Alan Smithee Podcast 63: Mars Attacks! (1996, Tim Burton) / Sleepy Hollow (1999, Tim Burton)



Tim Burton’s career has quietly turned 25 years old and probably still has a long life ahead. We at An Alan Smithee Podcast feel that Burton’s best years are long behind him, but his best work constitutes some of the best movies of these past 25 years…it’s just that they’re relegated to the first 10. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure is probably among the few perfect comedy films ever made, and Pauline Kael was among the few critics of 1988 to declare Beetlejuice the comedy classic which it is. There were his epochal Batman films, the tender Ed Wood and the animated landmark The Nightmare Before Christmas. From the 80s through the 90s, who wasn’t a Tim Burton fan?

Lately Burton has repeated himself, mainly as a reliable hand for stylized remakes – his very name becoming shorthand for movies with a certain kind of heavy art direction. Lest we forget, he did start at Disney, a company whose attention to visual branding is second to few. The overall effect of Burton’s transformation into a brand could all be seen piecemeal in Edward Scissorhands: pastel suburban kitsch, monochromatic angular gothic, and Johnny Depp to bring in the women.

In Burton’s defense, his style has been imitated to the point of being a popular influence and has been practically institutionalized as a globally recognized “look.” The Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise sells all over the world across all cultural lines like Mickey Mouse…who happens to own Nightmare. More importantly, mainstream films are fantasy films and fantasy films are mainstream films. The emergence of the superhero movie genre apexed with the ponderous drivel of The Dark Knight and it’s nauseating critical salutations; a natural long-term result of the trails blazed by Burton’s Batman, which had no precedent to rely upon except the Superman series.

The heady thrills of Burton’s effects-driven films are as commonplace now as the original Star Wars movies. The graphic design he brought to them has also become de rigeur, to the point that the “Tim Burton” style has become shorthand for a certain kind of specific look. Burton has become a peddler of himself, and may as well add “Tim Burton’s” to the title of whatever modern remake he’s adding his trademark gloss onto.

On his own terms, there’s a distinct point at which thing went sour for Burton’s movies simply because he stopped taking artistic risks. In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we pick apart the turning point. I think for a while we both blamed the critically derided hit remake Planet of the Apes, but that film wasn’t the beginning of the end. That would be 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. This was the first Burton remake, his first Johnny Depp for-no-reason vehicle and the first truly not-good Tim Burton movie.

Our good Tim Burton movie was therefore the last sign of life he ever showed, the great yet indifferently received Mars Attacks! from three years earlier. This is a film which deserves Pauline Kael’s “comedy classic” status and rediscovery by fans of Burton’s early, anarchic comedies like Beetlejuice and Pee-Wee. The anarchy would cease forever after Mars Attacks!, and a new Burton would emerge who is preoccupied with refashioning intellectual properties owned by AOL TimeWarner with diminishing creative returns. Listen to this episode to hear us try to figure out why. (Hint: The Internet)

With music by Danny Elfman…of course!


Alan Smithee Podcast 59: Escape from New York (1981, John Carpenter) / 2019: After the Fall of New York (1983, Sergio Martino)



In the 20th Century people were big into the idea of the post-apocalypse created by nuclear war, instead of by realistic causes like zombies. The apocalypse, it was presumed, would happen after the Soviet Union and the United States laid waste to the world and civilization was wrecked. A few films were made along this premise in the 1970s, like A Boy and His Dog and Damnation Alley, yet none of these fantasies struck a chord in the public imagination until 1981 when George Miller directed his masterpiece The Road Warrior and rising auteur John Carpenter made Escape From New York. Carpenter’s conceptual masterstroke was combining what the new subgenre was getting at – that the future would be looking more like Lord of the Flies than The Jetsons or even Zardoz – with the assumption that New York City was so far gone to crime it may as well drop dead. Aside from Walter Hill’s The Warriors, no sci-fi / action / adventure films had explored the fantasy of New York as a lawless playground for gangs and Carpenter’s conception of Manhattan island as an inescapable prison colony captured the imagination of genre fans everywhere.

He also gave Kurt Russell a second career after years of Disney boy Bobby Driscoll roles, as Snake Plissken, a truly self centered and cynical antihero who perfectly matched the grim, bleak tone of his dystopic future adventure. Further rounding out the cast is possibly the best array of character actors ever assembled: Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Issac Hayes and Lee Van Cleef invest a sense of reality to the low budget landscape like no other cast ever has. As we discuss, this film truly shows off Carpenter’s auteurist skills at their peak from the synthesizer score to impeccable cinematography by his best collaborator Dean Cundey. Escape From New York is one of Carpenter’s greatest films and for the first time since our first episode we do our best to summarize its brilliance.

2019: After The Fall Of New York is by its title alone something of an admitted ripoff. What’s delightful and oft-stupefying is how many other science fiction genre ideas Ernesto Gastaldi, Sergio Martino and Gabriel Rossini decide to borrow when the premise of a Kurt Russell lookalike going into an abandoned Manhattan island to get someone out isn’t enough to sustain an entire movie without copying every single plot beat from Carpenter. Amongst these ideas are escape from Earth via spaceship, de-evolution of humans into ape-like creatures, infiltration of humanity by cybors, and a global infertility crisis threatening to wipe out humanity. This last idea may sound familiar to viewers and readers of Children of Men. 2019: After The Fall Of New York is a textbook case of Italian knockoff cinema complete with a totally overdubbed soundtrack and an exhilarating absence of narrative logic. Highly recommended to fans of Escape From New York and The Road Warrior who are also fans of every other sci-fi adventure ever made.


Alan Smithee Podcast 58: Airplane! (1980, Jim Abrahams & David Zucker & Jerry Zucker) / Airplane II: The Sequel (1982, Ken Finkleman)


Airplane! did not invent the parody genre, but ushered in a new era which lasted nearly 20 years before indbreeding with the “_____ Movie” series. Jeff Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker – ZAZ to their fans – would reach their peak with the Naked Gun trilogy, starring Leslie Nielsen, and peppered the 80s with other genre spoofs while inspiring countless imitators. Airplane! was their first hiring of Nielsen, whom along with the rest of the supporting cast was not from a comedy background. Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves and Robert Stack all evidently were adroit at self-parody and ready in their careers to do it. Stack actually beat the rest of them to the punch the previous year with Spielberg’s 1941. Their commitment to straight faced silliness is the quantum leap from previously silly feature length film parodies, which were pretty few and far in between to begin with. Coupled with ZAZ’s rapid fire pace of jokes of all kinds ranging from tasteless shock gags to groanworthy wordplay, there’s something silly in Airplane! for everybody.

The film’s longevity is as epochal as our own culture’s inward decay. The genre context of the 1970s which Airplane! was based on is as distant to modern attitudes the 1950s thriller fodder ZAZ remembered the supporting cast from. Leslie Nielson is the focal point of the film by way of being referenced on The Office and An Alan Smithee Podcast’s least favorite film critic Roger Ebert’s deeming him “The Olivier of Spoofs” in his review of Jerry Zucker’s unfortunate Scary Movie 3. Obviously we are now in the decadent phase where all culture that could be parodied is a self-parody or ironically bad or copied on Family Guy and re-edited on Youtube. As George W.S. Trow wrote, after chronicling the unraveling of existing context, we will establish the context of no-context and chronicle that.

Airplane II: The Sequel is not an awful film, but the lack of immediate continuance in the sequel-heavy 80s is indicative of either higher standards for low comedy than we have in the wake of Scary Movie 4, or a lack of standards for the nascent subgenre of parodies and spoofs. ZAZ disowned the film, and have since done worse.

Besides being completely pointless, writer-director Ken Finkleman brings nothing new besides the ultimately irrelevant (but trendy) replacement of the airplane with a space shuttle bound through space for the moon. Science Fiction parody is gently brushed against once or twice and never again, probably since producer Howard W. Koch was already nervous that ZAZ abandoned him and didn’t want Finkleman to deviate too much from whatever it was worked the first time. Thus returning are Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty as the stars plus Bridges and Graves. The rest of the supporting cast is admirably chosen for their previously serious or at least mostly-serious careers, like Rip Torn and Chuck Conners, yet they’re underutilized or misused. William Shatner does catapult the movie into solid mediocrity by giving a then-rare comedic turn in the final act.

The returning cast is pressed on to repeat their jokes from the first film, as if Airplane II: The Sequel can be a parody of a parody. In this navel-gaving Finkleman might have been a bit ahead of his time. A few good jokes here and there, but with so many that’s to be expected. Airplane II: The Sequel is a waste of effort to watch, except for Shatner, and when that’s the best recommendation you know something stinks.


Episode 56: An American Werewolf in London (1981, John Landis) / An American Werewolf in Paris (1997, Anthony Waller)



Which is the more forgotten, John Landis or An American Werewolf In London? Which was the more important? The latter, his masterwork sole feature foray into horror. If everyone has one good story in them, perhaps every comedian has one jarring scary story. Before the Twilight Zone: The Movie debacle killed the legitimacy of a career, Landis introduced comedic horror into from the fringes of exploitation into 1980s big budget Hollywoodland and set the precedent for films like Ghostbusters (scored by American Werewolf composer Elmer Bernstein.) Besides genre blending innovations, Rick Baker’s makeup special effects caused such a stir that the Oscars felt compelled to create a new award just to recognize them, right at the cusp of the decade’s special effects renaissance.

However ahead of their time all technical or comedic aims achieved were, they’d be moot if the rest of the film weren’t so meticulously empathic as the horror mounts. The story is deceptively simple in taking the audience along on the experience of being in denial about becoming a werewolf, transforming for the first time and coming to grips with the aftermath. The momentum builds up to and winds down from David Naughton’s first night of lycanthropy as the fulcrum of the movie and this is a brilliant idea.

Praised at the time for giving a passe genre a “contemporary” take – costar Griffin Dunne was cast from a national Dr Pepper campaign – An American Werewolf In London retains a dry laconic wit and sympathetic story that hasn’t aged a day. After a diminished legend in tandem with the industry’s near-abandonment of practical special effects in favor of CGI, this film deserves renewed esteem as a modern classic of the newly humorous and splattery direction mainstream horror films took off into afterward.

The splatter boom of Freddy and Jason was long over and recently deconstructed by Scream when the ill-advised sequel An American Werewolf In Paris was finally released in 1997. Unlike the similarly belated but goofy and genial Escape From LA, Paris involved none of the original cast or crew. The film is barely even be recognizable as a sequel except for the clumsy mis-reuse of Landis’ subplot about werewolf victims haunting people as undead corpses. In deference to diminished attention spans in the intervening 16 years, there are a lot of werewolves this time around. The only titular American werewolf, Tom Everett Scott, is an obnoxious bore compared to David Naughton. They transform constantly thanks to a special serum, and their transformations are CGI video game sequences of the totally cheap and gratuitous kind made possible by recent technology.

An American Werewolf In London has been slated for remake in 2011 through Dimension Films and penned by coincidentally British hack Fernley Phillips (an upperclass twit of the year name) whose only previous credit has been the Jim Carrey laughingstock The Number 23.

We assure you, we don’t find this in the least bit amusing.


Episode 55: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) / The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1994, Kim Henkel) aka Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1997)



Some tales are told, then soon forgotten. But a legend…is forever.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has been synonymous with the horror genre for almost 40 years now and there’s probably nothing new left to say about it, but that won’t stop An Alan Smithee Podcast from trying! Fortunately one of us brings a fresh pair of eyes to the spectacle, while the other has seen it more times than is healthy. If you’re a regular listener you can probably guess who’s who. This imbalance brings up many elementary points of discussion around the film which have been taken for granted so long that they’ve fallen into neglect: Hooper’s exquisite compositions, the subtle omission of any explicit gore, and the insidiously disturbing reappearance of a friendly character we didn’t yet know was part of Leatherface’s crazy family. Even the annoyances of Franklin, apparently everyone’s least favorite wheelchair–bound lamb to the slaughter, get debated as the podcast’s longstanding TCM fan defends the character’s relative whininess (given his circumstances) against the average moviegoer’s initial take on him. Finally, we’re just like Siskel and Ebert! Even if you’ve seen this film before – and you should – now you can vicariously experience the film’s famous shocks all over again through a TCM virgin’s first bloodletting.

After thoroughly chronicling the tumultuous history of Cannon Films and New Line Cinema’s attempts to turn Leatherface into the next Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, we turn our attention to the most ill-begotten Chainsaw sequel of all.

The Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was held on the shelf for three years before finally being shortened and released as Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. The delay was due to stars Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey hitting in big in the interim and their agents throwing a fit over what this movie could do to their careers. Easy as it is to hate those who would blacklist the horror genre itself, this movie really is wretched. The story is a sparse rehash of the original with nothing to add but lame attempts at over-the-top humor, mostly supplied by an unrestrained McConaughey whose face-biting antics would’ve been much more useful in Ghosts of Girlfriends Past or Fool’s Gold.

The only compelling idea Henkel introduces is an infamous last-act twist involving a left-field appearance by the Illuminati, favorite brand name conspiracy of international global domination conspiracy enthusiasts. The revelation of their secret involvement with the chainsaw clan at least explains the absence of continuity between sequels (each movie was some kind of separate Illuminati attempt at a hilarious prank.) We do our best to square Henkel’s intentions against the results, which may or may not have sucked on purpose. Can this documentary reveal the answer? Does it matter? Who will survive and what will be left of them?


Episode 54: Please Teach Me English (2003, Sung-su Kim) / Zardoz (1974, John Boorman)



The book of Genesis, written and illustrated by Robert Crumb, tells of an enormous tower built by a united humanity following the Great Flood through which Noah floated his boat. And God said, “They are one people and have one language, and nothing will be withholden from them which they purpose to do. Come, let us go down and confound their speech.” The resulting divine wrecking ball on the tower of Babel scattered the languages of the Earth into those which confound us to this day: Spanish, Italiano, Farsi, L33t speak, Esperanto, English, Korean and Science Fiction. This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast attempts to disseminate the latter three for normal talkin’ folks.

South Korean flicks discussed previously on the podcast (Conduct Zero, Asako in Ruby Shoes) tend to successfully juggle more than one genre of film within a broader category – a dash of action and/or drama to spice up comedy, or vice versa. This happens because S.K. filmmakers are apparently not too hung up on pigeonholing their film’s storytelling potential – which is unlimited, because it is film – based on marketing demographics. They trust their audiences to enjoy being pleasantly surprised and not explode when the movie they’re watching isn’t all tragedy or comedy, much like life.

Please Teach Me English is a comedy about Koreans taking ESL classes. In terms of filmmaking language, Sung-su Kim is already multilingual himself. Although the main character is a girl, this is not a “chick flick.” Although the crux of her story is a romance, this is not a “romantic comedy.” Although the film is very funny, there is drama, but don’t dare call it a “comedy-drama.” To be sure, this film speaks all those languages – enough to get by. The dialect however is unaffected by the lazy American slang we’re used to.

Zardoz is a tongue twister of a movie, and not just because the title requires an explanation. Everything does, from names to history to “second level meditation.” Science Fiction authors with grandiose ideas to depict have their work cut out for themselves translating concepts that must take place hundreds of years in the future to seem remotely possible. Sometimes the aesthetics of a piece are beyond technobabble or quasi-plausible scientific language though, like a giant floating stone head named Zardoz who pukes up guns. This is why dense sci-fi / fantasy novels like Dune are usually laughed out of theater before their lengthy pre-credits exposition prologues are even finished.

John Boorman followed his commercial and critical smash hit Deliverance with this satirical dystopic adventure of his own devising and although as a director his command of visual language is impeccable, he just didn’t seem to understand how to translate his ideas as anything but terminally silly. Every film of this type has a good share of made-up vocabulary and terminology, but when every other scene introduces more and more there’s just an information overload. Deciphering the code of Zardoz is an especially difficult study and we do stay a little late after class to crack it.

An Alan Smithee Podcast will slowly talk you through the trickier phrases of post-Planet of the Apes, pre-Star Wars sci-fi after a delightful bilingual flirtation.


Episode 53: Sweet Bird of Youth (1962, Richard Brooks) / Bats (1999, Louis Morneau)



The dichotomy between our two movies in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is as simple as the difference between bats and birds. Both are examples in their own right of movies done by the numbers according to formula. The raw materials at hand make all the difference.

Tennessee Williams adaptations were something of a cottage industry for Hollywood after Marlon Brando’s breakout role in A Streetcar Named Desire, such as Baby Doll (1956), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) also directed by Brooks, and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). Sweet Bird of Youth came at the tailend of that cycle, just before ending with Night of the Iguana (1964) as the last popular Williams film adaptation for many years. Brooks made a perfectly serviceable drama here, thanks to the talent at hand. A couple years prior, Williams himself had somewhat written the play for Broadway with his own recent fame in mind, and one feels his security in the recurring elements he knows he does well: Southern gentility, alcohol and drug fueled madness, patriarchy, and as the title implies, faded youth. Sweet Bird is also about the fear of lost fame, beginning and ending with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page reprising their stage roles as a deliriously addled movie star panicked that she’s growing old – and Newman, her pool boy / valet / boy toy. They’ve holed up at a hotel in Newman’s old Flordia hometown, to settle unfinished business with old girlfriend Shirley Knight, her political boss father Ed Begley and an unrecognizably young Rip Torn as Begley’s right hand nephew. Brooks’ direction is flat, but with the acting talent and author at hand it doesn’t matter. While Sweet Bird didn’t set the world on fire, they made a truly enjoyable movie practically on autopilot and that’s commendable.

Bats came out eleven years ago today. Like Sweet Bird, this film also has self-assurance written all over itself, except that they’re all calculated around the soft bigotry of low expectations. Is there an elegance to the simplicity on display? The Williams movie was about the tragedy of youthful beauty being not long for one’s posession, like a bird disappearing to the wind. Bats is about bats. Would you be surprised to learn that the titular bats were altered by science? That there’s a sheriff played by Lou Diamond Phillips? That the lead beautiful Chiropterologist Dina Meyer has a wisecracking black sidekick played by a rapper with one word in his name? That this film was released a week before Halloween?

Bats was destined for calculated success. It may have only made 10 million worldwide on a 6 million budget, but the popularity evidently endured long enough for the 2007 direct to television sequel, Bats: Human Harvest.

Listen on to discover the connection between Bats and Scream 2 (hint: hold your computer screen up to a mirror) among other sweet bits of trivia about these movie-by-numbers kits.