A New Documentary Asks WHO Is HARRY NILSSON?

WHO IS HARRY NILSSON (AND WHY IS EVERYBODY TALKING ABOUT HIM?) (Dir. John Scheinfeld, 2006)

The long silly title of this film obviously pokes fun at the fact that these days not many people are likely to know who Harry Nilsson was.

But if you are a fan of the Beatles, the Monkees, or Monty Python you are likely to have at least a tiny inkling of the late semi-legendary singer songwriter.

Also you may know his Grammy winning cover of Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talking” (the theme song for MIDNIGHT COWBOY) or his hit singles “Without You” and “Coconut”.

Nilsson’s soundtrack for Robert Altman’s POPEYE (1980) may also be familiar.

This fascinating and fast paced documentary tells Nilsson’s story extremely well taking us from his impoverished beginnings through flirtations with fame and sadly concluding with his despondent later years when his voice was shot and his stock at an all time low.

It was a career doomed by drinking and drugs as well as his being terrified to sing his songs live.

A roster of famous friends including Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, the Smothers Brothers, Robin Williams, Yoko Ono, Terry Gilliam and many others appear in interview segments to praise Nilsson as well as bury him with their frank depictions of the unruly talent.

But it’s the music that makes the movie roll. We get a good sense of how Nilsson was a one man Beatles – a notion confirmed in the late ‘60s when a “White Album” era John Lennon named him as his favorite “group”, not “performer” mind you.

Hundreds of photographs and lots of juicy archival footage are hauntingly serenaded by Nilsson’s smooth croon and even in lip synched appearances on TV shows such as “Beat Club” Nilsson’s charisma shines through.

Nilsson’s rowdy friendship with ex-Beatle Ringo Starr is given a lot of weight – their projects SON OF DRACULA and the popular children’s cartoon “The Point” are touched upon nicely.

With its conventional narrative WHO IS HARRY NILSSON doesn’t break any new musical bio doc ground, but with its wealth of great material, focused scope, and loving detail, that’s fine by me.

It’s a purposeful portrait of a jewel in the rough – a tortured artist with an affecting spirit even when he was scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

Sadly this film never made it theatrically to the Raleigh area. Fortunately it is now available on DVD and streaming on Netflix Instant.

More later…

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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 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…

IN BRUGES & More Film Babble Follow-up Fun!

In the spirit of continuing the pre-Spring cleaning I started last post I thought I’d go through my email bag and follow-up on some past threads but first let me tell you about another fine film that is in limited release and unfortunately being overlooked:

IN BRUGES (Dir. Martin McDonagh, 2008)

When I saw the trailer I feared that this would be one in a long line of Quentin Tarentino/Guy Ritchie ripoffs – you know wisecracking pop culture savvy figures of the underworld caught up in a series of crafty quirky possibly silly scenarios but IN BRUGES is so much better than that. Sure, it does have those elements but the restraint in flash and the edgy funny screenplay fuels a sweetly character driven piece that expertly balances dark comedy with a solid suspense yarn. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell are two hitmen who after botching a job in London are sent to the medieval city of Bruges in Belgium to lie low. Gleeson makes the best of the situation to take in some of the local sights but Farrell, in one of his best performances as the daft put-upon Ray, grumbles “If I’d grown up on a farm and was retarded, Bruges might impress me, but I didn’t, so it doesn’t.” He even remarks: “Maybe that’s what hell is, an entire eternity spent in Bruges.” As they wait for further instructions from their boss Harry (an energized and hilariously intense Ralph Fiennes) their lives become intertwined with a few colorful characters including French actress Clémence Poésy as Farrell’s love interest and Jordan Prentice as a racist dwarf actor named Jimmy *.

*an uncredited Peter Dinklage (THE STATION AGENT, DEATH AT A FUNERAL) also as an “Dwarf Actor” appears briefly.

It would be wrong to spill any more about the plot – the swift surprises in the film’s crafty construction should not be spoiled. Everything seems to have nicely aligned in every department for this sure to be a future cult film. Even the score by Coen Brothers regular Carter Burwell should be noted as exceptional. It is incredibly encouraging that a new filmmaker can take the tired stale crime caper and reinvigorate it into something as satisfyingly fresh and vital as IN BRUGES. As the new to the scene writer/director Martin McDonagh is definitely a name to remember. I’m sure that as word of mouth spreads his next movie-film will have a much wider release. You would have had to grown up on a farm or be retarded to dismiss this as another PULP FICTION wannabe or a LOCK, STOCK… look-alike – this is no such pretender.

Okay, so now it’s time to look back over Film Babble Blog past and follow-up on some of those much commented on lists.

In my post 10 Movie Moments That Broke The 4th Wall (August 22, 2007) I told by many fine film loving folk that I missed a really crucial and much loved Movie Moment:

HAROLD AND MAUDE (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1971) I can’t believe I left this one off! It’s one of my favorite films ever and it’s such a wonderful example of “breaking the frame”. Harold (Bud Cort) having successfully scared off another computer dating candidate by staging another of his phony suicide attempts looks directly at us in a “see what I just did?” manner. His sly satisifaction is short lived however as he recoils into timid submission upon turning and see his Mother’s disapproving glare. The passionate piano plucking intro of Cat Steven’s “I Think I See The Light” perfectly punctuates the shot and takes us into the next scene. Just about as good as film making gets. Ah, Ashby – you’ll never be forgotten.

I got a lot of feedback about my post 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos (June 5, 2007) – so much that I already did a follow-up – The Cameo Countdown Continues (June 20, 2007) but there was one delicious guest appearance that a bunch of people have called me on – Frank Zappa in the beautifully bizarre Monkees movie HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968). It’s another favorite of mine so boy is my face beet red! After Davy Jones’s “Daddy’s Boy” dance number Zappa, who for some reason is walking a cow on a leash, appears (credited as “The Critic”) from out of a crowd of extras on the studio back lot to offer his comments: “That song was pretty white.” Davy responds: “So am I; what can I tell you?” Zappa continues “You’ve been working on your dancing though…doesn’t leave much time for your music. You should spend more time on it because the youth of America depends on you to show the way.” To this, Zappa’s cow with an imposed cartoon mouth says in a weird accent: “Monkees is the craziest people!” That aside was to the camera so the scene counts as both a cameo and a moment that broke the 4th wall. Thanks to Sarah R., Stephanie W., Tim Murcer, George F., and especially Everette K. for not letting this issue go!

This one came from a recent email from Michael E. of Illinois referring to a post I did last summer called Those Damn DirecTV Movie Tie-In Ads – Offensive To Film Buffs? (July 19, 2007). Michael alerted me to a new DirecTV ad that features Kathy Bates reprising her Oscar winning role as Annie Wilkes from MISERY. Depicting the setup to the most horrific scene in the movie – the one where Bates cripples James Caan (who only appears from the original footage) with a sledgehammer – this commercial is the most misguided by far. Bates must have felt some hesitation to exploit her breakthrough performance for a satellite dish outfit. I guess on the other hand it was just another day’s work and one that most likely got her an awesome high def TV hook-up.

For my post 10 Self Referential Moments In The Films Of George Lucas/Steven Spielberg (Oct. 18th, 2007) I really missed a doozey! In RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK on the wall in the background of the Egyptian temple that Indian Jones finds the Ark in you can see C3PO and R2D2 illustrated in Hieroglyphic form – like Club Obi Wan in TEMPLE OF DOOM this definitely ties together the…hey, wait! I never did a post about self referential moments in Lucas/Spielberg movies! Hmm, maybe I should. That new INDIANA JONES and the long ass title nobody will use * is going to be out soon so it may be a good idea…


* Actually INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL – but c’mon! Nobody is gonna to use it – it’ll be like “2 tickets to Indy 4.”

More later…

Review To A Kill & 5 R-Rated Moments In PG AND G Rated Movies That Slipped Past The MCAA

“It’s not really happening. It’s a movie, and it’s called acting.”
Dakota Fanning talking about her new film HOUNDDOG

Okay, I got some DVD reviews and some babble ’bout R rated moments in G and PG rated movies so let’s get started –

DVDS IN CURRENT RELEASE :

FACTOTUM
(Dir. Bent Hammer, 2005) – One of my favorite movies is BARFLY (incidently it’s out of print on DVD – used copies sell for $89.95 – $200 on Amazon) in which Mickey Rourke portrayed Charles Bukowski’s alter ego Henry Chimalski – a definitive movie drunk, a pouty poet, and an all around unemployable schlub. Well Chimalski is back, this time a splotchy-faced and cranky Matt Dillon fills his shoes. Dillon’s take on the character is edgier with less of the humour than Rourke’s but he’s still the same schlub. Dealing mostly with the series of jobs Chimalski can’t keep and interspersed with the destructive relationships (Lili Taylor, Marissa Tomai) he can’t get a handle on, FACTOTUM doesn’t have much of a plot but it does actually have a point. It’s no BARFLY but after what some critics have mistaken for a inebriated exercise, Dillon’s final monologue brings it all into sweet focus.

IDIOCRACY (Dir. Mike Judge, 2006) – Mike Judge’s (OFFICE SPACE, BEAVIS & BUTTHEAD, KING OF THE HILL) return to the big screen has an infamously troubled back-story (extensive re-tinkering, little distribution and almost no promotion) so it’s recent DVD release will be the first time many are allowed to see it. Telling the story of 21st century every-man Luke Wilson who along with Maya Rudolph (SNL) is frozen in an army experiment for 500 years only to awaken to a collosally dumbed down culture where the President is a wrestler/former porn star, StarBucks offers sexual as well as coffee service, and Costcos are the size of Tennessee. The premise peters out less than half-way through and awful unneccesary narration annoyingly talks over full scenes of dialogue strongly implies further dumbing down of the movie in post production. Still there are some interesting attempts at socio-political satire and enough decent laughs involved to gain it a following particularly among fans of base level comedy. I’ve had those who lecture me on the worth of JACKASS, the SCARY MOVIE series and even CLERKS 2 so I know they are plenty out there who will dig it.

BUGSY – THE EXTENDED CUT (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1991)

“Dialogue’s cheap in Hollywood Ben, why don’t you run outside and jerk yourself a soda?”
– Virginia Hill (Annette Benning)

Haven’t seen this since it’s original video release in ’92 (didn’t catch it in theaters – ’91) so I don’t remember it very closely and couldn’t tell what was different about this new version but I enjoyed this new special edition much more than I expected. Based on the legendary mobster who ostensibly built Las Vegas and who Godfather fans well know was the inspiration for Moe Green (Alex Rocco) BUGSY doesn’t quite acheive the levels of stylistic period piece lyricism it aims for yet it still works. Warren Beatty plays the right note as the slick vain enterprising yet not unromantic Ben Siegel (I know that doesn’t sound like much of a stretch), Annette Benning puts in her usual silky never sleazy accompaniment and the rest of the cast is top notch (Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel, Elliot Gould, and Joe Montegna) James Toback’s sharp script is worth singling out too. Levinson’s directorial career has been spotty since (WAG THE DOG, ENVY, MAN OF THE YEAR, ugh) so it is nice to go back and re-appraise one of his most competant and under-rated films.

THIS FILM IS NOT YET RATED (Dir. Kirby Dick, 2006) – Having been confused and weirded out by what the exact standards and/or rules of the MPAA’s movie rating system I was excited about this film. I have to say though that this good-intentioned but ultimately misguided feature is fascinating but flawed as fuck. The idea of hiring private detectives to find out exactly who the people are who rate movies is a good one but the execution of said premise involving following SUVs around and getting un-insightful film of possible suspects is frankly a waste of time. Better is the interview material, the comparisons of what is permited between hetero and homosexual content and the background history of the MPAA and their former President Jack Valenti. I just wish it went deeper and was better structured – Kirby Dick appears to be passionate and dedicated and I wasn’t as annoyed by his Gonzo-insertions as some were but this could use a bit more work. This Film Is Not Yet Finished, more like.

Inspired by this documentary I thought it would be fun to look at :

5 R-RATED MOMENTS IN PG AND G RATED MOVIES THAT SLIPPED PAST THE MCAA

1. HEAD (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1968) – The famous 1968 photograph and NBC-shot film of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon is one of the most shocking and violent images ever presented to the world at large. It is effectively used alongside other frightening war footage in the LSD fueled mind-bending montages of this freaky envelope pushing movie in which the Monkees deconstruct their pre-fab bubblegum image. Thing is, this is a G-rated movie! Really Seems like someone at the MPAA saw that this was the Monkees and stamped a G on it without even watching it.

2. BRAINSTORM (Dir. Douglas Trumball, 1983) A good example of what often sailed by the review board in the days before PG-13, this virtual-reality sci-fi thriller that is most famous because of the drowning death of Natalie Wood that occured while shooting contains a shocking scene involving one of the bulky combersome devices that Christopher Walken is wearing in the picture on the right. A man has a heart attack while engaging in a simulated sex program with full frontal female nudity shown. I learned this the hard way when I innocently put the movie on when I used to work at a local video chain. Definitely not ‘in-store playable’.

3. JAWS (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1975) – Many bloody moments in this movie qualify it for an R rating but the skinny dipping girl who gets eaten within the first five minutes should of set up some sort of ratings red flag. On the other hand I saw the movie when I was a kid and don’t remember losing any sleep over it.

4. BANANAS (Dir. Woody Allen, 1971) – Squirmy neurotic low-level products tester Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) has very little luck in his meager life – even the simple task of picking up a porn mag along side copies of news publications like National Review invites public scorn. As he makes his choice of purchase we are guided through an explicit wall of porn magazine covers that did oddly only earned a PG-13 rating in a later video incarnation re-appraising.

5. AIRPLANE! (Dir. Jim Abrahms, Jerry Zucker, 1980) – There are a lot of scenes and elements in this famous disaster movie spoof that would be questionable PG material these days but the extreme shot of female full frontal nudity that occurs during a riotous panic when the passengers are told the plane is in jeopardy takes the cake! Of course it goes by so quick one could blink or sneeze and miss it. Looks like someone at the MPAA sure did.

More later…