Film Review: Fletch Lives (1989)

Also known as: Fletch Saved (working title)
Release Date: March 17th, 1989
Directed by: Michael Ritchie
Written by: Leon Capetanos
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Chevy Chase, Hal Holbrook, Julianne Phillips, R. Lee Ermey, Richard Libertini, Cleavon Little, Randall “Tex” Cobb, George Wyner, Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Belzer, Phil Hartman

Cornelius Productions, Vincent Pictures, Universal Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. I am not a big man.” – Fletch

I was surprised that I liked this film as much as I did.

The reason being, I remember people trashing it pretty heavily when it came out. While I used to see pieces of it on television over the years, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in its entirety in one viewing. But people did always say that this was a pretty shitty sequel and not on the level of the original.

Well, it’s not as good as Fletch but Fletch Lives is still a pretty funny movie that’s tailormade for Chevy Chase’s strengths. So while I have a much higher opinion of this movie than the majority, I feel like maybe I should defend it, as I feel like it probably deserves that.

I think that the new setting of the film actually helps it and makes it fresh. I liked seeing Fletch go to the bayou to expose some seedy shit. I also liked how they used it to emphasize the cultural clash between an L.A. investigative reporter and the Cajun folk, ranging from the good Southerners to the outright racist pieces of shit. I also loved the televangelical angle and R. Lee Ermey’s role as the megachurch pastor.

Beyond Ermey, I also enjoyed the great Hal Holbrook playing a crooked Cajun millionaire.

Additionally, I liked the chemistry between Chase and the film’s leading lady, Julianne Phillips.

Chase also had solid camaraderie with Cleavon Little. Seeing those two comedic icons come together is a real treat regardless of the perceived quality of the film.

This installment of the series relies more on Chase wearing funny costumes while “undercover”. I really like these sequences, though, and I like seeing Chase play odd characters.

Overall, Fletch Lives is pretty solid and I say that as a guy who was never a big Chase fan. However, I do really enjoy him as this character and I honestly think it’s his best.

Sadly, we never did get that third Fletch picture and I’m pretty sure the ship has sailed on that.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Blazing Saddles (1974)

Also known as: Black Bart (working title)
Release Date: February 7th, 1974
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, Al Uger
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens, Alex Karras, Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Madeline Kahn, David Huddleston, Dom DeLuise, Count Basie

Crossbow Productions, Warner Bros., 93 Minutes

Review:

“My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.” – Hedley Lamarr, “God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.” – Taggart

I’m a fan of Mel Brooks’ work but not as much as the hardcore fans out there. Most of the ones I’ve talked to over the years seem to like this film the best out of Brooks’ oeuvre. Young Frankenstein is my personal favorite but I’ve also got a deep affinity for the Universal Monsters, which it paradoies.

I also really love westerns too, though. So, naturally, I like this picture quite a bit too. However, I don’t hold it in the same esteem as others.

Everyone in this is pretty damn great, however. Cleavon Little stands out the most, as the actual star of the picture and because he’s just so damn charismatic and likeable. Additionally, his camaraderie and comedic timing with Gene Wilder is incredibly good.

Beyond the two leads, everyone else in the picture is well cast and this is written in a way that allows them all to play to their strengths while also maximizing their value to this large tapestry of talent.

I guess it probably goes without saying but this is a film that you couldn’t make today. It features so much language that would overwhelm the easily offended, which seems to be everyone these days. Modern filmgoers would be so fixated on the language that they’d miss the point of it all.

This was a film that came out in the ’70s and American entertainment was greatly effected by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial tensions the United States had to work through. This movie reflects that, as did most comedy of the time, and it features a lot of racially charged language and situations. But it’s how it handles all of that and presents it that is important. Nowadays, nuance and context are completely lost because fingerblasting your own pearls while on public display is the only way these kids know how to communicate, anymore.

Blazing Saddles is a film that doesn’t give a fuck about anyone’s feelings. It cannonballs into the deep end of the pool, splashing everyone and everything, and it just puts it all out there, letting people express their points and their social grievances through comedy. And this is why comedy was great. It could challenge us, turn the world on its head and directly engage with tough topics and things that many would otherwise try to ignore or suppress.

In reality, comedy brought people together and it built bridges between cultures and different points-of-view born from very different experiences. Also, it didn’t allow everyone to have such thin skins. It forced most people to toughen up and deal with shit, so we could all move forward.

And while I didn’t want a movie review to devolve into a political or social discussion, I know that it’s only a matter of time before the censors retroactively try to cancel this picture.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other Mel Brooks parody films.

Film Review: Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970)

Release Date: May 26th, 1970
Directed by: Ossie Davis
Written by: Ossie Davis, Arnold Perl
Based on: Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes
Music by: Galt MacDermot
Cast: Godfrey Cambridge, Raymond St. Jacques, Calvin Lockhart, Judy Pace, Redd Foxx, Cleavon Little, Leonardo Cimino

United Artists, 97 Minutes

Review:

“One more word, soul brother. You had it made. Black folks would have followed you anywhere. You could’ve been another Marcus Garvey or even another Malcolm X. But instead you ain’t nothin’ but a pimp with a chicken-shit backbone.” – Gravedigger Jones

Having grown up seeing and appreciating Ossie Smith as an actor, it’s cool going back and seeing his directorial work in the ’70s, which was just before my time.

Cotton Comes to Harlem is a pretty funny picture but it is also packed with gritty action and cool, badass characters, especially the two detectives that drive the film: Gravedigger Jones (Cambridge) and Coffin Ed Johnson (St. Jacques).

The story follows the two cops, as they try to expose a crooked reverend as a fraud. The reverend is taking money from his congregation with the promise that they are buying their way back to Africa. The truth is, the reverend sets forth a scheme to make sure that he gets the money, free and clear. He orchestrates a robbery and then has the money hidden in a large bale of cotton, hence the title of the film. The title is also probably a metaphor to the fact that many black slaves picked cotton and that by “cotton coming to Harlem” they are once again enslaved, this time by the promises of the crooked reverend, as well as a system and society that continues to fail them.

The movie is really carried by Cambridge and St. Jacques but Calvin Lockhart had a good bit of charisma too. Redd Foxx stole every scene that he was in, especially that great moment at the very end. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters of Gravedigger and Coffin and they were the most interesting and fun part in the movie. It would have been cool to see them spin this off into a buddy cop film series with these two but that never happened.

Cotton Comes to Harlem was an entertaining ride and compared to most of the films in the blaxploitation genre, it was pretty tame. It still isn’t a film fit for kids, by any means, but it puts the comedy out in front and tones back on the overall action and violence.

Rating: 7.5/10