The Set of 400: #35 – My Favorite Rio Bravo Confusion

Today! Because what’s the point of living in L.A. if you’re not in the movie business?

Get Shorty (1995)

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (x2)

Starring John Travolta (x2), Rene Russo (x2), Gene Hackman (x3), Danny DeVito (x6), Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini (x3), Dennis Farina (x2), Bette Midler, Jon Gries (x3), David Paymer (x4), Renee Props, Martin Ferrero (x3), Miguel Sandoval (x3), Jacob Vargas, Linda Hart, Bobby Slayton, Harvey Keitel (x4), Penny Marshall, Alex Rocco

Ah, movies about movies! Plus, Elmore Leonard! Plus, everyone’s favorite Travolta – the mid-’90s, gigantic star variant! Get out of here with your Vinnie Barbarino! Plus, mobsters! This is a movie I have a huge blindspot on – I’ve had this on the high end of my favorite movies lists for years, and I honestly don’t know if anyone watches or thinks about it anymore.

Figure, the post Pulp Fiction Travolta oeuvre included a bunch of hits, but seriously, when was the last time you watched Phenomenon? Or Michael? Or Broken Arrow? Thankfully he made Battlefield Earth and put an end to this stretch of illogical success, or we might be getting huge Travolta vehicles to this day!

Instead, we now get things like this

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The Set of 400: #36 – My Favorite Million Dollar Wound

Today! Because we was always taking long walks, and we was always looking for a guy named Charlie –

Forrest Gump (1994)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis (x5)

Starring Tom Hanks (x7), Robin Wright (x3), Sally Field (x3), Gary Sinese, Mykelti Williamson, Haley Joel Osment (x2), Sam Anderson, Siobhan Fallon (x3), Afemo Omilami, Michael Jace, Richard D’Alessandro, Dick Cavett (x2), Michael Conner Humphreys, Hanna Hall

To be a fan of Forrest Gump in 1994 was decidedly uncool. This was a year of pretty bad ass, cutting edge cinema – what with Speed and Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption and True Lies and that baddest ass shouting match in cinema history, #317 Blue Chips. ’94 had it all for bros and dudes alike. And then you had Forrest Gump. Everyone’s mom loved Forrest Gump. The soundtrack was straight out of 1969. It had a boatload of dopey quotes and silly cameos by Elvis and John Lennon. It boiled down all of American history and southern racism into little bite sized comedic nuggets, and then hurled AIDS into the mix just to find an ending. Dammit, Forrest Gump!

This is the same movie where he tells LBJ he got shot in the buttocks!

However, as the years went by, and the general schmaltziness of this movie dissipated once it no longer had to be directly compared to the other films of ’94, Gump sort of rose above its initial impressions. I mean, it was a massive hit in its day, and it won Best Picture against all odds, fairness, and logic, so it’s not like it needed to find an audience or acceptance or anything, but for the slightly snobby guy element, obsessed with the vanguard of exciting new cinema in the early ’90s, Gump was a sugary throwback epic, even for all its fancy special effects. I enjoyed it well enough the first time around, but ’94 was just too much cinematically for a full embrace of this movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #37 – My Favorite Sale at Penney’s

Today! Because I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley –

Airplane! (1980)

Directed by Jim Abrahams (x3), David Zucker (x4), and Jerry Zucker (x3)

Starring Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty (x3), Leslie Nielsen (x3), Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges (x2), Robert Stack (x3), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Stephen Stucker (x2), Jonathan Banks (x3), Barbara Billingsley, Lorna Patterson, Maureen McGovern, Joyce Bulifant, Gregory Itzin (x4), James Hong (x2), David Leisure, Ethel Merman, Jason Wingreen (x2), Jimmie Walker

Does anyone actually watch Airport anymore? Any of the Airport movies? I knew in some vague way growing up that they existed – that Airplane! was a direct parody of those films – but I never saw any of them until I was probably in college. Because those movies are nonsense. Now, by 1980, all four Airport films had been released, so I’m guessing the time was ripe to lambaste those hokey melodramas, but it kinda feels like making a parody of Twilight, no? Like, we all know its garbage, so how to escalate that and make fun of it? This being said, were you to glance at Airport‘s statistics, and found how it was nominated for ten Academy Awards including Best Picture, and figured ol’ Joe for hyperbole, you’d be wrong. The 1970 Oscars were clearly insane.

When you’ve got Dean Martin playing a pilot, no tongue in cheek, you know there are problems

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The Set of 400: #38 – My Favorite Open Heart Cave Surgery

Today! Because that’s how Dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far –

Iron Man (2008)

Directed by Jon Favreau

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (x9), Gwyneth Paltrow (x5), Jeff Bridges (x3), Jon Favreau (x4), Terence Howard, Clark Gregg (x5), Leslie Bibb, Shaun Toub, Faran Tahir, Paul Bettany (x3), Peter Billingsley (x2), Samuel L. Jackson (x11), Tim Guinee

There aren’t a lot of years with multiple films still to come on this list, but 2008 leads the way so far as the top 38 are concerned. 1994 still has three – with the next one arriving on Wednesday – and has already seen seven films make it, but 2008 has four in this group starting today. More surprisingly, maybe, is that there have only been three up to this point – #204 Semi-Pro, #322 Role Models, and #352 Be Kind Rewind. Huh! Saving the best for later, I guess!

But man did I love the summer of 2008. I moved to Chicago at the end of May, living within walking distance of a movie theater for the first time in my life – Shoutout to the Webster Kerasotes! Changed hands but not forgotten! – reunited with the girlfriend after 21 months of long distance relationship-ing, reunited with my high school pal Dave, and basically dragged them to see everything that came out, multiple times. I’d like to say that this was just a hectic adjustment period where I overindulged in cinema-going, but no, this just showed me what my life would become here in the big town. Having moved twice since, I still have never been more than an eight minutes walk from a theater.

Can’t find a picture of the outside, and inside the Webster Kerasotes looks like every other theater ever

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The Set of 400: #39 – My Favorite Stolen Necktie

Today! Because everyone who drinks is not a poet. Maybe some of us drink because we’re not poets –

Arthur (1981)

Directed by Steve Gordon

Starring Dudley Moore (x2), Liza Minnelli (x2), John Gielgud (x3), Jill Eikenberry, Barney Martin (x2), Ted Ross, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Anne De Salvo, Stephen Elliott, Paul Gleason (x2), Lawrence Tierney (x3)

I’m not sure how expressly I’ve stated this before, but clearly I’ve got a thing for drinking comedies. I know I’ve referenced my long lost Best Drinking Films list from a MySpace blog – a list I’m sure I have somewhere but still can’t locate – but that was created largely because of my affinity for buffoonish alcoholic adventures on the big screen. This list has featured a bunch of them – mostly teen comedies like #231 American Pie, #348 Road Trip, and #67 Can’t Hardly Wait, but also your #147 Quiet Man, that one scene in E.T. (that’s probably where I mentioned this list before, right?), and now the greatest comic drunk character of all time, Dudley Moore’s terrific soused millionaire layabout Arthur Bach.

Completely underrated as a drinking film (and I now realize hasn’t appeared on this list yet)

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The Set of 400: #40 – My Favorite Piece of the Puzzle

Today! Because if I hadn’t been very rich, I might have been a really great man –

Citizen Kane (1941)

Directed by Orson Welles

Starring Orson Welles (x4), Joseph Cotton (x2), Everett Sloane, George Coulouris (x2), Agnes Moorehead (x2), Dorothy Comingore, Ruth Warrick, Erskine Sanford, Harry Shannon, Ray Collins

In the ballsiest decision since including Casablanca back at #74, today we find ourselves face-to-face with the greatest movie ever made, by loud acclaim, for the past eight decades. And while many all-time greats were omitted from this list and I would venture some are far too boring (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia), grim (Schindler’s List), or generally overrated (Psycho) to make any respectable favorites countdown, Citizen Kane nonetheless lands in this very strong position thanks to the sheer entertainment value of the undeniable masterpiece.

“But,” I can hear you asking, “where the hell do you get off?” Which is fair. I weirdly feel that to see Kane is to love it and recognize its brilliance, but that alone doesn’t immediately propel it to the top of a Favorites list. However, there’s nothing wrong with this movie – nothing whatsoever – plus I’ll contend it doesn’t even really have slow, dull, only-mildly-interesting parts. The direction and general visual construction of the piece negates that as a possibility. Say you don’t really give a damn about Charles Foster Kane – maybe he’s just too much a Trumpian asshole to really invest your emotion with – you still have to marvel at the gorgeous cinematography, the thoroughly inventive editing and use of sound, the borderline amazing scene transitions, and the wonderful acting across the board. Maybe all the flashing back and forth in time gives you cinematic whiplash – the driving documentary style narrative still manages to lay the plot out neatly and steadily march us through his life story. Maybe you can’t see Agnes Moorehead without thinking of Bewitched – that’s fair, there’s no work around for that.

I would argue there’s nothing wrong with being reminded of Bewitched, lustily and often

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The Set of 400: #41 – My Favorite Free Bowl of Soup

Today! Because I got that going for me, which is nice –

Caddyshack (1980)

Directed by Harold Ramis (x2)

Starring Chevy Chase (x4), Rodney Dangerfield, Michael O’Keefe, Bill Murray (x9), Ted Knight, Cindy Morgan, Sarah Holcomb (x2), Scott Colomby, Brian Doyle-Murray (x5), Ann Ryerson, Albert Salmi, Elaine Aiken, Henry Wilcoxon, John F. Barmon Jr.

I’m guessing the main reason I didn’t see Caddyshack for long time was that I’d seen Caddyshack II first. And while to a ten year old II’s nonsense retread antics aren’t all that bad – oh, that funny gopher! Dan Aykroyd! Jackie Mason! Kenny Loggins’ “Noboby’s Fool”! – it obviously isn’t a movie that would inspire you to seek out others in the series (plus it thankfully murdered any concept of this becoming a franchise). So while I certainly caught heavily edited glimpses of the original, it was probably high school before I finally watched the whole bawdy golf masterpiece in all its glory.

I’ll admit, Caddyshack is a bizarre conglomeration of stuff that only barely holds together as a movie. The original concept just centered on the caddies, easily the weakest and most forgettable part of the final film, and probably recognizing this they enhanced the roles and importance of all the high caliber comedians brought in (you’d assume) to bolster this plot. Thus you end up with the disparate stylings of Rodney Dangerfield – never better than as boorish new club member Al Czervik, Ted Knight’s permanently outraged Judge Smails, Chevy Chase’s best non-Griswold creation of slick golf whiz Ty Webb, and the king himself, Bill Murray in the basically unscripted groundskeeper/gopher antagonist role of Carl, whose every line has probably found its way onto a t-shirt by now.

Lord knows I’ve got my share

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The Set of 400: #42 – My Favorite Barbershop Quartet

Today! Because that’s nothing, I once waited a whole year for September –

The Muppets (2011)

Directed by James Bobin

Starring Jason Segel (x3), Amy Adams (x2), Steve Whitmire (x6), Eric Jacobson, Dave Goelz (x6), Bill Barretta (x3), Matt Vogel, Peter Linz, David Rudman (x2), Chris Cooper (x3), Rashida Jones (x3), Jack Black (x6), Alan Arkin (x6), Zach Galifianakis (x2), Bill Cobbs (x2), Mickey Rooney, Ken Jeong (x3), Jim Parsons, Kristen Schaal (x2), Sarah Silverman (x3), Donald Glover, Emily Blunt, James Carville, Whoopi Goldberg (x6), Selena Gomez, Dave Grohl, Neil Patrick Harris (x2), John Krasinski, Judd Hirsch (x2), Rico Rodriguez, Eddie Pepitone (x2)

Man, it is disconcerting seeing full-body Muppets with legs, right? Like, sitting is okay, but standing like that? Gah! Muppets on bicycles is such a cool trick that it was never visually an issue seeing their whole body, so why is the above picture so strange? And this was an actual poster for the movie – maybe not the most common one, but still!

It’s pretty ingenious puppeteering!

The 2011 Muppet film was the first big screen adventure for the gang in twelve years. They’d popped up in a bunch of TV specials, and started a pretty decent YouTube channel for music videos and song parodies and the like, but the days of major pop culture relevance were long behind them. Thus, when rumors started that there was this new, glossy Disney film with big stars attached and one-half of Flight of the Conchords doing the songs, I was excited but pretty skeptical. Would this actually see the light of day? Could a new Muppet film truly come to pass? There have been whispers of a Fraggle Rock movie for over a decade now, so it’s not like these things tend to materialize. And serious, the best Muppet product from the previous decade was a somewhat nausea-inducing Playstation game, Muppet Race Mania, so what kind of hope could I have?

Significant as being Frank Oz’s last full project with the Muppets, it was also a pretty fun game.

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The Set of 400: #43 – My Favorite Party of the First Part

Today! Because you should have come to the first party. We didn’t get home until around four in the morning. I was blind for three days –

A Night at the Opera (1935)

Directed by Sam Wood (x2)

Starring Groucho Marx (x6), Chico Marx (x6), Harpo Marx (x6), Margaret Dumont (x3), Kitty Carlisle, Allan Jones (x2), Sig Ruman (x5), Walter Woolf King (x2), Edward Keane, Robert Emmet O’Connor, Billy Gilbert (x2)

So if you want to get really technical, the Marx Brothers have three distinct periods of their film career – The terrific Four Marx Brothers years (’29 through ’33) and the mediocre Three Marx Brothers years (’38 to ’49), bookending the shortest but most successful period, the two film set of great Three Marx Brothers pictures under Irving Thalberg, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. They are no longer the zany, joke-heavy antics of the early films, plus the romantic lead duties have fallen to non-relative Allan Jones, in lieu of Zeppo. There are more songs, slightly more runtime, bigger budgets thus larger set pieces, and far bigger box office receipts at Thalberg’s MGM than their Paramount films before or RKO/UA/non-Thalberg MGM ones later.

A Night in Casablanca was a disappointment on all fronts

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The Set of 400: #44 – My Favorite Prince Myshkin Shoutout

Today! Because he was a better dresser than Churchill! He had more hair! He told funnier jokes! And he could dance the pants off of Churchill!

The Producers (1968)

Directed by Mel Brooks (x6)

Starring Zero Mostel (x3), Gene Wilder (x5), Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Lee Meredith, Christopher Hewett, Andreas Voutsinas, William Hickey (x4), Renee Taylor (x2), Estelle Winwood (x2), Barney Martin, Madelyn Cates

You know I love me some movies about plays, and really stagey ones at that, and so – The Producers! While it would take decades for Mel Brooks’ classic to actually make it to Broadway, it should come as no surprise that it made the leap pretty seamlessly. The entire first half hour of the movie is just Zero and Gene’s one room shtick to set up the plot – and wildly funny shtick it is. And with the exception of a handful of NYC street scenes, it’s just one room after another hosting wacky characters and even wackier theatrics. A few of his other films would grab Oscar nominations, but The Producers is the reason Mel is rocking that EGOT – winning Best Screenplay in 1968, as well as Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Original Score for the stage version in 2001 (He also won Grammys for Producers related work, but already had one on the shelf for The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000 as Best Comedy Album).

Just to wrap this up, he also won three Emmys for Guest Comedy Actor on Mad About You, and one for writing on a Sid Caesar special in the ’60s

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The Set of 400: #45 – My Favorite Enchantment Under the Sea

Today! Because the way I see it, if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?

Back to the Future (1985)

Directed by Robert Zemeckis (x4)

Starring Michael J. Fox (x4), Christopher Lloyd (x6), Lea Thompson (x3), Crispin Glover, Thomas F. Wilson (x3), James Tolkan (x5), Claudia Wells, Marc McClure (x4), Wendie Jo Sperber (x2), George DiCenzo (x2), Frances Lee McCain, Casey Siemaszko (x2), Billy Zane (x4), Donald Fullilove (x3), Jason Hervey (x2), Harry Waters Jr.

I mean, come on, you don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Back to the Future, right? Even with the incestuous overtones and the general lack of effects-heavy science-fictioning going on, it’s still one of everyone’s top sci-fi films ever made. It’s a little dated, sure, but it was such a towering staple of the ’80s that it gets a pass for the anachronistic jokes and references. Pepsi Free? Come on! By the time I first saw this movie – as I mentioned before, years after it had come out – I didn’t even know what the hell Pepsi Free was.

Wait a minute, there was a Diet Pepsi Free? Now I really don’t understand what it was

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The Set of 400: #46 – My Favorite Albatross

Today! Because I’m going to break you, Holmes. I’m going to bring off right under your nose the most incredible crime of the century, and you’ll never suspect it until it’s too late –

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

Directed by Alfred Werker

Starring Basil Rathbone (x5), Nigel Bruce (x4), George Zucco (x3), Ida Lupino, Alan Marshal (x3), Henry Stephenson, E.E. Clive (x2), Arthur Hohl (x3), Terry Kilburn (x3), Mary Gordon (x3), Holmes Herbert, Peter Willes

The best film in the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, the second one chronologically, and the fourth to the make this list, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was released six months after The Hound of the Baskervilles and still enjoyed all the support and budget Twentieth Century Fox was willing to offer. Thus, it’s a beautifully designed Victorian yarn pitting Holmes and Watson opposite George Zucco’s Moriarty, the most dynamic in the film series (he would appear twice more in the later Universal films, played by Lionel Atwill and Henry Daniell). The ingeniously simple plot – relying more on Moriarty’s understanding of the Holmes’ psyche than twisting complexity – culminates with an all-time classic showdown between the two at the Tower of London.

Much earlier in the film they split a cab, which was an economical way to see London in the 1800s, and still is today

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The Set of 400: #47 – My Favorite Nude Interrogation

Today! Because sometimes we pay so much attention to our enemies, we forget to watch our friends as well –

Casino Royale (2006)

Directed by Martin Campbell

Starring Daniel Craig (x4), Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench (x2), Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Jesper Christensen, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkarian

The best Bond movie ever, from the best modern Bond director, Casino Royale had a very tall order come 2006. It had only been a lean four years since Pierce Brosnan’s relatively popular Bond run ended, and the new plan was to take 007 in a decidedly different direction. Whereas there normally is no rebooting of this series, per se, Casino purports to tell of Bond’s beginning, even with the same M from the past decade. It was the first Bond book, but never used as a mainline title so as to not be confused with the David Niven/Peter Sellers/Woody Allen parody of the same name from 1967, or the television adaptation starring Barry Nelson from 1954, I guess.

Not overly convincing, but Nelson was the first Bond, and still the only American in the role! I had this on VHS, but I believe you can now watch it on YouTube. It’s not great

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The Set of 400: #48 – My Favorite Soundstage Visible from Space

Today! Because we accept the reality of the world with which we’re presented. It’s as simple as that –

The Truman Show (1998)

Directed by Peter Weir

Starring Jim Carrey (x4), Ed Harris (x3), Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Paul Giamatti, Holland Taylor (x2), Philip Baker Hall (x5), Harry Shearer (x4), Peter Krause, O-Lan Jones (x2), Joel McKinnon Miller, Tom Simmons, Brian Delate

I’m not sure at the time if we saw this movie as just a bit of science fiction or as a prescient blueprint, but either way, The Truman Show either accurately predicted what much of cable and network television would become over the next two decades, or it inspired the transformation. Sure, EDtv covered the same ground the following year (and the ’80s rebooted Twilight Zone episode “Special Service” some distance before), and was technically a little closer to the ultimate reality of reality television, plus it’s not like there had never been some version of this in actual practice – the 1973 PBS docu-series An American Family and MTV’s The Real World, most notably – but it wasn’t an omnipresent phenomenon like it would become in the 21st century. Within three years of Truman Show‘s release, the Emmys had a category for Outstanding Reality Program and in four years we had The Osbournes, popularly acknowledged as the beginning of the people having their lives filmed for entertainment craze. YouTube came along three years later, and now anyone could theoretically have their whole existence broadcast for consumption. Ah, what a time this has been to be alive!

Maybe it’s these jackasses who deserve all the blame

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The Set of 400: #49 – My Favorite Satanic Romance

Today! Because it’s been six weeks since Saddam Hussein was killed by a pack of wild boars and the world is still glad to be rid of him –

South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999)

Directed by Trey Parker

Starring Trey Parker (x2), Matt Stone (x2), Mary Kay Bergman, Isaac Hayes (x2), George Clooney (x5), Brent Spiner (x2), Minnie Driver, Dave Foley, Eric Idle (x3), Mike Judge, Toddy Walters

The first time I saw anything South Park related was after my sister went away to college and somehow acquired a copy of the infamous Spirit of Christmas short – the epic Jesus vs. Santa bloodbath – which helped launched the long running Comedy Central program. At this point, our town hadn’t even gotten cable beyond channel 36 (QVC, incidentally), but the clamor for it was at such an intense volume that I can point to a number of people who would claim their lives completely changed when the lines got run to their houses, and all of a sudden we had multiple dozens of new channels.

I suspect no one under the age of 25 can really understand this now – going from an insanely limited number of options to seemingly everything we could ever want. I mean, we had MTV and VH1 and…A&E, since around 1990, but I remember when we expanded to that batch of channels, nearly tripling our lifetime tally of 13. Obviously getting MTV was the big deal then, considering it had existed for years by that point, but come 1997/8, the stories of all the splendors of extended cable were emanating from big cities, and South Park embodied all the wonders we were missing. I didn’t know what the hell was on E! or Bravo or The Learning Channel (TLC used to be The Learning Channel! Go look at what they air now!), all I knew was that I needed Comedy Central.

There are no bigger sellouts on Earth than TLC

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