Happy Anniversary A-Z (Well, W)

A few weeks back Patrick Goldstein on his LA Times blog asked “Is there any Hollywood movie that isn’t having an anniversary this month?” He could reasonably have said this year as well because every time I surf the net or pick up a magazine there is a anniversary piece about a classic or cult movie that came out 20 years ago, 25 years ago, 30 years ago and so on. There are quite a few good articles so I thought I’d compile a far from complete listing of some of the best ones. Here goes:


AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, & Jerry Zucker, 1980)


The gag-a-minute disaster film satire just turned 30 (USA release date July 2nd, 1980) and there are a gaggle of tributes including this New York Times piece:


“Surely It’s 30 (Don’t Call Me Shirley)” – Matt Zoller Seitz


There’s also this well worth checking out piece:


“Airplane!, one of the best comedies ever made, celebrates its 30th anniversary (with videos)” – Scott Wampler (Examiner.com)


BACK TO THE FUTURE (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

This anniversary, the film’s 25th, was marked by what’s been called a “twitter hoax” involving a photoshoped picture of Doc Brown’s Delorean dashboard. You can read about it here:


“Debunked: ‘Back To The Future’ Twitter Hoax” Jeff Sneider (TheWrap.com)

Pretty funny but Conan O”Brien’s tweet was funnier:

“Today’s the 25th anniversary of “Back to the Future” – The movie that popularized DeLoreans, Flux Capacitors, & almost nailing your own mom.”


THE BLUES BROTHERS (Dir. John Landis, 1980)


1980 comes up a lot here – it was quite a summer. Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi’s musical car chase extravaganza was definitely a highlight as these links attest:


“Remembering ‘Blues Brothers’ 30 years later” – Christopher Borrelli (Chicago Tribune)

“30 years later and ‘Blues Brothers’ still on a mission from God”Steve Spears (Tampabay.com)


“The Blues Brothers Gets Vatican Seal Of Appoval”Ron Hogan (Popular Fidelity – popfi.com)


CADDYSHACK (Dir. Harold Ramis, 1980)


Score another for 1980 with this much beloved country club golf comedy which pitted the slobs against the snobs. Read on:

“Is it Really the 30th Anniversary of ‘Caddyshack’?!” – Jane Boursaw (filmgecko.net.)

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
(Dir. Irvin Kershner, 1980)


The second (or the 5th if you want to split hairs) film of the ginormously popular STAR WARS series is widely thought by many, including me, to be the best stand alone installment. Here’s some links to those who think likewise:

“Report from the 30th Anniversary Empire Screening” – Pablo Hidalgo (starwars.com)

The Empire Strikes Back Turns 30, As Do Fans Pyschic Scars” – Mike Ryan (Vanity Fair)


“Empire Strikes 30: Ars looks back at a amzing film” Ben Kuchera (artstechnica.com)


FLETCH (Dir. Michael Ritchie, 1985)


Chevy Chase’s newspaper reporter wisecracks through one of his best comedies, if not the best. This is by far the best column I’ve found yet on the film’s birthday:

“White losers rejoice: Fletch celebrates 25 years” – Peter Hyman (thephoenix.com)



GOODFELLAS (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1990)


It’s too early for tributes just yet – the film was released on September 19th, 1990. Until then here’s the news of Spike TV’s anniversary tribute:

“Spike TV celebrating ‘Goodfellas’ 20th at Guy’s Choice Awards” (merinews.com)

Stay tuned to this space for more on GOODFELLAS 20th…

JAWS
(Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975)

Too many to list here but here’s some of the cream of the crop of 35th anniversary wishes to what many claim was the first summer blockbuster:


“‘Jaws’ 35th anniversary: Remembering the first summer blockbuster” – Andrea Reiher (zap2it.com)


“Jaws’ 35th anniversary: How Jaws changed summer movie blockbusters” Michael Avila (csmonitor.com)


“35th Anniversary of Jaws Begins in a Junkyard” – Robert Falconer (cinemaspy.com)

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Dirs. Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones, 1975)


Last year it was reported that there would be a 35th anniversary celebration at Doune castle in England (where much of the movie was shot):

“Monty Python reunion planned for Doune castle” (pythononline.com)


I couldn’t find any other info – a date for the reunion or anything so if you know what’s up with it please email me.


PEE WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE (Dir. Tim Burton, 1985):


“Los Angeles Film Festival: Paul Reubens to mark 25th anniversary of ‘Pee Wee’s Big Adventure'” – Susan King (latimes.com)

PSYCHO (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1960)


“Hitchcock’s Psycho at 50, The sounds of violence” Jack Sullivan (WSJ.com)


RAGING BULL (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1980):


“Brutal Attraction: The Making of Raging Bull”

– Richard Schickel (vanityfair.com)


THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980)


“The Shining – 30th Anniversary – May 23, 1980”


WILD AT HEART (Dir. David Lynch, 1990)


Actually other than some notices about 20th anniversary screenings I haven’t found a good anniversary appraisal for this one. I just rewatched it and really loved see it again so maybe I should consider doing one. Hmmm.

I know there are a lot of significant anniversaries I’ve missed – REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955), THE APARTMENT (1960), MASH (1970), NASHVILLE (1975), and many many more so please let me know what else we should be celebrating in the comments below. Looks like a followup is in the cards.

More later…

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10 Slapped Actresses

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Sometimes fake fights turn out bad,

Sometimes, actresses get slapped.

Some nights, makin’ it look real might end up with someone hurt.

Some nights, it’s just entertainment,

and, some other nights, it’s real.”


These lines from the track “Slapped Actress” from the latest album (“Stay Positive” VAGRANT 2008) by New York rawkers The Hold Steady call upon the neo-realism of the films of the independent film innovator John Cassevettes. Written and sung by feisty front-man Craig Finn, who was influenced by watching a friend’s Cassevettes DVD box set, the song shines a theater spot-light on the hazy line between art and real life.

For those of you unfamiliar with the song here is a live clip from YouTube (albeit crudely recorded, but you should know how that goes) of The Hold Steady performing it live.


Since the impact of a slap in the face can not be easily faked and such a dramatic device is so effective yet so still such a common place cliché (think soap operas) I thought it would be somewhat insightful to look at the case studies of:


10 Slapped Actresses


1. Gena Rowlands in OPENING NIGHT

(Dir. John Cassavetes, 1977)


The Hold Steady’s “Slapped Actress” directly references all the principles of this film: “We are the actors. The cameras are rollin’. I’ll be Ben Gazzara, you’ll be Gena Rowlands” and “We’re the directors – our hands will hold steady. I’ll be John Cassavettes—let me know when you’re ready.” Finn in an interview with Uncut Magazine elaborated: “I was really taken by the scene where Cassavetes wants to slap Gena Rowlands, and he says, ‘If I don’t really slap you, it won’t look real for the performance.’ And she says ‘It’s a play, why would you have to actually slap me, that’s the whole point.’ That kinda connected with the way I think people are preoccupied with my relationship with the characters I write about. Ive always said no one really cares whether Quentin Tarantino kills people or does karate but for a songwriter theres this question of a perceived honesty, that your songs are the story of your life.”


“Performances were scripted, but delivery was not” says Wikipedia on the films of Cassavetes. A slap is one of the potent forms of delivery, so to speak. Rowlands after protesting is told by Manny (Gazzara): “It’s a tradition. Actresses get slapped. Its mandatory you get hit.” Rowlands does eventually get hit but as convoluted as it may be it’s on her own weird terms. Rowland’s Myrtle goes through the motions of a dying diva later commnented on by The Hold Steady’s sing-along concluding chorus which says of this brand of “perceived honesty”: “we make our own movies, we make our own movies…


2. Faye Dunaway in CHINATOWN (Dir. Roman Polanski, 1971) (Major Spolier!) “She’s my daughter [slap]…my sister [slap]…She’s my daughter [slap]…my sister [slap]…my daughter [slap]. She’s my sister and my daughter!” Dunaway gets multiple slaps from Jack Nicholson as not so hard nosed (he had his nose sliced by the knife of Polanski playing a small time hood) detective Jake Gittes who had no possible patience left. According to the IMDb: “After several takes that never looked quite right, Dunaway told Nicholson to actually slap her. He did, and the scene made it into the movie.” Dunaway got her slap happy revenge years later in MOMMIE DEAREST playing Joan Crawford – who Ill get to later.


3. Diane Keaton in THE GODFATHER PART II (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1974)


In arguably one of the most powerful confrontation scenes between a husband and a wife in cinema history, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) reacts violently upon being told Kay (Keaton) not only wants a divorce but that she had an abortion because she feels this “Sicilian thing” must end. This sends him over the line in what looks incredibly like the real thing – his incensed slap sends her reeling back onto a hotel sofa. No quotes from Keaton on whether it was authentic but this passage from Deborah C. Micthell’s biography “Diane Keaton: Artist And Icon” is pretty noteworthy: “When her parents saw Godfather II in Los Angeles, the audience applauded when Michael slapped Kay in the confrontation scene. She (Keaton) defensively explained: ‘he was a horrible character…I say to Hell with those people who applaud. My parents were with me.’” Watch the scene on YouTube here and see if you would applaud.


4. Charlize Theron in HANCOCK

(Dir.Peter Berg, 2008)


This is from a mediocre summer superhero-with-a-twist Will Smith vehicle, mind you – but to be fair I liked the first half of said film with the slap appearing to perfectly divide it. Theron went on the record: “He tried to fake slap me one time, but the fake one just didnt happen. Were still debating this one. I think he just hit me! But Will claims I leaned into his hand and thats how it happened. I was so shocked! I was like, He just slapped me! Then to another source she said: But he said, I did not slap you. I had my hand there and you turned into it Theron, however, insisted that the incident did not sour their relationship. Were just like kids, its so much fun. Hes not a woman beater! she said. Whatever the case, the Will Smith bitch slap will no doubt echo through out the ages…


4. Michelle Pfeifer in WOLF (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1994) This was another incident that inspired this post – recently Christopher Plummer revealed in his new memoir (In Spite Of Myself) : “I had to lose my temper and slap [Michelle] in the face . . . Gazing into those deep, limpid eyes of hers, I was so hypnotized, my expertise at faking a slap utterly deserted me and I let her have it with full barrels. He lamented that it was: one of the worst days of my life. Again I believe, Arthur Christopher Orme Plummer, should just take comfort in the sometimes actresses get slapped clause.

5. Brigitte Bardot in CONTEMPT

(Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, 1963) I recently saw this again, for the first time on the big screen, and I had forgotten about the slap Michelle Piccoli lays on Brigitte Bardot’s face during their lengthy domestic argument. The sequence which takes place at their flat is a painful but compelling series of break-ups and make-ups with the slap coming midway as Phillip Locate in the New York Times noted: In any film today, a man slapping a woman would end the scene, but in Contempt we keep watching the sequence for 25 more minutes, as the adjustments to that slap are digested.” It is indeed startling how Bardot brushes off the abuse, to her character Camille it seems like just yet another daily indignity.


6. Marisa Tomei in

IN THE BEDROOM (Dir. Todd Field, 2001) File this under when actresses slap other actresses. In what Roger Ebert called “the most violent and shocking moment in a violent film” Sissy Spacek slaps a hysterical Marisa Tomei. According to IMDb: There were 15 takes of Sissy Spacek slapping Marisa Tomei. The final version of the film used the first take.Looks like Tomei sure was a trooper in the slapped actress department there!


7. Anne Baxter in ALL ABOUT EVE (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)


Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Academy Award winning screenplay describes the action between Addison (George Sanders and Eve (Anne Baxter) as follows:

She smiles. Then she chuckles, then laughs. A mistake.

Addison slaps her sharply across the face.


Actually there are many comparable slaps from movies from this era and it’s a quick cold one but it’s a personal favorite because I (and I’m sure many audiences) so wanted to slap Eve throughout the whole movie. Incidentally there was a little known semi-remake called SLAP HER…SHE’S FRENCH (Dir. Melanie Mayron, 2002).


8. Shirley Maclaine in

THE APARTMENT

(Dir. Billy Wilder, 1960)

As Dr. Dreyfuss, Jack Kruschen really strikes Maclaine’s face exactly as written in Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay (also an Academy Award winning script):

With his free hand, Dr. Dreyfuss slaps Fran viciously across the face. Bud winces. Dreyfuss, still holding Fran by the hair, takes a box of ammonia ampules out of his bag. He crushes one of the ampules in his hand, passes it under her nose. Fran tries to turn her head away. Dreyfuss slaps her again, hard, crushes another ampule, repeats the process.


So it goes for reviving a heartbroken woman from a Christmas eve suicide attempt, huh?

9. Joan Crawford in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

(Dir. Robert Aldrich, 1962) Bette Davis and Joan Crawford famously did not get along so there is absolutely no doubt this slap is real. Apparently mere slaps were the least of their worries according to Wikipedia: During a scene after Blanche makes a desperate attempt to call Jane’s doctor, Blanche is kicked around by Jane. In reality, Crawford had several broken ribs from the scene, as Davis had really kicked her.” Crawford also felt pretty symbolically slapped later when she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for the film while Davis was.

10. Lee Bryant in AIRPLANE! (Dirs. Jim Abrams & Jerry Zucker, 1980) Thought I’d end on a comical note with definitely the fakest slaps not just on this list but possibly in movie history. As frightened passenger Mrs. Hammen (but probably better referred to as hysterical woman), Bryant starts freaking out: I can’t stand it anymore…I’ve got to get out of here! A stewardress tries to restrain her then another passenger takes over, then Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielson) all repeating calm down, get a hold of yourself! Soon enough just about everybody on board is lining up to slap (or worse) the troubled traveler. Watch the clip here.

There are hundreds, if not thousands more slapped actresses out there but that’s my top ten and I’m sticking with it. Of course, there are many slapped actors as well but I was keeping with The Hold Steady song that inspired the post. Still may do a slapped actors post someday – so stay tuned.

More later…

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Others Original Designs

This is a sequel of sorts to a post I did earlier this year (10 Of The Most Misleading and Mis-representing Movie Posters Ever!) with one of the same posters mentioned and the same theme of mis-marketing dominating. Recently the publicity for the new pop-doc AMERICAN TEEN included a poster that directly recreates the iconic poster image for the classic 80s teen angst flick THE BREAKFAST CLUB. The similarity was so blatant that it made many folks (including me) think it was a retitled remake:

You see? To be fair AMERICAN TEEN has another poster design out there that’s more original but that above is still still close for comfort. This is a pretty common device that calls for another patented Film Babble Blog list:

10 Movie Posters That Completely Co-opt Other Poster’s Original Designs

1. THE BIG ONE appropriates MEN IN BLACK and suffers legal action for it – That’s right the image for Michael Moore’s self indulgent book tour doc was ruled too similar to the design for the Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones sci-fi vehicle so a judge ruled that Miramax had to remove the posters from distribution. The taglines: “Protecting the Earth from scum of the universe” from MEN IN BLACK and “Protecting the Earth from the scum of corporate America” from THE BIG ONE would probably be dismissed by most of us as parody not copyright infringement but Columbia Pictures’ lawyers thought differently.


2. FLETCH LIVES for some reason regurgitates GONE WITH THE WIND – This lackluster sequel did itself no favors by placing Chevy Chase’s Irwin M. Fletcher character into the framework of one of the most famous films of all time. Not sure the thinking here, did they really think it was a good idea to equate the camera-mugging wise-ass with a suave Rhett Butler in the thralls of a tragic romance while Atlanta burns? I suppose the GONE WITH THE WIND design is just a device for selling the Fletch inherits a Southern Plantation’ premise and I should cut them some slack for trying to wrap a failed follow-up in something resembling a classy package.


3. WHERE IN THE WORLD IS OSAMA BIN LADEN? macks on the art for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK – Meticulously copying the entire design right down to the typefaces and every detail of the amazing Amsel painting done for the 1982 re-release of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, Morgan Spurlock’s much lambasted quasi-poli-doc tries to align itself with the same globe trotting heroic splendor of the Spielberg classic but just ends up looking desperate. I haven’t seen WHERE IN THE WORLD… but not being a fan of SUPER SIZE ME or Spurlock’s television work makes me ambivalent at best to it with this uninspired poster design putting me off even further.


4. THIS IS SPINAL TAP jumps on the back of AIRPLANE! – This one I wrote about before in the Most Mis-leading Movie Posters post mentioned above, noting that director Rob Reiner remarked: “They marketed it with a guitar flying in the air with a twisted neck which looked like the poster for AIRPLANE! It looked like it was trading on

another film”. There were many more comedies that were marketed with crazy flying in the air’ imagery – the Zucker Bros. own NAKED GUN movies kept the concept alive for another decade after SPINAL TAP.


5. PROBLEM CHILD crassly copies PARENTHOOD – A mere months after Ron Howard’s family comedy was a hit came this tasteless anti-family comedy with a poster design that mocks the former’s switching the roles and supposedely doubling the laughs. Not a bad advertising approach mind you, I’m sure many rented one after glancing at the video box thinking it was the other.


6. DEAD HEAT duplicates GOODFELLAS – This one is really annoying. Same dark design with 3 protagonists posing above a street scene and the same typeface

shows a complete creative bankruptcy on the side of the promotional department. The utterly forgetable Keifer Sutherland crime thriller that somebody on the IMDb message board called “SEABISCUIT meets GOODFELLAS could not come close to competing with Scorsese’s masterpiece so seeing them try is painful.


7. ROCK ‘N ROLL HIGH SCHOOL re-amps NATIONAL LAMPOONS ANIMAL HOUSE – Lots of crude sloppy comedies have likewise Mad Magazine derived designs but the folks behind marketing the Ramones’ film debut didn’t look very far for an angle here – they just went with what worked for the previous years teen gross-out blockbuster. Squint and you’d think you’re seeing the same picture (especially with the tiny examples I’ve provided here).


8. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY redoes ANNIE HALL (as does the movie) and begat a flood of rom com movie marketing – A couple in a hesitant yet sexually tense moment always makes for a good poster picture for a romantic comedy,

right? Well just add a city skyline (most often New York, duh!) underneath and now you’re talking. Dozens upon dozens of recent rom coms have used this type imagery including SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, TWO WEEKS NOTICE, MAID IN MANHATTAN, ALEX & EMMA (also Rob Reiner), etc. Oh yeah, the Dudley Moore / Mary Steenburgen movie actually named ROMANTIC COMEDY had a similar image too.


9. CLOVERFIELD marks on THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs territory – The Statue Of Liberty gets a lot of abuse in the world of movie posters. In CLOVERFIELD its head gets blown off (same thing is shown

on ESCAPE FROM NEW YORKs poster incidentely) and a long shot view shows us a stormy New York in turmoil. Looks a lot like the same painting style and tone used in THE DAY AFTER TOMORROWs the Statue Of Liberty under ice image. The poster for the upcoming sludge through bad pop culture spoofs DISASTER MOVIE features our long suffering statue getting drowned in a tidal wave. Hard job it is being a giant symbol of freedom I guess.


10. TRANSFORMERS apes PLANET OF THE APES – Why would anybody want to recall the roundly rejected Tim Burton remake of the Charleton Heston “damn dirty ape” classic with a poster image that looks nearly identical? It seemed like TRANSFORMERS would’ve had its own shiny take on the aesthetics and wouldn’t have to stoop to this so was it unfortunately unintentional? Did somebody think the look and angle of the Ape design was cool and thought it was either forgotten or needed to be re-done and re-purposed? Whatever the deal, I can still barely tell them apart.


Okay! Now, I know there are lots of movie posters that have co-opted the designs of others that I missed so feel free to comment away.

More later…

THE ONION MOVIE And 5 Other Comedy Sketch Films That Actually Don’t Suck (For The Most Part)

Ah, the sketch comedy film – not really a genre, more like a sub section of cinema that barely exists. Wikipedia doesn’t have a category listing for them, only listing them under anthology films. A recent hard copy movie guide I browsed through recently – the VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever – had a listing for “comedy anthology” films but only had about 20 or so – very few of which came anywhere near essential. What brings this whole shebang to mind is the direct to DVD release of a film adaptation of a popular print and online satire rag:


THE ONION MOVIE (Dirs. Tom Kuntz & Mike Maguire, 2008) After years in development Hell with shelvings and re-shootings this troubled film finally gets dumped onto DVD with little fanfare. I usually stay away from reviews of movies until I can see them for myself but the critical stink surrounding the THE ONION MOVIE still wafted in my direction so I had some idea before inserting the disc that this may be hard going. What I didn’t anticipate was how painful it was going to be to get through.

I have been a fan of the Onion since the mid 90’s with its great hysterical headlines like “Desperate Vegetarians Declare Cows Plants” and “Cop Kills Own Partner, Vows To Track Self Down” but the idea of making a movie of vignettes based on their silly satirical style seemed sketchy (sorry, couldn’t resist) at best. Unfortunately it’s even worse than expected with horribly unfunny stabs at race, sexism, politics, and corporate commercialism that at times turned my stomach. A segment involving surburbanites gathering to play a “Who Done It” type board game involving rape particularly made me wince.

It’s no wonder that Onion Inc. President Sean Mills has stressed that they are no longer associated with the movie, much like Mad Magazine disowned their own ill-fated foray into film – the originally titled raunchy ANIMAL HOUSE rip-off MAD MAGAZINE PRESENTS UP THE ACADEMY. Following in National Lampoon’s footsteps, even in the era of the sexual revolution, was a lot harder than it looked I suppose.


THE ONION MOVIE oddly even tries to have something of a plot between the terrible skits – Onion News Anchor Norm Archer, played by solid character actor Len Cariou (who had a short but sweet part as an old friend to Jack Nicholson in ABOUT SCHMIDT), rebels against the plugging of their parent company during the newscast and threatens a walk-out if his forum is used to advertise their big budget movie release “Cock Puncher” starring Steven Seagal. Seagal himself appears as one of the only actual celebrities that appear, otherwise its filled with bit players from Seinfeld and OFFICE SPACE (like the “oh face” guy – Greg Pitts).

Cariou is obviously headed for a Howard Beale-breakdown (you know, “I’m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” from NETWORK) and despite lines like “Georgia officials announced plans to add a swastika and middle finger to the Georgia State Flag” he acts as if he’s in a straight drama. That’s probably the only way he could stomach such dire material.

Not only is THE ONION MOVIE one of the worst comedies I’ve ever seen, it’s an excruciating experience that I’d pay to forget. That it is only an hour and 20 minutes long is the only good thing I can say about it.


Okay! Since that sketch comedy film royally sucked let’s look at some examples of the form that are more worthwhile. Like I said above there aren’t many so it comes down to:


5 Sketch Comedy Movies That Don’t Suck (For The Most Part)

1. Tie: AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT(Dir. Ian MacNaughton, 1971) / MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE (Dir. Terry Jones, 1983) Book ending the Python filmography are these 2 anthology films filled with a high ratio of quality material. AND NOW… was made to introduce American audiences to their material (mostly from the first and second seasons of Monty Python’s Flying Circus). It didn’t do the trick – they’d have to wait for Public Television reruns and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL to get U.S. acclaim). Weirdly the films was more successful in Britain where the material was already well known and the title was completely redundant.

Despite that John Cleese remarked “However we edited the film, people got bored half way through because there was no story” and Michael Palin lamented that there were too many scenes with “men behind desks” it is still nice to see such classics as “Nudge Nudge”, “The Upper Class Twit Of The Year”, “The Dead Parrot”, and “The Lumberjack Song” get the big screen treatment.


As Monty Python’s last movie THE MEANING OF LIFE is a sketch film with an obvious theme. Its sketches are presented with titles: “PART I – THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH” through to “PART VII – DEATH” representing the 7 stages of man. Cleese (definitely the most critical Python) said the film was “very patchy, though it had wonderful stuff in it.” He’s right but the wonderful stuff like the “Every Sperm Is Sacred” musical number, the obese Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones in a massive fat suit) sequence, and the Grim Reaper/Heaven as Vegas finale is up there with Python’s best. “Perhaps we’re just one of God’s little jokes” Eric Idle’s opening theme song ponders and while we never get an answer to that we do get a lot of existential laughs along the way.

2. THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (Dir. John Landis, 1977) Though it was directed by Landis this is the first film project by the comedy team of ZAZ (Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker). It typifies crude 70’s humour and foreshadows the rising tide of gross-out lowbrow fare that would soon flood the market. Still, it has a lot of material that works including an extended Bruce Lee parody “A Fistful Of Yen” (which runs for over half an hour), a trailer for the ultimate disaster movie “That’s Armageddon!”, and a commercial for a board game based on the Kennedy assassination called “Scot Free”. There’s also lots of nudity if the comedy isn’t working for you. If you want to see where the AIRPLANE!-style joke-a-minute genre that begat the awful recent SCARY/EPIC/DATE/etc. MOVIE series began check out this dated but still decent sketch comedy platter. Incidentally the title on the marquee in picture above – “See You Next Wednesday” which comes from a line in 2001, appears in nearly every John Landis movie.


3. EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX * BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (Dir. Woody Allen, 1972) Allen’s loose adaptation of the best selling book by David Reuben is one of my least favorite of his films but as a sketch comedy collection goes it has more than its share of funny moments. Featuring actors who never worked with Allen in any other film (including Tony Randall, Burt Reynolds, Regis Philbin, and Gene Wilder) in surreal sexual settings such as a game show called “What’s My Perversion?” and a sci-fi satire taking place inside a man’s brain during intercourse, this film is by far Woody Allen’s most outrageous and weirdest work. Wilder has some oddly touching moments as a man having an affair with a sheep but the craziest and most memorable scene has to be the countryside terrorized by a gigantic breast created by a mad scientist. After subduing the runaway mammary a policeman warns that they should still be cautious because “they usually travel in pairs.”


4. THE GROOVE TUBE (Dir. Ken Shapiro, 1974) The quality is starting to drop way off on this short list of skit films with this extremely raunchy television send-up which misses a lot more than it hits. A sleazy scatological bent overwhelms the humour (or lack of it) here with scenes involving a talking penis puppet, a TV clown who reads pornographic literature to his children viewers after telling the adults to leave the room, and the linking thread of promotional films for the fictional Uranus Corporation. Most notable for sure is that was the film debut of Chevy Chase who had better luck with counterculture based sketch comedy the next year with Saturday Night Live. Doubt he holds this film in very high regard.


5. AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (Dirs. Joe Dante, Carl Gottlieb, 1987) A sequel of sorts to KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE in that it involves Landis and has a likewise extended film parody -the 50’s sci-fi satire of the title. It’s, of course, another uneven collection of TV commercial parodies, educational films, and late night showings of B movies with a lot of dicey material (including Andrew “Dice” Clay himself!) but a few laughs emerge and the fast pace makes it breeze by. Lots of familliar folk to look out for too – Phil Hartman, Arsenio Hall, Carrie Fisher, Steve Guttenberg, Steve Allen, and Michelle Pfeiffer poke their heads in and out of this long forgotten fitfully funny sketch comedy jamboree.


So there you go – 5 comic anthology movies that don’t completely suck. Let me stress though that I’d only really recommend the last 2 as alternatives to the THE ONION MOVIE. Looks like with that awful entry this slight genre can now truly be put to rest.

R.I.P. Sketch Comedy Movie Genre (1972-2008)

More later…

10 Of The Most Misleading & Mis-Representing Movie Posters Ever!

In this interview with Pitchfork Academy Award-winning Irish songwriter Glen Hansard complains about the photoshopped makeover the poster for his film ONCE got on its recent DVD release:
“They have us holding hands, which we never do in the film! Those legs aren’t mine. Those legs are like three times longer than my legs. It’s a completely new body. They literally just used my face…If you look at my head, my head looks totally weird, because whoever did the Photoshop job was sh-t. My head looks really weird, they took my hat off, and they gave me an entirely new body. It’s completely bizarre. And they made Mar [co-writer/performer Markéta Irglová] much taller than she really is. You can look at the original cover and then what they did to it and spot all the crappy differences. It’s awful. It’s a real shame.”

Hansard is understandably upset because he designed the original poster and DVD cover himself. Some of the changes are more annoying than offensive but the “holding hands” deal – anybody who has seen the film knows how freakin’ misleading that is! Also Hansard’s comment illustrates how wide the gap is between who makes the art and who martkets it so it got me to thinking about misleading and downright mis-representing movie posters. Many have irritated me throughtout my years as a film fan. Now, it can be argued that most movie posters are misleading because that’s their job – to make the movie look bigger and better than it is so it’s a bit silly to pinpoint such offenses so call me silly as I make another patented Film Babble Blog list:

10 Of The Most Misleading & Mis-Representing Movie Posters Ever!

1. KING KONG (Dir. John Guillermin, 1976) As for trying to make the movie look bigger and better than it is, this one really takes the cake! Sure, there was a lot that was bogus about the 70’s remake of the 1933 classic but the overblown spectacle depicted on this poster doesn’t resemble what happens on screen at all. First off, Kong looks to be 5 times his size in the film – large enough to stand balanced between both World Trade Center Towers – he had to make a running leap from one to the other in the actual scene. Second, there were only helicopters in the movie so his crushing a jet plane (notice the size of it in perspective as well). Third, this sequence takes place at night. Fourth, this was not “the most exciting original motion picture event of all time”. Okay, so those last 2 were nit picking but no less than Saturday Night Live pointed the former offenses out in a Tom Snyder show sketch with John Belushi as Dino De Laurentiis. Snyder (Dan Aykroyd) questions the producer: “Sir, the advertising for your movie, the billboards and so on, depict King Kong crushing jet planes in his hands, but, sir, there is not one jet plane in the movie…isn’t that kind of a hype?” The elusive De Laurentiis by way of a slick slimey Belushi impression avoids the question by bringing up the hype of his competition – Jon Peter’s A STAR IS BORN (“your monkey can sing!” De Laurentiis says he told Peters) but we all know that he’s been satirically called out.

2. STAR WARS (Dir. George Lucas, 1977) This one always irked me as a kid. None of the characters look right – even Darth Vader looks a bit off. The image, while I’m sure some will grumble at it’s inclusion here because it is inarguably iconic, doesn’t really reflect the look and style of the record breaking blockbuster. Resembling 70’s sci-fi pulp novel jackets with it’s overly ripped muscular hero, overly sexy heroine (neither of which look anthing remotely like Mark Hamil nor Carrie Fisher), against a backdrop of battle, this poster most likely bugged me back in the day because the exact concept was redone a few times by other artists and never really improved upon. In the next few years when STAR WARS * was re-released several new poster designs appeared which were better in concept and presentation of the leads. Han Solo was even allowed to show his mug. Seems like it was only after it was a big hit with audiences did they figure how to market the movie. Or more accurately re-market the movie.

* Again, I’m not calling it EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE damnit!

3. THIS IS SPINAL TAP (Dir. Rob Reiner, 1984) This one is especially off-putting. Rob Reiner’s debut film is made to look like a sight-gag filled laugh-a-minute spoof, and while it did have some of that to it – it was really a different comic model than the film its poster was referencing. Reiner in an interview from Mojo magazine (Nov. 2000) recalled how he hated the concept: “They marketed it with a guitar flying in the air with a twisted neck which looked like the poster for AIRPLANE! It looked like it was trading on another film. It was one of the reasons why I started Castle Rock because I wanted control over marketing.” The image remained on the first video release of THIS IS SPINAL TAP (pictured to the left) but was replaced later but a plain black cover for the DVD releases. Glad to see it’s gone.

4. BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (Dir. David Lean, 1957) The excellent blog Cinemania called this one to my attention. Dan Jardine wrote: “And could there be a more misleading movie poster?” It is pretty absurd in that it mis-represents the feel and focus of said Best Picture Winner. Not sure why Holden is billed above Alec Guiness either. I just saw this film for the first time all the way through (seems like it’s been on TV my whole life but I never sat down and watched it all) so this caught my eye as being pretty notably non-complimentary.

5. SOYLENT GREEN (Dir. Richard Fleisher, 1973) Actually I think I like this poster better than the movie! It’s more exciting and I can understand why they would want to draw attention to population controling monster trucks to fake moviegoers out about what SOYLENT GREEN really is. In fact you’ve got to give them credit because without all the misleads in the marketing and the film itself the quotable twist ending would not have been as effective and this would not be the sci-fi cult classic that it is.

6. CLASS (Dir. Lewis John Carlino, 1983) This may be a fairly insubstantial film, especially in the company on this list, being a mostly forgotten 80’s drama/comedy (hate the word ‘dramedy’) but I think it makes a good point about mis-marketing. A popular genre of the Reagan era was the teen sex comedy (epitomized by such schlock as PORKY’S, THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN, PRIVATE LESSONS *, etc.) and while this film did contain some college party shenanigans it really didn’t fit into that genre. That didn’t mean that it couldn’t be marketed as such – with a stupid poster that not only mis-represented the characters it gave away the only interesting plot-twist! The poster image may be hard to read – it says: “The good news is Jonathan is having his First Affair. The bad news is she’s his roommate’s mother!” Makes it seem like wackiness ensues, huh? Well, let me tell you – it doesn’t.

* Not linking to any of that crap.

Dishonorable Mention From The Same Era: FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (Dir. Amy Heckerling, 1982) This also mis-represents majorly by making it look like Sean Pean’s character Jeff Spicoli is the protagonist when he is a small player in an ensemble. His head appears to be cut from another picture as he is joined by two models who don’t appear in the film at all. Like CLASS, the film had a good bit of depressing drama so the over selling of the sex really didn’t clue in audiences. It also has a stupid tagline: “At Ridgemont High, Only the Rules get Busted!”

7. SCARY MOVIE (Dir. Keenan Ivory Wayans, 2000) This one is here for one reason only – the worthless promise of its tagline: “No mercy. No shame. No sequel.” Did you get that? “NO SEQUEL!” There were 3 damn sequels to this should’ve been a one-off throwaway. Sure, you can argue that they didn’t plan on a sequel until the movie became a hit but that’s a possibility you know they were aware of. For the SCARY MOVIE 2 they ad campaign addressed this: “look, we lied!” but the damage was done. I liked it better when Mel Brooks’ lame Python rip-off HISTORY OF THE WORLD PART I didn’t gather enough acclaim or box office to warrant a sequel. Ah, those were the days…

8. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (Dir. Robert Wise, 1951) This one is great as a piece of 50’s sci-fi B-movie pop art but incredibly misleading on all fronts. Hell, some even complain that the title of the film is misleading but I won’t go there. I won’t bitch about a color image for a black and white film, that was pretty much the norm then, but the depicting of action that never occurs and that, uh, what looks like a monkey’s hand on top of the Earth image is, well, just plain dumb. I do love the tagline though “From Out Of Space….”

9. JABBERWOCKY (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1977) Another from my childhood that really pissed me off. Although it followed the likewise Medieval MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL and had Michael Palin as the star this was not a Python project – it was Terry Gilliam’s solo directorial debut but was not billed as such. Wikipedia says: “For its American premiere the film was initially advertised as ‘Monty Python’s Jabberwocky’, but this was dropped following protests from Gilliam.” It wasn’t immediately dropped though – for years posters and videocassette releases and many international showings had the Python credit. It confused me back in the pre-internet 80’s when I was devouring all things Python. Watching it without the proper info that it wasn’t really a Monty Python movie I felt like I was a victim of cinematic false advertising. Gilliam seems to have been successful in ridding the world of the inaccurate billing – The only image I could find was the Greek one-sheet (available from MoviePictureArt.com for $45.50!) above.

10. 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE (Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2002) This is a more recent title that annoys me terribly. It’s one of my favorite films of the last 10 years and it’s extremely rewatchable so I see the DVD cover a lot and hate that it has a close-up of a girl dancing showing off her tongue-stud when no such image is in the film. Maybe I blinked and missed it so if you saw such please let me know. Otherwise the image makes the film look more like a modern era ecstasy-rave movie than the spunky smart-ass 80’s Manchester rock portrait it really is.

So, since there are zillions of misleading mis-representin’ movie posters out there – please let me know your personal choices.

More later…

10 Movie Moments That Broke The 4th Wall

“What a pisser!”
– Ted Striker (Robert Hays) turning to the camera after being told off by girlfriend Elaine
(Julie Hagerty) in AIRPLANE! (Dirs. Jim Abraham, David & Jerry Zucker 1980)

Here I go again with another meta-movie list! The phrase “breaking the fourth wall” has been around for over a century. Though as a concept it’s been around since before Shakespeare the phrase itself originates from the theater of Bertolt Brecht. It simply meant that a character makes an aside to the audience. Through the invisible wall those watching are addressed, acknowledged and made to feel a little more “in on the joke” so to speak. It’s a device used a lot more in television than on film. In the 80’s it even became fairly fashionable on such shows like Moonlighting and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show – a show that had as its entire premise comedian Shandling talking directly to the studio audience and the viewers at home. The Marx Brothers may have pioneered the concept in cinema with Groucho’s many knowing winks but Bob Hope really nailed it in the seminal road movies he made with Bing Crosby which is where we’ll begin :

1. ROAD TO MOROCCO (Dir. David Butler, 1942) Bob Hope is the reigning king of breaking the 4th wall for this classic alone. His character Oliver ‘Turkey’ Jackson has an immortal momment when he loses his detached wiseacre demeanor when he desperately declares “I can’t go on! No food, no water. It’s all my fault. We’re done for! It’s got me. I can’t stand it! No food, nothing! No food, no water! No food!” As the voice of reason his friend Jeff (Bing Crosby) says “What’s the matter with you, anyway?…We’ll be picked up in a few minutes.” Hope in all his irrefutable glory responds “you had to open your big mouth and ruin the only good scene I got in the picture. I might have won the Academy Award!” That’s par for the course in a movie that actually has a camel comment – “This is the screwiest picture I was ever in.”

2. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (Dir. Peter R. Hunt, 1969) This is seriously significant because breaking the 4th wall was used to break in the new Bond. George Lazenby had one of the hardest jobs in cinema history – to be the first to fill the shoes of Sean Connery in the iconic role of 007. To make matters even more intimidating this was a Bond adventure with substance – one that he gets married in for Christ’s sake! His intro had to matter – it had to have him make a mark and it had to acknowledge the audience’s incoming notion that this guy wasn’t the guy they were used to.

So in what every Bond picture has – a cold opening we see Bond tooling around Portugal in his classic Aston Martin having an instant of near road-rage (we don’t see his face in close-up), parking to watch the driver (Diana Rigg) that cut him off attempting suicide by walking into the ocean. He watches through a gun sight mind you. He frantically pulls his car down and runs out to the beach to save her. He drags her out of the water and we get to see his face as he does the customary intro “Bond, James Bond” but immediately adversaries are on his back. A moon-lit beach fight ensues and of course Bond defeats his attackers but Rigg departs eschewing all pleasantries. After picking up her discarded shoes Lazenby remarks “this never happened to the other fellow”. Priceless for many reasons but chiefly because it acknowledged that there was a much loved “other fellow” and while Lazenby didn’t look directly into the camera ‘til after he said the line – the self consciousness was reigned in. Didn’t save him from being a Bond one-termer but still.

3. ANIMAL HOUSE (Dir. John Landis, 1978) According to IMDb this is a Landis trademark : “He often has his characters look into camera lens to make eye contact with the audience or ‘break frame'”. It’s true – it is all over his film work but most definitively when the late great John Belushi climbs up a ladder to view naked sorority girls and when getting what he thinks is a “money shot” turns to do his eye brow signature right at us. As a close tie – the scene in TRADING PLACES when the Duke brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellemy) condescendingly try to school Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) about commodities. Murphy looks directly at us at a key moment in a “how stupid do they think I am?” look. Another trademark breaking the 4th came a few years later in SPIES LIKE US – this time Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase were trying to do their version of a Hope/Crosby road movie. During a stressful scene when our beloved SNL bumblers were pretending to be medical staff in Soviet Central Asia – the king of 4th wall demolition – Bob Hope himself appears as if in perpetual golfer mode – “Ah! Mind if I play through? (acknowledges Ackroyd and Chase) Doctor.. Doctor.. I’m glad I’m not sick.”

* While this is indeed a Landis trademark on the TRADING PLACES commentary Eddie Murphy says it came from being so used to mugging at the camera on Saturday Night Live.

4. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986) There are many instances of Hughes’s characters talking directly to the camera but Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is purely definitive as a narrator, commentator, and chastizer – like Animal in THE MUPPET MOVIE he even tells the audience to go home at the end. His great moment in breaking the 4th walldom is when he informs us on the best methods of faking sick to get out of going to school (as if you didn’t know the premise). I believe this is one of the reasons that this is former Vice President Dan Quayle’s favorite movie. After his parents exit Ferris looks us in the eye and says “Incredible! One of the worst performances of my career and they never doubted it for a second.”

Special mention goes to PRETTY IN PINK (1986) At the prom conclusion Ducky (Jon Cryer) looks directly in the camera and knowingly nods after being given a come-on look by a girl on the dance floor.

5. JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (Dir. Kevin Smith, 2001) – As a self pro-claimed Hughes disciple Smith has to work the ‘to camera asides’ but in this movie he may have overdone it a tad. For example – playing themselves Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have a fight on the set of the fictitious GOOD WILL HUNTING 2 : HUNTING SEASON (Yes I know, another film within a film) in which Affleck tries to school Damon :

“You’re like a child. What’ve I been telling you? You gotta do the safe picture. Then you can do the art picture. But then sometimes you gotta do the payback picture because your friend says you owe him.”

They both turn and look at the camera for an obvious dig at Smith.

The overdoing it comes from this bit in the same film also involving Affleck who this time plays his CHASING AMY character Holden who warns – “I mean, I don’t think I’m alone in the world in imagining this flick may be the worst idea since Greedo shooting first. You know it, but… a Jay and Silent Bob movie? Feature length? Who’d pay to see that?” Holden, Jay (Jason Mewes), and Silent Bob (Smith) all look right at us – and to really set things off – Silent Bob gives a smiling double thumbs-up.

6. TOP SECRET (Dir. Jerry Zucker, 1982) – There are many audience acknowledging nods throughout the Zucker Brothers canon like the one quoted at the top of this blogpost but this Zucker scene really drives the point home : Val Kilmer’s Elvis derived 50’s heart throb singer Nick Rivers pours his heart out : “Listen to me Hillary. I’m not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground.” Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge) responds “I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.” They both recoil then look our way as if to say ‘did you get that?’ And speaking of ‘getting that’ :

7. SPACEBALLS (Dir. Mel Brooks, 1987) After being given the plot synopsis Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) looks at the camera and says “Everybody got that?” but most notably is the scene in which he and his minions actually put in a videocasette of SPACEBALLS to see what happens next and see themselves looking at themselves onscreen. Dark Helmet says : “what the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?” Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) responds : “now. You’re looking at now sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.” Too bad this didn’t help this decade too late STAR WARS satire to be more “in the moment”.

8. JFK (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991)
I know, I know – every list I make has this film on it. Not only because it’s one of my all time favorite films but it does hold the monopoly on movie extras – deleted scenes, cameos, edits, and cinema contrivances galore confirm that it’s forever bloggable. That aside I really couldn’t leave out the moment that Garrison (Costner) wraps up his lengthy court summation by saying : “We, the people, the jury system sitting in judgement on Clay Shaw represent the hope of humanity against government power. In discharging your duty to bring a first conviction in this house of cards against Clay Shaw ‘ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country’. Do not forget your dying king. Show this world that this is still a government ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ Nothing as long as you live will ever be more important – it’s up to you.” As the camera goes upward but still holds Costner’s direct camera gaze we get a feeling that this breaking the 4th wall stuff isn’t just comedy kids stuff. Which brings us to :

9. WAYNE’S WORLD (Dir. Penelope Spheeris, 1992) Like Eddie Murphy Mike Myers has a SNL mugging at the camera background and the characters here come from a cable access show in which they talk directly to the camera so of course they would continue to bash holes in the ever so fraglie fourth wall. Funnily enough they use it to satirize product placement at the same time. Wayne tells sleazy TV exec Rob Lowe that he”will not bow to any sponsor” as he poses with a bag of Doritos, a piece of pizza from Pizza Hut, takes some Nuprin, and tops it all off with a swig of Pepsi. He grins at us and even says the slogan “it’s the choice of a new generation.”

10. THE MUPPET MOVIE (Dir. James Frawley, 1979) Kermit and the other Muppets (my word program insists this should be capitalized) regularly consult the screenplay on their journey to stardom so it’s unsurprising but still hilarious when Floyd Pepper (Jerry Nelson) says “well, if this were the movies…” and Dr. Teeth (Jim Henson) adds “which it is”, Floyd continues “…we’d think of a clever plot device” then Scooter (Richard Hunt) energetically finishes “like disguising their car so they won’t be recognized!” Yep, when in doubt just think of how it would be done in the movies. It’ll save you every time.

Okay! That’s enough meta-movie mania for right now – gotta go star in my own movie. Good luck with yours.

More later…

Those Damn DirecTV Movie Tie-In Ads – Offensive To Film Buffs?

To cut to the chase – yes. Those commercials (most running for 30 seconds) that re-create a scene from a well known movie oft played on cable with an actor re-outfitted in their old characters duds and mugging to the camera about the better picture quality benefits of DirecTV have been irking me for some time now. Let’s take a look at a few of them shall we? :

The first of these that I have seen wasn’t too bad – it had Christopher Lloyd dressed and made up to look like his 1985 Doc Brown character from BACK TO THE FUTURE (Dir. Robert Zemeckis) in this ad designed to make you feel like you’re coming back from commercials to a movie you forgot you were watching. Lloyd hams it up saying “I forgot to tell Marty when he gets back to the future he needs to get DirecTV HD!” As Wikipedia notes “Marty would not actually be able to get DirecTV once he got back to the future as it did not exist in 1985 and the Doc of 1955 would obviously have no way of knowing about it. However, this blatant illogic can be regarded simply as a joke.” Uh – okay!

You can’t really fault Charlie Sheen for turning a fast buck revisiting his MAJOR LEAGUE (Dir. David S. Ward, 1989) role of Rick ‘Wild Thing’ Vaughn. It’s a movie that seems to always playing on some cable channel (mostly TBS) and he was likable in it which is seriously unlike just about all of his other films so he and DirecTV are in the clear here. Major points would have been added if Dennis Haysbert (who played Voodoo practicing Cuban defector Pedro Cerrano in the 1989 film and its sequels) did some add-on shot (he’s probably too busy doing AllState ads) – but I’ll still put this in the acceptable pile.

Now those were somewhat cute – if you stick to mainstream movies and B or C-list celebrities popping up in mock scenes from their movies sure we can look the other way but Sigourney Weaver resurrecting her female-empowering alien-ass-kicking heroine Ellen Ripley in this ALIENS ad attrocity that just starting airing recently really gets my goat! To see this classic character who was named by the American Film Institute as the #8 greatest hero in American cinema history shilling for DirecTV is just depressing. Maybe we can tell ourselves that it’s one of Ripley’s clones from ALIEN RESURRECTION – no, it’s still sad.


I mean it makes some kind of marketing sense to have Jessica Simpson break the 4th wall from her role as Daisy Duke in the apocalypse-warning signpost that was THE DUKES OF HAZZARD (Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar, 2005) and chastize her leering viewers by taunting them by saying “Hey – 253 straight days at the gym to keep this body and you’re not going to watch me on DirecTV HD? You’re just not going to get the best picture out of some fancy big screen TV without DirecTV.” Though incredibly eye-rolling inducing it makes some kind of sense because it’s a completely disposable commercial movie and nobody will care if a character steps away from that kind of cinematic enterprise to do a sales pitch for a company. Speaking of stepping away from the Enterprise …

“Settling for cable would be illogical” Captain Kirk (William Shatner) says to Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) grimace. Shatner is surrounded from footage from STAR TREK VI mind you in this commercial. Not the first time he’s acted reacting to nothing and it won’t be the last. This one is understandable because Shatner with his Priceline.com pitches, MCI, and the UK Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal ads has been a commercial spokesman * almost more than he’s been an straight actor, no wait he’s never really been a straight actor. Still, I get a bit pissed off watching his laconic walk-through in this ad I’m reminded by comedian Patton Oswalt’s put down from Shatner’s Comedy Central Roast -when he held up a paper bag and dared Shatner – “Could you act your way out of this?”

* To see the hilarious origins of Shatner as a commercial spokesman checkout this hilarious Commodore Vic20 Ad.

I just feel like we’re one step away from having Ralph Fiennes popping up as his evil Nazi personage Amon Goeth in a mock scene from SCHINDLER’S LIST looking right at the camera and saying “don’t you want to see me personally execute masses of Jews in the crystal clear clarity of DirecTV? Don’t you?!!?”

Okay, maybe that was a bit over the top – none of the ads so far have been from serious dramas or Oscar-caliber prestige pictures but I think these ads are bad for the film community. Okay, maybe just the online film community. Okay, maybe just me. Now this one with Pamela Anderson playing her iconic character C.J. from the television show Baywatch is just about right – hear that DirecTV! Stick to TV shows and low-brow comedies that were cheesy to begin with and all is forgiven. Okay?

Postscript : I know I haven’t covered all of those damn ads – Leslie Nielsen revisited his 1980 Dr. Rumack performance in a AIRPLANE! one, Ben Stein again asked “Bueller? Bueller? …” for a FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF throw-back, Bill Paxton once again chased a tornado in a TWISTER take, and shortly before his death in Pat Morita brought back Miyagi from THE KARATE KID (’86). If there are any others that irk you or that you actually like – send ’em on in to :

boopbloop7@gmail.com

Oh yeah – I read somewhere that Bill Murray was all set to re-Carlize himself for a spot from CADDYSHACK (’80) but he was either out of the country working on a film or he came down with a case of integrity…

More later…

Review To A Kill & 5 R-Rated Moments In PG AND G Rated Movies That Slipped Past The MCAA

“It’s not really happening. It’s a movie, and it’s called acting.”
Dakota Fanning talking about her new film HOUNDDOG

Okay, I got some DVD reviews and some babble ’bout R rated moments in G and PG rated movies so let’s get started –

DVDS IN CURRENT RELEASE :

FACTOTUM
(Dir. Bent Hammer, 2005) – One of my favorite movies is BARFLY (incidently it’s out of print on DVD – used copies sell for $89.95 – $200 on Amazon) in which Mickey Rourke portrayed Charles Bukowski’s alter ego Henry Chimalski – a definitive movie drunk, a pouty poet, and an all around unemployable schlub. Well Chimalski is back, this time a splotchy-faced and cranky Matt Dillon fills his shoes. Dillon’s take on the character is edgier with less of the humour than Rourke’s but he’s still the same schlub. Dealing mostly with the series of jobs Chimalski can’t keep and interspersed with the destructive relationships (Lili Taylor, Marissa Tomai) he can’t get a handle on, FACTOTUM doesn’t have much of a plot but it does actually have a point. It’s no BARFLY but after what some critics have mistaken for a inebriated exercise, Dillon’s final monologue brings it all into sweet focus.

IDIOCRACY (Dir. Mike Judge, 2006) – Mike Judge’s (OFFICE SPACE, BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD, KING OF THE HILL) return to the big screen has an infamously troubled back-story (extensive re-tinkering, little distribution and almost no promotion) so it’s recent DVD release will be the first time many are allowed to see it. Telling the story of 21st century every-man Luke Wilson who along with Maya Rudolph (SNL) is frozen in an army experiment for 500 years only to awaken to a collosally dumbed down culture where the President is a wrestler/former porn star, StarBucks offers sexual as well as coffee service, and Costcos are the size of Tennessee. The premise peters out less than half-way through and awful unneccesary narration annoyingly talks over full scenes of dialogue strongly implies further dumbing down of the movie in post production. Still there are some interesting attempts at socio-political satire and enough decent laughs involved to gain it a following particularly among fans of base level comedy. I’ve had those who lecture me on the worth of JACKASS, the SCARY MOVIE series and even CLERKS 2 so I know they are plenty out there who will dig it.

BUGSY – THE EXTENDED CUT (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1991)

“Dialogue’s cheap in Hollywood Ben, why don’t you run outside and jerk yourself a soda?”
– Virginia Hill (Annette Benning)

Haven’t seen this since it’s original video release in ’92 (didn’t catch it in theaters – ’91) so I don’t remember it very closely and couldn’t tell what was different about this new version but I enjoyed this new special edition much more than I expected. Based on the legendary mobster who ostensibly built Las Vegas and who Godfather fans well know was the inspiration for Moe Green (Alex Rocco) BUGSY doesn’t quite acheive the levels of stylistic period piece lyricism it aims for yet it still works. Warren Beatty plays the right note as the slick vain enterprising yet not unromantic Ben Siegel (I know that doesn’t sound like much of a stretch), Annette Benning puts in her usual silky never sleazy accompaniment and the rest of the cast is top notch (Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel, Elliot Gould, and Joe Montegna) James Toback’s sharp script is worth singling out too. Levinson’s directorial career has been spotty since (WAG THE DOG, ENVY, MAN OF THE YEAR, ugh) so it is nice to go back and re-appraise one of his most competant and under-rated films.

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (Dir. Kirby Dick, 2006) – Having been confused and weirded out by what the exact standards and/or rules of the MPAA’s movie rating system I was excited about this film. I have to say though that this good-intentioned but ultimately misguided feature is fascinating but flawed as fuck. The idea of hiring private detectives to find out exactly who the people are who rate movies is a good one but the execution of said premise involving following SUVs around and getting un-insightful film of possible suspects is frankly a waste of time. Better is the interview material, the comparisons of what is permited between hetero and homosexual content and the background history of the MPAA and their former President Jack Valenti. I just wish it went deeper and was better structured – Kirby Dick appears to be passionate and dedicated and I wasn’t as annoyed by his Gonzo-insertions as some were but this could use a bit more work. This Film Is Not Yet Finished, more like.

Inspired by this documentary I thought it would be fun to look at :

5 R-RATED MOMENTS IN PG AND G RATED MOVIES THAT SLIPPED PAST THE MCAA

1. HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968) – The famous 1968 photograph and NBC-shot film of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon is one of the most shocking and violent images ever presented to the world at large. It is effectively used alongside other frightening war footage in the LSD fueled mind-bending montages of this freaky envelope pushing movie in which the Monkees deconstruct their pre-fab bubblegum image. Thing is, this is a G-rated movie! Really Seems like someone at the MPAA saw that this was the Monkees and stamped a G on it without even watching it.

2. BRAINSTORM (Dir. Douglas Trumball, 1983) A good example of what often sailed by the review board in the days before PG-13, this virtual-reality sci-fi thriller that is most famous because of the drowning death of Natalie Wood that occured while shooting contains a shocking scene involving one of the bulky combersome devices that Christopher Walken is wearing in the picture on the right. A man has a heart attack while engaging in a simulated sex program with full frontal female nudity shown. I learned this the hard way when I innocently put the movie on when I used to work at a local video chain. Definitely not ‘in-store playable’.

3. JAWS (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975) – Many bloody moments in this movie qualify it for an R rating but the skinny dipping girl who gets eaten within the first five minutes should of set up some sort of ratings red flag. On the other hand I saw the movie when I was a kid and don’t remember losing any sleep over it.

4. BANANAS (Dir. Woody Allen, 1971) – Squirmy neurotic low-level products tester Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) has very little luck in his meager life – even the simple task of picking up a porn mag along side copies of news publications like National Review invites public scorn. As he makes his choice of purchase we are guided through an explicit wall of porn magazine covers that did oddly only earned a PG-13 rating in a later video incarnation re-appraising.

5. AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahms, Jerry Zucker, 1980) – There are a lot of scenes and elements in this famous disaster movie spoof that would be questionable PG material these days but the extreme shot of female full frontal nudity that occurs during a riotous panic when the passengers are told the plane is in jeopardy takes the cake! Of course it goes by so quick one could blink or sneeze and miss it. Looks like someone at the MPAA sure did.

More later…

Let Them All Talk

Last night my brother and I were watching the new DVD – THE RIGHT SPECTACLE – THE VERY BEST OF ELVIS COSTELLO – THE VIDEOS (sorry – no IMDB link yet) and discovered that it has subtitles for Elvis’s commentary track and not for the song lyrics in the videos. I thought that was odd at first but it seemed preferable to watch the videos with the subtitles on but Costello’s voice commentary track off so the music wasn’t obscured. It reminded me of that VH1 show – Pop Up Videos. My brother Dave said it was like what geeks at conferences call the backchannel – people attending a public event with laptops, meet in a chatroom to talk about the presentation/talk or whatever possibly ragging on the speaker/band/whatever. Sometimes, not often, the backchannel chatroom is displayed on big screen for all to see. He concluded by saying that commentaries are kinda like a backchannel, but later after the fact. This got me to thinking about commentaries. That and listening to the delightfully pretentious commentary on the DVD of Igmar’s Bergman’s 1967 classic PERSONA by Bergman historian Marc Gervais (“oh my goodness, personality disintegration!”). A lot of people never turn on the commentary track – indeed many directors, actors, and other participants can be heard saying “do people really listen to these things?” Well after getting a number of emails from film babble blog readers who said they were offended by my calling listening to commentaries “an extremely geeky process” in my August 28th post I see that many do actually listen to these things and I decided to pay tribute by listing :

10 Great DVD Commentaries

This is by no means a ‘best commentaries ever’ deal. I haven’t listened to enough to judge that – I just enjoyed the Hell out of those below. Some great movies have bad commentaries I must say – GOODFELLAS has a track patched together from interview soundbites (to be fair the other track has the real Henry Hill with his actual arresting officer and that’s actually pretty cool), THE PLAYER has a verbal tug-of-war between director Robert Altman and writer Michael Tolkin, and Quentin Tarantino can’t seem to give commentary to save his life! Plodding through anecdotes unrelated to the action on the screen, Tarantino offers very few insights into RESERVOIR DOGS except to why his other films on DVD are commentary-less.

The best commentaries make it feel like you’re hanging with the directors, actors, crew members or critics watching the movie
while absorbing conversationally juicy back stories. Here’s my 10 favorites:

1. CITIZEN KANE (Dir. Orson Welles 1941)

Yes, you should be skeptical of any movie list that begins with this movie but damn it this DVD has good fuckin’ commentary! Whatever you may think of Roger Ebert, his spirited narration is surprisingly a lot of fun while being informative as Hell. Ebert offers that “oddly enough because it broke with all the traditions of editing and photography up until that time many audiences found that it looked anything but realistic. They were put off by the deep-focus photography, the use of long takes, the lack of cutting in order to tell the story, and the relying on movement within a scene” and that because of that “you have to be an active viewer when you look at CITIZEN KANE – it challenges you”. Director and Welles friend Peter Bogdonovich presents a more scholarly and insiderly take on the film, while not as entertaining as Ebert’s, is still worthwhile.

2. THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE (Dir. Joel Coen 2001) Just a few Coen Brothers movies have commentaries (BLOOD SIMPLE has Kenneth Loring of Forever Films delivering an odd play-by-play, while director of photography Roger A. Deakins does FARGO) but this track with Joel and Ethan Coen chatting it up with Billy Bob Thornton is absolutely hilarious. Notable because the movie alone is anything but hilarious. Discussing the stoical mannerisms of his barber character Thornton says “I know we’re doing a DVD commentary but it’s hard not to laugh about Ed Crane. Joel, Ethan, and I have a sort of weird relationship with Ed Crane. He’s become this guy to us that just exists in our lives.” He goes on to point out the “Ed nod” – Thornton: “Ed would always just accept the most horrible things with a tiny little nod.” Joel remarks that the nod is “the biggest outward manifestation of Ed’s personality.” So as the movie goes on charting the “Ed nod” almost becomes a game – “here comes a classic Ed nod”. Also amusing is when over a shot of Thornton sitting listening to Scarlett Johansson playing the piano, he asks “you notice something? Ed has a boner!” They all giggle. A lot of laughter for a dark morbid film noir piece from the Coens – seems oddly appropriate doesn’t it?

3. MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Dir. Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, 1975)

2 audio tracks split between the directors (Gilliam, Jones) and the performers /writers (John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin) all the currently existing Pythons enhance this comedy classic with wonderfully amusing tales about where jokes originated, the hassles of cheap location shooting, and the contagious laughing at material that amazes them as well as us that it never gets old. Some random quotes –

Gilliam: “in England blood is called Kensington gore”. (a simple google search confirms that this is indeed theatre slang about stage blood).

Palin: “Llamas – another Python favorite like moose, Nixon and fish of any kind”.

Idle: “Michael Palin clearly had a very bad agent because he gets no close-ups whatsoever in this scene.”

4. THE WAR OF THE ROSES (Dir. Danny Devito, 1989) You may scoff at this appearing on this list – but this being one of the first commentaries ever (recorded for an early 90’s laser disc release if I’m not mistaken) Devito made the most of the warts-and-all approach for an essential listen. Consider how he starts off : “In 1933 this famous fox logo theme was written by Alfred Newman. In 1990 Alfred’s son David Newman re-recorded it for WAR OF THE ROSES enabling it to have the final note of the theme segue into the overture of our
film.” Very few commentaries begin with that sense of purpose. It also seems appropriate that this Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner dark marital disaster comedy is decorated by occasional Devito self-criticisms : “boy, do I look fat – look at me!”

5. JFK (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) The grand-daddy of all conspiracy films gets a passionate paranoid Stone audio guide that goes through its whole damn exhausting 3 hour + run. Theories on top of the theories in the movie abound : “If for example the hit had taken place in Miami it is quite possible what I’m trying to say that there was an Oswald that could of has a Miami identity in the same way that Oswald had a New Orleans and Dallas identity. They have people who have patsys ready to go.” I’ll take your word for it Oli
ver. Also you hear career defining statements like : “I don’t care what they say, this is my GODFATHER! As far as I’m concerned NIXON is GODFATHER II for me and this is my GODFATHER I. I feel good about it even if nobody agrees.”

The often un-remarked upon sentiment in JFK comes out best when Stone recalls that he wrote much of his own life strife with his soon to be ex-wife into the arguments that protagonist Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) and his wife Liz (Sissy Spacek) had over how JFK assassination obsession had come between them. After Liz has stormed off, Jim escorts his kids (Sean Stone, Amy Long) out the front door and onto the front porch swing comforting them by saying that telling the truth can be a scary thing. Stone chimes in : “It’s my Norman Rockwell scene, so leave it alone! Everyone has a right to their Norman Rockwell moment.”

6. ELECTION (Dir. Alexander Payne, 1999) Payne gives good commentary. This is interesting from start to finish – the comparisons to the original novel, the pointing out of the “obsessive use of garbage cans”, and most surprisingly his admitting when talking about Matthew Broderick – “his casting has for a lot of people played with his image, almost his iconography as Ferris Bueller, but not for me because I’ve never seen the film (FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF).” Another great commentary moment comes when Reese Witherspoon is setting up a table in the High School lobby by extending the legs one by one – “Tracy is introduced with straight lines – the chair legs. Careful viewers may want to go back and count how many chair legs.” He says chair but it is definitely a table she’s setting up and there are 5 separate shots of individual legs being extended – on a 4 leg table. Oh Alexander, you wacky cinematic prankster!

7. The Simpsons (1989-1996 Seasons 1-6)

I figured one TV show DVD set ought to make this list and while such worthy shows as The Sopranos, Mr. Show, Six Feet Under, and even Newsradio have fine commentaries – the chaos, the camaraderie, and fly-on-the-wall fun Simpsons commentaries contain blow them all away. Usually populated by series creator Matt Groening along with writers, producers, show-runners, voice-actors, and other relevant parties they come packed with statements like:

Jon Vitti:
“You guys were very specific that we shouldn’t come up with clever original tag-lines for Bart Simpson – they were supposed to be things he had heard from TV and repeated and then when the show got so popular it somehow seemed as if we were claiming these were original sayings. So I’d like to say that at the outset we never thought ‘eat my shorts’ was an original tag-line.”

James L. Brooks:
“I thought we weren’t going to do mea culpas!”

A early classic – Bart Gets Hit By A Car – epitomizes how the show’s themes have changed drastically from the financial pressured world the Simpsons used to live in as opposed to the pop culture parody social satire status of recent years. Marge blows a huge cash settlement and Homer goes into a dark funk. Confronted by his wife at Moe’s Tavern Homer even says that he may not love her anymore. A dramatic moment is finally punctuated by his declaration: “Oh who am I kidding? I love you more than ever!” Mike Reiss (I think) responds “the writers being very offended including John Swartzwelder who wrote the episode saying ‘why does he love her more than ever? We’re happy to see it, ah – life goes on but why does he love her more than ever?”

But the cream of the commentary crop is “Marge Vs. The Monorail” from the 4th season – mainly because it was written by Conan O’Brien who contributes (albeit on satellite from New York while Groening and the other participants are in LA) a consistently funny commentary:

Conan: “I am the author of this episode. I created the character of Bart.”

The stories about the conception of the episode get increasingly more amusing as the show progresses:

Conan O’Brien:
“Originally when I wrote the episode the guest star was supposed to be George Takei (Sulu) from Star Trek. We contacted George Takei, just certain he would do it ’cause this was after Michael Jackson…I mean everybody was killing themselves to be on the Simpsons. We contacted George Takei and he told us he wouldn’t do it because he was on the San Francisco Board of Transportation and he didn’t want to make fun of monorails. We were just stunned and I was heatbroken. Then I came into work and Al said ‘hey, we just got a phone call and George Takei and he won’t do it but Leonard Nimoy will’ – I remember thinking that’s better!”

It sure was, Conan It sure was.

8. AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, 1980) This is a particularly funny commentary because after describing how much of the film was based narratively and shot-wise on the 1957 airport disaster movie ZERO HOUR and making fun of the cheap production values – “you can see tape holding the set together there!” – the directors (the Zucker bros. and Abrahams) run out of things to talk about and even start discussing other movies – “I saw GALAXY QUEST yesterday.” Also notably towards the end of the flick they all state that they made a pact to never see AIRPLANE II – THE SEQUEL which was made by others. Wish I had made that decision.*

9. BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997) Paul Thomas Anderson opens before the movie has properly begun with “Hey roll it – ’cause I’ll tell you, you’re listening to a guy who learned a lot about ripping off movies by watching laser discs with director’s commentary. My favorite is John Sturge’s BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK.” Man, I’ll have to check that one out. Interestingly enough after acknowledging the influence of Scorsese over the first scene with the long tracking nightclub shot Anderson declares that Jonathan Demme is his “most profound influence”. There’s a separate track with Anderson and various actors (Mark Wahlberg, Julliane Moore, John C. Reily, Melora Walters, Don Cheadle) recorded at diferent times – at Anderson’s apartment with phones ringing, lighters flicking, and a lot of alcohol being consumed. While I don’t usually like commentaries that are hodgepodges of different recordings – this one works because of actors comfortably speaking over their specific scenes relaying that apparently everyone enjoyed their wardrobe fittings as much as the actual shooting and the constant questioning by P.T. Anderson of the cast “was Luis Guzman stoned during filming?”

10. THIS IS SPINAL TAP
(Dir. Rob Reiner, 1984)

Just to get it straight there are 2 different DVDs of this movie with notably different commentaries. How notably different? Well I’ll tell ya – the CRITERION (1998) version (you know the company that does high-brow deluxe DVD editions of classic cult movies) has a commentary by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer as well as a separate track by Rob Reiner with producer Karen Murphy and a few editors. The MGM special edition (2000) has a commentary by Spinal Tap (that is Guest, McKean, and Shearer in character). Since the Criterion one is out of print and copies of it go for $85.00 and over on Amazon we’ll just concern ourselves with the MGM version.

Approaching the film with the oft-repeated “hatchet-job” accusation on its maker Marti DiBergi (Rob Reiner) – Nigel Tufnel, David St. Hubbins, and Derek Smalls (c’mon play along) have a lot of axes to grind 16 years later. On their first interview session in the film:

Nigel: “you know when he was asking us these questions you you remember we didn’t know what he was going to say…
Derek: “and he had notes!”
Nigel: “yes, he had notes.”
David: “That’s not fair. That should have tipped us off.”
Derek: “It’s cheating! He had an agenda.”

On David’s current stance on his astrologically guided controlling girlfriend Janeane who shows up mid-way in the tour – “a turning point” says Derek:

David: When the millenium changed so did she.”

On Derek being trapped in the stage pod which sabotaged the number “Rock ‘N Roll Creation”:

Derek: “This only happened once – why doesn’t he (DiBergi) show any of the other nights?!!?”

When band manager Ian Faith and Nigel leave because of tension within the group, horribly mangled gig scheduling, and Janeane’s ambitious infiltration David has this to offer about his girlfriend’s managerial style when she took over from Ian:

David: “Things went more profressionally wrong.”

In the final segment at one of the last shows on the tour Nigel returns to tell them that “Sex Farm” is a hit in Japan and would they consider regrouping. After some harsh words the band leaves with David and Nigel sharing a silent stare at each other. In the now reflective commentary which also is silent for a moment, St. Hubbins breaks the mood:

David: “You had me at hello”. *

Post Note: The Zucker bros. and Jim Abrahams commentary for their follow-up to AIRPLANE! – the Elvis meets World War II spy thriller satire TOP SECRET! plays like the Onion’s “Commentaries Of The Damned” – you know the AV Club’s feature about less than worthy films adorned with inappropriate commentaries. For TOP SECRET! the filmmakers/writers complain about the movie never making a profit, how the slow pace ruins the jokes, and most amusingly they forget why they originally thought certain material was funny – a theater marquee for the film’s protagonist Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) says beneath his name “with time permitting – Frank Sinatra”. “Why did we pick on Sinatra?” one of the Zuckers (I think) wonders out loud. Good question.

More later…