Film Review: The Peanut Vendor (1933)

Release Date: April 28th, 1933
Directed by: Dave Fleischer
Music by: various, Armida
Cast: Armida

Fleischer Studios, 2 Minutes

Review:

Experimental films from early film history are always interesting to watch, at least for me.

The Peanut Vendor is a two minute animation test, mixed and synced up to music.

I think that its synced pretty well for the time and the animation of the monkey man’s lips are done rather well.

The monkey peanut vendor sings and dances to a song about peanuts. The movement is good but the character is fairly creepy, as he has really long arms and a detachable tail that he uses to dry his butt like a bathroom towel.

I was lured into checking this out due to seeing GIFs of it in various places recently. Without context, those GIFs are the things of nightmares. Hell, with context, it’s still creepy.

However, it’s intended to be a strange but lighthearted number and I think it succeeds at that.

Granted, even in 1933, I bet there were some people that ended up getting terrifying Slenderman dreams and maybe this is where that iconic boogeyman came from.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other experimental short films of the era and earlier.

Film Review: Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

Also known as: Phantom, Phantom of the Fillmore (working titles)
Release Date: November 1st, 1974
Directed by: Brian De Palma
Written by: Brian De Palma
Music by: Paul Williams
Cast: Paul Williams, William Finley, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Rod Sterling (voice, uncredited)

Harbor Productions, 20th Century Fox, 91 Minutes

Review:

“[to Beef] Never sing my music again. Not here, not anywhere. Do you understand? Never again. My music is for Phoenix. Only she can sing it. Anyone else who tries, dies!” – The Phantom

This film often gets lumped together in conversations with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The films came out around the same time, share a lot of similarities and have both developed cult followings. However, this film is far superior and I find it strange that it’s cult following is nowhere near as massive as Rocky Horror‘s.

I think this film has the edge in that it was written and directed by Brian De Palma, who was one of the top up and coming directors of the time. He was at a creative high and even though this film merges a lot of genres and is overly surreal and very absurdist, it’s kind of a masterpiece in that all the parts fit together and there has never been anything like this since. Well, at least nothing like this that was anywhere near as good as this.

Additionally, I’ve gone on record multiple times about my general dislike of musicals. Well, De Palma made a musical with this film and it is one of my absolute favorite films of the 1970s. In fact, I dig the hell out of the music in this picture and it all works in a way that makes sense. And I guess it’s not a musical with a traditional musical structure but it is chock full of tunes that progress the story without unnaturally pulling you out of it for the sake of wedging in another musical number.

The film stars actual rock star Paul Williams in what is my favorite role he’s ever had, playing Swan, a demonic record producer.

But the film is really carried by De Palma favorite, William Finley. It’s Finley’s over the top and batshit crazy performance that takes this film to heights it would not have reached without him in the title role as the Phantom. Finley is always great but this truly is his magnum opus, as he gives great range, exudes his passion for this role proudly with every frame and commits to the bit full throttle.

As good as both Williams and Finley are though, the film is also bolstered by the talent of Gerrit Graham. He’s had a lot of great roles within the horror genre but this is Graham at his best, as well. He plays a rock star simply named Beef. His onstage performance is incredible, his comedic timing is superb and he is a big, sweet cherry on top of this already perfect sundae.

And then there’s Jessica Harper. She’s most famous for being the lead in the original Suspiria from 1977 and even has a small role in the 2018 remake. She plays the apple of the Phantom’s eye and she’s terrific. Her performances are also solid and she has a lot more spunk in this film than what fans of Suspiria might expect. It’s really cool seeing her play a role that’s a departure from the one she’s most known for.

Phantom of the Paradise also boasts some incredible visuals. The film feels like a true rock opera of the highest caliber and even if this was made on what I guess was a modest budget, De Palma takes advantage of his surroundings, his sets and the talent he had working on this picture.

The cinematography is damn good and it is greatly impacted by the lighting, as well as the camera movement and shot framing of De Palma. It’s not just the colorful characters on the screen and the stupendous tunes that give this film all of its energy. A lot of it comes from the camerawork and the attention to detail within every single frame of this picture.

I can accept the fact that most people probably won’t view this movie the same way that I do and that’s fine. But from where I sit, it’s a damn fine motion picture that is incredibly unique and a pillar of imagination and creativity.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: I guess The Rocky Horror Picture Show is the closest film to this but it pales in comparison.

Film Review: Captain EO (1986)

Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew

Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO

Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.

It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.

However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.

The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.

Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.

Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.

Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.

The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.

Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.

Film Review: Kazaam (1996)

Release Date: July 17th, 1996
Directed by: Paul Michael Glaser
Written by: Christian Ford, Roger Soffer, Paul Michael Glaser
Music by: Christopher Tyng
Cast: Shaquille O’Neal, Francis Capra, Ally Walker, James Acheson, Da Brat (cameo)

Touchstone Pictures, Interscope Communications, PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, Buena Vista Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“He’s A Rappin’ Genie With An Attitude… And He’s Ready For Slam-Dunk Fun!” – marketing tagline

I’ve never seen this until now. And I can’t believe I’m saying this but it isn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s f’n terrible but it’s not 2.9 on IMDb terrible. More like a solid 4.

Anyway, the story is bad, the special effects are really bad and the acting may be even worse. But this is a film that has some charm to it.

At this point in his career, Shaq couldn’t act himself out of a wet paper bag and he’s not much better over twenty years later but man, he needed some acting coaches before jumping into this weird movie.

He was still really likable in this, however, but rapping half of his lines was probably unnecessary. Then again, this came out at the same time he was a few albums deep into his short rap career. I just felt like this movie and his rap albums were the result of people not being able to tell him “no” when he wanted to do other things outside of basketball.

I think the glue of this picture was the kid Max, played by Francis Capra, who wasn’t a one-off child actor, he still works consistently in Hollywood today. The kid had charisma and as a character, I cared about him, even if this was a stupid and strange movie. His East Coast, New York attitude kind of reminded me of Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid.

The premise is about this bullied kid who frees a genie from a magic boom box. Yes, you read that right. Genie Shaq then spends a lot of time trying to convince the kid that he is a genie but his magic never works. Then it starts working and the kid takes the whole damn movie to come up with his three wishes. Genie Shaq, in the meantime, starts a rap career in the movie. So he is literally a rapping genie. You also read that right.

So the kid is trying to connect with his scumbag, criminal father. Eventually, the biological dad decides to fix his life and do what’s right by his son. The son then also learns to accept his step father, who really is the better male role model in his life. Genie Shaq eventually gets free and leaves to have a life with some chick that’s into rapping genies the size of a Sasquatch.

Anyway, you could probably go your entire life not knowing that this film even exists but what fun would that be? Sure, it’s probably a waste of your time but sometimes wasting time is a good use of time… or so a fortune cookie said to me once. Granted, I was hammered on Zhujiang and tweaking from monosodium glutamate, so I could have read it wrong.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: Steel with Shaq.

Film Review: Bébé’s Kids (1992)

Also known as: Robin Harris’ Bébé’s Kids (video title)
Release Date: July 31st, 1992
Directed by: Bruce W. Smith
Written by: Reginald Hudlin
Based on: characters by Robin Harris
Music by: John Barnes
Cast: Robin Harris (archive footage), Faizon Love, Nell Carter, Myra J., Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tone Lōc, Wayne Collins, Jonell Green, Marques Houston, John Witherspoon, Chino ‘Fats’ Williams

Hyperion Studio, Paramount Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“I am pissed off to the highest level of pissivity.” – Robin Harris

I saw Bébé’s Kids in the theater when I was thirteen. I watched it again a few years later but I haven’t seen it since the ’90s. But being that I always loved Robin Harris’ comedy act and having rewatched the first House Party recently, I wanted to also go back and revisit this, which took Harris’ most famous reoccurring comedy bit and turned it into an animated film. It was also written by Reginald Hudlin, the writer and director of the first House Party, a film where he worked with Harris.

While this isn’t a classic and it doesn’t boast animation worth praising, it still works for me. I thought the bits were still funny and even though Robin Harris died before this was made, I thought Faizon Love did a stupendous job of providing the animated Robin with a voice that encapsulated his unique spirit and energy. This was also the first credit to Love’s name and for him to be able to do this so well, is pretty impressive.

A funny thing that caught me off guard is that I forgot that Tone Lōc did the voice of the baby, Peewee. Lōc really steals the show in every scene that he’s in. You also get some voice work by Nell Carter and John Witherspoon.

This is a fun, silly movie but it has a good heart. It’s message and it’s purpose are noble and it actually hits you in the feels, which you just don’t expect when spending the majority of this film watching these jerk kids destroy a theme park while making everyone’s life hell.

Bébé’s Kids probably won’t resonate with most people in 2018 but I still enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe some of that is nostalgia or my love of Robin Harris but it still hits the right notes for me.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Reginald Hudlin’s House Party movies.

Film Review: Bluebeard (1936)

Also known as: Barbe-Bleue (original French title)
Release Date: December 31st, 1936 (France)
Directed by: René Bertrand, Jean Painlevé
Written by: Charles Perrault
Music by: Jean Vincent-Bréchignac

13 Minutes

Review:

Barbe-Bleue or Bluebeard is an animated short film from France that uses claymation to tell its story.

It’s not an exciting story and it is told more like a musical than a regular dramatic film but it is at least pleasant to look at. The art is beautiful, the colors are very vibrant and vivid. I’m assuming though that the original version of the film was done in black and white and the colorized versions was made later.

The stop motion is well executed and everything looks as smooth as it can for being made in the 1930s.

This is subtitled, as it is French, but with just about all of the dialogue coming through in song form, it almost even isn’t necessary to need the translation. Plus, the emotions and actions that are referenced in the music are pretty apparent on screen.

This isn’t an easy to track down short. I luckily found it on FIlmStruck and gave it a watch there, as I was looking for something short to kill 15 minutes or so. This did the trick.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: Other shorts by Jean Painlevé: Le VampireSea UrchinsLiquid Crystals and The Fourth Dimension.

*Sadly, no trailer or other videos I can post for this.

TV Review: A Very Murray Christmas (2015)

Original Run: December 4th, 2015
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Written by: Sofia Coppola, Mitch Glazer, Bill Murray
Music by: Paul Shaffer, various
Cast: Bill Murray, Michael Cera, George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, David Johansen, Jenny Lewis, Dimitri Dimitrov, Rashida Jones, Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Paul Shaffer, Julie White, Phoenix

American Zoetrope, Departed Productions, Jax Media, South Beach Productions, Netflix, 1 Episodes, 56 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2015.

Who doesn’t love Bill Murray? And who doesn’t love Christmas? Well, terrorists… probably.

I was really excited when Netflix dropped the first trailer for A Very Murray Christmas. It looked interesting enough and featured a comedic legend that might as well be a god, as far as I am concerned. It also featured a slew of other talented people and Miley Cyrus. I kid, Miley doesn’t bother me like she bothers lame people.

I had hopes that this would be great and maybe start a new annual tradition with future installments to the series each Christmas. But to be frank, I’m fine with just the one special.

It wasn’t anything great or that spectacular. Murray is in a depressed mood for much of the special and only seems to come alive for a few seconds at a time. While some scenes, like the ones with Chris Rock, played really well, most just didn’t hit their mark.

This special, like all Christmas specials, is about finding that Christmas spirit and enjoying the day and the things that you hold dear. The execution just seemed half-assed and the sequences weren’t all that interesting.

Murray didn’t look like he was enjoying himself and everything just felt thrown together.

Although it was nice seeing him onscreen with David Johansen again. He was the lead singer of the protopunk band The New York Dolls, also the pop artist Buster Poindexter and starred alongside Murray in Scrooged as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Scrooged and that’s about it but Scrooged is much better and a lot less depressing.