November 21, 2015
David Kalat
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Goat-Staring for Fun and Profit

So here we are, in the middle of November, sandwiched between the release of the latest James Bond flick and the upcoming release of the new Star Wars.  The War on Terror rages on, with no end in sight.  The Coen Brothers have migrated to TV where Fargo is ripping it up.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow, all these different experiences could be smoothed together into one event?  Wouldn’t that just save so much time?

So, I present to you, The Men Who Stare At Goats.   A spy-comedy derived as a fictionalized adaptation of a controversial non-fiction book about “psychic soldiers” fighting in Iraq, with overt Star Wars in-jokes…I can’t say it’s a good movie, but it has so much else going for it, quality might be beside the point.


KEYWORDS: Ewan MacGregor, George Clooney, The Men Who Stare at Goats

Unusual Commentary Tracks


Terror of Frankenstein

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Tim Kirk, producer of Room 237, The Nightmare, and other titles. We talked about commentary tracks because he is releasing something called Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein. The normal order of business would be to simply re-release Terror of Frankenstein (Calvin Floyd, 1977), and then add a commentary track as a bonus. Sadly, the only existing elements that remain for Terror of Frankenstein are sketchy at best and not worth revisiting in and of themselves. A serendipitous conversation, however, between Kirk and Terror of Frankenstein star Leon Vitali opened the door to a mysterious world behind Floyd’s surprisingly faithful adaption of Mary Shelley’s story. Given Vitali’s work with Stanley Kubrick, he is already the subject of a few conspiracy theories himself, but what Vitali reveals in his commentary track to Terror of Frankenstein suggests that method-acting can go too far. It might even lead to murder. [...MORE]

Comic Relief with Artists and Models (1955)


This has been a rough week. And when the bad news starts to outweigh the good I like to escape my worries with a great comedy that makes me laugh out loud and allows me to forget my troubles for a few short hours. I recently found some comic relief in my favorite Martin and Lewis film, Frank Tashlin’s ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955). I grew up watching this brilliant musical satire and it never fails to put a big goofy grin on my face. Your own mileage will vary of course but here are 10 reasons why you should consider watching ARTISTS AND MODELS today.

We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It’s run by a big eastern syndicate

This is a season of traditions: those comforting rituals that we reiterate on an annual basis because no matter how small some of them may be (like the making of home-baked ginger snaps), they have become imbued with powerful memories of home and loved ones, such that these little ceremonies carry a weight of meaning far in excess of their actual ability to signify.

There used to be a coterie of movies that belonged to these same holiday traditions—certain films like The Wizard of Oz or It’s a Wonderful Life that were consistently and regularly replayed on commercial television on certain holidays.  You could almost set your watch to them. 


Since its original broadcast in 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas has been one of the most enduring and beloved holiday mainstays—and its history has a curious Mobius strip like effect.  When you watch A Charlie Brown Christmas this year—in whatever media you do (broadcast, on-demand, iTunes download, DVD, Blu-Ray, hallucinatory memory)—you are participating in a metatextual reconfiguration of its core themes!  Betcha didn’t even know that!


The Sin of Harold Lloyd

Alone among the great silent comics, Harold Lloyd stood at the exact intersection of slapstick and screwball, at the intersection of physical comedy and dialogue.  Harold Lloyd, you see, made a film with Preston Sturges.  It was neither man’s greatest hour, but the mere fact of its existence is breathtaking.  It’s like finding Ernst Lubitsch directing Charlie Chaplin, or Blake Edwards directing Laurel and Hardy.

Let’s take stock of this for a minute: we have one of the greatest physical comedians of the entire silent era—a man whose work bequeathed to posterity one of the most enduring icons of what silent comedy was all about—yet who is also preternaturally comfortable with the world of talkies.  He is paired with a visionary of the new dialogue school of comedy—yet one who has an enduring appreciation of the values of silent comedy.  They are going to collaborate as equals on a film that will be made without studio interference.  If there is ever going to be a moment when the old guard of silent comedians are going to function uncompromised in this new world of screwball, then there could be no better opportunity than this.


Spy Games: Frank Tashlin & Doris Day Go Undercover

In the late ‘60s Doris Day starred in two spy spoofs directed by Frank Tashlin, THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1967) and CAPRICE (1968). At the time Day was 43-years-old and one of Hollywood’s biggest stars but her career was in decline. Critics seemed to relish taking potshots at the movies she appeared in while launching full-blown attacks on her squeaky-clean image. Day was commonly referred to as “the eternal virgin” and when the sexual revolution heated up the middle-aged actress was unfairly pigeonholed as a perpetual square. The fact remains that while many actresses were regulated to the role of sex object, wife or mother, Doris Day often played independent working-class women with professional careers who reluctantly fell in love. And while Day’s characters may have been prone to clumsy mishaps and verbal blunders, she was usually able to outsmart her male costars. Frank Tashlin seemed to understand Doris Day’s strengths as a performer and in THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT and CAPRICE I think he has lots of fun playing with critical assumptions and expectations.


Four Lions, an appreciation

Several times over the last year I have sat down to write something about Four Lions, one of my favorite films of the past couple of years, but each time I abort the mission.  As much as I love the movie and wish to celebrate it, I also know that the chances are few of you will have seen it, much less heard of it—and to date I have a 0% track record of succeeding in convincing even my closest circle of family and friends to watch it.  This is going to be a hard sell—the premise of the thing is just such a turnoff.  Four Lions is a comedy about, and from the perspective of, Islamist terrorists plotting attacks on England.

I know, a laugh riot, right?



Sturges’ Travels

Last week we took a look at Preston Sturges’ Palm Beach Story, and in so doing I took a swipe at Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels.  Well, this week I cycle back to give Sullivan’s Travels a second look.  I still think it’s weak tea compared to Sturges’ more madcap films like Hail the Conquering Hero, Christmas in July, or Palm Beach Story, but it’s got an autobiographical element that deserves some mention.

title card


The Love Song of Capt. McGloo

Hollywood’s fascination with itself has generally meant that movies about movies–or, more precisely, movies that celebrate movies–tend to be overvalued by the film establishment relative to their actual merits. For example, Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels tends to show up on a lot of classic movie lists, it was singled out for the Criterion treatment back before Criterion’s management really cottoned on to the idea that comedies can be classics, and when writers try to summarize why Preston Sturges is important, Sullivan’s Travels is almost always cited as his one or two most significant accomplishments. What Sullivan’s Travels is not, however, is terribly funny–it is one of Sturges’ tamer works. If you want to ask me what Sturges should be most remembered for, I’d have to say Palm Beach Story–a profoundly anarchic comic masterpiece that wholly abdicates any responsibility to make a lick of sense.



Spy Games: Matchless (1967)

Following the phenomenal success of United Artists’ early James Bond films many Hollywood studios tried to mimic their crowd winning formula. One of the most successful attempts to cash in on Bond’s appeal was OUR MAN FLINT (1966) starring a tall, lanky and laid-back James Coburn. The film was produced by Saul David for 20th Century Fox and although it spoofed the Bond films with a knowing wink and wide smile, it also had its own kind of charm and wacky appeal. OUR MAN FLINT was followed by a sequel (IN LIKE FLINT; 1967) and there were plans to make more Flint movies but unfortunately they never materialized. Today the Flint films aren’t as popular or well known as the Bond films but they were wildly successful during their day and they’re credited for making James Coburn a star. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the popularity of the Flint films led to them being spoofed as well.

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