Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1986)

If you want to make an omelette, the saying goes, first you have to make a remarkably unexceptional non-starter featuring Whoopi Goldberg as a tech whiz embroiled in an espionage scandal. Apparently people actually like Jumpin’ Jack Flash, judging by the surprising number of nostalgia-fueled pieces about Whoopi’s young comedy days, but apart from an amusement with her indomitable ‘tude I can’t imagine why. You can just watch The View if you’re into Whoopi’s ‘tude, right? Unless you prefer a different kind of supporting cast, essentially one made up not of has-beens but of not-yets.

One such not-yet was behind the camera in the form of Penny Marshall, one day destined to direct the likes of Big, AwakeningsA League of Their Own and more alongside her numerous TV credits. Jack Flash is the transition piece from the Laverne & Shirley days (she was Laverne) and also serves as her first real foray into feature filmmaking. As is the case with many such transitions, Jack Flash is really only noteworthy in a retrospective review of a one-day-great director. Another Happy Days-related alum leaps to mind in the form of Ron Howard, who would find great success behind the camera but not before making his first movie Grand Theft Auto.

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This Is Spinal Tap (1984)

This Is Spinal Tap is what Almost Famous would have been if Almost Famous didn’t take itself seriously. Where Famous follows the fictional band “Stillwater” on their rise to success and semi-biographically follows young journalist William — based on the real-life story of director Cameron Crowe — as he becomes a writer for Rolling Stone at age 15, This Is Spinal Tap follows fictitious British band “Spinal Tap” as they embark on a U.S. tour that all but finalizes that their days of glory are coming to an end (hint: watch as their venues get smaller and smaller). However, while the rockumentary-mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap is entirely satiric and parodical in its nature, its brilliance is right on par with Almost Famous, a movie I consider to be nearly perfect.

Directed by Rob Reiner, perhaps better known for his role directing The Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap balances that quintessential Bride humor with a genuine ode to ’80s rock band nostalgia that will warm hard rock, heavy metal hearts, and keep them laughing. The profile of the band starts with a typical interview, wherein the band hilariously describes the mysterious deaths of their various drummers throughout the band’s history. One, they claim, actually exploded. This becomes a theme as the movie progresses, and despite being simplistic in nature, never really stops being funny.

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Better Call Saul 2.4 – “Gloves Off”

IGN said it best: Better Call Saul has high stakes, and yet somehow they’re mostly personal stakes. Yes, Mike’s storyline finds him embroiled in a dangerous and deceptive feud between Nacho and Tuco, wherein the stakes are most certainly life-and-death. Obviously Mike’s personal experiences and outlook play into his actions (more on that later), but when juxtaposed against Jimmy’s it’s clear that Mike deals with a lot of external factors in the form of predictable people. Tuco will kill Nacho someday, so Nacho takes the initiative to kill him first. Tuco will take the bait Mike lays out for him, and the police will arrive at around the time Mike intends them to arrive. Mike says to Nacho “Your Tuco Salamanca problem goes away,” with such certainty that before the plan is put into effect we’re already pleased with the result.

Jimmy’s side of the series is a little different, not because the people he’s surrounded by are any less predictable but because each of them is most concerned with their own personal reputation. If Mike fails there’s a distinct possibility it will end his life; if Jimmy fails it will end his career. Actually, “failing” to Jimmy now seems synonymous with “following all of the rules”, which would in fact result in him keeping his job, which everyone but Jimmy would likely deem “succeeding”. Saul asks us to see his side of things while positing that he’s the one who’s backwards, and never was that more clear than in “Gloves Off”.

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Film & TV News: March 7

News

  • People joining projects: Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey have officially joined The Dark Tower, likely kicking off a new franchise and dragging this particular Stephen King adaptation into the light once and for all after decades in development hell. Elba vs. McConaughey should put a great many doubts to rest.
  • People leaving projects: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is departing Sandman, which he was scheduled to direct and star in, over creative differences with the studio. Very disappointing. Slightly less disappointing is the departure of Eli Roth from the shark thriller Meg, which may or may not result in a better Meg.
  • Sony has announced a Venom movie to be spun out of the Spider-Man franchise that they really don’t seem to even have anymore. How do you make a Venom movie sans Spidey?

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From Hell (2001)

Executing a Writer Series on Alan Moore would seem especially self-defeating. The idea is possibly even offensive to the man himself, he having gone to great lengths to distance himself from the film adaptations of his comics. He’s had his name stricken from credits and movie posters, declined any input or involvement throughout production and beyond, and even claims to have never seen any of the film versions of his stories. Furthermore, the dude literally writes comics in such a way that they are inherently resistant to any other medium. He doesn’t do this just to be a jerk, but rather to show what comics can do that other mediums cannot.

And From Hell is the perfect example of that, both in its original comic form and in comparison to the 2001 Hughes Brothers film. Most know Moore for his most popular works Watchmen and V for Vendetta, for his brilliant Batman/Joker book The Killing Joke, for creating original characters like John Constantine and breathing new life into previously-thought-useless ones like Swamp Thing. If you’ve read From Hell, though, you know what Moore is truly capable of as a writer.

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Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

Among the many films that slipped through the cracks last year was Secret in Their Eyes, a remake of the 2009 Argentinian Oscar-winner of the same name. Actually, the original is El secreto de sus ojos, which a sane person might translate as THE Secret in Their Eyes, but even inclusion of the the makes for a clunky title. See, it’s not that each eye has a secret or anything — that would be Secrets, plural, in Their Eyes. Obviously the title tells us that there is a single secret, okay, and it’s in multiple eyes. Or maybe just one eye per person. The major reason this film failed at the box office and slid under the radar of pretty much everyone is that the title fails to delineate exactly which eyes we’re dealing with here.

Maybe it’s a part of the long game, though, this being the start of a new shared-universe franchise or something. Next up is Secret in Their Left Eyes, follow by Right, followed of course by Left v. Right: Dawn of Secret. Each of those would be hard-pressed to be a bigger waste of time than this film, and the possibilities really are endless if your only criteria for titling a major motion picture starring three Hollywood A-listers is “must contain words”. As Louis C.K. said about parents being giving free reign to name their babies whatever the hell they want: shouldn’t there be at least a couple of rules? What’s that you say? The Elements of Style came out in 1920?

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Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)

In the wake of the 88th Academy Awards we’ve arbitrarily decided to revisit the Year in Film of three decades ago, reviewing a selection of films that were either honored at the 58th Oscars, snubbed, or overlooked altogether. Out of Africa was the major winner that year, scooping up seven trophies, but of course the question everyone always asks after the Best Picture mic drops is whether or not the winner is deserving. Spotlight, more of a traditional cinematic experience than the likes of The Revenant, was a mild surprise to don this year’s crown. If we dispense with the niceties, we might say that Spotlight — though undoubtedly a strong film about a powerful true tale, well-crafted, well-acted, well-received — simply isn’t a cinematic experience on par with Revenant. And if we did the same 30 years ago we might find a similar scenario with Kiss of the Spider Woman.

Every once in a while a movie rears its head from the past and simply begins, production credits appearing and giving way to the title, the opening credits, the first scene, and off to the races. Nowadays it’s far more common to preface all of that with casting news, screener reviews, trailers, trailers for the next trailers, interviews with the stars wherein the plot of the movie is dissected before the film is even released, etc. Rarely do we get to experience a movie as is, shorn of all the machinery. For me, Kiss of the Spider Woman was one such rarity. I knew the title and knew that William Hurt won an Oscar for his role, and that’s it. Hitting play was in the grandest sense a leap into an unknown territory of infinite possibility, even if in the quotidian sense it was just something to do on a lazy late Wednesday evening.

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Out of Africa (1985)

The “Out of Africa” theory of evolution posits that Homo sapien originated on the African continent and migrated to replace other hominid species, which is in direct contrast to the multiregional theory of human evolution (the “Multiregional Continuity Model”) positing the phenomenon of Homo sapien to be just that: a phenomenon, simultaneous across varied regions and indicative of some level of gene flow between geographically separated populations. Significantly, this gene flow would have prevented speciation after the dispersal, a somewhat unbelievable but not altogether impossible occurrence that nevertheless would seem to nudge all credibility in the direction of the Out of Africa model. Among the critical tenets of this hypothesis is the assumption that after Homo erectus migrated out of Africa the different populations became reproductively isolated, evolving independently and, in some cases — as with the Neanderthals — into separate species entirely.

Thankfully, Sydney Pollack’s Out of Africa has nothing to do with any of that boring science stuff. Two nights ago the 88th Academy Awards granted Spotlight two major trophies, one for Best Original Screenplay and one for Best Picture, and so as usual a return to the past Picture winners seemed in order to see where we stand as a cinema-appreciating public. Is Spotlight better/worse than winners past? Did you see Spotlight? Did you enjoy it? Did you enjoy it at unprecedented best-film-of-the-entire-year levels? Did The Revenant or The Big Short deserve the trophy instead? Ah, of all sad words of tongue or pen!

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Better Call Saul 2.3 – “Amarillo”

“Amarillo” incorporated a ton of thematic material from the first season of Better Call Saul, and in doing so became a pivotal chapter in the hilarious, sad tale of Jimmy McGill. There are callbacks to nearly every episode. Jimmy casts a spell on his phone as he did throughout the first season, starting in “Uno“. We have the return of the dimwitted film students from “Hero” and the Alpine Shepherd Boy from “Alpine Shepherd Boy“. Mike chomps on the same sandwich from “Pimento” and sits outside his daughter-in-law’s house as in “Five-O“. At one point Jimmy even whispers bingo as if to say, hey, we had an episode called “Bingo“.

Details like this are nothing new for Saul, and they don’t even take into account the hundreds of little callbacks/foreshadowing to companion series Breaking Bad (like Kaylee’s little pink elephant). At best, the high degree of subtlety with which these are employed makes for what Jimmy would call a rich tapestry, a comprehensive and highly believable narrative that can afford to veer into ridiculousness in plot due to the strong foundation of details and character quirks. At one point in “Amarillo” Jimmy approaches Clifford Main’s office and pauses outside the door. We hear faint guitar chords and then Jimmy walks away. The inclusion of those chords — which we know are from Clifford himself after his explanation in “Cobbler” — isn’t necessary by any means, but it reinforces the history behind the scene enough that we feel the history as Jimmy does.

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