Golden Sombrero: To Live And Die In L.A. (*) is just awful

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To Live and Die in L.A. – 1985

Director William Friedkin
Screenplay Friedkin & Gerald Petievich based on the novel by Petievich
Starring Willem Dafoe, William L. Peterson, John Pankow, Debra Feuer, John Turturro, Darlanne Fluegel, Dean Stockwell, Jane Leeves, Jimmy Hart

“You ain’t my partner.  You ain’t even my fuckin’ friend!”

If they took every horrible thing about 80’s action movies and wrapped them into one package, you’d have To Live and Die in L.A.. Well, the soundtrack is good, at least. The cast is pretty good, too. They’re just not good at all in this film. Roger Ebert’s 4 star review helped to give the film a lift over the years, to the point that it has a 94% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Anyone who watches the film from the perspective of a rational human being  would barely be able to justify not laughing hysterically, much less giving the film half of that respect.

What’s wrong with the film?

Let’s start with the script. The film centers around Secret Service Agents. At first you’d think their job is protecting President Reagan, since you hear him giving a speech as one of the agents, Richard Chance (Peterson) interrupts suicide bombing jihadist. The terrorist’s plot is further foiled by his partner, Greene (Hart) in a ridiculous display that should have ended up getting him killed. Instead, we have Greene telling Chance he’s getting too old for this shit as he rubs his shoulder afterward.

So, they’re protecting the president, right?

No, they’re tracking down Eric “Rick” Masters (Dafoe), a counterfeiter who is arrogantly displaying his prowess throughout the L.A. underworld…or maybe at the gym. Greene does one last stupid thing before he’s supposed to retire, and now Chance arrives just a few hours later with all the agents Greene should have had with him. Too late, his partner was shot in the face, with as cheesy a special effect as you could imagine in 1985. Really, though, there’s something wrong when a shotgun blast looks the same as a revolver blast did in 1971’s The French Connection.

We then find the agents breaking more laws and causing more damage than anyone they are trying to arrest. Part way through the film, one of the agents asks another why he doesn’t just go over to Masters’ house and shoot him. It would have caused a whole lot less grief for the characters, and the viewers.

Let’s talk about characters.

Chance takes the opportunity for revenge as a license to act like a complete asshole to just about everyone. His passion plays more like someone who’s beyond a coke binge. Peterson has charisma, but Friedkin pushes it to the side as often as he lets it shine. Several of his character’s decisions are downright stupid.

First, he lets his partner go off on his own for no justifiable reason. Next we see him busting a mule, Carl Cody (Turturro) in one of the most hilarious action scenes imaginable. First, he fires a shot past his target, then he inexplicably lets his guard down (not for the last time) as the guy knocks his gun away with a briefcase. As he’s cuffing him, a cop comes behind  and he completely turns his back on Cody while showing his credentials. Lucky for him Friedkin’s edit job made it to where Chance had already cuffed him before hand.

In Chance and his new partner Vukovich (Pankow), I think the French Connection director was going for an updated version of Popeye Doyle and Cloudy Russo. The result is painful to watch. Pankow, is clearly not a physical threat in any manner as Scheider’s Russo. In fact, he seems more like the kid brother who keeps asking you to wait as he tries to keep up. I spent more of the film thinking about his incredibly large forehead than I did enjoying his constant complaints to Chance about the laws they were breaking in pursuit of Masters.

As a duo, Chance and Vukovich could not be any less competent. They constantly take their eyes off the ball in crucial moments. Why? Mostly to provide a way to advance a chase, so they have something else to do. As officers of the law, I wouldn’t have these two watch a warehouse.

The plot is so obviously pointed towards having the two involved in a giant mess of a car chase, it’s incredibly funny to hear that they only netted $50k afterwords. The chase itself undoubtedly caused 20x that amount in damage. The car chase is the best thing in the film, until you realize it’s only so / so. Most of the time, Vukovich is moaning in the back seat. Did he get shot? No. He’s sad because someone they kidnapped got shot. It’s even dumber than that when you realize that the guy was a fellow agent.

Chance’s character feels like a complete mess. One can see moments where Peterson, in his second film after Michael Man’s Thief 4 years earlier, seems completely cognizant of his place in the scheme of things. The next thing you know, he’s forcing his informant / love interest to succumb to his “charms,” while eloquating about how good Quintin Dailey and Orlando Woolridge are compared to Michael Jordan. These days, we call that rape and bad basketball analysis.

Other highlights include figuring out the bellhop is a terrorist, confronting him and then offering to put his gun away so they can “talk.” Then there’s the time he ponders the thrill of cliff diving while driving against traffic.

Defoe is good and slimy here. He’s exactly what he should be, right up until he makes the fatal mistake of prolonging the final battle. Even at the time when I watched this as a teenager, he was the character I remembered most vividly. His character gets the benefit of being able to string two thoughts together without being sidetracked with guilt, a sudden realization or the desire to take his gun off the target. How he didn’t come out on top in this story is completely puzzling. Well, not really. The bad guy can’t really win, can he?

Speaking of the bad guy…William Friedkin might be the poster boy for how ego – among other things – can destroy a promising career. By the time he made this film, he had a steady stream of disasters in his wake. This was his 4th attempt at a comeback, after Sorcerer, The Brink’s Job, Cruising and Deal of the Century failed to resonate. It’s hard to figure out who else to blame for the failings of this movie than the guy sitting in the driver’s seat.

It’s clear when watching this film compared to The French Connection, there was a precipitous fall in execution, skill, just plain attention span with the man behind the camera. There are so many lapses in the story, the most consistent thing about it is the inconsistency. There is no one in this movie that I would purposely follow for more than 5 seconds, much less the 2 hour running time.

Which leads me to the question of why did I give it one star? The star is exclusively owed to the soundtrack, which is incredible, given the circumstances. The group Wang Chung, hired by Friedkin after he heard their previous album, wrote the majority of the music after watching a rough cut of the film. This serves it well, especially in the elongated opening sequence(s) and the chase scene.

The title song is the best song they ever produced in their long, and somewhat mediocre career. It adds more resonance and character than any of the characters deserve. I still don’t understand what the songwriters were seeing when they wrote such tender lines as:

I wonder why we waste our lives here
When we could run away to paradise

There is no sense that any of the people in this story would know the difference between wasting their lives and spending time in paradise. They seem to bring their own hell with them.

It’s pretty clear to me that Ebert was judging this film on its chase scene, his ignorance of counterfeiting and his seeming affinity for Friedkin, despite his flaws. His instinct for Peterson was a little bit higher in praise than I would give, but the guy has exhibited staying power. What everyone else was thinking when they praise this film, I have no clue. And I don’t want to waste any more of my life finding out.

(* out of *****)

 

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Sorry, I just can’t hate Transformers: The Last Knight (***)

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Transformers: The Last Knight – 2017

Director Michael Bay
Screenplay  Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, John Turturro (with the voices of Peter Cullen, John Goodman, Erik Aadahl, Ken Watanabe, Jim Carter, Frank Welker, Steve Buscemi, Gemma Chan)

There was a point a decade or so ago when Anthony Hopkins still had a sterling reputation. He decided to retire, presumably to avoid having to reduce himself to less impactful roles. Stanley Tucci has never had the height of critical stature from which to be reduced. It is almost certain Michael Bay is sitting there, behind the camera, saying something like “just put more Tucci into it!” John Turturro, my Lord, he can be in anything good or bad. There will always be something along the lines of The Night Of for him to look forward.

There is a feeling of hanging around the savanna’s watering hole as it begins the process of drying when seeing the likes of these three in a Michael Bay film. With nothing to do but keep feeding on the animals approaching the ever decreasing water, they don’t need to lie in wait or put any skill into the hiunt. Instead, they just pick off the distracted animals, one by one, like moviegoers heading into a googleplex. Meanwhile the smell about the swamp attracts all sorts of pestilence.  It is hard to smell, much less respect.

Is this trash?  Yes. Is it congruent in any way with how humans (much less award winning thespians) act? Well, no.  But look!  They’re destroying the Pyramids again! And Sir Anthony is looking cool shooting Megatron with a cane!

That said, despite every column inch of negative press regarding this film and how uselessly complicated (and just plain useless) it is, I still can’t bring myself to dislike it. The film is the same as each of the others in terms of plot devices, MacGuffins and General Sharp / Morshower. This time though, they actually took the time to build on the half-ass ending they had in Age of Extinction with a somewhat decent first half of the film.

The biggest advantage the film has early on is the general absence of Optimus Prime, who is back on the Cybertron being bitch slapped by a floating sorceress (Chan) and then charmed with stories of their home planet’s once and future greatness. Not slowly and without subtlety, Prime is won over to the side of whatever causes humans the most damage.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, we have a chance to actually get to know some of the other Transformers. This is a great opportunity that has largely been wasted in previous films. We are usually stuck listening to the boring leader of the Autobots opine about virtue and never again losing trust in humans while Megatron plans and schemes to be that one extra bad guy in the end who gets destroyed as a prelude to the big finish.

The point this time is to see, hear and feel the interaction with the other characters who have not had opportunities for forming anything more than thumbnail generalities previously. Bumblebee is the big winner here. Likewise, Carter’s Cogman, who exhibits a feeling of dedicated servant coupled with unhinged sociopath that is warily fun.

Less fun is the precocious little girl who acts as though she is a protector of Autobots. The little kid was focused in an ill advised early round of commercials which I think significantly diminished this film’s already waning appeal. No one liked Scooby Doo once they added Scrappy.

If one can get past the historical hogwash of King Arthur’s court, the Nazis and other points that directly contradict at least the first two films.  And if you can look past the fact that yet another large mass is coming to our orbit and trying to destroy us without affecting things like, say, our gravitational field. And if you can just accept that character A has to get to point B in the first act, then character C is the only person that can help with situation D. And if you get around the idea that for all but the first one of these films, Bay has not bothered with concepts like gravity, space or coherent editing…you should be just fine.

Do I understand if someone hates this film? Sure. It’s not that good at all. But is it too complicated and silly at the same time as it has been accused? If anything, this plot has been the most straightforward of them all.

The bots benefit from more screentime, and become more like-able, just like the film itself. I never disliked Optimus Prime, but in no way did I realize that boring Peter Cullen would have 90% of the dialogue for all of the Transformers up to now. I don’t mind looking at Prime. I just want to hear someone, anyone, else.

Here’s a general rule when evaluating this film: if you didn’t enjoy any of the previous movies, then move along. This one won’t change your mind. If you think that somehow Bay took a dip in skill, energy or just plain continuity this time around, you picked the wrong reviewer to follow. I have a hard time writing reviews on films as if they should suck and just saying they are just too complicated to explain. When it gets down to it, there are plenty of nonsense reviewers out there that just took this film off. Bay has not gotten any better in these 5 films, but he certainly hasn’t gotten any worse.

(*** out of *****)

The Hustler (****) / The Color Of Money (*****): Who owns this place?

The Hustler

The Hustler – 1961

Director Robert Rossen
Starring Paul Newman, Jackie Gleason, Piper Laurie, George C. Scott, Myron McCormick, Murray Hamilton, Jake LaMotta, Michael Constantine
Screenplay Sidney Carroll & Rossen based on The Hustler by Walter Tevis

In an era where film was often an extension of the stage, The Hustler plays as exactly that. It is an exceptional meditation of the challenge of a man to overcome himself as his biggest obstacle. Paul Newman is “Fast” Eddie Felson, a young, hot-headed pool shark who is working a series of short cons with his partner Charlie (McCormick) across the country from Oakland to challenge the legendary champion “Minnesota Fats” (Gleason). After running up $18,000 over Fats, his hubris, ego and alcohol all get the best of him, eventually losing it all except for $200.

He leaves Charlie behind, heading to the local bus terminal, where he comes across Sarah (Laurie), a lame young drunkard, with whom he ends up staying. During his stay, he comes across Fats’ bankroller Bert Gordon (Scott), who tells him he is someone who looks for a way to lose, but he could come out ahead if he works for Gordon for a 25% stake. Eddie opts to go his own way at first. Events occur to change his mind, but that is only the beginning of his regret.

Fast Eddie: Maybe I’m not such a high-class piece of property right now. And a 25% slice of something big is better than a 100% slice of nothing.

Newman and Gleason are spectacular in their respective roles opposing one another at the pool table. It’s an amazing transition to see where Newman starts and ends. Contrast this with the somber sobriety on Gleason’s countenance, where essentially he has the same worn out look, but we understand it completely differently. Laurie is truly a wounded soul. It’s no accident that Sarah and Eddie end up with one another. Where it ends up is heartbreaking, but it, too, seems inevitable.

George C. Scott creates a unique twist on his intimidating self through the story’s evolution. He is a dangerous man, but the change in the last act is something that many actors would not feel comfortable portraying.

Rossen allows the first half of the film to build slowly, seeming somewhat conventional and perhaps even bordering on contrivance at times. Laurie’s character is a tough sell, though, given the limitations placed on female characters in the 60’s. Eddie’s counterpart Janelle shows as much depth in 10 minutes 25 years later. She prevails in a powerful third act, however, leaving an indelible impression on each character. His work with Oscar nominated (and future winner) editor Dede Allen is artful and daring, leaving the viewer with a rich landscape that is dark, isolated and seething with doubt.

Fast Eddie: Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool.
Minnesota Fats: So do you, Fast Eddie.

This is Newman and Gleason’s show, however. Strange thing is, they go about it in different ways. Newman grabs the screen in an almost Shatnerian manner. I know Shatner hadn’t hit it big at that time, but his was a stage acting style quite prevalent in the 50’s and 60’s for the flair of emotive responses to seemingly calm situations. Newman pulls it off, though, particularly in the strength of Eddie’s last matchup versus Fats.

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It would not have worked, however, were it not for the simmering soul of Fats provided by one of the biggest stars in the world at the time, Jackie Gleason. When watching Gleason work, get worked and working over Newman at first, he seems like a secret weapon. By the end of the story, once he somberly informs Felson that he better pay up, it’s clear he is a beaten man on more than just the table. He is a dog on a leash. It is really two sides of the mirror and a remarkable performance. It’s a spare performance that has a universe of depth just under the surface.

One wonders what might have happened had Scorsese opted to make The Color of Money closer to the story that Tevis had written for it. It is pretty certain that the ailing Gleason would not have been up for the role as written in the novel, what with going back on tour and all. The minimal role he presented was rejected by Gleason as “an afterthought.” In watching The Hustler, it’s clear that Gleason left Tevis’ best representation of the fictional pool legend on walking away from the table in the last frame.

Tevis’ work is finely represented here, and even if he has little overall influence on the follow-up, the framework for his wonderful central character is thoroughly improved upon in the Scorsese film.

(**** out of *****)

Color of Money

The Color of Money – 1986

Director Martin Scorsese
Starring Paul Newman, Tom Cruise, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Helen Shaver, Forest Whitaker, John Turturro
Screenplay Richard Price

Everything that is good about The Hustler is made great in The Color of Money. The story continues 25 years later with Felson as a liquor distributor bankrolling a pool player (Turturro) on the side. After Vincent (Cruise) and Carmen (Mastrantonio) shut down his player, and Felson takes Vincent on as his stable horse. Things get off to a rocky start, and inevitably, he starts to feel the urge to try hustling for himself again.  His efforts to teach Carmen and Vincent the concept of the long con is agonizing for all parties. The addiction is so strong for Eddie, he treats every painful drawback as inspiration to go forward.

For a movie with so many bodies moving through it, the cast is remarkably concise. In many ways, The Color of Money plays more like a stage performance than the original. Gretchen Rennell brings in several actors at the top of their form. Helen Shaver plays Janelle, Eddie’s beautiful (and age appropriate) lover. She runs one of the bars he sells to, but sees a world beyond booze and billiards. Something with which her man struggles. Her eyes drink in the dreams that his words create, but her feet are solidly on the ground.

Eddie: You’re some piece of work… You’re also a natural character.
Vincent: [to Carmen] I been tellin’ her that. You know? I got natural character.
Eddie: That’s not what I said, kid. I said you *are* a natural character; you’re an incredible flake.

Tom Cruise, coming off the biggest film of his young career in Top Gun, is expanding his repertoire. In allowing himself to play the fool, he also is allowed the furthest room to grow. His performance would be easily dismissed if one does not absorb the conclusion. This film began a long string of movies in which his fame colored critical reception of his ability.

Eddie: Do you smell that?
Vincent: What, smoke?
Carmen: No, Money…

Mastrantonio is one of the great actresses of her generation. There has been a void in the film industry since she made her last film in 2004. Carmen is one of her signature characters. She is at once too much for Vincent and not enough for Eddie. Or is she? Only revealing the cards that she wants us to see, we see more in her depth in her character than any of the others. She is the closest correlation to Bert Gordon in this story. Eddie and Vincent concern one another with a game, and she plays them both while taking on the role of quiet woman in the background. There is no way she will ever reveal more than she must to either of them.

Eddie: Human moves, kid. You study the watch… while I study you.

In a career of incredible performances, this is Paul Newman’s finest. As little as Mastrantonio gives of Carmen’s true character, the opposite happens with Eddie. Newman lays it all out. As the story begins, it looks like he’s in charge. The story is a series of events that show how little he grasps any situation. By the end, he’s at ground level, but fully comprehends the gravity of his position in life. And he’s grateful for it. The show Newman puts on is brave and fully realized. It takes someone with the utmost confidence in who they are to give Eddie the depth required to fully connect with who he was in The Hustler. He’s not the same desperate and over-emotive young man he was before. You can tell that man is where he came from.

Even though 25 years is a long time, Newman, Scorsese and screenwriter Richard Price understand the concept that he is still the same basic person. He may be wise, but he’s still vulnerable. He’s not stuck either. That this didn’t amount to a series of straight betrayals and showdowns gives Newman the grist to show real development.

Eddie: It’s even, but it ain’t settled. Let’s settle it.

Scorsese moved from a career of personal projects into the mainstream with The Color of Money. His work with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus and editor Thelma Schoonmaker is invigorating and as tense as the original, even if it has an entirely different feel. It’s mixture of staccato jumps and drawn out torturous shots is a combination that is intentionally nerve-wracking. We’re never supposed to feel comfortable in this world.

The soundtrack, compiled and produced by Robbie Robertson, is an integral piece of the film. Robertson is a fine musician who had a stellar career scoring soundtracks (aside from his marvelous work with The Band). Only his work on Phenomenon approached anything this remarkable. Everyone remember’s Clapton’s It’s In The Way That You Use It. The first meetup with Grady Seasons (Robert Palmer’s Let Yourself In For It) is a great example, but the movie is filled with remarkable mood setters. Don Henley, Willie Dixon, Mark Knopfler, Warren Zevon and B.B. King all have exceptional tunes on the album. Even if Zevon’s Werewolves of London is from an earlier work, it totally fits with the work. Best of all is Robertson’s own compositions, Modern Blues and even more, The Main Title. The latter shows at once the depth, desperation and yearning of Eddie on his journey.

Scorsese has made better films, but this one is near the top. It’s as personal as it is professional. It has style, flash, intensity and depth. The decision to forgo the original Tevis material seems the only possibility, given Gleeson’s failing health, but the story pushes forward the character of Eddie Felson by making him even more human than he was in the original.

This is the movie and performance that Fast Eddie deserves even if it takes until the end for him to get back.

(***** out of *****)

Exodus Gods and Kings (****): Moses, Ramses II, God and his Angels

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Exodus – Gods and Kings (2014)

Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Ben Mendelsohn, María Valverde, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Andrew Tarbet, Isaac Andrews
Screenplay Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian

The prospect of a big budget film based on The Holy Bible is immediately deserving of skepticism these days. For some, like Aronofsky, use it to “explore the space”  adventurously within the original source. Most others, like Scott, openly admit that they shape the story and the cast to make the film as profitable as possible around the world. In this way, it’s kind of like a Transformers movie, but in the worst way possible. The formula works financially, as a little over 3/4 of the films $270 million gross has been outside of North America. We can expect certain allowances and even certain differences, which for many detract from the sincerity of the approach.

Scott is one of the most visually striking, if sometimes editorially distant, directors of our time. His desire for clarity of vision at times leaves the story in its wake. Having four writers for this tale further raises a red flag. The hopes for this experience are high, but the expectations are minimal.

The result is a remarkably deft presentation that does a good job giving a plausible reading of what everyone who has seen The Ten Commandments will recognize.  We start out seeing Moses and Ramses II as brothers in arms. If not brothers by blood, their combination spills much blood.

Moses (Bale) is a skeptic of the Gods Egypt worship. His confidence is more with himself than anything else. Ramses II (Edgerton) is to succeed his father, Seti I (Turturro) as Pharaoh of Egypt. His confidence in himself is lacking. The love between the brothers is not lacking. When Moses saves the life of Ramses II on the battlefield, the dynamic changes between the two. This unease is exacerbated through the death of Seti I, until a secret about Moses reaches Ramses II through the treacherous lips of Hegep.

Ramses confronts Moses about this, setting in motion a chain of events that leads Moses to become the leader of the Hebrews. This, of course is all the work of God. Moses is a Hebrew who by prophesy was to be the leader of the Hebrew slaves. Soon enough, Moses is banished, goes on a journey in which an attempt is made on his life thanks to Ramses II’s mother Tuya (Weaver). Escaping that, he then finds love (Valverde) and starts a family. Nine years later, he is called upon by God to fulfill his destiny and free his people.

At this point, Ridley Scott chooses to show the true meaning of the word Israel: to wrestle with God. To that end, we see Moses speaking with Malak (Andrews as an Angel of God) in barely civil terms. This is a verbal, philosophical and religious wrestling match. Scott makes a conscious choice to show Moses as believing what he’s seen, but not being able to completely accept what he’s been told. This perspective is something many people can identify with more than the Moses of tradition who was maybe more accepting. To be sure, the plagues and the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was as much for Moses’ belief as it was for Pharaoh’s. This is made clear n this version of the story.

The acting of the leads is excellent. This is big budget Bale at his best. We can see the journey he’s made from beginning to end in crystal clear terms. His relationship with Ramses II demonstrates how love can be driven south by fear and eventually, greed. Edgerton’s performance, more subtle, is also more memorable. His Ramses II rivals Yul Brenner’s in depth and scope. The greatness in both performances is in that we can see ourselves in both of them. They are not straight up good versus evil. They can be seen as examples of God’s power.

Of the supporting performances, only Mendelsohn’s wicked and deceitful Hegep stands out. His actions are integral as those of Pontius Pilate. A career in middle management which one would defend by shining the light on others. The rest have almost no moments of actual personality as they do reciting plot points. One wishes we would have had more time showing the dichotomy with Aaron (Tarbet) and Ramses II as brothers of Moses. What we get instead is a series of blank stares from Aaron, watching Moses talk to (apparently) no one. It’s a missed opportunity.

What can be admired about Exodus… is the focus. God’s wrath shown through Malak. Moses and Ramses II’s growth into their historically significant roles against one another. We see the wrestling match between Moses and God. We get that Ramses II moves from uncertainty to maniacal in his demand for respect and love. This is feeling of inadequacy is subtly hinted at in the triangle relationship between the two brothers and their father, Seti I.

If one is looking for historical accuracy, it should be noted that the events are more interpretations than they are Biblically accurate. The plagues are expounded upon, and the Israelites suffer as much as Egyptians. It is entertaining to see the leading minds and religious experts try to explain to the Pharaoh how one plague might lead to another or be easily overturned by ritual.

It is less entertaining to see Moses lead the Hebrews to perform what are essentially acts of terrorism against the Egyptian women and children, and then rationalize it in the name of their freedom. One could conceive that this is Ridley Scott taking sides on terrorism in the modern day, which is something Israel has to battle constantly. If he is trying to make a point about Israel’s hands being dirty, then he is making too big of a stretch based on historical evidence. This is but one small segment in the story. It does detract from the character that Scott, Bale and company hope to create, as it is not the same Moses that would historically downplay his earlier heroism in saving his brother on the battlefield.

Still, the overall story is solid enough and the visuals (as usual) striking enough that it makes the film worth watching. It’s not close to his best work, but it is inspired and it certainly does not plumb the depths of Robin Hood. Just don’t expect to have your local Christian or Jewish worship center presenting this film any time soon. On the other hand, we should just feel fortunate that the ending doesn’t take place in China.

(**** out of *****)

Cool Papa E’s Favorite Comedy Films of All Time

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Live action comedy films are inexpensive to make but they are incredibly hard to master.  It’s a generally accepted axiom that there is no generally accepted axiom as to what is universally funny.  That said, most makers of comedy barely even try.  Whether it’s the rancid Scary Movie franchise, Tim Matheson’s  Animal House / Meatballs clone Up The Creek, or the recently half-assed  college movie in disguise, The Internship, most comedies have the feeling that they were written on a bender while watching better (or even poorer) films.  Most comedy films seem labored and pushy, with absolutely no flow.  They are just a movement from one set piece to the next, with scat jokes and T&A thrown in to make one feel like they have seen something.

Bachelor Party is a good simile for its counterpart in the real world.  Everyone has likely experienced it (or claim to have), and smiles about it when it’s brought up.  In the end, no one really thinks it was anything more than degrading for those who made it, those who watched it and those forced to compromise themselves for it (Zmed, anyone?).  Yet, they still happen.

Once in a while, a directorial tour de force, like Billy Wilder, Mel Brooks or The Farrelly Brothers will create a niche that others will copy (usually poorly).  More often you will see an actor or actress make a pile of films that, for better or worse, will dominate the charts for a decade or so.  Tracy and Hepburn, Wilder and Pryor, Murphy, Carrey, Sandler and Will Ferrell have made their own stamp on decades, for better or worse.

When thinking about my favorite comedies, there are a few things I need to make clear.  This is not a far-reaching list, time wise.  There is nothing older than 1974.  It’s not that there were no funny movies before then.  It’s just that I don’t find films prior to that time period all that funny.  Comedy is often a product of the times, and I just wasn’t made for those times.  Were going to go backward from 10 through 1.  Aside from the basic information and a small review, I will discuss the best lines, moments and anything else I can think of.

Airplane! – 1980airplane-movie-poster-1980

Writers and Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, Lorna Patterson, Stephen Stucker, Frank Ashmore, Jonathan Banks, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Craig Berenson, Barbara Billingsley

Review: King of all the movies that parodied movies.  Unlike many of the clones that followed, this film actually has a plot that holds together all the jokes.  It’s an important distinction to know that later, when the shit hits the fan, there is a reason for it.  Leslie Nielson found a 2nd life as a straight comic genius.  Robert Stack and Lloyd Bridges also play against type to great effect.  This film is so funny, it even survived having Robert Hays and (especially) Julie Haggerty as the leads.  Of course Haggerty’s style of never getting “it” was perfectly suited for the material, but it was the Zucker-Abrams-Zucker treatment that made the two work so well.  Without those two, their careers went exactly nowhere.  Peter Graves proves that there are some questions that are bad.  And Johnny, oh Johnny.  Has there ever been a better smart-ass?

Best Lines:

Steve McCroskey: Johnny, how ’bout some more coffee?
Johnny: No, thanks!

[All reading papers]

Rex Kramer: Passengers certain to die!
Steve McCroskey: Airline negligent.
Johnny: There’s a sale at Penney’s!

Rumack: Can you fly this plane, and land it?
Ted Striker: Surely you can’t be serious.
Rumack: I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.

Roger Murdock: [breaking character] The hell I don’t! LISTEN, KID! I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.

Best Moments: 

Everything with Johnny is pure gold, but when Barbara Billingsley takes over as translator for the Jive speaking duo, the material reaches another level.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s reaction to the kid’s criticism is priceless.

Odds and Ends: 

Stephen Stucker, who played Johnny the air traffic controller, was one of the first actors to admit he was suffering from A.I.D.S. after being diagnosed on June 12, 1984.  He died from complications, April 13, 1986.  He was my first exposure to someone so completely flamboyant.  I think he may have moved the acceptance movement forward a few years with his brutally witty performance.

Bridget+Joness+DiaryBridget Jones’s Diary – April 13, 2001

Director Sharon Maguire
Starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Jim Broadbent, Embeth Davidtz, Gemma Jones
Writers Andrew Davis, Richard Curtis

Review: Pride and Prejudice as a modern comedy.  The lead actress, a Texas native playing a British girl.  It shouldn’t have worked so brilliantly.  Richard Curtis and Andrew Davis are a big reason it does work.  Having Colin Firth and Hugh Grant as the other two sides of her love triangle don’t hurt either.  Sharon Maguire has never shined so brilliantly, and so far, she hasn’t ever since.

The genius of the comedy is the way it trades upon the subtle frailty of one on the fringe of love.  It seems likely that it would be such a sad place to inhabit, but Zellweger makes the vulnerability hilarious.  Colin Firth, playing on his classic portrayal of the original Mark Darcy, is the perfect counterpoint to her character.    The side story of her mother and father (Broadbent and Jones) is equally poignant.

So many ups and downs commandeered with such authority and tenderness and humor, it’s the film that rightly catapulted Firth into the pantheon of romantic leading men, and gave Zellweger a similar boost which she never was able to capitalize on.

Best Lines:

Bridget: Bridget Jones, wanton sex goddess, with a very bad man between her thighs… Mum… Hi.

Mark Darcy: I realize that when I met you at the turkey curry buffet, I was unforgivably rude, and wearing a reindeer jumper.

Richard Finch: Why do you wanna work on television?
Bridget: I’ve got to leave my job because I shagged my boss.
Richard Finch: Fair enough. Start on Monday.

Bridget: Did I really run round your lawn naked?
Mark Darcy: Oh, yes. You were four and I was eight.
Bridget: Well, that’s a pretty big age difference. It’s quite pervy really.
Mark Darcy: Yes, I like to think so.

Best Moments: 

When, after reading her diary, Mark Darcy walks off, out of her apartment.  She runs him down, looking to avert the false crisis, to find that it wasn’t a crisis at all.

The Tarts and Vicars party…that wasn’t.

Bridget’s slide down the firehouse pole, right into the camera in the most indelicate way.

Odds and Ends: 

This is the movie that, upon its release, April 13, 2001, I met my wife for the first time.  It just so happened that this movie was a classic, but I have to admit, the result of seeing the film has done nothing to damage its memory for me.

Kingpin-1996Kingpin8

Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Starring Woody Harrelson, Randy Quaid, Vanessa Angel, Bill Murray
Screenplay Barry Fanaro, Mort Nathan

Review: There are a few other Farrelly Brothers movies that come to mind when people discuss best of lists.  Something About Mary or Dumb and Dumber, to name a couple.  This one has everything those films do, but one extra-awesome factor.  Bill Murray as Ernie “Big Ern” McCracken.  Trying straight up antagonism in place of his antagonistic protagonism.  Every little facial tic has a wonderful, gigantic reason to be.  Murray’s smarm is right at home with the Farrelly’s unsentimental comedy.  Perhaps the best part is the big swirl of comb over in the last frame.

The rest of the story has more going for it that one look at the meager box office would suggest.  Woody Harrelson’s willingness to victimize himself for purposes of the story works, especially when one sees the way he’s fallen apart.  Randy Quaid has held no appeal whatsoever in any of his other work.  Something just feels right seeing his Amish yokel Ishmael taking a dump in the urinal while reading a paper.  Seeing Roger Clemens as the meathead everyone knows he is.

The second best thing about this movie, beyond Murray’s epically brilliant performance, is Vanessa Angel.  I never remembered seeing her before, and I can’t recall seeing her since, but she has real comic charm as Claudia.   She has a genuine chemistry with Harrelson and her looks are at once beautiful and intelligent.  It should have been a throwaway role, but her performance still brings a smile after all these years.

Even more memorable – in the most creepy way possible – is the sight of Lin Shaye demonstrating to Woody’s Roy Munson what it will take for him to pay rent.

There is some real goofball cheese going on here.  Some of the scenes travel well over the border of absurd, but in true Farrelly fashion, the characters move right through, never taking the time to admire themselves.  They believe it and it makes us believe.

Best Lines:

 Roy: Some of the dresses ya’ got, ya’ need two hairdos to wear.

Ishmael: Run for the hills everybody, there’s a giant shit-cloud coming.

McKnight Bowl Bartender: So, you two are dictionary salesmen?
Roy: You would be punctilious in assuming that.

Ernie McCracken: Hi… not you… hi.

Little boy: Sometimes when I wake up in the morning Mr. McCracken’s already there.

1979 Waitress: Tanqueray and Tab.
Ernie McCracken: Keep ’em comin’, sweets, I got a long drive. Do me a favor, will you? Would you mind washing off that perfume before you come back to our table?

Ernie McCracken: Finally, Big Ern is above the law!

Best Moments: 

This is perhaps the funniest fight scene in a comedy:

It takes courage to make a fight scene so honest.  Great punches, a nice wide foot, and superior music.

I may be the only one who notices, but Ishmael’s getting up and leaving while Roy goes for the roll of his life, all without the overly dramatic look back: that’s gold.

Nothing resonates more than every single line Murray has as Big Ern, topped with this:

Odds and Ends: 

post-elmoreleonard-getshorty

Get Shorty – 1995

Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Dennis Farina, Bette Midler, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, Jon Gries

Screenplay Scott Frank based on the book by Elmore Leonard

Review: 
The tightest script and an impeccable cast.  It’s like The Player, but instead of seething behind one venomous joke, we get to see it played for a layered series of laughs in the bubble popping style only Sonnenfeld can make.  Hollywood and the mob world are both played expertly and with a lack of sentiment that is morally ambiguous.

John Travolta completely owns every scene with a joint sense of natural intimidation and a wonder for all things cinema.  Scott Frank immerses the story into Leonard’s relaxed tone, completely surrounding Travolta’s Chili Palmer with a supporting cast that is loud and idiotic or low-key and smart. Every single performance is a brilliant one.

Seeing Palmer interact with people who think they know the score is like a gift.  Characters that would normally have their way in a story like this are doormats to this low-level Shylock.  When he meets his equal, in the person of Renee Russo’s Karen Flores, both characters shine.  For Hackman, it was an opportunity to play completely against his history.  His Harry Zimm is great as a foil for Palmer, as he does his best to stay in step and constantly undermines Palmer’s attempt to turn negatives into positives.

Two other components without whom the story could not have succeeded without are Dennis Farina and James Gandolfini.   Farina’s Ray “Bones” Barboni plays the consummate tough guy.  His character is a loathsome one that would intimidate most other actors in any story.  He does some really intense and mean things here.  In front of anyone else, he would be in control.  Chili Palmer, a step removed, is unflappable.  Farina’s greatness only makes Travolta better.

As Bear, Gandolfini is allowed to emerge from the shadows of being a tough guy meant to physically embarrassed into a complex and conflicted character coming into his own.  Delroy Lindo’s Bo Catlett sees him as a blunt tool to be used and dismissed, to his eventual chagrin.  It’s perhaps the first glimmer of light in what would be a classic career.

The best two things about the film are the soundtrack and the way Travolta works with it.  It’s so perfectly synchronized it makes him seem even more stylish than he naturally is.

Best Lines:

 Chili Palmer: Look at me.

Bo Catlett: Harry called you his associate. What exactly does that mean? I mean, I never heard your name, or read it in Variety, or The Star, or anyplace.
Chili Palmer: It’s what he said, I’m his associate.
Bo Catlett: You must bring something heavy to the deal.
Chili Palmer: I do: me.

Ronnie Wingate: Excuse me bro’, but who the f— are you?
Chili Palmer: I’m the one tellin’ you how it is…

Chili Palmer: Harry, look at me. You’re trying to tell me you f—ed up without sounding stupid, and that’s hard to do.

Ray Bones: F— you, f—ball.

Best Moments: The nose punch

Who am I talking to?

Odds and Ends: The entire cast competed on a game called “Death is not an option,” during the making of the film.  In the game, one is given a choice between two people who one has to be intimate with.  They have to choose one and, you know, death is not an option.  This is a game I have played with my friends many years before and since.  It has different options, eternal purgatory with someone instead of one intimate session, but the same deal applies.

The 40 Year Old Virgin – 2005the_40_year-old_virgin

Director Judd Apatow
Starring Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, Kat Dennings, Jane Lynch
Screenplay Judd Apatow, Steve Carell

Review:  
A movie with a great amount of heart, edgy humor and wisdom, it is the first directing effort of Apatow, whose earlier work included the unheralded television masterpiece Freaks & Geeks.  Carrell gives the performance of his life, mastering both the comic and the dramatic aspect of the character, Andy Stitzer.  While making him likeable and only slightly non-functional and having the courage to make the other characters equally flawed and real, he gives the situational comedy some grist.

It’s in the peripheral characters that this comedy becomes more than just an average comedy.  Rudd, Rogen and Malco carry a significant part of the story, existing not for one liners exclusively but they are funny none the less.  The women of this film, Lynch, Mann and Banks, were largely unknown as the men. Most worthwhile comedies made since this film have featured at least one of them.  The most consistent source of laughs, though, is Gerry Bednob’s Mooj, who almost steals the movie with his few scenes.

Best Lines:

 

Cal: You’re gay, now?
David: No, I’m not gay. I’m just celibate.
Cal: I think… I mean, that sounds gay. I just want you to know this is, like, the first conversation of, like, three conversations that leads to you being gay. Like, there’s this and then in a year it’s like, “Oh, you know, I’m kinda gonna want to get back out there, but I think I like guys,” and then there’s the big, “Oh, I’m… I’m… I’m a gay guy now.”
David: You’re gay for saying that.
Cal: I’m gay for saying that?
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? How do you know I’m gay?
David: Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts.
Cal: You know how I know *you’re* gay? You just told me you’re not sleeping with women any more.
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How? Cause you’re gay? And you can tell who other gay people are?
David: You know how I know you’re gay?
Cal: How?
David: You like Coldplay.

Andy Stitzer: You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!

David: [watching The Bourne Identity] Y’know, I always thought that Matt Damon was like a Streisand, but he’s rocking the shit in this one!

Best Moments: Mooj with Ray (not for kids) and Mooj with Andy (not for most adults).  Mooj rules…

Odds and Ends: This scene was  real (language)

blazing_SaddlesBlazing Saddles – 1974

Director Mel Brooks
Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman, Slim Pickens, Madeline Kahn, Mel Brooks, Dom DeLuise
Screenplay Andrew Bergman, Mel Brooks, Richard Pryor, Norman Steinberg, Al Uger

Review: 
Brooks had a lot of great films in the 70’s.  For the longest time I thought High Anxiety was my favorite.  Re-watching this one, though, reminded me how beneficial it was to have Wilder and the under-appreciated Cleavon Little   Both were the second choices for their roles, but now we can’t imagine the movie without them.  Wilder, in his best roles, always seemed calm, assured and like he was savoring every moment in the environment within which the story was taking place.  Little has the presence of mind to approach the heavy material with deftness and wackiness, without being an ass in the slightest.  The most telling moment for him in the film is when he handles Mongo (Karras) with the exploding candy gram.  He is Bugs, we are all Daffy Duck.

The subject matter did not necessarily lend itself to comedy, but that did not stop Brooks from going after it anyway.   It’s one thing to lampoon something, it is something more to take firmly established prejudices and show their idiocy in the most irreverent way possible.  Once you’ve gone after Hitler, I suppose anything is possible.  Harvey Korman and Madeline Kahn were both brilliant as usual.  Each were by this point at home with Brooks style.  They helped to define the style.  Slim Pickens was never better, and Alex Karras knocked a horse out.  Cold.  Who would imagine he’d have such a nice touch with little Webster 10 years later.

Best Lines: 

Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: God darnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore.

[Bart, disguised as a Klansman, describes his qualifications as a villain]
Bart: Stampeding cattle.
Hedley Lamarr: That’s not much of a crime.
Bart: Through the Vatican?
Hedley Lamarr: [smiling] Kinky. Sign here.

[to two members of the KKK, while pretending to capture Bart]
Jim: Oh, boys! Lookee what I got yuh.
Bart: Hey, where the white women at?

Hedley Lamarr: Men, you are about to embark on a great crusade to stamp out runaway decency in the west. Now you men will only be risking your lives, whilst I will be risking an almost certain Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Taggart: I got it! I know how we can run everyone out of Rock Ridge.
Hedley Lamarr: How?
Taggart: We’ll kill the first born male child in every household.
Hedley Lamarr: [after some consideration] Too Jewish.

Best Moments: Well, I quoted almost every one of Korman’s lines…but let’s go with the lead dancer saying “They hit Buddy (DeLuise)!  Come on, girls.”

Odds and Ends: Pryor was deemed too big of a loose cannon, with his rumors of rampant drug use and a lack of mental stability.  Wilder replaced Gig Young after one day of shooting.  The reason: alcohol withdrawal.

There was a television pilot made called Black Bart (one of the early titles of the film)  that was shown but never picked up.  Brooks had little to do with it.  Black Bart was played by Lou Gossett, who looked the same then as he does now.

The Big Lebowski – 1998lebowski-(2)

Writers and Directors Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Jeff Bridges, John Goodman, Julianne Moore, Steve Buscemi, John Turturro

Review: Bridges Dude is perhaps the greatest comic character of all time.  More likely the greatest duo, if you include Goodman’s Walter.  This movie is masterful storytelling.  We are lulled through the amazing story of a slacker getting his butt kicked routinely for things he should have nothing to do with.  The discussions between The Dude and his friend are a constant source of tension that is immediately alleviated when they both agree (or not) on another poor decision.

It took years for me to warm up to the Coen brothers directing style.  I still don’t like most of their early stuff  (only Raising Arizona is the only one I can stomach through Hudsucker Proxy).  Here their skill seems effortless, lackadaisical almost.  Based upon recollections of friends, and characters written for Goodman and Buscemi, they have a most homogenous style that feels like we are gazing in on the lives of those barely aware of their own existence.

This movie is perfect – pure genius – and it just gets better with age.

Best Lines:

 The Dude:  That rug really tied the room together.

The Dude: Let me explain something to you. Um, I am not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

Walter Sobchak: Nihilists! F— me. I mean, say what you want about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.

The Dude: Walter, what is the point? Look, we all know who is at fault here, what the f— are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: Huh? No, what the f— are you… I’m not… We’re talking about unchecked aggression here, dude.
Donny: What the f— is he talking about?
The Dude: My rug.
Walter Sobchak: Forget it, Donny, you’re out of your element!
The Dude: Walter, the chinaman who peed on my rug, I can’t go give him a bill, so what the f— are you talking about?
Walter Sobchak: What the f— are you talking about? The chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you DO NOT… Also, Dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please.
The Dude: Walter, this isn’t a guy who built the railroads here. This is a guy…
Walter Sobchak: What the f— are you…?
The Dude: Walter, he peed on my rug!
Donny: He peed on the Dude’s rug.
Walter Sobchak: Donny you’re out of your element! Dude, the Chinaman is not the issue here!

Blond Treehorn Thug: [holding up a bowling ball] What the f— is this?
The Dude: Obviously you’re not a golfer.

Maude Lebowski: What do you do for recreation?
The Dude: Oh, the usual. I bowl. Drive around. The occasional acid flashback.

The Dude: Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here!

Best Moments: After getting an earful about achievement from The Big Lebowski, then, outside the room, Brandt asks what he said.  The Dude, without missing a beat, tells Brandt he was told he could take any rug in the house.

Then there is the beverage scene.

Oh, then there’s this scene:

Odds and Ends:

Dudeism.  Oh, and they are teaching college courses on The Dude and Walter.  That is all.

anchorman sex pantherAnchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy – 2004

Director Adam McKay
Starring Will Ferrell, Christina Applegate, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Fred Willard
Screenplay Adam McKay and Will Ferrell

Review:  Time has been kind to this seemingly overwrought comedy from the minds behind Funnyordie.com.  Initial reviews were mixed to the point that we have grown accustomed with Farrell films, but repeated viewings have shown a film chock full of in jokes and inspired bits.

Koechner, Rudd, Carrell, Willard and Applegate are so at home in this environment, it makes up for any seemingly out-of-place  events.  It is the oddities that make Anchorman such a delightful boon.  The street fight, the office musical number, the flute solo, Baxter, and even “milk was a bad choice,” all flow in a brilliantly incongruent way.

Even after his significant breakthrough in Elf, Will Ferrell found his best self in Burgundy.  Ignorant, arrogant and unreasonably confident, he personifies all that was so right and so wrong with 1970’s culture and media in general.  His journey is our journey to find out that it is not necessarily okay throw a burrito out of a car while travelling on a bridge.

There are so many aspects to the film that you can enjoy different things each time.  If you don’t believe me, then just see if you can find “Escupimos en su Alimento” next time you see the film.

Best Lines:

Announcer: You’re watching Channel 4 News with five-time Emmy award-winning anchor Ron Burgundy and Tits McGee.
Veronica Corningstone: Good evening, San Diego. I’m Veronica Corningstone. Tits McGee is on vacation.
Ron Burgundy: And I’m Tits… I’m Ron Burgundy.

 –

Ron Burgundy: Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.
Champ Kind: It jumped up a notch.
Ron Burgundy: It did, didn’t it?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, I stabbed a man in the heart.
Ron Burgundy: I saw that. Brick killed a guy. Did you throw a trident?
Brick Tamland: Yeah, there were horses, and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.
Ron Burgundy: Brick, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you’re probably wanted for murder.

Ron Burgundy: Let’s go to Brian Fantana who’s live on the scene with a Channel 4 News exclusive. Brian?
Brian Fantana: Panda Watch. The mood is tense; I have been on some serious, serious reports but nothing quite like this. I uh… Ching… King is inside right now. I tried to get an interview with him, but they said no, you can’t do that he’s a live bear, he will literally rip your face off.
[to the Panda]
Brian Fantana: Hey, you’re making me look stupid. Get out here, Panda Jerk!
Ron Burgundy: Great story. Compelling, and rich.

Frank Vitchard: [shouts after having his other arm ripped off by a bear]: Aw, c’mon! It’s getting to be ri-goddamn-diculous.

Ron Burgundy: You stay classy, San Diego. I’m Ron Burgundy?
Ed Harken: Dammit. Who typed a question mark on the Teleprompter?

Brian Fantana: [about Veronica] I’ll give this little cookie an hour before we’re doing the no-pants dance. Time to musk up.
[opens cologne cabinet]
Ron Burgundy: Wow. Never ceases to amaze me. What cologne you gonna go with? London Gentleman, or wait. No, no, no. Hold on. Blackbeard’s Delight.
Brian Fantana: No, she gets a special cologne… It’s called Sex Panther by Odeon. It’s illegal in nine countries… Yep, it’s made with bits of real panther, so you know it’s good.
Ron Burgundy: It’s quite pungent.
Brian Fantana: Oh yeah.
Ron Burgundy: It’s a formidable scent… It stings the nostrils. In a good way.
Brian Fantana: Yep.
Ron Burgundy: Brian, I’m gonna be honest with you, that smells like pure gasoline.
Brian Fantana: They’ve done studies, you know. 60% of the time, it works every time.
Ron Burgundy: That doesn’t make sense.
Brian Fantana: Well… Let’s go see if we can make this little kitty purr.
[snarls]

Best Moments: 

This is perhaps my favorite line of all time:

Odds and Ends: The soundtrack is an absolute work of art.   It is not so much a listing of the songs, as it is an opportunity to hear Burgundy talk about each song, which he titles Ron Burgundy, A Life in Song.  The best example of the brilliance is the song Shannon, by Henry Gross.  There is not other performance that shows the true character of Ron Burgundy.

Stripes – 1981StripesMoviePoster

Director Ivan Reitman
Starring Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Warren Oates, P. J. Soles, John Candy, Judge Reinhold, John Laroquette, Sean Young
Screenplay Len Blum, Harold Ramis, Daniel Goldberg

Review: 

The greatest slacker film, featuring the best movie comedian of his generation just hitting his stride.  It wasn’t the biggest film he would ever do, but it is still the best.  Joining the U.S. Army because you have…no other real options. The premise is lazy and really shouldn’t have worked.  It’s quite likely that had Ramis and then Murray become involved, this movie would have been long forgotten

The film is a loosely cobbled together series of scenes, most of which work really well, but all of them work  in general.  Most of the actors, outside of Murray and Oates, were no names at the time of filming.  Many of us know their names now.

It’s almost impossible for me to review this film.  I can repeat almost every line of dialogue.  I find every character easy to identify with, other than the old hag in the back of the taxi at the beginning of the story.

The only part of the film that does not work is the last act, taking place in Russia.  It’s has some funny moments, mostly by Ox. Other that and seeing Sgt. Hulka kick some ass, the whole segment is unnecessary.  The film would be perfect if they ended it at graduation.

Best Lines:

[Sergeant Hulka is on the ground after getting blown off of a tower]
Oxburger: Sergeant, does this mean we’re through for the day?

Oxburger [Talking to guy in the top bunk]: See, you gotta make my bunk. See, we’re in Italy. The guy on the top bunk…has gotta make the guy on the bottom’s bed all the time. It’s in the regulations. If we were in Germany…I would have to make yours. But we’re in Italy, so you’ve gotta make mine. It’s regulations.

Recruiter: Now, are either of you homosexuals?
John Winger: [John and Russell look at each other] You mean, like, flaming, or…
Recruiter: Well, it’s a standard question we have to ask.
Russell Ziskey: No, we’re not homosexual, but we are *willing to learn*.
John Winger: Yeah, would they send us someplace special?
Recruiter: I guess that’s “no” on both. Now if you could just give Uncle Sam your autograph…

Psycho: The name’s Francis Soyer, but everybody calls me Psycho. Any of you guys call me Francis, and I’ll kill you.
Leon: Ooooooh.
Psycho: You just made the list, buddy. And I don’t like nobody touching my stuff. So just keep your meat-hooks off. If I catch any of you guys in my stuff, I’ll kill you. Also, I don’t like nobody touching me. Now, any of you homos touch me, and I’ll kill you.
Sergeant Hulka: Lighten up, Francis.

 

John Winger: Cut it out! Cut it out! Cut it out! The hell’s the matter with you? Stupid! We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts! Here’s proof: his nose is cold! But there’s no animal that’s more faithful, that’s more loyal, more loveable than the mutt. Who saw “Old Yeller?” Who cried when Old Yeller got shot at the end?
[raises his hand]
John Winger: *sarcastically* Nobody cried when Old Yeller got shot? I’m sure.
[hands are reluctantly raised]
John Winger: I cried my eyes out. So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years! We’re 10 and 1! Now we don’t have to worry about whether or not we practiced. We don’t have to worry about whether Captain Stillman wants to have us hung. All we have to do is to be the great American fighting soldier that is inside each one of us. Now do what I do, and say what I say. And make me proud.

Best Moments: Sarge, does this mean we’re through for the day?

Odds and Ends:  The script was originally written for Cheech and Chong, but when they asked for the world, he moved on.  Ramis rewrote it, with he and Murray in mind.  All of the pot jokes were then placed into Reinhold’s character.  So, yeah, this movie would have sucked if Cheech and Chong had not been greedy.

ShaunofthedeadShaun of the Dead – 2004

Director Edgar Wright
Starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy
Screenplay Wright and Pegg

Review: I hate British comedies.  Until 2004 I hated zombie movies.  This all changed with Shaun of the Dead.  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright make every single move a winning one, especially with one of the best endings in cinematic history.

Nick Frost is sublime as Pegg’s lazy friend, Ed.  The relationship between the two is second only to Bridges and Goodman in brilliant comic energy.  And by energy, I mean a complete lack thereof.  These folks are like every slacker duo ever created, but with a resilience and dedication to remaining so, even while facing the end of the world.

Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy head an effective supporting cast that helps to paint a picture of a monotonous life without being boring in the least.  Well, everyone except for that guy David (Moran), who looks a lot like a dickish Harry Potter.

Fun abounds as the group follows the lead of the hero, Shaun, back to their favorite pub.  From there we get to see nothing go the way it should.  This could have just been average, but whip smart dialogue and great acting push it into one of the greatest comedies ever.  British Zombie movie or not.

Best Lines:

 Ed [To Shaun’s Mom, Barbara]: We’re coming to get you, Barbara!

Ed [To Shayn, as he goes in to get his Mom]: Don’t forget to kill Philip!

Shaun: Do you want anything from the shop?
Ed: Cornetto. [Coining the phrase what would eventually become The Cornetto Trilogy]

Shaun: David, kill the Queen!
David: What?
Shaun: The jukebox!

Ed: [pulls the car up] What’s up, niggas?

[As they look through Shaun’s LPs for suitable records to throw at two approaching zombies]
Ed: ‘Purple Rain’?
Shaun: No.
Ed: ‘Sign o’ the Times’?
Shaun: Definitely not.
Ed: The ‘Batman’ soundtrack?
Shaun: Throw it.

Best Moments: 

The ending is perfect.  No I won’t give it away.

Odds and Ends:

If you click trhe above link, you can read all about the Cornetto trilogy.  There is no way the other two can measure up to the first film, but they are both pretty good.