THE RANCH – Raising 100% USDA-choice laughs

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I am not an Ashton Kutcher fan by any means. But he is currently starring in one of the best sitcoms I’ve seen in years, Netflix’s “The Ranch.”

Kutcher plays Colt Bennett, a former high school and college football star who left his family and small town behind for 18 years to try and pursue a pro-football career. When Colt finally returns to the family ranch, we meet the family he left behind. That includes “Rooster” (Danny Masterson, Kutcher’s former co-star on “That ’70s Show”), Colt’s alternately worshipful and resentful younger brother; his mom Maggie (Debra Winger), who is separated from Colt’s dad and runs a bar in town; and his father Beau (Sam Elliott), a misanthrope whose only (small) joy in life is the ranch he has been running since he returned from the Vietnam War and his own father died.

Each of these characters has a backstory filled with heartbreak and conflict, and that’s one of the many minor miracles about this show. After seeing so many sitcoms with rimshot-punchlines (or worse yet, no punchlines), all of the laughs in this show come from vivid characterizations.

And every one of the actors is wonderful. Masterson has sibling rivalry down pat. Winger is as glorious as ever, and if Hollywood isn’t smart enough to put her on the big screen again, at least she got a worthy role on the smaller screen.

Kutcher amazes me. After seeing him do “Aren’t I a cute slacker” in so many TV and movie roles, it’s a treat to see him fully inhabit a real character — one with flaws as well as redeemable qualities.

But for me, at least, the most astounding revelation of the show is Sam Elliott. His misanthropic-dad character has plenty of worthy dramatic moments, which nobody ever doubted that Elliott could pull off. The real surprise is his comic timing. Elliott delivers one comic gem after another, and with his laconic style, he never lets on that he expected a laugh from any of his lines.

He’s a real joy to behold, as is the rest of the cast, backed by some sharp, sharp writing. If you don’t have Netflix, you ought to get it just for “The Ranch” alone.

 

 

 

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Mel Brooks talks about SOLARBABIES

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If you haven’t heard of Solarbabies, I won’t hold it against you. It was a strange-sounding apocalyptic sci-fi movie that came out in 1986 and sank without a trace. (I had no interest in seeing it at the time and never have since then.)

The funny thing is that it had all the elements of a hit. It had a notable cast of veteran and upcoming stars including Charles Durning, Lukas Haas, Jami Gertz, and Jason Patric. And it came from the production company of, of all people, Mel Brooks.

A man named Paul Scheer runs a podcast named “How Did This Get Made?” whose subject matter is movies that are so out-there, they make you ask the titular question. Scheer and an associate made it their goal to personally ask that question of Mel Brooks and Solarbabies, and the result is a delightful interview with Brooks, the link for which is embedded below.

The only annoying part of this podcast episode is its first few minutes, wherein the hosts endlessly slap themselves on the back for scoring Brooks as a guest. But as you can imagine, when Brooks-the-storyteller gets going on the making of the movie, there’s no stopping him. Enjoy!

http://io9.gizmodo.com/mel-brooks-talks-about-the-post-apocalyptic-rollerskati-1779034014?rev=1464309056936&utm_campaign=socialflow_io9_facebook&utm_source=io9_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Laurel & Hardy and horses

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The following is my contribution to The Animals in Film Blogathon, being hosted May 26-28, 2016 by the blog In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Click on the above banner to read bloggers’ comments about a variety of contributions made by acting animals to the history of motion pictures!

For this blogathon, rather than talking about a single movie, I chose to discuss the supporting roles that horses have in a large number of comedies starring Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. Horses are so frequently Stan & Ollie’s co-stars that one can’t help but draw the conclusion that it’s because Stan and Ollie appear to share the same level of brainpower as their animal supporting actors.

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Surely the peak of Laurel & Hardy’s relationship with horses occurs in Way Out West (1937), where their co-star is Dinah the Mule (who even gets a screen credit, and deserves it). At one point in the movie, in an attempt to get Ollie up to the second floor of Mickey Finn’s Saloon in the middle of the night, they get Dinah up there instead. This scene alone shows that perhaps a single member of the equine community has more intelligence than Stan and Ollie combined. However, there are plenty of other such incidents worth noting in the Laurel & Hardy canon.

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First, the more benign examples. In Fra Diavolo (a/k/a The Devil’s Brother; 1933, shown above) and Swiss Miss (1938), horses are simply the sources for transportation, not gags. In the later 20th Century-Fox feature Great Guns (1941), a horse provides humiliation, but not for Stan and Ollie. Instead, it is their commanding officer, Sgt. “Hippo,” who gets bucked off a wild horse when he tries to imitate the rough-riding mannerism of Stan and Ollie’s ward, Dan Forrester; The Boys only laugh at Hippo’s comeuppance. (That’s an adequate illustration of how L&H’s later, Big Studio movies put them on the sidelines and let the supporting players get the laughs.)

In another of L&H’s Big Studio feature films, Jitterbugs (1943), The Boys and their car and wagon are stranded in the desert. Ollie tells Stan to get out and push the behemoth while he steers. Moments later, with the car still moving, Stan idles alongside Ollie and gets into the car beside him. Ollie is surprisingly nonchalant about this — in a Hal Roach feature, Ollie would have reacted to this with a huge double-take — but when he asks Stan about this, he finds that Stan has commandeered a nearby donkey to do the moving. Ollie, in another of his insults that goes over Stan’s head, is philosophical about this: “A mule is just as good as a donkey in this kind of situation.”

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In Laurel & Hardy’s Oscar-winning short subject The Music Box (1932), Susie — the horse who is a major part of The Boys’ “transfer company” (i.e., moving van) — is, at most, passive-aggressive. When Stan is trying to unload a crated piano onto Ollie’s back, Susie moves forward just a step too soon, giving Ollie a major backache. Ollie rectifies this situation later when he unchains Susie from the back of the wagon, though this does little to prevent further mishaps with the piano.

One of L&H’s more extended routines with horses appears to have occurred in a long-unavailable feature film, The Rogue Song (1930). As described in the 1975 book Laurel & Hardy, bandit’s assistants Ali-Bek and Murza-Bek (Stan and Ollie by any other name) have major trouble mounting and dismounting their horses with, naturally, the major indignities befalling Ollie.

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Besides Way Out West, Laurel & Hardy’s best-remembered horse maneuverings occur in the silent short Wrong Again (1929). Stable workers Stan and Ollie overhear that a local man of means is offering a $5,000 reward for the return of his Blue Boy. The rich man is referring to the famous Gainsborough painting, but unluckily there is a horse in the stable bearing the same name. Of course, Stan and Ollie reach entirely the wrong conclusion, and when they bring the horse to the man’s mansion, the man (who is at an upper floor and unable to see the Blue Boy in question) instructs The Boys to “take him right into the house” and “put him on the piano.”

This results in some outrageously satisfying gags and routines, and more than a little sympathy for the physical sufferings endured by Ollie (who at one point is wedged between an upright piano leg and the piano-topped-by-the-horse). And as Laurel & Hardy biographer Charles Barr succinctly puts it, “Thus, by a completely logical route Laurel and Hardy arrive at an image that irresistably recalls the donkey on the piano in Bunuel and Dali’s anti-logical Un Chien Andalou,” the famed surrealistic short that (as Barr notes) was probably unknown to any of Wrong Again‘s makers, and at whose pretensions Stan-the-filmmaker would surely have guffawed in derision.

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The last two instances of Laurel & Hardy & horse are on the cartoonish side, quite literally in one instance. Two years after Way Out West, The Flying Deuces (1939) has Stan asking Ollie how he would like to be reincarnated. Ollie replies that he’d like to come back as a horse. The film’s finale, at first leaving Stan as a lone vagabond wandering the countryside, then grants Ollie’s wish, as Stan comes across “Ollie” (a horse with a greasepaint-y moustache and Hardy’s dubbed-in drawl) once more telling Stan, “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!”

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Finally, Walt Disney’s contribution to this menagerie must be noted. The Disney cartoon Mickey’s Polo Team (1935) has its rivals in the team “The Mickey Mousers” (Mickey and his usual sidekicks) versus “The Movie Stars,” caricatures of many Hollywood celebrities including Laurel & Hardy.  As you can see from the above still from the cartoon, Disney got one point right: the horses master Stan and Ollie far more than vice versa.

Announcing the Back-to-School Blogathon!

What a hoot! I gotta think about this one for a while…

Pop Culture Reverie

From kindergarten to college, from St. Trinian’s to Rydell High, schools and classrooms have provided the background for multitudinous films. Dedicated teachers, evil vice principals, nerds, mean girls, precocious children, slackers, geniuses, jocks, and misfits have populated films throughout the history of the medium.

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On September 2-5, it’s time to go Back To School!!!

 
BLOGATHON RULES:

1. Feel free to write about any topic relating to school and the movies.  The choice is yours. As long as the topic relates to school and film (from any era), it’s more than welcome.

2. Because there are so many potential topics and films, no duplicates for this blogathon.

3. To express your interest in participating in the blogathon, leave a comment on my blog, along with the name and URL of your blog, and the subject you wish to cover, or you can always register by email at: robinpruter@gmail.com. For those of you who…

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When Richard Widmark Hugs You, You Stay Hugged

Another entry in the Classic Movie Ice Cream Social Blogathon. Man, can this woman tell a story.

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Back in the spring of 2001, the Walter Reade Theatre had a retrospective of Richard Widmark films, with a special—to put it mildly—appearance by the man himself, who was then 86.

I had loved Richard Widmark since I was a kid, when I saw him in Don’t Bother to Knock. He seemed like a bit of a heel at first, but there was something about him—something that told me a very fragile, deeply disturbed Marilyn Monroe would be safe with him. (She was—on and off the screen.) I hadn’t yet seen him push Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs in her wheelchair—which, he once recalled, was the first scene he ever shot on film after making the move from Broadway to Hollywood. (“I said to Henry Hathaway, ‘You want me to do what?'”) But by then I already adored him. (Poor Tommy Udo, I thought—so misunderstood!)

So off I went to…

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My Liebster Retirement

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“filmscorehunter” at the blog The Cinematic Frontier has nominated me for a Liebster Award. And while I am flattered as always, I think it’s time for me to quit participating in this ritual. I’ve done five of these already, and I suspect that my readers are getting as tired of reading my answers as I am of trying to come up with them.

Therefore, I’m going to post the usual Liebster rules, as well as the questions given to me by “filmscorehunter”. But I’m going to be all defiant and follow only the first rule. When you are nominated for a Liebster, you are asked to

  • Answer his or her nominator’s 11 questions.
  • Nominate 11 additional bloggers.
  • Ask 11 questions of your nominees.
  • Share 11 additional facts about yourself.

Also, “filmscorehunter” is probably not going to like that I am going to reply to two of his questions with a single answer, but here are those questions:

  1. What is your favorite new release of 2016 so far?
  2. Which film recently made you reflect on it long after the credits were over?

These are good and valid questions. The trouble is that I can’t answer them because I haven’t been to any recent movies. The last new movie I saw in a theater was Simon Pegg’s The World’s End in 2013. Curmudgeon that I am, I’ve completely turned off from the moviegoing experience in recent years. I far more enjoy watching them on my computer in the sanctuary of my man-cave, or Twittering about them on Live Tweets.

3. Which Comic Con have you most recently attended (or, if you’ve never been to one, which one do you plan or wish to attend?

Sorry, the closest I’ve ever gotten to a Comic Con was watching the 2011 movie Paul. (Another Simon Pegg reference.)

4. Do you prefer 3D or 2D?

2D, most definitely, I’ve yet to see a movie where the 3D effect ever enhanced the experience for me.

5. What is your favorite film from the year you were born?

101 Dalmatians (1961).

6. Blu-Ray or streaming?

To further demonstrate how un-hip I am, I’ve never seen a movie in Blu-Ray in my life, so I guess it’s streaming for me. (“filmscorehunter”, I’ll bet you’re glad you nominated me now, aren’t you?)

7. Name your favorite ’80s song in a film.

“On Your Shore” (1988) by Enya, as it was used in Steve Martin’s 1991 comic gem L.A. Story. I’d never even heard of Enya until I saw this movie, but it’s a beautiful song, and the movie used it perfectly.

8. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Hard to say. I enjoy elements of both, I’m not feverish about either one, and I’d say that each one had only one movie that was a real five-star gem (respectively, The Wrath of Khan and The Empire Strikes Back). If I had to choose in a pinch, I guess it would be Star Trek, as that’s the one I grew up with and it’s a little more thoughtful.

9. What is your favorite film based on a book?

Director/co-star Barbra Streisand’s rendition of Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. Most books that are really good end up with terrible movie versions, or vice versa. The Prince of Tides seemed to condense all of the best stuff from the book without losing its essence.

10. What is your favorite (or least favorite) Nicolas Cage haircut?

I’ve seen Nicolas Cage in quite a few movies, but I have to say that whenever I think of him, that wack-job look from Raising Arizona always comes to mind.

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11. Who is your favorite composer?

If we’re talking movies, Bernard Herrmann. For the rest of civilization, John Lennon & Paul McCartney.

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I hope “filmscorehunter” and everyone else will forgive for cheating on the Liebster rules, but I think everyone’s had enough of my Liebsterness for the rest of my life.

 

 

 

 

 

The 2nd Annual “SEX (now that I have your attention) BLOGATHON” is only one month away!

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