Mad Libs: Hope & Crosby on the ROAD TO MOROCCO (Paramount 1942)

cracked rear viewer

Bing Crosby and Bob Hope travel the ROAD TO MOROCCO, the third in the “Road” series and by far the funniest. The plot involves two shipwrecked Americans who wind up in an absurd Arabian Nights style adventure complete with beautiful princess Dorothy Lamour and murderous desert sheik Anthony Quinn , but you can throw all that out the window as Bing and Bob trade quips, sing, and break down the Fourth Wall to let the audience know it’s all in good fun, so sit back and enjoy the zany ride.

Bob and Bing were already established superstars when Paramount teamed them for ROAD TO SINGAPORE (1940), which was a huge box office hit and followed quickly by ROAD TO ZANZIBAR (1941). By the time they made MOROCCO, the pair had their act down pat, with Der Bingle the smooth-talking crooner who always gets the girl, and Ol’ Ski-Nose the cowardly…

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Sundance Film Review: Stranger Than Paradise (dir by Jim Jarmusch)

The Sundance Film Festival is currently taking place in Utah so, for this week, I’m reviewing films that either premiered, won awards at, or otherwise made a splash at Sundance!  Today, I take a look at 1984’s Stranger Than Paradise, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 1985 Sundance Film Festival.

‘You know it’s funny. You come to someplace new, and everything looks just the same.’

— Eddie in Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Stranger Than Paradise tells the story of three friends.

Willie (John Lurie) lives in a small apartment in New York City’s Lower East Side.  He likes to go to the movies.  He likes to watch TV.  He likes to gamble, putting bets on horses and cheating at poker.  He was apparently born in Hungary, though he doesn’t speak with an accent and, whenever he has to deal with a relative, he always tells them, “Speak English.”  When his best friend asks him about why he never mentioned that he was Hungarian, Willie replies that he’s just as American as anyone.

Eva (Eszter Balint) is Willie’s cousin.  She’s travels to America from Budapest.  The plan is for her to live with her Aunt Lotte (Cecillia Stark) in Cleveland but, because Lotte is in the hospital, she begins her life in America by spending ten days in Willie’s cramped apartment.  Eva enjoys the music of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.  When she’s walking to Willie’s apartment, I Put A Spell On You blares from the large tape player that she always carries with her.

And then there’s Eddie (Richard Edson).  Eddie may not be too smart but he’s always smiling and easy-going.  Unlike the somewhat churlish Willie, Eddie always seems to be enjoying himself.  When Eddie first meets Eva, most viewers will probably expect them to eventually become a couple.  That doesn’t happen, of course.  That’s not the type of film that this is.

The first thing you notice about Stranger Than Paradise is the look of the film.  As one might expect from a film that reportedly had a budget of $10,000, the film looks cheap but there’s a beauty in that cheapness.  The harsh black-and-white magnifies every detail of the film’s locations.  When we watch Eva walking through New York City, the street may look desolate but it’s an exquisite desolation.

Directing his second film, Jim Jarmusch shoots nearly the entire film in single long takes and refuses to indulge in any of the usual tricks that movies often use to force an audience to identify with its main characters.  The camera rarely moves and every scene ends with a blackout.  It’s a technique that casts the audience as observers.  Willie, Eva, and Eddie may all be outsiders but, while watching the film, so is the audience.  Willie, Eva, and Eddie win us over because of the charm of the actors playing them and the deadpan humor of their dialogue but, at the same time, the film never lets us forget that we’re merely watching their lives unfold.

The humor in Stranger Than Paradise comes less from what these characters do and more from what they don’t do.  When Eva arrives in New York, Willie never offers to show her around.  There’s no trip to Broadway or the Statue of Liberty or anything else that we, as an audience, have been conditioned to expect whenever a stranger comes to New York for the first time.  Instead, Willie and Eva sit in Willie’s apartment and watch TV.  When Eddie asks Eva if she wants to join him and Willie at the movies, Willie tells Eva to stay in the apartment and not go outside.  Eva eventually wins Willie over by shoplifting dinner.

During the film’s second act, Willie and Eddie decided to visit Eva in Cleveland, despite not being sure where Cleveland is.  They ask one random guy standing on a street corner how to get there.  “I’m waiting for a bus,” the guy snarls back.  Later, as they drive drown a highway, Eddie asks Willie if they’re in Ohio yet.  “I think we’re in Pennsylvania,” Willie replies.  When they finally do get to Ohio, it turns out to be a frozen wasteland.  After meeting up with Eva, Willie and Eddie spend most of their vacation watching TV with Lotte.  Eventually, they visit Lake Erie.  It’s frozen but Eva, Willie, and Eddie still dutifully stand at the railing and stare down at it while a freezing wind howls around them.

Eventually, all three of them end up in Florida.  Instead of visiting Walt Disney World or Miami, they end up sitting in a cheap motel room.  Eva goes to the beach, which — when shot in black-and-white — looks just as desolate as Ohio in winter.  Eventually, all three of them stumble into money but that’s just a set up for the film’s final joke…

It’s a deliberately slow-moving film but it’s never less than watchable.  Lurie, Edson, and Balint all give such wonderfully deadpan performances that they’re a joy to watch even when they aren’t actually doing anything.  Stranger Than Paradise was Jim Jarmusch’s second film and also one of the first independent American films to receive widespread attention and acclaim.  (The National Society of Film Critics named it the best film of the year.)  34 years after it was first released, the film is an idiosyncratic joy to behold and definitely one that needs to watched by anyone who loves cinema.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore
  3. Circle of Power
  4. Old Enough
  5. Blue Caprice
  6. The Big Sick
  7. Alpha Dog

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Prison Planet (dir by Armand Gazarian)

(aka Prison Planet)

A few nights ago, I saw the no-budget 1992 sci-fi epic, Prison Planet, on television.

My immediate response after watching Prison Planet was to assume that I had just been dreaming because it was difficult for me to accept that anyone had actually made a movie this inept.  However, I then checked with the imdb and I discovered that Prison Planet not only exists but there were actually two sequels.  I was also surprised to discover that Prison Planet was an American production and not a poorly dubbed Bruno Mattei film.  Unfortunately, my attempts to google more information on the production of Prison Planet were hindered by the fact that every result I got was about Alex Jones.

Anyway, Prison Planet takes place in the far future.  2200, to be exact.  Earth is ruled by an evil dictator but that dictator’s power is being threatened by a rebel leader named Himshaw (Jack Wilcox).  When Himshaw is captured, he is promptly exiled to the planet where Earth sends all of its prisoners.  (Hence, the title.)  With Himsaw gone and perhaps dead, it now falls on Himshaw’s brother, Blaine (James Phillips) to leads the rebels.  However, instead of doing that, Blaine decides to go to the prison planet so he can discover whether or not his brother is still alive.  Blaine breaks into a government building and allows himself to be captured.

So now, Blaine has been exiled to the prison planet.  (The name of the prison planet, by the way, is Annakin.)  Blaine’s plan is to find Himshaw so that he can overthrow the dictator but, since there’s really no obvious way to get back to Earth after being dropped off on a prison planet, you have to kind of wonder whether Blaine really thought this through.  I’m assuming that he probably thought, “I’ll worry about that when I have to,” but it’s not like Earth is just the next town over or something.  It’s an entirely different planet.  You can’t just walk there.

On the prison planet, the prisoners are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want.  It’s a world ruled by an evil warlord, though there are small bands of nomads and rebels in the desert.  This is what the big scary warlord looks like:

Blaine decides that he’s going to 1) overthrow the warlord and 2) rescue the virgin that the warlord is planning on sacrificing.  (Or at least, I think that’s what the warlord was plotting to do with her.  It was kind of hard to keep up with what was going on, largely because Prison Planet seemed to be making stuff up as it went along.)

What’s odd is that, even though the film is taking place in 2200, everyone on the prison planet is driving around in cars from the 20th Century.  It’s kinda like Mad Max: Fury Road, except that it’s not very good.  But then again, who needs to worry about narrative logic when you’ve got stuff like this to deal with:

That’s the warlord, again.  You can tell why they made this dude the ruler of the planet.  He’s got a really big sword and a really thin mustache.  Plus, he doesn’t own a shirt.  He’s got the whole Conan thing going on.

And then there’s this other guy who keeps popping up, who wears a suit, a tie, and a hat.  He spends the whole movie scurrying between the warlord and Blaine and I have to admit that I’m still not sure what exactly his role was in the movie.  He spoke in a falsetto voice and everyone was constantly threatening to kill him.

Also, one of the warlord’s henchmen wears what appears to be wearing a Spanish conquistador’s helmet.  No one ever mentions that this is odd…

Anyway, I watched the whole film and I’m not really sure what I saw.  Blaine had to overthrow the warlord and find his possibly dead brother.  It was never really clear how these two things were connected.  It was a bad movie but strange enough to occasionally be watchable.

As for the two sequels, the imdb lists them both as being comedies.  I haven’t watched either one of them but that sounds about right.  The first Prison Planet is definitely not meant to be comedy but I still had a few good laughs while watching it.