4/20/15

THE BAD NEWS BEARS & 5 MORE MOVIES THAT ARE SECRETLY ABOUT VIETNAM


I wrote a piece at IFC.com, originally titled "Holy shit, six movies I hadn't realized are totally about VIETNAM." They changed the title, but it's still pretty good. You can read it here. It's "smart", in a Cracked.com sort of way. 

Interestingly (well, interesting to no one but me) -- my college thesis was about Vietnam in popular memory, so this essay was a return to that. I barely graduated college because of my non-traditional thesis-lecture-show. So writing this essay about Vietnam movies felt very Rambo; but instead of returning to Vietnam I was going back to the treacherous landscape of media studies. "Do I get to win this time?" 

Lastly: I would make a case that GHOSTBUSTERS is about Reagan not dealing with the ghosts of Viet Nam. But I don't want to risk "ruining" someone's childhood with that theory. 

RELATED: 
My STAR WARS personal essay. (Don't worry, I don't argue that STAR WARS is the first pro-war film since John Wayne's THE GREEN BERETS.) 

4/15/15

Kid Pitches a Sequel to THE SHINING

Kids learn various bits of pop-culture, including references to the R-rated world of grown-up movies. On the playground my 7-year-old learned about THE SHINING. (Which he immediately recognized from a TREEHOUSE OF HORROR parody.) Anyway, my boy has an idea for sequel (I guess his friend didn't tell him about DOCTOR SLEEP.) 




4/3/15

Ripoff, Homage or Coincidence: OFFICE SPACE edition

Stephen Root's performance as Milton Wadkins -- is it Ernie Kovacs Percy Dovetonsils (which, may have been a parody of author Truman Capote?)

See for yourself and decide:




Office Space- Milton Scenes from Team Crystal on Vimeo.

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RELATED:

When twitter asks, I imagine it being said as Bill Lumbergh.


3/31/15

RICHARD NIXON AND THE LYING AUTHORITY FIGURES IN SOME OF MY FAVORITE MOVIES


Sharp suit, gray hair, crooked smile: one of the first character-types I became aware was this lying authority figure. I didn't know it when I was a child, but each of these minor villains are stand-ins for Richard Nixon. See here: 


Mayor Larry Vaughn from JAWS (1975) 
The Mayor makes his position clear: I'm not closing the beaches. We never learn Vaughn's political affiliations, but he's a classic portrait of an empty suit (scripted by counter-culture comedian Carl Gottlieb), spouting platitudes like "Amity, as you know, means friendship." His greed and denial are a deadly combination. He's an archetypical Nixon figure, knowingly lying to the public about a real danger. 

 Mr. Lewis Teague from POLTERGEIST (1982) 
There's a lot of scary stuff in POLTERGEIST: creepy clowns, carnivorous trees, a flying Hulk action figure. But none of these would be possible without Teague. He's the one who built the the Cuesta Verde houses on top of a cemetery -- and he only moved the headstones (not the bodies.) Teague is to the ghosts what Mayor Vaughn is to the shark; the enabler of evil. Again, I didn't realize it at the time, but he embodies the public's distrust of leaders after Watergate and Vietnam. 

Dr. James Kelloway in CAPRICORN ONE (1978) 
Years of playing Mark Twain prepared Hal Holbrook for one of my favorite film monologues: his deliberately slowly paced speech perfectly sets up the story of CAPRICORN ONE. Holbrook actually allows us to sympathize with the devious NASA scientist. True to the post-Vietnam era: He's not a bad man, but he does questionable things. 


D.A. Thomas Pain in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) 
Revisiting this cult favorite I figured the District Attorney fit the bill: He's threatens the freedom of the press and works with the police force to withhold information and cover up the murders of a Las Vegas vampire. And he's a silver-haired suit. The first Kolchak movie aired 5 months before the Watergate break-in, but he still counts! 

Dean Vernon Wormer in NATIONAL LAMPOON'S ANIMAL HOUSE (1978) 
In his 2006 memoir The Real Animal House author Chris Miller identifies the real-life inspirations for his stories of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. At the end of the book he defends Dartmoth College Dean Seymore, noting that the real-life Dean was not the source material for Wormer: "Nixon was Dean Wormer. Dean Seymore was always a great guy. And his wife is not Marion Wormer!" Thanks for clearing that up, Chris. [This seems like as good a place as any to mention that John Landis' first choice for the evil college dean was DRAGNET's Jack Webb. Mr. Webb turned it down because he thought the script poked fun at authority. Yeesh!]

* * * 


So there you have it. The Nixons of my youth. 

Full-disclosure: this blog post was written to be a footnote to another article I wrote about Vietnam movies for IFC.com


RELATED POSTS 

My Favorite Flask - Mrs. Wormer in Animal House

3/30/15

My Favorite Flask - Mrs. Wormer in ANIMAL HOUSE

Occasionally someone I've never met asks me to contribute writing work as a "pop culture expert." That's because I wrote a (mostly) satirical essay about being a "pop culture expert" and my name comes up when you google the damn phrase. (Read it here

One of the most recent requests came from a flask website looking for short entries about flasks in pop culture. Here's what I wrote.  


FLASK CAMEO: NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE

National Lampoon’s Animal House features all kinds of drinking, but one of the more pointed portrayals comes from Verna Bloom’s Mrs. Wormer.

As the wife of the evil college Dean, Marian Wormer is part of “the establishment”, but she doesn’t pass up an invitation to a frat house toga party. Mrs. Wormer arrives late (having just come from the “God-damn senior honors dinner”) and crashes her Buick station wagon in front of the Delta House. Before entering the party, she takes a long pull from the silver flask stashed in her purse.

In a booze-heavy movie, Mrs. Wormer is the only character to use a flask. The snobs from the Omega House drink (imported?) beer from ceramic German mugs, while the Delta slobs guzzle Jack Daniels straight from the bottle. But Mrs. Wormer’s thirst is something that’s kept concealed. The flask reflects a bored housewife’s double-life. Unlike the joyless villains in the movies, Mrs. Wormer has a vice (and not just screwing a college kid who’s almost old enough to be her son) – her drinking humanizes her and makes the Dean’s wife much more relatable.

The Animal House novelization includes Mrs. Wormer in the extended “Where Are They Now?” post-script, noting that she went on to five unsuccessful stints in A.A. Wherever she is now, her flask is probably with her. 
*  *  *
post-script: 
The editor was so happy with my writing, he sent me a free flask. I don't drink, so I'm including it as a trivia prize at Saturday's ZOMBIE show. Go here for details and tickets. 



3/29/15

10 Questions for Your Zombie Screenplay

Are you a zombie screenwriter? 

(That is, are you a screenwriter working on a zombie movie?)

Then here are some basic questions for you: 

1. RUNNING OR STAGGERING? 
Do your zombies run? Or do they stagger? 
Choose a side, mofo. 

3/28/15

NAME THAT ZOMBIE MOVIE: a cinema quiz

Here's a photo quiz to get you ready for KEVIN & MATT GEEK OUT ABOUT ZOMBIES
(Saturday April 4th at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers) 


Can you name the movies these zombies appear in? 

(Answers will appear in the comments next week.) 


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Get caught up on your zombie cinema with KEVIN & MATT GEEK OUT ABOUT ZOMBIES

A two-hour feast of zombie film footage and pop culture commentary.

featuring special guests: 
  • Brian Solomon (The Vault of Horror
  • Captain Cruella (Village Invasion Zombie Crawl)

KEVIN & MATT GEEK OUT ABOUT ZOMBIES
at the Alamo Drafthouse 
2548 Central Park Ave. in Yonkers
Saturday April 4th @ 7:55pm
Get tickets HERE 


**RELATED LINK:
GRAFFITI IN MOVIES quiz

3/26/15

TURN ME ON, DEAD MAN - Mike "The Main Event" Edison on The Undertaker


One of my favorite reader/writer/raconteurs talks about America's favorite zombie wrestler, THE UNDERTAKER. 

Here's a recording of Mike Edison's "Turn Me On, Dead Man" (as seen at Kevin Geeks Out About Wrestling). Mike digs into the Undertaker's past and looks at his place in the history of weird wrestling gimmicks. 




RELATED: 
Kevin & Matt Geek Out About Zombies is Saturday April 4th at the Alamo Drafthouse. 



3/24/15

The Outlaw Shot in BETTER CALL SAUL, BREAKING BAD and THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY


Edwin Porter's 1903 western THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY is best known for a gimmicky closing shot: a bandit aims his pistol at the camera and fires. This trope gets used in dozens of movies, here Martin Scorcese explains why he used the outlaw shot as the coda in GOODFELLAS


The outlaw shot is also seen in television -- especially in shows by Vince Gilligan. Here are all the times someone points a gun at the camera in BREAKING BAD and BETTER CALL SAUL

3/23/15

OOKLA, WE RIDE!


Why look, it's live-action OOKLA THE MOK

Making a rare appearance at the 1983 NBC "Yummy" Awards for NBC Saturday morning shows. 


related posts: 

Five Cartoon Visions of the Future

3/18/15

Photos from THE BROOKLYN BRAIN JAM

Noah Tarnow (The Big Quiz Thing), Kevin Maher (Kevin Geeks Out) and Matt Wasowski (Nerd Nite)
introduce the show and get the audience to say the Brain Jam Pledge. 

3/5/15

The 2nd ever BROOKLYN BRAIN JAM - Sunday 3/15

KEVIN GEEKS OUT is teaming up with THE BIG QUIZ THING and NERD NITE for a spectacular 6-hour show. 
The Brooklyn Brain Jam
Sunday March 15th 
at Littlefield 622 DeGraw Street
Just $12 (get ticket HERE
and another link for directions

It's a buffet of nerdy, geeky entertainment, with

1/26/15

Joe Franklin's phone call


When I visited Joe Franklin's office he got a phone call. 


JOE: (answers phone) Si si?


(pause) 


Si si!


(pause)


Si si. 


(pause) 


No, no. 


(pause) 


Si si. 


(hangs up, continues conversation with me)

* * * 

Rest in peace, Mr. Franklin.