Sunday, May 30, 2004

Babbling 'Bout Some Recent Release DVDs

“Take myself, subtract movies, and the result is zero” - Akira Kurosawa

A few reviews of recent release DVDs:

RIPLEY'S GAME (Dir. Liliana Cavana, 2002) 

Decent sturdy thriller but it could use a little more wit. Many lines are basic and stiff. Which is a surprise considering these are based on Patricia Highsmith's wickedly witty Tom Ripley novels. John Malkovich plays the same character that Matt Damon did in THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999) but as somebody on the message board on IMDB stresses this is not a sequel. Dennis Hopper also tackled the character in Wim Wender's THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977). A dry dull game Ripley plays this time around.

OSAMA (Dir. Siddiq Barmak, 2003)

Beautiful, but disturbing as Hell. The basic line that this is the first movie made in Afganistan since Taliban fell is news enough but to experience this movie is to witness as harrowing a depiction of oppression and indignity that's ever graced the silver screen. Marina Golbahari plays the title character, a 12 year old girl forced to pose as a boy in order to support her hungry mother and grandmother. The ruse doesn't last long and she is exiled to a worse fate. Watch at your own peril.

MONSTER (Dir. Patty Jenkins, 2003)

Charlize Theron won an Oscar for her portrayal of Aileen Carol Wuornos, a Floridian serial killing prostitute who had been executed in 2002. Argubly, she deserved to win because as Roger Ebert and many other critics gushed she completely inhabits the role and it's fascinating to watch. Unfortunately the movie that houses Wournos' story is uneven and routinely presented.

There are many effective moments like when teen lesbian Christina Ricci and Theron go roller skating and fall in love with each other to the tune of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" (yep, they're just that kind of '80s white trash) so ultimately I recommend it. For footage of the real Wuornos check out Nick Broomfield's (yes, the twit who made the silly docs BIGGIE AND TUPAC and KURT AND COURTNEY) AILEEN : LIFE AND DEATH OF A SERIAL KILLER. Watching that or MONSTER will make you want to take a shower after. 

ELEPHANT (Dir. Gus Vant Sant, 2003) 

A meditation on a Columbine style high school shooting that left me short. The look and feel is convincing, but ultimately this is a afterthought project with a muddled sense of purpose. Nice acting though from a cast of unknowns, Alex Frost and John Robinson particularly.

21 GRAMS (Dir. Alexandro Gonzalez Inarritu, 2003)

From the same team responsible for 2000's AMORES PERROS (2000). For a movie that got a few Oscar nominations, and a round of good critical notices this flick seems to have been thrown onto DVD with the same loving care as GIGLI - that is, with no Special Features to speak of. 

Not even a trailer except for other films (I hate that). The story here is 3 characters whose destinies of course intertwine and unsurprisingly is told out of sequence. How indie! You have to pay close attention to absorb the subtle details so that may lose a bunch of viewers right off. If that doesn't, the grainy washed out film stock might.

So anyway, this goes back and forth in time the narrative surrounding an automobile accident killing a man and his 2 daughters and the aftermath his widow (Naomi Watts) faces as a haggard pale professor (Sean Penn) is in need of a heart transplant.

Benecio Del Toro plays an ex-convict who's to blame for the accident. Any more I would tell you would give away this film's secrets. Basically this is Penn, Del Toro and Watts embroiled together in a tale of intrigue and blood! Almost poetic. But, as Christopher Guest said in A MIGHTY WIND, "Almost."

More later...

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Poli-Doc Power!

Because of the recent controversy over Michael Moore's FAHRENHEIT 911, or maybe because I'm just simply bored here at Film Babble Blog, I thought I'd give a shout-out to some other political documentaries in recent circulation: 
(Dir. Richard Ray Perez & Joan Sekler, 2003)

BUSH'S BRAIN (Dirs. Joseph Mealey & Michael Shoob, 2004)

JOURNEYS WITH GEORGE (Dir. Alexandra Pelosi & Aaron Lubarsky, 2002) 

THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT (Dir. Nickolas Perry & Harry Thomason, 2004)


Those ought to tide you over until Moore's obviously anti-Bush and anti-war cinematic diatribe gets proper backing and makes its way to your town.

More later...

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Out today on DVD:

When Blake said that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom...(but) it also leads to the grave - Kris Kristofferson 

In this DVD, essential for anybody with even a casual interest in film history, William H. Macy's narration delicately explains one of the greatest or at least most interesting film making eras in this documentary adaptation of Peter Biskind's bestseller.

Covering the same material and even sharing a number of the same film clips as DECADE UNDER THE INFLUENCE the story should be familliar to film babble blog readers. Simply put to those just tuning in: the French new wave headed by Francois Truffaut and Jean Luc Godard influenced a band of movie brat outsiders who broke into the studio system after years of B-movie exile. 

Maverick cheapie teen-exploitation king Roger Corman mentored Peter Bogdonavich, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper and countless others to become the "New Hollywood." 

This gung ho gang made what were called "Now movies" like BONNIE AND CLYDE, EASY RIDER, THE GODFATHER, MEAN STREETS, and HAROLD AND MAUDE to name five. 

By the mid '70s the careers of many of the principle players were in decline while a couple of straight-laced film nerds from Malibu, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, cleaned up with JAWS and STAR WARS which this thesis proposes was the end of the era.

Whether or not that's true we get many fascinating anecdotes about crazy set antics, infidelities, and of course more stories about that damn mechanical shark. Good stuff indeed. Check out the cool DVD bonus interviews with many of the targeted directors and actors plus a revealing and humorous talk with author Biskind.

More later... 

Saturday, May 08, 2004

The Children Of AIRPLANE!

As I talked about in my last post, it looks like the next few months will be a sucky season filled with sequels. With every genre represented, and every cliché exploited, it is going to be a long hot summer.

One genre that I’m really sick of is represented by the arrival on DVD of SCARY MOVIE 3. You know the genre, the AIRPLANE!/Mad Magazine-derived joke-a-minute spoofs that seem to appear every several months and have inane scatalogical humor in place of real satire. So let’s take a look at the chief offenders in this increasingly lame genre in a mini-guide to:

The Children Of AIRPLANE!

For those of you just tuning in, fellow comedy writers/performers Jerry and David Zucker, along with Jim Abrahams created a franchise around a bunch of cheap jokes and lame sight gags. 

It started when the Zuckers and Abrahams (ZAZ for short) took their stage show from the Kentucky Fried Theater in Milwaukee to Hollywood to make the crude but hilarious sketch film  THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE in 1977.


(Dirs. ZAZ, 1980) which begat: 

Police Squad! (ABC-TV Series, 1982) After his straight-man to a perfection performance in AIRPLANE!, Leslie Neilsen starred as Detective Frank Drebin in a ZAZ's dead-on parody of '60s and '70s cop shows. Unfortunately this blueprint would soon be bred dry.

TOP SECRET! (Dirs. ZAZ, 1984) 

File this under "what were they thinking?!!?" I mean the idea was to mix Elvis movie musical fluff with Nazi spy dramas, right? RIGHT?!!? I dunno, but Val Kilmer does his earnest best to fend off prison anal sex jokes, and a misguided BLUE LAGOON take-off.

At least it has that one surreal sequence with Peter Cushing, otherwise what a collection of misfires! 

THE NAKED GUN 2½: THE SMELL OF FEAR (Dir. David Zucker, 1991)
NAKED GUN 33: THE FINAL INSULT (Dir. Peter Segal, 1994)

Detective Drebin (Nielsen) returns from sitcom cancellation purgatory in three movies that get progressively worse and are sadly most remembered for having O.J. Simpson appear as Drebin's cop partner punching bag in all three.

Priscilla Presley, Ricardo Montalban, Anna Nicole Simpson, and Robert Goulet chime in with pop culture icon plug-aways, and the jokes - hit or miss - just keep coming.

The first NAKED GUN movie is the only one I’d recommended.

HOT SHOTS! (Dir. Jim Abrahams, 1991)/ HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX (Dir. Jim Abrahams, 1993) 

While the Zucker Brothers did other less jokey projects (GHOST, RUTHLESS PEOPLE) Jim Abrahams never left the always go for the funny fold. 

Abraham's Charlie Sheen fronted TOP GUN spoofs took on RAMBO, NO WAY OUT, BASIC INSTINCT among countless other targets to better success than a number of later day Zucker efforts. Surprisingly both flicks hold up today - on a silly stupid level, mind you. Bits like the Saddam Hussein look-alike casting kills, and add a clueless war-time President played by Lloyd Bridges and you'll get sucker punched into the next decade.

HIGH SCHOOL HIGH (Dir. Hart Bochner, 1996) Hip hop high school dramas like DANGEROUS MINDS get a beat down in a movie that actually lets Jon Lovitz take the lead, a romantic heroic lead at that. Problem is the plethora of cheap throwaway gags, but in 1996 who was even paying attention? Only David Zucker of ZAZ was involved here as a co-writer. 

Some of the ZAZ team appear as writers or producers of the following offspring of AIRPLANE! but some titles are unrelated hangers-on or copycats. Most notably Ken Finklemen's AIRPLANE 2: THE SEQUEL (note the lack of an exclamation point) which ZAZ not only had nothing to do with - they made a pact never to see it. Despite some genuine laughs it was a blatant cash-in much like the majority of movies here:

(Dir. Garry Marshall, 1982) 
One of the first to use lame slogans like "in the tradition of..." or ad copy along the lines of "does to soap operas what AIRPLANE! did to disaster movies." Wishful thinking. This Gary Marshall directed hospital farce didn't even come close despite the talents of a post Laverne & Shirley/pre-Spinal Tap Michael McKean and Sean Young (she was in BLADE RUNNER the same summer this came out).

JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY (Dir. Amy Heckerling, 1984) This time out it's '30s-'40s gangster movies getting the joke-a-minute treatment. Try joke every 30 minutes more like.

I'M GONNA GET YOU SUCKA (Dir. Keenen Ivory Wayans, 1988) The Wayans Brothers pre-In Loving Color take on Blaxploitation movies from the '70s using the ZAZ mold.

FATAL INSTINCT (Dir. Carl Reiner, 1993) The less said the better.

NATIONAL LAMPOON'S LOADED WEAPON I (Dir. Gene Quintano, 1993) Ditto.

No, I'm just kidding. This send-up of the LETHAL WEAPON movies, starring Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson had its fair share of funny gags, one of which included Bruce Willis in a cameo as his DIE HARD character, John McClane.

(Dir. Jim Abrahams, 1998) 
Abrahams should've known better. At least the exclamation point was back.

The genre was dead as door-nail by the late '90s, but crap kept coming:

BASKETBALL (Dir. David Zucker, 1999) This ill-fated collaboration with Trey Parker & Matt Stone of South Park fame is barely a blink on the comedy radar. Remember it? I didn't think so.

SPY HARD (Dir. Rick Friedberg, 1996)
WRONGFULLY ACCUSED (Dir. Pat Proft, 1998) Leslie Nielsen cashes in on his ZAZ-created non-persona. Why not? 

Most recently, David Zucker took over the SCARY MOVIE franchise (originally helmed by Keenen Ivory Wayans) for SCARY MOVIE 3, now out on DVD. Wayan's movies stole heavily from the ZAZ style in their slapdash spoofery of the SCREAM movies and the modern horror genre so the takeover makes sense. If only it made laughs.

Film Babble Blog will continue after these messages…

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Another Summer Of Sequels & Remakes

“I don't take the movies seriously, and anyone who does is in for a headache.” - Bette Davis 


This summer no less than 80% of all releases are sequels to successes of summer’s past. Here’s some of the most notable: 

SPIDER-MAN 2 (Dir. Sam Raimi) Here's hoping that this sequel lives up to the promise of its kick-ass trailer.

SHREK 2 (Dirs. Andrew Adamson, Kelly Asbury, & Conrad Vernon) Don't have hopes as high for this one.

THE PRINCESS DIARIES 2: ROYAL ENGAGEMENT (Dir. Gary Marshall) Yep, the world was dying for this one. 

BEFORE SUNSET (Dir. Richard Linklater) 

My Spidey-sense is tingling that this follow-up to BEFORE SUNRISE that re-unites Linklater with stars Ethan Hawke and Julia Delphy from the much loved 1995 indie might be the most worthwhile sequel of the summer. 

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (Dir. Paul Greengrass) Apparently the BOURNE IDENTITY wasn't just one of the biggest box office hits of 2002, it was the most rented movie of 2003. So here's a sequel.


AVP: ALIEN VS. THE PREDATOR (Dir. Paul W.S. Anderson)


Most of the 20% of the remaining releases this summer are remakes of cult classics. The cream of the crop:


THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (Dir. Jonathan Demme) Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep do their best to answer the question - remake the perfect classic - why? Doubt they'll have a convincing answer.

SOUL PLANE (Dir. Jessy Terrero ): AIRPLANE! with black people, that's the pitch. Seriously. Snoop Dog stars.

More later...

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Actors That've Played Fictitious Film Presidents A-Z (Well, W Actually)

“We live in the time where we have fictitious election results that elects a fictitious president.” - Michael Moore 

The weird unexpected brief cameo of Billy Bob Thorton playing the President of the United States in Richard Curtis’ ensemble rom com LOVE ACTUALLY (now out on DVD) inspired me to make a list of my favorite fictitious film presidents.

Fictitious presidents often exist in a parallel movie universe where the year is never specified and many times their political party is implied, but not stated out loud. They are also by design a comment on the current President at the time of said movie. The Clinton era seemed to inspire the most mock Presidential performances - DAVE, THE CONTENDER, and The West Wing TV series being the most notable examples.

The least unimaginative entries here aren't even named - they're simply just The President. This is something that annoys me greatly because ff you’re going to have the leader of the free world as a character in your movie, dammit, GIVE HIM A NAME!!!!


AKYROYD, DAN: President William Haney in Peter Segel's MY FELLOW AMERICANS (1996)

ALDA, ALAN: U.S. President in Michael Moore's CANADIAN BACON (1995)

ANDREWS, TOD: President Jeremy Haines in THE PRESIDENT’S PLANE IS MISSING (1973, TV movie) I haven’t seen this one but love the title, and that they named him. 

ATHERTON, WILLIAM: President John Fields in David L. Corley's EXECUTIVE POWER (1997) 1997 was a banner year for movie Presidents. This one is unimaginative as the title.

BERGEN, POLLY: President Leslie McCloud in Curtis Bernhardt's KISSES FOR MY PRESIDENT (1964) 

BRIDGES, JEFF: President Jackson Evans in Rod Lurie's THE CONTENDER (2000) 

BRIDGES, LLOYD: President Thomas 'Tug' Benson in Jim Abraham's HOT SHOTS PART DEUX (1993)

CROMWELL, JAMES: President Robert Fowler in Phil Alden Robinson's THE SUM OF ALL FEARS (2002)

DOUGLAS, MICHAEL: President Andrew Shepherd in Rob Reiner's THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995)

DREYFUSS, RICHARD: The President in Stephen Frears' 2000 TV movie remake FAIL SAFE
HONORABLE MENTION: Presidential candidate Senator Bob Rumson in THE AMERICAN PRESIDENT (1995) 

FONDA, HENRY: The President in Sydney Lumet's 1964 original FAIL SAFE

FORD, HARRISON: President James Marshall in Wolfgang Peterson's AIR FORCE ONE (1997) 

FREEMAN, MORGAN: President Tom Beck in Mimi Leder's DEEP IMPACT (1996)

GARNER, JAMES: President Matt Douglas in Peter Segel's MY FELLOW AMERICANS (1996)

HACKMAN, GENE: President Allen Richmond in Clint Eastwood's ABSOLUTE POWER (1997) HONORABLE MENTION: Ex-President Monroe Cole in Donald Petrie's WELCOME TO MOOSEPORT (2004)

HOLBROOK, HAL: President Adam Scott in George Mendeluk's THE KIDNAPPING OF THE PRESIDENT (1980)

KLINE, KEVIN: President William Harrison 'Bill' Mitchell in Ivan Reitman's DAVE (1993)

LEMMON, JACK: President Russell O. Kramer in MY FELLOW AMERICANS (1996)

MARCH, FREDERIC: President Jordan Lyman in John Frankenheimer's SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964)

MARSHALL, E.G.: The President in Richard Lester's SUPERMAN II (1981)

NEWHART, BOB: President Manfred Link in Buck Henry's FIRST FAMILY (1980) 

NICHOLSON, JACK: President James Dale in Tim Burton's MARS ATTACKS! (1996) 

NIELSON, LESLIE: President Harris in David Zucker's SCARY MOVIE 3 (2003)

PLEASENCE, DONALD: President of the United States in John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

PULLMAN, BILL: President Thomas J. Whitmore in Roland Emmerich's INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996)


SELLERS, PETER: President Merkin Muffley in Stanley Kubrick's DR. STRANGELOVE (1964)

President Josiah 'Jed' Bartlet on The West Wing (NBC TV SERIES, 1999-present) HONORABLE MENTION: Presidential Candidate Greg Stillson in THE DEAD ZONE (1983)


WARDEN, JACK: President Benjamin Turnball Rand in Hal Ashby's BEING THERE (1979)

WATERSON, SAM: The President in George P. Cosmatos' SHADOW CONSPIRACY (1997)

More later...