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EZ Viewing: Airplane!

December 10th, 2010
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The fifth and final film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Airplane! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, here to read about film three: Tropic Thunder, and here to read about film four: Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.)

The spoof film from which all other spoof-films pay homage (and to which they all pale in comparison).  I find this film just as uproariously funny today as when I first saw it as a kid (though perhaps for different reasons).  Every single inch of this film is funny.  There are jokes piled upon jokes piled upon jokes.  (A few years ago I was able to see Airplane! on the big screen at a midnight showing at a local Boston theatre, and for the first time I could read some of the titles on the magazines in the airport newsstand.  All were funny, of course!)

Loosely based on the 1957 film Zero Hour (which one of the filmmakers once referred to as “the serious version of Airplane!”), the film was written by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker.  They would go on to write and direct many other funny movies, but I don’t think any of their later efforts ever topped Airplane!.

The cast is amazing.  David Zucker commented that “the trick was to cast actors like Robert Stack, Leslie Nielsen, Peter Graves, and Lloyd Bridges.  These were people, who up to that time, had never done comedy. We thought they were much funnier than the comedians of that time were.”  He was right — how funny are those four men in this movie???  They’re all pretty much perfect.  The film is filled with cameos.  Many of those faces aren’t that familiar to audiences today, but I don’t think anyone will ever forget Barbara Billingsley (from Leave it to Beaver) as the jive-speaking passenger.   In his original review of the film, Roger Ebert helpfully listed many of the film’s small roles and the films that their inclusion were parodying: “The movie exploits the previous films for all they’re worth. The passenger list includes a little old lady (like Helen Hayes in Airport), a guitar-playing nun (like Helen Reddy in Airport 1975), and even a critically ill little girl who’s being flown to an emergency operation (Linda Blair played the role in Airport 1975).”

And, of course, there’s Robert Hayes and Julie Hagerty in the lead roles.  They have to do a lot of heavy lifting in order to keep what little story the film has moving forward through … [continued]

 

EZ Viewing: Tropic Thunder!

The third film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Tropic Thunder! (Click here to read about film one: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged), and here to read about film two: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.)

Tropic Thunder knocked my socks off when I first saw it!  (Click here for my original review.)  It’s so fearless and so, so funny, right from the first frame to the very last.

Ben Stiller (who also co-wrote and directed the film) stars as Tugg Speedman.  Though he was once a hugely successful action-movie star, Tugg’s recent effort at more serious fare (“Simple Jack”) was met with disdain, so he decides to appear in the war film Tropic Thunder.  The film (within the film) is an adaptation of the Vietnam experiences of the hook-handed veteran John “Four-Leaf” Tayback.  Along with Tugg, the film stars the method actor Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), the comedian Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), and the rapper Alpha Chino (Brandon T. Jackson).  This pampered assemblage of prima-donnas has trouble getting anything done, so the frustrated director (Steve Coogan) decides to drop his actors in the middle of the jungle, in an attempt to capture some “real” drama.  Chaos ensues.

The cast is stupendous.  The stand-out, of course, is Robert Downey Jr., portraying “a dude pretending to be a dude disguised as some other dude.”  He came in for some criticism when the film was released, not only for his performance as a white actor pretending to be a black man, but also for the “full retard” speech he gives to Ben Stiller’s character.  But I think that Downey Jr. is pure genius in the role – and that speech happens to be screamingly funny.  The point of his performance – and, indeed, the point of the entire film – is to skewer how seriously actors take themselves.  (It’s funny – not long after seeing this film for the first time, I found myself re-watching the amazing WWII mini-series Band of Brothers.  It’s an astonishing mini-series.  When I finished, I watched some of the special features – but after having seen Tropic Thunder, I could not take at all seriously any of the actors patting themselves on the back for how much the conditions of the shoot really rivaled the experience of really being in combat!!)

But the rest of the ensemble is also phenomenal.  Stiller is great in the lead role – he’s just likable enough that you sort of root for him, even though he’s a total loony-tune.  (LOVE that he likes to watch Classic Star Trek on his ipod, though!!)  Jack Black is perfectly cast as Portnoy, and … [continued]

 

EZ Viewing: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

The second film in my EZ Viewing movie marathon is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country!

I respect J.J. Abrams for what he accomplished with his Star Trek reboot.  (Click here for my review.)  I enjoyed the flick, and am thrilled that Trek is exciting and “cool” again.  But THIS — Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — is my kind of Star Trek: dark, sophisticated, and adult.  This vies with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for the position of my favorite Star Trek film, depending on my mood.

An ecological disaster on the Klingon homeworld leads them to make the first gesture of peace towards the United Federation of Planets, their bitter enemies for so many decades.  Captain Kirk and the Enterprise are sent to escort the Klingon chancellor to a peace conference on Earth, but a brutal assassination sends the two galactic super-powers once again hurtling towards war.

Star Trek VI is a serious, dark film.  Yes, there is some action/adventure to be had, but for the most part it’s a rather somber film.  The film is brave in presenting our hero, Captain Kirk, in a pretty unsympathetic light: Kirk is still filled with anger at the death of his son at the hands of the Klingons (in Star Trek III), and is shown to be remarkably cold and callous at the prospect of the terrible fate about to befall their empire.  “Let them die,” he quietly tells a shocked (and disappointed) Spock, early in the film.  I love this portrayal of Kirk – it’s a very human depiction of this heroic character, and it gives Kirk a real journey to go on over the course of the film that has nothing to do with warping across the galaxy.  It’s a potent, emotional core to the film.

Trek VI has an incredibly smart, literate script.  The film is filled with references to literature and history.  Some of those are obvious (such as the Shakespeare-spouting Klingon villain, General Chang) while others are much more subtle.  (One of my favorite moments is when, during Kirk and McCoy’s trial on the Klingon homeworld, General Chang angrily shouts at them “Don’t wait for the translation!  Answer me now!”  This, of course, is a nod to Adlai Stevenson’s speech to the UN during the Cuban Missile Crisis.)  Even the film’s title, I probably don’t need to point out to you, is a reference to a famous line in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” speech.  The film’s central story – the prospect of peace between long-time enemy super-powers, and what that means for the “Cold Warriors” so used to hating their enemies – was inspired by the … [continued]

 

EZ Viewing V!

This coming weekend my wife Steph and I are throwing our fifth annual EZ Viewing movie marathon.  This has become a yearly tradition for us, in sort-of celebration of my birthday.  (I was inspired by the idea of aintitcoolnews webmaster Harry Knowles’ annual 24-hour Butt-Numb-A-Thon, about which I’ve been reading for years.)  During EZ Viewing V this year, we’ll be screening four movies and one short film, using a projector to create a “big screen” effect.  (Click here for info on EZ Viewing IV and here for info on EZ Viewing III.)

Here’s this year’s selection:

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

Tropic Thunder

Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog

Airplane!

Why those five selections?  Keep checking back here every day this week for my thoughts on each one of those films!

We’ll start today with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).

We’ll be showing a recording, on DVD, of the famous stage show presented by the RSC.  Not the Royal Shakespeare Company, but the REDUCED Shakespeare Company.  Three men: Adam Long, Reed Martin, and Austin Tichenor, take viewers on a lunatic, madcap exploration of the Bard’s works, as they compress every single Shakespeare play into an hour and a half.  The show is, in a word, hysterical.

The play was written by Adam Long, Daniel Singer, and Jess Winfield and was first performed back in 1987.  I discovered the RSC in college, when my friend Mike Strode lent me his audio cassettes of the RSC’s six-part BBC radio show (that contained the majority of the material from the play, as well as a lot of additional skits, digressions, and other silliness).  I was hooked immediately, listening and re-listening to those tapes over and over again.  I was thrilled when I found this DVD recording of one of their performances of the play.  For those of you who have never seen it, you are in for quite a treat!

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) is incredibly literate but also incredibly accessible.  All three men are wonderfully elastic performers, hurling themselves across the stage as the show bounces from one gag to the next.  There are so many highlights: the performance of Macbeth in “authentic” Scottish accents, the backwards performance of Hamlet, the summary of Othello as a rap song… I could go on and on.  This is genius-level humor.

(Click here for my thoughts on the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s latest stage play: The Complete World of Sports (Abridged)!)

I’ll be back here tomorrow with my thoughts on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  See you there!… [continued]

 

EZ Viewing IV: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Run, Lola, Run

October 29th, 2009
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The fourth film that we showed at this year’s EZ Viewing movie-marathon was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and we wrapped up the evening with Lola Rennt (Run, Lola, Run).

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home – We screened Star Trek II two years ago at EZ Viewing II (the year I highlighted my favorite movie sequels) and Star Trek III last year, so how could I not complete the mid-series trilogy by including Star Trek IV in this year’s EZ Viewing??

Following Kirk and crew’s mutiny and theft of the Enterprise in Star Trek III in their attempt to find and revive Spock, the opening of Star Trek IV finds Kirk and Co. still stranded on Vulcan, preparing to face the consequences of their actions. The Enterprise has been destroyed, and they don’t know if they have careers in Starfleet to return to. Spock is alive, but struggling to fully piece together his memories and personality. But the gang is spurred into action when a mysterious alien probe threatens all life on Earth, seeking a species of whales that has long-since been extinct.

Star Trek IV was, until this year’s new film by J.J. Abrams, the most financially successful of all the Star Trek movies. And it was by far the most popular outside of hard-core Trek fandom. If you’ve seen only one Star Trek film, this is probably the one you’ve seen. There are a number of reasons for that, I think. This is a much more accessible film than most of the other Star Trek movies. Much of the story takes place on Earth (in what was the present day when the film was released back in 1986). There’s a pretty simple (but still compelling) hook to the story – go back in time to find humpback whales – that I think is easier for general audiences to grasp than a lot of sci-fi elements of aliens, politics, etc.

The environmental message, I think, also enabled this film to be successful with a broader-than-usual audience. Many of the episodes of the original series dealt with difficult issues (such as racism, class struggles, involvement in foreign countries, etc.) – sometimes subtly, sometimes not. But the allegorical nature of classic Trek was sort of abandoned by the film series (not entirely mistakenly, in my opinion) in favor of more exciting action/adventure. Star Trek IV, though, gets back to those sorts of ideas, and that added a depth to this particular endeavor (bet you thought I was gonna say enterprise) that captured people’s attention.

Finally, Star Trek IV is by far the lightest, in tone, of all the Trek films, and I think people found … [continued]

 

EZ Viewing IV: A Mighty Wind

October 28th, 2009

The third film we screened at EZ Viewing IV was A Mighty Wind.

A Mighty Wind is another fine film that I have a distinct memory of seeing for the first time (when I caught a sneak peek here in Boston) – although I have seen it many, many times subsequently!!

Businessman Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban, so great as wimpy NBC executive Russell Dalrymple in Seinfeld) decides to put together a memorial concert for his father featuring as many of his dad’s favorite folk musicians as possible. As he sets out to recruit the “talent,” what follows is a delightfully bizarre and wonderfully entertaining tour through the universe of folk music and the many, um, let’s say “quirky” folks who inhabit it. The world of folk music isn’t something that was necessarily crying out for parody – but that might be part of what makes A Mighty Wind so memorable.

The “mockumentary” format has become a bit overused in recent years, but there does not exist a greater master of the format than director/writer/actor Christopher Guest, and in my mind A Mighty Wind is the pinnacle of his work. (Let the debates begin!!) Much has been written about the improvisational manner in which Guest and his actors find the characters and the shape of their films – the result is a film that is filled to the brim with indelible comedic performances. And what an ensemble of actors Mr. Guest has assembled: Harry Shearer (the voice of Ned Flanders, Montgomery Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Rev. Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Rainier Wolfcastle, and so many more on The Simpsons) , Michael McKean (spreader of a vicious rumor about Larry David on last season’s finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm), Eugene Levy (American Pie), Catherine O’Hara (SCTV), Jane Lynch (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Role Models, Talladega Nights), Parker Posey (Superman Returns), Fred IWillard (Anchorman, Wall-E), Ed Begley Jr. (The Pineapple Express, hairless Stan Sitwell on Arrested Development), Jennifer Coolidge (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), Larry Miller (a familiar face from so many comedies, but I’ll always think of him as the overly forward doorman on Seinfeld), John Michael Higgins (Walk Hard, deadpan attorney Wayne Jarvis on Arrested Development), Paul Dooley (spymaster Enabran Tain on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and so many more.

There are so many pleasures to be found in this film. The fanatical happiness of the New Main Street Singers. The reunion of Spinal Tap (Shearer, McKean, & Guest), albeit now in the form of a group performing an entirely different … [continued]

 

EZ Viewing IV: Star Wars & Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

October 27th, 2009

The first two films shown at EZ Viewing IV (my annual movie marathon) were: Star Wars: A New Hope — The Adywan Fan-Edit and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.

What is the Adywan Fan-Edit of Star Wars?  It is, bar none, the very best version of the first Star Wars film (I refuse to refer to it as Episode IV) that I have ever seen.  FAR better than the DVD version released by Lucasfilm in 2004, and far better than ANY of the other versions that have been released on DVD/VHS/or any other home-media format.  I wrote a lengthy piece about this fan-edit last year — click here for all the details of this amazing fan-edit.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels – Director Guy Ritchie has had a hand in some sub-par films recently (although his latest project, Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr., looks promising), but we shouldn’t let that cloud the greatness of his debut feature.

Four friends Eddie (Nick Moran), Soap (Dexter Fletcher), Tom (Jason Flemyng, seen most recently in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Bacon (Jason Statham, who these days is a big action star in films like The Transporter) find themselves deeply in debt to East End gang-boss Hatchet Harry (P.H. Moriarty) after losing a fixed card game. Rather than lose any fingers to his menacing enforcer (Vinnie Jones), they concoct a scheme to steal the money from another group of thieves who are themselves planning to rob a small drug-dealing operation. Things don’t go well, of course, and events quickly spiral completely out of control.

I still remember the first time I saw this film. I was blown away (and still am, to this day) by the deftness with which Ritchie juggled an enormously complex plot filled with scores of bizarre characters whose stories would weave in and out of one another. Most of all, I was dazzled by the wonderful, rat-a-tat dialogue which was so funny and so distinct. The word-play comes fast and furious, and the cockney slang that all the characters breathlessly spew out gives the film a flavor all its own.

In his review from 1999, Roger Ebert described this film as “Tarantino crossed with the Marx Brothers.” That’s a wonderful description, and pretty accurately assesses the way the film combines a noir-ish crime-caper plot with a madcap sense of humor and whimsy. This film is a riot.

Check back tomorrow for more EZ Viewing IV fun!  (Click here for my thoughts on A Mighty Wind.)

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EZ Viewing IV

October 26th, 2009

ezviewingivcolorletteredsmforweb

This past weekend my wife Steph and I hosted our fourth annual EZ Viewing movie marathon!  (Click here for more info on last year’s EZ Viewing III.)

This year’s selection was:

Star Wars: A New Hope — The Adywan Fan-Edit

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels

A Mighty Wind

Star Trek IV

Lola Rennt (Run, Lola, Run)

A fun mix, huh?  So, why did we settle on those particular movies?

Check back every day this week to find out more about my love for each of those five films!  (Click here for my thoughts on Adywan’s Fan-Edit of Star Wars and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.)… [continued]

 

EZ Viewing

November 3rd, 2008

This past weekend my wife Steph and I threw our third annual EZ Viewing movie marathon.  This has become a yearly tradition for us, in sort-of celebration of my birthday.  (I was inspired by the idea of aintitcoolnews webmaster Harry Knowles’ annual 24-hour Butt-Numb-A-Thon, about which I’ve been reading for years.)  During EZ Viewing we screen five films, using a projector to create a “big screen” effect.

Here’s this year’s selection:

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Glengarry Glenn Ross

Iron Man

My Blue Heaven

Star Trek III

An eclectic mix, to be sure!  But all five are movies that I absolutely love to death, (and several of which I’ve written about on this site before).  Getting to watch them with my friends on a big screen was a blast.  Can’t wait ’till next year!!

I’ve got a lot of blog posts to catch up on in the coming days.  I’ve seen a bunch of films, new and old, over the past few weeks that need reviewing, and I also have some fun links to share with you all.  So I’ll see you right back here tomorrow, OK?… [continued]