Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman - The Woody Allen Angle

Isaac (Woody Allen) : “Bergman? Bergman's the only genius in cinema today, I think.”
Yale (Michael Murphy) : (To Mary) “He's a big Bergman fan.”
Mary (Diane Keaton) : (To Isaac) "God, you're so the opposite. You write that fabulous television show. It's so funny and his view is so Scandinavian."
- MANHATTAN (Dir. Woody Allen, 1979)

Nearly every tribute to the late great Ingmar Bergman (July 14, 1918-July 30, 2007) notes his huge influence on Woody Allen. Allen’s 1988 quote that Bergman was "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera" is being heavily circulated right now. Roger Ebert quoted the line in his fine In Memory article and said that Allen has “made some films in deliberate imitation of Bergman.” So lets take a look at some of those films and see just what elements whether they be thematic, technical, personal, or personnel that Woody Allen has "borrowed" from the movie master:

LOVE AND DEATH (1975): The first Allen film to overtly reference Bergman mainly in its use of the Grim Reaper, who oddly appears draped in white not the deathly black that Bengt Ekerot wore in THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). Set in the Napoleanic era and despite being a satire of Russian literature (Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and the films of Eisenstein) the Bergman steals are what makes the thing tick. The intense overlapping close-ups are taken from PERSONA (1966) and this strained but extremely funny Diane Keaton monologue reeks of Ingmar existentialism given a tongue-in-cheek approach:

"To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering one must not love. But then one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be unhappy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness. I hope you're getting this down."

ANNIE HALL (1977): Allen'
s most popular film commercially and winner of the Academy Award for best picture has relatively few touches taken from the Swedish director - a few WILD STRAWBERRIES-like returns to childhood memories and some leftover PERSONA-like shots but it is amusing that the film that Alvy (Allen) refuses to miss the beginning of because of Annie's (Diane Keaton) tardiness was Bergman's FACE TO FACE (1976).

INTERIORS (1978): The Woodman's first drama (also his first film as director that he does not appear as an actor in) owes a lot and I mean A LOT to Bergman. The term “Bergmanesque” was coined by Richard Schickel (TIME Magazine) for this film and Vincent Canby of the New York Times wrote:

“It's almost as if Mr. Allen had set out to make someone else's movie, say a film in the manner of Mr. Bergman, without having any grasp of the material, or first-hand, gut feelings about the characters. They seem like other people's characters, known only through other people's art.”

The story is about three sisters (Diane Keaton, Mary Beth Hurt, Kristin Griffith) their suicidal mother (Geradine Page) their father (E.G. Marshall) who has a blustery new spouse (Maureen Stapleton) and all of their misery. Again the close-ups - like that shot above (also used as the poster picture) with the contemplative looks out the beach house window - definitively pay homage to the Bergman aesthetic : "For me, the human face is the most important subject of the cinema.”

MANHATTAN (1979): For the lines at the top of this post alone this film should be noted but also because Allen met Bergman during the shooting. According to John Baxter's Woody Allen : A Biography (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1998) Bergman reporatory member Liv Ullmann (and longtime companion - while she was not one of Bergman's 5 wives she did produce one of his children) hooked up the meeting and Allen was surprised at how knowledgeable the Swedish director was of the Jewish comedian's one-liners and film work. Shortly Before MANHATTAN opened to rapturous acclaim Allen screened Bergman's THE SEVENTH SEAL and CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972) one afternoon and confided to friend Eric Lax "I see his films and I wonder what I'm doing." He needn't have worried - he was doing just fine.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY (1982) : Obviously Shakespeare inspired but Wikipedia says "The plot revolves around a weekend party bringing together six people, loosely based on Ingmar Bergman's SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT (1955)". The working title of the film was even "Summer Nights" but Allen has denied this connection repeatedly saying that SMILES was one of his least favorite Bergman films. Well A MIDSUMMER'S NIGHT'S SEX COMEDY is one of my least favorite Allen films so let's move on...

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986): Truly the one notable Bergman connection here is the appearance of Bergman reparatory company member Max von Sydow who plays Frederick - a reclusive pretentious artist who has this incredible speech after channel flipping one night:

"You see the whole culture. Nazis, deodorant salesmen, wrestlers, beauty contests, a talk show. Can you imagine the level of a mind that watches wrestling? But the worst are the fundamentalist preachers. Third grade con men telling the poor suckers that watch them that they speak with Jesus, and to please send in money. Money, money, money! If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."

SEPTEMBER (1987): Allen's first all and out drama since INTERIORS and again one which he does not appear (again I quote Wikipedia) is "a remake of AUTUMN SONATA" but then we get that [citation needed] red-flag and know not to trust everything we read. It has been a while since I've seen it so I can't really comment - I just remember extended sequences of Mia Farrow weeping among family and an ex and a potential lover in another beach house like INTERIORS in yet another off season.

ANOTHER WOMAN (1988): Longtime Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist (1922-2006) works on Allen's third straight drama. It concerns Gena Rowlands as a professor working on a philosophy book who becomes obsessed with eavesdropping on the sessions of therapy patients which she can hear through a vent in her office. This allows for lots of opportunities for introspection about depression aided by Nykvist's visual mastery in one of Allen's most under-rated and worthwhile films. Nykvist would work as Director of Photography for three more Allen movies. While filming ANOTHER WOMAN Allen told an interviewer:

"Bergman likes to rehearse. But the reverse is better for me. It's part of our temperaments. He's a great artist and (laughs) I'm not."

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989): With its title, the eye of Nykvist, and through its exploration of a "Godless universe" we are almost completely submerged in Bergman at his bleak darkest territory here. Almost completely that is - because Allen's failed film maker subplot is the exception (the Misdemeanors of the title) but thematically and aesthetically we are witnessing a work made from a Bergman blueprint. Wealthy Ophthalmologist Judah (Martin Landau) suffers from existential guilt of universal proportions after having his unstable mistress (Anjelica Huston) murdered by his Mafioso brother (Jerry Orbach). He visits his childhood home and mentally interjects himself into a memory of a family dinner - yep, WILD STRAWBERRIES again. The best combination of comedy and drama Allen has ever created - it's my personal favorite of his films.

HUSBANDS AND WIVES (1992): Right off the bat this film owes a conceptual copyright to Bergman's SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE. It takes the mock documentary style and introduces us to 2 married couples on the brink of divorce. The first couple - Gabe (Allen) and Judy (Farrow) seem content at first but tensions are mounting especially when told that their friends - the second couple Jack and Sally (Sydney Pollack and Judy Davis) are having a supposedly amicable split-up. We follow each character through flirtations, infidelities, and temper tantrums that recall the canvass of SCENES but Allen has his own stylistic touches on display in the handheld shakiness and the odd edits. The night that Allen and Farrow (who were breaking up in real life) separate they reminisce about watching an old classic movie on TV late one night - what movie you ask? WILD STRAWBERRIES! Which also has more than a little to do with:

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY (1997): The fractured yet still sturdy structure here is definitely stolen from STRAWBERRIES - a noted academic setting out to receive an honorary award from his old university revisits major life situations and memories of lovers past. Also throw in the premise that Allen's author character disguises his private life and lovers as the lives of the fictitious characters he writes. It has been said that that element comes from author Philip Roth - evidenced in the name Harry Block (made me think of writer's block) but it also should be pointed out that the name of Max von Sydow's character in THE SEVENTH SEAL was Antonius Block. It's also been written that an artist manipulating real life for his art angle is in Bergman's THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961) but I honestly can't vouch for that.

Okay, that's enough Bergman-Allen for now. I'll conclude by saying that Allen's next film after HARRY was CELEBRITY which again utilized Nykvist but Allen's films to the current day (labeled by critic Richard Schickel as "the later funny ones") have been fairly bereft of Bergman influence. They've also been guilty of an absence of quality but that's another blog entry.

This post is of course dedicated to Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) R.I.P.

More later...

Friday, July 27, 2007


"I can't believe we're paying for something we get for free on TV!"
- Homer Simpson (voiced by Dan Canstellaneta)

(Dir. David Silverman, 2007) This being my personally most anticipated movie since STAR WARS : THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980) I’m pleased to report that is beyond mere cromulence. I will not divulge plot points or quote dialogue (except that line above - D'oh!) or give any other spoilers like so many other reviewers are doing – I’ll just say that this film delivers a lot of big laughs, small laughs, and well...just a lot of laughs. Homer and family are great to watch on the big screen with animation that has a nice new lush look. Of course there is not enough time to indulge in the second tier series regulars such as Barney, Gil, Principal Skinner, Apu, Moe, Disco Stu, etc but it's THE SIMPSONS MOVIE for Christ's sake! They do have some choice moments involving Mr. Burns, Ralph, Krusty, Milhouse, and Mr. Teeny (Krusty's monkey) among others but again no spoilers here.

Understandably to make for time lots of material has been cut from trailers and previously released rough-cut material. Reverend Lovejoy’s “here’s the money shot” is cut and though most of the Homer’s whipping of the Alaskan sled dogs scene remain - this bit : “that’s enough whipping for now...with this arm!” (switches arms and continues whipping) is not in this theatrical version. I can only hope for a deluxe DVD edition with some of the best of the excised footage. Also making long-time character Ranier Wolfcastle (voiced by Harry Shearer) who was created as a parody of Arnold Swartzenneger just become Swartzenneger as President of the United States seems to just pander to a multiplex crowd. But those are just the bitchings of a fanboy - the movie is out and out wonderful - a lavish cinematic 87 minutes that is a worthy addition to the Simpsons classic canon. Go see it.

More later...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

5 Sensational Simpsons Cinema Satires

With just under 3 days until the premiere of THE SIMPSONS MOVIE (Dir. David Silverman) it seems like every pop culture site on this whole world wide web has a Simpsons list or celebratory article these days. The Onion A.V. Club has a Simpsons list promised for every day this week - so far we've got Monday's Inventory - "15 Simpsons Moments That Perfectly Captured Their Eras",Tuesday's un-numbered "The strangest Simpsons products", and Wednesday's The Simpsons Vs. Civilization - all well worth checking out. Vanity Fair recently presented their "survey of the 10 funniest top 10 Simpsons episodes ever", The London Times chimed in with their "The 33 funniest Simpsons cameos ever", and even AOL Television did a 25 "Best Episodes Ever list". Whew!

Being a huge Simpsons fan (and yes, I would defend the recent seasons to anyone) I couldn't resist making my own list. This being
Film Babble it should be cinema-centric and that presented an obvious concept : the best most definitive extended satires of a particular film. Now there are thousands of film references through-out the entire 18 year run of the classic show. Many characters come from the movies like failed salesman Gil who is a Jack Lemmon GLENGARY GLEN ROSS (Dir. James Foley, 1992) archetype, Chief Wiggum's voice and mannerisms are based on Edward G. Robinson, Apu is named after Satyajit Ray's THE APU TRILOGY, action star Rainer Wolfcastle is obviously based on Arnold Swartzenegger and so on and so on. It's hard to think of a movie that hasn't been name-checked and of course many episodes borrow plots, angles, full screen set-ups and quote exact lines and but these are to me the most notable whether they were full episodes or extended sequences satirizing specific movie classics :

1. “Rosebud” ('93) : A few months back CITIZEN KANE (1941) * made the AFI's Top 100 list and this episode named, of course, after Charles Foster Kane's (Orson Welles) last word is Film Babble's #1 Simpsons Cinema Satire. Not just because it's a parody/homage to that immense immortal masterpiece but because it's a phenomenally hilarious episode that has deservedly made many lists. Evil nuclear power plant millionaire C. Montgomery Burns (The C. is for Charles - another similarity to Kane), who keeps a box of Nev-R-Break snow globes at his bed-side longs after his childhood teddy bear Bobo, much like Kane longed after his beloved sled. In a flashback we see that after being abandoned by the pubescent Burns (his father - "Wait, you've forgot your bear! A symbol of your lost youth and innocence!") Bobo has a historical journey involving a plane trip with Charles Lindbergh, a stay in Hitler's bunker, a trip on the submarine Nautilus before finally ending up in a bag of ice in the present day. Bart purchases the ice at the Quickie Mart and gives the old ragged bear to Maggie. Burns learns of the Simpsons possession and he offers a huge reward but standing by his daughter Homer refuses. Burns's ineptly funny attempts to steal back Bobo may not recall KANE and a good chunk of the show is the usual Simpsons riffing but the KANE context of the Burns Bobo back-story really puts this one on top. A cameo by the Ramones is the icing on the cake.

* "Rosebud" wasn't the first or last Simpsons episode to reference CITIZEN KANE. In the 1990 episode "Two Cars In Every Garage and Three Eyes On Every Fish" Burns protests "You can't do this to me! I'm Charles! Montgomery! Burns!" which obviously comes from "You can't do this to me! I'm Charles! Foster! Kane!" and in that same episode Burns stands in front of a big poster of himself during his campaign speech. In one DVD commentary the Simpsons staff remark half-jokingly that they have referenced KANE so much that you could recreate the film completely from Simpsons scenes and shot steals.

2. “Cape Feare” ('93) – Just a few episodes before "Rosebud" both the original CAPE FEAR (Dir. J. Lee Thompson, 1962) and the '92 remake CAPE FEAR (Dir. Martin Scorsese) got their episode length roasting over a Simpsons fire. Substituting Sideshow Bob (voiced by Kelsey Grammer) for recently released revenge minded Max Cady (Robert Mitchum '62, Robert Deniro '92) we get essentially the same narrative - A family is stalked by a man he once helped put in jail. The Simpsons in place of the Bowden family leave town and assume new witness relocation identities as The Thompsons and take up residence at Terror Lake. The whole ends in a showdown (actually a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's "H.M.S. Pinafore") on a houseboat. Also factor into the mix a slice of PSYCHO (Hitchcock, '60) - Sideshow Bob stays at the Bate's Motel. A truly inspired episode but silly as can be - on the DVD commentary writer/producer Al Jean even says "when you look at Sideshow Bob and his master plan it really is just to stab this 10 year old boy! I mean when he gets to the boat it's not very subtle - 'I want to cut him until he dies!'" There's that and this priceless Sideshow Bob line when defending his "Die Bart, Die" tattoo in court - "no, that's German for "The Bart, The!"

3. “The Shinning” ('94) – In this 8 min. segment of "Treehouse Of Horror V" THE SHINING (Dir. Stanley Kubrick, 1980) gets skewered. Burns has the Simpson family act as caretakers for his mansion in the mountains modeled meticulously on the Overlook Hotel in said Kubrick classic. When told by Groundskeeper Willie that he has "the shin-ning", Bart replies "you mean "the shining!" Willie whispers "shh - you want to get sued?" When leaving for the winter Burns boasts about his cutting off the cable TV and the beer supply - 2 things that Smithers argues may have been the reason the previous caretakers went insane and murdered their families. Burns says "perhaps, if we come back and everyone is slaughtered - I owe you a Coke." Sure enough in almost no time Homer does go insane. The deconstruction of THE SHINING is a thing of genius here - Marge saying "What he's typed will be a window into his madness", the ghost of Moe prompting Homer to kill his family but having no real substantial reason for it - "uh, because they'd be much happier as ghosts" and especially Homer's take on Jack Nicholson's over the top antics. When blowing his "Here's Johnny" intro because he chopped his axe into an empty room - he finally gets the right room and holding up a stopwatch yells "I'm Mike Wallace, I'm Morley Safer, and I'm Ed Bradley, all this and Andy Rooney too on 60 Minutes!"

4. “Cosmic Wars : The Gathering Shadow” from "Co-Dependent's Day" ('04)– This one is a little odd. I mean STAR WARS ('77-2005) has been directly referred to in many many episodes (go here for a Simpsons Archive List) so to have a likewise film series with a look-alike director (Randal Curtis standing in for George Lucas) seems a bit off. Apparently they didn't want to name names because it deals with ridiculing the anticipation killing THE PHANTOM MENACE so the Simpsons creators didn't want to alienate or insult Lucasfilm and 20th Century Fox according to Wikipedia. I included it because is has some great prequel parodying moments when breaking down the numbing exposition and specifically satirizing Jar-Jar (Jim-Jam). "Cosmic Wars" only exists for a few minutes so it's one of many films within the Simpsons and is never mentioned after the episode (they go back to STAR WARS references) so it is a perfect example of what Matt Groening has called "flexible reality" or a "rubber-band universe" - in which something lasts as long as the joke does then the next day it's gone.

5. “Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(annoyed grunt)cious” ('97) – The answer to stress so strong it's making Marge's hair fall out is for the family to get a nanny but not just any nanny MARY POPPINS! - No wait, make that Shary Bobbins. Julie Andrews was set to play the part but the producers decided on Maggie Roswell to take on the vocal duties of the sweet singing flying umbrella traveling, and just all around neat freak. The episode is a complete musical and uses several melodies from the original 1964 Disney film. It goes back and forth from the respectful tributes in the songs to the crude satire of the cheap animation and outdated morale. In the end crude satire wins - Bobbins dies by getting sucked up in a passing airplane's jet engine while the Simpsons backs are turned. This episode reportedly had to have the most padding out of any Simpsons - an "Itchy and Scratchy" Quentin Tarentino parody "Reservoir Cats" was a late addition.

That's the Top Five but special mention should be given to :

“Bart Simpson’s Dracula” ('93) from "Treehouse Of Horror IV"– A dead on spoof of BRAM STROKER’S DRACULA (1992) right down to Burns' hair-do. Contains better acting than the Coppola version for sure.

“Marge On The Lam” ('93) lampoons THELMA & LOUISE (Dir. Ridley Scott, 1991)

“Two Dozen and One Greyhounds” to the tune of 101 DALMATIONS (1961)

“Deep Space Homer” ('94) steals its ending from 2001 : A SPACE ODDYSEY (1968). Al Jean once said it was a close tie between the large amounts of CITIZEN KANE and Kubrick references on The Simpsons. Maybe when the show is over we can take a tally. I've been trying to only deal with more extended parodies because there have been too many snippet steals from movies in the series run but Homer as the space-baby is just too hard to pass up.

“Twenty-Two Short Films About Springfield” ('96)

– This magnificent episode's title and some of its inspiration comes from THIRTY TWO SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD but it's really more PULP FICTION as many have acknowledged before me and will again.

And so on and so forth.

The next time I post will be after I see
THE SIMPSONS MOVIE and I will give you a full review. Until then may a noble spirit embiggen your soul.

More later...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dog Day Matinee

It was so good to hide from the scorching Summer heat in air conditioned theaters in the last few weeks. I caught up with some of the second-tier films like ONCE and YOU KILL ME (reviewed below) that are competing with the blockbusters. I did however make it beyond my local art-house theater haunting ground that I normally dwell in to hit the multiplex to see -

(Dir. Brad Bird, 2007)

When walking out of the matinee I asked the common after-movie question to a friend who saw the movie with me - "so, what did you think?" He said "it sucked! No, just kidding - it was awesome." Sure, an obvious joke but still apt because we knew going in that it was going to be awesome. Pixar has a high level of quality streak that they are riding on and the casting of comedian Patton Oswalt, who is also having a bit of a winning streak lately *, is pure genius. Oswalt voices Remy - a French rat who's a "foodie" - not content to sift through trash for his meals because of his sophicated palette. After infiltrating a famous restaurant that has dropped a star off its four star rating after the passing of its owner and head chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett) Remy teams up with Linguinni (Lou Romano)- an incompetent klutz who has just been hired as janitor. With Remy's culinary genius - inspired in part by a ghost of Gusteau - Linguinni rises above his mere kitchen help status to become the star chef. The animation is fluid and flawless, the dialogue quick and witty, the script with its honest passion for food and cooking is sharp as can be, and the supporting cast (including Janeanne Garafolo, Ian Holm, and Peter O'Toole) is spot-on. Man, I hope this Pixar winning streak lasts for a long time.

* This great Onion AV Club interview with Patton Oswalt reveals that he has done script doctoring punch-up work on 25 movies alone this year including SHREK THE THIRD. I would really like to give him props for his newest stand-up comedy disc "Werewolves and Lollipops" on SubPop. If you are not in the habit of purchasing comedy discs (most people I know aren't) you should break the habit and buy this one - it's hilarious all the way through and it comes with a bonus DVD of a performance at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia in which an audience member pees on another audience member because he didn't want to leave to go to the bathroom and miss any of Oswalt's set. Don't worry - you don't actually see this happening but it becomes a part of the routine in a glorious way.

And now for the arthouse also rans :

ONCE (Dir. John Carney, 2006) This highly touted Irish drama finally arrives in my area and has been charming the pants off of nearly everyone I know who sees it - me included. The story is simple - struggling songwriter Guy (Glen Hansard) meets piano playing Girl (Marketa Irglova) , Girl helps Guy * to make a demo recording and the will they-won't they get together question is amplified through the music they create together. A very low-fi griminess adds to the realistic almost documentary feel and the music is heartfelt and catchy. ONCE has a sweet sincere melody to it and that's a pretty good endorsement for a movie that is almost a demo itself.

* that is actually how they are credited - we never know their names.

YOU KILL ME (John Dahl, 2007) Ben Kingsley is Frank, a New Jersey hit-man whose alcoholicism has interferred with his ability to pull off his mafia contracts. Told by his boss (Phillip Baker Hall) he must attend AA meetings and sober up in San Fransisco where he gets a job in a funeral home. Yep, if the first half of this plot description made you think of The Sopranos the second half takes us to Six Feet Under. Through his new temporary line of work he meets Tea Leoni, gets sponsered by Luke Wilson, and monitored by creepy real estate agent Bill Pullman. There are a number of mild chuckles but this film isn't the delightful dark comedy it wants to be. I didn't really buy its 'drinking : bad/murder : okay' message either but the acting which is so much better than the material saves this from being forgettable. Kingsley should actually consider doing that "I'd pay to watch him read the phone book" project that people have been pitching for years.

Now for a review of a recent release DVD if you please (or even if you don't) :

Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon) - "Why was the 911 switchboard unplugged?"
Deputy Trudy Wiegel (Kerri Kenney-Silver) "We had to plug in the popcorn maker!"

(Dir. Ben Garant, 2007) I've enjoyed the modern Keystone-esque antics in the satire of the reality TV standard Cops since Reno 911 premiered on Comedy Central in 2003 but then I've also liked Strangers With Candy and its transfer to the big screen yielded pretty patchy results. This is better than that by at least a notch and for the record funnier than another likewise stoner cop comedy SUPER TROOPERS ('01) by a long stretch. It has these things going for it - the full cast of TV regulars appears including Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant (who both co-wrote) it has a good Laughs Per Minute ratio, some clever cameos (Danny Devito, The Rock, Paul Rudd, and all the members from the sketch comedy troup/MTV show The State *), and a consistent tone throughout.

The squad journeys to a police convention on Spring Break in Miami and after a major arena quarentine they are made the only law enforcers of the city ensuring a wave of wackiness. Since this review is based on the unrated DVD version I can't comment on the theatrical version obviously but there is a lot of scatological humor of which I'm not a fan of - I could have really done without the cheap motel masturbation sequence for instance. Still as a whole it's funnier than it has a legal right to be.
RENO 911! : MIAMI may never be considered a cult classic but it will be preferable to many of the films that air on Comedy Central for years to come.

* Also Patton Oswalt appears in the more-than-mere-cameo role of acting Miami-mayor Jeff Spoder - okay! That's enough Patton promoting for now!

This post is dedicated to
Laszlo Kovacs (1933-2007)- the recently deceased legendary cinematographer who has made his mark on 60 movies including classics like EASY RIDER, SHAMPOO, PAPER MOON, and GHOSTBUSTERS.

More later...

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Those Damn DirecTV Movie Tie-In Ads - Offensive To Film Buffs?

To cut to the chase - yes. Those commercials (most running for 30 seconds) that re-create a scene from a well known movie oft played on cable with an actor re-outfitted in their old characters duds and mugging to the camera about the better picture quality benefits of DirecTV have been irking me for some time now. Let's take a look at a few of them shall we? :

The first of these that I have seen wasn't too bad - it had Christopher Lloyd dressed and made up to look like his 1985 Doc Brown character from BACK TO THE FUTURE
(Dir. Robert Zemeckis) in this ad designed to make you feel like you're coming back from commercials to a movie you forgot you were watching. Lloyd hams it up saying "I forgot to tell Marty when he gets back to the future he needs to get DirecTV HD!" As Wikipedia notes "Marty would not actually be able to get DirecTV once he got back to the future as it did not exist in 1985 and the Doc of 1955 would obviously have no way of knowing about it. However, this blatant illogic can be regarded simply as a joke." Uh - okay!

You can't really fault Charlie Sheen for turning a fast buck revisiting his MAJOR LEAGUE
(Dir. David S. Ward, 1989) role of Rick 'Wild Thing' Vaughn. It's a movie that seems to always playing on some cable channel (mostly TBS) and he was likable in it which is seriously unlike just about all of his other films so he and DirecTV are in the clear here. Major points would have been added if Dennis Haysbert (who played Voodoo practicing Cuban defector Pedro Cerrano in the 1989 film and its sequels) did some add-on shot (he's probably too busy doing AllState ads) - but I'll still put this in the acceptable pile.

Now those were somewhat cute - if you stick to mainstream movies and B or C-list celebrities popping up in mock scenes from their movies sure we can look the other way but Sigourney Weaver resurrecting her female-empowering alien-ass-kicking heroine Ellen Ripley in this ALIENS ad attrocity that just starting airing recently really gets my goat! To see this classic character who was named by the American Film Institute as the #8 greatest hero in American cinema history shilling for
DirecTV is just depressing. Maybe we can tell ourselves that it's one of Ripley's clones from ALIEN RESURRECTION - no, it's still sad.

I mean it makes some kind of marketing sense to have Jessica Simpson break the 4th wall from her role as Daisy Duke in the apocalypse-warning signpost that was THE DUKES OF HAZZARD
(Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar, 2005) and chastize her leering viewers by taunting them by saying "Hey - 253 straight days at the gym to keep this body and you're not going to watch me on DirecTV HD? You're just not going to get the best picture out of some fancy big screen TV without DirecTV." Though incredibly eye-rolling inducing it makes some kind of sense because it's a completely disposable commercial movie and nobody will care if a character steps away from that kind of cinematic enterprise to do a sales pitch for a company. Speaking of stepping away from the Enterprise ...

"Settling for cable would be illogical" Captain Kirk (William Shatner) says to Spock's (Leonard Nimoy) grimace. Shatner is surrounded from footage from STAR TREK VI mind you in this commercial. Not the first time he's acted reacting to nothing and it won't be the last. This one is understandable because Shatner with his pitches, MCI, and the UK Kellogg's All-Bran cereal ads has been a commercial spokesman
* almost more than he's been an straight actor, no wait he's never really been a straight actor. Still, I get a bit pissed off watching his laconic walk-through in this ad I'm reminded by comedian Patton Oswalt's put down from Shatner's Comedy Central Roast -when he held up a paper bag and dared Shatner - "Could you act your way out of this?"

* To see the hilarious origins of Shatner as a commercial spokesman checkout this hilarious Commodore Vic20 Ad.

I just feel like we're one step away from having Ralph Fiennes popping up as his evil Nazi personage Amon Goeth in a mock scene from SCHINDLER'S LIST looking right at the camera and saying "don't you want to see me personally execute masses of Jews in the crystal clear clarity of
DirecTV? Don't you?!!?"

Okay, maybe that was a bit over the top - none of the ads so far have been from serious dramas or Oscar-caliber prestige pictures but I think these ads are bad for the film community. Okay, maybe just the online film community. Okay, maybe just me. Now this one with Pamela Anderson playing her iconic character C.J. from the television show Baywatch is just about right - hear that
DirecTV! Stick to TV shows and low-brow comedies that were cheesy to begin with and all is forgiven. Okay?

Postscript : I know I haven't covered all of those damn ads - Leslie Nielsen revisited his 1980 Dr. Rumack performance in a AIRPLANE! one, Ben Stein again asked "Bueller? Bueller? ..." for a FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF throw-back, Bill Paxton once again chased a tornado in a TWISTER take, and shortly before his death in Pat Morita brought back Miyagi from THE KARATE KID ('86). If there are any others that irk you or that you actually like - send 'em on in to :

Oh yeah - I read somewhere that Bill Murray was all set to re-Carlize himself for a spot from CADDYSHACK ('80) but he was either out of the country working on a film or he came down with a case of integrity...

More later...

Friday, July 13, 2007

Film Within A Film Follow-up Fun!

"Life is like a movie. Write your own ending."
- Kermit The Frog in THE MUPPET MOVIE (Dir. James Frawley, 1979)

Looks like I made some serious ommisions according to the many many readers who wrote in about my
10 Definitive Films Within Films (07/01-07/08) post last time out so here's some of the best suggestions, picks, and oversights :

Tony Ginorio suggests :

"Something’s Cookin’", the cartoon that opens WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 1988). An excellent pastiche of a 1940s Tex Avery short, with Roger and Baby Herman unleashing mayhem as only animated characters can. Halfway through, however, the director yells “Cut!”, and what at first seems like a mere cartoon suddenly becomes a live set, with a flesh-and-blood director chewing out his ink-and-paint actors, completely up-ending our preconceived notions of what is “real” and what is movie magic. Not only does this clever device introduce the film’s main concept – that animated characters are real – it also foreshadows the way characters and events in the main story are not what they seem: how a simple infidelity case turns out to be a cover-up for something far more sinister, and how a certain femme fatale turns out to be “just drawn that way.”

Mike Weber writes :

Billy Bright (Dick Van Dyke) watching his old movies on late-night teevee in THE COMIC
(Dir. Carl Reiner, 1969) - which I swear was a major part of the inspiration for Firesign Theatre's "Don't Crush That Dwarf" album, which came out the next year and ends with an identical setup.

See You Next Wednesday" - in any number of John Landis films (and the"Thriller" video) - but best in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981). *

Peter Bogdanovich's TARGETS (1968), which uses outtakes from THE TERROR (1963) as the latest film from star Byron Orlok (Boris Karloff), at whose drive-in premiere the ultimate confrontation takes place.

The whole setup for KISS KISS BANG BANG uses an actual film from1987 (DEAD AIM) that featured one of the cast (Corbin Bernsen). Footage from
DEAD AIM was used as a film called "Johnny Gossamer", in which the character played by Bernsen is used as part of the McGuffin.

* Though we never actually see any of it, the fictional film "See You Next Wednesday" (based on a quote from 2001 : A SPACE ODYSSEY) is like Mike remarks above a running gag through-out just about every John Landis movie (including KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, THE BLUES BROTHERS, & COMING TO AMERICA) it even warrants this Wikipedia entry.

Mike also wrote back :

"I completely forgot the double feature from the marquee of the theatre in the beginning of GREMLINS
(Dir. Joe Dante, 1984) - "Watch the Skies" and "A Boy's Life" - the working titles of CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1977) and E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (Spielberg, 1982).

A lot of people emailed me that DRIVE-IN
(Dir. Rodney Amateau, 1976) should have been noted but Jon Futrell made the case best :

As a fan of drive-in movie theaters, I'd have to say my favorite movie within a movie is "
Disaster '76" from the 1976 release DRIVE-IN. A production of the equally fictional Executive Pictures (complete with Mount Rushmore logo), "Disaster '76" plays on the screen at the Alamo Drive-in one Friday night. A jumbo jet is bombed on a New Year's Eve flight, knocking out the entire crew except for stewardess Margo. A ship's captain (in full uniform no less!) takes the control and tries to land. Instead, he crashes into a high-rise skyscraper creating "a tower of an inferno". Somebody actually said that in "D '76". While the folks at the drive-in have their own romantic and criminal issues at the theater, there's floods, sharks and an overturned cruise ship on the screen. It's almost a shame that Irwin Allen didn't make a similar "all disasters in one" type of film.

Film Babble sadly notes that DRIVE-IN is not available on DVD at the present time - sigh.

J Campie a film critic from Managua, Nicaragua ( agrees with many of those who wrote in when he writes :

Please include in your list "
El Amante Menguante" (you can translate it as "The Shrinking Lover", although it loses the poetic bent of the original spanish title). This is a fake silent movie that Benigno watches in TALK TO HER (Dir. Pedro Almodovar, 2002) In it, a man shrinks so that he can actually enter his complete self inside the woman he loves. I know it sounds....strange and icky to say the least, but on the movie it looks lovely, and works wonderfully to highlight the central themes of the best Pedro Almodovar film ever made.

Jeff Beachnau states :

You forgot the two (well, 3) greatest movies shown in Christmas classics -

"The Night the Reindeer Died" starring Lee Majors shown at the beginning of SCROOGED (Dir. Richard Donner, 1988). *

And the greatest movie within a movie of all time (which I didn't even know until I grew up that they weren't real movies), "
Angels with Filthy Souls" and "Angels with Filthier Souls" shown in HOME ALONE (Dir. Chris Columbus, 1990) and HOME ALONE 2 : LOST IN NEW YORK (Dir. Chris Columbus, 1992).

* It's a TV movie but I'll allow it.

Other films within films that multiple movie lovers wrote in :

"Devil's Squadron" in THE STUNTMAN (Dir. Richard Rush, 1980)

Living In Oblivion” in LIVING IN OBLIVION (Dir. Tom DiCillo, 1995)

(Dir. Mel Brooks, 1976) Was the first major silent feature film in forty years that Mel Funn (Brooks) and cohorts Dom Deluise and Marty Feldman were trying to make actually named SILENT MOVIE? It's been decades since I've seen it so - anybody know the answer? Anybody?

O Brother, Where art thou" from SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (Dir. Preston Surges, 1941) This of course is notable because it was a fake movie within a movie that became a real movie almost 60 years later thanks to the Coen Bros.

(Dir. Chris Smith, 1999) Another film within that is a film itself on its own - though COVEN is only 40 min. long.

The Spy who Laughed at Danger" from HOOPER (Dir. Hal Needham, 1978)

The Old Mill” from STATE AND MAIN (Dir. David Mamet, 2000)

This one I felt truly ashamed as a hardcore Python fan to have not noted -

"The Crimson Permanent Assurance" from MONTY PYTHON'S THE MEANING OF LIFE (Dir. Terry Jones, 1983) Notable for many reasons but to break it down to the principles - A: Terry Gilliam's tale of elderly anti-globalization office clerks commandeering their workplace structure and turning it into a pirate ship was originally supposed to be inside the movie but it became such an entity itself at over 15 minutes it cost much more than the rest of the production. B: - Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) makes his film debut in it. And C: - It comes back to disrupt the movie from within - an announcer even says "we interrupt this film to apologise for the unwarranted attack from the supporting feature..."

Okay! Next time out actual film reviews of movies in theaters and movies out recently on DVD -so please stay tuned.