WHAT JUST HAPPENED & 10 Better Inside Hollywood Homages

Just released on DVD:

WHAT JUST HAPPENED
(Dir. Barry Levinson, 2008)

“Hunter S. Thompson once said to me ‘Bruce, my boy, the movie business is a cruel and shallow money trench where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.’ Then he added, ‘there’s also a negative side.’” – Bruce Willis written by Art Linson in this damn movie.


The above quote is rejiggered from a line attributed to Thompson which has been often alternately applied to the TV, radio, music business and the corporate communications world. That this misguided movie would have Willis (playing himself) claim it was spoken directly to him is one of the many things wrong with this rightly ignored project. The title is apt for such a film with a stellar cast that appeared and disappeared in an instant last fall. For most film folks this would be a dream A-list line-up – Robert De Niro as the lead with John Turturo, Catherine Keener, Stanley Tucci and Robin Penn Wright then throw in Bruce Willis and Sean Penn playing themselves and you’ve struck gold, right? Not with such dreary uninvolving material mostly concerning cutting a dog getting shot in the head out of a prestige picture and 40 minutes fighting over whether Bruce Willis will shave his bushy beard before a new production.



No doubt similar dire situations in Hollywoodland happened and still happen all the time but it hardly makes for compelling cinema. A little of a gruff De Niro as a once powerful producer plagued with these problems going back and forth from one uneasy conflict to another goes a long way. The intertwined subplot about his ex-wife (Penn Wright) sleeping with Tucci tries as it might but comes nowhere near making an emotional dent. Better is Michael Wincott as the strung out British director of the Sean Penn project who gripes about his artistic integrity being compromised when the cold calculating Keener threatens to take his movie and cut it herself. Willis profanely blares about artistic integrity too, but in a more destructive manner by throwing things and berating people on the set. ‘Oh, those inflated egos’ we’re supposed to think but instead I found myself looking at my watch.


Based on Art Linson’s book of the same name (with the sub-title “Bitter Hollywood Tales From the Front Line”) and marking a return to a smaller independent style production for Barry Levinson, WHAT JUST HAPPENED is nowhere near the great insider movies of years past (see below) unless anybody considers AN ALLAN SMITHEE FILM: BURN HOLLYWOOD BURN a classic and nobody does. It’s a shame to see De Niro and fellow ace actors tread water in a sea of industry indifference. Just like its IMDb entry, there are no memorable quotes or new lessons learned, just a lot of unpleasant exchanges between unlikable people making for a film with a charcoal soul. What just happened? Nothing worthwhile that I can think of.


As for better films about the same subject, that is movies about making movies, here are:


10 Essential Hollywood Insider Homages (Or Scathing Satires Of The Business We Call Show)


1. SUNSET BOULEVARD (Dir. Billy Wilder, 1950) Classics 101. Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond is truly one of the greatest screen characters of all time but with over a half a century of accolades and greatest films ever lists you don’t need me to tell you that. A film that set the precedent for dropping real names and featuring film folks play themselves (Cecil B. Demille, Buster Keaton, H.L. Warner, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper among them). The movie plays on TCM regularly so if you haven’t seen Swanson declare “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small!” you’re sure to get your chance soon.


2. THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1991) No less than 60

Hollywood names play themselves in this excellent satire of the state of the film industry in the early 90’s. As Griffin Mill, an executive who murders a writer he believes is harassing him, Tim Robbins nails it when he suggests: “I was just thinking what an interesting concept it is to eliminate the writer from the artistic process. If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.”


3. A STAR IS BORN (Dir. George Cukor, 1954) Actually the second remake of a 1937 film (skip the third one with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson), this is the ultimate ‘you meet the same people on the way up as on the way down’ morality play. Judy Garland’s career is taking off as husband James Mason finds himself on the outs turning to alcoholism and then to suicide (if thats a Spoiler! you really ought to tend to your Netflix queue or consult the TCM schedule). A still blinding spotlight on the fickleness of fame.


4. BARTON FINK (Dir. Joel Coen, 1991) A tour de force for John Turturo as a New York playwright struggling to write a wrestling B-movie script in 1940’s Hollywood. He fancies himself an intellectual who speaks for the common man, but he ignores an actual common man – his hotel neighbor played with gusto by John Goodman who could sure tell you some stories. Written by the Coen brothers as they themselves were struggling with writer’s block on what turned out to be the masterful MILLER’S CROSSING, the feel of spiritual distraction that all writers suffer from has never been so perfectly portrayed. Well, until #5 on this list that is.

5. ADAPTATION (Dir. Spike Jonez, 2002)


“To begin… To begin… How to start? I’m hungry. I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think. Maybe I should write something first, then reward myself with coffee. Coffee and a muffin. Okay, so I need to establish the themes. Maybe a banana-nut. That’s a good muffin.” A peek into the writing process of Charlie Kaufman (played by Nicholas Cage) who has to adapt the book “The Orchid Thief” and ends up writing himself into his screenplay. Catherine Keener, John Cusack, and John Malkovich play themselves (from the set of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH) while we get an abstract window into the world of a sought after screenwriter looking for more than just love from the business.


6. TROPIC THUNDER (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008) Over the top and in your face with a fast pace and a loving embrace of literally explosive satire, Stiller put himself back on top of the comedy heap here. With one of the best ensemble casts a comedy has ever had including Jack Black, the Oscar nominated Robert Downey Jr. in blackface, Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, Matthew McConaughey and (say what?) Tom Cruise as a crude bald pudgy hip hop dancing movie executive, we’ve got a crew well versed in tweaking the business that broke them. There are hundreds of zingers in this mad making of a film within a film but maybe Danny McBride as an explosive engineer spouting off as he rigs a bridge in the jungle is one of the best: “That’s it! Im going into catering after this!”

7. POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1990) Another tale of a career in movies that has hit the skids, but given a hip post modern cynical spin by Carrie Fisher who adapted her semi-autobiographical book. Not soon after leaving rehab Meryl Streep as actress Suzanne Vale exclaims “Thanks GOD I got sober now so I can be hyper-conscious for this series of humiliations!” This is after finding out a new beau (Dennis Quaid) is cheating on her, which is on top of over hearing people on the set talking about how much weight she’s gained. These worries pale compared to having to live with mother Shirley MacLaine (also a former actress based on Fisher’s mother Debbie Reynolds). MacLaine asks her daughter: “I was such an awful mother… what if you had a mother like Joan Crawford or Lana Turner?” Streep deadpans: “These are the options? You, Joan or Lana?” The funny side to growing up famous with a song sung by Streep to boot (“I’m Checkin Out” by Shel Silverstein).


8. THE BIG PICTURE (Dir. Christopher Guest, 1989) The forgotten Christopher Guest film. Pity too, because there’s a lot of wit to spare in this send up featuring Kevin Bacon as a fresh out of film school director whose first film gets compromised at every turn. A crack cast surrounds Bacon including frequent Guest collaborator Michael McKean (who also co-wrote the screenplay), Jennifer Jason Leigh, Terri Hatcher, and the late great J.T. Walsh as stoic but still sleazy studio head Alan Habel. Best though is Martin Short as Bacon’s slimy permed agent Neil Sussman: “I don’t know you. I don’t know your work. But I think you are a genius. And I am never wrong about that.” Look for cameos by Elliot Gould, John Cleese, and Eddie Albert as well as a Spinal Tap-ish song by a band named Pez People (“The Whites of Their Eyes” written and performed by Guest/McKean).


9. S.O.B. (Dir. Blake Edwards, 1981)


Despite trying to peddle ersatz post Sellers expiration date Pink Panther movies at the time, Edwards showed he still had some bite left in a few juicy farces – 10, VICTOR VICTORIA and this vulgar but saucy satire. The later concerns a film within the film that flops so film maker Felix Farmer (Richard Mulligan) decides to re-shoot the family film as a R-rated romp with wife Julie Andrews (Edwards’ real life wife) going topless. A lot of this comical exposé of desperate sordid behavior in the movie business went over my head when I saw it as a kid but a recent viewing got me up to speed. Another fine ensemble cast alongside Mulligan and Andrews – Robert Vaughn, Larry Hagman, Robert Loggia, Robert Webber, Robert Preston (lots of Roberts!), and it was William Holden’s last film (shout out to #1 on this list).


10. BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999) Many folks despise this campy comic caper of a film maker and his crew making a film (another film within a film plot) with an action star who doesn’t know he’s in the movie but I think it’s Steve Martin’s last great movie. Eddie Murphy’s too if you don’t count his extended glorified cameo in DREAMGIRLS. As Robert K. Bowfinger, Martin channels his old wild and crazy guy persona into a snake oil salesman of a wannabe movie mogul. Heather Graham (playing an aspiring sleeping her way to the top starlet that many thought was based on one time Martin flame Anne Heche), Robert Downey Jr., Christine Baranski, and Terrance Stamp are all along for the ride.


Okay! I was purposely skipping biopics or other movies that are based on true stories so don’t be complaining about ED WOOD or CHAPLIN not making the cut. There were a few close calls – LIVING IN OBLIVION and MOVERS & SHAKERS among them. Are there any other Hollywood insider movies that I forgot? Please let me know.


More later…

1408 And A Cry For Quality Cusack

“But you wouldn’t be sleeping with a person. You’d be sleeping with a whole sad single-person culture. It would be like sleeping with Talia Shire in ROCKY if you weren’t Rocky.” *
– Rob Gordon (John Cusack) HIGH FIDELITY (Dir. Stephen Frears, 2000)

* A friend emailed me this quote not long ago and asked “what does this mean?” I honestly have to say I don’t know.

I avoided 1408 upon its original run in theaters earlier this year because I suspected that the explanation (or lack of) for the supernatural premise would really piss me off. However I ordered the new release DVD on up from Netflix because my curiosity got the best of me but also because I like John Cusack (see below) and knew he’d at least deliver. So here’s my review:

1408 (Dir. Mikael Håfström, 2007)

The premise (based on a short story by Stephen King) is simple – John Cusack gets trapped in a hotel room from Hell. He’s tortured by apparitions of the many who were killed or killed themselves there and by images of his own deceased daughter (no, she didn’t die in the room).

The angle is that he’s an extremely skeptical writer of anti-ghost books – guides to hotels that are believed to be haunted that he stays in to debunk. So naturally when he hears (by way of a cryptic postcard) about a hotel room in the Dolphin Hotel in New York City that nobody has lasted more than an hour in and that has been closed off to the public, he gets his publisher to cut through some legal red tape and book the room.

He first has to listen to a series of lectures from hotel manager Samuel L. Jackson (whose role is essentially an extended cameo) about the history of grisly deaths interspersed with repeated attempts to talk Cusack out of staying in the room. “It’s an evil fucking room” Jackson concludes in the grimmest most intense manner he can muster as Cusack cynically and drolly rolls his eyes. This is where the plot description ends and I just bitch about the movie in full.

As for lasting an hour – the first hour of 1408 is pretty good – sharp and genuinely creepy. The second half however is really ludicrous – literally throwing every horror movie cliché at Cusack as he is almost burned, frozen, stabbed by ghosts, drowned, chased by a corpse in a heating duct, and he almost falls to his death hanging from the ledge when he tries to escape to the next room’s window which of course disappears.

These are technologically savvy ghosts – they outdo the AMITYVILLE HORROR‘s screwing with the bedside alarm clock ploy, though they do that too. Yes Siree – these ghosts can manipulate Cusack’s lap-top’s video messenger screen and broadcast their own satellite cable transmissions on the room’s television. They sometimes even tap into surveillance camera and old family camcorder feeds somehow to better scare Cusack. They can also appear in black and white complete with old film scratches or in technicolor depending on when they died craftily enough.

But of course it’s not the ghosts but the room itself as the title implies and Jackson said – it’s evil and can take control of everything including time, space, bed, bathroom and beyond. How could that be? You can’t have a Indian burial ground beneath a rented space in the sky so what gives? Then we have to filter in the estranged wife (Mary McCormack) and dead daughter (Jasmine Jessica Anthony) – who the room and the film use as heartstring pulling psyche-out set-up punches.

It’s the kind of movie that boils down to “we’ve traced the call – it’s coming from inside of your brain!” That said, this is an amusing time waster that has a better than the material performance by Cusack who carries pretty much the whole show. Like those movies depicting plane crashes that are banned by airlines, I think this would be a good one to censor from hotel-chain pay-per-view. I doubt I could sleep in a hotel room after watching it – just sayin’.

Postnote : Not that it affects my review but I only saw the unrated version of 1408 which is disc 2 of the Special Ed. DVD. I wasn’t aware that there was an alternate ending that is completely different to the theatrical release’s. I thought that the unrated version would be everything, you know? As readers of film babble must know I hate when there are alternate endings – cop-outs based on test screening panic for the most part.

A Cry For Quality Cusack

So how long since the last really good John Cusack movie? Uh, let’s go back through the bad ones – MUST LOVE DOGS, which was a real dog, was 2005, before it there was RUNAWAY JURY which was beneath the bottom of the bail and IDENTITY (another failed supernatural thriller like 1408) were both 2003, and SERENDIPITY and AMERICAN SWEETHEARTS which both seriously sucked so the last really good John Cusack movie was HIGH FIDELITY (2000). Wow, 7 years!

HIGH FIDELITY is one of my favorite movies (as the Nick Hornby novel it was based on is one of my favorite books) so because of Cusack’s top notch work as heartbroken music snob/geek Rob Gordon (named Rob Fleming in the book) in that film as I read somebody say on The Onion The A.V. Club he gets a free pass. However it looks like the pass is going to expire soon unless he takes some action. It looks like there’s possibilities ahead for the upcoming films MARTIAN CHILD (by Menno Meyjes who directed Cusack in MAX – which was decent but unmemorable) and the drama GRACE IS GONE (pictured below) so with hope the 7 year itch will be scratched.

Now I don’t want to write one of those “open letter to…” or any smarmy “here’s some career tips Mr. Big Star”, I mean how moronic would that be for me – a lowly blogger to even slightly think I know what really goes on with choosing scripts and signing on to projects but damnit I wish Cusack would do 2 things:

1. Work with Stephen Frears again – 2 of Cusack’s best films (THE GRIFTERS and HIGH FIDELITY) were with Frears directing and it seems like a good time for them to hook up again. Also Cusack was great in Woody Allen’s SHADOWS AND FOG and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY so another collaboration with him would be great too. How about this being a plea for Cusack to work with better directors in general? The last seven years smell of behind the camera hackery.

2. Host Saturday Night Live – That’s right, Cusack has never hosted SNL despite the fact that his sister Joan Cusack used to be a cast member. In his friend Tim Robbin’s excellent mock poli-doc BOB ROBERTS Cusack played an actor doing a SNL-type show called “Cutting Edge”. Just credited as “Cutting Edge Host” Cusack had a great anti-corporation/anti-right wing folk-singing senate candidate Bob Roberts (Robbins) rant. It would be a great actor exercise for him to do a string of different characters all live on SNL and I bet it would refresh his comedic facilities.

But like I said who am I to say such things – nobody that’s who! As long as Cusack still makes movies with his sister – the very funny above-mentioned Joan Cusack (they’ve been in 5 movies together and 2 more coming up) and Jeremy Piven (6 films) I’ll stop complaining. In fact I bet Joan would made 1408 quite a bit better if she would’ve appeared as the voice of the hotel phone operator and Piven as the bell hop – man, that would’ve added a more chilling effect to the proceedings.

So in conclusion – I have to do right by HIGH FIDELITY‘s Rob Gordon and his obsession with top-5 lists and name:

The Film Babble Blog Top Five John Cusack Movies

1. HIGH FIDELITY (2000) – No surprise there.

2. SAY ANYTHING (1989) – Excellent Cameron Crowe high school relationship movie. Best known for the boom box blaring Peter Gabriel held to the skies by Cusack’s immortal Lloyd Dobbler character – no, I’m not going to post that picture. I’ll go with the one with the Clash t-shirt on the left.

3. THE GRIFTERS (1990) – A con man (Cusack) and a few con women (Annette Benning, Angelica Houston) and a dark uncompromising comic tone that never lets up make this essential on my blog.

4. BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1994) – One of Woody Allen’s best screenplays with Cusack spot-on as a troubled neurotic playwright in 1920’s New York who has to deal with mafiaso control of his project. A pleasure from start to finish.

5. THE SURE THING (1985) – Very underrated Rob Reiner helmed comedy originally billed as a college-kids-on-the-road-sex-farce but it has better intentions and results. It makes the Top 5 because it was the first full-length that cemented the Cusack persona – he’s one of the only guys who can get away with a line like: “How would you like to have a sexual experience so intense it could conceivably change your political views?” Great Tim Robbins cameo to boot.

Came close but didn’t make the cut : BEING JOHN MALKOVICH (Dir. Spike Jonez, 1999)

That’s all for now – next time I’ll try not to come anywhere near giving celebrities career advice. I’ll leave you with this nice montage of Cusack in the rain which sort of says it all.

More later…

10 Definitive Films-Within-Films

We’re talking meta-movies here this time out! In particular – movies that contain sometimes just an inkling, sometimes an almost fully formed movie of its own inside their film framework. Fictitious films abound through cinema history – a fake title mentioned here, a fabricated clip seen in passing there but these examples cited below are unique in that their film within a film is practically their sole reason for being.

1. “Mant” in MATINEE (Dir. Joe Dante, 1993) A comic valentine to the end of the 50’s sci-fi B-movie era MATINEE is set in Key West, Florida, during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. This is the perfect setting for schlock meister showman Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman) to unveil “Mant” billed as “Half Man…Half Ant…All Terror!” and presented in Atomo-Vision and Rumble-Rama. Woolsey (who was supposedely based on like-wise schock -meister William Castle but his silhouette and appearance in his trailers are pure Hitchcock) gets his girlfriend played by Cathy Moriarty to dress as a nurse to get patrons to sign “medical consent forms” in the theater lobby, rigs the seats with electric buzzers, and even hires a guy to dress up as a giant ant and appear at a pivotal moment to scare the audience. All these gimmicks are employed to enhance the experience that is “Mant” – a black and white spoof of vintage monster movies in which a man mutates into a giant ant.

Appearances from veteran actors Kevin McCarthy (the original INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS), Robert Cornthwaite (the original WAR OF THE WORLDS, the original THE THING) and William Shallert (CRY TERROR! – ’58) give it creature feature cred while Moriarty does double duty as the actress playing the Mant’s distressed wife. As the high price on the Amazon ad to the right indicates MATINEE is sadly out of print but it must be noted that the original widescreen version laserdisc (circa ’94) has a stand-alone extra of the entire “Mant!” movie, running about 20 min. With hope a DVD re-release with this bonus will arrive some day and give this under-rated gem its deserved due.

2. A Fistful Of Yen in THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (Dir. John Landis, 1977) At just over 30 minutes this is the longest film within a film on this list. Sandwiched inside a hodge-podge of TV commercial parodies, movie trailer send-ups, and other media mocking mayhem, “A Fistful Of Yen” is a savage satire of 70’s Kung fu cinema in general but mostly it takes on the seminal Bruce Lee vehicle ENTER THE DRAGON (Dir. Robert Clouse, 1973). As KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE was the first feature by sketch comedy trio the Zucker bros. (David and Jerry) and Jim Abrahams, this extended piece was essentially a warm-up piece to AIRPLANE! and a introduction to their joke-a-second sight gag style. Evan C. Kim plays the Lee stand-in who accepts an assignment by the Government (U.S.? British? Does it matter?) to infiltrate Dr. Klahn’s (Master Bong Soo Han) island fortress of extraordinary magnitude, foil his destructive master plan and “kill fifty, maybe sixty people”.

3. Habeas Corpusin THE PLAYER (Dir. Robert Altman, 1991)Major Spoiler! Andy Civella (Dean Stockwell) and Tom Oakley (Richard E. Grant) pitch a premise to slick but sleazy studio exec.Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) – a dark thriller about an innocent woman sentenced to death. Oakley insists that the project be done with no stars and no happy ending – “she’s dead because that’s the reality – the innocent die” and “when I think about this – this isn’t even an American film” he stresses. When “Habeas Corpus” emerges a year later we see its final scenes in a studio screening room as the creators and execs look on. It’s now completely populated by stars (Bruce Willis, Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Peter Falk, Louise Fletcher, Ray Walston, etc) and has a contrived feel-good one-liner ending – “traffic was a bitch” Willis retorts after rescuing Roberts from the gas chamber. Why was this vision so disgustingly comprised? With dollar signs in his eyes Oakley responds “what about the way the old ending tested in Canoga Park? Everybody hated it, we reshot it now everybody loves it – that’s reality!” SNAP!


4.Je Vous Presente, Pamela (Meet Pamela) in DAY FOR NIGHT (NUIT AMERICAINE (Dir. Francois Truffaut, 1974) The making of “Meet Pamela” is the entire premise of the Oscar Award winning DAY FOR NIGHT. Truffaut plays a director much like himself who is consumed with every detail of his latest production. His cast and crew, all seemingly playing versions of themselves toil and plod through the never ending chaotic shooting schedule. The beautiful American actress Jacqueline Biset (who is one of the only actors that has a few lines in English) plays Pamela who in the mist of movie passion gets caught up in a romance with Jean Peirre Leaud (Truffaut regular and alter ego in the ANTOINE DOINEL series) who continually asks everyone he meets “are women magic?”

The first scene shows a busy Parisian street with dozens of people walking, children playing, a bus passing, and a man (Leaud) walking up the stairs from a subway tunnel to confront another man on the sidewalk then slap him. The director yells “cut!” and we have a unit director through a bullhorn – “the bus was 2 seconds late, the background activity was late too!” We are immediately inside both the film being made and the outer film about making it. And so it goes throughout the whole picture – we get a sense that “Meet Pamela” is a cliched melodrama far less interesting than what goes on behind the camera – which of course is in front of the camera in this film but before I blow my meta-mind out I digress…

5.Chubby Rain” in BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999) Another movie about the making of a fictional movie but this one is so uniquely American in its con-artistry. BOWFINGER has many detractors but I consider it the best Steve Martin movie of the last 10 years. Granted that’s not saying much – I mean CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN, BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, PINK PANTHER – uh, anybody? The movie being made was chosen by Martin’s not so wild but at times completely crazy small-time movie-maker wannabe Bobby Bowfinger character from a sci-fi script by his accountant (Adam Alexi-Malle) about aliens who come down in the raindrops hence “Chubby Rain”. After a cursory script skimming by slimey studio exec Robert Downey Jr. Bowfinger finds that his project would get greenlit if he gets self proclaimed “biggest black action star in the world” Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy). So when Ramsey is uninterested in the doing the film, especially after meeting Bowfinger – the cast and crew (including Heather Graham, Jamie Kennedy, and Christine Baranski) stalk him shooting film of him without his knowledge to star in “Chubby Rain.”

The hoax works for a bit but Ramsey being extremely paranoid and a pawn of a Scientology-like organization called Mindhead goes ballistic at the movie manipulations surrounding him. In the end though a deal is struck and the completed “Chubby Rain” is a pure crowd pleaser from the unknowing participation from Ramsey and the knowing participation from his geeky twin brother Jiff who serves as his double (of course also played by Murphy). A glimpse at another ficticious film “Fake Purse Ninjas” starring Bowfinger and Jiff is seen at the end. Sure “Chubby Rain” as a film within a film is silly beyond belief but even in its fake truncated form when we see a montage of scenes from it at its premiere it looks more valid and a more solid credible film than say DADDY DAY CARE, I SPY, HAUNTED MANSION, or even NORBIT for Christ’s sake!

6. The Purple Rose Of Cairo in THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO
(Dir. Woody Allen, 1985)
Since the Woodman is a fully functioning film historian himself, the idea that he would construct a completely realized movie to be watched and worshipped during the depression especially by domestically abused Celcelia (Mia Farrow) is not far fetched at all – in retrospect it seems natural as all get out. It’s just harmless escapism involving dapper dressed witty socialites on a Egyptian expedition before enjoying “a madcap Manhattan weekend” until protagonist pith-helmet wearing explorer Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) walks offscreen into Farrow’s life and a world of trouble. Then the actor playing the character – Gil Shepherd (also Daniels) has to appear to talk his alter-ego back onto the screen so the movie can play out.

The other characters in “
The Purple Rose Of Cairo” remain on the screen squabbling about their predicament and sometimes ridicule the few audience members while Cecelia is torn between the two men – “I just met a wonderful new man. He’s fictional but you can’t have everything..” One of Allen’s greatest lines ever in his entire cinematic canon is spoken by an extra – credited as “Moviegoer” an irrate old lady (too lazy to do the full research on this one – several women are listed as “Moviegoer” on IMDb) complains at the box office – “I want what happened in the movie last week to happen this week; otherwise, what’s life all about anyway?”

7.Codename Dragonfly in CQ (Dir. Roman Coppola, 2001)

So the story goes, this movie about a movie is a pastiche of the movies
BARBARELLA (Dir. Roger Vadim, 1968) and DANGER: DIABOLIK (Dir. Mario Bava, 1968) – that is it’s a nod to Italian knock-off spy thriller/cheap “it came from outer space” spoofs. Jeremy Davis plays an idealistic 60’s film-maker in Paris in 1969 whose ego gets in the way of his artistic ambition when he works as an editor on “Codename Dragonfly“. In the commentary cinematographer Bob Yeoman says “it’s actually 3 movies within a movie” – the first being the black and white documentary that Davis’s Paul character is self indulgentely making, the second – the sexy sci-fi “Dragonfly” project, and the third being I guess the entire CQ (“seek you”) project surrounding it – I think that’s it – maybe I need to watch it with commentary again. Anyway “Codename Dragonfly” is available as an extra on the CQ DVD in 2 different versions each running roughly over 10 min. – one is Paul’s (Davis) the other director Andrezej’s (Gerald Depardieu) compromised cut with fake “scene missing” bits and incomplete matte paintings.

8.Home For Purim (later changed to “Home For Thanksgiving”) in FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (Dir. Christopher Guest, 2006)


As one of Guest’s lesser ensemble comedy works the film within a film here is actually pretty funny. The plot of the movie being made is about a daughter’s confession of her lesbianism to her ailing mother upon coming home for a traditional holiday. Such issue driven content must be Oscar rewarded, right? So goes the premise here – funny in spurts – some of which spurts have studio exec Martin Gibb (Ricky Gervais) suggesting that they should “tone down the Jewishness” – hence the title and holiday change. Insinuated online Oscar buzz goes to the heads of the cast of Home For Thanksgiving” particularly to unfortunately and cruelly named Marilyn Hack (Catherine O’Hara) and pretentious veteran actor Victor Allan Miller (Harry Shearer). From the evidenced quality (or lack of) in said film within film we can see way in advance how their fortunes (or lack of) will turn out.

9.The Orchid Thief in ADAPTATION (Dir. Spike Jonze, 2002)

It could be argued that this entire movie is a movie within a movie here – it is hard to see where the screenplay Charlie Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) is writing ends and his brother Donald’s (also Cage) begin. Hired to adapt Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) bestselling “The Orchid Thief” Kaufman sweats bullets on how exactly to make a story out of a story-less book. He declares “I don’t want to cram in sex or guns or car chases or characters learning profound life lessons or growing or coming to like each other or overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end.” His brother Donald is working on a populist thriller called “The 3“. When Charlie realizes that Donald may have the accessible keys to making his work adaptable they collaborate and the movie concludes with sex, guns, a car chase, characters growing, coming to like each other, learning profound life lessons, and overcoming obstacles to succeed in the end.

Charlie: “I’ve written myself into my screenplay.”
Donald: “That’s kind of weird, huh?”

10. The Mutants of 2051 AD in STRANGE BREW (Dirs. Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas, 1983) SCTV‘s beloved beer-swilling Canadian spokesmen Doug and Bob McKenzie introduce their new movie at the beginning of STRANGE BREW. It’s a cheapie sci-fi epic set in the future after a worldwide holocaust. We see Bob (Moranis) drive their beat-up van suspended on very visible wires through what he calls “the forbidden zone” – “I was kinda like a one man force, eh? Like Charlton Heston in OMEGA MAN. Did you see it? It was beauty.” The film breaks down, the audience revolts wanting their money back and STRANGE BREW regresses to a regular comedy setting. Too bad – if they kept the non-existant budget sci-fi thing going through the whole movie we might have really had a classic here.

Honorable Mention :

The Dueling Cavalier” (later changed to “The Dancing Cavalier” in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Dirs. Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly) We see little of this film within a film but its production meeting brainstorming makes the concept take on a life of its own. Especially as Wikipedia notes – “The film “The Dueling Cavalier” is probably a reference to THE CAVALIER (Dir. Irvin Willat, 1928) a largely silent picture notable only for its poorly dubbed songs that were thrown in when it became clear talkies were popular”.

American Scooby” in STORYTELLING (Dir. Todd Solondz, 2001) The second half of STORYTELLING entitled “Non-fiction” details documentary film-maker Toby Oxman (Paul Giamatti) filming Scooby (Mark Webber) – a high school student and his family (including father John Goodman * and mother Julie Hagerty) through the college application process. The film that results – “American Scooby” with its title, identical soundtrack and right on down to the “straw wrapper blowing in the wind” (a substitute for that plastic bag of course) is obviously a huge dig at AMERICAN BEAUTY. Apparently this is because Director Sam Mendes put down Solondz’s work so file this under pay-back time.

* Goodman, again. He is surely the meta-man to go to for fictional film appearances!

Stab” in SCREAM 2 (Dir. Wes Craven, 1997) Robert Rodriguez filmed the film-within-a-film here that dramatized the events of the first SCREAM. Also it should be noted that SCREAM 3 which was the series concluder also featured the fictional series concluder “Stab 3 : Return to Woodsboro“.

Tristram Shandy” in TRISTHAM SHANDY : A COCK AND BULL STORY
(Dir. Michael Winterbottom, 2005)

Raving Beauty” in CECIL B. DEMENTED (Dir. John Waters, 2001)

Dishonorable Mention :

S1m0ne (Dir. Andrew Niccol, 2002) Computer generated actress Simone (Rachel Roberts) created by washed-out film maker Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino) stars in 3 fictional films – “I Am Pig“, “Sunrise Sunset“, and “Eternity Forever“. What we see of them is just as unconvincing as she is.

Jack Slater IV” in LAST ACTION HERO (Dir. John McTiernan, 1993) The less said about this Schwarzenegger dud the better. Don’t know why I even brought it up.

Time Over Time” in AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (Dir. Joe Roth, 2001) Diddo.

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