Skip’s Quips: Spreading the Love for Gilliam’s ‘Munchausen’

Blog Sketch 082813I’m still sad about the fact that Terry Gilliam’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen flopped when it debuted about 25 years ago.

I’m sadder, however, that it seems to be overlooked when people talk about overlooked classics. They might mention Gilliam’s other great film, Time Bandits, but Munchausen? Pshaw! That one flies under the radar of the everything else flying under the radar.

It’s too bad, too, because Munchausen is a terrific movie. There’s hilarious, Monty Pythonesque comedy. Rollicking adventure. Fine (for the most part) acting. A lovely score. And gorgeous art direction, exemplified by a brilliant set piece involving Robin Williams as a truly loony King of the Moon whose head detaches from his body in search of metaphysical pleasures.

That’s wild stuff. And I love it. If you like Time Bandits (which I do as well) and haven’t seen Munchausen, I encourage you to do so. It’s hardly shown on TV for some reason, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find. Plus, you can play “Spot the Famous Actor/Actress” while watching it, so that should provide added value. Enjoy.

Skip’s Quips: Top (or Perhaps Bottom) 10 Worst Miscastings in Cinema

Blog Sketch 082813Yes, I’ve been thinking of this. There certainly has been a host of miscasting throughout the years in the movies. Yet none so much, to my mind, as the ones that follow. Here they are in descending order of badness; take a look and see if you agree.

10) Robin Williams as Peter Pan in Hook: A dreadful performance by the usually hilarious Williams as the now-grown-up Pan in a horrid reimagining of the classic tale. This is one that belongs in Neverland.

9) Anthony Hopkins as Richard Nixon in Nixon: Mr. Hopkins can do almost anything, but Tricky Dick was beyond his ken. Then again, it wasn’t completely his fault; a more tiresome, overblown film you’ll hardly find.

8) Meryl Streep as Julia Child in Julie & Julia: Just put on a bizarre accent and roll, right? Isn’t that the way to portray the seminal TV chef? Nope. It sure seemed like that was the plan in this awful film, which plodded its way to the ending like one staggers through an Escoffier-planned meal. Let the diner beware.

7) Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments: I never bought this one, despite its relegation to “classic” status. Not in my tablets. One has to wonder if Moses’ jaw was really that square. Surely his acting wasn’t.

6) Mel Gibson as Hamlet in Hamlet: At one time, I tried to convince myself that Gibson’s performance as the titular Shakespearean hero was interesting. Ah, those were the (naive) days. Really, it was a mannered, tedious portrayal in an otherwise decent film. Why, Franco Zeffirelli, why?

5) Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: Stop the insanity! I’m not sure if this backstory-driven reimagining of the Lewis Carroll book was director Tim Burton’s idea or not, but it didn’t work. Especially dreary was Depp’s misguided portrayal of said Hatter as a tragic figure. Repeat after me: Aargh! This was not frabjous casting.

4) Tony Curtis as the Viking Eric in The Vikings: A Viking by way of the Bronx. Can you say: “Riiiiiggghht.” Sorry, Tony, we love you, but not in this.

3) Nicol Williamson as Merlin in Excalibur: What a wrong, strange performance this is. Excalibur‘s an otherwise intriguing film, but I’ve always been puzzled by Williamson’s peculiar, sometimes–quiet-sometimes-loud-and-always-bizarre acting decisions as the legendary wizard. Odd and unconvincing portrayal.

2) Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in, what else, Cleopatra: Do you have a hard time getting through this picture? Don’t worry; everyone does. Central to this issue is Taylor’s performance. Ah, the grandeur that was Hollywood.

1) John Wayne as Genghis Khan in The Conqueror: Need I say more?

Setter’s ‘Spectives: ‘Smaug’ Lifts Spirits Despite Draggin’ at the End

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613So I saw The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug yesterday.

Well done … for the most part. It got a bit overdone toward the finale, what with all the running and jumping and dragon-escaping. And the abundance of chase scenes became somewhat exhausting. But in general, this is (as usual for director Peter Jackson) ace moviemaking, with memorable visuals, quick pacing, strong performances and a powerful score driving the picture. Plus, you’ve got a Gandalf-Sauron confrontation, barrel-riding galore and the wonderfully villainous Smaug crammed into it, so there’s no shortage of set pieces, while the entrance of the latter character is a testament to Jackson’s skill at providing good, old-fashioned suspense.

Like most quality movies, Desolation merits watching again. I’m curious to find out if it’ll lose its luster the second time or, like the Arkenstone, stay shiny after multiple viewings.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Wizards and Balrogs and Oscars, Oh, My!

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613It’s become trendy these days to knock The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, as well as draw unfavorable comparisons to its immediate predecessor, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—with the underlying suggestion that the era of taking these fantasy films seriously is over. We’ve grown out of that, right? We’d rather watch important flicks such as Lincoln from now on, no?

Perhaps some critics might. But I don’t. I thought Peter Jackson’s Hobbit was brilliantly done and see no reason to dismiss it because of its genre, length or resemblance to his cinematic adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s LOTR trilogy, which I adore as well. And I’m looking forward to the next hobbity installment, The Desolation of Smaug, which I’m sure will be much more entertaining than any prestigey part of Lincoln—and less pretentious to boot. I’ll venture to guess that any picture with a talking, fire-breathing dragon in it won’t be in the same “for your consideration” pool come Academy Awards time.

But that’s the problem. Return of the King set a precedent for CGI-filled fantasy films … and the awards folks have been reluctant to dip into that well since. Look at Guillermo del Toro’s spellbinding Pan’s Labyrinth, as great a movie as any that has appeared in the last two decades, yet it was stepped over at the Oscars some years ago for The Lives of Others. I gotta think the special effects were the deciding factor. They’re components that everyone wants to see at the movies—as long as no one thinks they can help create a work of art.

I don’t believe in that balderdash. It’s based on the idea that popular entertainment can’t be important, which has remained pervasive despite centuries of being disproven by everyone from Charles Dickens to Aaron Copland. Art isn’t restricted to any particular theme or genre; it’s restricted to quality. And I think The Hobbit makes that grade.

Do I think it’s the most fabulous film? Nope; it’s got script issues like almost every movie, and it does feel padded in parts. But by and large, it channels the stirring spirit of Jackson’s previous LOTR flicks, and that’s a worthy breed. I’d rather watch that any day of the week over Lincoln and won’t convince myself not to because it’s based on a fantasy novel.

“What does your heart tell you?” Aragorn asks Gandalf in Jackson’s Return of the King.

Not what Lincoln tells me, that’s for sure. And boy am I glad about that.

Skip’s Quips: In the Wake of Sacred Samurai

Blog Sketch 082813The last thing we need is another movie based on the story of the 47 ronin.

But now we have one … starring Keanu Reeves, no less. And seemingly reimagined, with all sorts of supernatural goings-on.

I think we should reimagine the Declaration of Independence, while we’re at it. And maybe the signing of the Magna Carta.

Yes, it’s a famous story, and famous stories deserve to be retold. But we’ve already had perfectly good movies made of this tale, helmed by directors ranging from Kenji Mizoguchi to Hiroshi Inagaki. Do we really need another version—especially one that appears to meld the stylized grotesquerie of 300 with the tiresome posturing of The Matrix?

Someone please give me a nice Zeami Noh play to immerse my brain in.

Hollywood has always tweaked history to make it more cinematically palatable. Movies have to be entertainment, and that sometimes means the events transpiring onscreen don’t quite match those in real life. Yet there’s a distressing trend nowadays to completely overhaul venerated stories from our past while adding extraneous details—such as over-the-top violence—to get the desired audience.

The point is being missed. And as that’s happening, the films lose their value.

A strong director can help make this bitter medicine go down. Quentin Tarantino certainly worked wonders with Inglourious Basterds, as flawed as that movie was. But these films are cinematic fantasies, merely “inspired by” rather than “informed by,” and any attention to historical detail, I feel, is irrelevant. They’re to authenticity as reality TV shows are to life.

Hopefully, one day, we’ll have a based-on-true-events film come out without the trappings of revisionism. Perhaps we need a story so hallowed that any adjustments would be taboo.

I can’t think of any, however. I already know nothing’s sacred.

Setter’s ‘Spectives: Wrath of the Mythology Fan

Setter Drawing for Blog 082613I have one thing to say to those bent on making films inspired by ancient mythology.

Stop the cinematic madness.

From Troy to Wrath of the Titans, most of the legend-minded flicks of late have been absolutely horrid, with lousy scripts, all-too-CGI-ish special effects and plodding direction. But their worst offense is the transformation of these exciting, insightful tales of yore into tedious, talky stories of bore. I’m sorry, but who gave anyone the right to say, “Hey, I think my contemporary, magic-free interpretation of The Iliad is better than Homer’s”? Hm?

It sure felt a lot slower, despite the abbreviated (from the original source material) running time.

The fact is, myths remain topical because they’re intriguing enough to say something to us after all these years. They don’t need any tweaking to stay scary, witty or disturbing. They’re good as they are.

This goes, by the way, for any reimagining of mythology from any culture—including the lamentable Thor, whose silly, made-for-the-modern-age superhero and evil nemesis Loki resemble their legendary Norse counterparts as much as Hagar the Horrible resembles Snorri Sturluson. Sadly, we’re due for another installment of this blah-riffic series, which only means one thing: Hollywood loves to reimagine ancient mythology.

But we knew that, didn’t we? Stop the cinematic madness, I say.