I’m not bulls–ting when I say Darius James is one of the most brilliant satirists alive today. His pseudo-play / screenplay “Negrophobia” from 1992 is one of the most brutally funny and devastating looks at American racism and popular culture ever written. His 1995 book about Blaxpoitation films “That’s Blaxploitation!” is one of the most irreverent and hilarious paracinema books ever written. Seriously, even if you don’t have any idea who James is, throw a buck or two his way via the GoFundMe account above.
My favorite film review ever … Darius James on the 1972 Fred WIlliamson film “Hammer”:
“For the past twelve years, I’ve had this recurrent dream: upon entering the lobby of a fleapit 42nd Street muliplex with cum-stained carpets, I’m approached by two toothless dwarves bundled in fake-fur coats. The grin and ask if I want a blow job.
Standing at the concession counter, where the popcorn machine pops, popcorn that smells like urine, I stare at the movie posters hanging on each of the doors along the hallway, trying to decide which film I want to see.
Most are lurid Italian shock-u-mentaries, but, among the many titles is Fred Wiliamson’s dockworker-turned-prizefighter feature ‘Hammer.” And it’s the door I dare not enter.”
Just saw “Hail Caesar!” … Absolutely loved it! If the Coen Brothers’ brilliant, but ultra-bleak 2009 film “A Serious Man” was about an absent, or indifferent God, “Hail Caesar!” concerns the opposite. Easily their sunniest, most upbeat film … “Caesar” could be the first Coen Brothers film that could be screened in churches. Of course, it won’t be, because it’s the Coen Brothers and it’s highly irreverent, off-kilter, and weird. But … it’s the first film in their 32-year filmography that indicates their hearts are not as black as they’ve always implied. I’m a religious skeptic these days, but if there is a God, you could do a lot worse than Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix character. Trust me, this is a VERY deep film if you analyze it, but it’s done with such a light, goofy touch, it’s incredibly entertaining and fun even if you don’t dig deeper. There’s even some affectionate digs at Hollywood liberalism gone amok … with George Clooney front and center gleefully sending himself up. Critics and audiences have been lukewarm about “Caesar,” but you need to remember that “The Big Lebowski” had the same reaction when it first came out and is now one of the Coen’s most beloved films. Mark my words, “Caesar” is one for the ages.
“The Best of Times” is a truly awful television pilot from 1981 that only aired once (to the best of my knowledge) and never continued past its first episode. Co-produced by “Laugh-In”‘s George Schlatter, “Times” (I imagine) was supposed to be a lighthearted, albeit sensitive look at the struggles of being a teenager, though it’s executed in the most ass-backwards, tasteless early 1980s corporate TV manner. It’s a truly weird WTF hybrid of lowest common denominator sitcom humor, occasional drama, and … yes … musical numbers. Imagine “Freaks & Geeks” had it been produced by Sid & Marty Krofft and you’ll get the picture.
So why am I even talking about this? Yes this is partly due to “Times” being truly one of those god-awful train wrecks that’s worth watching for its sheer cluelessness. But mainly because the stars are Crispin Glover and Nicolas Cage … sorry Coppola … before they became famous. And they’re playing characters called Crispin and Nicholas, respectively.
I don’t feel too bad ripping on this because I’m sure Glover and Cage would gleefully agree this is not their finest hour. But what makes this particularly an odd watch is seeing a 17-year old Glover struggling to play a “normal” early 1980s-era sitcom teenager. It’s simultaneously painful and fascinating to watch and arguably stranger than Glover’s legendary appearances in “River’s Edge” and “Wild at Heart.”
Now here’s the really weird part … I totally remember watching this when I was 11 years old. While my tastes back then were not as evolved as they are now, I remember being totally baffled by “Times” … and not in a good way. This was so memorably bizarre that I actually thought about the show the other day, but not remembering the title or who was in it. Thanks to Glover’s appearance on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast today, I looked the show up on YouTube and much to my shock, I realized “So, THIS was that odd and terrible show I remember seeing when I was 11!”
If you have a strong stomach, are a fan of really bad TV pilots, or want to see what certain stars did before they became famous, “Times” is a must-watch.
All suburban white boy skateboarders from the 1980s remember the infamous Suicidal Tendencies’ song “Institutionalized,” the one about the teenager who just wanted a Pepsi, but whose parents just wouldn’t listen and wanted to stick him in a mental institution. Well, Ice-T and his band Body Count have brought the song up to date to 2015 adulthood. And damn, if this update doesn’t resonate. This may not be safe for work, but nothing has made me laugh harder in the last several days. Except … apologies to Ice-T and his anger issues in this video, I would choose having sex with the wife featured in this video than playing X Box.
Just heard this song for the first time on an old episode of Penn Jillette’s podcast (“Penn’s Sunday School”), the one Penn recorded on the day it was announced Lou Reed passed away in 2013. Reed was a huge influence on Richman and this is a wonderful tribute song that not only gives high praise to the Velvet Underground and sounds like them, but allows for a completely charming “Sister Ray” cover during the middle 1/3 of this song. This is from Richman’s 1992 album “I, Jonathan.” If you’re not sure on who Richman is, he was the singing troubadour from the 1998 blockbuster hit comedy “There’s Something About Mary.”
Penn was very good friends with Reed for many years during the 1980s and 1990s and if you’re a fan of Reed’s, I encourage you to either stream or download the episode from the link below (Episode 89 from October 27, 2013). There’s lots of wonderful anecdotes and stories about Reed that’s nearly two hours long. Re: this song, Penn actually took Reed to see Richman in concert, where he performed this song, avoiding eye contact with Reed because he was such in awe of Reed. Reed had difficulty making out one of the lyrics, which Penn explained to Reed was “America at it’s best,” meaning Reed’s first band. Reed paused and said “Yeah, that’s pretty accurate.”
To identify the most cringe-worthy moment of one of the most crigne-worthy episodes of the US version “The Office” is, I realize, a bold task. But this song, written for Michael Scott’s girlfriend / ex-boss Jan Levinson by her former assistant, is beyond creepy … and funny. We first see Levinson’s assistant Hunter on the episode where Jan is getting fired (“The Job”), and as she hugs Hunter, tells him “”Good luck with your band,” adding “Don’t let them change you.” Well, this is the payback … a song dedicated to the night where Jan allegedly made Hunter a man. The fact that Jan plays this song wistfully in front of her current boyfriend (Michael) while trying to dance with another man is an extremely queasy and funny moment. The fact that Hunter named his band “The Hunted” speaks volumes.
Who’s the best character in “Caddyshack”? Yes, I know many out there will cite Rodney Dangerfield’s Czervik, Bill Murray’s Carl, Chevy Chase’s Ty, or … as some contrarians might say … Ted Knight’s Judge Smails … as the best character in the classic 1980 film comedy “Caddyshack.” But in my opinion, Smails’s obnoxious grandson Spaulding is the s–t! Spaulding is THE very definition of devolution. He’s rich, spoiled, obnoxious, out-of-shape, and incredibly stupid. He is literally the 3rd generation photocopy of a bad 3rd generation photocopy. And for the limited time he’s onscreen, he’s f–king hilarious. Major kudos to John F. Barmon Jr. for such a great performance. This is someone who took a nothing part and made it classic. Too bad I’ve haven’t seen Barmon do anything else. But his Spaulding is enough to warrant a NY Times mention once he eventually leaves our mortal coil. Raise a glass, motherf–kers to Spaulding Smails!
Spaulding gets drunk:
Spaulding picks his nose:
Spaulding places an order for lunch:
An interview with the real Spaulding several years after the fact:
Here’s a real find … the incredibly tasteless, but extremely funny late 1970s short film “He May Be Dead – But He’s Elvis” which mercilessly satirizes the exploitation of Elvis Presley’s death by taking said exploitation into even darker territory. I first read about this film years ago in Greil Marcus’s legendary analysis on American rock / soul music “Mystery Train” (now in a recently updated 6th edition) and while re-reading it the other day, got the notion that this short may be on YouTube.
Again, the humor is pretty sick, but not that far removed than a lot of stuff you see nowadays via reality TV. I can only imagine what this looked like back in the late 1970s. If you have a strong stomach, Dave says check it out.
And while you’re at it, if you’ve never read “Mystery Train,” check that out too.
Many people of my generation wax rhapsodic about their experience seeing “Star Wars” for the first time in the summer of 1977 on a big screen. I’m not going to deny how amazing that was. But for me, as a 33-degree comedy nerd, “National Lampoon’s Animal House” was my holy grail back when I was an impressionable pre-teenager. Let me explain the difference: “Star Wars” was PG-rated, so you could easily buy a ticket as an 8-year old and get in. “Animal House” was R-rated, which meant that you could only see it if you could sneak in, or be accompanied by an irresponsible adult. Please remember this was a time before HBO and other “uncensored” movie channels were a common phenomenon for most households.
The first time I was aware of “Animal House” was when I saw a full-page ad for it in the Washington Post, during the summer of 1978 when I was visiting my Dad. At that time, the movie was in limited-release, showing in only a handful of theaters, likely to build word-of-mouth before it was released to multiple theaters. When I saw the ad, the movie was only playing in one theater (the Jennifer Theater), but had a full-page ad. I mean, it had to be a big movie, right? The ad blew my mind. The poster was a mishmash of multiple outrageous things going on in one image. I took that movie page home with me to Tidewater, Virginia and studied that image religiously, like it was Picasso’s “Guernica.” This was an outrageous, off-limits (due to its R-rating) film that promised all kinds of illicit pleasures. I became a VERY obsessed 8-year old.
As I entered fourth grade, I ran into classmates who claimed to have seen the film, who told me in explicit detail about all of the wonders they witnessed. When I finally saw “Animal House,” in a heavily-edited TV version broadcast on the NBC network circa 1981, I thought my classmates were full of s–t. I enjoyed the film a lot, but very little of what they described was there. Then, in the fall of 1981, my Dad came to visit us and got use of a house that a friend of his owned, but was not occupying at the time. The house had one of those exotic mechanical devices called a VCR … and because I was a movie-fanatic, I made a beeline for the tape shelf. I made a LOT of discoveries on that shelf, which I kept to myself, but signaled to my older brother to take a walk with me away from the house to have a “talk.” I told him that this tape collection had a copy of “Animal House” and discussed whether or not this was the “uncut” version. He advised me to keep it cool and that we would check it out later. Well, lo and behold, it WAS the uncut version and finally realized that my classmates were NOT full of s–t. (I also discovered a tape called “Deep Throat,” but that’s a discussion for another day).
For a brief period, “Animal House” was considered the most outrageous, most scandalous mainstream American comedy film. And … was also the most financially successful. How successful? During its production, director John Landis was told he needed a “name” in order to secure a $2 million budget. Landis talked to Donald Sutherland about taking a part as “Dave” the professor for either a flat fee of $35,000 or the SAG minimum and 10 percent of the gross. Sutherland opted for the $35,000. “Animal House” grossed $141 million (when $141 million was a lot of money), which means Sutherland would have made $14 million had he taken the 2nd deal. Heavy sigh …
Like most blockbuster films, audiences interpreted the film to reflect their personal beliefs. Progressives saw the Deltas as a group of non-conformists fighting against a Nixonian-dean and rival group of Conservative blue-noses (the Omegas). Conservatives adopted the Deltas as their heroes, because they saw the Deltas as fighting against political correctness (also true). The real deal is somewhere in between because “Animal House” … like other great comedy films … is an incoherent text. Seriously, all the best film comedies, whether they be “Duck Soup,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “M*A*S*H,” “Putney Swope,” “Blazing Saddles,” “Female Trouble,” “Eating Raoul,” “Repo Man,” “There’s Something About Mary,” “South Park,” etc. are all problematic texts … because there’s something inherently funny about laughing about things we’re not supposed to laugh about. That’s what makes them funny. Comedy is not … and should never be … politically correct. Great comedy should always make you feel ashamed … ideally, MORE than a little ashamed.
As for how “Animal House” holds up nowadays, it’s still very solid. It’s not as “outrageous” as it once was, but it’s still very sharp and holds up much better for me than the original “Star Wars” does.
“Happiness” is director / writer Todd Solondz’s best film and one of the most darkly humorous and despairing views of humanity ever committed to celluloid. What makes the film particularly intriguing and disturbing is how Solondz humanizes people we would normally demonize and despise. Please note that when I say humanize I don’t mean “sympathize.” One of the prominent characters in the film is, without a doubt, a “monster” but I don’t get the impression that Solondz wants you to forgive this character’s horrendous actions. Despite how transgressive and distasteful many of the characters’ actions are in “Happiness,” Solondz challenges the viewer to see these characters as human beings. Please note that this is not Solondz’s endorsement of bad behavior, but a deep understanding of why seemingly normal people do horrendous things. As Roger Ebert noted in his 4-star review of “Happiness”: “”…the depraved are only seeking what we all seek, but with a lack of ordinary moral vision… In a film that looks into the abyss of human despair, there is the horrifying suggestion that these characters may not be grotesque exceptions, but may in fact be part of the mainstream of humanity….It is not a film for most people. It is certainly for adults only. But it shows Todd Solondz as a filmmaker who deserves attention, who hears the unhappiness in the air and seeks its sources.”
“Happiness” received an NC-17 from America’s rating board (MPAA) and was ultimately released without a rating. The trailer at the link above does not even remotely plumb the depths of how disturbing this movie is. According the Wikipedia, the Sundance Film Festival turned it down (despite the fact that Solondz won the Sundance Grand Prize in 1995) for being too “disagreeable.” But it was the best movie I saw in 1998 and my wife, who seriously considered breaking up with me after I stupidly took her to see the documentary “Crumb” when we had just started dating, said “Happiness” was one of the best movies she’d ever seen. Nearly 20 years later, “Happiness” still packs a hell of a punch and if you’ve never seen it, I encourage you to read more about it before you see it. But … this is a great movie and worth your while if you have a strong stomach and a demented sense of humor.