Friday, June 05, 2020

Actors You Recognize, But Don't Know Their Names: Michael McKean

This post is dedicated to one of my favorites: Michael McKean

Despite having portrayed two iconic comedy characters - Lenny on Laverne & Shirley and David St. Hubbins in Rob Reiner's immortal 1984 mockumetary (I don't care if Christopher Guest hates this term), THIS IS SPINAL TAP - McKean is sadly not a household name. 

Folks may also know him from USED CARS, YOUNG DOCTORS IN LOVE, CLUE, PLANES TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES, EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, and the Christopher Guest films BEST IN SHOW, A MIGHTY WIND *, and FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION among tons of other movies. 

* McKean scored his only Oscar nomination for A MIGHTY WIND, but not for acting - it was for the delightful song, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” which he co-wrote with his wife, Annette O'Toole.

McKeans's TV credits are too extensive to list here, but my favorite McKean role is as Jimmy McGill’s brother Chuck McGill on AMC's excellent Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul. He was seriously robbed of an Emmy for that work.

One last note about Mr. McKean: many folks aren't aware that Lenny & Squiggy, as Lenny & the Squigtones, put out an album in 1978:

The record consists of hilarious parodies of '50s style rock 'n roll, and is notable for featuring the first appearance of Spinal Tap lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) four years before THIS IS SPINAL TAP. Here's a segment from American Bandstand in 1979 showcasing Lenny & the Squigtones in their prime:

More later...

Wednesday, June 03, 2020


As Mike Flanagan’s 2019 thriller, DOCTOR SLEEP, was an adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 novel and a direct sequel to both King’s 1977 novel and Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of THE SHINING, it was unsurprising that it recreated many of the aesthetics of Kubrick’s classic. But what was surprising was that even the former film’s protagonist, Jack Torrance, made an appearance during an overlong sequence set at the Overlook Hotel.

But Torrance wasn’t portrayed by a digitally de-aged Jack Nicholson, who originally played the part. It was Henry Thomas of E.T. fame who took on the legendary role.

That’s right, Thomas, seen below reprising his role as Elliot from Steven Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi smash in a 2019 commercial for the Comcast Corporation Xfinity, was made up to look as much like Nicholson’s Torrance as possible for DOCTOR SLEEP, but few people took notice. Well, that’s probably because not many people went to see the film in theaters (it was one of 2019
’s biggest flops), and are only now catching up with it on home video. 

So there you go, your fun film fact for the day. 

More later…

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Actors You Recognize, But Don't Know Their Names: Stephen Root

I started this series on Facebook a month ago, but thought I should transport it here so it wouldn’t get lost down in the infinite scroll. The idea should be pretty self-explanatory, to highlight some notable folks that we’ve all seen in numerous movies and TV shows, but aren’t A-list leads. Many of these folks are favorites of mine – actors who I always enjoy seeing pop up in various roles in whatever films or programs I’m currently watching. I am going to begin with a guy whose work I’ve enjoyed for nearly a quarter of a century:

Stephen Root

I have loved this guy since he played Jimmy James on the great 90s sitcom Newsradio. Since then, he was Milton in OFFICE SPACE (he also appeared in Mike Judges IDIOCRACY), hes been in three Coen brothers films, and also had substantial roles in the films DODGEBALL: A TRUE UNDERDOG STORY, CEDAR RAPIDS, GET OUT, BOMBSHELL, and many others.

These are only a handful of his big screen highlights as hes been on seemingly every TV show of the last 30 years too - from Roseanne to Seinfeld to King of the Hill to The West Wing to The Big Bang Theory to Barry to the title character in The Man in the High Castle - you get the idea, his filmography is nuts. So lets salute Stephen Root.

Finally, Root may be the only actor in this series whose image in character is used in the packaging of a popular product:

Stay tuned for more in the Actors You Recognize But Don’t Know Their Names series.

More later...

Saturday, May 23, 2020

That Time THE SHINING Trailer Blew My 10-Year Old Mind

Today is the 40th Anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s classic adaptation of Stephen King’s THE SHINING.

But what I want to share in this post is something that happened the weekend after that film
s release when as a 10-year old I went to see BON VOYAGE, CHARLIE BROWN (AND DON’T COME BACK!). To the best of my memory, I went alone with my Mom dropping me off for the movie at the Ram Theatre (a truly wretched theater) in downtown Chapel Hill.

There I was sitting through the trailers munching on popcorn or candy (I can’t remember) when a shot of two elevator doors in a hotel lobby filled the screen. As creepy music plays, the title THE SHINING, and “A Stanley Kubrick Fim,” ascend from the bottom of the shot, followed by credits for Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, then the declaration that the film is based on “Stephen King’s Best-Selling Masterpiece of Modern Horror.” 

As the music gets louder and more ominous, the credits get repetitive – the title again goes upward and Kubrick’s name is re-stated. Moments later, gallons of blood begin to pour out of the sides of the elevator doors. The blood continues to flow in mass quantities enough to move about furniture in the lobby. The trailer ends with the camera lens being covered in blood, and with me scared out of my 10-year old mind.

This was the trailer before a Charlie Brown movie!

I was waiting to see the shenanigans of Snoopy and gang and got treated to an ocean of blood. Good grief. 

I remember being so shaken by the big screen bloodbath that it was hard to pay proper attention to the light-hearted animated matinee I came to see.

These days, the trailers are often programmed to match the genre of the movie that they supporting. So if you are going to an action movie, you’re likely to see trailers for other action movies proceeding the main feature. But back then it seems they just threw whatever they had up on the screen, not caring if they freaked out kids who just wanted some Peanuts™.

In the 40 years since, I’ve seen THE SHINING many times on the big and screen, and I’ve revisited the trailer a bunch of times which, of course, is so less frightening than I remember, but still packs a bloody punch.

I wonder if trailers for BON VOYAGE, CHARLIE BROWN ever played before showings of THE SHINING. That’s one thing I can think of that would even the score.

Another would be for me to watch a double feature of both movies. Maybe then I could finally make peace.


More later...

Friday, May 22, 2020

Fred Willard: A Film Babble Blog Tribute

Last weekend, comedy great, and lovable goofball, Fred Willard passed away at the age of 86.

Willard, who specialized in playing characters that were oblivious doofuses, was a reliably hilarious presence in many TV shows and movies including Fernwood 2 Night, Real People, The History of White People in America, ROXANNE, Roseanne, King of the Hill, Everybody Loves Raymond (three Emmy nominations), ANCHORMAN, Modern Family (one Emmy nomination), WALL-E and, oddly, The Bold and the Beautiful (a Daytime Emmy win).

That is an extremely incomplete overview of his rich career (go to IMDb for his complete credits and you’ll scroll on and on), especially since I was saving for now his wonderful run in the seminal series of Christopher Guest comedies WAITING FOR GUFFMAN (1996), BEST IN SHOW (2000), A MIGHTY WIND (2003), and FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION (2003), and MASCOTS (2016).

Although it was a Rob Reiner film, I consider THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) to be the first of these largely improvised films as it features a number of the cast members that would appear in one of more of the later movies - Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Ed Begley Jr., Paul Benedict, and Willard.

From his role as Jerry Hubbard (his doltish Ed McMahon to Martin Mull’s Johnny Carson – the smarmy AF Barth Gimble) on the ‘70s talk show spoof Fernwood 2 Night (later changed to America 2-Night), in would be easy to assume that Willard was a straight man in these films. This is untrue as you can see in this clip from SPINAL TAP in which he steals the movie from its stars as Lt. Bob Hookstratten:

Willard has less than two minutes of screen-time in the comedy classic, but that was just enough for him to make a mark while Spinal Tap themselves fall into the background. In a way, despite that they said very little, his co-stars in that scene are his straight men.

Willard had a much larger role in WAITING FOR GUFFMAN as Ron Albertson, a travel agent who’s never left his hometown of Blaine. Willard’s Ron is an aspiring entertainer along with his wife Sheila, and in a great scene they encounter Eugene Levy as Dr. Allen Pearl, also an amateur performer in line to audition for a show put on by director Corky St. Clair (Guest).

Showing off his improv skills, Willard quickly fires off a string of wisecracks aimed at Levy’s dental profession: “Give it your best shot. It won’t be the first shot you ever gave - hope it doesn’t leave Corky numb like most of us - it’s like pulling teeth to get a discount from him - hey, why don’t you give some caramels to the little girl - future customers, Doc!” During this bit on the DVD commentary, Guest and Levy talk about being very impressed with this run. 

“I had no choice but to let go and surrender to Fred’s will - to the point of letting him talk me into wearing those sad, unattractive track suits in our audition scene when I just wanted to look good for one second in the movie. I couldn’t say no.” - Catherine O’Hara 

Willard’s next performance in a Guest film is one of his most memorable, dog show announcer Buck Laughlin in BEST IN SHOW.

Buck doesn’t appear until 45 minutes into the film, but once he appears he all but takes over the movie with such screwy color commentary as “I went to one of those obedience places once... it was all going well until they spilled hot candle wax on my private parts,” and “to think that in some countries these dogs are eaten.”

Even though Willard’s part in A MIGHTY WIND was much smaller, but again he stole the show. He played the bleached blond manager of The New Main Street Singers, who once appeared in a sitcom called Wha
 Happened? I’ll let him tell you the story: 

Not being a regular viewer, I was unaware the Willard made a lot of appearances on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Kimmel paid homage to the man earlier this week and presented a montage of Willard’s work on the program which you can watch here, and a second segment in which 
Willard’s celebrity friends share memories of working with him.

To get a great sense of Willard’s comic talent and as just a friendly guy you would want to hang with, I highly recommend this compilation of his guest shots on Late Night with Letterman, and The Late Show with David Letterman from 1982-2007: 

There are way too many great moments in the career of Mr. Willard to recount here – these are just a few of my favorites. I’ll leave you with this achievement that I haven’t seen mentioned in many obits: Willard was the one and only live action actor to appear in a Pixar movie. He played Shelby Forthright, the CEO of the Buy-N-Large Corporation, in WALL-E (2008). 

That’s pretty damn cool. 

R.I.P. Fred Willard 

More later...

Monday, May 04, 2020

Some STAR WARS Day Musings

Every May 4th, my former neighbors would put these inflatables in their yard
A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook that, “Of the nine STAR WARS movies, I think only four of them are good. I’ll reveal which ones sometime soon.”

Since it’s May the 4th (as in “May the fourth be with you”), which has been branded as STAR WARS Day, it’s as good as time as any to reveal those four films from the franchise, but I have to say that my answers are pretty boring.

Firstly, I’m talking about the nine entries (or Episodes as their called in each movie’s opening crawl) that make up the Skywalker Saga. I’m not counting expanded universe offshoots such as the Ewok TV movies, the animated THE CLONE WARS, ROGUE ONE, SOLO, or The STAR WARS Holiday Special for that matter. I’m clarifying this because some folks brought up a few of these titles in the thread under my Facebook post.

So here’s my boring answer: the four films in the series that I think are the only really worthwhile Episodes are: STAR WARS *, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RETURN OF THE JEDI, and THE FORCE AWAKENS. Basically the ones that have Han Solo in them (you could say he also appears in THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, but that’s just a cameo). 

Pretty obvious, huh? I’m discounting the prequels as I hated them (as many fans do), and the last two (THE LAST JEDI, RISE) because while they were passably entertaining, they will doubtfully be considered as classics in the decades to come.

*As I’ve written before on this blog, I can never think of the original 1977 series starter by the revised title it was given four years after it’s release. You can read about why, in this post: It’ll Always Be STAR WARS, Not A NEW HOPE To Me (December 13, 2016).

Unsurprisingly, my choices come from growing up with the original trilogy, and favoring the later day comeback (THE FORCE AWAKENS) that most captures the spirit of the original trilogy.

Happy STAR WARS Day people! I’ll leave now with this question: when Luke Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2 made an appearance on The Muppet Show (February 1980 – just a few months before THE EMPIRE STRIKE BACK’s release), was that canon?

More later...

Friday, April 24, 2020

When TV Characters Become Movie Critics: Part 1


I have long been amused when a character in a television show gives their opinion about a popular movie – sometimes while the film is still playing in theaters. In many cases, the criticisms echo those of many people in the audience, which helps to blur the line between fantasy and reality. 

On the NBC sitcom, Community, Annie (Alison Brie) gives her study group friend Abed (Danny Pudi) DVDs of three of the Indiana Jones movies because, as both say in unity, “The fourth one blows!” This is a sentiment that both holds consensus in the show’s world, and the real one’s - especially the online community. 

Community (now streaming on Netflix) was full of such moments in which pat put downs of many movies were offered (see Den of Geek’s The 68 Movie References in Community), and the same goes for such shows as The Simpsons, Big Bang Theory, Rick & Morty, and countless other pop culture-minded programs. 

But here I wanted to look at the shows that have character’s point of views on certain movies come up more organically – for the most part. 

The first such moment of movie appraisal that I remember noting was from the late ‘70s to early ‘80s soap opera satire, Soap. In an episode towards the end of the first season (airdate: March 14, 1978), a character named Flo Flotsky, played by television veteran Doris Roberts, perhaps best known for her role as Ray Romano’s mother in the CBS sitcom Everyone Loves Raymond, deflects from her son, Father Tim Flotsky (sal Viscuso), telling her he’s fallen in love with Corine (Diana Conova) by spouting out her critique of the massively popular space epic that was still reigning at the box office when the episode aired:

Flo Flotsky: “Y’know I finally saw that ‘Star Wars’ movie they’re all ravin’ about. I dunno. In my day if they had a leading man it was Clark Gable. Today they got a little machine that goes ‘boop.’ I mean, frankly, I could have stayed home and looked at my upright vacuum cleaner.”

Later, another shot at a mega movie hit, happened during the last season of the NBC show Seinfeld (a mega hit itself) that was broadcast on March 19, 1998. Like STAR WARS, TITANIC was still in theaters when this exchange took place:

George Costanza (Jason Alexander): “I saw ‘Titanic.’ So that old woman, she’s just a liar, right?”

Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld): “And a bit of a tramp if you ask me.”

In the episode “The Rat Pack” from The Sopranos’ fifth season (broadcast: March 14, 2005), most of the female contingent of the cast gather for a Film Club night in which they watch Orson Welles’ CITIZEN KANE. Carmela (Edie Falco) hosts the screening, which takes place in the family’s swanky viewing room, and even reads aloud from Leonard Maltin’s review of the film from one of his yearly guides before it begins.

After they watch the film, the reactions from Carmela and her fellow mob wife group members are priceless:

Adriana (Drea de Matteo): “So it was a sled, huh? He should’ve told somebody.”

Gabriella Dante (Maureen Van Zandt): “I think it’s fascinating that man had all that stuff, but he died alone with nothing and nobody.”

Carmela: “Good. Prick.”

Rosalie Aprile (Sharon Angela): “I hated it. ‘You supply the war, I’ll supply the headlines.’ How conceited.”

Following these comments, the ladies run out of things to say except to briefly compliment the cinematography (“That was very good”) so they fall back into their regular gossiping. The show never reveals whether they have another Film Club, but my guess would be that it was a one-time thing. 

While The Office US (2005-2013) regularly highlighted the absurd, insensitive, and just plain wrong utterances of its protagonist Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), every now and then the character would say something that was actually on point. One such moment was when he shared his thoughts on the fourth entry in the DIE HARD franchise (LIVE FREE AND DIE HARD): 

Michael: “You know what, here’s the thing about ‘Die Hard 4.’ ‘Die Hard 1,’ the original, John McClane was just this normal guy. You know, he’s just a normal New York City cop, who gets his feet cut, and gets beat up. But he’s an everyday guy. In ‘Die Hard 4,’ he is jumping a motorcycle into a helicopter. In air. You know? He’s invincible. It just sort of lost what ‘Die Hard’ was. It’s not ‘Terminator.’” 

Following this, one of his co-workers says “Dude, you should review movies.” Yeah, maybe he should. 

Finally, there’s this conversation from The Handmaid
s Tale (“Womens Work, June 6, 2018) between June (Elizabeth Moss) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) about childbirth: 

Janine: “You’ll probably get to the cool part soon - the baby’s foot pushes out of your stomach, like in ‘Alien.’ (laughs) Charlotte used to do that all the time. (awkward pause) You haven’t seen ‘Alien’?” 

June: “I just thought the sequel was better.” 

These are just several instances of TV characters giving us film critiques, I know there are hundreds, and as the Part 1 implies I
ll be posting more, so if you know of any please place them in the comments below or email them me via the address above on the right. 

So I’ll leave you now with this quote from Seinfeld, where the STAR TREK movies frequently came up. Jerry on STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN: “Well, it was the best of those movies.” 

I completely agree. 

More later…

Friday, March 13, 2020

THE HUNT: Promising Premise But Hacky Execution

Opening today at whatever theaters are still in operation:

THE HUNT (Dir. Craig Zobel, 2020) 

It’s the snowflakes versus the deplorables versus in this zippy comedy thriller that involves a group of liberal elites rounding up a dozen conservatives to hunt for sport. The victims, who were drugged, kidnapped, and flown in from different locations in America, come to in a field in the middle of the woods with a large crate full of firearms plus a pig wearing a t-shirt.

The narrative then indulges in a series of fake outs as to who we’re supposed to follow as the film’s protagonists. At first, it looks like Emma Roberts (American Horror Story), and Justin Hartley (This is Us), but, after some grisly deaths, that scenario falls apart quickly. Then we’ve got Ike Barinholtz (NEIGHBORS, THE OATH, LATE NIGHT), and a few other paniced people who get hit by arrows or die otherwise, before we get to the movie’s real star.

That would be Betty Gilpin (Glow) as Crystal, the badass of the abducted crew who has a military background and whose presence at the event may be a mistake. The whole hunt plan itself was a mistake that spread from a thread between Athena (Hillary Swank), a powerful executive and her colleagues in which they joked about killing deplorables.

While their texts were fleshed out into a conspiracy theory called “Manorgate,” the plot of the film could’ve stood to be fleshed out considerably. Not enough is done with the premise; no solid satirical statement or sharp commentary can be discerned. Zobel and c0-writer Damon Lindelof (Lost) appear to be more concerned with the choreography of the fight scenes than with much depth in the dialogue department.

That said, the hand to hand combat sequences are incredibly watchable fun - Gilpin repeatedly packs a punch – and the performances, including by Glenn Howerton (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Amy Madigan (FIELD OF DREAMS, POLLACK, GONE BABY GONE), and Sturgill Simpson (!) are all comic gems.

THE HUNT is ultimately a passable lark that falls short of saying anything substantially politically. It’s a shame as these days we could really use a twisted take on the divisions that we’re confronted by every day. This movie has an inspired idea, but it just doesn’t have that twisted take it needs to amusingly and powerfully send up our long, ongoing divide.

More later...

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Robbie Robertson’s Biased Version Of The Band

Now playing somewhere near you, I bet:

(Dir. Daniel Roher, 2020)

When the legendary Canadian roots rock outfit, The Band, performed at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco on Thanksgiving Day 1976, lead guitarist and primary songwriter Robbie Robertson conceived the event as the group’s farewell concert.

However, the other members of The Band, including drummer/vocalist Levon Helm, bassist/vocalist Rick Danko, and organist/keyboardist Garth Hudson (multi-instrumentalist Richard Manuel committed suicide in 1986), resumed touring in the early ‘80s and even went on to release three albums in the ‘90s.

But you wouldn’t know that from this new documentary as it only covers the period in which Robertson was a principal member of The Band. Now, that’s not surprising as it is right in the film’s title: ROBBIE ROBERTSON AND THE BAND. There’s also the credit that the doc is “Inspired by” Robertson’s 2016 memoir Testimony. This all gives us plenty indication that this is Robertson’s biased version of what went down from the late ‘50s to the late ‘70s.

Still, the doc too often glosses over crucial eras, and gives only passing mentions to the friction between Robertson and Helm over songwriting royalties and Helm’s disappointment over Robertson’s decision to end the group.

Robertson talks us through The Band’s evolution from a bar band named The Hawks, which had them backing rowdy rockabilly artist Ronnie Hawkins to being the controversial rock group that accompanied iconic singer/songwriter Bob Dylan on his legendary 1966 tour to creating a series of classic records including Music From the Big Pink (1968), and The Band (1969).

But as juicy as this material is, the film relies too often on footage that will be very familiar to fans such as segments from the epic 2005 Dylan doc NO DIRECTION HOME, and, of course, THE LAST WALTZ. Both of these films were directed by Martin Scorsese, who happens to be one of Robertson’s best friends (they’ve collaborated on 10 films together), so that makes sense, but the guys lived together in the mid ‘70s so that would be cool to hear about too. 

There are tons of photos sprinkled throughout, sometimes augmented with motion graphics by Charlie Shekter, and those alone will satisfy fans, but I bet they would prefer a deeper dive into one of the best Bands of the last half a century. I definitely would as I’m one of those fans and the film left me lacking.

In his later years before his death in 2012, Helm would complain about how THE LAST WALTZ was Robertson’s “vanity project.” The thing is that ONCE WERE BROTHERS, named after a song on Robertson’s 2019 album Sinematic, is much more of a vanity project than THE LAST WALTZ. 

In the future when fans (again, I mean me) reach for a film featuring The Band, it surely won’t be this one; it’ll obviously be THE LAST WALTZ. Despite Helm’s criticisms, it’s one of the greatest concert films ever which tells the story of The Band in so much more of a glorious package than Robertson’s self-promoting infomercial of a documentary.

More later...

Thursday, February 13, 2020

THE PHOTOGRAPH: An Ambling Yet Very Charming Rom-Dram

Opening tonight at a multiplex near us all:

THE PHOTOGRAPH (Dir. Stella Meghie, 2020)

A high quotient of charm and a low percentage of cheese make this a fairly solid romantic drama. Lakeith Stanfield (GET OUT, SORRY TO BOTHER YOU, KNIVES OUT) stars as Micheal Block, a journalist who falls in love with Issa Rae (LITTLE, THE HATE U GIVE) as Mae Morton, a photographer he meets while working on a story about her mother (Chanté Adams).

The narrative bounces both and forth time from present day New York to mid ‘80s New Orleans, in which we see the blooming romance between Adams’ Christine and Isaac (played by Rob Morton in the flashbacks; I’lan Noel in modern times).

Meghie, whose fourth feature this is, has lovingly constructed a film that feels like an adaptation of an involving novel. It ambles from scene to scene at times, but it’s got an easy-going sensibility largely due to these well acted characters being extremely appealing, and worth caring about. 

There are also amusing bits provided by comedian Lil Ray Howery (also a GET OUT veteran), as Michael’s best friend, and Mae’s friend, Rachel (Jasmine Cephas) Jones, hooking up with Michael’s coworker Andy, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

THE PHOTOGRAPH, which is titled after a picture of Mae’s mother that Isaac took back in the day, is an intriguing diversion even if its ending can be seen coming up the Mississippi River Delta.

More later...

DOWNHILL: Not As Profoundly Cringe-worthy As The Original

Opening this evening at a multiplex near us all:

DOWNHILL (Dirs. Nat Faxon & Jim Rash, 2020) 

Although the end credits state that it’s “inspired by” the 2014 Swedish dark comedy FORCE MAJEURE, this new Will Ferrell/Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle still largely feels like a remake.

The dominant premise is the same: a family on holiday in the French Alps gets shaken up when an avalanche arrives during their lunch at a mountainside restaurant. The avalanche was controlled, and there was no danger, but the wall of snow smoke it created was scary enough to make Ferrell’s husband/father figure character Pete run frantically from the table, leaving his family behind.

This causes an awkward, chilly rift between Pete and Louis-Dreyfus’ Billie, as she can’t seem to get past her spouse’s cowardly behavior. It all comes out when the couple has drinks with one of Pete’s co-workers, Zach (Zach Woods), and his flaky hashtag-loving girlfriend Rosie (Zoë Chao). Billie describes the scene to their young friend’s astonishment and even gets their kids (Julian Grey and Ammon Jacob Ford) to confirm her story when Pete disagrees with her take on the events.

Co-directors and screenwriting partners Faxon and Rash (THE DESCENDANTS, THE WAY WAY BACK), have faithfully recreated many moments from Ruben Östlund’s original, including entire scenes, but made some detours around the material with such tangents as Billie making out with her ski instructor (Giulio Berruti), and Pete making their kids uncomfortable with his aggressive actions on the slopes.

It’s probably accurate to consider DOWNHILL (not a very strong title) an indirect remake of FORCE MAJEURE. Even its ending, while considerably different, still reworks elements from its vastly superior source material. I was disappointed that Faxon and Rash felt that they had to have Louis-Dreyfus make a speech to sum everything up.

It’s often the case that American remakes feel the need to spell everything out instead of showing, and not telling. The characters’ expressions and actions, and the power of the chosen imagery can do so much more than some resolving address at the end.

FORCE MAJEURE, which was often devastating in its take down of delusional masculinity, is certainly the sharper and darker of the two films, but DOWNHILL has its merits in Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus’s performances. Both former Saturday Night Live veterans (from different eras) put in an invested and, at times, an excruciatingly convincing portrayal of a couple in crisis - I’ve felt the same cringes being around couples who are clashing in real life that I felt watching this.

There’s also worth in the film’s cinematography by Danny Cohen (LES MISÉRABLES, ROOM, FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS) - possibly the one element that’s equal to the 2014 version in which Fredrik Wenzel did the Director of Photography honors.

DOWNHILL skates over the surface that FORCE MAJEURE cracked and took an icy deep dive into. It’s the Americanized family-friendly version of the acclaimed International hit that won many awards and should definitely be credited as more than just the inspiration here.

My advice is to seek out the original, and then decide whether you want to go DOWNHILL from there.

More later...

Monday, February 10, 2020

Oscars 2020: My Best Score Since 2015

I went back and forth as to whether to pick 1917 or PARASITE for Best Picture and Sam Mendes or Bong Joon Ho for Best Director, and I chose wrong, maybe even cynically as I didn't think that the same voting body that went with GREEN BOOK (does anybody every remember that movie now?) over ROMA last year would make the bold edgy choice this time around.

I loved both PARASITE and 1917, but Bong is well more deserving of the big award than Mendes as his film is a brilliant blast of a black comic thriller and it's really satisfying to see it get such high acclaim. I wish I had gone with my gut.

Otherwise, I did pretty good with my predictions scoring 19 out of 24. The last several years I felt like I was slipping as my scores got worse and worse. Last year I got 13 right and that was my all-time low. But I'm back - with only these being the ones I missed:

BEST PICTURE: My prediction: 1917 / What won: PARASITE

BEST DIRECTOR: My prediction: 
Sam Mendes /Who won: Bong Joon Ho

ORIGINAL SCORE: My prediction: 
Thomas Newman (1917) / Who won: Hildur Guðnadóttir (JOKER)

SOUND EDITING: My prediction: 1917 / What won: FORD V. FERRARI

Alright! That's another Oscars done with. Now I need to watch a stupid movie with no stakes to get this prestige shiznit out of my system. Doubt that'll be too difficult to find.

More later...

Friday, February 07, 2020

Hey Kids! Funtime 2020 Oscar® Predictions!

Here we go again - and much earlier this time as the 92nd Academy Awards is taking place the earliest in the year that the ceremony has ever been held. On February 9, a show with no hosts will give out gold statues to mostly white folks, and celebrate 2019s most profitable, I mean memorable cinematic works. 

So below are my predictions. I went back and forth as to whether PARASITE or 1917 would win the big awards (Best Picture, Best Director), but I went with 1917 as it seems it's right in the Academy voters wheelhouse - according to past years. Now take these guesses with a grain of salt as last year I had my worst score ever (13 out of 24), but I have some good years too (my best was 21 out of 24).

Anyway, here they are:


Sam Mendes

3. BEST ACTOR: Joaquin Phoenix (JOKER)

Renée Zelleweger (JUDY)


Barbara Ling, Nancy Haigh (ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD)

8. CINEMATOGRAPHY: Roger Deakins (1917)





Thomas Newman (1917)

16. ORIGINAL SONG: “(I’m Gonna) Love Me Again” (ROCKETMAN) 




20. SOUND MIXING: 1917





As I always say, tune in Monday to see how many I got wrong.

More later...

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

For Raleigh Film Fans, These Are Some Of The Saddest Sights In Town

Citing plumbing issues, Mission Valley Cinema closed last summer after more than 45 years in operation. I’ve seen many many movies there since the ‘80s (I’m pretty sure the first movie I ever saw there was the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte action comedy 48 HRS in 1982) so I hate seeing the empty marquee whenever I go that shopping center.

There has been talk about the possibility of new owners, so there is some flicker of hope that the five screen venue might re-open someday, but until then that image above will remain a very depressing sight indeed.

Here’s a picture of Mission Valley in happier times - the opening of RETURN OF THE JEDI on May 25, 1983: 

I wasn’t there as I was living in Chapel Hill at the time and saw the movie at the Carolina Theatre on Franklin Street there - sadly that’s another venue that’s no longer with us as it closed in 2005.

I never worked at Mission Valley, but I worked for the same company – Ambassador Entertainment - at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh from 2009 to when it closed in 2015. 

The two screen indie theater originally opened in 1969, and like MVC, I had attended films there since the ‘80s (I’m pretty sure the first film I ever saw there was the Billy Crystal/Danny Devito comedy THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN).

I still work for Ambassador Entertainment at the Rialto Theatre (opened in 1942), and often moviegoers will ask about whether the Colony will re-open. These hopes were fueled by the Raleigh News & Observer in 2017 when they reported that a permit had been issued for renovations. But that was three years ago, and nothing has happened.

Since I live fairly close to the Colony (or the Colony’s old location I should say), I see that sad blank marquee often (the empty poster cases are pretty dismal looking too). Within the last week I stopped by to look through the windows, and it was obvious that no work had been done since the seats were ripped out of the floor five years ago.

On more of an up note, here’s the Colony in happier times with one of my favorite marquees.

Man, I miss those yearly showings of THE BIG LEBOWSKI. The N.C. Museum of Art does a good job with their LEBOWSKI events, but it’s just not the same as the Colony’s.

If these venues don’t re-open in some fashion, I wish they’d take down those marquees so film fans don’t have to see their blank faces for years and years. But maybe it’d be worse if they took them away. At least they are reminders of what was, and serve as some kind of marker. Maybe that’s why I made this post with pictures of them.

Since Ive mentioned three theaters that have closed in this post, I guess the bottom line is: support indie theaters!

More Later...

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Film Babble Blog's Top 10 Movies of 2019

Usually I post these picks before the Oscar nominations are announced - which happened earlier this week – but things have been nuts lately. 2019 hasn’t been the greatest year for film, but any year that boasts two stellar Martin Scorsese movies shouldn’t be dismissed. So here’s my top 10 films with what I think are some of their crucial lines.

10. AMAZING GRACE (Dirs. Alan Elliott, Sydney Pollack) 

Reverend James Cleveland: “Many of you who never had the opportunity to hear Aretha sing Gospel, you’re in tonight for a great thrill. She can sing anything!”

9. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (Dir. Craig Brewer) 

Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy): “Dolemite is my name, and fuckin’ up motherfuckers is my game!”


(Dir. Edward Norton)

Lionel Essrog (Edward Norton): “Okay, listen. I got something wrong with me. That’s the first thing to know. I twitch and shout a lot. It makes me look like a damn freak show. But inside my head is an even bigger mess. I can’t stop twisting things around, words and sounds especially. I have to keep playing with them until they come out right.”

(Dir. Taika Waititi)

“Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

6. US (Dir. Jordan Peele)

Jason Wilson (Evan Alex): Theres a Family in our driveway!

5. MARRIAGE STORY (Dir. Noah Baumbach)

Charlie (Adam Driver): “You were happy, you just decided you weren’t now”

4. UNCUT GEMS (Dirs. Josh and Benny Safdie)

Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler): Thats a million-dollar opal youre holding. Straight from the Ethiopian Jewish tribe. I mean this is old-school, Middle-earth shit.

3. PARASITE (Dir. Bong Joon-ho)

Kang Ho Song (Kim Ki-taek):So, theres no need for a plan. You cant go wrong with no plans. We dont need to make a plan for anything. It doesn't matter what will happen next. Even if the country gets destroyed or sold out, nobody cares. Got it?
2. 1917 (Dir. Sam Mendes)

General Erinmore (Colin Firth):Theyre walking into a trap. Your orders are to deliver a message calling off tomorrow mornings attack, if you fail, it will be a massacre.

1. THE IRISHMAN (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro): Whenever anybody says theyre a little concerned, theyre very concerned.


THE LIGHTHOUSE (Dir. Robert Eggers)

ROLLING THUNDER REVUE (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

LITTLE WOMEN (Dir. Greta Gerwig)

KNIVES OUT (Dir. Rian Johnson)

THE TWO POPES (Dir. Fernando Meirelles)

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

FORD V FERRARI (Dir. James Mangold)


More later...