Roller Coaster Rabbit

(USA 1990)

I saw Dick Tracy during its original theatrical run, and I don’t remember a Roger Rabbit cartoon with it. Then again, I don’t remember tee shirt tickets, either. So, what do I know?

Directed by Rob Minkoff and Frank Marshall, Roller Coaster Rabbit is essentially a Warner Brothers cartoon — right down to the logo at the beginning. Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) is left to babysit Baby Herman (Lou Hirsch) at a county fair while his mother (April Winchell) goes off and … does something else. I don’t know what.

A red balloon is the impetus for the insanity: Baby Herman drags Roger into a series of painful mishaps involving darts, gunshots, cogs, a roller coaster, and a grazing bull (Frank Welker) whose nuts become an object of Baby Herman’s curiosity. The story is a group project: Bill Kopp, Kevin Harkey, Lynne Naylor, and Patrick A. Ventura all contribute. Clearly, they’ve seen their share of ‘40s and ‘50s cartoons. There’s even a cameo by Droopy (Corey Burton). I respect that. Roller Coaster Rabbit is a fun piece of fluff.

With Kathleen Turner, Charlie Adler

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures

7 minutes
Rated PG

(Music Box) B-

Chicago Film Society

Strangers with Candy

(USA 2006)

“Hello, I’m Jerri Blank and — and I’m an alcoholic. I’m also addicted to amphetamines as well as main line narcotics. Some people say I have a sex addiction, but I think all those years of prostitution was just a means to feed my ravenous hunger for heroin. It’s kinda like the chicken or the nugget. The point is, I’m addicted to gambling. Thank you. Oh, and my daddy’s in a coma.”

“Way to go, faglick.”

“I’m thinkin’ about pussy. The science fair’s for queers.”

“I want your spermies!”

“Why doesn’t anybody like me?”

— Jerri Blank

 

“Everybody! Eyes to the back of the room!”

— Chuck Noblet

Those offended by juvenile potty humor and crass jokes in very poor taste — as many no doubt are offended — well, they best steer clear of Strangers with Candy, a sort of prequel to Amy Sedaris’s twisted cable TV series about depraved boozer, user, and loser Jerri Blank (Sedaris).

Those who dig this shit — like me — well, they’ll love this tawdry little farce.

As in the series, 47 year old former alcoholic, junkie, dealer, petty thief, bisexual hooker Jerri is released from prison after 32 years. She returns home to find her mother in an urn, her father (Dan Hedaya) in a coma, and her new family — “mommie” Sara (Deborah Rush) and 17 year old half-brother Derrick (Joseph Cross) — in complete shock, awe, and horror at the sight of her. They want her out.

When Jerri’s presence induces a physical reaction from her father, his doctor (Ian Holm) posits that she could be key in pulling him out of his coma by taking him back to the days before she left. The good doctor suggests that she move in and do something to make him proud.

Jerri decides to pick up where she left off: she goes back to Flatpoint High, where the faces may have changed but the hassles are just the same, and enrolls. She’s getting the diploma she never earned.

A science fair is the perfect opportunity to make her daddy proud — if only she can muster the wherewithal to participate. New BFFs outcasts Tamela (Maria Thayer) and Megawatti (Carlo Alban) are trying to keep her focused but Jerri’s more concerned with bagging class hottie and star squat thruster Brason (Chris Pratt). So much is riding on winning, not just for her father and her teammates but also shamed “science” teacher Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert). Can Jerri rise to the occasion?

Directed by Paul Dinello, who does double duty as art teacher Geoffrey Jellineck, and written by Dinello, Colbert, Sedaris, and Mitch Rouse, Strangers with Candy is true to its roots. Loaded with silly lines and a surprising number of celebrity cameos, it doesn’t expand on the series; in fact, it plays out like a binge watch of a season. Still, it’s a damn good time — and healthier than crack or unprotected sex. Maybe.

Oh yeah: I dare you not to let “She’s a Fig Neutron” by Gordon Grody and D-Fonz get stuck in your head. Go ‘head. No? Well, then I guess we’ll never know.

With Stephen Colbert, Gregory Hollimon, Allison Janney, Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Justin Theroux, Delores Duffy, Kristen Johnston, David Pasquesi, David Rakoff, Elisabeth Harnois, Alexis Dziena, Thomas Guiry

Production: Comedy Central Films, Worldwide Pants, Roberts/David Films

Distribution: THINKFilm, Front Row Filmed Entertainment (United Arab Emirates)

97 minutes
Rated R

(DVD purchase) B-

http://www.strangerswithcandymovie.com

Who Framed Roger Rabbit

(USA 1988)

Let’s get this out up front: the appeal of Who Framed Roger Rabbit is not its outstanding narrative. Based on Gary K. Wolf’s novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman’s screenplay is competently written but it’s conventional if not downright pedestrian, a standard whodunnit complete with hiding, seeking, and a clock ticking. The situations are goofy, the characters are even goofier, and the jokes…well, they’re silly. The whole thing relies too heavily on farce and slapstick for my taste.

Los Angeles, 1947: alcoholic private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is summoned to the studios of movie mogul R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern). Studio star Roger Rabbit (Charles Fleischer) is unraveling over romantic rumors involving his amply curvaceous toon wife Jessica (Kathleen Turner) and human Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye), the inventor and maker of the sundry gadgets used in cartoons. It’s affecting the studio’s bottom line, so Maroon hires Valiant to check it out.

After catching Jessica’s act at an underground club, Valiant spies on her and Acme in her dressing room. He takes pictures of them playing “patty-cake.” He turns them over to Maroon, who shows them to Roger. Assuming the worst, he promptly freaks.

The next morning, Acme is found dead — a cartoon safe crushing his head. Naturally, all signs point to Roger. Dastardly Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd), cloaked in a black cape and an evil hidden agenda, is following Roger’s tail. Valiant is unwillingly yanked into a crazy adventure to exonerate Roger, find a will, and stop Doom from selling Toontown, the appropriately named neighborhood where toons live, to a freeway developer.

Despite its shortcomings, Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a technical marvel unlike much before it. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it took awhile to make. It was a box office blockbuster, and it’s easy to see why. From the outset, it’s a dazzling mix of animated characters, or “toons,” interacting with real people. The look and technique are impeccable, with natural movement and even toons and humans touching that melds seamlessly without any jumps or visual hiccups. An ongoing gag with Roger handcuffed to Valiant, for example, is flawless. Clearly, this film was assembled with painstaking attention to timing. It is, in a word, neat.

Plus, the incorporation of classic cartoons — from Betty Boop to Woody Woodpecker to Droopy, to a scene with Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse to a piano duel between Daffy Duck and Donald Duck — is really, really fun. I’m sure this is the only place you’ll ever see Warner Brothers and Disney characters together, and it’s a hoot.

In 2016, the United States Library of Congress deemed Who Framed Roger Rabbit “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

With Joanna Cassidy, Lou Hirsch, Mike Edmonds, Eugene Guirterrez, Mae Questel, Mel Blanc, Tony Anselmo, Mary T. Radford, Joe Alaskey, David Lander, Richard Williams, Wayne Allwine, Tony Pope, Peter Westy, Cherry Davis, Nancy Cartwright

Production: Touchstone Pictures, Amblin Entertainment

Distribution: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution

104 minutes
Rated PG

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

Four Letter Words

(USA 2000)

With The Florida Project (https://moviebloke.com/2017/10/03/the-florida-project/), Sean Baker sparked my curiosity in his work. Big time. Sure, I heard of him and caught an earlier film, Tangerine (https://moviebloke.com/2015/07/28/tangerine/), before that. Now, though, I’m practically obsessed with seeing what else he’s done, more than any other director in recent memory. For my latest foray into Baker, I went back to Four Letter Words, his first feature film.

Truly a show about nothing, Four Letter Words takes place at the end of a house party in suburban Los Angeles. It’s 3:30 a.m. Art (Fred Berman), who’s in his second or third year of college —  and on his third or fourth major — is home from school and threw a get-together at his parents’ house, inviting his BFFs from high school. It’s clear that it’s time for everyone to go but he doesn’t want to be alone.

Baker’s style is very much ‘90s DIY. Four Letter Words feels a lot like early Richard Linklater or Kevin Smith, loaded with naturalistic dialogue and rants mostly about sex, slacker characters, dumb antics, and mundane events that transpire over the course of an hour or so.

Baker explores the outlook of suburban men in their 20s. Four Letter Words isn’t revolutionary or terribly insightful. It’s neither a major work nor required viewing, but it’s mildly interesting because it shows what draws him in.

With David Ari, Henry Beylin, Darcy Bledsoe, Edward Coyne, Matthew Dawson, Thomas Donnarumma, Loren Ecker, Karren Karagulian, Robyn Parsons, David Prete, Matthew Maher, Vincent Radwinsky, Susan Stanley, Jay Thames, Artyom Trubnikov, Paul Weissman

Production: Vanguard

Distribution: littlefilms

82 minutes
Not rated

(DVD purchase) C-

http://www.littlefilms.com/home.htm

Suburbicon

(USA 2017)

George Clooney’s Suburbicon probably isn’t going to end up on anyone’s “best” list, nor should it. Too bad, because it’s got all the right elements: an experienced director with a strong point of view and his heart in the right place, a story by Joel and Ethan Coen, and a solid cast. The trailer sold me.

I guess I can see where this was headed. Unfortunately, though, some bizarre calls from the director’s chair drive Suburbicon into the ground. What could’ve been a biting and clever comment about race and the postwar American Dream, isn’t. Instead, Suburbicon is a confused jumble of ideas that don’t seem thought out or placed very well.

Suburbicon, which gets its name from the fictional suburban housing development where the film takes place, involves two concurrent stories that play out separately in late ‘50s suburbia. The main story, the one that the Coen brothers developed over 30 years ago, follows the boneheaded attempts of daft Suburbicon resident Gardner Lodge (Matt Damon) at covering his tracks in an insurance scam he perpetrates with his sister-in-law, Margaret (Julianne Moore, who pulls a Patty Duke and does double duty also playing Gardner’s wife, Rose). Gardner is also dodging two amateur hitmen (Glenn Fleshler and Alex Hassell) who are trying to reach him. To make matters worse, his grade school age son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), inadvertently threatens to blow his cover. It isn’t long before it’s clear that Gardner’s in way over his head.

Meanwhile, the Mayers, a black family, move into Suburbicon, right next door to the Lodges. This subplot is based on an actual event that happened in Levittown, Pennsylvania, in 1957 (http://ushistoryscene.com/article/levittown/). In fact, the film uses what appears to be real-life footage from it. The residents don’t want a black family living near them, apparently because they think it will cause the neighborhood to go to hell. So, they stage a protest outside the Mayers’ house, chanting, playing instruments all night, and eventually trespassing and vandalizing. In the midst of this brouhaha, Nicky befriends the son, Andy (Tony Espinosa), who’s about the same age.

The residents get louder and more violent as the Coen plot develops into something darker and more violent.

Suburbicon has a few big problems. First, it clearly wants to make a grand statement or observation. It fails because it doesn’t integrate the two plots. We don’t get much about the Mayers. Whatever point this subplot was supposed to make is completely overshadowed by the main plot, and it comes off as merely an ironic parallel. It’s weird, manipulative, and simply doesn’t work.

Second, I have no idea how all that happens inside the Lodge residence does so with the huge mob next door. How does no one notice what’s going on right outside the door? How does everyone in that huge mob miss the people coming and going from the Lodge residence? Some of them are bloody. Hello?

Third, the plot twists are evident a mile away.

Fourth, neither Damon nor Moore pulls off the sinister vibe their characters call for. Somehow Clooney misses the mark on the sheer weirdness of the plot and the characters despite the sharp, exaggerated dialogue you usually get from the Coen brothers. Oscar Isaac is the only actor who nails it; his small part as an insurance investigator, regrettably short, stands out as the only bright spot here — although both Jupe and Nancy Daly as Gardner’s secretary deserve an honorable mention. Overall, though, the end result here is hopelessly flat and surprisingly lifeless. It’s frustrating to see.

I didn’t hate Suburbicon, but I didn’t love it. Its points are muddled. I expected a lot more, and there was so much to work with here.

With Karimah Westbrook, Leith M. Burke, Megan Ferguson, Jack Conley, Gary Basaraba, Michael D. Cohen, Steven Shaw, Don Baldaramos, Ellen Crawford, Cathy Giannone, Allan Wasserman, Mark Leslie Ford, Richard Kind, Robert Pierce, Pamela Dunlap, Jack Conley, Frank Califano, Lauren Burns

Production: Paramount Pictures, Black Bear Pictures, Silver Pictures, Smoke House Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures

105 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C-

http://www.suburbiconmovie.com

Charleston

(Romania / France 2017)

With the title of his new film Charleston, writer and director Andrei Cretulescu seems to play on late actor Charleton Heston, who comes up during a dinner conversation between recently widowed Alexandru (Serban Pavlu) and his gay brother, Ludovic (Gavril Patru), while the latter’s silent and vacant German boy toy (Vlad Galer) plays a video game. It’s fitting for a movie that explores grief and masculinity.

It’s Alexandru’s birthday. His wife, Ioana (Ana Ularu), was just killed, run down as she crossed the street. A cut to him lounging nonchalantly at her grave, wearing earphones and big sunglasses and smoking a cigarette, raises doubt about how bad he’s taking it.

After his dinner with Ludovic, a surprise knock on the door brings Alexandru face to face with Sebastian (Radu Iacoban), a stuttering hipster metrosexual wimp who introduces himself as Ioana’s lover. A punch in the face starts a strange partnership in which the two men pair up to commiserate separately.

Cretulescu’s premise is promising, and it gets some solid mileage for most of the film. Alexandru’s cynicism and derision contrasts sharply with Sebastian’s unsophisticated neediness and angst. Drinking, stealing, playing records, and constantly bickering, the two lonely men get into some marvelously absurd situations. A certain dance during the “intermission” is out of nowhere. They also learn a few things about the woman who left them behind.

Unfortunately, the story peters out about two thirds of the way through, starting with a plainly weird road trip to a town on the sea that both associate with Ioana. The climax isn’t exactly satisfying. I wish Charleston ended up somewhere as interesting as it seemed to be headed.

With Victor Rebengiuc, Ana Ciontea, Gabriela Popescu, Dorian Boguta, Andreea Vasile, Adrian Titieni, Sergiu Costache, Claudiu Dumitru, Alina Berzunteanu, Letitia Vladescu

Production: ICON, Les Films du Tambour, Kinosseur, Digital Cube, Mille et une Films, WAG Prod, Wearebasca

Distribution: Kinosseur (Romania), Versatile (International)

U.S. Premiere

Screening introduced and followed by a live Q and A with director Andrei Cretulescu

119 minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

https://www.facebook.com/Charleston2017

Mon Mon Mon Monsters [Bào Gào Lǎo Shī! Guài Guài Guài Guài Wù!]

(Taiwan 2017)

In his latest film, peer pressure horror comedy Mon Mon Mon Monsters [報告老師! 怪怪怪怪物!] [Bào Gào Lǎo Shī! Guài Guài Guài Guài Wù!], writer/director Giddens Ko takes us on a wild ride that leaves us pondering who the real mosters are. He subtly gives us his answer in the title.

High school student Lin Shu-wei (Deng Yu-kai) is a neo maxi zoom dweebie with a masochistic edge. Why else would he tolerate the constant flying bits of paper, chairs pulled out from under him, and general teenage tomfoolery directed at him?

Lin becomes the target of Bully Ren-hao (Kent Tsai), a closet psychopath who relentlessly dreams up new ways to torment him. Ren-hao has two flunkies, Liao Kuo-feng (James Lai) and Yeh Wei-chu (Tao Meng) who do his bidding. Ren-hao’s girlfriend, Wu Si-hua (Bonnie Liang), contributes to the hell — never removing her star-studded headset as she snaps photos with her iPhone.

A pacificst teacher (Carolyn Chen) has an idea to get the boys on common ground: she assigns the four of them to community service feeding senile elderlies at a decrepit old age home that looks like something straight out of Blade Runner. Lin has a bad feeling about it, and he’s right: in the process of robbing an old man, the boys corner and capture a flesh-eating female beast (Lin Pei-hsin) they find roaming around.

They take her to an abandoned recreation center, where they chain her up and torture her with light, fire, and starvation. Lin reluctantly goes along with it, but he reaches a point where he either has to put up or shut up. Meanwhile, the beast’s protective and pissed off older sister (Eugenie Liu) is looking for her. This is where Lin is put to the test: does he have any character, and can he stay true to it?

Despite inconsistent pacing, Mon Mon Mon Monsters is overall engaging. Ko has something to say about the moral fabric of today’s youth, but he says it in a mostly lighthearted way. The acting is solid all around, which is pretty amazing for a slasher flick. The “monsters” are sweet in their own way. It’s smart to show them right off the bat rather than let us wonder what they look like; they come off as more human than the teenagers in this movie.

The special effects are pretty good, and the way Ko plays with light and color is downright spectacular. Quite a few scenes here are magnificent even if they’re cheesy and gory (that scene on the bus is fabulous, as are the scene where the teacher ignites in the gym and pretty much any of the scenes in the recreation center). Underneath all the blood and hate is a truth about the social ladder.

With Kai Ko, Vivian Sung, Emerson Tsai, Phil Hou, Bruce Hung 

Production: Star Ritz International Entertainment

Distribution: Vie Vision Pictures

113 Minutes
Not rated

(AMC River East) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

Hot Dog Hands

(USA 2017)

Part comedy and part horror, Hot Dog Hands by Matt Reynolds is a squiggly little story involving bullying and body issues.

A woman (Gillian Wallace Horvat) becomes a recluse when her hands sprout plump fingers that look like hot dogs — and they won’t stop. The boys on her street notice; they stand in a group outside her house and chant, “Hot dog hands!” It’s upsetting to say the least.

A piece of junk mail leads the woman to a cure, but it’s not what she (or I) expected. It’s a weird but cute and kind of sweet solution that made me smile. Stuck between features of a horror movie marathon during the wee hours of the morning, it also gave me a jolt of energy that perked me up and allowed me to move onto the next film awake. Bravo!

Production: Matt Reynolds

Distribution: Matt Reynolds

6 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) B

Music Box of Horrors

mattreynoldstreats.com

Foxy Brown

(USA 1974)

“That’s my sister, baby. And she’s a whole lot of woman.”

— Link

 

“Death is too easy for you, bitch. I want you to suffer.”

— Foxy

To use a term straight from Willie Hutch’s theme song, director/screenwriter Jack Hill’s Foxy Brown is superbad. It’s definitely not something to see for technical or artistic excellence, but it’s cool nonetheless. A sort of reworking of Coffey, it’s a sexy vigilante revenge tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Pam Grier is Foxy Brown, a bodacious woman on a mission to track down the goons who shot and killed her boyfriend (Terry Carter), a government agent who just had plastic surgery to change his identity, right outside her door. Obviously, this is the work of a Los Angeles drug ring.

Foxy quickly figures out who the rat is: her own brother, Link (Antonio Fargas). He identifies her boyfriend’s killers as affiliates of a “modeling agency.” The agency is run by fixers Miss Kathryn Wall (Kathryn Loder) and Steve Elias (Peter Brown). Their clients are crooked high profile men of the law like judges and politicians who trade favors for girls.

Posing as a prostitute, Foxy gets inside the operation and does some major damage. It gets her in serious hot water when she’s exposed, bringing her into the center of a lesbian bar brawl and then onto a coke ranch as a junky sex slave. Fortunately, she’s tough and resourceful. No one gets the best of Foxy.

Built on sex parties, chase scenes, shoot outs, and boobs, the plot is structured like a sitcom, and it’s about as complicated and predictable. Naturally, Foxy gets what she wants in the end. Except for the very cool opening titles, there are no effects to speak of. The acting is average at best. However, the action is surprisingly steady, leaving very few dull spots. Plus, there’s real sas here, mostly from Grier, that keeps the whole thing interesting.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call Foxy Brown a feminist work, but Foxy is a badass heroine with her heart — and her head — in the right place. It’s a thrill watching her take control, especially in heels and those fabulous frocks. I wouldn’t want to piss her off.

With Harry Holcombe, Sid Haig, Juanita Brown, Sally Ann Stroud, Bob Minor, Tony Giorgio, Fred Lerner, Judy Cassmore, H.B. Haggerty, Boyd ‘Red’ Morgan, Jack Bernardi, Brenda Venus, Kimberly Hyde, Jon Cedar, Ed Knight, Esther Sutherland, Mary Foran, Jeannie Epper, Stephanie Epper, Peaches Jones, Helen Boll, Conrad Bachmann, Russ Grieve, Rodney Grier, Roydon E. Clark, Don Gazzaniga, Jay Fletcher, Gary Wright, Fred Murphy, Edward Cross, Larry Kinley Jr.

Production: American International Pictures (AIP)

Distribution: American International Pictures (AIP) (USA), Sociedade Importadora de Filmes (SIF) (Portugal), Film AB Corona (Sweden), Cinema Mondo (Finland)

92 minutes
Rated R

(Impact) C+

Il Boom

(Italy 1964, 2017)

For some reason — I can’t find an answer — Il Boom was not released in the States until this year. Madonne! Better late than never, and I’m glad it made it because it reaffirms my love of midcentury Italian cinema.

Giovanni Alberti (Alberto Sordi) lives large. His fabulously modern apartment in Rome features a gorgeous patio for entertaining. He employs a housekeeper and sometimes a wait staff. His beautiful and frivolous wife, Silvia (Gianna Maria Canale), has expensive taste. Every night, they go out on the town for lavish dinners and fancy cocktails, dancing and partying in the most chic and trendy clubs.

A game of footsie under the table suggests that his bourgeois crowd is into some naughty stuff on the side, but Giovanni loves Sylvia way too much for that.

Life is grand, but that’s the problem: Giovanni lives above his means. Unbeknownst to Sylvia, who continues to spend gleefully, he’s over his head in debt and about to be publicly humiliated on “the registry.” He can’t get another loan because his credit is shot. Desperate, he suggests a simpler lifestyle, which Sylvia simply ignores. He can’t bring himself to tell her why.

Giovanni fails miserably to convince a number of friends and associates to invest in his land development plan, which may or may not be a scam. His last hope is one-eyed real estate mogul Mr. Bausetti (Ettore Geri), who like everyone else turns him down. Mrs. Bausetti (Elena Nicolai), however, makes a proposal behind her husband’s back: she offers to buy Giovanni’s left eye. He can name his price.

Il Boom is a lot of fun. The title refers to the postwar economic boom in Italy and elsewhere. Director Vittorio De Sica and writer Cesare Zavattini are critical of consumerism, and there’s definitely a moral. However, they avoid getting on a soapbox and simply make fun of it. The story moves along breezily, and quite a few scenes — the dinner party, the hospital — are memorably offbeat and funny. Sordi is perfect as the hapless Giovanni, displaying a mercurial energy and general uneasiness that keeps you watching. His reaction to Mrs. Bausetti’s offer is priceless. I left with a smile.

Armando Nannuzzi’s cinematography is beautiful in luminous black and white; I can’t imagine Il Boom in color. Billy Vaughn’s super cool “Wheels” plays throughout the film; man, does it stick in your head. I’m humming it now.

With Alceo Barnabei, Federico Giordano, Antonio Mambretti, Silvio Battistini, Sandro Merli, John Karlsen, Ugo Silvestri, Gloria Cervi, Gino Pasquarelli, Maria Grazia Buccella, Mariolina Bovo, Felicita Tranchina, Franco Abbiana, Rosetta Biondi

Production: Dino de Laurentiis Cinematografica

Distribution: Rialto Pictures, StudioCanal

88 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B+

http://www.rialtopictures.com/catalogue/il-boom