Thursday, December 23, 2021

‘Tis The Season For Some Screenings Part 1

As usual this year, we’ve got a season full of prestige films, but, for obvious reasons, fewer folks will be going to the theaters to see them. However, I’m not going to let that stop me as this is the first in a series of posts that will feature reviews of a roster of current movies. These critiques are shorter than the ones I regularly post in this forum, but some are not as this is called Film Babble Blog for a reason. So let’s start with the latest from one of my favorite filmmakers, Paul Thomas Anderson:

LICORICE PIZZA (Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson, 2021)


Paul Thomas Anderson’s ninth film is his most charming effort since PUNCH DRUNK LOVE. It’s also a brighter, less cynical, and more colorful work than Andersons most recent output that finds its filmmaker in a appealingly sentimental mode. Harking back to a sun-drenched 1973, the film lays out the relationship between an aging child actor (the chubby, but extremely confident Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman), and a snarky photographer’s assistant (Alana Haim, who I bet well see a lot more of). Cooper’s Gary Valentine (great name) is 15, while Haim’s Alana Kane is 25, but that doesn’t deter the sparks in their interactions, even if both of them date others at times.

The most Wes Anderson-ish bit involves Bradley Cooper as an unhinged, and potentially violent producer/former hairdresser Jon Peters, who at the time was Barbara Streisand boyfriend. This sequence feels like it would fit right into BOOGIE NIGHTS. Another fun highlight posits Sean Penn as actor Jack Holden (read: William Holden), who jumps a motorcycle over a fire pit at the Van Nuys Golf Course. Although it's a glorified cameo, it’s Penn’s best, and most conscious free acting in ages. Filled with era representing rock tunes (how could it not be?), LICORICE PIZZA is a delight of a witty, and romantic period piece. For some folks, it may be too slow, and lengthy, but those are a few things I actually think the film has going for it as one can luxuriate in experience.


HOUSE OF GUCCI (Dir. Ridley Scott, 2021)

When it comes to the rich famous people in turmoil genre, one can understandably believe that acclaimed filmmaker Ridley Scott took a look back at his 2017 drama, ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD, and thought ‘I want to make another one of these.’ So he set his sights on the Gucci empire, a global sensation that manufactured expensive handbags among other extravagant accessories. At the heart of this rise-and-fall film is a love story between Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver), and Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga), which begins with a meet cute at a lavish costume party. Before long, the couple marries despite the objection of Maurizo’s father (Jeremy Irons). On the other side of the Gucci dynasty is Maurizo’s uncle, Aldo (Al Pacino), and his ne’er-do-well son Paolo (a completely unrecognizable Jared Leto). 

Affairs, forgeries, and eventually murder make up this seemingly elegant yet shameful tale that on the surface is as convincing as the imitation Gucci merchandise that sends Patrizi into a tizzy, but underneath is yet another formulaic morality myth. Working from a palets of off-white imagery, Scott has fashioned an elegantly watchable work, but I doubt it will hold up as very memorable in the years ahead. But the reason to see it now is undoubtedly its top notch cast. The classy yet tabloid prone Lady Gaga yet again proves herself to be an spot-on actress; Driver excels as the aloof, and nonchalant tycoon of legend; Pacino puts in one of his most invested performances in ages, and Leto, who I really didn’t know was playing Paolo until the end credits, shines through his prosthetics convincingly; and Salma Hayek has a juicy role as a jaded psychic. This ensemble keeps HOUSE OF GUCCI from being just opulent eye candy, but just barely.

MAYOR PETE (Dir. Jesse Moss, 2021)

Early on in this documentary, Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg describes himself as “a Maltese American, left-handed Episcopalian, gay war veteran, mayor millennial.” But of these traits, predictably the one that keeps coming up is Buttigieg’s homosexuality. We see him field variations of questions like “As the first openly homosexual presidential candidate, do you think that’s a plus or a minus towards your efforts to the Oval Office?” Our young wannabe nominee stresses how his orientation doesn’t affect his qualifications for the presidency, but he stumbles, albeit eloquently on matters of race. This is why he has lunch with Reverend Al Sharpton at one point. Buttigieg comes across as a likably sincere, calm (as more than one possible supporter notes), and driven and aspiring Commander in Chief. However, despite some amusing, and inspirational moments, this film is an all too typical portrait of an idealistic politician. Its good intentions can’t obscure that it’s a glorified infomercial that doesn’t have much impact after the fact.

More later...

Friday, December 17, 2021

Did The Late, Great Mike Nesmith Really Invent MTV?

In many of the obituaries of Mike Nesmith, most famous for being a member of the ‘60s sensation, the Monkees, it is noted that the artist was involved in the creation of MTV, the 24-hour cable showcase for music videos that debuted in 1981. The phrase most often used in Nesmith’s obits is that he “invented MTV.” But otherwise he was described as “the architect of MTV,” “the stepfather of MTV,” and the founder of “the precursor of MTV.”

That last descriptor may be the most accurate. Nesmith’s mother, Bette, was a secretary who invented Liquid Paper, a correction fluid that was mainly used to hide typewriting mistakes (now, there’s an invention!). When she passed, Mike used his sizable inheritance to fund projects by his production company, Pacific Arts, which included what were considered the first music videos.


In a 1990 interview, the former Monkee elaborated on his role in what eventually became MTV: 


Nesmith: “There’s a lot of people that say, ‘gee, you invented the music video.’ Well, what happened was I started doing music videos at the beginning when other people started doing music videos too. I didn’t invent the music video; there were half a dozen people out there working on the form. I just happened to be there at the right time.”

Several years later, in a 1994 episode of the aptly named talk show, Later, Greg Kinnear asked Nesmith about his role in MTV’s inception:

Nesmith: “In some ways, I was part of the original concept.”


Kinnear: “How so?”


Nesmith: “Well, I had done a music video in ’76 with a friend of mine, Bill Dear.”


Kinnear: “And this is before MTV, or anybody knows about music videos?”


Nesmith: “These were played over in Europe on these little clip shows, and so they asked me to do it because my record was coming out, so I did it. A guy named Bill Dear and I did it together. Bill was a commercial director so he had a sensibility about cutting things together fast. I’m coming out of the Monkees, and learned a little bit of filming from those guys so we end up with this music video. 

When I’m over there watching the show and think ‘this would be a good idea for a 24-hour a day music thing. Came back here, just cutting right down to it, sold the idea to Warner Bros., and they said ‘well, this works great, you want to come back and run it?’ I said ‘no,’ so a fellow named Bob Pittman, who is really is the father of the company, he was a guy who was the architect, he took that idea…”


Kinnear: “He was the guy that took all the money!” 


Nesmith’s Nickelodeon show, Popclips, was what he sold to the Time Warner/Amex consortium, and developed into the MTV network. Meanwhile Nesmith worked on the television project Elephant Parts, a collection of comedy bits, and music videos that won the first ever Grammy in the new Music Video category. This led to the short-lived series, Television Parts, which was much like its predecessor, but featured more stand-up comic appearances. 

So there you have it. Nesmith could reasonably be considered a music video pioneer that aided in the initiation of one of the ‘80s’ most popular formats. But “Inventor” may be pushing it a little – it’s like when Al Gore famously said “I took the initiative in creating the internet.” It’s a grandiose statement, but Gore was right – he wasn’t claiming that he invented the internet, just that he helped it along in its evolution.

Likewise, as evidenced in the Kinnear interview excerpted above, Nesmith didn’t claim to be the sole designer of MTV, just part of its original concept.

This clarification has been lost in many internet eulogies, but that’s okay as it’s just fawning hyperbole, and it’s doubtful that anyone would really argue with his being crowned “Inventor of MTV.” Well, maybe Bob Pittman might.

R.I.P. Mike Nesmith, inventor of country rock.

More later...

Thursday, November 25, 2021

GET BACK Takes LET IT BE And Turns It Into A Beatles Extravaganza

Now streaming exclusively on Disney Plus:

(Dir. Peter Jackson, 2021)

In the 1978 Beatles parody, All You Need is Lunch, narrator, Monty Python’s Eric Idle announced that “ithe midst of all this public bickering, Let it Rot was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit.”

But while this three-part documentary doesn’t touch on any of the legalities surrounding the project, Idle’s spoof acknowledges that for a long time there’s been a dark cloud hovering above the Beatles’ original swan song. 


Now, the reason for this reputation comes down to the oft told narrative that the Beatles went into the GET BACK/LET IT BE production hating each other, suffered dreary sessions with mediocre material, and the film is a sloppy, badly edited rockumentary. 


Although the film was released in the early ‘80s on Beta, VHS, and laserdisc, it soon went out of print was never re-issued on DVD, Blu ray, or any home video format. The word is that Paul McCartney has regularly blocked re-issues of LET IT BE, but it should be noted that George Harrison, John Lennon, and Ringo Starr also despised the film.


So after 40 years, we’ve got this delicious docu-series that shapes the Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot footage into a trilogy treasure trove of revelatory footage. The story is now an accessible breakdown of the Beatles’ final days that at times makes us feel like we’re in the same room as the Fab Four.


Each entry begins with this disclaimer: “The GET BACK project in January 1969 produced over 60 hours of film footage, and more than 150 hours of studio recordings.” 


Part 1 kicks off with a 10-minute montage of old Beatles footage to give us their backstory leading up to 1969. This recap will surely be seen as redundant to many as these are tales well told, but nonetheless they get us to speed.

We join the Beatles as they rehearse at Twickenham Film Studios, where the plan is for the group to write, rehearse, and play live 14 new songs in two weeks for a TV special. Their time is short because the studio is due to be used for the shooting of THE MAGIC CHRISTIAN, starring Ringo and Peter Sellers. As they sit in front of Ringo’s drums, the boys appear to be in good spirits as they joke around and jam on such tunes as “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Like Me Down.”

One of the most famous bits from the LET IT BE movie is when George and Paul seemingly have a scuffle in which George says “I'll play, you know, whatever you want me to play. Or I won't play at all, if you don't want me to play.” While it played as a harsh moment in Hogg’s film, we get to see it in full context, and understand that it was simply band bickering.


After an hour and a half of Beatle babbling (funny that George seems to be the most vocal in this first segment), working out songs, some of which are destined to later solo albums, covers of tunes by Dylan, Chuck Berry, Ben E.King, and even Hank Williams, the film builds up to a cliff hanger. One the members ups and quits (no Spoilers).


Part 2 gets even juicier as we hear a private conversation of John and Paul recorded by the filmmakers with a hidden microphone in a flower pot. This is followed by more of the same as the boys flesh the new songs out (expect a lot of “I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Two of Us,” and, of course, the title tune), engage in witty chats, and a pop-in by Peter Sellers, but it’s a bit of a let-down as he barely says anything. The Beatles then take their operations to familiar ground, the studio at Apple Headquarters, but not before Paul lays down a demo of “Oh, Darling” as the lights go out. Also, the TV special concept is abandoned.


But despite the change in scenery, the Beatles intend to go forward with their plan of recording songs without edits or overdubs, and now the idea to use the footage for a feature film. So as the lads from Liverpool goof around in the studio, the day that they need to come up with a big finale for the film looms nearer. So after considering several locations, they decide on the rooftop at Apple for their grand conclusion.


This brings us to Part 3, which contains the meat of the matter: the Apple rooftop performance – one of the most famous farewells in rock history, first though we’ve got to go through well over an hour of more studio stuff, but since this includes film of the Beatles cutting the version that appears on the album, Let it Be, it’s okay by me.”

Now, having seen LET IT BE numerous times, I don’t think it’s as doom and gloom some folks think, but Jackson’s new fangled remix is a massive improvement. This is apparent in the rooftop climax, which now can be seen as a joyous concert after the Beatles’ fruitful time in the studio. Without the time limitation, Jackson is able to use more songs, and make some amusing drama out of the cops that showed up to try shut down the gig. Also the people on the street get some funny moments answering the interviewer’s questions.

Jackson really pulled it off here. It seems his work on his first doc, the excellent 2018 war documentary THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD, proved to him where he could go in interpreting history. 


While neither LET IT BE nor GET BACK contain my favorite batch of Beatles songs, I have a new perspective on the material from seeing the Beatles working on songs, bullshitting with each other, and experiencing those precious moments when inspiration takes hold. Just be prepared for hours and hours of that. A lot of folks who aren’t hardcore Beatles fans, may find GET BACK boring, but since a large percentage of the world’s population are hardcore Beatle fans, that’s alright.

More later...

Sunday, November 21, 2021

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE - Not Afraid Of No Glorified Cameo!

Now playing at a haunted, slimy multiplex near you:


(Dir. Jason Reitman, 2021)

Since the 1989 release of GHOSTBUSTERS 2, there have been a head-spinning multitude of attempts to continue the series largely derailed by Bill Murray’s reluctance to revive his wise-cracking character of Dr. Peter Venkman. Yet, Murray did appear, in a different role, in Paul Feig’s 2016 female-led reboot, as did many members of the original cast despite it being a non canon entry.


But Feig’s film bombed, and angered fans, so we’re supposed to forget it exists, and embrace what’s being billed as an authentic GHOSTBUSTERS movie, one that exists in the same universe as the first two films, is filled with musical ques from Elmer Bernstein’s iconic score (now rendered by composer Rob Simonsen), is littered with callbacks to the 1984 classic including the reappearance of the Ectomobile (Ecto-1), and, most importantly, re-unites our proton pack wearing, spirit-capturing/entrapping, and beloved buddies, the real Ghostbusters (incidentally the name of an ‘80s animated series – whew, this franchise is ginormous!).


Thing is, if you’re buying a ticket to see Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and other returning cast members like Sigourney Weaver, and Annie Potts, you’re going to have to wait through most of the movie to get to them (ok, you don’t have to wait very long to get to Potts).


Not that this is a bad thing as it’s admirable that Reitman, and co-writer Gil Kenan wanted to establish a new ensemble including geeky teen Fin Wolfhard (who at times makes this feel like a super-sized episode of Stranger Things, an episode of which even had him wearing the Ghostbusters uniform), his just as geeky sister played by Mckenna Grace (whose hairstyle is overly familiar), and their exasperated mother portrayed by Carrie Coon.


There’s also a budding love interest for Grace, Logan Kim who’s named Podcast, for cuteness sake; Celeste O’Connor as Wolfhard’s crush, and, thank the heavens, Paul Rudd, bring the hip charm as a science teacher, who educates the kids about how the Ghostbusters saved New York with their unbelievably powerful paranormal activity.


As the kids learn that their broken down Oklahoman farm house (described as “Apocalyptic” by their mother), was once owned by their grandfather, Egon Spengler (originally played by the late, great Harold Ramis), they encounter a round of paranormal pursuits they can call their own.


Rudd is plagued by an army of tiny Stay Puff Marshmellow men, and then a terror dog named Vinz Clortho that possesses him, while Coon gets the Zuul makeover. This puts Rudd and Coon into the Rick Moranis, and Weaver parts, which even includes a recreation of the ascending stairway from the first one, though this time up the side of an ominous mountain.


So it’s up to the new breed of apparition hunters to take on these supernatural baddies, but don’t worry, they are joined by you know who. Unfortunately the guys that most of us are going to this movie to see only appear in the last 10 minutes, with a minimum of dialogue. Murray only gets four-five one-liners, tops, and we don’t get a story as to how they re-grouped to get there. Any of these guys' talk show appearances is bound to have more substance than their glorified cameo here.

But their appearance does work, and it’s nice that the filmmakers even found a way to include Ramis, who the movie is dedicated to.

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE may lack the laughs of the 1984 effort, and it may rely too much on plot points and story beats from that one too, but it’s a spirited (sorry), and a heartfelt tribute brought forth by a group of likable kids. I do miss some of the edge that was there before, and, of course, wish there was more material featuring Murray and Company, but at least there’s a during-the-credits scene with Venkman and Dana Barrett that’s worth sticking around for.

So this valiant venture to conclude the GHOSTBUSTERS trilogy is a warm and fuzzy follow-up, even if it most likely won’t come, see, or kick anybody’s ass.

Postnote: The picture above is of Murray donning the Ghostbusters outfit at the Spike Scream Awards in 2010. I’m using it here as pics of he, and his old buddies from the new flick are hard to come by.

More later....

Monday, November 01, 2021


Here I go again with another series, and it’s centered on one of my favorite subjects: movie cameos. The angle here of Musician Movie Cameo Monday (snappy, huh?) is that they obviously showcase famous musicians, who took time off of their meteoric careers to put in a few minutes often because they’re friends with the actors or filmmakers (or both). 

We’ll kick off with one of biggest rock icons to ever sashay in front of a camera: David Bowie. Bowie was in middle of one of his many peaks in 1983, which revolved around the hit singles, “Let’s Dance,” “Modern Dance,” and “China Girl,” when he agreed to appear in a crude pirate comedy entitled YELLOWBEARD – the brainchild of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman. With John Cleese, and Eric Idle, the film features half of Monty Python, and a rich ensemble that even included Cheech & Chong.

Midway through the movie, an uncredited Bowie pops up as a character named Shark, though he’s addressed by Idle as Henson, who is escorting Madeline Kahn through a ship that’s careening through the seas. Bowie’s Henson/Shark, takes Kahn to dining room inhabited by a tired-looking Eric Idle. Kahn says that she seems to remember something about an island,” and that “it must’ve been that shark that jogged my memory.”

With a “well done,” Idle dismisses Bowie, and as he turns to exit we see what the scene was building to – Bowie was wearing a rubber shark fin on his back, meaning that the revered rocker at the height of his pop powers was reduced to a sight gag in a subpar Python knock-off.

YELLOWBEARD was one of the biggest flops to come forward from the well that sprang MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, and LIFE OF BRIAN. It’s a painfully unfunny experience that even my 12-year old self couldnt find much comedy within.

But at the very least, this misguidingly star-studded non comic epic, had something no other ‘80s film could ever dream of having: David Bowie wearing a rubber shark fin in a cameo that only lasts just over 3o seconds.

So check out the glory that is Bowie sharking it up in the largely forgotten (for good reason) Chapman vehicle YELLOWBEARD:

After seeing that understated walk-on, you really don’t need to see anything else from the failed pirate production. At least that’s what I’d recommend, but if you are a glutton for punishment, so then, knock yourself out.

More later...

Todd Haynes’ VU Doc Begins To See The Light, Even If It Doesn’t Quite Get It Right

Now streaming on AppleTV +, this may be the artsiest rockumentary I’ve ever seen. This is despite the fact that it’s largely in black and white, filmmaker Todd Haynes has assembled a smorgasbord of split screen imagery that places pop art legend Andy Warhol’s screen tests of the legendary avant-garde group, The Velvet Underground alongside archival footage, and newly show interview clips to unconventionally tell the tale of one of the most unconventional bands ever.

This aesthetic is obviously an attempt to recreate the Velvet Undreground’s multimedia presentations, which were curated by Warhol, and for the most part the effect takes harmonious hold.

Now if you don’t know the Velvet Underground, also known as the Velvets and VU, it’s likely that you’ve never formed a band before. The New York based outfit was founded, under Warhol’s tutelage, by bassist-viola player, John Cale, and guitarist/singer Lou Reed who met at a NYC party. The additions of multi-instrumentalist Sterling Morrison, and Maureen Tucker soon followed.

Reed remarked that his literary influences epitomized by Allan Ginsburg’s Howl, William s. Burrough’s Naked Lunch, and Hubert Selby Jr.’s Last Exit to Brooklyn were “what I want to do except with a drum and a guitar.” This led to the VU constructing music that was just as influential in such seminal releases as The Velvet Underground & Nico, and White Light/White Heat.

The first of these albums, their Warhol-produced debut that emerged from the Factory secenescene, featured German chanteuse Nico on four songs, but demos included in this doc give us a taste of what tracks like “Here She Comes Again” could’ve sounded like.

Unfortunately, when we get to Cale and Reed’s bandmates, Morrison, and Tucker they are treated in an afterthought a la “and the Professor and Mary Ann.” But at least Tucker gets to chime in about the West Coast vibe: “This love, peace crap, we hated that. Get real.”

The second half of the film, is dominated by simulations of such events of the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, which had the Velvets backed by Warhol’s flaky films, and audiences who would haphazardly take over the lighting duties. Flickering effects, fuzzy sped-up footages, and, yes, more split-screen visuals, display that the doc is more about the interactive performance art, than it is about the music, man!

That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of the band’s twisted tunage on hand, but it seems secondary to their artsy stage antics. There is some offstage juiciest dealing with Reed firing Warhol, and, more surprisingly Cale. Sadly, not much insight is given to these shake-ups. It’s hard to explain exactly why these firings went down, with the Cale situation is mainly used to introduce Doug Yule as his replacement.

Interview bits with such subjects as Reed’s sister Merrill Reed Weiner, mega fan Jonathan Richman, actress Mary Woronov, Jonas Mekas (who passed right after shooting his contribution), as well as beyond the grave sound bites by Reed, and Morrison, attempt to flesh out the story, yet only skirt the surface of the narrative. Perhaps this would’ve been better as a doc mini-series.

THE VELVET UNDERGROUND, which was made by a true music geek, is recommended more to folks already acquainted with VU, as I don’t think it’s a thorough intro to their oeuvre. This is an in-the-know portrait that aims to celebrate the band’s position in the landscape of the oh so hip ‘60s freak out happenings. This makes for a very watchable curio, but those who have lived and breathed the often strange stylings of Reed and Company, know that this band is so much more than what the flashy footage onscreen struggles to convey.

For those who want more music, the soundtrack, VELVET UNDERGROUND: Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack, is available now. It contains 16 tracks including such rarities as “The Ostrich” by The Primitives, an early novelty track by Reed before VU; “The Wind” by The Diablos, and The Theatre of Eternal Music's “17 XII 63 NYC The Fire Is A Mirror (excerpt).” So, much like the doc, this soundtrack is anything but a hits collection.

More later...

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Didja know? John Belushi Was The Original Peter Venkman In GHOSTBUSTERS

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Dan Aykroyd revealed that when he heard the news that his best friend, John Belushi had died of an overdose, he was “writing a line for John, and (talent manager and GHOSTBUSTERS executive producer) Bernie Brillstein called and said they just found him. It was a Kennedy moment... We loved each other as brothers.” 


This was March 5, 1982, when Belushi died at the age of 33. He left behind 4 seasons of the classic comedy/rock late night show, Saturday Night Live, and seven movies (two were cameos). His movie output was headed by the hits NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE, and THE BLUES BROTHERS, but he had some flops in such works as 1941, CONTINENTAL DIVIDE, and NEIGHBORS.


But Aykroyd appeared to have a plan to put he and his blustery cohort back on top with proposed high concept comedies GHOSTBUSTERS, THREE CALLABEROS (obviously the original title of Steve Martin’s dream project), and SPIES LIKE US. That’s right – Belushi was going to star in all of these films. They were intended to further Aykroyd and Belushi’s status as a modern comic duo, but now they are fascinating to watch and wonder what could have been.

As definitive as Murray’s portrayal of scruffy, sarcastic Peter Venkman Ph.D is, it would fun to see Belushi take on the role. Now, it would be extremely different as Murray famously improvised a lot of his lines. Belushi was also skilled at improv so he probably would’ve woven comedy gold from the big set pieces, and interaction with his co-stars, but, of course we’ll never know who would be the better Venkman.


As for the other movies, I’m going to speculate that Belushi would’ve made THREE AMIGOS better, and that he would’ve trounced Chevy Chase in SPIES LIKE US, especially since Chase walked through the film displaying supreme detachment. I bet Belushi would’ve done a lot more with the role, even if the movie would probably be as lackluster in either version.


It’s sad to acknowledge that Belushi’s career was cut short right before he could’ve re-established his stardom in a run of movies with his long-time pal, Dan Aykroyd. It’s been nearly 40 years since Belushi returned to his home planet, but at least a few of his films are classics, and there’s a lot of SNL to wade through as well as the records he made with the Blues Brothers.

Since I was a kid, I watched every minute of Belushi’s output that I could find. Maybe that’s why I can’t help trying to picture what it would be like if the man somehow didn’t accept the injection of cocaine and morphine that took his life, and went on to make a series of successful comedies. Sure, it’s a futile premise, but I can think of worse ways to spend one’s time.

More later...

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Between Star Trek & His Real Life Space Trip, William Shatner Once Went To The Stars For Comedy

Irony Can Be Pretty Ironic Sometimes”
Earlier today, iconic actor William Shatner boarded a rocket named New Shepherd with three fellow passengers to launch into space for an 11 minute journey.

Shatner, whose Wikipedia entry now adds the title “space tourist,” described the experience as “profound,” and that “I hope I never recover from this.”

But while Shatner is best known for the role of Captain James T. Kirk in 79 episodes of the ‘60s sci-fi classic television program Star Trek, and seven movies which run from the late ‘70s to the mid ‘90s, he took a less heralded voyage to the stars in a sequel that was released the same year as STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, one of the most acclaimed entries in the franchise.

That would be AIRPLANE II: THE SEQUEL, the 1982 follow-up to the hit satire, AIRPLANE! (1980). While AIRPLANE II recycled the disaster movie parody premise, it added some sci-fi film spoofery including a running gag involving a computer much like HAL-9000 from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

The most obvious take-off comes in the form of Shatner as Buck Murdock, a tough as nails space station Commander, who aids in the rescue of the shuttle Mayflower One. Now, Shatner is standing in for Robert Stack, who played an incredibly stern airline pilot from the original. Both Shatner and Stack even say “that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”

Apart from that, Shatner is obviously, and obnoxiously, satirizing his classic character, Captain Kirk. Extreme over-acting, mad mugging for the camera, and over dramatized speechifying make his part here the Shatner role from Heaven, or, for some, the Shatner role from Hell. There's even a shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the original series that Shatner's caricature sees through a periscope.

What’s most notable to me is that AIRPLANE II can be seen as the beginning of Shatner’s comedy career. The man had touched on comedy in previous years (BIG BAD MAMA for instance), but it wasn’t until that silly sequel that he was cast in all out comic productions  like LOADED WEAPON 1,  MISS CONGENIALITY, and DODGEBALL. Shatner also made many TV appearances most notably Boston Legal, for which he won an Emmy for his portrayal of lawyer Denny Crane.

Now, it could be said that Shatner’s work as a dramatic actor was largely comical, even if it wasn’t meant to be. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Shatnerize” is described as “To deliberately produce something so bad it’s good.” At one point I theorized that Shatner was aware that he’s a joke to many of his fans and non fans, but he’s not sure what the joke is.

Now that he’s actually gone to space – at 90, the oldest human to do so – maybe it’s time to take the man more seriously. His film and TV career is nothing to sneeze at, his extensive list of books (dozens and dozens) as an author are largely best-sellers, and his personable appearances on talk shows are hilarious must sees.

Even if he didn’t reach the final frontier, it was fun to see Shatner boldly go where a number of others have gone before. Unless he shows up in some new movie or TV show, this epic yet brief voyage certainly serves as a final feather in his cap. Oh, and I bet he’ll get another book out of it. 

So Ill leave you on this note, Shatner’s classic appearance on SNL in 1986, in which he told a convention full of Star Trek fans to Get a life!

More later...

Sunday, October 10, 2021

NO TIME TO DIE, But Plenty Of Time To Say Goodbye

Now playing at a multiplex near everybody:

NO TIME TO DIE (Dir. Cary Joji Fukunaga, 2021)

In the last year and a half, the patience of James Bond fans has been majorly tested.

The 25th entry, NO TIME TO DIE, was originally slated to open on late 2019, then it was pushed back to February, followed by April 2020 (star Daniel Craig even hosted SNL to promote the film on this last date). But the pandemic reared its ugly head and the movie was rescheduled for November 2020. The global health crisis kept raging, and an April 2021 release was set. Of course, that was predictably scraped, and October 8th is now the official domestic debut, and for once, they’ve stuck to it.


This is a colossal relief for fans, the filmmakers, and Craig himself, as it must have been frustrating to have his fifth and final film as 007 constantly being shelved. Well, he can rest assured because the film just dropped, and it’s being greatly received with many critics calling it the best Bond ever.


I wouldn’t regard it as such, but it’s pretty damn great, and it might be the best Craig installment, though SKYFALL comes pretty damn close. It starts off like a horror movie, with a young girl, Madeleine Swann (Coline Defaud) being pursued across a frozen lake by a creepy disfigured masked assailant. We cut to modern day to see that the girl has grown into Léa Seydoux, returning from the previous adventure, SPECTRE, and she’s vacationing with Bond in Italy. Madeleine encourages Bond to visit his long gone love, Vesper Lynd, who’s haunted him since CASINO ROYALE. Her damn tomb explodes, and we’re suddenly thrusted into a high speed chase by Spectre agents with Craig’s Bob doing what he does best – running, and jumping, sometimes motorcycling across sidewalks and rooftops. 

This Matera-set sequence goes on and on, but that’s not a complaint – it’s superbly thrilling stuff, and is given an emotional layer with Bob believing that Madeleine betrayed him and ending their relationship. Now this all happens before the opening credits, so not only is NO TIME TO DIE the longest Bond film (163 min.), it appears to have the longest pre-credits sequence.


After Billy Ellish’s effectively spooky title song, it’s five years later, and while Bond has retired, his crew including Q (Ben Whishaw, Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), M (Ralph Fiennes), and Lashana Lynch, as the woman who has inherited the 007 codename much to Bond’ chagrin. This faction of MI6 is working to combat a wave of wide-reaching genetic warfare that is set to be launched by Spectre adversary Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek).


Other returning roles include Jeffrey Wright as Bond’s long-time CIA confident Felix Leiter, and a cameo by Christoph Waltz as unhinged yet still confident (confidently cuckoo?) Spectre mastermind Ernest Stavro Blofeld. In Norway, Bond reunites with Madelienne, learning that she has a five-year old daughter Mathilde  (Lisa-Dorah Sonnet) that, of course, Bond suspects is his offspring. Bond, Madelienne, and Mathilde find themselves at, guess what, a ginormous fortress (a long abandoned WWII sea fort actually), where Bond tries to stop the killing of millions, because that’s just what he does.


Despite its lavish action scenes, some of the most entertaining moments of this entry involve the back and forths in the dialogue between Bond and his Secret Service buddies who convincingly portray friends and co-workers as they are hard at work in a different type of procedural. The locations, captured by cinematographer Linus Sandgren are stunning with very shot suitable for framing.


The film is more romantic that most Bond films via Craig's chemistry with Seydoux, except ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (aka the one in which Bond gets married), which the screenwriters, including Director Fukunaga, veteran 007 scribes Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade, and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag) drew on extensively with music themes from George Lazenby’s lone effort slyly inserted, including Louis Armstrong’s “We Have All the Time in The World.” The title of this classic is repeated by Craig’s Bond, just like Lazenby did, but that’s probably all I should say about that.


NO TIME TO DIE, which earns its length, is a wonderful finale to Craig’s five film chunk of one of the most lucrative and popular movie franchises in history. And historic it is as it does something no other Bond film has done, but I’m not telling you what. It’ll probably be leaked so you cheap bastards will find out anyway, but I hope most folks will go in cold. 


As for Craig, he’s made three great Bonds out of this five, and this certainly lets him go out in spectacular style. I wasn’t into him at first as he seemed more like the blonde thugs that were trying to kill Bond in such entries as FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, but his intensity, and precision won me over. It was SKYFALL to me, that cemented Craig as a new kind of 007, as he balanced the bombast and humor in a manner that elegantly matched his predecessors.


Even in this never-ending era of covid, Craig’s swan song is a must see on the big screen. It’s Bond at his most heartfelt, but still with the big action spectacle you want and expect. I was blown away by the ending, which will surprise a lot of fans, and so want to share what happened with somebody, but like I said before, I’m not going to give it away. 


So farewell, Mr. Craig and your strong run of 007 instalments. He brought a gritty killer persona to a franchise that had come too close to being a fluffy spoof of spy cinema, and needed an injection of new blood. But I think the filmmakers should really take a break and work hard on a new direction as they’ll really need to do a hard reboot after this.


More later…

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

What Are Fotonovels Or Photostories, You Ask? Well, Let Me Tell You

Back in the ‘70s, before cable TV and home video options (laserdisc players, VCRs) weren’t household appliances yet, movie-fans like me had to re-experience or our favorite films in other ways. Since the ‘60s, there were books that contained screenplays of various popular movies augmented with a bunch of stills. 

In the ‘70s the medium exploded with tons of these books, but later in the decade, a particular kind of movie book hit the scene. They were called Fotonovels or Photostories and they featured color screenshots and word bubbles to illustrate the films or TV shows. Yes, they were put together like comic books (no one called them graphic novels back then).

Among the first Fotonovels published were of 12 episodes of the original ‘60s Star Trek including such fan favorites as “City on the Edge of Forever,” “The Trouble with Tribbles,” and “The Devil in the Dark.”

But it was the movies that were the bigger sellers. Such films as GREASE, LORD OF THE RINGS (the 1979 animated version), HAIR, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, HEAVEN CAN WAIT, ROCKY AND ROCKY II (in one book), and many more.

Check out a couple of pages from the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS edition:

TV shows that were given the treatment included The Incredible Hulk, Mork & Mindy, Buck Rogers in the 25th
 Century, Battlestar Gallactica, and even The Waltons.

Not everything that photostories and Fotonovels was a beloved hit. Flops like NIGHTWING, and AMERICATHON (heard of those?) were titles that were probably decided on before their box office was known, were impossible to predict whether they were going to be successes failures at the time (seems pretty obvious now though).

So in the early ‘80s, just as cable was spreading like a virus, there were fewer books produced. The saddest release was of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN as it was in black & white. In addition, the images were blurry, and grainy on much lower quality paper. Even as a kid at the time, I knew the movie picture book party was over.


But the decades that followed, there were a few that popped up in the movie/TV sections in bookstores. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, Disney’s DINOSAUR, and CHARLIE ANGELS, which was an attempt to cash in on the ‘70s revival of the time. Nowadays, you can find Fotonovels and Photostories in used bookstores and on Ebay. Most are cheap - $10-$20, but the GREASE one is listed on Ebay as going for $40-$500 (no joke).

So that’s a small, maybe tiny, bit of movie memorabilia history. I have a few of these Fotonovels on my bookshelf, and am amused when I see them out in the wild. If I come across one, or more, at a local used bookstore, I may consider a purchase, unless it’s the overpriced GREASE one that is.

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Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Before Bill Murray Was Garfield, Garfield Was Bill Murray

If you were around in 1984, you surely were aware of the smash hit sci-fi comedy, GHOSTBUSTERS. The Bill Murray/Dan Aykroyd/Harold Ramis ensemble vehicle,  was the second biggest grossing movie of 1984 (right behind BEVERLY HILLS COP), and with cereals, action figures, a best selling soundtrack, etc., the Ivan Reitman directed blockbuster was a true phenomenon.


During the same flashy ‘80s era, another comic phenomenon was making a splash in the funny pages, and a series of successful books. That would be Garfield, the orange tabby cat that loves lasagna, hates Mondays, and makes his owner’s life a living hell. Created by cartoonist Jim Davis, Garfield made his newspaper debut in the strip, Jon (named after the cat’s owner), in 1976, but became kind of a big deal in 1978, when the cartoon went into national syndication.


In 1980, Garfield made his television debut in a Special entitled The Fantastic Funnies. In the fat feline’s segment, actor Scott Beach provided his voice. Following that, actor/writer/voice actor Lorenzo Music voiced Garfield for a series of specials, video games, ads, etc. 


Music was best known for his never seen character Carlton the Doorman on the popular sitcom Rhoda, which ran from 1974-1978. The perpetually drunk Carlton, speaking through an intercom, had a droll, laconic delivery that was a reliable laugh getter. There was even an animated Carlton pilot, but it wasn’t picked up for a series. 


It was just as well as Garfield’s cartoon adventures were loved by viewers throughout the ‘80s. But after the huge hit that was GHOSTBUSTERS, an animated series based on the film was rushed into production, and who did the producers look to fill the shoes of Bill Murray’s Peter Venkman? Garfield’s Lorenzo Music, that’s who!

So at the same time that Music was churning out Garfield specials, he spent two seasons aping Murray’s slyly sarcastic persona on The Real Ghostbusters (so named because of some legal whatnot with another show by the same name).


Years later, in 2004, GARFIELD: THE MOVIE, a big budget revamp was released to ginormous box office. Music passed away in 2001, so Garfield’s voice was taken over by, you guessed it, Murray. Despite the background, I doubt Murray referred to Music’s work, as he seems like an actor who has no interest in character research.

There you go – Lorenzo Music, the voice of Garfield, portrayed Bill Murray in The Real Ghostbusters animated program; then later Bill Murray portrayed Lorenzo Music’s signature role in GARFIELD: THE MOVIE. 


Murray later revealed that he took the GARFIELD gig, which included a sequel, GARFIELD: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES, because he thought that the first film was written by Joel Coen, of the Coen brothers, but it turned out to be Joel Cohen, who was quite a different style of scribe. Although he participated in the sequel, Murray expressed regret of doing the films. This was summed up in his cameo in ZOMBIELAND in which he was asked while dying if he had any regrets. “Well, maybe Garfield.” 


While there hasn’t been a third GARFIELD to complete the trilogy, in the ZOMBIELAND sequel, Murray puts in another cameo in a flashback in which he is doing promotion for the fictional third entry entitled GARFIELD: FLABBY TABBY. That way Murray can have his cake and eat it too.

It’s interesting to note that the sequels to GHOSTBUSTERS and GARFIELD are the only sequels Murray has made (I’m not counting the ZOMBIELAND movies as those are cameos). It’s funny that these guys are forever linked. I can’t think of a similar situation with such symmetry between two actors. If you can, do tell – in the comments section below.

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