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Monthly Archives: March 2012

5 New/Old Movie Double Features

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Sometimes when you watch a movie, you get a sudden, happy flashback to another film you enjoyed years ago. It might have a similar theme, locale or situation – but it makes you want to see that old film again for comparison’s sake. Here are five such double features that have come to mind recently.

FRIENDS WITH KIDS (2012)

AND…

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

They’re both smart, they’re both funny and they’re both romantic comedies about best friends who become more intimate. I greatly enjoyed Jennifer Westfeldt’s “Friends With Kids,” which features a winning cast that includes Adam Scott and Maya Rudolph. My one problem was its unbelievably clunky ending. It seemed to grasp at elements from several earlier films – including “When Harry Met Sally.” That’s a movie I liked a lot, as well. Its ending was schmaltzy, but it worked. And it had classic performances by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. But something it didn’t do was bring children or grandparents into the mix; Harry and Sally existed in this sort of unrealistic bubble.

SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN (2012)

AND…

LOCAL HERO (1983)

Here are two quirky, wonderful films. “Salmon Fishing” is about a crazy plan to bring salmon fishing to a desert; “Local Hero” is about an oil company attempting to purchase a town in Scotland for a refinery. Different as those stories are, they share a common sensibility. They feature isolated main characters (Ewan McGregor and Peter Riegert) who find something magical and invigorating during a business trip to another country. They also encounter charismatic authority figures (Amr Waked and the great Burt Lancaster) and a host of oddball supporting characters.

WANDERLUST (2012)

AND…

LOST IN AMERICA (1985)

Times and technology may change, but young married couples will always need to negotiate their personal version of the American dream. Albert Brooks explored this theme with hilarious results in “Lost in America,” one of the funniest films ever made. He turns the words “nest egg” into something sublime and his scenes as a school crossing guard are brilliant. “Wanderlust” offers smart performances by Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston in their own journey of discovery, via a hippy-dippy commune. It’s not on a level with “Lost in America,” but it has very witty moments and a solid supporting cast.

SAFE HOUSE (2012)

AND…

MIDNIGHT RUN (1988)

Bear with me on this one. You’ve got two branches of the action movie genre here, but they both feature one guy tasked with bringing another guy to justice. That other guy, meanwhile, is trying to get into the hero’s head and find a way to escape. A road trip and lots of bonding ensues. In “Safe House,” Denzel Washington is a tough, rogue spy being escorted to authorities by young spy Ryan Reynolds. Washington is rakishly sly and intimidating, and the film boasts all the quick-cut, hand-to-hand combat scenes that today’s audiences crave. Yet its greatest strength is the easy chemistry between Washington and Reynolds. The same is true for action-comedy-buddy movie “Midnight Run.” Robert DeNiro is a bounty hunter taking embezzler Charles Grodin to Los Angeles. Grodin masterfully nags, jokes and irritates tough guy DeNiro into submission. Again, chemistry is the key.

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012)

AND…

BATTLE ROYALE (2000)

Full disclosure: This one is based on sage observations by friends of The Jimbo List. “The Hunger Games” and “Battle Royale” are both about dystopian futures in which teens are forced into deadly battle with each other by authoritarian governments. The difference is cultural. “The Hunger Games” takes place in a version of North America, while “Battle Royale” is set in Japan.

So that’s five. Now let’s hear your suggestions for new/old double features!

Baseball Teams for a Digital Age

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With the baseball season officially starting this week (the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics in Japan), now is an excellent opportunity to envision a more digitally-enhanced version of the American pastime:

TAMPA BAY DATA RAYS

PINTEREST PIRATES

MINNESOTA CLICKS

SILICON VALLEY GIANTS

TEXAS TWEETS

CHICAGO NO-SOX

TORONTO TWITTER MONKEYS

AMAZON ANGELS

NEW YORK METRICS

CINCINNATI NERDS

MICROSOFT DODGERS

SAN DIEGO iPADRES

BALTIMORE BLOGGERS

ATLANTA HACKTIVISTS

CLEVELAND CLOUDS

Let’s play 2.0!

11 Movie & TV Precursors to ‘The Hunger Games’

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With the movie version of “The Hunger Games” poised to take the nation by storm, here are some notable film and TV examples of people fighting to the death for sport. Let the games begin.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

Richard Connell’s classic short story about a crazy hunter on a Caribbean island who stalks human visitors has been filmed numerous times. The best version came in 1932, with Joel McCrea as the young guy being hunted by loony Leslie Banks. It’s a story that works in any era.

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME

Welcome to Bartertown. In this 1985 installment of the “Mad Max” series, Mel Gibson finds himself battling assorted psychos in a freaky fight cage called Thunderdome. As wild as the action is, Tina Turner’s striking villain is even more wild.

SPARTACUS

Amid the spectacle of 1960’s “Spartacus,” there’s a fantastic sequence of Kirk Douglas in the Roman arena versus the great Woody Strode. I won’t give away the ending of this fight, which is stirring.

GLADIATOR

Of course, “Gladiator” (2000) owes some of its imagery to “Spartacus,” but Russell Crowe can hold his head high. He’s a commanding presence here, especially in forced fighting scenes in the arena. Careful of those tigers, dude.

STAR TREK

TV’s original “Star Trek” used the combat-as-sport concept several times. Most memorable was Capt. Kirk’s epic rumble against the lizard-headed Gorn. How did Shatner not get an Emmy for this? Side note: I love the Gorn in those Geico commercials.

THE RUNNING MAN

As time has gone by, I think this 1987 film stands out less because of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heroics and more for Richard Dawson’s smarmy host of a televised hunt for criminals on the run. Side note: This may well be the only Hollywood project ever to combine the talents of Dawson, Jim Brown and Jesse Ventura.

DEATH RACE 2000

Let’s stay in the realm of violent campiness with 1975’s “Death Race 2000.” This one starred David Carradine and involved – I kid you not – a car race in which the point was to mow down pedestrians. My GPS navigation lady would not put up with that sort of thing.

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD

This high-octane western from 1995 is mainly just an excuse to stage a whole mess of gunslinger duels. They’re done stylishly, with a cast that includes Sharon Stone, Russell Crowe, Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Lance Henriksen and Keith David.

THE NAKED PREY

A strangely engrossing movie, this one. Cornel Wilde is a guide in Africa, being hunted by a determined group of warriors. There are long stretches without dialogue and the characters’ exhaustion is palpable. From 1966.

GAMER

The plot for this 2009 flick has to do with using mind-control to play deadly games with real people. Gerard Butler is certainly game as the lead character, but the real draw is the always-interesting Michael C. Hall as the bad guy.

TRON

I’m partial to the 1982 original, but I have no beef with the 2010 sequel. Both films are dazzling in their own ways, visually. Of interest here, in the virtual world inside a video game, are jaw-dropping battles with flying discs and the coolest motorcycles ever. They have to be seen to be believed.

Now let’s see how “The Hunger Games” fares.

A Beatles Playlist for Lord of the Rings

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Department of Pop Culture Worlds Colliding: Did you know that many years ago, the Beatles wanted to star in a movie version of “The Lord of the Rings” books? And that said film would be directed by Stanley Kubrick? With John Lennon as Gollum? I can only imagine what the soundtrack’s playlist would look like:

I WANT TO HOLD THE PRECIOUS

NORWEGIAN ORCS

SAURON IN THE SKY WITH EYEBALL

I AM THE BALROG

UNCLE ELROND

THE BALLAD OF SAM AND FRODO

GOL-LEM-DI, GOL-LEM-DA

A DAY IN THE SHIRE

TRINKET TO HIDE

AXMAN

WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY ENTS

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD TO MORDOR

This has been your daily Nerd Alert.

The Joke’s On THEM: Great Sitcom Punching Bags

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Pretty much all sitcom characters absorb their share of cutting remarks – it’s the nature of the art form. But some characters are built almost entirely on the premise that they’ll be the butt of jokes. When it works, it’s comedy magic.

MEL COOLEY

Cooley, the long-suffering lackey to an egotistical TV star on “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” was played with mild-mannered grace by Richard Deacon.  No matter how badly Morey Amsterdam’s character, Buddy, needled him about his baldness, the most Mel would do is say, “Yechh!”

LAMONT SANFORD

Demond Wilson played Lamont, the junior member of “Sanford and Son,” the 1970s sitcom starring Redd Foxx. It was a prickly relationship on screen, especially with Foxx’s character calling his son a “dummy” nearly every episode. But Wilson managed somehow to show both resentment and affection in a way that humanized the harshness.

TOBY FLENDERSON

Possibly the best TV sad sack ever. Toby is the beleaguered HR guy on “The Office,” the one person boss Michael Scott truly loathes. As played by Paul Lieberstein, Toby gets heaps of abuse for no good reason other than his existence. One thing that makes this work so well is Lieberstein’s subtle use of an incredibly halting, stammering voice.

TED BAXTER

What a great character. Ted Knight’s childish, pompous TV anchor on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” was insanely funny. And unlike most sitcom Punching Bags, he also tried to make a few verbal jabs of his own.

Lou: Put it on an idiot card for Ted.

Ted: Cue cards, Lou. I don’t know why everyone insists on calling cue cards idiot cards.

Murray: We just have trouble thinking of you as a cue.

JANICE

Actress Maggie Wheeler appeared only sporadically on “Friends” as the always-annoying Janice. Yet the very mention of her name (and certainly the sound of her laugh) caused a visceral, derisive reaction from both the other characters and the audience. She was a Punching Bag who punched back quite effectively.

MR. WILSON

Joseph Kearns played Mr. Wilson in the  TV version of “Dennis the Menace.” He was winningly cranky, and he invariably got the short end of the stick in his interactions with young Dennis. Sadly, he passed away before the end of the show’s run and was replaced by Gale Gordon as Mr. Wilson’s brother – who also found Dennis to be rather menacing.

COL. KLINK

A Nazi prison camp commanding officer is certainly a fine choice to be a sitcom Punching Bag, outlandish as that sounds. Actor Werner Klemperer did wonderful work as Klink on “Hogan’s Heroes,” making the Colonel a vain, gullible chump.

NEWMAN

Jerry’s main foil on “Seinfeld” was played by Wayne Knight with a terrific sense of evil fun. Newman was a schemer of the first order, and there are people I know who still invoke his name when they’re exasperated with just about anything. Newman!

DARRIN STEVENS

Whether you prefer Dick York or Dick Sargent as the husband on “Bewitched,” they both served as excellent sources of material for the mother-in-law character, played by the great Agnes Moorehead.

Darrin: I’d like it much better if you’d call me by my first name.

Endora: Very well, Dennis.

SCREECH

Aptly named and hopelessly hapless, the character Screech on “Saved by the Bell” was played by Dustin Diamond. I can’t say I was a fan of this show, but I’m aware that it, and Screech, achieved a sort of cult status.

CAPT. BINGHAMTON

This guy, I remember. Binghamton (Joe Flynn) was the comedic villain of “McHale’s Navy.” His voice was like a foghorn on the fritz, and he played his many moments of anger and frustration with broad strokes. Who could blame him for being mad? McHale (Ernest Borgnine) ALWAYS got the better of him.

CARLTON

It had to be a thankless task, playing the rich, pompous counterpoint to Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel Air.” But Alfonso Ribeiro was able to find just the right undercurrent of humility beneath the arrogance.

HERB TARLEK

Tarlek, the ad sales guy on “WKRP in Cincinnati,” was a buffoon who could easily have turned into a stock character. Thanks to some amazingly bad clothing and deft comic timing by actor Frank Bonner, he became a crucial part of the show’s ensemble.

FRANK BURNS

Oh, Frank. “M*A*S*H” wouldn’t have been nearly as good in its early years without such a great lightning rod for insults. Larry Linville made Frank a towering sitcom monument to weakness, greed and insecurity. Bravo. And remember – Frank Burns eats worms.

Okay, friends, now it’s your turn. Add to The List!

Craziest Irish Names Ever

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With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, here are some festive Irish names you won’t see in real life. Probably.

EMERIL DIAL

ERIN GOBRYE

LePREE KAHN

TAMMY O. SHANTER

BARNEY STONE

FAITH N. BEGORRA

GAIL ICKSTORM

WARREN O. DeGREENE

BLESS U. HART

SHELLY LEE

IVANA SHUMROCK

May the road rise up to meet you!

Great Cast, Terrible Movie

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Sometimes, a movie’s casting math just doesn’t add up. You get a couple of terrific leads, surround them with dynamite supporting players and you end up with – a great big mess. It’s quite amazing, actually. Here are some of my favorite, star-studded disasters.

MIXED NUTS (1994)

Get a load of this cast: Steve Martin, Adam Sandler, Jon Stewart, Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Robert Klein and Rob Reiner, plus Liev Schreiber, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis and Anthony LaPaglia. Its a comedy juggernaut, except it’s really, really not. This royal stinker, about a suicide hotline at Christmas, is stunningly bad.

AIRPORT ’77

I could have chosen just about any disaster flick of the 1970s, such as “Earthquake,” or “The Towering Inferno,” but this is the one I always found particularly annoying. You had heavyweights such as Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, M. Emmet Walsh, Christopher Lee and, of course, George Kennedy, all pretending they were in a better movie.

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (2001)

This one is inexplicable. The cast included John Cusack, Julia Roberts, Billy Crystal, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Christopher Walken, Stanley Tucci, Alan Arkin, Seth Green and Rainn Wilson. To say this romantic comedy didn’t gel is a vast understatement.

LOVE AFFAIR (1994)

Speaking of bad romantic comedies, this Warren Beatty-Annette Bening picture is one of the worst ever. It’s stultifyingly bad. The thing is, it also dragged down the great Katharine Hepburn, Garry Shandling, Pierce Brosnan, Harold Ramis and Lisa Edelstein with it. This was no way to treat Hollywood royalty.

SHADOWS AND FOG (1991)

I’m using one example here to represent the many, later-period Woody Allen films that wasted great casts. “Shadows and Fog,” an ode to German expressionist films, was a boring movie that seemed to taunt audiences with all the talent going underutilized: Woody, Mia Farrow, John Malkovich, John Cusack, Jodie Foster, Lily Tomlin, Kathy Bates, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Wallace Shawn and Madonna. And that’s just a partial list.

EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY (1988)

Underneath all that colorful fur are Jim Carrey, Damon Wayans and Jeff Goldblum. It’s a shame, really. The movie makes a great effort to be fun and funky – but that fur!? Come on. Also along for the ride are Geena Davis and Michael McKean.

DEATH TO SMOOCHY (2002)

Dark, dark comedy here that might have been too caustic for its own good. It’s a story about egos gone amok in the children’s entertainment industry, with valiant efforts by Robin Williams, Edward Norton, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart and Danny DeVito. No sale.

SPHERE (1998)

Sorry, but Dustin Hoffman in space does not work for me. When I see Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson, Sharon Stone and Liev Schreiber on a cast list together, I want a feisty, gritty urban drama – not a cold, slow-moving space thriller.

THE AVENGERS (1998)

This update on the stylish Brit TV series is a bit of a steaming pile, wot wot. It’s like some horrible hallucination in which Ralph Fiennes, Uma Thurman, Sean Connery, Jim Broadbent and Eddie Izzard recite gibberish and run around in odd clothing. As I mentioned in a previous list, Connery actually dons a teddy bear costume in this one. Yikes.

BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES (1990)

Tom Wolfe’s famous novel about class collisions in New York City made for a glorious train wreck of a film. There was absolutely no chemistry, and often the actors seemed to be taking wild stabs at how to play the material. We may never see Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman and Kirsten Dunst in another movie together.

That should get us started. Add to The List!

Dream Jobs (That Don’t Exist)

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The Jimbo List recently learned of an actual job called a guacamologist – a chef who prepares custom orders of guacamole for paying customers. It begs the question: What other magical pursuits are out there beyond the fringes of routine employment? Perhaps, some of these…

SPORTS METAPHOR TRANSLATOR

CONDIMENT STEWARD

CAMPFIRE DOCTOR

NICKNAMERIAN

TWEET HERDER

MARSHMALLOW TOASTOLOGIST

SYRUP CADDY

BASEBALL CARD ORGANIZER

HAIRLINE PILOT

WEDDING RECEPTION TOAST CONSULTANT

BEACH TESTER

Somehow, these never seem to come up at job fairs.  But don’t let that stop you – add to The List!

The Uptight Ladies Brigade of Movies & TV

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They may not be the most sympathetic characters in the world, but pop culture would be awfully boring without its uptight ladies. They provide a little tension, a little contrast, sometimes even a little comic relief. Here are some of my personal favorites.

GLADYS KRAVITZ (ALICE PEARCE & SANDRA GOULD)

What a great, great character name: Gladys Kravitz! From the old “Bewitched” TV show, Mrs. Kravitz is the ranking member of the Uptight Ladies Brigade’s Nosy Neighbor Division. Two actresses did duty as Gladys, and both were excellent. First was Alice Pearce, whose photo graces the introduction to this List. She was the mistress of window surveillance. Then you had Sandra Gould, shown here. Gould had a more direct approach, with a voice that could launch a thousand migraines.

TESS HARPER

A wonderful actress in any type of role, Harper for a time in the 1980s excelled at playing uptight Southern ladies. “Crimes of the Heart” from 1986 was one of her best, earning her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.

MARGARET DUMONT

Nobody did a better uptight society lady better than Dumont. She appeared prominently in many of the Marx Brothers’ best films, including “Duck Soup,” and she was the perfect foil for Groucho. He would hurl blistering verbal assaults at her; she would huff and puff, then continue on gamely with the rickety plotline.

BEBE NEUWIRTH

Neuwirth’s Lilith character on “Cheers” heads up our Uptight Ladies Intellectual Division. She was rigid, unrelentingly severe and hysterically funny.

BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD

With last year’s “The Help,” and to a lesser extent “50/50,” Howard solidified her standing as a gifted, uptight young lady onscreen. Her strong acting in those parts gave Viola Davis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt something to play against.

THE CHURCH LADY

Who said every great Uptight Lady had to be female? Dana Carvey’s peerless powers of comic inventiveness on “Saturday Night Live” gave us a character who was outlandish yet utterly recognizable. We all know people like this, but rarely do we get to laugh at them openly.

MARGARET HAMILTON

Here’s how magnificent Margaret Hamilton was. As iconic and scary as her Wicked Witch of the West was in “The Wizard of Oz,” her Miss Gulch at the beginning of the film was even scarier. She made an uptight lady on a bicycle seem as menacing as Arnold Schwarzenegger in “The Terminator.” Bravo.

Those are my favorites, but I’m sure you have a few of your own. Add to The List!