at being elected to public office. But the problems inherent in suddenly being a giant woman outside of town won’t go away so easily, and Artie and Emmy Lou’s relationship is strained by the hardship. Also the army decides she’s obviously an invading Martian and diverts a war game exercise to shoot her down.

Gale Gordon’s Rossiter is somewhat of a type with Bud Abbott, and he’s certainly the main straight man to Artie’s antics, but it wouldn’t have worked with Abbot because Bud and Lou are always friends or at least partners, and Rossiter is more of an antagonist. He berates Artie constantly and doesn’t want him anywhere near his niece until he thinks she’s already pregnant, and then she’s suddenly just as poisonous to his image and power as Artie is. He’s also reminiscent of The Beverly Hillbillies’ Mr. Drysdale.

Of course, the giant effects rarely avoid having the characters seem isolated. The budget doesn’t have room for much more than high/wide shots and low/tight shots, but they go a long way with tiny props. There are a handful of shots that might have been optically printed, and there’s at least one very successful shot that I think was done with rear projection where the camera actually tracks with Artie as he walks along the length of Emmy Lou’s reclining figure and they actually share a shot while trading dialogue.

The finale gets really weird, to the point that I was anticipating a reveal that it’s all a dream. It’s not really incorrect to say that everything is resolved from Artie’s scientific skill, but it’s much more informed and indirect than earned. It feels more like it’s just time to have exciting comedic hijinks, and then once those are over, so is the movie.

I appreciate that it’s clear throughout that Artie earnestly loves and cares for Emmy Lou. He’s not just quick to reassure her when she’s scared and putting herself down about suddenly being five times her old size, but his reaction seems to come from a genuine place of having more of his sweetheart to love. He only wavers when they have an argument and she goes against his advice and orders, but he’s already ready to forgive her when she comes back. His attempt to assert authority as her husband is not something that’s aged well, but for the kinds of characters that Costello plays, trying to claim authority is kind of a character growth moment, so I try not to let it bother me too much.

This is a sweet, fun movie that tells its story with the visual tools available pretty well. I would have liked the end to have been stronger from a story perspective, but the character work makes up for it. It’s probably not the worst thing Costello could’ve gone out on.