Thursday, September 04, 2008

Top 5: Movies Within Movies

While I'd been looking forward to Tropic Thunder, it actually exceeded my expectations a bit. More than just Three Amigos in 'Nam, it's a deceptively silly satire not only of action-movie cliches but of the state of the film industry in 2008, from the self-delusion of stars to the cynicism of movie execs who greenlight disposable crap to the base expectations of the moviegoing audience. It's the best-looking comedy of the summer (John Toll was an inspired choice of DP) and well-acted across the board, with the standouts being Robert Downey Jr.'s brilliantly self-depricating performance as method actor Kirk Lazarus and, surprisingly, Tom Cruise as a foul-mouthed exec (I wondered if Tom got the meta-joke of his presence in the film; either way, it's his best work since Collateral). Perhaps director/star Ben Stiller is paying penance for Night at the Museums past and yet to come; while it's not unique among contemporary comedies in its unapologetic vulgarity, it does in a surpisingly pointed and even subtle way. Too subtle, perhaps; as an employee of one of the agencies that protested the film for its Simple Jack subplot, I can only conclude from conversations with coworkers that nobody gets irony anymore (exploiting special needs kids for political gain is apparently a-ok, though).

But I digress. One of the highlights of Tropic Thunder is the mock trailers that open the movie. After a commercial for rapper Alph Chino's (Brandon T. Jackson) energy drink Booty Sweat that elicited a "Wait - what?" from my wife, we're treated to a sneak peak at action hero Tugg Speedman's (Stiller) ripped-from-the-headlines climate change disaster epic Scorcher VI, comedian Jeff Portnoy's (Jack Black) CG-and-latex extravaganza The Fatties: Fart 2 and, best of all, Oscar winner Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.) and Tobey Maguire in Satan's Alley, an awards-season film about unrequited love between Irish monks. Each trailer is frighteningly believable, and honestly, I'd Satan's Alley, and so would a lot of gay comic fans (who would be the top, Iron Man or Spider-Man?). Here are five other fake movies that I'd pay to see.

1. Habeas Corpus Pitched by a pair of high-minded screenwriters (Richard E. Grant and Dean Stockwell), to venal exec Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins), this thriller about a woman on death row starts as an indictment of our judicial system that ends on an uncompromisingly depressing note. After a disastrous test screening, it becomes a love-conquers-all crowdpleaser. The biggest laugh in Robert Altman's The Player is the final scene of Habeas Corpus, as Bruce Willis gets to save the day, sweep Julia Roberts off her feet and deliver the frighteningly authentic one-liner, "Traffic was a bitch."

2. Thanksgiving Of course, Tropic Thunder's fake-trailers gimmick was also used to awesome effect in last year's Grindhouse. Edgar Wright's Eurohorror-inspired Don't was the popular favorite, and Machete and Werewolf Women of the SS are both terrific. But my personal favorite is Eli Roth's Thanksgiving, a grimy holiday-themed splatter movie that feels exactly like one of the cheap Halloween knockoffs released at the tail of the slasher film's popularity. Maybe it's the sleazy juxtaposition of blowjobs and decapitation, or maybe it's my nostalgia for the underrated Creepshow score used to great effect here. Either way, if Thanksgiving were real I'd probably own the 2-disc Blue Underground DVD.

3. Angels Live in My Town A porno-action hybrid starring Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg) as sexy crime fighter Brock Landers and Reed Rothschild (John C. Reilly) as his partner, Chest Rockwell as they dispatch of bad guys before getting "some of that Saturday Night Fever." Angels Live in My Town allows Paul Thomas Anderson to address porn's misogyny while still depicting the relative sweetness of '70s adult movies, with Brock torturing information out of female suspects by making love to them. "You don't fuck with Chest and Brock" - indeed you don't.

4. Mant! Joe Dante's Matinee is a loving tribute to the low-budget monster movies that wowed Dante as a kid, and its highlight is Mant!, an atom-age creature feature "based on scientific fact" according to its producer, "master of movie horror" Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), a loving tribute to all-time great movie showman William Castle. Best of all, it's presented in Atomovision!

5. On High in Blue Tomorrows A southern Gothic melodrama revolving around a tragic affair starring Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) and Devon Berk (Justin Theroux), On High in Blue Tomorrows is also notable for being cursed. A remake of a Polish film that was never completed due to the deaths of the principals, On High in Blue Tomorrows is known to trigger strange, psychosexual odysseys through real and possible worlds, punctuated by out-of-nowhere dance numbers. I suspect that The Fatties: Fart 2 has the same effect.

1 comment:

Paul C. said...

Interesting list- a fruitful subject that most people don't necessarily think about that much. The French are perhaps the most up-front about showing their characters watching movies, both real and imagined. You could get any number of these from Godard's work, notably Fritz Lang's production of The Odyssey in Contempt. In addition, there's Meet Pamela from Truffaut's Day for Night, Henri Vidal's remake of Les Vampires in Irma Vep, and perhaps most of all, the family in The 400 Blows going to the movies to see Paris Belongs to Us, an actual Jacques Rivette film that wouldn't be completed for another two years!

In addition, there's Shrinking Lover in Almodovar's Talk to Her, the unnamed project being filmed in William Greaves' Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 1, the short films made by Team Zissou, and Gustav Farnu's much buzzed-about but mercifully unseen The Flower That Drank the Moon (Ghost World).