Saturday, May 6, 2023

What I've Caught Up With, April 2023

April was a down month for me on this front, and I'm hoping that May will pick up. However, since I'll be out for a good week at some point, that seems unlikely. Having the kitchen finally done helps, so things are winding down, not that this has made my work life any easier.

What I’ve Caught Up With, April 2023:
Film: Hollywood Shuffle (1987)

It’s tempting to say that Hollywood Shuffle is a movie industry-based version of Al Yankovich’s UHF, but this came first by a couple of years. Writer/director/star Robert Townsend is a wannabee actor who gets a part in a movie, but it turns out to be stereotypical and horribly racist. Much of the movie is taken up by his fantasies of roles he’d like to have and the life he’d like to lead, much like a modern-day Walter Mitty. A tremendous cast includes Helen Martin, John Witherspoon, and a chunk of the Wayans clan. It’s a lot of fun—it could honestly stand to be another 15 minutes or so longer. There’s more that could be done here, and this is smart enough to make it worthwhile.

Film: Commando (1985)

What can you really say about the antics of Arnold Schwarzenegger? Commando is a standard revenge plot movie from the mid-‘80s. Matrix (Arnold) is an ex-commando who is drawn out of retirement when his daughter (Alyssa Milano!) is kidnapped. Knowing that she’ll be killed regardless of what he does, he decides to hunt down the kidnappers with the help of a scared Rae Dawn Chong. Ridiculous action, sprays of bullets, and guys falling out of towers follow in rapid succession. Best known for a couple of sold post-kill one-liners, Commando is kind of ultimately forgettable in the sense that it blends into pretty much every other move in this genre.

Film: The Harder They Fall (2021)

No one thinks twice about a Western with a mainly white cast, so why does it feel so surprising to see one where all of the main cast is Black? The Harder They Fall is a pretty standard oater—bad guys and good guys, and bad guys who are our good guys that steal from other bad guys. There are a lot of relationships and debts to settle here, and everybody is gunning for everybody else. It’s fun, and if you like the Old West and horses, you’ll find a hell of a lot here worth seeing. It winds up hyper-violent, sort of modern day Peckinpah, and I mean that as a compliment. A good cast, too. With respect to everyone in this, I’ll legitimately watch anything that has LaKeith Stanfield in it.

Film: Angel on My Shoulder (1946)

In what is quite a shock to me, I might have found my least favorite Paul Muni performance. I’ve been a Muni apologist since my first watch of I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, but in Angel on My Shoulder, Muni’s role is reduced to a sort of weird melodrama. A spin on Here Comes Mr. Jordan, this one starts with the death of a gangster (Muni) taken back to Earth to inhabit the body of an uncorruptible judge (also Muni). All of this is orchestrated by the devil (Claude Rains). It’s a fun set-up, but the plot only happens because Muni’s gangster is too stupid to understand what is happening, why he’s back alive, or anything else he’s expected to do. The idea is far better than the execution.


  1. Not the most inspiring quartet this month.

    I finally caught up with Hollywood Shuffle last year after it being on my too see list for quite some time. I liked it well enough and Robert Townsend in it but I can't see myself searching it out again.

    I went into Commando expecting it to be dumb and mindless, my expectations were met. Another one and doner.

    It has been a long time since I saw Angel on My Shoulder but I don't remember loving it nor hating it, my main memory is that it was a trifle precious. I'm always happy to see Claude Rains and Anne Baxter but if I need a fix for either I seek out other of their respective films instead of this. As for Muni I much prefer his plainclothes roles to the ones where he's buried under makeup that he so loved. Since this is one of the first I must have been underwhelmed by both him and the film to let decades go by between views.

    I haven't seen your fourth.

    1. The Harder They Fall is a pretty standard Western, but it's entertaining, and sometimes that's all you really need.

      It was a down month. I like to think Robert Townsend would be better known if he hadn't had to make movies with what could be scrounged from the couch cushions. He had a lot of fun ideas, but never really got to do them the way they needed to be done.

      Commando is what it is, and it's unapologetic for it.

      I get that Angel on My Shoulder is a product of its time, but it loses a lot of comedy potential by playing with the idea of this mobster in a judge's body. Instead, we get someone who literally cannot fake being someone else even for a second or two, and for a movie that desperately needs the audience to buy in to a weird premise, having that be the least believable aspect is a big problem.

  2. I've seen bits of Hollywood Shuffle as it is a film that is smacked on about the struggles that black actors have to endure. Commando is a masterpiece. It knows what it is and doesn't apologize for it. It never takes itself seriously but there is a great lesson to this. If you're going to force someone to carry out an assassination by threatening to kill that man's daughter. You'd better make goddamn sure it's not the wrong but...

    If his daughter is Alyssa Milano and he's Arnold Schwarzenegger.... JABRONI. You're going to need a shitload of body bags.

    "Scared motherfucker. You should because this Green Beret is going to kick your ass." "I eat Green Berets for breakfast and right now, I'm very hungry!" "I can't believe this macho bullshit" "Fuck you asshole!" "Fuck you... asshole!"

    "I like you Sully, you're a funny guy. That's why I'm going to kill you last" "Remember when I told you I was gonna kill you last" "Yeah?" "I lied!" "What happened to Sully?" "He had to drop out"

    "Oh, he's dead tired" "Hello John, it's your old friend Bennett!" "I'm not going to kill you John, I'm going to shoot you in the balls!" "Let off some steam Bennett"

  3. Hollywood Shuffle isn't as good as it wants to be, but I think it's as good as it can be, all things considered.

    Commando is what it is, and I respect it for that, but aside from the specifics of the kill/post-kill banter, it's not that different from anything else in that era of Arnie's career.