Alan Smithee Podcast 98: Manhunter (1986) / Red Dragon (2002)

Can’t wait for the True Detective season finale? Listen to us re-solve the long-closed case of The Tooth Fairy killer, twice!

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Alan Smithee Podcast 93: Beware! The Blob (1972, Larry Hagman) / The Blob (1988, Chuck Russell)

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In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we discuss the witless camp of “Beware! The Blob” – the 1972 follow-up to the original monster movie classic with a surprisingly catchy theme song and galaxy of stars improvising their way through a sitcom version of the original story. Plus, Dean Cundey puts blob goop on a kitten’s cute little paws.

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Then, it’s back the the future of Blob technology with the 1988 version, featuring AMAZING special effects but nothing else to recommend it – unless you’re a Del Close completist, in which case you’ll actually need to see both blobs. Be an upright citizen and enjoy!

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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 69: Poltergeist (1982, Tobe Spielberg) / Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986, Brian Gibson)

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What is Steven Spielberg’s fascination with screaming children? Are they the best avatars of innocence to exploit for audience sympathy? Does he consider children his audience? Is the audience for a Spielberg movie the adult who’s a child at heart? The arrested development case? Are they one in the same? Did the special effects of Spielberg’s productions give baby boomers a sense of childlike wonder and amazement? Did that make them want to stay there, in that safe place? Did they feel secure? Did they ever feel like adults in the first place? Did Spielberg movies give cultural legitimacy to the boomer aesthetic of the eternal adolescent? Did E.T. blow John Carpenter’s The Thing out of the water because audiences didn’t want a science fiction movie for adults? Did Poltergeist really need to come out eight days after E.T.? Did Spielberg really need to fuck two leading American horror directors at once?

Was Poltergeist a horror film for adults? For children? Was the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, chosen to direct Poltergeist and make it a film for adults? Was Steven Spielberg nervous about entrusting a PG-rated horror film to the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Did Spielberg ask Hooper to make changes? Did he tell him? Did Spielberg direct two films at once? Has there ever been a single accurate report as to the controversy of who “really directed” Poltergeist? Would the average citizen of Hollywood have more to gain by boosting Spielberg, or the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre after the film was a hit? Would you trust Tobe Hooper around your children? Would you trust Steven Spielberg? What if there was a helicopter involved?

Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in curses? Do you think a movie can be cursed? Did you know that many people who worked on Poltergeist died? Did you know that three people who worked on Twilight Zone: The Movie died before the movie was even finished? Did Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen see Poltergeist? Did they see themselves as the next screaming Spielberg children, swept up in flashing lights and wind machines? Is Spielberg a religious man? Does he have a sense of his Judaism beyond the social isolation and Holocaust nightmares of imagination? Did any Jew of the Baby Boom generation? Do practicing Jews believe in the secular new age afterlife presented without reference to The Creator in Poltergeist?

If Spielberg is not a practicing Jew, is he superstitious? Is that why he wasn’t involved in Poltergeist II: The Other Side? Did Poltergeist II really need to be made? Did the story lend itself to a sequel? Did Michael Grais and Mark Victor watch The Exorcist II: The Heretic for inspiration before writing the screenplay? Should they have been allowed to continue in the film business after Poltergeist II? Might we have been spared the script for Cool World or would Frank Mancuso Jr. have found even worse writers to take the story away from Ralph Bakshi?

Was Julian “Henry Kane” Beck fatally ill as a result of the Poltergeist curse? Is that what made his performance so scary? Was it in good taste to pretend Dominique Dunne’s character from the first film didn’t exist because she was murdered in the interim? Were the godless Michael Grais and Mark Victor tempting further animus from the spirit world when they disrespected the dead? Did Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams skip out on Part III so as not to push their luck? Did Heather O’Rourke die after starring in Poltergeist III because she pushed hers too far? Will Poltergeist ever be remade by the superstitious pagans in Hollywood for fear of breaking the seal on Spielberg’s vengeful victims? Is this kind of a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare-in-reverse situation? What is it?

TOMORROW: DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS COMMENTARY TRACK! SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987, LEE HARRY)

Alan Smithee Podcast 61: Revenge of the Nerds (1984, Jeff Kanew) / Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise (1987, Joe Roth)

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Nerds came of age in the 1980s. Marginalized for decades prior in a variety of insufficiently descriptive monikers like bookworms and poindexters, the sudden advent of personal computing and mounting intrusion of technology into the everyday lives of socially healthy people were bringing bespectacled geeks into cultural consciousness. This meant they were no longer marginalized: nerd characters were becoming a part of TV and movie casts as fully rounded stereotypes of many traits. In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast we discuss the epochal Revenge of the Nerds, which acknowledged the pile of nerd stereotypes accumulated since at least the breakout performance of Eddie Deezen in Grease and as blaxploitation films of the 70s did for black stereotypes, attempted to make nerds kind of cool through comic exaggeration and emphasizing their underdog status.

After 1984, far fewer movie nerds were mainly the butt of jokes – rather becoming humanized like Crispin Glover’s George McFly in Back to the Future, Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science or stupid Patrick Dempsey in Can’t Buy Me Love. The common denominator is of course their desire to get laid, which is universal to the male moviegoer and made more attainable when even “Genuine Nerd” Toby Radloff (of American Splendor fame) could find his Bride of Killer Nerd in the 1992 Troma film of the same title.

American Splendor comics actually featured a story of Radloff going to see Revenge of the Nerds which was recreated in the Paul Giamatti film years later. To be sure, the joke of the scene is how the nerds in the film are ultimately the creations of Hollywood and not entirely comparable to real life – their happy ending triumph over the bullying jocks is preordained – but genuine nerds like Toby needed that fantasy in 1984. They needed to see the jocks as villains for once, and were willing to look the other way on the occasional spot of movie bullstuff like the nerds having a robot butler in their frat house and working virtual magic with the pitiful computers of their day. For once, normals were invited to laugh with these guys and not at them. The relationship of lead nerds Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards is established from the beginning as one of longtime mutual endurance in the face of social intolerance. Their sensitivity towards one another anchors the story from the start in the reality that lots of nice young men don’t fit in because they’re awkward, not because they’re inferior people.

The film’s secret weapon may be the broader categorization of “nerds” as anyone who doesn’t fit into the social hierarchy. The stunningly cohesive ensemble cast is an even split of classic nerds (Timothy Busfield, Andrew Cassese, Edwards & Carradine) and simple misfits: Brian Tochi the Japanese exhange student, Larry B. Scott as the openly gay black guy, and Curtis Armstrong as the immortal “Booger.” Armstrong’s character is the perfect distillation of qualities which make someone unpopular with the in crowd without actually being too smart, too unfashionable or too shy to the degree that classic nerds are. He’s merely rude, crude, lewd, dry, gross and underachieving. Hard to believe that 15 years later, guys like Seth Rogen and James Franco would be more or less honing their “Booger” personas on the movie career launching pad of Freaks & Geeks.

While the effect of Revenge of the Nerds on the rest of pop culture began almost immediately, 20th Century Fox didn’t have clue one as to why the film was popular – let alone worked – when they signed a different director and writer for the 1987 sequel Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds In Paradise. The extent of creativity for the follow up was literally “let’s send the nerds to Ft. Lauderdale, where hijinks ensue.” Nerds In Paradise does what the first film didn’t, which is to play the nerds as near-total goons from Mars incapable of normal human behavior. The jokes are seldom based on performance or character, instead a turgid series of encounters with wacky ethnic stereotypes or comical misunderstandings lurch by while three-fifths of the returning cast from the first film were presumably getting soused between takes. Even the jocks are more two dimensional this time around; the cruelty of Ted McGinley in the first film had a realistic nuance compared to the bigger-is-funnier pranks of Bradley Whitford which ultimately culminate in stranding the nerds on a freaking desert island.

Probably worst of all for the average non-nerd moviegoer in 1987 was the total lack of nudity compared to the rather ribald Part One: Nerds In Paradise bears the rating of PG-13, resulting in nothing appealing for any audience except perhaps preadolescents too young to watch the first film and not discriminating enough to realize what they’re watching isn’t funny.

NEXT WEEK: TWILIGHT ZONE THE MOVIE SPECIAL! TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (1983, JOHN LANDIS & STEVEN SPIELBERG & JOE DANTE & GEORGE MILLER)

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

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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.

NEXT EPISODE: KING FEATURES SYNDICATE SPECIAL! FLASH GORDON (1980, MIKE HODGES) & POPEYE (1980, ROBERT ALTMAN)

Episode 45: Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991, Rachel Talalay) / Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994, Wes Craven)

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With the remake of A Nightmare On Elm Street upon us, we take a look back this week on An Alan Smithee Podcast to praise Freddy and bury him. The remake is taking care of the latter while spitting on his grave, unfortunately. We can’t believe that there’s a nightmare on our street and this time staying awake won’t save us. So are you ready for Freddy?

New Line Cinema was known as “The House That Freddy Built” after the monumental success of the original A Nightmare On Elm Street(1984, Wes Craven) and the hastily produced, homoerotic sequel catapulted the company into the black. After the second and third sequels, the series’ increasingly budgeted elaborate special effects showcases had turned a sadistic and disfigured child murderer from an object of fear into simply the villain of a fantasy-adventure film franchise and an international pop culture phenomenon. The spectacle took the edge off Freddy Krueger’s scariness, and by the time of the 6th film Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare he’s reached a crescendo of corniness even in spite of his final outing, the wisecracking Master of Ceremonies on the last night of his own Las Vegas variety show. Special guest stars! 3D! A highlights reel from the previous films! More Robert Englund out of his Freddy makeup!

Freddy’s Dead is the slightest trifle that anyone ever funneled a lot of money into out of ceremonial obligation while leaving the details to take care of themselves. The film’s story is so convoluted and idiotic as to be rivaled only by Marvel and DC comic book specials in terms of requiring previous familiarity with a series to attempt comprehension. The special effects are perfunctory and the scares are not even attempted, in some weird acknowledgment that no one was seriously expecting them from the series by this point. Directed by Rachel Talalay, who started as a Production Assistant on the first film and worked her way up through each successive Elm Street film until Robert Shaye could one day finally say “She’s earned it, and what the hell, it’s the last one anyway. I’ll write the script to make sure it works.”

Three short years after writing the supposed final chapter of his cash cow, Robert Shaye would be playing himself and explaining to Heather Lagenkamp (the star of the original film, also playing herself) that the public’s insatiable appetite for Freddy is what actually keeps him coming back to life. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare is the least successful Nightmare On Elm Street film ever, and also the most intelligent, which is a shame.

Craven actually wanted to tell the postmodern tale of a real life Freddy coming after the people who made him seven years earlier. Had the film been made then it would have at least made a lot of money and been critically ignored. Instead the opposite happened, not that Roger Ebert’s 3 star thumbs-up review got anyone to see it who wouldn’t have otherwise. Had the film been made a few years later, after the snark milestone Scream made ironic self-reflexiveness in horror trendy, New Nightmare might have been too sincere in its considerations of what Freddy means to our cultural consciousness to catch on with anyone, but it would have gotten a lot more attention initially.

The real discovery of New Nightmare is actually a rediscovery of Lagenkamp, who proves herself a more than capable actress in selling concern for her child, Miko Hughes – better known as the creepy little kid in Pet Semetary and running on all cylinders for creepiness here as well. Craven actually wrote the events of Lagenkamp’s life into her self-portrayal so much – stalkers, special effects artist husband, et all – that it’s almost a method performance. However she and Craven arrived at her postmodern persona, this film remains all the better even after Freddymania has faded for telling the story of a scream queen whose work literally comes back to haunt her. New Nightmare is more than just a Freddy film, it’s one of the best horror films ever made about horror films.

Over the closing credits montage of Freddy’s Dead, Iggy Pop rhetorically asks us: Do you really think…Freddy’s….dead..?” One unfairly forgotten pseudo-sequel, one delightfully shlocky franchise crossover and one soulless Michael Bay remake later, we all know the answer to Iggy’s world weary query.

NEXT WEEK: GEORGE ROMERO SPECIAL! THE DARK HALF (1993, GEORGE A. ROMERO) & DAY OF THE DEAD (1985, GEORGE A. ROMERO)