Category Archives: Movies

The Set of 400: #164 – My Favorite Blind Butler

Today! Because conversation like television set on honeymoon – unnecessary –

Murder by Death (1976)

Directed by Robert Moore (x2)

Starring David Niven, Maggie Smith (x2), Peter Sellers (x4), Peter Falk (x4), Elsa Lanchester, James Coco (x3), Alec Guinness, Eileen Brennan (x2), Estelle Winwood, James Cromwell (x2), Nancy Walker, Truman Capote, Richard Narita

Neil Simon’s epic comedy mashup of legendary 20th century mystery novel sleuths is half brilliant, half standard Neil Simon-esque jokes, with a like 20% horribly racist overlay. It was the ’70s, and I know that’s no great excuse, and you had master of accents and buffoonery Peter Sellers as Charlie Chan-lite Sidney Wang, but that’s also no great excuse. Wang has some funny lines – not just funny accent bits – but it’s not for today’s audience, I’ll readily admit that.

However, Niven and Smith as Dick and Dora Charleston, Peter Falk’s Sam Diamond, James Coco’s Monsieur Perrier, and Elsa Lanchester’s Jessica Marbles take off wonderfully on Nick and Nora, Sam Spade, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple. The plot revolves around a secluded mansion where the detectives have been gathered to solve a murder by their host Lionel Twain, the ultimately murdered man, played fairly tongue-in-cheek by Truman Capote. It’s absurdist zaniness, with the house functioning very much as a character itself, moving rooms at will and facilitating numerous attempts on the detectives’ lives. It’s basically a wilder take on Clue, just ten years earlier and with only one ending. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #165 – My Favorite Claw-Licking Cat

Today! Because I used to think you were one of a kind –

X2 (2003)

Directed by Bryan Singer (x3)

Starring Hugh Jackman (x3), Patrick Stewart (x3), Halle Berry (x2), Ian McKellen (x5), Famke Janssen (x2), James Marsden (x2), Brian Cox (x5), Bruce Davison (x2), Anna Paquin (x2), Alan Cumming, Rebecca Romijn (x3), Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore (x2), Kelly Hu, Katie Stuart, Kea Wong

The last X-Men movie on this list, I swear, X2 apparently might just go by X-Men 2 now! Is this something everyone was aware of? Like how the first Star Wars movie is often called A New Hope, as though that’s its name? Or that Tom Cruise movie went from being Edge of Tomorrow to the pithier, stupidier Live Die Repeat? If you couldn’t figure it out before the release, you shouldn’t just keep hammering away at possibilities forever, folks! I was an extra in a solidly mediocre Vince Vaughn/Kevin James comedy ultimately titled The Dilemma, but when it was filming they were still calling it alternately Cheaters and What They Didn’t Know. That’s the time to sort it out! And yeah, that’s shameless promotion for my movie extra career! Send gigs my way!

I don’t have a current headshot, per se, but this pretty much covers it

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The Set of 400: #166 – My Favorite Priceless Steinway

Today! Because compared to Clouseau, this doomsday machine is just a water pistol –

The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976)

Directed by Blake Edwards (x2)

Starring Peter Sellers (x3), Herbert Lom, Burt Kwouk, Lesley-Anne Down, Colin Blakely (x2), Andre Maranne, Leonard Rossiter, Richard Vernon, Dudley Sutton, Deep Roy, Omar Sharif (x2)

The Pink Panther film series went through a variety of phases, from the genteel early ’60s comedies A Shot in the Dark and The Pink Panther to the one-off Alan Arkin film Inspector Clouseau to the zany return to Sellers in the ’70s to the bizarro pseudo-sequels and spin-offs of the ’80s and on and on. There’s a few cartoon shows and Steve Martin in the mix as well. But for my money, the only films that are really any good are the fourth, fifth, and sixth movies – after Edwards and Sellers were away from the franchise for over a decade.

And really, had he not died, Sellers seemed intent on playing Clouseau for many years to come. The unrealized Romance of the Pink Panther would’ve marked his sixth time in the role, and these films – while still funny – were getting a touch interchangeable. That’s why The Pink Panther Strikes Again always stuck out for me. As solid as Return of the Pink Panther and Revenge of the Pink Panther were around it, Strikes Again had the benefit of not being the first film back from the long hiatus, plus it had the genius decision of finally driving Captain Dreyfus completely insane. This is set up by the end of Return, where Dreyfus (Clouseau’s boss) attempts to kill him, and is institutionalized. Here, Dreyfus (played with manic zeal by the great Herbert Lom) morphs into a lunatic supervillain, intent on holding the world hostage, and it’s naturally up to Clouseau to stop him. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #167 – My Favorite Glass Eye

Today! Because the appearance of law must be upheld, especially while it’s being broken –

Gangs of New York (2002)

Directed by Martin Scorsese (x3)

Starring Daniel Day-Lewis (x2), Leonardo DiCaprio (x3), Cameron Diaz (x3), Brendan Gleeson, John C. Reilly (x6), Jim Broadbent (x2), Henry Thomas, Liam Neeson (x2), Eddie Marsan (x3), Stephen Graham, Gary Lewis, Lawrence Gillard Jr., Cara Seymour (x2), Tim Pigott-Smith (x2)

This movie was so close to being an unmitigated masterpiece that we as a people can only lament the missteps made in dragging it to completion. You have a terrific cast, a marvelous adaptation of a book without a real narrative, and Scorsese hell bent on winning an Oscar, in a year that wasn’t super competitive. Daniel Day-Lewis, not one to slum it, gives 110% percent and dominates the film as Bill the Butcher – a film, again, loaded with talent. He’s a colossus, an unholy terror, and while the film purports to be about the Vallons – father Priest and son Amsterdam – it ends up totally the story of the vicious Five Points ganglord. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #168 – My Favorite Orgasmatron

Today! Because I bought Polaroid at seven, it’s probably up millions by now –

Sleeper (1973)

Directed by Woody Allen (x6)

Starring Woody Allen (x5), Diane Keaton, John Beck, Don Keefer, John McLiam, Mews Small (x2), Brian Avery (x2), Jerry Hardin (x2), Jackie Mason (x2), Douglas Rain, Spencer Milligan

To date the only science fiction movie Woody Allen has made, Sleeper came at the apex of his fascination with pure silliness in film. Sure, Bananas is wacky too, as is Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but after Sleeper things would start trending more and more toward realism and relationship comedy. Okay, Love and Death is still pretty crazy, but you can see the shift happening, as that begins incorporating more and more satire. Part of it is certainly just a change in his interests, but also you have to factor in the influence of teaming with Diane Keaton. They appeared in Play it Again, Sam the year before (which Woody wrote but did not direct), and would make five straight films together from ’73 to ’79, over unquestionably Woody’s most successful period. So at least in part, you’d have to guess that the transition to more serious filmmaking was aided by having such a major actress involved in every movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #169 – My Favorite Glowing Doorknob

Today! Because I made my family disappear –

Home Alone (1990)

Directed by Chris Columbus

Starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci (x2), Daniel Stern (x3), Catherine O’Hara (x3), John Heard (x2), Devin Ratray, Roberts Blossom (x2), John Candy (x7), Gerry Bamman, Larry Hankin (x2), Kieran Culkin, Terrie Snell, Bill Erwin (x2), Billie Bird, Hope Davis, Ken Hudson Campbell, Jim Ortlieb, Ralph Foody, Angela Goethals

Featuring the best comedic child acting performance ever, Home Alone is a very strange Christmas movie, when you step back and look at it. Like, people have this whole “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debate, because it is just an action movie set at Christmas, but blow-for-blow, Home Alone is a way more violent movie than Die Hard. I mean, it’s definitely a Christmas movie, without question, far more than Die Hard is, no matter what you think, but if what holds the John McClane epic back is the full-on explosive thrill ride-ness of the whole thing (and that there’s nothing “Christmas-y” about it), then how are we just giving Home Alone a pass?

Here we are as in olden days/Happy golden days of yore

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The Set of 400: #170 – My Favorite Meal on the Cuff

Today! Because courage can be purchased at yon’ tavern –

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Directed by John Ford (x2)

Starring James Stewart (x2), John Wayne (x2), Lee Marvin, Vera Miles, Edmond O’Brien (x2), Andy Devine, Ken Murray, Woody Strode, John Carradine (x3), John Qualen, Jeanette Nolan, Lee Van Cleef, Strother Martin (x2), Denver Pyle, Carleton Young, Paul Birch, Joseph Hoover

In concocting this list, I realized that many of the movies I considered my favorites came to me because they were clearly the favorite of someone around me first. Hell, my little sister watched Strictly Ballroom so many times that I’ve committed lots of its dialogue to memory, and it nearly fought its way on here (Strictly Ballroom is great, by the way). My older sister had a poster for Moonstruck hanging up in their room for years, and it had all the glitz and glow of an Oscar winner, even for eight-year-old Joe, that even now I’m like “Yeah! Moonstruck! That movie’s great!” even though I have no recollection of what that movie is about. Does Nicolas Cage only have one hand in it? Is that right?

Jeez, what the hell was that movie about?

But the handful of John Wayne movies on this list I can attribute directly to my old man. Many of them blend together into one Indian massacre of a film that I can’t precisely distinguish, but a few others stand out pretty well. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is at the top of this western list. John Wayne is John Wayne as always (here, one Tom Doniphon), and Jimmy Stewart is the tenderfoot bookworm come to town, just as elections and the east are infiltrating old west life. The movie starts at the end, with Stewart’s Ransom Stoddard returning to Shinbone (the town is named Shinbone!) for a funeral, then jumps back to his initial arrival – and all the drama connected to Lee Marvin’s odious Liberty Valance. Along for the ride are a wonderful bunch of great comic turns – an odd staple of the best John Ford films – including Andy Devine’s hilarious Link Appleyard and Edmond O’Brien’s drunken, raging publisher Dutton Peabody. Continue reading

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