Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

Sketch comedy films, the spiritual descendants of 1930s cinematic musical extravaganzas and 1960s television variety shows, hit their peak popularity in the 1970s. Monty Python’s And Now For Something Completely Different, Woody Allen’s Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, and the inaugural Zucker-Abrams-Zucker outing Kentucky Fried Movie captured the free-wheeling irreverence of the decade. But the genre didn’t die out with the ’70s; Amazon Women on the Moon and The Meaning of Life were two notable genre entries released in the 1980s. Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (1987) is perhaps one of the best of the sketch comedy films, featuring on-point social commentary, solid humor, and amazing production values for a film that reportedly cost less than $100,000 to make; further, your humble host would like to add that Hollywood Shuffle wins a lot of points for being a sketch comedy film that has a title that is not only perfect, but of reasonable length. Actor and comedian Robert Townsend plays struggling thesp Bobby Taylor, a black man desperate to break into an industry that offers him only racist and demeaning roles. Living at home with three generations of his family — the Taylor house looks almost as though it’s in the same neighborhood as the Mildred Pierce home — Bobby knows his family needs him to get a big break, and soon. But the racist dialect of the scripts, the instructions to shuffle and roll his eyes, the directors’ pleas to “act more black” wear on Bobby, and … Continue reading

24 Days (2014)

24 Days (24 jours) ★★★★✫ Director: Alexandre Arcady Menemsha Films (Official Site) 110 Minutes Release Date: April 24, 2015 (limited) – It’s Paris, 2006, and handsome young Ilan Halimi (Syrus Shahidi) has been kidnapped, his family tortured by angry phone calls demanding €450,000 for his release. If the Halimis were a rich family, this might make a kind of perverse sense, but Ilan’s parents Ruth (Zabou Breitman) and Didier (Pascal Elbé) have been divorced for 20 years, and both are of modest means. When the police become involved, they discover a large network of kidnappers who use attractive teen girls as bait, and who specifically target Jewish males. Yet the police refuse to consider this a hate crime, and their methods of dealing with an obviously unstable gang leader are questionable. Based on a true story, 24 Days is a harrowing affair that unfolds slowly, often frustratingly so. Bookended by narration from the mother, who addresses the audience directly, 24 Days seems at first to approach the topic almost as a documentary, but soon turns into a taut, sleek police procedural. Alternating between scenes of the extended family at home and at the police department are shots of the kidnappers themselves, a large group of people whose motivations and rationalizations are unclear. 24 Days is a fine-looking film, its quieter moments full of striking symmetry, comforting angles and pleasant apartments in a warm, low light. In stark contrast are the scenes of the kidnapping and aftermath, though the reliance on … Continue reading

Firewalker (1986)

Everyone loves a good bad movie, but not every bad movie works as a late-night laugh-a-thon. As the crew of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” explained in Wired‘s oral history of the show, they couldn’t just pick any old bad movie to riff. The films couldn’t be “boring and really, really talky,” and they had to be up to a certain visual and audio standard; after all, there’s no use trying to watch a bad movie if you can’t actually watch that bad movie. The same standards apply to those of us looking for just the right awful movie to watch for a fun night at home with friends and beer — or, for many of us, a fun night at home with Twitter and beer. Firewalker, a 1986 action-adventure flick that is astonishingly light on both action and adventure, seems like the perfect shlock to spend an evening with, but it just barely meets the minimum FDA guidelines for daily consumption of cheese. A knock-off of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Romancing the Stone, Firewalker is frequently cited as the primary reason its production company, the (in)famous Cannon Group, would declare bankruptcy just a few years later. However, Cannon’s best year was 1986 — not because of, but in spite of, Firewalker, which took in nearly $12 million at the box office over its first three weekends. Chuck Norris is Max Donigan, a character with so little personality that one feels it’s a waste of good font … Continue reading

That Guy Dick Miller (2015)

That Guy Dick Miller ★★★★✫ Director: Elijah Drenner Indiecan Entertainment (Official Site) 91 Minutes Release Date: April 3, 2015 (limited) / Available on VOD and DVD May 19, 2015 – That Guy Dick Miller is an affectionate documentary that takes us through the life and career of, well, Dick Miller, the character actor who, for nearly six decades, has been playing the everyman everyone loves. His craggy face and fantastic voice are known to generations of filmgoers, even if many of the films he appeared in, especially early in his career, are so bad that, by all rights, no one should really remember them at all. But like so many other actors of the 1950s and 1960s, Miller managed to lend a realism, even occasionally a bit of gravitas, to roles that were less written than they were sketched on the backs of receipts. For that, Miller has earned himself a significant fandom, and rightly so. That Guy is very much a documentary by friends for friends, but fortunately, Dick Miller is the perfect subject for this kind of film. He’s got more than just memories to share: he’s got scripts, props, and friends and colleagues who are still talking to him even after a frenetic 13-day shoot in the middle of summer with nothing but three pages of dialogue and a monster made out of papier-mâché. He’s got the wardrobe, too; you’ll never see a movie where Harrison Ford digs into his bedroom closet and brings out the Indiana … Continue reading