Peter Eramo Ranks: The Top 5 Performances of Marlon Brando

For my money, Marlon Brando was the greatest actor the silver screen has ever seen. A student of the famous Stella Adler Studio, there was simply no one better. Before James Dean and the method actors that would later follow, Brando brought a completely new style of naturalistic and instinctive acting to film. With his debut performance in “The Men” (1950), he was the very first of his kind…a forefather, a godfather of method acting in cinema. As a high school student, I was an obsessive fan of his, taking in as much of his performances as I could. As a theatre major in college, Brando was the epitome of everything I looked up to in an actor. To me, he could do anything he set his mind to; look and sound and play any part whatsoever. I remember feeling devastated when he passed away at the age of 80 in 2004, but I always have his films that I can pop in at anytime and relish in the viewing of watching a true actor at work. His resume is not as vast as most as he never seemed to love what he did, which is a shame. Many consider him to be a tremendous waste of talent because of this and I can understand that. Brando was a complex man with many passions. Sadly, for all his God-given talent, it didn’t seem like acting was ever one of them.

I have of course seen every Marlon Brando film, some of them many times. Even in the “stinker” movies he was involved in (and there were a few), he still managed to shine and give a wonderful performance. This is a list of what I believe to be Brando’s Top 5 screen performances of all-time. It is NOT his Top 5 movies, because then I would surely put “The Godfather” at #1. This is simply judging what I think were his greatest achievements as an actor in his too few 39 film roles.

#5. Col. Walter E. Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” (1979)

“We must kill them. We must incinerate them. Pig after pig… cow after cow… village after village… army after army…”

I was tempted to put another here (like “Sayonara” or “Mutiny on the Bounty“) for a number of reasons. One is his short amount of screen time, but more importantly, Brando’s approach throughout seems less than stellar: he came late, he came grossly overweight, he never read the book, he didn’t know his lines, he had Francis Ford Coppola read the book aloud to him and was a bane in his director’s side during the entire process. Having said that, he does give one of the most memorable performances in screen history here. Coppola managed to get around the weight issue in how he shot all of his scenes. Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) is given the assignment of finding and killing Col. Kurtz on his remote compound and to “terminate with extreme prejudice.” So the entire film is building up to Willard finally meeting this enigmatic, psychotic Colonel. The character resonates within the viewer’s psyche before we even meet him. And when we do finally see him, Brando does not disappoint. He is a madman, a philosopher, a war hero, an intellect, a God among his people. He commands your attention in each scene he is in and creates a haunting, complex figure in Col. Kurtz.

#4. Stanley Kowalski in “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

“You think I’m gonna interfere with you?… You know, maybe you wouldn’t be bad to interfere with.”

He was the talk of Broadway when he created the role in 1947 (under the direction of Elia Kazan) and blew audiences away with his animal-like ferocity and fresh approach to the craft of acting. With Kazan directing the film and a stellar cast around him (all 3 won Oscars), Brando stars in only his 2nd film and now becomes the new Hollywood sensation. His iconic cry of “STELLA!!!” is now embedded in the most memorable moments in film. His brutal taunting towards (and rape) of his unbalanced sister-in-law, Blanche (Vivien Leigh) is a fascinating watch. You’ve never seen a dinner table cleared in this fashion before. Here, his huge presence is tormenting throughout and you never know what Stanley’s next move is going to be. What Brando does is amazing though — he manages to bring some tenderness and helplessness to this seemingly despicable man. His love for his wife is clear to see, even though he sometimes has a funny way of showing it. I never get tired of this film and can watch him play this part anytime. This is one of those rare parts that, when a newer actor tries to re-create it on stage in some revival, he’s already got his first foot in a ditch as it can never measure up and will always be held up to comparisons of what Brando did here.

#3. Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront” (1954)

“You think you’re God Almighty, but you know what you are? You’re a cheap, lousy, dirty, stinkin’ mug! And I’m glad what I done to you, ya hear that? I’m glad what I done!”

Many put this at #1 and I would have no problems with that as he is absolutely phenomenal here in his first Oscar-winning performance. Brando plays an ex-boxer here, a man who coulda been so much more, who coulda had a better life, who “coulda been a contender.” Instead, he is now a longshoreman who is struggling with his conscience to stand up to a corrupt union boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) after witnessing a murder by Johnny’s men. He meets the dead man’s sister (Eva Marie Saint) and when he begins to fall for her, he begins to have second thoughts about everything he once thought. The scenes he has with Father Barry (Karl Malden) are terrific, as we get to watch two friends play off one another yet again. The scene in the car opposite Rod Steiger breaks your heart and is now properly viewed as being a scene for the ages. Terry Malloy is a complex character, with so many layers. Brando is so subtle and so brilliant that he manages to show us each and every one of those layers. If you have never seen this “Best Picture” winner and you consider yourself a student of film, then this is a must-see.

#2. Don Vito Corleone in “The Godfather” (1972)

“But I’m a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he should be shot in the head by a police officer, or if should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he’s struck by a bolt of lightning…then I’m going to blame some of the people in this room. And that, I do not forgive.”

I don’t even think I need to write anything here. Brando. Godfather. Done!  The man was only 47 when he filmed this. No one at Paramount wanted him involved with this project. Thank God Coppola got his way. It is not only one of the top 3 best pictures ever made, but Brando is nothing short of sensational here as the patriarch of the Corleone crime family. He rightfully wins his 2nd ‘Best Actor’ Oscar here and creates a character that will be well-remembered for as long as there is such a thing called movies. The way he looks down Santino’s body and tells the undertaker, “Look how they massacred my boy” gives me chills. The way he feebly waves his hand at Tom when he learns that it was Michael who did the killings; the way he tells Tom that “this war ends now”; the beautiful scene he has outdoors with Michael; his improvised scene with the orange peel in his mouth; how he scolds Sonny for airing his thoughts out loud…you want me to keep going??? There’s about 50 more! It’s all ingenious, all exceptional and done by a virtuoso of the craft of acting.

#1. Paul in “Last Tango in Paris” (1973)

“Even if a husband lives 200 hundred fucking years, he’ll never discover his wife’s true nature. I may be able to understand the secrets of the universe, but… I’ll never understand the truth about you. Never.”

I look at this film as the greatest film actor giving his greatest screen performance — it is raw, uninhibited, courageous, multifaceted, daring, and vulnerable. Director Bernardo Bertolucci helps in letting Brando strip himself of everything but his emotions in this superb film. There is no hiding here, and it is in this performance that we see Brando the person most clearly. He brings everything of himself into the difficult role of Paul, the American expatriate who meets the beautiful young Parisian, Jeanne. His wife has just committed suicide and his insides are now swarming with rage and grief. He begins a sordid, dark and mysterious love affair with Jeanne where names are forbidden and sexual pleasures are the only fare on the menu. Brando’s monologue towards his dead wife is genuine and masterful. When he does open up to Jeanne for a brief moment with an anecdote about his childhood, it is riveting to watch. I can watch this film anytime because (1) I just love the movie and (2) I get such a thrill out of just watching Brando do his thing. It’s a spellbinding watch and one of the greatest performances ever put to film. Just watch this entrancing monologue and look at the myriad of emotions this guy goes through so seemlessly, so effortlessly. It’s a wonder to watch…

10 Movie Scenes That ALWAYS Bring on the Waterworks

I have an imaginary outtake scene in The 40-year Old Virgin, only here, I am cast in Seth Rogan’s character opposite Paul Rudd. The scene goes something like this:

Paul Rudd (to me):     You know how I know you’re gay? 
Me:                              How?
Paul Rudd:                 You create lists of movie scenes that make you cry.

OK, so today I feel like getting more in touch with my sentimental side. What can you do? It happens. Anyway, I managed to catch a scene from a movie a couple of days ago that ALWAYS makes me cry and thought that I’d come up with a list of 10 movie scenes that always make me cry like a little baby. And you know what?! I’m secure in my own masculinity to create such a list, dammit! This is NOT a Top 10 List, as there are surely other scenes out there that bring on the same proverbial waterworks for me. Nor are these scenes you see here in any particular order. They are simply what I think are 10 great, emotional scenes that, for whatever reason, move me to such a point where I have to reach for a tissue. And stop snickering at me…there’s no shame in it!

And hey! Since I’m putting myself out there, I expect you to do as well. Post your comments and share a scene or two that makes you teary-eyed and weepy…unless you have no heart at all!

1. The Final Scene of ‘Running on Empty’

SPOILER ALERT!!! Earlier in Sidney’s Lumet’s wonderful movie, the family clears the dinner table and joyfully starts to sing along to James Taylor’s classic “Fire and Rain.” Arthur and Annie Pope have been running from the FBI since blowing up a bomb to protest the war. Their son Danny (River Phoenix) has had to live with the repercussions of their acts. The final scene always gets me. On the run again, the family is in their truck and Arthur (Judd Hirsch) tells his son to take the bike out of the back — and to get on it. We see the truck drive off, leaving Danny alone to start his own life anew — all played against the backdrop of the very moving “Fire and Rain” song yet again. The combination of the song and this pivotal moment always wrecks me.

2. The Baseball Catch from ‘Field of Dreams’

Maybe it’s because I’m a huge baseball fan. Or maybe it’s because some of the greatest memories I have are when my father managed me in Little League. Perhaps it’s because this marvelous story of Ray Kinsella’s (Kevin Costner) strained relationship with his father, forever seeking his approval just got to me. I think it’s a blend of all three. Near the end of the film, on his utopian baseball field, Ray recognizes his father in the prime of his life. The two shake hands and say goodnight. As his father turns to walk away, Ray asks, with a crack in his voice, “Hey, Dad? You wanna have a catch?” His father simply says, “I’d like that.” What follows is a very simple, moving father-and-son catch. Gets me every friggin’ time…

3. A Connection is Made in ‘Rain Man’

Charlie (Tom Cruise) tries to make a connection, any connection with his autistic brother Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) throughout the film. Of course, Raymond is mentally unable to do so, much to Charlie’s tremendous frustration. Charlie ‘kidnaps’ his own brother from an institution solely for selfish and greedy purposes. As the two brothers spend time together, Charlie undergoes a miraculous transformation of character and begins to feel absolute love for his brother. When he returns his brother, the two are given a moment alone to say good-bye and  Charlie says to him, “What I said about being on the road with you I meant. Connecting. I like having you for my brother.” The two slowly, softly touch heads — and finally, a connection is made…if only for a moment and Charlie repeats with great warmth, “I like having you for my big brother.” It’s a cathartic moment to be sure as the entire film is building to this one emotional moment. Tender, warm, poignant…excuse me, I need a moment….

4. Adrian’s Change of Heart in ‘Rocky II’

I realize this is hokey and very melodramatic, but I don’t care. I love this movie, I love this scene and I love the dynamic that is Rocky and Adrian. Adrian (Talia Shire) has been pleading with her husband not to fight Apollo Creed again because she is worried about his eye. Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) is struggling with himself as to what he should do. He decides to fight, but without Adrian’s stamp of approval, his heart is just not into it. Adrian gives birth to a baby boy and falls into a coma. Now Rocky won’t train at all and spends all of his waking hours at church or at his true love’s bedside, reading to her. After a long while, she finally wakes up. With her new baby in hand, Adrian has a complete change of heart. She looks up at her husband and says, “There’s one thing I want you to do for me.” He leans in. She smiles, and simply says, “Win.” It is at this moment where I lose it. The iconic music starts to play, Rocky finally smiles and we know he’ll go back to training and kick the crap out of the champ.  Throughout the Rocky series, his love for his wife never wavers and I think it is one of the stronger aspects of the franchise. I also think that Adrian is what makes Rocky tick. Without this scene, Rocky gets slaughtered and loses in the rematch.

5. Singing for Prison Inmates in ‘Young @ Heart’

One of the Top 10 films of 2007, this inspiring documentary focuses on a chorus of senior citizens in Massachusetts who perform cover songs by The Clash, Sonic Youth, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and many others. Many of these real-life people stay with you long after the film is over, reminding us of what is truly important in this life.  Fred’s solo to a packed theatre near the end of the film will no doubt move you, as will many other emotional scenes. There is a lot to laugh at throughout this life-affirming movie, and yes, a lot of times where you can’t help but cry. The emotional climax for me occurs when the Young @ Heart chorus perform a concert — at a prison! After losing one of their own, they go out and sing Bob Dylan’s classic “Forever Young” to the inmates of the prison and…talk about perspective! The looks on the faces of the prisoners are completely genuine as they listen to the elderly singers and yes, the chorus no doubt has their utmost respect. It remains one of the most moving scenes of any film I have seen in recent memory. If you missed this film, I highly recommend that you go out and rent it as I am sure you will be pleased that you did.

6. Helpless Feeling in ‘She’s Having A Baby’

Go ahead, laugh. Then watch this scene once more and I will await and accept your apology for doing so. After much prodding by their parents, newlywed couple Jake & Kristy Briggs start to try and have a baby. They continue trying. Finally, Kristy (an adorable Elizabeth McGovern) is pregnant.  However, there are severe complications with the delivery, leaving Jake (Kevin Bacon) powerless and waiting for a good word. This is such an emotionally draining sequence and John Hughes picks the perfect song (Kate Bush’s moving “This Woman’s Work”) to accompany the montage of watching Jake crippled with fear and anxiety for the well-being of his wife. The song certainly helps, but Bacon is brilliant here. Watch his initial reaction when he is told what is going wrong with the delivery. It is so natural and so genuine, we instantly feel for him. The camera pans out and the beginning of the song begins to play at just the right moment. The beautifully edited montage is so effective as Bacon plays with his wife’s ring, his father’s ‘thumbs up’ to him from afar — giving him his needed space. The symbolic drop of blood to the floor is a nice touch. I get teary-eyed with goose bumps just thinking about it.

7. Final Sequence of ‘Umberto D.’

Vittorio de Sica’s 1952 masterpiece which Time magazine wisely included in their “All-Time 100 Movie” list. I don’t know how any human being alive can watch this film and not shed a tear. Umberto Domenico Ferrari (Carlo Battisti) is an old man in Rome who is poor and trying desperately to keep his modest, shoddy apartment which is becoming quite difficult to do since his landlady wants to throw him out if he doesn’t come up with 15,000 lire. His best friend in the world seems to be his little dog, Flick (called ‘Flag’ in some subtitled versions). Umberto is admitted to a hospital and when he returns home, finds that he is no longer welcome. He also discovers that his dog is gone. After finding him, he looks for a place where Flick can live a carefree life, away from all of his hardships. I will not include the video of this movie, because that would completely spoil it for you. Suffice it to say that the last scenes of this film always manage to break my heart in more pieces than any psychotic ex ever has. If you are interested in seeing this glorious piece of filmmaking, do yourself a favor — read nothing about it beforehand — and get a box of Kleenex…you’ll need it.

8. A Fitting Farewell to Professor Keating in ‘Dead Poets Society’

I am not sure why, but most film bloggers seem to have a great aversion towards this film. I absolutely love it – always have. Is it melodramatic at times? Perhaps. Is this particular scene a bit over-the-top and cheesy? I say, “Not at all” if you understand where it is coming from and it all starts with the character of Todd Anderson (a very young Ethan Hawke). Todd has been the quiet, insecure one throughout the film…always wanting to do, but never actually doing. Professor Keating (Robin Williams) has been unfairly dismissed of his duties at the prep school and the impact he has made on his students will be remembered throughout their lifetimes. In this deeply affecting scene, he enters the classroom to pick up a few of his belongings. There are actually a handful of scenes where I can’t help but start crying, but this one has become a classic scene (hey – it beats the hell out of hearing “I’ll have what she’s having” for the umpteenth time). The tension in the room is palpable as they leaf through the poetry book. The desk of Neil Perry’s, noticeably vacant; the exchange between Keating and Todd made just with their eyes….very moving. The core of this film is the relationship between these two characters and here, it reaches its climax. Ethan Hawke says so much here without saying anything at all…we see him struggling with himself, wanting to speak out. He knows this will be his last opportunity to do something, anything…and he takes his first step, literally and figuratively. Robin Williams doesn’t overdo it at all, but merely reacts to what is happening before him – and his subtlety is very touching. The students who stand…This is their “Thank You” to their wonderful teacher — and by the look on Keating’s face, it is perhaps the greatest goodbye gift he could have asked for as he says, “Thank you, boys. Thank you.” I have seen this film many times and it never ceases to move me. I can watch this film twenty more times and I know for certain that I will surely cry another twenty times.

9. Reading Shakespeare in ‘The Elephant Man’

John Merrick (John Hurt) is first abused and used for profit being showcased as a freak. He is then taken into the safe confines of a hospital by Dr. Treves (Anthony Hopkins) only to be showcased as a freak of nature once more — and again, for the personal gain of the man he is entrusted to. No one bothers to try and make a human connection with him, even though in many ways, Merrick possesses more humane qualities than those around him. Here, the famous stage actress Mrs. Kendal (Anne Bancroft) makes that connection by presenting her new friend with a gift. Merrick begins reading the lines from Shakespeare’s classic love story, Romeo and Juliet and soon, the two are reading the lines of the star-crossed lovers to each other. It is a hypnotic exchange. Watch the way Bancroft looks at him throughout – not like every other person does, but with gentle eyes. She sees not a deformed elephant man, but a real-life Romeo. This entire film makes me teary-eyed, but the human connection made right here is the highpoint for me. Mel Brooks was right in hiring the masterful David Lynch to direct this film. Released now 30 years ago, it never ceases to have a profound emotional impact on me.

To watch this great scene, just click here.

10. Making Breakfast in ‘Big Night’

One long shot, one short word…sheer brilliance. Watching this final scene on its own of course does no justice to the emotional weight it surely carries. However, when you watch the entire film that leads up to this, the love between the two immigrant brothers hits you hard, and needs no words. We know that everything that has happened before is water under the bridge…nothing at all compared with the great bond that exists between Primo and Secondo (Tony Shalhoub and Stanley Tucci). One of my all-time favorite last scenes of any film I have ever seen. The relationship between the brothers throughout the movie is complex and extraordinary, as it builds to what we see here. Directors Campbell Scott and Tucci have a delicate touch throughout and make the perfect choice here by having everything done in silence. I always need a moment when the credits start to roll. A moving film, a stirring scene.

Peter Eramo reviews: “Tales from the Script” (**)

Peter Hanson’s documentary Tales from the Script features dozens of successful Hollywood screenwriters speaking about their triumphs and failures in the dog-eat-dog world that is the motion picture industry. It has always amazed me that the finished product of a film that we all see on the screen started with a blank page — and it is the job of the writer to fill those blank pages with an entertaining and fully structured 3-Act story complete with interesting characters, unique plot twists, and clever dialogue. Yet once the screenplay is written, sold and re-written, it seems that it is the writer — the man or woman who gave birth to this project — that has little to no say over the making of the movie. The writers showcased here speak to this oddity as well as provide some humorous anecdotes about their own careers – how they started in the business, deals that fell through, success stories, clashes with stars or directors, etc.

Hanson has collected an impressive range of writers here to speak about their work and their dealings with the industry: Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption), William Goldman (All the President’s Men), Shane Black (The Lethal Weapon series), Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), Ron Shelton (Bull Durham), Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost), among others speak quite openly and with great introspection about their work and experiences.

This is a very good film for anyone who is a budding screenwriter or for any movie buff with an interest in Hollywood, screenwriting, or the industry itself. For anyone else, I think the film will be a terrible bore after a few minutes. Little is done to mix it up as we are really only given talking heads for a full 105 minutes. The documentary is broken up into segments and before each segment we are shown a very brief scene from a movie that has to do with writing, but other than that, it’s just watching and listening to the screenwriters. True, some of the stories being told are quite fascinating, but I don’t think it is enough to sustain the entire picture. You do get a great sense of the hard work put into the writing of a script and the even more difficult task of getting that script sold to Hollywood execs, but unless one has a great interest in this particular field, I am afraid that person would be more than weary with listening to these now wealthy (and yes, lucky) writers. I have a great interest in writing and the movies (of course) and even I was getting fidgety after about an hour, so I can only imagine those with little to no interest in the art of screenwriting.

Director: Peter Hanson
Year:       2010
Rating:   

Stanley Kubrick: Launching Full Metal Jacket

SOME BACKGROUND

Like Kubrick’s Paths of Glory and Dr. Strangelove, Full Metal Jacket pierces into the military mentality and highlights the futility and inevitability of war. In essence, the film is told in two distinct, yet comparable parts. The first section of the film is Parris Island, South Carolina – boot camp. It is a terrifying and lifelike look at the creation of turning young, naïve American men into absolute killing machines. The second section is the inescapable aftermath. Always drawn to the dark side of the human experience, Kubrick used the war genre to explore the basic evil inherent in man. In fact, images of the violent nature in man spanned over five decades of work of the unrivaled Stanley Kubrick, from 2001 to A Clockwork Orange to Barry Lyndon.

There are surely other spectacular movies made about the war experience (Coming Home, The Green Berets, Apocalypse Now, et al), but Full Metal Jacket is unlike any of them. Not to say it’s a better film…it’s just, well Kubrickian. It is what Kubrick’s very personal perception of war in general symbolizes. Unlike other Vietnam films, Full Metal Jacket was not made in direct response to the war. I always thought also that Kubrick’s film suffered unfair comparisons to Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Platoon. Platoon had come out only one year earlier and had won four Oscars just months before the release of Full Metal Jacket. But Platoon is a more traditional war film. Kubrick himself had publicly expressed his respect for Stone’s movie, but thought that it catered to its audience too much. “I liked Platoon,” Kubrick said. “I think Platoon tried to ingratiate itself a little more with the audience. But then, I have enough faith in the audience to think that they are able to appreciate something which doesn’t do that. At least you’re not bored.”

Full Metal Jacket was Stanley Kubrick’s 12th motion picture. Released in 1987, it took in a respectable $46 million domestic at the box-office, and did very well overseas. The film completed his own war trilogy (following Fear and Desire and Paths of Glory) that spanned over 35 years. Shooting began in the summer of 1985 and ended September 1986. This is not a review of the film – though I find it to be an important, haunting, and brilliant film – but rather the story behind the making of what is one of cinema’s grandest achievements in the genre of war films.

IN SEARCH OF A PROJECT

After the release and commercial success that followed The Shining in 1980, iconic film director Stanley Kubrick wasted no time in trying to find out what his next film would be. He had no idea what the subject matter would be, but he spent time doing research, screening material, and reading in hopes that he would soon be inspired. During that time, Arthur C. Clarke had written a sequel to his 2001 novel, 2010: Odyssey Two. MGM had acquired the rights and asked Kubrick if he had any desire to direct the movie; an offer that Kubrick turned down and personally gave his seal of approval to Peter Hyams to forge ahead with the project. Kubrick considered a film about war. Not unfamiliar terrain to him. Not surprisingly, Kubrick wanted to make a certain type of war movie, but had not yet found the ideal story to adapt. In 1980, he decided to reach out to Michael Herr.

Herr was a foreign correspondent for Esquire during the Vietnam War (1967-68) and the author of Dispatches, chronicling his experiences in Indochina. In addition, Herr wrote all of the voice-over narration spoken by Martin Sheen in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Kubrick and Herr spoke endlessly about war, film and countless other subjects. Herr once said that it was “one phone call lasting three years with interruptions.”

In 1982, Kubrick stumbled upon a book by Gustav Hasford called The Short-Timers, which he was instantly attracted to. He loved its stylistic approach (“…written in a very, very almost poetically spare way,” Kubrick said). Hasford was a former Marine who served in Vietnam at the height of the war. The novel took him seven years to write and another three to get published (1977). While working as a security guard and living in his car, Hasford discovered that Stanley Kubrick now owned the rights to his book.

To no surprise to anyone familiar with the work of Stanley Kubrick, his approach to the Vietnam War would be vastly different than any other. He wanted to target the military establishment. As he did in Dr. Strangelove, Kubrick focused his concentration on the powers that lay lurking behind the military structure. “Vietnam was such a phony war, in terms of the hawkish technocrats fine-tuning the facts like an ad agency,” he said. In 1985, after writing out a fully detailed treatment, Kubrick asked Herr to work on the screenplay. While leafing through a gun catalog and stumbling on the phrase “full metal jacket,” Kubrick decided to change the title, since The Short-Timers did not have the universal recognition that The Shining or A Clockwork Orange had anyway. The term described a lead bullet encased in a copper jacket. When Herr finished his first draft of the screenplay, Kubrick would re-work it and, as he always did, would be re-writing the script even during days of shooting the film. As for Gustav Hasford, he had only met with Kubrick one time, though the two would speak at length over the phone about the screen adaptation. Kubrick embraced technology and preferred to communicate through telephone and fax during collaboration.

CASTING HIS PLATOON

With a working script in hand, Kubrick was set out to continue pre-production and cast his war film. Through Warner Brothers, he advertised a national search in America, encouraging unknown young actors to audition. He asked actors to send in videos dressed in a T-shirt, speaking about anything at all pertaining to the subject matter of war. Kubrick would receive over 3,000 tapes at his quarters in England and would personally view over 800. What Kubrick was looking for was his own platoon of young actors to serve in his own tour of duty known as Full Metal Jacket. He wanted to cast actors that would function as exact and precise as any military unit. And they certainly did just that, waking up at dawn, taking bus rides to the location, and developing a solid camaraderie in the process.

In the lead role of Private Joker (fittingly, we never know his real name), an up-and-coming Matthew Modine was cast, no stranger to the military, having 3 brothers and a sister who served in Vietnam. “It was something I grew up with,” Modine said. Modine was well aware of all the unflattering myths concerning the auteur director and, like so many other actors who spoke to this, he was quick to set the record straight: “He’s probably the most heartfelt person I ever met.” All the other actors associated with the film would echo this same sentiment.

Vincent D’Onofrio learned about the auditions from Modine. He sent in his own homemade audition tape and got the integral part of Private Pyle. At the time, the Brooklyn-born 6’ 3” actor was fit and athletic-looking. Kubrick had asked the unknown actor to gain 70 pounds for the role (to reach 280 lbs.) in order to physically suit the part of the misfit, country-bumpkin soldier. Kubrick later said, “Pyle was the hardest part to cast…I wanted to find new faces. We received about three or four thousand videotapes.”

On his character, D’Onofrio stated, “I don’t think he was insane. What they did to Leonard was they made him into a very efficient killing machine.” And those familiar with the film can certainly not forget that sullen, haunting image of Private Pyle sitting in the latrine giving what D’Onofrio referred to as the “Crazy Kubrick Stare”; a stare not unlike Nicholson’s in The Shining or McDowell’s in A Clockwork Orange.

The rest of the squad of soldiers was cast with relative unknowns: Adam Baldwin (Animal Mother), the theatrically trained Arliss Howard (Cowboy), Dorian Harewood (Eightball), Ed O’Ross (Lt. Touchdown), and Kevyn Major Howard as the innocent photographer, Rafterman. In a very shrewd and wise directorial decision, none of the actors were allowed to rehearse with the man who was cast in the pivotal role of the man who breaks them all down in the first half of the film, Sergeant Hartman.

Lee Ermey was no stranger to combat and no stranger to the motion picture industry. A Kansas farm boy, Ermey enlisted in the Marines in 1961, served for 2 ½ years as a drill instructor during the Vietnam War, and served 11 years in total before being injured by an exploding rocket in 1969. Ermey met Coppola in 1976 and served as technical advisor on Apocalypse Now, Purple Hearts, and The Boys in Company C (where he also played a drill sergeant). At first, Kubrick thought Ermey to be too gentle to play Sgt. Hartman, but after watching him audition, the director quickly changed his tune. In fact, Kubrick would videotape Ermey breaking down British soldiers, hurling insults left and right. “I was struck by his extraordinary ability as an actor, “Kubrick said. “Lee lined them up like recruits who had just come off the bus and let go with a barrage of intimidation and insults.” From these sessions, Kubrick had over 250 pages of transcript just from Ermey’s improvisations and began inserting choice lines into the screenplay. In the end, about 50% of Ermey’s lines came from these initial improvisations. “Kubrick said I’m a superior intimidator,” Ermey told The New York Post — the perfect reason why he was kept away from the young actors who would play his subordinates. When he finally did start shooting scenes with his co-stars, Ermey came as quite a shock to them all. “It was terrifying to those actors,” Ermey told the New York Times. “My objective was intimidation. The first time I came up to Vincent, all he had to say was ‘Yes, sir’ and ‘No, sir’ and he was so shocked he blew his lines three or four times.” Ermey’s Sgt. Hartman dominates the entire first part of Full Metal Jacket and as such, was under orders by his director to set the tone and create a strict boot camp-like atmosphere on set.

Check this video out. It’s a scene of the Sergeant introducing himself (that’s a kind way of putting it) to his unit. Check out how authentic all of the dialogue sounds, how authoritarian Ermey is as he fires one offensive slur after another, how the privates all react to this despot. Notice the monster-like look on Modine’s face as he shows the Sergeant his “war face” —  overwhelming and powerful. And even with the severity of the situation, the scene is awfully funny at times, in the darkest of ways (“I bet you’re the kind of guy that would fuck a person in the ass and not even have the goddamn common courtesy to give him a reach-around. I’ll be watching you!”). Most of all, watch the rapport between Ermey and D’Onofrio here — and contrast it to their final confrontation in the latrine – the arc of this battle is terrifying. A perfectly choreographed scene.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

Unlike Apocalypse Now or Platoon, which were shot in the Philippines because of the jungle terrain, Kubrick sent his location scouts to all areas of London as his film had no need for the jungle. “When you think of Vietnam, it’s natural to imagine jungles. But this story is about urban warfare,” Adam Baldwin had said. Kubrick needed locations to resemble Parris Island and Hue, Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. Three separate sites in northeast London were found and secured. Usually, a strict perfectionist for capturing realism, Kubrick would sometimes sacrifice this in favor of the more dramatic. For instance, he did not particularly care for the look of the latrine in Parris Island, so he had one built on a studio stage in London. The latrine scene is one of the movie’s most enduring images and Kubrick went for a more expressionistic interpretation of the setting to heighten the drama.

For the street scenes in the second half of the film, Kubrick brought in 5,000 Vietnamese immigrants living in London to inhabit the area to resemble Da Nang, 1968. For the rest of the Marines unit, he cast members of Britain’s Territorial Army. For palm trees, he hired some woman at a local nursery to track down the precise trees he wanted. Eventually, Kubrick would have around 200 palm trees personally found by Anne Edwards in Spain shipped to England. Everything on camera was personally chosen by him and given his stamp of approval…as always, he left nothing to chance and did not overlook a single detail.

WRAP UP

Matthew Modine told American Film magazine, “Everything that happens in Full Metal Jacket exists. The boot camp sequence is probably the most realistic portrayal of boot camp in the Marines that’s ever been put on film, with the exception of a Parris Island training film. It’s not pleasant. You’re not allowed to escape. The reason Stanley’s stories are so shocking is because they are so truthful. He doesn’t try to create some sympathy because he wants to win the audience over. It’s not pleasant to see somebody get killed. And it’s not pleasant to die.”

It’s hard to watch Full Metal Jacket and not have a strong, visceral response to its characters, plot devices, brutal images (remember the female sniper?), and Kubrick’s overall interpretation of the war experience. But like all of his films, you feel strongly in one direction or another. Kubrick did have a tendency of alienating his audience and here, he deliberately creates a movie that distances itself from the audience. Also, his longtime love of the silent movies is clearly evident here in his directorial approach, as the film communicates to us on a much more visual level than its sparse dialogue. I have heard many tell me that they absolutely love the first part of the film, but not the second half so much…that the film trails off at that point. To those people, I would suggest giving Full Metal Jacket a new screening and try to see exactly what Kubrick was doing by editing it as such. Though surely difficult to watch at times, it has some vintage Kubrick humor (a.k.a. ‘dark’) sprinkled throughout (usually at Private Pyle’s expense) and has a definitive Kubrick-like feel from start to finish. Just take a look at the beautifully filmed shot below (see video) of the soldiers singing the “Mickey Mouse Theme” with guns in their hands as fire blazes around them. Why would they be singing such a song at this particular time?  The absurdity and humor placed in this dark context works brilliantly. It’s a masterful work of art by one of cinema’s greatest all-time filmmakers and certainly more than holds its own in the great canon of work that is Stanley Kubrick.

Peter Eramo’s “Top 25 Comedies of the Decade”: The Finale!

              

OK, here it finally is…the last part of my “Top 25 Comedy Films of the Decade” (2000-2009) list!!! The final five films are as follows:

#5. Wonder Boys (dir. Curtis Hanson)

A chaotic mid-life crisis joy ride, if there ever was one. Carnegie Mellon professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) is just one small crisis away from having a complete nervous breakdown. In the course of one weekend, we are introduced to all of the highly unusual characters that make up his harried life – his third wife leaves him, his girlfriend, the Chancellor (Frances McDormand, always so damned good) is pregnant, and his editor Terry (Robert Downey, Jr.) arrives on the scene, peeking and probing, waiting for Grady’s book that has been in the works for over seven years. Talk about writer’s block! Actually, the manuscript is over 2,600 pages long. Add to this the advancements of one of his female students and James Leer (Tobey Maguire), another of Grady’s students who is something of a literary prodigy on top of being a pathological liar and kleptomaniac. Oh yeah, James also shoots the Chancellor’s dog in the midst of all the confusion. It all looked so much easier seven years ago when Grady’s first novel was a sensation and he was, well, a “wonder boy.” What the hell happened to this guy? 

Wonder Boys” is not only one of the finest comedies of the decade, but one of the better films to come out period. Michael Douglas gives what I think may be his finest performance (not at all hyperbole). He is completely natural throughout. He doesn’t look for any laughs…he plays it straight and the laughs simply come. His chemistry with the impressive cast that surrounds him is pitch-perfect, creating a real-life character in this slice-of-life film – a character who we have great sympathy for and laugh at simultaneously. As his agent who is desperate for his client’s new work, Robert Downey, Jr. turns in yet another complex and quirky performance. Tobey Maguire is very funny too as the clearly troubled young writer. His pairing with Tripp makes for a nice father/son combination here. Steve Kloves does a masterful job at adapting from the Michael Chabon novel — very real characters caught in highly compromising situations. This movie is a true winner – smart, impulsive, sweet and really, really funny.

#4. The Invention of Lying (dir. Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson)

One of my Top films of 2009, without question — for its intelligent script, non-stop laughs, and terrific cast. Absolute entertainment. The film is set in an illusory world where no one has ever told a lie. That is, until Mark Bellison, a writer who is about to be fired (Ricky Gervais), creates one on the spur of the moment for personal gain. Mark is overweight, under-successful, short and comes from a poor gene pool. He is in love with Anna (Jennifer Garner) who is way out of his league as she is looking for the perfect mate with ideal genes to create perfect, good-looking children without snub noses. Of course Mark begins to take advantage of his discovery little by little until one day, the hospital staff overhear him speaking to his mother on her deathbed as he describes what Heaven is truly like. He’s just making it up as he goes along, but everyone within earshot believes him of course and Mark not only becomes famous, but a prophet of the people as well.

What Gervais and Robinson have created here is one of the better comedies I have seen in years. In its vision and scope, I was constantly reminded of the better films of Albert Brooks and Woody Allen throughout. Gervais gives an endearing, hilarious performance and manages to also include his own personal opinions on God, religion, love and the backwards priorities of our society. An entirely original film, I was blown away at how funny and clever it was. The film also features some great cameo appearances and excellent supporting work from Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill. Gervais is certainly making a name for himself here in the States (see “Ghost Town” too)— I only hope that people begin to recognize that this is a major force in comedy now. And not only is this one downright hilarious movie, but on top of that, it has a heart to match.

#3. Wedding Crashers (dir. David Dobkin)

John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) are best of friends, business partners, and above all, self-confirmed womanizers. They make a habit out of crashing weddings and taking full advantage of all the romance in the air by bedding a gullible, beautiful hottie looking for her slice of the love pie. They even have their own long list of rules to abide by (Rule #1: Never Leave a Fellow Crasher Behind) and as the film begins, the anticipation is in the air because wedding season is just about here.

Chances are you’ve seen this movie already, if not once, then several times. All I know is that if I happen to catch it playing on TV, I can’t take it off. It’s too friggin’ funny and has some wonderful performances in it. Brash, sarcastic, foul, derisive, Vaughn is in top comedic form (“Tattoo on the lower back? Might as well be a bullseye”). His rapport with Wilson is a very strong one and we immediately buy into how close they are as well as when the two have their little break up. How the two scope out, then pounce on their prey is great fun to watch. They’re con men. But they’re not looking for money. They just want to get laid and never see the woman again. That is, until John meets Claire Cleary (Rachel McAdams) at a family wedding as the wedding season is drawing to a close. He is instantly smitten with Claire, who happens to be the daughter of the very influential Treasury Secretary William Cleary (Christopher Walken) and breaks every rule in his Crasher Rulebook in trying to win her heart by attending a weekend party at the Cleary family compound (and dragging his reluctant friend with him). The funny just gets funnier during the weekend with an incredible cast of characters. Walken plays it straight for the most part, but is still such a joy to watch and his relationship with his loving daughter Claire is a very endearing one. Who steals the show here is the dazzling Isla Fisher, who plays Claire’s seemingly unbalanced, sex-crazed sister who falls hard for Jeremy. How Vaughn reacts to and deals with the maniacal Fisher (“I’ll find you!”) makes for some of the funniest moments in the film. Keir O’Donnell plays the son of the renowned politician and is completely creepy, yet we just feel so bad for him. Again, the scenes he has with Vaughn are a riot. Bradley Cooper makes a great bad guy here who we simply cannot stand and Will Ferrell’s mythic Chazz is a great surprise (“hey Mom! Can we get some meatloaf??!!”).

Overall, the general plot is nothing so very new — but it somehow manages to feel fresh and original. It is certainly great entertainment and funny from start to finish. On top of all the laughs, there is also a sweet love story that, although fairly predictable, is still kind of nice to watch. But most of all, it’s a story about friendship — and that resonates throughout. It’s really very hard not to like this one. Without a doubt the funniest film of 2005, and among the funniest in years.

#2. In Bruges (dir. Martin McDonagh)

I am a tremendous fan of Martin McDonagh’s work as a writer for the stage and think he is one of the very best playwrights to come out in recent years. He already won an Oscar for his short film “Six Shooter” and with “In Bruges,” he makes a phenomenally impressive debut as a feature-length writer/director. McDonagh has a real knack for making violence and brutality outrageously funny and this one is quirky as hell, dark and funny…it simply blew me away.

What holds the film together is the friendship between Ray and Ken, two Irish hitmen. The chemistry between Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson is authentic and pleasing to watch as there’s so much going on between the two polar opposites. Farrell’s Ray is young, brash and wants to live it up, while Ken is much more reserved…he is a quiet philosopher and thinks with his upstairs head as opposed to his partner-in-crime, who thinks with the other. But Ray is suicidal and on edge, struggling to come to terms with a previous assignment that went terribly wrong.  They are stuck in the Belgium city of Bruges – sent their by their insane mob Harry Waters (played with delicious cartoon madness by Ralph Fiennes). Because Ray bungled the job, he orders Ken to kill his close associate. So why are they in Bruges? Because Harry, for some reason known only to him, thinks that Bruges is the most magical, heavenly place on earth and wants Ray to see it before he has him killed.

How Ray and Ken deal with being trapped in this city is great fun. Ken wants to see the sights and take it all in, while Ray is just bored to tears. He meets Chloe, who happens to be a thief and a drug dealer, selling drugs to a film crew that is shooting in the city. He then gets mixed up with a Canadian tourist and yes, Chloe’s boyfriend. The film has a terrific pace to it and never lets up. The comedy is in the situations that McDonagh places his characters in and their reactions to everything that goes on around them. McDonagh also has a wonderful ear for dialogue and comedic repartee. It gets pretty violent at times, but you are laughing the whole way through. I remember ranking this the 3rd best film of 2008 and I haven’t met one person who saw this movie that didn’t like it. It’s simply a great film with terrific comedic performances.

#1. Tropic Thunder (dir. Ben Stiller)

In creating this list, I continued to run through each of the comedies I had seen during 2000-2009, and there was not one film I could point out that I thought was funnier or more daring than Ben Stiller’s comedic triumph, “Tropic Thunder.” From its very opening (the hilarious phony movie trailers) til its closing credits (the classic dance sequence done by Tom Cruise as his wonderfully off-putting, foul-mouthed and somewhat nauseating Les Grossman), this film had me rolling. The casting is flawless, the performances all stellar, and the screenplay is satiric, smart and yes, thankfully politically incorrect.

The film follows 5 Hollywood actors as they set out to make the greatest war movie ever made. At the center of this eclectic group is Ben Stiller’s Tugg Speedman, who is  in desperate need of a comeback movie (especially after the joke of a movie that was “Simple Jack“). Robert Downey, Jr. plays multiple Oscar winner and master Australian Thespian (“I don’t drop character till I done the DVD commentary”), Kirk Lazarus who is notorious for always crawling in the skin of the characters he plays and, in playing an African-American soldier here, does so quite literally by undergoing a skin pigmentation process to turn his skin black. He is a wonderful foil to Stiller’s Speedman and their bonding throughout the film — from clashing on the set to true acting colleagues is a fine course to watch. Jack Black plays Jeff Portnoy, a modern-day Fatty Arbuckle who stars in toilet-humor comedies and has a severe drug problem. Jay Baruchel and Brandon T. Jackson round out the platoon, but both do not fall to wayside next to the more well-known comedians. A disheveled Nick Nolte (is there any other kind?) plays the man who wrote the book that the crew is set to film. An honored war veteran and American hero with a big secret, Nolte’s Four Leaf Tayback has hooks for arms and a no-bullshit code of conduct. Steve Coogan plays the man directing the “Tropic Thunder” project and is at a complete loss as to how to handle his star-laden cast. His inspired speech to his cast in the jungle as they set off for the unknown is a great one – before he happens to step on a landmine and his body is splayed across the fields in every which way. In two cameo supporting roles, Matthew McConaughey (who I normally cannot bear to watch) and Tom Cruise simply rock! McConaughey plays Tugg’s agent and closest friend who will do anything for his longtime client. His phone chats with a distant Speedman who is slowly losing his mind while imprisoned by natives are a riot as is his desperate search to get his man a damn Tivo! Cruise steals each scene he is in and I give him full credit for letting it all hang out and just committing to this vile character 100% (“Look, fuckstick, I’m incredibly busy. So why don’t you get the hell out of here before I snap your dick off and jam it into your ass!”). I can’t remember a funnier closing credits than right here. Those moves, those hips, that chest hair! PLAY-AAA!!!

I loved watching all the varied characters do their thing. I loved all of the racial jokes, actor jokes, drug jokes, and yes, the mentally challenged jokes and I credit Ben Stiller for not caving in to public pressure and keeping it all in. I had read that when Downey was offered the role and told what his role would entail, that he thought Stiller was absolutely insane. That usually means you are onto something, and after seeing this film a handful of times, he was. Watching Jack Black tied to a tree and bribing his cast members with oral sex in exchange for drugs is hilarious. On top of that, Downey’s ‘Full retard’ bit is complete insanity. The entire movie is peppered with truly funny lines. Stiller has created a complex, raunchy, intelligent comedy and his direction is spot on. This was a bold and challenging project to be sure, and could have easily gone wrong in so many ways. In Stiller’s capable hands though, he makes what I thought was the funniest damn movie of the decade. Here’s a little Les Grossman for ya:

HONORARY MENTIONS

As I stated in the previous part of this list, there were so many funny comedies that came out during 2000-2009 (much to my surprise). And I had initially started with a Top 10 List, but it just kept growing larger and larger….I finally had to draw the line at 25. In any case, here are some very funny, well-made movies that I truly enjoyed, but did not make the cut. I wish there was room for them all…

Year of the Dog                                                   
Thumbsucker                                                  
Lars & the Real Girl
State and Main
(500) Days of Summer                                 
Bad Santa
Baadasssss!
Team America: World Police                    
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan
Over the Hedge
Stranger Than Fiction                                   
The Hangover
O’ Brother, Where art Thou?
Keeping the Faith
I Love You, Man
Roger Dodger
Borat
Ghost World
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle
Ghost Town

Fan Poll: What is Your Favorite Russell Crowe Movie?

Academy Award winning actor Russell Crowe has shown incredible versatility as an actor in his 20-year career in motion pictures. He also happens to be one of Hollywood’s most sought-after leading men appearing in a number of blockbuster movies and is currently appearing in Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood.” What is YOUR favorite Russell Crowe movie? Cast Your Ballot Now!!!

What is Your Favorite Russell Crowe Movie?
L.A. Confidential
Gladiator
The Insider
A Beautiful Mind
Cinderella Man
Robin Hood
Mystery, Alaska
American Gangster
Master & Commander
Proof
A Film Not Listed Here

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Peter Eramo’s “Top 25 Comedies of the Decade”: Part Due

I posted the first part of my “Top 25 Comedy Films of the Decade” (2000-2009) a few days ago. What I find fascinating about these lists is that, no matter which films you include/omit, you’re likely to get a lot of beef about it: “How can you put so-and-so on the list?” “How can you leave out such-and-such a film?” Don’t get me wrong, I love any & all comments and I’m always up for a good debate (especially when it comes to movies I feel strongly about). But everyone’s list is going to be different from someone else’s…it’s all just one writer’s opinion (though I do happen to be right…HA!).

Now, I tried very hard not to include too many “obscure” films on the list (whatever the hell that means). But hey, what am I going to do? If I saw the movie and thought it was funny as hell, am I not supposed to include it simply because it is lesser known than “Napoleon Dynamite” (which you won’t see on this list and you’d have to threaten to do me severe bodily harm for me to even consider its inclusion). It sounds silly to me to omit a small film like “The Amateurs” (which I think is a terrific film and pretty damn hilarious) on the basis that not many have seen it. If anything, perhaps someone reads the list [cricket sounds], learns a little about a film they haven’t yet seen, and decides to rent it. I know when I read another writer’s list (on a blog or magazine, etc.) and I am not familiar with a movie…if it sounds good, I’ll put it in my queue for sure! So no, I am not in any way trying to go out of my way to put these little known films on the list (not that anyone is accusing me). And I’m not including a movie just because it seems to be on everyone else’s list covering the same genre. All I did was go through all the comedies I have seen from 2000-2009 and go from there. Like I said in my earlier posting, I started with about 50 and did my best to condense it to 25 funny films. In the end, I only tried to be true to myself and go with the movies I thought were the 25 funniest (in addition to being a good film, which was part of my criteria). It is all a moot point anyway, as the films that follow are mostly all very well-known. Here it is…Part Due of the Best Comedies of the Decade! Let the debate continue!!!

#15. Adaptation (dir. Spike Jonze)

Welcome to the wonderful, wacky world of Charlie Kaufman, ladies and gentlemen. Directed by Spike Jonze, this is an unbelieveably unique and oftentimes hilarious, offbeat film that unmistakably comes from the mind of Kaufman himself. The movie features a comically complex performance by Nicolas Cage as a writer who is trying to adapt Susan Orlean’s non-fiction, un-adaptable book “The Orchid Thief” into a screenplay. We watch the action of the book as we watch Kaufman (Cage) struggle to put it on the page. Cage also plays Charlie’s twin brother Donald who is much more carefree and dreams of becoming rich and famous for his own screenplays. Cage is the cornerstone of this film and he actually does a brilliant job in this dual role of the opposing brothers, which echoes Sam Shepard’s terrific play, “True West.” We also watch Meryl Streep (Orleans) interview and slowly fall in love with her subject, John Laroche (Chris Cooper). Both Streep and Cooper are terrific to watch here and all of the stories intertwine at some point with surprising results. The film is so bizarre and so quirky — if you enjoyed “Being John Malkovich” or “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” then you must definitely give this a watch. Kaufman has his own unique brand of comedy which not only challenges his audience to think, but gives them a tremendous payoff by being funny as hell.

#14. Pineapple Express (dir. David Gordon Green)

Seth Rogen hasn’t shown us much range as an actor and pretty much plays the same type of character, but you know what? He makes us laugh. Here, he plays lazy stoner Dale Denton who pisses people off every day by issuing them court-ordered subpoenas. He also is trying to manage his relationship with a high school girl eight years younger than he is. What does he do to escape? He visits his dealer, Saul Silver (James Franco). Franco has shown pretty good versatility as an actor and here, you can tell that he must have had a ball playing the languid, chilled-out, munchie-eating Saul. The two make a great pair in this incredibly funny buddy film. After purchasing the new Pineapple Express weed (Saul explains to him: “What you do… is you light all three ends at the same, and the smoke converges, creating a trifecta of joint-smoking power. This is it, man. This is what your grandchildren are gonna be smoking.”), Dale witnesses a murder by a crooked cop and leaves his new weed behind at the scene of the crime. bad news for Dale as it can of course be traced back. Dale’s hum-drum life is turned upside down as he and Saul spend the rest of the movie running for their lives from bad cops and other bad dudes. The camaraderie between the two is terrific, the one-liners are outrageously funny and the supporting cast lends their own comic talents as well. Danny McBride, Craig Robinson, Gary Cole and the under-rated Kevin Corrigan are all terrific to watch. There is a lot of action, a lot of vulgarity, a lot of witty banter — all adding up to this movie being a whole lotta fun.

#13. Hamlet 2 (Andrew Fleming)

Listen, any movie with a musical number entitled “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus” deserves a spot on this list just based on that alone. Steve Coogan is getting much more notice the past few years and looks to be a comedic force to be reckoned with. Here, he plays Dana Marschz, a failed actor who has relocated to Tuscon, Arizona to become an even worse high school drama teacher. Most of the comedy stems from Dana’s own limitations as an actor (“I’m having a herpes outbreak, right now – but you’d never know it. Thanks, Herpocol!” he says in a horrible looking commercial) and his completely inept teaching. He is informed by administration that drama will be cut the next semester due to budget cuts and when confronted with a student who writes for the school newspaper, Dana decides he’s going to save the theatre department or at least go out with a bang! He writes his own play, “Hamlet 2,” a sequel to the classic Shakespeare tragedy whereby the Prince of Denmark is paired with Jesus Christ to go back in time (via….you guessed it, a time machine)  to save the lives of Gertrude and Ophelia. I hate political correctness and this film is so politically incorrect that I absolutely loved it. Coogan is an absolute riot and carries the film extremely well. Though it has hints of the failed actor in “Waiting for Guffman,” Fleming’s comedy stands completely on its own. The students in Dana’s class provide even more humor and the way Coogan relates to each of them is great fun. Elisabeth Shue also has a delightful small role here. What makes everything more outrageous is Dana’s pomposity and delusions of grandeur…he truly believes that he is in the midst of creating a theatrical masterpiece. Sometimes it is painful to even watch, but in the best of ways.

#12. I ♥ Huckabees (dir. David O. Russell)

Certainly not a film for everyone. A somewhat polarizing film as many I know either loved it immeasurably — or hated it, with great prejudice. I belong to the former and consider O’Russell’s existential comedy to be one the most original, challenging comedies to come out in recent years. The stellar cast — Dustin Hoffman (reminding us of his brilliance), Lily Tomlin, Jude Law, Mark Wahlberg (who should have received a supporting actor nom for this one), Naomi Watts, Jason Schwartzman, and Isabelle Huppert are all in top form. Hoffman and Tomlin play a husband-and-wife detective team that don’t take on traditional cases. No, they are existential detectives and they are hired by Albert (Schwartzman) to solve the coincidence of seeing the same complete stranger three times in a day. The tecs insist that they spy on his every move as they share with him their views on life and other philosophical issues. This film stands by itself on this list as being one that will constantly challenge its viewers — it is daring, creative, wholly unique, articulate, intelligent and yes, pretty damn funny. You catch something new with each viewing and O’Russell refuses to spell it all out for you. It is an affecting film, with an array of quirky and memorable characters. A daring film that is unlike most everything that Hollywood churns out — and never has to sacrifice any of the (very many) laughs in the process.

#11. Forgetting Sarah Marshall (dir. Nicholas Stoller)

Not much new in the overall plot: boy loses girl, tries to get over his broken heart, finds true love. However, it’s how this story is told that make this a refreshing, sweet, & funny movie. Jason Segel’s script makes an old plot arc come alive with newness and, with Stoller’s direction, the two bring its own unique voice to the screen. Here, Segel plays the likable, romantic Peter Bretter who is dumped by his TV-star girlfriend Sarah (Kristen Bell). He is completely devastated and goes into a tremendous funk. His stepbrother (a very funny Bill Hader) suggests he take a vacation and so he does. Without any planning, he heads off to a heavenly resort in scenic Oahu, Hawaii. Can you guess who he bumps into there? Yup. Sarah…in tow with her new boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) who is a world-famous, perverse rock star who can’t get enough of the ladies or himself. Peter is befriended by the hotel’s clerk (Mila Kunis) and all four of them try to make the best of a very awkward situation. A very funny film with out-loud laughs throughout. Segel is an endearing romantic lead who we empathize with and root for. Some added comedy by Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill in supporting roles here as well. Kunis is a striking female ingenue here and is not only heavenly to look at, but is strong and funny in her own right. A great date movie, though not a “chick flick” by any means. Like most films out by this crew, it doesn’t skimp out on the trashy language, sex humor and overall vulgarity….but it never goes off course, managing to keep its heart and charm throughout.

#10. Monsters, Inc. (dir. Pete Docter)

A film for all ages, “Monsters, Inc.” remains my favorite Pixar motion picture so far. Here, Monsters, Inc. is a corporation that hires monsters of all kinds to scare children at night, channeling these nighttime screams into power for the city. However, they are terribly afraid of being infected by these children, so when a little girl named Boo (Mary Gibbs) enters this world, it disrupts the city and mainly the life of the company’s top scarer, Sulley (John Goodman). This is an adorable film, with constant laughs. What Robin Williams did to animated films in “Aladdin,” Billy Crystal does here with his green, one-eyed character, Mike. As Sully’s best friend (and agent in many ways to keep Sully at the #1 spot), Crystal lets the one-liners fly throughout. Steve Buscemi’s voice is perfect for the weasley Randall Boggs and Jennifer Tilly is very sweet as Celia, an employee of the corporation and Mike’s love interest as well. Sulley may be gigantic and intimidating on the outside, but he is just a big cuddly monster at heart and Goodman adds a tremendous warmth and tenderness to him. His bond with Boo is a touching one. The story is innovative, the animation is impressive, the talent inspiring and the movie…simply delightful.

#9. Death at A Funeral (dir. Frank Oz)

Before Hollywood decided to remake this very same film for an American audience — a whopping three years later (shame on you, LaBute), there was this outrageously funny comedy. And I don’t get it…it’s a British friggin’ movie! You didn’t even need to read subtitles or anything!!! Anyway, I have no desire to see the new version, but would recommend to anybody and everybody to rent this movie — for its clever and creative script, pitch-perfect timing, great cast and non-stop hilarity. The patriarch of a highly dysfunctional family dies and it is up to his son Daniel (Mathhew Macfadyen) to organize his funeral. In the gravest of circumstances, all chaos breaks loose and in that chaos, pure comedy: an undertaker screws up his job, his cousin’s fiance accidentally takes acid and is tripping the light-fantastic, his selfish brother flies back from the States, and a handicapped uncle who is an outright pain in the neck. On top of this, is the mysterious presence of a dwarf (Peter Dinklage) who no one seems to know, but threatens to reveal a dark family secret. I remember when I saw this, I could not stop laughing. I’m usually not even much of a fan of British humor, but I instantly fell in love with the characters and the storytelling. There are moments of dark humor to be sure (it’s a funeral for Jiminy’s sake), but most of the comedy is dry as the characters are all put into very compromising positions. There is something very “real” about the characters as well as we sympathize with their mourning, though the film never gets over-dramatic at all. There is also a very “theatrical” feel to it all, as if it had been written for the stage in the same manner as “Noises Off” was — something is always happening, and it comes at you fast — and funny.

#8. Elf (dir. Jon Favreau)

Upon its release in 2003, “Elf” quickly became one of my all-time favorite holiday films thanks to its ever-so enchanting screenplay (David Berenbaum), astute direction, marvelous casting, picturesque art direction and of course, its leading man, Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf. And though I cannot deny that yes, it is a holiday film, I find it much more than that. This is a wonderful motion picture and can make me laugh out loud anytime of the year, including the dog days of summer. From the day he was born, Buddy is an outsider, raised as an elf at the North Pole by his father (how awesome was the casting of the stuttering Bob Newhart as Papa Elf?). Though he tries and tries so very hard to do well, Buddy just creates all kind of havoc while there and is eventually sent to New York City to find his real father — and in the process, finding his real self (how profound is that?!). Will Ferrell is nothing short of marvelous here and his childlike, inexperienced enthusiasm resembles that of Tom Hanks in “Big.” Ferrell is a polished comedian and here, we see him play a role that seems to be unfamiliar terrain to him, and he nails every aspect of it. He takes all of his fervor and energy and manages to put it into a sweet family film rather than his usual fare. Just answering the phone, he picks it up saying, “Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?” and we laugh. In another great casting move, James Caan plays Buddy’s real father…the polar opposite of Buddy who is all work and very little play and has absolutely no time to play in his son’s reindeer games. Ed Asner is a wonderful Santa Claus and Zooey Deschanel is the woman who  steals Buddy’s heart. The love story within this comedy is heartwarming and Deschanel is simply quite captivating. The movie is simply contagious and makes you laugh from beginning to end. “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite,” Buddy says. If you too like to smile, then this is a must-see.

#7. The 40 Year-Old Virgin (dir. Judd Apatow)

After years of writing for television, Apatow made his debut as a film writer/director with this foul-mouthed, yet very appealing movie. Steve Carell (who co-wrote the script) stars as Andy. He’s 40 years old and yes…much to his male friends’ surprise, he’s a virgin! Andy rides a bike to work, his apartment is clustered with collectors’ item action figures and in his spare time, he likes to paint his miniature figurines in silence. He is surely the odd-man out of his bawdy group of male friends that include Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd, and Romany Malco. Feeling mounting pressure (no pun intended) by his pals to finally do the deed, Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener), a single mother with three kids. Because she’s been with a lot of creeps in her past, Trish jokes that they should take it slow and begin their relationship with a no-sex policy…that is fine for Andy and they agree on no sexual activity for the first twenty dates. Carell is perfect here as he creates an awkward, nervous and very endearing character. Andy is a nice guy looking for love — and no one, not even Trish can fathom that such a man still exists (“You know what? I respect women! I love women! I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!”). Much of the laughs stem from Andy’s sexual naiveté and his lame efforts into bedding a woman. The supporting cast is terrific here. In addition to the aforementioned actors, Elizabeth Banks, Gerry Bednob, and Jane Lynch as Andy’s not-so-discreet boss all make the very best of their running time. The chest-waxing scene became an instant classic and the “You know how I know you’re gay?” repartee is scathingly funny (“You know how I know you’re gay?” “How?” “You like Coldplay.”). “The 40 Year Old Virgin” does not tire with repeated viewings and remains the foundation for the Apatow comedies and the myriad of Apatow-like comedies released since then. I find it amazing that a film so crude and so dirty can still manage to be so pure and engaging. A credit to sir Apatow on finding a wonderful balance.

#6. Thank You For Smoking (dir. Jason Reitman)

One of the truly great satire comedies of recent years, to be sure. Before the over-rated “Juno” and the delightful “Up in the Air,” Reitman wrote and directed this wonderful comedy with an all-star cast. Aaron Eckhart truly shines as Nick Taylor who is the #1 spokesperson for the tobacco industry. Nick loves his job and he is a master at the art of speech and spin. In a time when the health risks involved in smoking are so obvious for all the world to see, Nick’s job has become all the more difficult. But Nick uses his skillset and twisted logic to promote the act of smoking against anyone willing to take him on. His biggest nemesis? Vermont Senator Ortolan Finistirre (a very funny William H. Macy) who wants to bring Taylor and the entire industry down. The script is smart and fast-paced, mocking a number of industries all at once. The supporting cast is wonderful, especially J.K. Simmons, Rob Lowe, Katie Holmes, Sam Elliott and David Koechner. There is also a great subplot following Taylor’s relationship with his 12-year old son Joey, who looks up to him like he’s a superhero. Joey escorts his father on an important business trip and Nick must figure out how to juggle doing his job and being a role model to his adoring son. The MOD Squad (“Merchant of Death”) scenes are very clever as the three lobbyists (for smoking, alcohol and gun control) fight over whose industry has killed more people. Reitman’s dialogue is pitch perfect and very clever. There haven’t been many good satires in recent years, so this stands out even more. A comedy with a lot of bite and a lot to say…

Only five more funny films to go! I will post what I thought to be the 5 Best Comedies of the decade that was 2000-2009 in the next day or two. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts and opinions on the very best comedies of the decade.

All I know is that it’s a sad day when I look at a full decade and realize that Woody Allen or Albert Brooks is not a part of such a list. What did Dylan say? “The Times, They are A-Changin…”

Peter Eramo’s “Top 25 Comedies of the Decade”: Part Uno

 

So I already composed & posted my “Top 10 Films” of the decade list (2000-2009), and I thought it would be fun to do the top comedy films in that same time frame, being that comedies usually play a backseat to the more dramatic films. I started by wanting to make a simple Top 10 List. The problem was…it was not so simple. Not at all. In doing extensive research on the many comedy films released throughout the decade, there were just too many good comedic films that would not crack the ten available slots. And I didn’t want to leave these films out. So I increased it to twenty slots, and finally, after much struggle and inner debate, settled on a final “Top 25 Comedy Film List” of 2000-2009” which you see right here. Many quality comedies are still (unfortunately) left out, but I had to draw the line somewhere. In creating the list (which I spent much more time than I really should have), I was amazed at how difficult the task was — not only in the selecting of films, but putting them in their respective order. Not an easy feat.

The only stipulation I feel I must add here is that many of the best films of the decade have both comedic and dramatic elements in them (for instance, I included “Sideways,” “Matchstick Men, ” “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” on my Top 10 List of the decade). I suppose it is up to each individual’s interpretation because though these movies certainly have very funny moments in them, I consider them to be more dramatic films. For this particular list, I went with funny…what made me laugh, what was original & unique, what was an overall entertaining and well-made movie. Some may not even be considered to be great movies by most, but again…I went with funny. And if I enjoyed it and it made me laugh, then I surely needed to consider it. Here’s the list. Enjoy!

#25. You Kill Me (dir. John Dahl)

Ben Kingsley plays Frank Falenczyk, a man who loves his job….which is odd since he’s a hit-man for the Polish mob and on top of this, happens to be an alcoholic who botches a critical assignment. He is then ordered to re-locate and clean up his act (against his will). He attends AA meetings, gets a sponsor and lands a job in a mortuary where he meets and falls for Laurel (Tea Leoni), a very intriguing woman with almost no boundaries. This movie has some great dark humor to it and what makes most of the film so funny is that it doesn’t go for the laughs — the script & direction play the entire story straight. Kingsley and Leoni make a wonderful pair here, though you wouldn’t think this to be the case going in. Kingsley is a remarkably gifted thespian and here, he gets to show off his comedic chops playing Frank who is not a touchy, sentimental guy. His transformation from beginning to end is an enjoyable one to watch. A great supporting cast includes Philip Baker HallLuke Wilson (as Frank’s gay sponsor), Bill Pullman and Dennis Farina.  A hidden gem that didn’t get a wide release at all, but absolutely worth seeing. The script is taut, inimitable and unpredictable and beneath the murders, dark themes and substance abuse, there is a heart to it all.

#24. intermission (dir. John Crowley)

An Irish comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously at all. What we have here is a collection of numerous stories (11, I believe) set in Dublin that stem from one single circumstance: when John (Cillian Murphy) breaks up with Deirdre (Kelly Macdonald) to “give her a little test.” His plan backfires and sets off a constant stream of conflicts & stories concerning all the people around them. One of those people is Lehiff (Colin Farrell), a career criminal working on his next heist and the detective (a very loose and free Colm Meaney) who will stop at nothing to nab him. At its core, “intermission” is a love story, but it brilliantly portrays all of the repercussions surrounding its opening scene and cleverly illustrates how our lives intersect and relate to one another. You get a great sense of the Irish setting and the unique people who inhabit it — a great, diverse collection of characters to watch here. Though it may take some time to adapt to the very thick accents, the film is a non-stop rollercoaster ride, filled with great comedic performances that keeps you on your toes.

#23. Scotland, PA. (dir. Billy Morrissette)

I absolutely love this movie! A modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy, “Macbeth” set in the 1970’s in…you guessed it, Scotland, Pennsylvania. If you’re familiar with the classic play, you will surely get much more out of this ingenious adaptation. If you aren’t into the Bard, I think you’ll still enjoy the film on its own. Hard-working Joe McBeth (James LeGros) works at a hamburger stand with his much more ambitious wife, Pat (the gorgeous Maura Tierney). Pat is convinced that they can do a much better job at running the place than their kind, but short-sighted boss, Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn) and concocts a plan to do away with the owner (a very comedic & clever scene) and take over the establishment. Most of the elements of the “Macbeth” play are here and part of the fun is seeing how Morrissette modernizes it all. The three weird sisters are three pot-smokers who foresee the future with a magic 8-ball, Macduff is re-created into a vegetarian detective (Christopher Walken) investigating the murder, and the connections keep going and going. Maura Tierney is a fantastic Lady Macbeth here — she is smart, sexy and sinfully ambitious (“We’re not bad people, Mac…just underachievers”). Her chemistry with LeGross is terrific and the two have captured the essence of the relationship that was the Macbeths. But more importantly, the film is just downright funny. The soundtrack of 70’s Bad Company tunes throughout fits very well and adds the perfect mood. The eclectic mix of characters in this small town is great fun to watch and seeing how Morrissette gets the most out of the original story with his crazy, dark script and humble setting is pure pleasure.

#22. Zoolander (dir. Ben Stiller)

I am aware of how ridiculously absurd this movie is. That said, I can’t help but find this movie hilariously funny. Ben Stiller plays Derek Zoolander, an incredibly dim-witted fashion model who was once at the pinnacle of the industry and now finds himself fading and at the end of his career. He is brainwashed by the evil fashion guru Mugatu (Will Ferrell) to kill the Prime Minister of Malaysia – so no, the film doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Owen Wilson plays Hansel, Zoolander’s chief competition and the fashion industry’s next hot model, usurping Zoolander of his title. The rivalry here is great fun to watch and Stiller and Wilson, we know, work well together. Stiller has created a very engaging character here too — from his walk, to his speech to his contorted facial expressions…he truly does something entirely different. There are some amusing cameos and most of the laughs stem from a combination of Zoolander’s complete stupidity, his obscene vanity and childish vulnerability. His budding romance with Matilda (Christine Taylor) gives the movie its love story, which has its own unusual arc. His “Derek Zoolander Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Do Other Stuff Good Too” always makes me laugh, as does the infamous “Walk Off” scene. The one-liners and outlandish, silly scenes are relentless — but in the end, it delivers what it sets out to do and that is make us laugh. For serious!

#21. Old School (dir. Todd Phillips)

Three men who aren’t feeling so great about their personal lives all try to recapture their youth and re-live their wild college days. The catalyst for the insanity that ensues is when Mitch discovers his nymphomaniac girlfriend cheating on him. He finds a new home and his friend Beanie thinks it would be a great idea if they turned it into a frat house. You probably know what happens next. Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson and Will Ferrell make a riotous trio and all are great fun to watch. Ferrell is usually more effective in a supporting role and here, he makes the most out of playing “The Tank,” a man who was once considered a party animal and is now struggling with the obligations of marriage and the mundane life that sometimes comes with it. His “trust tree” scene with his wife while in therapy is hysterical. Jeremy Piven plays their nemesis well — the longtime nerd who is now Dean of the college and has it in for the popular threesome. This is all-out comedy with a slice of romantic subplot thrown in for good measure. Vince Vaughn is as sarcastic and dry as ever and the whole “ear muffs” thing gets me every time as does Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind” to Blue’s passing (“You’re my boy, Blue!”). Great, raunchy fun that doesn’t seem to tire on repeat viewings. Had to find room for this one some way.

#20. Superbad (dir. Greg Mottola)

A filthy, warped, and at times sweet coming-of-age movie in the same way as the original “American Pie” was in the previous decade as it focuses on a trio of male friends who are preparing to start their college careers come the end of summer. Well, they aren’t doing much preparing, to be honest. The main goal for these boys is to get laid. Half the teen dialogue here revolves around either booze or getting laid. Seth and Evan (Jonah Hill and Michael Cera) are best friends who have known each other their entire lives. They luck into getting an invite to a huge party and want to make sure to bring enough liquor to get the gals trashed, thereby having their first sexual experience. They bully their good friend Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) into using his new fake ID to purchase the booze and that’s when everything goes nutty. Fogell falls in with two completely inept cops (Seth Rogen and Bill Hader) while Seth and Evan get separated and map out their own routes to the big party. Mintz-Plasse steals the show here with his wonderfully dorky McLovin character. Some of the funniest scenes are when he gets his groove on, when he’s in bed with a good-looking girl (“I got a boner!”) and when he mimics his machismo. The friendship between Hill and Cera is a very believable one and the separation anxiety between the two continues to build throughout. On the surface, “Superbad” is a perverse, foul-mouthed movie with a lot of laughs. Beneath, there is an intelligence and warmth to it all, focusing on the close bonds between friendships that will not be forgotten.

#19. The Amateurs (dir. Michael Traeger)

Before “Zack & Miri Make A Porno” there was this movie. This one has the better cast, the more original script and most importantly, more laughs. Andy (the ever-talented Jeff Bridges) is a weekend dad who is experiencing a mid-life crisis and is tired of not getting ahead in life. He comes up with the most unconventional, most insane idea this small town has ever heard — he and any citizens who want to join his merry, independent production company are going to make their own full-length adult film! “The Amateurs” is a small film that not many have heard of, let alone seen and with the cast assembled, that is such a surprise to me. Ted Dansen (who gives an impressive comedic performance), William Fichtner, Tim Blake Nelson, Glenne Headly, Joe Pantoliano and the radiant Lauren Graham highlight this delightful film. Bridges is the core here…the ultimate dreamer and he’s the one who has to convince the others to invest their hard-earned money into this crazy scheme. From there, it’s all about who is going to play what role in the making of this movie (in front of or behind the camera). For instance Pantoliano’s ‘Some Idiot’ (that’s what everyone calls him) wants to write and direct the movie. Andy and his pals try to recruit as many village people as they can to help in the making of this adult film and much of the laughter stems from this. Overall, the film is very sweet and tremendously entertaining. Jeff Bridges can do just about anything and anyone who knows “The Dude” knows that comedy is surely one of those things. If you’re looking to rent a movie and in the mood to laugh, I would strongly suggest giving this little unknown movie a watch.

#18. Fantastic Mr. Fox (dir. Wes Anderson)

I’m not much of a fan of Anderson’s work & I didn’t expect much going in to this one, but I laughed out loud throughout this wonderfully written, and at times profound movie based on the Roald Dahl classic story. A terrific ensemble cast lend their vocal talents and is surely entertaining for kids & adults alike. To read my full review of this very witty film, click here.

#17. 50 First Dates (dir. Peter Segal)

Fearful of commitment, Henry Roth (Adam Sandler) is a veterinarian based in Hawaii who lusts after all of the beautiful tourists who come by for fun-in-the-sun, no-strings attachments. He suddenly meets Lucy (Drew Barrymore) and thinks he has finally found the woman of his dreams. The catch? She has short-term memory loss and forgets who the hell he is the very next day. A clever premise with some resemblances to “Groundhog Day,” but stands by itself quite admirably. A very sweet and endearing romantic comedy that actually does not insult the audience and, with Sandler at the center, is very amusing throughout. Henry must repeatedly make Lucy fall in love with him with each passing sunrise, which makes for some great comic moments in itself. Rob Schneider, Blake Clark, and Dan Aykroyd have some funny moments in supporting roles and the scenes with Henry’s foreign female co-worker are pretty hilarious too. Most romantic comedies I was thinking about for this list were more cute and sweet, with touches of comedy here and there (the very charming “Serendipity” comes to mind as a perfect example), but “50 First Dates” stands out because it never forgets that it is a comedy and the premise alone allows for some great opportunities for originality and humor. Sandler makes a charming leading man and Barrymore does her usual thing, but here she is stretched a bit more than usual. We like her character and her illness makes her all the more endearing. A truly original romantic comedy — with a lot of laughs.

#16. High Fidelity (dir. Stephen Frears)

What is it about John Cusack that we like him so much, especially as a romatic-comedy lead? He is charming, self-deprecating, sweet…just, you know, a nice guy! There always seems to be a little hint of Lloyd Dobler in each of his characters…the dreamer, the philosopher, the romantic; it’s as if we can still see him holding a radio atop his head blasting the tunes of Peter Gabriel. Based on the Nick Hornby novel, “High Fidelity” is another rare romantic comedy that makes this prestigious list. Cusack plays Rob Gordon, a 30’s-something record-store owner and compulsive list-maker (like me!). Here, he is recounting for us, the audience (the breaking of the fourth wall works extremely well here and Cusack is so damn good at it) his Top 5 break-ups, which includes the one in progress to Laura (Iben Hjejle), who he considers to be his all-time true love and tries desperately to get back together with. When we aren’t watching Rob’s fruitless attempts to win Laura back, we are at the record store watching Rob and his two socially inept co-workers (Jack Black and Todd Louiso). Black wasn’t the star he is at this time and here in a smaller role, he truly shines (especially in his rendition of “Try A Little Tenderness“). There are some very funny male bonding moments in the store (speaking to us, Rob says of his assistants, “I can’t fire them. I hired these guys for three days a week and they just started showing up every day. That was four years ago”). We also have Tim Robbins who is ridiculous (in a good way) as Laura’s new-age lover Ian, who Rob of course cannot stand. As always, we root for Cusack to win back the girl and we laugh at the way he over-analyzes himself and the situation at hand. The film shows a great appreciation for music and is a love story told from the guy’s point-of-view, which I can appreciate. Cusack is near perfect here and funny as hell. He opines to us:  “John Dillinger was killed behind that theater in a hail of FBI gunfire. And do you know who tipped them off? His fucking girlfriend. All he wanted to do was go to the movies.” It’s just a great screenplay. I know many have already seen this one, but do yourselves a favor if it has been awhile…see it again. Right away.

That’s the first 10 comedies to make the list. In the next few days, I will make sure to post the remaining films, (#15 – #1). As always, please feel free to leave me your comments – what you think should be included, which have no business being here, and those rare times when you feel that my thinking is actually right on.

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Robin Hood” (***)

I must admit that the initial reviews for this film made me somewhat wary of going to see it. And looking at the somewhat disappointing box-office returns through two weeks of the $200+ million blockbuster film, I think it has made many of the movie-going public wary of going, which is too bad because Ridley Scott’sRobin Hood” is a beautifully made and exciting new take on the legend we all know. Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland (“Mystic River” and “L.A. Confidential“) take a step back and have chosen not re-hash the same “robs from the rich” legend we’re all familiar with. Rather, they give us the story of how Robin Hood actually became an outlaw in the first place; a tale maybe we’re all not so very familiar with. At the end of the film, the titles read: “And So The Legend Begins,” setting the audience up for the proverbial Robin Hood myth that follows (and a sure-to-be-made sequel as well).

An archer fighting in the army of Richard the Lionheart (Danny Huston), Robin Hood and his companions decide to return home to England, and along the way, come upon Robert of Loxley who is fatally wounded by Godfrey (a diabolical, intense Mark Strong). Godfrey is in the process of assisting a French invasion of England and manages to trick the newly crowned King John into making him think he’s working on England’s behalf. Robin Hood (Russell Crowe) promises the dying Robert of Loxley that he will return his most cherished sword back to his father, Walter Loxley in Nottingham (played with tremendous humor and pathos by the brilliant Max von Sydow). The sword has an enigmatic inscription on it that pre-occupies Robin throughout. We learn that Robin Hood never knew much about his own father past the age of 6 and he struggles with himself to come to grips with his abrupt disappearance. Upon his return to Nottingham, the elderly Walter adopts him as his own and encourages Robin Longstride to impersonate his dead son and marry Marion (Cate Blanchett) or else the King will seize the land. Marion Loxley has just learned (after 10 long years) that her husband is not coming back, so this is a bit of a transition for her and she takes this new situation somewhat begrudgingly.

Meanwhile, we watch as Godfrey brutally pillages towns across the country under the pretext of collecting taxes for King John (Oscar Isaac). We can clearly see what kind of man King John is and what type of leader he will make right from the beginning and this continues throughout in his confrontational scenes with his mother (Eileen Atkins), to his treatment of the wise and loyal William Marshal (William Hurt) to how he treats his people. Robin Hood and Marion adapt to one another and Walter’s mirth is re-energized. He tells Robin that yes, he did know his father, who helped try to build a stronger, more liberalized society. A raid is made on Nottingham and there is a final battle between Godfrey and his men pitted against Robin Hood, King John and the English. After fighting bravely and faithfully for his land, Robin Hood is now seen as a threat to his people when King John ruthlessly declares him an outlaw. Thus, a legend is born.

Overall, this is a very entertaining, visually stunning film with an epic feel to it. I enjoyed it much more than I had anticipated. The costumes are exquisite, the locations and production design, authentic, and Marc Streitenfeld’s score, majestic. The film has its share of action and battle scenes, romance and some nicely incorporated humor in it as well. The performances too are excellent. Russell Crowe makes a fine Robin Hood; he is strong and has a regal presence to him. He shows strength or vulnerability, whatever is needed. Max von Sydow is a breath of fresh air, William Hurt  (as always) is terrific as William Marshal and we understand and feel for his trial throughout. Mark Addy plays Friar Tuck and he adds a nice touch of humor to the well-known character. Mark Strong plays a great villain – his overall look and demeanor fit quite well as the foil to Robin Hood. And like Joaquin Phoenix in “Gladiator” (another Scott film), Oscar Isaac’s King John is a spoiled, frightened little man who happens to wear the crown. Isaac does a wonderful job with it and we laugh at and detest him throughout. As for Cate Blanchett, I have mixed feelings. An extraordinary actress, to be sure, but I feel either she was simply miscast here or that Scott’s take on Marion may have been a bit rough around the edges. She seems too tough, too macho and her chemistry with Crowe seems a bit forced.

Some of the action sequences are difficult to follow and in the final battle, it does get a bit hokey for its own good (“For the love of God, Marion!” Robin Hood screams out when he sees his true love). Robin Hood’s slow-motion rise from the depths of the water and Marion exclaiming, “This is for you, Walter” were all a bit too much for me and surely could have been done without. And at times, the film falls into temporary lulls here and there. However, it is a grand and stately film. I remember enjoying Kevin Reynolds’Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” (1991) very much. It has been a long while since I’ve seen it so I don’t think it fair at all to compare the two. In any case, they are two completely different stories. This one stands on its own just fine. A pleasurable, summer blockbuster movie experience to be sure. If you are one of the many who wanted to see it, but the reviews have kept you away, I would suggest that you go and see it while it’s still on the big screen.

Director:    Ridley Scott
Year:          2010
Rating:      

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Edge of Darkness”

I didn’t know much about this film going in except for the fact that (a) this was Mel Gibson’s first starring role in eight years and  (b) he was pissed off and not making any arrests. Good enough for me, so I checked it out.

Gibson plays Boston homicide detective Thomas Craven who is a single father to Emma (Bojana Novakovic), his 24 year-old daughter. I’m not giving anything away here (I don’t do spoilers in my reviews) by saying that she is brutally killed right in front of him and what we are left with is a very typical revenge film. Craven wants no part of working with his colleagues on this one. No…this time, it’s personal (Thank God he doesn’t say that). Unfortunately, we are not given much that is new here in Martin Campbell’s thriller. In conducting his own investigation as to who murdered his daughter, Craven uncovers not only his daughter’s secret life after graduating MIT, but also a world of corporate conspiracy with the government authorizing murders to make sure that their secrets stay secret. In his search, he runs across Jedburgh (Ray Winstone), a government “cleaner” sent in to keep an eye on Craven and sweep up the remaining mess and all evidence left behind. During his search for answers (and ultimately, revenge) Craven is being followed, he gets assaulted, he cracks some heads, you know the drill.

What makes the film engaging is Mel Gibson. It’s his movie and if you’re a fan of his, you will most likely enjoy this one. At the core of the film, we have a father who loved his daughter more than anything else, and Gibson illustrates this well (as he usually does playing characters experiencing a terrible loss). We empathize with him and see his agony on his sleeve. There are some very sweet flashbacks here of Craven and his daughter and in the brief time we see him with his grown-up girl, we see a very close bond between the two. Danny Huston is well cast as Jack Bennett, the president of the company behind all of the mysterious murders, though it would be nice to see Huston play something other than the man we root against. The scenes between Gibson and Winstone are very intriguing and dramatic. We never know exactly where Jedburgh stands until the very end, which keeps you on your toes. Winstone has a powerful screen presence and you can see why he’s been a very busy actor lately (IMDB lists 8 films he has in pre-production at the time of this writing).

I suppose I was hoping for a much more original screenplay here. This is a revenge film that doesn’t veer too far away from recent others of its kind such as “Death Sentence,” “The Brave One,” “Taken” and “Law Abiding Citizen.” One sequence in particular upset me — you know when superheroes get caught (the Batman TV series was famous for this) and he isn’t just killed right there on the spot? No, that would just be too easy, right? So what do they do? They have to imprison their capture and conduct an “extra special” killing and delay the inevitable…the hero pulling off a grand escape from the dungeons of evil. I was surprised to get that here. So in the end, yes, Mel kept me watching, but overall, it doesn’t bring much that is new to the table…I was hoping for much more from his big comeback.

Director:  Martin Campbell
Year:        2010
Rating:    

Peter Eramo’s Personal Pet Peeves

Now how’s that for alliteration…hmm???

I like to think that when it comes to movies, I’m a pretty open-minded kind of guy. I will go to see just about any movie (given my current mood) whether its genre is science fiction, horror, foreign, documentary, silly comedy – even certain musicals that look to be worth the time and money (though those are rare and hard to come by). But we all have our pet peeves when it comes to certain aspects of a movie that keep us from plunking down our $10 to see it (because so-and-so directed it or so-and-so was in it). For example, how many times have you heard the following exchange:

“Did you see [fill in the blank]?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Really?! Why not?”
“Oh…I just can’t stand watching him.”

And you know what? That person has every right to feel this way. It’s your $10 and you have the right to spend it any way you damn well like.

Now there are certain actors (Daniel Day-Lewis, Al Pacino, Jeff Bridges) who, no matter what the reviews and public reception have been, I will go out to the theatres, put down my money and see. We all have them. Same for directors. If David Lynch, the Coen Brothers, P.T. Anderson, Oliver Stone or Woody Allen (though he has been testing my patience for the past decade or so) make a movie, then guess what? I’m going out to see it!

So I am looking at the newspaper trying to find a movie to see – and I notice there is almost nothing out there! I look online for the onslaught of summer movies on the horizon and scheduled for release (as soon as this week) and still, I see nothing but slim pickings. My interest is not at all piqued. Now I’m just generalizing here, but all I see is a bunch of movies that look like they were made with only one idea in mind: to take your money. Sequels that don’t deserve one, films based on bad television shows, remakes of films that were perfectly fine in the first place…all coming out. In the spirit of this thinking, I came up with a concise list of my own personal pet peeves – certain aspects of a particular film that will usually (but not all of the time) keep me from seeing it and in turn, I decide to spend my $10 on something else…like a good book – or crack. Here are just a few of my pet peeves, in no particular order:

PET PEEVE #1: Any Film With Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay Listed as Director

These two have decided long ago that they pretty much have little or nothing to say to their viewers other than provide meaningless explosions, rail-thin plot lines and costly (though at times impressive) action sequences. “2012,” “Godzilla,” “The Island, “Armageddon” “Pearl Harbor“? I’ll just stick that $10 back in my pocket, thank you.

PET PEEVE #2: American Movies Based on Very Good Foreign Films

I recently read that David Fincher is slated to direct the American version of the brilliant 4-star “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and I nearly wept. Why does this film need a remake so soon? Because too many Americans are completely ignorant and refuse to engage in the dreaded S-word…subtitles. Now of course there are a handful of exceptions, but there are too many embarrassing, needless remakes of these fine films. Examples that support my luminous pet peeve are:

– “Swept Away” (Guy Ritchie’s slap in the face to the fantastic Italian film)
– “Diabolique” from the masterful 1955 French film, “Les Diaboliques
– “Death at a Funeral” (now in theatres just two years after the brilliantly funny original of the same name. Do yourself a favor and rent the British film. It is hilarious! Was this remake absolutely necessary? Shame on you, Neil LaBute.)
– “Brothers” based on the powerful Danish film “Brodre

And there are many, many more. I think “Oldboy” is in the works for a bastardized American version too. In fact, many well made Korean and Japanese films have been retooled for the Hollywood machine and ruined in the process. I don’t want to piss people off more than I have in a previous list of mine, but you can include “The Departed” on this list. That’s right…Deal with it…

PET PEEVE #3: The Dreaded “Hit List”

Not that I don’t enjoy a good action flick, but I do tend to avoid the ones with names like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vin Diesel, Gerard Butler, Dolph Lundgren (yeah, he’s still around), Steven Seagal and Jason Statham attached to them. Call me a movie snob…but I can find much more stimulating, edifying ways of spending my 90 minutes. One side note…I thought “JCVD” was a decent film.

PET PEEVE #4: Video Games Should Stay on our Playstations and X-Boxes

Any movie where studio execs said, “Yeah, that’s a popular video game! Make that into a movie!!!” I generally ignore. I love my PlayStation 3 and enjoy playing all of my sports games, but has any of these ever made for a good feature length film?! Let me jog your memory for ya: “Resident Evil,” “Max Payne,” “Street Fighter,” “Mortal Kombat,” “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider,” “Doom,” and yes, the ever-brilliant “Super Mario Brothers.” Oh, Dennis Hopper….it was difficult, but all is forgiven. Just get well.

PET PEEVE #5: Nasty, Inept DNA

I don’t know what was in their water as children, but if a Gyllenhaal is attached to a project, I will oftentimes chuckle and then forget about it. I will admit that it can at times be fun to watch Jake Gyllenhaal struggle his way through a scene and try his little heart out, but more times than not, it’s usually just downright sad. Think of the car wreck that everyone on the road slows down to see…that’s the Gyllenhaal siblings! I will admit that Maggie Gyllenhaal has actually made some strong decisions (“Secretary,” “Happy Endings,” and “Adaptation“), but for me, it’s just ever-so-difficult to watch her. As for her brother, I think all hope is lost. He’s one box-office dud after another, and you know what? There’s a reason! Look at that joke of a film due out, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” — even the trailer looks awful.

Seth MacFarlane, creator of “The Family Guy” pretty much nailed it with the following brief scene. Give it a quick listen. It has the two siblings arguing with their father over who is “more off-putting.” Terrific….

I’m More Off-Putting! Gyllenhaal Scene

PET PEEVE #6: Shocking (Shitty) Sequels

Speaking of abysmal trailers, have you seen the one for the 4th installment of Shrek??? After the original, this franchise has gone steadily downhill. The third was even worse than the second and if this new frivolous trailer is any indication, “Shrek Forever After” will continue the predictable pattern. As a rule, I tend to avoid any sequel that has already shown a significant decline (“Spiderman 3” anyone?) or is so obviously made for purely monetary purposes. Though the originals may be very good (perhaps even the second as well), Hollywood execs will always “jump the shark” until it is quite clear that all possible profits have already been sapped and the audiences finally show that they’ve had enough by not going to the theatre. A fourth “Beverly Hills Cop“?! Tough times, Eddie? Let’s keep spewing out sophomoric Fockers films too. The only “Ocean” movie worth anything was the very amusing “Ocean’s 11” — please, stop, Mr. Soderbergh. I didn’t see the last Indiana Jones movie, and you know what? I sleep quite well. Most horror film franchises fall victim (like that pun) to this: “Saw,” “Halloween,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (uh, was that remake required?), “Friday the 13th,” “Scream,” etc. I understand that they are what they are — that they are not meant to be these enlightening, insightful films. I get that. But this is my pet peeve list and I choose to look elsewhere for my movie buck. “Sex and the City 2“? Were there really that many unanswered questions to the first one? At least Disney has the decency to release these “lesser” films on DVD and not take up valuable screen time.

PET PEEVE #7: Two Words — Michael Moore

I love documentary films. The problem is that, despite public opinion, Mr. Moore is not a documentary filmmaker. He editorializes and tries to manipulate your independent thinking with carefully calculated editing, insinuating music choices and of course, his own slanted commentary on a particular subject. This has nothing to do with whether or not I agree with his political views. The guy just doesn’t make documentaries. Period. If I want someone’s political opinion, I’ll read an op-ed piece. A good documentary explores a specific topic, shows all sides of said topic and lets the viewer come up with his/her own opinion. Most times, the filmmaker is never even seen or heard, but Moore loves putting his mug in front of the camera way too much. Trust me, if you want to see the work of real documentary filmmakers, you look to the fascinating work of Frederick Wiseman, Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, and yes, Ken Burns. Moore loves the spotlight, you can clearly tell. I also love his abrupt about face on Ralph Nader — from vehemently supporting him to publically crucifying him. Classy move, big guy. You will never get my $10.

Peter Eramo Reviews: “Date Night” (* ½)

Well, they are the king and queen of sitcom television (so I hear), so you knew it wouldn’t be long before Hollywood decided to cast Steve Carell and Tiny Fey opposite one another for the big screen. The result is Shawn Levy’sDate Night,” and sadly, the movie offers very few laughs, some very poor dialogue, and almost no originality.

Carell and Fey play the Fosters – a middle-class, suburban New Jersey couple who discover that their close friends are getting a divorce, sending them a much needed wake-up call.  Between taking care of the kids and managing their respective careers, they are worried that their lives have fallen into one gigantic, wearisome rut. Phil Foster (Carell) wants to do something about that gosh darn-it, and does so by shaking up their weekly humdrum ‘Date Night’ and bringing it to the bright lights of Manhattan. After he “steals” another couple’s reservation at a very trendy, chic restaurant, the mayhem ensues. Or perhaps I should say, wish it had ensued.

The exhilarating and dangerous night that the Fosters face is filled with mistaken identities, a corrupt D.A., cops on the take, car chases, a few cameos to try and keep us entertained, and for some odd reason, an almost empty New York City, where no one can be seen in the world’s most famous park and very few cars and pedestrians take up the normally crowded busy streets.

Tina Fey may be the darling of primetime, but she cannot carry a movie (see the disastrous “Baby Mama”). At best, she makes for a solid supporting role (see “The Invention of Lying”). Carell has already proven he can tackle film and do so convincingly in a wide variety of roles that showcase an impressive range. Here, he is just given a poor script and not given very much to do. William Fichtner, a very strong character actor, is wasted here and his caricature of a district attorney is embarrassing. And the scenes with Detective Arroyo (Taraji P. Henson) were all terribly, terribly written. I will say that the scenes with Mark Wahlberg were quite amusing. Wahlberg plays the always shirtless Holbrooke, who helps the Fosters out throughout the course of this whacky, crazy evening. The funniest scene of the film is when the Fosters finally meet up with the young couple (two fun cameos) who has the computer chip they have been looking for all night.

I don’t really consider myself much of a movie snob – I like a goofy comedy every now and then like anybody else.  Here, I went in to this film thinking that it would at least be funny and good for a few laughs. But instead, all I got was predictability all the way through: the emasculated man must prove to his wife that he can take care of her and save the day, the marriage that once seem to be tedious is now revived, etc., etc., etc.  It’s really too bad because Carell and Fey, with all of their comedic talents, are much better than this shlock and deserve more.

Director:    Shawn Levy
Year:          2010
Rating:     

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