Alan Smithee Podcast 84: Invaders from Mars (1953, William Cameron Menzies) / Invaders from Mars (1986, Tobe Hooper)

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The ides of March are upon An Alan Smithee Podcast this month and we’ve got the madness! March is also, of course, the month of Mars, the Roman god of war who namesake is shared with our neighbor, the fourth rock the sun. This gives us a great excuse to pick from about a hundred movies set in, on or near Mars and do it twice. Check back in two weeks – the ides of March, the 15th – for another pair of Mars movies!

Our first pair of the month is a twofold evocation illustrating a generation of children’s terror regarding visits from the outside in shorthand as Martians. Ray Bradbury this twice-told tale is not. If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that any potential inhabitants of Mars wants to kill us.

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Invaders From Mars (1953, William Cameron Menzies) is a real modern American folk legend, one of the earliest and craziest films about alien visitors as soulless conquering spies and murderers, all wrapped up in the hallucinatory imagination of terrified innocent. 1953 was also the year of The War of the Worlds and the images contained in these films would define the alien invader genre forever. Surreal, gripping and discreetly goofy in a low-budget way every so often.

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After influencing a generation of genre filmmakers, the Invaders returned in Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars. Despite an eclectic, effective cast, slick direction and a wittily sardonic screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby it failed to find its audience. We, the martian ambassadors at Alan Smithee Podcast are only too glad to sing its neglected praises.

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BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH: MISSION TO MARS (2000, BRIAN DE PALMA) & RED PLANET (2000, ANTONY HOFFMAN)

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Alan Smithee Podcast 83: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967, Roger Corman) / Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder)

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Love is in the air and An Alan Smithee Podcast will not be spared this February. Our double feature for this month is a pair of love letters from Hollywood to the holiday, albeit obliquely. Roger Corman’s The St Valentine’s Day Massacre is a kind of valentine to the studio system which he worked outside of independently: a big 20th Century Fox movie utilizing a large, talented cast with enormous backlot sets and widescreen photography that’s workmanlike but well utilized. There’s no readily available explanation as to why Corman did work –for-hire on a relatively high profile studio movie like this in between his own low budget productions for American International Pictures, although president James H. Nicholson did move on to 20th Century Fox five years later in 1972. A sweetheart deal? Some romance behind the scenes? Typical to his legend, Corman brought the film in under budget. Unfortunately the margin of money saved wasn’t enough to compensate for the film’s financial failure – audiences in 1967 were way past gangster movies about Al Capone and the roaring twenties. Even The Untouchables had been off the air for four years, and the Playhouse 90 episode which screenwriter Howard Browne had penned was almost ten years old. Adult audiences probably felt such material was old-fashioned and young audiences wouldn’t take an interest in tommy guns until later that Summer when Bonnie and Clyde mythologized gangsterism into a glamorous countercultural myth. The St Valentine’s Day Massacre is conspicuously cynical in its depiction of Al Capone’s Chicago, filtering the strutting violence of the faded Cagney / Bogart / Robinson era through post-noir attitudes about the desperate ugliness of crime. This is especially apparent in supporting performances by Bruce Dern as a hapless mob driver with a family to feed and Frank Silvera as a recent immigrant who’s pathetically eager to please his new mob employers. While the principals are all bigger than life – Jason Robards as Capone, Ralph Meeker as Bugs Moran and George Segal as Moran’s enforcer, Peter Gusenberg – they’re never underdogs the way Paul Muni or Al Pacino came off in their respective versions of Scarface. Corman’s bleak and gritty take on the gangster genre is a real hidden gem.

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Our second film really needs no introduction – if anything, it’s a little overhyped. Some Like It Hot is the kind of film that effete closeted geezers would declare the funniest film ever made, and so they did on June 13, 2000. Their #2 pick for the funniest film ever made? Tootsie (!!!) Of course Mrs. Doubtfire placed at #67 above Caddyshack (#71) and Victor, Victoria placed at #76, just edging out Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (#72.) AFI’s love of cross-dressing aside, Some Like It Hot manages to take the painfully hacky premise of two guys forced to disguise themselves as women and make a funny movie regardless. Billy Wilder and co-scripter I.A.L. Diamond get the most mileage out of the farcical possibilities, and the best laughs come from Jack Lemmon’s weird personal arc of realizing that marriage to the doofy rich guy who’s crushing on him, Joe E. Brown, may not be such a bad thing for a struggling musician with bills to pay. Co-star Tony Curtis isn’t nearly as funny as the ladies’ man of the duo, but gets to shine with Marilyn Monroe in the scenes where he’s leading her on as a similarly doofy rich guy – a farce within a farce.

All this gender-bending identity-swapping romance isn’t the main reason we chose Some Like It Hot for our Valentine’s Day episode, however. By the end of the film’s first 20 minutes, Lemmon and Curtis are on the run from the Chicago mob circa 1929 because they were accidentally in the garage on the day of the massacre and the ONLY way to hide out is by dressing as members of a women’s band en route to Florida, naturally. In Billy Wilder’s world, the St Valentine’s Day Massacre is never mentioned as such, and doesn’t even involve Al Capone or Bugs Moran – rather, it’s the messy result of a minor squabble by fictional gangster “Spats” Colombo, played by gangster movie icon George Raft in the first of many self-parodying gangster roles throughout the next 20 years (reaching a nadir with one of our worst Alan Smithee Podcast movies, Sextette.) Trivia: In order to gain the greatest insight into the gender identity politics of Some Like It Hot for this episode, Andrew and I recorded the second half entirely in drag. We couldn’t think of anything gangster-ish to do for the St Valentine’s Day Massacre portion, but nobody’s perfect.

NEXT EPISODES: M-M-M-MARCH MADNESS! TWO EPISODES, FOUR MOVIES IN THE MONTH OF MARCH! RED PLANET (2000, ANTONY HOFFMAN) & MISSION TO MARS (2000, BRIAN DE PALMA) & INVADERS FROM MARS (1953, WILLIAM CAMERON MENZIES) & INVADERS FROM MARS (1986, TOBE HOOPER)

Alan Smithee Podcast 79: Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956, Ishiro Honda & Terry O. Morse) / Godzilla (1998, Roland Emmerich)

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Why is a giant humanoid rampaging through a city such a potent vision of apocalypse? In the best case scenario for humanity, such a giant could be like an unknowing child, wreaking havoc on a world his brain doesn’t comprehend. A particular scene in the trailer for the long-forgotten sequel Honey I Blew Up the Kid frightened me as a child: as the parents are lifted up inside a car by their now-gargantuan toddler, they scream “No honey, don’t eat us!” The thought of being brought to your destruction by something unknowing and possibly indifferent was, and is, unsettling on a cosmic scale. King Kong, the grandaddy of movie giants understood this. His tale is a clash between primitive id and a New York City recently modernized by the showbiz glitz and mechanical industriousness of the 1920s. The flappers and hucksters were brutally reminded that still there be monsters in the recently departed old world.

Godzilla was different from all that, emerging directly from the folly of men as a visceral gut punch and rumination on the new definition of mass destruction, after World War II went out with two bangs. This monster doesn’t just destroy Tokyo, he dwarfs it. His appearance is like a bipedal dragon, a cold-blooded demonic reptile beyond even the temptations of pretty blonde things that ultimately felled the beast Kong. The original Japanese film is all of these things and a lot more. Unfortunately, the heavily recut American version with Ray Milland (as the distractingly named reporter Steve Martin) makes soup out of Gojira‘s narrative while Rosie Grier’s other head looks offscreen and pretends he’s listening to Japanese actors. The tone barely survives and the subtext is reduced to the most minimal lip service, but certainly this was heady stuff for American audiences used to the oft-goofy giant bug flicks of the 1950s.

Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is useful as a cultural history lesson and nothing else when the original cut is available from Criterion.

The 1998 American film of Godzilla is surely one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse for Hollywood Summer movies in the late 90s, bestride Batman and Robin, The Phantom Menace and, I’ve recently been convinced, Blues Brothers 2000. Roland Emmerich’s film is kind of like a bad sitcom pilot with a two hour giant monster movie attached, and it’s hard to say which component is worse. The ridiculous “human” story is an ensemble of decent actors in horrifically written and miscast non-roles, and whose banter is so achingly self-congratulatory and smug that Emmerich actually pauses between jokes to leave the audience time to laugh. The scenes with Godzilla himself weren’t even impressive for the day, and today they’re somewhere on par with a Sci-Fi Channel original movie about a dinosaur-gorilla hybrid or some such thing.

Kicking a dead horse isn’t hard when it’s the size of a building, and by the end of this episode there’s barely enough rubber left on our sneakers.

NEXT EPISODE: POST-HALLOWEEN SPECIAL! HALLOWEEN (THE TELEVISION VERSION) (1978, JOHN CARPENTER) & THE DAY AFTER HALLOWEEN (1979, SIMON WINCER)

Alan Smithee Podcast 71: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Alfred Hitchcock) / The Man Who Knew Too Little (1997, Jon Amiel)

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In the several most recent episodes of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and myself have agreed to pairings of films that actually made sense. No more pairings of Mannequin 1: Not Yet On The Move and Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but rather the clean through-line of Poltergeist with Poltergeist II: The Other Side, or even Roger Rabbit with Cool World. This week’s episode is a dip back into the slough of disparate. You’ll have to forgive us simply because this pairing of titles was too convivial to resist. Most conveniently, The Man Who Knew Too Much is a very darn well made piece of entertainment while The Man Who Knew Too Little is an unmitigated piece of shit. The extended suffix to both of these lengthy titles could have been, “about filmmaking.”

In keeping with the spiring of Hitchcock, I confess the shift in An Alan Smithee podcast’s format was brought about just as much by frustration connecting the themes, ideas or incidental details of unrelated movies in these write-ups as the desire to increase listenership through coherence in discussion. Yet as seems to happen, there’s more in common with two marginally related movies – i.e, they were actual movies that were once made, like The Stranger and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back – than at first glance. The Man Who Knew Too Little is not a parody of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Bill Murray’s vehicle had several arbitrary possibilities for a title bandied about, the most charming of which was probably the official German title, Agent Null Null Nix.

The face of each respective film, Alfred Hitchcock and Bill Murray, were on the precipice of a dark turn. In Hitch’s case, this film and North By Northwest were his last “family entertainment” films, if you’ll pardon the hacky marketing term. The Man Who Knew Too Much even stars a young boy and makes the reunion with his mother (played by Doris Day, ’nuff said) the emotional core of the narrative, even after Jimmy “James” Stewart has finished uselessly chasing the kidnappers. Compare this benignly oedipal comfort food a moment to several of Hitchcock’s next films: the obsessive insanity of Vertigo, the original oedipal slasher Psycho, and The Birds wasn’t exactly family viewing either.

Then there’s the trouble with Billy. A goodly portion of our discussion is devoted to deconstructing Murray since there’s so little to consider within The Man Who Knew Too Little except that it was his last attempt to remain a star in the American comedy mainstream. It’s like when Steve Martin decided early to switch to safe family comedies instead of being funny. In 1998 he starred in Rushmore, which is a great movie but marked the continuing fluctuation between indie™ Oscar bait and godawful paydays like Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties. Bill Murray is more popular than ever, even though he’s never been less funny.

Simultaneously and possibly unintentionally by Murray, hipster syndicates anointed him the funniest living man in America and a pop-art icon, like Marilyn Monroe in the hands of Andy Warhol. You’ll hear our conclusions regarding this phenomena, but as you read these words consider the angle that Bill Murray’s deification by hipsters as the greatest comic actor in history rests upon the same film as any normal person’s recollection of Murray – that air thin miracle Ghostbusters – and every hipster wishes they could be Dr. Peter Venkman, a dryly sarcastic and emotionally barren asshole who nonetheless has all the best lines and ultimately gets the girl after her first impression of him is that of a total creep.

NEXT WEEK: MANNEQUIN 2: ON THE MOVE: THE COMMENTARY TRACK!

Episode 34: The Hidden Fortress (1958, Akira Kurosawa) / 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984, Peter Hyams)

Happy New Year! This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we reflect on the feudal past and look to the future that’s just around the corner.

Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress has been cited by many film school professors as a primary inspiration for Star Wars. This is a terrible underselling of Kurosawa’s mythic composition and classical storytelling which does so many archetypes so well that Lucas couldn’t have made Star Wars without accidentally copying this film. Horizontal wipes aside, this is Kurosawa at the peak of his powers and in beautiful widescreen Tohoscope™.

Toshiro Mifune, the John Wayne to Akira’s John Ford, portrays yet another samurai warrior with blades and eyebrows of steel. He’s not really the main character. This film doesn’t exactly have one, nor is anyone as particularly relatable as Mark Hamill, nor do they need to be. The lovely Misa Uehara, seen on the poster with Mifune, brings the legs and an even deadlier pair of eyebrows as the princess he’s sworn to protect.

Then we take a far-off look to the fu – hey, wait, this is next year! Wow! Apparently in 2010 the Cold War will be resumed and we’ll finally “make contact” with alien life for the first time. Again.

Answering the questions that no one who actually read 2001: A Space Odyssey was wondering about, Arthur C. Clarke returned to his beloved story of space monoliths and psycho computers in 1982 to publish 2010: The Year We Make Contact. Two years later the movie was made. Is that a coincidence or what? Peter Hyams of Capricorn One and Outland fame took a third trip to outer space by adapting Clarke’s novel himself, which amounted to the removal of problematic plot points like bisexuality and ethnic minorities and the emphasis of feel good Cold War pacifism where Russians and Americans put aside their differences for the common good of pointless sequels.

Roy Scheider is wasted, but no more than anyone else in this half baked turkey – Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban and John Lithgow mark time while Richard “Ghostbusters” Edlund’s visual effects at least make the space scenes convincing. With none of the grandeur or mystery of Kubrick’s original, 2010 even gives the short shrift to HAL the computer, once again melodiously voiced by Douglas Rain after being built up for most of the running time and then given nothing of significance to do except not kill Scheider, et all. Only Keir Dullea, in a return performance as 2001‘s astronaut-turned-space-baby David Bowman, perks up some interest in the final act as a space ghost.

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NEXT WEEK: ROBOCOP TRIPLE FEATURE! ROBOCOP (1987, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & ROBOCOP 2 (1990, IRVIN KERSHNER) & ROBOCOP 3 (1993, FRED DEKKER)

Episode 27: Night of the Demon (1957, Jacques Tourneur) / A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985, Jack Sholder)

This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we celebrate Halloween with the first of two all-horror episodes!

Our good movie is Night Of The Demon, released in 1957. Most film buffs will remember director Jacques Tourneur as the man behind noir classics such as Out Of The Past, most HORROR buffs will know him as one of the men behind RKO producer Val Lewton’s series of moody, subtle and atmospheric horror films of the 1940s. Tourneur directed such classic titles as Cat People and I Walked With A Zombie, which have the common feature of showing you zero to no monsters and making you use your darn imagination.

Night Of The Demon, thanks to interference by a producer who was not ashamed of making horror movies, does show you a big honkin’ demon head in the first few and final few minutes. This heightens the suspense a million times more than if we were left to wonder gee, was it really a demon or was it all in Jacques Tourneur’s head? to paraphrase the poster. Fortunately he still brings all his noir composition and photography with him, creating a rather neglected horror classic whose old fashioned-ness stood out amongst the giant grasshopper movies of the day. Compared to a big flying demon’s curse, who could believe such nonsense?

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There’s also the lovely Peggy Cummins of Gun Crazy and aside from this film, nothing anyone knows.

A demon haunts our bad movie as well: A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is mildly remarkable for being the kind of bad sequel that throws out the rules and formula of the original. What’s really remarkable is how gay this movie is. An Alan Smithee Podcast does not mean this in a derogatory way. After all our first four letters are a-n-a-l. We don’t use the word “gay” to mean “stupid” – we mean this movie is such a blatant allegory for a gay teenager’s tortured internal struggle over his sexuality vis-a-vis possession by Freddy Krueger that the fact it even exists is astonishing. Just look at the poster! Do I embrace this female, or…the man in the mirror?

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With the new knowledge that both the screenwriter and lead actor were gay men, we attempt to peel back the forsk-er, layers of this unintentional camp classic and decide if director Jack Sholder, too, was gay. Given that his biggest movie The Hidden is about a dude entering other dude’s bodies, the odds are on yes. There’s little other explanation for how many basket shots and men’s asses made it past final cut. Listing everything inept, and everything gay about this film is hard. Rock hard. But we try.

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NEXT WEEK: THE STEPFATHER (1987, JOSEPH RUBEN) & HELLRAISER: BLOODLINES (1996, ALLEN SMITHEE(!!))

Episode 21: Wages of Fear (1953, Henri-Georges Clouzot) / Talk Radio (1988, Oliver Stone)

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This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and Matt take a dangerous road trip through Puerto Rico with two trucks of nitroglycerin in the 1953 classic so says the Criterion Collection The Wages Of Fear. There’s a lot to praise about the film’s curiously bifurcated structure which begins with an hour of character development and concludes with an hour of nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat suspense setpieces involving the transport of those dangerous trucks. We also touch upon Sorcerer, William Friedkin’s ill advised 1977 remake starring Roy Scheider.

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Then it’s on to the histrionic ravings of Oliver Stone, whose completely forgotten 1988 film Talk Radio is a big pile of sensationalistic cheese and completely ignorant about it’s own subject matter. To be fair, the ignorance comes mainly from star Eric Bogosian, who wrote and starred in the original stage play.

However, Stone makes things a whole lot more incoherent by fusing Bogosian’s story with the true-life story of murdered talk radio host Alan Freed, transplanting the character from Cleveland to Texas and compounding the already baffling level of hate drawn by a character who’s supposed to be incredibly popular and on the verge of breaking nationally. We do our best to rationalize what Stone was thinking at the time.

NEXT WEEK: YOJIMBO (1961, AKIRA KUROSAWA) & BAD MAGIC (1998, THE POLONIA BROTHERS)

PLUS A VERY SPECIAL HALLOWEEN II (1981, RICK ROSENTHAL) COMMENTARY TRACK!!