Category Archives: Movies

The Set of 400: #294 – My Favorite Rolling Ferris Wheel

Today! Because I fought your kind in the Great War, and we kicked the living shit out of you –

1941 (1979)

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Starring John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd (x3), Ned Beatty (x2), Christopher Lee (x4), Tim Matheson, Toshiro Mifune (x2), John Candy (x4), Nancy Allen, Lorraine Gary (x2), Warren Oates, Slim Pickens, Robert Stack, Treat Williams, Murray Hamilton (x3), Elisha Cook Jr., Patti LuPone, Eddie Deezen, Perry Lang, Wendie Jo Sperber, Joe Flaherty, David L. Lander, Michael McKean (x3), Don Calfa, Susan Backlinie, Jerry Hardin, Audrey Landers, Dick Miller (x3), Mickey Rourke

For those of you unfamiliar with this movie – can you believe the above cast got together in ’79 and put on an epic war comedy? And under the direction of the king, Steven Spielberg, following his massive success with Jaws and Close Encounters? Doesn’t it make you want to run out and see what this movie could possibly be?? How have you avoided it all these years? Do it!

And for those of you already familiar with this movie, SHUT UP.

I’m not Titanic-level defensive about 1941, but that’s because most people either didn’t see it or don’t remember it enough to argue about it. And look, I know there is a lot wrong with this movie. It only sort of functions as a comedy – it’s like a less funny It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World with explosions and extended choreographed fistfights – and sort of functions as a war movie. But the premise is solid enough and the cast is terrific that, even though it doesn’t totally deliver, it’s still a pretty entertaining movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #295 – My Favorite Touch of Grey

Today! Because I know I’m the last guy in the world you’d peg as a Deadhead –

The Music Never Stopped (2011)

Directed by Jim Kohlberg

Starring J.K. Simmons (x3), Lou Taylor Pucci, Cara Seymour, Scott Adsit, Julia Ormond, Mia Maestro, Tammy Blanchard

How do we possibly follow the biggest movie of all-time on this list? Are all my favorite films just populist studio marketed tentpoles (don’t judge me!)? Well, in 2011 the Music Box Theatre in Chicago participated in the Sundance Across America project, stemming from the film festival, where they ship an indie to different cities that otherwise might not get nationwide play. And so I caught The Music Never Stopped, a movie that went on to gross $258,223 according to Box Office Mojo, 1/2,326th the total Titanic pulled down in its initial release.

And it’s hard to say why this movie has stuck with me – it’s a pretty sentimental, sorta-true story (based loosely on brain disorder king Oliver Sacks’ essay The Last Hippie) about an estranged father and son who reunite only after both come down with severe medical issues – heart disease and brain tumor, respectively. Son Gabriel’s tumor prevents him from making new memories, but through his favorite music – lots of Grateful Dead, Beatles, Bob Dylan on the soundtrack – the fog in his brain manages to lift somewhat temporarily.

Plus, dope threads

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The Set of 400: #296 – My Favorite Heart of the Ocean

Today! Because I’d rather be his whore than your wife –

Titanic (1997)

Directed by James Cameron

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio (x2), Kate Winslet, Billy Zane (x3), Bill Paxton (x2), Kathy Bates (x2), Frances Fisher, David Warner, Bernard Hill, Victor Garber (x2), Gloria Stuart, Suzy Amis, Danny Nucci, Ioan Gruffudd, Jonny Phillips, Ewan Stewart, Bernard Fox, Jason Barry

First off, let me begin by saying SHUT UP. I am fully aware of the awesome shortcomings of this film. The dialogue is often atrocious, some of the poor actors forced to play ethic stereotypes get completely mangled in the gears of this film (we forever honor you, Fabrizio!), and the plot – the driving romantic engine of the film – is the most hackneyed, retread, unimaginative piffle they could’ve lit upon. I get all of that. It’s way too long – like, a good forty to fifty minutes too long – and in retrospect can be viewed as pretentiously so, given everything connected to this film that was to follow – Oscar speeches, no follow-up Cameron film for a dozen years, etc.

Ugh, this guy

All that being said, people who regularly slam this movie – then and now – are you seriously telling me you don’t think the second half of Titanic is an amazing movie? I know, it’s half a movie, and you’ve had to slog through nearly two hours of set dressing and nonsense to get there, but once they hit that iceberg straight until that old lady is tossing her baubles overboard, it is as impressive a piece of moviemaking as exists. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #297 – My Favorite Artificial Tail Fin

Today! Because any food that grows here is tough and tasteless. The people that grow here are even more so –

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

Directed by Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Starring Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, America Ferrera, Craig Ferguson, Jonah Hill (x3), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (x2), T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig (x2), David Tennant

A surprisingly great animated offering from Dreamworks, How to Train Your Dragon took a lot of standard big screen cartoon elements – Kid heroes! Cute big-eyed animals! Parents who just don’t understand! – and mixed them with a stirring story of acceptance and striving to fit in. In retrospect, it strikes me as a movie that’s really better than it needs to be – the critical expectations of animated movies released in March aren’t terribly high. Hell, The Boss Baby came out in a March and made a ton of money, so did The Croods, so did Monsters vs. Aliens – all Dreamworks movies, by the way. But outside of the Shreks, nothing grossed more for the studio than HTTYD, still (I believe) the best reviewed animated movie from SKG (according to Rotten Tomatoes, anyway, at 98%).

Also, has this movie ever gotten the true credit it deserves for paving the way for Game of Thrones? Sure, GoT would probably have been a massive hit regardless, but it’s not like dragon-based films and shows have done particularly well over the years. With the exception – I guess – of the second Hobbit movie, there isn’t even really another successful dragon movie – Dragonheart, anyone? EragonReign of Fire? Sure, Dragonslayer is sorta cute, and Pete’s Dragon has a little staying power I guess, but really, it’s Smaug, Toothless, that one scene in Harry Potter 4, and that zombie dragon knocking down The Wall – that’s dragon screen history. You’ve gotta go back to like Sleeping Beauty to find anything else sorta popular that has the scaly beasts in aa major film role. I could totally be forgetting something, I suppose.

Not that Peter MacNicol doesn’t give it his all

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The Set of 400: #298 – My Favorite 2nd O Come, All Ye Faithful Verse Appearance

Today! Because I’ve only one reason to be angry – you broke my record –

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Directed by Edwin Marin

Starring Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Leo G. Carroll (x2), Ann Rutherford, Kathleen Lockhart, Barry MacKay, Lynne Carver, Lionel Braham, Halliwell Hobbes, June Lockhart, Ronald Sinclair

Like the pervasive Sherlock Holmes-ness of this list, you’re going to find more versions of Ebenezer Scrooge’s Psychotic Yuletide in the days to come than you probably would’ve expected. As avid viewers of my Instagram story could tell you, come December I really bang through a lot of Christmas movies, with the Dickens classic featuring heavily in the rotation. This list would’ve had more Scrooge on it, honestly, had so many of the best productions not been television adaptations. So just quickly – Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol is the best musical version of this story ever made, hands down. Mickey’s Christmas Carol likely would’ve been right in its league, had not all the songs been excised, leaving the 24-ish minute edit that remains. The Patrick Stewart version from the late-’90s has some terrific variations on the old standard, and the George C. Scott version is one of the best straight renditions out there.

My guess is few hardcore Marley-o-philes would place the 1938 version near the top of their lists. It changes so many little things, and a few major ones, that some may shout blasphemy. I don’t have this issue – even if some of the differences are a bit frustrating, narratively speaking. If you don’t immediately recognize this as the Reginald Owen version, it’ll probably ring a bell that this is the Christmas Carol with all the sliding. Right? No? Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #299 – My Favorite St. Bernard Nursemaid

Today! Because I have the strangest feeling that I’ve seen that ship before. A long time ago, when I was very young –

Peter Pan (1953)

Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske

Starring Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Tom Conway, Paul Collins, Lucille Bliss, June Foray, Mel Blanc

Cast your mind back with me, if you will. No, not to the early days of the Eisenhower administration, when this charming, somewhat racist cartoon was made – but to the Christmas movie season of 1991. Twelve year old Joe was on the cusp of publishing his first Favorite Movie List – I’m sure you remember, it was in all the major news outlets of the day, all shuttered now by a general lack of interest in journalism. Perhaps some preliminary versions of it had already floated out to the world, through gossip mongerers or paid informants. And the going word was that Steven Spielberg’s new take on the old J.M. Barrie classic was making a big impact in dorky Joe’s life, that it might even supplant the long-understood top movie of his list (Tim Burton’s exceedingly dark and campy take on a ’60s superhero TV show).

More on this later

Springing from that film – the critically derided but much-beloved (I assume) by kids of my generation Peter Pan update Hook – came a renewed interest in the Disney classic, and given that in those days there was no telling how long it may take for a popular movie to make its way to videocassette, I turned to the next best thing. But in retrospect… Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #300 – My Favorite Healthy Choice Pudding Promotion

Today! Because I don’t know if there is anything wrong because I don’t know how other people are –

Punch-Drunk Love (2002)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (x3)

Starring Adam Sandler (x2), Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman (x2), Luis Guzman (x2), Robert Smigel, Mary Lynn Rajskub (x2)

Paul Thomas Anderson’s smallest movie also easily qualified as his weirdest, until Inherent Vice came on the scene twelve years later. But this one is still pretty odd – Sandler (at his unhinged drama-comic best) plays a thoroughly damaged novelty item warehouse manager who simultaneously begins a relationship with a solidly damaged British women, while also contending with that most typical of film villains – scurrilous phone sex operators. He’s also got half a dozen sisters and periodically flies into violent rages, often at the expense of innocuous public restrooms or sliding glass doors.

The film features a weirdly wonderful use of color throughout

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