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Thursday, January 31, 2019

'The Laurel & Hardy Comedy Collection' DVD: Genesis of Modern Comedy Teams

Mill Creek Entertainment goes fully old school regarding the January 8, 2018 2-disc DVD release "The Laurel & Hardy Comedy Collection." This extensive set of team and solo shorts and feature films illustrates how these film pioneers influence many duos who follow on the large and small screen. 

recent post on the fantabulous theatrical film "Stan & Ollie" expands on this theme of the legacy of the duo. 

The scope of these 24 classic performances include the first pairing that has a sinister-looking Hardy appear in the 1921 Laurel short "The Lucky Dog." This early silent has Laurel starring as a recently evicted tenant who soon becomes the companion of the best friend of man; pure vaudeville ensues in the form of the character whom Laurel portrays inadvertently thwarting the hold-up by the Hardy character. Further hilarity ensues as the Hardy character attempts to recover his ill-gotten gain.

The 1943 color short "The Tree in a Test Tube" is an amusing pulp non-fiction PSA in which Laurel and Hardy discover that a surprising number of household goods are made of wood. We get another alternative format in home movies that show the pair clowning around with the children of Laurel. 

A highlight is the classic feature-length film "The Flying Deuces." This one has a lovelorn Hardy get his buddy Laurel to join the French Foreign Legion to help the rotund Romeo forget a broken heart. The boys soon realize the reality of their situation and that walking away is less easy than expected. Of course, hilarity ensues in manners that include making authority figures look foolish.

The lesser-known feature "Utopia" from 1951 is darker and more cynical than "Deuces." This arguably reflects a belief that the fans of the team are a little older and interested in a story line that reflects that maturity. 

"Utopia" commences with Laurel and Hardy travelling to London to collect an inheritance of Laurel; the pile of cash quickly diminishing because of taxes and fees is the first bit of "adult content" and recurs during the film. 

Hilarity fully ensues as the team and two disenfranchised men hit the high seas en route to the tropical island that is part of the aforementioned legacy. A series of unfortunate circumstances lead to a shipwreck that reminds us that the legacy of the team includes Gilligan and the Skipper. 

As oft is the case, a dame who is seeking her own escape from the civilized world coming on the scene creates mayhem. The quartet of men vie for her affections in oft desperate manners. Subsequent arrivals create more complications and hilarity. 

The best part of all this is that this MCE release reflects the original mission of Unreal TV; this objective is keeping classic films and television programs in the public consciousness. It sadly is likely that this review is the first that those of the generation that reserve actually making a telephone call to dire emergencies have ever heard of the guys who set the standard for team comedy.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

'Stan & Ollie' Theatrical: Solid Tale of Hardy Comedy Team Not Resting on Laurels

The numerous delights associated with the 2018 BBC Films biopic "Stan & Ollie" that is enjoying a current limited run in North America makes it tough to select an apt starting point. The strongest endorsement for this film is that this tough audience who likely never laughs at a movie and only occasionally smiles laughed out loud at least three times during this one. 

An early detour is noting that this site is running a post on the very funny Mill Creek Entertainment DVD set "The Laurel and Hardy Collection" tomorrow. 

One "Point A" is that this tale of the desperate times of the titular comedy team leading to the desperate measure of a 1950s stage-tour of the U.K. evokes strong memories of the "Trip" films of Laurel portayor Steve Coogan with fellow funny guy/actor Rob Brydon. That comic documentary series has Coogan and Brydon entertaining each other and the audience as they take restaurantcentric extended road trips through places such as Italy and Spain. Their dueling Connerys in what is recalled to be during the "Italy" film is hilarious.

Coogan trades in Brydon for Hardy portrayor John C. Reilly this time around. The strong performance of Reilly and his mastery of the comedy style of Hardy makes up for his recent film pairings with Will Ferrell.

The starting point for "Stan" is a dressing-room conversation during the filming of the 1937 Laurel and Hardy film comic western "Way Out West," This figurative form of pillow talk immediately verifies that a comedy team is like a married couple. Stan is expressing concern regarding both the romantic life and the heavy gambling of Ollie. This exchange includes the very Cooganesque line in which Stan advocates not bothering to marry and simply giving someone whom he hates a house.

A more serious topic sets the stage (no pun intended) for the rest of the film. Stan expresses a centuries' old criticism of capitalism in complaining that producer Hal Roach is horribly exploiting the team by making a fortune off of their films and not paying them very much. This leads to learning about the personal politics of Roach.

A confrontation with Roach prompts the first of many "TV Land" thoughts. Stan walks out on Roach and expects that Ollie will follow suit. However, Ollie stays behind and works with an ersatz Stan.

This development evokes thoughts of an episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Head writer Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) walks out over a conflict regarding his work. Although Rob expects that his team/close friends Buddy and Sally will join him, they stay behind. Comic anger ensues.

A related note regarding Van Dyke is that he befriends Laurel in the early '60s and studies under him.

The action in "Stan" then shifts to the aforementioned tour around which most of the film revolves. The objectives of this venture include giving Ollie much needed money and helping the team revive its popularity in order to make a planned "Robin Hood" parody film a reality for these men in tight spots.

This portion of the film strongly relates to the "Happy Days" empire of super-producer Garry Marshall. On the broader level, the genius of Marshall includes his reasoning that a show that is made in the '70s but set in the '50s never looks dated. This is one way that "Stan," like its subject, is eternal.

A narrower perspective relates to the failed "Days" spin-off "Joanie Loves Chachi." Referring to the well-publicized romance and subsequent break-up of stars Erin Moran and Scott Baio, Marshall notes that making the show is tough when Joanie no longer loves Chachi. The same principle clearly applies regarding the comeback tour of Laurel and Hardy.

The first laugh-out-loud moment comes when our boys do a bit with the bell on the front desk of a hotel. This reinforces the principle that something unexpected is funny and the recent comment by comedy legend Carol Burnett (who currently is touring) that funny always be funny. The more narrow focus this time is the HILARIOUS  YouTube video of the two cats sitting side-by-side and using their paws to ring a bell so that they will get a treat, 

The pure genius of both the source material and Coogan really comes out in a scene in which the unexpected truly is not anticipated. We see our Balki and Cousin Larry dragging a heavy trunk up a long stairway at a rail station. We instantly know that the trunk is going to fall back down the stairs; Ollie asking Stan for the time at the top of the stairs tells us how the trunk will fall.

Stan sadly looking down at the trunk on the platform below and essentially saying fuck it in a much kinder and gentler manner is where the genius enters the picture.

We additionally see the boys onstage doing a bit in which Stan accidentally puts on the hat of Ollie; a moment in which Ollie shows great exasperation but switches the hats himself makes you feel as if you are watching the '60s versions of Laurel and Hardy Gilligan and the Skipper doing their thing.

A moment in which a dejected Stan is reminded that Abbott and Costello have absconded with his career is not worth more mention than that. A scene in which Stan comments to Ollie outside a hotel that "the girls" are due to arrive is noteworthy for evoking thoughts of Art Carney and Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners." A bit of wife swapping occurs in the form of lanky funnyman Stan having a tough and flinty Russian wife and rotund straight man Ollie having the more ditzy and mousy spouse. 

All of this climaxes as Stan picks the wrong time and place to vent long-restrained resentment. This threatens the previously successful detente between the men. One could fully expect that to be the end of Laurel and Hardy.

The nature of the subject requires that the show goes on. The enhanced manner in which the guys take more than one for the team further enhances the sense that a comedy team is analogous to a married couple. You may not always like your strange bedfellow, but you always love him or her. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

'The Prize' Blu-ray: Paul Newman Makes Nobel Effort to Put Right What Once Went Wrong

The awesomeness of the beautifully remastered Warner Archive January 15, 2019 Blu-ray of the 1963 Paul Newman drama "The Prize" begins with this release adding another Newman film to the Archive catalog. This inventory includes the (reviewed) "Harper" and the (also reviewed) "Drowning Pool" series in which the salad-dressing king plays gumshoe Lew Harper. 

This film based on an Irving Wallace novel also is a perfect example of a Hitchcockian Cold War era movie. This comparison begins with Newman playing rugged everyman/Nobel Prize winning novelist Andrew Craig getting in over his head (pun intended) due to a series of unfortunate circumstances.

60s sex-kitten Elke Sommer fills the role of a Hitchcockian blonde who becomes the partner-in-crime-solving of the leading man. The credits of screenwriter Ernest Lehman including the 1958 Hitchcock film "North by Northwest" further contributes to the Hitch cred. of "Prize." You will want to keep your eyes on this one. 

The Cold War element comes courtesy of fellow Nobel winner German physicist Dr. Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson) not seeming to be himself during the festivities related to the Nobel ceremony. The plot thickeners include current American Max having worked in his native country (for a stated good reason) during WWII. His clandestine meeting with a former colleague and other indications of nefarious doings contribute to the sense that something is rotten in the state of Sweden.

The "Grand Hotel" vibe begins with "Prize" centering around the stays of Andrew, Max, their fellow Nobel winners, and the companions of those folks who are the top members of their professions, The Grand Hotel hosting this group seals the deal even more than an amusing Greta Garbo joke with which Newman runs. 

The following YouTube clip of the '60stastic trailer for "Prize" highlights all the above elements in a manner that screams for watching the film.

Sommer plays local handler Inger Lisa Andersson, who finds "problem child" Andrew far more than a handful. This hard-drinking womanizing cynic makes it clear that the cash award is the only prize that interests him. 

Andrew divides his romantic pursuits between Inger and Max niece Emily (Diane Baker). Emily almost literally is the girl-next-door but may be far less pure than she seems. 

The rest of the gang includes married French scientists Denise and Claude Marceau, who amusingly lack any chemistry between them. Claude keeping his beautiful "secretary" in an adjoining room prompts Denise to dictate to Andrew. 

The game fully gets afoot when a puzzling remark by Max triggers the spidey sense of Andrew; this soon leads to our hero obtaining solid proof of an evil plot. Of course, no one believes him.

The lukewarm pursuit sends Andrew to a private sanitarium and then hilariously seeking cover at a meeting of a nudist group; this being a '60s Hollywood film precludes getting a glimpse of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kids. 

This leads to Inger Lisa fully becoming a pawn in the intrigue; the ensuing rescue attempt involves a good mix of cunning and brute strength, This leads to a wonderful scene in which it is clear that Andrew does not have a gun in his pocket but is glad to see Inger Lisa.

Of course, the Nobel ceremony provides the setting for the climax of "Prize." Andrew predictably saves the day, but the truly surprising twists at the end deserve a revered place in Hollywood history. This verifies that "Prize" is much more original "Manchurian Candidate" then "White House Down." 

Monday, January 28, 2019

'Kidding' S1 DVD: Unofficial 'Truman Show' Sequel

The nature of the 2018 first season of the Showtime dramedy "Kidding" makes this multi-level post on the CBS Home Entertainment January 29, 2019 S1 DVD release apt. On the surface, Jim Carrey stars as Jeff Piccirillo, who has spent 30 years playing beloved PBS children's show host Mr. Pickles. Also on the surface, Pickles of "Mr. Pickles Puppet Time" is a manic-depressive version of Mister Rogers. 

Digging a little deeper, "Kidding" can be considered an unofficial sequel to the 1998 Carrey film "The Truman Show." That film centers around Carrey character Truman Burbank, who has an existential crisis on obtaining increasingly convincing evidence that he literally is living in a controlled environment. The smoking gun that proves that just because you are paranoid does not mean that no one is watching comes in the form of Truman unknowingly having spent virtually all of his life on a huge sound stage where his literal life story is filmed and used to entertain the viewing public.

A deeper level is Jeff and Truman both being modern versions of the Peter Sellers character Chauncey Gardener  in the MUST-SEE 1979 comedy "Being There." Like the post-show Truman, Gardener (nee Chance the gardener) gets thrust in the real world. The rest of the story is that the cultured and educated members of society unwittingly embrace the wisdom of a fool.

One can easily imagine the naive and naturally cheerful and upbeat Jeff being the man whom Truman becomes on joining society. It is equally plausible that the tragedy around which "Kidding" S1 centers would affect Truman in the same manner that it impacts Jeff.

Another deeper layer relates to the issues of preserving a valuable image and the need for all concerned to realize that  a celebrity has a public self and a separate private self. The analogy this time comes courtesy of a wonderfully cheesy television movie about the making of the '70scom "The Partridge Family." The suits get upset when a cover of Rolling Stone  magazine shows a little skin below the waist of series star David Cassidy. The execs comment that Keith Partridge does not have pubic hair, and the actor playing Cassidy responds that Cassidy does.

The following YouTube clip of a "Kidding" trailer reinforces the above impressions. It also highlights the wonderful trademark quirkiness of this latest addition to premium channel dramedies.

The Showtime/quirky cred. of "Kidding" begins with it being from the mind of Dave Holstein of "Weeds" and "Raising Hope." The indie cred. includes executive-producer Michael Gondry once again teaming with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" star Carrey. In front of the camera, Judy Greer plays separated spouse Jill and Catherine Keener plays beard/ Jeff sister/puppet creator Deidre. Justin Kirk of "Weeds" plays Jill love interest Peter. 

Although the narrative begins with Jeff and beloved puppet Uke Larry appearing on "Conan" to discuss "Puppet Time," our story commences with events that occur exactly one year earlier. A distracted Jill is driving  squabbling 11 year-old twins Will and Phil when a truck broadsides their mini-van. Phil dies in this accident.

Jeff separating from Jill is the primary outward collateral damage from the death. The plot thickens in the present as the increasing angst of Jeff prompts him to proportionately advocate for a "Puppet Time" episode on death. Father/producer Seb Piccirillo (Frank Langella) strongly opposes that idea. His motives extend beyond freaking out kids to having concern about the ongoing financial viability of the series.

The rest of the story is that Seb is recruiting Deidre to work with him on plans both to further profit from the current incarnation of "Pickle Time" and to phase Jeff out from the production. A hilarious sub-plot has skater Tara Lipinski playing Mr. Pickles in an ice show. Suffice it to say that someone goes for her jugular regarding that venture.

We also get Will becoming part of a bad crowd and Diedre daughter Maddy regressing, The latter largely is due to the deterioration of the marriage of Diedre after she learns that her husband has been tickling the ivories with the male neighborhood piano teacher. A clarinet v. piano conversation regarding this story line is a hilarious version of the oysters and snails exchange in "Spartacus."

All of this comes to a head when Jeff uses a live-TV opportunity to state just about everything that has been restrained since the accident. The manner in which the tension is immediately broken arguably is the best moment in any of the 10 S1 episodes.

Suffice it to say that everyone is wiser and understands the people in his or her life better at the end of S1. The problems are that no one seems much happier and at least one character bounces before the S2 premiere later this year.

The DVD bonuses begin with separate segments on Jeff and his family. CBS saves the best for last in presenting the hysterical "How "Kidding" Came to Be" in the stop-motion animation style of the opening credits and a few scenes. 

'The Game' CS DVD: Dramedy Chronicling Lives and Loves of Pro Football Players

CBS Home Entertainment scores a touchdown regarding releasing the complete-series DVD-set of "The Game" on January 29, which is the same week as the Super Bowl. This multi Image Awards winning series that features aging San Diego Sabers team captain Jason Pitts is very apt at a time that real-life New England Patriots QB Tom Brady may be putting his soft balls in his locker for the last time. 

The disclaimers regarding the following thoughts on this release begin with not having previously watched this series or "Girlfriends," of which it is a spin-off. Further ignorance relates to only having time to watch roughly 40 or the 147 episodes in this set and also having virtually no knowledge of football. The better news is that none of this is a handicap regarding enjoying the hilarity and associated trauma and drama of "Game." 

A related perspective is this New Hampshire boy initially hearing the term "homes" as "Holmes" and believing that the term refers to an intelligent person. He is not very fly even for a white guy. 

Knowledge does include executive-producer Kelsey Grammer having extensive familiarity with one popular series leading to another success. 

This American version of the British series "Footballers Wives" centers around three women and their men. The "Girlfriends" tie-in relates to Melanie "Med School" Barnett (Tia D. Mowry) of that series sacrificing studying at Johns Hopkins to attend a San Diego university. Her motive is standing by her man Derwin Davis, who is a Sabers rookie. 

The S1 and S2 drama of this couple largely centers on the challenge of taking one for the team. Derwin initially struggles to find his place on the Sabers in every sense of that term; he then must deal with all the temptations associated with fame and fortune as well as regularly preserving his male pride.

Much unintended humor relates to first-year med. student Melanie almost always looking well groomed and rarely looking tired. This is not to mention that numerous times that she ditches studying to party with Derwin or even fly to an away game. The impact of the demand to keep up with the other wives and girlfriends is a regular source of conflict. 

Bi-racial player Jason (Coby Bell)  is married to white former cheerleader/current heavy social drinker Kelly Pitts. The charm and humor of Bell makes Jason the most appealing character of the primary sextet. 

Conflict in this marriage that is due for a seven-year itch includes multi-multi-millionaire Jason being comically frugal. We also see the strain that this and other demands place of Kelly, who becomes a woman on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

A "Meet the Parents" episode that explains the income insecurity of Jason nicely makes that character more human. Less sympathy relates to his concern regarding his days on the gridiron being numbered. It seems that retired star players easily transition into a combination of coaching jobs, acting careers, sportscaster gigs, and/or lucrative endorsement deals, 

The least likable couple is star QB Malik Wright and his mother/manager Tasha Mack (Wendy Raquel Robinson). Malik is a stereotypical fool who considers himself a playah, but whose game is limited to the one on the actual field. This portrayal evokes thoughts of the performance of Jimmie "J.J." Walker on the '70s sitcom "Good Times" causing fellow cast member John Amos to quit that hit series. 

Tasha is a stereotypical sassy woman who works her way up from the streets after becoming an unwed mother at 16.

An S2 episode in which Malik continues digging his hole deeper after making an offensive joke about inner-city teens selling drugs is a good example of his personality; for her part, Tasha is ready for a fight at the drop of a feather. 

Armchair quarterbacking begins with stating that the concept of "Game" is solid. It gives the general public insight regarding a world that is foreign to many of us. Focusing on the wives and girlfriends allows us to meet the women behind the high-profile men. It is nice to think that the highly significant others of real-life players support each other as much as the Sunbeams help the Sabers women.

Further, the first few S1 episodes particularly avoid standard sitcom plots; no one needs to keep a dinner for the boss from becoming a catastrophe or must work through a wacky misunderstanding. An amusing aspect of this is that this observation comes just before watching an episode in which Jason and Kelly fight regarding whether to throw their young daughter a lavish birthday party.

"Game" does put a nice spin on the absurdly expensive kids' party plot; the drama that often enters each episode includes Kelly feeling both that she always must play the mean parent and that Jason uses this celebrity status in his campaign to be considered the nice parent. 

The numerous bonus features include the "The Game" episode of "Girlfriends that is a pilot for our series. We also get two  interviews with "Game" creator Mara Brockk Akil and several deleted scenes. This is not to mention a feature on the series transitioning from the CW to BET after the third season. 

Sunday, January 27, 2019

'Nelly' Blu-ray: Real-Life Diary of a Call Girl

The recent Cinema Libre Studio Blu-ray release of the 2016 biopic docudrama "Nelly" contributes to the pile of proof that truth often is more entertaining than fiction, One also wonders why this tale of titular call girl Nelly Arcan is not as large of an international phenomenon as her inaugural novel Whore.  One further speculates about the preparation of star Mylene Mackay, who does a superb job, 

The following CLS trailer for "Nelly" nicely illustrates the "Hannah Montana" aspect of the life of Nelly; we further see that she would be happy to be Jackie. A personal bonus is the final line in this trailer providing an awesome elevator speech.

In typical docudrama/biopic fashion, we meet Nelly as an awkward teen performing at a school talent show before watching her show off skills that she develops later in life. A "losin' it" scene is one of the best in the film and drives much of the action.

We also see Nelly sitting at (as opposed to laying on) a desk as she works on the aforementioned book. Her inner monologue shows that the theme of a blurred line between truth and fiction extends to her work.

Nelly experiences a dream-come-true for every aspiring writer when a publisher enthusiastically responds to Whore. That book subsequently becoming one of the hottest pieces of prose out there brings things to the next level. 

The emotional issues with which Nelly is dealing explains why she does not quit her day job. Her increasingly playful therapy sessions are highlights in the film. 

Witnessing the occupational hazards that Nelly experiences reminds us that working girls do not have it easy. Even finding a man, who may no longer be paying for the milk, wanting to put a ring on it has complications., This is not to mention the guy who likes to play rough.

The trauma related to the oldest profession takes its toll on the writing career of Nelly; the public not being as eager to buy what she is selling is an apt metaphor for her other career,

The conclusion is not surprising, but the manner in which it occurs is unexpected. This further puts a human face on practitioners of a trade on which society frowns, Very few of us even think that these pros can form a coherent sentence. 

The bigger picture is that "Nelly" reminds us that we really do not know the "stuff" with which one must deal with in his or her life and what is going on in their head. The grass (or ass) may seem greener on the other side but usually is not. 

Friday, January 25, 2019

'Tommy Battles the Silver Sea Dragon' VOD & DVD: Musically Surreal Good Time

Random Media reinforces its love for the offbeat regarding the January 15, 2019 VOD & DVD releases of the 2018 musical dramedy "Tommy Battles the Silver Sea Dragon." This tale of a 20-something (director/writer Luke Shirock) Walter Mitty with more issues than The New Yorker pulls off the tough trick of making a highly experimental film a delight. An even more notable aspect of "Tommy" is that it proves the merits of filmmaking that honors the tradition of valuing art over commerce. 

Personal appreciation of "Tommy" relates to its similarities to all-time fave  "Colma The Musical." That one has recent high-school grads in the titular working-class suburb of San Francisco sing and dance as they deal with poseurs and other harsh realities. 

The following YouTube clip of a "Tommy" trailer highlights the surreal vibe that runs throughout the film; this promo. also demonstrates how this movie can be considered "Law and Order Rock." This is not to mention the glimpse of a hilarious scene in which Tommy turns a thrift store into his playground.

The symbolism in this mostly sung flick begins with the opening images of a full-frontal Tommy walking out of the ocean; his clothes magically fly to him and perform a reverse Full Monty. 

The action takes off a few minutes later when a sleeping Tommy is awoken and quickly dragged Gestapo-style out of his home. He then is thrown into the stereotypical black sedan where he is driven to a court building for a perp. walk followed by the commencement of a trial for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Carolyn.  The singing prosecutor, the warbling defense attorney, and the jury being a literal chorus provide the smoking gun that we are in for a wild ride.

Conflicting evidence regarding Tommy having accidentally shot his brother several years early provides solid  proof both that we cannot believe everything that we see and that the subconscious mind of our main man drives much of the action, Subsequently learning about the real life of this reel character explains the confusion. 

The presentation of evidence rehashes the course of the Tommy/Carolyn relationship from their cute meeting at the prom, through their impromptu "Young Hearts" fleeing from their childhood home, to their honeymoon period, and then to the stage between love and goodbye. This leads to the final exit that is the center of the judicial proceedings. 

The nature of this nightmare dreamscape makes the heavy psychological elements very apt. It also reminds of the extent to which our childhoods shape us. 

The narrative technique of making this a musical is equally appropriate. As folks who are familiar with the genre know, this form of expression typically expresses strong emotions such as the ones that Carolyn heading out into the city triggers in the man who is not deaf, dumb, or blind regarding this development. 

As stated above, Shirock hits all the right notes in presenting this story in this manner. It is unlikely that you will find another quite like it and definitely not one that succeeds any better. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

'Boys' DVD: Gay-Themed 'Boyhood'

The TLA Releasing DVD of the 2018 film "Boys" once again proves that gay-themed films can have broad mainstream appeal. This mixed coming-of-age and belated quarter-life crisis tale of everyguy Jonas largely is relatable to males all along the Kinsey Scale of sexual orientation.

The timelines of "Boys" alternate between the present in which Jonas is an early-30s Grind'r slut with a long history of hooking up with Mr. Right Now that is catching up with him and his mid-teens in which he is coming to terms with liking other boys "in that way." An incident in the present often triggers a flashback that helps fill in gaps.

The true beginning of our story is the first day of high school for freshman (in both senses of the word) Jonas. Comparable to many gay-themed coming-of-age films, the ninth-graders are gathered for an opening of the academic year assembly when new boy in school Nathan makes a grand entrance. Of course, he and Jonas lock eyes. 

This leads to older-man Nathan manipulating things so that he and Jonas share a desk in their history class; this involves an interesting bros before hos conflict that is relevant to the present of Jonas. 

The friendship without benefits between Jonas and Nathan goes to the next level when Nathan the corrupter convinces a willing Jonas to sneak a smoke and a smooch. This leads to a very cute romance complete with at least partial parental approval. 

Meanwhile in the present, Jonas is released from police custody only to find that his live-in boyfriend is less-than-pleased to see him. This leads to Jonas finding himself homeless but not himboless. 

The well-crafted extended climax (no pun intended) commences with Jonas seeking shelter at a local hotel. The cute and seemingly flirty desk clerk creates expectation of a room-service scene; however, what unfolds is much more compelling. 

We learn that the desk clerk is correct in stating that he and Jonas have a history; these boys heading out for an evening of fun does end up with Jonas waking in a strange bed with no idea of where he is; stating that he subsequently experiences a walk-of-shame is a tremendous understatement. 

This leads to the final pieces of the puzzle coming together in a manner that fully ties together the past and the present. We learn about how Nathan becomes the one who got away and hope that Jonas gets a variation of a second chance with him, Minimally, the aforementioned "morning after" provides our boy a wake-up-call that has potential to fully transform him from boyhood to manhood.

The most awesome part of this is that the closing scene that provides the sense of redemption also symbolizes recapturing lost innocence. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

'Ernie Kovacs: The Centennial Collection' DVD: Ideal Tribute to True Pioneer of Television

The Shout! Factory DVD release of "Ernie Kovacs: The Centennial Collection" continues the long Shout! tradition of paying homage to The Golden Age of Television; this proud history includes complete-series releases of "The Goldbergs" who precede Lucy and of the hilarious "Dobie Gillis." That early sitcom about an all-American teen boy launches the careers of Warren Beatty, Tuesday Weld, and Bob Denver. 

Kovacs is a true pioneer television pioneer, who can be considered an early version of a late-20th-century public-access star or an early-21st-century YouTube notable who achieves mainstream success. Shout! awesomely goes incredibly above-and-beyond to make rare material from every stage in the career of Kovacs available. 

As the back-cover of this nine-disc set states, "Centennial" gathers the previously released Shout! collections of Kovacs material. This synopsis describing this material as "groundbreaking, rule-breaking, surreal and charmingly silly comedy" hits the nail squarely on the head. 

The following YouTube video of a Shout! promo. for "Centennial" consists of hilarious clips that demonstrate the humor of Kovacs.

The incredible bonanza of year-end home-video releases is a primary culprit regarding only watching the "The Early Years" disc in "Centennial." The better news is that this leaves the remaining eight discs to savor on a later date.

The best news is that the wonderful bonus features on this disc including Carl Reiner posthumously inducting Kovacs into The Television Academy Hall of Fame provides a cheat-sheet in the form of a solid summary of the roughly 10-year career of a man who is truly is ahead of his time.  

The Reiner tribute notes that Kovacs begins his television career at NBC Philadelphia affiliate WPTZ. Learning that writing and appearing in several television programs each day requires a 15-hour daily schedule arguably makes Kovacs the hardest working man in show biz during that era. These programs include "It's Time for Ernie" and "Kovacs on the Corner."

One difference between this work of Kovacs and the mother of all '50s comedy "I Love Lucy" is that reel Kovacs enthusiastically has real-life spouse Edie Adams appear in the act. 

"Time" particularly highlights the way-out bizarre humor for which Kovacs is well known. A skit that an episode in "Centennial" includes has this man of numerous faces contort his features during a lesson on adjust the settings on a television. Another episode in either "Time" or a very similar program features Kovacs dragging a facsimile of a dead body down a city street.

"Corner" is more polished than "Time" and is of more a variety format that includes special musical guests. We also get everyday folks in what seems to be a regular segment. This consists of two persons exchanging junk with the hope that they end up ahead of the game. 

The included "Corner" episode perfectly illustrates this early-age of television for reasons that extend beyond the general format. We get an epic moment in which Kovacs perfectly ad libs when a piece of scenery collapses during his broadcast. 

The treats on the rest of the chronologically organized discs include an episode of the ready-for-prime-time "Kovacs on Music," episodes of his odd game-show "Take a Good Look," and five ABC specials. We further get the unaired pilot of the comedy-western "Medicine Man" in which Kovacs and Buster Keaton co-star.

As alluded to above, Kovacs is special because he is one of the first to take general humor and improv. to the next level. We arguably can thank him for folks such as Jonathan Winters and Winters devotee Robin Williams. Less thanks is due regarding the "Jackasses" who take advantage of the low-cost of public-access cable and later no-cost YouTube to inflict the same buffonery on their communities and the world that previously was limited to their buddies. 

All this boils down to "Centennial" allowing modern audiences to revel in the guy who was the first (and the best) regarding not being afraid to go there, 

Monday, January 21, 2019

'Elves' DVD: Holiday Horror Combines 'Child's Play,’ 'Truth or Dare,' 'The List of Adrian Messenger’, & 'Gilligan's Island'

Uncork'd Entertainment fully embraces the spirit of holiday horror with the recent DVD release of the (reviewed) "Krampus Origins" and "Elves, which is our topic du jour. Both films provide an incentive to qualify for the nice list of Santa, Stating that there is Hell to pay for placement on the naughty list is not an exaggeration. 

"Elves," which is a sequel to the Uncork'd 2017 film "The Elf," sets the tone early on with two young brothers who are snooping around in the period before Christmas leading to one boy finding one of the titular dolls. This leads to a "Hansel and Gretel" moment.

The film follows the horror tradition of quickly shifting the narrative to another setting and (presumably) years after the incidents in the cold open. A group of slackers/recent high-school graduates is gathered in an abandoned warehouse. This party starts to go out of bounds when one of the women gets her friends to play a game that involves the guilty among them putting their names on a naughty list and admitting their sins. 

The explained lore is that the actual event long ago and far away is that there are seven visitors to the hay-filled maternity ward where Jesus is born; the rest of the story is that each of these admirers brings a gift that represents one of the deadly sins. This is akin to the theory that each "stranded" castaway on Gilligan's Isle represents one of these vices. 

The awesome mix of humor and horror begins with an elf doll popping up in front of the first victim. A peer aptly comments that the requirement that the current occupant of the hot seat either commit the heinous act that Santa's little helper orders or die is akin to the film "Truth or Dare" that revolves around the policy that you do the dare or the dare does you. 

This woman faces the dilemma of either running down a pedestrian or ending her life before life provides her a chance to appear on "Jerry Springer." She soon learns the lesson of the CW drama series "Supernatural" that evil entities are dicks. 

This prompts the gang to act in a manner akin to the campaign in the classic murder-mystery film "The List of Adrian Messenger." That film revolves around a combined effort to capture a killer who is targeting the men on the titular inventory and to save the surviving members of that group from a fate equal to death. Once again, discovering that the big bad at the heart of this carnage does not play by the rules complicates matters. 

All of this culminates in  a North Pole standoff that does not succeed in stopping the madness.

The bonus features include two entertaining cast interviews complete with a magic show and references to the making of this one and "Elf."

The neo-modern Christmas story ending this time is that "Elves" is a movie by Millennials for Millennials and anyone else who enjoys his or her horror with a heavy dose of awesomely perverse dark humor.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

'OUT on Stage: The Series' Streaming: Showcase for Comics With Queer Senses of Humor

The gay-themed Dekkoo streaming service adding the 6-episode inaugural season of the stand-up program "OUT on Stage: The Series" on January 17, 2019 is VERY refreshing because it is seemingly is the only current forum for performers are not afraid to go there. The career-ending "objectionable" humor of many performers makes it refreshing to see these comics boldly go where many men now fear to tread. This site describes this as society going from fuck 'em if they can't take a joke to fucked if you tell 'em a joke. 

Host Zach Noe Towers is a queer as fuck funny man who clearly loves his job. An amusing aspect of his role is following the seemingly obligatory gesture in the gay world of greeting people with a hug. The sincerity of this ritual with each guest reflects both the regard of Towers for him and the quality of the humor from that person.

Towers supplements his hosting privilege with a good set in the second episode. He shows good instincts regarding not beating a funny bit about "do overs" to death. His time on stage also includes a hilarious "trans-ginger" joke. 

The diversity and the quality of "OUT" starts strong with with the first set in the first episode. Asian-Jewish man Jared Goldstein is a gay man's Julia Roberts (whose appeal still remains puzzling decades into her career) in that he is so adorable that he can get away with saying anything. Unlike Roberts, Goldstein is actually likable and cute. 

The delight of Goldstein begins with this man who clearly has Asian features sharing that he is Jewish; he goes on to mine wonderful humor from his diverse background to the extent of commenting that his father is a typical Jewish man by marrying an Asian woman.

An unexpected omission is Goldstein not making a Kevin Spacey joke when discussing being a child in an adult world while performing on Broadway at the age of 12. For the record, your not-so-humble reviewer has a long-term online friendship with Anthony Rapp and has high regard for him as a person and an actor. At the same time, one can imagine Spacey arguing in his upcoming trial for groping a bus boy on a Massachusetts island that he just wanted to see if that 18 year-old was THE man from Nantucket. 

Learning just now that that the Twitter handle of second performer Ranier Pollard is @RanierstheBest assuages any bad feelings about disliking his set. The question of whom does he have to fellate to get a spot may be literal in his case. 

Pollard comes out in a muscle shirt and makes an obvious "gun show" joke. He then flexes and kisses his biceps. Much (if not all) of his performance centers around white people being afraid of black people. This includes asserting to be notorious and then stating that he is partially joking. There is no memory of any gay-oriented humor. 

Good ole Southern boy Kyle Shire (who does not mention the Dykes of Hazard) is the first-episode clean-up act. His message that gay men come in all shapes and sizes arguably is the most positive message in the two watched episodes. 

Shire  also provides amusing commentary regarding straight people simply being labelled as such and gay people not having it that easy. The breeders in the audience get educated about the wide category of animals to which gay men are assigned. This takes thing well beyond the hankie in the back pocket system of the '70s.

The second episode of "OUT" ends with hard-to-pin down Brendan Scannell, who plays Heather Duke in the "Heathers" TV series. Even in this age of gender fluidity, this guy who has an overall twink appearance wears nail polish seems to directly straddle the fence. (Not that there is anything wrong with that.) He does a decent job, but Towers upstages him with a post-performance reference to a "pubes on the face" joke. A drum roll is apt in noting that Scannell should have seen that one coming (pun intended).

An entertaining bit from an unrecalled "OUT" comic about the limited fish in the gay dating sea and the clarity of that ocean perfectly describes the challenge of finding performers for "OUT." There is a limited population of gay comics. This is further narrowed by the folks who are willing to restrict their careers by being so out and proud.

​The numbers shrink further when limiting the pool to folks with an amusing way of sharing an interesting perspective. The program does a good job separating this wheat from the chaff. 

As mentioned above, "OUT" provides a good chance to watch edgy but inoffensive humor from the comfort of your own home. Friends of Dorothy will relate to most of the performances; folks who pride themselves on not being narrow both will have cause to feel good about themselves and enjoy enlightenment. 

Thursday, January 17, 2019

'Last Action Hero' Blu-ray: Schwarzenegger 'Purple Rose of Cairo'

Mill Creek Entertainment once again does the '90s proud regarding the January 15, 2019 Blu-ray release of "Last Action Hero" (1993) in retro VHS packaging. This release, which coincides with a MCE retro BD release of the John Candy comedy "Who's Harry Crumb," is among many examples of MCE facilitating a very worthwhile additional bite of the apple regarding these films. This is especially true as to the recent release of the (reviewed) 1998 teencom "Can't Hardly Wait."

The largest context for "Hero" is that it is from the waning days of the Silver Age of Hollywood in which art still (barely) often wins out over commerce. It also falls within the period between 1985 -95 in which proverbially emerging computer technology allows filmmaking to be especially cool.

One example of Hollywood embracing new tech. is "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," which takes blending live-action and animation beyond Disney fare, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet," and other productions that have live actors interact with 'toons. A related innovation is the expert merging of black-and-white and color in the Tobey Maguire comedy "Pleasantville." 

A more widespread example of this is morphing, which allows having a character radically change his or her appearance in front of the audience. This is heavily used in "Terminator 2," which is a showcase for "Hero" star/former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Another innovation is even more relevant to "Hero." This relates to computers allowing characters in programs and films within the movie to enter each of those realities. The 1985 Woody Allen comedy "The Purple Rose of Cairo" arguably is the best-known example.

"Hero" plays homage to "Rose" by having tween fanboy Danny Madigan (Austin O'Brien) enter the world of titular Dirty Harry style rogue cop Jack Slater (Schwarzenegger). This adventure is courtesy of magic that a film projectionist/grandfather figure provides in a nod to Willy Wonka.

"Hero" additionally is from an era in which Schwarzenegger begins including more humor in his action-adventure films and does flat-out comedy. Comparing "True Lies" with "Kindergarten Cop" and "Jingle ALlthe Way" demonstrates which development is more successful. 

Part of the perspective related to watching "Hero" 25 years after its theatrical release is the relatability of Danny watching the Slater films in a once-grand movie palace that is now a run-down dump that is slated (no pun intended) to be converted into a multiplex. We also get a scene in which Schwarzenegger plays himself giving a red-carpet interview while future ex-wife Maria Shriver (a.k.a. Melania) stands in the background rolling her eyes. 

The final general note before discussing the merits of "Hero" itself is that the film looks great in Blu-ray. This extends beyond the scenes in sunny southern California looking bright and beautiful; this enhanced format highlights the differences between the grainy and often rainy scenes and/or darkness in the real world of New York and the aforementioned beauty of the reel world Los Angeles in the film.

The action aptly starts right away ala a "Simpsons" episode that begins with Bart watching a "McBain" movie. The first images are from "Jack Slater 3" and revolve around Schwarzenegger arriving on the scene in character to deal with a maniac holding elementary school children hostages as part of a grudge against Slater. This provides additional context from a 2018 perspective. The epidemic of 21st-century school shootings likely would preclude such a scene in a modern film. 

We then see Danny emerge from the theater into his hard-knock life in which he and his single mom Irene (Mercedes Ruehl) live in a slum; Dad is nowhere in the picture, and Irene must work hard at her menial dead-end job just to provide her and Danny minimal comforts. All of this establishes why Danny so highly values escaping into the world of Slater. 

The action fully gets underway when especially unnerving trauma and drama compel Danny to attend a verboten screening of "Jack Slater IV." It is all fun and games until the aforementioned magic drops Danny into the backseat of the vintage convertible of Slater during a chase scene. 

The real hilarity ensures after the chase concludes and Danny frantically tries to get Slater to believe him that they are inside a movie and that Slater is a Schwarzenegger character. This leads to great multiverse humor that includes satirizing buddy-cop films and includes alternative casting of a classic film role.

The aforementioned buddy-cop element leads to the stereotypical short-tempered police lieutenant (Frank McRae) assigning Slater to partner with Danny to investigate the drug kingpin (Anthony Quinn) who is making things personal for Slater. 

Things largely proceed as normal after that; our team closing in on their prey provides Schwarzenegger plenty of opportunity to deliver "knife to meet you" style puns as he battles bad guys.

Things soon turn very real when the action moves to the real world of "Hero." Slater learns about what it means to be human, and Danny is taught is even more tough truths about celluloid heroes. A bizarre Death (Ian McKellan) takes a holiday aspect of this likely is a reason for the unduly harsh panning of "Hero." Folks who still scoff should put this film in the context of recent ones such as "Tag," "Sausage Party," and even the big-budget train wreck "Batman v. Superman."

Another nice thing about "Hero" is that it largely puts right what once went wrong but is not unduly absurd regarding it. Slater does not have any life-altering experience beyond his relatively literal reality check, and Danny does not inherit the chocolate factory.​