WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS: The Film Babble Blog Review

WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS

(Dir. Oliver Stone, 2010)

Spoiler Alert!: This review gives away a number of key plot points because, well, I just don’t care.

Last year I wrote that a sequel to Oliver Stone’s seminal 1987 WALL STREET was one of 10 sequels to classic movies that should not happen. Despite that I had a tiny sliver of hope inside that the controversial director might pull off another timely indictment of America’s financial system.

Sadly, the return of Gordon Gekko to the silver screen is no such film. It’s as unnecessary a retread as BLUES BROTHERS 2000, which incidentally also began with the prison release of a major character.

In 2002, Michael Douglas as Gekko, 67 years old with his lion’s mane of hair now gray, walks out of Sing Sing Maximum Security Prison after serving 8 years to find nobody waiting for him. The camera circles his head to let this sink in.

The film flashes forward to 2008 and for a while it’s Shia LaBeouf’s movie. LaBeouf is an ambitious trader – think Charlie Sheen in the first film but with more ethics – engaged to Douglas’ activist blogger daughter (Carey Mulligan).

LaBeouf’s mentor (Frank Langella) at his firm commits suicide after rampant rumors cause the company’s stock to crash.

Josh Brolin, as an old school Gekko-ish hedge fund manager, is suspected by LaBeouf as being the source of the rumors. Going behind Mulligan’s back, LaBeouf consults with Douglas who wants to be close to his daughter again.

Mulligan wants nothing to do with her father. She blames him for the overdose death of her brother and she’s vehemently against the Wall Street world which makes it hard to believe that she’s surprised to find out that her fiancé is a “Wall Street guy”.

LaBeouf wants to avenge Langella, make a name for himself, and sincerely help a renewable fusion-energy company run by the always nice to see Austin Pendleton – in the same manner that Sheen wanted to help out his father’s ailing airline.

Upon learning that Douglas set his daughter up with a Swiss trust fund worth $100 million, LaBeouf finds himself caught in a web of convoluted double crossings.

Stone uses every visual trick up his sleeve to shape this material – at a point in one of several flashy montages full of split screens, tangled neon cable news ticker tape, and computer animation I felt like I was trapped in a MSNBC hall of mirrors.

The problem is that what made the first movie great is that Gordon Gekko was not a redeemable character. He was a symbol of corporate evil and a necessary one, for there are horrible fiscal creatures out there that destroy thousands of people’s lives with no remorse.

If Gekko truly isn’t a sociopath (as his daughter calls him early on), but a visionary that predicts the economic collapse in 2008 and can be won over by a disc containing his future grandson’s ultrasound – what does he symbolize now?

Douglas’s Oscar winning performance of Gekko in the first film was named by AFI as number 24 of the top 50 movie villains of all time in 2003. After his defanged depiction here that number will surely drop next time they update the list.

It’s understandable that Stone and Douglas wanted to revisit this terrain, but with its predictable plot and pat happy ending this is more than a missed opportunity – it’s a failed follow-up of epic proportions.

One of the only enjoyable elements is the soundtrack provided by David Byrne and Brian Eno. As the first film ended with the Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)”, this one obviously tries to match the mood with a fine selection of the duo’s collaborations. When these melodies appear it’s the only time that this film feels anywhere near the league of the original.

Beyond that, WALL STREET: MONEY NEVER SLEEPS (awful title) has little point to it, except maybe to unleash a bunch of new Gekko-isms on the public.

Of the many so called pearls of wisdom the slick slimy Gekko spouts – “Idealism kills every deal” – sticks out. By sparing us the true cutthroat nature of the beast in favor of trite sentimentality, the deal is definitely dead as a doornail here.

More later…

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Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies

As film geeks throughout the blogosphere well know, an appearance by a director in their own film is a tradition established by Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch (or “Cock” as Teri Garr once claimed she called him to Francois Truffaut) had brief but notable appearances in 37 of his 52 films. Obviously excluding those who act in sizable roles in their own films (Woody Allen, Sylvester Stallone, Orson Welles, etc.) these are my favorites of the film maker folks that followed in Hitch’s footsteps:


1. Martin Scorsese in TAXI DRIVER (1976)


Scorsese has had brief bit cameos in a lot of his movies but it’s this appearance credited as “Passenger watching silhouette” that makes the biggest impression. As a nervous gun totting cuckolded husband, Scorsese tells his cabbie Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) to pull over and stay parked with the meter running outside the building where his wife is with another man. He talks about his revenge fantasy involving his 44 Magnum in the only scene in the movie in which we are creeped out by somebody other than the title character.


What puts this at the top of the list is that Scorsese actually shows some acting chops and a persuasive presence. His later performances in other’s movies, particularly Akira Kurosawa’s DREAMS and Robert Redford’s QUIZ SHOW, confirm TAXI DRIVER‘s hinted at prowess. Incidentally Scorsese can also be seen in a daylight street scene shot earlier in the film.


2. John Huston in THE TREASURE OF SIERRE MADRE (1948) Another American master who appeared in many movies, his own and others’, Huston stole a short but sweet scene from star Humphrey Bogart in this undeniable classic. Bogart’s down on his luck character Fred C. Dobbs makes the mistake of trying to bum money 3 times from Huston as an “American in Tampico in white suit”. Huston reluctantly complies but warns: “But from now on, you have to make your way through life without my assistance.” Luckily this was nothing but a movie line – Bogart and Huston assisted each other on a couple more classics afterwards (KEY LARGO and THE AFRICAN QUEEN).


3. Roman Polanski in CHINATOWN (1974) Perhaps it’s been all the op ed pieces on Polanski lately (Sometimes that have the same screen capture I have here) that helped to inspire this list but whatever the case this is a colossally classic cameo. In less than a minute of screen time, as a thug that Jack Nicholson’s Jake Gittes dismisses as a “midget”, Polanski convinces us that he actually slices Nicholson’s nose with a switchblade. It’s a moment that’s impossible to forget:



Still not convinced that it’s a classic cameo? Then check out this 12 inch articulated custom figure!


I mean come on! How many cameos have action figures representin’? Well, come to think of it, there is this guy:


4. George Lucas in STAR WARS: EPISODE III – REVENGE OF THE SITH (2005) This is movie director as extra. For a member of a crowd scene in the last STAR WARS series entry (or the third if you’re into the revisionist re-jiggling thing), Lucas got himself decked out in alien garb and gave himself a name: Baron Papanoida. There’s an oddly lengthy bio at IMDb. And yes, there’s an action figure too.


5. Richard Linklater in SLACKER (1994)


Linklater’s role as “Should Have Stayed at Bus Station” sets into motion the stream of self consciousness exercise that he geared the movie to be:




It’s quite a loose likable persona that Linklater affects – one that kicks off his film career and also appears in animated form in WAKING LIFE (2001) – a sort of sequel (or at least spiritual follow-up) to SLACKER.


6. Hal Ashby in HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971)


Film babble blog favorite Ashby also does the “movie director as extra” thing as a hippy freak at a carnival in his counter culture cult classic. Of course, he was just dressed as usual and it’s not really a cameo; more of a brief shot that captures the director as a random passerby watching a mechanical toy train with Harold (Bud Cort) and Maude (Ruth Gordon). Ashby also shows up doing the extra thing again in a newsroom in BEING THERE (1980) – something I noticed just recently after missing it for years on many repeated viewings.


7. Francis Ford Coppola in APOCALYPSE NOW (1979)


So he’s the “Director of TV Crew” who barks orders at the soldiers as they run through his shot – is it an exaggeration of Coppola’s ego or the real thing? You decide:





8. David Lynch in TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Lynch has done a number of walk on parts in his films but here he gives himself an actual character: FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole who Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle Machlachlan) reports to. Lynch’s Gordon appeared on the TV series a few blink and miss them times and his bit for the prequel/origin story/whatever movie is pretty meager. So what gets him on this list? I guess it’s that a normal office scenario is skewed by the likes of David Bowie and flashes of a white faced pointy nosed circus wack job or whatever dancing around and this time Lynch himself is in the midst of it. Welcome to my nightmare, indeed:




9. Oliver Stone in WALL STREET (1987)

Yet another director that has taken bit or extra roles in multiple movies, Stone does a split screen sound bite appearance as a broker on the phone in one of the film’s many frenetic montages. No word whether he’ll reprise the role for the sequel.

10. Sam Raimi in THE EVIL DEAD TRILOGY (1981-1992) As documented by AMC Filmsite, Sam Raimi appeared:


1981: as a Hitchhiking Fisherman and the Voice of the Evil Force
1987: as a Medieval Soldier; and
1993: as a Knight in Sweatshirt and Sneakers, who assured Ash (Bruce Campbell): “You can count on my steel”


Peter Jackson pulled the same stunt by appearing in all 3 LORD OF THE RINGS movies.


Anybody else? I know this list is just a drop in the ocean so bring on your own favorites! You know where to put ’em.

More later…

10 Movie Soundtracks That Think Outside Of The Box Office

Welcome to Soundtrack September! All month long, with the help of some special guest bloggers and readers, I’m going to be celebrating the world of original motion picture soundtrack recordings. There will still be the usual array of reviews of current movies and other whatnot but they will be surrounded by soundtrack centered posts.


I’m kicking off Soundtrack September with this list of soundtracks that weren’t content to just be simple collections of score selections or pop song tracks. They featured dialogue excerpts as tracks – sometimes full chucks of audio from the composite track of the film instead of the standard isolated music track. Often these albums contain material that’s not in the movie they represent – different versions of songs, cut lines from post production, and new voice-overs. In their reshaping of the movie material they became works of art in their own right. Here are my 10 favorites from the many soundtracks out there that think outside the box office:


1. THE MONKEES: HEAD (Colgems Records 1968/Rhino 1994) The Monkees only theatrical release was a critical and commercial flop on original release but it’s picked up a well deserved cult following over the years in no small thanks to its psychedelic soundtrack. It’s a merry mishmash in which 7 songs (including “The Porpoise Song”, “As We Go Along”, and “Can You Dig It”) emerge out of the chaos of sound effects, repeated out-of-context lines (as if there’s a context in the film) and assorted trippy effects reportedly under the influence of Frank Zappa (who has a cameo in the movie and the album). The original album did not feature Mike Nesmith’s “Circle Sky” performed live in the film – it substituted an inferior studio take of the song. Happily, a 90’s Rhino re-release restored the ferocious live version as well as a nice handful of bonus tracks (including a cool radio spot).


The icing on the cake? The Original Album Coordinator who did the bulk of the vigorous editing on this project: Jack Nicholson (co-screenwriter and producer of HEAD seen above with the Monkees).



2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: THE MOVIE ON RECORD (Columbia Records, 1981)


In the late ’70s and early ’80s a lot of “story of” albums were produced of the STAR WARS films, Disney features, Muppet movies, etc. that feature audio excerpts with a ’40s style narrator guiding listeners through. For the first Indiana Jones adventure a soundtrack was released separate from the one of the score by composer John Williams. Billed “The Movie On Record”, it was an album of “Actual Dialogue, Music, and Sound Effects” but most importantly – no narration. 4 time Academy Award winner Sound Designer Ben Burtt (creator of the voice of WALL-E among other iconic work) admitted in an interview that much of this album was made from little of the original soundtrack; he recorded new effects and recreated the dialogue with the film’s cast as voice actors much like old radio shows. The album won a Grammy for Best Spoken Word LP in 1982.


3. THE ALBUM OF THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE TRAILER OF THE FILM OF MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL (Arista, 1975) This is only a soundtrack in the loosest sense – approximately 40% of it is movie material; the other 60% has the Pythons bogusly broadcasting from a fictional theater (The Classic Silbury Hill) for the “premiere” of the film. John Cleese plays a reporter who talks over the opening scene with patrons telling him to shut up, the production is halted while the projectionist fights a grizzly bear for the next reel, an announcer (Graham Chapman) repeatedly tells us that this is the “Executive Version” of the record, and so on. The records of the Monty Python films that followedLIFE OF BRIAN and THE MEANING OF LIFE had a bit of this embellishing but not with the whole team and to the extreme of this supremely silly yet essential soundtrack.


4. APOCALYPSE NOW (Warner Brothers, 1979) This soundtrack is pretty much the full composite track of the motion picture spread over 2 records. It’s a trippy absorbing listen that’s worth seeking out. The soundtrack for the REDUX version (2001) removes the dialogue bits and presents composer Carmine Coppola’s score, along with The Doors “The End” and Flash Cadillac’s “Suzy Q”, but I prefer the original recording. It reminds me of the days before home video when a soundtrack was all one had to invoke the mood of one’s favorite movie. Removed from the imagery, Martin Sheen’s voice over narration works just as well on record as it does in the film, the jungle sounds surround the listener, and Marlon Brando’s haunting “the horror…the horror” evocation echo in the psyche. Or maybe that’s the Thai sticks talking…


5. NATURAL BORN KILLERS: A SOUNDTRACK FOR AN OLIVER STONE FILM (Interscope Records 1994)


“I suggested to Oliver (Stone) to try to turn the soundtrack into a collage-of-sound, kind of the way the movie used music: make edits, add dialogue, and make it something interesting, rather than a bunch of previously released music.”

– Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor in an interview with MTV.


As producer/compiler Reznor provides another absorbing listen and one that introduced many to Leonard Cohen via 2 stellar songs off of his 1992 album “The Future”. My only complaint is Reznor mixing a bit of Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis dialogue on top of Bob Dylan’s cover of the ’50s standard “You Belong To Me”. Such a thing just should not be done.

6. THE ADVENTURES OF BOB & DOUG McKENZIE IN STRANGE BREW (Polygram Records, 1983) The album cover denotes “Excerpts From The Original Sountrack” so much like the MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL album this functions as a comedy record in its own right. The success of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas’s “Great White North” record paved the way for the SCTV characters of Canadian descent to enter the world of movies, so it’s kind of funny to have Moranis stress more than once that this that this is not their second album – it’s the soundtrack album. Funny because they never made another album and with all the additional material here they might as well consider it their second album. As a comedy record it’s a good one – some bits from the movie work better disembodied from the visuals and the track “Shakespeare Horked Our Script” amusingly calls attention to the fact they stole the basic narrative from “Hamlet”. It’s never been released officially on CD but like much on this list it can be found on the internets.

7. PULP FICTION (MCA Records, 1994)


From RESERVOIR DOGS to DEATH PROOF, Tarantino’s soundtracks have featured dialogue tracks (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS is the first that doesn’t) but PULP FICTION is by far the most popular – it seems everyone I knew had this in their CD collection in the ’90s. It’s a hip movie mix; tracks by Urge Overkill, Dusty Springfield, and Kool & The Gang rub shoulders with John Travolta’s “Royale with cheese” bit, Bruce Willis’s immortal “Zed’s dead, baby”, and Samuel L. Jackson’s “Ezekiel 25:17”. 15 years after the movie, these tracks are still effective – program them into an iPod shuffle and see for yourself.


8. GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (A & M Records, 1988) Sure, the comedy of Robin Williams is far from hip these days but back in the day (the late ’80s) his routines were quoted ad nauseum. The rapid fire lines from his starring turn in Barry Levinson’s Vietnam-set dramedy were no exception. The dominance of James Brown’s “I Feel Good (I Got You)” in family feel-good comedies (or at least their trailers) can be traced to this film but don’t hold that against it. Era songs by Louis Armstrong, The Marvelettes, and the Beach Boys make up the playlist of Williams as Armed Forces Radio Services DJ Adrian Cronauer. Incidentally the weekly NPR program “Sound Opinions” uses the sound bite of Williams’ “This is not a test, this is rock ‘n roll!” in their opening to this day.

9. UHF: ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK AND OTHER STUFF (Warner Brothers, 1989) Nobody would expect a soundtrack from a Weird Al Yankovic movie (his only movie) to play by soundtrack rules and this hodgepodge sure doesn’t. It makes this list because of tracks directly from the film like the commercial parody “Spatula City” and the phony trailer for “Gandhi II” which make great compilation fillers or fodder for college DJs. However the non movie related tracks like a spoof of R.E.M.’s “Stand” called “Spam” and “Generic Blues” are just throw-away Weird Al but they still don’t disqualify it.

10. BONNIE AND CLYDE (Collector’s Choice, 2009) Though it’s not the first soundtrack album to feature dialogue – that would be THE GREAT ESCAPEBONNIE AND CLYDE provides the template for the composite movie mix that Reznor and Tarantino would run with. The dialogue tracks offer cushioning and punctuation for the musical score – as spare as they are. Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s exchanges are enhanced by the then very innovative presentation on vinyl. It’s a hard to come by record nowadays but again, one worth seeking out.

Okay! There are many more soundtracks that feature dialogue in an inventive mix (PATTON, ANIMAL HOUSE, BLADE RUNNER, etc.) so if you have a favorite – please send it on. Also if you have soundtrack favorites of any kind (classical scores, pop songs, musicals, etc.) please email me (filmbabbleblog@gmail.com) your favorites (instead of leaving them as comments on this post please) and I may include them this month during Soundtrack September! Hope to hear from you.

More later…

The Film Babble Blog Top Ten Movies Of 2008

Like last year, I held off making this post earlier because there were several contenders I hadn’t seen yet. It seems my area is the last to get certain movies in current circulation. Also, I still haven’t seen a number of movies I see making other ‘Top Ten’ lists including WALTZ FOR BASHIR, LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and FROZEN RIVER among many others that are filling my NetFlix queue right now. Of course, nobody could see every movie in the running so now is as good a time as any to list my favorites. So here’s my Top Ten:


1. SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)


st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } It got snubbed by the Academy and many critics dissed on Kaufman’s epic tragicomic (as Wikipedia calls it) but I loved every sad sordid symbolic second. Philip Seymour Hoffman as the literally crumbing playwright Cayden Cotard builds sets inside of sets inside a ginormous warehouse recreating New York with New Yorkers and the actors that play them – including him. Joining him is maybe the best female ensemble cast ever assembled for such a movie – Catherine Keener, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Hope Davis, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Michelle Williams, and the great Diane Wiest. Maybe it was just too cerebral and complex to catch on but I believe time will lay waste to much of the competition while this beyond meta-masterpiece will still stand strong. My original review is right here.

2. WALL-E (Dir. Andrew Stanton)


Such a dark dystopian premise for such a cute heartwarming movie that plays beautifully like sci-fi Chaplin. Wall-E (I’m sure you well know but I’ll tell you again anyway) is a garbage compacting robot left behind on Earth hundreds of years from now who falls in love with a search probe (who by design looks like a large iPod) sent by the Buy N Large Corporation. It doesn’t sound like the sort of stuff that would make one swoon but Pixar yet again proves they can do anything from making rats lovable (and here that extends to cockroaches) to making us believe robots can love. An animated instant classic as my original review proclaimed.

3. SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } (Dir. Danny Boyle)


There’s been an odd mini comment war on my original review of this delightful yet edgy Mumbai success story, which goes to show that this was one of the most talked about and vital movies of the year. It’s an amazing spectacle from start to finish with protagonist taking us through his hard knock life by way of a glittery game show – the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. As the comments on my post suggest, some folks couldnt get past the violence or what they thought was an inaccurate cultural depiction but dammit, I thought it was a stone cold blast! I’ll bet (again literally) it’ll win Best Picture at the Oscars.

4. FROST/NIXON (Dir. Ron Howard) Nice to see Opie Cunningham take a break from the dumb DaVinci Codage and revisit his old 70’s stomping ground to take on everybody’s favorite nemesis – Nixon. These were definitely not Happy Days though for the impeached President (played magnificently by Frank Langella) making a $huge$ deal for a series of TV interviews with the slickly ambitious David Frost (Michael Sheen) while in self-imposed exile in California. As riveting as a round in the ring with “The Ram” (see next entry) this showdown scores on every front with ace casting (in addition to the leads – Kevin Bacon, Sam Rockwell, Rebecca Hall,and Oliver Platt mull about entertainingly), a great screenplay by Peter Morgan (THE QUEEN), and Howard’s best direction in ages. My original review? Oh yeah, it’s here.


5. THE WRESTLER (Dir. Darren Aronofsky) Yeah, it’s true – Mickey Rourke is back and I’ll be surprised as Hell if he doesn’t take

home the gold come February because nobody else literally went to the mat like this! Call it a comeback for Randy “The Ram” Robinson who may be washed up and working at a supermarket estranged from his daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) while pinning for a stripper (Marisa Tomei) but he’s overdue for redemption even if it means he’s going down for the count. This character is going down in cinema history for sure – read my original review for more gushing about this gritty gutsy grabber of a movie.


6. THE FALL (Dir. Tarsem Singh)


This fantastical visually splendorific film is all the more impressive because it contains no CGI. It’s a colorful joyful ride through fairy tale conventions which, crazily enough, orginates from a tale told in the 1930’s by a injured stuntman (Lee Pace) as a bargaining tool to get a young girl (Catinca Untaru) to break in to their hospital’s sanctuary to steal morphine for him. It’s vivid and emotional in all the right places with folks appearing WIZARD OF OZ style both in real life and the fantasy scenerios. Again you can read my praising review here.


7. THE DARK KNIGHT (Dir. Chris Nolan)


The more you think about it, the more flawed this film is. Batman’s (Christian Bale) exaggerated gravelly voice, ersatz plot elements like ‘hey, what happened to the folks at the skyscraper party after Rachel (Maggie Gyllenhall) was rescued by the caped crusader?’, and the unnecessary Hong Kong subplot (ThePlaylist jabbed some of these complaints funnily enough here). All may rub movie logical minds wrong but what did work here is arguably as good as movies can get. Heath Ledger’s amazing performance as the demented Joker was precision defined while the Gotham grandeur frighteningly filled every frame. Read me clumsily reach for more operatic poetry here.

8. IRON MAN (Dir. Jon Favreau)


Another superhero movie sure, but with Robert Downey Jr. in the metallic title role, Gwyneth Paltrow as the love interest, and Jeff Bridges as his adversary, it’s one Hell of a superhero movie! Downey Jr. is both intense and funny as Tony Stark and the streamlined shiny production surrounding him is perfectly provided by Favreau. Yep, a class action movie as I reported last summer here.


9. THE VISITOR (Dir. Thomas McCarthy) I was elated that Richard Jenkins was nominated for a best actor award for this fine understated Indie movie that many ignored late last Spring (Mind you – I dont think hell win). As a displaced professor who finds 2 illegal immigrants (Haaz Sleiman and Danai Jekesai Gurira) living in his New York apartment and forms an unfortunately brief friendship, Jenkins finds a graceful ingratiating tone and a note that will resonate long after a single viewing. Yep, more here.


10. VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA (Dir. Woody Allen)

More than just a fine return to form, the Woodman gives us a lush and lavish look at the loony intertwined coupling that the ladies of the title encounter on their trip abroad. Javier Bardem woos Scarlet Johansen, Rebecca Hall, and what Allen has before called a “Kamikaze woman” – wife Penélope Cruz (she may yet woo the Academy). Were all woo-ed in the end – well, at least I was. Read all about it here.

Spillover:


Again, the ones that didn’t quite make the Top Ten grade but were still good, sometimes great flicks – click on the title for my original review.


PINEAPPLE EXPRESS (Dir. David Gordon Green) A great Apatow-appoved comedy that like the next few titles got the Spillover shaft by my silly blog.


FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (Dir. Nicholas Stoller)


TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller)


MAN ON WIRE (Dir. James Marsh) Great intense doc in which even the re-creations make for great cinema.


4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS


GRAN TORINO (Dir. Clint Eastwood) It got strangely shut out come award season (which is strange because the Academy loves Clint) but its a strong addition to the Eastwood canon.


SHINE A LIGHT (Dir. Martin Scorsese)


One of the worlds greatest directors filming one of the world’s greatest bands – maybe Im just biased because I was blown away by the movie at an IMAX theater last Spring but I still think itll hold up as one of the best concert films ever in years to come.


W. (Dir. Oliver Stone)

BURN AFTER READING (Dirs. Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, 2008) Trivial throw-away Coen Brothers fare still makes for great movie-time in my book – or on my blog that is.


MILK (Dir. Gus Vant Sant) Biopicalicious!


More later…

 

Dubya Gets Stoned! W. – The Film Babble Blog Review

W. (Dir. Oliver Stone, 2008)

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} — <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} —If NIXON was a symphony, this is more like a chamber piece and not as dark in tone.
– Oliver Stone (Daily Variety 1/20/08)

Since his paranoid thriller epic masterpiece JFK (1991), Oliver Stone has developed a reputation for throwing people off what his suspected tack will be for hitting his targets. Most thought NIXON (1995) would be a savage dressing down of the fraudulent former president but what emerged was a grand (and at at times surreal) sympathetic portrait of a man stalking the corridors of power tormented by demons. There were no 9/11 truth movement conspiracy theories or any political agendas in WORLD TRADE CENTER (2006), it was simply the story of a couple of firefighters struggling to survive while buried in Ground Zero rubble. Now Stone gives us W. (pronounced Dubya as some in the press have dubbed him), the first ever feature length drama focusing on a President while hes still in office. While it does contain plenty of grist for the Bush haters mill, it is actually an empathetic study balancing swift satire with earnest melodrama.

W. skips back and forth timeline-wise from Bushs ANIMAL HOUSE-esque frat days to the Oval office Iraq war strategy sessions up to his re-election in 2004. Josh Brolin embodies our 43rd president with a swagger and ever present determination; sometimes overly arrogant, sometimes an impulsive hothead who cant seem to relax even when lounging watching Sportscenter drinking a non-alcoholic beer and munching on miniature pretzels (if you know your history, you know what happens with those pretzels). This is a man with major Daddy issues as seen in the recreations of his early days, who disappoints his father (James Cromwell as George Bush Sr.) right and left with his constant career failures and constant drinking. Ill never get out of Poppys shadow! he exclaims as he attempts to get a grasp on his destiny.

As the decider he surrounds himself with some of his Papas former staff including Dick Cheney (a strangely subdued Richard Dreyfuss) and Colin Powell (a stoical Jeffrey Wright) who come off as the devil fighting with the angel on Bushs shoulders in meeting after meeting. Bushs reasons for the war in Iraq are angrily off the cuff: I dont like mud suckers who gas their own people!” and I dont like assholes who try to kill my father! Despite Powells voice of reason deterrents Bush goes to the Cheney darkside believing that he is serving a higher power than his father and never letting consensus criticism get in his way.

Extensively researched and layered with obviously labored over exposition, Stanley Weisers screenplay mostly speculates about what goes on behind closed doors more than the already documented public record. 9/11 is thankfully not dramatized or even visually referenced, likewise Katrina and the extraordinary events of the 2000 election (see RECOUNT for that), though there are a number of restaging of W.s greatest hits. The Mission Accomplished aircraft carrier episode and various press conference and interview examples of embarrassing statements (Is our children learning for one) are given Stones patented cinematic treatment albeit with a more restrained and less flashy presentation than in his previous work. Dont worry though, Stone staples like glow lighting on actors in dark interiors, seamless blending of real footage into the movie mix, and a quality ensemble cast (including Scott Glenn, Bruce McGill, Toby Jones and Stacy Keach) are all on vivid display.

Unfortunately a long time complaint about Stones work bears true as the women characters are underwritten and cliché driven. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush mostly sits on the sidelines looking pretty offering trite support to her man while Thandie Newtons snippy take on Condoleezza Rice barely registers in the many boys club discussions. Of the ladies only Ellen Burstyn has some good blustery moments as Barbara Bush but she too has a very limited point of view. Brolin though is the show as he carries the entire movie with his performance. With his concentrated vocal inflections and intense brow furthering he pulls off a Bush that is not a caricature but a believable guy which is quite a feat in the world of non-stop Daily Show jabs and SNL impressions of what many consider the worst President ever. James Cromwell, who never attempts to imitate Bush Sr.s voice, should be recognized come awards season for his measured and sternly nuanced work here – his presence is the finest and most effective in this film.

W. gives a wide personal perspective to a man who many feel doesn
t deserve one. It will play as a broad comedy to some audiences with folks mining the material for mirth but the poignant sadness of a powerful world figure standing in an empty stadium imagining cheering crowds and a possible grab for baseball star greatness will linger longer than the laughs. Oliver Stones chamber piece as he calls it, isnt a typical biopic but a dramatic thesis that goes out of its way to avoid cheap shots supremely aware that its choir has already been inundated with them. W., while no masterpiece, is a great gutsy and ambitious movie about a not-so great gutsy and ambitious man. It succeeds on helping us relate with, not hate on George W. Bush even if you, like me, cant wait to see him leave office.

More later…

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies

One of the few flaws in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN * (which if it’s not the best film of the year – it’ll do ’til the best film of the year gets here) set in 1980, is that a Carl’s Jr. restaurant with a current day sign complete with cartoon smiley face star logo can be seen in the background. Also a modern Domino’s Pizza typeface on a storefront is clearly visible even in a night scene shoot-out. These don’t truly distract from the action but they did take me out of the movie somewhat.

* Reviewed on film babble blog 11/21/07

A lot of anachronisms in the movies are pretty forgivable – a car model not in line with the period portrayed can be overlooked, much use of music is more an artistic choice than a mistake per say (except when it blares from a radio like the 1971 song “American Pie” in a scene set in 1969 in BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY), and a lot of clothing and slang can be dismissed. However there are those moments where a blatant disregard for correctness and consistency can really mar a movie. So let’s take a look at:

10 Annoying Anachronisms In Modern Movies

1. A Ms. PacMan Machine in MAN ON THE MOON (Dir. Milos Foreman, 1999) The IMDb says of this Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman misfire – “numerous anachronisms can be chalked up to artistic decisions; the film intentionally plays fast and loose with the timeline.” Well that’s fine and all but seeing a 1982 Ms. PacMan video game machine in a scene set in 1977 really took me out of the movie. I can accept the narrative decision to have the famous Carnegie Hall “milk and cookies” concert (pictured on the left) occur after Kaufman was diagnosed with cancer and presented as his big farewell but when an early 70’s scene references “President Jimmy Carter” – odd jarring misplacements like that do this formulaic biopic no favors.

2. The Lake Wissota reference in TITANIC (Dir. James Cameron, 1997) Self proclaimed “king of the world” Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) tells Rose (Kate Winslet) at their first meeting this little revealing tidbit – “once when I was a kid me and my father were ice-fishing out on Lake Wissota…” As five million websites will tell you, Lake Wissota is a man-made reservoir which wasn’t created until five years after the Titanic sank. James Cameron apparently acknowledged this goof at one point but then proclaimed himself “KING OF THE WORLD!!!” Sorry, couldn’t resist that.

3. The 70’s Hippies in 50’s Vegas in THE GODFATHER (Dir. Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Very briefly and through a window behind Michael (Al Pacino) when he and his party get out of their car at the entrance to Fredo’s (John Casale) hotel you can see a couple of young men with long hair and 70’s attire. Coppola on the DVD commentary chimes in: “this was one of those really cheap second unit shots we did…I was very embarrassed by this because of in the background you see there’s like hippie-looking guys that are not correct for period.” Well played, Coppola. You win this round.

4. Post-it notes in ALMOST FAMOUS (Dir. Cameron Crowe, 2000) Actually there is a plethora of anachronisms in this movie that takes place in the early 70’s – Chem-Lite glow sticks at concerts, albums that weren’t released yet (like the Stones’ “Get Your Ya-Ya’s Out” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue”) given prominent screen-time in a scene set in 1969 (pictured above), and 90’s Pepsi cans abound but damnit the post-it note deal just irks me. They weren’t around until the 80’s and it just seemed too cute to have teenage Rolling Stone journalist William (Patrick Fuggit) surrounded by them in a hotel bathroom. Seems like this is pretty indicative of the liberties with his own life Crowe was talking in this semi-autobiography.

5. ANOTHER 48 HOURS Billboard in THE DOORS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) Since most of Stone’s movies are set in the 60’s and the 70’s I could do a whole post about the inaccurate elements and out of place objects but I’ll spare you that (for now). I’ll just say that for all the work that went into the mood and tone of the era in this bombastic biopic of rock star/poet wannabe Jim Morrison (played by Val Kilmer) the visibility of a billboard for a 1990 movie is just plain stupid. Actually truth be told most of what’s in THE DOORS, accurate or not, is just plain stupid.

6. 1965 Canadian Flag Maple Leaf Logo in the 1930’s in THE UNTOUCHABLES (Dir. Brian DePalma, 1987) As the site Whoops! Movie Goofs & Mistakes reports “The Canadians probably laughed their asses off when Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) made his first unsuccessful bust: The movie takes place in the 1930s and you can see boxes decorated with maple leaf logos. That logo was first seen 1965 when Canada introduced its flag.” Yeah, well considering the reaction to DePalma’s REDACTED these days, this 20 year old blunder should be the least of his worries.

7. A Jet Crosses The Background of CLEOPATRA (Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963) This I’ve never seen – it’s listed as a “goof” on IMDb’s entry for the film. Likewise in their entry for THE TEN COMMANDMENTS they state: “Anachronism – Moses on top of the large rock with a watch on.” Without a recent viewings of these films I can only say that these seem like an urban myths. No other source online collaborates either – in fact most sites only list that a crowd member in THE TEN COMMANDMENTS appears to be wearing a watch but this is disputed as well. I guess, in a BIG FISH kind of way, I’m siding with the myth on this one because I don’t see either making my Netflix queue anytime soon.

8. 80’s Geography imposed on 1936 Maps In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Dir. Steven Speilberg, 1981) In a nice almost comic book touch we are shown Indiana Jones’s (Harrison Ford) plane routes with lines imposed on a screen filling map. Unfortunately it imposes the geography of the early 80’s into a 30’s world. Thailand, which was called Siam at the time, is seen as is Jordan which was known as Transjordan until 1949. There is also a globe in Indy’s classroom that depicts various countries of Africa that didn’t exist in 1936. Ah-ha! This undisputed action movie classic isn’t historically accurate! Like anyone will care though – I mean even I admit this is nit-picking. Oh yeah, according to the IMDb “in 1936, no aircraft were able to travel such distances with having to stop for refueling.” How about that nit I just picked?

9. A Rent-A-Center In BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997) Late in the film a “Rent-A-Center” is clearly visible in the background. Actually that’s a pretty minor one – the film has lots of other anachronisms that are pretty forgivable and not really annoying but I wanted a excuse to bring up the brilliant BOOGIE NIGHTS and say I’m really looking forward to nit-picking Anderson’s upcoming THERE WILL BE BLOOD for period piece mistakes so stay tuned.

10. Registered Paedophiles Weren’t Required To Notify Neighbors In 1991 in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (Dir. Joel Coen, 1997) This one kind of hurts – the law wasn’t implemented in California until 1996 so for one of the most memorable bit part roles in a Coen Bros. movie, John Turturro as Jesus Quintana was going through inaccurate actions when he went door to door informing his neighbors. I guess I can let it slide – it is one of the all time great movies. No amount of incorrect for the period cars or bowling balls can change that.

Whew! Well that’s enough nit picking for now. I know there’s a lot of annoying anachronisms I missed so you know where you can put them! In the comments below, of course.

More later…

On-The-Air Amusement And Angst

After seeing the new movie TALK TO ME (reviewed below) I got to thinking about radio personalities in the movies. Sometimes they are disc jockeys, sometimes they have specialty call-in shows, sometimes they are rabble rousers – sometimes all three. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable motor mouths :

Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian) in TALK RADIO (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1988) Champlain is the epitome of all three of the above. His station announcer introduces him as “the man you love to love” and he gets more death threats than phone-ins. Taking place almost completely around a radio console as Barry insults, cajoles, and just plain provokes callers TALK RADIO can best be considered a comic tragedy. It expands on the stage play (recently revived on Broadway) by giving us Barry’s back-story showing his rise to be one of the top talk radio personalities in Dallas on the verge of national syndication. His fame though is running face to face with the mounting militia-based hatred of much of his audience. Barry’s final break-down resulting in a mesmerizing monologue lays bare a pathetic self destructive unsalvageable soul but the announcer is right – over the years I’ve come to love to love the man whose signature sign-off line is “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words cause permanent damage.”

Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1987) Based on the real life experiences of a Armed Forces Radio Saigon disc jockey this role features Williams way before he became so annoyingly over-exposed and before his film formula became so, well, annoying. Dealing with uptight army officials (the late greats Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh) and ignoring army playlists and protocol Cronauer learns and grows mostly when he’s not on the air but some maturity is shown on the mike before we reach the treacly but still affecting conclusion.

David “Dave” Garver (Clint Eastwood) in PLAY MISTY FOR ME (Dir. Eastwood, 1971) Eastwood’s directorial debut with him as a soft spoken (I know, of course) disc jockey is really more of a thriller (the mold of which would be later used for FATAL ATTRACTION – 1987) than a radio-related story. Garver’s most loyal fan (Jessica Walter) repeatedly makes the request of the title which is all good that is until she becomes a stalking murderous mad woman. Maybe it’s because she fell overboard for Garver’s smooth soothing tone. Maybe like Dylan, Eastwood should consider doing a XM satellite radio show – that is if he’s not afraid of attracting new stalkers.

Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows) in THE LADIES MAN (Dir. Reginald Hudlin, 2000) Yeah! Another awful movie made from a running SNL sketch character at least has some radio-tested charm by way of Phelps’s smarmy self intro :

“I am an expert in the ways of love. I have made love to many fine ladies from the lowliest bus station skank to the classiest most sophisticated, educated, debutant, high society… bus station skank.”

Phelps is a Chicagoan host of a late night sex advice show who is always accompanied by a glass of Courvoisier and an unjustified arrogant romantic philosophy. He unwisely journeys out of the studio to hunt down an ex-lover. I think that was the plot, I mean really – who cares?

Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) in THE FISHER KING (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1991) The role of the “shock jock” gets played here in a role that comes from the same cloth as TALK RADIO‘s Barry Champlain. The twist here is – what if the guy has a conscience? One of Lucas’s random radio comments inadvertently causes a mad man to open fire in a bar and one of the patrons – history professor Parry (Robin Williams again) watches as his wife gets killed. Tossed out of the radio fame game Lucas meets a homeless deranged Parry years later. Lucas decides to help Parry which will in turn be his redemption. Lucas even has a radio catch-phrase that fits in with the movie’s premise, the Steve Martinesque “hey, forgive me!”

Howard Stern (Howard Stern) in PRIVATE PARTS (Dir. Betty Thomas, 1997) Playing himself in his own biopic (based on his bestselling book) is not surprising considering the size of the ego of the self-proclaimed “king of all media” but come on, who else would or could do it? The best scenes here are the re-creations of Stern’s infamous broadcasts and not the rom com trappings surrounding them. Much has changed for the man who popularized the term “shock jock” in the ten years since PRIVATE PARTS was released. Mainly the divorce from the woman that this film was a Valentine to and the gigantic $500 million Sirius Satellite deal that got him off regular radio make the meager goals of this movie seem quaint today. Funny how cute rather than cutting Stern seems when looking at this portrayal today – especially his naive reaction to Don Imus’s (played by Luke Reilly – of course Imus wouldn’t appear in this film) dismissal of him when they are first introduced.

Shirlee Kenyon (Dolly Parton) in STRAIGHT TALK (Dir. Barnet Kellman, 1992) Yep, it has been a sausage party in the booth so far so we gotta to acknowledge Dolly! Sure, it’s a silly disposable comedy but it’s Dolly! She brings her smirking spunk to play a woman who through a wacky mishap is mistaken for a certified psychologist and becomes a successful radio talk show host. It feels unfair to bash on this innocuous inanity especially when it has Dolly wrapping her Southern lips around such lines as “get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!”

Okay! So now on to the current release about a real-life radio semi-legend :


TALK TO ME
(Dir. Kasi Lemmons, 2007) Ex-con turned outspoken AM Disc Jockey Ralph Waldo Petey Greene is not a household name these days and this movie is probably going to do little to change that. In the age of Stern and Imus the labeling of a broadcaster as a “controversial radio personality” doesn’t carry the cache it used to. Greene’s (Don Cheadle with a raspy clipped voice) story taking place during the turbulent late 60’s in Washington D.C. does have gusto and a strong sentiment but the formulaic biopic approach mars the third act. MLK’s death, riots, and demonstrations are given about the same amount of depth as the historical background in DREAM GIRLS. To its credit Cheadle does his thing though in a decisively funkier manner than before, Chiwetel Ejiofor slickly plays the right notes as his producer, Martin Sheen takes a few satisfying solos as the uptight white station manager who is perpetually about to pull the plug on Greene, and Cedric The Entertainer is well, there. Greene’s legacy will get a few more fans from this treatment as it is not without heart, it’s just that its soul is that of a TV movie.

More later…

A Few New Reviews & Doing The Wright Thing

“I went to the video store and asked if they had the movie with Nicolas Cage and Hayley Mills. It was shot in black and white on color film. It was the one where they lost the war because they made all of the submarines out of styrofoam. Then I realized that wasn’t a movie, it was a dream I had. Then I thought how cool it would be to rent your dreams. The guy says, “that’s not a movie, that was a dream you had.” I said, “how did you know that?” He said, “you tried to rent it last week. “I said, “well, let me know when you get it in.””
– Steven Wright

Thanks for everybody’s comments and suggestions on my last post – 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos. I’m compiling the best reader’s picks and will post them soon so please stay tuned. This time out a few movies now playing at a theater near you and new DVDs as well as a local live review of one of the greatest comedians (and sometime film actor) ever so please read on –


SWEET LAND (Dir. Ali Selim, 2005) This film has been around for a bit but only made its way to my local home town theater The Varsity this last week accompanied by the director who said this was his last stop on his publicity tour. Based on William Weaver’s touching short story A Gravestone Made Of Wheat dealing with immigration issues and small town prejudices that delays the marriage of a German mail-order bride (Elizabeth Reaser) to a Norwegian immigrant farmer (Tim Guinee) in the days after World War I SWEET LAND aims for a loving lyricism that for the most part it achieves. One of the only mis-steps are John Heard’s Priest character who seems a bit off in tone to fully fit into the mechanics of this period piece – his “but I saw them dancing” dialogue feels a bit forced but Reaser is extremely beautiful (though her makeup is a bit much) and so is the Minnesota scenery. Remarking on the oft made comparisons to DAYS OF HEAVEN at the Q & A after the screening last friday night, director/writer Selim said “you can’t shoot a field without people thinking you’re referencing Terrence Mallick”. Good point though for a first time film maker to be placed in such lofty company should make him as proud as he should be for this solid absorbing debut.

Also in theaters :

PARIS, JE T’AIME (Directed by 18 different directors including the Coen Bros, Alexander Payne, Wes Craven, Gus Van Sant, Tom Twyker, Alfonso Cuaron, and Isabel Coixet) In 1988 NEW YORK STORIES featured 3 short films made by master directors Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, and Francis Ford Coppola that collectively formed a valentine to the grand city. Multiply that by 6 and add a bit of LOVE ACTUALLY change the locale to Paris and you’ve got PARIS, JE T’AIME (translates to Paris, I love you). Much like its predessesors it’s a mixed bag but with nearly 20 movie makers how could it not be? At its effective best it’s as good as movies can get particularly the Coen Brothers-Steve Buscemi as a tourist in a subway segment which is the best thing the Coens have done since THE MAN WHO WASN’T THERE.

Other successful bits are “Place des fêtes” by Oliver Schmitz which has a dying man falling in love with his paramedic and Alexander Payne’s gorgeous “14e arrondissement” also about a tourist enjoying a profound day sight seeing. Even the misfires are interesting – Sylvain Chomet’s “Tour Eiffel” about mimes in love is too cutesy but it’s breezy enough and “Quartier de la Madeleine” by Vincenzo Natali with Elijah Wood and Olga Kurylenko is only useful if you’ve ever wondered how vampires make out. The Maggie Gyllenhall and Natalie Portman portions are annoying but then maybe it’s just them that’s annoying – I can’t decide.With it’s amazing photography and ratio of good material over bad PARIS, JE T’AIME deserves to be seen in theaters though it will also be fun later to skip and choose the best bits from the DVD platter. It’s the tastiest anthology film I’ve ever been served.

Just released on DVD –

THE GOOD GERMAN
(Dir. Steven Soderbergh, 2006) Shot in black and white with its white washed exterior shots and rear projection when driving scenes THE GOOD GERMAN achieves beautifully the exact aesthetic of a film shot in 1945 so much that you may forget it’s a current release and think you are watching Turner Movie Classics. Its got the look down but unfortunately it doesn’t feel authentic. Soderbergh regular George Clooney plays a journalist who arrives in Berlin just after World War II has ended but the shadows and treachery still linger. He finds out that his scheming motor pool driver (Tobey Maguire) has been seeing Clooney’s former lover (Cate Blanchett)- a prostitute with a complicated dark background. Well if you’ve read my reviews you know I’m not one for detailed plot descriptions so that’s all you’ll get. Overlong and undercooked with a cast that is as stiff as Mount Rushmoore (with the exception of the overacting Maguire who is completely out of his depth here), this film adds nothing to the great noir genre and left me feeling afterwards like I saw a bad CASABLANCA cover band. I’m sure after they were finished with this sober straight faced old school exercise I bet Clooney and Soderbergh were dying to get trashed and party it up OCEAN’S style.

A write-up of a live performance by a comedian? Isn’t this supposed to be a film blog? Well I think Mr. Wright’s connection to the world of movies is pretty undeniable especially since he’s won an Oscar damnit! (For the short film THE APPOINTMENTS OF DENNIS JENNINGS1988) So hush your bitchin’ and let me babble on :

“When I was a little kid I wish the first word I ever said was the word ‘quote’ so right before I died I could say ‘unquote.'”

STEVEN WRIGHT live at the Carolina Theater, Durham June 6th, 2007 – I’ve seen Steven Wright before – in 1985 at Memorial Hall here in Chapel Hill and it was one of the funniest performances of stand-up I’ve ever seen. With a load of new material and a reputation from years of movie appearances (see below) and TV guest shots Wright walked onstage to thunderous applause early this month. Although the audience was familliar with a lot of his act (a recent Comedy Central special and DVD release When The Leaves Blow Away documents the new stuff) just about every line killed and it was fascinating to see him experiment with some lines that were obviously works in progress. He did about an hour and 40 minutes never losing momentum and I believe he only used a handful of jokes he had done 22 years earlier (pretty sure “I got arrested for scalping low numbers at the deli” and the bit about Harry Houdini locking his keys in his car were repeated) but these one liners are like classic crowd pleasers so that’s not really a criticism. He even played 2 songs on the guitar – one was introduced as a song he wrote when he was three years old – “the kittie’s trying to kill me”. So nice in these stupid celebrity obsessed times to have a non-topical apolitical clever crafty comedian still going strong and gaining new generations of fans. Can’t wait to see him again in 2029!

Wright was considered for my Cameos post last time out but didn’t make the list so I thought I’d take this occasion to pay tribute to the great man with this handy dandy list :

5 Great Wright Roles

1. NATURAL BORN KILLERS (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1994) Maybe the closest to a dramatic part as Wright’s ever done, uh well no not really. Dr. Emil Reingold is pure Wright through and through. When told by Robert Downey Jr. – “Mallory Knox has said that she wants to kill you.”He responds in a matter of fact manner – “I never really believe what women tell me.”

2. HALF BAKED (Dir. Tamra Davis, 1998) Uncredited and only known as The Guy On The Couch Wright has very few lines – “is it January?” he asks at one point but everybody always remembers his part in this aptly named pot comedy. Well, at least all my stoner friends do.

3. CANADIAN BACON (Dir. Michael Moore, 1995) Quite possibly the only legitimately funny part of Moore’s only non documentary flop comedy Wright appears at his laconic lucid finest as “RCMP Officer at Headquarters”. Thinking that there’s a war with Canada angry American invaders (John Candy, Kevin J. O’Connor, Bill Nunn) are further angered by Wright’s Canadian tongue – “I don’t know what you’re talking aboot, eh?” Bill Nunn yells in Wright’s face – “Aboot! It’s ABOUT! And what’s with this ‘eh’ business?!!?

4. COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 2003) In the opening short film “Strange To Meet You” Wright meets Roberto Benigni for a cup of coffee and yes cigarettes. Fimed in 1986 the scene is relatively meaningless beyond its basic description but there is a palatable amusing sense of awkwardness when these guys styles mix – Benigni sure doesn’t get Wright’s caffeine popsicle bit. Credited as Steven he has one energetic moment – “I like to drink a lot of coffee right before I go to sleep, so I can dream faster.” You can see the clip here.

5. SO I MARRIED AN AXE MURDERER (Dir. Thomas Schlamme, 1993) Another near lame movie saved from complete lame-ocity because of a Wright appearance. As a pilot of a small plane he scares the Hell out of passenger Mike Myers with his admission that he has never flown at night and when pointing at the instrument panel he says “that’s the artificial horizon, which is better than the actual horizon.”

Notable mention goes to his DJ voice-over in RESERVOIR DOGS, his take on the infamous naughty joke in THE ARISTOCRATS, and his film debut in 1984 as Larry Stillman D.D.S. in DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN (which was Madonna‘s film debut too by the way).

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.”
LOVE AND DEATH (1975)

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 :

boopbloop7@gmail.com

More later…

If I Was A Flashy Quotable Critic…

Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) : “It’s getting hot in here…”
Nelville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) : “I’m from Tennessee, I didn’t notice!”
SNAKES ON A PLANE
(Dir. David R. Ellis)

Well now that the country has gotten over SNAKES ON A PLANE (pretty much on its opening weekend a few weeks back) and the summer movie season is over we can do a little summing up. I sure don’t want to work up a full review post of SOAP so I thought I’d pretend to be a flashy quotable critic and go with a 2 word review :

“Entertaining Crap!”

says Daniel C. Johnson
from
FILM BABBLE BLOG
(Chapel Hill, NC)


Hey I like that – I’ll try that brief snappy approach with a few other summer flicks :

WORLD TRADE CENTER (Dir. Oliver Stone)

“Earnest effort but unabashedly undercooked”

– DANIEL COOK JOHNSON
of the #1 internet site for aimless movie chit-chat –
FILM BABBLE BLOG August 30th, 2006

LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE
(Directed by Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)

“Finely tuned fun for lovers of the predictably quirky”

– so sez the most trusted influential babblin’ blogger on the web today – Danny J of
FILM BABBLE BLOG August 25th, 2006

More later…