In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_aprsjzadl6cggwjedxexw7kfnbc

Transcendence

"Transcendence" is a serious science fiction movie filled with big ideas and powerful images, but it never quite coheres, and the end is a copout.

Thumb_heaven_is_for_real

Heaven Is for Real

Faith-based film tries reaching past its audience, but falls back on preaching to its own choir way too much.

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Thumb_jrluxpegcv11ostmz1fqha1bkxq

Monsieur Hire

Patrice Leconte's "Monsieur Hire" is a tragedy about loneliness and erotomania, told about two solitary people who have nothing else in common. It involves a…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Far Flunger Archives
Other Articles
Channel Archives

Reviews

Cold Turkey

  |  

I was musing the other day that there aren't enough fat men in movies, and especially not enough mean fat men filled with malice and avarice. Too many movie fat men are jolly these days, and we don't have the Sidney Greenstreets with ice in their eyes.

Which set me to thinking that, fat men aside, we don't have enough malice and avarice in the movies these days, either. Movies are getting to be too damn nice. Especially comedies. If there's anything I can't stand, it's a heart-warming comedy, filled with warmth and sunshine and happy endings, in which the essential goodness of human nature, etc., is demonstrated in the end.

No. What we need are mean comedies, filled with mean and petty people who hate and envy each other, and exhibit the basest of human motives. Comedies like that canonized W. C. Fields, and it was Groucho Marx's fundamental hatefulness that made his stuff so much more than slapstick. Lately, though, the movie comedy has fallen on hard times in America. Until the last couple of weeks.

Now there are two new comedies that I can recommend to cynics and malcontents with little fear they'll be disappointed: "A New Leaf," reviewed last week, and Norman Lear's "Cold Turkey." Both of them assume as a matter of course that the human being is powered with unworthy motives, especially greed. "A New Leaf" gets a little sentimental at the end, but not too much, and "Cold Turkey" ends with the scoundrels being shot by their own cigarette lighter.

The movie, as everybody knows by now, concerns an attempt by a small town in Iowa to qualify for a $25 million award by signing all its citizens to a 30-day no smoking pledge. That somehow doesn't sound like the world's greatest idea for a comedy, but Lear makes it work by a brilliant masterstroke: He gets the comedy, not out of people trying to stop smoking, but out of the people themselves. So instead of lots of scenes of characters sneaking puffs, you have them preening their vanity as national television crews descend upon the town. For, of course, Eagle Rock, Iowa, has become famous overnight.

The television personalities are all played by Bob and Ray, who do a ruthless job on Walter Chronic, David Chetley and others, confirming (as I've always suspected) that the CBS Evening News is itself a send-up of Bob and Ray's pioneering Wally Ballou. President Nixon tries to force his way into Eagle Rock, to share the limelight, and various folks like Spiro Agnew turn up, too.

The townsfolk love it, especially Dick Van Dyke as an ambitious minister who sleeps with hair-curlers and dreams of being transferred to a rich congregation in Dearborn, Mich. We meet the minister, the mayor, the town drunk and a little old lady in tennis shoes whose favorite word contains eight letters the least of which are 'bull,' during a series of vignettes handled by Lear with an unfailing eye for human frailty. Even if you don't smoke, you'll find "Cold Turkey" funny. You're greedy, aren't you?

Popular Blog Posts

Hashtag Activism and the #CancelColbert campaign

The recent #CancelColbert campaign on Twitter raises all kinds of issues about racism, but also about hashtag activism.

For the love of it: notes on the decline of Entertainment Weekly, the firing of Owen Gleiberman, and the ongoing end of an era

Owen Gleiberman's sacking as lead film critic of Entertainment Weekly — part of a ritual bloodletting of staffers at ...

Able-Bodied Actors and Disability Drag: Why Disabled Roles are Only for Disabled Performers

Scott Jordan Harris argues that disabled characters should not be played by able-bodied actors.

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus