The Set of 400: #357 – My Favorite Conspiracy Theory

Today! Because it’s a mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma –

JFK (1991)

Directed by Oliver Stone

Starring Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones (x2), Joe Pesci, Kevin Bacon (x2), Gary Oldman, Laurie Metcalf, Sissy Spacek, Jack Lemmon, Donald Sutherland (x2), Walter Matthau, Ed Asner, John Candy (x2), Sally Kirkland, Vincent D’Onofrio (x2), John Larroquette, Ron Rifkin, Bob Gunton, Michael Rooker, Jay O. Sanders, Brian Doyle-Murray, Wayne Knight, Beata Pozniak, Gary Grubbs, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Frank Whaley

Like most eighth graders, I had a big JFK assassination phase. It was probably prompted by this movie, but there also was a lot of new press swirling around the event at the time of movie’s release, so maybe a combination of the two. Figure, even though the movie very directly covers the trial of Clay Shaw, it also proposes a lot of theories regarding the assassination that maybe hadn’t been widely disseminated, or widely considered, before then. So the press around it was crazy, and 12-year-old Joe got sucked in. I distinctly remember prowling Holy Rosary’s dinky library trying to uncover all the details I could find, in encyclopedias, mostly (shoutout to my long closed middle school!). Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #358 – My Favorite Genital Surprise

Today! Because you’ve got to be a fucking Rembrandt to put on makeup –

Switch (1991)

Directed by Blake Edwards

Starring Ellen Barkin, Jimmy Smits, JoBeth Williams, Lorraine Bracco (x2), Tony Roberts, Perry King, Lysette Anthony, Catherine Keener, Bruce Payne, Jim J. Bullock, Tea Leoni, Michael Badalucco, Victoria Mahoney, Basil Hoffman

Not to be confused with the Bateman/Aniston film of the same name plus a TheSwitch was another cable staple of mine from the early ’90s, and man, the characters largely do not hold up. It’s a bunch of ’80s chauvinist dudes and vengeful, bitchy women thrown into a light-hearted Blake Edwards romp. It’s as 1991 as a movie can feel. Oh hey, and our second jaunt through ’91 in three days! I told you it’d get some love!

So while a lot of the antics are dated and borderline offense in retrospect, the reason this movie retains a spot on this big list is wholly Ellen Barkin’s tremendous performance, as the murdered jerk Steve reincarnated (that’s not really the right word – transmogrified, I guess?) as a woman, in order to find any women who liked him, and thus get into heaven. Don’t worry about the plot, it wildly doesn’t try to make sense. And while it does pay some quick service to how hard it is to be a woman in this asshole-prism of a man’s world, this is mostly an excuse for dude-trapped-in-a-hot-woman’s-body hijinks, of which there are many. The early promise of Barkin’s career never totally panned out – even though she’s had a fairly solid run in movies and TV, by and large – but I’d have to say this is her best overall performance. And it carries this film through its awkward twists and turns and bar fights. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #359 – My Favorite Blueberry Allergy

Today! Because the suspense is terrible – I hope it’ll last –

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)

Directed by Mel Stuart

Starring Gene Wilder, Jack Albertson, Roy Kinnear, Peter Ostrum, Leonard Stone, Nora Denney, Michael Bollner, Denise Nickerson, Paris Themmen, Julie Dawn Cole, Gunter Meisner

One of those movies you see again as an adult and wonder “Is this too scary for kids?” But you remember watching it as a kid and this never occurring to you. Really, it’s just the boat ride, the rest of the movie is fun musical weirdness. But man, that boat ride!

This movie is rated G??

On Gene Wilder’s death three years ago, I wrote that growing up he might’ve been the top movie star in my whole world, and almost exclusively because of films made previous to that present day. Along with Harrison Ford and…Kermit the Frog maybe? But it seemed like Gene Wilder movies were playing all the time in my house in the ’80s, and many of those will appear in this space in days to come. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #360 – My Favorite Movie Theater Cigar

Today! Because granddaddy used to handle snakes in church, Granny drank strychnine –

Cape Fear (1991)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Starring Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange, Juliette Lewis, Joe Don Baker, Fred Thompson, Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Illeana Douglas, Martin Balsam (x2)

A terrifically tense, harrowing suspense thriller, for about an hour and a half, before collapsing into ludicrously violent madness. Sure, there were certain things Scorsese was locked into doing with Cape Fear, considering it’s a remake and all, but man, some of the choices made are…well, extreme. I think it comes at an interesting point in his career, and De Niro’s too. Figure, both were coming off of Goodfellas, which should’ve finally been the movie Marty won all the Oscars for, but instead it got screwed royally (I’m never forgiving anyone for Dances With Wolves), and through some manner of lashing out, we got Cape Fear. The directing is so intense it borders on intrusive, especially in the first half hour, but it does make for some pretty artsy handling of an otherwise straightforward crime thriller.

De Niro’s tattoos alone are so over-the-top as to question the sanity of everyone involved

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The Set of 400: #361 – My Favorite Slow Motion Fight Screams

Today! Because I ain’t your pal, dickface –

Bloodsport (1988)

Directed by Newt Arnold

Starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Donald Gibb, Bolo Yeung, Forest Whitaker, Leah Ayres, Roy Chiao, Norman Burton

Bloodsport?!” I can hear you reasonably asking. “Are you kidding me? This list is bullshit!” Maybe! But not because of Bloodsport, junior! You want list outliers, here is an epic – I’m not even really a Van Damme fan. I want to say I saw Kickboxer once, and maybe Universal Soldier, but that’s it. However, for whatever reason, I watched Bloodsport to death in the early ’90s. Clean cut Frank Dux beating ass through the Hong Kong death match tournament! And were it just that, I’m probably not sold. I’m not a huge kung fu movie fan in general, but this thing had other outstanding elements – the great funny sidekick work of Revenge of the Nerds’ Donald Gibb as Jackson, the random rare Oscar winning Van Damme co-star in the form of a young Forest Whitaker, and the tremendous villainy of Bolo Yeung as the lethal Chong LiDude!

Jacked and terrifying!

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The Set of 400: #362 – My Favorite Riddles in the Dark

Today! Because if Baggins loses, then we eats it whole –

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Directed by Peter Jackson

Starring Martin Freeman, Ian McKellan, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Lee Pace, Bret McKenzie, Benedict Cumberbatch

Now hang on a second, I know what you’re thinking – The Hobbit? Seriously? But while the unnecessarily expanded prequel trilogy was almost the definition of diminishing returns, I still think that first movie is pretty good. Is it far too much? Yes. But hell, what were Jackson and company supposed to think people wanted, when everyone was snapping up 4+ hour versions of the original films on DVD? They figured the more the better, right? So why not turn a 300 page book into nine goddamn hours of movies? And you know what, good for them. Sure, the whole trilogy doesn’t even come close to the Lord of the Rings movies, but they sure aren’t the complete troll orgies fans made them out to be.

Sexy!

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The Set of 400: #363 – My Favorite Time Warp

Today! Because when you knocked, he thought you were the candy man –

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

Directed by Jim Sharman

Starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O’Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Meat Loaf, Jonathan Adams, Peter Hinwood, Charles Gray

So…remember everything I said back in #386’s Godspell and #369’s Evita? That all still applies with the general musical thing, except I actually think Rocky Horror makes for a slightly better movie. Both of those films are pretty limited by either the staging or the cast, but Rocky Horror doesn’t have either of those issues. Sure, the songs and story aren’t quite as good as the above works, but the overall effect comes over better, even if you aren’t particularly into those sweet transvestite musical numbers.

And why aren’t you, dammit?! This movie is a terrific amount of fun, as midnight audiences can attest for the last forty years. Tim Curry had a wonderful career playing baddies after this, indelible villains like Pennywise and Rooster (even though childhood household favorite Annie did not make the list), but he’s still forever gonna be Frank-N-Furter, right? There’s no escaping that manner of iconic performance. Bostwick and Sarandon are great as the couple of squares who run across this castle of mayhem, and former Blofeld Charles Gray does his best to layer in the horror movie atmosphere through his comically intense narration. Continue reading

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