Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)
Regardless of how you feel about Joan Rivers (and clearly she has her detractors), the woman, at the very least, deserves props. You may be turned off by the plastic surgery overload or her crass joking around, but that doesn’t mean you should treat her like the female Rodney Dangerfield (RIP ATG) and give her no respect. Longevity should count for something. She’s a female comic with a 40+ year career. That can’t be easy. It’s goddamn admirable what Rivers has accomplished. Plus, and it’s the most important thing, she can be very funny. So a documentary about her as she turns 75 is more than a worthwhile way to spend 84 minutes.
One impressive thing about Joan is that she has fans that go back to each different decade that she’s been in the game. Some might remember her when she was buddies with Arsenio, others might only know about her from E! and the Oscar red carpet reporting, while still others (like me) might have first peeped her cracking up the late Johnny Carson (and some might even remember her before that!). This doc, unfortunately, only spends a little time exploring her early years, but that’s only a minor complaint. The premise of this feature is Rivers’ struggle to remain relevant at her advanced age. We see her workaholic side and even learn she has a charitable side as well, but that doesn’t mean this is some soft-ass documentary. Joan’s acerbic tendencies are on full display and you get memorable moments like when she disses an Apprentice bitch that fucks with her daughter Melissa and, in the doc’s best moment, handles an over-sensitive heckler at one of her shows. She shows the chops that only a true veteran comedienne can have, but it’s also apparent that she has insecurities that she’s never been able to overcome. That makes watching her that more intriguing. The stuff that went down with Carson was pretty heavy as was the death of her husband and you get a real sense of the loneliness she sometimes feels. That’s offset by instances like the revelation that she’s kept filed every joke she’s ever written… she actually pulls one out randomly from her files. Sick (in a good way). Give it up for the Queen of Comedy, y’all.
It Was Really Good To See: Don Rickles still alive.
The Medusa Touch (1978)
Richard Burton is a tortured and angry man who claims he can cause disasters. Lee Remick is the psychologist who is treating Burton and Lino Ventura is the French police detective who is trying to figure out whether or not all this crazy talk is true or a demented soul’s delusions. Telekinesis, evil intent and impending doom abound in The Medusa Touch , an entertaining popcorn thriller that threatens to derail itself with cheesiness but saves itself time and time again with well-crafted tension and good acting.
Burton’s feverish performance goes a long way in establishing the right mood. In order for supernatural thrillers to work effectively, they have to convince viewers to engage in a suspension of disbelief. Part of the fun here is that Ventura is a substitute for the audience. Convincing him that Burton really is a maniac with superpowers is the same as convincing us at home who are watching.
There’s a depth to the story that tells you right away that it’s based on a novel. The direction at times feels like you’re watching an above-average TV movie, but there’s enough camera tricks to raise it a notch. Structuring the film in the form of a mystery also adds another dimension that hooks you in, although there is admittedly some minor plot points that are kinda muddled. That shouldn’t matter that much though, as the ending proves to be a hell of a shocker.
What Was Kinda Sorta Creepy: Bad guy Grady from The Shining (Philip Stone, a Kubrick favorite) playing a dean.
The Hospital (1971)
Paddy Chayefsky is rightfully celebrated as a powerful writer, a talent whose work feels fresh 40 years after it was originated, like the script he delivered for The Hospital . The criticism he unleashes on the medical field is just as potent as the acid he poured on television with Network . Scathing to say the least. The manner in which bureaucracy, big business and human incompetence stands fatally in the way of people’s health is still a major issue today. Chayefsky was a visionary, no doubt.
The Hospital does push the limits of satire to a point that, in one or two instances, doesn’t work all the way, but overall, it’s a strong motion picture helmed capably by Arthur Hiller. But if there’s one thing that matches the high caliber writing it’s the outstanding performance by George C. Scott, a man’s man. He plays the suicidal, burnt out doctor to scary perfection. If you don’t ever plan on watching The Hospital , at least watch this unforgettable scene in which Scott goes virtuoso on that ass, giving one deep, compelling speech.
What Was Mighty Healthy: The flirty Diana Rigg as a hippie chick with a thing for Native American life.