IN THE LOOP: The Film Babble Blog Review

IN THE LOOP (Dir. Armando Iannucci, 2009)

Picking up comparisons to DR. STRANGELOVE and geared aesthetically as an “anti-West Wing“, Armando Iannucci’s directorial debut posits people in power treading water in a sea of political spin. It all comes from a misspoken statement by the British Secretary of State for International Development played by Tom Hollander. Off the cuff, he says that a proposed war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable” on a radio talk show and that causes what one staffer calls “a catastrofuck”.

Already strained relations between UK and US officials come to a boil. Hollander finds himself getting in deeper as obscenities fly at a ferocious rate from the Prime Minister’s press secretary Peter Capaldi (reprising his role from Iannucci’s TV series The Thick Of It), misdirections come from diplomat handlers (Chris Addison and Gina McKee), and then there are the astute observations of James Gandofini (The Sopranos) as a gruff general who when attempting to strategize finds himself musing: “At the end of a war you need some soldiers left, really, or else it looks like you’ve lost.”

The large intertwined ensemble cast also includes Chris Addison (also from The Thick Of It), Steve Coogan, David Rasche, and an all grown up Anna Chlumsky (MY GIRL). With literally over a hundred great lines (most of them coming from the foul mouth of Capaldi) and a wickedly wry tone, IN THE LOOP has enough laughs for several movie comedies. It’s a window into the tangled tortured world of policy makers and those who toil in the trenches beneath them. They’re all caught in a massive web of manipulation woven from competing self-serving ambitions and it’s all rooted in cold sad reality. Such pungent political satire doesn’t come around often so this is definitely one to look out for.

More later…

WATCHMEN: The Film Babble Blog Review

WATCHMEN (Dir. Zack Snyder, 2009)

Darker than THE DARK KNIGHT and raunchier than any other Superhero movie ever, WATCHMEN busts out of development Hell into theaters today and it’s sure to be #1 this weekend. Knowing nothing of the source material, I sat transfixed and alternately baffled at what I saw at a late screening last night. Set in an alternate America in 1985 in which Nixon (played with a cartoon-ish prosthetic nose by Robert Wisden) is still president, a group of Superheroes has been disgraced and placed under governmental control. When The Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a power player with a crusty charisma is murdered, Superhero turned vigilante Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) focuses on tracking down the killers. Among the not-ready-for-the-Justice-League heroes are Nite Owl II (Patrick Wilson), Silk Spectre II (Malin Ackerman), Ozymandias (Matthew Goode), and Billy Crudup as the completely CGI crafted Doctor Manhattan.

Much of this film feels like a Frankenstein monster of a movie with pieces from pop culture classics stitched together – the rain drenched neon-lit dystopian cityscapes from BLADE RUNNER and the War Room set reproduced exactly from DR. STRANGELOVE for instance. For an over the top action movie it’s really exposition heavy at times which works better than expected especially the soft spoken Crudup, who somehow makes a giant naked blue man animation into a study in eloquence. As for the action, the fight scenes lack edge and urgency, but the overall thrust is engaging if not transcendent. As Rorschach, complete with a cool morphing ink blot mask, Haley is the stirring standout showing how far he’s come from pitching for the BAD NEWS BEARS. A sequence involving Rorschach in stir is absolutely gripping with Haley stealing the movie away from his co-stars and the scores of expensive bombast.

As I mentioned above I have not read the original beloved graphic novel on which this is based so I can’t judge how faithful it is, but it certainly felt like a true comic book movie. It was almost as if bold panel edges and invisible establishing text were present while Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan looked like he had literally walked off the printed page. The soundtrack is quite unorthodox for a Superhero epic – an opening montage set to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’” sets the tone with odd choices like Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds Of Silence”, and Nena’s “99 Luftballons” following suit. Unfortunately, despite all these eccentricities and that it’s leaps and bounds better than Snyders 300, the film is way too long with a number of plodding parts that don’t gel. As a better than average popcorn flick it’s sure to have many fans, but it had ambitions way above that. Despite that WATCHMEN doesn’t soar to the heights it aims for, its intense intent and wicked sense of self is nearly intoxicating enough.

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10 Rarely Seen Deleted Scenes Not On DVD

If this was a movie, you’d be on the cutting room floor”
– Second Hood (Jon Polito) THE SINGING DETECTIVE (Dir. Keith Gordon, 2003)

Nearly every DVD has some deleted scenes on the special features menu. Most of the time with few exceptions we can see that they were deleted for a good reason. But what about those scenes we hear talk of and maybe see a random clip or photo of here or there but are currently unavailable on DVD? The ones that have some cache of history or interest that may actually make them worth seeing? Well I decided to round up some of the most interesting cinematic suspects right here:

1. The Infamous War-room Pie-Fight Extracted From DR. STRANGELOVE (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1964) “Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!” General Turgidson (George C. Scott) exclaims after President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) gets hit in the face by a pie. This moment occurring in the pie-fight that was originally intended to end DR. STRANGELOVE was thought to be potentially offensive to the Kennedy family for obvious reasons. The original test screening of the film was slated for November 22, 1963 and had to be re-scheduled, again for obvious reasons but that wasn’t the only problem : Kubrick said that the scene was “not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film” and others thought that the actors covered in cream pie were indistinguishable – therefore ineffective. The pie-fight, which would be replaced by a stock film sequence of nuclear explosions, is well known to fans and film buffs because photographs of it have shown in the bonus features of nearly every edition of the DVD but the scene itself remains missing in action.

Wikipedia reports that “the only known public showing of the footage was in the 1999 screening at the National Film Theatre in London following Kubrick’s death” but then there’s that telling [citation needed] notation. So will this scene that Kubrick once called “a disaster of Homeric proportions” ever see the light of a DVD player’s laser? Probably not any time soon though I think when they’re preparing the 50th Anniversary edition on whatever format will be popular at the time – it’ll be a prized bell and whistle selling-point.

2. Luke Bonding with Long-time Buddy Biggs Edited Out Of STAR WARS (Dir. George Lucas, 1977) When I was a kid I was perplexed by the pictures (including the one above) in THE STAR WARS STORYBOOK (Scholastic 1978) – which I still have by the way – of 2 scenes that weren’t in the movie I saw many times at the theater. The stills were of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) viewing the space battle the movie opens with on his binocs and his chat with Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon) that helped inspire his adventuresome spirit. Lucas has said that he cut the scene because he wanted the film to center on the droids’ mission from their point of view so we as an audience wouldn’t meet Luke until the droids met Luke. It would be nice to have the full sequence of Luke on Tatooine pre-C3PO & R2-D2 as a bonus on a non-special edition 1977 theatrical cut of STAR WARS (not calling it A NEW HOPE damnit!). This would be great because apart from Biggs we would all get to see some of Luke’s other friends – Deak, Camie and Fixer. Camie, incidentally was played by Koo Stark – later a British soft-porn actress who dated Prince Andrew.

The footage known as “the Anchorhead scene” (because it took place at the Toshi power station in Anchorhead – got it?) was screened for the first time at the San Diego Comic Con in 1998 and released at the same time on a CD-ROM “Behind The Magic”. Now it can be found in many different cuts on YouTube – I would link it here but Lucasfilm constantly cracks down on copyright violations so it probably wouldn’t last long. Just type in “Luke and Biggs” in the YouTube search engine and you’re bound to find it. Just why this isn’t available on any of the many editions of STAR WARS is unknown. When the bank calls and tells Lucas they’ve located another vault in which he can store more money – he may consider its release.

3. Steve McQueen As Sam Spade On The Cutting Room FloorTHE LONG GOODBYE (Dir. Robert Altman, 1973) In the short documentary “Rip Van Marlowe” on the DVD for this Altman should-be classic the words “deleted scene” flash on black and white production stills of McQueen, Elliot Gould, and Altman while Gould reminisces :

“The first day when I walk in to see what was going on – I think Sam Spade was going up in an elevator and I think some of this may have been edited…”

Wait Elliot, sorry Mr. Gould – are you saying McQueen had a cameo as Sam Spade?!!? Are you kidding? No research on the internets will confirm or deny this and I doubt this scene will ever surface because it’s most likely destroyed like much Altman footage of that era so I can only sigh.

4. The Original Audrey II Eats Everybody Ending From LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Dir. Frank Oz, 1986) Many demographic-tested endings have been changed through the years but none more notorious than this one. It is the definitive “alternate ending” – a 23 minute sequence which cost 5 million and was true to the stage production’s narrative – Seymour (Rick Moranis) is defeated by the ever-growing plant and even feeds Audrey II the dead Audrey (Ellen Greene) before getting eaten himself. Audrey II and its many clones take over the planet as the song “Don’t Feed The Plants” serenades or better yet – warns the audience. This sequence was actually released in black and white without sound or special effects on a Warner Bros. Special Edition in 1998 but yanked off the market by producer mogul David Geffen. Early this year according to Wikipedia – “Warner Bros. hinted that a DVD re-issue featuring the original ending may be on its way” so it looks like we may be able to finally see the mean green mother from outer space in all its destructive glory at some point on the horizon.

5. Kevin Costner As The Dead Guy In THE BIG CHILL
(Dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 1983)
– The most significant character in this baby boomer cinema standard we never see. Well, we see parts of his body as it is being dressed for the funeral but never his face. So what was to be Costner’s big break turned out to be extra-work as a corpse. He was cast as Alex – the charismatic college glue that all the other characters (including William Hurt, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berrenger, and Jo Beth Williams) are forever stuck to. He was supposed to be seen in flashbacks but those were cut and despite much protest were not included in the 10 minutes of deleted scenes on the 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD. Even if you hate Costner, and I know that many of you do, I think it would be interesting to see how he relates to that particular ensemble cast. Maybe he didn’t live up to his character’s implied charm and his deletion helped better ground the movie – I dunno. 25th anniversary maybe? Post-note : Kasdan cast Costner in his next film SILVERADO to make up for the Alex omission.

6. Halloran’s Death Done Differently Deleted From THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980) According to the IMDb :

“Halloran’s (Scatman Crothers) death scene as filmed is not the one we actually see. The one filmed depicts a much longer, much more graphic death. In its entirety, the scene lasts almost seventy seconds, and is full of gore. Rather then just run up and hit him as seen in the released version, Jack (Jack Nicholson) runs up, hits him in the back of the head. Halloran screams. Jack pulls the ax back, and then slams the spike on the back of the ax into the base of Halloran’s spine. Halloran screams and recoils, and then Jack slams the ax into his back and he falls down. Halloran rolls onto his back and is looking up, and Jack starts to beat him with the ax before he “hears” something and leaves.”

This is a scene I believe we will be soon able to appraise because the 2 disc Special Edition DVD will be released October 23rd this year. With hope we will also be able to see the scene that was originally at the end where Wendy (Shelly Duvall) is told her husband’s body was never found. This scene actually appeared when the film was first released but cut by Kubrick a week later.

7. Odd Promotional Photo Indicates Odd Outtake From ANNIE HALL (Dir. Woody Allen, 1977) None of Allen’s movies on DVD have any extras other than a trailer so the prospect of ever seeing anything resembling a deleted scene is pretty slim. Too bad because this photo issued as a publicity still to promote ANNIE HALL implies some juicy cut material. No dialogue is known but it looks like it takes place during Alvy and Annie’s first break-up when Alvy is randomly questioning people on the street about their love lives and they all have great one-liner answers. Can’t imagine what this guy’s was. Funny how a shot from a scene unused in the movie makes the rounds as advertising but even funnier that 30 years later a blogger like me would assign such significance to it. Another sigh.

8. Alternate Jim Garrison Wins The Clay Shaw Trial Ending JFK (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) According to Robert Sam Anson in Esquire Magazine (November 1991) as “a joke” Oliver Stone filmed “a not-to-be used scene showing Shaw’s (Tommy Lee Jones) jury bringing in a guilty verdict.” In complete contrast to Woody Allen, Stone has had his DVDs loaded with extras – director’s cuts, commentaries, documentaries, and scores of deleted scenes so where is this gem? It would be rather amusing to see Garrison (Costner *) triumphant from the victory of being the first person to bring a trial in the murder of John Kennedy. With all the special editions of the film we’ve seen so far it’s pretty likely that we will one day see this “joke.”

* Funny how somebody whose average movie is 3 hours long still makes me want to see more footage! Long live Costner!

9. Enid Sleeps With Josh – No Film At 11:00! GHOST WORLD (Dir. Terry Zwiggof, 2001) This scene, which comes directly from the Daniel Clowes graphic novel the film was based on, takes place in the third act according to the published screenplay after Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and Rebecca (Scarlet Johanssen) shun Enid’s (Thora Birch) company one sad day. She shows up at Josh’s (Brad Renfro) meager hotel room/apartment and shyly but slyly seduces him. It seems this was omitted because we would have even less sympathy for Enid as she goes on to sleep with Seymour causing a harmful ripple effect. Still since the GHOST WORLD DVD has such inessential deleted scenes involving incidental characters it would be nice to see such an actual major discarded plot point. The movie has never been re-released in any form so its official appearance it still a possibility but I’m not holding my breath.

10. Myrtle and Beryl – The Spiderwomen Removed From TIME BANDITS (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1981) There was a lot in the published screenplay – evidenced in Gilliam’s doodles, production stills, and full pages of dialogue that were not used in TIME BANDITS. This is typical of his work – all the published Python scripts are the same way (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL has page after page crossed off in crayon) so this is no surprise but where is the actual footage? Especially of the scene from the Time of Legends sequence in which the time travelling dwarfs encounter 2 spinster spider-women (Myrtle and Beryl *) who knit webs in which to catch passing knights. Gilliam recalls:

“That was another desperate moment, mainly because that sequence was an afterthought. Mike Palin and I had originally written another whole sequence about two spider women who ensnare some of the bandits in their web. We actually filmed this – and it was marvellous. But it now required a scene on either side to get us from the giant to the fortress, and we had run out of money.”

Fairly certain this bit will show up – Gilliam never seems to throw away footage (or any idea) and the many formats in the years to come will have special feature capabilities beyond our wildest dreams (or at least beyond mine) so I bet this will someday make the cut.

* The spider-women are named Myrtle and Beryl according to many sources but only Myrtle Devenish as Beryl is credited on the IMDb which makes me think that this is incorrect info. Devenish plays a game show contestant on the game show satire “Your Money Or Your Life” seen early in the film on a background television. It’s conceivable she also played one of the spider-women but the names seem off. Anybody know the deal here?

I know this is only scratching the rarely seen scenes surface so please leave your comments below or email:

This post is dedicated to Merv Griffin Merv as a broadcaster wore many hats – game show host, talk show host, real-estate magnate, pop-crooner, etc. and while he did relatively little film work Film Babble would like to highlight his clever cameo as himself (billed as the Elevator killer) in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1983). Dr. Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) confronts him right after a killing and asks “why?” Merv’s answer:

“I don’t know. I’ve always just loved to kill. I really enjoyed it. But then I got famous, and – it’s just too hard for me. And so many witnesses. I mean, everybody recognized me. I couldn’t even lurk anymore. I’d hear, “Who’s that lurking over there? Isn’t that Merv Griffin?” So I came to Europe to kill. And it’s really worked out very well for me.”

Merv Griffin (1925-2007) R.I.P.

More later…