Movie Time: Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

I seem to getting known as an “influencer” about movies. Well, me and a couple million other people. So, rather than wait for another screener to come around, or to be added to the Rotten Tomatoes reviewer panel, maybe I can discuss an older movie I picked out to watch.

There is among us popular culture mavens a desire to hold up some of worst performers to practice in the entertainment field. Perhaps we do this not so much to ridicule inadequate actors who are long dead and not able to defend themselves. Perhaps we want to celebrate the fact that against all odds, these people made “art” that has survived, that has flown in the face of homogenized corporate entertainment behemoths. Okay, perhaps we like to experience people who are less talented than ourselves.

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Movie Time: The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Poster for "The Man Who Killed Don Quixote"

Can’t hide it: I’ve been an avid fan of Terry Gilliam’s work since his cutout animations for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Sometime in the 1980’s, my college roommate Tim and I did a paper on Gilliam’s three latest movies at the time: Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Münchhausen. Regrettably, we lost that paper to the mists of time and maybe a Commodore 64 floppy disk.

So, I have followed the long and complex history of Gilliam’s attempt to make The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. At first Gilliam planned to make this a time-travel fantasy. In the original script, marketing executive Toby Grisoni (Johnny Depp) would end up replacing Sancho Panza as Don Quixote’s squire. But the movie’s filming was beset by a nearly comic sequence of misfortunes. The actor playing Don Quixote took ill, the location was too close to an Air Force base, and then it flooded. Soon the completion bond agency took over, and shut the movie down. Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe, who had been filming the standard “Making of…” supplement, turned the disaster into the documentary Lost in La Mancha (2002).

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Movie Time: The Banana Splits

The Banana Splits Cut Up Again


Warner Brother Home Entertainment provided me with a free copy of the Blu-Ray I reviewed in this blog post. The opinions I share are my own.

Back in February, there was a news item on various TV and cartoon oriented boards that a movie was in the works featuring the Banana Splits. For anybody under the age of 55, these were four live-action costumed characters who hosted a “Laugh-In” comedy and cartoon show on Saturday mornings, starting in 1968. Only there would be a twist: the Banana Splits movie would be a “made-for-TV splasher flick!”

This provoked the usual comment section outrage. Mostly along the lines of “How dare they do this to my cherished childhood memories!” Well, yeah, I liked the show too, when I was a kid. But like a lot of these people, I rarely gave a second thought to my “cherished childhood memory” over the intervening 50 years. Besides, it seemed like a waste of effort to put Bingo, Fleegle, et al, in a pedestrian slasher movie. Maybe it would have a twist that would turn the genre on its ear, like the reimagined “Flinstones” and other Hanna-Barbera comic books DC Comics put out a while back.

When I was offered a preview copy of the movie, I said “send it on,” hoping to find a surprising new twist on a couple of tired genres.

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Movie Time: Untogether

Jamie Dorman and Jemima Kirke in "Untogether." Source: Freestyle Digital Media
Jamie Dorman and Jemima Kirke in “Untogether.”

Once more, I get to expand my “influencer” tag by reviewing a movie.

“Untogether” marks the directorial debut of writer Emma Forrest. It opens February 8 at the AMC South Barrington 30, following its premiere at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.

The romance follows a couple who fall into bed together, then try to decide whether they want to be a couple. Nick (Jamie Dornan [50 Shades of Grey]) admits he broke up with his previous girlfriend only upon meeting Andrea (Jemima Kirke [Girls]), at a party. Despite not wanting not to commit too soon, Andrea takes one of Nick’s shirts home with her, and Nick starts deleting other women from his phone’s contacts.

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Movie Time: American Street Kid

Today I am adding a “Movie Reviewer” hat to my rack. It seems my social media profile somewhere qualified me for this, so I have had the occasional offer of screeners for upcoming films. 

“American Street Kid” had a showing December 11 at Chicago’s Regal Webster Place, in advance of a wider run later. It’s a documentary that takes the often ignored subject of homeless children, here living in the streets of Los Angeles, around Hollywood and the Venice beach area.

Director Michael Leoni himself was rescued from a life on the street by friends and a girlfriend. He wrote a play based on his experiences, “Playground.” During its run, he discovered some homeless girls had been coming to see the play several times, telling him its was a realistic reflection of their own lives. But shortly after meeting Leoni, each girl was found dead on the streets.

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Ranting & Raving: Kung Fu Panda

Took the boy the the movies for the first time in months, and we went to see Kung Fu Panda.

I can admit to liking it much more than any previous animated product from Dreamworks. The Cartoon Brew blog invited comments from those who saw it (SPOILER ALERTS!), and I posted mine. Here they are, too, because why am I filling up other people’s web pages while neglecting my blog for months at a time:

Yeah, I liked it quite a lot, but the odd thing is, my 7-year-old boy was much more excited about it going in than afterward. Maybe the action sequences were way too fast-moving and chaotic for him to enjoy?

I was worried about Po keeping up the fanboy culture references throughout the picture (”authentic battle scarring”?), but that settled down pretty early. Did appreciate the references to OTHER kung fu films, just cause the whole genre keeps building on previous pictures. And for once in a Dreamworks cartoon, the characters had skeletons and for the most part their mouths stayed attached to their faces. I also liked how they led the audience to believe they were going to explain how a panda had a goose for a father, but faked out with a more important plot point.

That the Furious Five had little to do but get defeated seems like an appropriate trope of kung fu movies. It also seemed like a “natural” plot development that they get to like Po when he demonstrates that he’s at least good at making noodles. and yes, there had to be five animals to represent the five popular “animal” styles of kung fu, so they’re not a slapdash collection of animals.

Oh yeah, and only one person gets kicked in the cajones, and no fart gags anywhere. That’s better than most recent Disney features.

Now for my nits: while we may like to think Dreamworks is finally getting it right, before the film we were “treated” to the trailer for “Madagascar 2.” The old Dreamworks cliches are there: acres of butt shots, overworking of a 10-year old dance hit from the first movie, incongruous pop culture refs, homophobia-based humor, character designs all based on molded Jell-o, wacky held poses instead of character movement, the latter from the “Madagascar Penguins,” the most annoying spinoff from a feature cartoon since “Gabby.”

And in the lobby of the theatre, a monitor ran a continuous loop for the trailer from “Beverly Hills Chihuahuas,” featuring the theme that will certainly be torturing adults during its year of heavy Radio Disney airplay:

“Ay Chihuahua, Ai Chihuahua!
Ay Chihuahua, Ai Chihuahua!
Ay Chihuahua, Ai Chihuahua!…” ad infinitum.

But I was glad to have seen KFP without any sign of a “Shrek 4” trailer yet.

I vote for “Old” Vader

Before I was a comics, Star Trek and beer geek, I was a stamp collector. So I still keep up with new issues and buy cool ones to address my mail. And I know some of the rules about who can be honored on a stamp.

The primary rule has been that no living person is honored on a US stamp. Traditionally, they waited until someone had been dead for ten years before putting out a stamp, except for U.S. Presidents. There have been exceptions: Walt Disney’s portrait was postified in 1968, two years after he died. Gemini astronaut Ed White’s 1965 space walk was commemorated in 1967, a few months after he died in the Apollo 1 fire. And there’ve been several stamps showing the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon, despite Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin still being very much with us.

In some cases, the 10-year rule was more strictly enforced, leading to interesting omissions. In 1989, a block was issued honoring four of the five Best Picture nominees for 1939. They showed John Wayne from “Stagecoach,” Gary Cooper from “Beau Geste,” Judy Garland from “The Wizard of Oz,” and Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh from “Gone With the Wind.” All of these actors passed the “10 years gone” test, but the fifth nominee, “The Philadelphia Story,” was not honored since their stars, Kathryn Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, were still around. There’s a lot more excruciating minutiae I could go into, but I’ll just note that recently the official window was reduced to five years.

Now that whole rule seems to fly out the window in 2007 with the issuance of a sheet commemorating “Star Wars'” 30th anniversary, It’s a good profit maker for the Postal Service after all: every stamp sold to collectors and not used to mail something is a 39¢ profit. But let’s take a look: over a dozen characters from the six movies, most of them portrayed by actors who are very much among us.

I suppose we’re seeing a new rule at work here. The stamp design is actually paintings of the characters, not photographs of the actors. That just might open the door to a whole new range of subjects for future issues.
Meantime, the post office is also taking votes on which of the ten stamps from the sheet will be issued later as an individual stamp. Absent one Jar Jar Binks on this sheet, we must throw our support to “old” Darth Vader. Emperor Palpatine will get his due with the passing of his acolyte, Darth W. Bush.

Published again!

Yes, I do understand the rules of blogging. You’ve got to keep posting fresh stuff every day or so. Then people will come to read, then maybe they’ll click the ad links. Maybe when we move to a new house I can find the time.

But now, I must finally make time to post this bit of personal news: I’ve been published! Yes, I not only play a writer on the blogosphere, but I do it in real life! And sometimes I even get paid — just not this time.

Almost two years ago, one of my college professors, Dr. John Lawrence, e-mailed that he was co-editing a book on Star Wars fandom, and that he immediately thought of me. I’ve always thought of myself more as an unreconstructed Trekkie, so my ideal topic was the current fan backlash against the newer “prequel trilogy” films (cough! cough! *Jar-Jar*). As you can see from the link just to the right, the book has finally been published — it was originally to come out during the original hype for “Revenge of the Sith,” but here it is, some 9 months after the DVD came out, instead. Such is the academic publishing world. The fact that I kept sloughing off my article until I dragged myself kicking and screaming to its completion only a few weeks after deadline had nothing to do with its lateness. Just check out “Finding the Force of the Star Wars Franchise: Fans, Merchandise, & Critics.” Both editors keep flattering me that my little humorous piece was worth the wait. You can see for yourself with this PDF preview of my article. But of course I need to strike now while the book is fresh, so I’ve signed on as an Amazon Associate so you can buy the book directly from this link and I get an eentsy commission. Because in this line of writing, your usual form of compensation is a contributor’s copy (but I can tell you there’s also a paperback edition there). Can you guess that I’m also sticking in as many links to other Amazon stuff as I can? You betcha!

Meantime, the editor remind me that they have their own blog about the book itself, at

Jake & Elwood Do a Quarter

This week, the Chicago Sun-Times is running a special report on the 25th anniversary of the release of The Blues Brothers. Click here to go there now!

Read it now? Okay. In 1980 I was DJ’ing a novelty record show at Iowa State University called “The Mutant Patrol.” John Candy got scheduled to do a comedy performance, “An Evening With Johnny LaRue.” As the guy playing the comedy records, I got to interview him on the air. It appears that by that time, the full impact of “The Blues Brothers” was not yet felt; about the only comment I could get out on it was his famous line “Orange whip? Orange whip?”

Oh, and “Johnny LaRue” was, of course, his most famous and slimiest character from SCTV. He was leaving that show to star in a forgotten sketch show called “Big City Comedy,” and had to leave the characters he had created for SCTV behind.

Worst Movie ever? (At least physically)

In one respect, yes. I saw Decasia over the weekend at Facets uptown. It�s kind of a �found film� project, compiled from film archives across the world, of old, unstable nitrate film in various stages of decomposition. It s indeed a little disturbing to watch. We see the images of people, sometimes barely discernable amid a swarm of flaked off emulsion, bubbles in the film itself, or images �solarizing� from an unstable fixed image. The scenes most commented on by critics has been one in which two boxers are sparring, but one of them is completely obliterated by a column of black streaks, leaving his partner to appear to be trying to hold back oblivion itself. Another scene shot at an amusement park shows a swirling miasma of emulsion on the left side of a frame, from which the cars of a whirlygig ride materialize. Given the premise of the movie, many less startling scenes take on an air of urgency. The films� subjects, who had done nothing more than walk in front of a movie camera years ago, now appear to be holding on to the last remnants of their souls. Even though these people likely died years ago, the film seems to represent the only trace of existence, now in danger of fading into oblivion. But again, this is due to director Bill Morrison’s choices in presenting and editing the film; most of the subjects went on to live their lives without concern for the film they were. Heck, some of them may even be still alive.

Only problem in seeing the film is that it was produced as a backdrop for contemporary dissonant muscal piece by Michael Gordon, kind of a Philip Glass wannabe. That kind of work is best heard in shorter pieces, and not always sober.

Still, I’ll willing to be confounded, challenged or frustrated by a movie. Just don’t insult me for forking over my money to see it.