The Set of 400: #171 – My Favorite Striped Flying Dog

Today! Because there wasn’t much to do. All the bowling alleys and donut shops had been wrecked –

Strange Brew (1983)

Directed by Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas

Starring Rick Moranis (x3), Dave Thomas (x2), Max von Sydow (x3), Paul Dooley (x4), Lynne Griffin, Angus MacInnes, Brian McConnachie, Jill Frappier, Mel Blanc (x2)

Does your average person point back to a period where they watched a lot of television and refer to this as a particularly formative time of their life? I’ve hung out with a lot of strange theater/writer types in my day, so most of them seemed to have a story like this, but I don’t know about regular people. Is this common? Well, for me, the brief corridor of time in the early ’90s when Nick at Nite ran half hour Best of Saturday Night Lives and half hour SCTVs was probably it for me. In addition to the overwhelming amount of TV I watched at all other times of the day, this hour block every weeknight seems responsible for a lot of my thinking about comedy, enjoyment of it, and lamenting that they don’t make ’em like they used to.

I miss this era all the time

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The Set of 400: #172 – My Favorite Tussle

Today! Because this is the dumbest fucking shakedown in the history of shakedowns –

Out of Sight (1998)

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (x2)

Starring George Clooney (x3), Jennifer Lopez, Ving Rhames (x3), Don Cheadle (x3), Albert Brooks (x4), Dennis Farina, Nancy Allen (x2), Michael Keaton (x5), Steve Zahn, Catherine Keener (x3), Luis Guzman (x4), Connie Sawyer, James Black, Viola Davis, Paul Calderon, Samuel L. Jackson (x4), Isaiah Washington, Keith Loneker

All of the sleek cool on display in #249 Ocean’s Eleven is directly attributable to Soderbergh’s work on Out of Sight – one of the great unacknowledged sequels of all time. There is again a heist at the center of the film, but it unfolds in a completely different way. Where Ocean’s is pretty straightforward, with only some narrative somersaults at the end to heighten the impact of the caper itself, Out of Sight flips in and out of the linear tale, explaining the characters prior interactions in prison (virtually all the guys were in prison at some point), and how and why this grand Detroit house robbery came about.

The cast is first rate across the board, but none more so than Jennifer Lopez as Marshal Karen Sisco, kidnapped while Clooney’s Jack breaks out of jail, plunging them both in the trunk of the getaway car, where the hot, sweaty romance begins to blossom. Ridiculous, right? But it totally works, in that marvelous Elmore Leonard way. I want to emphasize how good Lopez is here, because I don’t think she will ever really get the credit she deserves as an actress. As time went by, she did more and more romantic comedies and middling TV shows, but her career’s start – with Selena and Out of Sight and…Anaconda – signaled her as a major talent, capable of a lot more than she’s done. Sure, her music career always came first, and those Affleck films sure didn’t help things, but I always hoped she’d get back to some great character work. Not too late, JLo!

No reason to get blue about it!

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The Set of 400: #173 – My Favorite Breeder’s Guide

Today! Because I really am a horse doctor, but marry me, and I’ll never look at another horse –

A Day at the Races (1937)

Directed by Sam Wood

Starring Groucho Marx (x3), Harpo Marx (x3), Chico Marx (x3), Allan Jones, Maureen O’Sullivan (x2), Margaret Dumont (x2), Sig Ruman (x3), Esther Muir, Douglass Dumbrille, Dorothy Dandridge, Leonard Ceeley

The last really good Marx Brothers movie (and even that is up for some debate), A Day at the Races functions as a solid last gasp for the team, even though they couldn’t have known it when production began. Like on A Night at the Opera two years earlier, they had the benefit of road testing some of the material, to get the jokes down solid and the timing together to hold for laughs. They had the enthusiasm and support of MGM boss Irving Thalberg, who threw them the money and resources to make this work, and got the film launched before cameras in the fall of ’36.

For two years, they were quite the team

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The Set of 400: #174 – My Favorite Basket of Lotion

Today! Because his pulse never got above 85, even when he ate her tongue –

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Directed by Jonathan Demme (x2)

Starring Jodie Foster (x2), Anthony Hopkins (x6), Ted Levine, Scott Glenn (x2), Anthony Heald (x2), Frankie Faison (x2), Stuart Rudin, Brooke Smith, Tracey Walter, Diane Baker, Roger Corman, Charles Napier (x2), Brent Hinkley, Kasi Lemmons, Paul Lazar, Chris Isaak, Daniel von Bargen (x2), Harry Northup

Come on, you had to figure if I’ve got #255 Red Dragon on the list that Silence of the Lambs was on the way, right? And I think both of these movies work for largely the same reason – not too much Hannibal Lecter. See, when they move Hannibal to the center of the story – à la Hannibal – he’s sort of too much. It’s like the key to every great Muppet film – you reserve Miss Piggy for the second act. Hannibal Lecter is the Miss Piggy of the psychological horror genre.

Ah, what could have been

Buffalo Bill is a pretty interesting villain in his own right – not unlike the Tooth Fairy in Red Dragon – and the manhunt for him is equally compelling. The difference, quite obviously, is the Clarice/Hannibal interplay leading up to the finale. Where Will Graham and Hannibal had all this backstory between them – coloring everything that happens in Red Dragon – Clarice is coming at this whole thing a bit under-prepared, and so needs to navigate their relationship on the fly through this dicey kidnapping/murder investigation. Also, in Red Dragon, you know going in there’s no chance Hannibal is going to end up busting out at some point. While here… Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #175 – My Favorite Heat Signature Battle

Today! Because I couldn’t just stand there and watch him shoot those people right in front of me. It was…rage –

Patriot Games (1992)

Directed by Phillip Noyce

Starring Harrison Ford (x3), Sean Bean, Patrick Bergin, Anne Archer, Thora Birch, Samuel L. Jackson (x3), J.E. Freeman (x2), Polly Walker, James Earl Jones (x4), James Fox, Richard Harris, Hugh Fraser, Ted Raimi (x2), Bob Gunton (x3), Jonathan Ryan, Alex Norton

There have been a bunch of Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan adaptations, but only one was released at the center of my film universe – 1992! And so, Patriot Games, the best and my favorite of the Jack Ryan movies I’ve seen (sorry, Sum of All Fears!)! It’s not as baggy as Clear and Present Danger and is more exciting than Sean Connery’s Russian sub commander in The Hunt For Red October. We only went and saw the Chris Pine Shadow Recruit (I think it was called?) thing because we were literally travelling to Moscow the following month, and thought it might be a good travelogue primer. It was not!

It’s a plenty scary work trip for everyone who goes!

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The Set of 400: #176 – My Favorite Phosphorus Disguise

Today! Because there’s no such thing as ghosts and monsters. Haven’t I made that clear to you?

The Scarlet Claw (1944)

Directed by Roy William Neill

Starring Basil Rathbone (x3), Nigel Bruce (x3), Gerald Hamer, Paul Cavanagh, Arthur Hohl, Kay Harding, Miles Mander

Happy New Year, folks! The best of the Universal Sherlock Holmes films, The Scarlet Claw was the eighth Rathbone/Bruce pairing, and the rare adventure set in Canada (!), concerning a series of murders in the town of La Mort Rouge (talk about being right on the nose). In a lot of ways, the plot parallels The Hound of the Baskervilles, even if the story is technically one of the originals produced for the movies. The Doyle estate’s deal with Universal was for two adaptations per every three films, which was honored only basically.

This was also the first original they made which wasn’t updated to the present day – as discussed some in #291 The Voice of Terror (which itself technically is based on the story “His Last Bow”) – and they make good use of the freedom, concocting a more wide-ranging mystery than normal. It’s still a pretty tight film, and it’s not overflowing with suspects, but it doesn’t have the locked-in quality of a number of the movies around it – Sherlock Holmes Faces Death entirely set in a mansion, The House of Fear also set in a mansion, Pursuit to Algiers on a boat, etc. It also features the best non-Moriarty villain in the series, even if it is a surprise adversary, in the form of the constantly-disguised Alistair Ramson, first masquerading as a legendary monster haunting the village, and then as a number of townsfolk.

This movie has a ton of gorgeous posters, too

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The Set of 400: #177 – My Favorite Parfait Endorsement

Today! Because she’s married to the muffin man –

Shrek (2001)

Directed by Andrew Adamson & Vicky Jenson

Starring Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy (x3), Cameron Diaz (x2), John Lithgow (x3), Vincent Cassel, Kathleen Freeman (x2), Conrad Vernon, Chris Miller

Without looking it up, I couldn’t tell you for certain right this second whether there were three Shrek movies or four, not counting Puss in Boots. And look, the second movie was pretty solid as I recall, but I don’t remember what the hell the third one was about, or if the fourth movie even exists. Jeez, are there five Shrek movies? I just don’t remember.

I’ve never been one to dismiss animated movies as children’s fare, even endless sequels that seemingly only exist to generate cash. So when Shrek was released – and it was so different from everything that had come before – I thought it was groundbreaking, amazing hilarity. Okay, now, The Emperor’s New Groove actually was out the previous Christmas (as an animated, children’s, non-musical comedy), but I didn’t see that until much later. And sure, you had the South Park movie, but that didn’t really count, as it wasn’t aimed at kids at all. No, Shrek kinda became the template for animated movies from that point forward. And it’s great. Continue reading

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