The Set of 400: #274 – My Favorite Airport Storyboard Movie Pitch

Today! Because if I’m doing a fake movie, it’s gonna be a fake hit –

Argo (2012)

Directed by Ben Affleck

Starring Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin (x2), John Goodman (x2), Scoot McNairy, Victor Garber (x3), Bryan Cranston, Kyle Chandler (x2), Tate Donovan, Chris Messina, Philip Baker Hall (x2), Rory Cochrane, Clea DuVall (x2), Titus Welliver, Bob Gunton (x2), Richard Kind (x2), Richard Dillane, Adrienne Barbeau, Taylor Schilling, Christopher Denham, Zeljko Ivanek

When we as a people rose up and decried in one voice that we would not allow the slighting of Ben Affleck to continue for one goddamn minute longer, Argo became the surprise Best Picture winner of 2012, despite not receiving a Best Director nomination – as rare a thing to happen at the Oscars as any. And the pointed reason for this win is attributed to this general outrage of Affleck being overlooked, which I don’t really understand. Not the overlooking (even though it was probably a little unfair), but the outrage. Why did everyone care so much? And in a year that I will go to the wall to defend as one of the best in film history? It’s not like there weren’t other deserving and/or better films available. So why did everyone lose their minds over the nominations?

Like, did this seriously have to happen?

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The Set of 400: #275 – My Favorite Bye Bye Blackbird

Today! Because they didn’t burn down Rome in one day – you got to keep pluggin’ –

Melvin and Howard (1980)

Directed by Jonathan Demme

Starring Paul Le Mat, Mary Steenburgen, Jason Robards, Michael J. Pollard, Gloria Grahame, Robert Ridgely (x2), Charles Napier, Jack Kehoe (x2), Pamela Reed, John Glover (x3), Dabney Coleman, Elizabeth Cheshire

A very deceptive movie in its marketing and general awareness, Melvin and Howard ostensibly is about when milkman and all-around blue collar shlub Melvin Dummar met billionaire/eccentric/nutcase Howard Hughes in the desert one night and gave him a lift home. This is the scene that opens the film, and then isn’t mentioned again, for about an hour. And because of the bookending of the film with constant Hughes intrigue, not only did that become the focus of the movie, but everyone tends to forget the middle hour, as we watch the daily employment and marital struggles of Melvin, which is the key to the whole story.

Grizzled!

Otherwise, what really are you left with? Sure, Robards makes a great Hughes, but he’s in the movie for about ten minutes, and then is just mentioned endlessly, making it feel like he’s a much larger character. In fairness, the movie should’ve been titled Melvin and Lynda, as Mary Steenburgen has far more and trickier acting to handle, and rightfully won an Oscar for her efforts. The spurious will and debate is intriguing, and knots the whole film together, but (and this shouldn’t be much of a spoiler) with Melvin never really having a chance at the Hughes fortune, the dramatic heart of the movie defaults to Melvin’s good-natured bouncing from one setback to another across the story. You might be more an American Graffiti fan, but for my money, this is Paul Le Mat’s best work. Melvin could come off as a doofus, or a con man, or just super pathetic, but Le Mat’s delicate balance between these shades make for more of an endearing character than he probably deserves. Steenburgen and Robards got the lion’s share of attention, but it’s Le Mat’s steady work that drives the movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #276 – My Favorite Veal Piccata

Today! Because you have the whitest white part of the eyes I’ve ever seen. Do you floss?

Hot Shots! (1991)

Directed by Jim Abrahams

Starring Charlie Sheen, Valeria Golino, Jon Cryer, Cary Elwes (x4), Lloyd Bridges, Kevin Dunn, William O’Leary, Kristy Swanson, Bill Irwin (x2), Bruce A. Young, Ryan Stiles, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Heidi Swedberg, Don Lake

Indirectly responsible for foisting Two and a Half Men on the world, I imagine, Hot Shots! is a direct parody of Top Gun, plus a bunch of other movies mocked along the way. Abrahams spun off from his frequent collaborators the Zucker brothers to concoct this largely solid gagfest with Naked Gun/Police Academy writer Pat Proft, and while a little dated today – this movie being the height of Gulf War comedy – it’s still a pretty funny movie, all things considered.

As mentioned earlier, there aren’t a ton of opportunities to see Cary Elwes do zany comedy – despite this being what he does best, outside of smarmy villain roles – so couple that with Airplane! vet Lloyd Bridges, future Veep great Kevin Dunn, clowning genius Bill Irwin, improv maestro Ryan Stiles, and a weirdly suited for this type of comedy Valeria Golino, and Hot Shots! totally keeps the comedy rolling. I’ve mentioned before how franchise films blend together for me from when I was a kid, and Hot Shots! Part Deux is no exception. It’s more a Rambo thing, right? So that makes it a little easier to differentiate.

Yeah, I’d say that’s accurate

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The Set of 400: #277 – My Favorite Statue of Liberty Showdown

Today! Because the war is still coming, Charles, and I intend to fight it by any means necessary –

X-Men (2000)

Directed by Bryan Singer

Starring Hugh Jackman (x2), Patrick Stewart (x2), Ian McKellen (x2), Famke Janssen, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin, James Marsden, Ray Park (x2), Rebecca Romijn (x2), Tyler Mane, Bruce Davison, Shawn Ashmore

For everyone who bemoans the epic length of today’s superhero movies, realize, large cast comic adaptations can come in under two hours, but they’re going to look a lot like 2000’s X-Men. Sure, it didn’t have a lot to compare itself to back then – it’s preceded by little more than the ’90s Batmans, the ’80s Supermans, and…Blade, I guess? So how would they know to give equal time to the characters and not have it just be, like, Wolverine and his costumed bubs? Halle Berry’s Storm has like fifteen lines in the whole movie! She would win an Oscar within a handful of years of this film, and she’s got slightly more lines than the random wrestler who plays Sabretooth!

And yeah, it has aged terribly in comparison to the films that followed – not only the Spider-Mans, the Marvel Universe, and the Nolan Bat films, but in the X-Men franchise itself. Hey, it’s still better than every stab at the Fantastic Four, anyway! And it is a pretty fun movie, if you can overlook the completely lousy non-Magneto villains, and some of that dialogue. Oh, man, that dialogue. But this was the film that pulled Jackman from the stage and made him a huge star, after the original Wolverine had to drop out, thanks to Mission: Impossible 2 running over filming – thanks, Dougray Scott! Ah, what could’ve been! Would these movies have worked without Jackman? Would we have nine of them??

He’s worked steadily since, but off the top of your head, what’s the last Dougray Scott film you saw?

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The Set of 400: #278 – My Favorite Dirty Harry Inspiration

Today! Because I am not the Zodiac. And if I were, I certainly wouldn’t tell you –

Zodiac (2007)

Directed by David Fincher

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey Jr. (x3), Brian Cox (x2), John Carroll Lynch (x2), Anthony Edwards, Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, Dermot Mulroney, Donal Logue (x2), Philip Baker Hall, Zach Grenier (x2), Adam Goldberg, Charles Fleischer (x2), Paul Schulze, John Getz, June Diane Raphael, Candy Clark, Jimmi Simpson, Clea DuVall

Not so much concerned with unearthing who the killer was (even though it does present a theory), Zodiac primarily follows the lives of San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith and S.F. detective Dave Toschi, and their respective obsessions with the case as it unfolds and in the subsequent years, as the trail runs maddeningly cold. It’s an expansive ’60s/’70s epic in the hands of the premiere murder mystery director of our time (Se7en, Gone Girl) – and one of the sure thing, must-run-out-and-see-whatever-he-does filmmakers – David Fincher.

And it is exhaustive. Covering the source material in great detail, and trying to encapsulate well over a decade in these characters’ lives, the movie naturally was going to be lengthy, but it manages to clip right along, even feeling a bit rushed in parts, pouring out details and recounting theories at a steady clip. But keeping the engine running solidly are the terrific performances of Gyllenhaal and Ruffalo as Graysmith and Toschi, plus a just pre-Iron Man Downey as self-destructive reporter Paul Avery. The Downey comeback was well underway by ’07 – what with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Good Night and Good Luck, and A Scanner Darkly in the preceding years – but Zodiac seemed to cement the fact that he was solidly reliable, and a little over a year later he was superheroing it up at Marvel.

’70s Banner and Stark!

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The Set of 400: #279 – My Favorite Talking Sandwich

Today! Because you go ahead and eat me now, you’re gonna need the energy –

Muppets From Space (1999)

Directed by Tim Hill

Starring Dave Goelz (x2), Steve Whitmire (x2), Bill Barretta (x2), Frank Oz (x3), Jerry Nelson (x2), Brian Henson, Kevin Clash (x2), Jeffrey Tambor, Josh Charles, Andie MacDowell, David Arquette, F. Murray Abraham, Ray Liotta (x2), Pat Hingle, Kathy Griffin, Rob Schneider, Hulk Hogan (x3), Katie Holmes (x2), Joshua Jackson, Gary Owens

Often referred to as the first big screen Muppet film where Kermit wasn’t the lead, Muppets From Space is actually the third in the ’90s trilogy of post-Jim Henson films where Gonzo is the unquestioned star, following his roles as Charles Dickens in virtually every scene of The Muppet Christmas Carol and as Jim Hawkins’ boon companion, er, Gonzo in Muppet Treasure Island. This is, to date, the only original Muppet feature where Kermit doesn’t nominally star, though, that’s true.

This was also the only theatrical Muppet film released between 1996 and 2011, and as such, it serves as an interesting keystone – wrapping up the entire early history of the franchise with the characters playing themselves, signaling the end of the Jim Henson/Frank Oz era of features, and introducing the Muppets Tonight characters into the film family for the first time. Most of them would be roundly discarded by the time the reboot of the ’10s came around (even fan favorite Pepe), and so this is likely the only film where these eras of Muppets will appear together.

We honor you, Pepe!

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The Set of 400: #280 – My Favorite Shadow Horn

Today! Because I will not submit –

Rhinoceros (1974)

Directed by Tom O’Horgan

Starring Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder (x2), Karen Black, Joe Silver, Robert Weil, Marilyn Chris, Percy Rodrigues, Don Calfa (x2), Anne Ramsey

Just barely reaching our minimum requirements for inclusion on this list, Rhinoceros has virtually never been shown in a movie theater. It was produced as part of a brief early ’70s experiment called the American Film Theatre, wherein popular stage plays were adapted to film and had limited engagements at select theaters. It really was an idea ahead of its time, as Fathom Events does similar releases nowadays with operas and British theater offerings, but in ’74 it wasn’t exactly a monster hit concept.

Some of these productions have found minor success on home video, particularly Lee Marvin’s Iceman Cometh, and this ingenious re-teaming of 1968’s The Producers, with Zero recreating his Tony winning turn as Jean/John from the 1961 staging of the Ionesco play, and Wilder in the less flashy Stanley/Berenger role. It’s not a movie or play for everyone, with its wildly absurdist plot and heavy, talky scenes, but the novelty of there existing a Rhinoceros movie has always outweighed the inherent stagey-ness of the film for me.

Plus, Dick Nixon cameos!

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