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Friday Film Review

Friday Film Review: Bernard and the Genie

Friday Film Review: Bernard and the Genie

Bernard and the Genie (1991 BBC TV)

Genre: Holiday

Grade: Very cute

While trying to decide on the next movie of this holiday season, I realized we were getting a bit top heavy with animation films. So a few are just going to have to wait until later. But what to review next? I wanted something a little offbeat and finally remembered that I had bought a copy of this film, sight unseen, after I discovered its existence while rooting around IMDB last year. I love Alan Cumming and Rowan Atkinson so a quick trip to ebay later, I had a DVD on its way to me. Took me until now to actually watch it but it’s darling.

The story opens with a mad wizard, with a huge torch, hunting for someone through rooms full of no doubt highly flammable diaphanous draperies. Once the miscreant has been found, he gets a 2000 year opportunity to redecorate the inside of an oil lamp. Zoom forward to modern London and milquetoast Bernard Bottle, (Alan Cumming) who works at Krisby Auction house, realizes his boss Charles Pinkworth (Rowan Atkinson) doesn’t share Bernard’s sense of fair play when Pinkworth fires Bernard’s “little philanthropic ass” after Bernard dares to suggest adequately compensating the previous owners of an expensive painting the house just sold.

Bernard returns to his (surprisingly plush) flat looking for a shoulder to cry on but discovers that his fiancee and best mate have been shagging and planning on moving in with each other. After she strips the flat of almost everything except the dust and takes off, Bernard is left with little but a dirty old oil lamp she had given him last year. He decides (conveniently for the plot) to give it a polish. Now he’s suddenly got a tall, transvestite Genie named Josephus (Lenny Henry) swinging at him with a scimitar, yelling stuff, and saying “Beware, oh short one! You smell of peppermint and it’s time to die!” Bernard backs him up a bit and demands an explanation of the “stuff” which turns out to be that Josephus has to grant any wish Bernard makes. After Bernard makes a few wishes and freaks out at the results – demanding “Have you just injected LSD into my bottom?” – he wishes that Josephus would stop trying to kill him. Bernard begins to see that this might be the answer to all his problems – or might be the worst problem he’s ever had.

This was a TV production and probably made on an amazingly small budget. Or perhaps it just looks and, especially, sounds that way. Regardless, once I settled in and got caught up in the story I didn’t notice that so much anymore. What I did keep noticing is the wide variety of in-your-face product placements. Hope those involved got some lovely swag for all that. There are also lots of references to period items such as Ah-nold’s latest movie – which amazes Josephus with its kick-butt action sequences, a Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle, and (in a song) a mention of Princess Di.

Alan is just as cute as a bug’s ear and through the whole movie, I just wanted to pick him up and hug him. And then listen to his accent some more. He makes being a milquetoast sexy. He also makes me truly believe that Bernard’s heart is in the right place with his final wish for Josephus. Rowan Atkinson is definitely channeling Blackadder and is delicious in his portrayal of Pinkworth’s complete self absorption and absolute greed. He’s given wonderful lines – “That’s a good point, Bernard. That’s a fully-fledged bastard of a good point.” And says them with true Atkinsonian smiling relish. “Bugger ye off.” Denis Lill has a delightful cameo as Keppel the doorman who has a way with the truth and who can get a stuck lift on its way again.

Comedian and actor Lenny Henry is wonderful as Josephus. He shows us the Genie taking to modern life with a zest and enthusiasm that is a joy to watch. “I feel fantastic! And I look it too!” But he’s also got words of wisdom for Bernard’s initially out of control wishing. “Say the words “I wish” with the caution you would normally reserve for “Please castrate me.” However he’s not all wide-eyed gung-ho and can show us a more meditative and layered Genie who misses his girlfriend, his mother’s cooking and his two kittens – now all long gone and lost to him.

Still this is a holiday feature and I was wondering how – beyond Christmas trees and tinsel everywhere – it was going to deliver. The way the writers have chosen ends up being inventive and is a great commentary on a lot that is wrong with the way Christmas is celebrated today. You see, it turns out that Josephus actually knew Jesus Christ and was there at several pivotal events mentioned in the Bible. It was his brother’s wedding in Cana that ran out of wine and Josephus was there when Jesus got mad about selling in the Temple.

Genie: One day I was in the Temple when they tried to turn it into a supermarket; Jesus went in there and kicked ass!
Bernard: Like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Genie: Yes, but with smaller pectorals.

It’s after Bernard and Josephus observe, discuss and critique modern commercialism that they decide it’s time to mete out some holiday justice. It might wrap some loose ends a bit tightly but it’s still satisfying to see those who have wronged Bernard get a taste of come-uppance – and on national TV too. Once that’s done and Bernard is “happier than Michelle Pfeiffer’s underpants,” he realizes that giving is greater than receiving and makes one final wish for his new friend.

I like that the ending isn’t completely complete. Bernard might have a chance at a new romance with a pretty holiday “store elf” in hot pants and who knows what Josephus will get up to with the loot he decides he can’t live without and the knowledge of the taste of “Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.” With a roughly 70 minute run time, it’s a fast and cute way to laugh and reflect a bit on what truly is important during the holiday season.

I couldn’t find that this has been loaded on youtube but there are clips there to give you a taste for it and DVDs and VHS tapes for sale on ebay.



I’m going to be taking a break from film reviews for a couple of months to recharge my batteries and do more book reviews.

Friday Film Review: Ziggy’s Gift and A Wish for Wings that Work

Friday Film Review: Ziggy’s Gift and A Wish for Wings that...

Ziggy’s Gift (1982)

Genre: Holiday Animation

Grade: B

“Love is the answer.”

Ziggy’s Gift is a 1982 TV special about Tom Wilson’s cartoon character Ziggy and his dog Fuzz trying to do the right thing. Ziggy wakes up one morning and while getting ready for the day, first hears a TV reporter doing man-on-the-street interviews with harried shoppers and parents gripping about the pains of the Holiday followed by a Walter Cronkite-esque news anchor bemoaning the fact that crooks, in the guise of false Santas, have been conning people out of Christmas donations meaning that many poor people might not have any Christmas gifts this year.

Determined to help, Ziggy answers a newspaper ad he sees for street Santas not knowing that it’s a crook who placed the ad and who would get all the donations. During the course of the day, Ziggy runs into a policeman who suspects Ziggy of being a fake Santa and a real thief determined to rob Ziggy of all the donations he receives. Oh, and lots of live turkeys. Can Ziggy and Fuzz avoid being arrested while spreading true Christmas cheer to those in need?

Ziggy is his usual sad sack self with a heart of gold for whom things work out in the end. If you’re susceptible to sugar overloads, you might want to have something slightly cynical lined up to watch after this. In fact, keep reading and you’ll see my suggestion of what to watch next.

The TV news reports at the beginning of the film lay out exactly what the plot will be. There are no surprises or plot twists – just sweetness and light as Ziggy bumbles around and Fuzz watches out for him. In the face of malfunctioning, mechanical singing angels, plastic poinsettias, aluminum Christmas trees, vinyl holly and polyester pine cones – Ziggy remains steadfast in his desire to do good and spread Christmas cheer.

This one unashamedly yanks on every heart string with the homeless, abandoned pets and orphans all getting trotted out but – gosh darn it! – it’s so simply presented and honestly meant that I melt into “aaaawww” anyway. I’m not too sure about the live turkeys though.

The theme song – which gets repeated at times and might wear on you – says it all. “Give, give, joy, joy.” B


A Wish for Wings that Work (1991)

Genre: Holiday Animation

Grade: B-

As I said in my review of “Die Hard” a lot of you mentioned favorite Christmas specials/movies a while back in 2009 when I posted some of my favorites. Angelia Sparrow listed “A Wish for Wings that Work” which I still can’t believe I missed when it was originally released in 1991. I adored the original “Bloom County” comic strip (and own most of the compilation books), have several Opus t-shirts and even a stuffed Opus toy. Honestly, how did I miss this TV special?

Berkley Breathed apparently hates it but I found it (mainly) charming and fairly in keeping with the spirit of the comic strip. It’s from the “Outland” era so most of the Bloom County characters aren’t there. Mainly it’s Opus and Bill the Cat with a little bit of Ronald-Ann.

Opus wants wings – new non-penguin wings. Not “fancy wings, just plain-Jane, low rent, barely bent, home grown, bare-bone, off-the-shelf, two-part, KMart, no frills flappers.” Opus longs to fly but his penguin wings just aren’t made for it and his efforts, up until now, haven’t worked. Ducks mock him and he’s stuck with “best buddy wannabe” cat who he rescued from a University Science lab. A trip to Ronald-Ann’s “Earthbound Birds Anonymous” support group shows Opus he’s not alone but after listening to a Kiwi bemoan being left by his wife for an albatross – “What does she want? Quality or quantity!?” – he’s little better off.

Then he has an idea. He’ll write to Santa Claus (he actually ends up faxing his request due to the late date). Secure in the belief that Santa will come through for him (“I’ll be flying on Christmas Day!”) he falls sleep. His flying obsession leads to one hella bizarre dream sequence straight out of “Lost Horizon” with the plane going down because penguins can’t fly. Banging on his door wakes Opus up just at the plane’s impact. There’s a Christmas crisis outside and it turns out that Opus, with his special swimming skills – ice water is his shtick – is the only one who can save Santa. But will that earn him his wings? Maybe with a little help from his friends.

The message here – we all have something to offer so be true to yourself – isn’t new. Still it’s told in a way that I think both children and adults (more the usual target for Breathed’s comics – listen as Opus takes a few potshots at Congress, Network Executives and Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf) can enjoy. They even work the term “nether regions” into it and all us romance fans love that purple prose phrase. I feel Opus might be a little harsh on poor Bill (“Ack! Pbthhh.”) After all, it’s not easy being a cat with tater tot brains who smells like the garbage can he drags around on his leg. Opus does have heart and a belief in Christmas that – along with his friends – gives us a happy but not too sappy ending.

How to watch these? Both are out on DVD though Ziggy’s Gift is OOP and could be a challenge to find BUT both of these have also been loaded at youtube. Each is less than 25 minutes in length and just right for a work/lunch break treat.