In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we travel to the grim n’ gritty future of Mega City One for two very different takes on the beloved 2000 A.D. comic character Judge Dredd. One is abysmal, the other is awesome! Can you guess which is which?
NEXT EPISODE: SUMMER SPECIAL! CADDYSHACK (1980, HAROLD RAMIS) & CADDYSHACK II (1988, ALLAN ARKUSH)
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)
For a long time, Carrie was a title that evoked a reaction from perhaps more non-fans than fans of the genre, and this is the highest compliment you can pay the authors. The name conjures a very broad idea of high school, with many variations depending on one’s personal memories of that time in their lives, all retaining the common thread of inherent hellishness within the walls of that mythologized American institution. Who among us (who are reading this) has not at one time imagined themselves the social scapegoat of their entire school, and subsequently imagined themselves the avenging angel of the prom that Sissy Spacek became?
Carrie was not merely the first horror film to deal with the unpleasantness of high school, but one of the first American films, period. Incredibly, the film includes John Travolta a mere two years before he helped heap on more of the same bullshit about the best years of our lives in Grease, nearly undoing all the pig-killing work he accomplished for Brian De Palma. As a film, Carrie is so damned good that even though every single detail has been parodied and referenced relentlessly in the past 35 years, it detracts not one whit from the viewing experience. This is the highest and rarest compliment you can pay to anything enmeshed in mass pop culture unconsciousness.
A shame then that Carrie does not enjoy the same reverence it once did for so long, even amongst horror fans. Whatever cache it once held has depleted and wouldn’t you know, there’s a remake on the way to rewrite history for the young unknowing. Tragically the film has suffered a fate cousin to the pain of the bullied – the pain of anonymity.
Before the anonymity, there was an intervening period of post-Scream quasi-recognition for young movie fans: those weird years of normalization when the New Horror of the 70s became accepted and dulled by the mainstream. This was a time of opportunistic revivalist sequels: if a Scream fan was likely to at least have heard of Carrie, some executive somewhere reasoned, then why not make a sequel? Whatever shallow inspirations led to the production of The Rage: Carrie 2, you can at least say on it’s behalf that unlike filmmakers in the modern era of soulless remakes, the authors of this poor sequel at least had some kind of reverence for the original. That doesn’t translate to a good film because unfortunately, the authors were also idiots. They bring back Amy Irving as Sue Snell from part one and, her for exposition and carelessly discard her.
Worse than being stupid, The Rage is also sorely bland. The influence of TV on film can be seen plainly going from Carrie 1 to 2 – for all of De Palma’s visual glossiness, the high school of Carrie felt like it could be a real place. The school of Carrie 2 is a WB (CW now) teen drama, down to each melodramatic story point and especially Carrie 2 herself, who is conventionally attractive and nothing at all like Spacek’s wonderfully awkward misfit.
Incidentally, The Rage: Carrie 2 came out the same year as the Freddie Prinze Jr classic, She’s All That. Both films are alike in their basic teen-soap logic that all an attractive girl needs to do to be made over into someone even more attractive is take off her glasses. They really should’ve been the same movie, with Rachel Leigh Cook torching the big dance at the end. They could’ve just made a film of the infamous Carrie: The Musical.
NEXT WEEK: WITCH MARRIAGE SPECIAL! I MARRIED A WITCH (1942, RENE CLAIR) & BEWITCHED (2005, NORA EPHRON)
This week on An Alan Smithee Podcast we return to a magnificent obsession that began with our first good-movie / bad-movie episode, the wonderful world of Mannequin. In keeping with that milestone, this is also our first non-special commentary track. Yes, we just did one for Silent Night Deadly Night Part 2 but that was for Christmas and this isn’t for National William Ragsdale Appreciation Month or anything.
The first Mannequin is sort of fondly remembered by pubescent fans of the very non-threatening Andrew McCarthy. What pubescent girl is going to dream of William Ragsdale? This is an important question as the target audience for the McCarthy-less Mannequin Two surely must have been undiscriminating girls being taken by their moms to the Saturday matinee. Or Andrew Wickliffe, whom it turns out was at such a screening in the unholy year of 1991. Even Kim Cattrall knew to stay away from this one, much to the chagrin of Crow T. Robot, since she can always brighten up dark stains on cinema like City Limits or Split Second. Or not.
Among topics discussed in the film’s excruciating 95 minutes are consumerist fantasies, 80s teen heartthrobs, Comedy Central’s movie programming in the 1990s, the city of Kill-adelphia, the awful filmography of Stewart Raffill, Meshach Taylor’s courageous portrayal of African-American Homosexual-American “Hollywood” Montrose, Terry Kiser’s awfulness, real dolls, the semantics of Two/Too/2 in the titles of unrelated 80s sequels, excising homosexuality through film editing, the lamented career of Zach Galligan, and much much more!
NEXT WEEK: WHIZ KIDS OF 1985 DOUBLE FEATURE! MY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985, JONATHAN R. BETUEL) / REAL GENIUS (1985, MARTHA COOLIDGE)
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!
With the fabulous, sensational and hyperbolic debut of a new Muppet movie, the online podcasting world has been all abuzz as to how An Alan Smithee Podcast will score one or two extra Google hits on the ensuing carnage by pairing one good Muppet movie with one bad one which isn’t the new one. Just kidding, The Muppets is actually half decent and a welcome relief to millions of parents choosing between it and Fred Claus. The only muppet movie we could really choose for a bad one is Muppets From Space, which like The Muppets is only a bad movie by the standard of other muppet movies.
Our good Muppety film is the very first one, 1979′s The Muppet Movie, a film which not only celebrated the triumph of Jim Henson’s vision on television but stood as a magical achievement in puppetry as well. This and Star Wars really heralded the arrival of puppetry into state of the art special effects for the following decade, as Kermit and company convincingly co-exist with our world to a degree that had never been seen before. In hindsight of Jim Henson and The Muppets’ legacy since 1979, the story of the Muppets meeting each other and banding together only grows more poignant as time goes on. If you don’t get piss shivers when those first banjo notes of “The Rainbow Connection” play over the helicopter shot of Kermit’s swamp and the title “Produced by Jim Henson” appears, you’re one cold fish. Presumably you’re not, as only true misers and curmudgeons could reject the earnest showmanship of the Muppets and if that’s the way you feel, you wouldn’t be watching The Muppet Movie in the first place.
By the way, why didn’t “The Rainbow Connection” beat out stupid “Norma Rae” for Best Song at the 1980 Oscars? Either the Academy is full of Commies or they thought people would be confusing Kermit’s with that other song about rainbows which won an Oscar 40 years earlier.
Two decades later, the diminished stature and ambition of The Muppets as a continuing part of pop culture couldn’t be better represented in the film Muppets From Space. Unlike the other relatively successful, Henson-less Muppets films of the 90s, Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, From Space suffers from a serious lack of scale. The story plays out like an episode of some fictitcious Muppets sitcom, right down to the limited number of locations and reliance on Jeffrey Tambor. Fans of the short-lived Muppet Show revival Muppets Tonight! will at least appreciate the deference to characters created for that series such as Pepe the Prawn, Dr. Phil Van Neuter and Bobo the Bear. The conceit of the film – the Gonzo the Great is finally alerted to the origin of his species by messages from outer space – is less the response to unanswered (and unasked) questions about Gonzo’s animal type than the response of uninspired writers to the wave of interest in paranormal alien activity that washed over docile post-Cold War / pre-9/11 America’s imagination throughout the 1990s.
There’s a famous Onion opinion article about a nerd appreciating the Muppets on a much deeper level than you. It’s hilarious for a couple reasons: first, signaling in on the longstanding appeal the Muppets’ innocence has had to emotionally damaged adult nerds who were picked on way too much. (“I never should have let you go to the kitchen for more Pringles during Kermit’s big ‘High Noon’ speech to Charles Durning—the emotional apex of the film.”)
Second and more to the point of this episode, it details the particular connection those who grew up with the Muppet Show feel compared to those who grew up just a few years later with Muppet Babies, Fraggle Rock or even A Muppet Christmas Carol. The 70s and 80s were a hard slog for kids living in the exhausted remnants of their parents’ pop cultural golden age and the Muppets offered a window into old-fashioned children’s entertainment for a generation facing the exponential growth in the mainstream of glib cynicism. No one will appreciate the Muppets on the deeper level that Generation X did – Jason Segel is more than happy to remind us – but the body of work Henson and company left us lives on and beyond.
Enjoy this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast and discover how we felt. Get it?
NEXT EPISODE: POLTERGEIST SPECIAL! POLTERGEIST (1982, TOBE HOOPER) & POLTERGEIST II: THE OTHER SIDE (1986, BRIAN GIBSON)
Will cartoons ever live in peace with man? Animation is the most degraded art form in history, a miracle of filmmaking which has lived in the entertainment ghetto so long that the Japanese surpassed America’s product output years ago. On native soil, cartoons either shuck and jive for the kiddies in movie theaters or prattle listlessly for jaded ironic young adults on late night TV. The stigma of cartoon characters as harmless subhumans who can only entertain is an old one, while the alluring stench of danger that wafts around “cartoons for adults” was more recently spewed by the resurgence of animation at the dawn of the 90s, embodied by The Simpsons and The Ren and Stimpy Show. This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast dives headfirst into the silent cold war of animation’s struggle for legitimacy with two films that straddled the line between animated and live-action entertainment, with varying results.
The use of cartoons as a metaphor for black entertainers marginalized within mainstream entertainment was extrapolated upon by author Gary K. Wolf in his 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? Although cartoons and humans had been matched onscreen before, the movie rights to Wolf’s novel represented the bold possibility of a feature length collusion between the two. Robert Zemeckis, in his first of many obsessions with technological animated feats to come, seized upon the opportunity and released the (apparently minimally faithful) film version Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988. Roger Rabbit was a bonafide cultural phenomenon at the time, although later films inspired by its technological feats were a lot less artistically compelling.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was produced by Disney, and as such, although it contains a few cameos from cartoon characters of other studios it rather treats the medium of animation the way the Oscars treats the medium of film – that every contributor to the form has been part of one big happy tapestry and the very idea of itself deserves celebration for all the laughs and tears and tears of laughter we’ve enjoyed. That, and a horrifically malformed “sexy” cartoon woman named Jessica Rabbit who was probably the biggest factor in Disney taking their name off the opening credits and making it a “Touchstone Pictures” film.
The first and most infamous of Roger Rabbit inspired movies was, ironically, directed by an animator whose name was synonymous with “adult animation” – Ralph Bakshi, director of the first X-rated animated movie Fritz the Cat and other transgressive animated features in the 1970s. Just before Roger Rabbit he had given future Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi (“John K”) his big break on the animated TV series The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and with the recent renewal of mainstream interest in animation, the opportunity to return to feature filmmaking seemed like a great idea. Bakshi pitched Cool World to Paramount Pictures as the story of a cartoonist who enters a cartoon world and has sex with a cartoon girl, resulting in a half-cartoon half-human daughter who vengefully seeks him out in the real world to kill him – a horror film.
That was what was meant to be, until the Bakshi showed up on the first day of shooting to be handed a completely rewritten script in which there were now two human leads in the cartoon world, and rather than any horrific half-breed cartoon/human child, the plot now concerned the cartoon girl’s efforts to become human by sleeping with her cartoonist creator.
The resulting film is a giant disaster in which the convoluted metaphysical logistics are seemingly being written by the screenwriters minutes before the scenes are filmed, with hacky genre dialogue being peppered atop everything to explain the randomness – like the cartoon girl Holli Would referring to her human cartoonist’s visitation as “just a mindslip.” There’s also head-slappingly cheesy lines which contradict whatever internal logic the writers were pretending to create, like when a cartoon person says “I don’t give a doodle” despite the fact that the cartoon denizens of “Cool World” refer to themselves as “Doodles” and nobody goes around saying we don’t “give a human.” And that’s even before you can begin analyzing the wretchedness of a Kim Basinger performance.
The concept of a movie revolving entirely around having sex with cartoons is tailor made for 13 year olds (the oldest children who could see Cool World unaccompanied by parents) but the concept was much better delivered in the Fred Olen Ray joint from the same year, Evil Toons.
All this, plus digs at Steven Spielberg, TV cartoon writers and a rare kind word for Roger Ebert in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast!
NEXT EPISODE: MUPPETS SPECIAL! THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979, JAMES FRAWLEY) & MUPPETS FROM SPACE (1999, TIM HILL)
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!
NEXT EPISODE: ALIEN (RIDLEY SCOTT, 1979) & ALIEN 2: ON EARTH (1980, CIRO IPPOLITO)