RED: The Film Babble Blog Review

RED (Dir. Robert Schwentke, 2010)

Sometimes it seems like every other movie opening this year at the multiplex is a comic throwback to ‘80s action movies or based on a graphic novel I wasn’t aware of before.

To its credit RED is both. But that’s the only credit I’ll give this unfunny overblown mess though.

RED is titled after the stamp on agent Frank Moses’ (Bruce Willis) file, meaning “retired, extremely dangerous.”

Willis leads a mundane life as a former Black Ops CIA agent who tears up his retirement checks just so he can continue to call customer service representative Mary Louise Parker because he has a crush on her.

Before you know it Willis is on the run from government assassins and he abducts Parker for the ride. She goes along with it in her typical jaded Weeds fashion, but the unbelievable and incredibly contrived nature of her role never convinces for a second.

Parker’s life before was boring and now she’s caught up in a world of espionage – I get it, but it’s such a cringing cliché with a capital C.

He re-unites his old crew – the all star cast of Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Ernest Borgnine and John Malkovich – to fight the attackers and it’s one shoot-em-up after another.

The film is solidly staged but it’s a joyless affair with really poorly written dialogue and a distinct lack of laughs.

At this point in Willis’s career it’s surprising he would be attracted to this boring by-the-numbers material.

Willis just sleep walks (sometimes in slow motion) through a barely interesting plot handled with a hodgepodge of styles and clashing tones. The narrative involves a cover-up of Guatemalan slayings orchestrated by the Vice President (Julian McMahon).

There’s some seriousness in the seams but it’s overshadowed by cloying silliness. It’s also off-putting that the film has an unbearable sense of self satisfaction.

Malkovich as a jacked up explosives expert appears to be having fun with his role, but with such lame one-liners (none of which I can remember or else I’d quote one) that feeling is far from contagious.

Freeman, who is 73, plays an 80 year old ex-agent – a role that requires no heavy lifting, just his patented homespun delivery. Borgnine is 93 and like Malkovich he’s seems to be having a good time. Maybe he’s just happy to be anywhere these days.

Then there’s Dame Helen Mirren in a white evening gown firing a machine gun. That’s supposed to be a hilarious image, but it creaks like everything else in this misguided movie.

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget Richard Dreyfuss, still channeling Dick Cheney from W, as a bad guy who is also saddled with lines that fall flat. “I did it for the money” Dreyfuss revealed in a recent interview. It sure shows.

I saw somebody on a message board refer to this film as THE EXPENDABLES but with people who can actually act.” I can go with that because just like that Sylvester Stallone all star vehicle, this is ultimately a lame package.

RED, which I think should stand for Really Excruciating Drivel, is a waste every way you can cut it.

More later…

Advertisements

10 Blink And Miss Them Movie Cameos

Followers of this blog may have noticed that I have a fondness for film cameos. Film Babble Blog has featured lists like 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos, The Cameo Countdown Continues, and more recently Without A Hitch – 10 Definitive Directors’ Cameos In Their Own Movies, but this list is a bit different because many people may not have noticed these cameos at all. They can be difficult to catch as they go by fast but they’re there just waiting for some film geek like me to point them out. So here goes:

1. George Harrison in MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN (Dir. Terry Jones, 1979) Harrison helped finance this film solely because he was a big fan so it stands to reason that they’d throw him a bit part. He can be seen in a crowd scene and although he is uncredited he actually has a character name: Mr. Papadopoulos. He has one word of dialogue (“ullo”) spoken to Brian (Graham Chapman) as he is introduced by Reg (John Cleese) as “the owner of the mount” they are planning to rent. It’s brief but worth looking for – if only so you can point out to your friends: “Look! There’s a Beatle!” Speaking of the Beatles…

2. Phil Collins in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT (Dir. Richard Lester, 1964)

This is kind of a cheat because Collins wasn’t a well known celebrity at the time (he was 13), and you can barely see him in the audience shots of the concert climax but I just couldn’t resist listing it. Collins has often bragged about being one of the 350 teenage extras screaming at the Beatles, especially when he hosted You Can’t Do That!: The Making of “A Hard Day’s Night” (1995). Though as you can see his visage is impossible to recognize, even when enlarged, he is listed in some movie guides as being one of the stars of the film.

3. Alan Ladd in CITIZEN KANE (Dir. Orson Welles, 1941) This is a pretty infamous one – Ladd is one of the reporters in the screening room after the opening newsreel. It’s a smoke filled shadowy shot but he can be clearly seen, though it took Roger Ebert’s commentary on the DVD for me to identify him. He can also be seen at the end of the film smoking a pipe and even has a few lines.

4. R2D2 in STAR TREK (Dir. J.J. Abrams, 2009)


This cameo/Easter egg was rumored when the film opened last summer (there was even a Paramount sponsored contest centered on finding it) but it was pinpointed by fanboys all over the internets when the film hit DVD/Blu ray last month. It works as a funny little visual joke as well as a shout out from one science fiction franchise to another.

5. Dan Aykroyd in INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1984) It may have seemed strange to see the former SNL funnyman hawking Crystal Head Vodka in advertisements that refer to the last INDIANA JONES film, but Aykroyd actually has a legitimate connection to the series. He appears in Indy’s second installment as Weber, a British cohort who arranges a getaway plane for Jones (Harrison Ford), Willie (Kate Capshaw), and Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan). It’s easy to miss him as it’s a sweeping long shot and he’s such an incidental character but he still makes the most of his 18 seconds in this film.

6. Dennis Hopper in HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968) This one is priceless because Hopper looks like he can’t wait to get out of the studio, get on the road and shoot EASY RIDER (Monkees money funded EASY RIDER you see). Jack Nicholson, who co-wrote HEAD, is also in this scene which has the movie break down around Peter Tork with many members of the film’s crew coming into the shot including director Rafelson. When he swoops behind Tork to get to Rafelson I’d like to believe he’s asking “hey man, how long is this gonna be? We gotta get going!”

7. Christian Slater in STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (Dir. Nicholas Meyer, 1991)

I know, I know – another STAR TREK cameo but this one baffled me when I first saw this film. When Slater pops up it’s a dark shot and I distinctly remember the murmur in the theater as everybody seemed to collectively wonder “was that Christian Slater?” Credited as “Excelsior Communications Officer” Slater appears in a doorway, has a few lines, and then he’s gone. What was he doing there? In an interview with DVD Playground he answered that question: “My mother cast that film and needed someone to fill in. Yet even so, that was probably the most nervous I had ever been in my entire career.”

8. Richard Dreyfuss in THE GRADUATE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1967) Again, this might be playing loose with the definition of cameo too, but Dreyfuss’ smart part as “Boarding House Resident” always makes me laugh when I watch this film. Over the shoulder of landlord Norman Fell, Dreyfuss’s delivery is unmistakable on his only line: “Shall I call the cops? I’ll call the cops.”

9. Sigourney Weaver in ANNIE HALL (Dir. Woody Allen, 1977) She only appears in one shot, and it’s a long one, as Alvy Singer’s (Woody Allen) very tall date to yet another showing of THE SORROW AND THE PITY but if you ever see this film on the big screen you can see her features better. It was her first film and I bet nobody involved could predict that only 2 years later she would break through big in ALIEN. From “Alvy’s Date Outside Theatre” with no lines to science fiction icon/feminist heroine Ripley is quite a leap considering.

10. The Clash in THE KING OF COMEDY (Dir. Martin Scorsese, 1982) From the IMDb Trivia section for this film: “In the scene where Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernard argue in the street, three of the “street scum” that mock Bernhard are Mick Jones, Joe Strummer, and Paul Simonon, members of the British punk rock band, The Clash.” There are many pictures of Scorsese directing RAGING BULL wearing a Clash t-shirt so there’s obviously a connection between the master film maker and “The Only Band That Matters” (as they were billed at the time).

Okay! There goes another patented Film Babble Blog list. If you have any other blink and miss them movie cameos please drop me a line.

More later…

10 Movie Characters Revived Via SNL By Their Original Actors

For no other reason than to take a break from reviews of the all the prestige Oscar bait out there I decided it was time for another patented Film Babble Blog list. Enjoy!

It’s interesting that some actors stay away from reprising their best known roles when Saturday Night Live comes a-calling. In the 2 times Robert De Niro hosted there were no appearances by Travis Bickle (TAXI DRIVER), Jake La Motta (RAGING BULL), Max Cady (CAPE FEAR) or even deluded comedian Rupert Pupkin (THE KING OF COMEDY) who actually would lend himself nicely to a follow-up sketch. Sally Field even stressed in her monologue on her one time hosting gig that she would not be playing any past parts to the comical disappointment of Flying Nun, Gidget, and SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT fans (actually just one – Burt Reynolds as played by Phil Hartman). Many movie stars though have fearlessly stepped back into old shoes and reclaimed their iconic characters even if it’s just for the sake of satire. Here’s some of the best:

1. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates from PSYCHO (March 13th, 1976) Perkins was the first actor to take on the role that made his name for a SNL sketch. It was a gutsy move because the part had him typecasted him for years but he slips back beautifully into Bates in a commercial parody entitled “The Norman Bates School Of Motel Management.” In his direct to the camera address he stutters, imitates (or channels) the voice of his mother, and gives us a quiz to see if we’re motel material: “Question One – A guest loses the key to her room. Would you: A: Give her a duplicate key. B: Let her in with your passkey. C: Hack her to death with a kitchen knife.” Silly, yes but Perkins playing Bates again later in 2 80’s sequels and a 90’s TV movie (yep, 3 more times) is much sillier.


2. Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia from STAR WARS * (Nov. 18th , 1978) Fisher, who also did the opening monologue in Leia garb, joined the cast as her most famous character in a Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movie parody entitled “Beach Blanket Bingo from Outer Space.” Frankie (Bill Murray) hits on the visiting Princess to Annette’s (Gilda Radner) chagrin while celebs such as Vincent Price (Dan Aykroyd) and Chubby Checker (Garrett Morris) make obligatory cameos. Her appearance is actually light years less embarrassing than on “The Star Wars Holiday Special” (broadcast just one day earlier by the way) in which she also insisted on singing a song for us. Most notable however is the sight of Leia in a gold bikini a full 5 years before RETURN OF THE JEDI.


* Still not calling it A NEW HOPE, damnit!


3. Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison from THE DOORS (Dec. 9th, 2000) Donning a wig, 60’s threads, and a perpetually stoned expression, Kilmer embodied the Lizard King one more time in a Behind The Music satire that centered on “Rock And Roll Heaven.” Morrison forms a band with other dead musical icons such as Jimi Hendrix (Jimmy Minor), Janis Joplin (Molly Shannon), Keith Moon (Horatio Sanz), Billy Holly (Jimmy Fallon), and as the announcer (real Behind The Music narrator Jim Forbes) reveals: “a Wild Card – Louis Armstrong (Tracy Morgan) on trumpet.” Morrison’s afterlife band called The Great Frog Society is soon the talk of Heaven, but offstage things were falling apart (Forbes stresses: “‘offstage things were falling apart”, is a registered trademark of VH1 and Behind the Music’”).


4. Glenn Close as Alex Forrest from FATAL ATTRACTION (Feb. 25th, 1989) This support group sketch actually takes place during the events of the 1987 infidelity suspense thriller. Close’s murderous stalker character shares her stories with her group members (Dana Carvey, Nora Dunn, Victoria Jackson, and Jon Lovitz) and therapist (Kevin Nealon) who of course are supremely disturbed by them. Portraying Alex as merely the victum of a one-night stand is an especially nice funny touch here considering, well, you know.


5. Elijah Wood as Frodo from THE LORD OF THE RINGS series (Dec. 13th, 2003) st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }
Gollum (Chris Kattan) interrupts Wood’s monologue to plug their new sitcom pilot featuring an Odd Couple (or more like Perfect Strangers) premise. As Wood describes it: “Basically, the idea is that, before they make it to Mordor, Frodo and Gollum decide to move to Denver and share an apartment together.” Of course, wackiness ensues.


6. Dennis Hopper as Billy from EASY RIDER * (May 23rd, 1987) Using actual footage of the ending to the New Hollywood classic, we see Billy and Wyatt’s (Peter Fonda) ultimate demise (that can’t possibly be a Spolier! at this point, can it?). Not so fast, with a “later that day” caption this sketch shows that Billy and Wyatt (now played by Dana Carvey) survived to get treated by a local Doc (Jon Lovitz) and even run into their lawyer friend George Hanson (Phil Hartman doing his best Jack Nicholson). Billy: “George, man, I thought you were dead, man!” George: Nah… just a bad hangover. I felt like I’d been whopped on the head with an ax handle. [ holds up bottle ] This stuff’ll ruin ya!” Billy: Yeah, man. I’ll take that [grabs and opens bottle].

* Incidentally on the same episode Hopper also played Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET in a game show parody called “What’s That Smell?”

7. Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink from RESERVOIR DOGS (Oct. 15th 1994) In definitely one of the best sketches of a dreary season, John Travolta revisited his Sweathog roots in “Quentin Tarantino’s Welcome Back Kotter”. The sketch was overpopulated as an SNL sketch can be with all of the cast (including Chris Farley, Adam Sandler, Chris Elliot, Mike Myers, Janeane Garafolo, you get the picture) hamming it up but the finale involving a cameo from David Lander (Squiggy!) joining old Laverne And Shirley partner Michael McKean was greatly upstaged by Buscemi bursting in the doorway, gun raised and fitting sophomoric put-down ready: “Up your hole with a mellow roll!”


8. Richard Dreyfuss as Roy Neary from CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (May 13th, 1978) One of the first to mock his own character and film while it still played in theaters, Dreyfuss again put on the worn bathrobe of the alien obsessed Neary who now comes to believe the Coneheads are the source of his implanted visions. The sketch (“Clone Encounters Of The Third Kind”) ends, like the film did, with Neary leaving earth with his new intergalactic friends.


9. Tim Robbins as Bob Roberts from BOB ROBERTS (Oct. 3rd, 1992) Another appearance that occurred when the character in question was still on the big screen, Robbins’ conservative folk singing candidate was on hand for a sketch entitled: “Bob Roberts Book Burning.” It was a funny premise – Roberts burning books while singing about free expression but its place on the program was incredibly overshadowed by that week’s musical guest Sinead O’Connor who had free expression thoughts of her own * that night.


* For those of you who don’t know what I’m referring to – O’Connor, after an acapella version of Bob Marley’s “War”, tore up a photo of Pope John Paul II and yelled: “Fight the real power!” Audience silence and the prospect of the segment never being re-run was the result.


10. Robert Mitchum as Phillip Marlowe from THE BIG SLEEP (1978) and FAREWELL, MY LOVELY (1975) (Nov. 14th, 1987) This film noir satire called “Death Be Not Deadly” appropriately filmed in black and white gave the great Mitchum the chance to spoof his Private eye character and one of the conventions of the genre. Seemingly mistaken that his comments/narration is in voice-over when actually it’s Marlowe speaking aloud, he confuses and annoys his clients (Kevin Nealon, Jan Hooks). As funny as it is a fond tribute.


Okay! Of course there are others – both Mel Gibson and Danny Glover did their cop buddy characters in “Lethal Weapon 6” in 1987 (before there was even a LETHAL WEAPON 2) and Margot Kidder reprised Lois Lane while SUPERMAN was still flying high in 1979 so I’m sure there are many I’ve neglected but that’s what the comments below is for.


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…