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The Road to El Dorado

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It’s no Prince of Egypt, but it’s no Anastasia either. Hans Zimmer’s score should have remained the only musical accompaniment to this film, the songs in which are the second collaboration between Elton John and Tim Rice since the Lion King. Me personally, I felt that The Lion King’s music was the weakest part of an otherwise wonderful movie – and I am sad to say that that is the case again. The most delicious thing about El Dorado is of course Kenneth Branagh and Kevin Kline’s interplay. These are two highly trained actors with vim and vigor and passion, having a fantastic time in the studio. They should get the chance to work together again because they have delightful chemistry, good vocal matches, equally good timing and wit and everything. Any time the story itself grows simplistic, a shade of nuance from Tulio or Miguel adds life that would otherwise be missing.

El Dorado also lacks a good deal of the visual design lushness that made Prince of Egypt such an amazing film – but it is lovely, and it does take advantage of the Deep Canvas technology really mastered in Tarzan. It uses music similarly to Tarzan, in that very little of the numbers are songs sung by a character – and the one that is, is sung by Elton and frickin’ Randy Newman on the CD, not Kenneth and Kevin! Grumble. This worked great for Tarzan (you know, inexplicably, Phil Collins won the Oscar for Best Song – probably because of the unobtrusive quality of the music) but it does not work here – the songs are alarmingly mixed in. Detractors of musical theatre (in all its forms) hate the notion of people suddenly bursting into song. I love it, myself, but it has to be real, it has to be true. In The Little Mermaid, for example, the movie that rejuvenated the genre, every song propels plot and/or character development. In El Dorado, it propels filler. So that bummed me out.

The animators make a lot of use of psychedelia and oversimplified Mayan (? Yucatan type) art motifs rather than (as in Prince of Egypt) being led more by the beautiful native works. Yes, of course, it’s a mythical city, but it has a style similar to that of the Mayans and Aztecs and Olmecs and Toltecs and PaintFlecks…it is a shame they did not use that design concept as gorgeously as in Prince of Egypt. “Hey, shut up about these other movies. What did you think of this one?” It was OK. I was entertained, I was interested, the main characters (for the most part, more on that in a bit) were interesting and well drawn (figuratively speaking as well as literally) and it was cool to look at most of the time. But it was only OK, and I don’t want people not to go because they think it will be a bad time, but to know why it was not Great and Fabulous and Wonderful.

Now, I have to say, the water, all the water shots, usage, whatever, is the best I have ever seen in an animated movie. For some reason I have always noticed Disney water and how realistic and beautiful it is. This movie blows it all out of the…well, water. Holy mackerel! And no, they didn’t integrate the computer work with the hand-drawn stuff as well as less recent movies have (how can that be?) but it’s still nice to look at.

I can’t avoid it any more. Oscar nominee Rosie Perez is the voice of Chel. This is not right. The least-understandable speaker in Hollywood (Roberto Bernigni and Pedro Almodovar aside), Perez is a terrible choice for an animated voiceover. On top of that, OK, perhaps, as a Puerto Rican, her accent is as close to Cuba in 1519 as we can get, since Gloria Estefan was busy with Music of the Heart – **but she sounds like she is from New Jersey** and you can hear the “you go girl” head bobs and the pursed lips – and THEN they animated them in. Chel, as a whole, is a weak character, with a scary, wrong voice. Yes, Branagh has his English accent and Kline his Theatre English one. So what? Armand Assante and Edward James Olmos sound perfect with their accents. All these people have won or been nominated for Oscars, I can see how this cast would look good on paper (and KB and KK are!) but ROSIE PEREZ? “It ain’t right!” To be fair, she never ascends into her screechy “you don’t love me!!” voice she is so well known for, but she still sounds like she should be clamping a cigarette and waggling her neck above her tube top. Which Chel is wearing.

The movie is worth seeing for Kenneth and Kevin (oh how much glee I have just to hear them when they do their thing that they do so well, that special vocal magic that each of them uniquely have no matter what character they inhabit) and the animation is very good, just not the most amazing thing I have ever seen. Lots of nice side visuals will be missed, so watch out for them. Altivo, the horse, is surprisingly funny.

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 3/31/00
Time in minutes 89
Director Will Finn, Bibo Bergeron, Don Paul, Eric Bergeron
Studio Dreamworks

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The Prince of Egypt

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Clutching my newly purchased soundtrack, ticket stub still warm in my hands, I basked in the glow of one excellent movie. Animated or no, The Prince of Egypt is a must-see. I know there are a lot of adults out there who refuse to see anything animated no matter what – and as those of us who were kids or have kids or are arrested development kids know, they are missing out. Before P.O.E., they showed a preview for Warner Bro’s The King and I (based on the musical) and Disney’s next summer hit, Tarzan (looking cool!). If King and I was all that was out there, I could understand why these people would skip out, missing treasures like A Bug’s Life and Mulan – but listen to me now. GET OVER YOURSELF. Just because someone drew it doesn’t mean it’s inferior in any way. Besides, Godzilla and Sphere were live action stinkers not fit for anyone – how can these be any worse? I always rant in my animation-advocate lunacy when I see a good one, so reference my previous reviews for my feelings on the genre.

The Prince of Egypt opens with a disclaimer, fending off the purists who might picket, a la The Last Temptation of Christ. I don’t know enough to say what deviated from the Exodus tale, but this is a movie for Christians, Jews, for all those various warring religions now in the Holy Land…it’s just Great. I wouldn’t say it’s for the kids, necessarily – it’s not gory but it is a mature theme. It’s a drama, an animated musical drama. Go figure. I can’t think of an adult who would think it’s just a kid’s movie, besides those anti-animation fuddy-duddies out there. People, open your minds. Some of the very best movies this year have been animated. Think about that.

Val Kilmer, uncharacteristically humble and gentle, is Moses. Ralph Fiennes is his brother Rameses. Patrick “talk to me” Stewart is the Pharaoh. But there’s more than that! Michelle Pfeiffer, Jeff Goldblum, Danny Glover, Sandra Bullock, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Helen Mirren. The first time anyone spoke I was surprised by recognizing the voice, but once I settled in (except for Patrick Stewart – oh, how can a Pharaoh who speaks in such dulcet tones have killed all those children?) I was right with them. OK, maybe Sandra threw me a little too. Good actors, good voices, and the animation team responds with beautifully evocative visual acting in return. Having just seen the awkward, Scooby Doo-esque preview for King and I, I could appreciate the nuances of good body language even more keenly.

The beauty of newly-built Egypt, its shining alabaster monuments, the lush architectural and design skill of the Egyptians (even if they are the bad guys in the story, they sure had grace and style!) is jaw-dropping. Oh man, it’s gorgeous! Moses has a dream, and it’s the coolest dream sequence I have seen in forever! Lovely. The people are all a little wan and long, but it’s a design thing, not a Calista Flockhart trend.

Not being all that well versed in the story of Moses, I was interested and emotionally involved and I felt neither preached to nor neglected for my ignorance. It is stirring and oh! I have no words. I was actually getting verklempt! My male roommate admitted to me in the parking lot that he got misty at the beginning and after the Red Sea, and I wasn’t even going to TELL him I had done so as well – oops, now I told all of you. I’m not ashamed! When was the last time I cared about a bunch of people I never met in a movie! Titanic, that’s when!

And the soundtrack! Oy vey my children let me sing unto you of the songs and the score. Stephen “Godspell” Schwartz, a theatrical Biblical scholar and all around nice Jewish boy, writes the songs that misted us up, and Hans “Muppet Treasure Island” Zimmer composed and produced the score. Unappreciated musicians both – MTI is an incredible score, regardless of what you think of the movie. Pfeiffer, Martin, Short, and Fiennes do their own singing in this one (oddly enough, not vocal talent and acclaimed narcissist Kilmer) and the rest are vaguely recognizable substitute voices. Ofra Haza (Moses’ mother and grown-up sister) sets the emotional tone for this lovely, epic music, and Pfeiffer and Sally Dworsky eat up the big climactic “When You Believe” – oh man! Schwartz is a fairly lousy playwright but a scorcher for complicated lyrics and Biblical content (despite Pocahontas)…anyway I didn’t write this review until I had grooved on the score LOUD, just to get the feeling back. It worked! I got all misty again! I didn’t even cry in Saving Private Ryan!

Soundtrack album warning: There are two “companion albums” to avoid AND the actual motion picture score rudely interrupts itself with POP tracks. Thankfully, these only ruin the credits of the film, but they are stuck in so you can’t have that Disney convenience of them all being grouped at the end so you can just hit stop. So see the movie, buy the CD immediately (like I did) and skip tracks 1, 16, 18, and 19. Unusually, Amy Grant’s cover of the River Lullaby doesn’t make me want to burn down Dreamworks.

Dreamworks may have lost in the Antz vs Bug’s Life battle (well-fought) but the jury is still out on Mulan (ancient hero, gorgeous movie) vs. Moses (ancient hero, gorgeous movie) – and Disney’s monopoly on the animated/musical Oscars is finally over. Did I mention it’s GORGEOUS?

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/18/98
Time in minutes 99
Director Simon Wells, Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner
Studio DreamWorks

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I realize a lot of people out there don’t go see “cartoons” thinking they’re for kids, but anyone reading this who still thinks that in the New Disney Renaissance has obviously not been keeping up. (Side note: All those Bugs Bunny cartoons are for adults too) After The Lion King, Disney pumped out the embarrassingly vapid and honkified Pocahontas, and then the unfairly lambasted Hunchback of Notre Dame and Hercules gave all the appearances that Disney was losing its touch. Without going into a diatribe about the virtues of Hercules and Hunchback (see old reviews), I want to say to you now – Mulan is really excellent.

My only gripe is the obnoxious perma-bend to commercialism that Disney feels it needs in order to keep its world-famous animation department going – the hideous pop-radio-ready song. Mulan’s greatest crime is attempting – at the VERY end – to insert this into an otherwise beautiful, elegant classic. It’s only a couple of minutes, though, and by then Mulan has won you over.

Ming-Na Wen (of ER and The Single Guy, oh and the Joy Luck Club) voices Mulan, a legendary Chinese character who saves China to defend her family’s honor. In this era of Riot Grrrls and Girl Power, she’s timely, but she also still believably exists in the strict patriarchal society of ancient China. She doesn’t do her own singing, but Lea Salonga vocally matches her nicely. The vocal cast is kind of bizarre – B.D. Wong and Harvey Fierstein and Eddie Murphy, Miguel Ferrer (as chilling Shan-Yu, leader of the Huns), Pat Morita, and George Takei, among others. B.D. Wong’s singing is taken care of by Donny Osmond. Yes, that Donny Osmond. But he’s not a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll – he sounds great – all that Technicolor Dreamcoat stuff, you know.

The songs are by Matthew “Breaka My Stride” Wilder, (who sings Ling) and score by Jerry Goldsmith, and it’s nice, pleasant, exciting when it needs to be, but not remarkable. Alan Menken is still the reigning king of toe-tapping Disney musicals. I was pleased that there was a minimum of precious sidekick character comedy relief moments – most of the comedy is handled by the human characters. Mushu the little dragon guardian (Eddie Murphy), whose exaggerated ethnicity is jarringly out of place in Hun-plagued China, but he is not as abrasive as one would expect.

The biggest joy of Mulan is the animation. A picky anime fan friend of mine appreciated the smoothness and the flow, which I deemed a great compliment coming from a Disney detractor. I loved the graceful lines, the amazing vistas and the judicious use of airbrushing. The computer generated stuff is obvious just in that there is no way it was done by hand, but it blends elegantly. Elegant is the word I would use for the whole movie – woo, and I did a few paragraphs ago – how sloppy of me! You may have seen a shot from the preview where her face is reflected in a sword and the sword is moving – you can see tiny details like a reflection dancing over moving metal, wispy cherry blossoms and cloud-covered mountains – oooh it’s very pretty! The last 3rd of the movie is all huge Ben-Hur scale visuals – wow!!!

It’s sweeping and epic and entertaining and it’s actually a full 90 minutes, packed with plot and action. Sheng, the captain of her soldiers, is WOOF hunky while Mulan is slim, androgynous, but never unfeminine inside.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 6/29/98
Time in minutes 87
Director Tony Bancroft, Barry Cook
Studio Walt Disney

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I know, I should have known I would hate a Don Bluth movie, but it looked so promising. After some industry input from my animator friends, I can express my feelings more accurately, but please know that all the emotions were already there.

This movie is boring, horribly animated, and the villain could have been cut from the movie and nothing would change, plot wise. Meg Ryan should never ever be allowed to do voice over work again. The songs were short, weird and unhummable, expect the December song from the music box. The mix of computer animation and hand drawn was jarring. One would think that animation technology outside Orlando would be relatively even planed but the faces looked like they were underwater, the movements were clearly based on live action reference models (who I thought acted very well, actually – more natural movements than the similarly modeled Snow White), and did I mention how much I hated the way they overused computer pieces – in Aladdin, I had to look to see computer versus hand drawn, they fused so naturally – here the jerky hands hold the smoothly, eerily floating objects that didn’t need to be CGI in the first place!

Hank Azaria’s Bartok, John Cusack’s Dimitri (I could guest host the Rosie O’Donnell show and just gush about both those guys!), Kelsey Grammer’s Vladimir, Angela Lansbury’s Dowager Duchess, and Christopher Lloyd’s Random Rasputin were well voiced, acted to the limits of the script, and those who sang, did well. The singing voice for Anya (I apologize, miss, for not getting your name – Bluth only features the talking voices in the picture gallery) was quite lovely.

I couldn’t help but wish the movie had been live action all the way through. I did very much enjoy the fact that while they are in Paris, all the backgrounds are done in Impressionist style.

PS The Romanovs were all shot to death in a field, not escaping, waving from a train. Don’t tell the kiddies!

Now my soapbox. I am all too cognizant of the state of live action musicals and animated movies as an art form and as a lucrative film investment. Animators are dying for work and all they have is claptrap like this and Quest for Camelot if they are lucky. Too many suits out there think all the world wants is an inane plot to justify the drawing of it, and that is enough. Kids have never been that stupid and they will never be. Disney is getting the short end with movies like Hercules and the Hunchback of Notre Dame – they modify the original story, I concede, but taken as individual pieces, both movies are very strong for adults and children. Most studios out there don’t realize the cash cow for animation that is good. Has anyone noticed the ratings the Simpsons, King of the Hill, Nickelodeon cartoons, and South Park get? MAKE GOOD CARTOONS.

As for movie musicals, executives are constantly shocked when they change or take out the songs, alter the story, and pack it with dubbed over faces and why we think movie musicals don’t work. People, they can work if the filmmaker understands the difference between stage and screen and the executives leave the masterwork alone. Despite the regrettable cuts made for the movie, rent The Wiz and see what I am talking about.
OK. GO see Anastasia to support to creation of animated movies, but better yet, write your local congressperson and demand that Hollywood (especially Don Bluth) be forbidden to screw the medium up any more.
For all you Bartok fans out there, “Hey Fred, I need a tequila!”

MPAA Rating G
Release date 11/14/97
Time in minutes 94
Director Gary Goldman, Don Bluth
Studio 20th Century Fox

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Hercules (1997)

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For you fuddy duddies out there who dismiss animated features as “kid’s stuff,” you must have been living under a rock these last 8 years or so – Disney, Nickelodeon, Fox, HBO, all these studios have been producing cartoons that appeal to adults. Hercules is a perfect example – it has all the fun mythological stuff to hook the kids, cute baby Pegasus, familar myths and legends stories, and Disney’s prerequisite BEAUTIFUL animation.

Alan Menken, shaking off the extremely wrongful snub for Best Score at the Oscars last year, composes a fun bopping score much more along the lines of his Little Shop of Horrors than Hunchback of Notre Dame or Beauty and the Beast. The Greek chorus is a girl group style chorus who are worked into the action in truly clever ways only possible with animation, and of course anachronisms abound (as in Aladdin). Best of all is all the clever, knowing, yet squeaky-clean humor that will FLY over the kids’ heads.

James Woods voices a smarmy Hollywood agent/used car salesman version of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, so he’s no nightmare-inducing Queen from Snow White, but he is definitely bad – but very very funny. Herc himself is sympathetic and developed in a way that a comparable live action hero just isn’t these days. The jokes are actually so fast and furious I am going to have to see it again to catch them all! And yes, I will pay full price again! The soundtrack is not as strongly standalone as Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, but it fits perfectly within proper Greek theatre parameters – only adults would appreciate that.

Michael Bolton is the only blemish on this shiny urn. But hey, it’s only during the credits!

It’s fast and fun, it’s a short movie with lots packed into it (voice talents include Matt Frewer aka Max Headroom, Bobcat Goldthwait, Charlton Heston, Rip Torn, Tate Donovan, and Danny DeVito, among others of course). Amusing stabs at Space Jam (shudder) and the present day iconization of the strangest things, not to mention self-mocking Disney merchanidising mania, will keep the grownups interested, and may even help them save some money at the Disney store.

It’s a cool movie and really very satisfying. Full Price Feature with a drink (it’s short, you won’t need to go to the bathroom) and popcorn.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 7/9/1997
Time in minutes 86
Director Ron Clements, John Musker
Studio Walt Disney

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Cats Don't Dance

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To head off any commentary:

I like animated movies, and I am 27 years old. I too thought this was some stupid-looking knockoff when I first became aware of it.

On with the review. My friend Tom, who is an animator by trade, recommended this movie to me, and I generally trust his movie-going instincts. Now, it’s no Toy Story, nor is it Meet The Feebles, but it is actually quite entertaining, very well executed, and interesting.

On some scenes I thought, “There is no way a kid could catch all these jokes” – there are scads of adult jokes and plenty of kid friendly ones too, but nothing so lame as anything in the ABC prime time lineup. The music (by Randy Newman, the man who ruined Toy Story for me) was nice and toe-tapping, the artwork was really very interesting – if you suffered through Space Jam, you HAVE to see this movie just to restore your faith in animated physical comedy. What Warner Brothers *used* to be, in their finest moments, Cats Don’t Dance comes close enough.

It’s about a tabby named Danny (voiced by Scott Bakula – oh boy. But he can sing!) who comes to Hollywood in the 40’s with a dream to be in the movies – only Hollywood would never let an animal perform song and dance. He meets up with a bunch of other animals who tell him to give up, and basically talks them out of their bad attitude and everybody’s happy.

One of the best parts of the film is the villain, a Shirley Temple-meets-Joan Crawford child star with a giant ape of a manservant, Max – who is really really really funny. She is everything bad about Hollywood and she’s great.

It’s really very true to the old school of Warner Toons (it’s a Warner Picture, as well!) and for all you out there in the dark who are still mad at how Bugs Bunny has ruined his formerly cool image, I think you will appreciate it. I did. The kids in the audience really liked it too – they were quiet, but I heard one say, “Can we see it again!!!!!” and another clapped and clapped. For you fuddy duddies out there who think cartoons are for kids, I don’t know when the last time you saw a cartoon was, but movie cartoons have never been for kids. Classic Bugs Bunny shorts were made for adults and the 90’s wave of Disney treasures, while marketed for kids, are definitely adult-savvy. Drop your “I’m too old for this nonsense” façade and go enjoy yourself. Movie musicals are practically dead except in animated form, and really, after all the live-action dreck that passes for cinema these days, you will appreciate the thought, planning and care that goes into these films. Animation is not just Scooby Doo! Space Jam is a painful exception, made by fuddy duddies who think animation is for kids. Do NOT see Space Jam. I would be overjoyed to make you a list of the good ones.

MPAA Rating G
Release date 5/19/1997
Time in minutes 76
Director Warner Bros.
Studio Mark Dindal

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Orgazmo / Cannibal the Musical

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Orgazmo is not an NC17 movie. I actually saw this at a test screening in June or July and signed a paper saying I was not a reviewer and that I would not tell anyone what I thought. Well the freakin movie is released now, all bets are off. The friend I saw the movie with agreed with me that there was nothing NC17 about the movie, but it was likely the church would picket it. Well, it is certainly, from a religious right standpoint, more worthy of picketing than The Last Temptation of Christ, but it’s not very harmful. I could be wrong, coming from my background, but I also don’t picket movie theatres – I tell you what to spend and then I let you make the choice.

It is a silly, funny, pleasant movie about a Mormon (Trey Parker) who accidentally becomes a porn star, Orgazmo. It has no real nudity at all but LOTS of very graphic talk the likes of which I had forgotten since my college days. It is very very very sarcastic in its representation of religion in general and more specifically, the church of Jesus Christ and his Latter Day Saints, aka The Mormons. To Trey Parker (yes, that Trey Parker, the cute one)’s credit, Mormons are not depicted as evil, like many church bashing comedies tend to do, but they are depicted as hopelessly out of touch with their bodies and therefore with reality or fun. However you will take that, do, but Orgazmo is still no NC 17 movie by a long shot. There is more skin on Melrose Place and more graphic talk…well, OK, nowhere else. But it’s just talk. It’s also a great parody of the silly fringe genre porno movies, the ones that turn out material like Edward Penishands, and Grosse Pointe Spankings.

The concept of the film, a Mormon “accidentally” becoming a porn star, is quite silly, and there are no boners, er bones about that. It is very silly, and quite funny and quite uplifting, too, in it’s hell-in-a-handbasket way. If you don’t know what a choda is (and our test audience almost universally did not, despite the star’s sidekick being named ChodaBoy), it’s the perineum, aka the ’tain’t. Look it up. I am alarmed to admit that I recognized some genuine porn actors in the movie with cameos and one even with the coveted role of the Sperminator or some such bad guy. Well, I do have a male roommate! Porn happens. Knowing that these people were actual porn stars, however, lent the film a cachet I am certain it did not intend – that of pretender to the Boogie Nights throne, a gentle movie about the rigors of the porn industry. I dug it overall, it’s just not all that good. Better than your average Troma film, that is certain.

Re-released only a month or so earlier, Cannibal the Musical (another Trey Parker and Matt Stone venture from a few years back) is another example of simple comedy turned merely amusing. It’s silly and definitely low rent, just for laughs, but also kind of endearing. An 1883 band of explorers vanishes and only one man survives, and he tells his tale of woe from jail, largely in song and flashback, as would be expected. Parker has a nice singing voice, actually, and it’s hard to imagine Mr. Garrison being much of a singer. Unlike what I heard about Baseketball, Cannibal and Orgazmo are only using the lads’ fame to get bankrolled, not suck in audience hoping to hear a Cartman impression. I predict Orgazmo and Cannibal will eventually get some play on cable and then win their following, as the silly, enjoyable but still probably pretty offensive future cult favorites they seem destined to become.

MPAA Rating BC-17-language, drug use, crude sexual humor, blasphemy, what else?
Release date 10/23/98
Time in minutes 90
Director Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Studio October Films

Cannibal the Musical
MPAA Rating R-violence, drug use, brief nudity I think too
Release date 1996
Time in minutes 92
Director Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Studio October Films

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Waiting for Guffman

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Now, before I get started, I want to point out to those who are thinking, “Isn’t she a little biased to be writing this review?” that, yes, I am. I had the privilege of 2 weeks on the set of this film, which is why I waited until I saw it again last night before I wrote a review. Knowing stuff they cut out, I was disappointed and frustrated with the released version, but on a more objective viewing, I feel I can safely say that this movie will appeal to people who
find humor in the following venues:

Small towns
Community Theatre
Bad Theatre
Mock Documentaries
Dry, deadpan humor

If this stuff is not your cup of tea, the 82 minutes selected for your viewing pleasure (from 60+ hours of footage!) will probably just float on by. If you are like me, however, you will find it very funny – there are understanding smiles kind of humor, and laugh out loud kind of humor.

It’s a mock documentary, in the tradition of Spinal Tap and Smile, of a small town, Blaine, in Missouri putting on a musical for it’s 150th birthday. Christopher Guest stars and directs, and with Eugene Levy (of SCTV fame) wrote the outline around which the actors improvised all their lines (except those in the actual musical). Levy is in it as well, as a not-funny dentist-cum-actor, as are Parker Posey (an indie film favorite), Fred Willard (Spinal Tap, anything Martin Mull has ever done), Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice, SCTV, The Home Alone movies), and many more faces you will recognize from film and TV. You can see me, too!

Anyway -Corky St. Clair (Chris Guest) hopes to attract the eye of a Broadway producer, and they mount this ridiculous show, which chronicles high points in Blaine’s history. Blaine has been visited by a UFO, been the Footstool manufacturing captial of the world, among home to some great characters, improvised by everyone. The songs in the show were written by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer of Spinal Tap fame. It’s gently amusing and not at all mean spirited. I myself recommend it highly! It’s had great reviews too and a great web page – I can’t quite say full price feature because it’s not quite the pure genius of Spinal Tap or Living in Oblivion.
But there is the bonus of looking for me! :) I counted last night – I am in four scenes but there are 7 shots. One is a stretch but the first person who can name all seven shots will win….something!*

*prize may vary due to geographical location of the winner
Note: as of August 2010 this prize has yet to be collected.

MPAA Rating R – language
Release date 1/31/97
Time in minutes 84
Director Christopher Guest
Studio Columbia Pictures

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That Thing You Do

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Dismissed as fluff by critics and audiences alike, That Thing You Do is perched delicately on the pop culture crest of rock and roll as fad and lifestyle, jazz as high art and street art, and the first wave of the one hit wonders. First time feature film writer/director Tom Hanks does not make the Woody Allen mistake of casting himself as the lead in a role he was so clearly meant to play. Instead he casts new(ish) face Tom Everett Scott as the Tom Hanks guy, a good hearted, artistic, sensitive guy who is also sensible and gentlemanly. The catchy title song was played a thousand times a day on the radio in 1996 and maybe that kept everyone away. If so, it is their loss.

It’s not just good because it’s an exuberant breath of fresh air and has great production design. It’s good because it takes a tale of naïve ambition and incredible good fortune and turns it into a perfect time capsule parable of its time, with fleshy characters and themes of success versus fame versus art, and the marriage of jazz and rock and roll.

Hanks’ unerring eye cast then-obscure and now-desirable stars as Ethan Embry, Steve Zahn, Tom Everett Scott, and Jonathan Schaech, who fulfill the boy band credo of four different types to appeal to all different folks, with easy, natural chemistry. And then he taught them to play their instruments over 5 weeks. Liv Tyler’s groupie girlfriend, in those innocent pre-Rolling Stone days, adds poignancy. Hanks makes this big splashy colorful movie feel like an intimate indie film.

It’s a story that was lived out hundreds of times in the 1964 in which it was set (with impeccable detail), and again in the mid-eighties after the next major rock musical innovation. Instead of jazz, the 1980’s had electronica scoop every one hit wonder out of the bars and bowling alleys of America and England.

Sheer, pure teenage joy is difficult to sum up in words, let alone successfully recreate with a team of 200 union artists. The scene that brings That Thing You Do home for me is the scene where their song gets its first radio airing. I won’t tell you any more, in case you haven’t seen it, but it is a sequence like that which brings us to the movie theatres.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 10/4/96

Time in minutes 108

Director Tom Hanks

Studio 20th Century Fox