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Dean Martin roasts remain source of hours of entertainment

Dec. 19, 2013 |

By G. Michael Dobbs news@thereminder.com A bunch of television memories and a new film that impressed those at Sundance are in this week’s movie review column.
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
This film won the cinematography award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and that acclaim is well deserved. The camera work and lighting are among the film’s most impressive assets. Unfortunately the story isn’t and it seems all too familiar. Despite some very earnest performances, the predictability of the story undermines those efforts. Casey Affleck is Bob Muldoon, a man who has been robbing various places. The police have caught up with him at his father’s old house and he and his pregnant wife are shooting it out with the police. His wife Ruth (played by the amazing Rooney Mara) wounds a police officer, but Bob wipes the gun clean in order to save his wife from prison. They surrender and Bob goes to jail and of course he vows to escape and reunite with Ruth and their daughter. Four years pass and Ruth, who has built a life of her own thanks to the help of an older man Skerritt (Keith Carradine), now must face the possibility of seeing Bob again as he has successfully broken out of jail. The problem with writer and director David Lowery’s script is that it supplies the viewer with too little information at several key moments and ends in the most predictable manner possible. Mara is quickly becoming one of my favorite actresses. She is truly a chameleon and is impressive as the woman who is struggling with her love that she knows is doomed. Affleck is also notable and seems to have cornered the country boy roles in art house movies. While it does have its pluses, “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints” ultimately is inferior story telling.
The Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts
When I was a mere boy and beardless youth in the 1970s these were indeed a television staple (the series of roasts ran until 1984). While they could be funny, I had the sense that unlike the real roasts I would read about in “Variety,” they were watered-down scripted productions. The public relations folks at Star Vista sent me the mother lode of “Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts,” a set with every single one of them, as well as examples of Martin’s variety show and other specials he did for NBC. The result is I re-evaluated the show and I have to say they are much funnier than I remembered. The über-set, by the way, is only one way of buying the roasts as the company has always made stand-alone multi-disc sets available. Part of the reason I am seeing these shows in a different light is the background information supplied by the people who made the shows in the bonus material. While many of the non-comics who appeared on the show – actors, sports figures and politicians – were given their roast and toasts by the show’s writing staff, the comics were allowed to use their own material. In the case of Don Rickles, a regular roaster, he was completely free to say what he wanted, within the guidelines of the network. It was also clear there were plenty of improvised moments between the performers on the dais. Then there was Martin himself. Apparently, he hated rehearsing and while he was friends with many of the people who appeared on the show, he didn’t interact with them prior to the taping. Martin’s loose, supposedly slightly drunk emceeing of the program was a very deliberate way for him to work and it was successful. The people who appeared on these shows are like a time capsule of the entertainment world in the 1970s and 1980s. The roster included John Wayne, then Gov. Ronald Reagan, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Muhammad Ali, Billy Crystal, Freddie Prinze, Nipsy Russell, Redd Foxx, Orson Welles, Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, George Burns, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Johnny Carson, Sammy Davis Jr., Joan Collins and many, many more. Admittedly younger viewers may have to constantly search on Wikipedia to understand just who these people were. Geezers who lived through the era probably will have an instant appreciation. The DVD producers warn viewers the ethnic humor in the shows might be offensive today. It’s difficult for me to believe that all of these programs combined would have more edgy humor than a single evening of Comedy Central. This set is nostalgic and funny.

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