comedy, movie, movie review, western

Flashback Review: May 15th, 2014 Movie – Blazing Saddles

blazing saddles

Ahh, one of my favorite westerns of all time. I remember the first time I saw this movie years ago as a kid and I will admit that I did not get many of the jokes. However, the farting scene for some reason stuck in my head and made me laugh. Now I would have the chance to watch this many times since then and as I got older, I was able to understand more of the jokes which made this movie even funnier. Now I had this movie on DVD but it was one of the movies my ex-wife had bought so when she left and took her DVD’s with her, I made sure to pick up my own copy of Blazing Saddles as soon as I could.

The plot: In the Old West of 1874, a group of workers are busy laying down a new rail line but the workers aren’t too fond of the overly racist crew giving them orders. When the foreman, Taggart, sends two black workers, Bart and Charlie, ahead as there were reports of quicksand in the area. Bart and Charlie drive a hand cart down the line and end up stuck in quicksand and when they call out for help, Taggart and his assistant use a rope to save the hand cart, leaving Bart and Charlie to fend for themselves. As they manage to crawl to safety, Taggart figures out where they will need to re-route the railroad line and orders his assistant to send a telegram with the information but Bart grabs a shovel and hits him in the head. At the office of Attorney General Hedley Lamarr, Taggart is telling him of the new route through the town of Rock Ridge and Hedley decides to take advantage of the situation to try and grab the land for himself so he will be rich. When he tries to figure out a way to get rid of the townsfolk, Taggart says he and his men can ride through town, beating and raping everyone in town, and Hedley agrees to let him do it. When he notices Taggart is injured, Taggart tells him about Bart and Hedley speaks to the executioner and squeezes Bart in to be hanged on Monday. Taggart and his men do just as they say and the townsfolk hold a meeting to figure out what they should do. Roused by the gibberish of Gabby Johnson, they decide to stay in town and wire the governor to send them a new sheriff. At the Governor’s office, Governor Lepetomane is going over the days business and when his assistant hands him a telegram from Round Rock asking for a sheriff, he assigns Hedley to send them a sheriff. Not wanting to hinder his plan by sending someone competent, Hedley notices Bart in line to be executed and comes up with an idea. Sparing Bart, Hedley takes him to see the governor, who is shocked at Hedley’s suggestion but Hedley says that by being the first man to hire a black sheriff, Lepetomane would become famous and could manage to swing a cabinet position. Geared up for his new job, Bart heads out to Rock Ridge and the townsfolk start to give him a warm welcome until they realize what color his skin is. When Bart starts to read the notice from Lepetomane about his appointment, the townsfolk all pull guns out and point them at him and he is forced to pull out his own gun and hold himself hostage in order to fool the people into letting him get into the sheriff’s office alive. As the day passes and Bart gets settled in, the drunk in one of the cells starts moving and Bart introduces himself. As he helps the drunk out, the man introduces himself as Jim a gunslinger once known as “the Waco Kid”, and the two share a brief history of each other. Meanwhile, Taggart and his men learn about the new sheriff, but not his identity, and decide to send Mongo, a large, dim-witted brute, to kill him. The next day, Bart heads out to make the rounds, trying to win the town over, but is disheartened by their constant insults. When Mongo rides into town and starts beating up the people in the saloon, Bart heads out there to deal with him, using a box of exploding candy to knock Mondo unconscious. Later, Taggart is with Hedley saying he doesn’t know how Mongo failed to kill the sheriff and Hedley decides to use a different tactic to beat Bart. Back in Rock Ridge, the townfolks start to warm up to Bart, though they try to keep it secret from everyone else, and Jim decides to take him to see Lily Von Shtupp perform. Unknown to him, Hedley has approached Lili, whom he has used before to seduce people, and has told her to seduce and leave Bart in order to reduce him to an emotional wreck. After her performance, Bart is given a note to see Lili back stage and he ends up staying the night with her but the next day, it is revealed that Lili is the one that has become enamored with him and tries to get him to stay with her. When Bart returns to the sheriff’s office, Jim tells him that a telegram came ordering Mongo to be released per Hedley’s orders. Bart wakes up Mongo, he easily breaks the chains holding him, and tells him he is free to go but Mongo doesn’t want to leave, as he likes Bart since he is the first person to beat him in a fair fight. Bart and Jim asks Mongo if he knows why Hedley is interested in Rock Ridge and Mongo says it has to do with the “choo-choo”. Bart and Jim head to where the railroad tracks are being laid out and Charlie and the others are happy to see Bart is still alive but are shocked when he tells them that he is the sheriff of Rock Ridge, as Charlie tells him that the railroad is going through the town. When Taggart and some of his men show up and try to kill Bart, Jim quickly shoots their guns out of their hands and they are forced to run away. Hedley and Taggart tie up Lili to question her about what went wrong and when she says that Hedley will need an army to beat Bart and Hedley decides to do just that. In Rock Ridge, the townsfolk learn about the army recruitment and want to leave town but Bart convinces them to give him 24 hours to find a way out of this. Sneaking in to where Hedley is interviewing people, Bart and Jim disguise themselves as a pair of KKK members but when Bart’s skin tone is revealed, they are forced to run. Sneaking into the railroad camp, Bart and Jim tell Charlie to get all of the workers and gather supplies, then meet him outside of town. At the meeting place, Bart explains to the townsfolk that they are going to build an exact replica of the town in order to fool Taggart and his army, with the railroad workers helping in exchange for some land to call their own. The townsfolk don’t want to at first but realizing they have no choice if they want to survive, they agree. In the morning, the decoy is finished but they realize that they forgot to include people so Bart, Jim, and Mongo go to stall Taggart’s army while they quickly build some people. With the decoys finished, everyone watches as Taggert’s men head into the fake town. Bart goes to blow up the town but the detonator fails so he has Jim shoot the dynamite to set them off. With Taggart’s men disoriented by the explosions, Bart leads the townsfolk to fight with the ruffians as the camera pans up to show them in a Hollywood sound stage. On another stage, a musical number is being filmed when the fight breaks through the wall of their set. As the director yells at the men, Taggart punches him and the men in the musical join in the fight. The fight spills into the studio cafeteria, where people start throwing pies at each other. Hedley happens to be at the cafeteria and when he sees what is going on, he quickly ducks out of the building, though not without getting hit by a pie himself. Hailing a cab, Hedley heads to a theater and goes to watch a movie, only to see Bart riding up to the theater on the screen. Hedley tries to leave but Bart confronts him and after Hedley tricks him into dropping his gun, Bart manages to avoid getting shot and kills Hedley. Jim comes up and congratulates Bart on killing Hedley, and the two decide to get tickets to see how the movie ends. In the movie, Bart is leaving the town, much to the townsfolk’s dismay as they have grown to love Bart, but Bart says that With Hedley dead, the town has become boring and doesn’t really need a sheriff anymore. As Bart leaves town, Jim decides to go with him and the two ride off for a ways until the meet up with a limousine and hop inside and are driven away into the sunset.

Blazing Saddles met with mixed reviews initially but has since come to receive high praise from the critics, holding a certified fresh rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Daring, provocative, and laugh-out-loud funny, Blazing Saddles is a gleefully vulgar spoof of Westerns that marks a high point in Mel Brooks’ storied career.” CBS and Warner Brothers would produce a TV series titled Black Bart as a means to keep the broadcast rights for Blazing Saddles and any future sequels but the episodes were never aired (aside from the pilot that starred Louis Gossett Jr.) and when management changed within Warner Brothers, the plans for a sequel were dropped and the unaired show was canceled, though 4, 6-episode seasons had been filmed. The movie was a smash hit at the box office, earning $119.6 million off of a $2.6 million budget and would receive three Academy Award nominations. Widely considered to be one of the greatest comedies of all time, the movie would end up selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2006.

Let’s not mince words here, there is some racist humor in this movie but it is still an incredibly funny movie to watch. The acting was great, with Cleavon Little and Gene Wilder doing great jobs as Sheriff Bart and Jim respectively. I also thought that Harvey Korman was fantastic as Hedley Lamarr while Slim Pickens was great as Taggart. The story had a deeper meaning beyond the comedy, using satire to highlight the issue of racism that existed in the past and how it was “overlooked” when Hollywood made movies about the Old West. Yes, Mel Brooks was pretty blunt with the racism but that was to prove his point and actually did help with some of the comedy. The comedy was Mel Brooks usual blend of quick wit, play on words, and slapstick that worked to almost pure perfection in this movie. It may seem dated and is definitely crude but this is still a great comedy and one worth watching.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5

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comedy, crime, movie, movie review

Flashback Review: April 22nd, 2014 Movie – The Big Lebowski

the big lebowski

Some times, an actor will take a role and for the rest of his life, he will always be referred to as that character, no matter at what point in the actor’s career he played that character. Jaleel White is always going to be Urkel, Daniel Radcliffe is always going to be Harry Potter, and for Jeff Bridges, he will always be The Dude. Now I admit that I did not go see this movie in theater when it came out and when I finally decided to rent it, I was kicking myself for not having watched it sooner. I have probably made up for it some by the amount of times I have watched it since. Of course, this movie kind of plays a role into a night among friends that has since been dubbed “Bad Idea Saturday”. I had gone bowling with my friends Emily and Charles and we decided to name ourselves characters from the movie in our game. I wound up being The Dude and in honor of that, decided I should be drinking White Russians, which wound up being some of the nastiest White Russians I had ever had as the bartender was using little packets of creamer to mix in the drink. Anyways, drinking those drinks was one of many bad ideas that occurred that night, but I am definitely getting away from the point here. Right now I should be focusing on enjoying The Big Lebowski for the untold time.

The plot: In 1991, Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski has just returned to his apartment after buying some half & half when he finds two thugs waiting for him inside. One of the thugs grabs The Dude and forces his head in the toilet, demanding the money he owes their boss while the other thug pees on The Dude’s carpet. When the thugs tell The Dude that his wife Bunny owes their boss, porn magnate Jackie Treehorn, but when The Dude tells them he isn’t married, the two thugs realize that they have the wrong guy and leave. Later, The Dude is bowling with his friends Walter and Donny and tells them about what happened. Walter says that The Dude should track down the other Lebowski, the millionaire that the thugs were looking for, and have him compensate The Dude for the rug and The Dude agrees with him. The Dude goes to see Jeffrey Lebowski, who tells him that what happened is not his fault and whatever trouble that Bunny got into is between her and Treehorn, and doesn’t involve him. After leaving Lebowski’s office, The Dude tells Lebowski’s assistant Brandt that Lebowski said he could have any rug in the place as compensation and Brandt has some men take the rug The Dude picks out and place it in his car. That night, while bowling, Walter pulls out a gun on their opponent when he barely steps over the line during their league play, causing them to be disqualified for that match. The next day, Brandt calls The Dude and tells him that Lebowski wants to meet with him. When The Dude arrives at Lebowski’s place, Lebowski tells him that Bunny has been kidnapped and shows him a ransom note he received. Brandt then tells The Dude that Lebowski wants him to deal with the ransom exchange, offering him $20,000 and letting him keep the rug as payment. Later, The Dude tells Walter and Donny what’s happening as the watch Jesus Quintana, a rival bowler, and The Dude says thinks that Bunny just kidnapped herself as a way to get the money from her husband so she can pay back Treehorn. Later that night, The Dude is laying down on his new rug when he notices a woman and two men standing over him. One of the men punches him, and when he recovers, he hears the pager that Brandt gave him going off. The Dude meets with Brandt, who gives him a cell phone and a suitcase with money and The Dude goes to make the exchange. He picks up Walter, who asked to come along, and Walter has a satchel filled with dirty underwear and a wrapped package with him. Walter explains the satchel is a ringer, as he says they should keep the $1 million themselves. When The Dude asks what they should do if Bunny really is kidnapped, Walter says that he can simply grab one of the guys during the hand off and beat him for information. The Dude receives a call on the phone telling him where to go and as they approach a bridge, he is told to throw the money off the bridge. Despite The Dude’s protests, Walter grabs the satchel and throws it, then jumps out of the car in order to grab one of the people that goes to get the money but Walter’s package, which was a wrapped sub-machine gun, begins firing erratically when it hits the ground, shooting out one of The Dude’s tires and causing him to crash. The Dude gets out of the car with the suitcase of money as three motorcycles ride up from beneath the bridge and he tries to flag them down but they ride off in the other direction. Walter convinces The Dude to go bowling and forget about it, as they have the money now, but The Dude is worried about what he is going to tell Lebowski. When Donny tells Walter that their next league match is on Saturday, Walter gets upset, saying he doesn’t roll on Saturday as he observes Shabbos, the Jewish day of rest. As Walter rants at Donny, The Dude gets fed up and leaves only to find that his car has been stolen, with the briefcase of money still inside. The Dude heads home and contacts the police about his stolen car, being vague about what is in the briefcase. As he is talking to the police, he receives a call form someone named Maude who says she is the one that took the rug and wants to meet with him. The Dude shows up at Maude’s place and she reveals that she is Lebowski’s daughter and that Lebowski had embezzled money from their family’s foundation and asks The Dude to recover the money, as she also feels Bunny kidnapped herself, and offers to pay him $100,000 if he succeeds. Maude has The Dude taken back to his apartment but as soon as he gets there, he is grabbed and forced into another car, where Brandt and Lebowski are waiting for him. Lebowski asks The Dude where the money is and The Dude says he dropped off the money like he was supposed to but asks if they considered that the kidnapping was faked and that the “kidnappers” were saying that they didn’t get the money in order to get more money from him. Brandt hands The Dude an envelope containing a severed toe, with the toenail painted the same color as Bunny’s when The Dude met her at Lebowski’s place, and Lebowski tells The Dude that he told the kidnappers to get the money from him. As The Dude is relaxing in his bath, the police call and inform him they found his car, just as three Germans enter his apartment, saying that they are the kidnappers and demand the money from him or else they will cut off his johnson. The Dude goes to get his car from the impound lot but there is no sign of the briefcase and the police have no intention of looking for it. At the bowling alley, The Dude tells Walter and Donny about the Germans and gets upset at Walter’s attitude about the situation. As The Dude sits at the bar, a stranger sits next to him and they start talking when The Dude receives a call from Maude, wanting to meet. The Dude meets with Maude, who tells him that the Germans, who were actually a band, were friends of Bunny’s and not likely to be the kidnappers, then asks The Dude to go see the doctor she recommended. After going to the doctor, The Dude is driving around and notices a blue Volkswagen Bug following him. As he tries to avoid it, he ends up wrecking his car when he accidentally drops the joint he was smoking into his lap. As he is recovering, he finds some homework from a kid named Larry in the seat of his car. Walter tracks down where Larry lives and they go to see him, with Walter trying to intimidate Larry into telling him where the money is. When Larry doesn’t answer, Walter goes outside and begins smashing the new sports car parked outside the house, thinking Larry used the stolen money to buy it but it turns out it was the neighbor’s car, who begins smashing The Dude’s car in retaliation. The Dude returns home only to have Treehorn’s thugs grab him and take him to see Treehorn. Treehorn asks The Dude where Bunny and the money is and The Dude tells him he doesn’t know where Bunny is but that Larry has the money before passing out from the drugs Treehorn slipped into his drink. After suffering from a hallucination from the drugs, The Dude is picked up by the police as he is running down the road and taken to the station, where the sheriff tells him not to bother Treehorn again. The Dude is placed in a cab and sent home but when he tells the driver that he hates The Eagles, the cabbie kicks him out of the cab and as The Dude yells at him, he doesn’t notice Bunny driving by in a sports car, having taken an unannounced trip to Palm Springs and not missing any of her toes. Meanwhile, the three Germans are seen at a diner eating with a woman, who is missing one of her toes. When The Dude gets home, he finds Maude there waiting for him and she tells him to sleep with her. Afterwards, they are talking and Maude tells The Dude that her father doesn’t have any money, as her mother was the rich one and left all the money to the family’s foundation. When Maude pulls her knees up to her chest, The Dude asks what she is doing and she tells him she is trying to ensure she gets pregnant, as she wants a child but tells The Dude that she does not want anything to do with the father, easing The Dude’s concerns about fathering a child. The Dude realizes he was played and calls Walter and has him pick him up. When he goes outside to wait for him, he sees the Volkswagen parked up the street and confronts the driver, who is a P.I. that had been hired by Bunny’s family to find her and bring her back home to their farm in Minnesota, as she had run away from their. When Walter gets there, The Dude tells him about Lebowski not having any money so he stole the money from the foundation and kept it, giving The Dude an empty briefcase so he can blame the money’s theft on the kidnappers. Arriving at Lebowski’s house, they see Bunny has returned and confront Lebowski about his using Bunny being missing to steal the money and pin it’s disappearance on the kidnappers or him. Lebowski says that it is The Dude’s word against his and Walter insults Lebowski, not believing that he is really paralyzed, and picks him up out of his chair and drops him on the floor, then they quickly leave when they realize he is paralyzed. The Dude and Walter head to the bowling alley to practice and when they leave with Donny, they find the Germans have set The Dude’s car on fire and demand the money. The Dude tells them they know that they didn’t kidnap Bunny so there is no ransom so the Germans decide to just rob them. Walter fights the German’s biting the ear off of one of them and knocking all three out but Donny ends up suffering a fatal heart attack due to the excitement. The Dude and Walter take Donny’s ashes to the Pacific Ocean to scatter them and accidentally ends up throwing them in The Dude’s face when the wind shifts. Walter apologizes and tries to wipe the ashes off of The Dude, who gets upset at Walter for ruining everything, and Walter hugs The Dude and tells him they should go bowling. At the bowling alley, The Dude encounters the stranger again and the talk briefly before The Dude heads over to go bowling, telling the stranger that “The Dude abides.” The stranger, breaking the 4th wall, addresses the audience and says he takes comfort in that. He then says he hopes they liked the story as he did, and comments that even though he was sad that Donny died, he knows that a little Lebowski is on the way and figures that is just the circle of life.

The Big Lebowski received mixed reviews on it’s release but in recent years, the critics have changed their opinion of the film, as shown by the certified fresh rating of 82% it holds on Rotten Tomatoes. The critical consensus on the site is, “Typically stunning visuals and sharp dialogue from the Coen Brothers, brought to life with strong performances from Goodman and Bridges.” Before filming a scene, Jeff Bridges would ask the Coen Brothers if The Dude “burned one on the way over” and if they said he did, then he would rub his knuckles in his eyes before doing a take to make them appear bloodshot. Though the movie was a success at the box office, earning $46.2 million off of a $15 million budget, the studio considered it a disappointment. However, it would become end up becoming a cult classic over time and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2014.

I think this really was a movie that was a bit ahead of it’s time because it is fantastic. Jeff Bridges and John Goodman were fantastic as The Dude and Walter respectively and their interaction was hysterical throughout the movie; with The Dude constantly being incredulous at Walter’s suggestions and actions. I also liked Steve Buscemi (Donny) and you kind of feel bad for his character, as he constantly came in halfway through The Dude’s and Walter’s conversation and when he tried to figure out what they were talking about, Walter always yelled at him. The story was great, as it was a nice little red herring of a crime drama with the stoned Dude getting dragged into a mess and trying to figure a way out, and somehow stumbling into what is really going on. The comedy wasn’t really in your face, mostly involved with the banter between people and some of the resulting actions from it. Definitely one of the Coen Brothers best movies and well worth watching.

Rating: 5 out of 5

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