Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy, and a few more movies

#185  [archive]

Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy (1996) 

[Streaming free]

Scientists at Roritor Pharmaceuticals are experimenting with a new drug to treat severe depression, but Roritor is on the brink of bankruptcy and can't simply wait for the test results. Instead they bring the drug to their marketing team, and start selling it. What could possibly go wrong?

This is a Lorne Michaels production, says the first on-screen credit, and my disappointment was palpable. I'd either forgotten or didn't know Michaels of SNL had hornswoggled ownership of The Kids in the Hall.

I also didn't know The Kids in the Hall. They're a Canadian sketch comedy team, and I'd heard of them, but never watched their show. So I came in cold.

First thing to know is, this isn't sketch comedy. It's a movie with one plot, not a collection of bits. 

The Kids in the Hall are not kids, they're adults, and all of them are men, so they play women's roles in drag. The drag is serious, though, not comedic — we're supposed to see these female characters played by men as female, and the blonde is kinda hot. Not sure I've seen 'serious' drag like this before, and it's weirder because there's little or no effort to cover the actors' facial stubble.

Every member of the troupe plays several characters, which gets distracting. Me being old and my memory slipping, I'm confused in an ordinary movie when even two characters have the same approximate age, gender, and skin and hair color. This movie offers lots of that confusion.

Watching it a second time to catch all the jokes I'd missed, that's when I noticed that the cab driver is the shopkeeper a few scenes later, and then a customer at the restaurant, etc.

The story defies categorization. Clearly it's comedy, about such hilarity as depression, corporate greed, drug addiction, and side effects, with jokes about suicide and thalidomide, a happy kid with cancer, another kid with slashed wrists — but much of it's strange more than funny.

What's funny is darn funny, though, and what's strange sure is strange.

It's more challenging and quite different than most movie comedies, and under it there's a story worth telling, and a point more than merely the giggles. There are even a few darn good songs.

This might be the best thing that's ever had Lorne Michaels' name on it, so he must've been entirely disinterested, and simply let the Kids do what they wanted.

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Dr Cook's Garden (1970) 

[Streaming free]

In the 1970s, the ABC television network used to crank out an original but usually quite bad made-for-TV movie every week. Once in a while they were good, like Duel, but more often they were drek like Seven in Darkness.

This one, I watched from the plaid couch in the family's living room, all those years ago. And I liked it, but that was all those years ago. My standards are higher since my voice changed.

Bing Crosby stars, which was not a selling point for adolescent me. Crosby had been a wildly successful pop singer, and also a major movie star, but both were well before my time. Washed-up actors were a staple on ABC's Movie of the Week, just further indication that Crosby's star had faded.

Dr Cook's Garden is not the light comedy he was known for, nor does he sing, but Crosby's pretty good here. He plays a folksy small-town doctor who makes house calls, tends a garden in his spare time, and tends the town for a living. When a kid who grew up in town comes back with a fresh MD degree, they definitely have different philosophies of doctorin'.

Young Blythe Danner and TV-face Frank Converse co-star.

It's based on a play by Ira Levin, author of A Kiss Before Dying, The Boys from Brazil, Bunny Lake Is Missing, Deathtrap, and Rosemary's Baby, and I suspect Dr Cook's Garden is every bit as good as any of those — if you ever have a chance to see it on stage.

A play is a delicate thing, though, and whittled down from three acts to an hour and fifteen minutes, what's left feels like TV. It offers a few goosebump moments, but not enough to recommend it.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

From Beyond (1986)

Jeffrey Coombs, Barbara Crampton, Stuart Gordon, and H P Lovecraft from Re-Animator are reunited, for this modestly effective gross-out horror.

Scientists are messin' 'round with things best unmessed, and they've invented a 'resonator', which tweaks people's pineal gland until they see icky things that are usually outside the range of visual perception.

Everything goes grotesquely wrong, of course. The main mad scientist gets decapitated, and the first assistant mad scientist gets arrested for the crime, but he's innocent, darn it. It was the resonator that done it!

"He used to bring beautiful women here, for fine meals, drink fine wine, listen to music, but it always ended with screaming."

As with most gross-out movies, From Beyond gets grosser as it goes, but my interest and appreciation of gross-out stuff goes the opposite direction, so it less and less held my attention.

For the genre, it's better, brighter, and slimier than average, and Combs is somehow always watchable in these things. If you like seeing someone suck someone else's eyeball from its socket, you'll have a good time.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Movies are driven by money, of course, and everybody expects profits. Often several companies are involved in the financing, and each company takes a bow before the movie — and I'm tired of it.

The movie I just watched is typical: It opens with twenty seconds of gorgeously, colorfully animated branding for Lionsgate. Then comes twenty seconds of a poorly-CGI'd musical crescendo for Amazon Studios. Then there are three simpler, five-second logo cards for things called K Period Media, The Farm, and B Story — second-string venture capital.

With fade-in and fade-out between the logos, a full minute of your life has been stolen.

When the credits finally begin, it's familiar: "Amazon Studios presents, in association with Lionsgate, and K Period Media, and blah blah blah." We're a minute and a half into the credits before the first human involved in making the movie is named on screen.

It all serves as a reminder: What you're watching is product, so first things first, behold the brand names. And in case you forget the brand names, they'll all be back to take a second bow after the film. 

♦ ♦ ♦

• Coming attractions •

Asteroid City (2023)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) 

The Cook (1918)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) 

Manchester by the Sea (2018) 

The Scarecrow (1920)

Stalker (1979)  

Street Trash (1987)

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) 

The YouTube Effect (2022)  

    ... plus occasional schlock and surprises

    • And then •

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

Atomic Cafe (1982) 

The Bat People (1974) 

Brainwaves (1983) 

Cell 2455: Death Row (1955) 

Downsizing (2017) 

Hobo (1992) 

John Wick (2014)

Love Happy (1950) 

Motel (1989) 

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Romper Stomper (1992) 

Scarecrow (1973) 

Scared to Death (1947) 

Secret Weapons (1985) 

Squirm (1976) 

Taoism Drunkard (1981) 

Who Farted? (2019) 

You Can't Take It With You (1938)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. I saw Brain Candy with three friends when it came out and I liked it but they all hated it. We may be the only two people in the world who liked that moivie.

    I want to see what you think of Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. I saw it at the Castro years ago and it was the opposite of Brain Candy... everyone laughed and loved it and I just thought it was too long and not very funny.

    1. If everyone in the world says Brain Candy is unfunny dreck, it will only be funnier. What struck me most is how much of the humor I completely missed on my first watch, and caught only on second sight.

      jeez the Castro was great. Have they killed it yet?

  2. I put on Brain Candy when I can't think of anything else to watch and I'm always surprised at how good it was. The anti-jokes are the best part - the weird scientist guy who keeps showing up to go YEAH WE DID IT! and nobody knows who he is, the Thanksgiving Dinner where the son's first line is "So I hear Dad's dead," Cancer Boy robotically repeating EACH DAY IS A GIFT - they're funnier when you remember them later than when they're on screen. I don't know why but I am so glad you liked this. Like Jordan says, I know people who believe it was the worst movie they ever saw and I just don't get it.

    1. Cancer Boy was one of my favorite bits. Macabre, mocking the way media sometimes presents dying or crippled kids as 'inspirational' for the rest of us -- like, "Look at little Billy, the boy who has no head, but such a wonderful outlook on life."

      When they invented Cancer Boy they must've known they were making a movie that would not be for everyone.

      Easily confused am I, but I *think* it was you who recommended BC to me — thanks.

    2. I did! I'm glad you liked it.

      Apparently the studio demanded they remove Cancer Boy from the film, they refused, it went back and forth for a long time because you could totally lose his 45 seconds of airtime without missing a beat, but in the end the studio yanked their promotion and let the film die. They all insist this is what happened but I've written a lot about music and every band insists their last album failed because the big shots "wouldn't promote it." But if true, Cancer Boy was like a million dollar one-liner. Probably a horrible career decision but you've got to admire that.

      The Kids in the Hall made a few new episodes on Amazon this year or last. I was highly skeptical (they all look older, or perhaps I'm not aware of how old I look) but it's actually pretty good.

    3. I don't know why, but I never watched KITH at all, not even for a few minutes while clicking between channels. Might do it now. The movie was a joy.

      I wonder how "final cut" really works. You'd think, if the studio didn't want Cancer Boy, they'd simply snip him out. But no, they'd rather release the movie with no ad support. Man, that's as stupid as Hollywood which is mighty stupid.

      All three of my brothers have gotten cancer. When it's my turn, I'm going to get a Cancer Boy t-shirt.


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