Monday, January 23, 2012

Cool Ass Cinema Book Reviews: Vintage Comedy Edition!


By Glenn Mitchell

Softcover; 309 pages (not counting Appendix); B/W

editions: 1996, 2011 (revised and expanded edition released January 2012)

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."--Groucho Marx

Since their early days on stage through their time in film, the Marx Brothers have entertained audiences with their unique brand of comedy. While Groucho and his hilarious and controversial sexual innuendos (the legend surrounding the infamous cigar line from Groucho's 'You Bet Your Life' is here, too) will be forever remembered by the mass majority, the comic timing of the brothers four (Gummo Marx, the least known of the group, was replaced by Zeppo when he joined the military) led to years of successful shows on both the vaudevillian stage and on Broadway. From there, the popularity of the Marx clan grew and spread into a successful series of movies including favorites like ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930) and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (1935). Mitchell's book explores and uncovers every aspect of the Marx Brothers universe from stage to screen. This being an encyclopedia, you wouldn't expect anything less than a comprehensive guide to the subject.

Filled with an expansive array of extremely rare and vintage photographs of the brothers and their many shows and films, these images run the gamut of behind the scenes stills, posters, advertisements and other assorted promotional paraphernalia. Anyone with the slightest interest in the early days of comedy, comedians and their place in cinema history, should find this encyclopedia intriguing. Everything from the Marxe's themselves to their biggest hits to their unrealized productions and every bit of trivia (such as an hilarious story involving Shirley Temple) that can be mustered is packed within these 300 plus pages. The original edition from 1996 was 256 pages. This revised and updated volume is extended by 53 pages not counting an Appendix listing a slew of bibliographical sources. Truly a vastly informative tome, this is a must for Marx fans and any lover of vintage comedy performers and their lasting contributions to show business.

You can order this book from amazon by clicking HERE.

You can visit the Titan Books website by clicking HERE.

Final Destination 5 (2011) review


Nicholas D'Agosto (Sam Lawton), Emma Bell (Molly), Miles Fisher (Peter), Ellen Wroe (Candice), Jacqueline MacInnes Wood (Olivia), P.J. Byrne (Isaac), Arlen Escarpeta (Nathan), David Koechner (Dennis), Tony Todd (William Bludworth), Courtney B. Vance (Jim Block)

Directed by Steven Quale

The Short Version: Death stalks a group of young people who have escaped its clutches in this 3D fifth go round in the popular pseudo slasher franchise. The equivalent of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, each film begins with a spectacularly gruesome set piece, people die, the rules are laid down, more people die, gory irony at the end. Repeat. Thankfully, this fifth film abandons the thick air of black comedy embraced by the previous movie and manages to toss in an original idea or two. Aside from a great suspension bridge sequence and a nifty ending that ties in with FD1, this is little more than the same old song and (death) dance.

A group of paper plant co-workers on their way to a weekend retreat manage to escape a disastrous suspension bridge collapse that claims close to 90 lives. The eight survivors ultimately incur the wrath of death which comes to claim them in the order in which they were supposed to have died.

Just as FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) thrilled audiences in the 80s with the same exact story over and over again, so does the FINAL DESTINATION series repeat the same old song and dance. And just like that iconic series, the only thing the FD films really have going for them are the spectacular death sequences. They've even aped the FRIDAY films with an entry that purported to be "THE" FINAL DESTINATION. This fifth entry tries to change things up slightly by introducing at least one new idea and the fact that it's a prequel is a novel approach. The lack of any interesting characters does little but make one pine for the occasionally elaborate demises.

Nicolas D'Agosto does fine with what he's given and his character emits some slight nuances for his character that makes him the most compelling of the bunch. Still, one doesn't watch one of these movies for acting, although it would make them more harrowing if we cared more about the people put in harms way. I don't recall having seen Miles Fisher before, but he bears an uncanny resemblance to Tom Cruise. In a bit of 'Risky Business', his character is the one new curve-ball the scriptwriters introduce. While it's an instance of creative characterization, this section of the film kind of slows everything to a crawl. Horror favorite Tony Todd (CANDYMAN series) returns as the creepy William Bludworth who acts as some sort of emissary of death.

For the first ten minutes, I briefly forgot I was watching a FINAL DESTINATION movie as there was nothing going on that resembled anything outside the realm of a teenage drama series. The acting is as static as it was in previous entries, but once our doomed motley clutch of dead-folk-in-the-making reach the bridge, the film momentarily hits its stride. Once this elaborate sequence is passed, though, the film gets a lethal injection till a miracle occurs and the whole thing comes back from the dead for an inventive finale that reveals what we're watching is actually a prequel. Everything we've seen fatefully and shockingly tie into those events of the very first movie.

The bread and butter of this series are its scenes of carnage. An FD film lives or dies (haha) by its creative kills. The scenes of human obliteration seen here alternate between ghoulish ingenuity and an apparent dry well of ideas. After the gymnast meets her doom, the remaining deaths are somewhat average by comparison. The eyeball spot is cringe-inducing, but the tumbling out the window feels like a cop out.

The massage parlor death is even less inspired culminating in a splattery moment that reveals the victim to have a head seemingly made out of clay. All or most of the deaths are enhanced by computer graphics and the CGI ranges from astonishingly accomplished to crude. It seems an exercise in futility to create CGI blood that looks real, yet filmmakers continue to utilize it no doubt because it can be done much quicker than setting up explosive squibs.

The bridge sequence that occurs near the beginning is one of the best the series has yet delivered. While it's spectacular to watch, the suspense is dulled by the fact that--despite this sequence being a premonition--we know virtually nothing about these people prior to watching them die in exaggerated methods of dispatch. With so much creativity going into this sequence, it makes the actual deaths of the characters all the more disappointing in that they rarely match up to the excess of the suspension bridge calamity. This is likely to become the bane of this franchise should it continue; it will be increasingly difficult to come up with elaborate set pieces considering all that has come before each succeeding entry.

These films also show death to have a dementedly wicked sense of humor. In the original (and briefly in the first sequel) the John Denver song 'Rocky Mountain High' heralds death's arrival. The cruel reality is that Denver died in a plane crash in 1997. In FINAL DESTINATION, the passengers of flight 180 are killed in a mid air plane explosion. For this new entry, the song 'Dust In the Wind' by Kansas foreshadows death knockin' at your door. If you liked the others in this series, it's a safe bet to risk a rental on this one. Probably best seen in 3D, Death's Fifth is far better than the last entry and it thankfully avoids the goofiness that loomed large over that film. Part two remains my favorite, but fans of this series will be completely satisfied with this sequel.

This review is representative of the Warner Brothers/New Line DVD

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