Monday, February 27, 2012

Mitchell (1975) – MST3K Review

Mitchell (Joe Don Baker) is a cop who does what it takes to get the bad guys. This involves talking to J. Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam) and Walter Deaney (John Saxon). It also involves sleeping with a hooker named Greta (Linda Evans). But mostly it involves him sitting in a car smoking, and being generally unpleasant.

First he’s out to nail Deaney for the murder of an unarmed robber. The only problem is that the FBI is working on a case involving Deaney and Mitchell might screw it up. Then he’s after Cummings for stealing heroin during a hijacking in Mexico. Cummings denies any involvement and even has his butler/body guard Benton (Merlin Olsen) kick Mitchell’s ass to get the point across. But nothing doing! Mitchell is going to take down the bad guys, have a theme song that repeats his name about a hundred times and get the crap beat out of him in multiple scenes before the movie is over, or his name isn’t Mitchell. Mitchell!

Movie Review:
So the 1970s were filled with hard nosed, tough talking cops who didn’t play by the rules but got results. You know, like Dirty Harry. Well, here we have Mitchell who takes the stereotype to extremes. He’s extremely tough talking, extremely grumpy, extremely into sleeping with prostitutes and yet he has a strong sense of what is right. Yes, it’s wrong that Deaney gets away with murder, but its OK for Mitchell to shoot a suspect in the leg as he’s trying to escape.

It’s easy to see what the movie is going for, but between the edited version we see here and the extreme unpleasantness of Baker’s take on the character – who the hell is this supposed to appeal to? When we first see Mitchell he’s asleep in the back of a cop car, as if he was just picked up for something. Instead he’s being driven to the murder scene. So the beat cops were his personal drivers? Later when we see Mitchell at the police station, everyone is grumpy with him and he’s grumpy right back. Even the villains notice this. Cummings says, “Not many people like you. Why is that?” Um, maybe because he’s an ass?

Then there’s the whole crux of the movie which entails Mitchell sitting around, talking with the villains, talking with the cops, sleeping with Greta and moping around the house. Finally the action kicks in with the last 15 or so minutes of the film, with Mitchell taking down drug dealers, flying around in a helicopter and ending in a battle royale with Benton. There is a really odd car chase thrown in around the mid point of the movie, and its not filmed badly (there were also a couple other fight scenes in the film that are not in this edit). But this is still one slow flick.

Baker’s acting is hard to judge. He’s really good at being unlikable, so I think he’s doing a good job. But his tough, no nonsense persona lacks any kind of appeal that I know the actor is capable of. Its too easy to blame Baker, but the real blame should fall on the script and the director. Balsam and Saxon are well versed with this kind of thing and do the villainous act pretty well. Saxon’s Deaney is a slick bastard whose sadistic streak is evident from the beginning. Cummings is your typical craggy gangster type. He’s been around long enough to know when things are going sour, but you get the sense that he’s a survivor. His plan to use Mitchell to destroy his competition is pretty clever. Olson isn’t bad as the brutish thug, not many lines really. Evans looks pretty enough to be a high-class prostitute. But her true test is the oh-so-disturbing love scene she shares with Mitchell – shudder.

This is one of those movies where the real ‘70s nature of it is both a help and a hindrance. For some dated clothing, dialogue and oh so Rockford Files style music, you can’t go wrong. But it’s got that dreary brown feel to it. The lead character is a jerk we are supposed to understand and identify with. And nearly all the characters are annoying or idiotic in some way. For me, this could have been a typical low budget cop film with a heavy ‘70s vibe. But the character of Mitchell turns it into something truly worthy of the MST3K treatment.

Episode Review:  
For MST3K fans, this is a huge episode, because it represents the transition from one host to another. Series creator Joel Hodgson was leaving the show, and head writer Mike Nelson was taking over as host. For some viewers this was the beginning of the end, and many see this as Joel’s last hurrah. But there are some of us who love both hosts, and see this as a new direction for the show. What is more important is that this episode falls in the middle of one of the best seasons of the series, and represents one of the pinnacles of the writing team. For the riffing, this is a classic episode.

Some have said that during season five, Joel was already looking to leave the show, and so Mike was handed the reigns for the writing almost exclusively. They usually point to Mitchell as the example. This is some aggressive riffing here, really laying into the character of Mitchell as well as Joe Don Baker himself. Yes, its really damn funny, but its also pretty mean. Some folks feel that Joel would not have lead the writing team in this direction, but I don’t know about that. Nelson had been the head writer for a while, and the entire team contributes to the overall show. Besides, the character of Mitchell is just asking for it. The fact that the riffing starts attacking Baker is a bit questionable, but I still find the whole thing damn funny. (According to myth, Joe Don Baker himself didn’t and mentioned in an interview that if he ever met any of the MST3K crew he’d deck them). And I think Mike and bots were even nastier in their treatment of Baker in Final Justice in Season 10. 

But the laughs start right off with the opening titles. The super-‘70s guitar riff kicks in and Tom quips, “Any movie with waka-joe-waka in it is fine by me!” As the name Mitchell is slowly revealed in the title sequence, Joel and the bots try to figure out what it says. “Mittens? An action hero named Mittens?” “Mitchell? Oh, the Martha Mitchell story.”

After that the riffing is fast and furious. The entire opening scene featuring Deaney on the way home with a business partner and a couple prostitutes and ending up in the death of a burglar is hilarious. The thief has a passing resemblance to Johnny Mathis, which Joel and the bots use to great advantage, bursting into song several times. As Deaney peeks in the thief, Tom says, “All right, Johnny Mathis. Get my gun!”

Then Mitchell shows up asleep in the cop car and Joel comments, “Our hero ladies and gentleman.” It’s really downhill from there, with the character being called everything from “a big slob” to an “Incompetent loser” both of which apply. Tom gets a good song in about Mitchell during a short chase scene. It matches the 70s rock music perfectly, “Mitchell. Heart pounding. Mitchell. Veins clogging. Mitchell!”

And not to be outdone, the film itself features a song all about Mitchell sung by Hoyt Axton. It’s performed during the love scene between our beefy hero and Linda Evans. Joel and the bots are traumatized, especially when the camera pans over the writhing sheets to a bottle of baby oil on the table. The lyrics croon “My, my, my, my Mitchell”. By the boys sing “My, my, my, my GOD!!!!!” and scream.

There is a lot of talking in this movie, and they do a fairly good job with riffing on these more inactive moments. The pace flags a little, but the finale scene is hilarious, from the moment when Mitchell goes undercover as a driver (and berates an old lady) to the final battle ripped right from the Bogart classic Key Largo. Tom helps out with a music riff, as the score sounds like something from an industrial short. Olsen’s final battle provides a helping of Hee Haw jokes and florist comments. And Balsam utters the immortal words, “Oh you’re smart enough Mitchell”, which becomes an instant catchphrase. The movie stumbles to its conclusion with a lame attempt at humor and Joel asks, “He’s only got a few more minutes to become likable, think he can do it?” Sorry Joel, Mitchell even fails at that.

The episode starts with Joel showing off his toothpick sculpture of Monticello. The bots decide they must destroy it. Joel shows off a Daktari Stool as his invention, but the Mad Scientists are being audited and don’t have time for inventions. They’ve got a temp, named Mike, helping them catalogue everything. At the first break, Joel leads the bots on an Outward Bound expedition. Meanwhile Gypsy overhears of a plot between the Mads. They are going to kill Mike after the experiment, but Gypsy thinks they’re talking about Joel.  A classic scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey is referenced. At the next break Gypsy wracks her brains to come up with a way to get Joel off the Satellite to safety. This is one of the most annoying skits in existence with Gypsy shrieking at maximum volume - a shame because some of the jokes are funny. The next segment features the temp Mike coming to Gypsy’s aid and gives her control of a hidden escape pod (in a box of Ham-dingers). When the movie ends, Joel is shot back to earth in the pod, the bots PANIC, and the Mad Scientists plot to shoot Mike up in Joel’s place. Quoth Dr. Forrester, “I think you’ll be working for us, for a long, long time.”
Mitchell falls into the top ten for me. There are lots of good laughs to be found throughout and the host segments are push along the premise in a fun way (if you can ignore Gypsy’s shrieking in the second segment). 

All in all this one easily earns five rousing choruses of “My, my, my, my Mitchell!” Let’s start!

This episode is available on an individual DVD. But the Rhino version may be out of print at this time.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kick Ass (2010)

Heard a lot of interesting buzz about this movie. Some folks really enjoyed it, others found it to be distasteful and disturbing. Well disturbing works in my book too, so when this popped up on Netflix download I had to give it a shot.

Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) decides he wants to try his hand at the super hero biz. So he creates a costume, grabs some weapons and attempts to fight crime as Kick Ass. Sadly his enthusiasm is not matched by his skill, and he is promptly beaten up and put in the hospital. By freak chance, the severe beating ends up numbing the pain centers in his brain. So when Kick Ass takes to the streets again, he’s able to stand up to the thrashing he gets, and actually do some good.

Little does he know that two actual crime fighters Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) are keeping an eye on him. Do they want to join forces with this new hero in their battle to bring down crime boss Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) or do they think he’s a threat? And just how does the mysterious Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) fit into the picture?  All we know for sure is that there will be explosions, there will be blood and there will be asses kicked.

Good Points:
  • Turns superhero conventions on their ear
  • Manages to be funny, and dark all at the same time
  • The acting is surprisingly good

 Bad Points:
  • The odd tone is not going to appeal to everyone
  • The whole concept of Hit Girl and what happens to her is sure to offend some viewers
  • Anyone looking for a traditional superhero flick will be disappointed 

This is a lot like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World but with a darker, nastier streak. But that dark side is full of smiles and I got a big kick out of the whole film. The wildly shifting tone of the film was a little tough to get into, but once I figured out what the movie was trying to do I had a good time. Recommended for anyone looking for a nice twist on the superhero genre (as long as you don’t mind seeing a little girl mercilessly kill evildoers and get herself beaten up during the fight scenes).

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 4
Acting: 4
Script: 4
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 4
Total:  4

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)

The combination of Robert Redford and Paul Newman seems like a sure fire winner. Put both of them in the roles of some of the most famous cowboys of the old west and how can this miss? But hold your horses pardners, this movie has a much different agenda to meet and it’s more rooted in the 1960s than the 1860s.

Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) are some of the most successful and genial bandits in the west. When they decide to rob a train as its coming and going from its destination they push their luck too far. The owner of Union Pacific creates a super posse to hunt down and kill the bandits. A long chase sequence follows, but a daring jump off a cliff allows Butch and Sundance to escape. They head back to pick up Sundance’s girl, Etta (Katherine Ross) and then head off to Bolivia. But it turns out that this isn’t the land flowing with riches that Butch described. Can these two friends till make a fortune and stay ahead of the law when they don’t speak a lick of Spanish between them? Only the script and Burt Bacharach’s jaunty score know for sure.

Good Points:
  • Amazing location shooting
  • Excellent camaraderie between Redford and Newman
  • The first 20 minutes are top-notch Western material

Bad Points:
  • Slows to a crawl once the chase kicks in
  • Bacharach’s score is hilariously distracting
  • Never seems to know what it wants to be a comedy set in the old west, or a western with some humor

This movie starts off really well, looking to be a classic fun Western. Newman and Redford own these characters and have some great interplay. But the fun gets sucked away and replaced with limp and oddly scored musical montages. As the movie inches toward its tragic end you realize that you never really cared about these two guys. The scenery is beautiful and there are some good action scenes, but all in all this feels more like a reaction to the state of the Westerns at the time and not really a movie that works beyond the time it was made.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 4
Script: 2
Music: 2
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 2
Total:  2

Curious about a full review, sent me an email and I’ll make additional thoughts to this review.