The Set of 400: The Quartermark Quiz! Win Valuable Prizes!

We’re a quarter of the way there! Congratulations, all! Has the Set of 400 established itself as part of your morning ritual? Have you joined one of the dozens of watch party groups around the country? Has the inclusion of a stray foreign language-r or two inspired a global viewing extravaganza? There is plenty more on the way, but thanks for your continued support! Our numbers are tremendous and your link clinks have nearly secured me a new revenue stream, thanks to the good people at the Patio Store, locations in Calgary and Red Deer, Alberta!

And now, time for the quiz! Get your No. 2 pencils ready, chumps, because the Scantron is warmed up and prizes are on the line! What prizes, you may ask? Oho, it’s gonna be winners choice here in Quiz Round I (Yep, there may be more! Who knows?) – delivered straight to your door from the American Post Office (Contiguous U.S. residents only, please!). You could have my large print copy of Joseph Heller’s unfortunate sequel to Catch-22, titled Closing Time! You could receive my Loot Crate plastic mini-statue of Rick from Rick and Morty flashing double middle fingers! You could win an luxury tour of my guest bathroom (no travel or lodging expenses included)! Numerous options available – see bottom of post for all prize options, and pictures of these dumb things, too! Plus, obviously, all winners receive a signed and extensively inscribed copy of my award-free masterpiece Parade Day, soon to fall out of print! Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #301 – My Favorite Opera Lovers Conference

Today! Because I always get the fuzzy end of the lollipop –

Some Like it Hot (1959)

Directed by Billy Wilder

Starring Jack Lemmon (x2), Tony Curtis, Marilyn Monroe, George Raft, Joe E. Brown, Pat O’Brien, Nehemiah Persoff, Joan Shawlee

We close out the first hundred list films with the movie the AFI declared the best comedy of all-time, on their list some 19 years ago now (19 years! Gah!). It’s a solid cross-dressing caper, with two on-the-run musicians joining up with an all-girl band, and sexy hijinks ensue. It’s the backbone of all comedy, before a certain point! It’s funny because they’re dressed as girls and they use funny voices! Plus, Marilyn Monroe’s acting doesn’t really destroy anything! But the best comedy of all-time?

I mean, I get it – the AFI is big into the history of film, as opposed to praising new, flashy things. And being the movie with the most jokes, or the funniest jokes, doesn’t necessarily make you the best comedy. But Some Like it Hot is so much like so many other movies that even though it does what it does very well, and with very high caliber performances from Lemmon and Curtis, is it really that amazing? Also, not to bang on the AFI too too much, but the number two movie on their comedy list? Also a cross dressing comedy. Come on, folks!

Funny as is it, Tootsie did not make this list

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The Set of 400: #302 – My Favorite Bullet Removal

Today! Because in my last case, I had to throw my own brother out of an airplane –

Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982)

Directed by Carl Reiner

Starring Steve Martin (x2), Rachel Ward, Carl Reiner, Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, Barbara Stanwyck, Ray Milland, Ava Gardner, Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant (x3), Ingrid Bergman (x3), Veronica Lake (x2), Bette Davis, Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Fred MacMurray (x2), James Cagney, Joan Crawford, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, George Gaynes, William Conrad, Edmond O’Brien

The great pairing of Carl Reiner and Steve Martin produced this noir spoof, intercutting Martin’s detective Rigby Reardon with actors/characters from hard boiled crime films of the ’40s for a new mystery adventure. Almost twenty different films compose Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, including Suspicion, Double Indemnity, The Lost Weekend, The Big Sleep, and #370 Notorious, providing plenty of long-dead screen legends new comic opportunities, and new chances at joining the prestigious Two- and Three-Timers club!

Martin and Ward, as the femme fatale Juliet, make a great straight-faced team, and do all the heavy lifting in the movie, with the only exception maybe being the heroic work of career comedy film editor Bud Molin. The worry about this movie on paper (in retrospect) is how can any of this footage actually be matched up, using 1982 technology? Sure, at the time, it must’ve seemed like this was a possibility, but now – can you imagine hearing about this concept for a movie from 35+ years ago and thinking it would work? Is this the first you’re hearing about this movie, and you’re in some manner of disbelief right now? Well, rest assured, it totally pays off. The movie doesn’t do a lot of complicated inserting of characters into old footage – à la Forrest Gump – instead filming new scenes that function against the existing footage. A lot of it is funny phone conversations, but they’re almost equally effective with same room sequences. And Martin has the patter down, so that the mismatched conversations actually sound like they’re happening – not just in context but in style and rhythm. It’s a hell of an achievement.

It’s also the rare dark-haired Martin role

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The Set of 400: #303 – My Favorite Snoring Conversation

Today! Because I don’t need anything in the world, darling, but you and a toothbrush –

After the Thin Man (1936)

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke

Starring William Powell, Myrna Loy, James Stewart, Elissa Landi, Joseph Calleia, Jessie Ralph, Alan Marshal, Sam Levine, Penny Singleton, George Zucco, Teddy Hart, Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins, William Law

The best of the Thin Man sequels, and by some estimations the top movie in the series, After the Thin Man picks up where the first film leaves off – with Nick and Nora on a train heading west, replete with their boozy banter and dog Asta in tow. Sure, their comrades from the first movie two years earlier who were also taking this train are no where to be seen, but what of it? There are new mysteries to solve immediately upon arriving home in San Francisco! Forget that Thin Man case!

For the uninitiated, the Thin Man movies follow a pretty standard formula for film mysteries of the ’30s and ’40s – central master detective, tight running time, lots of punching, one or two gunshots. What made the Thin Man movies stand out – even from the other, previous William Powell mystery series, Philo Vance – was the light comedy injected by the leads, the married “former” detective Nick Charles and his socialite wife Nora, along with their Wire Fox Terrier Asta, occasionally embroiled in his own drama, due to Mrs. Asta and a neighborhood hound, as in this film. Fun fact – Asta was portrayed by Skippy, who had a robust film career in the ’30s, appearing in the first three Thin Mans, as well as The Awful Truth, Topper Takes a Trip, Sea Racketeers, I Am the Law, and Bringing Up Baby among others before retiring in 1941. In his heyday, he was pulling down $250 a week! Great Depression my foot!

Rin Tin Tin had nothing on Skippy

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The Set of 400: #304 – My Favorite Misspelled Robbery Note

Today! Because nobody wears beige to a bank robbery –

Take the Money and Run (1969)

Directed by Woody Allen (x3)

Starring Woody Allen (x2), Janet Margolin, Marcel Hillaire, Lonny Chapman, Howard Storm (x2), Louise Lasser, Jan Merlin, Jacquelyn Hyde

Woody Allen’s first original feature – following the redubbed mashup masterpiece that is What’s Up, Tiger Lily? – Take the Money and Run has a rawness to it that is pretty endearing, while also being a solid signal of things to come. The loopiness of Woody’s early films progressively tones down with each succeeding movie, before they finally level out solidly balancing jokes with depth and a particular artistic sensibility. This evolution does create pretty distinct periods in his work, and the first – later described as his “early funny ones” in his own Stardust Memories – kicked off with this wacky, gag heavy crime caper.

It’s also an early example of the mockumentary, which really took off across comedy in the ’80s and ’90s, including other Allen films – Zelig, Sweet and Lowdown, etc. With the pervasively grim narrator – reminiscent of cops and robbers TV shows of the ’50s and ’60s – detailing the criminal career of inept bank robber Virgil Starkwell, the slapstick goings-on adopt a contradictory vibe and leave many of the actors playing the wacky scenes straight. The result is as many jokes per minute as any of his pre-Annie Hall movies, while maintaining a relatively straightforward story, avoiding some of the flightier moments of his early ’70s entries Bananas and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex*. In a lot of ways it works better than his other early films, by way of its seeming parody of crime story shows, even without a direct source to satirize, unlike a Mel Brooks or Zuckers/Abrahams movie. Continue reading

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The Set of 400: #305 – My Favorite Reversequake

Today! Because you’ll believe a man can fly –

Superman (1978)

Directed by Richard Donner

Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman, Margot Kidder, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Valerie Perrine, Phyllis Thaxter, Marlon Brando, Susannah York, Trevor Howard, Terence Stamp (x2), Marc McClure (x2), Jack O’Halloran, Sarah Douglas, Maria Schell, Jeff East, Larry Hagman, John Ratzenberger, Harry Andrews

For my entire childhood, this was the only superhero franchise we had. And like a number of other franchises I’ve mentioned, I get the Superman movies waaay mixed up. It doesn’t help that they filmed parts one and two back-to-back, so everyone looks the same, and all the villains from II cameo in I. These two movies are more a single movie than most films with their sequels. Sure, they cut Godfather I and II together effectively as the Godfather Epic eventually, but watching them one after the other in their original form doesn’t bind them together better. But hell, I really have a hard time distinguishing individual scenes from the first two Superman movies to this day. And parts of III, for that matter.

III is bizarre, but I watched it a ton as a kid

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The Set of 400: #306 – My Favorite Latin Argument

Today! Because you are a good woman, then again, you may be the antichrist –

Tombstone (1993)

Directed by George P. Cosmatos

Starring Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer (x2), Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton, Powers Boothe, Dana Delany, Paula Malcomson, Michael Biehn, Charlton Heston, Stephen Lang, Thomas Haden Church, Billy Zane (x2), Jason Priestley, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Jon Tenney, Michael Rooker (x2), Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Ben-Victor, John Corbett, Terry O’Quinn, Frank Stallone, Harry Carey Jr. (x2), Robert Mitchum (x2)

In the hectic western revival of the early ’90s – following Clint Eastwood’s masterful return to form with the Best Picture winning Unforgiven in ’92 – we as a people had a serious choice to make. Would we adopt a Kurt Russell Wyatt Earp movie, directed by the man who brought us Rambo: First Blood Part II, as our one-and-only, or would we opt for the Kevin Costner version, an hour longer and directed by Empire Strikes Back screenwriter and Big Chill director Lawrence Kasdan? This was some kind of dilemma.

Thankfully, the first one to make it to theaters (by six whole months) was perfectly enjoyable, and we could all save ourselves three-plus hours of our lives, at the beginning of Costner’s rapid descent from stardom in the mid-’90s. Tombstone may be the glossier, goofier take on the old legend, but it is infinitely more fun, and features an arguably superior cast (Costner’s does have Dennis Quaid, Gene Hackman, Bill Pullman, Isabella Rosselini, Michael Madsen, and Three-Timer JoBeth Williams, though). Plus, it doesn’t try to out-western Clint – while Wyatt Earp really thought it could bring the gravity by adding running time and a brooding Costner. But hey, Earp did earn that one Oscar nomination – more than Tombstone by one! Congrats, Best Cinematography nod! Continue reading

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