Still More of My Favorite Movies (That You’ve Never Seen)Posted: March 27, 2013
I don’t know why I keep coming back to this. Maybe it’s because I just spent so much time watching TV as a kid. I hated going outside. Outside is where my sister was. And sunshine. And fresh air. And exercise.
But I digress.
I loved TV, and TV loved me. I especially loved watching really off-beat comedies, movies that made no sense whatsoever, and the weirder they were the more I loved them. I suppose that explains why so few people seem to know some of these films, although it has been gently suggested to me that it may also be because I’m getting old and all of these movies predate DVDs. I would like to point out that Star Wars predates the mass-market success of the VCR, but I still have no tolerance for anyone who hasn’t seen it (you know who you are).
But I digress again.
Here’s some of my favorite off-beat comedies from back when I was a kid. They’re best taken with a grain of salt (or better yet several grains, lime, and tequila), with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Little Shop of Horrors (1986) – Believe it or not, this is a movie version of an off-Broadway musical based on a 1960 comedy with Jack Nicholson (I can’t comment on that version, since I’ve never seen it). What I can say is, this thing is a laugh riot. It’s creepy enough to try to do a comedy about a carnivorous sentient plant from outer space (yes, you read that correctly), but making it into a musical takes it to a whole new level. The brilliant caricatures of the mousy shop attendant Seymour Krelbourne (played by Rick Moranis), his overbearing boss Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia), and the ditzy blonde love interest Audrey (Ellen Greene). Of course, any fan of the movie will tell you the absolute scene stealer is the inestimable Steve Martin as Orin Scrivello, DDS, the sadistic dentist and Audrey’s “boyfriend”, who’s rousing rendition of “Dentist!” will leave you squirming with laughter. The numerous cameos from other famous comedians (including John Candy and one of the most disturbingly funny performances ever from Bill Murray) round out a fantastic cast in this terrific musical.
Big Trouble in Little China (1985) – I have no idea how to even begin classifying this movie. I’ll go with the Amazon.com description because it seems to cover all the bases: “mystical action-adventure-comedy-kung-fu-monster-ghost-story”. Everybody get that? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be (very loosely) based on Chinese mythology, but please don’t quote me on that, because I don’t want to offend anybody (the film takes care of that for me, I’m sure). Kurt Russell plays a truck driver named Jack Burton (get used to that name, you’ll hear it a lot), owner of The Pork Chop Express (I’m not making this up), who gets caught up in an attempt by a near-immortal Chinese businessman to kidnap a girl (still not making this up), and he has to help his friend and an interfering busybody played by a young Kim Cattrall, assisted by some Chinese gangsters (how could I possibly make this up?) to rescue her from the aforementioned kidnapper and his three powerful sorcerer sons before he becomes immortal (why would I make this up?). If you like Army of Darkness you’ll probably like this movie; in fact, if you just like wierd, out there stuff you’ll probably like this movie. It’s got some decent FX (especially for its time), and the martial arts action is actually pretty good. The comedy is solid and doesn’t distract from the plot, which is roundabout but gets where it’s going.
Spies Like Us (1985) – My dad once described Chevy Chase as “so funny he can make me laugh standing still.” I have to agree with him. Hell, I even kind of liked Fletch, and that’s saying something. Pair him up with Dan Aykroyd and you have a near-perfect recipe for comedy gold, which is exactly what this movie is: near-perfect. Aykroyd delivers his usual character-driven humor while serving as a perfect straight man for Chase to deliver almost non-stop one-liners. Together they make a terrific comedy team, and the ludicrousness of putting them in a Cold War-driven “spy movie” vehicle is a brilliant recipe for disaster. The only drawbacks are that the middle of the movie drags a little, although that is more a matter of the rest of the film being so spot-on in comedic timing that it becomes nigh-impossible to sustain for almost two hours, and the last few minutes feel a little tacked on. Those are only minor quibbles, however, and overall this is still one of the funniest movies I have ever seen, and I still quote it to this day.
Biloxi Blues (1988) – If you asked me why I love this movie, I couldn’t really give you one good reason. I might have to say “Neil Simon”, because I don’t think I’ve ever read a Neil Simon play I didn’t love. Or maybe it’s Matthew Broderick (this is pre-Godzilla), or even Christopher Walken’s brilliant turn as Sergeant First Class Merwin J. Toomey. Perhaps it’s just because I felt a strong connection, even at an early age, to the character of Eugene, who seemed so horribly out of place in the Army in general and boot camp in particular. The writing is sharp, and the dialogue is top-notch, witty without feeling deliberate. It’s not a simplistic film, taking some serious turns and having more than a few darker moments that spice the humor and remind you that life isn’t always laughter; rather, laughter is there to help us survive the dark times. It’s a surprisingly deep film for a comedy, particularly one that can still be viewed as somewhat of a “coming of age” film (although most of that is covered by the previous film from the Eugene trilogy, Brighton Beach Memoirs, which is also good although I don’t care for it quite as much).