Spy

  • Title: Spy
  • Director: Paul Feig
  • Date: 2015
  • Studio: 20th Century Fox
  • Genre: Action, Comedy
  • Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Miranda Hart, Allison Janney, Rose Byrne, Morena Baccarin, Jude Law, Jason Statham, Jessica Chaffin
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“I must have watched this fifteen times now, because What the fuck? I almost put it up on youTube.” – Elaine Crocker
“I must say I was uncomfortable with the event, but I’d also like to say – it was over ten years ago, the instructor was not harmed.” – Susan
“Fine was your mentor, right?” – Elaine
“Yes.” – Susan
“Why did you not become a field agent?” – Elaine
“We’re such a great fit and a great team… Fine made some great points, maybe I’d match better staying in his ear.” – Susan
“Yeah, he sniped you. All the top agents used to do that before I got here.” – Elaine

“I do not condone these sexy but reckless actions of yours, Susan!” – Nancy

Melissa McCarthy’s Spy is an empowering movie – but it is also laugh-out-loud funny, fast-paced, and quite the ride. The movie stars five very different women and a few men. At the core of the film is the friendship between Susan Cooper and Nancy, two analysts at the CIA. Their job is perfectly explained by the opening scene of the film where Bradley Fine, top CIA field agent, tracks down a man who’s made it known he’s willing to sell a small, portable nuclear weapon. Fine’s holding the man at gunpoint when he points out that he erased the men who helped him hide the nuke, then he erased the “erasers” so Bradley better not kill him. At that moment, Fine sneezes, the gun goes off, and the guy dies. Susan asks, “Why did you do that?” then calmly, and expertly guides Fine to his escape, even calling in a drone strike so Fine can get away. Susan and Nancy’s friendship is illustrated by a scene where they are in a bar talking. Nancy spots Carol Walker, the agency’s top female agent and quietly pokes fun at her for being so perfect. The scene is very real and illustrates how real women talk.

After Fine’s disastrous mission, Elaine Crocker, the head of the department at the CIA tells the agents that someone else must know about the nuke because it’s come up for sale on the black market. Susan had figured out it was Rayna, the seller’s daughter. Fine is sent to get Rayna – but he’s killed and Rayna reveals she knows the names of all the top agents. Thus Crocker needs to find an unknown for the mission. Susan Cooper volunteers. Susan, as a woman, is given a horrible cover story, and even worse and more embarrassing special equipment. When she arrives in Paris, her hotel is the type of dive that makes one want to take a shower just looking at it in the film. In Paris, she runs into Ford, another top agent who quit when Elaine choose Susan for the mission instead of him. Ford will continually show up – proving himself to be an incredible egotist, who constantly brags up his own abilities and insults Susan.

Susan herself through luck and talent manages to do quiet well. She’s supposed to be on a track and report mission, but the building she’s supposed to watch, where Deluka, their lead is staying has burned down the night before. Susan runs into Ford, who leaves her, but she notices that a woman has switched backpacks with Ford. She chases after him, right into the middle of a German dance pop outdoor concert. Ford barely realizes what’s going on but manages to throw the bomb into the river. After the encounter, Susan asks to go to Rome to follow their next lead. Her new cover is even worse than her first one.

In Rome, Susan saves Rayna – the woman she’s after, from a poisoned drink. Rayna has the man who slipped it to her killed, then invites Susan  on her private jet to Budapest. On the jet, Susan is knocked out. When one of the men on the plane threatens Rayna (largely because she treats him badly – not even knowing his name), shoots up the plane, and kills the pilot and navigator. Susan lands the plane. Rayna concludes that Susan is CIA – Susan convinces her she’s Amber Valentine a bodyguard hired by Rayna’s father. Rayna accepts this but is wary. When they land, Susan runs into Nancy, and tells Rayna she’s another of her operatives. A car shoots at them, killing Anton, one of Rayna’s retainers – Susan gives chase on a scooter. She catches up to the car, and fires at it and it crashes – it’s the agent, Carol Walker. Susan’s apologizing, when Carol pulls a gun at her – then is killed by a sniper.

Rayna is to meet her buyer at a disco. The Ally from Rome, Aldo, shows up – as does Ford and Nancy. Ford causes trouble, Susan has Nancy cause a distraction, and Susan goes after the woman to prevent her from meeting Rayna. Susan gives chase and fights the woman in a kitchen, using things like cast iron pans and tupperware. She does pretty well, but ends-up cornered. Fine shows up and kills the girl, but he and Rayna who are working together take Susan hostage. She ends-up tied up with Aldo. Susan’s pretty demoralized by this but Aldo cheers her up and then helps untie her. They escape.

Susan goes to find Rayna, Fine, the broker, and the buyer. Rayna claims Susan is doing all this because she loves Fine. Fine had revealed himself to be a triple agent. Rayna takes the group to the nuke, and again all hell breaks loose as the broker kills everyone he can so he can take the nuke and the diamonds that were Rayna’s payment. Ford arrives and pratfalls into the room – becoming a liability. Susan and Fine handle things in the room, though the broker escapes with the diamonds and nuke. Susan runs to the helicopter to get him and jumps on the strut. Ford jumps on her. Susan lets Ford fall in the lake, knocks the nuke and diamonds in to the lake but gets caught at the wrong end of the broker’s gun. Nancy shows up in another helicopter and fires at the broker. The broker, not quite dead fights back and grabs Susan’s necklace – she loosens the adjustable toggle and the guy falls into the lake.

Now successful, Susan passes up a chance at a dinner date with Fine for a girls night with Nancy. Elaine promises to keep her on as an active agent.

Whereas the opening credits are a typical Bond-type montage of smoke and girls – the end credits show Susan’s missions, complete with secret identities and special weaponry and they are hilarious. The movie also has a terrific soundtrack of fun music. Spy is an empowering movie and I enjoy it every time I watch it. It pushes through the Bechel test like water. The main characters – Susan, Nancy, Elaine, and Rayna are all women. Even secondary characters – the traitor Carol, and the third analyst in the basement – are women. Moreover, the men aren’t particularly competent. Bradley Fine walks into the opening scene like he’s James Bond, but he sets-up the entire movie by killing Rayna’s father, accidentally, before finding out where the suitcase bomb is. Ford is an egotistical braggart who’s claims are so ridiculous he’s obviously making them up (and Susan calls him on it), and the reality of his “abilities” is considerably “less”.

Susan begins the film as an extremely competent CIA analyst – without her in his ear, Fine wouldn’t last 30 seconds. When Elaine, Susan’s boss, digs into Susan’s records at The Farm – the CIA’s training facility, she’s impressed and even asks why Susan didn’t apply for a field agent position – only to discover that Fine suggested that she should not. Susan and the other analysts have to endure horrible conditions in the CIA basement in Langley – with bats and mice in the room – yet all three analysts deal with it like it’s nothing. No women standing on chairs screaming at a mouse here. The scenes between Nancy and Susan, especially their first scene in the bar, are written the way women actually talk. And Nancy is also a strong woman who adds to the chemistry of the film.

Rayna, as the villain of the piece, is the type of woman it’s easy to dislike – she’s a spoiled, pampered brat. She always gets exactly what she wants, yet she cares little for other people. Even her underlings can’t stand her – and many try to kill her in the film. Rayna’s method of intimidation includes poking fun at Susan’s looks and her clothes. She also is a psychopath – she doesn’t even care about Fine, whom she’s sleeping with, even though he killed her father.

I highly, highly recommend this film. It’s empowering to watch. But it’s also very funny – and it’s a great action/adventure film.

Recommendation: A Must See
Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Son of Batman

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Hot Fuzz

  • Title: Hot Fuzz
  • Director: Edgar Wright
  • Date: 2007
  • Studio: Rogue Pictures, Working Title, Universal Pictures
  • Genre: Comedy, Action
  • Cast:  Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighty, Edward Woodward, Ron Cook, Martin Freeman, David Bradley
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • Video Format:  Blu-Ray

But the fact is, you’ve been making us all look bad.” – Met Chief Inspector
“I’m sorry, sir?” – Nicholas
” ‘Course we all appreciate your efforts but you’ve been rather letting the side down.” – Met Chief Inspector
“It’s all about being a team player, Nicholas.” – Inspector
“If we continue to let you run around town you’ll continue to be exceptional and we can’t have that. You’ll out us all out of a job.” Met Chief Inspector

“You can’t switch off, Nicholas.” – Janice

“I just feel like I’m missing out sometimes. I wanna do what you do.” – Danny
“You do do what I do. Why on Earth do you think you’re missing out?” – Nicholas
“Gun fights, car chases. Proper action and shit.” – Danny
“Police work is not about proper action! Or shit! It you’ve paid attention to me in school you’d understand. It’s not all about gun fights and car chases.” – Nicholas

Nicholas Angel is an excellent police officer – excelling in training, as well as academically, and has an arrest record 400 percent better than his fellow officers in the London Met. He is completely dedicated to his job and extremely good at what he does. But that becomes his problem as well. His girlfriend tells him he “can’t switch off”, and his fellow officers find his talent for policing annoying because he “makes them look bad”. So the Met comes to a decision – Nicholas is promoted to sergeant and transferred to the quaint English village of Sandford. Nicholas protests – but to no avail. So he and his Japanese Peace Lily plant head for Sandford.

In Sandford, Nicholas has trouble fitting in, though he gradually becomes friends with his new partner, Danny. But Nicholas also begins to suspect something strange is going on, as a series of fatal accidents occurs in the quiet village. Nicholas suspects these accidents are murders – but everyone from the villagers to the other police officers insist they are accidents. It’s obvious the murders are murders, and Nicholas can’t understand the reluctance the police have to investigate them as such. Slowly Nicholas even suspects the random acts of violence are linked.

Nicholas investigates, and also becomes acclimatized to the village and it’s rather odd inhabitants. But soon his investigations turn up a vast conspiracy – of actions and silence, that even reaches into the police itself. Nicholas is forced to leave.

However, he soon returns, and with the help of his partner Danny, he cleans-up the town in a symphony of violence and action.

Trust me – it’s funnier than it sounds. Hot Fuzz combines a satire of American action thriller films (such as Lethal Weapon, Point Break, and Die Hard), an English Village horror story (The Wicker Man, which starred a very young Edward Woodward, who also appears in this film), and a surprisingly sensitive story of a man’s coming into his own. Simon Pegg is the main character, Nicholas Angel, but he plays the role as the Straight Man. It isn’t Angel who’s the comedian – what makes the film funny is how Angel reacts to the outrageousness around him. And Nicholas also grows, not simply learning “to switch off” but to embrace his inner nature, but to take the time to form friendships as well. The arc of the relationship between Nicholas and Danny is well told, and parallels many classic American buddy cop films.

Yet it isn’t simply Nicholas’ story that Hot Fuzz tells and tells extremely well. Danny’s favorite passtime outside of work is watching the American action films that Hot Fuzz will ultimately parody, especially in the action-packed final sequences. A central scene in the film has Danny talking Nicholas into a real night out at the pub, with the two both drinking lagar, rather than Nicholas having his one cranberry juice then leaving. After several beers, the two head to Danny’s for an action movie binge night. Danny however grows as well, learning self-confidence and ultimately stepping out of his police inspector father’s shadow.

Yet this film, for all that it borrows and parodies from American action thrillers, is also quintessentially British, in that the actual plot that Nicholas discovers is that of the “perfect English village that gets it’s perfection from weird cults and strange sacrifices or conspiracies”. It’s a story that’s been around for awhile (the film The Wicker Man is a prime example, but I’ve seen versions of the story on Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) (2000), Torchwood, and even the Neil Gaiman novel American Gods, and I’m sure there are more examples.) But Hot Fuzz combines an insane amount of violence, lots of action, including a bit pulled from Lethal Weapon with Pegg and Frost firing two hand guns each while moving diagonally through the frame, car chases, confrontations, explosions, and just lots and lots of gunfire and sight gags. It’s hard to describe how such over-the-top action scenes can be funny – but because they are so over-done they are. Yet the film never loses sight of it’s characters or the characters unique points of view (even the villagers’ conspiracy, as misguided as it is – makes sense to them). Throughout the story the characterization rings true – even when the action and violence hits the ludicrous level (which makes the film funny). Nicholas Angel isn’t someone the audience will laugh at in this film. He’s someone the audience will sympathize with, especially as some of the other police officers, especially at the beginning, bully him,  and ignore his knowledge.

In the end, Nicholas gets to the bottom of things, and not only is all well – but the trio of inspectors from the beginning of the film arrive in the village to ask Nicholas back to the Met. Nicholas declines, deciding he likes his little village.

Hot Fuzz is a great movie, full of wonderful bits, great acting, and a top-notch cast. The films blends genres effortlessly and showcases the talents of Nicholas Pegg, who really is the central character of the film.  I highly recommend it.

Recommendation: A must see!
Rating: 5 Stars

Wayne’s World

  • Title:  Wayne’s World
  • Director:  Penelope Spheeris
  • Date:  1992
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Cast:  Mike Myers, Dana Carvey, Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“I’ve had plenty of ‘joe jobs’ – nothing I’d call a career. Let me put it this way – I have an extensive collection of name tags and hair nets.” – Wayne Campbell

“Sometimes, I wish I could boldly go where no man’s gone before, but I’ll probably stay in Aurora.” – Garth

“Aren’t we lucky we were there to get all that information? Seemed extraneous at the time.” – Wayne

Wayne’s World  felt very much like a 1980s movie to me when I re-watched it, so I was surprised to see the copyright date as actually 1992. The story is about two best friends, Wayne and Garth, who live in Aurora, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. The two have a local public access TV show that they film in Wayne’s basement called, “Wayne’s World”, and the film was developed from the Wayne’s World sketches on Saturday Night Live. However, in the film, the clips of Wayne and Garth doing their Wayne’s World show are the least successful parts of the film (they are very dated, and often fall flat).

The strength of the film, the part that shines, and still works, is that it’s a buddy film. But whereas most “buddy films” are cop films – Wayne’s World is about these two guys, good friends, who are into heavy metal music, and not taking life too seriously. The film also continuously breaks the fourth wall, as usually Wayne, addresses the audience directly. Garth, normally the quieter and shyer of the two – also, occasionally, addresses the audience. The film even features the occasional subtitle that comments on the action, such as “Oscar Clip”. The constant breaking of the fourth wall gives the film a surreal quality and an avant-garde edge. But that doesn’t mean the film is overly serious. Quite the opposite – it’s very, very funny. It’s also filled with clips of great music, and a lot of singing (almost exclusively cover versions of popular music).

The basic storyline is that Wayne and Garth have this cable access show, Wayne’s World, that they put together every week, more-or-less as a hobby, though Wayne, at least, would like to do Wayne’s World as a career. One night, Benjamin Oliver, an unsavory ad exec is flipping channels and he sees the show. He thinks it’s the perfect vehicle for his biggest client, the owner of a chain of video arcades called Noah’s Arcade. He wants to move the show to a cable network, have Noah’s Arcade sponsor it, and use it as a vehicle for, essentially, half an hour’s worth of advertising for the arcade. Benjamin’s plot works in that he gets Wayne and Garth to agree to his contract, though when Wayne gets on set he blows up and refuses to do product placement (in a hilarious scene in which at least half a dozen different products are prominently placed and used). Benjamin meanwhile sows discontent between Wayne and Garth, and gets Wayne to think his girlfriend is cheating on him. But it all works out in the end (well, in the third alternate ending).

But the film’s point isn’t really the plot. The characters, Wayne and Garth, and their close friendship – a friendship that is threatened but recovers – is at the heart of the film. Also, the idea of personal happiness being more important than money or what others call success is a subtext of the film. Yet, at it’s heart the film is just very funny – and enjoyable to watch. Wayne and Garth’s personal optimism and infectiously happy outlooks make the film enjoyable to watch. The frequent music, covers, and sing-alongs add to the fun.

Overall, one of the oddest things about the film might just be the frequent anachronisms. The entire set-up, the “Wayne’s World” cable access show is something that barely exists now. However, a real-life Wayne and Garth these days could easily do their own show on youTube, or create a regular podcast. Wayne and his new girlfriend, Cassandra talk on landline phones that include a cord. Benjamin’s client owns coin-operated video arcades. The famous, and awesome, sing-along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” starts with Wayne putting a cassette tape into the car’s tape deck (though later Wayne, at least, upgrades to an external CD drive). The film doesn’t so much look dated as have moments of, “Oh, yeah, that’s how we used to do things.” Though, it’s Garth who mostly correctly describes how he will bounce the special “Wayne’s World” episode featuring Cassandra’s performance off several communications satellites (which Garth mentions by name/number) – today such dialogue would be simplified to “bounced off several satellites”) to Mr. Sharpe’s limo to get her a  record contract. Even the three endings reference older films, such as Clue. It felt at times, like a window into the past.

Overall, I found Wayne’s World to be enjoyable to re-watch, mostly because it was just so happy. Wayne and Garth’s attitude towards women notwithstanding (Garth continuously talks about women as “babes” but can’t get up the courage to talk to the pretty blonde he keeps spotting in their neighborhood.) It some ways the film was also like an updated American Graffiti in that it portrays a time and a place, though it’s less serious in content and tone. Still, it’s fun, just plain fun.

NOTE:  I normally don’t mention DVD menus, but this one with the cable access opening is funny. Also, there are a number of hidden features on the menu (which looks like a cable TV on-screen guide).

Recommendation:  See it
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  When Harry Met Sally…

UHF

  • Title:  UHF
  • Director:  Jay Levey
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  Orion Pictures (DVD released by MGM)
  • Genre:  Comedy
  • Cast:  “Weird Al” Yankovic (created as Al Yankovic), Victoria Jackson, Kevin Mccarthy, Michael Richards, David Bowe, Anthony Geary, Trinidad Silva, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Barty, Fran Drescher
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This is even better than I imagined!” – George

“Sweetheart, take my advice, broads don’t belong in broadcasting.” – Fletcher’s thug to Pamela

“I never should have taken this job. I should have known it would turn out like all the others. You know, for a short time there, I really thought this was going to be different. I just don’t know anymore.” – George

UHF  is a underdog story about a UHF television station and the misfits who end-up working there. However, today many people might not even know what a UHF station is. Back in the days before cable when all television was local and not national, picture tube television sets had two dials – VHF (very high frequency) and UHF (ultra high frequency). The VHF dial consisted of numbers 2 – 13 and was where the locally-owned network affiliates were found. A locally-owned network affiliate was owned by a local business person or group and they bought network programming during prime time, but ran whatever they wanted otherwise (usually re-runs). The UHF dial (channels 14 – whatever) was home to all sorts of unusual channels that were also locally owned (and may even have a network affiliation) in my area we had a channel 35 which was an PBS affiliate and a channel 41 which was an ABC affiliate. But often the UHF band also supported various local channels that catered to a specific audience: news, sports, minority broadcasting, etc. In major cities the local VHF or UHF stations often were the first to jump to cable and become national “Superstations” (for example WWGN (Ch 9) in Chicago – famous for running Cubs baseball, WTBS in Atlanta, WWOR in New York, etc.).

UHF, the film, is about one of these small, independent stations – but more than that it’s about the people who end up there and how they actually care about what they are doing. George Newman (Weird Al) is an idealistic dreamer. He goes from job to job, constantly getting fired for daydreaming rather than concentrating on his boring work. Bob is his friend. After they are fired from their job at Burger World, George is suddenly given what he thinks will be his golden opportunity: his Uncle Harvey wins a television station in a high stakes poker game. George’s aunt convinces Harvey to let George run the station, Channel 62.

Channel 62 is a mess. Fran Drescher is Pamela Finkelstein, the secretary who was hired with the promise of a job in news. When George and Bob arrive no one else works at the station except the engineer, Philo, who seems very strange, even to George. But George, who is at heart, just a very nice guy, assembles a group of great people and gives them the opportunity to shine. This includes Billy Barty as Noodles the Cameraperson who works with Pamela, now the station’s news reporter, Stanley the Janitor – who was fired by the cross town network affiliate “Channel 8” president, JR Fletcher.

George sees that they are only running re-runs, and decides to launch new live shows. At first, this only goes so well. But then, after a particularly bad day, George puts Stanley in charge of the kiddie playhouse show. Stanley is a hit, and soon, “Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse” becomes a ratings blockbuster. George adds in other new shows, including “Wheel of Fish” hosted by his friend, Kani, who also runs a karate studio; and Raul’s Wild Kingdom, as well as various movies such as: “Conan the Librarian” and “Gandhi II”.

UHF moves quickly between George’s daydreams – such as the opening parody of Indiana Jones, or later George’s “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies” music video; unbelievable commercials, promos for various shows, and brief excerpts of the programs on U62, and it’s main story, which is an underdog story for George and his friends – where nice guys do finish first.

As George and Bob create more original programming, they get more and more attention, and when the ratings come out U62 is at the top in the local market, with five shows in the top five. George and Bob are stunned. But just as everything seems to be going perfectly, Uncle Harvey loses at the racetrack and needs $75,000 to pay his bookie.

Meanwhile, RJ Fletcher, the owner and manager of network affiliate channel 8, who has proved himself to be a nasty piece of work, with no redeeming features whatsoever (and who keeps, through his own arrogance and disregard for others – handing opportunities to George, who’s very niceness turns to his own advantage) is angry about channel 62 beating him in the ratings, which he takes as a personal affront. He offers to buy the station from Harvey so he can pay his bookie.

George convinces Harvey to at least let him match Fletcher’s offer. He and his friends then hold a telethon, raising money by selling stock in the station at $10.00/share. Despite difficulties, at the last minute they are up to $73,000 and change. Then a bum, who’s been seen collecting change throughout the movie, gives them the last $2000 they need. It seems the penny RJ had given him as an insult was an ultra-rare coin worth a fortune. RJ could have still gotten his station (which he then was going to destroy) but he first goes to gloat at and insult the assembled crowd. George sneaks over to the bookie’s car, gives him the money, gets the contract and Harvey signs it over.

Meanwhile, Philo had also installed cameras at RJ’s office and recorded him saying very insulting things about the local community. This footage is not only played on Channel 8’s own signal, over-writing his broadcast signal, but it’s the primary evidence when the FCC agent shows up and revokes Fletcher’s licence (we can assume, since the man shows up and rather than fining Fletcher for not re-applying for his broadcasting licence – he revokes it.) Philo walks off after saying goodbye to George and Teri (George’s girlfriend) and disappears in a beam of light. Pamela reports on the story of the end of Fletcher’s media career.

UHF  is really a simply underdog story. And it’s the story of a man finding his way in the universe. But it’s also a story about good people, and how just simply being nice, and kind, and considerate will bring good things. There’s also a lot of sight gags, some physical comedy, and even some wordplay. It’s an enjoyable family film.

This is a B film, however. Although there are some well-known names in the film (Fran Drescher, Victoria Jackson, Kevin McCarthy, Anthony Geary) it’s mostly “Weird Al”‘s movie – almost as if he and his friends got together to make a film. But even so, it’s enjoyable and fun.

Recommendation: If comedy’s your thing, See it.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Van Helsing

Top Hat

  • Title:  Top Hat
  • Director:  Mark Sandrich
  • Date:  1935
  • Studio:  RKO Radio Pictures
  • Genre:  Musical, Comedy, Romance
  • Cast:  Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Edward Everett Horton, Erik Rhodes, Eric Blore, Helen Broderick
  • Words and Music:  Irving Berlin
  • Format:  Standard, Black and White
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“Oh, that call wasn’t for me, it was for you. Somebody has registered a complaint.” – Horace Hardwicke (Edward Everett Horton)
“I know! I’ve just seen the complaint and she’s lovely, she’s delightful, she’s charming, and she wants to sleep.” – Jerry Travers (Fred Astaire)

“May I rescue you?” – Jerry
“No thank you. I prefer to be in distress.” – Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers)

“You want this show to last two nights? Get me a plane, now!” – Jerry
“What kind of plane?” – Horace
“One with wings!” – Jerry

Top Hat  is a a romantic comedy filled with mistaken identities and misunderstandings, and music! Like any farce, it’s the type of plot that would be resolved in five minutes if anyone in the cast actually talked to each other for five minutes, rather than making assumptions. But that’s not really a negative – because it’s light, frothy romance with no harsh realities at all. The sets are marvelously art deco and beautiful – especially the Venice hotel with it’s waterways and boats.

The story begins in London, with Jerry Travers waiting in a very quiet English gentleman’s club for his friend Horace. The club is one where Silence Must Be Observed at all times, and everyone stares at Jerry when he drops something, or turns the page of his newspaper. Horace finds Jerry, starts to talk to him, then realizes where he is, and urges Jerry to leave so they can talk. Just as he’s leaving, Jerry does a quick tap dance on the floor simply to annoy everyone – and as a joke.

Horace takes Jerry to his hotel, Jerry – excited about seeing Horace, and their new show, begins tapping in his hotel room (“No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)”) – waking up the young woman in the hotel suite below. She calls to complain to the manager. Horace takes the call, gets confused, and goes down to the hotel desk to tell the manager he doesn’t want a young woman in his hotel room because it wouldn’t be proper. Meanwhile, Dale goes to the hotel suite and complains. Dale doesn’t introduce herself – and Jerry’s so taken with her, he doesn’t introduce himself either. This proves to actually be a very important part of the plot.

The next day, Jerry goes to the hotel flower shop and orders that all the flowers be sent to Ms. Tremont’s room (by room number) – then charges the very expensive bill to Horace by his room number.

Horace, afraid that Dale might be a “designing woman” sets his valet, Bates, to following her. This is another part of the plot that’s considerably more important than it seems. Horace also warns Jerry off, telling him about a woman he met called Violet who took advantage of him.

Meanwhile, we learn Dale is a social model. A dress designer named Alberto Belleni pays her to wear his dresses, so her friends will see them, ask about them, and he will get more contracts to design dresses and sell more of his designs. But, since he’s financially supporting her – this is something not good for Horace to find out as he’d get the wrong idea. Dale is also close friends with his wife, Madge.

Jerry tries to meet Dale again, she rebuffs him – mentioning she’s going for a ride in the park. Jerry gives her a ride to her lesson in the park, and again tries to get her interested in him without luck. During her ride, Dale gets caught in the rain. She shelters in a gazebo. Jerry arrives and tries to calm her down by telling her a story about clouds. He then sings “Isn’t it a Lovely Day? (To get Caught in the Rain)” to her, and the two dance in partner tap. Ginger is wearing jodphur-pants. Fred and Ginger also mirror each other beautifully when dancing. At the end of their dance the two sit down on the edge of the raised gazebo platform – and shake hands. It’s a gesture between partners.

Later at the hotel, Ginger asks the concierge to point out Horace. The concierge points to “the man with the briefcase and cane” on the walkway. But Horace runs into Jerry and hands him his briefcase and cane – thus making Dale think he’s her friend Madge’s husband. This type of thing continuously happens – Dale keeps thinking that Jerry is Horace, and thus her friend’s husband and a terrible cad to boot.

Jerry is in the middle of his show, changing between acts, when Horace reads his wife’s telegram and finds out she and Dale are heading off to Venice. Jerry insists they hire a charter plane and go to Venice as well.

The production number, part of Jerry’s show, is “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” which has Astaire dancing with a chorus of men in formal wear. During the dance he “shoots” the men with his cane. His short tap dancing routine gets a standing ovation from the audience.

In Venice, Dale meets up with Madge, and they meet the sea plane – but Dale isn’t there when Madge says hello to Jerry – whom Madge actually wants to set-up with Jerry.  The hotel is full – so Horace and Jerry end up sharing the bridal suite, while Madge and Dale share their own suite.

Bellani, thinking that Horace has designs on Dale confronts him, but Horace has no idea what’s going on.

Dale talks to Madge about her husband’s flirting. Madge says she knows he flirts, but it doesn’t mean anything. Dale decides to “teach him a lesson” and goes to his room to throw herself at him – and again runs into Jerry. Jerry turns the tables and flirts back.

Later, at dinner, Madge, Jerry, and Dale meet – but no introductions are made, as Dale insists she knows who Jerry is (she still thinks he’s Madge’s husband Horace). Fred and Ginger dance to “Cheek to Cheek”, with Ginger in the beautiful, floaty, feather dress. It’s ballroom dance that begins with the two in the midst of a crowded dance floor, and moves to the two dancing on a patio that resembles an even bigger version of the gazebo from earlier. There is also some side by side and partner tap, with the two mirroring each other beautifully. But when Jerry proposes – Dale thinks he’s Madge’s husband, and slaps him.

Alberto Belleni flirts with Dale, and proposes to her. She accepts him but insists they must be married immediately.

Jerry, in a last ditch effort to get Dale to listen to him has Horace distract Belleni, and goes to talk to Dale. He takes her on a boat ride on the water – and finally explains who he is.

Meanwhile, Bates reports to Horace that Dale and Jerry are drifting out to sea. Horace, Madge, and Belleni go off in a boat to “rescue” Dale and Jerry.

Dale and Jerry return, happy at last, but concerned about her quick marriage and how to dissolve it. Dale rushes off. Bates tells Jerry that Madge, Horace, and Belleni went off in a boat from which he’d “removed the gasoline” while disguised as a gondolier. The local police arrest Bates for his impersonation.

There is a production number instrumental of “The Piccolino”, which starts with Bugby Berkeley-styled dancers. Then the camera changes to a much happier Dale singing “The Piccolino” to Jerry. Then the perspective switches back to the elaborate production number.

Fred and Ginger dance – tap and ballroom, mirroring each other in tap. Their dance is full frame and uncut. Ginger’s dress is sparkly with a trumpet skirt. They dance back to their table, saluting each other with champagne glasses.

Horace, Madge, and Belleni return. That Horace is Madge’s husband is confirmed, as is the blossoming romance between Dale and Jerry. Just as everyone is wondering what they will do, Bates arrives and states he had been following Dale everywhere, and he had earlier disguised himself as a clergyman by turning his collar around. Belleni states, “But you were the one who married us!” Dale responds, “Then we were never really married!” And she rushes off in Jerry’s arms!

List of Musical Numbers

  • No Strings (I’m Fancy Free)
  • Isn’t This a Lovely Day (To be Caught in the Rain)?
  • Top Hat, White Tie and Tails
  • Cheek to Cheek
  • The Piccolino

Top Hat  is a simple, romantic comedy – fueled by mistaken identities, coincidences, and misunderstandings, where, of course, in the end – everything works out. But it features some of Irving Berlin’s best songs and Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger’s best dances. The sets, especially the boats in the waterway, are wonderful – and the Art Deco just shines. The dances are filmed full-frame and often without cuts. Certainly, there’s no cuts to faces and feet – which means one can follow the dance and focus on Fred and Ginger’s artistry. There are two ensemble production numbers – Fred’s tap dance with a male chorus, which is part of the show he’s been hired for as a professional dancer; and “The Piccolino”. “The Piccolino” is a wonderful production number – but it seems out of place in Tap Hat. It starts as a elaborate production number, switches to show Ginger singing, switches back to a production number, then switches a fourth time to Fred and Ginger dancing. The production part is full of fast cuts, and elaborate patterns, using ribbons. In short, it looks like a Bugsy Berkeley musical. But when “The Piccolino” focuses on Fred and Ginger dancing together, it becomes one of their signature-style dances – shown full frame, in a single shot without cuts, with Fred and Ginger both tap dancing (briefly) and ballroom dancing. So overall, though very elaborate, it works.  Top Hat is one of my favorite Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers films, along with Swing Time and Shall We Dance. For many, it is the quintessential film for the pair.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Truman Show

The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice

  • Title:  The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Date:  2008
  • Studio:  TNT (TV movie)
  • Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Stana Katic
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  NTSC, R1

“Maybe some women are OK with the wild and unpredictable lifestyle of dating a librarian, but I’m not.”  — Katie, when she dumps Flynn

“Charlene, How big is the library?”  – Flynn
“As big as we need it to be.” – Charlene

“You cannot escape your destiny, Flynn.” – Simone
“I was trying to take a little vacation from it but it didn’t seem to work out.” – Flynn
“No, if you fight your destiny you will be miserable.  You must embrace it and revel in every moment.” – Simone

The third film starts with Flynn, wearing a black tuxedo, and attending a high priced auction.  But rather than having the sophistication of James Bond, this is still our Flynn – the free champagne causes him to sneeze, though he also points out it’s not technically champagne but an Italian sparkling wine.  During the auction, not only does Charlene call to remind him of The Library’s budget, but his girlfriend, Katie calls to break up with him. Between the two conversations on his cell phone, and the auction itself, Flynn is distracted and accidentally raises the bid much too high several times.  Finally, it total frustration, he bids L1 million Pounds Sterling.  He wins the vase, and back at The Library, Charlene nearly faints. After the auction, Flynn picks up his vase, intentionally drops it, and shatters it into a million pieces, he finds and takes a small cloth bag, and hides it in his jacket pocket.  The other bidder arrives, and when he sees what’s happened, tries to take the item from Flynn. It turns out it’s the Philosopher’s Stone which can turn anything it touches into gold. Flynn and his rival fight, with anything at hand, including a throw pillow that Flynn’s quickly turned to gold. The fight merges into a stolen sword, sword-fight. Flynn, after some difficulty, escapes with the Stone.

Flynn goes to the hotel bar to meet his girlfriend, but she’s left.  He returns to the Library, where Charlene and Judson show him the Large Collection Annex, which, among other things, includes Noah’s Ark.  However, Flynn, though impressed, is fed-up.  He mentions his relationships that haven’t worked out:  Nicole, Emily, now Katie.  And how he can’t even tell his mother the importance of his work.  In short, he has a meltdown and threatens to quit.  Judson and Charlene ask him to take a vacation instead.

So Flynn does, but he merely stays in his apartment, eating take-out.  Charlene drops by one night at drops off a bunch of travel brochures.  Flynn is polite to her, but doesn’t take her suggestion seriously.  That night he has a dream of a Siren calling him, then sees a statue of a rearing horse.  When he wakes, he looks at the brochures again and finds one with the same rearing horse.  He decides to head to New Orleans on vacation.

In New Orleans, Flynn seems determined to have a very boring vacation, at first.  But one night he wanders into a bar, and sees the woman from his dream singing on stage.  During her break, he sits at her table and tries to buy her a drink.  This seems to be going terribly, when some heavies show up and come after the girl.  She and Flynn escape.

Flynn and the girl, Simone, spend the night together.  The next day, she’s gone.  Flynn runs into Judson in a barbershop, and learns a bit about the plot.  It seems that the Judas Chalice, an artifact made by melting the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot to betray Christ, is in play.  The Chalice has the power to re-animate dead vampires.  Meanwhile, the coffin of Dracule – aka, Vlad the Impaler, has disappeared.

Flynn and Simone, attempt to follow the clues to solve this new riddle.  Simone, guards a key that leads to the hiding place of the chalice.  Through a series of adventures they solve the puzzles.  However, Simone is a vampire – this isn’t too bad, she keeps blood in her fridge and has no desire to snack on Flynn.  Flynn also runs into a famous professor, whom he thinks is killed by the vampires chasing him.

The conclusion, is much more bittersweet than the previous Librarian films.  However, Flynn has once again, learned how important it is that he remain The Librarian.  He’s also learned that The Library is part of a larger struggle of Good vs. Evil.  And he’s picked up a little background on Judson.  Flynn, once at the verge of quitting, returns to The Library.

The third and final Librarian film, The Librarian Curse of the Judas Chalice, is a little weak in spots. The entire film, for the most part, is set in New Orleans, though it makes use of the location. I liked Flynn’s pal, the cabbie – who continuously shows-up to help Flynn and get him whatever he needs – a cemetery tour, a rental boat, etc.  Simone, a 300-year old vampire with a desire to take revenge on the one who made her, is a new twist on Flynn’s female companion du jour.  Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin round out the cast to make the film that much more fun.  Still, I missed the more global-trotting aspects of the previous films.  Though having the humor back was a bonus.  Overall, the film was enjoyable and fun.  Later this year, in December 2014, TNT will bring The Librarians to the small screen, starring Wyle, Newhart, Curtin, John Larroquette, and Christian Kane (of TNT’s Leverage). I’m actually looking forward to seeing it.

Recommendation:  See It – this film is especially appropriate for children
Rating:  3.8
Next Film:  Star Trek:  Into Darkness

The Librarian Quest for the Spear

  • Title:  The Librarian Quest for the Spear
  • Director:  Peter Winther
  • Date:  2004 (5 December 2004)
  • Studio:  TNT (Television)
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure, Comedy
  • Cast:  Noah Wyle, Sonya Walger, Bob Newhart, Jane Curtin, Kyle MacLachlan, Kelly Hu, Olympia Dukakis
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen (HD)
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“You are about to begin a wondrous adventure from which you will never be the same.  Welcome to The Library.”  — Judson (Bob Newhart)

“You are now part of a very special community.  The secret of the library has been kept for thousands of years.”  — Judson

“I believe in you, Flynn, I think there’s a possibility you could be a great librarian.” — Judson

Flynn Carson is a bookish professional student, with twenty-two degrees, six alone in Egyptology (one wonders how he paid for them all?  But thinking of the Real World is not something you should do while watching this film).  His current professor gets fed up with him, and throws him out into the “Real World” to get a job midway through the semester, signing off on his degree.  Flynn is devestated – he has no idea how to get a job and doesn’t really want one.  He goes home, where his mother has set him up on a blind date with a girl about his own age – who’s a social worker.  Flynn gets even more depressed.

Flynn’s in his room, when he suddenly finds an envelope.  He opens it and words appear, inviting him to apply for the position of The Librarian.  Flynn goes to the interview.  At The Library, there’s a huge line of applicants.  Flynn hears the protests and even cries of the previous applicants.  He’s about to duck out of line when a voice orders him in.  Flynn passes the pre-test question easily, and more importantly passes the Real Question.  He meets Judson, who takes him into The Library, underneath the library.  The Library is a wondrous place, indeed, home to all of  human knowledge, and a number of  magical, mystical, and real human artifacts, such as Pandora’s Box, the Mona Lisa, the Ark of the Covenant and Excalibur.

Flynn is beginning to settle in to his new job, when there’s a break-in.  Judson is knocked out, but not seriously harmed.  It seems one part of the Spear of Destiny has been stolen.  The Spear was broken in to three pieces for safe keeping.  Flynn is sent on a quest to find the other two pieces of the Spear and stop the evil organization known as the Serpent Brotherhood from assembling the Spear and causing havoc.  Flynn is soon joined on his quest by Nicole, a bodyguard for the Library.

The film resembles classic adventure films like the Indiana Jones films and Romancing the Stone.  But it is not a parody.  It takes that style of film and introduces it’s own characters and it’s own plotline, but most of all it has fun. There is a lot of humor in this movie – it’s it’s not simply the obligatory quip and the occasional really good one-liner.  The film is simply fun to watch and the cast is terrific.  Noah Wyle is great as the wide-eyed, bumbling, professional student who has, among other things, memorized the Earth, but can’t quite master flirting with a girl, or have much in the way of practical knowledge of the Real World.  Nicole is very like Michael Douglas’s character in Romancing the Stone – we even see her hacking away at jungle growth with a machete, while the branches hit Flynn.  But the story opens up too – not only do the characters go to a jungle in South America, but also to mysterious Shargri-La in the Himalayas.  Nicole has a reason for her somewhat icy personality, but she’s dedicated to her job of protecting The Librarian.  And Bob Newhart and Jane Curtin, have small roles in terms of screen time – but they are vital to the plot.  And both make the film that much more fun.

This is simply an enjoyable film to watch.  It’s bright, funny, and very light weight.  And it’s a good start to the series’ universe. Yes, this is a TNT Original film, which spawned two sequels, and a  television series which starts in December 2014.

Recommendation:  See it

Rating:  4 Stars

Next Film:  The Librarian Return to King Soloman’s Mines