Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.
Okay... before I do anything else today, let’s go ahead and give away five copies of the classic Mel Brooks comedy THE PRODUCERS.
Some of you sort of missed the point of the contest we announced last week, and you sent me essays on your favorite bad movie ever made. Some of them were very funny, but it’s still not what I asked for. A number of you made the same basic joke, sending in a description of a real movie, then saying, “Oh, wait, they already did that. Sorry.” I got a lot of suggestions for films about metabolically enhanced soldiers as part of a government research project, and for some odd reason, many of you suggested calling such a project POSTHUMAN. Then there were those of you who sent me ideas so horrible that I’m afraid they might actually get made if I ran them. One guy sent in a hilariously bad POLICE ACADEMY sequel called COP KILLA that my writing partner and co-judge Harry Lime told me he’d actually pay to see in a theater, immediately disqualifying it from winning. There were a lot of similar jokes about O.J. musicals, 9/11 musicals, and Jon Benet Ramsey musicals, as well as tons of CITIZEN KANE remakes or BATTLEFIELD EARTH sequels, most of which were musicals. Madonna’s name was frequently mentioned. So was Carrot Top’s, which make me wonder what the correlation between the two of them is. Some of the ideas were certainly hideous enough to bomb, but they were so complicated that they just became assaults.
In the end, there were five ideas that I think are genuinely loathesome, terrible concepts for movies that couldn’t possibly generate revenue. You guys stink. And I love you for it!
First up, in keeping with the recent rush to adapt every comic book in the world into a film, there’s a comic property that remains completely unexploited. Mike Leigh or Ken Loach would be the perfect director for this unrelenting slice of misery, especially since both of them seem allergic to anything even remotely commercially successful. Check out Mike Brown’s entry:
Andy Capp-- the Movie!
A drunken Andy Capp (Bob Hoskins) staggers down the darkened street singing "Galway Bay," a mostly empty bottle of whiskey clutched in his hand. He throws it through a window of one of the row houses. Flo (Brenda Blethyn), her hair in curlers, comes out in her nightgown and begins to yell.
Why in the bloomin' hell would you break our own window, ye daft pea wit! The Missus Curley down yonder owes ya' two bob!
Andy growls and advances, his hands curled into fists.
Flo backs off, her hands in front of her in a protective gesture.
Now, Andy, remember what the doctors told ya'. If me iris detatches again, I'll be flippin' blind.
Andy rears back and hits her square in the eye with a haymaker.
Flo hits the ground.
Andy begins kicking her in the gut.
(Slurring his words)
Are ye daft woman! Missus Curley is Mr. Curley's problem!
Flo tries to struggle, but Andy has excellent kicking skills.
Cut to credits (done in the style of Smythe): Andy Capp, the Movie!
Charming! Imagine the Burger King tie-in!
Next up is an entry from one of our regular BNAT guests from the mythical land of “Minnesota,” one Windy Merrill, who has put together an argument so persuasive that only a true pinhead would invest in this project:
My guaranteed flop?
The film version of the Sondheim musical "Sunday in the Park with George". Starring Liv Tyler as Dot (the role originated by Bernadette Peters) and with Mandy Patinkin reprising his Broadway role as George. Choreographed by Debbie Allen. Adapted for the screen by Akiva Goldsman. Directed by Ron Howard.
Now, why is this the worst ever?
1. A movie musical - right there, you've whittled down the audience share to maybe 60%.
2. A musical most have never heard of - audience share 40%.
3. A Sondheim Musical. For those not as up on musicals, let me explain that Sondheim is a "love him or hate him" composer (with most nodding off during Act 2), with "Sunday in the Park with George" being one of his most divisive and inaccessible. It's based on a painting by Georges Seurat - making it even more inaccessible. You're asking people to identify with a piece of impressionist art? Audience share now down to 20%.
4. For those who are a fan of the musical, having Debbie Allen choreograph will go down as well as Tom Cruise as Lestat. (Sondheim musicals are NOT dance pieces. Sondheim hates dance numbers.) For those who don't know dick about the musical - it's still Debbie Allen choreographing. You might have a train-wreck fascination, but I can guarantee you won't recommend it to your friends. Did you see those dance numbers at the Oscars?!? Audience share down to 15%.
5. Casting Mandy Patinkin - this is a dead wash. Those who love him will go see it for him alone, fans of the musical will be excited to see him again in the role. So we might get some increase here from people who would never see a movie wanting to see Mandy in the role on film. But, for everybody else - it's Mandy Patinkin. Singing. So, I'm actually betting we end up losing more than gaining.
6. Casting Liv Tyler - those film geeks still appalled at her casting in LOTR will be rabid. The ignorant male masses going to see a movie simply for her will be rabid when they realized they got tricked into seeing a musical. Oh - and I don't believe Miss Thang can sing. Audience share 10% now.
7. Akiva Goldsman - Ron Howard: The one-two punch to finally sink this thing beyond redemption. For all those pablum-loving masses, this might seem like a good thing. "C'mon - I loved 'A Beautiful Mind'!" But the inaccessible material will offend them. And the cinephiles who might want to support a movie musical will stay away. Ron gets annoyed by how "fuzzy" the painting looks, so he has it redrawn so people can really see it. Akiva adds in a sub-plot involving an attempt to murder George and take credit for his innovative new painting technique.
Oh, and the studio will want to "punch up" some of the music so we can get a hit soundtrack, so they'll ask Elton John and Tim Rice in to do some "inspired by the movie" songs.
Now, all I need are some Broadway-lovin' backers, and I can get started on this dream project!
You’ve convinced me! Hell, you had me at “Mandy Patinkin singing” and “Debbie Allen.” That sounds like one wacky prison rape of a movie.
And speaking of unnatural violations, check out this vile little ditty from Ray Piaskoski, who obviously needs therapy of some sort:
I love bad movies. Not Godfather III bad (that was just sick and wrong), but Death Machine bad (check it out if you haven't already). They're like clown car accidents... horrifying yet amusing and almost impossible not to look at if you happen to be passing by.
That said, I will attempt herein to describe for you a film so horrible that I wouldn't even watch it after five hours in the back of the Mystery Machine with Scooby, Shaggy, Cheech & Chong and the promise of unlimited munchies throughout the free screening. The name of this repugnant opus in my mind?
It's a bittersweet romantic comedy about a moody, introspective young orderly (played by Keanu Reeves) who falls in love with an aging stripper (Bette Middler) while working in a high-end Seattle nursing home. Anna Nicole Smith plays the self-sacrificing fiancÃ©e of Keanu who - after learning that Bette has an incurable cancer stemming from her ancient silicone breast implants - condones, encourages and supports affair between Keanu and the dying woman (who eventually becomes a sort of surrogate mother to Anna, who lost her own mother at a young age to a similar cosmetically-induced disease).
Lowlights of the picture include a fifteen minute sponge bath scene (hence, the title) with full frontal nudity by Ms. Middler, a not-so-touching first date scene set at an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, and a spur-of-the-moment trip to Bette's former stomping grounds in Las Vegas, where Keanu learns a valuable lesson about taking chances.
To intentionally put off perhaps the only possible demographic audience this film could muster, the advertising should loudly tout it as "HAROLD & MAUDE for the 21st Century" and boast of the film's ironic twist ending, in which Keanu dies of a heart attack while having sex with Bette, who then falls in love with Anna's father (played in a cameo by Wilford Brimley) at the funeral.
With Chevy Chase playing both the doctor treating Bette and Anna and Keanu's bumbling pre-marital counselor, how could this movie gross dime one?
Forget making money. This could cause entire test audiences to blind themselves at once.
I’m going to warn you about this next one. If you’re easily offended, you should move along now. There’s nothing more for you to see here. Joe Lyons, you see, has a dark, evil little Grinch heart, and he’s obviously studied the work of Mel Brooks, because only someone very evil and very funny could have come up with... well... I’ll let him explain it:
I'm going straight to hell for this....but I do love Mel Brooks.
Taking a page from the smash blockbuster, Osmosis Jones, ABORTION! is the half live action, half animated film about a trash talking animated fetus named Leroy, voiced by Samuel Jackson, and his perilous and always hilarious adventure in the womb that the whole family will love. It all starts when a plucky young girl named Kaitlyn, played by Patricia Arquette, gets all hopped up on ecstasy one night and is knocked up by her boss at the Shakey’s Chicken she works at, Mr. Jenkins, played by Brian Doyle Murray. Oh no! Leroy is born.
Leroy starts his adventure by getting used to his surroundings as he sets up his “crib” inside Kaitlyn’s womb. All Leroy wants to do is “chill” and practice his kung fu, but fate has other plans for old Leroy. You see Mr. Jenkins already has three kids he’s paying child support for and another one just won’t do. Kaitlyn needs to get an abortion! But that’s no easy task. You see, Kaitlyn’s father is a bible thumping Christian who would just as soon stone his daughter than let her abort the love child of a 58-year-old man and his drugged up daughter. WACKY! Time for a road trip!
When Kaitlyn’s father finds out that she’s gone across state lines to get an abortion he gets his ragtag group of fundamentalists together and the chase is on! Leroy isn’t too “hip” to the idea of being terminated so he starts to devise an escape plan. He‘s all ready to head out a fallopian tube when trouble rears its head in the form of an evil umbilical cord, Umbilulon, voiced by Kelsey Grammar. Wanting to keep Leroy right where he is, Umbilulon gives Leroy a taste of the fifth of scotch Kaitlyn just drank. That is whack! Looks like Leroy will have a score to settle with Umbilulon... with his MAD KUNG FU!
Mr. Jenkins has a tough time shaking the fundamentalists, but fortunately they run right into a gay pride parade. Overcome with rage, the fundamentalists stop dead in their tracks to protest the parade. WHEW! The affects of the scotch wearing off, Leroy realizes time is running out. Time to unleash the kung fu!! Umbilulon is certainly no match for Leroy’s bullet time and acrobatic martial artistry. Leroy struggles free from Umbilulon’s grasp and starts to kick on the near-impenetrable uterine walls. Kaitlyn is feeling Leroy from the outside! Time to get to that clinic!
Mr. Jenkins tells Kaitlyn to get into that clinic while he waits in the car. Once she checks in, she meets the ominous Doctor Killmester, played by F. Murray Abraham. Leroy gets ready for his last stand. That “mofo” is going down! Kaitlyn hops up onto the table and the procedure is about to begin. Doctor Killmester inserts the VacuSuck 5000, voiced by Michael Clark Duncan, into Kaitlyn. Time for the showdown of the century! Leroy puts up one heck of a fight, but it looks like the VacuSuck 5000 may be too much to handle... until Leroy gets a little help from Umbilulon?!
WHAT?! Seems Umbilulon has become a little attached to Leroy and distracts the VacuSuck 5000 just long enough to make his escape!
Leroy flips down to the floor of the abortion clinic. You’ve never seen an animated showdown like this since Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Leroy makes a colorful comment about Doctor Killmester’s “momma” and makes a break for it. Leroy finds a moped outside, hops on and heads for the hills. Mr. Jenkins, seeing the whole episode, knows that fetus is going to want some of his damn money someday, so he takes off after him. Kaitlyn’s father also shows up just in time to see Leroy escape. Wanting Leroy to pose for some protest photos, the preacher takes off after him as well. And if you think Doctor Killmester and the VacuSuck 5000 are going down that easily, you’ve got another thing coming!
The chase is on... again! After a chase that takes the group through a state fair, an opera house, and a hippie commune, Leroy thinks he’s lost all of his potential captors. He’s California bound! But just as Leroy is about to reach the Pacific he runs smack into Mr. Jenkins, who remembered that all fetus’ have a natural tendency to head towards the Pacific Ocean... for some reason. Mr. Jenkins and Leroy engage in an animated/live action kung fu fight. When the dust settles, Leroy stands triumphant over Mr. Jenkins. Mr. Jenkins then has a great idea! What better way to promote Shakey’s Chicken than to have an animated kung fu fetus on its television commercials! OF COURSE!
Leroy, always privy to making all of that “cheddar,” agrees and he and Mr. Jenkins enter a forever lasting relationship that only a 58-year-old man and his nearly aborted son can have. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.
All lynch mobs who need the address of Mr. Lyons can contact me privately, and we’ll set something up.
And if that last one didn’t make you ladies swoon and want to cuddle up to the author, then consider the work of one John Book, who has a little love he’d like to share with the world:
My new film concerns the misadventures of one Sharon McBrayer, an average woman in every way. Not glamorous but not ugly, not skinny but not fat, Sharon works as a secretary at a local law firm and is frustrated with never being noticed. After keeping a level head about it for many years, Sharon decides to go get some liposuction done, the first drastic thing of this nature she's ever attempted. But when she inadvertantly picks a clinic where different genetic tests are being done in addition to liposuction, Sharon falls victim to a freak accident where she develops Super Bulimic and Anorexic powers. From now on, Sharon must eat a full meal every fifteen minutes or she begins to become skinnier and skinnier. This "gift" gives her the ability to squeeze into or through spaces others could not, simply by not eating for an hour or two. In addition, if she does continue to eat, she can projectile vomit at will, with all the force of a firehose.
At first considering these abilities a curse, Sharon soon decides to use them for good when she uncovers a plot to subtly increase restaurant portions by 1% every week until the entire city of Cleveland is overweight and ripe for harvesting by an alien race. Sharon discovers that the alien race actually harvests MSG on their home planet. During the course of the film, Sharon uses her anorexia to escape from prison after being caught by the alien leader, and in a showdown no one will ever forget, like a big First Person Puker videogame, Sharon takes on the alien hordes with her barfing abilities at a local chinese buffet. But things grow tense when the restaurant runs out of sesame chicken...
After saving the day, our hero rides a stream of her own puke, in the tradition of Fantastic Four's Iceman, into the night, determined to fight obesity crimes until the world is safe, and to search for a cure for her mysterious powers.
Those are all the actual winners of the contest, and I want to thank them all for being raised wrong and having terribly sick minds. This last guy didn’t win anything, and I don’t want to give you his name, but I am so horrified and mesmerized by the entry that I had to at least share it, sort of like Naomi Watts at the end of THE RING. Maybe if I share the horror, I can get over it. All I know is, somewhere in the cruellest part of the afterlife, Michael O’Donaghue is laughing very, very hard:
Michael Dudikoff and Bridgette Neilsen play a wacky couple from Austria who, for 2 1/2 hours, simply stare into the camera and sing (in Austrian accents) improvised songs about eating what they like to call "Chopped Up Little Girl Vagina." At the end of the movie, Dudikoff chops off Ms. Nielsen's vagina and, indeed, eats it. Roll credits.
I am going to Hell just for sharing.
And speaking of sharing, I think we’ll have another contest coming up very soon, with a major new DVD release, one of this summer’s biggest and most controversial hit films. Keep watching this column for details in the days ahead. In the meantime, let’s get on with some actual reviews, eh?
WHAT CREATES, DESTROYS
Have I mentioned before on the site that I love Roman Coppola’s CQ? Because I do. I think it’s one of those films that would very easy to dismiss, a slight film, a first film, complete with all the indulgence and self-satisfaction that first films can often contain. I don’t care, though. To me, it’s a film that obviously poured forth from the heart of a true movielover, someone who’s grown up drunk on it, surrounded by it, and who managed to somehow never get jaded or bored by it. Roman, just like his sister Sofia, whose VIRGIN SUICIDES was such a wonderful debut, proves that natural directing talent really does seem to be genetic in the Coppola family.
Not that I believed that right away, mind you. Sofia’s role in THE GODFATHER III turned her into a punchline for film geeks for years, something I still think was brutally unfair. She’s not a studied actor in the film, but in a lot of ways, she was Mary Corleone. Gawky, uncomfortable whenever anyone pays attention to her, sheltered in many ways. And Roman’s first foray into film was as the co-writer of SPIRIT OF ’76, which was directed by Lucas Reiner, Rob’s brother. It’s a terrible, frantic comedy starring the McDonald twins from Red Kross, but it did manage to predate the ‘70’s nostalgia that became fashionable later.
Roman must have taken some time to work on CQ, and it’s obvious that it’s something he really cares about. So much of what he must have observed in his childhood is part of this film, and he was able to bring his frighteningly encyclopedic knowledge of European movies from the ‘60’s and ‘70’s to the the table. If you listen to the audio commentary that Roman recorded with his cinematographer Robert Yeoman, he can’t help but talk about the films that inspired him, and it raises an interesting question: if something is almost entirely a pastiche, a patchwork homage to things that have come before, is it possible that in the combination of all these borrowed pieces, there can be something truly original? Roman isn’t showing off when he talks about the films that influenced him, but anyone looking for a crash course in European cinema would do well to write down the titles he references and check them out whenever possible. Then again, watching CQ is sort of like downloading all of those films at once directly into your brain, all of them pre-digested by Roman.
The two works he’s referencing most directly are DAVID HOLZMAN’S DIARY, Jim McBride’s first film from 1968, one of the first mockumentaries. It’s a film about a young man making a film about the everyday details of his life, a task which also occupies Paul (Jeremy Davies), the main character in CQ. He’s got his B&W camera, and he’s always filming the mundane details of his life in Paris with Marlene (Elodie Bouchez), his loving but frustrated girlfriend. She’s frustrated because Paul is hardly ever present, even when he’s there. He’s in Paris for a job, editing a science-fiction movie called CODENAME: DRAGONFLY which is being produced by Enzo, a charismatic old-school producer played with panache by Giancarlo Giannini, and directed by the volatile Andrezej, played with a shambling charm by Gerard Depardieu. Paul’s just starting out, and he’s enamored of the entire process. There’s nothing about the film that he doesn’t love. This is where the film’s other most obvious quote comes in, since CODENAME: DRAGONFLY is a thinly-veiled riff on DANGER: DIABOLIK, the Mario Bava spy film that has been referenced in Beastie Boy videos and any number of other spy films over the years. Coppola even has the star of that film, John Philip Law, show up in CODENAME: DRAGONFLY, and Billy Zane, deliciously hammy as Mr. E, the main bad guy in the sci-fi film, does a spot-on impression of some of Law’s mannerisms. You could argue that it’s the third film in this schizophrenic melange, the one that shows Paul working on his two very different labors of love, that is what makes this something original and intoxicating. Andrezej and Enzo have a major falling out, and the replacement director Felix DeMarco (played by the hilarious Jason Schwartzman in a scenery-chewing cameo) also ends up leaving the film, so Enzo takes a chance. He turns to Paul and asks him to find an ending for the movie and to finish it. It’s the big break Paul’s been waiting for, and he almost doesn’t know what do do with it once it arrives.
Part of the problem is the way he finds his daydreams of Valentine (Angela Lindvall), the film’s star, creeping into his life. He can’t shake them, and he’s not even sure he wants to. Valentine and her alter-ego Dragonfly are mysterious, alluring, and the reality of Marlene’s emotional needs and her desire for Paul’s time begins to sour him on his relationship. He chooses fantasy over reality in the end, then manages to bend reality to match his fantasy, and somehow Roman manages to give the film a happy ending that’s bittersweet and real without ever cheating or falling victim to easy Hollywood clichÃ©.
MGM/UA has done a remarkable job with this DVD, and if you like the movie, you’re going to love the extras here. As I mentioned, the commentary is fantastic, both informative and impassioned, and it fills the movie out in any number of ways. Equally impressive are the many different documentaries included. Interested in the technical end of things? There’s a documentary on the sound design and score of the film, another on the remarkable cinematography by Yeoman (who also shot RUSHMORE and THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS and DRUGSTORE COWBOY, among others), another on the actors and the casting process. And then there’s the personal side of things, documented in two different features shot by Roman as well as documentaries shot by Eleanor Coppola (who filmed the incredible HEARTS OF DARKNESS), Sofia, and others, all of whom have obviously had incredible access to the production. This isn’t typical EPK stuff where the cameras caught one or two days worth of the shoot. Instead, watching all of this gives you an incredibly intimate glimpse into the making of this movie.
Another way that CQ and THE VIRGIN SUICIDES are alike is the way they both ended up with incredible, unique scores by artists not known for long histories of prior film work. Air’s score for SUICIDES has crept into commercials now, and it’s easy to see why. It’s evocative, haunting stuff. For CQ, Roman turned to the electronic group Mellow, and their work is absolutely right for the period, allowing this film to stand outside the era it’s portraying and the era when it was made, existing in its own particular time. There’s a live performance by Mellow in Japan where they play their score for the film, and it’s surprising how well it works on its own terms as music. It’s pretty distinct and adventurous stuff, and I hope they end up writing more scores if the right projects come up. Like everyone associated with this gem, they’ve done special work here, and the result of all of these people giving so much of themselves to the film is something that looks so much more expensive than the $10 million that was spent on it, and that is so much more expressive and emotional than I would have guessed from the kitschy DVD cover. My only complaints are that the picture during the film itself displays some serious artifacting, which is a mystery considering the way the disc is split into one side that’s just the movie and one side that’s all the extras. Still, if you’re in the mood for something fresh and you want a disc that really explores the film in depth, then CQ is a great purchase.
I was equally pleased by THE BIG KNIFE, another MGM/UA release, even though it’s a bare bones disc if I’ve ever seen one. Based on a play by Clifford Odets (a writer who was one of the direct inspirations for the character Barton Fink, I believe), it’s the story of Charlie Castle (Jack Palance) a screenwriter who’s tired of selling his soul one page at a time, and who wants out. His wife Marion (Ida Lupino) knows that Hollywood is destroying her husband and destroying the artist he used to be, and she wants him to walk away. Unfortunately, the studio is strongarming him to sign a new contract that will pay him well and utterly ruin him. He can feel the breakdown coming, but he doesn’t know how to get out of it. Palance is great in the movie, and it’s almost the exact opposite of CQ in tone. Whereas that film is full of hope about how art can rescue you and heal you and how vital it is for the survival of an artist, this film seems to say that there is no art as soon as money becomes involved, and that all artists are whores. The only ones who get hurt are the ones who pretend they’re not for sale. The print here is exceptional, and one could make the case that this represents a high watermark for director Robert Aldrich, coming hot on the heels of another classic of his, KISS ME DEADLY. Aldrich had a bleak view of the world, and even an action film like THE DIRTY DOZEN was shot through with a jet-black cynicism once he got through with it. THE BIG KNIFE feels like it comes from the heart, and for anyone who wants some perspective on how little things have changed in Hollywood since 1956 when the film was made, pick this up and enjoy every bit of the dense, savory dialogue and spectacular black and white photography by Ernest Laszlo. Sometimes, a great film is enough reason to pick up a disc, even if there aren’t any extras to accompany it.
I’ll be back later today with yet another DVD SHELF column for you, and this time, I’ll be packing in as many titles as I can in a fairly dense report. All of this is me trying to get to my big special column that I’ve been brewing up before I leave town next Thursday. As long as I can keep myself chained to the desk, I should have plenty of time to share everything with you that I have planned. For now, though, I’ve gotta run...