Booze News: A Drunk History Christmas

>> Saturday, December 21, 2013

Greetings, fellow inebriates,

'Tis the season, and I can think of no better way to celebrate than with this lovely Christmas present from the masterminds behind Funny or Die's "Drunk History."

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday!

garv (the boy that put the "X" in Christmas)

P.S. -- A big thank you to Frank Thompson of "The Commentary Track" (my favorite classic film podcast) for alerting me to the video above.


Review: The World’s End (2013)

>> Monday, December 16, 2013

UK/C-109m./Dir: Edgar Wright/Wr: Simon Pegg & Edgar Wright/Cast: Simon Pegg (Gary King), Nick Frost (Andy Knightley), Paddy Considine (Steven Prince), Eddie Marsan (Peter Page), Martin Freeman (Oliver Chamberlain), Rosamund Pike (Sam Chamberlain), Pierce Brosnan (Guy Shepherd), David Bradley (Basil), Michael Smiley (Reverend Green)

There are no better comedy writers working today than Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright.  While most movie comedies are disposable fluff that barely merit a single viewing, the Pegg/Wright collaborations -- Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007),and The World's End (2013)-- are infinitely re-watchable, like the best films of Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder.  The screenplays are so brilliantly layered and meticulously thought out (stuffed with foreshadowing and comic callbacks) that they reward multiple viewings.

After the brilliant one-two punch of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it was hard to imagine that the pair could concoct another comic brew that would be anywhere near as intoxicating as what came before it.  However, The World’s End, the final film in the loosely connected “Three Flavors Cornetto” trilogy,is the best and booziest of the bunch.  It is arguably the funniest and most quotable of the three films.  Best of all, it is the most emotionally resonant and mature.

Simon Pegg plays against type as alky ne’er-do-well, Gary King, who persuades his more responsible childhood friends -- Andy Knightley (Nick Frost), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), and Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman) -- into joining him in recreating an epic pub crawl that they attempted but never completed twenty years earlier.  The so-called “Golden Mile” requires the downing of a pint in twelve taverns, ending at the fatefully-named pub, “The World End.”  Along the way, the “five musketeers” face old loves, inner demons, and exterior threats that require every ounce of their liquid courage.

For a silly action/comedy, The World’s End has a lot on its mind.  Fundamentally, it is about the point in life when living in the past becomes pathetic.  However, it also juggles the themes of mid-life crisis, corporate homogenization of local culture, the nature of friendship, the choice between ignoring or facing your personal demons, and the idea that “you can’t go home again.”  Yet, despite the abundant dark subtext, Pegg and Wright manage to meld the disparate elements into a fresh and funny brew.

Not only is the script exceptional, the cast is first rate.  Supporting actors Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, Martin Freeman, Rosamund Pike, and David Bradley all make the most of their moments to shine.  As for the leads, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost turn in “career-best” performances.  In the hands of a lesser actor, the role of Gary King could have been insufferable to the point of repugnance; but Pegg’s comic timing, natural likeability, and ability to show the trampled heart beneath his bluster keep the audience rooting for the delusional drunkard. Nick Frost is just as good in the more buttoned-down role of the reluctant companion, seething below the surface.  Frost’s restraint during the first half of the film makes his Sammo Hung-like "hulk-out" in the film’s action climax all the more ferocious.

Unlike many writer/directors, Edgar Wright is an adept visual stylist as well as a wordsmith.  Whether a scene calls for a simple dialogue between two actors or an action free-for-all à la Jackie Chan, Wright finds imaginative ways to view the setup. The way scenes are composed and edited gives added punch to the punchlines, and even the most frenetic action scenes are always fully comprehensible.

The World’s End is the ultimate bar crawl movie and an instant classic.  I hope this isn’t the final partnership between Wright, Pegg, and Frost; but they couldn’t have ended their “Three Flavors Cornetto” trilogy on a more intoxicating note.  Like their previous cocktails, I anticipate revisiting this brew again and again.     

Drinks Consumed--Beer (Crowning Glory, Foster’s, and unnamed), wine (red and white), and unspecified shots

Intoxicating Effects--Swearing, slurred speech, staggering, stumbling, belching, vomiting, loosened inhibitions, soused sex, sneaking sips, the giggles, bickering, brawling, physical violence, destruction of property, bar tossed, and drunk driving

Potent Quotables--B&B LANDLADY: Have you got any plans for dinner at all?
GARY: Tonight, we will be partaking of a liquid repast as we wend our way up The Golden Mile.  Commencing with an inaugural tankard at The First Post, then onto The Old Familiar, The Famous Cock, The Cross Hands, The Good Companions, The Trusty Servant, The Two Headed Dog, The Mermaid, The Beehive, The King’s Head, and The Hole in the Wall for a measure of the same.  All before the last bittersweet pint in that most fateful terminus, The World’s End.  Leave a light on good lady, for though we may return with a twinkle in our eyes, we will, in truth, be blind… drunk.

Video Availability--DVDand Blu-ray(Universal)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Taverns and pubs also played major parts in the first two installments of the Cornetto Trilogy, Shaun of the Dead (2004) and Hot Fuzz (2007).

The World's End / Hot Fuzz / Shaun of the Dead Trilogy (Blu-ray + Digital HD with UltraViolet)


Booze News: 70% of Our Silent Film Heritage is Lost

>> Saturday, December 7, 2013

 Greetings fellow inebriates,

Prior to this week, it was common to say that approximately 50% of the films produced in the silent era were lost forever through fire, neglect, or decomposition.  However, the 50% figure was just a guess.  No one knew the true numbers until now; and the survival rate is far worse than we thought.

On Wednesday, the Library of Congress released a groundbreaking study: “The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929.”  The paper is the result of five years of research and travel by historian and archivist David Pierce.  Pierce scoured film archives around the world to pinpoint specifically  how many American silent feature films survive, whether each film survives in its complete original form, where the best surviving copy of each film can be found, and in what format the most complete copy is available (35mm, 16mm, etc.).

Here is what he found, taken directly from the study: 

“Only 14% of American silent feature films (1,575 of 10,919 titles) survive as originally released in complete 35mm copies. Another 11% (1,174) also survive in complete form, but in less than-ideal editions—foreign-release versions or small-gauge formats such as 16mm.”

“Another 5% of American silent feature films (562 of 10,919 titles) survive in incomplete form, missing at least a reel of the original footage, in formats ranging from 35mm down to abridged 9.5mm home library prints. Many important titles are incomplete.”

In short, only 30% of all American films produced in the silent era survive in some form, and only 25% survive in a complete print.  While these numbers are depressing, the good news is that David Pierce’s study will make it easier for film preservationists to coordinate efforts to restore the remaining films before more footage is lost.

You can download the full study here: The Survival of American Silent Feature Films: 1912-1929

In addition, Pierce developed an online database of American silent features, their ownership, and locaton.  It can be found here: American Silent Feature Film Survival Database

For those interested in making a small contribution to silent film preservation, let me direct you to the 2014 Silent Movies Benefit Calendar.  Rodney Sauer of the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra produces this calendar each year, featuring rare film stills and photographs of silent movie stars contributed by fans. In addition to a dozen beautiful photos in glorious black and white, the calendar also features birthdays of silent-era film stars and personalities, as well as notable marriages, deaths, film openings, and other significant dates.

Best of all, the net proceeds made from the sale of the calendars (after printing expenses) are donated to support silent film restoration. For example, the 2013 calendar raised $1808 for the George Eastman House.

The theme of the 2014 calendar is “Fabulous Hats,” and as you can tell from the sample photos, the chapeaus are indeed remarkable.  The price is just $12.00 plus shipping, so click on the link below to order yours today!

Get it here: 2014 Silent Movies Benefit Calendar

Long live silent film!!!



Review: Grabbers (2012)

>> Monday, December 2, 2013

Ireland/C-94m./Dir: Jon Wright/Wr: Kevin Lehane/Cast: Richard Coyle (Garda Ciarán O'Shea), Ruth Bradley (Garda Lisa Nolan), Russell Tovey (Dr. Adam Smith), Lalor Roddy (Paddy Barrett), David Pearse (Brian Maher), Bronagh Gallagher (Una Maher), Pascal Scott (Dr. Jim Gleeson )

Somehow curse words attain an extra level of potency when delivered with an Irish accent.  It adds spice to the expletive--an extra measure of vitriol.  This phenomenon is on ample display in Grabbers,an Irish indie horror/sci-fi/comedy mash-up, in which profanity is drunkenly dispatched in abundance.

The film concerns new arrivals to Erin Island, a small fishing community off the coast of Ireland.  One of the newcomers is Lisa Nolan (Ruth Bradley), a dedicated female police officer, or “garda” as they are called, who has been posted to a two-week position to fill in for the vacationing partner of the boozy, unreliable Garda Ciarán O'Shea (Richard Coyle).  The other newbies happen to be tentacled monsters that fell from outer space into the sea on the evening before Lisa’s arrival.

The bloodsucking aliens initially devour a few animals and townspeople, but strangely, they prove no match for Paddy Barrett (Lalor Roddy), the aging town drunk.  Based on Paddy’s survival, Nolan and O’Shea are able to deduce the creatures' weaknesses--the aliens dehydrate quickly without water and high blood-alcohol levels are toxic to them.  With a downpour on the way, dry land is not a safe haven from the creatures, so the Garda can only keep the townspeople safe if they can get them as tanked-up as old Paddy.

Grabbers has a boffo premise for a horror comedy, but the execution is a bit more mild than you might expect.  The chills are more silly than scary and the gags are more smile-inducing than laugh-out-loud funny.  Still, the flick has plenty to recommend it, including a scenic location, likeable characters, well-rendered CGI creatures, fun action set pieces, and obscenities with an Irish brogue. 

Best of all, the human cast is excellent, providing much better acting than you would expect from a low-budget indie horror.  Ruth Bradley is especially good as the workaholic cop that cuts loose during the final third of the movie, after downing a bounty of booze.  She is wholly believable and utterly adorable when acting out the blissful state of first-time drunkenness.  She achieved the naturalistic effect by studying a recording of herself while actually intoxicated, and the extra effort paid off tremendously.  Her bubbly, authentic portrayal ranks with the best pickled performances ever captured on film; and it’s hard not to fall in love with her a little.

While I wouldn’t call Grabbers a new comedy-horror classic, it is a genial gem on par with humorous “creature features” like Tremors (1990).  I look forward to revisiting the film for its clever monster set pieces and especially for Ruth Bradley’s enchanting inebriate.

Drinks Consumed--Whiskey, beer, wine, tequila, and moonshine

Intoxicating Effects--Swearing, slurred speech, stumbling, belching, bad breath, brawling, vomiting, passing out, hangover, drunk driving and cycling, and harmonizing

Potent Quotables--BRIAN: So how drunk are we talkin’ here?
ADAM: Paddy-levels of drunkenness.
JIM: (Laughs) You’ve gone off your game, boy.
LISA: Uh, no offense, but I don’t think I can handle Paddy levels.
PADDY: Takes years of practice.

Video Availability--Grabbers DVD(MPI Home Video)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--Rather than being vulnerable to alcohol, the aliens from Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957) kill or incapacitate their human victims by injecting them with booze.


Review: Mississippi (1935)

>> Sunday, September 22, 2013

USA/B&W-73 m./Dir: A. Edward Sutherland/Wr: Francis Martin & Jack Cunningham/Cast: Bing Crosby (Tom Grayson), W.C. Fields (Commodore Jackson), Joan Bennett (Lucy Rumford), Gail Patrick (Elvira Rumford), Queenie Smith (Alabam), Claude Gillingwater (Gen. Rumford), John Miljan (Maj. Patterson)

W.C. Fields’ best comedies (The Fatal Glass of Beer, It’s a Gift, The Bank Dick, etc.) were projects that he initiated and scripted.  However, the majority of Fields’ filmography consists of studio assignments that the comedian improved exponentially through copious adlibbing.  Mississippiis one of the most entertaining examples of a contractual obligation that the Great Man made his own. 

Mississippi was conceived as a straightforward adaptation of the Booth Tarkington play, The Magnolia, which had been mined for film fodder previously in 1924 and 1929.  The melodrama was to feature singer Lanny Ross; but at the last minute, the studio decided to turn the production into a star vehicle for their most popular crooner, Bing Crosby.  However, when Fields ignored the script entirely and padded his secondary part with hilarious improvisations, the film ended up as a greater showcase for Fields than for Der Bingle.

Set in the planation-era South, the story concerns a violence-adverse Philadelphian, Tom Grayson (Crosby), who is engaged to the eldest daughter of plantation-owner General Rumford (Claude Gillingwater).  When a former beau of the bride-to-be challenges Tom to a duel, he refuses to fight.  This discredits the Philly crooner in the eyes of the Rumford clan, with the exception of younger daughter Lucy (Joan Bennett) who harbors a crush on the pacifist.  With the nuptials called off, Tom takes a singing gig aboard a showboat skippered by mint julep-swilling Commodore Jackson (Fields).  After a tussle in which Tom kills a man in self-defense, the Commodore finds he can profit by promoting Tom as “The Singing Killer.”  Misunderstandings proliferate when Lucy boards the riverboat and hears the exaggerated stories of Tom’s murderous reputation.

When Crosby saw the initial previews of Mississippi, he was horrified.  The director had given W.C. free reign to create his own bits of physical comedy and dialogue, and the comic had stolen the picture out from under the star.  Furious, Bing demanded that another song be added to the film and that some of Fields’ footage be trimmed (including an entire sequence in which the Great Man attempted to play a steam-powered calliope).  Although the studio heads consented to Crosby’s changes, W.C. Fields still dominates the final cut of the film.  The comedian receives as much screen time as the crooner, and his boozy business outshines everything else in the picture.

Being that the Great Man was given carte blanche to rewrite and expand his scenes, Mississippi has a more Fieldsian feel than most of his studio-assigned outings.  Quotable lines abound; and a crooked poker game involving far too many aces was transformed from a brief throwaway scene on the page to a comedy classic thanks to Fields' improvised business.  Mississippi also has a higher alcohol content than most Fields’ output, due in large part to a running gag in which a steward delivers a mint julep whenever the Commodore has a free hand.  While Mississippi is not as essential as the gems that Fields built from the ground up, lovers of classic comedy and soused cinema enthusiasts should consider it a “must see.”

Drinks Consumed--Bourbon whiskey (in mint juleps, shots, with soda, and in spiked punch), wine, and unknown cocktails

Intoxicating Effects
--Boasting, bravado, stumbling, and swearing of a sort

Potent Quotables--GEN. RUMFORD: And here… Here is a little jug of liquor.
COMMODORE: Oh, thank you.  A nice little noggin, yes.
GEN. RUMFORD: Yeah.  It’s made right here on the plantation, so you needn’t be afraid of it.
COMMODORE: Never been frightened of liquor in all my life.

Video Availability--DVD, as part of The Universal Backlot Series: Bing Crosby Collection (Universal)

Similarly Sauced Cinema--That same year, Fields’ fellow Ziegfeld Follies cast mate, Will Rogers, also starred as a steamboat captain in the alcohol-laced comedy Steamboat Round the Bend.


Review: Wings (1927)

>> Monday, September 2, 2013

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USA/Silent/B&W-144m./Dir: William A. Wellman/Wr: Hope Loring & Louis D. Lighton/Cast: Charles “Buddy” Rogers (Jack Powell), Richard Arlen (David Armstrong), Clara Bow (Mary Preston), Jobyna Ralston (Sylvia Lewis), El Brendel (Herman Schwimpf), Gary Cooper (Cadet White)

Wings,the winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture, can barely be considered a “Booze Movie.”  It only contains one extended soused sequence in which World War I pilots enjoy a drunken leave in Paris.  However, that small, 20-minute slice from the 144-minute film is so bizarre and memorable that I would be remiss not to mention it.

The movie itself is the story of two young men from the same small town, speed demon Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) and rich kid David Armstrong (Richard Arlen), that are both in love with the same woman.  Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston), the girl in question, truly loves David, but through a mix-up that could only happen in the movies, Jack gets the impression that Sylvia shares his affections.  To further complicate the melodrama, Jack’s neighbor, Mary Preston (Clara Bow), harbors a Godzilla-sized crush on the boy next door, but her not-so-subtle wooing goes unnoticed by the dim-witted Jack.

When war is declared, both Jack and David volunteer for the Air Service to become fighter pilots.  Due to their romantic rivalry, they begin as adversaries, but they soon forge a fast friendship.  That bond becomes even stronger as they dogfight with German biplanes in the skies above France.  The women are marginalized as the story basically morphs into a love story between the two men, punctuated by impressive aerial photography.

The soused sequence appears midway through the running time.  Jack and David awarded R & R in Paris for exceptional valor in battle; and coincidentally, Mary Preston is also in the city doing her part for the war effort.  When Mary overhears that leaves are being cancelled due to a major offensive, she goes searching for the boy next door.  She finds Jack at the Folies Bergere with David and another soldier, guzzling champagne and cavorting with loose women.  At this point, the scene goes cuckoo bananas.  Jack begins to hallucinate, envisioning cartoon bubbles rising from the champagne.  Soon he is seeing bubbles everywhere.  The sequence is second only to the “Pink Elephants on Parade” number from Dumbo (1941) when it comes to hallucinogenic drunk scenes.

Mary tries to convince Jack to return to the front, but he is so enamored with the bubbles, he doesn’t acknowledge or recognize her.  Eventually, Mary resorts to donning a sparkly dress to lure Jack away from scene, boasting that she has better bubbles than the French girls.  The scene ends with Jack passing out in a hotel room, while Mary gets caught changing her clothes (an excuse for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it topless scene from Clara Bow).

While Wings is the only silent film to receive the top Oscar until 2011’s The Artist, it isn’t a very good example of silent drama.  The movie is excessively melodramatic and corny, the performances are often over-the-top, and the comedy relief is generally unfunny.  Still, the film is worth seeing for its aerial battle scenes.  In this age of CGI action, it is thrilling to see real people in real planes performing death-defying stunts.  The flight scenes are even more electrifying when you realize that the actors had to fly the planes themselves during much of the action.  The aerial action and bizarre booziness, make the film well worth a view.

Drinks Consumed--Extremely bubbly champagne and unnamed cocktails

Intoxicating Effects--Hallucinations, blurred vision, brawling, destruction of property, harmonizing, staggering, passing out, and memory blackouts

Potent Quotables--JACK (commenting on the champagne): H’ray for bubbles!

Video Availability--Wings is available in a wonderfully sharp transfer on Blu-rayand DVDfrom Paramount.

Similarly Sauced Cinema--A baby elephant has similar alcohol-related hallucinations in Dumbo (1941)

Trivia--While Wings is considered the first “Best Picture” Oscar winner, in reality, two films were awarded top prize at the 1927/1928 Academy Awards.  Wings was awarded “Outstanding Picture” and F.W. Murnau’s Sunrise was awarded “Best Unique and Artistic Production.”  The latter category was phased out the following year, while “Outstanding Picture” was later renamed “Best Picture.”

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About Me

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I like to drink. I like to watch movies. I like to watch movies about drinking. I like to write about the movies I’ve watched, but only if I’ve had a drink first.

All text including the title "Booze Movies: The 100 Proof Film Guide" Copyright William T. Garver

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