Groundhog Day, Growing Up in America, and a few more movies

The Groove Tube (1974)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

Here's a bunch of comedy sketches, but every one of them spends far too long getting to what's supposed to be funny, and a lot of what's supposed to be funny isn't.

The movie's best joke is when a TV anchorman finishes his newscast by reciting all the 1970s TV anchorman tag lines at once:

"And that's the way it is, was, and will be, and this is Robert Elgin for Channel 1 News, hoping that your news is good news. Good night and have a pleasant tomorrow. No matter what the news may be, this time or any time, until next time, have a good time all the time."

It's the only joke I laughed at in the entire movie, but even that bit is stretched to about three minutes.

Trying to give The Groove Tube every benefit of every doubt, let's remember that it's from before Saturday Night Live, so the comedy they're rebelling against is Bob Hope and Sid Caesar.

But jeez, this is bad.

Richard Belzer and Ken Shapiro sorta star, and pre-fame Chevy Chase is not a high point when he pops up in a few sketches.

Verdict: NO.  

♦ ♦ ♦

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Grosse Pointe is a wealthy white suburb of Detroit, population about 5,000, so no wonder you've never heard of it. And 'Blank' is the unlikely name of the movie's main character. It's a stupid title for a fairly good movie.

John Cusack plays Blank, a hired assassin, and Cusack is likable in almost any role, even as a killer for cash. A hit-man generally doesn't talk about his work, but Blank is going to Grosse Pointe for his 10-year high school reunion, so his career will definitely come into the conversation.

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Joan Cusack, every bit as reliably watchable in the movies as her brother, is also featured. The score is by Joe Strummer, but I barely noticed it; mostly the music is a snappy collection of pop classics from the era.

Overall, Grosse Pointe Blank is kinda fun, but it has two major liabilities in addition to its clunky title.

Minnie Driver has an underwritten role as the personalty-free perfect ex-girlfriend, willing to quickly forgive and fuck Blank despite him standing her up at the prom and then disappearing for ten years. Driver does what she can with the empty writing of her character, but the movie stands still whenever it's about her.

A bigger problem is Dan Aykroyd, who plays another hired killer out to kill Blank. Cusack's hit-man performance is so relaxed and real that you might not even notice Grosse Point Blank is a comedy until you hear yourself laughing, but every time Aykroyd shows up, mugging ridiculously, all the movie's subtlety disappears.

Verdict: YES, but only for Cusack and Cusack.

♦ ♦ ♦

Groucho (1982)

Welcome Back Kotter was a sit-com I rarely watched, starring Gabe Kaplan, who did a Groucho Marx impersonation as a running gag on the show. After Kotter was cancelled, Kaplan was hired to play Groucho in a (mostly) one-man stage performance, written by Groucho's son. This is a film of one of Kaplan's performances. 

The script touches on the basics of the brothers and Groucho's biography, retelling his life along with most of his most famous jokes. Unlike a Marx Brothers movie, there's no romantic subplot or unfunny musical interruptions.

Kaplan is surprisingly not disastrous in the role, but you'll never forget for a moment that he's Gabe Kaplan.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Groucho Marx on The Dick Cavett Show: 9/5/1969
Streaming free at YouTube

Watching Groucho (above) made me grouchy. I wanted to see the real thing: Groucho Marx as Groucho Marx.

In this video, Groucho is the only guest on an episode of The Dick Cavett Show from 1969. 78 years old, sharp as a paper cut but lots funnier, Groucho comes out singing "Hello, I Must Be Going," then sits and riffs for an hour of spontaneous brilliance.

It's a talk show, and Cavett cleverly doesn't talk much. He just sits back and watches Groucho, laughing along with you and me and the studio audience.

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Groundhog Day (1993)
Streaming free at Tubi, beginning August 1

I remember seeing the previews for this, before it opened, and thinking it looked like a real turd. So this guy is stuck in time, reliving the same day over and over again? How is that not going to be trite and repetitive?

Plus in the preview, star Bill Murray seemed very sour, and Meatballs, Caddyshack, and Stripes were funny and all, but nothing special, so Murray's presence wasn't a selling point.

That's why I didn't see Groundhog Day until it arrived at the Strand in second run, on a double feature with I don't remember what. Of course, I'd judged the movie wrong, and it's the perfect big-time comedy with a heart.

Phil Connors (Murray) is a self-centered son-of-a-bitch TV weatherman, assigned to remote coverage of Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney, PA, where a famous rodent is pulled annually from a box to decide whether spring is coming sooner or later.

For Connors it's later, because for reasons (wisely) never explained by the script, he's stuck repeating that day, February 2, all through the movie.

"Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."

Through at least months, perhaps years of living the same day, Connors sees the same people doing the same things, and it makes him an even bigger ass than he already was. Being a man, he uses the repetition to learn about a women he wants to bang, but when even nookie loses its appeal, Connors becomes suicidal. He kills himself several times, but it changes nothing — he still wakes up in Punxsutawney to relive the same day, every day.

And somehow, none of this ever feels trite, or even repetitive.

Groundhog Day is sweet but not saccharine, pessimistic as hell but with optimism, and delivers lots of laughs and glimpses of the profound.

There's an excellent scene at a bar, early on, where Connors complains of the futility of his one-day-only existence, being stuck in a place where every day is the same, nothing you do makes any difference, and there's no way out. "That about sums it up for me," says a drinking buddy. Sums it up for a lot of people.

Andie MacDowell, who's usually not much of an actor, is pretty good here, not merely pretty. Chris Elliott and Stephen Tobolowsky provide more laughs, but mostly the magic is the script by Harold Ramis and the performance from Bill Murray. Groundhog Day is the career best for both of them.

Verdict: BIG YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦

Growing Up Female (1971)
Streaming free at Kanopy, with your library card

A feminist documentary, this film shows the way girls are trained to be less than the boys — that their future is marriage and motherhood and not much more.

The film spends time with girls and women, ages 5-mid-30s, asking how their lives and their images of themselves have been shaped by the expectations of education, marriage, advertising, and popular culture. Teachers see girls playing with dolls and boys playing with construction toys, and any girl who plays with the wrong toys will be nudged back to where she belongs.

In a telling moment that seriously pissed me off (though the film is quite soft-spoken and matter-of-fact about it), we're told that every girl in high school must attend a six-week course on the subject of marriage. Boys aren't invited, and don't have any similar requirement. The movie is fifty years old; gotta hope that class no longer exists.

Growing Up Female is generally described as the first film reflecting the modern women's movement, and it must've been startling in 1971. Good news for women but perhaps bad news for the movie, things have changed a lot since then, and while it's still gawdawful how women are held back by society, some of the film's most radical points now seem to go without saying.

To which I'll say: Hooray for that!

Verdict: YES. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Growing Up in America (1986)
Streaming free at Internet Archive

This is a loving look back at some 1960s radicals, and I've heard of and know at least a little about 7 out of 8 of them — Allen Ginsberg, Fred Hampton (killed, so represented by his widow), Abbie Hoffman, William Kuntsler, Timothy Leary, Jerry Rubin, and John Sinclair. The one I'd never heard of is Don Cox; he was a Black Panther, and fled to France where he was still living and still radical at the time of this film. 

This movie is described as a sequel to Breathing Together, a documentary I've never seen, made 18 years earlier by the same filmmaker, Morley Markson. There's footage of these guys from the 1960s and from the earlier documentary, and follow-up interviews with them in '86.

As seen here, everyone comes off well except Ginsberg, who seems kooky, singing songs and giddily reciting some of his lesser poems; Sinclair, who's stoned and smoking dope during his interview; and Leary, who seems so very naïve, assuring us that America will be a glorious place after its WWII-era leaders are replaced by a generation of political and military leaders raised in the 1960s, "who share the '60s sensibility of a peaceful, harmonious, intelligent, cooperative, productive, enjoyable, consumer-rich society."

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Why physical media still matters in the streaming era


• • • Coming attractions • • •     

Grudge Match (2013)
G-Sale (2003)
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004)
Guess What We Learned in School Today? (1970)
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

... plus schlock, shorts, and surprises

— — —
Now accepting movie recommendations,
starting with the letter 'H'.
Just add a comment, below.
— — —

Illustration by Jeff Meyer. 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. Really enjoying your site, Doug, and, yes, an excellent July 4th column in the AVA. Thanks!

    Here are 9 “H” movies you might consider. Think we have somewhat similar tastes…

    High Fidelity (Love Cusack, as an actor and as a fairly radical guy in the industry.)

    The House of Yes (beginning “T” ok?) Parker Posey is as usual a gem. Ignore Rotten T.

    Hoosiers (Well, my guy and I met at Indiana University…)

    Happiness (masterpiece, hard to find)

    Headhunters (Norwegian treasure)

    Hannah and Her Sisters (see it every Thanksgiving time)

    Home for the Holidays (This, too)

    The Hate U Give

    Harlan County (doc.)

    1. Thanks for the kind words and 'H' movie recommendations. Yeah, we do seem to have similar tastes — I love John (and Joan) Cusack, and I'm aware than John seems to be a stand-up lefty so he's OK by me.

      I saw and loved High Fidelity but never wrote a review, so I'm now looking forward to a rewatch. Parker Posey is reliably good in everything but I never saw that one so I shall. Headhunters sounds bonkers, and The Hate U Give sounds very similar to Cornbread, Earl, and Me, which I liked a lot.

      Everything goes on the list except a few that I've seen (and loved), grazi.

    2. I'm guessing you mean the 1995 Home for the Holidays, but the 1972 movie sounds great. I'm adding both.

    3. Joan Cusack lives near me and has a shop where she's often found behind the counter. Never heard anyone say a bad word about her. Not so of John but one out of two isn't bad.

    4. Running a shop as a hobby seems very Cusack. If it was anyone else it would bug me. But I wouldn't want *nobody* to have a bad word to say about me. The right people should always hate you.

  2. I was holding on to an H movie before realizing it's actually an F movie. "Home For Purim" is the movie-within-a-movie in "For Your Consideration," Christopher Guest's attempt to make a more straight-forward (but still crooked) feature film without framing it as a mockumentary. I remember thinking it wasn't as good as Guffman/Best In Show/Mighty Wind but I'm a little older now and some of the themes are probably more relevant to me now than then, so I am gonna give it another watch.

    1. Added to the list, plus a wide selection of Christopher Guest. Best in Show is my favorite Guest, but there are a few I haven't seen, and For Your Consideration is one of them.


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