Tag Archives: New York City

Super Mario Bros.: An Awesomely Bad 90s Video Game Movie

By Dan MK

(Screencaps and captions by Tom Kapr)

 

Not a Joel Silver production. Not a James Cameron film.

 

Once upon a time, there were two Italian plumbers who somehow got magically transported to another world, where they had to fight against the evil King Koopa in order to save the Princess and restore order to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Those of us who grew up as Nintendo addicts know the story well. We spent hours playing and replaying the video game (and all of its sequels) until it was in our bloodstream. When they finally came out with a Mario Bros. movie, any child in America could have guessed what the plot of the movie would be, which goes something like this:

(Warning: Here be spoilers!)

Mario and Luigi (that’s Mario Mario and Luigi Mario) are trying to help the Princess out with some plumbing issues (don’t ask) when she gets kidnapped by the Koopa cousins — all two of them. The Marios follow her through a mysterious portal which leads them to a parallel dimension, created by the meteor which struck the earth millions of years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs — or so we thought. In actuality (i.e., fiction), dinosaurs continued to exist in this parallel dimension, evolving into humanish things in much the same way that apes evolved into humanish things in our dimension (i.e., New Yorkers).

 

Or present-day North Carolina. Whichever.

 

Mario and Luigi make their way through the city of Dinohattan (get it? GET IT?), fighting off Goombas (i.e., “de-evolved” humanish descendants of dinosaurs) and other things that are kind of like Goombas, but their heads are different, and that difference is never explained (Koopas?).

 

Dinohattan (view from Governor's Island, pre-9/11).

 

They befriend a knowledgeable (and musical) man-creature named Toad, who is promptly arrested and turned into a Goomba.

 

See you in your nightmares, children!

 

The Marios are arrested too, after which they meet up with Dennis Hopper, who pokes Luigi in the eyes and hisses. They then break out of prison on a zip-line, hijack a police car, make a wrong turn, and wind up in the desert. Fortunately, the fungus saves them, but Mario doesn’t trust it.

With the help of the newly reformed, “intelligent” Koopa cousins, Mario and Luigi return to the city and break into a dance club in flamboyant clothing. You see, in order to save the Princess, Mario has to romance an obese woman in a spiky dress, so that he can snatch the rock she is wearing around her neck which she had stolen from them earlier after they were mugged by an old lady. Mario tries to grab the rock with his mouth, but ultimately realizes he can still use his hands.

 

It was either this, or Mario would have had to romance a giant fish that could swallow him whole.

 

Mario gets the rock, but then he and Luigi instantly lose it. King Koopa’s wife (girlfriend? mistress? cousin?) takes it, and celebrates by drinking a glass of earthworm. Mario and Luigi, having gone through all this trouble, decide they don’t need the rock after all, and jump through the roof with crates on their heads. They sneak into King Koopa’s castle by pretending to be garbage. Then they mess with the plumbing and put on two uniforms that they just happen to find in a locker. (Wow! Those uniforms are just like in the video game!)

 

"Do you always have to do that weird thing with your finger?"

 

After this, Mario finally eats a flower and spits out a freakin’ fireball — eh, wishful thinking. Actually, Mario and Luigi get on an elevator and hide behind Goombas. They make the Goombas dance. It turns out Goombas love to dance (contrary to popular rumors that Goombas only love to walk off cliffs). Oh, and Mario almost falls down a pit, and is saved at the last minute. Luigi dangles on a hook, and Mario still doesn’t trust the fungus. (Unbelievable!)

 

The fungus. Trust it.

 

Meanwhile, the Princess meets Yoshi. King Koopa enters her chambers and tries to seduce her with his long tongue (something only Dennis Hopper could pull off?). She is understandably bothered by this, but the fact of the matter is that she was born out of an egg, and her father is a pile of fungus (played by Lance Henriksen). She rejects King Koopa, and he scares Yoshi and leaves (that meanie). Shortly thereafter, Koopa’s girlfriend enters the room and befriends the Princess before trying to stick a knife in her throat. Yoshi protects the Princess by trying to eat the girlfriend. The Princess flees, and Yoshi gets freakin’ stabbed, to the delight of all the young children in the audience. And no, he doesn’t poop out any eggs.

 

A little something for the ladies in the audience.

 

After Yoshi gets stabbed, Goomba-Toad gets set on fire and screams. Princess puts out the fire (she finds an extinguisher!) but then runs away. The two useless Koopa Cousin characters appear just long enough to introduce the Princess to the fungus and then scram (they won’t be seen again until after the credits). Meanwhile, Luigi and Mario find the Princess. You see, they relied on their wits and made the Goombas dance — JUST LIKE IN THE VIDEO GAME!!!

 

She has her father's... um... nevermind.

 

After meeting up with the Princess and her father (who is in no condition to be having company), Mario runs off to save a roomful of Brooklynite women (“except for Angelica — she’s from Queens, but she’s alright”) who have been kidnapped by King Koopa. One of them is Mario’s girlfriend (mistress? cousin?) . As soon as Mario leaves, Princess and Luigi get captured by the evil King Dennis Hopper, who wants his pizza, for goodness’ sake! On the other hand, Mario does considerably better by escaping with all the women on a mattress. They are being pursued by Goombas (who are on their own mattress, of course), but it’s okay because Mario sticks a wrench in the ground. He’s a plumber, you see?

 

Remember that cool level in the video game where you have to save a bunch of women who aren't the princess from King Koopa's World Trade Center-lookalike tower by maneuvering a Goomba's used mattress through a huge iced-up heating duct? Me neither.

 

Mario’s mattress turns out to be a magical mattress because instead of simply falling out of the pipe, it glides slowly across a substantial portion of the Dinohattan set and disables King Koopa and his Goombas. Everyone celebrates, completely forgetting that King Koopa is still holding a gun, and still very conscious.

Koopa points a gun at the Mario Bros., so they throw — correction: they shoot – their shoes at him and knock him down again, this time over a railing and into a bucket. I’d like to point out that, during the course of the film, we actually see quite a few people fall over this railing. Not many railings; this railing. It’s pretty ridiculous.

 

This railing.

 

Things get more intense at this point. People run. Luigi brings all of the women, including the Princess, back to the portal, where King Koopa’s girlfriend accidentally kills herself by sticking a small rock into a big one. Luigi sends all the Brooklynite girls back through the portal except for the Princess.

 

Everybody's got their thing.

 

Meanwhile, Mario and King Koopa duke it out in the city. Their fight begins in the bucket, continues through a crowded street, and ends with King Koopa holding a gun to Mario. Mario sets off a Bob-omb (yay!), but it falls through the ground (what!?). Meanwhile, the small-rock-in-the-big-rock situation causes the two parallel dimensions to merge, and Mario, King Koopa, and a small handful of Goombas are transported to Manhattan (for some reason the rest of Dinohattan wasn’t invited).

 

"Holy crap! I'm turning 8-bit!"

 

In our world, King Koopa promptly turns a sleazy man into a sleazy chimpanzee, and all of the many civilian-bystanders think it’s absolutely adorable.

 

The video game was alright, but what really would have made it great is chimpanzees dressed up like humans.

 

Koopa points the gun at Mario and says the now infamous line:

King Koopa: “And now, I’m gonna make a monkey outta you, plumber!”

Just when all seems lost, Mario trusts the fungus (finally!!!).

 

Trusting the fungus (actual footage).

 

Luigi uses his quasi-plumbing skills to remove the small rock from the big rock, returning Mario, Koopa, and the Goombas to Dinohattan. Then he and Princess Daisy hurry back to catch the end of the Mario-Koopa fight. The Goombas dance again. The fat woman gives Luigi more shoes. Koopa screams. Finally, to the deep satisfaction of all the hardcore fans of the video games, the Mario Bros. defeat the evil King Koopa with… um… guns.

 

Guns which are in no way re-painted Super Scopes.

 

After an emotional farewell, Mario and Luigi return to their world, while the Princess stays behind to… well, I suppose to take her rightful place on the throne of Dinohattan. Most of her dimension is a desert, so this seems to be a bleak sort of existence. Nevertheless, she wants to get to know her dad, who “loves those plumbers.”

 

Winning!

 

I would just like to point out that once the Marios leave, the Princess’s remaining two friends are both sorely disappointing versions of their video game characters, and both of them will spend weeks recovering from the horrendous injuries they suffered because of her. Her reign as the Princess is off to a very rocky start.

 

Princess Daisy, a slightly charred Toad, and a slightly stabbed Yoshi.

 

Three weeks later, Mario and Luigi are in their apartment, when who should appear but PRINCESS DAISY RAMBO TOADSTOOL MCCLANE, ready to mutilate some more Koopa scum!!! Unfortunately for our heroes, however, the obvious sequel setup is in vain. After all, you can’t take a beloved story about two plumbers and their adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom, where they use items like fire flowers, mushrooms, and stars, and turn it into a stupid story about two plumbers and their adventures in the reptile dimension, where they use items like guns, boots, and mattresses. It’s just not the same.

 

"And then I said, 'Get away from her, you bitch!' You should have seen the look on her face!"

 

It should go without saying that this is quite possibly one of the weirdest movies ever made. From what I understand, making the movie was just as painful an experience as trying to watch it. I have heard that Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo could only make it through the production with the help of heavy drinking. As a result, one necessarily expects for there to be a number of elements in the film that simply defy comprehension.

 

Should've read the fine print in those contracts.

 

And yet there are a few scenes that really hurt my brain. When the Marios are arrested and taken to a police station, there is a woman who keeps rubbing one officer’s shoulder with her foot. It is not clear who the woman is, why she is so much higher than the cop, or why this character even exists in the movie.

 

Catherine Tramell visits the set.

 

Later, when the Marios are taken to a “devo chamber,” an enormous pile of nasty-looking poop suddenly appears all over the floor just moments after Toad is turned into a Goomba. It is of course an error that the editor made — at least, I assume that in the script there was some explanation for why a clean floor would suddenly be covered in feces. But that’s what bugs me so much. What possible explanation could there possibly have been that would not have seriously altered the tone of the movie? Or, would it really have altered the tone all that much?

 

Approximate visual representation of the average viewer's brain while watching this movie.

 

My personal favorite visual treat is at the end when Dennis Hopper shoots a man with a “devo gun” in order to turn him into a monkey, and then continues to act as if the gun is still shooting something, despite the fact that NOTHING IS HAPPENING.

 

King Koopa de-evolving an ordinary man into Ted Nugent.

 

Super Mario Bros. set a standard for all films based on video games, in that it was the first one ever made. A low standard is still a standard, after all. (Author’s note: My brother informs me that there was ONE Japanese movie based on a video game before this one. My brother is the type of person that film critics like to refer to as a “nerd.”)

If there is anything admirable about this movie, it is the way in which the filmmakers so blatantly ignore almost everything in their source material, boldly replacing it with an astoundingly stupid storyline, and asking — even expecting – critics and audiences to seriously entertain the notion that they’ve created a movie which deserves to be associated with the Mario Bros. Those elements of the original storyline which somehow survived this process and made it into the final film (such as Toad, Yoshi, and even King Koopa) seem like they would be more at home in a film by Terry Gilliam or even Paul Verhoeven — except, of course, for the title characters themselves, who clearly belong to a much more lighthearted kind of family film.

 

Two weeks later, "Jurassic Park" was released. Coincidence? (Yeah, probably.)

 

The result of all this is a wildly uneven film which takes you violently from one end of the spectrum, featuring the goofy slapstick of the Koopa cousins and the corny optimism of Luigi, all the way to the other end, where Yoshi must suffer a horrific stab wound while the Princess screams in terror.

 

Couldn't resist one last screencap riff, and here it is: "Set design courtesy of the Ikea Dungeon collection." Thank you!

 

And that is the genius of creating such an awesomely bad 90s movie based on… ah crap, the Goombas are dancing again. I gotta go.

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The Old Toy Chest — The Muppets Take Manhattan

By Tom Kapr

The Old Toy Chest: In this series, I review movies I loved when I was a kid but have not watched since childhood – sort of like digging out my old toys that I haven’t played with in a while. (Unburying them, so to speak, in keeping with prevailing themes on this site.) These movies are generally from the 80s and early 90s (the era of my childhood), and they generally are films with which current audiences (i.e., current kids) are not familiar. I will be critiquing them through both the nostalgic eyes of the child within and the lens of the mature *snicker* film critic into which I have grown. I hope many of you will remember these films with fondness from your own childhoods.

 

“Dear bears and chickens and things: Is New York. Is play. Is TIME!”

As a child in the 80s, you had your big four magic-makers of movies and television: you had your Disney, you had your Lucasfilm, you had your Amblin Entertainment… and then you had your Muppets.

The Muppets are unlike anything that ever has been or ever will be. It takes almost no imagination to believe in the wonderful illusion of life begun by Jim Henson over half a century ago. The illusion is certainly easy to believe while watching a movie starring these puppets, but just watch any on-the-spot interview or interaction between a Muppet and a human being, and challenge yourself not to forget you’re watching a puppet. For all we know, these characters exist in our reality. Given the proper circumstances, you could find yourself talking to a Muppet face to face one day, and even then, see if you don’t find yourself believing you’re talking to Kermit the Frog. Not some puppeteer — Kermit THE Frog.

 

 

The Muppets were ubiquitous in the 80s and well into the 90s. I loved them. How could you not? Aside from some religious nuts who believe that anthropomorphizing animals in a fantastic setting is of the devil (yes, they exist, and I’ve been subjected to their teachings), who doesn’t love the Muppets?

The Muppet Show happened a little before my time, and I have only in recent years become familiar with some of the original sketches and musical classics through DVDs and YouTube, but I grew up watching Muppet movies, from the original 1979 Muppet Movie to The Great Muppet Caper to the classic holiday special A Muppet Family Christmas to Disney-MGM Studios’ brilliant Muppet*Vision 3D attraction to 1999′s Muppets from Space. I still love Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock and The Storyteller both hold special places in my memories. And I was fully on board when Muppets Tonight aired as part of ABC’s TGIF lineup in 1996 — it was one of those shows I would look forward to during school on Fridays.

Since the less-than-stellar (no pun intended) Muppets from Space, though, it really is no big surprise that the Muppets have been relegated over the past decade to mediocre TV specials and straight-to-video fare. That is why, as I believe many Muppet lovers were, I was both thrilled and trepidacious when I heard, shortly after seeing the surprisingly good Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that writer/star Jason Segel was working on a new Muppet movie. My feelings on the project went up and down over the past three years as I awaited this first theatrical Muppet movie in over a decade. I started to get excited about it once Segel, Kermit, Miss Piggy and the others started making the rounds on talk and variety shows. (Yes, it was Kermit and Piggy talking to Jimmy Fallon, not Steve Whitmire or Eric Jacobson.)

When I went into the theater, I had a massive grin and felt giddy as a little boy. When I came out, I had mixed emotions and may need to see it a second time to really know how I feel about the whole thing. I do have one burning question for Segel and company, though, one that kind of sticks in my craw… but I’ll get back to that, because I am not here to talk at length about The Muppets. (If you do long for extended discourse on this highly enjoyable new film, though, it is featured on our Buried Cinema podcast and podcast minisode this week!)

Far and away my favorite Muppet film now is The Muppet Christmas Carol, which is not just a brilliant Muppet movie full of amazing practical and digital effects but also a great adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel; but as a little boy in the 1980s, my favorite was The Muppets Take Manhattan. The Muppets Take Manhattan is the only true Muppet movie directed by Frank Oz (though he also directed The Dark Crystal). Frank Oz may be second only to Jim Henson himself in the Muppet world — not only did he create and perform Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear, but he is also the original talent behind Animal and Sam Eagle; Sesame Street‘s Cookie Monster, Grover, and Bert; and the Master Jedi himself, Yoda.

I got a DVD copy of The Muppets Take Manhattan out of a cereal box. (I think it was the same cereal that gave me a DVD episode of Inspector Gadget, though I don’t remember which cereal it was.) I’ve had it sitting in my collection for years without sitting down to watch it. Maybe I was afraid it wouldn’t be as good as I remembered, though having seen it a thousand times as a kid, I remembered a lot. But after watching The Muppets, a film steeped in Muppet history that references the 1984 classic in several wonderful ways, I knew it was time to pull this old favorite out of the toy chest. Here are some of my thoughts while watching The Muppets Take Manhattan for the first time since probably the mid-90s:

 

The Muppets Take Manhattan opening title

“It’s all about a couple of kids who come to New York to get married, and it has a great opening number, it goes like this!”

 

First of all, the revelation that my DVD copy of The Muppets Take Manhattan doubles as a free trial for America Online tells me that I have, indeed, had this movie in my collection for far too long without watching it. Second, I had no recollection that this film begins with Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Rowlf, Scooter, Gonzo, Camilla, and Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem putting on a senior variety show called Manhattan Melodies upon graduating college. They’re such a big hit with their fellow seniors in the audience that they get the idea in their heads that they could make it on Broadway. So they all pack up and head for the Big Apple.

Something that struck me about the Muppets as they were arriving in New York City is that in this world, nobody looks twice at a bunch of anthropomorphic dogs and bears and chickens and things walking around, wearing ties, talking and singing and dancing. It’s one of the charms of the Muppets that they are always seen as social abnormalities, but not so abnormal as to warrant pointing and staring in an everyday setting. (Also, I was certain that the lady walking through the background at 6:17 was a pre-Blood Simple Frances McDormand, but I can find no proof of this on the web, not even on McDormand’s Muppet Wiki page.)

 

 

Kermit and the gang suffer a string of failed pitches, starting with Martin Price (a cameo by Dabney Coleman), who is arrested mid-meeting as a con man when an old woman shows up with — and this is funny — two uniformed police officers, and accuses him of stealing her life savings. (This scene also features a pre-Star Trek Gates “Dr. Beverly Crusher” McFadden. Could this be called a “retro-cameo”?) The rest of the gang decides, in order to stop being such a burden on Kermit all the time, to leave New York and go their separate ways.

This scene takes place in a diner where another most beloved Muppet is working, and this leads me to my big question for Jason Segel and the Walt Disney Company: What happened to Rizzo? The rats get some background screen time in The Muppets, and I’ve read that Rizzo himself is in there somewhere (though I didn’t see him, and I was looking); but at this point, Rizzo is one of those characters who should always have a featured role just like Fozzie or Gonzo or Rowlf — or at the very least, a memorable speaking role, like Pepe the King Prawn gets as Miss Piggy’s temporary dance partner. (Another favorite who doesn’t seem to be getting the love this year is Bean Bunny. I didn’t notice if he was in the movie or not either. What gives, fellas?)

 

Authorities at the Rant Pad are looking into the disappearance of this rat. If you have any information regarding Rizzo’s whereabouts, please contact the editor by leaving a comment in our aptly named “comments section.” Thank you.

 

Speaking of rats: Rizzo, Chester, Yolanda, Masterson, and Tatooey get an interesting little scene created by Jim Henson called the “Rat Scat,” in which they do a musical number using things lying around the kitchen. This scene pre-dates the dance troupe Stomp by a few years, but does not pre-date its origins in the U.K. It makes me wonder if Henson had seen a performance by the group in its early years and been inspired. Or, maybe he was just a guy who liked to turn his pots and pans into a percussion section. After all, he did become a worldwide cultural phenomenon with some ping-pong balls and the fabric from an old turquoise coat. Henson was a man of brilliant simplicity.

 

“Songs AND dances? That might be interesting…”

 

One of the things I’ve remembered most clearly over the years is the music. This movie has many wonderful, memorable songs, including “Right Where I Belong,” “Saying Goodbye,” “I’m Gonna Always Love You,” “Somebody’s Getting Married,” “He’ll Make Me Happy,” and the song that always make me feel simultaneously upbeat and introspectively nostalgic, “Together Again” (which made a brief welcome appearance in The Muppets). It also has one altogether forgettable song called “You Can’t Take No for an Answer,” sung by Dr. Teeth over the failed-pitch montage. It just has that awful early-80s style (though it sounds vaguely similar to the Peter Björn & John song “Second Chance”). I didn’t remember this song or the accompanying montage at all from the hundreds of childhood viewings. Frankly, I’m a little surprised I’m remembering it right now.

(By the way, I would be derelict in my duties as a Muppet evangelist if I did not bring to your attention that, as I was researching the history of Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem, I discovered that this existed.)

Another sequence that is notable for a variety of reasons is when Kermit and his human friend Jenny (Juliana Donald) are jogging through Central Park and being spied on by Miss Piggy, and Piggy has her purse stolen. The last time I saw this film, I must have been just old enough to recognize certain filmmaking techniques, because I remember that the sequence in which Miss Piggy is chasing her purse-snatcher on roller skates creeped me out. The reason is that in the wide shots with Piggy in pursuit the background, it’s obvious that she is a full-size human in full Piggy dress. I guess I find the idea of having an angry adult human dressed as Miss Piggy on roller skates chasing me to be fairly terrifying, though I’m willing to bet money it wouldn’t be the strangest thing Central Park has ever seen.

The Central Park scene features an appearance by two more of my personal favorites in the Muppet world, uppity hecklers Statler and Waldorf. In one of their greatest moments ever, they see “a frog and a pig… in love” and start barking and cat-calling. Finally, the tail end of the Central Park scene introduces, for the first time ever, the concept of the Muppet Babies, as Piggy has a fantasy song sequence featuring herself, Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzie, Scooter, and Rowlf as babies in a nursery together. (Sadly, no Baby Animal yet to say Goooo bye-bye!… but we do get a foreshadowing even of that early on in the film when everyone decides to part ways.)

 

“Ma-ma, da-da, boop-boop, sha-wah-wah!”

 

The Muppets Take Manhattan is, as any good Muppet movie will be, full of cameos, including the aforementioned Dabney Coleman; director John Landis; Brooke Shields; Elliott Gould; Joan Rivers in a fun scene with Miss Piggy in which they apply copious amounts of cosmetics; Gregory Hines, who has a great scene trying to mediate an argument between Kermit and Piggy in Central Park; Liza Minnelli in the fantastic “whispering campaign” scene in an upscale restaurant; James Coco as a dog owner who puts Rowlf through the most humiliating moment of his life; Art Carney as the Broadway producer who finally agrees to finance the Muppets’ play; and even Ed Koch, who was mayor of New York City for most of the 80s. And I suppose this is not really a cameo, but Pete (Jenny’s father and the owner of Pete’s diner, and a fine mangler of the English language) is played by Louis Zorich, the Constable from the 1971 film classic Fiddler on the Roof.

 

“Wait a minute! Wait just a second! You mean just say what the product DOES? Why, no one’s ever tried that!”

 

There’s a lot of weak plotting going on here, most glaringly how characters always seem to know where to find other characters at any given moment except for the one time it’s important that they don’t for the sake of dramatic tension (and because the movie suffers from a little IITS), and that is when Kermit, having just gotten a deal to have his play produced on Broadway, runs into traffic, gets hit by a car, forgets who he his, and disappears into the concrete jungle with only two weeks till curtains up. During this time, nobody at the hospital calls the authorities about an amnesiac John Doe (they just give him clothes — since he was naked when they found him — and release him back into the wilds of Manhattan), nor do any of Kermit’s friends involve the authorities in their search for him.

This, of course, is the 30 years of wisdom in me talking. The kid in me could care less. But I try to always hold every narrative film to the same standard of quality of story and characters. Even though the plot is seriously lacking, however, I still care about the story, and that’s mostly because I care about the characters. The Muppets have always been very rich in character, and that allows me to overlook, or at least forgive, some weak plotting.

 

“That’s it! That’s what’s been missing from the show! That’s what we need! MORE frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and… and whatever!”

 

And the characters get fun individual subplots too, after they all go their separate ways:

Scooter gets a job in Cleveland tearing tickets at a B-movie house, where he runs into the Swedish Chef, who has a great bit reveling in the wonders of wearing 3D glasses, and Lew Zealand, who throws his signature boomerang fish during a showing of Attack of the Killer Fish 3D;

Fozzie tries to go into hibernation with a bunch of other bears but suffers from insomnia and is surprised to find that the cave is “co-ed” when a bear named Beth suggests snuggling;

Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem get a gig as an Oompah band at a community hall in a town outside Pittsburgh;

Gonzo becomes a daredevil on the Lake Michigan, and as you’d expect, his death-defying feats don’t go so well — but you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Camilla and the chickens do their rendition of Tony Bennett singing the “William Tell Overture”;

and finally, in perhaps my favorite bit, Rowlf ends up in a degrading position managing a dog kennel in Delaware.

Scenes like these and many others are what make the Muppets the classics that they are, and what make The Muppets Take Manhattan a comedy classic despite its ultimately insignificant shortcomings. And all these new dogs and bears and chickens and things not only get to come back to Manhattan and appear in the climactic Broadway show, but they enrich the entire Muppet universe from that point on. Not that the Muppets were lacking up till that point, but these extras are just the ingredient needed for future Muppet productions.

 

 

One thing that leaves me perplexed at the end, though, is this: Are we to assume that Kermit and Piggy actually do get married at the end? If so, poor Kermit was bamboozled into it by a characteristically Machiavellian Miss Piggy. It is a great climactic scene though, featuring cameos by all your other favorite Muppets of the Muppet Show era as well as the gang from Sesame Street.

 

 

If I can leave you with one final thought, one pearl of wisdom, one timeless idiom that could potentially change your life, it is this (make sure your sound is turned way up though):

 

 

Yes, peoples is peoples. Thank you, Pete.

—–

Tom was once a mere temp worker in a shady laboratory until he was kidnapped by mad scientists and imprisoned on a satellite in outer space where he was forced to watch bad movies with a couple of sarcastic sentient robots. He escaped over a decade ago, yet still he sits alone in a darkened room watching bad movies, whispering wisecracks into the dark. His favorite films include City Lights, Casablanca, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Amélie, Stagecoach, and the Toy Story trilogy. He edits the Rant Pad and the Buried Cinema podcast.

Anthologies — New York, I Love You

By Nathanael Griffis

I suppose you could call it a sequel, which perhaps could excuse or explain some of the problems, but New York, I Love You is in a lot of ways an entirely different film from Paris, Je T’aime. Sure, they’re both comprised of love stories all taking place in a single city. The major difference though is that Paris, Je T’aime is good.

I may have been a little harsh in that sentence, but I had such an amazing time watching Paris, Je T’aime that there was no chance New York, I Love You could have lived up to it. Still, that’s no excuse to be bad a movie. It has its moments, but they’re sporadic at best. It ends strong, which was a pleasant surprise considering the awful opening. Any film that relies on Hayden Christensen, though, is immediately in danger of… well… sucking, is the only appropriate term I can think of.

Before I break down the various segments, let’s get the complaining out of the way.  The film has a different, almost montage structure, which could have been interesting, an added challenge, but instead feels contrived. There are little transition segments throughout the film that jump out and merely seem to take up space and give you cliché pictures of New York. The opener is the worst. Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha get into a cab and argue about the best way to get somewhere while avoiding traffic. Eventually, the cabbie joins in and we have an annoying picture of what the world thinks of New Yorkers. This is not the case; they are not all argumentative people who are selfish, brusque, and yet charming for being such. Some are, but not everyone. To be honest, a lot of this movie feels like the idea of what people think New York is instead of an actual fresh look at the City.

The transition segments, which are normally barely over a minute, also cause confusion more than anything else. It’s harder to tell when one story ends and another begins. They detract from the power of the previous segments by creating new implications as we see past characters interacting in new and different ways. This could have been used to add complexity, but no, it’s used to show us Hayden Christensen playing basketball to impress a girl.

They also don’t take full advantage of New York as a setting. There is no clear sense, like in Paris, Je T’aime, that each of these segments is in a different place. Every now and then there is a shot of a street sign, but that’s not enough. Natalie Portman and Joshua Marston’s segments are the only exception as they give us excellent, complex looks at Coney Island and Central Park. Still, where’s Chelsea, East Harlem, Washington Heights, Grant City, Van Nest, Roxbury, SoHo, Hollis, Gravesend?–and that list hasn’t even scratched the surface. Heck, they could have done Long Island, which keeps insisting on being included in NYC until they start feeling elite again.

Please kick his ass, Andy Garcia, please.

My point is that for the most part, with a few exceptions, this film failed to grasp the point. They didn’t utilize their setting and give us love stories that matter within said setting. In fact a lot of times the love stories are weak and cliché. The dialogue is not as good. It can’t manage to create rounded-out characters. This wouldn’t be a problem if the directors wanted to make segments with less talking, but most segments, even the good ones, rely heavily on dialogue. It was like a Quentin Tarantino movie written by Skip Woods (he wrote X-Men Origins: Wolverine). The first few segments are weak and taint the rest of the film. The first segment with Hayden Christensen as a pickpocket who gets shown up by Andy Garcia is especially clunky. Brett Ratner’s prom segment could have been good if he hadn’t been more concerned with a surprise ending and forcing a voice over, and also if he hadn’t directed. There’s also a definite preoccupation with sex, which I believe people may think makes it edgier or more realistic, but just reduces the most complex of emotions into a single physical action. One or two segments about sex, sure, that could be an interesting chance to explore some dynamics; four or five and you’re lacking depth and originality.

There are good moments, though. Ethan Hawke is great anytime he’s on screen, and he single-handedly makes his segment worthwhile. Skekhar Kapur’s segment, which was written by Anthony Minghella and stars Julie Christie, Shia LaBeouf, and John Hurt, saved the entire movie. It pushed the film back up to the level of quality it needed to be at. The segment Natalie Portman directed of a father walking her daughter through a park is a sweet look at love within a family. The final segment with Eli Wallach and Cloris Leachmen as a bickering old couple makes it all worth it, though. They are two amazing actors proving they are still on their game. It’s heartbreaking, hilarious, and ultimately sweet despite the slight clichés it evokes. The Orlando Bloom and Christina Ricci one wasn’t bad, but his whiny persona got annoying by the end.

Best scene in the whole film.

There are also two interesting bonus segments on the DVD that weren’t including in the film. One was directed by Scarlett Johanssen and stars Kevin Bacon as a film noir-esque character who travels to Coney Island for a hot dog. It’s technically very good and a pretty cool little short film, and that is all. The second film by Andrei Zvyagintsev is good as well. The story is simple: A young man films two people breaking up and builds and emotional connection to them without ever meeting them. At first it surprised me that these weren’t included, because they’re better than most of the others in the film, but after thinking about it, they just didn’t fit the aesthetic. They would have fit in Paris, Je T’aime, because it was more free-form. New York, I Love You has a stronger montage feel. Everything has to connect and flow together, which may be the restriction which tears the entire thing apart.

If Paris, Je T’aime is the reason to watch anthology films, New York, I Love You is the reason to avoid them. There is just too much you have to bear watching to get to the three good seven-minute segments. The amazing city of New York is better than this. It deserves so much more. It is a diverse, rich, and complex place that is like no other, and when you reduce it to bars, proms, and one-night-stands, it’s a little insulting. There is so much more this film could have done with its setting and theme, and it should have been easy with New York as inspiration, but apparently not.

Buried Cinema: The Warriors and Modern Myth

By Steven Moore

I decided to take a break from the post-apocalyptic fare this week and write about a film that I had not only never heard of, but also would probably never have watched if not for Tom’s suggestion. On his recommendation, I decided to watch The Warriors despite a general aversion to cult films from the ’70s and ’80s. It was one of those movies I never knew existed, but once I did, it seemed to be everywhere. When I finally found the time to sit down and watch it, I was treated to one of the greatest modern epic translations put to film. Unfortunately (or fortunately, I guess), I had to get past my own prejudices before I realized how good of a film it is.

The Warriors is mesh of West Side Story, A Clockwork Orange, and The Odyssey. Inspired by Anabasis, a story of ancient Greeks who are stranded on foreign soil and must make their way home, The Warriors is set in a future where New York is overrun by rival gangs. Each of these gangs controls a neighborhood, or “turf,” and has their own motif that identifies them–some wear hats, others wear certain colors. When one of the most powerful gangs, the Riffs, calls a truce and sets up a meeting, the Warriors attend with nine unarmed representatives. Although they are unsure if anyone else is going to show up, when they arrive, every gang in the city has a representative crew ready to hear what Cyrus, the leader of the Riffs, has to say. Cyrus tries to rally all of the gangs together in a bid to take over New York City from the police, but before he can finish speaking, he is gunned down by the Rogues, a particularly nasty gang with anarchist leanings. The Rogues then manage to pin the killing on the Warriors. With every gang in the city out to capture or kill the Warriors, they must try to fight their way back to Coney Island, their home turf.

This film follows the tradition of modernization similar to West Side Story, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and The Lion King. These are stories that, although we may not have read Romeo and Juliet, The Odyssey, and Hamlet, respectively, we know because of they are part of our cultural consciousness. The Warriors feels epic and familiar. We’ve seen this story before, and we can listen to it being told a thousand times because it resonates. Something about the desire to escape the unfamiliar and get home is an evolutionary desire. When the world has turned against us, the familiar comforts us and gives us strength; that’s human nature.

What’s brilliant about this movie is that it uses conventions of film to convey those emotions. The Warriors are lost in the unfamiliar territory of New York City, a place most Americans (except those who live there) imagine as unfamiliar and unforgiving. Their desire to get home, to escape the cold dark streets of a foreign landscape, is shared by the viewer, and their arrival home is met with sun and ocean air. The tension and relief of this kind of journey is mirrored by the natural tension and relief of film. All of the expectation of character arc and third act resolutions are built into the themes of this mythical story.

The characters in The Warriors are gang members, and the film makes no apology for them. These aren’t the roguish heroes with hearts of gold. When their leader is killed, a minor power struggle breaks out between Swan, played by Micheal Beck, and Ajax, played by an impossibly young James Remar. Even though Swan becomes leader, you never feel that his position is secure while Ajax is around. In fact, Swan makes a choice later in the film that gets rid of Ajax and solidifies his role as leader. Swan isn’t above leaving his own behind. Later in the film when Mercy, a good time girl who hangs with the low rent gang The Orphans, antagonizes the Warriors, Swan grabs her and threatens to just “pull a train on her right there.” This is a man who, although he may not follow through, has no problems threatening a woman with gang rape. There are no heroes in this film.

"I wanna knock some balls all niiight...."

The difficulty with The Warriors is getting past some of the late ’70s/early ’80s cheese. Although it came out in 1979, The Warriors maintains an ’80s aesthetic. The soundtrack makes liberal use of electronic keyboard, and the costuming looks dated. What was probably fashionable and edgy-looking then, now looks silly. It’s very difficult to take a guy seriously today when he is shirtless under his leather vest. Likewise, some of the gangs, like the Baseball Furies (who are apparently the official baseball team of Kiss) or the gangs of Mimes, just don’t seem that threatening. In fact, the most threatening gang in the film is the all-female gang, The Lizzies, playing the part of the sirens. The dialogue uses phrasse like “can you dig it,” “suckahs,” and “wimps,” which wavers between caricature and comical. Fortunately, the film forced me to push past my own prejudice for ’80s film tropes and styles by tapping into the timeless themes of the myth it was recreating.

There are some amazing moments that elevate the movie beyond its source material. After a particularly brutal fight, the Warriors and Mercy are on the subway, disheveled and wounded. A pair of clearly upper-class couples wander onto the train, drunk and laughing, not even noticing them. When they eventually do notice the gang and are repulsed and afraid, Mercy tries to straighten her hair to make herself more presentable. Swan stops her, revealing the clear separation between the gang world of the Warriors, where survival is a fight, and the upper-class world where everything is easy. They live in their universe and will not pretend otherwise for the benefit of those who don’t understand it. The Warriors manages to capture the human themes in a classic myth, while managing to also comment on contemporary society. What more can you ask of a film?

30 Days of Madness, Day 29: Attack of the Puppet People

Shakes and Lefty are back, and Shakes doesn’t seem to like the latest movie.

Attack of the Puppet People (1958) Written by George Worthing Yates & Bert I. Gordon. Directed by Gordon. Starring John Agar, John Hoyt, June Kenney.

Bert I. Gordon is notorious for his cheesy sci-fi/fantasy/horror flicks. I’ve already written about him in my review of Empire of the Ants, so I won’t go into much detail here except to say that Attack of the Puppet People is better than the rest of his films that I’ve seen but still not what I would call a good movie. The story (screenplay by George Worthing Yates, who also wrote one of my favorite 1950s sci-fi flicks, Them!) involves John Hoyt as a doll-maker who has some real loneliness issues and has devised a method of shrinking people down to doll-size so he can always have company.

According to the trivia section on the Internet Movie Database, it was “rushed into production by American International and Bert I. Gordon to ride the success of Universal-International’s The Incredible Shrinking Man.” All I can say about that is, I’m not surprised, nor am I surprised that not much has changed in Hollywood in this regard in the past 50 years. Writer Richard Matheson and director Jack Arnold’s adaptation of Matheson’s novel The Shrinking Man is one of the greatest sci-fi films of the 1950s. Attack of the Puppet People is a lame coattail-rider.

I didn’t take as many notes as I usually do on cheesy movies like this, but here are the few I did write down:

–I suppose it was only a matter of time before I had to deal with John Agar this month. Thankfully, here he is nowhere near as annoying as he was in The Mole People (a favorite of mine from Mystery Science Theater 3000). Still, in his first scene he immediately earns my contempt. Something about his face just makes me want to slap it around. (If that’s a latent rip-off of something Elmore Leonard once wrote, I apologize.) How his obnoxiousness lands him a date with the woman whose face he brays into like a jackass in their first scene together is beyond me.

–The woman, incidentally, is June Kenney from the movie Bloodlust, another MST3K favorite.

–Gordon’s two protagonists (Agar and Kenney) go on a date at the drive-in, where they are watching yet another MST3K favorite of mine (and Gordon’s previous film), The Amazing Colossal Man. We get to watch almost an entire scene from that movie. Way to pad out the running time, Gordon. Has anyone ever done such a thing, featured their own previous film in their immediate next film, before or since this? Even Spielberg never sank to such depths of self-promotion.

–Gordon is known for films that use the effect of superimposing one image over another to create the illusion of abnormally-sized creatures. Somehow it works better here, in which he shows shrunken people against a giant world, than it does in his other films where he shows giants. Still not the best special effects in the world, though. The limitations become more prominent toward the end, when the effects shots start to pile up. There are some real perspective problems throughout, but never so obvious as when Agar and Kenney are being chased through the streets by a rat. Unless New York City has rats half the size of automobiles. (Then again, this might be more accurate than I thought….)

My Netflix rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 28: Cat’s Eye

Cat’s Eye (1985) Written by Stephen King. Directed by Lewis Teague. Starring Drew Barrymore.

First aliens, then trolls... no wonder she went a little nuts.

Stephen King’s Cat’s Eye (or as I like to call it, Stephen King’s Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey) is an anthology film containing three very different stories, each linked by a cat who is traveling the country on a quest to find a little girl (played by Drew Barrymore) who is supernaturally calling to him to save her from some unknown danger. It is written by Stephen King and directed by Lewis Teague, who had directed the film adaptation of King’s Cujo two years earlier. As with King’s writings in general, the stories contained here are hit-and-miss. If you pay attention to the opening credits, you’ll see that Alan Silvestri composed the score. How he could produce this awful score–an example of 80s-synth at its worst–as well as the wonderful score to Back to the Future in the same year, is a mystery.

After an opening sequence in which we are introduced to our hero the Cat as he flees a rabid St. Bernard and almost gets run over by a car named Christine (I am not making this up), the Cat rides a ferry to New York City, where he has a vision of Drew Barrymore calling to him from a department store window seconds before getting cat-napped by a large man. This leads us into the first segment, in which James Woods (apparently before he became a decent actor) goes to a company called Quitters Incorporated to help him quit smoking. The company is run by Alan King, who locks Woods in his office and shows him the Cat being tortured by electric shock behind a glass window. This is what will happen to Woods’ wife (played by a sublimely beautiful actress named Mary D’Arcy, who sadly has only a handful of TV roles besides this) and daughter (played by a frumpily disguised Drew Barrymore in her second, less high-profile role in the film) if he doesn’t follow through on quitting cigarettes. King also says they might have his wife raped if he doesn’t comply. (I swear I’m not making this up.)

Our hero the Cat must be a Jack Finney fan.

This whole first segment is an exercise in lunacy. This is what David Fincher’s The Game might look like if it turned out to be one long, bizarre anti-smoking ad–complete with James Rebhorn, too! Without going further into this nonsense, there is an altercation in King’s office that allows the Cat to escape. The Cat hitches a ride in the back of a pickup to Atlantic City, where he has a close call trying to cross a busy road while two men exiting a casino place bets on whether or not he’ll survive. When he makes it across, he is adopted by the man who bet on his survival and won, and who takes him home to his penthouse.

This man, named Cressner, is apparently a wealthy tycoon whose wife is having an affair with Robert Hays. Cressner’s goons (Mike Starr and Charles S. Dutton!) kindnap Hays and bring him back to Cressner’s apartment, where Cressner forces him to play a little “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pocket”-style game. If Hays can make it all the way around the ledge on the outside of Cressner’s high-rise penthouse without falling, Cressner will give him his wife and a bag full of money. The Cat is merely a bystander through most of what follows, as some pretty good suspense is generated while Hays makes his way around the outside of the high-rise. Another altercation toward the end gives the Cat its escape to continue its quest to find Drew Barrymore. This sequence is a pretty good suspense short, even if it does have a truly terrible special effects shot at the end.

Well, now I know what I'll be dreaming about tonight.

In the third and final story, the Cat has made his way south to Wilmington, NC, where he finally tracks down Drew Barrymore. But just as he finds her, he notices another creature has found her as well. The creature, whom we can hear but only see as a POV-shot, runs into Barrymore’s house past her parents and up into Barrymore’s room, unseen by the family. The Cat gives chase, but cannot find the little POV monster. Barrymore begs her parents to let her keep General, as she names the Cat, but her mother has misgivings, repeating an old folk tale about cats stealing the breath from little girls as they sleep.

(Barrymore’s Mom is also shown reading Pet Sematary before going to sleep at night. I read Pet Sematary. I had to take a break for about a week halfway through that book, because it got to the point where every time I closed my eyes I would see the face of that zombie cat.)

And so Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were inspired to write "The Battle of Barrymore."

To make a long story short, the POV monster turns out to be a troll who hides in the walls of Barrymore’s bedroom and comes out at night to cause her harm. Only Barrymore and the Cat know about it–her parents, of course, think she’s only having nightmares. There is some really good special effects work in this segment, particularly the creature effects used to create the creepy little troll. It comes to a showdown between Troll and Cat, and though it gets a bit silly, it is the most entertaining story of the three. It’s also more rewarding, since by this point the Cat’s quest has become the plot thread you really want to see fulfilled. It ends on a scene that is far more suspenseful than it has any right being.

If I were rating each of these segments separately, I’d have to rate the first segment with 1 star out of 5. It’s awful, and only gets more awful the further it goes. But the second and third segments were both interesting and entertaining, and I’d probably give them each 3 stars. And I also found myself invested in the connecting story of the Cat.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 26: The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) Directed by Eugène Lourié.

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, based on the 1951 short story by Ray Bradbury, was the first post-nuclear monster movie and, alongside Them! of 1954, one of the best. A team of nuclear physicists performing a test with the hydrogen bomb in the Arctic unwittingly release a prehistoric beast locked in the ice for 100 million years. It makes its way down the eastern coast of North America ending up–guess where!–in New York City.

"I want to beeee a paaaart of it...!"

One of the things that always bothers me about mid-century movies like this is how maddeningly rational everyone fancies themselves. “You saw a giant beast? Come now, Doctor, next you’ll be telling me you saw flying saucers!” And I do have one major question: Why do giant creatures in these old movies make it their goal in life to automatically destroy every man-made structure they come across?

This was Eugène Lourié’s first time helming a film amidst a career in art direction, and he shows himself capable. There are a bunch of writers credited on this project, making authorship harder than usual to ascertain. Cast-wise, the only thing I want to be sure and mention is to look out for a young Lee Van Cleef (more than a decade before his starring roles in the iconic spaghetti Westerns For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly) as the sharp-shooter at the end.

But The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms isn’t about who wrote it or who starred in it or even who directed it. It’s about Ray Harryhausen and his spectacular stop-motion creature effects. From Mighty Joe Young in 1949 to The 7th Voyage of Sinbad to Jason and the Argonauts (one of my all-time favorites) to One Million Years B.C. (where the spectacle of his visual effects had major competition from a bikini-clad Raquel Welch) to the original Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen’s name has become synonymous with jaw-dropping visual effects. He is truly one of the greatest visual effects artists in cinema history.

The final scene in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms may not make a lick of sense, but it is so cool to look at, I didn’t care.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

Buried Cinema, Artifact #001: The Dream Team

By Tom Kapr

My goal for Buried Cinema is to dig up the unjustly forgotten and the obscure, to unearth gems that have been buried under the sediment of cinematic history, to shed light upon the lesser-known, and to give the underrated their due respect. These are the treasures that deserve a wider audience. –Tom Kapr, Editor

Michael Keaton made a welcome return to comedic form this year as the put-upon police captain who moonlights as a Bed, Bath & Beyond sales manager in Adam McCay’s hilarious but undercooked The Other Guys.

For the past decade or so, Keaton has been working largely under the radar in limited-release dramas or as Katie Holmes’s/Lindsay Lohan’s/that Gilmore girl’s dad in whatever crazy teenage-girl comedies those crazy Hollywood screenwriters have been coming up with lately. He’s also become a recurring vocal talent for Pixar, with little fanfare. (See Chick Hicks in Cars or Ken in Toy Story 3.)

During the 80′s, Keaton had made a name for himself as an adept comedic star in movies such as Mr. Mom, Beetlejuice, and, one of my personal favorite quotables, Johnny Dangerously. He turned that persona on its head at the end of the decade when he donned the mantle of a decidedly darker-than-previously-seen Caped Crusader (at least, darker than was familiar to the general movie-going public) in Tim Burton’s Batman.

But only a couple months before Batman‘s release in 1989 (and, I suspect, overshadowed by that landmark film and its massive hype), Keaton appeared in a little comedy called The Dream Team.

Written by Jon Connolly & David Loucka and directed by Howard Zieff, The Dream Team is a thoroughly enjoyable character-driven comedy featuring brilliant, subtle physical humor and some of the most quotable lines ever. Michael Keaton, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Boyle, and Stephen Furst play four psychiatric patients who meet for group therapy every week.

Billy Caufield (Keaton) has a temper and enjoys concocting elaborate lies. Jack McDermott (Boyle) is a former advertising executive with a Messiah complex and a tendency to disrobe in public. Albert Ianuzzi (Furst) is verbally shut off from the rest of the world, speaking only in baseball-announcer metaphor. And Henry Sikorsky (Lloyd) is an obsessive-compulsive under the delusion that he is his fellow patients’ doctor.

Wanna buy some Thin Mints? Samoas? Lemon Chalet Cremes? Dulce De Leches?

Their therapist, Dr. Weitzman (Dennis Boutsikaris), decides that a day trip to Yankee Stadium would do them all a world of good. While making a pit stop in an alley in New York City, Weitzman witnesses a crime and is beaten unconscious. The only witness is Albert, who doesn’t know how to tell the others what he saw. The four are left to their own devices in the big city, eventually learning of their doctor’s fate and getting embroiled in the perpetrators’ scheme.

It sounds contrived (and as a premise for a comedy, it is), but the plot actually unfolds rather naturally. The four protagonists are so fully engaged in their characters and so interesting to watch, and have such great chemistry with each other, that it doesn’t matter how ridiculous things get (and things do get a bit ridiculous). The performances keep it grounded. These four actors know how to get the maximum amount of situational comedy out of their characters without resorting to hammy antics or breaking character for the sake of the joke (something I’ve talked about in the podcast recently regarding Dinner for Schmucks and The Other Guys).

The supporting cast is, if not memorable, at least believable and capable. Prolific character actors Philip Bosco and James Remar play a couple of heavies, and Lorraine Bracco (of Goodfellas and The Sopranos fame) plays Keaton’s character’s old girlfriend, Riley. She even manages to be sexy, an adjective I’ve never before applied to Lorraine Bracco.

The Dream Team‘s title may not be particularly germane to the plot (another possible factor in the film’s obscurity), but the tagline is great: “Four guys on a field trip to reality.” It’s a sadly forgotten little gem that more people should see, and I’d like to make a special mention and thanks to my brother Dan for introducing it to me.

(The Dream Team at the IMDb: http://imdb.com/title/tt0097235)

–Tom Kapr