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  1. Dracula: Dead And Loving It (1995) – A Dracula spoof directed by Mel Brooks and starring Leslie Nielsen seemed a potentially interesting mix of comedy talents, but this was a critical/commercial flop back in its day

    Watching this film now, the most curious aspect of it is that its main source of parody is Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula film from a few years before. And yet while Coppola’s film was deliberately melodramtic, gaudy and flashy (and great fun), Brooks’ film seems almost staid and restrained by comparison. It almost feels like Coppola’s film should be spoofing Brooks’ ho-hum recreation of the cliches of vampire films that have been seen a zillion times before!

    To be fair, the film is tolerable and has a smattering of funny moments. But its adherence to the Dracula story and treating the narrative almost seriously at times is stifling and largely kills it.

  2. The Secret of Santa Vittoria (1969) – WW2 comedy set in Italian village just after the fall of Mussolini where the Germans arrive to occupy and plunder the town’s one significant resource – it’s massive wine collection. But thanks to their blustering and rather buffoonish mayor (perfectly cast Anthony Quinn) the town has other ideas.

    Watching this Stanley Kramer film, it struck me as I did watching his “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” – he may have not been the world’s most brilliant director but he knew how to put a production together (and he started off as a producer). And like IAMMMMW, this film is superbly produced and put together, making particular excellent use of the real Italian village surroundings.

    A good solid entertainment, although it’s lack of success was the beginning of Kramer’s decline as a popular filmmaker.

  3. Billy Budd (1962) – 18th Century British naval drama where a principled and naive seaman (Terence Stamp on debut) is put on trial for the murder of a brutal master-at-arms (Robert Ryan).

    Even though this film made a star of Stamp and got him an Oscar nomination, it’s largely forgotten today. And that’s a shame because it’s a terrific film. Instead of simplifying the issues of how doing one’s duty and following the law will lead to tragic consequences, it embraces its complexities and is all the better for it.

    Excellent performances from a top-notch cast; Ryan is so compellingly loathsome (without descending into caricature) that the fact that he doesn’t attempt to hide his American accent isn’t an issue.

  4. I loved Charles Laughton’s reaction to the murder. It’s very authentic, and unusual for a film. It’s like “I can’t believe this just happened!”

  5. Actually that was Peter Ustinov (the film’s director as well). If made 15-20 years previously Laughton would’ve been a natural to be cast in it.

  6. House Of Games (1987) – Famed playwright David Mamet’s debut directing feature, it’s about a successful psychologist (Lindsay Crouse) whose uptight mindset and demeanour is turned upside down when she gets involved with a conman (Joe Mantegna) and before long she is in over her head. Or is she?

    There’s a heck of a lot of good stuff in this. Generally excellent dialogue (as one would expect from Mamet), stylishly directed and structured and consistently compelling. However, it takes some strange turns in the second half with a twist that anyone who’s seen The Sting can spot a mile off and a disconcerting and unconvincing final 15 minutes which is a bit of a letdown.

    Still, definitely worth seeking out.

  7. T2 (Trainspotting 2) –

    So I resisted writing about this one for a long while because I wanted to think the nostalgic haze I was viewing the movie through was causing me to judge it more harshly than I should have, but, man, despite the first ten minutes showing real promise (and that’s only because of Carlyle’s Begbie) this was terrible. Straight up. Terrible. Like watching old men who happen to be great actors walking around a movie set they’re only visiting without knowing someone had a camera on. Or, no, you know what it was like? You remember the scene in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back? And they walk onto the set of Good Will Hunting 2? And they break the fourth wall, and you can tell Good Will Hunting 2 would be the worst idea in the history of moviedom? I kept waiting for that, for the set to crumble around them and reveal it wasn’t really Danny Boyle directing and they weren’t really making a Trainspotting 2, it was all just a big joke.
    Sadly, that never happened and the movie limped to its conclusion and I vowed to still remember how incredibly good the original was and never think about this one again.
    And T2? Fuck off. Everyone knows that means Terminator 2.

  8. Clifford (1994) – A notorious comedy oddity of its era, Martin Short playing the world’s most obnoxious 10 year-old kid (!) who is so dislikable that his parents are all too happy to palm him off to his uncle (Charles Grodin), whose life turns to ruins after just a few days with him.

    This has a terrible reputation so I went in with very low expectations, which is perhaps why I mostly enjoyed it. It never reaches any great heights and falls apart in the last 25 minutes (including a dire ‘action’ finale) but Short & Grodin make a funny comedy team and actually create a decent amount of amusing moments.

    I wouldn’t exactly recommend this film but it’s better than Roger Ebert’s infamously negative review of it was.

  9. Someone could write a book about those bizarre, long-delayed Orion bankruptcy releases (Clifford, Car 54 Where Are You, China Moon, Blue Sky, The Favor, etc).

    Clifford was shot in 1990.

  10. Quite amazing that when Jessica Lange won her Oscar for ‘Blue Sky’, the director of the film (Tony Richardson) had been dead for well over 3 years.

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