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Monthly Archives: June 2013

A show from overseas that satirized recreational drug and alcohol use, then gathered a cult following here in America you say? Yes I do: “Absolutely Fabulous” a/k/a AbFab.

In this satirical British sitcom, which eventually became a cult hit on American cable, concerns two vulgar self-centered fashion victims chain-smoking, champagne swilling, drugs abusing, caviar munching, terrorize their daughter, and tried in vain to mingle with the beautiful people—Edina Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders creator and writer of the show) and her sleek, slutty, boozed-up best friend Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) (aka Pats and Eddy) are ’60s survivors and fashion-world wannabes; Pats works for magazines, while Eddy owns a PR firm which you will see in the clip is sarcastically described by her accountant as a “business” that never really seems to have any clients.

These women of means live a hard life of drinking, drugs and other hangovers from the 1960’s party years of London.  They tie their identities to the self-delusion of a glamorous London lifestyle, while trying to make back on to the “A” lists at parties.

Pats inhabits the attic of a liquor-store franchise, while Eddy lives in a well-to-do flat thanks to the double alimony from her two ex-husbands, a gay antiques dealer and a recovering alcoholic. When she’s not fighting with her responsible teenaged daughter, Saffron “Saffy” Monsoon (Julia Sawalha), and her oblivious, tongue-in-cheek mother (June Whitfield), Eddy stages fashion shows, jets off to photo shoots, pays charlatans to put her in touch with her inner child, and tries every weight-loss cure known to man — except curbing her debauched lifestyle.

The open and accepted use of recreational drugs and booze by Pats and Eddy (unheard of in U.S. TV, only adds to the humor.  It is not very often you find yourself laughing when two middle-aged women are doing blow, booze and cigarettes to get through the day.

“AbFab,” as it’s known, began its life as a sketch called “Modern Mother and Daughter” on the BBC comedy show French & Saunders. Although frequent Saunders collaborator Dawn French played the daughter part in the original sketch, she bowed out in favor of half-Jordanian, half-British actress Sawalha, a Press Gang vet who was closer to the character’s age.  Patsy — played like a coked-up Dynasty caricature by former Bond girl and New Avengers star Lumley — wasn’t a part of the original sketch but quickly became a favorite of drag queens everywhere.  In addition to cameos from celebrities such as Helena Bonham Carter and Naomi Campbell, AbFab included frequent appearances by Little Voice star Jane Horrocks (as Eddy’s airhead assistant, Bubble) and Nil by Mouth star Kathy Burke (as straight-talking magazine editor Magda).  Although one BBC development executive’s reaction to the pilot was, “I don’t think women being drunk is funny,” a secretary handed out tapes in secret to her friends, and soon the buzz about the show became deafening.  The first series premiered on BBC 1 on November 12, 1992, but didn’t make its American until July 1994, when Comedy Central began airing perpetual reruns of the show.

Three six-episode series were broadcast in the U.K. in 1992, 1994, and 1995, followed by a two-part TV movie, Absolutely Fabulous: The Last Shout, in November 1996. In 2000, as Saunders was working on a new program called Mirrorball that reunited much of the AbFab cast, she decided to switch gears and revisit her best-known characters in a fourth AbFab series, which began airing on August 31, 2001. Co-funded by Comedy Central, the new series began its U.S. run a few months later, on November 12, 2001.  Although Roseanne purchased the rights to develop an American version of the show in 1994, the first international adaptation of the program to see the light of day was the 2001 French film Absolument Fabuleux.

I am not going to sit here and tell you that this is the funniest TV sitcom ever made.—however I would call it a tier one program.  The blatant change of a show openly using recreational drugs (at the time) was revolutionary and makes for some extremely funny situations particularly when Saffron a/k/a Saffy tries to get involved to curb this reckless behavior.  I must confess that if I had a daughter, I would have named her Saffron and called her Saffy for short because of the show.  I have included my favorite episode in full because it truly embodies the shows unique perspective and sense of humor.

Based on my experience, AB Fab is a love it or not like it (versus hate) kind of a show.  I enjoy it and if you the like the episode provided here then watch some more otherwise abandon ship.  The episode is from Season 2 No. 11 entitled “Poor.”

 

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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What do Spike Lee’s remake of the 2003 South Korean film Old Boy and Dr. H have in common? Recognition that American films are in as deep a recession as the economy and Dr. H acknowledging that Asian movies have better scripts, stories and endings.

Anyone who has looked at JPFmovies knows that we review a lot of Asian films.  As I have said before, Hollywood, in my opinion, has not done anything fresh or original in years.  It seems that the studios come up with some action scenes and then fill the time between explosions with simple stories and bad dialogue.  So, disillusioned with American cinema, I’ve had to turn elsewhere—mainly to Asia.

Since the turn of the century Asian films have come a long way.  In the 1980s and throughout most of the 1990s Asia was copying Hollywood almost without shame.  Now the reverse is true.  Spike Lee’s recent announcement that he is going to remake the South Korean film Old Boy (2003) seems to embody this sad trend.  We here at JPFmovies loved Old Boy and I will be very interested to see how well Lee’s film stacks up against the original.  Even the remakes that Asian cinema produces, i.e. Hari Kari Death of a Samurai and 13 Assassins, are standout films in their own right.  The remakes here in America stink on ice.  Films like Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, “Planet of the Apes” (even though the 1968 Charlton Heston starrer doesn’t stand next to “Grand Illusion” or “Citizen Kane” in the cinematic pantheon).  But it worked beautifully as a campy thriller, it spawned four successful sequels in the ’70s, and it has gone on to become a cultural icon with a large landmark cult following.  The Tim Burton-directed remake in 2001 suffered from a wooden performance by Mark Wahlberg in the lead, an overemphasis on special effects and action, and a painfully formulaic script.  Another disgrace to the original films is the Harrison Ford & Greg Kinnear movie Sabrina where the film’s story is about as predictable as an X-rated movie script.  These only name a few.  And I will not bore you with a litany of similar foul-smelling remakes made in order to avoid having to create fresh ideas.

How, might you ask, does this relate to Dr. H?  While we rarely air our dirty laundry here at JPFMovies, long-time contributor Dr. H was almost universally opposed to foreign movies.  This recently changed after he attended an international medical convention full other physicians and moviegoers who informed Dr. H that if you want a real script with thriller and intelligent endings, South Korea, Japan and China are now at the forefront of the film industry.  Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to get him to acknowledge this for at least two years.  Until now, he’s fought me consistently on watching Asian movies containing subtitles.  Several days ago, after returning from the conference he actually requested that we watch Old Boy without any prodding from me.  This means that he took the word of his colleagues over the experts here at JPFmovies.  While disappointing on its face, at least we have someone who has taken the Matrix’s proverbial red pill, opening his eyes to the truth instead of blissful ignorance.

While it seems like my mantra has been falling on deaf ears for some time now.  I am feeling at least a little bit vindicated for my position on the current state of cinema today.  Naturally, I invite your comments, questions or concerns regarding this post and hope to hear from you soon.

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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Yes Mr. Mamet we know you are clever. “The Spanish Prisoner” (1997). Our third look at actor Steve Martin in our tribute to him.

You all know my opinion on movies by now; that is, can there be such a thing as a movie which is too intelligent?  Nope.  But it can try way too hard to seem intelligent.  That’s the case with The Spanish Prisoner.  Written and directed by David Mamet, The Spanish Prisoner has many of the hallmarks of great films: intelligent plot, fascinating twists and turns, smart dialog, and an interesting atmosphere or mood.  I like this film a lot, but I can’t call it a great film because Mamet tries too hard to prove he’s clever—which we already knew.

Mamet is probably one of the most prolific and famed playwrights of our time.  However, I recently read in the Guardian that Mamet’s last 6 plays have been serious box office flops—one was even announced closed after the first day it opened having only 17 professional performances.  Read the article here http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2013/jun/12/david-mamet-lost-the-plot.  I think the problem is, and I’ve said this before in our review of Gengarry Glenross, that Mamet has one underlying theme and most of his work is a variation on that theme.  Simply put, that people are selfish jerks and would step over their own mother for a dollar.  The Spanish Prisoner is no exception only it is much more complicated and elaborate than his big three “Oleanna” “American Buffalo” and of course “Glengarry Glenross.”

Campbell Scott (son of George C. Scott) and also a graduate of my alma-mater (where he was a visiting professor when I attended university) is the victim of a truly intricate con known as the Spanish Prisoner.  “The Spanish Prisoner” is a con game that dates back to the 19th century. Typically, the con man informs a victim of a wealthy man held prisoner in Spain. The con man then convinces the victim to put up funds to rescue the wealthy man in exchange for a larger sum of money once the prisoner is released, as well as obtaining the hand of a young, beautiful woman, typically the wealthy man’s daughter. The con game ends once the victim has been cleaned or realizes that he has been duped from the beginning.

 

Steve Martin plays Jimmy Dell. Now, in truth, Martin is brilliant. Prior to this film, I viewed him as a an actor who could only play the “put-upon guy.” Yet here he plays a suave and brilliant businessman, and he does it incredibly well.  In The Spanish Prisoner, Martin takes over the screen with his performance.

 

The title is a direct reference to the specific con game, an updated version of which Joseph A. ‘Joe’ Ross (Campbell Scott) suddenly finds himself caught in.  A small clog in the machinery of a large firm, he invents an unnamed and un-shown “Process” which is guaranteed to make untold masses of money for the company he works for.  On a business trip to the Caribbean, he meets millionaire Julian ‘Jimmy’ Dell (Steve Martin) and is befriended by an even lowlier coworker, the secretary Susan Ricci (Rebecca Pidgeon), who obviously has a thing for him.  Back home, he slowly begins to feel that his boss Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara) is out to screw him, but before he can protect his interests, he not only finds out that it is actually Jimmy who is out to screw him but actually gets the screw job.  A twist and a turn and a twist and a turn and a double and triple twist and turn later, Ross is not only bereft of The Process but is also seemingly framed for the murder of his buddy George Lang (Ricky Jay).  Everything everywhere points to Ross, while Jimmy is nowhere to be found. With the help of Susan, he sets out to prove his innocence, but the film still has a good dozen twists to go before the last line of smart dialogue is crisply delivered.  In the end it turns out not only was it his employer who was behind the scheme but that the U.S. Marshalls (disguised as Japanese tourists) were watching the whole time thereby wrapping up this incredibly complex artifice in a few minutes.

The truly horrible thing about this film is Mamet’s wife, Rebecca Pigeon, who plays a mere secretary at Joe’s firm.  Apparently she has had a role in every one of Mamet’s plays since their marriage in 1991.  That is not a good thing.  Listening to her in this film is like nails scratching on a chalkboard.  She tries to come off as the quirky cute temptress but instead bogs down the film with her annoying dialog, speech patterns and voice inflections.  I mean it is hard to put up with.  Putting that to one side,  it’s a tricky plot, and Mamet never lets his audience forget just how tricky it is, just as he never lets anyone forget that he’s a writer, or maybe preferably a Writer. And boy can he write.  One gets the sense, listening to his dialogue, which he just loves to write, that he loves the sound of his own words that he loves the wordplay and clever twisting of familiar quotes and clichés to new purposes.  One does not get the sense that he has ever actually heard the way real people talk, or that he has any feel for (or interest in) writing in such a way that actors can actually deliver his lines without coming across as stilted and inhuman.  Maybe he doesn’t care, maybe he’s quite content creating this stylized Mamet world where these humanoid figures sort of look and sometimes act like people, but speak as though they learned about human interactions by studying high school productions of Shakespeare.  There’s stylized dialogue that works (His Girl Friday, still the model for artificial but infectious patter), and then there’s stylized dialogue that merely calls attention to its own stylization without compensating for it by being, you know, clever or fun or intelligent. Maybe you can guess which category this falls into: “Money, it depresses everyone but what did it ever do for one?”

Let me stress that you should not read this review as a condemnation. I like this film and I recommend it.  But I feel the film artificially limits my ability to love it because of these entirely avoidable flaws.  Had Mamet stopped telling me how intelligent he is (which we already knew), then this could have been a great movie.  As it is, it’s a good movie which wasted its potential to become a great movie.

 

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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The second movie in our tribute to Steve Martin: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982).

As you know, we here at JPFmovies are in the midst of tribute to the legendary comic Steve Martin.  Our first review was The Man With Two Brains (1983).  The year before The Man With Two Brains was released Carl Reiner and Steve Martin were teamed up again in the second of four films the two would collaborate on.  The film uses a very interesting technique of inter-splicing of scenes from eighteen classic detective/film noir thrillers into the narrative.  The story is a Bogart-Sam Spade type of private detective, played by Martin, trying to solve the case of his beautiful client while falling in love with her.  Sound familiar?  Something like the Maltese Falcon?  Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid both pays tribute and satirizes the film noir genre.  According to my research, Reiner and Martin assembled group known for their technical expertise; in fact, many of them had worked on the original films featured in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid.  Luckily they were still alive. 

Apparently Edith Head (to date she is the most honored woman and costume designer in Academy Award history) was the costume designer for six of the eighteen films featured within the picture: Notorious (1946) and Sorry, Wrong Number (1948).  She outfitted Martin with twenty suits during production, each created to integrate seamlessly into the original classic action.  She died and 1981 and Dead Men was her last film was dedicated to her. 

The Film’s musical director had to ensure that the audience could not tell the difference between the old and the new music.  The man in charge of production had the really tough job because of the high number of different scenes from all the clips; eighty-five separate sets were created.  The production manager found the actual train compartment used in Suspicion (1941) with Cary Grant – this set piece would be used in the scenes featuring Martin interacting with Grant that only helped to increase the realism of the action.

Without the resources such as blue screen technology and computer animation that are available today, Dead Men had to rely on precise perspective filming.  Many of the films of the forties and fifties used camera views that shot over the shoulder of the characters allowing the makers to replicate the set-up of the shot, with a stand-in posing as the shoulder with Martin in full view. Another technique used was filming Martin in front of a screen on which the classic film was projected; with the proper perspective and angles in place, the two films effectively merged for the viewer.

Among the actors who appear from classic films are Edward Arnold, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Wally Brown, James Cagney, William Conrad, Jeff Corey, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Brian Donlevy, Kirk Douglas, Ava Gardner, Cary Grant, Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, Burt Lancaster, Charles Laughton, Charles McGraw, Fred MacMurray, John Miljan, Ray Milland, Edmund O’Brien, Vincent Price, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner and Norma Varden.  If that is not an all-star cast you tell me what is.

In the opening scene, John Hay Forrest (George Gaynes), noted scientist and cheese maker, dies in a single-vehicle car accident (represented by the car wreck scene from Keeper of the Flame). In the next scene, private investigator Rigby Reardon (Steve Martin) is reading a newspaper when Forrest’s daughter, Juliet (Rachel Ward), enters his office and faints when the paper’s headline reminds her of her father’s death.  Upon coming to, she hires Rigby to investigate the death, which she thinks was murder. In Dr. Forrest’s lab, Rigby finds two lists, one titled “Friends of Carlotta” and the other “Enemies of Carlotta”, as well as an affectionately autographed photo of singer Kitty Collins, whose name appears on one of the lists.  His search is interrupted by a man posing as an exterminator (Alan Ladd, in This Gun for Hire), who shoots Rigby in the arm and frisks the lists from the seemingly dead investigator. 

Rigby manages to find his way to Juliet’s house, where she sucks out the bullet, snakebite-style, and points Rigby to the club at which Kitty sings. Juliet also reveals a note to her father from her alcoholic brother-in-law, Sam Hastings, which in turn reveals that Dr. Forrest gave him a dollar bill “for safekeeping”. Despite warnings that the mentally disturbed Leona will not be of much use, Rigby calls Leona, who after a rambling discussion, hangs up (Barbara Stanwyck, in Sorry, Wrong Number). On the way out, Juliet asks Rigby to leave further news with her butler or cleaning woman. Mention of the latter causes Rigby to go berserk due to his own father running off with the cleaning woman and his mother dying of a broken heart.

Rigby tracks down alcoholic Sam (Ray Milland, from Lost Weekend) and gets Dr. Forrest’s dollar, which has “FOC” (Friends of Carlotta) names scrawled on it — including Kitty Collins and Swede Anderson (Kitty’s boyfriend). Rigby tracks down Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner, from The Killers) at the Brentwood Room. He asks if she’s one of Carlotta’s friends, which causes her to leave abruptly. He trails her to a restaurant, where she ditches her brooch into her soup. Rigby subsequently retrieves the brooch, which contains an “EOC” list, on which all names are crossed out, except Swede Anderson’s. Rigby visits Swede (Burt Lancaster, from The Killers) but while Rigby prepares a “java”, Swede is killed. 

Rigby goes to the train station to collect the contents of locker 1936, which contains more lists. A “handsome” guy (Cary Grant, from Suspicion) follows him onto a train but, Rigby puts him to sleep with the help of his harmonica. Rigby finds F.X. Huberman, whose name he found on one of the lists and who turns out to be a “classy dame,” throwing a party (Ingrid Bergman, from Notorious). She flirts with Rigby (represented by Cary Grant’s silhouette), then drugs his drink and steals the locker key.

Rigby wakes up back at his office, where Juliet informs him that Sam Hastings fell out of a window to his death. She also has a New York Times reference for him from her father’s office. The reference is to an article about a South American cruise ship called Immer Essen (German for always eating) on whose last voyage Sam Hastings was a passenger. When Marlowe (Bogart, from The Big Sleep) calls, Rigby questions him about Walter Neff, the ship’s owner, and learns that Neff cruises supermarkets looking for blondes.

Rigby goes into drag by disguises himself as a blonde and meets Neff (Fred MacMurray from Double Indemnity).  Rigby drugs him and finds documents about the Immer Essen, including a passenger list identical to an EOC list, and articles about the ship’s imprisoned captain, Cody Jarrett, who refuses to talk to anyone about it but his mother.  Rigby then dresses up in drag again as Jarrett’s mother to visit Jarrett in prison without arousing the prison guards’ suspicion (James Cagney from White Heat).  He tries to win Jarrett’s confidence by explaining the Friends of Carlotta are after him. Rigby doesn’t learn anything from Jarrett though, so he cashes in a favor with the warden to act as a prisoner for a few days.  Jarrett turns out to be a Friend of Carlotta after all, kidnaps Rigby on a jail break, and shoots him while he’s still in the trunk of the getaway car.

After sucking out a third bullet, Juliet leaves for the drugstore for medicine. On her way out, a call comes in from an old flame (Joan Crawford, in Humoresque). Juliet overhears parts of it, takes it to be a double dating by Rigby and closes the case. While Rigby is drinking, thinking himself betrayed by Juliet, Marlowe calls and tips Rigby off that Carlotta is an island off Peru. There Rigby tracks down the hideout where he finds Juliet, her father (actually still alive), and her butler, who introduces himself as Field Marshal Wilfried von Kluck (Carl Reiner).

Rigby and the Field Marshal compete about the right to explain what happened. It turns out that Dr. Forrest had been tricked into divulging a secret cheese mold by Nazis posing as a humanitarian organization.  Once he discovered their true intent, to use the mold’s corrosive properties to destroy America and make a comeback, he assembled a list of Nazi agents, the “Friends of Carlotta.” Before he could divulge the names to the FBI, he was abducted and his death faked to prevent a police investigation.  The Immer Essen, a cruise ship passing by, witnessed the corrosive effects of the mold tests, making all passengers “Enemies of Carlotta” and targets for murder. Rigby is captured but Juliet gets the Field Marshal to say “cleaning woman,” causing Rigby to go berserk, break his chains and overpower the Nazis.  While Juliet gets Rodriguez, the Field Marshal manages to pull one of the switches, destroying Terre Haute, Indiana, before being shot dead by Rigby who remakes that they just got a new public library.

Here is a list of the films used in Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid:

This Gun for Hire (1942)

The Glass Key (1942)

Double Indemnity (1944)

The Lost Weekend (1945)

The Killers (1946)

Deception (1946)

Humoresque (1946)

The Big Sleep (1946)

Dark Passage (1947)

White Heat (1949)

Johnny Eager (1941)

Keeper of the Flame (1942)

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

The Bribe (1949)

Suspicion (1941)

Notorious (1946)

I Walk Alone (1947)

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

In a Lonely Place (1950)

The film grossed about 4 million in its first weekend and has grossed to date about 18 million.  All in all a very interesting film and get an A for creativity since I have not seen a film try what Dead Men accomplished intermingling the old and the new of film history.  The cheese mold think is a little corny but watching it is like watching the “best of” of some great old film noir movies.  Go ahead and watch it it is even safe viewing for the whole family.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Movie Reviews

 

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