I’M STILL HERE: The Film Babble Blog Review

I’M STILL HERE (Dir. Casey Affleck, 2010)

The question – is this a hoax or a real depiction of an artist’s very public breakdown has been circling this film since a certain appearance on “The Late Show With David Letterman” in 2009.

A bearded shaggy haired Joaquin Phoenix donned a black suit and baffled everybody especially the host (“I don’t come to your house and chew gum”) with what seemed like a drugged mumble distracted from the spotlight and oblivious to the audience’s laughter.

“Joaquin, I’m sorry you couldn’t be here tonight” Letterman quipped as the segment ended and within minutes the clip was a viral sensation with folks all over the internets asking “WTF?”

The answer some clung to was that it was all a prank – Phoenix was pretending to abandon acting and become a rapper and his brother in law Casey Affleck was going to film this transition for a “mockumentary”, right?

Well, sort of. “I’m Still Here” follows Phoenix around as he goes through misguided motions and we get so little insight into him that whether it’s a prank or not doesn’t matter. He’s a mess and so is this film.

See Oscar nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix snort cocaine! See him surf the internet! See him chew out an assistant for selling information to a tabloid! See him awkwardly try to talk Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs into producing his awful rap songs! See him fall off the stage! See him diss Danny DeVito! See him vomit! See him…you get the idea.

One thing that’s odd, in a movie of numbing oddness, is that there are often subtitles for scenes with possibly inaudible dialogue, but there’s not for any of Phoenix’s rapping performances which are often intelligible. At first I thought we may benefit by reading what’s he’s rapping, but now I think the film makers may be doing us a favor.

It’s a pointless rambling documentary but what’s worse is that it isn’t funny. If Affleck and Phoenix are pulling a prank, they don’t seem to be having any fun with it. So much of it seems to be about Phoenix’s suffering and not knowing what to do next.

Apparently now Phoenix is up for some new roles and is not retiring from acting, but I believe that at one point he was sincere about quitting.

He seems to have taken the idea of an alternate career – rapper – seriously too. Years from now this poorly made boring documentary (not a “mockumentary” mind you – it’s not clever enough for that) will be thought of as an odd unwatchable side note and Phoenix will be back in the spotlight as an actor.

I’m glad Joaquin Phoenix is here, but next time I hope he plays to his strengths – that is his impeccable acting skills and we’ll forget this dismal diversion.

More later…

Revisiting AMERICAN SPLENDOR – R.I.P. Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

“Am I a guy who writes about himself in a comic book? Or am I just a character in that book? If I die, will that character keep going? Or will he just fade away?”
– Harvey Pekar as played by Paul Giamatti.

Shortly after hearing the news that cult comic book writer Harvey Pekar passed away yesterday there was a flurry of R.I.P. tweets praising the man, his work, and the 2003 biopic AMERICAN SPLENDOR. Since it’s one of my favorite movies of the last decade and I’ve never written about it on this blog (Film Babble Blog started in 2004) I decided to take the DVD off the shelf and give it a tribute re-whirl.

Taking its name from Pekar’s autobiographical comic book series which dates back to 1976, AMERICAN SPLENDOR was a unique biopic in that while the subject is depicted by ace actor Paul Giamatti, Pekar himself appears in documentary style breaks in the storyline.

Husband and wife film making duo Robert Pulcini and Sheri Springer Bergman constructed with care a comic book aesthetic in which both Pekar and his dramatic doppelganger shuffle through animations, recreations of cartoon panels, and old videotape clips mostly from Pekar’s infamous appearances on Late Night With David Letterman.

In the comic Pekar would often break the 4th wall and talk directly to us. The film runs with this concept as Pekar’s narration enhances the film by adding meta commentary on the movie we’re watching like when he says of Giamatti: “Here’s me, or the guying playing me anyway, though he don’t look nothing like me. But whatever.”

Pekar was a longtime file clerk and record collector who by chance befriended revolutionary cartoonist Robert Crumb at a yard sale in 1962. Crumb, meticulously portrayed by James Urbaniak, inspires Pekar to write his own comics. A rarity in a world filled with super heroes, Pekar’s “American Splendor” comics centered on Pekar’s mundane yet amusingly relatable life and gained a cult following over the years. Crumb and other notable artists illustrated Pekar’s writing which made for a pleasing mix up of styles – something the movie adaptation excels at. Though Pekar says Giamatti doesn’t look like him – he’s as valid an embodiment as any of the comic book depictions.

In one of the most striking scenes Pekar (Giamatti) is taunted by his cartoon alter ego in line behind an old chatty Jewish lady at the grocery store. “You gonna suffer in silence for the rest of your life, or are you gonna make a mark?”

Pekar becomes a folk hero in the ’80s largely because of his appearances on Letterman. Over the course of a few years Pekar made 7 appearances on the popular program each time clashing more with the cranky sarcastic host. Pekar finally got kicked off the show because he bad mouthed GE (NBC’s parent company) and said Letterman looked like a shill for them. Pekar was allowed back years later in the mid ’90s but damage definitely had been done. Although the film shows real bits of Pekar’s appearances, the most controversial one is dramatized with an actor (Todd Cummings) stepping in for Letterman. You can see the original clip here.

The film is packed with jazz, soul, and rock which keeps it bopping from frame to frame. Its musical sensibility contributes to the feeling that its simply a riff on the world according to Harvey Pekar. That can be a risky approach but it’s not a loose riff; there’s not a wasted scene and the well written weight in the non meta portions makes it all fly.

The scenes with Davis as Harvey’s 3rd wife Joyce Brabner offset the trickier Pekar monologue material nicely. It’s also a treat to see 30 Rock’s Judah Friedlander do a pitch perfect impression of Pekar’s friend Toby Radloff. Radloff also appears as himself along with the real Brabner – see what I mean about all the meta-ness?

I’ve seen the movie several times so this latest re-watching wasn’t necessarily revelatory, but it was very comforting like spending time with a good old friend again. Pekar was a hero to anyone who ever tried to make art on the side of a dreary existence in a soul deadening job. The movie touchingly captures the begrudging spirit of a man who definitely did make a mark.

In the booklet that comes with the DVD (“My Movie Year”) Pekar says of the movie after seeing an early screening: “Wow, that was really innovative…the way they mixed acted portions and documentary footage and animation and cartoons. And double casting some roles. Great! They took a lot of chances and they all worked.”

Completely agree with you there Harvey.

R.I.P. Harvey Pekar.

Post note: I also highly recommend Pekar’s comics. They are available in sweet anthologies that you can find at Amazon or wherever. “American Splendor: The Life And Times Of Harvey Pekar” and “Our Cancer Year” are essential reads in the world of autobiographical comic books.

More later…

The Evolution Of Michael Moore

“…oh and remember let’s defeat the terrorists over there so we don’t have to fight them here.”
Michael Moore (SiCKO, 2007)

So Michael Moore’s latest event movement movie-doc is opening Friday at my local hometown theater The Varsity but like many folk here on the internets I watched a copy online. I’ll still see it at my theater and urge everyone I know to do so ’cause as my review below sez it’s a keeper. Since Moore and me have had our ups and downs through the years I thought It would be cool to look back over his movies (this is film babble blog so I’m not going to discuss his books or TV programs) and break them down a bit.

A formula of sorts emerges when we look at the basic ingredients in a Moore movie – first though we must look at one of his principle inspirations. In April of 1986 shortly after General Electric bought NBC, David Letterman – the top-rated late night talk show host at the time – on his old 12:30 broadcast Late Night With David Letterman did a camera remote film piece in which he took a fruit basket as a welcoming gift to GE’s corporate headquarters in New York. Letterman kept a good game-face as he was told to leave and his director scolded to turn off his camera. This bit which should be regarded as a TV classic (I’ll settle for the “memorable moment” status that Wikipedia has granted it) is the template for Michael Moore’s entire schtick. You can see the bit here. Moore took that bit and ran with it as far as his fat ass can take him. Moore even acknowledged it as a huge influence on The Late Show With David Letterman when promoting FAHRENHEIT 9/11 in 2004.

You’ve got to have more than invading corporation lobbies and harrasing the staff that to make a full fledged documentary so let’s look at :


Yep, one can’t imagine Moore’s films without these tried and true stylistic devices

1. Idyllic 50’s stock footage – In the first third of all of Moore’s films we see archival footage depicting a supposedly simpler time. Public service films, shots from grainy newsreels, bits of TV commercials, clips from forgotten drive-in fodder, sometimes even Moore’s own childhood home movies are presented to put us in a Leave It To Beaver-Father Knows Best mindset before showing us a series of modern atrocities. This definitely shows the influence of Moore’s mentor and cinematographer Kevin Rafferty *. Rafferty’s own documentary made of likewise footage – THE ATOMIC CAFE (1982) is another huge piece of the Moore movie puzzle.

* Incidentally Rafferty is a first cousin of President George W. Bush. Thanks again Wikipedia!

2. Baby Boomer Era Hit Songs – The precedent was set in ROGER & ME when auto worker Ben Hamper talks about the groove (yes, groove) he had trouble working up listening to The Beach Boys’s “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” on his car stereo after telling his employers he couldn’t take it anymore. The song plays as shots of boarded-up houses, abandoned storefronts, and a TV report about the rat population escalating after the factory closing in Flint, Michigan rolls by. That groove resurges in the well known songs by the Animals whose “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” – in FAHRENHEIT 9/11 serenades the sequence of planes taking off to drive home the point about the Bin Laden family being given the privilege to fly in the days after 9/11, Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” played at the end of the same film, The Beatles “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” made an obvious point in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE, and most aptly Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy” is used to great effect in SiCKO.

3. A Megaphone – In SiCKO we see Moore in a boat in Guantanamo Bay with a group of 9/11 rescue workers after learning that terrorist detainees are getting top notch medical treatment. With trusty megaphone in hand Moore yells “we just want some medical attention – the same kind the evil doers are getting!” This should be no surprise to Moore movie-goers because he employs the same tactic in almost every movie. This also can be traced back to Letterman – he disrupted a taping of The Today Show from a window above Rockefeller plaza with a megaphone. Of course Dave’s agenda wasn’t political – “this prime-time program was my idea and I’m not wearing any pants!”

4. Stern Evil Unemotional Old White Men – Of course General Motors President and inspiration for Moore’s first film – Roger Smith is the archetype but throughout his canon we have more old money villains who apparently rule the world than we know what to do with. His book Stupid White Men confirms this premise. It’s as if the Cancer Man (sorry Cigarette Smoking Man) and his elite friends from the X-Files have truly an identity and source of blame that we can finger. ‘As if’ indeed.

5. Bringing It All Back Home To Flint, Michigan – Moore’s hometown has a pivotal place in all of his films (oddly not SiCKO – this is the only method on this list that isn’t used) even the wide-ranging Global kaliedoscope that is FAHRENHEIT 9/11 has the story of Lila Lipscomb a Flint resident and proud flag waver whose son Michael was killed in Iraq. I would make some lame pun about Flint ‘sparking’ the whole Moore-apolaza but I digress…

Now let’s look at the movies themselves :

THE BLUEPRINT ROGER AND ME (1989) – “My mission was a simple one. To convince Roger Smith to spend a day with me in Flint and to meet some of the people who were losing their jobs.” So it was, a young aspiring documentary film maker centers on the legacy of his hometown. The devastation that occurred after major auto factories laid off thousands of workers then later closed down. The evictions and fat-cat revisionisms that plagued normal workingman’s schedules and laid bare the prospect of America at its outsourced greediest. It’s all here in this grainy wet behind the ears debut. Though it has been noted that while Moore documented his struggle to get behind closed doors to interview General Motors President Roger Smith – he did actually talk to him before the film was made – in a question-and-answer exchange during a May 1987 GM shareholders meeting (seen in the doc MANUFACTURING CONSENT). The backlash was just beginning.


“Canadians are always dreaming up a lotta ways to ruin our lives. The metric system, for the love of God! Celsius! Neil Young!” – Gus (Brad Sullivan)

After the success of ROGER & ME it’s understandable that Moore would want to try his hand at making a fictional funny film. He had a great premise – an unpopular US President played by Alan Alda tries to get a polling statistic bump and votes by starting a fake war with Canada. Years ahead of WAG THE DOG and with a great cast including John Candy (his last film by the way), Rip Torn, Kevin Pollack, Rhea Perlman and Steven Wright how could you go wrong? Well, it went really wrong and became a slapsticky forgettable mess. The unfunniest of Moore’s films despite a few random laughs CANADIAN BACON now stands as an oddity in his career. Thankfully he went back to non-fiction and wiped his hands clean of this mess.

THE P.R. PIECETHE BIG ONE (1997) Moore, not yet a household name but finding himself with a best selling book Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American he decided to film his publicity tour across America. Pretty fluffy but still has some sharp segments – especially a meeting with Nike CEO Phil Knight (the only such corporate head that would meet Moore on his tour) is an essential bit that can not be easily dismissed. When Moore asks why his companies shoes are made abroad and not here – ” But what about Indonesia’s genocidal practices against minority groups?” Knight uncomfortably responds “How many people died in the Cultural Revolution?” An incendiary moment in an otherwise glorified infomercial.

(2002) This re-established film going folk to the Moore method. Few film makers would attempt a pop doc about gun control but Moore brought such sweaty passion to the subject that it could not be ignored. Sure it maybe plays around with facts (Moore had arranged the “free gun when you open a bank account” transaction weeks in advance, and that customers have “a week to 10 days waiting period”) and the showdown with a senile but still grand Charlton Heston was misguided and more embarrassing than point making but overall BOWLING deserved the Oscar it won for best documentary. Visiting With Timothy McVeigh’s brother James Nichols and hearing out his militia views, Moore asks: “Why not use Gandhi’s way? He didn’t have any guns and he best the British Empire.” Nichols blankly replies: “I’m not familiar with that.” Right there – that’s America caught on film.

With just a few allusions to 9/11 and the administration’s ties to the Saudi family the gun-site was almost completely in line:

THE GUNSHOT HEARD AROUND THE WORLD: FAHRENHEIT 9/11 (2004) Moore’s controversial (can’t write a piece on Moore without using the word “controversial”) Oscar speech really set the bar high for this one. Beginning with the grossly mishandled 2000 election and dogging President George W. Bush’s every stupid move, Moore’s movie won him a lot of movie fans and he became a world wide celebrity but at the same time he became a divisive personality. FAHRENHEIT 9/11 has aged a bit badly – it creaks with sloppiness at times – understandably it was rushed into production to have an impact on the election in 2004 -and some of its conclusions are speculative at best but the bottom line as stated in the Oscar speech referred to above “we live in fictitious times, with a fictitious president who was elected with fictitious election results and we’re fighting a war for fictitious reasons” is pretty damn effectively played out.

And now, the new one :

SiCKO (2007) The most focused and funniest of Moore’s films by far. SiCKO has little by way of manipulative editing or Moore’s particular brand of muckraking – it just simply presents people and their stories – for the most part. Sure, most people will be cynical about the objectivity here – which in a way is the point – but the basic facts about Canadian, then French, then most surprisingly Cuban healthcare is enough to make even a Moore hater raise their eyebrows. The irrefutable facts like – “And the United States slipped to 37 in health care around the world, just slightly ahead of Slovenia” and the testimony of Dr. Linda Peeno, a former medical reviewer for the health insurer Humana in which she admited :”I denied a man a necessary operation” are just a few of the examples that brought tears to my eyes. Yes, there are liberties taken and many will label this as propaganda (but what documentary isn’t?) most likely dealing with the close to the ending bit where Moore sends a 12,000 dollar check to one of his most out-spoken critics Jim Kenefick (Moorewatch.com) whose wife was sick and his web site needed funding or had to shut down. SiCKO may be Moore’s best film – don’t let biased naysayers tell you otherwise.

Moore In Other’s Mediums :

As a celebrity – a household name, a well-known entity, a figurehead, and most aptly a target Michael Moore has really arrived. A few examples :

TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE (Dir. Trey Parker, 2004) Apparently them there South Park guys thought their appearance in BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE was mishandled and the cartoon in said film was too much in the style of South Park (Parker – “We have a very specific beef with Michael Moore. I did an interview, and he didn’t mischaracterize me or anything I said in the movie. But what he did do was put this cartoon right after me that made it look like we did that cartoon”), so yeah Moore had this coming – he appears as a hot dog eating jerk who straps explosives to his body to blow up the heroes of the film’s title – as reported on MSNBC – The puppet was reportedly stuffed with ham when it blew.

Family Guy (1999-when the show is no longer profitable) Now I’m Pro-Simpsons Anti-Family Guy but this bit should be noted even if it is a bad fart joke – “like that time I outfarted Michael Moore” Peter Griffin (voice of Seth MacFarlane) recounts then we see him and Moore in a Men’s room enter parallel-walled toilets. Then the farting begins. Actually maybe this shouldn’t be noted. Oh well.

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Moore later…

No! I meant :

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.

Send your cameo ommisions to :


More later…

A Slew Of Reviews…

“I don’t really care for movies; they make everything seem so close up. “
– Macon Leary THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST (Dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 1988)

Well Summer is officially here and it looks like its going to be an especially lame movie season – I mean except for SNAKES ON A PLANE, right? Don’t get me wrong – I’m gonna give SUPERMAN RETURNS a chance and I’m pysched like crazy about A SCANNER DARKLY but otherwise we’re wading in crap like MIAMI VICE, pointless sequels like FAST AND THE FURIOUS : TOYKO DRIFT and CLERKS II (why is Kevin Smith going back to that particular well now?!!?) – I mean last summer I thought we all learned something from fiascos like THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and BEWITCHED. Aren’t you glad I linked all those titles to their IMDB webpage in case you didn’t know what movie I was talking about?

My little local hometown theater the Varsity and its sister theater the Chelsea now has a webpage :


I work there part time mainly for the free movies and of course am happiest when we have movies playing that I like. Now playing at the Varsity are 2 movies I like :

(Dir. Davis Guggenheim) Al Gore’s well honed powerpoint global warming lecture spiffed up a bit with dazzling graphics and swift editing has amazingly become a sure-fire summer hit and a definite must see on the big screen. It is compelling and completely convincing material even living up to the movie poster’s tag-line “by far the most terrifying film you will ever see”. Funnily enough on the same poster the movie’s rating PG-13 is given for “mild thematic elements”. The only thing that sucks about this movie is the God awful Melissa Etheridge song that plays over the end credits.

A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (Dir. Robert Altman) Garrison Keillor’s long running old timey radio show is embroidered with Altman (MASH, THE LONG GOODBYE, SHORT CUTS , THE PLAYER, GOSFORD PARK, countless other masterpieces) trademarks – an always moving camera even in simple close-up shots and everybody talking at once – that’s right overlapping dialogue city! Good performances by the likes of Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Maya Rudolph, etc. all make up for the blank spot on the screen that is Lindsay Lohan’s appearance. I never listened to the Lake Wobegon deal on the radio and was very cynical going in but this somehow worked for me.

Now some DVDS I’ve seen lately :

(Dir. Terrence Mallick) Mallick is a film director legend despite having only made like 4 or 5 pictures in like 40 years. This re-telling (or more accurately re-imagining) of the Pocahontas/John Smith romance circa 1607 is beautifully shot. Mallick’s camera appears to be in love with Q’Orianka Kilcher (never named outloud in the movie as Pocahontas) whose sunbathed dances make for some mighty fine visuals. As for the men in her life – Colin Ferell does his arrogant angst thing while Christian Bale puts in a nice accepting guy appeal in the third act. Looking on the message boards on the IMDb I’m aware that many many people hate this film – comments like “This film was also terribly edited, bizarrely cast, and just generally pathetic. People say they like this film in a simple attempt to feel elite.” Man! I think it is worthwhile to see. The fight scene when the Powhatan attack Jamestown has a greater realism and artfullness to it than similiar multi-party fight scenes in Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK and Oliver Stone’s Colin Ferell atrocity ALEXANDER. And it doesn’t make me feel elite to say so.

TRANSAMERICA (Dir. Duncan Tucker) A transexual road comedy! Move over Crosby and Hope! Sorry – this is earnest acted and presented just a bit too conventional for my tastes. Felicity Huffman moves respectedly away from TV work (Desperate Housewives, Frasier, West Wing, etc.) to give a finely tuned portrayal of a pre-operative transsexual who finds out he/she fathered a son (Kevin Zegers). If only this wasn’t drenched in will-they-bond /won’t-they road movie cliches – one can see the ending coming less than a third in.

“When God gives you AIDS – and God does give you AIDS, by the way – make lemonAIDS.”
– Sarah Silverman

SARAH SILVERMAN : JESUS IS MAGIC (Dir. Liam Lynch) After toiling on the sidelines the last decade (appearances on Seinfeld, SNL, Mr. Show, and notably unfunny unrepresentive movie appearances like SCHOOL OF ROCK) Sarah Silverman makes good on stealing the ARISTOCRATS from everyone in comedy to be the star attraction in this part stand-up / part musical sketch film. I really wished they stayed with the straight-on stand up performance. The other bits – unfortunately including a cringing Bob Odenkirk as manager bit – don’t work and disrupt and distract from the many funny lines like :

“The best time to have a baby is when you’re a black teenager.”


“I love you more than my after show monster bong hit”

That’s right – shes far from PC. Reminds me of Letterman years ago repeatedly saying “know my theory on Madonna? She loves to shock.” Silverman’s take on done-to-death stereotypes is almost too obvious at times – I mean singing a plucky “you’re gonna die soon” song to a room full of old people, come on! – but still very funny.

More later…