Archives for posts with tag: Henry Winkler

mischief-night-poster

Director Richard Schenkman, whose previous efforts range from Playboy documentaries to the abysmal Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, delivers a surprising winner with this tense home invasion shocker.

Mischief Night evokes immediate sympathy and concern for protagonist Emily (Noell Coet), a girl psychosomatically blinded after her mother died in a car accident. When Emily’s father (Daniel Hugh Kelly), with her encouragement, leaves her alone in the house on what happens to be her community’s annual Mischief Night – an occasion for spooky pranksterism – she finds herself at the mercy of a mysterious intruder (or is that intruders?) in a raincoat. The resulting film is a genuine tingler that raises the bar for blind girl terror, besting Wait Until Dark and Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out in terms of its sheer contagious fright.

The most frustrating aspect of Mischief Night is the muddiness of its moral universe – and, ultimately, its consequent meaninglessness. A fun but superfluous prologue that punishes two fornicators suggests that the Mischief Night killer or killers are disgruntled moralists or judgmental fire-and-brimstone vigilantes of the type represented in The Collection. Subsequent murders, however, lack this puritanical dimension, with victim selection failing to point to any unifying principle other than maximum terror. For most of the movie, the killers function as personifications or agents of a personal Hell for Emily, taking out of commission one by one the people and things that give her a sense of security – a theme that would have been strengthened if the screenwriters had excluded some of the extraneous deaths.

Flaws aside, Mischief Night is as scary as anything the viewer is likely to find at the Redbox, and is therefore happily recommended.

4.5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Mischief Night is:

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

7. Class-conscious. Wealth and a comfortable home afford no protection from reality or from the moral ramifications of sin.

6. Pro-castration. Emily’s father, somewhat reminiscent of Henry Winkler in wimpy Waterboy mode, is a model sensitive man.

5. Liberal. An old man (Richard Riehle) listening to a conservative talk radio program is dispatched almost as soon as he appears. This might be interpreted as an indication that the old conservative certainties of traditional values and Constitutional republicanism are dead or no longer a feasible defense of America; but more likely is that this is simply gratuitous spite directed at Limbaugh listeners.

4. Anti-slut. An adulteress (Erica Leerhsen) is terrorized during the opening sequence. Emily’s physical closeness with and trust of her boyfriend (Ian Bamberg) is a source of discomfort for the viewer.

3. Anti-gun. Emily’s father accidentally shoots her boyfriend, believing him to be an intruder.

2. Feminist. Emily’s disability has caused her to become highly self-reliant in ordinary circumstances. She proves more valiant than her father in the defense of their home and even asserts an imaginary phallus in the form of a chainsaw.

1. Pro-family. Emily is close with her father, and her disturbance after her mother’s death, a rupture of the family unit, has left her blind and, if not helpless, then at a significant disadvantage. The father, however, is rather girly and ineffectual, thus mitigating the movie’s pro-family credentials.

Katherine

Katherine aka The Radical (1975) ****

Originally broadcast on television, this worthwhile film asks how a rich college girl from a respectable family could grow to so hate the society that has given her every advantage that she winds up as a bitter domestic terrorist and founding member of the murderous Weathermen Underground.  A pre-Carrie Sissy Spacek stars as the title character, with an unusually energetic Henry Winkler playing her quirky lover and fellow subversive.  To its credit, the film stops short of glorifying revolution, but it does humanize the aspirants in giving a glimpse into their experiences and motivations.  Balancing this, however, is the sympathetic portrayal of Katherine’s conservative parents (Art Carney and Jane Wyatt), who disapprove of their daughter’s decisions but love her and only want to help.  Rounding out the cast is Julie Kavner, future voice of Marge Simpson, as one of Katherine’s college friends whose life follows an entirely different course.  Some of the music is poor, but the film is recommended to anyone interested in the young stars or the radical politics of the period.

4 out of 5 stars.

 

KGB Connections

The KGB Connections (1982) ****1/2

Before Michael Moore and reality television programs popularized the obnoxious, attention-grasping gonzo approach, the documentary used to be a consistently fascinating and dignified form of filmmaking. Thankfully, The KGB Connections, an old-school black-and-white CBC documentary, hails from the days when stark truth was all that was necessary to hold the viewer’s attention. Consisting largely of interviews with CIA men and defectors from communist intelligence services, the film exposes shocking breaches of national security by the KGB, which utilized diplomatic missions (particularly the UN, described as a “nest of spies”) and “illegals”, spies smuggled into the country under false identities, to increasingly undermine U.S. interests throughout the sixties and seventies and into its last decade of existence.  If the film is to be believed, the Soviets even had the ability to monitor the phone calls at the White House and the Pentagon using harmless-looking antennae mounted on their consulate buildings.

The most amusing interviewee is easily Hedda Massing, who during the 1930s was one of the Soviet Union’s most distinguished recruiters of influential American citizens.  Massing and former communist Nathaniel Weyl dish the dirt on traitors Laurence Duggan, Noel Field, and Alger Hiss.  Also of interest is KGB proxy activity through Cuban intelligence and the recruitment and training of young American terrorists like the Weathermen.  There is a spareness to The KGB Connections that will probably not appeal to those with short attention spans, but history buffs and the politically aware will want to take the time to digest its abundance of information.  The unsettling electronic musical stings that introduce the different segments do much to enhance the film’s real eeriness.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

Part IV of The Filthy Films of Adam Sandler

In Ideological Content Analysis:

A Cranko-Politico-Critical Retrospective

Of the ICA Institute for Advanced Sandler Studies

AdamSandler

The number five film at the box office in 1998 and the number two adult-targeted comedy of that year (after the juggernaut There’s Something About Mary), The Waterboy was another major hit for Adam Sandler, here reteamed with Wedding Singer director Frank Coraci.  From the beginning The Waterboy makes its intentions clear, breaking with opening credits tradition in proclaiming itself “A Frank Coraci Movie” rather than the conventional rendering “An [insert director’s name] Film”.  In other words, The Waterboy is self-conscious and unashamed popular entertainment, preemptively thumbing its nose at whatever the critics might say about it.  As such, the movie is more or less a success – an energetic, upbeat, and stupendously stupid sports comedy aimed at the proverbial lowest common denominator.

Sandler, in a turn reminiscent of his “Cajun Man” Weekend Update bit from Saturday Night Live, creates one of the most memorable comic characters of the decade in Bobby Boucher, a 31-year-old rube still toiling as a college football team’s waterboy.  Boucher is socially awkward, lacks confidence, wets his bed, and is still a virgin; but he is not, as might at first appear to be the case, mentally retarded.  Even more shocking, it turns out the loser has real rage inside and potential as a psychotically brutal offensive lineman whenever somebody makes Boucher angry enough.  Down-on-his-luck Coach Klein (Henry Winkler, in a wry performance indicative of his range beyond the Fonz) knows a star player when he sees one; and, against the wishes of Boucher’s fanatically protective Mama (Kathy Bates), gives the beleaguered waterboy the chance to lead the South Central Louisiana University Mud Dogs to glory.  The climactic team win peculiarly lacks the expected comic punch, but enough in the film is endearing and funny for its shortcomings to be forgiven.

3 out of 5 stars.  Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Waterboy is:

9. Anti-racist (i.e., pro-yawn).  A black player pictures a football as a Klansman’s head so as to motivate himself to kick it especially hard.

8. Feminist.  Distractingly sexy Fairuza Balk plays Boucher’s tough love interest, blade-wielding car thief and potential murderess Vicki Vallencourt, who can handle herself with ease against any would-be oppressor.

7. Mildly anti-South.  The hicks who populate the film are good sorts for the most part, but stereotypically ignorant white trash nonetheless.  One of Boucher’s college professors, a Col. Sanders look-alike, is brutally tackled in a moment of humiliation for an absurd visual representative of the plantation-infested Old South.

6. Drug-ambivalent.  “Don’t smoke crack,” says famous cocaine user Lawrence Taylor to a group of children.  Drinking humor occurs throughout, however, with even the Mud Dogs’ mascot imbibing.  The big game at the end is the Bourbon Bowl.

5. Anti-Christian.  Mrs. Boucher represents conservative Christians as fundamentalist twits obsessed with avoiding an omnipresent evil which lurks in unexpected places.  “Little girls are the devil,” she warns her son; also “Ben Franklin is the devil,” and she even mumbles about the Prince of Darkness in her sleep.

4. Pro-gay.  A sheriff and his deputy answer their door shirtless, the implication being that they have been in each other’s arms.  Misunderstanding Boucher to have said he is bisexual, a party tramp remarks, “I think that’s sexy.”  Coach Klein is seen wearing women’s shoes in a flashback.

3. Statist.  Decent vocabulary notwithstanding, homeschooled Boucher, with his lack of worldliness and social skills is essentially a walking, whimpering endorsement for public schools.  Knowledge-hungry Boucher, when given the chance, is eager to have a university education.  Nevertheless, The Waterboy inadvertently undermines the audience’s confidence in state-run education when the Louisiana high school equivalency examination is shown to include the following inaccurate question: “Ben Franklin discovered electricity.  In what year did this happen?”  (Ben Franklin, despite what unqualified Louisiana teacher union apparatchiks might teach the rustics, did not discover electricity.)

2. Pro-slut.  Tattooed floozy Vicki is all too happy to flash her breasts at the virginal football hero and flirts shamelessly with him in front of his disapproving mother.  (See also no. 4)

1. Family-ambivalent.  Boucher’s love for his mother is consistently touching, but her smothering affection is ultimately an obstacle that must be overcome.  Boucher’s father abandoned his family, and the son, in a triumphant moment of self-assertion, rejects his attempt at reconciliation.

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