Hey, I Finally Saw…LABYRINTH!

I would never have guessed that of all the Cool Classics @ The Colony I’ve attended, Jim Henson’s 1986 musical fantasy LABYRINTH would have the biggest turn-out. A large crowd of moviegoers of all ages packed into the North Raleigh theater and cheered when David Bowie’s name hit the screen. They also applauded Henson and Monty Python alum Terry Jones who co-wrote but booed producer George Lucas’s funnily enough. I think I was one of the few that had never seen the film before. Not sure how I missed this film over the years – I was a Muppets kid and always loved Bowie but somehow this slipped through the cracks. To catch up by seeing a 35 MM print with a full audience is truly ideal as I found out Wednesday night.

Maybe it wasn’t ideal to everybody in attendance though as a friend on Facebook wote this as his status shortly after the showing:

“While you win points for the booing of Lucas and the cheering of Henson… those points quickly slipped away at the consistent and childish giggles each time the Glass Spider appeared in tights. I mean, you would think that if you are going out to see it at a theater the laughs would come at all the classic lines…”

Well said, but the laughter and much singing didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment. The overall vibe was fun and full of life. It’s very amusing that a film that flopped big time back in the day has become such a crowd pleaser 23 years later. The story is simple, a 15 year old Jennifer Connelly wishes away her baby half-brother away: “I wish the goblins would come and take you away…right now” and is challenged by Jareth, the King of the Goblins (David Bowie in tights and with gigantic teased hair) to solve the enormous maze of the title in order to get the kid back.

It was easy to see why this film is so beloved – the 80’s are alive in every inch of LABYRINTH. The soundtrack is catchy even if it’s hardly in the realm of Bowie’s finest work and each set piece is filled with invention – especially the Escher inspired sets. It might be a bit too long and yes there is a heavy cheese factor but I think most in the audience that night would agree that its flaws are just as endearing as its strengths. I have a feeling that had I seen it as a kid I may have been bored by it – probably prefering TIME BANDITS for my childhood fantasy needs but then, I dunno – I may have just as easily fallen for it too.

The Colony Theater appears to be building a faithful following with the showing of these cult films. A “bicycle contingent” is always present as many folks ride their bicycles to the shows. The theater has indoor bike parking in the area in front of the screen
. That’s just one of many comforting sights on the nights of these screenings. Others are the marquee, the original one sheet poster of the film presented, and, of course, there are the vintage trailers.

Not surprisingly the trailers (of SHOGUN ASSASSIN, THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKOROO BANZAI ACROSS THE 8TH DIMENSION, and MONSTER SQUAD) that were shown before LABYRINTH were greeted with much enthusiasm. They are films coming soon in the next few months as the Colony is starting a new series to run alongside Cool Classics: “Cinema Overdrive”. As their website states: “CINEMA OVERDRIVE (from the creator of the popular Retrofantasma) showcases the best in high-octane cult/horror/exploitation/drive-in and forgotten films that are waiting to find an audience.” Their first film in the series: DEATH RACE 2000 (starring David Carradine) is on Wednesday August 14th. Hope to see you there.

More later…

Son Of Space Oddity

MOON (Dir. Duncan Jones, 2009)

The directorial debut of the British born Duncan Jones takes place almost entirely on the surface of the moon with the sparest of casts and the eeriest of vibes. It makes a certain sci-fi sense for Jones since he’s the son (originally named “Zowie Bowie”) of pop superstar David Bowie and grew up with heavy up close and personal exposure to his father’s otherworldly output such as the classic albums “Space Oddity” and “Ziggy Stardust”, along with his films THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH and LABYRINTH. So, with that unique upbringing in mind, we are given Sam Rockwell as a Lunar Industries employee, alone and very lonely, on a 3 year assignment to extract Helium-3. His only companion at the lunar base Sarang is a robot named Gerty – voiced by Kevin Spacey.

Except for a few blurry video messages on the monitors of his wife back home (Dominique McElligott) and a couple of corporate guys calling the shots, it’s the Sam Rockwell show. He’s burnt out as Hell; schlepping around the base in a daze donning shades to shield from the blinding glare around him as he counts down the days to when he can go home. He sees odd flickers of images of himself on the monitors and the fleeting vision of a woman in a yellow dress, but brushes these off as weary hallucinations until crashing his rover. When he awakes he finds there is another man on the base – another Sam Rockwell to be exact.

Because there are only so many pieces that make up MOON, it would be wrong to give any more away than that – from just that simple description I bet one could imagine story threads involving clones and delusion; dammit I’m still giving things away. It must be noted that while the Bowie background can’t be ignored, this is more spiritually rooted to the seminal sci fi of the 70’s and 80’s – Jones cites SILENT RUNNING, ALIEN, OUTLAND, and, of course, the obvious connection: 2001 as major influences. These were the antithesis of the commerciality of STAR WARS; films that were about probing the depths of character’s alienation instead of space laser fights and cute robots.

MOON can be a slow dry ride, but it’s one that lingers darkly though thoughtfully. Rockwell’s performance never falters especially in scenes when he’s interacting with himself; he’s as on as any time in his career. Rockwell’s no stranger to sci fi either from his roles in GALAXY QUEST and HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY so he is at home here. It was nice to see models and matte paintings instead of CGI, though I bet that choice was budgetary rather than artistic. There’s a low key yet absorbingly spooky mood to MOON that is still with me the next day, while the parts that didn’t quite add up (like the unsatisfying ending) are fading. As it still processes, right now I can only concede that it’s a fine film debut as well as a promising chip off the Bowie block.

More later…

SLEUTH & A Few New DVD Reviews

“The film was a sadd’ning bore, ’cause I wrote it 10 times or more.”
– David Bowie from the song “Life On Mars”

Bowie’s couplet above could serve as perfect criticism of the following film. I wanted to see it on the big screen last Fall but it played for only a week at a local theater and was roundly panned. I loved the original so I put it in my queue and wished for the best. Well, what I got was the worst:

SLEUTH (Dir. Kenneth Branaugh, 2007)

This entire production screams “high concept!” It’s a slick streamlined remake of the much beloved 1972 mystery which pitted Sir Laurence Olivier as a wealthy novelist against Michael Caine as a gold digging hair salon manager who is having an affair with Olivier’s wife. The high concept here is that Caine now plays the wealthy novelist and Jude Law, fresh from remaking ALFIE, again steps into Caine’s old shoes as the young gold digger. The gothic old house of the original has been transformed into a high tech palace with surveillance cameras and monitors in every corner – a cold and sterile museum of a house that Caine says was designed by his wife but it’s hard not to think he took some notes from Batman. Taking the concept higher is a new screenplay by noted playwright Harold Pinter which throws out all of the original’s dialogue and replaces it with even more twisted mental trickery. Branaugh’s sharply stylised direction inhabits every frame – the film actually looks shiny like an expensive ad in GQ magazine. So why doesn’t any of it work?

Hmmm, It’s not because it’s ridiculous, contrived, and over the top – the original was all those things and even more unbelievable in its conceit. The conceit being that these 2 men perform a series of double crossing mindgames over the never seen wife. There is one giant plot device that I won’t give away, though if you watch the trailer you can probably guess what it is, that is handled so horribly it should have been discarded all together. Caine has sleepwalked through better material than this but he does give it the old college try. Jude Law, is well…just what I expected – glib but hiding overwhelming insecurities but just like with Caine we never believe these are people with lives outside of this movie. They’re both constrained by their empty caricatures.

Like I said before – the film looks great, the actors are apt, and the direction is solid so I guess I can only really blame the script. Pinter’s dialogue is simplistic yet over-reaching – he uses all of the original’s hot premise points but retains none of their humorous charms. If the plan was to break down a grand theatrical melodrama down into a souless modern psychological thriller package with as much depth as a Tom and Jerry cartoon then Pinter is indeed a genius as he’s been often called. With all due respect to the Nobel Laureate, the original was an amusing trifle; this is high concept tripe. The 2007 model SLEUTH only has 2 good things going for it: 1. At 86 minutes it is an hour shorter than the original so at least they didn’t try and stretch what was already as thin as Shelley Duvall as Olive Oil. 2. The prospect that because this film was a critical and financial failure we can be spared any future Jude Law remakes of Michael Caine movies. Though come to think of it though, in the right hands Law could maybe pull off DEATHTRAP – if they stick to the original script, that is.

This next film isn’t new but I’m writing about it because there is a recent English language remake that just came to my area. It’s not playing in Chapel Hill however possibly because in the light of the tragic death of UNC student Eve Carson it could be seen to be in bad taste. Hearing that the remake is a shot-by-shot replay of the original from a decade earlier by the same director I got it from NetFlix and do strongly feel that yes the timing would be bad. Not sure though, if the time will ever be right for:

FUNNY GAMES (Dir. Michael Haneke, 1997)

In a calm soothing manner we are introduced to a cultured Austrian family (A husband and wife played by Ulrigh Mühe and Suzanne Lothar with their son played by Stefan Clapczynski) arriving at their lake house. 10 minutes into the film a couple of creepy young men dressed in white clothes with white gloves appear – the first (Frank Giering) innocently asks to borrow some eggs from Lothar which he supposedly accidentally breaks. He asks for more, breaks those too and an awkward confrontation occurs when the second (Arno Frisch) assaults Mühe with a golf club severely injuring his right leg. The home invasion is in full swing now with the family taken hostage and a series of sadistic mind games with rules and deadly consequences set in place by Frisch. Frisch “breaks the frame” early on by winking at the camera then later asking the audience to bet on the fate of his victims: “You’re on their side so who will you bet with?”

Many critics have labeled FUNNY GAMES – high art disguised as torture porn (or vice versa) and point out that we don’t actually see much of the violence because it occurs off screen. That may be true but there is still enough voyeuristic violence with screaming and blood in sight to disturb not just the squeamish. Haneke has said that he intended to make “a film about the portrayal of violence in the media, in movies… an attempt to provide an analysis of the work within the work.” I’m afraid that even with that lofty purpose and artsy asides to the camera we still just have another violent piece of work here – a pretentious and tedious one at that. Repeatedly the suffering family asks their tormentors “why?” – “Don’t forget the entertainment value” Giering responds and it is the only thing that ever comes close to a sincere answer. The entertainment value of this pointless exercise however is non-existent. If Haneke is making a statement critical of the mass consumption of media violence and he is ideally chastising viewers with his own work then as someone identifying themselves as Fuckhead on a Onion A.V. Club message board * asks “I guess the way to pass this film’s test is to not see it? Is that it?” Yes, that’s it. I failed that test by watching the original. But I expect to pass with flying colors when it comes to the remake.

* Actually from the comments on the article “A funny response to Funny Games” by Steve Hyden (March 17, 2008)

I AM LEGEND (Dir. Francis Lawrence, 2007)

I was planning on skipping this flick but some friends thought it would be good mindless fun one recent eve. They were right – this Will Smith fighting zombies spectacle (big enough to warrant an IMAX release) isn’t too dumb for fun. Mind you, it considers itself to be too highbrow to call them zombies or mutants – they’re called The Infected or Darkseekers. Based on the 1954 novel (which took place in the 70’s) by Richard Matheson, the story is simple – in 2012, 3 years after most of the world’s population is hit by a massive plague a man (Smith) who believes he may be the last alive on Manhattan Island struggles to find a cure for the virus. Dodging constant attacks, Smith talks to himself and his trusty dog Sam (who you just know won’t make til the end) as he stockpiles food, broadcasts radio transmissions in hope of finding other survivors, and has several flashes to backstory about his departed family. He captures Infected ones in order to test treatments and thinks he may have found a possible anti-dote.

Of course, this plot seems designed as an elaborate laundry line on which to hang a series of immense bombastic set pieces including a scene involving the Brooklyn Bridge which cost $5 million (the most expensive scene ever filmed in the city at the time according to Wikipedia). The CGI demon dogs and Darkseekers provide some genuine scares, while the shoot-out scenes (as one-sided as shoot-outs can be) are actually fairly compelling. Despite the sci-fi action formula limits, Smith is able to build upon his acting standard set by THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS last year and again shows he can carry, pretty much on his shoulders alone, another overblown blockbuster with poise. Don’t get me wrong though – it’s no movie masterpiece; I AM LEGEND is a brisk 1 hour and 40 min. piece of populist entertainment – nothing more. So just put a cork in your brainhole and sit back and enjoy.

More later…

The Magnificent Andy-Clones

” Andy Warhol looks a scream, hang him on my wall. Andy Warhol, Silver Screen, Can’t tell them apart at all.”
– David Bowie (from the song “Andy Warhol” off the album Hunky Dory – 1971)

Pop-art pioneer (and filmmaker – though the worth of his cinematic output is highly debatable) Andy Warhol has been portrayed by a host of notable actors since his death in 1987. The latest was Guy Pearce earlier this year in the Edie Sedgwick bio-pic FACTORY GIRL (newly released on DVD and reviewed below). How does Pearce rate compared to the other Andys? Well, let’s see…we’ll start off with :

Crispin Glover THE DOORS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) Definitely the best Andy though the next contender comes close, Glover scores because he is in real life almost as eccentric and creepy as Warhol was. Appearing very briefly in an extremely caricaturized version of the Factory scene Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) in his usual stoned haze stumbles upon Andy holding court and fondling a gold telephone – “Somebody gave me this telephone… I think it was Edie… yeah it was Edie… and she said I could talk to God with it, but uh… I don’t have anything to say… so here…this is for you…now you can talk to God.” Morrison takes the phone but doesn’t make an attempt to speak to the Grand Deity – perhaps he knew he’d get his chance soon enough.

David BowieBASQUIAT (Dir. Julian Schnabel, 1996) With his incredibly informed interpretation (he even wore some of Andy’s actual wigs) of Warhol’s mannerisms Bowie benefited from actually personally knowing the man. Though from everything I’ve ever read possibly nobody really personnally ever knew the man. Bowie’s performance is all verbal ticks and unctuous posing framed by a laid-back lackadaisical hands-off approach. Warhol reportedly hated Bowie’s song “Andy Warhol” (quoted at the top of this blog post) but something tells me he would’ve been honored by this depiction. He probably would’ve thought Bowie made him look fabulous.

Jarred Harris I SHOT ANDY WARHOL (Dir. Mary Hurrin, 1996) This movie perhaps has the most accurate, or at least most believable, simulation of the Factory scene. Extra points for casting indeliable indie-rockers Yo La Tengo to play The Velvet Underground too. Harris has quite a bit more energy than the others in his characterization of Warhol but it’s convincing and captivating at the same time. Dealing with the odd assassination attempt by radical feminist and sociopath Valerie Solanas (played by Lili Taylor) the film, despite a non-endorsement from Lou Reed, made quite a case for how Warhol’s smug indifference to the violent nature of the turbulent times could be deadly.

Gregory Sullivan54 (Dir. Michael Christopher, 1998) This isn’t really a performance – more like a costume party likeness. That is almost any pale skinny bloke can don the glasses and astronaut-silver wig and pull off a Warhol impression. Especially in the crowd scenes that dominate this empty as Hell misreading of historical decadence.

Mark BringlesonAUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY (Dir. Jay Roach, 1997) Ditto. It’s a throwaway fake cameo – nothing more.

And the rest : Warhol was also played by Bob Swain in DEATH BECOMES HER (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1992), Sergio De Beukelaer in ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS (Dir. Tom Barman, 2003), Todd Boyco in DRUG-TAKING AND THE ARTS (Dir. Strom Thorgerson, 1994), and Allen Midgette in CALDO SOFFOCANTE (translation – SUFFOCATING HEATDir. Giovanna Gagliardo, 1991) which I haven’t seen but the guy was in actual Warhol movies like LONESOME COWBOYS (1968) so maybe it’s worth a look.

So again, how does the new guy Guy Pearce rate as Warhol? Let’s take a look at the evidence:

FACTORY GIRL (Dir. George Hickenlooper, 2006) “You’re the boss, apple sauce” Pearce as Warhol says early on to Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) and that stands as some of the only believable dialogue in this glossy mess of a movie. Sedgwick was indeed a sad victim of 60’s excess and her story could make an engrossing and profound film – but this sure isn’t it. Despite the use of period methods like split screen and tilted angles – the aestetic is purely TV movie quality and we’re never convinced that we’re anywhere but the current day with actors playing dress up. The basic story is this – ambitious girl comes to the big city and falls into the wrong crowd and dies because of it. Got it? ‘Cause there’s nothing else going on here. I mean, the only artistic analogy this film tries to make is that Edie is like one of Andy’s silver pillow balloons that floated away from his fragile Factory scene. This is displayed in a none too subtle shot of one of said balloons drifting upwards in the New York sky. Is that all you got in your bag of tricks, Hickenlooper?

Bob Dylan lobbied against this movie and wouldn’t allow his name or music to be used so we have Hayden Christensen playing a character only billed as “musician” and referred to as “Billy Quinn” though a shot of a newspaper article has him called “Tommy Quinn”. That’s just one of the many things this film gets wrong. Dylan was right to protest (was he ever wrong to protest?) – the dialogue Christensen spouts is embarrassing and unfathomable that Dylan ever said such garbage : case in point – “Lady, you don’t know shit about shit.” I get and appreciate that the premise is that Dylan offered a way out of the Warhol dungeon that Edie stupidly refused and that led to her downfall. It’s just that it’s such a simplistic dumbing down of their legacy that it leaves a disgusting taste in my mouth. But wait, what about Pearce as Warhol – the conceit of this entire blog-post? He’s very good – maybe the saving grace of the entire project. I’d rate him between Bowie and Jarred Harris. He obviously did his homework. But back to the film – as Miller (who does more than a passable performance – the film’s failings are far from her fault) as Sedgewick says at one point in the film “Andy took ordinary objects and made them iconic” – FACTORY GIRL, a misguided attempt to make a pop-art ALL ABOUT EVE, takes icons (Sedgwick, Warhol, Dylan) and makes them ordinary. Before seeing it I would have thought that would be impossible. I stand corrected.

Postnotes : I can’t leave without mentioning that Warhol actually appeared in some films (always as himself) – in DYNAMITE CHICKEN (Dir. Ernest Pintoff, 1972) with Richard Pryor, TOOTSIE (Dir. Sydney Pollack, 1982), and BLANK GENERATION (Dir. Ulli Lommel, 1980) to name a few. As for television he did a fair share of guest shots – he even did an episode of The Love Boat for Christ sakes!

Also I have to mention that Hank Azaria voiced Warhol in a brief surreal dream bit on The Simpsons. I doubt when Warhol conceived his famous quote “In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes” he factored in the effect that a few seconds on the pop-culture juggernaut that is The Simpsons could have. To be fair he later amended the line to “In fifteen minutes everybody will be famous.” Today that line is more apt.

More later…

20 Great Modern Movie Cameos

Soldier (Fred Smith) : “Well, what did you think of the play?”
Boris (Woody Allen) : “Oh, it was weak. I was never interested. Although the part of the doctor was played with gusto and verve and the girl had a delightful cameo role.”

A cameo is defined as a “brief appearance of a known person in a work of the performing arts. Such a role needs not be filled by an actor: short appearances by film directors, politicians, athletes, and other celebrities are common.” (Wikipedia, of course)

As we all know sometimes one of the only good things in a particular film is a juicy unexpected cameo – not that all these were all unexpected, a number were highly publicised or widely rumoured way in advance. So many movies have cameos that it was very hard to pare down the best from all the multiple Ben Stiller, Austin Powers, and Zucker Bros. genre (AIRPLANE!) but I settled for a nice smattering that doesn’t deny those films their cameo cred but includes some overlooked surprise walk-on gems as well. I decided to not include the many Hitchcock cameos or any other directors who often appear in their own films but made an exception (#18) when a director appeared in someone else’s film. So don’t go to the bathroom or blink ’cause you may miss them here goes the cameo countdown :

1. David LettermanCABIN BOY (1994) Adam Resnick and former Letterman regular Chris Elliot’s spotty yet not un-likable silly high seas saga featured the veteran late night host in his one movie role not playing himself as a stuffed- monkey peddler. As “Old Salt in Fishing Village” and credited as Earl Hofert, Letterman seemed to be enjoying himself as he badgered Elliot’s fancy lad character – “Boy you’re cute – what a sweet little outfit. Is that your little spring outfit? (laughs) you couldn’t be cuter!”

2. Orson WellesTHE MUPPET MOVIE (Dir. James Frawley, 1979) THE MUPPET MOVIE and all subsequent Muppet movies have been crammed with cameos (Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, John Cleese, Elliot Gould, Cloris Leachman, etc.) but Welles’s appearance is a stone cold classic. Why? Because it introduced generation after generation to a true cinematic genius, at a low point in his career it briefly restored a sense of dignified power by casting him as studio head Lew Lord (based on mogul Lew Grade), and because nobody but nobody could give such an elegant reading to the line “prepare the standard ‘Rich and Famous’ contract for Kermit the Frog and Company.” That’s why.

3. David BowieZOOLANDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2001) All of Ben Stiller’s movies have A-list cameos but Bowie is the only one who gets his own freeze frame flashy credit and a snippet of his hit “Let’s Dance” to frame his intro when he steps out of the crowd to volunteer his services as judge for the crucial walk-off between Zoolander (Stiller) and his rival Hansel (Owen Wilson). With very little effort Bowie shows everyone in the room and in the audience what real screen presence is all about.

4. The Three StoogesIT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (Dir. Stanley Kramer, 1963)
Talk about very little effort! The famous slapstick trio only appear for 5 seconds as firemen at an airport. In a movie that may as way be called Cameo City they just stand there in the middle of the choas saying and doing nothing and are funnier and all the more memorable for it. IT’S A MAD MAD… practically invented the modern celebrity cameo – hence it making this so-called modern movies list.

5. Keith Richards PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN : AT WORLD’S END (Dir. Gore Verbinski, 2007) Definitely not a surprise cameo – Richards was supposed to be in PIRATES 2 but had Stones concert commitments so the word was out was beforehand. The joke of course is that because Johnny Depp modeled his Jack Sparrow character on the behavorial nuances of Richards it’s apt to have the craggy decadent guitarist show up as Sparrow’s father. It’s predictable but pleasing how it goes down even if it is the cinematic equivalent of those Saturday Night Live sketches like “Janet Reno Dance Party” or “The Joe Pesci Show” where the real person walks on to stare down their imitator.

6. Martin SheenHOT SHOTS! PART DEUX (Dir. Jim Abrahams, 1992) In what may be the funniest cameo on this list Charlie Sheen takes a break from the Rambo-styled action to write his tortured memoirs complete with intense voice-over to parody his role in PLATOON. Suddenly another intense voice-over overlaps and we see his father Martin Sheen in army duds obviously parodying his role in APOCALYPSE NOW. As their riverboats pass they point at each other and say in unison – “I loved you in WALL STREET!”

7. Roger Moore CURSE OF THE PINK PANTHER (Dir. Blake Edwards, 1983) Now this may be the most ridiculous cameo here. Get this – Roger Moore (sorry, Sir Roger Moore) plays Inspector Clouseau after plastic surgery at the end of the second Panther movie made after Peter Sellers death. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t fit at all into the continuity of the series – even at its best there have been character and narrative inconsistencies throughout – it’s still a highlight. Moore does a passable Sellers impression and appears to be having a ball. For the first time in the almost 2 hours of this tedious unneccessary sequel we are too.

8. Shirley MacLaineDEFENDING YOUR LIFE (Dir. Albert Brooks, 1991) When recently deceased yuppie Brooks has to go on trial for his existence it’s only fitting that Shirley MacLaine would show up to spoof her reincarnation-obsessed image, isn’t it? She nails it as the tour guide at the Afterlife Pavilion that Brooks and his date Meryl Streep attend.

9. Ethel MermanAIRPLANE! (Dirs. Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, 1980) When seeing this movie as a kid and naturally thinking every single thing in it was a joke it was even funnier when a friend pointed out “that really was Ethel Merman”. In a wartime hospital room flashback Ted Striker (Robert Hays) comments about one of his fellow wounded – “Lieutenant Hurwitz – severe shell-shock. Thinks he’s Ethel Merman.” Cut to : Merman bursting out of bed singing – “You’ll be swell, you’ll be great. Gonna have the whole world on a plate. Startin’ here, startin’ now. Honey, everything’s comin’ up roses…” As she (he?) is sedated by staff Striker remarks “war is Hell.”

10. Rodney Dangerfield NATURAL BORN KILLERS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1994) Presented as a flashback the surreal sitcom satire “I Love Mallory” serves as a commentary on the murderer’s memories being corrupted by too much TV but it’s really a showcase for the most savage acting Dangerfield has ever done. As Mallory’s (Juliette Lewis) abusive incestuous and just plain gruesome father Dangerfield steals the movie while repulsing us and there’s an innocuous laugh track punctuating every line. The most perfectly unpleasant cameo here for sure.

11. Bruce SpringsteenHIGH FIDELITY (Dir. Stephen Frears, 2000) Like Keith Richards, Springsteen had never acted in a movie so it’s pretty cool that the Boss would appear in a day dream of protagonist Rob Gordon (John Cusack). Plucking some notes on the gee-tar he inspires Rob to hunt down his ex-girlfriends. “Give that big final good luck and goodbye to your all time top-five and just move on down the road” Springsteen advises. Sigh – just like one of his songs.

12. Elvis Costello SPICE WORLD (Dir. Bob Spiers, 1997) As a bartender and credited as ‘Himself’ Costello plays a nice tongue-in-cheek note as the Girls talk about their possible flash-in-the-pan prospects. It should also be mentioned that Costello also made cool cameo appearances in AMERICATHON, STRAIGHT TO HELL, 200 CIGARETTES, TALLADEGA NIGHTS, and AUSTIN POWERS : THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME.

13. Gene Hackman YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (Dir. Mel Brooks, 1974) Great uncredited cameo in which Hackman plays a bearded blind man named Harold who gets a prayed for visit by Frankenstein’s monster (Peter Boyle). Harold serves the monster soup, wine, and cigars but fails to teach him that “fire is good” prompting a sudden exit. Harold exclaims – “Wait! Where are you going….I was gonna make espresso!”

14. Marshall McLuhan ANNIE HALL (Dir. Woody Allen, 1977) The best example of one upmanship in a cameo that I can think of. At a theater in Manhattan (where else?) Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) is annoyed by the loud mouth pretensious rantings of the pseudo intellectual (Russell Horton) behind him and Annie Hall (Diane Keaton) in line. Alvy argues with the guy – “…and the funny thing is – Marshall McLuhan, you don’t know anything about Marshall McLuhan.” The guy responds “really? I happen to teach a class at Columbia called ‘TV, media and culture’ so I think my insights into Mr. McLuhan have a great deal of validity.” Alvy then says “I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here” and presents him from offscreen. McLuhan eyes the guy and says “I’ve heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work…” Alvy looks at the camera and says “boy, if life were only like this!”

15. Kurt Vonnegut BACK TO SCHOOL (Dir. Alan Metter, 1986) Overage college student Rodney Dangerfield enlists Kurt Vonnegut to write his term paper on – yep, Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut shows up at Dangerfield’s door and has only one line which is just introducing himself but for our purposes that’s all he has to do. When Dangerfield’s paper gets an F (teacher Sally Kellerman : “whoever did write it doesn’t know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut”) he curses the famous author over the phone and adds “next time I’ll call Robert Ludlum!”

16. Jim Garrison JFK
(Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991)
The definition of
an ironic cameo. New Orleans District Attorney and controversial conspiracy theorist Garrison (who is portrayed by Kevin Costner in the film) does his only acting ever * as his chief rival Chief Justice Earl Warren. As the entire movie is an elaborate rebutal to the Warren Report’s conclusions on the assassination and largely based on Garrison’s book (On The Trail Of The Assassins) this is pretty juicy indeed.

* wait! I’m wrong – he did a cameo in THE BIG EASY (1987). My bad.

17. Stan Lee MALLRATS (Dir. Kevin Smith, 1996) The Spiderman creator and Marvel Comics main-man has done cameos in many comics adapted or related movies (SPIDERMAN, THE HULK, X-MEN, FANTASTIC FOUR, etc.) but this one set the standard for the Stan Lee cameo. He plays himself so he’s treated as a God by comic book collector geek Brodie (Jason Lee) and as such he rises above the base level humour even when saying lines like “he seems to be really hung up on super heroes’ sex organs.”

18. Martin ScorseseTHE MUSE (Dir. Albert Brooks, 1999)
In a movie in which TITANIC director James Cameron also cameos and a number of Hollywood folk play themselves Marty sure has a nice bit – blabbing to struggling screenwriter Brooks – “I want to do a remake of RAGING BULL with a really thin guy. Not just thin, but REALLY thin. Thin and angry, thin and angry, thin and angry. Can you see it?”

19. Spike Milligan MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (Dir. Terry Jones, 1979) Like the 3 Stooges this is a blink and you miss it cameo. While filming in Tunisia the Pythons found Milligan vacationing and got him to do a scene. For those of you readers who don’t know Milligan – he was a huge influence on Python as a member of the Goon Show (which also featured Peter Sellers) and various other radio and TV programs. When the crowd following the reluctant Messiah Brian (Graham Chapman) flocks off into the hills, Milligan’s character, named Spike in the credits, walks off shot not following them. He never was one to follow the latest trends.

20. Frank SinatraCANNONBALL RUN II (Dir. Hal Needham, 1984) Without a doubt the worst movie on the list but one that made it because it’s the Chairman of the Board we’re talking about here! I’m highly amused at this cameo ’cause it’s so cheap and cheesy how it’s done.

Roger Ebert described it best in his original ’84 review :

“There isn’t a single shot showing Sinatra and Reynolds at the same time. Also, there’s something funny about Sinatra’s voice: He doesn’t seem to be quite matching the tone of the things said to him. That’s the final tip-off: Sinatra did his entire scene by sitting down at a desk and reading his lines into the camera, and then, on another day, Reynolds and the others looked into the camera and pretended to be looking at him. The over-the-shoulder shots are of a double. This is the movie equivalent to phoning it in.”

– Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun Times Jan. 1, 1984)

You nailed it Roger! Only Frank could get away with that action! At least they got him to pose for the publicity still above.

Have a favorite cameo you thought should have made the list? Bob Saget in HALF BAKED? Howard Cosell in BANANAS? Alice Cooper in WAYNE’S WORLD? Tom Cruise, Gwenyth Paltrow, or Danny Devito in AUSIIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER? Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, or Burt Reynolds in THE PLAYER * ? Tom Petty in THE POSTMAN?

* THE PLAYER was left off the list despite (or maybe because) it being almost completely constructed around cameos by countless celebrities but for the record my favorite cameo in it is Buck Henry as himself pitching “THE GRADUATE PART II” to Tim Robbin’s slimy studio exec character.

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More later…