Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Film Babble's 100th Post!

"It's too cerebral! We're trying to make a movie here, not a film!"
- Kit Ramsey (Eddie Murphy) BOWFINGER (Dir. Frank Oz, 1999)


No special features or self congratulatory crap for my 100th - just some good ole fashioned movie reviews. A couple of new movies I caught at the theater and a few new release DVDs - nice and simple. So let's get going -

DEATH AT A FUNERAL (Dir. Frank Oz, 2007) After one of the most misguided remakes in history THE STEPFORD WIVES, a film Nathan Rabin in his excellent My Year Of Flops column (The Onion A.V. Club) would most likely call a "fiasco", Frank Oz brings us a funeral farce. Set in and around a countryside house during what should have been a stiff-upper lip service - a cast of mostly British mourners all with their own agenda or issue clash, argue, and fret over many outrageous obstacles.


Obstacles such as money matters that are driving rival brothers (Matthew Macfadyen, Rupert Graves) apart, a misplaced bottle of LSD tablets labeled as Valium, and a dwarf (little person? Trying to be PC here) played by the wonderful Peter Dinklage (THE STATION AGENT) that has a family shattering secret. There is some cringe-inducing slapstick and unnecessary scatological nonsense but through its economical brevity (it follows the unwritten rule that comedies should be 90 min) the mixed bits are happily reigned in.


DEATH AT A FUNERAL contains a number of genuine big laughs and while it may never be considered a comedy classic it will be most likely fondly remembered for many seasons to come. Oh yeah - it also more than makes up for THE STEPFORD WIVES.

ROCKET SCIENCE (Dir. Jeffrey Blitz, 2007) So the first non-documentary by director Jeffrey Blitz (2003's SPELLBOUND) is another adolescent angst movie in the tradition of Wes Anderson and Todd Solondz (especially RUSHMORE and WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE respectively). Unfortunately it’s nowhere as good as those touchstones with its self conscious screenplay filled with forced humor and standard grade quirkiness. Stuttering student (Reece Daniel Thompson) is a debate club star wannabe but his speech impediment gets in the way of his academic career and love life.


Thompson pines for a cold condescending classmate played by Anna Kendrick who is way ahead of him in the debate game and also way out of his league. A huge miss-step of many is the voice-over narration by Dan Cashman which in tone and context sounds to much like Ricky Jay’s opening MAGNOLIA spiel. Not able to surpass or be the equal of its influences and peopled by characters which are hard to care about ROCKET SCIENCE misses its mark by a movie mile. It simply should have had more moxie.


Some new DVDS I've recently seen :


THE LIVES OF OTHERS (Dir. Florian Henckel-Donnersmarck, 2006)


"He knows that the party needs artists but that artists need the party even more."
- Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme)

This is an amazing and affecting wire-tapping tale set in East Germany (GDR) in 1984. A time when artists such as playwrights who were thought to have subversive tendencies are bugged and blacklisted by the secret police (Stasi) in the remaining years before the Berlin wall came down. One such playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch - who was one of the only highlights of BLACK BOOK) has a actress girlfriend (Martina Gedeck) who has some too close for comfort ties to the Stasi.


The real star of this piece though is the character of Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe) who develops a protective sympathy for the people he's assigned to spy on. More of a drama with tense moments than a thriller, THE LIVES OF OTHERS fully deserved the Best Foreign Picture Oscar that it won this year and should go right to the top of your 'must see' list or your Netflix queue which I guess is the same thing.


Postnote : This movie is going to get the American remake treatment by Sydney Pollack set for 2010. Whatever makeover they give it I hope it doesn't have that damn thriller thunder dubbed on top of it.

GHOST RIDER (Dir. Mark Steven Johnson, 2007) I honestly can't remember why I ordered this one up. I mean I like Nicholas Cage but hate his action movie crap (CON AIR, THE ROCK, NATIONAL TREASURE, etc) and I successfully dodged the bullet that was THE WICKER MAN remake - not really action I suppose but still looked like crap so I'm drawing a blank right now as to why I added this to my queue. 


I am completely unfamiliar with the comic book (sorry - graphic novel) that this is based on and I didn't hear anything good about it when it was released in theaters earlier this year so go figure. Cage plays Johnny Blaze - "a badass stunt cyclist" (Netflix's envelopes words not mine) who makes a deal with the Devil, played by Peter Fonda no less - who I guess shows up whenever the pitch "it's a motorcycle movie" is made. 


The Devil's son Blackheart (that charismatically creeply kid from AMERICAN BEAUTY - Wes Bently) wants to take over for his dad and destroy the creation made from the contract - the Ghost Rider of the title that Blaze can change into at will. "Oh, and his face was a skull and it was on fire" says a punk clad Rebel Wilson credited as 'Girl in Alley' and I couldn't say it any better. This film is supremely stupid but oddly not severely sucky - I mean as mere pop entertainment goes you could do worse with a couple of hours than watching it. Then again, that blank white space on the wall over there is looking mighty appealing.


Okay! I didn't think the word "crap" would show up 3 times in my 100th post but otherwise all is good. Hope you stick around for my next hundred posts.


More later...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

10 Movie Moments That Broke The 4th Wall

"What a pisser!" - Ted Striker (Robert Hays) turning to the camera after being told off by girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty) in AIRPLANE! (Dirs. Jim Abraham, David & Jerry Zucker 1980)


Here I go again with another meta-movie list! The phrase “breaking the fourth wall” has been around for over a century. Though as a concept it's been around since before Shakespeare the phrase itself originates from the theater of Bertolt Brecht. It simply meant that a character makes an aside to the audience. Through the invisible wall those watching are addressed, acknowledged and made to feel a little more “in on the joke” so to speak. It’s a device used a lot more in television than on film.


In the '80s it even became fairly fashionable on such shows like Moonlighting and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show – a show that had as its entire premise comedian Shandling talking directly to the studio audience and the viewers at home. The Marx Brothers may have pioneered the concept in cinema with Groucho’s many knowing winks but Bob Hope really nailed it in the seminal road movies he made with Bing Crosby which is where we’ll begin:




1. ROAD TO MOROCCO (Dir. David Butler, 1942) Bob Hope is the reigning king of breaking the 4th wall for this classic alone. His character Oliver ‘Turkey’ Jackson has an immortal momment when he loses his detached wiseacre demeanor when he desperately declares “I can't go on! No food, no water. It's all my fault. We're done for! It's got me. I can't stand it! No food, nothing! No food, no water! No food!” As the voice of reason his friend Jeff (Bing Crosby) says “What's the matter with you, anyway?…We'll be picked up in a few minutes.” Hope in all his irrefutable glory responds “you had to open your big mouth and ruin the only good scene I got in the picture. I might have won the Academy Award!” That’s par for the course in a movie that actually has a camel comment - "This is the screwiest picture I was ever in."

2. ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (Dir. Peter R. Hunt, 1969) This is seriously significant because breaking the 4th wall was used to break in the new Bond. George Lazenby had one of the hardest jobs in cinema history – to be the first to fill the shoes of Sean Connery in the iconic role of 007. To make matters even more intimidating this was a Bond adventure with substance – one that he gets married in for Christ’s sake!


Bond's intro had to matter – it had to have him make a mark and it had to acknowledge the audience’s incoming notion that this guy wasn’t the guy they were used to.


So in what every Bond picture has - a cold opening - we see Bond tooling around Portugal in his classic Aston Martin having an instant of near road-rage (we don't see his face in close-up), parking to watch the driver (Diana Rigg) that cut him off attempting suicide by walking into the ocean. He watches through a gun sight mind you. He frantically pulls his car down and runs out to the beach to save her. He drags her out of the water and we get to see his face as he does the customary intro “Bond, James Bond” but immediately adversaries are on his back.


A moon-lit beach fight ensues and of course Bond defeats his attackers but Rigg departs eschewing all pleasantries. After picking up her discarded shoes Lazenby remarks “this never happened to the other fellow”. Priceless for many reasons but chiefly because it acknowledged that there was a much loved “other fellow” and while Lazenby didn’t look directly into the camera ‘til after he said the line – the self consciousness was reigned in. Didn’t save him from being a Bond one-termer but still.


3. ANIMAL HOUSE (Dir. John Landis, 1978) According to IMDb this is a Landis trademark : “He often has his characters look into camera lens to make eye contact with the audience or 'break frame'". It’s true – it is all over his film work but most definitively when the late great John Belushi climbs up a ladder to view naked sorority girls and when getting what he thinks is a “money shot” turns to do his eye brow signature right at us.


As a close tie - the scene in TRADING PLACES when the Duke brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellemy) condescendingly try to school Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) about commodities. Murphy looks directly at us at a key moment in a “how stupid do they think I am?” look.


Another trademark breaking the 4th came a few years later in SPIES LIKE US – this time Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase were trying to do their version of a Hope/Crosby road movie. During a stressful scene when our beloved SNL bumblers were pretending to be medical staff in Soviet Central Asia - the king of 4th wall demolition - Bob Hope himself appears as if in perpetual golfer mode - "Ah! Mind if I play through? (acknowledges Ackroyd and Chase) Doctor.. Doctor.. I'm glad I'm not sick." * While this is indeed a Landis trademark on the TRADING PLACES commentary Eddie Murphy says it came from being so used to mugging at the camera on Saturday Night Live.




4. FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF (Dir. John Hughes, 1986) There are many instances of Hughes’s characters talking directly to the camera but Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick) is purely definitive as a narrator, commentator, and chastizer – like Animal in THE MUPPET MOVIE he even tells the audience to go home at the end. Bueller's great moment in breaking the 4th walldom is when he informs us on the best methods of faking sick to get out of going to school (as if you didn't know the premise). I believe this is one of the reasons that this is former Vice President Dan Quayle’s favorite movie.

After his parents exit Ferris looks us in the eye and says “Incredible! One of the worst performances of my career and they never doubted it for a second.”


Special mention goes to PRETTY IN PINK (1986) At the prom conclusion Ducky (Jon Cryer) looks directly in the camera and knowingly nods after being given a come-on look by a girl on the dance floor.



5. JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (Dir. Kevin Smith, 2001) As a self pro-claimed Hughes disciple Smith has to work the ‘to camera asides’ but in this movie he may have overdone it a tad. For example – playing themselves Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have a fight on the set of the fictitious GOOD WILL HUNTING 2 : HUNTING SEASON (Yes I know, another film within a film) in which Affleck tries to school Damon : “You're like a child. What've I been telling you? You gotta do the safe picture. Then you can do the art picture. But then sometimes you gotta do the payback picture because your friend says you owe him.” They both turn and look at the camera for an obvious dig at Smith.


The overdoing it comes from this bit in the same film also involving Affleck who this time plays his CHASING AMY character Holden who warns - “I mean, I don't think I'm alone in the world in imagining this flick may be the worst idea since Greedo shooting first. You know it, but... a Jay and Silent Bob movie? Feature length? Who'd pay to see that?” Holden, Jay (Jason Mewes), and Silent Bob (Smith) all look right at us – and to really set things off - Silent Bob gives a smiling double thumbs-up.

6. TOP SECRET (Dir. Jerry Zucker, 1982) There are many audience acknowledging nods throughout the Zucker Brothers canon like the one quoted at the top of this blogpost but this Zucker scene really drives the point home: Val Kilmer’s Elvis derived '50s heart throb singer Nick Rivers pours his heart out: “Listen to me Hillary. I'm not the first guy who fell in love with a woman that he met at a restaurant who turned out to be the daughter of a kidnapped scientist only to lose her to her childhood lover who she last saw on a deserted island who then turned out fifteen years later to be the leader of the French underground." Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge) responds “I know. It all sounds like some bad movie.” They both recoil then look our way as if to say ‘did you get that?’ And speaking of 'getting that':


7. SPACEBALLS (Dir. Mel Brooks, 1987) After being given the plot synopsis Dark Helmet (Rick Moranis) looks at the camera and says "Everybody got that?" but most notably is the scene in which he and his minions actually put in a videocasette of SPACEBALLS to see what happens next and see themselves looking at themselves onscreen. Dark Helmet says : “what the hell am I looking at? When does this happen in the movie?” Colonel Sandurz (George Wyner) responds : “now. You're looking at now sir. Everything that happens now, is happening now.” Too bad this didn’t help this decade too late STAR WARS satire to be more “in the moment.”


8. JFK (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1991) I know, I know – every list I make has this film on it. Not only because it’s one of my all time favorite films but it does hold the monopoly on movie extras – deleted scenes, cameos, edits, and cinema contrivances galore confirm that it’s forever bloggable. That aside I really couldn’t leave out the moment that Garrison (Costner) wraps up his lengthy court summation by saying : “We, the people, the jury system sitting in judgement on Clay Shaw represent the hope of humanity against government power. In discharging your duty to bring a first conviction in this house of cards against Clay Shaw ‘ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.’


Do not forget your dying king. Show this world that this is still a government ‘of the people, for the people and by the people’ Nothing as long as you live will ever be more important – it’s up to you.” As the camera goes upward but still holds Costner’s direct camera gaze we get a feeling that this breaking the 4th wall stuff isn’t just comedy kids stuff. Which brings us to:




9. WAYNE’S WORLD (Dir. Penelope Spheeris, 1992) Like Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers has a SNL mugging at the camera background and the characters here come from a cable access show in which they talk directly to the camera so of course they would continue to bash holes in the ever so fraglie fourth wall. Funnily enough they use it to satirize product placement at the same time. Wayne tells sleazy TV exec Rob Lowe that he"will not bow to any sponsor" as he poses with a bag of Doritos, a piece of pizza from Pizza Hut, takes some Nuprin, and tops it all off with a swig of Pepsi. He grins at us and even says the slogan "it's the choice of a new generation."



10. THE MUPPET MOVIE (Dir. James Frawley, 1979) Kermit and the other Muppets (my word program insists this should be capitalized) regularly consult the screenplay on their journey to stardom so it's unsurprising but still hilarious when Floyd Pepper (Jerry Nelson) says "well, if this were the movies..." and Dr. Teeth (Jim Henson) adds "which it is", Floyd continues "...we'd think of a clever plot device" then Scooter (Richard Hunt) energetically finishes "like disguising their car so they won't be recognized!"

Yep, when in doubt just think of how it would be done in the movies. It'll save you every time. Okay! That's enough meta-movie mania for right now - gotta go star in my own movie. Good luck with yours.

More later...

Monday, August 20, 2007

Apatow Arrives Again

So apparently from just about everything I read on the internets writer/producer/director Judd Apatow is the new king of cinema comedy. Apatow, whose credits include the cult TV series Freaks And Geeks, the 2005 hit THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, and KNOCKED UP which was an early summer smash, now has another #1 movie - SUPERBAD (reviewed below). But wait a minute – he didn’t direct SUPERBAD. As this amusing New York Magazine blogpost tells us Greg Mattola did – Apatow was the producer. So why does it seem so much like Apatow was the director? Well, interviews with the cast members who pretty much were all in KNOCKED UP talk about taking notes from Apatow as much or more than they do Mattola and the film has more than one critic considering it part of Apatow’s series of immature-male-moves-forward-movies. Makes some sorta sense for this mass confusion I guess.

So on to the movie itself :

SUPERBAD (Dir. Greg Mattola, 2007) If you’ve heard anything about this movie you know the drill – we spend the day with a few foul mouthed teenagers trying to get laid. Yep - it’s like a zillion 80’s sex comedies as well as a homage to them at the same time. Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg wrote the semi-autobiographical screenplay when they were teenagers but got too old to play the parts themselves. So now we’ve got Seth (Jonah Hill) and Evan (Michael Cera) filling in and a great pair they are. Their kind of chemistry can’t be faked and when joined by Fogle (more referred to as McLovin because that’s his name on his fake ID) played by Christopher Mint Plasse, a lot of hilarious riffing flies through the air. McLovin has his own sideline adventure when he bemusedly befriends a couple of inept cops played by Rogen (he had to put himself in the movie somehow) and Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader. That bit, while it contains some big laughs, feels more like a comic convention than say, some of the other true to life sloppy shenanigans on display. Much better than your average teen flick these days (and better than anything Kevin Smith has done in ages) SUPERBAD isn’t for those who dislike lots of profanity and dick jokes but just about everybody else will find it really funny.

And Now A Recent Release DVD :

THE LOOKOUT (Dir. Scott Frank, 2007) After a prom-night joyride turns deadly, survivor Joseph Gordon-Levitt lives a quiet life with a blind mentor room-mate (Jeff Daniels) spending most of his time dealing with his guilt and trying to get his sequencing in order. You see - his mind still hasn't recovered from the accident and he has to constantly take notes to remind himself of the order of his day's events. He's not as extreme a case as the guy from MEMENTO but far from fully functional. Gordon-Levitt works as a night-shift janitor in a small bank and is being targeted to be an unwilling participant in a bank heist by a gang of pure movie thugs led by Matthew Goode. This is where the conventions of Gordon-Levitt's condition are exposed as just another piece in the contrived plot puzzle. It seems to take place in a world with only a handful of characters including a friendly bumbling cop who brings Gordon-Levitt doughnuts and whose fate we can see coming way in advance. Also annoying is the thunderous rumbling sound that’s dubbed onto just about every scene. You know, the sound from so many thriller trailers – usually paired with quick cuts to underscore tension and jar us. It’s a suspense string pulling manipulation – CUT IT OUT! Despite the good acting and some solid direction throughout (the sequencing is in perfect order) it's unfortunate that a routine heist plot is the order of the day. Gordon-Levitt is good though - he proves that like his intense turn in BRICK that he can handle weighty material. With hope next time around he'll get something weightier than this.

More later...

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

10 Rarely Seen Deleted Scenes Not On DVD



"If this was a movie, you'd be on the cutting room floor" - Second Hood (Jon Polito) THE SINGING DETECTIVE


These days, nearly every DVD has some deleted scenes on the special features menu. Most of the time with few exceptions we can see that they were deleted for a good reason. But what about those scenes we hear talk of and maybe see a random clip or photo of here or there but are currently unavailable on DVD? The ones that have some cache of history or interest that may actually make them worth seeing?

Well, I decided to round up some of the most interesting cinematic suspects right here:

1. The War-room pie-fight that was extracted from DR. STRANGELOVE 


“Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has been struck down in his prime!” General Turgidson (George C. Scott) exclaims after President Merkin Muffley (Peter Sellers) gets hit in the face by a pie.

This moment occurring in the pie-fight that was originally intended to end Stanley Kubrick's 1964 classic DR. STRANGELOVE was thought to be potentially offensive to the Kennedy family for obvious reasons. The original test screening of the film was slated for November 22, 1963 and had to be re-scheduled, again for obvious reasons but that wasn’t the only problem: Kubrick said that the scene was “not consistent with the satiric tone of the rest of the film” and others thought that the actors covered in cream pie were indistinguishable - therefore ineffective.

The pie-fight, which would be replaced by a stock film sequence of nuclear explosions, is well known to fans and film buffs because photographs of it have shown in the bonus features of nearly every edition of the DVD but the scene itself remains missing in action. Wikipedia reports that “the only known public showing of the footage was in the 1999 screening at the National Film Theatre in London following Kubrick's death” but then there’s that telling [citation needed] notation.

So will this scene that Kubrick once called “a disaster of Homeric proportions” ever see the light of a DVD player’s laser? Probably not any time soon though I think when they’re preparing the 50th Anniversary edition on whatever format will be popular at the time - it’ll be a prized bell and whistle selling-point.

2. Luke's bonding with his long-time buddy Biggs being edited out of STAR WARS

When I was a kid I was perplexed by the pictures (including the one above) in THE STAR WARS STORYBOOK (Scholastic 1978) – which I still have by the way - of 2 scenes that weren’t in the movie I saw many times at the theater. The stills were of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) viewing the space battle the movie opens with on his binocs and his chat with Biggs Darklighter (Garrick Hagon) that helped inspire his adventuresome spirit. 

Lucas has said that he cut the scene because he wanted the film to center on the droids' mission from their point of view so we as an audience wouldn’t meet Luke until the droids met Luke. It would be nice to have the full sequence of Luke on Tatooine pre-C3PO & R2-D2 as a bonus on a non-special edition 1977 theatrical cut of STAR WARS (not calling it A NEW HOPE damnit!). This would be great because apart from Biggs we would all get to see some of Luke’s other friends – Deak, Camie and Fixer. Camie, incidentally was played by Koo Stark – later a British soft-porn actress who dated Prince Andrew.

The footage known as "the Anchorhead scene" (because it took place at the Toshi power station in Anchorhead - got it?) was screened for the first time at the San Diego Comic Con in 1998 and released at the same time on a CD-ROM “Behind The Magic”. Now it can be found in many different cuts on YouTube – I would link it here but Lucasfilm constantly cracks down on copyright violations so it probably wouldn’t last long. Just type in “Luke and Biggs” in the YouTube search engine and you’re bound to find it. Just why this isn’t available on any of the many editions of STAR WARS is unknown. When the bank calls and tells Lucas they’ve located another vault in which he can store more money – he may consider its release.

3. Steve McQueen as Sam Spade on THE LONG GOODBYE's cutting room floor:

In the short documentary “Rip Van Marlowe” on the DVD for this Robert Altman should-be classic the words “deleted scene” flash on black and white production stills of McQueen, Elliot Gould, and Altman while Gould reminisces: “The first day when I walk in to see what was going on – I think Sam Spade was going up in an elevator and I think some of this may have been edited…” Wait Elliot, sorry Mr. Gould - are you saying McQueen had a cameo as Sam Spade?!!? Are you kidding? No research on the internets will confirm or deny this and I doubt this scene will ever surface because it’s most likely destroyed like much Altman footage of that era so I can only sigh.

4. The original Audrey II eats everybody ending from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS:


Many demographic-tested endings have been changed through the years but none more notorious than this one from Frank Oz's 1986 sci-fi comedy musical masterpiece. 

It is the definitive “alternate ending” - a 23 minute sequence which cost 5 million and was true to the stage production’s narrative, in which Seymour (Rick Moranis) is defeated by the ever-growing plant and even feeds Audrey II the dead Audrey (Ellen Greene) before getting eaten himself. 

Audrey II and its many clones take over the planet as the song “Don’t Feed The Plants” serenades or better yet - warns the audience. This sequence was actually released in black and white without sound or special effects on a Warner Bros. Special Edition in 1998 but yanked off the market by producer mogul David Geffen. Early this year according to Wikipedia – “Warner Bros. hinted that a DVD re-issue featuring the original ending may be on its way” so it looks like we may be able to finally see the mean green mother from outer space in all its destructive glory at some point on the horizon.

5. Kevin Costner As The Dead Guy In THE BIG CHILL

The most significant character in Lawrence Kasdan's 1983 baby boomer cinema standard we never see. Well, we see parts of his body as it is being dressed for the funeral but never his face. So what was to be Costner’s big break turned out to be extra-work as a corpse. Costner was cast as Alex, the charismatic college glue that all the other characters (including William Hurt, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berrenger, and Jo Beth Williams) are forever stuck to.

Costner was supposed to be seen in flashbacks but those were cut and despite much protest were not included in the 10 minutes of deleted scenes on the 20th Anniversary Special Edition DVD. Even if you hate Costner, and I know that many of you do, I think it would be interesting to see how he relates to that particular ensemble cast. Maybe he didn’t live up to his character’s implied charm and his deletion helped better ground the movie – I dunno. 25th anniversary maybe? Post-note: Kasdan cast Costner in his next film SILVERADO to make up for the Alex omission. 

6. Halloran's Death Done Differently Deleted From THE SHINING 

Another scene taken from a Kubrick classic. According to the IMDb: “Halloran's (Scatman Crothers) death scene as filmed is not the one we actually see. The one filmed depicts a much longer, much more graphic death. In its entirety, the scene lasts almost seventy seconds, and is full of gore. Rather then just run up and hit him as seen in the released version, Jack (Jack Nicholson) runs up, hits him in the back of the head. Halloran screams. 

Jack pulls the ax back, and then slams the spike on the back of the ax into the base of Halloran's spine. Halloran screams and recoils, and then Jack slams the ax into his back and he falls down. Halloran rolls onto his back and is looking up, and Jack starts to beat him with the ax before he "hears" something and leaves.” This is a scene I believe we will be soon able to appraise because the 2 disc Special Edition DVD will be released October 23rd this year. With hope we will also be able to see the scene that was originally at the end where Wendy (Shelly Duvall) is told her husband’s body was never found. This scene actually appeared when the film was first released but cut by Kubrick a week later.

7. Odd Promotional Photo Indicates Odd Outtake From ANNIE HALL 


None of Woody Allen’s movies on DVD have any extras other than a trailer so the prospect of ever seeing anything resembling a deleted scene is pretty slim. Too bad because this photo issued as a publicity still to promote his 1977 Oscar winner ANNIE HALL implies some juicy cut material. No dialogue is known but it looks like it takes place during Alvy and Annie’s first break-up when Alvy is randomly questioning people on the street about their love lives and they all have great one-liner answers. Can’t imagine what this guy's was. Funny how a shot from a scene unused in the movie makes the rounds as advertising but even funnier that 30 years later a blogger like me would assign such significance to it. Another sigh.  

8. Alternate Jim Garrison Wins The Clay Shaw Trial Climax in JFK

According to Robert Sam Anson in Esquire Magazine (November 1991) as “a joke” JFK Director Oliver Stone filmed “a not-to-be used scene showing Shaw’s (Tommy Lee Jones) jury bringing in a guilty verdict.” In complete contrast to Woody Allen, Stone has had his DVDs loaded with extras – director’s cuts, commentaries, documentaries, and scores of deleted scenes so where is this gem? It would be rather amusing to see Garrison (Costner *) triumphant from the victory of being the first person to bring a trial in the murder of John Kennedy. With all the special editions of the film we’ve seen so far it’s pretty likely that we will one day see this “joke.” * Funny how somebody whose average movie is 3 hours long still makes me want to see more footage! Long live Costner! 


9. Enid Sleeps With Josh in GHOST WORLD

This scene, which comes directly from the Daniel Clowes graphic novel that Terry Zwigoff's 2001 film was adapted from, takes place in the third act  after Seymour (Steve Buscemi) and Rebecca (Scarlet Johanssen) shun Enid's (Thora Birch) company one sad day. According to the published screenplay, Enid shows up at Josh’s (Brad Renfro) meager hotel room/apartment and shyly but slyly seduces him. It seems this was omitted because we would have even less sympathy for Enid as she goes on to sleep with Seymour causing a harmful ripple effect. Still since the GHOST WORLD DVD has such inessential deleted scenes involving incidental characters it would be nice to see such an actual major discarded plot point. The movie has never been re-released in any form so its official appearance it still a possibility but I’m not holding my breath. 

10. The Spiderwomen, Myrtle & Beryl, Removed From TIME BANDITS

There was a lot in the published screenplay – evidenced in Gilliam’s doodles, production stills, and full pages of dialogue that were not used in TIME BANDITS. This is typical of his work – all the published Python scripts are the same way (MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL has page after page crossed off in crayon) so this is no surprise but where is the actual footage? Especially of the scene from the Time of Legends sequence in which the time travelling dwarfs encounter two spinster spider-women (Myrtle and Beryl) who knit webs in which to catch passing knights. 

Gilliam recalls: "That was another desperate moment, mainly because that sequence was an afterthought. Mike Palin and I had originally written another whole sequence about two spider women who ensnare some of the bandits in their web. We actually filmed this - and it was marvelous. But it now required a scene on either side to get us from the giant to the fortress, and we had run out of money.” Fairly certain this bit will show up – Gilliam never seems to throw away footage (or any idea) and the many formats in the years to come will have special feature capabilities beyond our wildest dreams (or at least beyond mine) so I bet this will someday make the cut. 

The spider-women are named Myrtle and Beryl according to many sources but only Myrtle Devenish as Beryl is credited on the IMDb which makes me think that this is incorrect info. Devenish plays a game show contestant on the game show satire "Your Money Or Your Life" seen early in the film on a background television. It’s conceivable she also played one of the spider-women but the names seem off. Anybody know the deal here? I know this is only scratching the rarely seen scenes surface so please leave your comments below or email: boopbloop7@gmail.com


This post is dedicated to Merv Griffin Merv as a broadcaster wore many hats – game show host, talk show host, real-estate magnate, pop-crooner, etc. and while he did relatively little film work Film Babble would like to highlight his clever cameo as himself (billed as the Elevator killer) in THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1983). Dr. Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) confronts him right after a killing and asks “why?” 

Merv’s answer: “I don't know. I've always just loved to kill. I really enjoyed it. But then I got famous, and - it's just too hard for me. And so many witnesses. I mean, everybody recognized me. I couldn't even lurk anymore. I'd hear, "Who's that lurking over there? Isn't that Merv Griffin?" So I came to Europe to kill. And it's really worked out very well for me.”

R.I.P. Merv Griffin (1925-2007)

More later…

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Keepin' Cool With The AC Breeze & New Release DVDs

"Doing da ying and yang, da flip and flop, da hippy and hoppy (yodels) Yo da lay he hoo! I have today's forecast. (yells) HOT!" - MR.SEÑOR LOVE DADDY (Samuel L. Jackson) DO THE RIGHT THING (Dir. Spike Lee, 1989) He said it! It was been unbearably hot this week so the best thing to do is to get the air cranking, tear open a few Netflix envelopes, and devour some DVDs. Here's some I've seen lately and while for the most part they are a dire lot they did provide some diversion from the sweltering Summer sun. Let's start with : NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (Dir. Shawn Levy, 2006) From the trailers I saw for this last Christmas (sorry Holiday season) it looked to me like yet another Ben Stiller as punching bag enterprise but this time aimed at kids with lots of CGI. Well, that's pretty much what it is but it's better than I expected with more than few really funny moments and a great supporting cast. Abundant back and forths (some improvised) between Stiller as a hapless failed inventor turned security guard and Robin Williams dominates the lively proceedings. Williams plays a life sized Teddy Roosevelt in battle mode mannequin, who as I'm sure you know if you've even glanced in the direction of this movie, comes to life with everything else in the museum at night. Not so life size are the miniatures cowboy Jebediah (Owen Wilson - uncredited for some odd reason) and Roman warrior Octavius (Steve Coogan) who make good with their bit parts - sorry for that lame ass pun. Wait - lame ass puns dominate this movie so I'll leave that in. Anyway Ricky Gervais somehow pulls off some amusing walk-throughs without having a single genuinely funny line while oldtimers Mickey Rooney and Bill Cobbs pull no punches (literally) but the real shining player here? 3 words - Dick. Van. Dyke. Nice to see the man atone for years of bland TV and forgettable cameos by sinking his teeth into his role as Stiller's smooth retiring night guard mentor. Lots of critics have dumped on NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (it has a 44% rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and I agree with the consensus that the CGI doesn't impress like it used to and that the humor may be way too broad at times but I still think it's a decent family film. Even if that's all that it is. THE NUMBER 23 (Dir. Joel Schumacher, 2007) Sometimes I watch movies that I know are going to be horrible. It’s that I want to know just how and in how many ways they are horrible. I guess the genre here is psychological suspense though there’s nothing either psychological or suspenseful in this convoluted Jim Carrey vehicle. For the first 10 minutes or so Carrey is his usual glide through life wisecracking self until his wife (Virginia Madsen) gives him a book about the supposedly mystical number of the title. He of course becomes obsessed with 23 seeing it everywhere – in his birthday, address, social security #, etc. He cites examples (as does the opening credit sequence does to drive home the meaningless point) like “Ted Bundy was executed on the 23rd of January” * and even writes “9,11, 2001 - 9+11+2+1=23" in pen on his arm. Before long he makes the connection to not only the saxophone (the saxophone has 23 keys!!!) playing detective of the book to some murdered girl and others who have had similar deadly numerical obsessions helping the movie make its red herring quota. Schumacher’s films all have an overly glossy look – something he perfected in the era of high impact rock videos and magazine ads – and this is no exception. Nothing resembling real life here. This time he tried to disguise the stylized emptiness with the contrived “depth” of a cultish pseudo-intellectual theory. Consider it an extremely dumbed down Pi (which cinematographer Mattthew Latique worked on too!). How many ways is this movie horrible? I’m think-ing of a number… * Actually he wasn’t! Bundy was sent to the electric chair on January 24th, 1989. Ah-ha! DISTURBIA (D.J. Caruso, 2007) So I feel old and unhip because it took until his hosting of Saturday Night Light earlier this year for me to take note of Shia Lebeouf. I mean the kid is apparently really hot these days - magazine covers, TRANSFORMERS, and he's even going to be the son of Indiana Jones next Summer. Lebouf was called by Vanity Fair the next Tom Hanks (who was called the next Jimmy Stewart in the 80's) has here what was billed as REAR WINDOW for a new generation. Uh, okay. Well, underneath the teen angst veneer the premise of Hitchcock's classic is just a clothesline to hang cliche after cliche on. Under house arrest instead of being wheelchair bound Lebeouf out of boredom spies on his neighbors - mostly Sarah Roemer - the cliched perfect girl next door until his binoculars wander to the cliched suspicious activities of...oh you know the plot! It's not really so odd how it's not that we can guess everything that happens way before it happens - it's that it seems like the film makers knew we could guess them and still made no attempt to actually trigger true suspense. The house of the serial killer is one of those that only exists in the movies - so full of secret compartments, passageways, shrines, and a well lit sanitized freezer room - he must have gotten the Murder Maniac special at the local real estate office! I shouldn't be so hard on this movie though - it's just another PG-13 thriller throw-away for the weekend multiplex crowd. I'll also admit though that Lebeouf is talented - he rises above this dreck at every unsurprising turn. Now let's just see how he handles that bullwhip. SOME RANDOM BABBLE : Isn't it funny how Eddie Murphy who reportedly walked out of the Academy Awards last March because he didn't get the statue for DREAMGIRLS turned down the sequel to DADDY DAY CARE and actual Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. stepped in to play the same role in DADDY DAY CAMP? Isn't that funny? Isn't It?!!? Oh, nevermind. Don't ask me what's funny about UNDERDOG - because I got nothing. If they ever make one of those VH1 biopics about The Kids In The Hall they really ought get that guy who's supposed to represent Verizon (or is it AT&T? Cingular?) in those damn Alltel commercials to play Dave Foley. I mean the guy - Scott Halberstadt - would nail it I bet. The new celebrity-reality show The Two Coreys featuring the present day antics of former teen movie stars Corey Feldman and Corey Haim is airing now on A&E - The Arts & Entertainment Channel. This is definitely ironic because The Two Coreys is neither art nor entertainment. Discuss... If it seems like the Coen Brothers are overdue for a movie and it sure does to me - their all too brief Buscemi bit in PARIS, JE T'AIME was such a tease - well, soon (November) we've got - NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy. It's got Tommy Lee Jones, Javier Bardem, Kelly McDonald, and Josh Brolin. Despite the fact it has been a while since the Coens have done a film based on their original screenplay this seems promising. More later...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

On-The-Air Amusement And Angst

After seeing the new movie TALK TO ME (reviewed below) I got to thinking about radio personalities in the movies. Sometimes they are disc jockeys, sometimes they have specialty call-in shows, sometimes they are rabble rousers - sometimes all three. Let's take a look at some of the most memorable motor mouths : Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian) in TALK RADIO (Dir. Oliver Stone, 1988) Champlain is the epitome of all three of the above. His station announcer introduces him as "the man you love to love" and he gets more death threats than phone-ins. Taking place almost completely around a radio console as Barry insults, cajoles, and just plain provokes callers TALK RADIO can best be considered a comic tragedy. It expands on the stage play (recently revived on Broadway) by giving us Barry's back-story showing his rise to be one of the top talk radio personalities in Dallas on the verge of national syndication. His fame though is running face to face with the mounting militia-based hatred of much of his audience. Barry's final break-down resulting in a mesmerizing monologue lays bare a pathetic self destructive unsalvageable soul but the announcer is right - over the years I've come to love to love the man whose signature sign-off line is "Sticks and stones can break your bones but words cause permanent damage." Adrian Cronauer (Robin Williams) in GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1987) Based on the real life experiences of a Armed Forces Radio Saigon disc jockey this role features Williams way before he became so annoyingly over-exposed and before his film formula became so, well, annoying. Dealing with uptight army officials (the late greats Bruno Kirby and J.T. Walsh) and ignoring army playlists and protocol Cronauer learns and grows mostly when he's not on the air but some maturity is shown on the mike before we reach the treacly but still affecting conclusion. David "Dave" Garver (Clint Eastwood) in PLAY MISTY FOR ME (Dir. Eastwood, 1971) Eastwood's directorial debut with him as a soft spoken (I know, of course) disc jockey is really more of a thriller (the mold of which would be later used for FATAL ATTRACTION - 1987) than a radio-related story. Garver's most loyal fan (Jessica Walter) repeatedly makes the request of the title which is all good that is until she becomes a stalking murderous mad woman. Maybe it's because she fell overboard for Garver's smooth soothing tone. Maybe like Dylan, Eastwood should consider doing a XM satellite radio show - that is if he's not afraid of attracting new stalkers. Leon Phelps (Tim Meadows) in THE LADIES MAN (Dir. Reginald Hudlin, 2000) Yeah! Another awful movie made from a running SNL sketch character at least has some radio-tested charm by way of Phelps's smarmy self intro : "I am an expert in the ways of love. I have made love to many fine ladies from the lowliest bus station skank to the classiest most sophisticated, educated, debutant, high society... bus station skank." Phelps is a Chicagoan host of a late night sex advice show who is always accompanied by a glass of Courvoisier and an unjustified arrogant romantic philosophy. He unwisely journeys out of the studio to hunt down an ex-lover. I think that was the plot, I mean really - who cares? Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges) in THE FISHER KING (Dir. Terry Gilliam, 1991) The role of the "shock jock" gets played here in a role that comes from the same cloth as TALK RADIO's Barry Champlain. The twist here is - what if the guy has a conscience? One of Lucas's random radio comments inadvertently causes a mad man to open fire in a bar and one of the patrons - history professor Parry (Robin Williams again) watches as his wife gets killed. Tossed out of the radio fame game Lucas meets a homeless deranged Parry years later. Lucas decides to help Parry which will in turn be his redemption. Lucas even has a radio catch-phrase that fits in with the movie's premise, the Steve Martinesque "hey, forgive me!" Howard Stern (Howard Stern) in PRIVATE PARTS (Dir. Betty Thomas, 1997) Playing himself in his own biopic (based on his bestselling book) is not surprising considering the size of the ego of the self-proclaimed "king of all media" but come on, who else would or could do it? The best scenes here are the re-creations of Stern's infamous broadcasts and not the rom com trappings surrounding them. Much has changed for the man who popularized the term "shock jock" in the ten years since PRIVATE PARTS was released. Mainly the divorce from the woman that this film was a Valentine to and the gigantic $500 million Sirius Satellite deal that got him off regular radio make the meager goals of this movie seem quaint today. Funny how cute rather than cutting Stern seems when looking at this portrayal today - especially his naive reaction to Don Imus's (played by Luke Reilly - of course Imus wouldn't appear in this film) dismissal of him when they are first introduced. Shirlee Kenyon (Dolly Parton) in STRAIGHT TALK (Dir. Barnet Kellman, 1992) Yep, it has been a sausage party in the booth so far so we gotta to acknowledge Dolly! Sure, it's a silly disposable comedy but it's Dolly! She brings her smirking spunk to play a woman who through a wacky mishap is mistaken for a certified psychologist and becomes a successful radio talk show host. It feels unfair to bash on this innocuous inanity especially when it has Dolly wrapping her Southern lips around such lines as "get down off the cross honey, somebody needs the wood!" Okay! So now on to the current release about a real-life radio semi-legend : TALK TO ME (Dir. Kasi Lemmons, 2007) Ex-con turned outspoken AM Disc Jockey Ralph Waldo Petey Greene is not a household name these days and this movie is probably going to do little to change that. In the age of Stern and Imus the labeling of a broadcaster as a "controversial radio personality" doesn't carry the cache it used to. Greene's (Don Cheadle with a raspy clipped voice) story taking place during the turbulent late 60's in Washington D.C. does have gusto and a strong sentiment but the formulaic biopic approach mars the third act. MLK's death, riots, and demonstrations are given about the same amount of depth as the historical background in DREAM GIRLS. To its credit Cheadle does his thing though in a decisively funkier manner than before, Chiwetel Ejiofor slickly plays the right notes as his producer, Martin Sheen takes a few satisfying solos as the uptight white station manager who is perpetually about to pull the plug on Greene, and Cedric The Entertainer is well, there. Greene's legacy will get a few more fans from this treatment as it is not without heart, it's just that its soul is that of a TV movie. More later...