IT’S JUST A JOKE: THE MOVIE PARODY BLOGATHON is here!

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Welcome! Keep us bookmarked for the next three days, as some gifted bloggers offer their takes on their favorite movie parodies — either spoofs of a particular genre, or a movie whose plotline sends up a particular style of movie or TV show.

If any blog entry below is highlighted, click on the movie’s title to link to that blog entry. If you are a blogger who’s submitting your entry, please post your blog’s name and the entry’s URL in the “Comments” section below, and I’ll link to it ASAP. You are allowed to submit your entry at any time between Sept. 1 and 3 (although as I always say, the sooner the better!)

Here’s the line-up:

Silent-ology – Show People (1928)

The Dream Book Blog – Smile (1975)

The Midnite Drive-In – This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Moon in Gemini – Soapdish (1991)

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Team America: World Police (2004)

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005)

Dell on Movies – Black Dynamite (2009)

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REEFER MADNESS: THE MOVIE MUSICAL (2005) – Everybody must get stoned

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The following is my entry in It’s Just a Joke: The Movie Parody Blogathon, being hosted at this blog from Sept. 1-3, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on a wide variety of movie spoofs, either as genre parodies or plot devices!

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Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical is a heady, sweaty mix of The Rocky Horror Picture ShowLittle Shop of Horrors, and Monty Python that should be eagerly devoured by fans of outrageous black comedy and be energetically avoided by everyone else.

As you might or might not know, Reefer Madness began life as a 1936 propaganda movie, telling an eerie tale about the evils of marijuana that was entirely based on nonfactual theories — chief among them that marijuana would lead its users to immorality, insanity, and jazz piano. This musical version is an obvious take-off on the original, with a cast that has a ball with the concept, including Kristen Bell, “SNL” vet Ana Gasteyer, and Alan Cumming playing a smug narrator with perfect pitch.

Be forewarned that this is comedy at its blackest. The gore gets laid on a little thick, there’s a blasphemous musical number (shades of Monty Python’s “Christmas in Heaven”) that won’t do liberals any favors, and the finale tries for social commentary after one-and-three-fourth-hours of campy fun. But in the end, this version gives a hilarious nose-thumbing to those who are all too willing to let jingoists do their thinking for them. It’s an absolute hoot.

DISJOINTED – A Netflix sitcom buzzing with laughs

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From left to right: Aaron Moten, Dougie Baldwin, and Kathy Bates. Photo: Netflix.

I almost feel sorry for prolific sitcom producer Chuck Lorre (“Two and a Half Men,” “The Big Bang Theory”). Nobody likes his shows, except for the general public.

Lorre’s latest outing, on censor-free Netflix, is titled “Disjointed.” It stars Kathy Bates as Ruth, an old-school radical hippie who runs a marijuana dispensary in Southern California. Contrasting Ruth’s free spirit is her half-African-American, MBA son Travis (Aaron Moten), who wants to use his smarts to turn Mom’s store into a mom-and-pop pot chain across the country.

Also inhabiting the store are Pete (Dougie Baldwin), who talks to his pot plants a la Zonker in the “Doonesbury” comic strip: Olivia (Elizabeth Alderfer), a mellow employee and potential love interest for Travis (at least in Ruth’s eyes); and Carter (Tone Bell), the store’s security guard, whose low-key demeanor hides his PTSD past (which is played out in strange animated segments that, in one of the show’s few debits, come off as kind of tone-deaf).

This show has been raw meat for the critics, most of whom can’t wait to fry this series. CNN Entertainment says the show’s comedy is “as stale as an unwashed bong.” The New York Times notes that the series’ style is a cross between PG-13 network TV and R-rated F-bombs, and concludes, “The result is a mess of a comedy that doesn’t feel as if it belongs anywhere.”

Speaking as Mr. General Public, the premiere episode had me in crying-from-laughing mode from the get-go.

We always knew that Kathy Bates had a gift for sly comedy (Remember Fried Green Tomatoes‘ car-bashing revenge scene?). Here, she gets to indulge it fully, as when Ruth tells her son, “I had a chance to look over your proposal [for a chain store], and in retrospect, I wish I had taken it.” And the supporting cast plays off Bates perfectly.

Naturally, there is the expected pipeline of humor to be found in being stoned (because hey, it’s a pot store!). But I thought it was handled well and not played over the top, as it would have been in a Cheech & Chong movie.

And for all of its sitcom familiarity, the show has some nice surprises up its sleeve. For example, even though the series is on ad-free Netflix, it has commercials. Only they’re not really commercials. I’ll let you figure it out (and enjoy it) for yourself.

As with Woody Allen’s recent Amazon series “Crisis in Six Scenes,” critics seem very resentful when a cable-TV series doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. These days, I’ll take a half-hour of superb character comedy wherever I can find it — in this case, on Netflix (where the show’s first 10 episodes are now available for viewing).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS (1992) – I’d go for the steak knives myself

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The following is my entry in the Workplace in Film & TV Blogathon, being hosted by Debbie at her blog Moon in Gemini from Aug. 18-20, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ takes on movie and TV depictions of the things people do for a living!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

The next time your best friend whines about his job, show him Glengarry Glen Ross. Believe me, he’ll shut up fast.

The script’s stage origins are obvious (David Mamet wrote the play and adapted it for the movie), but nobody will mistake this for just a photographed stage play. It involves some of the sorriest real-estate salesmen in Chicago, fully embodied by Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, and Kevin Spacey as the office manager.

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In a bravura opening sequence, Alec Baldwin, the downtown higher-up, brusquely issues the latest sales challenge for the month. First prize gets a Cadillac, second prize gets a set of steak knives, and third prize gets a pink slip.

As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the sales guys are given “leads” (potential customers to call) that are like “I Love Lucy” reruns: decades old, and seen a thousand times before. With this minimum of exposition, we watch the guys at what could be called work — their suit coats dripping with flop sweat, varying their phone calls between telling loved ones that they’ll be late again and pursuing old leads to share a “marvelous opportunity” with them.

Compounding the frustration are the “good leads” that Spacey keeps locked in his office, “for the sellers.” Suddenly it dawns on a couple of the guys: What if the office was burglarized and the good leads stolen?

Of course, the stupidity of this situation could be argued in a second: Wouldn’t anyone who made a sale from the good leads be caught red-handed? But then again, the leads, like the MacGuffin in Hitchcock movies, are beside the point. It’s really an excuse for David Mamet to throw a bunch of frantic old men together like cattle heading for slaughter, each not listening to the other guy, but waiting for that other guy to stop talking so that he can be heard. None of them exhibits the slightest joy in life. Even Spacey, the office manager with a loving family at home and an office full of great leads, can’t find it in himself to wallow in his superiority.

As simplistic as the movie’s set-up is, it’s some kind of career high point for everyone involved. (My only warning is to watch out for this R-rated movie’s generous use of the F-word — when asked, Baldwin even claims it’s his first name.) “Weepie” movies come with the advice to have your handkerchiefs ready. Anyone who watches Glengarry Glen Ross should be prepared with a good stiff drink in front of him.

For the “Against the Crowd” Blogathon: CAST AWAY (2000) and FLUBBER (1997)

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The following is my entry in the Against the Crowd Blogathon, hosted by the blogs Dell on Movies and KG’s Movie Rants, with entries being accepted through Aug. 20, 2017. You can click on the above banner to read more about it, but here are the blogathon rules:

1. Pick one movie that “everyone” loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that “everyone” hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the Tomatometer scores of both movies.

Here are my entries.

  1. Cast Away (2000)

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Cast Away is one of those movies whose little epiphanies are better than the sum of its parts. When director Robert Zemeckis and producer-star Tom Hanks aim for profundity at movie’s end, the whole enterprise threatens to flitter away like the feather in their previous collaboration, Forrest Gump (1995).

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Hanks plays Chuck Noland, an officious Federal Express executive who is the embodiment of the maxim “Time is money.” (By the way, FedEx gets product placement in this movie like you wouldn’t believe.) Helen Hunt plays Kelly Frears, Chuck’s long-suffering girlfriend, who has to coordinate her and Chuck’s schedules just to spend New Year’s Eve with him.

On the way to one of his FedEx flights, Chuck discreetly passes an engagement ring to Kelly, asks her to think it over, and tries to understate his latest mission by telling her, “I’ll be right back.” Forgive me for revealing that Chuck’s last statement is incredibly wrong.

The middle third of the movie is ostensibly about Chuck getting stranded on an island, being humbled by forces of nature, and having to reinvent himself. And for the most part, Tom Hanks carries off this scenario quite admirably. Yet I never completely got engrossed in this adventure, as I would have if Robert DeNiro had done a similar outing. In the back of a viewer’s mind will lie two questions:

(1) How much of this story’s appeal is in watching Tom Hanks pull off an actor’s coup?

(2) Would we be as willing to watch such a tour de force if this was an independent production with some no-name actor, instead of Hanks with all of his Hollywood clout behind him?

To be sure, Hanks’ more interesting moments show his skills at subtle physicality. Witness his first act after washing up on shore — he collects the FedEx packages that wash up with him, ever the dutiful company man. And the uses he makes of the contents of those packages are refreshingly unpredictable.

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But then there’s this business with the volleyball. In his desperation for companionship, Chuck takes a wayward volleyball, uses his own blood to paint a face on it, names it Wilson, and takes this ball to the very limits of a platonic relationship. And you begin to wonder how much of this is truly a commentary on man’s need to connect, and how much of it is Tom Hanks trying hard to get nominated for another Oscar.

(Also — MAJOR SPOILER!! — how is it that the movie makes so much of Chuck’s “friendship” with Wilson while he’s on the island, and then we never hear about this later? You’d think there’d be at least one throwaway line about it: “Y’know, I was so desperate for communication on that island, I made friends with a volleyball!”)

And without giving away the ending, let’s just say that Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump and Contact took similarly far-out premises and developed them to far more satisfying conclusions. By contrast, the ending here promises far more than it delivers.

Overall, the movie is worth perhaps one viewing for its little surprises and for Tom Hanks carrying the major part of the story. (And most of the minor stuff, too, because Helen Hunt’s Kelly has a Memphis accent that comes and goes with the breeze.) But when Tom Hanks tries to wax philosophical about the tide on Chuck’s remote island, one gets the feeling that he and Zemeckis are trying for more mythmaking along the lines of Forrest Gump’s “Life is like a box of chocolates.”

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2. Flubber (1997)

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From the smarmy tone of reviews for Flubber, you’d think The Disney Co. had tried to remake Gone With the Wind as a comedy. Was the original Absent-Minded Professor treated with as much reverence in 1961 as it is now?

Granted, the remake (scripted by Home Alone vet John Hughes) hasn’t updated the story much, and the villains and the slapstick are as corny and one-dimensional as in the first movie. But that seems a blessing in an era where gas-passing is considered the height of children’s comedy (see Disney’s Rocketman).

As the professor whose obsession with the rubbery creation Flubber is literally single-minded (three times, he forgets to attend his own wedding), Robin Williams is even more straitlaced than Fred MacMurray was. But that might be a blessing, too. Williams gets so caught up in his character’s attention to minutia that it mellows his own rhythms. It’s a nice change to see him play a recognizable, faulty person instead of trying to charm us with his crazy-pixie routine.

Ironically, the movie’s weakest moments are in the nods to ’90s movie technology. The most annoying addition is the professor’s computer, Weebo (voiced by The Little Mermaid‘s Jodi Benson), which exhibits film clips on its screen to express its feelings. That might have been a cute gimmick, if the clips weren’t mostly of old Disney cartoons. And strangely enough, Williams’s most emotive moment is when he cries over the machine’s demise.

There is also a scene where the Flubber goes into a manic dance that is supposed to bowl us over with laughter (the number even gets a credit at the start of the movie). Having seen a whole movie of this kind of stuff (Toy Story) where it worked much better, it’s hard to get worked up about this single scene.

But whenever inspiration starts to flag, there’s usually a nice moment of physical comedy to carry the day. And perhaps I’m thankful for small favors, but I was gratified to see a John Hughes-scripted movie whose comic climaxes didn’t involve kicking a villain in the crotch.

 

 

 

 

NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959) – Alfred Hitchcock thumbs Lincoln’s nose at the censors

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The following is my entry in The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon, being hosted at the blog Coffee, Classics, & Craziness from Aug. 11-13, 2017. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ critiques of their favorite films by the famed director!

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Great entertainment and cinematic art happen so rarely in the movies that we’re usually grateful to get just one or the other. But after over thirty years in the business, director Alfred Hitchcock seamlessly combined both, in a little number called North by Northwest (1959).

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This movie also combined two of Hitchcock’s favorite motifs, the innocent man in dangerous circumstances and the cool, icy blonde. Cary Grant plays Roger Thornhill, an advertising executive who is constantly on the go between martini sessions. One day at a restaurant luncheon, he makes the worst move of his life, simply by summoning a bellboy to send a wire to his mother. This gesture is misinterpreted by some very bad men who are on the lookout for a CIA spy named George Kaplan.

With that fatal gesture, the bad guys abduct Thornhill, and against his loudest protests, he becomes George Kaplan. Along the way, Thornhill/Kaplan is helped (or at least he thinks he is) by Eve Kendall (Eva Marie Saint), a certain female of platinum hair and behavior.

To tell any more would spoil the fun for any first-timer. Just be on the lookout for some of these signposts: An opening sequence (featuring great titles by Saul Bass and a memorable theme from Hitchcock vet Bernard Herrmann) that gets your blood pumping before the story kicks in. Hitchcock’s inevitable cameo appearance (shortly after his credit). A drunk-driving scene that ought to be shown in every driver’s-ed class through eternity. A man and a knife. A man alone in a field, save for a crop-dusting plane. The most intense auction scene ever filmed. A trip across Mount Rushmore, literally. And oh, that glorious closing shot, putting one over on the 1959 movie censors.

Here are a few more kickers to amaze your friends at trivia time. The movie’s screenwriter, Ernest Lehman, came up with the movie’s famous high points first and then worked with Hitchcock to build a movie around them. Cary Grant, whose role was that of a fairly youthful bon vivant, was 55 years old when he made this movie. And the woman who played his mother (brittly witty Jessie Royce Landis) was 10 months younger than Cary Grant.

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Finally, let us not neglect two of Hitchcock’s most slithery villains, fey Martin Landau (with his “woman’s intuition”) and droll James Mason (whose dialogue fairly swan-dives off his tongue). All of these elements make North by Northwest a delight, either to study in film class or enjoy with other moviegoers.

Here’s a terrific trailer for the movie, narrated by The Master himself:

Announcing IT’S JUST A JOKE: THE MOVIE PARODY BLOGATHON

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We could all use a good laugh right about now. Hence, we announce the opening of

IT’S JUST A JOKE: THE MOVIE PARODY BLOGATHON

Rules for the Blogathon

Write a blog about one of your favorite movie parodies. It can be from any era (remember that Chaplin, Keaton, Stan Laurel, and The Three Stooges did various film parodies). It can be a single film parody or a series (such as the Austin Powers trilogy). Or, if you enjoy a movie director or team that is famous mostly for parodies (Mel Brooks, Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker), you can write about either a single movie parody they did or about their complete filmography of parodies.

Since there are plenty of blogging possibilities, I ask for no duplicate entries in this blogathon. However, refer to the variations above. (For example, if someone has already chosen Blazing Saddles, you could blog about all of the movie parodies that Mel Brooks has done.)

As entry requests come in, I will continually update the listing of them on this blogathon announcement — so before you enter, look below and be sure your request isn’t already taken.

How Do I Join the Blogathon?

In the “Comments” section at the bottom of this blog, please leave your name, the URL of your blog, and the movie parody you are choosing to blog about. At the end of this blog entry are banners for the ‘thon. Grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.

The blogathon will take place from Friday, Sept. 1, through Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017. When the opening date of the blogathon arrives, leave a comment here with a link to your post, and I will display it in the list of entries (which I will continually update up to the beginning of the ‘thon, so keep checking back!).

I will not be assigning particular dates to any blog posts. As long as you get your entry in by the end of the day on Sept. 3, I will be satisfied. (That said, the earlier the better!)

Again, be sure to leave me a comment and grab a banner, and have fun with your blog entry!

Here’s the line-up so far, in chronological order:

Silent-ology – Show People (1928)

The Dream Book Blog – Smile (1975)

The Midnite Drive-In – This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

Moon in Gemini – Soapdish (1991)

Realweegiemidget Reviews – Team America: World Police (2004)

Movie Movie Blog Blog – Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical (2005)

Dell on Movies – Black Dynamite (2009)

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