Alan Smithee Podcast 82: The Little Shop of Horrors (1960, Roger Corman) / Please Don’t Eat My Mother (1973, Carl J. Monson)

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The legend of Roger Corman could be entirely summed up by the 50-plus years longevity of The Little Shop of Horrors, a film shot under the most chintzy of circumstances which has nonetheless lived on as a musical adaptation and as a perennial staple of cult horror-comedy. What’s odd is how despite being made by his usual gang of misfits and dope addicts, it’s a real oddity in his oeuvre as a producer because he so seldom made comedies. Charles B. Griffith’s screenplay for Little Shop, however, is arguably one of the greatest comedy screenplays ever written and Corman’s few other dark comedies – A Bucket of Blood and Gas-s-s-s are quite excellent. Obviously he preferred more financially reliable b-movie genres, which is our loss.

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It’s easy to take a movie like Little Shop of Horrors for granted, but as we discuss in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, irreverent and even mildly “tasteless” humor was in pretty short supply when the film was made and Griffith’s particular brand of weirdo Beatnik by-way-of Borscht Belt humor is a pretty singular achievement. The film has a unique voice and rather than feeling cramped and slapdash by the nonexistent budget, its comedy feels intimate and casual – which is to say, its flaws become its strengths and that’s the surefire miracle which redeems any film of limited means. The weirdest moments concerning the talking plant Audrey Jr, the sadistic dentist Dr. Farb and a deadpan-ad-absurdum parody of Dragnet have an integrity and conviction which wouldn’t have been present in a more polished film. Little Shop of Horrors paved the way for dozens of weird horror-comedies over the years; its influence can be felt from Spider Baby to Basket Case to less overtly “horror” type comedies that are seemingly populated by genuine crazies – like the films of John Waters or Alex Cox’s immortal Repo Man.

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Of course, for a lot of people the only noteworthy thing about Little Shop of Horrors is that it features one of Jack Nicholson’s earliest, and most twisted roles as a masochistic dental patient named Wilbur Force. His two minute scene is certainly the most important part of the film to home video distributors, who were all to glad to trick unsuspecting consumers into thinking he starred as Seymour Krerlboine.

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A lame ripoff of the Addams Family theme begins the 1973 Little Shop cash-in Please Don’t Eat My Mother, which is of all things a pornographic remake. Unlike your straightforward pornographic parody film, PDEMM straddles an uncomfortable line between being awful soft porn and simply an unfunny remake of Little Shop. Amazingly, there’s enough resemblance to the original film to strongly suggest that Carl Monson (or at least the writer) was a genuine fan of the Corman movie. Unfortunately everything run through the ringer of Please Don’t Eat My Mother comes out with a filmy, sludgy residue from which no entertainment value can be wrung, let alone titillation.

NEXT EPISODE: SAINT VALENTINES DAY (MASSACRE) SPECIAL! THE ST. VALENTINES DAY MASSACRE (1967, ROGER CORMAN) / SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959, BILLY WILDER)

Alan Smithee Podcast 81: Fletch (1985, Michael Ritchie) / Fletch Lives (1989, Michael Ritchie)

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Have you heard the news, makin’ all the headlines? An Alan Smithee Podcast is workin’ overtime, going bit by bit one way or another and diggin’ into the Chevy Chase quasi-classic Fletch…and its fully reprehensible sequel Fletch Lives.

Chevy Chase’s detractors have always had their work cut out for them: the diminishing returns of the Vacation franchise, the many starring roles he bombed in (Under the Rainbow, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Cops and Robbersons) the five fabulous weeks of The Chevy Chase Show…Chase’s fans, however, are usually split on which was his more successful comedy persona: the smart-alec lothario or the doofy husband. Fans of the latter are stronger proponents of Vacation and Funny Farm while fans of the latter gravitate towards his Weekend Update run on Saturday Night Live or role in the ensemble of Caddyshack as his best work. For fans of the latter, Fletch may well be the apex of his career. For 90-some minutes he dryly narrates, wisecracks and plays dumb through a story that’s rooted in the mystery genre just enough to take seriously, but with a tone that’s lighthearted enough to work perfectly as carefree entertainment. It was all downhill after this for Chase, as every subsequent film and appearance felt like an impossible attempt to meld the smarmy and the bourgeoisie sides of himself into something for everybody.

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Fletch actually has a shelf life beyond fans of casual or hardcore fans Chevy Chase. In the nearly 30 years since its release, obsessing on the film’s wealth of quips and one-liners has become a calling and a joke onto itself. This blurb from The Onion in 1999 describes an Area Insurance Salesman celebrating his 14th year of quoting Fletch:

Cutler, who also goes by the name “Dr. Rosenrosen,” dead-panned, “Never mind, just bring me a cup of hot fat and the head of Alfredo Garcia.”

This possibly inspired the New York Post to write an actual short piece about Fletch fandom just a few months later, with some keen insights as to its durability from its makers:

Chase thinks that the movie continues to appeal to college students because of “the cheekiness of the guy … everybody at that age would like to be as quick-witted as Fletch, and as uncaring about what others think.”

The same glowing article also ends with a withering comment from screenwriter Andrew Bergman, however, summing up how Chevy and Michael Ritchie screwed the pooch four years later:

Bergman says that if Chase “hadn’t screwed up the second one, he could have been Clouseau – he could have done that part forever.”

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“The second one” is of course Fletch Lives, one of the most execrable bad comedy sequels we’ve ever viewed for An Alan Smithee Podcast – even worse than Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. The problems are so myriad that it would take less time to describe what the film does right – like casting Chevy Chase again – but those were some bad four years in between and even that decision is debatable. The world got one more Harold Faltemeyer score, and Hal Holbrook got a paycheck, but was it worth it? To quote yet another newspaper on this would-be news reporter comedy franchise, Vincent Canby got it exactly right in his New York Times review:

“Fletch Lives looks less like Fletch 2…than Fletch 7, the bitter end of a worn-out series.”

Ten years after Fletch Lives there was serious talk from Kevin Smith about relaunching Fletch with Jason Lee as the young Irwin Fletcher, and possibly Chase narrating the tale in flashback – a prequel based on Gregory MacDonald’s prequel novel Fletch Won (Won/One, geddit?) The project has changed hands on the writing, directing and starring fronts a half-dozen times since then, with everyone from Ben Affleck to Zach Braff to Dave Chappelle(!) being considered. Another ten years after the first rumblings for the return of the wisecracking reporter, any news that Fletch will, indeed, live another day still seems rather unlikely. Why? BECAUSE FLETCH LIVES WAS THAT HORRIBLE. A very informative Entertainment Weekly article outlines the whole sordid saga here.

NEXT EPISODE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960, ROGER CORMAN) & PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER (1973, CARL J. MONSON)

Alan Smithee Podcast 78: The Blues Brothers (1980, John Landis) / Blues Brothers 2000 (1998, John Landis)

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The Blues Brothers is one of the great all-time overrated “great” ideas (and movies) of all time. Andrew and I wanted to like it, truly we did, but even if the gulf between overhyped expectations and the film itself weren’t so yawningly wide, there’s nothing but sheer scale to recommend – the amount of music, the amount of stunts, the multitudes of wasted cast members – all of which were compiled along the edict of “more is more.” In this way John Landis was somewhat visionary towards the way the film was developing in the new decade of the 80s. The Blues Brothers is the terrible poverty of imagination heralded by “Star Wars,” applied to a non-fantasy film, and to a comedy about “blues men” for heavens’ sake – historically the salt of the Earth. This is a bad live action cartoon before the second dialogue scene has elapsed.

“The Blues Brothers” aren’t real characters; they’re a premise conceived so two white comedians got to do live Karaoke of old music they like. Nothing wrong with that, but expanding that nothing premise into a two-plus hour film is, let’s say, overconfident. This hasn’t stopped any film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch since, which is another grievance to hold against Messrs. Ackroyd, Belushi and Landis. To cover up the lack of content – they don’t even bother developing Elwood and Jake Blues into anything but two dimensional caricatures – there are endless guest stars in every scene, and where there aren’t guest stars, there are explosions and car chases courtesy of Landis, who at this point was still at least two years away from the day his lack of talent killed three.

The wholly superficial nature of the film, with its repeated catchphrases (“We’re on a mission from God” does not does not get any funnier the tenth time), repeated music cues (the Peter Gunn theme is admittedly catchy) and stunts for their own sake are all supposed to be offset by egomaniacal reason behind the film’s creaction: to “re-focus attention” on blues music (as Landis phrased it on the eve of its 25th anniversary.) Ah, the White hipster’s burden; bringing black culture to other, less cool white people than yourself. These delusional jerks actually thought James Brown and Aretha Franklin wouldn’t sell enough white tickets if Landis hadn’t poorly directed cameos for them.

By perpetuating this farce with the lesser (Jim) Belushi after the latter Belushi left this unhip coil, Ackroyd was just as much to blame for the excruciating continuance of the Chicago-deep-dish-style White-guy-“Blues” movement. In the late 90s, after probably his first exhaustively failed attempt to spearhead “Ghostbusters 3″, he resorted to the maybe the feeblest nostalgia cash-in in movie history: Blues Brothers 2000, a 20th anniversary sequel made two years too early and with even less goodwill than if they’d attempted to remake the original film tomorrow. Which, come to think of it, ought to be any day now.

“Blues Brothers 2000″ is every bit as pointless, poorly made, and frantically stocked with guest stars and musicians to mask the pointlessness – except Landis and Ackroyd no longer have even the reckless confidence of youth at their backs.

Sacred cows AND dead horses get what’s coming to them in this highly iconoclastic episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.

NEXT EPISODE: GODZILLA SPECIAL! GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956, ISHIRO HONDA & TERRY MORSE) / GODZILLA (1998, ROLAND EMMERICH)

Alan Smithee Podcast 76: I Married a Witch (1942, René Clair) / Bewitched (2005, Nora Ephron)

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Regular listeners of An Alan Smithee Podcast know that we’re pretty shameless when it comes to being topical. When your movie podcast is basically about whatever the hell movies you feel like talking about, you have to be a little topically trendy to catch new listeners. However, don’t assume that this episode’s choice of Nora Ephron’s worst movie (probably) was chosen to dishonor her memory. This is mere coincidence and frankly, we do a fine enough job dishonoring her memory with ad hominem insults (mostly mine, Andrew has class) when we were under the assumption she’d live at least another week or so.

In deference towards Ephron’s M.O. – after the fact – let’s say this episode is sort of about feminism, vis-a-vis the short niche history of romantic farces about women with magic powers and the zany predicaments they put their men into. On stage and screen the concept doesn’t date back much further than Noël Coward’s play Blithe Spirit, in which a séance brings back the ghost of a man’s nagging wife. This play was only produced a year before the 1942 film I Married A Witch, surely one of the most famous romantic comedy fantasies that people know by name without having watched. As a key work in her career’s meteoric rise and fall, Veronica Lake plays heavily into that as the titular witch. In the long run, the film begat Bell, Book and Candle (1958), with Kim Novak as another romantic trickster witch, which then begat the TV series Bewtiched in 1964.

I Married A Witch is a devious, playful and tart treat. Veronica Lake is not an innocent sugar cookie like Elizabeth Montgomery, initially intending to torment rather than marry the hapless Fredric March until literally falling in love with him by accident. The story and dialogue are as brisk and witty as any great screwball classic from Hollywood’s golden age and director Clair, who began in the silent era, devises a good deal of photographic tricks and practical effects to bring the magical elements to life. The battle of the sexes at play here carries a lot more weight than the Grant-Hepburn variety, as essentially March’s soul is on the line. Only March’s bitchy fiancé Susan Hayward makes Lake look likable by comparison, which doesn’t exactly present the ideal picture of womanhood between the two of them. They are both STRONG women, however, which is less than can be said for the women in the bad movie of this episode…

Bewitched is, without hyperbole, a failure on every conceivable level. Worse, one wonders what dramatic or comedic purposes Nora Ephron and her co-writer sister Delia Ephron even had in mind. A Marxist critic in 1942 would probably hate our being asked to identify with an opportunistic politician of family money and connections; Frederic March is running for governor and that’s not exactly necessary for the story of his love triangle between a cold fish and a Satanic nymph. However, only a commoner with no ability for class critique whatsoever could stomach, let alone enjoy the sucking vortex of insulated world views that comprise the scenario of Bewitched 2005. Forget for a moment that literally not a single character in this film is not rich, famous or endowed with magical powers. Could the meta-story of a Bewitched movie being about the remaking of the Bewitched TV show possibly be any more unnecessarily convoluted? Exactly what aspect of this plot could anyone possibly relate to?

Here’s the only corpse kicking that needs to be done: Nora and Delia Ephron wrote a story in which the unlimited powers of witch Nicole Kidman and her warlock father Michael Caine are unconsciously represent the privileged life they grew up in. Mister and Mrs. Ephron were East Coast professional screenwriters who moved lil’ Nora and Delia (those NAMES, good gravy!) to Beverly Hills as small children, where they proceeded to graduate from Beverly Hills High School. Afterwards, Nora fled back across flyover country to one of the most snobby elitist schools in America, Wellesley College in Massachusetts. She then interned at the JFK White House, presumably performing executive maintenance functions alongside Mimi Beardsley. After starting her career as an essayist, she married Carl Bernstein and divorced him before finally following in mom and dad’s footsteps as a screenwriter. She then defined the modern brainless-in-Seattle rom-com chick-flick with When Harry Met Sally and, yes, Sleepless In Seattle. Phillip Wylie, Robert Crumb and Rush Limbaugh combined couldn’t conceive a more exaggerated parody of a liberal feminist Jewess than this woman’s life.

In Bewitched, Nicole Kidman wants the execrable Will Ferrell to love her LITERALLY because he’s a “helpless” dope and as a super-powered witch dabbling in civilian life, any helpless dope will do – even if he’s a movie star. After using her magic powers to conjure a home worth millions in Los Angeles, she resolves not to use her powers to make Ferrell fall in love with her, except she changes her mind about that, twice. Ferrell and his Hollywood ilk in this film are vulgar Hollywood stereotypes, not like those sophisticated and literate New Yorkers who agree to write the scripts for meta-remakes of 1960s sitcoms. So far as Ephron’s feminist street cred, Kidman’s utter lack of personality whatsoever should posthumously wipe the record clean. She’s merely a cipher for Ferrell, whom Ephron presumably had more interest in working with. Arguably the show itself was similarly constructed – with Dick Powell and Dick York getting all the laughs in reaction to Samantha’s antics – except Ferrell doesn’t even know Kidman is a witch until the last 20 minutes of the horrific 101 minute running time. So there’s no farce, and at least Elizabeth Montgomery had some kind of charm.

Presumably, had Bewitched been a hit, Ephron’s version of I Dream of Jeannie would be about Billy Crystal finding a real genie to star on an off-broadway musical remake of the TV show, who then blogs about it on The New York Times Magazine website. Blecchhh.

NEXT EPISODE: SPACE BABE SPECIAL! BARBARELLA (1968, ROGER VADIM) & GALAXINA (1980, WILLIAM SACHS)

Alan Smithee Podcast 73: Real Genius (1985, Martha Coolidge) / My Science Project (1985, Jonathan R. Beutel)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we party like its 1985 and try to keep our intellectual hats on – much like the authors of our two films, Real Genius and My Science Project. As discussed in our Revenge of the Nerds episode, there was a formative period in the decade of Reagan towards the social acceptance and respect for geeky, gawky intellectuals, at least so far as they could get down and party like the rest of us. This bra bomb better work, Nerdlinger!

Real Genius has built a considerable reputation as a cult comedy classic, surprisingly so, in that the film was not a financial success at the time and remains relatively unknown today. However, most everyone who has seen one or two scenes of Val Kilmer retains fond memories of his peak comic abilities, cast in the mold of the Bill Murray anarchic-slacker archetype who has ruled movie comedies arguably until present day.

Kilmer represents the best that archetype can be in Real Genius, a smart aleck who is actually smart, loves the ladies, defends the underdogs, and is not opposed to authority per se, but to authority figures like William Atherton who – whaddya know – was also a dickish authority figure in Ghostbusters the year prior.

Real Genius also was ahead of its time to the degree that some of the nerds in the film are quirky in ways that are true to life, rather than possessing cheap sitcom quirk, whether they’re Michelle Meyrink’s OCD nerdette or Robert Prescott as the bully-nerd Kent. Gabriel Jarret’s main character is also a sensitively portrayed wimp, and he probably hates Val Kilmer forever (geddit) for stealing the show and taking center stage on the awful theatrical poster, which misconstrues the film as some kind of madcap yuppie misadventure.

From a smart film pretending to be dumb to vice versa, My Science Project is a film with a lot of confidence and no brains whatsoever to get in the way of Fisher Stevens. Released by Touchstone, the story definitely has a kind of Disney-esque whimsy that could have made an entertaining movie for kids in more competent hands. Unfortunately, writer-director Jonathan R. Betuel of “The Last Starfighter” writing fame (and “Theodore Rex” infamy to come) doesn’t seem to know whom he’s making the movie for, let alone why his own film even needs to exist.

The main characters are high schoolers with less believable personalities than the cast of Saved By The Bell and despite the film’s Ghostbusters inspired poster promising a special effects extravaganza, the titular science project doesn’t begin to go haywire until halfway through the run time. Which means there’s plenty of time for the one-dimensional characters to twiddle their thumbs as Dennis Hopper earns a paycheck and star John Stockwell wishes he were still being chased by Christine.

All this, plus a tyrannosaurus rex (Bethuel really likes dinosaurs), props for the underrated Jonathan Gries (a basement dweller in Real Genius), and serious consideration of how special effects usually hurt comedies rather than help them in this young, fast and scientific episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.

NEXT EPISODE: SUPERGIRL (1984, JEANNOT SZWARC) AUDIO COMMENTARY TRACK!

Alan Smithee Podcast 72: Mannequin Two: On The Move (1991, Stewart Raffill) audio commentary track

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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)