The King of Comedy (1983) Martin Scorsese’s ahead-of-its-time satire about the dark side of fame didn’t make much of a splash when it premiered, but now it seems more relevant than ever. Scorsese regular Robert De Niro stars as Rupert Pupkin, an aspiring 30-something comedian who lives with his mother in a brownstone, and dreams of making it big. He longs to be a guest on a late night talk show, hosted by his idol Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis, in a surprisingly restrained performance), but can’t convince anyone associated with the show to give him a chance. When he fails to get Langford to notice him, Pupkin, along with his equally obsessive accomplice (Sandra Bernhard), kidnaps the beleaguered talk show host.
De Niro makes you squirm as the socially tone-deaf Pupkin (in a running joke people keep getting his name wrong), who’s completely oblivious to the signals everyone sends off around him. He lives in an elaborate fantasy world where he’s a nationally renowned comedian and Langford begs him to take over hosting duties. It’s almost impossible not to cringe at Pupkin’s repeated attempts to match his delusional self-image with reality. Nearly 35 years after its initial release, The King of Comedy has much to say about the fickle, ephemeral nature of fame and the cult of personality. Why did it take me so long to see this?
Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and DVD
Disciples of the 36th Chamber (1985) The third entry in the 36th Chamber series suffers from the law of diminishing returns (the first film is a genre classic), but it’s worth seeing, thanks to impressive fight choreography, elaborate set pieces and a rich color palette. Similar to its predecessor, Return to the 36th Chamber, the film leans more toward humor. Gordon Liu reprises his role as Shaolin monk San Te, but he’s not in it nearly enough. Instead, the focus is on mischievous young upstart Fong Sai-Yuk (Hou Hsiao), who defies a local magistrate and creates grief for the Shaolin master. Compared to Liu in the first two films, Hsiao’s character isn’t very likeable, appearing more obnoxious than charismatic. Also, Fong Sai-Yuk doesn’t experience much growth as a fighter (his ordeals are glossed over) or as an individual. The film is redeemed, however, by a terrific climactic scene, with Shaolin monks vs. Manchu thugs.
Rating: ***½. Available on DVD, Hulu and Netflix
We Are Still Here (2015) This creepy tale from writer/director Ted Geoghegan features a middle-aged couple, Anne and Paul Sacchetti (Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig), grieving over the death of their grown son. They move to an old house in a small town, and invite their hippie friends (Lisa Marie and Larry Fessenden) over for company. An impromptu séance (never a good idea in this sort of movie) summons the otherworldly residents of the house. We Are Still Here is notable for a modern horror film, mainly because of its older protagonists; a nice change of pace from the usual 20-somethings that dominate recent genre efforts. Geoghegan also maintains a nice ‘70s vibe, and there are a few good scares. It’s too bad the film falls into some of the usual clichés (Why do the main characters stick around when things get bad?), and it shows rather than suggests a few too many times, but you could do much worse playing Netflix roulette on a Saturday night.
Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Netflix Streaming
The Champions of Justice (aka: Los Campeones Justicieros) (1971) Blue Demon and his luchador pals form a super group of luchadores to square off against a mad scientist and his super-powerful little people army (their uniforms are tastefully emblazoned with an “M” for midget). The twisted doctor kidnaps the contestants of a beauty pageant, and freezes them for his nefarious plans. Why? Don’t ask me why, but it’s up to the wrestlers to get them back. Each successive scene (accompanied by a repetitive jazz score) is simply an excuse for the wrestlers to whoop ass. Will good prevail over evil? If you’ve seen any of these flicks, you already know the answer. One of the joys of this film is its conceit that our heroes keep their masks on at all times, which is why the sight of a luchador in pajamas fills me with glee. If you’re looking for a tightly engineered plot or scientific plausibility, you’ve come to the wrong place. On the other hand, if you just want to watch a bunch of sweaty wrestlers with colorful masks and imaginative names pummel a bunch of bad guys, then you’ve struck pay dirt.
Rating: ***. Available on DVD