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Watch It: Noises Off

Noises Off coverNoises Off (1992) is a movie adaptation of a farcical stage play about the production of a stage play. The camera moves freely between front stage and back stage, so you get to see both what the audience sees, and the behind-the-scenes action the audience will usually never see. (The movie’s name is taken from a theater term for sounds produced offstage, and there are plenty of those in the movie.)

Just watching the movie, it’s fairly obvious that it would work better as a play (because of the layout of the set and the nature of the humor). But this movie is an entertaining and (according to those who’ve seen the play) faithful adaptation of the play.

The cast is loaded with recognizable names and faces, including Carol Burnette, Michael Caine, Marilu Henner, Julie Hagerty, Mark Linn-Baker, Nicollette Sheridan, and the too-early-gone John Ritter and Christopher Reeve. They’re all quite funny to watch, and the timing amongst them is (and has to be) spot on for the movie to work. Thankfully, the timing is spot-on, leading to many humorous moments.

The movie follows the stage troupe working on their play, starting with rehearsals and opening in Iowa, traipsing through various other small towns, and finishing up with the big opening night on Broadway. Along the way, we get to watch as the group teeters on the brink of disaster, each night’s show bringing a fresh crisis. Whether it’s an alcoholic old-timer or relationship issues between some of the actors, there’s always something going on to disrupt the play’s normal flow. Many scenes stand out, but there’s one involving bottles of alcohol, flowers, and hijinks among the actors that leaves me laughing every time.

Sadly, this oldie hasn’t been remastered for Blu-Ray, nor is it available for legal streaming on any of the services I checked. That leaves just the Amazon DVD, or “alternative solutions” if you’re interested in watching some great actors have a lot of fun with a unique concept. Well worth watching, and probably not a movie style you’ve seen done before.

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Reviews [57%]

Watch It: Edward Scissorhands

Edward ScissorhandsEdward Scissorhands (1990) is a different take on the classic Frankenstein story line. In this variation, an inventor creates a being (Edward), complete and ready to function, with the exception of a pair of hands. As a temporary measure (I’m not sure ‘why’ is ever revealed), the inventor attached multiple scissor-like blades to each arm of his creation. Unfortunately, the inventor died before he could finish the hands, leaving Edward with blades where his fingers should be.

Edward lives alone in an old mansion on the hill, until an Avon saleswoman (Peg) comes calling. He is then brought into 1960/70s suburbia, as Peg takes pity on his situation and basically adopts him. Edward becomes immensely popular due to his ability to sculpt hedges and bushes, and for his incredible skill at cutting hair. He’s also attracted to Peg’s daughter Kim, who seems capable of seeing the person behind the blades.

But trouble lurks with Kim’s boyfriend Jim, who dislikes Edward. Eventually, Edward winds up accompanying Jim, Kim, and others in a robbery, and winds up arrested. More troubles follow, and, well, you should watch the movie to see what happens.

You’ll recognize many stars among the cast, starting with Johnny Depp in one of his earliest big-screen appearances; his range of facial expressions is astonishing and really helps convey the complexity of Edward. Dianne Wiest plays Peg, the career-oriented Avon sales woman, and Winona Ryder plays her daughter Kim. Alan Arkin, Anthony Michael Hall, and Vincent Price as the inventor (in his final big-screen appearance) also have key roles.

While the basic story line is familiar, Tim Burton’s direction and the amazing 1960s/70s pastel colored set and costumes give this movie an entirely different feel. Watch it, and you’ll have a whole new appreciation not just for your fingers, but for the relative nothingness of the nicks you give yourself while shaving.

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Reviews [91%]

Watch It: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai…

The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth DimensionThe Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension (1984) has perhaps the longest name of any movie I’ve seen—so long, in fact, that I had to truncate it for use in the title.

Anyway, the titular character, played by a very young Peter Weller (Robocop was still three years away), is a Japanese/American race car driver…and a neurosurgeon…and a rock star…and a comic book hero. He also dabbles in scientific invention, and has created an oscillation overthruster that allows him to travel into and out of the eighth dimension. Confused yet? Try watching the trailer. It actually won’t help your confusion any, but it gives you a good taste of what the movie is like.

The movie waivers between a satire of sci-fi movies and a rollicking good sci-fi adventure movie. You may have to watch the movie a couple times to begin to have an understanding of what you’ve just seen. But that’s not a bad thing, because the cast here is full of great actors, many in their early- or even pre-fame days. You’ll see Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, Ellen Barkin, Christopher Lloyd, and a few other faces that may be familiar, even if the names are not. (Keep an eye out for Vincent Schiavelli, the ghost from Ghost, for instance.)

The story is convoluted, some (ok, most) of the special effects are cheesy and cheap looking, and you’re never sure whether to take the movie seriously or not. But it all moves at a good pace, and there are numerous funny bits to keep you wondering what’s going to happen next. And hey, you’ll probably never see another movie whose lead character is a neurosurgeon, race car driver, and a rock star, right?

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Reviews [71%]

Watch It: L.A. Story

L.A. Story DVDL.A. Story (1991) is one of my favorite Steve Martin movies, due primarily to its hilarious overgeneralization of the California lifestyle (but the story and performances are both also quite good).

Steve plays Harris Telemacher, a TV weatherman who spends most of his time doing comedy instead of weather because, hey, this is LA, and the weather never changes! Things are going great, until Harris loses his job. This causes a period of introspection, in which he gets assistance from a “talking” (by way of customized messages) freeway sign.

During Harris’ journey, you’ll experience number of jokes (both verbal and visual) about the California/LA lifestyle. These will be even more humorous if you know the city and its peculiar customs. As my dad lived in LA for a number of years, I found the movie spot-on in a number of its over-the-cop characterizations of the city.

Steve Martin wrote the film, and both he and the supporting cast are wonderful. Marilu Henner plays his cheating girlfriend, Sarah Jessica Parker is a stereotypical “valley girl,” and Victoria Tennant (Steve’s real-world wife at the time) has a great role as tuba-playing British journalist.

If you’ve never seen it, and you’re familiar at all with the “California lifestyle,” L.A. Story is well worth a watching. (At the time of this writing, the movie doesn’t seem to be available on Blu-ray; however, both iTunes and Amazon streaming have the HD version.)

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HD – Buy only
DVD | Online
The Movie DB
Rotten Tomatoes
Reviews [94%]

Watch It: The Stunt Man

The Stunt Man DVDThe Stunt Man (1980) tells the story of a war vet who stumbles into a movie set and causes (or seemingly causes) the death of a stunt man. The director, brilliantly played by Peter O’Toole, decides to hide the vet from the law by giving him the now-available stunt man’s job. (I’ve seen quite a few of Peter O’Toole’s movies, and this is clearly one of his best—he was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, but lost out to Robert Deniro in Raging Bull.)

Richard Rush directed The Stunt Man, and he did a masterful job with a huge cast of stars and extras. Most of the time, the movie feels like it’s veering out of control, but it never quit goes there, and just keeps careening along, carrying the viewer along for the ride. It’s hard to describe, but quite fun to watch.

It’s really hard to classify this movie; at times, it’s a comedy, at times, it’s a serious drama, and much of the time, it’s a farcical look at the movie making business. Whatever it is, though, it’s quite entertaining and definitely off the beaten path of plot lines followed by most Hollywood movies. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch. (As with last week’s pick, this one too is targeted at adults only.)

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Watch It: A Fish Called Wanda

A Fish Called Wanda Blu-rayA Fish Called Wanda (1988) is an entertaining movie (wonderfully written by John Cleese) with an all-star cast (Cleese, Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Palin). The movie starts with the gang pulling off a jewel heist, and from there, it quickly evolves into a tale of double-crossing and trickery as each member of the gang tries to outwit the other to steal the loot.

I won’t go into the plot more than the above; it’s more fun to watch when you don’t have any idea what happens. I will add that the scene in the barrister’s house involving the necklace is 15 minutes of pure comic mayhem. The cast all do a great job, but Kevin Kline really steals the show with his performance as, well, you’ll have to watch.

One minor note: the humor here is clearly adult, so send the kiddies off to bed before starting the show.

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Watch It: The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride Blu-rayThe Princess Bride (1987) tells the tale of a stable-boy-turned-pirate’s journey to rescue the love of his life; it’s based on the 1973 book of the same name.

The film touches on almost every subject imaginable, including pirates, princesses, sword fighting, adventure travel, large evil creatures, good guys and bad guys, true love, death, giants, and even logic-based drinking games. In short, this is not your average kids’ fairy tale—and because it’s not your average fairy tale, it’s a very fun and interesting movie.

There are many wonderfully quotable lines and short tidbits of dialog (You may have heard the most-oft-repeated one: “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” … but there are many others. I suggest you not visit that link until after you’ve seen the movie, though; there are many spoilers in that collection.)

The cast includes a number of faces you’ll recognize, even if you don’t recall their names—I found Mandy Patinkin, as the aforementioned Inigo Montoya, particularly entertaining. Cary Elwes, Chris Sarandon and even the late great André the Giant also do a fine job with their roles. Peter Falk narrates (I could listen to that voice all day), in his role as a grandfather telling this tale to his grandson, played by 11-year-old Fred Savage.

It’s hard to describe everything you’ll experience in this movie, but it’s worth experiencing. So if you’ve been avoiding it (thinking perhaps it was just another kids’ film), stop doing so, and give it a look. If you have seen it, but not lately, perhaps it’s time to renew your acquaintance? That’s what I did over the weekend, in fact.

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Watch It: Real Genius

Real Genius [DVD]I cannot recall the first time I saw Real Genius (1985), but it wasn’t in the theater.

Whenever it was, the movie made enough of an impression that it became one of my fave comedies—something that’s still true today. I owned it on VHS, I own it on DVD, and if it comes out on Blu-ray, I’ll probably buy that, too. (I noticed while writing this that the iTunes version is listed as HD, so I may have to invest in that one.)

The cast is a bunch of names you’ve never heard of, except for a very young Val Kilmer. The plot centers on two geniuses at a college, working together on a laser project that just happens to have military applications.

There are any number of hilarious mini sub-plots running through the movie, and Val Kilmer is very funny as the older genius at the college. Toss in a guy living in the basement below the closet, a lottery fix, a sexy woman on a mission, ice skating in a dorm hallway, and a slew of one-liners, and you’ve got a recipe for a very entertaining 108 minutes of movie fun. Thought provoking? No. Well-developed plot? Not so much. But fun? Yea, it’s got that to spare.

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Watch It: Fletch

[The first in a series of recommendations for older perhaps not-so-popular movies that I found enjoyable, and that you may as well.]

Fletch blu rayDuring his long career, Chevy Chase has been in lots of movies…including lots of really bad movies.

Fletch (1985), however, is not one of the bad ones.

It may not be his greatest movie, or even his second greatest movie, but I think it’s got a solid hold on third place.

Many of you reading this probably weren’t born when it came out in 1985, or were way too young to have seen it at the time. If so, and if you haven’t seen it since, well, you’re missing out on what has to be the funniest “newspaper reporter as undercover druggie selected for murder-for-hire scheme which turns into something much bigger” movies ever made. OK, so it may be the only entrant in that category; it’s still funny.

Chevy Chase plays Irwin “Fletch” Fletcher, who writes an anonymous column on various subjects for a Los Angeles paper. While undercover investigating drug dealing on the beach, he’s offered $50,000 to kill an apparently-healthy, and very wealthy, man.

Suspicions aroused, Fletch starts digging, and what he finds takes him to an upscale country club, to police headquarters and prison, and to and from Utah (a couple of times). The plot line is tenuous (at best), but Chevy Chase carries the movie (yes, I said that) through a series of funny scenarios, improbable disguises, and seemingly ad-libbed dialog. Be warned that if you don’t like deadpan, sardonic humor (i.e. Chevy Chase), you probably won’t like this movie.

The movie is filled with great one-liners, visual gags, and the cast includes George Wendt (then just three years into Cheers) and Geena Davis (in only her second movie role). There’s also a brief but fun cameo from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, recreating his most-famous movie role.

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