Category Archives: Movies

The Set of 400: #136 – My Favorite Coin Pudding

Today! Because the misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress –

The Great Dictator (1940)

Directed by Charlie Chaplin (x2)

Starring Charlie Chaplin (x2), Paulette Goddard (x2), Jack Oakie, Henry Daniell (x3), Reginald Gardiner, Billy Gilbert, Grace Hayle, Maurice Moscovitch

The first Charlie Chaplin film I remember seeing, The Great Dictator was no easy sell – I mentioned this quickly in To Be or Not to Be, but Dictator had a variety of issues stateside and abroad when the movie was in production. First, they began shooting in 1937, years before Germany would invade France and kick off WWII, so many were still calling for appeasement at all costs and were anti-intervention. England announced they would ban The Great Dictator when they learned of its production, despite Chaplin’s continued huge star status and this notably being his first all-talking motion picture (Modern Times still had large silent sections in 1936). Many groups pressured Chaplin to abandon the film altogether, afraid it would further inflame Hitler and the Nazis. It was a weird, brief period in history, and thankfully production ran so long on this movie that by the time it came out, public opinion had swung, the war was underway, and The Great Dictator was largely embraced with the classic status it now enjoys. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #137 – My Favorite Crane Game

Today! Because I’m actually from a smaller company that was purchased by Mattel in a leveraged buyout –

Toy Story (1995)

Directed by John Lasseter (x2)

Starring Tom Hanks (x5), Tim Allen (x4), Don Rickles (x3), Wallace Shawn (x4), Jim Varney (x2), John Ratzenberger (x5), Laurie Metcalf (x4), R. Lee Ermey (x3), Annie Potts (x2), John Morris (x3), Erik von Detten, Penn Jillette (x2)

As I think I’ve mentioned before, I have a soft spot for the first films in movie series, even if the sequels are demonstrably better. This doesn’t extend to superhero movies for some reason, but in many other cases when people point to the superiority of a second or third film, I still feel beholden to the original as my favorite – you will see the bundle of examples of this in days to come.

I just think the degree of difficulty is so much higher when you have to tell an interesting, engaging story while also setting up your whole world and potential franchise. Sure, in many cases, the filmmakers weren’t operating under the idea that their movie needed to be the launching pad for a massive, multi-decade tale, which makes it all the more impressive when the original story can hold up and function as the solid backbone everything else stems from. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #138 – My Favorite Exploding Briefcase

Today! Because I get a kick out of watching you, the great James Bond, find out what a bloody fool he’s been making of himself –

From Russia with Love (1963)

Directed by Terence Young (x3)

Starring Sean Connery (x5), Daniela Bianchi, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya, Pedro Armendariz, Bernard Lee (x2), Eunice Gayson (x2), Lois Maxwell (x3), Vladek Sheybal, Desmond Llewelyn, Anthony Dawson (x2)

It’s not something I realized before I put together this list, but apparently as my tastes are concerned, the entire James Bond series boils down to the first couple movies, a huge gap of the same thing over and over again, and then the last couple movies. Considering how long this franchise has been in existence this is a little strange, I know, but I’m a Connery/Craig guy. Some of the intervening adventures are solid – it’s not like they just straight lost their way for forty years – but my favorites are bookending the enterprise.

This second Bond film is far more indicative of what was to come than Dr. No the year before. While that was largely set in Jamaica, it felt like it could’ve been in any beachy locale. Plus, you’ve got Bond running around barefoot most of the time, and while Dr. No is a SPECTRE agent, you don’t get the impression any of this is part of a larger scheme, for the most part. No, From Russia with Love is when Bond becomes Bond – set almost entirely in exotic, 1960’s Istanbul and on the Orient Express, you’ve got SPECTRE and SMERSH agents causing havoc for a well-tailored 007, we get our first faceless Blofeld, we get our first Desmond Llewelyn Q (even if he’s still named as Boothroyd in FRwL), you’ve got terrific, tough supporting villains in Robert Shaw’s Grant and Lotte Lenya’s Rosa Klebb, you’ve got a weird gypsy v. gypsy girl fight for some reason, and you’ve got a slam bang boat chase explosion finish worthy of a Bond movie.

Cubby Broccoli, that looks expensive!

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The Set of 400: #139 – My Favorite Reckoning

Today! Because I was his friend. And it will be a very long time before someone inspires us the way he did. I believed in Harvey Dent –

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Directed by Christopher Nolan (x2)

Starring Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Gary Oldman (x4), Michael Caine (x5), Morgan Freeman (x2), Marion Cotillard, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Aidan Gillen, Liam Neeson (x3), Juno Temple, William Devane (x2), Cillian Murphy, Tom Conti, Alon Aboutboul, Nestor Carbonell, Thomas Lennon (x4), Joey King

I think it’s safe to say that, even with The Avengers that summer, The Dark Knight Rises was the most anticipated movie of 2012. Just go by the sheer numbers – there had never been a sequel to a movie that grossed as much as The Dark Knight at that point, so financially, expectations were all over the place. TDK had more than doubled Batman Begins at the box office, but upon Heath Ledger’s death whatever had been planned for TDKR went out the window. It was like season three of The Sopranos – everyone was excited to see where it would go, even if the original gameplan had to be scrapped on the fly. The first trailers were cool, and like TDK they premiered the opening IMAX sequences months early, before…Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol maybe? Something in the winter of 2011. And it was awesome, with all its “Tell me about Bane! Why does he where the mask?” coming from the man who would be Littlefinger.

Bad judge of the opposition!

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The Set of 400: #140 – My Favorite Missing Contact Lens

Today! Because I’ve forgotten the sardines! No, I haven’t. I haven’t forgotten the sardines. I remembered the sardines. Well, what a surprise, I guess I’ll just go into the kitchen and fix some more sardines to celebrate –

Noises Off (1992)

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

Starring Michael Caine (x4), Carol Burnett, John Ritter (x2), Marilu Henner (x2), Christopher Reeve (x3), Nicollette Sheridan, Mark Linn-Baker, Denholm Elliott, Julie Hagerty (x2)

You want stagey? I’ll give you stagey! One of the funniest plays of all time made for a very funny, star-studded film in its own right, that doesn’t bother trying to break away from the theater at all in Noises Off. Movies about plays! Or really in this case, a movie about a play within a play, which is the perfect rabbit hole for this guy. I’m not sure how popular this movie ever became, and I know how popular modern theater is to the world at large, so it’s possible you aren’t overly familiar with Noises Off? I’m yet to see it performed on stage – the set is a massive pain in the ass – but this movie used to air on your WPIX and WWOR all the time at the sweet spot in my television viewing history – ’93, ’94, ’95 – and so exposure to Noises Off was very high.

Madcap theatering!

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The Set of 400: #141 – My Favorite One-Handed Cake Devouring

Today! Because when the ghosts have a midnight jamboree/They break it up with fiendish glee –

The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad (1949)

Directed by James Algar (x2), Clyde Geronimi (x3), Jack Kinney

Starring Bing Crosby (x2), Basil Rathbone (x4), Eric Blore, J. Pat O’Malley (x2), Oliver Wallace

The only movie I’m guaranteed to watch every Halloween (which is kinda awkward, as The Wind in the Willows isn’t scary in the least), The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, I’ll admit, is not the way I’ve always seen it. Growing up, I had no idea it existed in this combo fashion, only having a copy of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow portion recorded off TV, I want to say. And that is primarily why this movie made the list still – but that’s not necessarily to shortchange the opening half of the film.

Ah, that classic tale of a playboy amphibian

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The Set of 400: #142 – My Favorite Warsaw Shakespeare

Today! Because I’ll decide with whom my wife is going to have dinner and whom she’s going to kill –

To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Starring Jack Benny, Carole Lombard (x4), Robert Stack (x2), Lionel Atwill (x2), Sig Ruman (x4), Felix Bressart, Stanley Ridges, Tom Dugan, Halliwell Hobbes (x2), Miles Mander (x2), Charles Halton

Filmed just prior to America’s entry into WWII, To Be or Not to Be stands as one of the rare comedies of the era tackling the Nazi menace. Once the war began, the whole filmic enterprise took on a justifiably somber tone in regards to the conflict, and so comedies are few and far between. Chaplin’s The Great Dictator had been met with some audience hostility in 1940, so uncomfortable did German aggression make viewers, and so To Be or Not to Be was far from an easy sell when conceived, despite the tremendous script and no less a filmmaker than Ernst Lubitsch at the helm.

By the time the movie would premiere in March of ’42, America was squarely in the war and the film’s star Carole Lombard was dead – a January plane crash after a domestic trip selling war bonds killing her, her mother, and 15 U.S. soldiers. Indeed, Lombard is often referred to as the first female casualty of the war, given the reasons for her travels at the time. So this, coupled with the film’s obvious brilliance, changed the attitude of audiences to one more receptive and supportive of aggressively anti-Nazi pictures.  Continue reading

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