Duck, You Sucker (1971) Review

Director: Sergio Leone

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, War, Western

Runtime: 157 minutes, 120 minutes (initial American version)

MPAA Rating: PG (initial American version), R (longer cut)

IMDb Page

The final western that legendary director Sergio Leone helmed was the sprawling, war-themed epic Duck, You Sucker, originally titled “Giù la Testa” in Italian and also sometimes known as “A Fistful of Dynamite” in English. The plot is about a Mexican bandit named Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) and an Irish revolutionary named John H. Mallory (James Coburn) teaming up to rob the Mesa Verde bank, but ending up involved neck-deep in the Mexican Revolution. This one’s a real genre-buster, combining elements of action-adventure, comedy, drama, war, and western, with some hetero “bromance” thrown into the mix.

When it comes to directing, Sergio Leone really knows what he’s doing, so every frame of the film is electric. Frequent Leone collaborator Ennio Morricone provides the brilliant musical score, and it’s the best work of music I’ve ever heard from him (and that’s saying something!). The cinematography is top-shelf and the performances (especially those from Rod Steiger and James Coburn) are nothing short of fantastic.

The biggest downside to the masterpiece Duck, You Sucker is how muddled its thesis is (well, that and its unfortunate misogyny). The movie’s take on the nature of revolutions is frustratingly incoherent, as it veers from showing savage atrocities by Mexican government forces and displaying their malevolence to the poor of Mexico to being an “anti-Zapata western,” where politically-motivated violence by the rebellious factions is essentially condemned (think of the song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” by The Who). I don’t even know what this motion picture is trying to say…and it’s desperately trying to say something.

Okay, this work doesn’t make a lot of sense on the political side, but just about everything else is magnificent. The humor is quirky and delightfully broad, and the drama is heartrending. On the action front, this feature boasts some truly massive explosions and an apocalyptic body count. It’s a tragicomic war-western that commands the audience’s attention and gets beneath their skin.

My rating is 10 outta 10.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special (2020) Review

Director: Ken Cunningham

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

It’s probably a daring move to put the words “Holiday” and “Special” together into a Star Wars movie title after the disastrous The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), which is considered such an abomination that it’s never been given an official home video release. However, in 2020, Lego put out its own Christmas-themed Star Wars film, meeting greater acclaim than the 1978 flop. Set after the events in Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019), the good guys of that picture set out to the Wookiee homeworld of Kashyyyk to celebrate Life Day, while Rey (voiced by Helen Sadler) tries to uncover some lost Jedi knowledge, causing her to discover a gem that enables time travel.

This animated film is clearly aimed at people who are already fans of the Star Wars saga, especially the kids. It breaks no new ground, but it provides a fun nostalgia trip for viewers accustomed to that beloved galaxy far, far away. A few actors from the live-action movies even return to voice their respective characters. Anthony Daniels voices C-3PO, Billy Dee Williams does Lando Calrissian, and Kelly Marie Tran brings life to Rose Tico.

The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special is a lightweight pleasure, but it knows that it belongs to a franchise that’s seen plenty of controversy, and it gently ribs a few of the more divisive elements of the series. Its story revolves around time travel, but doesn’t really try much new with the concept, other than using it to show off a bunch of already-iconic characters and situations. Despite being set in a Lego universe, this aspect of the picture seems underused, with little toy-building in sight.

This is an inoffensive comedy that some have compared to an overlong toy commercial. If it is an advertisement, it certainly is an entertaining one, made by people who know the lore of the Star Wars galaxy. The young ones will get the most mileage out of The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special, but those who’ve followed the franchise for a while will be rewarded with an in-joke or two. It’s not essential viewing, but it’s not something you’ll regret watching.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Diplomaniacs (1933) Review

Director: William A. Seiter

Genre(s): Comedy, Musical

Runtime: 61 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Often compared to the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933) of the same year, Diplomaniacs is a wild, anti-war satire with a few musical numbers thrown into the mix, because – well- why the Hell not? The story concerns itself with Willy Nilly (Bert Wheeler) and Hercules Grub (Robert Woolsey), two barbers on a Native American reservation who are assigned by the local natives to negotiate an end to all war at a peace conference in Geneva. It’s as crazy as it sounds, and, yes, there will be blackface. Oh, so much blackface.

The first thing that must be discussed when talking about Diplomaniacs is its dated racial humor. Just about every race gets mocked here (and they’re all played by Whites, as far as I could tell), but there is a blackface musical number that has stirred up some controversy in recent times. This makes the film in question difficult to recommend to everybody, but those with strong stomachs when it comes to racial insensitivity will find much to enjoy (other than the song that I was just talking about).

Diplomaniacs is a very funny movie, being one of those pictures that tries to make almost every single line a joke of some kind. It only lasts an hour, so there is a high gag density here. Of course, not every comedic beat lands, but the flick is so likeably silly and audacious in how stupid it will go for a laugh that it still puts a smile on my face. There is definitely some satire in Diplomaniacs, but much of its humor is straightforward goofiness.

Made during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood (before the enforcement of the Production Code), this irreverent movie reflects a cynical, Great Depression-era view of international diplomacy. To the filmmakers, it seems like all that politicians and business-people want is war, and everybody else is just too dumb to stop them. There are a lot of laughs to be found, as it never gets too dark, but the blackface sequence means that this one isn’t for everyone.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Matilda (1996) Review

Director: Danny DeVito

Genre(s): Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 98 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

While some liberties are taken to make it more cinematic, the 1996 film Matilda sticks close to the spirit of the 1988 Roald Dahl book of the same name. In both, a kid genius named Matilda (Mara Wilson) must put up with neglectful, materialistic parents and psychopathic, tyrannical school headmistress Trunchbull (Pam Ferris). The movie reflects the nature of the novel, where the courageous, compassionate, and intelligent inhabit a dark, menacing world and must work together to protect themselves and other innocents.

Matilda was directed by now-Internet-icon Danny DeVito, who also plays the father (Mr. Wormwood) and the narrator. He gets some of the better moments in the picture, but it certainly doesn’t feel like an ego trip. However, the standout performance here is from Pam Ferris as the vicious, child-hating principal. Often filmed in grotesque close-ups, she’ll intimidate even the adults watching. The acting from the adults may be a bit too broad for some, but I certainly didn’t mind it.

The film’s good-versus-evil struggle shows that even children can be empowered to see justice done on out-of-line adults. There are some fantasy elements here (like in the novel), but I won’t spoil the detail of them here. The special effects related to the supernatural aspects hold up pretty well, which is fairly important considering the feature goes more over-the-top with them than the book.

Matilda is a solid family film, sometimes being funny, sometimes touching, and sometimes suspenseful. It shows that people who use their “powers” for good can triumph over those who abuse theirs. Also, yes, in case you were wondering, that is Paul Reubens playing one of the FBI agents monitoring the activities of the title character’s shady father.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Despicable Me (2010) Review

Directors: Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Genre(s): Comedy, Fantasy, Kids & Family, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

One of the selling points of Despicable Me is that it’s an animated kids’ movie largely told from the perspective of a bad guy. Well, don’t worry, parents, he’s really not that bad of a dude. You see, high-tech supervillain Gru (voiced by Steve Carell) is plotting on stealing the Moon, but the affection of three orphans, Margo (voiced by Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (voiced by Dana Gaier), and Agnes (voiced by Elsie Fisher), threatens to derail his plans.

While this is certainly a funny film (with a couple of good jabs at Ugly-Americanism), it’s probably the more heartwarming moments that steal the show. The picture strikes a commendable balance between silly humor, loopy action, and human drama, making it run like a well-oiled machine. Okay, “machine” makes the whole thing sound a bit more, uh, mechanical than it actually is, but this is still lightweight stuff.

Steve Carell, who voices the central character, is in top form here. His Gru has an appealing blend of sinister and benevolent traits. Of course, no review of Despicable Me would be complete without a mention of the yellow Minions (the faces that launched a thousand “normie memes”). They’re actually pretty cute and funny, without becoming overbearing.

This feature is painless viewing for grown-ups, so it’s one of those flicks that both parents and their children can both watch and enjoy. Hmmm…maybe I’m underselling it by calling it “painless.” Let’s try this: Despicable Me is a charming, effortlessly engaging piece of cinema that will probably entertain filmgoers of all ages. Ah, yes, that sounds better.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Step Brothers (2008) Review

Director: Adam McKay

Genre(s): Comedy

Runtime: 98 minutes (theatrical version), 106 minutes (unrated version), 105 minutes (extended home video version)

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Step Brothers is about Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John C. Reilly), two man-children still living with their parents who find themselves becoming step brothers. This, right here, is a movie that you watch simply for the laughs. Plot, character depth, and enlightening messages on the nature of life are almost nowhere in sight. Yes, it’s hilarious, but it’s also so lightweight that it might blow away in a gentle wind.

The humor found in this film is decidedly low-brow and immature. We’re talking gags dealing with slapstick, poop, farting, swearing, sleepwalking, and nudity. It’s all very silly and raunchy, but it knows what it is. Some critics have pointed out that this could’ve been a swell satire on the increasing “kidifying” and dumbing-down of society. Nope, this is not that movie. Enjoy your dog poop jokes, critics.

The characters in Step Brothers are not Shakespearean, but they get the job done. There are a few cameos from big names. Pacing is joltingly quick at times. Surprisingly, the flick approaches what could be described as “poignancy” in the third act, but it’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of thing. Who needs memorable human drama when you have “the f-bomb” being used (over and over)?

So, this is a dumb movie, but it knows it. It’s a breezy, easy-to-watch adult-oriented comedy that has a lot of solid belly laughs if you don’t take yourself too seriously. It doesn’t quite stand up with the best of the best in the comedy genre, being a bit too inconsequential and, to use a phrase employed earlier in the review, light-weight. Still, this is one that fans of the stars will not want to miss. The Steven Seagal film that the dynamic duo watch and get a kick out of is Above the Law (1988).

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Full Metal Jacket (1987) Review

Director: Stanley Kubrick

Genre(s): Action, Comedy, Drama, War

Runtime: 116 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Perhaps director Stanley Kubrick’s most accessible film, Full Metal Jacket is a masterpiece of a war movie that’s become iconic over the years. Recruits in the United States Marine Corps must survive boot camp so that they can serve in the battle to retake the city of Hue during the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War. This is not a slow, esoteric art film from Kubrick, like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), but rather the kind of motion picture that common audiences will find engaging.

One of the most memorable things about Full Metal Jacket is its deft black comedy. Yes, this is one of those flicks that makes you laugh as it disturbs you at the exact same time. A great deal of the dark humor comes from R. Lee Ermey, who plays Hartman, the menacing drill sergeant. He’s an unrelenting force of nature here, and he should’ve received an Academy Award nomination for his aggressive, foul-mouthed, take-no-prisoners performance. All of the actors disappear into their roles, though.

A very common complaint about Full Metal Jacket is that the first part of the movie, set in boot camp, is superior to the rest of the flick, set in South Vietnam. I agree that the training sequences are better than the scenes set in the war zone, but the latter parts are certainly no slouches. The gripping intensity of the first act or so only partially transfers over to the scenes related to the Tet Offensive, but the combat segments are still impossible to turn away from.

So, in my opinion, Full Metal Jacket is not quite the tale of two films that some make it out to be. The war-related scenes, which generally put an emphasis on sweeping, meticulous, Kubrickian cinematography over the choreography of actors and stuntpeople, are phenomenal, even if the best stuff has already passed in the runtime. This is one of those war movies that is required viewing for all fans of the genre, thanks to its skillful combination of humor and horror.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994) Review

Director: Peter Segal

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 83 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

“Aggressively stupid” is a good way to describe the sense of humor found in the third film of The Naked Gun trilogy (Hell, the whole trio could be explained with that phrase). The zany antics of police officer Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) continue, with the incompetent cop being called upon to infiltrate a gang of terrorists to uncover their next bombing target. Expect a fair amount of groin-related jokes.

As rip-snortingly funny as Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult is, it probably has the loosest plot of the series. Hilarious gags definitely take precedence over tight storytelling here. That being said, the film gets its act together for the last third, which is a very strong sequence, with Leslie Nielsen’s character making a total ass of himself at the bad guys’ bombing target.

This movie is, well, spooftacular, parodying various pieces of popular culture left and right. Yep, the goofy, “politically incorrect” comedy of the first two installments in the franchise is back, and just as ferociously funny as ever. Somehow, lightning has been caught in a bottle for a third time in a row. Cameo appearances are everywhere.

Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult is actually my second favorite feature in the trilogy. It feels a tad more memorable than The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991). Fans of dumb-as-dirt humor that’s heavily reliant on slapstick and that sort of thing will want to check this comedy out. It’s non-stop laughs. It’s interesting to note that director Peter Segal’s next movie would be Tommy Boy (1995).

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991) Review

Director: David Zucker

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Inept police officer Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is back in action and ready to deliver more laughs in this sequel to the 1988 masterpiece The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!. This time, pro-green-energy scientist Dr. Meinheimer (Richard Griffiths) has been kidnapped by fossil fuel tycoons…and it’s up to Drebin to rescue him. Featuring the same absurd, slapstick-oriented humor of the original, this flick is a real winner.

The series’ style of comedy is still stupid as Hell, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. For all of its proud dumbness, the filmmakers definitely seem to know that they’re crafting low-brow gags. I love the franchise’s brand of humor, and I know that I was guffawing constantly throughout the picture’s relatively short runtime. It’s all deeply silly and juvenile.

Okay, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear is the least-best of the trilogy (I will not use the word “worst” here). It’s the least memorable of the series and perhaps the least joke-heavy, but it’s still a serious hoot. There are a few moments of physical action, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they’re “exciting.” That’s okay, this is a comedy, not an action film.

Do you like the sound of a comedy movie featuring endless crotch jokes and other audaciously stupid gags? Well, then I probably don’t need to tell you that The Naked Gun 2½ is your ticket to Belly Laugh City (geez, what a lame-sounding recommendation that is!). It may not be the best of its trilogy, yet its did-they-really-just-go-there? sense of humor will unquestionably please fans of lowest-common-denominator merriment. I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) Review

Director: David Zucker

Genre(s): Comedy, Crime

Runtime: 85 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

For audiences who couldn’t get enough of the style of comedy found in the masterpiece Airplane! (1980), the trio of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker returned to bring them The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! in 1988. However, instead of spoofing 1970s disaster movies, this picture would focus on police films. The plot is about an apparently globe-trotting Los Angeles cop named Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) who must foil an assassination attempt against Queen Elizabeth II (Jeannette Charles) while she visits L.A.

If you aren’t familiar with Airplane!, this flick follows the same formula of throwing as many how-stupid-can-we-be-and-get-away-with-it? jokes at the audience as possible. There’s nothing sophisticated about the slapstick-heavy, hyperbolic humor in The Naked Gun. Sometimes the gags are even predictable, but, to be honest, it doesn’t make them any less side-splitting. Few crime or action movie clichés make it out of the feature alive.

The first installment of The Naked Gun cinematic franchise (which is based off of a short-lived television show called Police Squad!) greatly benefits from Leslie Nielsen’s committed performance as the lead character. The supporting cast includes George Kennedy (as Ed Hocken), Ricardo Montalban (as Vincent Ludwig), and O.J. Simpson (as Nordberg). This was, of course, before he was a murderer.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! is a real laugh riot, lasting only 85 minutes, so it surely doesn’t outstay its welcome. The flick is so crammed with comedy that if ten seconds go by without a joke of some kind, something seems off. The film is profoundly silly, so those looking for high-brow humor will leave disappointed. That being said, I love the low-brow stuff, so this picture really does the trick for me.

My rating is 9 outta 10.