Monday, April 30, 2012


Two movies about lovers on the run.  Each full of graphic violence that is cringe-worthy and/or laughter-inducing.

In PIERROT LE FOU, Ferdinand (Jean-Paul Belmondo) leaves his wife and family for a former girlfriend, Marianne (Anna Karina).  He soon learns she's gotten herself involved with arms dealers connected with the Algerian War, and then the two are on the run...  Godard-style.

In TRUE ROMANCE, Clarence (Christian Slater) falls for Alabama (Patricia Arquette), a girl he meets at a triple feature on his birthday.  He soon learns she's a call girl his boss sent him as a gift, and in an attempt to free her from that life, gets the two of them involved with violent drug dealers, and then the two are on the run...  Tarantino-style.  (The film was only written by Quentin Tarantino, and directed by Tony Scott, but the feel is more Tarantino than anything).

After watching both films, think about how life is a crap shoot.  How sometimes your sunlit beach contains an eye-patch symbolizing what you survived, and what you almost lost, while other times you get thick black smoke clouding the pristine blue sky over the Mediterranean Sea.  In the end, it doesn't matter how pure your intentions might have been, how much effort you put forth, or the quality of your character - you can give it all and lose.  Or you could win.  And so you have to give it your all.  Every freakin' time.

Except when it comes to wrapping your head in dynamite.  That one you shouldn't really undertake at all.  Or, if you do, be sure that your last thoughts are not second thoughts.

Released:  1965
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Leads:  Jean-Paul Belmondo, Anna Karina
Writer:  Jean-Luc Godard
Plot Summary and reviews of PIERROT LE FOU @ Rotten Tomatoes

Released:  1993
Director:  Tony Scott
Leads:  Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Val Kilmer, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt, Michael Rapaport, Christopher Walken
Writer: Quentin Tarantino
Plot Summary and reviews of TRUE ROMANCE @ Rotten Tomatoes

Friday, April 27, 2012

NINOTCHKA | 1939 | "Funniest film I ever saw."

I adore NINOTCHKA so much that I wanted to write a really slam-bang post.  So I cracked some books and did some extra research, hoping I could enrich your life with some sparkling high-brow analysis that would lead you to appreciate the film as much as I do.

After letting all the reading stew for a few days, there's only one bit of information I really want to share:

Lubitsch attended the preview of NINOTCHKA with his writers (Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch) and some studio executives.  After the screening, Lubitsch rushed to the audience opinion cards and took them to his limo - refusing to let anyone see them.  Billy Wilder remembers that he had a very "serious" expression while reading the cards, until "he gets to this one card and he just stares at it for a while and then he breaks into this howl of laughter...  Finally he hands me the card and this is what it said, 'Great picture.  Funniest film I ever saw.  I laughed so hard, I peed in my girlfriend's hand.'"*

I'll write more about how/why this is Classic Screwball at a later date.  Since you don't have a lot of my blah, blah, blah to read - watch this clip!

*Eyman, Scott, Ernst Lubitsch:  Laughter in Paradise (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1993), 271.

Released: 1939
Director: Ernst Lubitsch (Oscar nom Best Picture)
Leads: Greta Garbo (Oscar nom Best Actress), Melvyn Douglas
Writer: Melchior Lengyel, Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch (Oscar Nom Best Original Story, Best Screenplay)
Genre: Classic Screwball, Romantic Comedy
Plot Summary and reviews of Ninotchka @ Rotten Tomatoes

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mark Haskell Smith | "On the Road to the Cannabis Cup" | New York Times April 18, 2012

Unlike my last post, the one about William Trowbridge, this one doesn't have a super obvious reason for being on this blog.  I am currently recovering from a fever and can't think of a way to explain why I'm making this post without making it about me.  But since I just kind of did, by whining about my fever, I'll just follow through...

I posted Mr. Trowbridge's news because it's awesome, but also because I remember him being a nerd about comedy too.  But, then, Mr. Smith is showing up in the media this week because he's out selling his new book.  And it didn't set right with me, to write about one and not the other.  Why would I care?  What's the connection?

William Trowbridge and Mark Haskell Smith were both instructors at the University of Nebraska writing program I attended.

But don't let their connection to me dull their shine.

Mark Haskell Smith writes funny stuff.  And this blog is about funny stuff.  I should have just gone with that.  And yet, I'm not deleting all of the rambling in favor of a clean, cohesive post for Mr. Smith.  Can't blame the fever on that.

So, yeah, Mark Haskell Smith writes funny novels.  He also just wrote a non-fiction book called Heart of Dankness: Underground Botanists, Outlaw Farmers and the Race for the Cannabis Cup, which is getting some attention...  this week in the form of a Q&A in the Home & Garden section of The New York Times ("On the Road to the Cannabis Cup" by Steven Kurutz).  This book will continue to gain attention, until the prediction I made long ago comes true, and I will be posting a video clip of him visiting with...  no, can't say, don't want to jinx it.  Until then, here's this fine clip...

Most important, read the book. Then read his novels. You'll be better for it.

William Trowbridge | New Missouri State Poet Laureate

William Trowbridge is the new Missouri State poet laureate.  I'm sharing the clip below because I saw him give this reading, because he talks about comedy a bit (and that was initially the focus of this blog), and because it's great.  He's great.

More information about Trowbridge and this appointment can be found here, an interview-y sort of piece with him can be found here, and you can visit his website here.

Most important, read his poetry.  You'll be better for it.  Honest.

Monday, April 16, 2012

DIY Double Feature: ART & COPY and PUTNEY SWOPE

Here's how you do it:  First watch ART & COPY (2009).  And then when you find yourself buying what they're selling, find yourself thinking that advertising is about more than creating demand, quickly switch over to PUTNEY SWOPE (1969) to be reminded that those jive ass dudes don't got no brains anyhow.  Shiiiiit.

That last part, that part in italics, I can say that, because the ever proper Barbara Billingsley said it in AIRPLANE! I don't think I could get away with using the words of anyone in PUTNEY SWOPE, so that'll have to do.

>> about 1 minute into clip

ART & COPY is a documentary about the ad industry, including stuff from the 60s to right about now.   In the world of ART & COPY, advertising is a profound and magical thing that has the power to change lives.  (Something I don't think anyone would argue.  The question is whether the changes are for the better).  (At least more often than not).  The film makes attempts to keep the industry grounded, they even spend some time with the folks who actually paste up billboards for a living, but  mostly they seem to be polishing up the notion that advertising is a glamour industry.  The focus is on the higher-end, thought-leader agencies that "don't just take their clients money and do what they're told," but instead bring the full-force of their creativity to the table.  Everyone in the film seems to agree that when that is done, it elevates the entire client-agency-consumer transaction, which can lead to art, enlightenment, liberation, and freedom.  (Pfft).

I will say, there are some gems in there, interview-wise.  This one revived a dream I have to spend an afternoon with George Lois.  I kind of hate a lot of what he says, but I also kind of love him.  I love his clarity and pragmatism and energy.  It's admirable, if only it had been directed elsewhere.  Which is my hang-up with advertising...  so many smart, talented people spending their life-energy one 30 second spots at a time.  Brings to mind "Howl".  Kind of.  Greatest minds of a few generations gone to the creation of advertising.  Yet they don't think it's madness.  They think it's a sweet and hip gig.

On that note, PUTNEY SWOPE.

PUTNEY SWOPE is the anti-ART & COPY.  It's a satire written and directed by Robert Downey Sr.  And, it is something else.  The set-up is that the the head of the advertising board for the agency that bears his name drops dead on the conference room table.  While the body is still warm (and still on the table), the other board members elect a new head - they can't vote for themselves, and so they all vote for the token black man, thinking that no one else will.  Putney Swope takes over, changes the name of the agency to Truth & Soul, pledges to no longer make ads for cigarettes, liquor or war toys, insists the white delivery boys use the service elevator, and proceeds to subvert (and reinforce) a whole lot of stereotypes about advertising, movies, big business and/or race.  But it's so much more than that.  See it, then we'll talk.

Released: 2009
Director: Doug Pray
Leads: Lee Clow, Dan Wieden, David Kennedy, Phyllis K. Robinson, Hal Riney, George Lois, Rich Silverstein, Jeff Goodby, Mary Wells, Cliff Freeman. Jim Durfee

Released: 1969
Director: Robert Downey Sr.
Leads: Arnold Johnson, Joe Madden, Antonio Fargas, Allen Garfield
Writer: Robert Downey, Sr.

Friday, April 13, 2012

EASY LIVING | 1937 | "I've whiled away an hour in 26 minutes flat."

Didn’t you study to be anything?
Anything like what?
Oh, like a dentist or something?
Well, how did you expect to while away the hours after you grew up?
I didn’t have to study to do that. In training, I’ve whiled away an hour in 26 minutes flat.

Released: 1937
Director: Mitchell Leisen
Leads: Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold, Ray Milland
Writer: Vera Caspary (story), Preston Sturges
Genre: Screwball Comedy, Romantic Comedy
Plot Summary and reviews of EASY LIVING @ Rotten Tomatoes

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mr. Letterman.

The only famous person’s birthday I know by heart is David Letterman’s.

If I thought about it, I'd probably come up with a few others, but this one I don't even have to think about.  I'm sure this says something about me, and whatever that is, I'm totally ok with it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I recently saw A WOMAN IS A WOMAN, and --- I want to move into this movie and never leave.

Wait, while I’m at it, I want to be 28 again, and then move into this movie and never leave. I don’t usually want to be 28 again. But to live in this film, I think it’d be best to be 28.  Tops.

Since I can't move into the movie, I'm going to make it half of a DIY Double Feature.  I was thinking it should be paired with something contemporary, maybe someone like Wes Anderson, but then I saw that A WOMAN IS A WOMAN and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S were both released in 1961 and...

If you watch Godard’s film first, it seems to scrub off all the silly reverence that has been built around Blake Edwards' film over the last decade or so, and seems to highlight everything the Hollywood censors tried to push into the shadows, investing BREAKFAST with a bit more life. A little, itty bit.

In conclusion:  When I was 16, I wanted to run right out and live the movie of BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S (probably why I made a break for NYC at 17). But, now that I’m 40, I’d like to go back a decade and live in Godard’s world. However, at no time in my life have I ever wanted Mickey Rooney to be my Asian landlord.

Pretty great piece about A WOMAN IS A WOMAN @ the AV Club.

Released: 1961
Director: Jean-Luc Godard
Leads: Anna Karina, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean-Claude Brialy
Writer: Jean-Luc Godard

Released: 1961
Director: Blake Edwards
Leads: George Peppard, Audrey Hepburn, Patricia Neal, Buddy Ebsen
Writer: George Axelrod (screenplay), Truman Capote (novella)