Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Elvis Impersonation On Film: 10 Pretenders To The Crown

Inspired by the inspired casting of cult legend Bruce Campbell (The EVIL DEAD movies) as Elvis Presley in BUBBA HO TEP (2002) (to be released on DVD on May 25th) we thought it would be fun to take a look at:



Russell took on the roll of the King in the 1979 made-for-TV ELVIS : THE MOVIE (his first of five films for director John Carpenter), and also voiced Presley in FORREST GUMP. His uncanny likeness to the King was further exploited when he played an Elvis impersonator in Demian Lichtenstein’s 3000 MILES TO GRACELAND (2001). Amazingly Russell's first feature film role when he was only a child was in an Elvis movie, Michael Taurog's IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD'S FAIR (1963). The best Elvis on this list for sure.

2. MICHAEL ST. GERALD: Also a convincing look-a-like, Gerald did a brief cameo as Elvis in Jim McBride's unfortunately lame-as-Hell Jerry Lee Lewis bio-pick GREAT BALLS OF FIRE (1989, but he had better material and a more respectful forum in the sinfully short-lived Elvis TV series (1990). Like with Russell's turn as the King, Gerald's vocals were provided by Ronnie McDowell.

3. NICHOLAS CAGE: Never played Elvis on film but appeared as Tiny Elvis on Saturday Night Live in 1992, disguised himself as a sky-diving Elvis impersonator in HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, was a curled lipped Elvis fanatic in David Linch’s WILD AT HEART, and he was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley. Whew!


Only on stage and SNL did Kaufman do his full blown Elvis impression but he’s one of a kind on this list because he was approved by the King as his own favorite impersonator. In Milos Forman's 2000 biopic MAN ON THE MOON when Jim Carrey did Andy doing Elvis I heard that somewhere in the cosmos John Belushi's caller ID exploded. I have no idea what that means.

5. VAL KILMER: Not content with having nailed the Lizard King, Jim Morrison in Oliver Stone's THE DOORS (1991), Kilmer inhabited the character of Elvis' ghost who counsels Christian Slater in Tony Scott's Quentin Tarantino-scripted TRUE ROMANCE (1992).

6. DAVID KEITH: An awful unconvincing portrayal in Chris Columbus' awful unconvincing 1988 comedy HEARTBREAK HOTEL, a severely misguided attempt to theorize that Elvis’s last sad years in Vegas could have been turned around by idealistic teenager who kidnaps him as a gift for his depressed mother Tuesday Weld. Weld was actually in a movie with the King, Philip Dunne's WILD IN THE COUNTRY (1961), but I digress.

7. DON JOHNSON: What the…?!!? Yep, that's right. In Gus Trikonis' long forgotten 1981 TV movie ELVIS AND THE BEAUTY QUEEN, the later stubbled, sockless, pink T-shirt wearing Miami Vice superstar was actually cast as the King. 

8. DALE MIDKIFF: Who?!!? I dunno, just a guy who played the King in ELVIS AND ME, another bad Elvis made-for-TV movie based on Priscilla Presley’s book of the same name. Shame shame shame.


Any Elvis impersonator would be doomed in Allan Arkush's extremely lowbrow 1997 cable movie ELVIS MEETS NIXON, but this guy doesn’t cut it at all.

10. STEPHEN JONES: Just for a haunting moment in Jim Jarmusch’s MYSTERY TRAIN (1989) Elvis’s ghost appears to Nicoletta Braschi giving this execellent movie another layer in it’s depiction of late 80’s Memphis. Also in the same movie the late great Joe Strummer spouts: “Don't call me Elvis! If you can't use my proper name, why don't you try "Carl Perkins, Jr." or something? I mean, I don't call them "Sam & Dave", do I?”

Until next time: 
Elvis has left the building.

More later...

Monday, April 26, 2004


Here's a few DVD reviews, one I delighted in and two that I'm dissing:

THE COOLER (Dir. Wayne Kramer, 2003) 

William H. Macy puts in another sturdy performance as Bernie Lootz, the unluckiest man in Las Vegas who has actually made a successful career out of his losing streak. You see, the a Shangra La casino owner named Shelly (Alec Baldwin) employees Macy to simply approach gamblers who are on a winning roll and his presence alone will sour their game. 

"A cooler?" a slick corporate Ron Livingston breathing down Shelly's neck questions his old fashioned methods. Seems to be a good solid system until Lootz falls in love with a friendly waitress played by the emotionally effective actress Maria Bello and his luck changes. This enrages Shelly and he attempts to sabotage their budding romance. 

A good story with nice appropriate touches of humor, drama, and a thoughtful edge, THE COOLER doesn't try too hard or go too far.

The sex scenes are even well done and have an unusually (unusual for the movies that is) realistic feel to them mainly because we actually believe in Macy and Bello as real people. Another unique element especially within a movie made up of what are normally stock elements - Shelly's hired thugs barely speak but exchange telling looks at the sticky situations and each other. 

Baldwin hasn't had a role as good as Shelly in years and he does it justice. Small parts by the always reliable Paul Sorvino and Ellen Greene are also nice touches in a movie filled with nice touches. Luck be a lady tonight indeed. 

Special Features: Not much, a pre-release memo said this disc would have deleted scenes and even an alternate ending - the only thing that accompanies this flick is a Anatomy of a Scene featurette. Too bad. 

THE BIG EMPTY (Dir. Steve Anderson, 2003)

The lure of doing a simple delivery job for a gigantic payoff, a carrying bag that may or may not contain a severed human head, a series of cameos from b-list actors, and an underdog wins all mentality. Sound familiar? Only if you've seen any independent movie made from 1994 to today. 

Jon Favreau, who I was hoping would be doing loftier stuff by now, is the underdog in this aptly named pointless piece of...well let's just leave it at piece. Other victims of this stable of indie film cliches are Joey Lauren Adams, Rachel Leigh Cook, Daryl Hannah, Kelsey Grammar, and even HAROLD AND MAUDE legend Bud Cort who all try in vain to give this some flavor.

STUCK ON YOU (Dirs. Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly, 2003) 

Kind of like the Coen brothers without the wait more like the Zucker brothers without the laughs, the Farrelly brothers again raise tasteless un-funniness to a new level. 

Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear play a pair of Siamese twins - "we're not Siamese, we're American" one of the wall-to-wall witless lines - who decide to pursue their dreams of...oh forget it. If the Farrelly's special brand of stupid scatalogiacal humour, pointless celebrity cameos (Cher! Frankie Munz! Even Meryl Streep for Christ's sake!), un-involving visual style, and insincere sentiment did the trick for you in such 'classics' as THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, SAY IT AIN'T SO, and SHALLOW HAL then you're in for a treat. The rest of us though wish the Farrellys weren't so "stuck on" such immaturity and complete absence of quality material.

More later...

DVD Review: Tim Burton's BIG FISH

Now out on the popular DVD format: 

BIG FISH (Dir. Tim Burton, 2003)

While this movie is being touted in its trailers as “from the imagination of Tim Burton” it should be noted that it was adapted by screenwriter John August from the book by Chapel Hill native Daniel Wallace, and it was originally developed as a project by Steven Spielberg. 

Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) amuses everyone with his elaborate tall tales except for his son Will (Billy Crudup).

As his father is most certainly on his death bed, Crudup is struggling for some truth for once and attempts to sort out the reality from the fantasy.

Apart from the storybook fantasy sequences, one of the best things the movie has going for it is the casting of Ewan McGregor as the young Edward. Particularly effective because McGregor looks almost exactly like Finney did when he was younger. Take a look at TOM JONES (1963) if you don’t believe me.

What keeps this movie from truly being a classic is some of the hazy plot threads and the less than fully fleshed out characters. Poet Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi) seems like he was created just for a reason for Buscemi to lend his punchy prescence, Helen Bonham Carter plays two underdeveloped roles which may be the same character - I'm not sure, and the choice of a unaffecting Pearl Jam song to end the proceedings with doesn't help either.

That said this is still a fine film and only persnickety film geeks like me would harp on such matters. The real emotion displayed here (especially in the last half hour) wins over even the most cynical critic, and I have a distinct feeling that time will be good to this elaborate tall tale.
Danny Devito, Jessica Lange, and Robert Gulliaume round out the cast. 

Special Features: A disappointing commentary in which Burton is interviewed by some British guy who wrote a book on Burton (Burton On Burton) on top of the movie instead of a preferred straight Burton talking directly about the action on screen. Nevertheless it provides some insights, but the featurettes are pretty inessential and the trivia game is...well I didn't even check it out, I mean who puts a DVD in the player to play some damn trivia game?!!? I sure as Hell don't.

More later...

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Happy Birthday Jack Nicholson!

Today is legend Jack Nicholson’s birthday so let’s celebrate with an all Jack edition of Listomania here at Film Babble Blog. 

Nicholson’s latest film SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE just dropped on DVD, but I bet you’d like to know what I rank as his Top 10 movies. We’ll lemme tell you:


1. CHINATOWN (Dir. Roman Polanski, 1974)

2. ABOUT SCHMIDT (Dir. Alexander Payner, 2002)

3. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (Dir. Milos Forman, 1975)

4. FIVE EASY PIECES (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1970)

5. CARNAL KNOWLEDGE (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1971)

6. EASY RIDER (Dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969)

7. THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

8. A FEW GOOD MEN (Dir. Rob Reiner, 1992)

9. THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK (Dir. George Miller, 1987)

10. THE LAST DETAIL (Dir. Hal Ashby, 1973)


1. “You can’t handle the truth!”: A FEW GOOD MEN

2. “Here’s Johnny!”: THE SHINING

3. “I am the motherfuckin’ shore patrol!”: THE LAST DETAIL

When GOD makes mistakes, they call it... nature. So whaddya think? Women... a mistake... or DID HE DO IT TO US ON PURPOSE?: THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK

5. TIE: 
You ever dance with the devil by the pale moonlight?”/ Where does he get those wonderful toys?: BATMAN


1. AS GOOD AS IT GETS (Dir. James L. Brooks, 1997)

2. WOLF (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1994)

3. THE TWO JAKES (Dir. Jack Nicholson, 1990) The Nicholson-directed follow-up to his #1 movie only fair? It happened.

4. MISSOURI BREAKS (Dir. Arthur Penn, 1978)

5. HEARTBURN (Dir. Mike Nichols, 1986)


1. ANGER MANAGEMENT (Dir. Peter Segal, 2003)

2. BLOOD AND WINE (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1996)

3. GOIN’ SOUTH (Dir. Jack Nicholson, 1978)

4. MAN TROUBLE (Dir. Bob Rafelson, 1992)

5. HOFFA (Dir. Danny Devito, 1992)

WEIRDEST JACK ROLE: TOMMY (Dir. Ken Russell, 1975)

BATMAN (Dir. Tim Burton, 1989): The Joker? I mean, come on! 

More later...

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Top 10 Sequels To Movies That Weren't Any Good In The First Place

The current theatrical release of the sequel THE WHOLE TEN YARDS has baffled critics all over. I mean did anyone really like the original THE WHOLE NINE YARDS

A search on confirms that the original reviews of the Bruce Willis/Matthew Perry comedy directed by Jonathan Lynn were the definition of mixed: the consensus was : “Despite a charming cast, THE WHOLE NINE YARDS could only tickle half of the critics' funny bones. The other half thought it an underwelming, depressing sitcom.” The box office wasn't spectacular either - it did modestly well but was far from what you'd call a smash hit. So why the Hell do we have a sequel?!!?

Beats me. The idea of a sequel to a bad movie never fails to floor me, especially if the first one was a critical and financial flop. And one that has no traces of a cult following that I can see.

So that got me thinking about what were:


1. SCOOBY DOO 2: MONSTERS UNLEASHED (Dir. Raja Gosnell, 2004)

2. THE MUMMY RETURNS (Dir. Stephen Sommers, 2001)

3. LOOKING WHO'S TALKING TOO (Dir. Amy Heckerling, 1990)


5. WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S II (Dir. Robert Klane, 1993)
Yeah, this one really deserved a Roman numeral.

 (Dir. Danny Cannon, 1998)

7. SCARY MOVIE 2 (Dir. Keenan Ivory Wayans, 2001)

8. 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS (Dir. John Singleton, 2003)

9. MEATBALLS PART II (Dir. Ken Wiederhorn, 1984)

10. ANALYSE THAT (Dir. Harold Ramis, 2002): 

Although I disliked both THIS and THAT I would like them to make a third one just so they could call it GO ANALYSE YOURSELF ALREADY!

To end on a positive note - my favorite bad sequel title ever is: BREAKIN' 2 - ELECTRIC BOOGALOO

More later...

Friday, April 16, 2004

KILL BILL VOL. 2: The Film Babble Blog Review

Opening today at a multiplex near you:

KILL BILL VOL. 2 (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2004)

 First off, let me start by saying that I wasn’t big on KILL BILL VOL 1. I thought it lacked true suspense, and at best it was just superficial entertainment pretending to be a big movie event.

Also it bothered me that it pretentiously introduced itself as “The 4th Film By Quentin Tarantino” in the credits. I mean who the Hell else does that? Can you imagine: “The 17th Film By Martin Scorsese” in the opening credits of GOODFELLAS? I didn’t think so.

But if Spike Lee can get away with calling his films “joints” in his credits I guess I can let it slide. What I couldn't let slide in KBV1 was the dry humorless tone and the fact that many characters were such general pop culture stereotypes of the sort that have already appeared multiple times in Tarantino’s work.

Take for example the redneck hospital orderly that whores out the Bride's comatose body to redneck scum for $75 a pop. Didn't we already go there in PULP FICTION? The orderly even has a tacky vehicle in the form of a souped-up pickup called “The Pussy Wagon” that would not look out of place in the same garage as the chopper (Zed's Motorbike) “Grace” in “The 2ndFilm By Quentin Tarantino.”

Also the out-of-sequence chronology that characterizes Tarantino’s work, once so innovative yet now feels like a transparent device that disguises the lack of a stronger story arc.

Michael Parks as a seedy but wise Texas sheriff when surveying the massacre that begins the entire rampage remarks: “if you was a moron you could almost admire it.”

That pretty much summed how I felt about the flick when I saw it last year. But lo and behold, I like KILL BILL VOL. 2 quite a bit, and it even made me re-evaluate the first one to such a degree that I have to say that it appears to me to be much more solid as a first parter.

KBV1 resonates with a passion and power that I cynically ignored first time around. The 4th film credit I previously bitched about now informs us that this is one big movie that is told in 2 parts.

KBV2 doesn't label itself as “The 5th film...” and its ending credits include actors that were only in the first film.

It truly is the cinematic equivalent of those two part TV episodes with the “to be concluded” caption that were done to death in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There is plenty of the stylized violence of the first half here but what makes this work is the back-story and genuine emotion fueling the character’s motives.

We learn why the Bride’s fiancée and entire wedding party were slaughtered, how Daryl Hannah’s eye-patch came to be, what connection the Bride and Bill (David Carradine) had, and most importantly who the Bride really is - name revealed and all.

Don't worry,  I won't reveal any of those spoilers here I'll just say that the dialogue while tense and filled with proverbs is smoothly recited and intensely felt by the actors especially Carradine.

Even with a monologue that's so Tarantino you can practically hear the director himself performing it about how Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race Carradine absolutely kills.

A number of critics are saying that KBV2 works alone without seeing KBV1 but I disagree. I mean none of them have actually experienced that so it seems like a silly appraisal. I would say you should not see KBV2 without seeing KBV1 first and since they are out the same week albeit in different formats there’s no reason why you shouldn’t.

KILL BILL as one big movie is a dense collection of styles and tones that will make many treasure their own obscure pop culture interests and realize that if that former video store clerk can make epic cinema out of lowbrow pulp why can't we get off our ass and create something too? At least that's how I'm thinking.

More later...

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Listomania: Quentin Tarantino Edition

Since Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL VOL. 1 was released on DVD this week (review here), and KILL BILL VOL. 2 is coming to theaters on Friday, this is a Special Tarantino Edition of Film Babble Blog, a career re-cap of sorts with lists, quotes, fun facts, and other whatnot leading up to my review of his newest that will be posted tomorrow.

First up:


KBV1: KILL BILL VOL. 1 (2003)
KBV2: KILL BILL VOL. 2 (2004)


Lawrence Bender: RD, PF 
Steve Buscemi: RD, PF
David Carradine: KBV1, KBV2
Sonny Chiba: KBV1, KBV2
Vivica A. Fox: KBV1, KBV2
Daryl Hannah: KBV1, KBV2
Samuel L. Jackson: PF, JB
Harvey Keitel: RD, PF
Lucy Liu: KBV1, KBV2
Michael Madsen: RD, KBV1, KBV2
Tim Roth: RD, PF
Quentin Tarantino: RD, PF
Uma Thurman: PF, KBV1, KBV2


• Michael Madsen's character in RD (1992) is named Vic Vega. John Travolta in PF (1994) plays Vincent Vega. According to interviews with Tarentino they are brothers, and has spoken of making a Vega brothers movie, but at this rate don't hold your breath.

• The criticisms of a boy club mentality of Tarantino’s early work are especially valid in RD (1992) in which there just a precious few women among the cast. Only two woman appear - there is a waitress overheard and seen in the coffee shop opening, but her face is never seen and she’s not even credited on the IMDb. The other woman is killed right in front of us by the supposed ‘good guy,’ the undercover cop (Tim Roth) trying to bust the rest of the crew. So RD is definitely the polar opposite of a ‘chick flick.’

• Samuel L. Jackson said the line “this is some repugnant shit” both in PF (1994) and JB (1997).

• These names are used in more than one Tarantino movie: Bonnie, Jodie, Koons, Marsellus, Scagnetti, and the before mentioned Vega. I'm going to assume that they refer to the same people in the world his movies exist in.


1. "Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet." - The Wolf (Harvey Keitel) PF (1994) 

2. "I might break you in, Nice Guy, but I'd make you my dog's bitch." - Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) RD (1992)

3. "I can tell you with no ego that this is my finest blade. If, on your journey, you should encounter God... God will be cut." - Hattori Hanzo (Sonny Chiba) KBV1 (2003)

4. "AK-47. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes" - Ordell (Samuel L. Jackson) JB (1997)

5. "What ain't no country I ever heard of. They speak English in What?" - Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) PF (1994)


(Some more call them "homages" or use phrases like "in the tradition of" but let's call a spade a spade) 
1. TIE - LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELLS/SNATCH (Dir. Guy Ritchie, 1998 & 2000): Guy Ritchie's 2 smoking Tarantino borrows more like! 

2. TWO DAYS IN THE VALLEY (Dir. John Herzfeld, 1996)

3. GO (Dir. Doug Liman, 1999): When this was first was released I think I remember thinking "this week's PULP FICTION." Snap!

4. SUICIDE KINGS (Dir. Peter O'Fallon,1997)


Stay tuned for the Film Babble Blog review of KILL BILL VOL. 2.

More later...

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Out today on DVD:

KILL BILL VOL. 1 (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2003)

It’s obvious from the first minute where we’re going here as old '70s feature attraction titles are used directly and the music accompanying is suitably retro as well. From that we’re thrust head first into a tale of a woman whose fiancée is killed at the wedding chapel by a gung ho team of international assassins.

This is pure setup to a revenge plot that seems borrowed from the classic Truffaut film THE BRIDE WORE BLACK. It's funny that when Uma introduces herself early on her name is bleeped out. She's known simply as "the Bride."

One by one she tracks down and annihilates the killers (actually half of the killers on her hand written list - the second half will be taken care of in KILL BILL VOLUME 2 presumably). I would describe the plot in more detail but truth be told that's all the plot there is.

This movie is basically one big scorned-woman-kicks-major-ass sequence after another. That's not to say it doesn’t have merit. It has plenty of fire in its belly, and many of the stunts and tracking shots are beautifully done and a lot of watchable fun.

The downside of it is with so many slick stylized action movies in the last several years at times this can feel like little more than a thinking man’s CHARLIE'S ANGELS, but at least Uma doesn't do a backwards moon-walk like Drew Barrymore did after viciously finishing off a room full of adversaries.

Driving home the notion of cartoon violence is actual animation interspersed into the action.

Sonny Chiba provides another drive home to the world of martial arts cinema as the sword maker that hooks up Uma with her weapon of choice. “I need Japanese steel” the Bride says in Japanese just moments after saying she knows very little Japanese.

It beats you over the head over and over that when Tarantino worked as a clerk at Video Archives in Hermosa Beach, California he watched every Hong Kong martial-arts movie that was on their shelves.

Uma Thurman puts in a performance that is mannered and precise, a true display of stoic grace that is incredibly admirable in the middle of all this noise. Dialogue is spare, blood sprays like a lawn sprinkler in sheets, and punctuating rifts by the 5,6,7, & 8's all compete for your attention, especially in a sequence set in a palace of a Hong Kong nightclub.

From a film geek poseur point of view, this is a conceptually messy movie that feels like Tarantino exploiting his worst impulses, but for the casual moviegoer just looking for cheap thrills the first installment of KILL BILL delivers.

If only its edge was as sharp as Thurman’s Japanese steel.

DVD Special Features: A decent but truly inconsequential 20 minute making of featurette is the main deal here. There are trailers for all the other Tarentino flicks too, and those are actually really nice to view in order. 

At first I was disappointed that the disc didn't have director's commentary but then recalling how Tarantino rambled on the commentary for RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) going off on anecdotes unrelated to the action playing out on the screen, I've concluded that that's not that fatal an omission. 

Last thought: unless you absolutely have to own the DVD immediately I’d recommend waiting for the DVD release of KBV2 next fall. You just know that both films will be packaged together in a spiffy deluxe edition. But, of course, from the numbers of sales yesterday of the KBV1 DVD, it’s obvious that the legions of Tarantino geeks out there couldn’t wait.

More later…

Monday, April 12, 2004

A DVD Delight & A Few Disses for April 2004

And now for some new release DVD reviews. One which I found delightful, the other two I am dissing:

MELVIN GOES TO DINNER (Dir. Bob Odenkirk, 2003) 

I wish there were more movies like this these days! Thoughtful character-driven comedies are getting harder and harder to come by. It's like an updated MY DINNER WITH ANDRE times 2! Four people (Michael Blieden, Stephanie Courtney, Annabelle Gurwitch, and Matt Price) with loose and not-so-loose connections to one another by chance meet for dinner at a posh LA eatery, and discuss everything from the supernatural to relationship etiquette with funny insights aplenty.

Based on the stage play by Blieden (who plays Melvin) and gracefully directed by Bob Odenkirk (of Mr. Show fame) the core cast is enhanced by amusing cameos from David Cross, Fred Armisen, Jack Black, Melora Walters, and Odenkirk himself. Highly recommended.

The DVD has a few great extras: a hilarious short film about an ill-fated film festival appearance by the filmmakers and some of the cast and two different commentaries that are as funny and interesting as the film itself.

MONA LISA SMILE (Dir. Mike Newell, 2003) 

A chick flick even a chick-flick lover would hate. It would be too convenient to label it as a female DEAD POET'S SOCIETY; it's more like a trumped-up Facts Of Life episode. Watch only if you want to see such new hopefuls as Maggie Gyllenhall, Kristen Dunst, Ginnifer Goodwin, and especially Marcia Gay Harden being wasted in a dreary one dimensional period piece. Julia Roberts fans should be used to this type of thing though.

SECONDHAND LIONS (Dir. Tim McCanlies, 2003)

In less than 3 minutes the premise is set: Haley Joel Osment is dropped off by his scamming Southern-Belle Mama (Krya Sedgewick) to spend the summer with his eccentric uncles Michael Caine and Robert Duvall who mysteriously have a treasure of millions of dollars hidden somewhere on their farm property. 

Incredibly hokey yarn that even tries to work in a PRINCESS BRIDE style back-story in the form of Caine's tensely told tales to Osment while Duvall overacts like a sleep-walking lovesick winner of the SNL game show sketch “Who's More Grizzled?” You could do worse than to sit through this pleasant pap but then you could do a lot better. A whole lot better.

More to come...

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Comedy Isn't Pretty: Steve Martin's Fall From Funny

The DVD release of CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN this week has been a huge seller. My guess is that it was an impulse buy Dad bought for the kids while picking up MATRIX REVOLUTIONS. Whatever the case, CHEAPER is a horribly unfunny family film that will surely soon collect dust as its target audience moves quickly on.

Kind of like Martin's last film, BRINGING DOWN THE HOUSE, which was an exercise in commercial blandness despite some funny moments courtesy of Eugene Levy, CHEAPER is throwaway family fluff that further removes Martin from his former famous funniness.

There is possible redemption ahead with the prospect of Martin's excellent book Shopgirl's film adaptation but unfortunately that's overshadowed by the news that he is set to start filming a new PINK PANTHER movie next month. That news is met with much concern and doubt from me.

Very few, myself included think it is a good idea to try to revive a series that is over 20 years dead with 3 failed awful attempts to revive it since long buried. Maybe Martin can pull off playing the famous part of Inspector Clouseau defined by the late great Peter Sellers (which was #67 on Premiere's Greatest Movie Characters list in their latest issue, Martin's Navin Johnson, a.k.a. THE JERK is #66 interestingly) but judging by his strained slapstick work and the forced physical comedy that dominates CHEAPER I wouldn't put money on it.

In my estimation the last truly good Steve Martin comedy was BOWFINGER. It had a good premise: aspiring filmmaker scams a cheapie sc-fi movie out of a actor (Eddie Murphy) who doesn't know he's being filmed. It had a funny screenplay with moments like when starlet Heather Graham flirtaciously offers - "I love Smashing Pumpkins" and Martin's Bowfinger excitedly responds - "I love to do that!" And it has a good nature to it even with the bit about the self-promoting lesbian that Graham's character becomes which made everyone think Martin was taking a swipe at former lover Anne Heche.

But to get to that comic gem though we had to suffer through SGT.BILKO, THE OUT OF TOWNERS, and MIXED NUTS. Hiding behind those flops was a little seen David Mamet movie THE SPANISH PRISONER which featured a rare mannered dramatic performance by Martin.

Another failed foray into this direction was the thriller NOVOCAINE which was silly, but I have to admit I enjoyed.

For the record, here's Film Babble Blog's pick for the best Steve Martin comedies. It's an unsurprising but essential list : 


  1. THE JERK (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1979)

  2. THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1983)

  3. ALL OF ME (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1984) 

  4. DEAD MEN DON'T WEAR PLAID (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1982)

  5. ROXANNE (Dir. Fred Schepisi, 1987)

  6. PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES (Dir. John Hughes,    1987)

  7. L.A. STORY (Dir. Mick Jackson, 1990)

  8. BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999)

  9. PARENTHOOD (Dir. Ron Howard, 1989)

10. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Dir. Frank Oz, 1986): Just a cameo, but his song "Dentist" steals the whole show.


11. ¡THREE AMIGOS! (Dir. John Landis, 1986)

12. THE LONELY GUY (Dir. Arthur Hiller, 1984)

13. MY BLUE HEAVEN (Dir. Herbert Ross, 1990) 

14. LEAP OF FAITH (Dir. Richard Pearce 1992)

15. DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (Dir. Frank Oz, 1988)


 1. MIXED NUTS (Dir. Nora Ephron, 1994)

 2. SGT. BILKO (Dir. Jonathan Lynn,1996)

 3. THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS (Dir. Sam Weisman, 1999)

 4. LOONEY TUNES - BACK IN ACTION (Dir. Joe Dante, 2003) 

 5. SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND (Dir. Michael Schultz, 1978): Just a cameo but still!


 1. PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (Dir. Herbert Ross, 1981)

 2. THE SPANISH PRISONER (Dir. David Mamet, 1997)

 3. NOVOCAINE (Dir. David Atkins, 2001)

 4. GRAND CANYON (Dir. Lawrence Kasdan, 1991)

 5. AND THE BAND PLAYED ON (Dir. Roger Spottiswood, 1993) (HBO telefilm)

We haven't given up on you Steve - we're all hoping you can do some good with SHOPGIRL (now in post production) and that you will prove us wrong on the PINK PANTHER deal.

We all loved when in your only bearded role as a schlock movie producer in Lawrence Kasdan's GRAND CANYON you said to Kevin Kline: "That's part of your problem: you haven't seen enough movies. All of life's riddles are answered in the movies." 

And if you don't agree with that or any of this, well EXCUSE ME!!!!

More later...

Sunday, April 04, 2004

A Night With Michael Moore: Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 4/3/04

Here’s my report of seeing Michael Moore speak last night at the Full Frame Documentary Film Fest that was held in Durham over the last several days: 

A Night With Michael Moore: April 3rd, 2004

“I’d like to share with you the rest of my Oscar speech…” Michael Moore offered to his rapt audience shortly after his introduction by noted documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker.

The Full Frame crowd responded in applause and laughter. It seems that nobody was unaware of Moore’s controversial comments upon winning the Best Documentary Academy Award for “Bowling For Columbine.”

He elaborated on his now famous statement that “we live in fictitious times, with a fictitious president who was elected with fictitious election results and we’re fighting a war for fictitious reasons.”

Since this happened a year ago Moore has told this story countless times. No doubt that many in the audience had already heard his tale of his being publicly criticized and even threatened for what was being labeled a vicious anti-Bush rant but it didn’t matter to this crowd. My family who attended with me beforehand all voiced concern about detractors protesting the event and disrupting the evening. I assured them that that was extremely doubtful, because Moore would be preaching to the choir.

And he definitely was. Even mild remarks and slight comical gestures got rousing response. It also didn’t matter that the event was a pretty ramshackle affair. Lights would dim unexpectedly cutting off Moore to start a film clip and despite the presence of microphones placed in the aisles questions were randomly shouted out with no sense of a structured Q & A forum.

A moderator might have been a good idea. But again none of this really mattered since the audience ate it all up anyway. Clips from Moore’s TV shows and movies were applauded with such enthusiasm you would have thought they were classic rock songs. That was the spectacle though, the real heart of the evening came from the communal feeling among us all that through all the jokes and deflating of political egos and policies there was a genuine belief that we can really change things.

Moore made a big point out of encouraging everyone not only to vote but to travel to “swing-states” and help to transport others to the polls. Moore wanted to make explicit the difference between “us and them.”

“Us” was not to be confused with what he called “liberal poseurs,” but what he mostly just referred to as “our side” vs. the conservatives. The word liberal has become a dirty word because they are wimps with no real drive he explained. “What I admire about the other side is that they have the courage of their convictions. They are unyielding. They are up at the crack of dawn trying to figure who to screw next.” Moore raised his voice, “our side, we never see the crack of dawn! The only time we see the crack of dawn is when we’ve been up all night!” The laughter of familiarity filled the room.

Moore continued with this diatribe even imitating weak liberals whining “‘where do you want to go eat tonight?’ ‘I don’t know, where do you want to go?’ - ‘let’s get some pizza’ ‘no we had pizza last night.’ You know the conservative they’re like ‘get in the car we’re going to Sizzler! Red meat!’”

All in all it was a very entertaining evening. It was great to see clips from Moore’s little seen Bravo show The Awful Truth (available on DVD) being shown on a big screen and a couple of people in the audience did actually make their way to the microphones but not to engage in political discourse but to simply thank Moore for the job he’s doing.

One young woman was on the verge of tears as she told of Columbine-style shootings happening where she went to school and expressed her intense appreciation for Moore asking the question “why?” Throughout the night Moore gave some of his personal rules of filmmaking and made us all excited about his upcoming film project “Fahrenheit 911” to be released on the July 4th weekend with the DVD video release slated for just weeks before the Presidential election in November.

Obviously he’s got a plan in place and it was indeed inspiring to have somebody encourage others to take a stand and try to make a difference. Now if we could only get up and get to it at the crack of dawn – that would be a start.

More later...

Thursday, April 01, 2004

A Few New DVD Review Blurbs

Since the Full Frame Documentary Film Fest in Durham is starting today, I thought we’d kick off these blurbs with a highly recommended new release documentary DVD: 

(Dir. Andrew Jarecki, 2003)

At first, Andrew Jarecki’s debut documentary comes across like a modern reality-TV influenced update of Kurasawa's RASHOMON, but then it unfolds into something completely different to quote a beloved British comedy troop who themselves are quoted in this fascinating film.

Concerning a Long Island family getting torn apart when accusations of child molestation are directed at the patriarch, formally respected teacher Arnold Friedman, this film uses tons of home movie footage and video mostly shot by son David Friedman. It's an endlessly involving myriad of allegations and defenses that lingers long after the film is over.

The DVD's second disc is full of just as involving bonus material, most interestingly the featurette “Altercation at New York Premiere” and the short “Just A Clown,” which was Jarecki’s original film about clowns hired for children's parties. It was while making that film, that Jarecki came across David Freidman - one of New York's most popular clowns for children's parties - and learning the Friedman family's intriguing yet confusing story. 

CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS can be seen as an alternate AN AMERICAN FAMILY (the pioneering 1973 PBS reality series about the Loud Family) with a much darker truth within.

GOTHIKA (Dir. Mathieu Kassovitz, 2003) 

For Christ's sake, when is this trend of thrillers in which a supernatural force guides somebody to solving a murder going to freakin' end? Halle Berry heads a great cast (Charles Dutton, Robert Downey Jr, John Carroll Lynch) through a movie nightmare of psycho gibberish. To get the plot, if you could actually call it that, straight - Berry is a prison psychiatrist who wakes up after an automobile accident to find she's accused of murdering her husband and that she's jailed in the same prison she worked at. 

Berry can only remember flashes of imagery surrounding her accident and has no idea what really happened at the scene of the crime. Flashes of imagery and screeched dialogue are the only things I remember after viewing this badly named maze of contrivances. Now, the MONSTER'S BALL Oscar winner is a very talented actress, and a gorgeous woman, so it's easy to get somewhat caught up in this silliness for a bit, but in the end you'll hardly feel this is time spent well.

The darkness of the prison does little to shadow obvious plot points coming, the murky jarring music (sounding a bit like the staccato whale sounds in STAR TREK IV) tells us when we are supposed to be scared or at least pay more attention and when it's stated in the first 10 minutes that the security center's electrical system is faulty with the lights occasionally going out, I don't know anyone anywhere that would not consider that a extremely contrived convenience. 

GOTHIKA is bad as you'd think Limp Bizcuit covering the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" would be, and that's featured on the soundtrack.

SHATTERED GLASS (Dir. Billy Ray, 2003)

In the true story of New Republic writer Stephen Glass, who had fabricated much information and sometimes entire articles back in the '90s, Hayden Christiansen proves that he actually can act. No joke, Christiansen is way more convincing as a sniveling whiny man-child caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar than a Jedi in 2 (soon to be 3) misguided STAR WARS prequels.

Peter Sarsgaard as Glass's harried editor is the voice of reason in this tale, despite the fact that he barely says anything until the storm really starts a-brewing. When Glass's fraud is found out by way of sources who were quoted proven to be fake, reports of committees holding conferences exposed as false, and a website a non-existent software company is suspected of being created after the fact, true human nature also comes out of hiding.

Although there's great work by the cast (including Steve Zahn and Rosario Dawson as webzine reporters who investigate Glass's work), the story really is the star here, and what a star it is. Funny how a movie about lies is actually one of the most accurate "true stories" to get an run (albeit limited) on the silver screen. Go figure.

Dr. SEUSS' THE CAT IN THE HAT (Dir. Bo Welch, 2003) 

You've probably heard this was awful, but it's far worse than you could possibly imagine. Mike Myers brings nothing new to the the famous Dr. Suess character;  he just shows up with his ratty bag of over used tricks. 

Obviously, this is a cash-in after the success of the Jim Carrey GRINCH movie which was bad as well but still superior to this catastrophe. Pun intended. 

I'm not going to go into the plot or tell you about production values or how painful it is to see talented actors like Alec Baldwin and Sean Hayes humiliated in this brightly colored crap. I'm just going to give you this example of the humor in this movie:

Conrad: (jumping up and down on the couch) It's like being in a circus! 
Cat in the Hat: Yeah, but without those tortured animals or drunken clowns that have hepatitis! 

And that's one of the better one liners. The only good news I have to report here is 1. It's only 78 minutes long. 2. Because it was a massive flop (budget : $109 million. US box office gross: $38 million) it is unlikely we will have to suffer further lame ive action film forays into the work of Dr. Suess. 3. Uh, I guess there's only 2 good things to report. 

As pointless as the Paris Hilton cameo (I mean who in the target audience would that mean anything to?) this is definitely a contender for a list of worse children's movies ever. Do yourself a favor take the kids to a circus. The tortured animals and drunk clowns with hepatitis will surely provide more wit and entertainment than anything under this hat.

More later...