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DVD Reviews for 8/4: Hello Moto!

by Peter Sobczynski

In which your faithful critic, currently holed up in an undisclosed location to avoid the wrath of humorless Australian soccer hooligans and insane Libertarians, briefly reappears to look at some New Age lunacy, Natalie Portman rapping, a sample of the good old days of racial stereotyping and some of the most uncomfortable comedy that you will ever laugh yourself silly over.

With the possible exception of Lenny Bruce at his peak, there has never been a comedian as daring, revolutionary and flat-out funny as the late, great Richard Pryor. At a time when comedians generally just told one joke after another for an hour or so, he would essentially get up on stage and talk frankly (and often profanely) about what was going on in the world, often mining his own admittedly tumultuous personal life for material. His work was raw and honest and when he was firing on all cylinders, he could simultaneous reduce audiences, white and black, to tears of laughter while forcing them to open their eyes to the world around them. And yet, I suspect that there are current generations of comedy fans who have no idea of Pryor’s power as a live performer–they know him only as the wacky black guy from such less-than-stellar films as “Stir Crazy,” “The Toy” and “Superman III.” If you know anyone who fits that description, tell them to go out and get a copy of “Richard Pryor Live in Concert” so that they can be set straight once and for all.

After kicking off the film by heckling latecomers and giving a tongue-lashing to a goof snapping pictures of him from the foot of the stage, Pryor launches into one funny anecdote after another and doesn’t let up for one moment of the ensuing 78 minutes. He talks frankly about the then-recent incident in which he was arrested after shooting up his car in order to prevent his wife at the time from leaving him. He impersonates a variety of animals–including his low-key guard dogs, a pair of horny monkey and a philosophical German Shepard–while illustrating what is going on in their minds. He takes on the role of his own body as it rebels against him by giving him a heart attack. Even when the subject matter gets more serious–such as when he openly talks about his problems with drugs and the death of his father–he attacks them with such humor and honesty that the material still feels fresh and relevant today despite being nearly 30 years old.

Although he was once one of the most popular stars in America, Pryor would never get much of an opportunity to stretch his acting muscles in his films. In fact, it was pretty much only in his three concert films (the others being “Live on the Sunset Strip” and “Here and Now”) that he was able to demonstrate just what a gifted performer he really was. He isn’t just up there telling stories–he is literally acting them out for us with an eye and ear for detail that would make even the most acclaimed actors jealous. Watch the sequence in which he demonstrates the behavior of a child trying to explain how that lamp got broken–every word and cadence is delivered in such a spot-on manner that it is almost spooky to behold. And while he is delivering material that he most have worked on for a long time to get just right, his delivery is so energetic and spontaneous that it feels as if everything he says is coming straight from the heart. At the same time, he does it so smoothly and effortlessly that a film that could have been little more than a filmed record album–it is, after all, nothing more than 78 minutes of one man talking–is transformed into one of the most exciting and flat-out funny things that you will ever see in your life.

Directed by Jeff Margolis. Starring Richard Pryor. 1979. 78 minutes. Unrated. An HBO Video release. $19.98.


BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD–THE MIKE JUDGE COLLECTION, VOL.3 (Paramount Home Video. $39.99): What better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of MTV than with this collection of 42 shorts (including the uncut version of the infamous “Frog Baseball”) from one of their most popular shows? Besides, unlike most of the network’s current programming, this set actually features honest-to-goodness music videos–selections from the likes of Salt-n-Pepa (“Whatta Man”), Soundgarden (“Spoonman”), PJ Harvey (“Down By the Water”) and others complete with B&B’s original commentary.

THE COMEBACK–THE COMPLETE ONLY SEASON (HBO Video. $39.99): For some reason, this HBO series, a reality show spoof following a once-popular star (Lisa Kudrow) as she attempts to make a comeback as a supporting player in a lame sitcom, didn’t receive a lot of popular or critical acclaim (hence the “only season”) when it premiered last year–most likely because viewers didn’t want to see their beloved Phoebe be personally and professionally humiliated every week. Fans of dark, uncompromising humor should definitely check it out because for all of its unevenness, I would still take these few episodes over the entire run of “Friends” in a heartbeat.

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM–THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (HBO Video. $39.99): Although this particular season of the HBO show, in which Larry David decides to investigate his roots with typically disastrous results, may not have hit the comedic heights of previous years, it still provided more laughs than most other current shows that you could name.

JIMMY BUFFETT–LIVE AT WRIGLEY FIELD DOUBLE HEADER (Mailboat Records. $27.98): Otherwise known as the second-worst thing to ever occur within the walls of the Friendly Confines.

MR.MOTO COLLECTION, VOLUME 1 (Fox Home Entertainment. $59.98): For those whose thirst for old B-movie mysteries chock-full of convoluted plots, sets left over from more expensive films and highly questionable racial stereotyping was not completely slaked by the release of the old Charlie Chan films last month, this collection should do the trick. German actor Peter Lorre stars as the Japanese detective in the four titles featured here–“Thank You, Mr. Moto,” “Think Fast, Mr. Moto,” “The Mysterious Mr. Moto” and “Mr. Moto Takes a Chance”–and while these films may not be for everyone, it is nice to see that Fox has not only chosen to put them out in the marketplace but has even restored the prints and thrown in some informative documentary featurettes as well.

PUTNEY SWOPE (Home Vision. $19.98): Although his subsequent career as a mainstream filmmaker would prove to be uneven at best, Robert Downey (father of you-know-who) at least got off to an impressive start with this hilarious 1969 satire about a black man who radicalizes the ad agency that he works for after he is inadvertently elected chairman of the board.

THE SHAGGY DOG (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $29.99): Even though this 2006 remake of the Disney warhorse, in which Tim Allen transforms into a sheepdog at will to the inevitable tune of “Who Let the Dogs Out?,” is as painful and unnecessary as it looks, adults who wind up getting trapped into watching this with their offspring can at least be momentarily distracted by the amusingly weirdo performance by Robert Downey, Jr. as the lead bad guy. Towards the end, he begins to show canine characteristics and does so with such goofy flair that you wonder why they didn’t just hire him to play the lead role in the first place.

V FOR VENDETTA (Warner Home Entertainment. $34.98): As if you needed another reason to pick up this splendid adaptation of the Alan Moore/David Lloyd graphic novel–in which a Guy Fawkes-masked renegade (Hugo Weaving) recruits an ordinary young woman (Natalie Portman) in his violent campaign against the totalitarian British government–the second part of the two-disc edition (there is also a one-disc movie-only version) contains, tucked away as an Easter Egg amongst some documentary featurettes, is that hilarious “Saturday Night Live” short film featuring her skills as a foul-mouthed rapper.

WHAT THE “BLEEP” DO WE KNOW?!–DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE QUANTUM EDITION (Fox Home Entertainment. $26.98): Considering how formless and incoherent this 2004 oddity–a quasi-documentary stew of quantum physics, New Age spiritualism and Marlee Matlin wandering around in a daze–was at 90 minutes, I cannot begin to fathom how it must seem in this expanded 152-minute version. If that weren’t enough–and I cannot imagine any circumstance in which it wouldn’t be–this three-disc edition also includes several additional hours of interviews and deleted scenes as well.

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originally posted: 08/04/06 13:47:52
last updated: 08/16/06 06:08:34
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