Saturday, September 24, 2011

Airplane!, 1980

Directed and written by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker
Starting Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Stephen Stucker, and a lot of other people

The first time I saw this movie, I insisted to my mother that we stay and watch it a second time. Loving and supportive of her son's unbridled love of comedy, she agreed.

When we first got cable, HBO showed this movie over and over. I believe I watched it 14 times.

Since then, I cannot tell you how many times I have watched this. Laughing at the same great jokes over and over again.

In one sense, it's hard to know where to start with this movie. It's so funny, so goofy, so willing to do anything for a joke, such a complete encyclopedia of comedy, that it's completely irresistible. Of course it's dated in stretches (the From Here to Eternity reference and Ethel Merman cameo most notably); of course watching Peter Graves ask the boy Joey about Turkish prisons is unbelievably politically incorrect; and so on -- but this is a really funny movie. It's worth it to have to explain the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar section because it makes me laugh out loud just thinking of it.

I had a friend who told me I couldn't marry my fiance until she saw Casablanca. One might legitimately consider the same standard for Airplane!

Of course it's in the Pantheon.

Airplane! at IMDB.

Friday, September 23, 2011

(Not a review) George Clooney's favorites

I have to admit I'm surprised to be pointing to Parade magazine, but they have a list of George Clooney's 100 favorite movies. I like his movies a lot, especially Intolerable Cruelty and Oceans 11 (both of which should be listed as part of the Pantheon, and Oceans 11 is an accidental omission that I'll fix soon), so it's interesting to see what he likes. It's a little heavy on the bleak early '70's movies (like the Parallax View), but it's a good list of movies to catch up on (vs. my usual of the AFI top 100).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thirteen Days, 2000

Directed by Roger Donaldson
Written by David Self
Starring Bruce Greenwood, Steven Culp, Kevin Costner

This is a fine and inspiring dramatization of the White House view of the events of the Cuban missile crisis. It's important to see how JFK and RFK navigated a path that prevented World War III from erupting -- and that, along with everything else, there were those on both sides who would have preferred that. Aside from not-so-great Boston accents basically throughout the movie, things are very well done here. You might even argue that it's the responsibility of Americans to see this movie, so they can know how hard it is and how much bravery is required to avoid war.

Thirteen Days at IMDB.


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The Awful Truth, 1937

Directed by Leo McCarey
Written by ViƱa Delmar, Arthur Richman
Starring Irene Dunne, Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy

This is a great divorce-remarriage screwball comedy. Leo McCarey jammed it full of all kinds of jokes, from clever wit to slapstick, and they're really good. Irene Dunne is great and got top billing as she was a bigger star than Cary Grant at the time And when you think of Cary Grant as suave and funny, it originated here -- this is the movie that made him as that kind of an actor.

The last few minutes is a little disappointing, but everything prior to that is hilarious. (And, on a personal note, I was continually writing requests for this to be shown around Boston in the mid '80's at places like the Brattle, the Coolidge Corner, and Somerville Theater, which I think helped it be shown -- and I'm glad it worked, because it's awfully funny.)

It's in the Pantheon, of course, along with another McCarey-directed piece of inspired comedy, Duck Soup.

Extra joke for literary geeks (like me): Irene Dunne's music teacher is named Armand Duvalle, which is the name of Marguerite's lover in Camille, by Alexander Dumas fils. 

The Awful Truth at IMDB.


The places to hear from me:
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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Blazing Saddles, 1974

Directed by Mel Brooks
Written by Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor, and Alan Uger
Starring Cleavon Little, Gene Wilder, Harvey Korman

What happens? A Good Sheriff goes up against the Bad Guy.

Boy, is this a funny movie. Mel Brooks talks about how he put everything of himself in into this movie and you can tell. It has that kind of loaded, out-of-control feeling that distinguishes the very best comedies. It's got more great lines in its trailer than most comedies have in their entirety. Everyone in it is hysterically funny (though Harvey Korman stands out for me personally -- "Why am I asking you?"). It's like an encyclopedia of jokes and comic styles.

And all the material about bigotry puts it front and center, where you can't pretend you're just watching a silly comedy. In some sense, this is a movie about our American history. And while some of that history is very ugly, this movie finds a way to make it funny without making it vapid.

Obviously, a member of the Pantheon.

Blazing Saddles at IMDB.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, 2005

Directed by Judd Apatow
Written by Judd Apatow and Steve Carell
Starring Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen

The most recently released member of the Pantheon, this movie kind of defines raunchy comedy. The other side of it is that it's actually a very sweet movie and completely depends on Steve Carell's eminently likeable Andy. Everyone does what they're good at here, but Carell really owns it, with everything from uncomfortable and idiosyncratic teeth-picking to goofy voices, all of which ride on good characterization.

The unrated version and extras are actually worthwhile on the DVD.

The Forty-Year-Old Virgin at IMDB.

Monday, August 29, 2011

(Not a Review) The Pantheon

There is a particular group of movies that hold a special place in my heart. These are the movies to which I make my references, of which I am continually reminded, and about which I chuckle to myself.

Duck Soup
The Awful Truth
Bringing Up Baby
The Philadephia Story
Blazing Saddles
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Animal House
A Fish Called Wanda
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
Groundhog Day
The Big Lebowski
Intolerable Cruelty
High Fidelity
The Forty-Year-Old Virgin
Tropic Thunder

I wish there were a Shakespeare movie to put on this list, and Brannagh's Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing come close, but they don't quite make it. Also, except for Casablanca, this is obviously a list of comedies. Movies such as The Third Man would be on the list if it were broader. Casablanca is on it because it's friggin' Casablanca.

N.B. People whose taste I trust completely hate some of these movies (especially The Big Lebowski). That makes them no less awesome in my humble opinion.

P.S. If you're a Buster Keaton fan, my apologies. I've never enjoyed anything I've seen by him, and, like a good film student, I've tried. I thought his cameo in Sunset Boulevard was funny.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, 1988

Directed by Frank Oz
Written by Dale Launer, Stanley Shapiro, and Paul Henning
Starring Michael Caine, Steve Martin, Glenne Headly

This is one of my all-time favorite movies. It's the story of two con-men -- the older classier Brit (Caine, of course) and the younger, crasser American (Martin) -- as they battle for the money of an American woman (Headly).

The script is great, with deceptions and double-meanings abounding. The direction is crisp and clever. The music has a lovely, old-school feel to it. And the performances are all right on the money, from the leads and all the supporting actors. There's some not-very politically correct humor involving the handicapped, but it's never at their expense.

I can and have watched this movie over and over again. (Disclosure: I am a big Steve Martin fan, as evidenced here, here, and here.)

I believe this is the movie that caused the creation of the pantheon.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at IMDB.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Spy Next Door, 2010

Directed by Brian Levant
Written by Jonathan Bernstein, James Greer, and Gregory Poirier
Starring Jackie Chan, Madeline Carroll, Will Shadley, Alina Foley

This action-packed movie is supposed to be and fails to be light-hearted. In spite of Jackie Chan doing lots of good stunts and trying to be likeable, this movie is mean-spirited and saccharine, features dialogue like a bad sitcom, and has that written-by-committee-to-satisfy-corporate-and-focus-group-needs feeling. Kids might like this movie, but it's filled with sufficiently bad examples of behavior to make it avoidable on that count alone. Skip it.

The Spy Next Door at IMDB.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Absent-Minded Waiter, 1977

Directed by Carl Gottlieb
Written by Steve Martin
Starring Steve Martin, Buck Henry, Teri Garr

This short film (7 minutes) chronicles the outrageously bad service that an absent-minded waiter (Martin) gives to a couple (Henry and Garr). It's classic Steve Martin from the apex of his stand-up period, when he used to play it prior to his performances. Simple and very funny.

The Absent-Minded Waiter at IMDB.

Batman, 1966

Directed by Leslie H. Martinson
Written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Starring Adam West, Burt Ward, Burgess Meredith, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero, Frank Gorshin

This is not the dark pseudo-investigation of I-don't-know-what that Christopher Nolan's been pursuing recently. It's the full-length movie associated with the goofy TV show in the 1960's. It's like an extended and expanded episode of the show. There are bat-boats and bat-copters. Instead of one villain, there are four (Penguin, Catwoman, Joker, and Riddler). And the plot is more complex.

It's funny. If you haven't seen too many Batman episodes recently, it's more fun. The problem with Batman is that since there are a limited number of jokes, it does get old after a while; when I most recently watched this movie, I hadn't seen any Bat-thing in quite a while, so it was good that way.

If you're watching so you can see a fight with "Kapow!" on the screen, they save that until the end.

Also, regarding Adam West: a lot of people underrate his work as a comic actor. He is consistently funny in this movie and in the show. I've heard and read comments that he didn't know what he was doing, as if his timing and delivery were accidentally good. They're not. He knows what he's doing and he's good at it.

Batman at IMDB.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Happy Accidents, 2000

Directed by Brad Anderson
Written by Brad Anderson
Starring Marisa Tomei, Vincent D'Onofrio, Holland Taylor

This is a not-so-great sci-fi dramedy romance with an indy look to it. I think it was supposed to be deep, but I didn't buy it. It's one of those stories where you're not actually sure what the truth is (a la K-PAX), but at least they actually weighed in on what's real and what isn't, so the ending isn't irksome that way. The acting was okay and I have a soft spot Mike McGlone because of the Brothers McMullen (he's only in it for five minutes), but that's not reason enough to recommend it.

Happy Accidents at IMDB.


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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Casablanca, 1943

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid

As if you needed any encouragement to see this, perhaps the best Hollywood movie ever...

Bogart is in peak form. Ingrid Bergman is wonderful. Claude Rains hits all the right notes. Paul Henreid does understated but excellent work. And Conrad Veidt is the perfect bad guy. (And, of course, Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet are awesome, but that's like praising Curt Schilling's pitching.)

It looks great. Dooley Wilson's music sounds great. The story is compelling.

If you haven't seen it in a while, it's just as good as in your memory -- if not better. (Extra fun fact: Bergman and Bogart are people numbers 6 and 7 at IMDB, so somebody else obviously likes this movie.)

One of the few non-comedy members of the pantheon.

Casablanca at IMDB.


Places to hear from me:
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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, 1982

Directed by Nicholas Meyer
Written by Jack B. Sowards from a story by Harve Bennett and Jack B. Sowards
Starring William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley

One of the best entries of the Star Trek movies, with everybody in fine form and the story being a follow-on to a good episode from the original series (Space Seed), plus with better (read more expensive) special effects. Ricardo Montalban is good as Khan, too, with an acting style that matches Shatner's well.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan at IMDB.


The places to hear from me:
Food - josh lubarr food stuff
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Movies - Old Movies and New with Josh Lubarr
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Politics - Progressive Politics (per Josh Lubarr)
Silliness and comedy - Le Repository du Silliness, avec Josh Lubarr

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Third Man, 1949

Directed by Carol Reed
Written by Graham Greene
Starring Joseph Cotten, Orson Welles, and Alida Valli

This is a real pleasure of a movie. The mystery is fun, and the story is smart, relevant, and not formulaic. The characters are well-played and their interactions are realistic rather than simplistic (i.e., not a typical Hollywood movie). The music is good, though I'm not as enthralled by as it many others. The black-and-white cinematography looks great, and there are some incredibly powerful and memorable images.

Orson Welles is particularly compelling, so it's worth the lengthy wait until he appears in the movie.

The newest addition to the pantheon.

The Third Man at IMDB.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

- Not a Review - regarding the Big Lebowski reunion in NYC on 16 August 2011

Must Have Been Interesting...

What? Last night's Big Lebowski cast reunion, of course. Sounds like it was a pretty wacky evening. Coverage at Entertainment Weekly, Time, MTV, and elsewhere. Nothing on at, strangely enough.

The Big Lebowski at IMDB. The Lebowski Fest site, if you're that obsessed.

Cross posted at The Repository du Silliness, avec Josh Lubarr.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Mask, 1994

Directed by Chuck Russell
Written by Mike Werb, story by Michael Fallon and Mark Verheiden
Starring Jim Carrey, Cameron Diaz, Peter Greene, and Peter Riegert

This is a really fun, high-spirited romp. Jim Carrey's energy and many voices are perfectly suited for this vehicle, and they pull of the special effects in just the right tone (I especially enjoyed his cowboy "death" followed by his Oscar® acceptance speech). This movie probably isn't as pleasurable for people who don't like old cartoons, but it's certainly a joy for those who do. Peter Riegert is also fun as the perpetually annoyed cop.

The Mask at IMDB.

Friday, August 12, 2011

High Fidelity, 2000

Directed by Stephen Frears
Written by D.V. DeVincentis & Steve Pink & John Cusack and Scott Rosenberg from the novel by Nick Hornby
Starring John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black, and Todd Louiso

This is an all-time favorite of mine. Among its many excellent virtues:
  • John Cusack's Rob, which is a non-show-offy but excellent acting job with a character who has no shortage of bad qualities and for an actor who has to spend much of his time talking to the audience and actually having a relationship with them.
  • Jack Black's break-out role.
  • Great supporting performances by Iben Hjejle, Todd Louiso, Joan Cusack, the inexplicably uncredited Catherine Zeta-Jones, and the incredibly hilarious Tim Robbins.
  • The music.
  • The "yet" discussion.
One of the younger members of the pantheon.

High Fidelity at IMDB.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Last Picture Show, 1971

Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Peter Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry
Starring Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges, Cybill Shepherd, Ben Johnson, Cloris Leachman

This is a powerful and hard-to-watch movie. It is often described as a coming of age movie, but it's more like a coming to terms story. Everyone in this story, the young people and the old are all so lost and have no mooring. Timothy Bottoms gives a really fine performance as the young man growing up who really hurts some others along the way; even more so for Cybill Shepherd. The story doesn't flinch from that, which makes it both stronger and more painful.

The Last Picture Show at IMDB.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Midnight in Paris, 2011

Directed by Woody Allen
Written by Woody Allen
Starring Owen Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Marion Cotillard

This is a charming movie and Woody Allen shows off Paris in the manner his charming manner. For anyone fond of the nineteen-twenties and the arts at that time, it's particularly amusing. It's a pleasant and at-times delightful picture. It has its problems, but they're exactly what one can expect from a Woody Allen movie, so they're pretty easy to forgive.

Owen Wilson deports himself well as the Allen stand-in, doing a workmanlike job of making the part his own (though Allen's voice feels ever-present as he speaks). Rachel McAdams, Kurt Fuller, Mimi Kennedy, and Michael Sheen all successfully play grating and unlikeable characters, much to their credit (though these characters highlight the shortcomings in the script). All the actors in the 'twenties are a pleasure to watch, with Corey Stoll as Hemingway standing out among them.

And, of course, it looks great.

Midnight in Paris at IMDB.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, 1999

Directed by Jay Roach
Written by Mike Myers and Michael McCullers
Starring Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Mindy Sterling, Verne Troyer, and Seth Green

This is my favorite of these movies. It introduces Mini-Me, and all of the business with Verne Troyer is very funny. The opening bit with Elizabeth Hurley and then the credits is great; admittedly, the very first few minutes of the third one is better -- up to when the Steven Spielberg double does handsprings and joins the dancers is better, but that one goes on too long. The "love" scene with Dr. Evil and Frau Farbissina is awesome. And Tim Robbins' cameo is also top-notch.

I like Fat Bastard less than some, and thought Heather Graham was okay, but the romance or personal in this series has always been secondary and, frankly, sometimes a little maudlin.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Big, 1988

Directed by Penny Marshall
Written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg
Starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, and Jared Rushton

This is a sweet movie about boy who gets his wish to be big, and what happens because of that. It has some funny parts, but is more poignant than comic. It's not really a movie for kids, as it is partly a reflection on innocence, growing up, and adulthood. Tom Hanks does a good job of playing a boy in a man's body without getting the cheap laughs that were certainly available.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Maltese Falcon, 1941

Directed by John Huston
Written by John Huston from the Dashell Hammett novel
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Peter Lorre, and Sydney Greenstreet

This a classic Bogart detective movie and there's a reason for it. He's great as the protagonist who's no hero; Lorre and Greenstreet are as satisfying as ever; Mary Astor does good work; and all the other players perform admirably. There are double-crosses, mickey finns, a femme fatale -- and everything else you'd want or expect. It's a real pleasure.

The Maltese Falcon at IMDB.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Duck Soup, 1933

Directed by Leo McCarey
Starring the Four Marx Brothers, Margaret Dumont, and Louis Calhern
Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, with additional dialogue by Arthur Sheekman and Nat Perrin

Where does one begin in singing the praises of this movie? Harpo and Chico are so funny in their scenes with Trentino (Calhern) and the lemonade vendor (Edgar Kennedy) that it might be the best Marx Brothers movie even if Groucho weren't in it. But he is in it, and he's fabulous, too: his entrance and first scene are top of the line, and everything with all three of them in Margaret Dumont's mansion is fantastic. Most people love the mirror scene the best in that part, but I prefer watching Harpo after he's tried to "open the safe." In addition to the mirror scene, there's also great little exchange that Groucho and Harpo have about Harpo's tattoos, so there's the bonus of watching the two of them together a little more than usual. And if you're like Groucho (and me), and prefer that there's no harp and piano, then you get your druthers on that, too. Zeppo's fine, and makes for nice symmetry in the choreography of song before the war; he also has a nice gag with a hat, but it's Harpo's joke, even though he's already off-screen.

With this and the Awful Truth, Leo McCarey puts himself in the pantheon of comedy gods. Also, this is in the pantheon.

Duck Soup at IMDB.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Modern Times, 1936

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard

The tramp's final outing is a real pleasure. The best comedy is in the factory scene during the first twenty minutes, but there's good material later, too. There's particular note of the historical context of this movie coming nearly a decade after the arrival of sound, the tramp having never spoken before, the song that he sings, and the ending; even for viewers that aren't aware of it, there's no loss -- it's only a hidden bonus.

He also wrote the music, which is another little delight.

Modern Times at IMDB.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ocean's Eleven, 2011

Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Ted Griffin
Starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, and Julia Roberts

This might be the best heist flick ever. It's smart and funny, the story's well told, everybody does a great job with their roles, and it looks great. It's hard to know where to start if there are specific bits of praise to go around. Brad Pitt's doctor and Andy Garcia saying "You know a guy" stand out at the moment, but there's so much good stuff that it's hard to know where to start.

Ocean's Eleven at IMDB.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, 2011

Directed by David Yates
Written by Steve Kloves from the novel by J.K. Rowling
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and Ralph Fiennes

As a culmination of the series, this is a good end; it doesn't really have an independent existence as its own film. It really is part 2 of a single film, so that, having seen Part 1 when it first came out, I was repeatedly confused about various facts of the story. This wasn't pervasive, but I did sometimes feel confused.

That issue aside, this is a decent movie, though I cannot imagine how anyone would see it just for itself. All the actors do a good job, though I found some of Voldemort's material towards the end seemed a little, say, insecure for someone as powerful as the Dark Lord. That said, Ralph Fiennes did as well as he could with the material, which is awfully good.

All in all, it's very well put together, though the look is a little dark and a little too monochromatic, as someone I know pointed out.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II at IMDB.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Naked Gun, 1988

Directed by David Zucker
Written by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Pat Profft
Starting Leslie Nielsen, Priscilla Presley, George Kennedy, Ricardo Montalban

This is a silly, funny movie. It's not as good as Airplane, or even as good as I remembered it being, but it's pretty good, just the same -- lots of good sight gags, cheap jokes, and bad puns. Leslie Nielsen's in fine form, the rest of the cast is just fine, and there's not much OJ Simpson, who is a little tough to watch, given history since then. It also has once of my favorite lines in a comedy, "It's Enrico Palazzo!"

For the record, 1988 was good year for comedy movies, with this, A Fish Called Wanda, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! at IMDB.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Head, 1968

Directed by Bob Rafelson.
Written by Bob Rafelson and Jack Nicholson.
Starring the Monkees (Mickey Dolenz, Davy Jones, Mike Nesmith, and Peter Tork).

This is movie is pretty entertaining, interesting (intellectually and anthropologically), and even somewhat moving. If you're looking for an hour and a half of the Monkees TV show, this is not it. And if you're looking for coherence, plot, or story, this is really not it -- but as a kind of journey (I'm sure its creators would call it a trip), it's not bad. It's a kaleidoscopic, circular series of vignettes involving the Monkees that plays on the idea of the Monkees. Each of the four of them has his arc and gets his moments; I found Peter's part particularly satisfying.

Head at IMDB.