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John Landis (#110 of 7)

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

TCM Classic Film Festival

The 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

At the risk of invoking the spirit of the perpetually weary Lili Von Shtupp from Blazing Saddles, long before I ever hopped the red line train to Hollywood Boulevard in anticipation of the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival last Thursday night, I had already been beset by a heavy sense of festival fatigue. Such bemoaning might seem misplaced coming from someone who attends exactly one festival a year—this one. But after a noticeable slump last year, in my energy and in the level of the festival's programming overall, I had begun to worry that after eight TCMFFs in a row the dip in enthusiasm I'd registered last year might blossom into a full-on festival hangover before this year's fun had even had a chance to begin. However, as news of the specifics of the festival began to trickle out, there became apparent a reason to suspect, if not outright hope, that 2018 might provide a tonic to address the comparatively flat spirits which earmarked the previous gathering.

Summer of ‘89: Miracle Mile

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Summer of ‘89: <em>Miracle Mile</em>
Summer of ‘89: <em>Miracle Mile</em>

I used to think of Steve De Jarnatt’s magnificently oddball Miracle Mile as one of the most achingly romantic movies I’d ever seen. My younger self, experiencing it for the first time, saw it as a “boy meets girl” story spun out to its most rapturous extreme—a story of souls fused in the belly of nuclear fire. Many years and multiple viewings later, it feels a lot less straightforward. Roger Ebert closes his enthusiastic review of the film with an observation: “If there’s ever an hour’s warning that the nuclear missiles are on the way, thanks all the same, but I’d just as soon not know about it.” At one level, Miracle Mile is the story of a solipsistic young man’s attempt to make that decision for a woman he barely knows, using deception to selfishly separate her from family in what might be their last hour on earth. At another, it’s a perfect time capsule—its finger unerringly on the pulse of a society that had been taught not to let the threat of nuclear holocaust keep it up at night. But boy, those nightmares.

This one begins like a pleasantly hazy post-pubescent fever dream. Anthony Edwards, his star freshly ascendant off Revenge of the Nerds and Top Gun, plays musician and awkward romantic Harry Washello. In a languid opening montage at the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, he meets cute with the equally dorky Julie (a terrific Mare Winningham), hitting it off with the proto-Manic Pixie Dream Girl all afternoon. They resolve to meet after her late shift at an all-night diner on the Miracle Mile stretch of Wilshire Boulevard, but a missed alarm causes him to arrive too late to catch her. That’s when things take a shocking U-turn into the Twilight Zone, as Harry answers a call meant for someone else at the payphone outside the diner, only to hear that America’s nukes had been launched and the retaliatory strike will hit L.A. in an hour. Naturally, Harry sets out to retrieve his girl from her grandmother’s nearby apartment and escort her to a rooftop helipad, where a chopper would presumably take them to safety.

An Essential Entry in the Up-All-Night Canon: Dazed and Confused Turns 20

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An Essential Entry in the Up-All-Night Canon: <em>Dazed and Confused</em> Turns 20
An Essential Entry in the Up-All-Night Canon: <em>Dazed and Confused</em> Turns 20

Few directors are as enamored with the passage of time and the preservation of memory as Richard Linklater. From the episodic chronicling of a relationship in the Before trilogy and the real-time unfolding of the chamber play Tape to his upcoming Boyhood, which was filmed in vignettes over the last 12 years to reflect the aging of its protagonist, Linklater is primarily concerned with capturing specific moments of significance and preserving them like celluloid time capsules. To that end, Linklater’s teenage opus Dazed and Confused, a 1970s high-school snapshot that, on Oct. 10, celebrated its 20th birthday at the New York Film Festival, ideally and uniquely lends itself to an anniversary screening. And even if Linklater, who was present at the screening, joked in his intro that the film “never would’ve gotten into” NYFF when it was first released, it also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the most beloved and influential movies of the 1990s.

Summer of ‘88: Coming to America

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Coming to America</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Coming to America</em>

One of my most memorable and, in a way, profound early movie-watching experiences happened the first time I saw Eddie Murphy in Coming to America. By that point, the film was almost a decade old (I wasn’t even born when it opened in June 1988), part of the Golden Age of Murphy’s Hollywood career that included works such as 48 Hrs., Trading Places, and Beverly Hills Cop. Directed by John Landis and based on a story conceived by Murphy himself, it had a simple but brilliantly executed plot: Pampered African prince, Akeem, travels to Queens, New York, where he disguises his royal identity in order to find a bride who will, as he explains, “stimulate my mind, as well as my loins.”

Up until this point in the ’80s, Murphy’s on-screen roles were largely street-wise cops or grifters prone to witty one-liners, often pairing him with uptight Caucasian straight-men. Here, he was entering entirely new territory. Instead of a cop or a con man he was prince; he was the straight man, and for the first time, he was also the romantic lead. The role marked another important turning point in Murphy’s genesis as a comedic actor: It was the first time that he really began to experiment with makeup and prosthetics in the creation of multiple personae on screen. Randy Watson, lead singer of Sexual Chocolate, and Saul and Clarence, barbershop regulars, were all the progenitors of the kinds of characters we would come to know, for better or worse, in comedies including the successful remake of The Nutty Professor and the less warmly received Bowfinger and Norbit.

Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions Makeup

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Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Makeup
Oscar 2011 Winner Predictions: Makeup

It’s weird to think that this category has only been around since 1981, when Rick Baker won for his iconic makeup effects for John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London. His competition at the time? The late Stan Winston for Heartbeeps, not the worst film nominated for an Oscar that year, but still. Proving once again that they can look past the crap to see the beauty, AMPAS’s makeup branch rewarded Baker this year with his 11th nomination for his special makeup effects for The Wolfman—work that I found rather crude when I saw the film last February, though I’m willing to concede that my initial negative reaction should have been directed entirely at the film’s visual effects team. The Wolfman may not have the “prestige”—high or low—of past Best Makeup winners (among them Amadeus, Bettlejuice, Driving Miss Daisy, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day), or even its fellow nominees (the furrowed foreheads of The Way Back and Barney’s Version, by some accounts a worse film), but let us remember that previous winners in this category also include Harry and the Hendersons, The Nutty Professor, Men in Black, and Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas—all work by Rick Baker.

Will Win: The Wolfman

Could Win: The Way Back

Should Win: The Wolfman

Fear Itself: “In Sickness and in Health”

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<em>Fear Itself</em>: “In Sickness and in Health”
<em>Fear Itself</em>: “In Sickness and in Health”

Episode four of NBC’s Fear Itself brings together several “masters of horror” with director John Landis at the helm and Jeepers Creepers creator Victor Salva penning the script. Salva’s story plays like an old-fashioned radio play—a woman-in-peril melodrama filled with phony red herrings and a plot hook that immediately telegraphs its twist ending. Still, there’s a definite tongue-in-cheek tone to the script that suggests that Salva is knowingly playing with old formula while Landis brings his usual charm and energy to the telling of the tale.

As the title In Sickness and in Health suggests, the episode takes place during a wedding. Maggie Lawson and James Roday from the USA Network series Psych play the bride and groom, Samantha and Carlos. Samantha’s bridesmaids and childhood friends Ruthie (Sonja Bennett) and Kelly (Christie Laing) are supportive but concerned that their friend is rushing into marriage without knowing Carlos really well, and a mysterious note Samantha receives minutes before walking down the aisle causes particular alarm. It reads: “The person you are marrying is a serial killer.”