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Elaine May (#110 of 8)

Summer of ‘87: Ishtar: Truth As a Dangerous Business

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Summer of ‘87: <em>Ishtar</em>: Truth As a Dangerous Business
Summer of ‘87: <em>Ishtar</em>: Truth As a Dangerous Business

[Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in our annual “Summer of…” series, copresented by Aaron Aradillas, Jamey DuVall and Jerry Dennis of Blog Talk Radio’s Movie Geeks United! Ishtar was released in theaters on May 15th, 1987.]

Here’s a conspiracy theory for you: Ishtar is intentionally terrible. Director Elaine May, one half of the team that founded American improv, is too smart a writer to be this unintentionally inept. Numerous lines and gags support this notion, and the almost universally reviled Ishtar plays like a career suicide note. Here is a writer who no longer wants to direct, so she constructs a bomb with a self destruct sequence initiated by the equipment projecting her movie. This “goodbye, cruel world” aims to be a clever kiss-off à la George Sanders; instead it’s closer to Delroy Lindo’s famous graffiti in Spike Lee’s Clockers: “Bitch, you is dead.”

Summer of ‘86: Tarred and Feathered: Howard the Duck

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Summer of ‘86: Tarred and Feathered: Howard the Duck

Universal Pictures

Summer of ‘86: Tarred and Feathered: Howard the Duck

Bad reputations can follow films and their makers for years (even decades) after the initial theatrical release. Sometimes this stigma is completely unwarranted, like with Elaine May’s scathing and brilliant absurdist comedy Ishtar. But in other cases, a film can actually high jump past their shit-status by leaps and bounds, cresting into a completely new realm defined by non-verbal astonishment.

Howard the Duck is one such cinematic atrocity. Audiences and critics knew it was terrible in August of 1986 when Lucasfilm and Universal Pictures released the film, and I damn well know it in 2011 having recently suffered through its nearly 2-hour runtime. Willard Huyck’s clumsy melding of comedy, science fiction and film noir is so misguided you have to wonder if the filmmakers even understood the genres they were referencing. So if Howard the Duck has a rightful place in the canon of worst films ever, why the hell would anybody volunteer to write about it?

On Rich Girl Cinema: Lena Dunham’s Tiny Furniture and Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere

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On Rich Girl Cinema: Lena Dunham’s <em>Tiny Furniture</em> and Sofia Coppola’s <em>Somewhere</em>
On Rich Girl Cinema: Lena Dunham’s <em>Tiny Furniture</em> and Sofia Coppola’s <em>Somewhere</em>

I first became aware of Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture when Glenn Kenny posted about how, during an interview, Dunham thoughtlessly knocked James Mason in Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life (1956). Consequently, I was not exactly in a receptive state of mind for Tiny Furniture, especially following in the wake of a consistent little avalanche of press coverage on the film culminating in a New Yorker profile on Dunham and a round of “special” screenings all over town before the movie landed at the IFC Center. No film or filmmaker needs this type of overexposure; the overdone publicity will help Tiny Furniture get known and seen, but it is also going to alienate a lot of people in advance, and I would have to include myself among the preemptively alienated. So when I finally watched Dunham’s movie, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a fairly sharp comedy about a certain artsy social group that leaves a lot of things open to individual interpretation. The day before I saw Tiny Furniture, I watched Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, a movie that also comes from a place of privilege, as Dunham’s film does, but of a very different kind.