Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster Frankenstein 2019 ****

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Actor David Harbour presumably had a blank check to cash on the back of his success in Stranger Things; it’s a shame that the actor couldn’t find anything better to do with his Netflix cash than to rest on his family laurels. Harbour has taken it upon himself to exhume footage from his father David Harbour Jr’s excellent TV production of Frankenstein; a classic show, fondly remembered, but ill-served by his son’s piece-meal handling of the footage here. Harbour’s grandfather, the great David Harbour III must surely be turning in his grave, as must Mary Shelley’s poor, beknighted creation. Of course, it doesn’t help that so many of the ideas here have been done better elsewhere; the iconic meat commercial featured here was ripped off shamelessly by Transformers star Orson Welles for his Frozen Pea performance art installation, and the abrupt commercials, plus the rickety doors and windows of the set were an obvious influence of Dan Curtis’s Dark Shadows. Even the title is a clear spin on Kenneth Branagh’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; it’s hard to imagine that an actor as storied as Harbour isn’t aware of that text, or even of the IMDB itself where such information might freely be found! Still, there’s some vague amusement to be found as Harbour questions those who remember his father, with faded stars like Alfred Molina, Kate Berlant, and newcomers like Mary Wonorov and Michael J. Lerner, still remembered from the Back to the Future films. It would have been better to use Harbour’s ill gotten gains for a full restoration of The Actor’s Trunk, a much admired show given precious little screen-time here, than on this miserly cash in on the Harbour family jewels. Perhaps Harbour’s proposed sequel, tentatively pre-cancelled at Amazon Instant Now Video Today and titled Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster Frankenstein; The True Story, should be made just to set things right.

https://www.netflix.com/watch/81003981?source=35

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Jane Austen’s Mafia! 1998 ***

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Writer/director Jim Abrahams was part of the team behind Airplane, Naked Gun and Hot Shots; the tide had turned against spoofs by 1998, and Mafia! was one of the last gasps of the genre. It’s an un-called for Godfather spoof, twenty years too late perhaps, but still with a few lively moments to commend it. Jay Mohr is actually pretty good in the Al Pacino role, the prodigal son returning to the deadly games of his family, with Lloyd Bridges at the Brando-style patriarch. The film is dedicated to the star, who appears frail here, yet still typically game for the indignities low-brow comedy. There are plenty of lame gags, but Mafia! is at its best when tacking the seriousness of gangster films; a rapid-fire list of ridiculous underworld names at a wedding, or an accidental shooting of a man disguised as a tree. The best of the gags are well worked; if you’ve watched all the classic ZAZ brothers comedies once too many, there’s plenty of good reasons to search this later entry out.

What’s Up Tiger Lily? 1966 ***

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It would be fair to say that Woody Allen’s 1996 comedy is not quite indicative of the quality of the career that followed; the majority of What’s Up Tiger Lily? is footage from a Japanese spy film, overdubbed with a silly plot about a recipe for egg salad. If this mixture was indigestible enough, a few performances from resistible band The Lovin’ Spoonful are thrown in to pad out the running time, and yet the result is watchable and although the gags are patchy, there’s a few cracking moments. A running gag about the hero bursting into song, the villain’s car-sickness (‘I feel nauseous!”) and a lovely moment where the protagonist recognises his mother incognito in a harem of girls. These moments reflect the scattershot with of Allen’s early writing, and even if the whole enterprise is weak, it’s got more laughs than most proper films. Even Blue Jasmine would have been considerably weakened by regular stops to enjoy the musical stylings of The Lovin’ Spoonful.

Waiting for Guffman 1996 ****

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While Spinal Tap’s brilliant lampooning of rock excess has produced a pop-cultural phenomenon, writer and director Christopher Guest’s career high is arguably his 1996 consideration of the vanity and pathos of local theatre. Guest makes Corky St Clair, a temperamental theatre director from Blaine, Missouri with delusions of grandeur, into a classic comedy character, with support from many of the same performers who made Best in Show and A Mighty Wind so enjoyable. From Fred Willard and Catherine O’Hara’s startling re-imaging of Midnight at the Oasis to romantic duet A Penny for Your Thoughts, the pitch perfect rendition of am-dram is a delight in Guest’s capable hands.

OSS 117: Nest of Spies 2006 and OSS 117: Lost in Rio 2009 ***

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Long before their Oscar-winning triumph with silent pastiche The Artist, director Michel Hazanavicius and his star Jean Dujardin did a similarly excellent job on spy movies with their OSS 117 films. The European version of Austin Powers, the OSS 117 comedies take their title from Dujardin’s secret agent, tangling with Nazis while wrestling with gadgets and sporting the same kind of 60’s cool that featured in James Bond films, and also the tatty glamour of the Matt Helm franchise with Dean Martin. The OSS 117 films capture the casual sexism and racism of older films with an admirably straight face, but there’s also a clear affection for the genre. Dujardin is a charming leading man, and these films show exactly why his Hollywood career is on the up.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story 2007 ****

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Parody films are notoriously hard to pull off; Judd Apatow managed on of the best with this delicious bio-pic of the fictitious singer Dewey Cox, played by John C Reilly, who can carry a tune well in his own right. Working closely from a template established by Ray and Walk The Line, Jake Kasdan’s hilarious film is bolstered by a swathe of pitch perfect parodies, ranging from Bob Dylan to The Beach Boys. Reilly’s turn as Cox is brilliant, smashing sinks every time he’s annoyed, getting turned onto every drug imaginable, but still retaining his home-spun affection for his sweetheart Darlene (Jenna Fischer). With more laughs in each five minute segment that many comics manage in their career, it’s surprising that Walk Hard wasn’t a hit; perhaps the digital age will see this treasure trove of comedy re-discovered.

Black Dynamite 2009 ***

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Despite the best efforts of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez in Grindhouse and Machete, their efforts to create genre parody have fallen on deaf ears; a pity, because Scott Sanders’s 2009 comedy deserves a wave to surf. The fabulously earnest Michael Jai White is amongst the writers of this Blaxploitation parody, as Black Dynamite (White) launches a one-man war on his neighbourhood drug-peddlers, a mission he takes all the way to The White House and a tussle with President Nixon. Black Dynamite gets plenty of laughs in the Airplane/Kentucky Fried Movie–style, with boom mikes and stock footage providing constant reminders of the cheapness of the venture, negotiated with aplomb by a game cast enjoying the endlessly amusing joke.