The Set of 400: #217 – My Favorite Adult Braces

Today! Because it’s not going to stop/’Til you wise up –

Magnolia (1999)

Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (x4)

Starring Tom Cruise (x3), Philip Seymour Hoffman (x4), Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly (x4), William H. Macy, Jason Robards (x2), Melora Walters, Ricky Jay, Alfred Molina (x3), Felicity Huffman, Melinda Dillon (x2), Luis Guzman (x3), Philip Baker Hall (x3), Thomas Jane (x2), Michael Murphy (x3), Henry Gibson (x3), Neil Flynn (x2), Patton Oswalt, Jim Meskimen (x2), Jeremy Blackman, Michael Bowen, Cleo King, Clark Gregg (x3)

Like many people, my initial reaction to Magnolia was that I had a problem with the ending. For everything else going on in this movie – and there is a ton going on here – the natural takeaway, as it is the climax of the movie, is “What the hell is all this with the frogs now?” But, come on, how else was it going to end? Isn’t it obvious that the solution to all the crazy pent up drama is for the sky to open up and drench the city in biblically apocalyptic frogs? No?

I mean, this kid seemed to dig it

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The Set of 400: #218 – My Favorite Feel-Around Theater

Today! Because I’m not wearing any pants – film at 11 –

The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)

Directed by John Landis (x2)

Starring Donald Sutherland (x5), Henry Gibson (x2), Bill Bixby, George Lazenby, Victoria Carroll, Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Barry Dennen, Marilyn Joi, Tony Dow, Manny Perry, Stephen Stucker, Michael McManus (x2)

The earliest of the Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker films – albeit one they didn’t direct, The Kentucky Fried Movie, just by the nature of the film, is hugely hit and miss. Instead of wrapping sight gags and shocking jokes around a plot – like Airplane!, Top Secret!, or Police Squad! – they got their start with an 83-minute bundle of movie and commercial parodies, surrounding the main feature concept “A Fistful of Yen,” which is the one bit that goes on far too long and delivers the lowest payoff.

But The Kentucky Fried Movie is more funny than not across its run time, and has always tickled me. I’ll admit – I’ve still never seen The Groove Tube, often credited with creating this feature length concept of a collection of sketches, so for me, KFM has always been the gold standard. From the wacky newscaster teasing the nightly broadcast – “Rams plagued by fumbles as earthquakes rock Los Angeles. Film at eleven.” – to the thrilling features of Samuel L. Bronkowitz – “If you were thrilled by The Towering Inferno, if you were terrified by Earthquake, Then you will be SCARED SHITLESS at the Samuel L. Bronkowitz production of That’s Armageddon!” – I’ve always really liked most of this movie, which I know is a weird endorsement.

The mark of quality!

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The Set of 400: #219 – My Favorite Mud Bath

Today! Because if we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here –

The Player (1992)

Directed by Robert Altman (x3)

Starring Tim Robbins (x2), Greta Scacchi, Fred Ward (x2), Whoopi Goldberg (x4), Peter Gallagher (x2), Vincent D’Onofrio (x3), Dean Stockwell, Brion James (x3), Richard E. Grant (x2), Sydney Pollack, Lyle Lovett (x2), Cynthia Stevenson, Dina Merrill, Jeremy Piven (x2), Gina Gershon (x2), Angela Hall, Leah Ayres (x2), Paul Hewitt, Randall Batinkoff, Buck Henry (x2), Steve Allen, Richard Anderson, Rene Auberjonois (x2), Harry Belafonte, Karen Black (x2), Gary Busey (x2), Robert Carradine, Cher, James Coburn (x3), John Cusack (x2), Paul Dooley (x2), Brad Davis, Peter Falk (x3), Louise Fletcher (x2), Dennis Franz, Teri Garr, Leeza Gibbons (x2), Scott Glenn, Jeff Goldblum (x4), Elliott Gould (x3), Joel Grey, David Alan Grier, Anjelica Huston (x3), Sally Kellerman (x2), Sally Kirkland (x2), Jack Lemmon (x3), Marlee Matlin, Andie MacDowell (x2), Malcolm McDowell, Martin Mull, Jayne Meadows, Nick Nolte (x3), Bert Remsen, Burt Reynolds, Julia Roberts (x2), Mimi Rogers, Jill St. John, Susan Sarandon (x2), Rob Steiger (x2), Lily Tomlin, Robert Wagner (x2), Ray Walston (x3), Bruce Willis (x3)

Robert Altman’s brilliant movie-about-movies comeback, The Player purportedly features the most Oscar winners and nominees in one movie – and would advance by one if the Academy would just come around to the idea and hand David Alan Grier his statue already! Altman’s ’80s were a rough decade following his massive success in the ’70s, the only significant triumph being his spot-on political HBO mini-series Tanner ’88. But then came the glorious revival, featuring the likes of Short Cuts, Gosford Park, Ready to Wear I guess, and kicked off in ’92 with this epic Hollywood takedown. I think because of the size of the cast, and that insane opening tracking shot, I always think of this movie as being much longer than it is. Tight 124 minutes! I could’ve sworn I had this movie on VHS once upon a time, and it was spread over two tapes. Clearly not! What the hell am I thinking of? I had one of those weird standing plastic VHS racks that had a clearly defined plastic slot for each movie, so two-tapers wouldn’t fit. What movie was that??

My God, was it Magnolia?!

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The Set of 400: #220 – My Favorite Business Card

Today! Because if it hadn’t been for my flawless footwork, I’d be standing here a dead man today –

Without a Clue (1988)

Directed by Thom Eberhardt

Starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley (x3), Jeffrey Jones (x2), Paul Freeman, Lysette Anthony (x2), Nigel Davenport, Peter Cook (x2), Pat Keen, Matthew Sim, George Sweeney, Harold Innocent

The best Sherlock Holmes comedy ever made, Without a Clue operates under the idea that Ben Kingsley’s Watson is the true mastermind detective, having hired an actor to portray his literary creation, worried that his criminal hunting pastime might be frowned upon by his medical superiors. Michael Caine’s Reginald Kincaid is a womanizing drunk who only barely manages to keep it together enough to don the deerstalker and parrot Watson’s information back to Scotland Yard and the adoring public. The story begins with them years into this deception, their relationship fraying badly from Kincaid’s lackadaisical character upkeep and Watson’s frustration with hiding his genius.

Kingsley is better known and regarded for his dramas, but his comedy work is routinely excellent, including another role on this list, as the supposed Mandarin in #265 Iron Man 3. Opposite Caine doing his best egomaniac boob actor, they sell this premise, even as it leaps into high-stakes Holmesian mystery, battling their legendary adversary Moriarty (a very effective Paul Freeman). Terrifically funny supporting turns come from Jeffrey Jones’ clueless Lestrade, Nigel Davenport’s Lord Smithwick, and the always great Beyond the Fringe alum Peter Cook.

“A-maaaaaa-zing!”

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The Set of 400: #221 – My Favorite Revenge Tattoo

Today! Because I want you to help me catch a killer of women –

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed by David Fincher (x2)

Starring Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig (x2), Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard (x2), Robin Wright (x2), Joely Richardson, Geraldine James (x3), Steven Berkoff, Yorick van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Elodie Yung, Joel Kinnaman, Julian Sands, Donald Sumpter

I’ll tell you right off – I wasn’t a huge fan of the book, to the point that I never bothered reading the rest of the trilogy. I thought the plotting was interesting, but the writing was kinda dull, and it’s a bit overlong. So my expectations when they were making this movie weren’t super high. I also never watched the original Swedish Noomi Rapace versions – I meant to, as I’ve heard they are solid, but again, didn’t love the book, and then once this movie actually came out, I didn’t want to spoil the (potential, unrealized) sequels.

Rapace does look pretty bad-ass – might be time I finally watched these

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The Set of 400: #222 – My Favorite Game Over, Man

Today! Because mommy always said there were no monsters, no real ones, but there are –

Aliens (1986)

Directed by James Cameron (x2)

Starring Sigourney Weaver (x5), Michael Biehn (x2), Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton (x4), Paul Reiser, Carrie Henn, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston

Oof, look at that poster! I already regret picking that. It doesn’t look like anything! It certainly doesn’t look like something we associate with Aliens. Even if they couldn’t cram a xenomorph on there somewhere, or a Paxton, or a goddamn Newt, you’re telling me that blue globe thing with Sigourney’s rocking ’80s hairdo wouldn’t have sold some tickets? Come on!

The only film in the series to make the list (sorry, Ridley Scott fans!), Aliens is such a huge jump up from the original that it almost verges on that much-talked-about mental disorder I seem to have – where a superior sequel relegates a chronological predecessor to prequel status. This isn’t quite that – Alien, while not on this list, is still a pretty great movie. But it also has completely different aims. Where that film is a relatively slow creeping space horror flick, the James Cameron follow-up is a slam bang bullets and muscles action movie, replete with unlikable, expendable Paul Reisers, more human than human androids, and Paxton delivering great, funny lines with his indelible Paxtonness. And instead of just having a pet cat tagging along for the adventure this time, there’s a grubby human child now! Fun!

And man, is that kid grubby!

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The Set of 400: #223 – My Favorite Christmas Debate

Today! Because now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho –

Die Hard (1988)

Directed by John McTiernan

Starring Bruce Willis (x2), Alan Rickman (x3), Bonnie Bedelia (x2), Reginald VelJohnson, William Atherton, Hart Bochner, Paul Gleason, De’voreaux White, Alexander Godunov, James Shigeta, Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush, Rick Ducommun (x2), Mary Ellen Trainor (x4)

I’ve got a couple disparate ideas on the first Die Hard, none of which talk too much about how great the movie is, so let’s get that out of the way right off the bat. It’s an almost perfect action movie. It’s got a great villain, great little twists, great continually escalating stakes, some pretty funny moments, and the dad from Family Matters at his peak. As it became the template for so many action movies over the next few decades, I don’t think I need to recount the plot, or really anything else about this movie. Die Hard is a masterpiece.

But as the ways to adapt this concept into other action movies ran out long ago – Die Hard on a plane! Die Hard in space! – isn’t it about time we come all the way around to “Die Hard in a Die Hard!” Hear me out – taking footage from the original as the backbone, we have De’voreaux White’s limo driving Argyle (now played by, I don’t know, Brandon T. Jackson) dealing with an entirely different locked-in terror crisis in the parking garage, while John McClane sorts out the Nakatomi Plaza terrorists above. I know, this would require some retconning of story elements from Die Hard, but hey, it’s better than the “Let’s ignore all the sequels and make a new first sequel” idea that has become so popular. Maybe there’s a Russian drug running scheme from a van on level 3! Maybe there’s a secret under-underground human trafficking operation! And the limo driver is our only shoot-’em-up hope! Okay, this might be dumb. Or, is Argyle Hard so dumb it might be great??

And obviously the bear comes to life as his sidekick

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