A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 5: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

Today’s movie offering is a throwback to the 80’s, a time when film makers had to be clever. This movie is an obscure one from Steve Martin. One of his funniest movies, it’s a loving tribute to the film noir genre made with some of the luminaries of the genre without computer aid (which makes it even more of a marvel).

Steve Martin plays Rigby Reardon, a typical down and out of his luck detective that populated the hardboiled mysteries of the Golden Age. Hired by the dark lady Juliet Forest (played by Rachel Ward), he must find her father’s killer – a noted scientist and cheese-maker. Armed with only a list of Friends and Enemies of Carlotta, Reardon and his assistant Philip Marlowe (yes, that Marlowe) uncover a sinister plot to push the world in war.

I’m being cagy about the plot because I don’t want to give away too much, but this is a film that should be in anyone’s library who is interested in technical movie making. By splicing together bits and pieces from other movies, and taking advantage of forced perspective-style shots, a new movie has been cobbled together.

I’ve always loved this movie and I try to have it in whatever iteration of my movie library takes. Another one that I have seen that follows this same style is Woody Alan’s Zelig – which if I can ever get a good copy of it, I will certainly review it here. In this movie, there is a message that sadly still bears repeating.

In Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, there are several messages:

1) Steve Martin is not as good looking as a blonde woman as he thinks he is.

2) This movie is a lot funnier than I remember. Then again, the last time I saw it was when I was 9 and more than a few jokes went over my head.

3) A dry delivery is a wonder and joy to behold.

Steve Martin’s approach to his character and the delivery has been one of the chief influences of my own humor (the other is Monty Python) in my writing and occasional acting. Gag-a-minute movies like Airplane! Are great, but there is something about Martin saying something outrageous with a stone serious look and tome.

In this age where almost everything can be done with computers, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid is a very fresh breath of air (“You need a cup of my java” has a great attention twisting sight gag, as well as being one of the better running jokes if you watch everything). Suspending my disbelief for this movie is surprisingly easy, and the reward is a subtle jab at a major (?) American city.

Is you want to take a break from computer enhanced effects, sketched explosions and million-dollar emoting by people in a mo-cap suit – watch Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid from Steve Martin at the height of his powers. You will not be disappointed. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some other hidden black and white gems.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 4: Don’t Think Twice

This time, I wanted to watch a comedy I hadn’t seen previously. So, I went through my list and pulled out this movie. It’s a story about a improv comedy troupe and what happens when one of them gets pulled into the big time.

It is not a comedy.

There are few funny parts in it – mostly from the improv theatre scenes and when Keegan-Michael Key makes a side comment (“That looks like a baby bird.”). With the cast it holds up, including one of my favorite stand-up comedians and one half of Garfunkel and Oates, you would think this would be a laugh a minute.

Nope.

This is a rather serious piece and groups and how a change of fortune can change everything. We have the bitter teacher who watches his student go on to fame and fortune, but gets left behind. We have the scared status-quo girl and the procrastinating artist (that one I understand). We’ve got both parental archetypes on display: the absent parents who just cut the check and the concerned ‘have you got something steady?’ father. The break-out star however, remains true to his roots when most other movies would have him cutting and running even before the words “I got the part” even finished getting out of his mouth. There are other things that happen to the characters and it’s generally a happy ending with everyone growing in their own way.

It’s not what I was expecting.

I have two such movies in my collection: Don’t Think Twice and Trust Me. It’s not hard to make me laugh, and I enjoy comedies more than I enjoy drama (not that you could see that by my movie list). The first movie is a really good example of the classic definition of comedy by Aristotle: a genre of literature containing humorous events or dialogue that ends favorably for the protagonists. Don’t Think Twice does this, to Mike Birbiglia’s credit, and it works. Trust Me, which I will do later, doesn’t.

Is this a bad film? No. I don’t know what criteria Apple uses when deciding if a film is a comedy, drama or documentary; but there are some holes in that algorithm. Don’t Think Twice is better categorized as a dramatic piece that has comedic elements to it. None of the performances are wasted – especially Gillian Jacob’s Samantha who has the most growth in the film. It was a pleasant break from the gag-a-second comedies I usually watch, but definitely deserves to viewed as a serious drama.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 3: Airplane!

When I am feeling at my worst, there is no better film than Airplane! A send up of disaster films of the late Seventies (I remember seeing on TV when I was about seven or eight. Yes, I’ve shown my age) and of a movie in particular: Zero Hour!

A classic that launched ZAZ (Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker) films and shaped film humor for several decades. Any sort of screwball comedy owes Airplane! a tip of the hat. This movie has paved the way to not only a bunch of other films from them – keeping Leslie Nielsen employed up until the end with The Naked Gun series – but gave them the credit to go on to solo projects like Ghost, First Do No Harm, and First Knight, clearly not just gag-a-second comedies.

Every time I watch this film, I find something new (Did you see the lady throw her baby in the air?) to laugh at. That’s the key to the joy – every scene has so many things going on that you can’t get it all the first go-round. Brilliance. I know I am gushing about this film without bringing up Kentucky Fried Movie. I know…I know…it’s on my list of movies to watch before I die, but for now, I’m focusing on Airplane! right now.

Because of this film, I find myself watching the background events in other films which can be richly rewarding at times with other comedies. My sense of humor was shaped by this film (I still say “…and don’t call me Shirley.” if the gag can be set up right) as well as my love of movie trivia. Did you know that this movie was the launching of Leslie Nielsen’s second movie career as a comedic actor. All the big names you see were brought on because they were know as being such serious, dramatic actors…which was part of the gag! There are so many little things about the movie that makes you appreciate it even more.

What else can I say about this film? It’s a legend. It’s a lifesaver for me. Go see it, and pay attention to the guy in back when the window is opened and is sucking everything out. His eyebrows and beard were supposed to be sucked up, but the glue was too strong and he’s trying to wiggle them off.

…and don’t call me Shirley.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 2: A Million Ways to Die in the West

There’s going to be a lot of comedy in the first few entries on this blog. I suffer from depression, and watching a comedy is enough to help me get by. However, my taste from comedy goes from raunchy to cerebral. I just want to laugh, get a little hit of dopamine and trudge along. Enough of that, let’s look at my next offering.

A Million Ways the Die in the West is not by any stretch of the imagination in the cerebral side of things. It is a Seth MacFarlane production, but I must add this as a disclaimer: I only am familiar with Seth MacFarlane through The Orville and clips from Family Guy and the odd American Dad picture that creeps up on Facebook.

This has the solid imprint of a MacFarlane production. Sight gags, crude humor and throw-away gags by the bushel.

Having said that – I love this film. I love it for the ending – the clever guys can get the girl, the bad guy gets hoisted by his own petard and it’s better to trip with people than trip alone. All of that squeezed into two hours and a post credit scene that demonstrates the kind of star power that Seth can attract.

No one points this out. Look at all the actors who joined his film: Neil Patrick-Harris, Charlize Theron, Liam Neeson and a cameo from Jamie Foxx. Several of these people have also appreaed in The Orville, but just think about it. He can pick up the phone and get some mega-watt talent. How is that, you might ask?

He can take two things that can seem at odds: heart-warming and raunchy, and make it work. The Orville isn’t by far as clean as other things, but it definitely hearkens back to the early seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and shows his dedication as a fan of the series.

Sorry for the side track, I should be talking about the movie.

MacFarlane made a character in that moive that we all can identify with: the hapless good guy. Sure, at first, he’s a little whiny which gives the movie its title. We can understand it because all of the other Western tropes are dialed up to 25. The Hooker with the Heart of Gold refuses to sleep with her boyfriend simply because they’re not married, and the Boyfriend goes along with it. The Bad Guy gives his target and an invitation to a shoot-out, but he breaks his own rules in the process (which comes back to bite him in the end). As a comedy, it’s politely subversive and as a Western it’s a stereotype that celebrates the genre’s excesses while skewering them.

All in all – if you haven’t seen this movie, I recommend it. Wait for the post-credit scene, it is worth it.

A Movie. A Day. A Year. Day 1: The Happytime Murders

This movie is easily in my top five comedies and certainly in my top fifty films, but not for the reasons you may think.

Let’s set aside the boilerplate film noir template the script rests on and the one nagging question I have (which I will not reveal here because of spoilers). The reason I love this film is from a technical standpoint. Because of this film, we have The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.

We see the muppets everywhere. We can see them walk down the street. We see them standing at bus stops. We see them dancing. For some of you younger people out there, this might not seem to be a big deal, but for us old people who grew up watching Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. We rarely saw them from the waist down. It was always behind walls, or in trash cans talking to people. Now, thanks to better green screen technology and computers assisting in cleaning up the images, we have a more engaging world between muppets and humans.

However, all of that tech is there to support the story. Like I said, it’s a film noir plot out of Double Indemnity and The Maltese Falcon. It borrows from those two films and a little from Basic Instinct. It’s a movie to watch several times because it sets up the rules of the world in a few scenes, but they’re not wasted for gags. They’re there to set up the plot further down the road. People keen on the Law of Chekhov’s Gun will do well to watch this film.

Other people who would be keen to see this movie are fans of very raunchy comedy (there is a scene with a cow that needs to be seen to be believed). I have never laughed so hard in my life – I had swimming black spots in my vision for a few minutes. The best performance goes to Melissa McCarthy. Mrs. McCarthy was criminally underused in the Ghostbusters reboot, and The Happytime Murders proved it. She played her character as acerbic and strung out, but she comes around helps the protagonist in the end. Again – very boilerplate, but well acted. This movie was never in contention for the Oscars when it was released, but not every movie has to be emotive knuckle-biting. In fact, it was panned by the critics, winning several “Worst Movie of the Year” for 2018.

Seriously, what do critics know?

If you’re just looking for a comedy that requires little thought, this is one to consider. Granted, there are more technically adept films out there, and much better film noir offerings to see. I haven’t even gotten to my favorite comedy of all time yet (but that’s soon), but this isn’t what the critics like and approve of for the unwashed masses. This is about what I like and why. So, go out there and rent The Happytime Murders. Watch it with your favorite person and a tray of sugar.

The Three Hundred and Forty-Fifth Post: A (Hopefully) Radical Change of Direction!

I know it’s been a while since I posted. I apologize for that, but I have been going through a lot, especially in the last few days – so much that I might just add mental health to the list of topics. Yep – that’ll drive the numbers up.

Anyways, I was looking through my movie collection and I came to the realization that I have 365 movies. So, I thought – why not? Do a movie a day for a year. I enjoy watching movies, and I have some doozies that I would like to expound upon. Also, I really need to develop consistent habits as far as writing goes. Beating myself up (the stick) hasn’t been working, so I might try this (the carrot). If anyone has a suggestion for a movie (I tend to be heavy on action films and drama), feel free to send it to me. I am in the process of setting up an e-mail account for this that I can access on a consistent basis. I would really like to see what everyone else is watching.

I hope everyone had a good Christmas and will have a good New Year. Given what I’ve been put through, I really need a good year for a change.

Everyone, be well. Check out the books on the right hand side – I highly recommend Subterfuge. It’s a very tightly written thriller by Erv Kline. Also – there’s the kofi link, because its winter here and I could use something warm.

Take care, and I hope to see many of you in the New Year.