I watched a couple of movies this week that I recorded after hearing them both mentioned last year on Eli Roth’s show, “History of Horror.” They make for an interesting double feature (so many spoilers ahead)…
All right, it’s Halloween and the Disney Empire is out there pushing the Sanderson Sisters and the movie “Hocus Pocus 2,” the sequel to the 1993 classic (at least according to my kids) and the Mouse House has certainly been celebrating its success for years. Here’s the thing, I really can’t warm up to this film. To me, it’s neither fish nor fowl. Obviously, the fact that they tied it to Halloween guaranteed its shot at being an annual event in the dawning age of home video (more so now that Disney owns cable TV stations), but it’s kind of a mess of a film.
Let’s start with the title, “Hocus Pocus.” That’s a stage magician’s magic words, not the spell of witches looking to eat children, WHICH IS THE PLOTLINE.
It’s a horror comedy, but the horror is weak. I mean the Sanderson Sisters should be wicked witches, but…they are knuckleheads. It’s like producing a Bond movie and making the Ritz Brothers the villains. It’s off kilter. How can we truly feel the small town is in danger if the dangerous ones are idiots? A solid horror/comedy works because the comedy allows the release of tension of the horror. Here, the horror is Moe, Larry & Curly.
The opening really comes off as an anti-bullying ad. New kids in town, disgruntled teen, picked on. His precocious little sister. The beautiful girl out of the teen’s league. THIS is the stuff of 1950’s B-picture horror (ie, the Blob, I Was a Teenage Werewolf). They uncover/unleash a horror on the community and no one will believe them! But instead of unleashing the Creature with the Atomic Brain or a sea monster, they release the Wise-Crackin’. While we often see movies where the villain is played straight, but saddled with minions who are the comic relief, here the Sanderson sisters are their own comic relief.
Once the Sanderson Sisters come back, we enter into a brief “fish out of water” comedy, where they have to adjust to the modern world. But that doesn’t last long. In fact, in no time at all, they’re singing Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ hit “I Put a Spell on You.” Then it’s back to the “eat all the children” plot.
I mean, Bette Midler can handle it all, singing, exasperation at her sisters, cracking-wise and the panic of doom. But, to me, this doesn’t make for a good villain. The closest I can think of this type are Disney cartoon villains who are often so self-absorbed and focused on their villainous scheme that they come off as comedic, but still need a long-suffering assistant to reflect that.
And this isn't something new for me. The first time I saw "Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" I was really bothered by the fact they turned Lou Costello into a Hyde monster for the big chase scene, which just reduced the horror of the real Hyde and made the whole thing silly. Especially when they turned him into a mouse earlier in the picture. And this coming from the team that practically created the comedy/horror movie with "Meet Frankenstein."
My biggest beef with the movie? The close of the second act, where the witches are lured into a pottery furnace and burned up. Burning witches is totally a thing. It looks like our heroes won. Then a short while later, the sisters just come back from the ether. It’s like they just changed their minds and decided not to be burned to death. It’s not even like they justified the return at all, the heroes could have opened the spell book earlier and somehow that draws them back, but no, they just reappear. All because movies dictated that there had to be a "pause" in the action at that point in the script. Darn those 1990s screenplay templates.
Meanwhile, what is the deal with the zombie? He’s all about helping the witches, until he’s not. Again, sure, he’s under a spell and forced to…until he’s not. And frankly, is anyone else kinda grossed out that Garry Marshall and his SISTER Penny Marshall are playing a married couple? Ewwww. People carry on about Luke and Leia kissing in “Star Wars,” but not a mention about this. And what is the deal that the witches can’t enter the “hallow ground” of the cemetery, except for the end, where Midler falls off her broom and then fights with the boy? She seems to be handling the “hallowed ground” thing pretty well.
I know I’m in the minority about this but I concede the film has some good moments and pays homage to the tropes of the teenage horror genre. The special effects are really good, although I have issues with two of the witches exploding at sunrise while Bette Midler gets to turn to stone, then explode. I mean, you want to set up a sequel, you have them all turn to stone, right? I’ve sat through the movie numerous times leading up to Halloween, but my reaction is always the same; oh well. Anyway, have a happy Halloween and stay away from black flame candles.
Next Time: I gripe about Jim Carey's Grinch movie.
Okay, while I'm late to the party, I finally saw "No Time to Die" and I'm not happy. Spoiler Alert; they kill James Bond. Unspolier Alert: at the end of the credits they announce "James Bond will return." Why? How? You violate the whole Bond universe then pull this?
I mean, Daniel Craig was an okay Bond, kinda humorless, but after having 5 actors play the part, THIS is the Bond you decide needs to get a special send off? Sean Connery stopped playing Bond 3 times and nobody made this big a deal about it! The creators overseeing Bond have sat through one too many Marvel movies. Do they think they can multi-verse this nonsense now?
The last few years of Bond have been on the shakiest ground. The company got the rights back to "Casino Royale" and decided they would "re-boot" the "series" with a proper version of Ian Fleming's first James Bond book. That gave them an excuse to fire Pierce Brosnan and the remaining old school cast. I mean Pierce Brosnan hadn't been treated this badly since Mrs. Doubtfire kept throwing fruit at him. I mean, you have to realize that from Connery to Brosnan, it was the same Bond timeline. As actors aged out or passed away, they were replaced with replacements and only sometimes re-cast.
Sure, they called it a "re-boot" or "re-launch" but still kept Judi Dench as M. Fine, we'll go along with this being a "new" James Bond, his "origin story." Then for the next batch of films they go making constant call-backs to all the early Bond films: the Aston Martin, the dead girl covered in oil like in Goldfinger, using the Bond theme from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" throughout "No Time to Die." When "Skyfall" came out, word was they wanted Sean Connery to play the groundskeeper. I'm glad he turned them down. The producers just stopped pretending this was a different time line, wanting their cake and eating it, too.
Then there's the whole Blofeld situation. The Bond people lost the rights to the character Blofeld and SPECTRE sometime doing the 1970s. The last (uncredited) appearance of the character was in the cold opening to Roger Moore's "For Your Eyes Only." Then they got the rights back. It's a big deal. They bring Blofeld back in the movie "SPECTRE." They even named the movie "SPECTRE." The whole movie makes out that it was Blofeld behind all the villains of the Craig-era Bond (even though nobody mention SPECTRE the whole time. The company had gone through all the legal hassle and money to get the rights to the character back, Bond's main nemesis, and what do they do? Kill him in the next movie. Money well spent, right?
I mean if the Simpsons can figure out how do keep an 8-year old character around for 30 years, you'd think the producers could figure out how to keep James Bond going by simply replacing the actor. They've only done it six times already.
I don't know how they are going to re-set Bond in this new age of Hollywood where they redo the same IP content over and over but it doesn't bode well if they're simply going to toss the game board every time an actor quits.
With Halloween coming up and all the cable stations offering their versions of Fright-Fest Horror Movie-thons, I took the opportunity to record and watch some movies that I’ve been aware of but never actually watched. For example, the Scream films- the boomers version of what they thought 90s kids were like growing up on 80s horror films.
Scream was a horror film nerd heaven, with pop culture references flying faster than sharp knives. The twist? Having the two craziest characters, BOTH be the killer. That was nice but they did as much scenery chewing as body stabbing even before the big reveal. Ultimately, the real villain was the press, pushy reporter Gail Weathers, who annoyed everyone trying to get her "big story," but winds up saving the day in the end and then cashes in on her fame in Scream 2.
All the classic horror movies are represented; Psycho, Halloween, Friday the 13th, to the point the final confrontation in Scream is scored by the music from Halloween because that’s the movie playing in the background when all the plasma hits the fan. But it does poke at the trope that the killer seems to be in two places at once, because here he’s two people.
I noticed one unusual thing about their take on the killer; while the Jasons and Michael Meyers of the movies were unstoppable supernatural lugs who just bulldoze their way through the mayhem, Ghostface is a klutz. He’s easily flipped, thrown and knocked out. A beer bottle to the groin stops him cold. He slips, crashes and stumbles. So at least the victims seemingly have a chance which adds to the suspense.
I stumbled across another movie channel on cable recently, HDNET, and they were doing a Three Stooges marathon, three of their features and the TV-biopic produced by Mel Gibson in 2000. They went right onto the DVR where they joined The Three Stooges movie (2012) I had previously recorded from HBO. So now I was about to do a mega-marathon.
I grew up with the Stooges. They were on every afternoon here in NYC, after school on WPIX, Channel 11, hosted by Officer Joe Bolton. They did 190 shorts for Columbia pictures. Even though it felt like I saw them all, I know I hadn't. I got to go to some midnight matinees in the 1970s where they showed the "banned" Stooge wartime shorts. I got to see some more when home video came out and then more when IFC made a point of showing them, uncut, on cable. What I never saw as much was the features they did.
Okay, a follow up to my last SNL post about season 6. I started watching season 7 of the heavily re-launched SNL. It was now officially Dick Ebersol's show. Hold overs from the season 6 finale, Denny Dillion and Gail Matthius, were gone. New hires, Robin Duke, Tim Kazurinsky, and Tony Rosato made the leap. Christine Ebersole and Mary Gross joined the cast. And, of course, Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy would stay and rule the roost. Old man background
actor, Andy Murphy, made it too.
After a brief cold open, the new intro began, calling NYC the most dangerous city with a video reel showing a less-appealing side of New York (this has newly-rehired head writer Michael O'Donoghue written all over it). And the stage looks like they’re doing it from a abandoned warehouse instead of some iconic NY location.
There was no host. The cast just ran out, took a bow and ran off into the first sketch.
The first sketch was a strange two-hander with Gross and Duke as vacationing nuns. It took a while for the audience to warn up to it, but there was a solid laugh at the end. It reminded me of Will Ferrell's first sketch about telling the kid's to get off the shed. Obviously, they were committed to it, but it didn't rock the audience.
They did a sketch about a one night stand, went to a commercial, then came back to a funeral sketch that WAS A CONTINUATION OF THE PREVIOUS SKETCH! Weekend Update became SNL Newsbreak. Oh, and Brian Doyle Murray was still around and now the Newsbreak co-anchor (with Gross). It seemed to be renamed so they could do a clever sight gag the first night that they would be stuck with to diminishing effect for the rest of the season. And the cast had the lines memorized. Not much use of cue cards that I could see.
(Okay, technically, this is a dispatch from my Roku, but isn't streaming basically America's DVR?)
Thanks to Peacock, NBC's streaming service, you can now watch all the episodes of SNL. Not all of each episode, but all of the episodes.
A few years back, I had gathered, through gifts, prize awards and purchase, the DVD box sets of the first 5 seasons of NBC's Saturday Night (aka Saturday Night Live). These boxed sets were a massive undertaking for Broadway Video due to all the music and film rights they had to secure to present the shows as they were originally (practically) broadcast (At the time an SNL BBS was complaining that they didn't use the various host portraits where the commercial breaks would have been). The task had been so exhausting and expensive, the powers that be decided not to bother doing it for any other show after the fifth season.
Watching these DVDs made me curious about the remarkable and disastrous 6th season of SNL. I poked around online at the time and there were bootleg copies of the shows available, but I couldn't bring myself to buy a set.
While catching up with things I've recorded to watch later, I finally saw an interesting double feature shown on the MOVIES! channel: "The Odd Couple II" and "The Odd Couple: Together Again." One worked, the other didn't. And surprisingly the one that worked was not the one written by Neil Simon.
The Odd Couple II (1998) starred Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau, back from the first movie as Felix Unger and Oscar Madison but with nobody else. Oscar is retired to Florida and hosting senior poker games. Felix isn't. Turns out their kids fell in love and are getting married in California. And they're going to travel together for the wedding.
The movie is more like Felix and Oscar in the Out-of-Towners because the movie is just them facing a series of difficulties trying to get to the wedding in California (Santa Something-or-other). There's some honking noises, some wrinkled shirts but not much else of the orignal characters here.
The only reason this movie got to exist is that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were suddenly hot again, thanks to movies like Grumpy Old Men I & II and Out to Sea. And the movie is not special for the same reason. Instead of it being Lemmon-and-Matthau-are-back-together event! it was oh, they're in ANOTHER movie together?
Their chemistry is still there, but, like their road trip, there's too much stop and go. And they are too old for the parts. I'm supposed to believe the bride and groom are their children? More like adult grandchildren.
And it ends with Felix moving back in with Oscar in Florida, which is probably what the movie should have been.
Now, The Odd Couple: Together Again is a reunion movie of the TV Odd Couple, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. And this one sings, even if Klugman can't. The TV movie was made in 1993, 20 years after the show. Most of the cast is recast, except for their poker buddy Speed and, most surprisingly, Oscar's old secretary, Myrna Turner played by Penny Marshall. That was remarkable. It's not just a cameo. She has several scenes with Oscar with a character arc and everything. This time it's Felix's daughter getting married to some guy not related to Oscar and he gets kicked out by his wife for over-planning and nearly ruining the wedding. They worked in Jack Klugman's throat surgery into the story, so Felix can move in and help with his recuperation, while dealing with the wedding plans.
Both guys are in their zone. The set looks identical to the TV apartment they lived in and Canada fills in for NYC well enough. People forget that the first season of the Odd Couple was a filmed, single camera sit-com (it switched to a 3-camera, live audience format afterward) so the switch back to film isn't that jarring. It was a solid, enjoyable reunion with enough subplots so everyone got a moment to shine. The characters sparred over housekeeping and getting Oscar back to work. And it had some weird and wonderful laughs. There was a Rocky parody (!) where Oscar screeches in delight that scares horses. The poker game where they let Oscar win is vintage Odd Couple, even if some of the players aren't. Murray the cop is there, although retired and not portrayed by Al Molinaro. As usual, Felix goes overboard and Oscar has to reel him back in.
The show's attitude and rhythms picked up straight from the original series, something the big screen sequel movie did not do. I knew The Odd Couple II existed and had seen it back in the 90s, but I didn't know about the TV reunion, so that was a pleasant surprise and I like it when the cable channels do unusual double-features like this. It's just that now I can't get the Odd Couple theme out of my head.
Freelance writer, still hacking away.