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Film Roundup XX

Manos: The Hands of Fate – 0%

It’s never a good sign when the story behind a movie is vastly more entertaining than the movie itself. In fact, I’m vaguely curious as to why no one has made a movie about the making of Manos, perhaps starring someone like Will Ferrel or Steve Carell. I’d love to see it. In 1966, Hal Warren, a fertilizer salesman from El Paso, made a bet that he could shoot a popular horror movie for next to nothing. I suppose, in a way, he eventually won that bet, but at the time it seemed pretty clear that he had only fulfilled the latter condition. Manos is about a vacationing family of three who make a wrong turn and eventually come to a bad end when they stop over for the night at the home of “The Master,” a satanic man who keeps a harem of zombie wives, an evil dog, and a deeply creepy manservant named Torgo.

The movie is bad beyond all imagining. It’s really indescribable. The actors, who worked for free, were assured that on-screen gaffes and poor performances would be “fixed in the editing room.” Instead, Warren only butchered the footage further, and overdubbed all of the movie’s dialogue using only three people. The actor who played Torgo had to wear painful leg prosthetics during filming as part of his costume, which did permanent damage to his knees. He was high on pain medications constantly until he committed suicide before Manos premiered in El Paso theaters. The movie was so bad that many of the people involved snuck out the back as it played, and after it was over Warren was attacked by an audience member.

Manos was eventually resurrected, or perhaps one might say reincarnated, decades later by the crew of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and has enjoyed, if not popularity, then at least notoriety, ever since. I very much doubt that one could find a copy of the movie besides the MST3k version, but it would be inadvisable to do so in any case; a venture akin to tight-rope walking without a safety net or sky-diving without a parachute. Mike, Tom Servo, and Crow may not save the movie, but they’ll save you from it and allow an experience that is not to be missed. If you want to hear more of the story behind Manos, check out this and this for further reading.

Best in Show – 89%

Christopher Guest brings his fans another delightful mockumentary, this one about a national dog show. The film follows five show dogs and their kooky owners, including all of the usual suspects. Guest himself plays Harlan Pepper, a backwoods bloodhound owner. Eugene Levy and Catharine O’Hara are Gerry and Cookie Fleck, an oddly-matched couple who experience friction as they run into an old flame of Cookie’s everytime they turn around. Michael Hitchcock and Parker Posey are Hamilton and Meg Swan, a neurotic pair who bicker constantly over their equally high-strung weimaraner. Hilarity ensues.

I’m not sure where I’d rate this in comparison to Guest’s other work. My favorite is probably A Mighty Wind, but this is a solid contender with Waiting for Guffman. Fred Willard is amazing, as always, and provides many of the best moments in his role as the show’s TV commentator who doesn’t seem to know anything about dogs. Aside from that, it’s just about what you’d expect from Guest’s zany breed of comedy.

Mr. Holland’s Opus – 91%

Glenn Holland (Richard Dreyfuss) is a starving composer who takes a job as a high school music teacher, just to pay the bills, while he works on his masterpiece. Life gets in the way and the years slip by. Teaching takes up more time than Holland expected, and he and his wife have a son. Meanwhile, Holland has become an excellent teacher, inspiring generations of students in music appreciation, drilling the marching band into a well-oiled machine, and mounting much-admired musical productions. Nevertheless, as Holland nears retirement without having ever produced the original composition he always dreamed of writing, he questions whether he has spent his life well.

There are lots of inspirational stories about teachers who make a difference. Most of them are formulaic and manipulative, but this is one of the good ones. Dreyfuss is great in the title role (he was nominated for an Oscar), and there is strong support from Glenne Headly as his wife and Olympia Dukakis and William H. Macy as the school administrators. The movie does well in its portrayal of the passage of time, subtly aging the characters and moving visually through attitudes and styles from the ’60s to the ’90s. While it occasionally devolves into sentimentality, overall this is an entertaining, inspirational, and well-told story.

An Inconvenient Truth – 79%

Al Gore tackles global warming with an eye-opening lecture liberally (ha!) interspersed with the account of his personal journey from first becoming aware of the problem to making it into a sort of personal crusade. I don’t feel that I know enough about the subject to give an informed opinion of the scientific merits of this documentary, but I believe Gore makes the case that we at least ought to be talking about this. What he doesn’t do is produce a particularly artful or compelling documentary film, Oscar or no Oscar. The personal bits of Gore’s story breathe some much-needed life into the otherwise rather dry proceedings, which basically consist of Gore standing in a lecture hall delivering what amounts to a glorified Power Point presentation. Perhaps a punchier style and a larger budget wouldn’t have gotten the message across any better, but it couldn’t have hurt. And as for the film’s theme song, the Oscar-winning “I Need to Wake Up” . . . don’t even get me started.

The Bishop’s Wife – 36%

Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) has been working overtime for months, raising funds for a new cathedral. The project is taking up the lion’s share of his professional life, and it has started to consume his personal life as well, much to the chagrin of his wife, Julia (Loretta Young). The bishop prays for guidance, which arrives in the unwelcome form of an angel named Dudley (Cary Grant), a charming fellow instantly beloved by all except Henry. Dudley is there to help, but not with the cathedral, and as Christmas approaches, Henry can’t help but notice uneasily that Dudley seems to be replacing him in his wife’s affections.

Oh, how I hate this movie. It is unbearably and unremittingly dull. It features a moronic, 1940s-mass-market-greeting-card take on angelology that makes Touched by an Angel seem profound by comparison. Every facet and feature of the story is grist for the mill of the worst sort of saccharine pap. But all of this is next to nothing next to this movie’s unforgivable sin: The Bishop’s Wife makes me dislike Cary Grant. He’s so smarmy and perfect, like the self-aware teacher’s pet that you just want to punch in the face. All that to say, Best Picture nominee or no, steer well clear of this awful, shallow disaster.

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~ by Jared on March 1, 2009.

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