The Set of 400: #256 – My Favorite Multipass

Today! Because I don’t want one position, I want all positions!

The Fifth Element (1997)

Directed by Luc Besson

Starring Bruce Willis, Milla Jovovich, Gary Oldman (x3), Chris Tucker, Ian Holm (x2), Luke Perry, Tiny Lister, Brion James, Lee Evans, John Neville, Charlie Creed-Miles, John Bluthal, Maiwenn

Luc Besson’s follow-up to The Professional, The Fifth Element is a crazy cartoon of a movie. A wildly twisted sci-fi film, but I think it’s safe to say this movie is more a comedy than anything else, right? Like, with all the effects (so many effects!) and weird aliens and shooting and explosions, what do you really take away from this film? Ruby Rhod’s crazy cylindrical hairdo! How Gary Oldman’s Zorg’s head would sort of…leak black stuff? Former wrestler Tiny Lister playing the president! “Multipass!” It’s all pretty bonkers.

One of the five best sci-fi hairdos ever?

And it’s just terrifically entertaining. The fact that for decades the only significant English language films Besson made were The Fifth Element and The Professional (which share very few similarities, besides some light moments and Oldman) is pretty astounding. Besson would more recently make Lucy (a decent if forgettable hit) and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (a colossal misfire, apparently aimed at the sect of the population who thought the Star Wars prequels were awesome [and shut up, I only like The Phantom Menace!]), but that’s about it, directing-wise. But what a great start! Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #257 – My Favorite Wall Climbing Musical Number

Today! Because what do you think I am? Dumb or something?

Singin’ in the Rain (1952)

Directed by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly

Starring Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, Cyd Charisse, Millard Mitchell, Rita Moreno, Douglas Fowley, Kathleen Freeman, William Schallert (x3), Bobby Watson

The quintessential movie musical, Singin’ in the Rain is as damn near a perfect movie as was made in the 1950s, if you don’t mind all the singing and dancing. And as we’ve already covered, I’ve clearly got a thing for musicals – more of a thing than I previously knew existed in this bag of preferences and whims. The entirety of that decade only landed 14 movies on this list (if you include 1950, and not 1960 – decade rules, amiright?), which is one fewer than 1991 scored by itself, and that isn’t even the most honored year. Do I need to watch more films from the ’50s? Almost certainly. But also, did they just not make my kind of films in post-war America for a long time? Also probably true! Goddamn Eisenhower!

For movies and America in general, this was kind of a lousy time to be alive, no matter what shitbird Republicans would have you believe

And as much as I enjoy a good breaking-into-song-for-little-apparent-reason in my cinematic dramas, the 1950s style of musical is largely too sound-stagey and carbon copy for me. Oklahoma and The King and I and that sort are fine, but they never feel even remotely authentic. What works for Singin’ in the Rain is that it’s a movie about movies (my beloved sub-genre), so the sound-staginess of it doesn’t detract. It’s also a period film – set in the late ’20s at the advent of sound in motion pictures – so it has that added layer of movie studio phoniness to camouflage the seams a little more. Musicals are always going to be somewhat unnatural – the only hope with a movie musical is to make it feel less like you’re in a live theater. Cinematic verisimilitude is considerably different for musicals than for virtually any other type of film. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #258 – My Favorite Ice Skating Date (Mixed Doubles)

Today! Because there’s only one creature capable of leaving a footprint that size –

King Kong (2005)

Directed by Peter Jackson (x2)

Starring Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody (x2), Jack Black (x4), Andy Serkis (x2), Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler (x3), Evan Parke, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall, Geraldine Brophy

I’m rarely going to criticize a film for being long. I might say it goes on a bit, or it has some slow parts, or it’s a tad long, but for the most part, I’m not easily bored. I worked at calendar stores in August and September during college – I know from boring. All that being said, I fully agree that Peter Jackson’s King Kong is obscenely too long. I feel like Jackson came down with a case of the J.K. Rowlings in 2005 – after a period of wild success, no one was willing to step up and reign them in, and say that perhaps these stories didn’t need to be 800 pages/three-plus hours long. And so, we have to wait forever for Kong to actually appear in this movie. It’s not like I don’t enjoy all the CGI bugs and whatnot, but somewhere along the way, a little nudge from the studio or somebody to be like “Is this really necessary?” would’ve gone a long way to alleviating our collective sore ass.

Seriously, Jesus, I could’ve lived without this in the memory

All that being said – and hell, it always needs to be mentioned with this film – King Kong is a terrific movie. I was never a huge fan of the 1933 original – I recognize it for the inventive, groundbreaking effects marvel it is, but come on, it’s a bit creaky by today’s standards – and saw the cheesy 1976 version a bunch as a kid, but never had a lingering affinity. So Kong was much like Godzilla, Mothra, Gamera, and the rest of the big, silly, rubber suit monsters of weekend afternoon television. It wasn’t serious entertainment. It was cheap nonsense with cardboard sets. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #259 – My Favorite Un-Decapitation

Today! Because she has more lines than I do and she’s a goddamn mute!

Soapdish (1991)

Directed by Michael Hoffman

Starring Sally Field, Kevin Kline, Whoopi Goldberg (x3), Elisabeth Shue (x2), Robert Downey Jr. (x5), Cathy Moriarty, Teri Hatcher, Kathy Najimy, Garry Marshall (x2), Carrie Fisher, Costas Mandylor, Sheila Kelley, Ben Stein (x2), Willie Garson (x4), Leeza Gibbons, John Tesh

Another staple of early ’90s HBO, Soapdish isn’t the sort of film 12-year-old Joe routinely watched in those days, but it is a movie I routinely saw, given that I can still quote nearly the entire film. Like, I must’ve seen this movie multiple dozens of times. As I’ve mentioned before, this is a sub-genre I really gravitate to – movies about entertainment – so what if it’s about soap operas? The cast is incredible – six Oscar nominees, not to mention future Lois Lane Teri Hatcher, once and future Princess Leia Carrie Fisher, and a great TV exec precursor role to his TV exec role on Murphy Brown, former TV exec Garry Marshall.

It’s a show that got crazier as it aged, but Marshall’s Stan was a terrific late addition

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The Set of 400: #260 – My Favorite Coffee Mug

Today! Because I believe in God, and the only thing that scares me is Keyser Soze –

The Usual Suspects (1995)

Directed by Bryan Singer (x2)

Starring Gabriel Byrne, Kevin Spacey, Chazz Palminteri, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak, Benicio Del Toro, Pete Postlethwaite, Giancarlo Esposito, Suzy Amis (x2), Dan Hedaya (x2), Clark Gregg, Louis Lombardi

A cast and crew simply bursting with purported monsters, The Usual Suspects is nonetheless an amazing movie, if you can get past its baggage. Dazzling, Oscar winning screenplay by apparent Tom Cruise captive Christopher McQuarrie (seriously, his resume over the last 15 years is almost exclusively writing and/or directing Cruise pictures), breakout movie for director Singer (accused of much, the most mild of which being on-set difficulty), and Oscar winning role from subsequent huge movie star Kevin Spacey (who did his level best to top Harvey Weinstein as Biggest Scumbag of 2017 – verdict still out, as of this writing! Who won? None of us, right?).

So with all that – not to mention fervent Trump supporter Stephen Baldwin – can you still wrap your arms around The Usual Suspects and praise it to the heavens like this was 1995? Again, in putting together this list, I’ve tried to be honest with myself. How much does actor/director off-screen drama affect my enjoyment of their films? And the answer is – probably some? Probably less than it should? I mean, I’m not going to run out and see a new Kevin Spacey film, but ones previously existing and beloved? Movies cement themselves for me basically when I first see them – my estimation might rise or fall over time, but that’s still based on film criteria almost exclusively. I might not agree with Clint Eastwood’s politics, but that doesn’t change how much I like In the Line of Fire, get me? I can stay out of my own way in that regard. Pretty much.

The 2012 RNC convention was equally as crazy as Every Which Way But Loose, I’m just saying

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The Set of 400: #261 – My Favorite Viaduct

Today! Because I’ve got a waiting list of fifty people at that cemetery just dying to get in. But I like you and I’m gonna shove you in ahead of all of them –

The Cocoanuts (1929)

Directed by Robert Florey and Joseph Santley

Starring Groucho Marx, Chico Marx, Harpo Marx, Zeppo Marx, Margaret Dumont, Oscar Shaw, Mary Eaton, Cyril Ring, Kay Francis

The second oldest movie on this list, The Cocoanuts comes off as the worst, physically, due to the limitations of 1929 filmmaking. The advent of sound two years before afforded the Marx Brothers the chance to jump into motion pictures – too much of their comedy is wordplay to have functioned well in silents (And yet, their early lost silent short Humor Risk continues to fascinate with possibilities – if you’re harboring a copy, speak up!). However, the microphones in ’29 weren’t the greatest, so the movie does have an overall rickety feel that can be a bit distracting. Sopping wet papers are visible throughout the film, to dampen the crinkling being picked up by their super sensitive equipment, but that doesn’t help the other violent static and unintentional footstepping picked up. Also, technically, there is no known complete version of the film – what exists is a somewhat cobbled together assemblage of footage that runs fully seven minutes shorter than the purported original release.

There is still plenty of classic Marx Brothering going on

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The Set of 400: #262 – My Favorite Scorpion and the Frog

Today! Because I can’t help it, it’s in my nature –

The Crying Game (1992)

Directed by Neil Jordan

Starring Stephen Rea, Miranda Richardson, Forest Whitaker (x3), Jaye Davidson, Adrian Dunbar, Jim Broadbent, Tony Slattery, Birdy Sweeney, Ralph Brown

Subject of the last good-to-great Boy George song, The Crying Game was a huge critical and word-of-mouth success in late ’92, leading to six Oscar nominations for the relatively new Miramax Films, and on everyone lips was the fact that this movie contained a mind-blowing twist. That was enough to interest thirteen year old Joe, I’ll tell you.

Now, the thing was, I didn’t see this movie until after the Oscars that year, so I full well knew the twist before seeing the film. I mean, Jaye Davidson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor – that kinda gives the whole game away. This wasn’t a Linda Hunt/Year of Living Dangerously situation. But I guess…I thought there was something else, maybe? Now realize, 1992 was squarely my launching point when it came to discovering there were good movies out there. As I think I’ve referenced before (in one of the previous five ’92 entries), this year is by far the most represented on this list, despite not being widely acclaimed as some great year in cinema. So maybe the twist wasn’t so important to me. Hell, I sat through Howard’s End as a 13-year-old, too, so maybe I was just willing to check out anything up for awards.

While an admirable movie, Howards End can be paint-dryingly dull (I’m not a huge fan of period British drawing room dramas, though)

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