EVERYTHING MUST GO: The Film Babble Blog Review

EVERYTHING MUST GO (Dir. Dan Rush, 2011)

Usually the summer movie season is time for a big dumb Will Ferrell comedy, but not this time around.

Here Ferrell takes on a spare indie film in which he plays a somewhat pathetic yet sympathetic character – a man who gets fired from his corporate job (by Glenn Howerton of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, no less) because of his drinking, then comes home to find his wife has left him. She changed the locks, and all of Ferrell’s possessions are on the front lawn. His company car is repossessed soon after as well.

Drinking PBR after PBR, Ferrell tries to make the best of the situation. He hires a young boy (Christopher Jordan Wallace) to help him hold a yard sale after his former AA sponsor (Michael Peña) tells him that’s the only way he can legally live outside on the property for 5 more days.

Ferrell eyes a new neighbor across the street – a pregnant Rebecca Hall – with who he strikes up a friendship, he blackmails another neighbor (Stephen Root) for electricity after witnessing some S&M practices through Root’s and wife’s window, and he schools Wallace in business tips as well as baseball training.

Through this all, Ferrell’s restrained though obviously pained demeanor adds up to his best performance. In previous films like STRANGER THAN FICTION, MELINDA AND MELINDA, and even his over-the-top comic work, he’s hinted at layers of this kind of depth, but here it’s present in every scene.

Although it’s based on a 4-page Raymond Carver short story (“Why Don’t You Dance?”), it bears little resemblance to it except for the basic premise of an alcoholic selling all his belongings in his front yard. Of course, it would have to be fleshed out for a 96 minute movie and writer/director Dan Rush does an admirable job of doing just that.

EVERYTHING MUST GO is a quiet touching movie that never tries to hard or panders too heavily to dramatic conventions. In its best scenes, themes aren’t spelled out; they’re inside the minds of the characters.

As an old high school friend who Ferrell happens to be reminded of because of an old yearbook, Laura Dern has a greatly affecting scene. Dern and Ferrell catch up after decades of non-communication on her front porch, and there’s a nice notion in the air that people in the movies can just share a moment together without a forced romance getting in the way.

Same goes for Ferrell’s scenes with Rebecca Hall – the organic connection between these 2 people’s desperate pleasantries is palpable and endearing.

In Carver’s short story, a young woman (who doesn’t exist in the movie), can’t quite figure out the man with his stuff in the yard who kept playing records on an old crappy turntable as she and her boyfriend danced.

Carver writes about her telling her friends about it: “She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying.”

This film knows that sometimes you can’t get things talked out. Hmm, maybe it resembles the short story more than I thought.

More later…


THE FOOT FIST WAY (Dir. Jody Hill, 2006)

I really wanted to like this low budget comedy. It was filmed in my home state (in Concord, NC), made by former North Carolina School of the Arts students and The Varsity where I work is the only theater in the whole state showing the movie. So for obvious reasons I was pulling for it despite the first wave of so-so reviews. Comedian Patton Oswalt (best known as the voice of the rat in RATATOUILLE), who has no connection to the film except that he’s a fan, wrote this response to Keith Phipps’ lukewarm review of the film at the Onion A.V. Club (Phipps rated the film a “C”) which was another factor that got my hopes up. I mean Oswalt, whose stand-up comedy I love, used words like “genius”, “unique comic vision” and called it “a brilliant little movie” so you can see why I was on board there too. The film being the first production of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay was less encouraging because Ferrell’s last few sports comedies have, well, sorta sucked so that doesn’t really have the pull it used to. Unfortunately this film about a strip-mall Martial Arts instructor (Danny McBride) has only about 3 or 4 laughs in it.

McBride plays Fred Simmons whose deluded ego, cheating wife, and connection to his students is supposed to engage and amuse us but he’s not a likable nor even unlikable enough of character to do anything but annoy. As his slutty wife, Mary Jane Bostic gives a pretty wooden performance (even during a sex scene!) but with such flimsy material I don’t think it really refects on her as an actress. Director Jody Hill fares a little better as a pretentious Tae Kwon Do master and writer Ben Best does a decent turn as coked-up asshole Chuck “The Truck” Wallace – a movie star who McBride worships. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE-style buzz is highly unlikely to be generated by this lackluster effort – any few random hours of Comedy Central will bring bigger laughs. Like I said I was wanting to root for this scrappy underdog film from my Southern state but I find it very hard to see the “brilliant little movie” in THE FOOT FIST WAY that Patton Oswalt promised so I can only offer this 2 paragraph “Meh” as my response. Maybe if I had some of what he was smoking when he watched it I’d feel differently.

More later…

SEMI-PRO – Completely Amateurish

SEMI-PRO (Dir. Kent Alterman, 2008)

Does the Will Ferrell sports comedy genre (epitomized in TALLADEGA NIGHTS, KICKING AND SCREAMING, and BLADES OF GLORY) have a future? Does it deserve one? Well judging by this recent entry – no. Will Ferrell is undoubtedly one of the biggest comic actors right now – just a week ago he came to my area and performed to a sold-out crowd at a local basketball arena (The Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC). I doubt sold-out crowds will show for this because even hardcore Ferrell fans will have a hard time finding SEMI-PRO anything but only fitfully funny. And it’s more fitful than funny.

It’s set in Flint, Michigan in 1976 – why? Because everyone knows the 70’s are funny with their wacky hairstyles and kooky clothing while Flint, an economically troubled crumbling city as Michael Moore has often illustrated, I guess the filmmakers figured also has comic possibilities. We meet yet another full-of-himself Ferrell character – Jackie Moon – a one-hit wonder (with the creepy single “Love Me Sexy” that opens the movie) now turned owner/coach/player of the the American Basketball Association’s Flint Michigan Tropics. His team, of course, is a gaggle of underdog losers who may have to fold because of a merger of the ABA with the NBA. Ferrell makes a deal that if the Tropics finish in the top 4 at the end of the season they can make the move to the NBA. He recruits Woody Harrelson (squandering all the cred he just gained with his measured performance in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN) as a former NBA player, and he ups the promotional ante with gimmicks like corn dog night, clown makeup night, and even gets in the ring with a live bear named Dewey one night to put bums in the seats. So far so bad…

It’s all supposed to be in the realm of “outrageous comedy” but very little amuses here. Co-star André Benjamin (also known as André 3000 of the band Outkast) makes the same mistake Harrelson does – they both act like they’re playing real people when they should of cozied up to the cartoon trappings like Ferrell knows to do. The rest of the cast is capable – former Conan co-hort Andy Richter is always likable but given little to do, Maura Tierney (Newsradio, E.R.) plays another thankless girlfriend part, and SNL‘s Kirsten Wiig (as the bear handler) along with Arrested Development‘s Will Arnett try in vain to get some laugh action. An odd appearance by Jackie Earle Haley, (no stranger to sports comedies with BAD NEWS BEARS back in the day) as a zoned-out hippie who Ferrell screws over because he can’t afford to pay him $10,000 Haley won at one of his promo nights, suggests a profound sense of laziness in the screen-writing process but that’s evident everywhere. Especially in the tired jabs at lame 70’s targets like Pong, Shasta, and Fondue sets that seem like rejects from ANCHORMAN. You can’t have Will Ferrell and this cast and not have some laughs – a poker table Russian Roulette scene has its moments and there are scattered lines that may elicit chuckles but this is a wasted enterprise overall. SEMI-PRO is the worst Will Ferrell film I’ve ever seen (and yes that includes BEWITCHED) but I’m hoping it offers some hope that the powers that be recognize it as such and scrap all future Ferrell sports projects. Yeah, as if.

More later…

The Real Napolean Dynamite *

* I would not usually put an asterick denotation in my blogpost headline but I felt this needed qualification – hit it Wikipedia from an entry on the movie of the same name: “The name “NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE” is a pseudonym used by Elvis Costello on the back of the album “Blood and Chocolate” (released 1986). Writer/Director Jared Hess has denied that this was his source for the name, once claiming that rather, the name came from an old Italian man he met in Chicago, and that the Elvis Costello connection is a coincidence.”

Coincidence? As if!

So, last night I went to see Elvis Costello (real name Declann McManus) – who is one of my all time favorite performers – backed by the North Carolina Symphony at Regency Park Amphitheater in Cary. Elvis didn’t even remember his last time to the area – he pronounced Raleigh – “Rally” (as in his song “Night Rally”). The show is reviewed below but first I thought it would be fun to look at his film work – such as his many onscreen appearances in what I call:

Costello Cameo Cavalcade!

Costello has done many bit parts in films and TV since the late 70’s. His first was as Earl Manchester in AMERICATHON – a barely seen 1979 John Ritter comedy. Appearances followed in likewise obscure works like the British one seasoner sitcom Scully, as inept magician Rosco de Ville in the film NO SURRENDER (both by Alan Bleasdale), and rounding his ’80’s acting oeuvre out was a cameo as Hives the Butler in Alex Cox’s (REPO MAN) odd thin-tie punk opus STRAIGHT TO HELL which had a bevy of cult musicians in small parts (Joe Strummer, Courtyney Love, members of the Pogues and Circle Jerks, etc.) These appearances were way under the radar mind you, Costello was heading towards the mainstream in the 90’s starting with:

The Larry Sanders Show
(HBO, 1992-1998) Garry Shandling’s satirical talk-show within-a-show featured just about everybody in the business doing exaggerated versions of themselves and Costello was no exception. He appeared first in an episode in the third season – “People’s Choice” (aired: 7/20/94). In one of his long time backing band’s (the Attractions) last TV appearances, Costello performs “13 Steps Lead Down” complete with “Radio Radio” coda before storming out of the studio leaving a trashed dressing room behind in reaction to bad back stage treatment.

The next appearance in “Everybody Loves Larry” (aired: 11/13/96) – also titled “Duchovny’s Crush – Hank’s Lemon” – involves Elvis selling a supposed classic car to Sanders’ co-host Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) which turns out to be a lemon – man, I love stating the obvious. While he performs a beautiful solo acoustic “Little Atoms” from “All This Useless Beauty”, Hank dons glasses in a weak attempt to mock Costello.

SPICEWORLD (Dir. Bob Spiers, 1997) I’ve already written about this cameo before in the post “20 Great Modern Movie Cameos” – so I won’t go on about it again.

AUSTIN POWERS : THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (Dir. Jay Roach, 1999) Because of his vintage brand of swinging pop Burt Bacharach has appeared in all three AUSTIN POWERS movies tinkling the ivories in a downtime romantic setting. Since it coincided with Bacharach’s collaboration with Costello “Painted From Memory” – it was expected that Elvis would show up to sing to Burt’s accompaniment. Elvis said of the scene: “It’s the 1960’s, not to give away the plot, but in some sort of magical way we end up in the 1960’s doing a song.” (Late Night With Conan O’Brien 11/23/98) Austin Powers (Mike Myers) breaks that ole fourth wall by introducing Elvis and Burt as if they were his guests on a talk show and they do a smooth (mimed and lip synched of course) rendition of “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”. Austin attempts to woo Felicity Shagwell (Heather Graham) by way of Comical dancing as the song flows.

(Dir. Risa Bramon Garcia, 1999) The soundtrack to this late ’90’s take on a 1981 New York New Year’s Eve is filled with what they used to call New Wave (Blondie, Joe Jackson, Nick Lowe, Ramones, etc.) so of course Elvis would not only be heard with his definitive cover of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?” but also appears in a cameo as himself. After a night of mishaps and drunken revelry Janeane Garafolo wakes up to find Elvis’s glasses and she realizes she slept with the man in question.

PRISON SONG (Dir. Darnell Martin, 2001) As big an Elvis Costello fan as I am I was not aware of this film until I began this post and am surprised that it has him playing 2 roles – Public Defender/Teacher. Again I’ll defer to the mighty Wiki “The film was originally intended to be a full-fledged musical, but this tested poorly with audiences, so most of the musical numbers – except the most essential to the story – were cut. This helps explain the mysterious appearance of Elvis Costello in two roles in which he does very little.”

3rd Rock From The Sun (NBC 1996-2001) The final episode (aired: 5/22/01) of this beyond silly sci-fi sitcom starring John Lithgow had the family of aliens holding a farewell bash. They hire Elvis Costello who still in full crooner mode sings “Fly Me To The Moon”. I guess this could confirms a lot of pop pundits belief that Costello is the punk rock Sinatra.

The Simpsons (1989-forever) Of course this would be mentioned here – I mean, have you met me? In the episode “How I Spent My Strummer Vacation” (aired: 11/10/2002) Homer goes to a Rock ‘N Roll Fantasy Camp run by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards with Tom Petty, Lenny Kravitz, Brian Setzer and yep, our man McManus as instructors. When Costello tries to discourage the guitar as instrument of choice to the aggressive students, Homer storms his tent calling him “nerdlinger” and knocks off his glasses. Elvis exclaims “my image!”

Frasier (NBC Sitcom 1993-2004) Maybe a contender for the best Costello cameo – the man appears, not as himself for a nice change, as Ben – a coffee house folk guitarist with a heavy Scottish accent. Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and his brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) take immediate offence at Ben taking up performer residence at Cafe Nervosa in the episode “Farewell, Nervosa” (aired: 4/22/03). Costello is hilarious as he performs exaggerated amped up versions of “Wild Rover”,”Tie Me Kangeroo Down”, and especially when he announces that he’s selling CDs (not his own recordings – mind you) outside during a break in his performance – “10 dollars is still the best price for ‘Quadrophenia’!”

DE-LOVELY (Dir. Irwin Winkler, 2004) Credited as “musical performer” Costello appears back in crooner mode on stage at a costume party singing “Let’s Misbehave” in this somewhat surreal Cole Porter bio-pic. Though he’s given a few close-ups, Costello is mostly seen in long shots or heard in the background as Porter (Kevin Kline) and his wife Linda (Ashley Judd) have a plot-point moment.

TALLADEGA NIGHTS : THE BALLAD OF RICKY BOBBY (Dir. Adam McKay, 2006) From reports he filmed this cameo in one day and it shows – he didn’t have any actual lines of dialogue. There were just shots of him having tea with Mos Def at Will Ferrell’s title character’s rival driver Jean Girard’s (Sacha Baron Cohen) mansion. Too many Costello songs to fully note have been in movies over the years but HIGH FIDELITY (Dir. Stephen Frears, 1999) must be singled out because it was named after a Costello song (see also LESS THAN ZERO AND CLUBLAND) and it had “Shipbuilding” featured on its motion picture soundtrack. Now on to the show:

Elvis Costello and the North Carolina Symphony @ Booth Amphitheatre, Cary, North Carolina Sept. 13th, 2007

“Me doing a romantic song is like Steve Buscemi playing the George Clooney role in a movie.”
– Elvis Costello introducing “She” 9/13/07

The best concert I’ve ever seen was Elvis Costello and the Attractions on the “Brutal Youth” tour in Raleigh on June 19th, 1994. I was a casual fan up to that point but witnessing the man’s vocal range and attention to melodic detail made me a hardcore fan. Since then I’ve collected his many discs and absorbed his many styles but always preferred the rocking stuff. Well the prospect of Costello singing with an orchestra might have raised my eyebrows at first but there was still the possibility that the man under any circumstance could still rock.

Rock he did – viciously strumming an acoustic guitar he and longtime Attraction/Imposter cohort pianist Steve Nieve offered up a number of Costello classics (“Accidents Will Happen”, “Green Shirt”, “Veronica”) that pleased the audience but the real focus of the evening was the embellished arrangements of the more challenging genre exercises of his canon. “Watching the Detectives” was given a complete workout with mighty percussion and sax involvement and the obvious but still vital “Alison” had a significant rephrasing and affecting as Hell addition of Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears” added in its coda.

Costello bantered with the audience in a casual and amusing manner even when mentioning “the war” – he brought that up when introducing his Oscar nominated (for COLD MOUNTAIN) song co-written with Allison Krause “Scarlet Tide” and of course when performing Nick Lowe’s immortal “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding”. A song that I stupidly didn’t even anticipate – the gorgeous Chet Baker arranged “Shipbuilding” fit the agenda beautifully as well. I know I’m not alone in my rocking preference – when Costello mentioned his album with the Brodsky Quartet – “The Juliet Letters” he got scant applause but a mere reference to his co-writing a song with Paul McCartney got people to roar. The bottom line whatever the genre, arrangement, or setting is – the man can seriously sing. You have to see him perform live to fully appreciate that I believe because the man’s pipes can’t be contained on a CD or in your iPod’s earphones. So yeah, when it comes down to it – the man rocked.

Postnote – for a complete setlist of the show go here.

Okay! Thanks for indulging me for my birthday week pop music in the movies postings. Next time out – actual recent movies in theaters and on DVD. Stay tuned.

More later…

The Cameo Countdown Continues

“We now return to “Return Of The Pink Panther Returns” starring Ken Wahl as Inspector Clouseau…”
– An announcer on a late night TV broadcast in the background of Chief Wiggum’s bedroom on The Simpsons

So I had such a gigantic response for my post – 20 Great Modern Movie Cameos (6/3/07 – 6/10/07) that I thought I’d honor my readers and their suggestions this time out. I got more email than I’ve ever gotten in my life in the last week so it is quite a task to go through it all but well worth it. Let’s start with the major cameo ommisions – i.e. the ones that got the most votes :

Sean ConneryROBIN HOOD : PRINCE OF THIEVES (Dir. Kevin Reynolds, 1991) I’ve never made it through all of this commercial Costner castastrophe but I keep hearing that one of its only saving graces was an appearance at the end of the collosal icon Connery (who played Robin Hood himself in ROBIN AND MARIAN, 1976) as King Richard. Since I doubt I’m putting this one in my Netflix queue I’ll just have to take my reader’s word for it.

Cate Blanchett HOT FUZZ (Dir. Edgar Wright, 2007) I was so surprised by the amount of email I got that wanted this appearance noted! Especially since you can barely see her – I mean most people won’t catch her but David G. puts it best in his email to me : “It’s a gross but funny scene, and you never get to see her face…just her eyes…everything else is covered because she’s working a gruesome crime scene. To top it off, she’s arguing with the hero, her ex-boyfriend, about their relationship…so the scene also lays waste to that particular cliche.”

Marcel Marceau SILENT MOVIE (Dir. Mel Brooks, 1976) I agree that this should have made the list. The most famous mime in history has the only spoken line (well, spoken word) in Brooks’ retro mid 70’s silent film satire.

Most people just wrote in names but some fine folk took the time to write a bit ’bout their cameo picks – here’s some I particularly enjoyed :

Jeffrey Singer writes :

One of my favorites was Charlton Heston in WAYNE’S WORLD. Mike Myers asks a garage mechanic for directions, and the mechanic goes into a tirade about how he loved a girl on that street. Myers turns to the director and says, “Can we get someone else to do it?” The scene is repeated with Heston. I thought it was wonderful.

Brad Weinstock puts in more than a mere 2 cents :

Meryl Streep‘s cameo (as a bogus version of herself) in the Farrelly Brothers’ STUCK ON YOU is a high point in an otherwise so-so comedy. Her scene as a diva-fied version of herself in a restaurant in the middle of the movie is fine, but it’s her tour de force at the end of the movie as Bonnie Parker in a ridiculous community theatre version of “Bonnie & Clyde: The Musical” (with Greg Kinnear as Clyde) that is absolutely priceless. It’s a brilliant little moment of zen watching, arguably, the greatest living actress do a shrill, gangly, awkwardly dancing rendition of Dunaway’s classic role. This segment is so hilarious and bizarre, that you wonder who was able to pull strings and convince her to appear. I had to put STUCK ON YOU in my Netflix queue for the sole purpose of watching this sequence again.

Craig writes :

Robert Patrick in WAYNE’S WORLD 2 as his TERMINATOR 2‘s T-1000 character, who pulls Wayne and Garth (Mike Myers and Dana Carvey) over on the highway, shows him a picture and says “Have you seen this boy?” When I saw this, the theatre erupted in laughter, since T2 was fresh in memory.

Kevin T. from Seattle sez :

What about George Lucas in BEVERLY HILLS COP 3? Extremely random cameo. He walks up to the theme park and says something cheesy. Onscreen for all of maybe 5 seconds. How in the Hell did they get him to make an appearence in that Awful Sequel? *

* Film Babble attempting to answer Kevin T.’s query notes that according to the mighty IMDb It’s a “Director Trademark: [‘John Landis’ ] [filmmakers] Appearances by directors Martha Coolidge, Joe Dante, Arthur Hiller, George Lucas, Peter Medak, Barbet Schroeder, George Schaefer and John Singleton and filmmaker Ray Harryhausen were also in BEVERLY HILLS COP 3″. That explains Steven Spielberg showing up as the Cook County Assessor’s Office Clerk in THE BLUES BROTHERS!

I was happy to get an email from Jim Beaver (Ellsworth on Deadwood – pictured on the left, also on the new series John From Cincinnati, and the new old reliable classic CSI, and countless other film and TV performances and most importantly for film babble purposes a renowned film historian) who had a sweet handful of cameo contributions :

Yul Brynner in THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN. One of my very favorites. “Oh, yes!”

Peter O’Toole has a cameo in the original CASINO ROYALE which he asks Peter Sellers if Sellers is Richard Burton. (Sellers says, “No, I’m Peter O’Toole,” to which O’Toole replies, “Then you are the greatest man that ever breathed!”)

John Wayne in I MARRIED A WOMAN (1958). (Stretching the term “modern” here).


One I never see mentioned, an oddity in that it’s a cameo by an actor who is already in the film in another role: Frank Finlay as the jeweler in the 1973 THE THREE MUSKETEERS. Finlay plays Porthos in the film, but as I recall, with heavy makeup he also plays the fellow who makes the fake necklace. What a great movie that was.

Danny T. writes :

Personally, my favorite cameos were in the movie DODGEBALL : A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY where we see Chuck Norris, William Shatner, and my favorite Lance Armstrong. While the first two were just quick jokes that just added a little bit of humor to the film, the Lance Armstrong cameo is absolutely ridiculous how he berates Vince Vaughn’s character by using his cancer survival as a form of trash talking. And while Lance isn’t exactly an Oscar quality actor (much less a Golden Globe one) he still at least had fun. And, the audience does as well.

Quizmaster Moses of Boston, MA offers :

Donald Bumgart in ROSEMARY’S BABY. (Remember when Mia Farrow calls the actor who her husband replaced?) Listen closely and the voice on the other end of the phone is none other than Tony Curtis. That is the equivalent of Cameo Gold, my friend – and probably the Best Movie Trivia Question ever.

Tracy Spry sez :

Marla Maples in HAPPINESS

William Burroughs in DRUGSTORE COWBOY

Dweezil Zappa in PRETTY IN PINK


George Plimpton in GOOD WILL HUNTING

Travis C. asks :

…where is the love for Neil Patrick Harris (TV’s Doogie Howser!) as himself in HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE? Come on! “Dude, I humped every piece of ass ever on that show” and “Yeah, that was a real dick move on my part, that’s why I’m paying for your meal.” Too funny…

Ronald Skinner writes :

I’d have to add: Veronica Hart in BOOGIE NIGHTS (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997). Hart plays Judge O’Malley in the child custody hearing of Amber Waves (Julliane Moore). The scene was inspired by Hart’s own real-life custody problem. Veteran porn actress plays legitimate role while legitimate actress plays veteran porn star. And it’s very discreet, so a casual viewer would probably not even recognize Hart. Art imitiates life imitating art. BOOGIE NIGHTS also has porn actress Nina Hartley playing Little Bill’s wife.

Henri Cheramie really has some whoppers! –

Okay, here’s a few for you…I don’t know how great these are, but they are kinda cool :

Hugh Hefner in the trailer and early cut of CITIZEN TOXIE : THE TOXIC AVENGER IV. Due to Legal Issues, he asked to be taken out of the movie but in the trailer he is still seen saying “Only the toxic avenger knows for sure.”

Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg in LAND OF THE DEAD (Director and Writer/Star of SHAUN OF THE DEAD make appearances as zombies in a photobooth.

John Travolta in BORIS AND NATASHA : He comes to the door with flowers asking “Is Natasha home?”

Johnathan Winters in THE ADVENTURE OF ROCKY AND BULWINKLE : In a movie rife with cameos and guest stars, his is the funniest, playing three roles.

Peter Jackson (LORD OF THE RINGS director) in HOT FUZZ : Dressed as a psycho santa, Peter stabs Simon Pegg in the hand.

Frank Oz in just about every film by John Landis.

Brad Pitt and Matt Damon on the Dating Game in CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND.
P.J. Soles in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS : She’s the woman who gets harassed by Captain Spaulding and eventually has her car stolen.

Groucho Marx in SKIDOO!: He plays “God” the head of the Mafia. This mafia is filled with old movie stars.

Mitchell S. Nagasawa has the floor :

One of the best cameos and best kept cameo of the modern era has to be Will Ferrell in WEDDING CRASHERS. I am amazed that they managed to keep this secret and the impact of Chazz walking down the stairs to be revealed as Ferrell was HUGE on the audience that I was in. They couldn’t have cast anyone better and by the reaction of all the movie goers, they agreed too.

Mpavlov echoes the sentiment of the Matt masses when mentioning :

My favorite cameo, that always seems to miss these lists, is Matt Damon in EUROTRIP. To refresh your memory, he plays the lead singer of the rock band that plays at the graduation party. Performing the hilarious “Scotty Doesn’t Know” with a shaved head, tattoos, and piercings, Matt Damon bangs his head, grinds with Kristin Kreuk, shakes his tongue at the crowd and finally makes out with her. Very hilarious.

Chris French writes :

JAWS (Director Steven Spielberg, 1975) : Peter Benchley (author of the book Jaws) as the reporter on the beach leading into theJuly 4th attacks; Steven Spielberg as a voice on the radio in the same sequence.

CARS (John Lasseter, Joe Ranft, 2006) Not only does Richard “The King” Petty appear as one of his cars (a 1970 Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird — which, ironically, he never won a race while driving), Lynda Petty (his wife) appears as the station wagon the Petty Clan used to use to drive to races. Mario Andretti as the car he won the 1967 Daytona 500 in.

HISTORY OF THE WORLD : PART 1 (Dir. Mel Brooks, 1981) : Hugh Hefner as a Roman citizen describing his new invention, “the ‘centerfold'”; Henny Youngman as Chemist, source of the punchline for “a pack of Trojans”; Spike Millgan as the senile old man in the French Revolution sequence (“What fool put a carpet on the wall?”).

BASEKETBALL (Dir. David Zucker, 1998) : Dale Earnhardt Sr. as the Cab Driver (“Can *I* drive faster? Hang on!”). Reggie Jackson as himself. (I don’t count Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Siegfried & Roy, as they really don’t do anything except sit in glass cases.

Gary from Novato, CA. says : James Cagney in RAGTIME (Dir. Milos Forman, 1981) – Because he was a screen legend, it had been 20 years since he’d last appeared in a film, and it was the last film he ever appeared in. It was also one of the most talked about cameo appearances.

Steven L. writes :

There are numerous examples of famous newspaper reporters, columnists, etc., appearing as themselves in cameos to add verisimilitude. Most often in political thrillers and science-fiction movies. Just to name two: Howard K. Smith appeared in THE BEST MAN. Eleanor Clift, Jack Germond, Fred Barnes, Morton Kondracke (now of Fox News) appeared in INDEPENDENCE DAY. *

Someone pointed out to me that the category of news media folks who have cameos in movies is a whole category in itself. Larry King (CNN) has had a zillion cameos in movies and TV shows, notably GHOSTBUSTERS (Roger Grimsby was in that movie too.) A number of other CNN personalities were in the movie CONTACT. Bernard Shaw (CNN) was in JURASSIC PARK II ; THE LOST WORLD

* They also appeared in DAVE
(Dir. Ivan Reitman, 1993)

Daniel Garcia from http://TheDarkSideoftheGeeks.Blogspot.com remarks :

Earlier today I was watching SINGLES on TNT, and I didn’t remember the cameo by Tim Burton… it’s like 10 seconds long, but TOO funny to see him charging 20 bucks for a lousy video to a desperate woman!

Mikey Mouse on the record :

I love those cameos but as you will see most of them are part of a comedy.


Ozzy Osbourne in LITTLE NICKY



* (Happy retirement Bob! – Dan)

Scott N. writes :

A few more great cameos for you:

Reggie Jackson as himself in THE NAKED GUN… getting him to assassinate the queen, HA!

Warwick Davis as a pod race spectator in STAR WARS : EPISODE I – THE PHANTOM MENACE…IT’S WILLOW!!!!!

Ed Kowalczyk (lead singer of Live) as Waiter at Clifton’s in FIGHT CLUB…personal bias

Me – as a blurry background shadow in SNAKE EYES …got paid $120 to do it too.

Okay! So a lot of people wrote in with suggestions that didn’t quite fit the criteria. A good example is ANNIE HALL – Paul Simon as slimey Tony Lacey fits the bill. He was a well known celebrity and instantly recognizable. But Jeff Goldblum, as much as I love his brief part on the phone at a Hollywood party – “I lost my Mantra” wasn’t known at the time – neither was Sigourney Weaver (seen in long shot) in 1977 – so keep that in mind. I thought about making a ‘cameos after the fact’ post but c’mon! These are better labeled as “bit parts” not cameos. Okay?!!?

The Modern Movie Media Cameo Whore Award Goes To :

Larry King

As Steven L. noted above King has done zillions of cameos (including LOST IN AMERICA, CONTACT, MAD CITY, BULLWORTH, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, – too many to list here) all of which have him playing himself giving credibility to a fictional entity – be it characters or events that have become household names. My personal favorite King cameo comes from DAVE (also mentioned above) in which he interviews director Oliver Stone fresh from JFK about his conspiracy theories dealing with President Mitchell (Kevin Kline) being replaced by a double (also Kline). Great ’cause King scoffs at the notion and we all know that Stone is right. Sigh – just like real life.

Lastly I have to say to file this under “I got to take my reader’s word for it” but I’ll at least note that a lot of people loved Dustin Hoffman’s cameo as himself in THE HOLIDAY. Still haven’t put it in my Netflix queue yet though.

Thanks from film babble for all your suggestions, picks, ommisions, everything. Please feel free to email –


More later…

Charlie Kaufman’s Curse, A Downbeat Durham, & Tenacious D Gets Dissed

“Dramatic irony – it’ll fuck you every time.”
Dr. Jules Hibbert (Dustin Hoffman) STRANGER THAN FICTION

Okay, I promised some new release DVD reviews last so here goes :

STRANGER THAN FICTION (Dir. Marc Forster, 2006) When bland by-the-book IRS auditor Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) hears a disconnected voice narrating the mundane moments of his daily routine then foretelling his death, naturally a modern movie-goer would expect a full-out Ferrell freak-out. Well despite some yelling at the Heavens what we get is a questioning rational note-taking far-from-frantic Ferrell. The voice he hears belongs to Kay Eiffel (Emma Thompson) a frazzled chain-smoking acclaimed author suffering writer’s block on how to kill off her latest main character that she is unaware actually exists. As a prisoner of an enforced narrative Ferrell enlists Literary professor Dr. Jules Hibbert’s (Dustin Hoffman) help. Hibbert breaks it down to purely a question of whether Crick is a character in a comedy or tragedy. At it’s core it’s a wake up and realize that you’re alive movie with Crick coming out of his self-created shell to declare his love for abrasive tattooed bakery shop owner Maggie Gyllenhall, shake off his dull routines, and even take up the guitar while trying to get to the heart of his daunting dilemma. Three years after David O. Russell’s I HEART HUCKABEES (that also featured Hoffman) was billed as an “existential comedy” and accused of ripping off the work of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (see below), STRANGER THAN FICTION pushes the existential envelope and the Kaufmanesque approach a little further. It’s not a case of “life imitating art” or vice versa – it’s more like life challenging art to a duel but eventually agreeing to a stalemate.

The look of the film is fitting – white-washed bare backgrounds of Ferrell’s sterile hotel room-looking apartment and his fluorescent lit workplace with cubicles and filing cabinets reaching back to infinity are contrasted with the clutter of Gyllenhall’s punk bakery and Hoffman’s wood-grain ragged book-filled university office. Spoon songs fill the soundtrack with the welcome exception of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” which Ferrell woos Gyllenhall with as the first song he learns on the guitar. The supporting cast is spot-on as well – Queen Latifah as Thompson’s assistant, Tony Hale (Arrested Development – TV-series 2003-2006), Linda Hunt, and an almost unrecognizable Tom Hulce (AMADEUS, ANIMAL HOUSE, PARENTHOOD) as Ferrell’s chubby bearded touchy-feely office counselor. STRANGER THAN FICTION is a fine film but one that never really gets airborne. It’s highly likable even as it lumbers in a state of subdued surrealism but maybe, just maybe it should have freaked out a bit.


Nearly every review of STRANGER THAN FICTION calls attention to the influence of writer, producer, and soon to be director Charlie Kaufman who apparently is widely acknowledged as modern cinema’s reigning meta-movie master for his films BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, ADAPTATION, and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. One particular phrase really stands out :

“Charlie Kaufman Lite” – Richard Corliss (TIME Magazine)

“Zach Helm’s Kaufman Lite script…” – Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly)

“A cutesy, Charlie Kaufman-lite exercise in magic unrealism.” – Peter Canavese (GROUCHO Reviews)

“Charlie Kaufman-lite but enjoyable nevertheless” – Bina007 Movie Reviews

Also in the same vein :

“a charming though problematic meta-movie in Charlie Kaufman mode” – Scott Tobias (Onion AV Club)

“Zach Helm’s screenplay has flagrant Charlie Kaufman (“Being John Malkovich,” “Adaptation”) overtones rocketing out of it that are impossible to ignore.” – Brian Ordoff (FilmJerk.com)

“Owes a considerable debt to the dual-reality-plane excursions of Charlie Kaufman” – Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)

And finally :

“Finally, a Charlie Kaufman movie for people who are too stupid to understand Charlie Kaufman movies.”
– Sean Burns (Philadelphia Weekly)

Congratulations Charlie Kaufman! You are now officially critical short-hand.

WELCOME TO DURHAM (Dir. Teddy Jacobs, 2006) This film isn’t listed on the IMDB (hence the lack of linkage here) and apparently Netflix doesn’t have many copies because after weeks of it being in my queue they informed me that it wasn’t available at their local shipping center and had to be sent from Worcester, MA. Funny since it’s a local interest documentary. Despite reading negative reviews I was anxious to watch this film because I lived in Durham albeit briefly. A very cheap production with harsh hissy sound and clumsy cuts, WELCOME TO DURHAM unfortunately dissolves from a history and social political lesson into hip-hop propaganda. Hard to understand interviews (a drinking game could be made out of all the times “y’know what I’m sayin’” is said) with gang members that show off their gun shot wounds as proudly as their tattoos dominate the overlong poorly structured narrative making for little balance. Only one white person is interviewed and he’s a cop.

One segment segues from recording studio footage to interviews with senior residents at the Imperial Barber Shop in the Hayti district with voice over narration by Christopher “Play” Martin* guiding us – “while the young cats in the hood are pushing ghetto music, the older cats in the hood are wondering what went wrong”. What’s wrong in this production is that the music from the preceding scene continues and the rap backing track detracts from the old timer’s facts and that’s just whacked! Sorry, all the free style in the film made me bust out that lame rhyme. An earnest effort is within and obviously Jacobs cares passionately about his subject but the implied premise that hip-hop can save Durham from itself is hardly convincing. Y’know what I’m sayin’?

* Of rap duo Kid N Play

TENACIOUS D THE PICK OF DESTINY (Dir. Liam Lynch, 2006) A friend of mine years ago (I believe upon the release of their first full length self titled album in 2001) said that he had determined that Tenacious D is funny “for about 11 minutes”. Certainly the case here the first 11 minutes including a mini rock opera in which Jables (Jack Black) escapes the rule of his oppressive father (Meat Loaf singing for the first time on film since ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) and journeys to Hollywood to chase his musical dreams is pretty funny. After that we pretty much go through the movie motions with material that was better covered in their short sketch-films that aired in the late 90’s on HBO – indifferent open mic-night crowds, Sasquatch, the devotion of their only fan Lee (Jason Reed), and a never ending slew of bombastic though acoustic mock anthems.

Almost immediately after getting off the bus in LA Black meets Kyle Gass a long haired street musician with similar delusions of rock-star grandeur whom Black mistakes him for a guitar God. After being beaten up by the droogs from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (played by a few of the Mr. Show guys – yep, it’s that kind of movie) on his first night in town Black is taken under Gass’s wing to be schooled in the ways of rock. Gass’s cover story of previous rock glory that Black worships at the altar at is soon blown and the narrative becomes a quest involving a sacred guitar pick made from one of Satan’s teeth.

The stoner slacker road-trip comedy genre is pretty cashed and so are the modern comedy conventions – obligatory supposedly surprise cameos (Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins, Dave Grohl as Satan), scatological gross-out humor, and even a car chase just for the sake of having a car chase proven by the soundtrack song “Car Chase City” blaring along. There will be hardcore fans of “the D” (as their fans call them) that will consider this a crude comic masterpiece that will become a cult classic in years to come but for the rest of us this is just a mediocre mix of BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE and THIS IS SPINAL TAP. So as Spinal Tap lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel might say on the how-many-laughs meter this “goes to eleven”.

More later…

Bringing In The New Years With Reviews And A Look At The Rubik’s Cube Filmography

“Now I have seen a lot of movies. I’ve taken classes and have seen many of what people consider to be classics but I have to say that JACKASS 2 is the greatest movie I have ever seen!”
– Overheard at the Blue Horn Lounge, Chapel Hill 2006


With hope 2007 will be a better year for movies than 2006. I mean it is very difficult to make a best of the year list (especially since there are many movies I have yet to see) but making a worst of list is as easy as 1,2,3 – those being 1. SNAKES ON A PLANE 2. LADY IN THE WATER and 3. CLERKS 2. Maybe, I’ll let you know what 4-10 are later.

I’ve already spent a chunk of the new year in a dark dank theater and here’s some of what I’ve seen :

CHILDREN OF MEN (Dir. Alfonso Cuaron) – This movie kind of snuck up on all of us because of little to no publicity but it is buzzing rapidly now and may really soar come awards season. It sure deserves to – its an exhilirating yet rough ride well worth taking. Set in the grimy future of 2027 it depicts London as a warzone and the human race on the verge of extinction because of world wide infertility. Activists (Clive Owen and Julianne Moore doing their gritty best) struggle to protect the sole pregnant saviour (Claire Hope-Ashitey) and may have to sacrifice themselves to complete the mission. Some may be turned off by the harsh unpolished nature of this picture but I believe most will find CHILDREN OF MEN to be one Hell of an satisfying experience.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (Dir. Gabrielle Muccino) – This played at my theater for a few weeks before I saw it so I heard a lot of comments in the lobby. “Not enough happiness!” one lady exclaimed. It’s about the pursuit you see… Essentially a series of worst case scenarios, HAPPYNESS deposits Ernest Will Smith and real-life son Jaden into a tale of the American dream gone sour in the Reagan era *. Based on the true hard luck story turned inspiration tome, hospital equipment salesman Chris Gardener (Will Smith) can’t seem to get a break and neither do we watching his tedious trials. The movie does contain the best acting I’ve ever seen Smith do, the kid is cute, and the heart is in the right place so put me down for a ‘liked it’. The lady was right, it seems. It could have done with more happiness.

* One unwritten rule (’til now) is that every movie set in the 80’s has to have a Rubik’s cube in it. Another rule of the popular puzzle is if you want to show an audience that a character is smart, ambitious and can get the job done – show them quickly solving a Rubik’s cube to the amazement of others. THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS obeys both rules to a tee. Will Smith on his Oprah appearance to promote the film even proved he could solve it and did so during a commercial break.

So since the 25th anniversary of the Rubik’s cube came and went in 2005 with little notice (from me at least) I thought it would be a good time to pay tribute to the multi-colored brain teaser with a handy snappy list:


1. THE WEDDING SINGER (Dir. Frank Coraci, 1998) – Set in 1985 this Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore rom com definitively cast the cube as a time setting prop. Barrymore’s bimbo ditz sister Holly (Christine Taylor) frustrated that she cannot solve the popular puzzle, declares that “no one will ever solve that thing.”

2. THE SIMPSONS (TV 1989 -to when the show is no longer profitable ) – The Rubik’s Cube has been featured in a number of episodes but probably the most notable was from “Homer Defined” (airdate : 10/17/91). Homer receving on the job training at the nuclear plant (in an 80’s flashback of course) misses out on vital life-saving information because of his pre-occupation with the cube.

3. DUDE, WHERE’S MY CAR? (Dir. Danny Leiner, 2000) – Wikipedia tells me that in this Ashton Kutcher/Seann William Scott stoner comedy a Rubik’s Cube serves as the MacGuffin. I’m sure Erno Rubik is very proud at the cinematic homage herein.

4. UHF (Dir. Jay Levey, 1989) – Used for a cheap sight gag involving a blind man trying to solve it with a homeless man’s help, the cube ends the 80’s in something resembling style – I mean this hit or miss Weird Al Yankovic vehicle did become a cult classic or at least something resembling one.

5. DEATHTRAP (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 1982) – There’s not a single Rubik’s cube in this witty thriller but check out the poster! Only a year after it hit the scene the cube is co-opted by movie ad campaign. Now that’s marketing.

6. THE FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR (TV 1990-1996) – This makes the list soley because of the Will Smith HAPPYNESS connection. Smith solves the cube in moments during an interview for Princeton in an episode from the 90’s staple. Just warming up I guess.

7. ARMAGEDDON (Dir. Michael Bay, 1998) – NASA employs Rubik’s Cubes as testing tools for astronauts in training. Did you know that? I sure didn’t but after the over 2 hours wasted watching this Bruce Willis/Ben Affleck save the world monstrosity I’m glad to have learned something.

8. RUBIK THE AMAZING CUBE (TV 1983-1984) – Christ, I forgot this existed! After watching some clips and reading the info on this quick cash-in cartoon all I can say is it looks like complete crap.

9. SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE (TV 1975-FOREVER)SNL satirized the snazzy primary-colored pop fad several times but the funniest has to be Rubik’s Hand Grenade – “maybe the last game you’ll ever play” the announcer ominously concludes.

– Man, like just about everything else this movie gets the cube angle wrong. As noted on Amazon’s lengthy goofs section :

“The movie is set in the mid 1970s, but when Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) is crying about his dog, Bryan has a 2×2 Rubik’s Cube on his desk. The famous 3×3 Rubik’s Cube wasn’t introduced in the U.S. until the 1979 Christmas season, and variations weren’t introduced until the 1980s.”

Yep – it had to be noted because it’ll surely happen again – the cube as anachronism.

More later…