I know a lion’s gotta eat, but this is a bit ridiculous.
At the same time it was announced that 2011 is now the most sequelly year ever (27 are slated, which translates to one every other week), we were greeted without the news that MGM pulled itself from the bowels of bankruptcy by announcing five remakes/continuations.
It’s understandable that the studio would dust off some chestnuts to ensure some box-office familiarity, but others seem like curious choices to trumpet it’s return.
Here’s what’s in the works:
“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters”: A 3-D futuristic retelling of the Brothers Grimm fable (which was most notably made at the tail end of the Cannon era and starred David Warner and Cloris Leachman). This remake is to be co-financed by Paramount and will star Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton.
“Mr. Mom”: This is one I can totally see, and while I hold fond memories for the original, it’s by no means beloved. Of course, its premise is not as novel anymore (a father? Home raising his children? Absurd!!!), it’s always fun to see ill-prepared dads dealing with the toddlers.
“The Idolmaker”: Another one that is fair game, but a curious choice, indeed. Taylor Hackford’s all-but-forgotten 1980 flick based on the life of Bob Marcucci, who discovered Fabian and Frankie Avalon. The new version will be retrofitted for the “American Idol” generation, but details beyond that are sketchy.
“Robocop”: Ouch. This stings. The beloved Detroit officer that runs on Microsoft Office, had threatened to hit screens last year, with Darren Aronofsky taking over for Paul Verhoven as director. Aronofsky has since moved on to pick up the “Wolverine” sequel (an equally depressing thought) and is now said to be getting his religion on afterward with an adaptation of “Noah” (really?).
Film: Rockula (1990)
Directed by: Luca Bercovici Written by: Luca Bercovici and Jefery Levy
Starring: Dean Cameron as Ralph LaVie Toni Basil as Phoebe LaVie Thomas Dolby as Stanley Tawny Fere as Mona Susan Tyrrell as Chuck Bo Diddly as Axman
Pre-screeening memories: Rockula doesn’t exactly fit in neatly with the other movies I’ve covered for Natsukashi – they all represented formative experiences in my developing love for film, while I first saw Rockula when I was already out of my teens.
I don’t think Rockula is any less important than those films, because while those other films shaped my tastes in one way or another, Rockula is the first film I’d ever seen that seemed to have been made specifically for me.
Why does it seem that way? Simple – everyone has a unique sense of humor that values different things (wordplay, slapstick, irony) at different levels, and are generally too complex to explain in a sentence or two. If you want to gauge a person’s sense of humor, there is a simple method available – ask them what the single funniest situation possible is. While it’s not going to give you a complete understanding of that person or their humor, it’s a great first step.
If ever asked that question, I have an answer ready: The funniest thing possible is having a civil conversation with a monster. So it’s no surprise that Rockula would come in high on a list of my favorite films of all time, since it’s the story of a forlorn vampire trying to find love in the world of the Los Angeles club-rock scene.
The strange part about the movie is that, living in Canada, where the film was apparently never released, I’d never heard of it when it just sort of turned up one day. My writing partner and I had just started working together, and we had a habit of renting a few odd movies and brainstorming as we watched them. One time he came over announcing that he’d found my “favorite film that I’d never seen.” Since that’s essentially a challenge, we watched the film immediately, and I discovered that he was completely right. It wasn’t just that the movie was delightfully absurd, or the fact that I’m always impressed by original screen musicals, what captivated me most about the film was how confident it was. Almost as if the film had no idea how crazy it was. The premise is so odd that it’s nearly impossible to imagine it being presented without constant winks and nods at the audience, but there aren’t any to be found.
It’s an utterly absurd premise delivered with a completely straight face, and that’s basically my favorite type of comedic film. The fact that I had never heard of the movie before that day was proof enough that it hadn’t been a big success, but no matter how few people saw it, there was an audience for it.
This led me to believe that no matter how crazed or insane a movie might be, as long as it was made well, there would always be a group of people who would appreciate it, seek it out, and support it. With this in mind, my writing partner and I pledged to work on personal projects, eschewing tradition and trying to offer our own unique comedic vision to the world. And while that’s been a professionally disastrous decision, it’s also incredibly creatively fulfilling, and I can credit it largely to how impressed I was with Rockula.
Tragically, I was only able to see the movie that one time. The video store it was rented from went out of business soon after, and I was unable to find another copy anywhere, nor was it available on DVD. Never before had I regretted not illegally copying a videotape. It lived on in my memories, though, and in the constant references that my writing partner and I make to ‘Rapula’.
New memories with recent screening – I’d go so far as to state that every bad thing the internet has given the world has been equally weighed, if not outbalanced, by the boon that is Youtube. Essentially operating as an internet nostalgia repository, I can’t count the number of childhood memories it’s managed to refresh (although, to this day, it fails to offer the theme song from Captain Redbeard)
No, it wouldn’t be until the advent of Youtube years later that I would be able to see it again. And the film would prove to be everything I remembered it to be and more. Sure, it was full of my kind of comedy, but beyond that, I was surprised by just how well-made a movie it was. If that sounds like I’m damning it with faint praise, I don’t intend to, it’s just that so many of these ‘nostalgia’ movies turn out to have such glaring flaws that I wind up questioning my taste.
Rockula, on the other hand, succeeds at everything it sets out to do. Not only is it a wonderfully fun vampire romantic comedy, but in the part I’d completely forgotten, the songs are just great. They all fit the period and tone of the film perfectly, and are hummable in their own right. I can’t remember the last time I wanted a soundtrack this badly, but one was never released. Luckily there’s the internet, where the songs can be found in their film versions, but it’s a poor substitute for a studio soundtrack.
Just as watching the film on Youtube is a poor substitute for being able to buy this movie on DVD. Look on any shelf in the DVD section of a electronics store (that’s where people buy DVDs now, right?) and you’ll see a few dozen movies that aren’t as entertaining or as high quality as Rockula. There’s no excuse for this movie not being out there, and I’m officially making it my quest to get this movie released on DVD. I’m not really sure what form that quest is going to take, but I’m very passionate about it. Which makes this the second time I’ve been inspired by Rockula. Can there be a better grounds for recommending a film?
Also, Rapula name-checks William Saffire. If you were ever looking for the definition of ‘reaching for a rhyme’, that’s it.
or rock out right here with our little on-site player:
Our featured guest: Luca Bercovici
Luca is the mad genius who put the rock in Rockula as its writer and director. The multi-talented artist got his first cinematic break with Demi Moore in the 3-D horror flick Parasite. As a writer, Luca began in 1984, crafting the first of the Ghouliesfilms. The film was the highest-grossing independent film of 1985 and, like the Ghoulies themselves, went on to multiply three sequels.
After Rockula fell victim to the changing hands of studios in 1988 and unjustly fell off the radar, Luca went on to direct the thriller Dark Tide, and then revisited the horror genre with The Granny with Stella Stevens. Luca continued to alternate in front of and behind the camera, starring in mainstream fare such as American Flyers, Clean and Sober, K2 and Drop Zone, while helming The Chain, Convict 762 and Luck of the Draw.
Luca now splits his time between the states and Budapest, Hungary, where he serves as Head of Production for Raleigh Film Budapest.
He has some exciting news of future projects (hint: Mickey Rourke reprising a beloved role) which he divulges to the Natsukashi listeners and we thank Luca for recounting his time spent creating the cult film that is begging for a DVD release, Rockula.
For those interested, you can view Rockula chopped up into nine parts on Youtube. The first segment is below. If you have an interest in getting this film a proper DVD release, drop us a line and we will make sure it gets in the proper hands.
Title: Peter Pan (1960) Stage play Directed by: Vincent J. Donehue Written by: J.M. Barrie (original play) and Jerome Robbins (adaptation)
Starring: Mary Martin as Peter Pan Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook Maureen Bailey as Wendy Sondra Lee as Tiger Lily Joey Trent as John Kent Fletcher as Michael Edmund Gaynes as Slightly
Pre-screening memories: My cousins introduced me to a lot of great movies. A few years older than my sister and me, they would come babysit and bring West Side Story, or Adventures in Babysitting. They took me to the movies to see The Witches (which terrified me and I resented them for it for a long time). And one special Sunday long ago, they introduced me to Mary Martin’s Peter Pan.
I remember immediately loving this version of the familiar tale. This was before I saw Hook – a very influential movie for my generation – and probably even before I saw the animated Disney film. All versions of Peter Pan, including the book, were fascinating to me. But this one held a special place in my heart.
Part of that might be the record we had with some of the songs on it. My parents were no lovers of music, so we owned a whole three records that my sister and I played to shreds. One was the Brigham Young University choir doing their renditions of musical hits. And both Tiger Lily songs were on there. I’m sure we coordinated dances…because we always coordinated dances. And even on this rewatching of the film, I remembered all the words. Ugga-wugga-wig-wam. Racist. So racist. So fun.
It’s great rewatching a film that you think has been almost completely wiped from memory, but then discovering that all of it is so familiar. Uncanny, really.
New memories:The movie definitely loses a little of its appeal. What seemed charmingly simple to a child, is a little threadbare as an adult. Also, I’m not sure I realized it was just a filmed production of a Broadway play when I was a kid. It’s definitely an entirely different movie to someone now familiar with different aspects of filmmaking.
That said, I still loved the movie for what it was. A 47-year-old woman playing a little boy is delightful, no matter what the decade.
He has also appeared as an actor in 13 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows including Greenwillow with Anthony Perkins, The Body Beautifulwith Jack Warden, Promenade with Madeline Kahn, Edward Albee’s Bartleby and Best Foot Forward, in which he co-starred with Christopher Walken and Liza Minnelli and sang “Buckle Down, Winsocki” on the original cast album. Directors he has worked with include Elia Kazan, Stella Adler, Herb Ross, George Abbott, George Roy Hill, Bobby Lewis, Peter Hunt, George Schaeffer, Robert Moore, Alan Schneider, Joe Layton, Gene Saks, Martin Charnin and Jerome Robbins.
TV credits range from Mary Martin’s Peter Pan to Cheers, Kojak, a recurring role on The Patty Duke Show, The Sid Caesar Hour, Playhouse 90, The Ed Sullivan Show, among many others, as well as a two-year run as Paul Stewart on As the World Turns.
Other than that, not much (!!!). Kidding, of course. We want to thank Mr. Gaynes for taking the time from his many theatrical endeavors to join us.
Title: The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Directed by: Jim Henson Starring: Kermit T. Frog Miss Piggy Fozzie Bear Gonzo Scooter
By: Count Vardulon
Pre-Screening Memories: While the Muppets were introduced in the mid-70s, and the show was cancelled in 1981, I truly belive it’s my generation, the children of the early 80s, who benefitted most from Jim Henson’s creations. Gathering the whole family around the television once a week to watch the new episode of the Muppet Show is nice, but being able to watch an episode every single day after school allowed me to be absolutely bombarded by Muppet-dom.
Adding to my absolute submersion in all things Muppet-y is the fact that the early 80s was the kick-off point for the Jim Henson Explosion, where fans were able to watch syndicated Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and Muppet Babies every single week. It was a good time to be young.
There was, however, one tiny gap in my Muppet fandom – because I was too young to see it when it came out, and too poor to have a VCR when it was on video, I never saw the Muppet Movie. A condition that persists to this day. Knowing the movie was out there and not having seen it was bad enough, but being the only one among my circle of friends that had missed out made me feel like I was just short of a Pariah.
So when I heard about The Great Muppet Caper, I knew I wasn’t going to miss this one. Then I did, in theatre, anyhow. Trips to the big screen were few and far between during my childhood, reserved only for films so important that the entire family absolutely had to see it. Which usually wound up being films that scarred me for life, like Swamp Thing, Wrath of Khan, and the big Kahuna – Transformers: The Movie. For one reason or another, Great Muppet Caper didn’t fit that criteria. I had one card left to play, though – a little something called the ‘Free Weekend’, th ose three days every year when the pay TV channels descrambled enough that the underpriveleged had a chance to pack a whole year’s worth of movie-watching into 72 beautiful hours of television.
Which is how I saw The Great Muppet Caper for the first time, and almost the last. I managed to catch it on regular television a couple of times over the next few years, but for some reason never watched it again in later life. In retrospect, I find this incredibly strange, since I credit the Muppets in general, and my two viewings of this film specifically, with defining my entire sense of humor. While I may not remember the plot’s specifics now – something about Charles Grodin being a jewel thief, and showing off their new muppet technology by having them swim and ride bikes, and, of course, the Oscar the Grouch cameo (huge for anyone Seasame Street devotee) – it’s the style of comedy that stuck with me.
I found the fact that characters in the movie were talking directly to me rather than each other to be an entirely new kind of comedy. These days I recognize that breaking the fourth wall is as old as the hills, but as a child the fact that the movie opened with the mai n characters discussing the credits, then moved on to the movie’s first song, which, as I recall, was a celebration of the fact that they were making a movie.
After seeing it, I became nuts for the entire style of comedy – anything with a wink or a nod to the audience was good enough for me, and while I may have gotten a little more discerning with age, I still find post-modern comedy and meta-commentary the absolute funniest types of humour, something I can guarantee wouldn’t be true if I hadn’t seen this film as a young child.
The thing I’m most interested in finding out about the movie is just how much of that comedy is based on this principle – really I want to know if my entire sense of humour is based on an entire movie, or just the opening sequence. Even more importantly, though, I’m desperate to discover if my childhood self was utterly deluded or if this was, in fact, the funniest movie ever made.
New memories – Well, if it’s not the funniest movie of all time (Ghostbusters, naturally), it really belongs in the top five or ten. That’s right, the thing that I first noticed when starting to watch it for the first time in nearly two decades is just how incredibly funny it is. There’s barely a moment that goes by in the film without a laugh, but more than the volume of the humour, it’s the variety that stands out. There are so many films out there that attempt to offer jokes both for the children in the audience as well as their parents, generally with disasterous results. As a general rule, it breaks down into “crude slapstick for the kiddies, double-entendres and awkward recent cultural references for the adults”. For a perfect recent example of this formula, just view any film from the Shrek series.
The Great Muppet Caper takes an entirely different tack – instead of aiming their jokes down at the assumed-to-be uninformed audience of children, nearly every joke in the picture is pointed squarely at their parents. During the few breaks in my laughter, I couldn’t help but wonder what Henson’s game was, and more importantly, what could I possibly have found funny in this film as a 5 or 6 year old? A little after the halfway point, as I watched Peter Falk (TV’s Columbo!) give one of the most absurdly comic speeches in the history of cinema, I realized what was going on in the film. Henson and company weren’t trying to entertain children, they were trying to educate them! Just as Sesame Street used Muppets as the sugar coating to help children swallow math and linguistic lessons, The Great Muppet Caper uses Muppets as a way of teaching children how to have a well-rounded sense of humor. It’s a simple trick: in a normal film, little children see a character fart or fa ll over, and they laugh.
In this film, they see a puppety oddball make a wonderfully clever or absurd turn of phrase, and their parents laugh. Even though they’re not sure why it was funny, the children laugh along because they don’t want to be left out. Then later, they ask their parents why a certain moment or line was so funny, and an inquisitive comedic mind is born. It’s genius. Henson knew that just putting the Muppets onscreen would get kids into the theatre seats – most people would have exploited that opportunity to get lazy and coast their way to an easy check, but instead, the filmmakers did something far more complicated and ambitious.
I haven’t even talked about the amazing cast yet! I had vague memories of Charles Grodin and John Cleese being in the film, but I had no idea that Diana Rigg (Emma Peel!) played the fashion designer/habitual victim of jewel theivery, who delivers the film’s second-funniest monologue. The Cleese scene is so brilliant that it could be a short film in and of itself – if it wasn’t ghost-written by him I’d be incredibly surprised, especially when I saw who was cast as his wife. And Grodin is absolutely hilarious, utterly selling his infatuation with Miss Piggy and doing some of the best ‘treating puppet as person’ acting I’ve seen, albeit filtered through Grodin’s slightly ironically detached screen persona.
Going into this movie I knew that much of my sense of humour could be traced back to it (absurdism, monsters talking to people, meta-comedy), and I assumed that the film had just been so funny that I’d been indoctrinated by the hilarity. Until actually watching the film, it never occurred to me that the idoctrination could have been the filmmakers’ intended goal. Looking back at it now, I realize that Henson and compnay were, most likely, looking upon the film as a device for creating lifelong fans of both their specific characters and the type of comedy they wanted to create.
Considering both my tastes and the amount of muppet paraphernalia I possess, I can safely say: Mission Accomplished.
Listen to count’s investigation into The Great Muppet Caper here, or use the handy device below:
Film: The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T
Rated: PG Directed by: Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel) Starring: Hans Conreid as Dr. Terwilliker
Tommy Rettig as Bart Cullins
Peter Lind Hayes as Mr. Zoblowdowski
Mary Healy as Heloise Cullins Tagline:
At that point, I had already seen the Seuss cartoons.Not just the popular ones like Horton Hears a Who.Oh no, my favorite was Pontoffel Pock & His Magic Piano. I was very vocal about this.Obviously, I was destined for a life filled with non-stop social engagements due to my unimaginable popularity.Why they haven’t made a live action Pontoffel movie, I can’t fathom.
The chance to watch Dr. Seuss come to life was once-in-a-childhood.How the Grinch Stole Christmas would later pop up during my teen years but failed to appear on my radar.Said social engagements were surely the cause.
Once my little brother finally finished whatever BBC “Chronicles of Narnia” mini-series he had checked out (again) it was time to live the dream.Popped the tape in, fast-forwarded past the FBI WARNINGS and the previews and got right to the goods.Apparently, there’s something special about those 5,000 Fingers because certain scenes still stick out in my memory.It’s been ten years since my last viewing, but I can still remember every movement the two brothers-one beard characters make, including their death scene!
When I was an undergrad, a professor showed us Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.INSERT: childhood cinematic flashback.I’d bet that the director had some love in their heart for German Expressionism.That being said, Dr. Seuss probably did as well.The sets were so gigantic and magical.There were ladders leading to nowhere, huge doors, and that 500-boy piano.
The plot circles around a young boy who somehow gets sent to a magical world.I can’t remember how.An evil piano teacher has devised a plan to enslave 500 little boys (don’t worry, it’s a PG movie) and have them play an enormous piano.Why he wants them to all play one piano, I can’t remember that either.My 5,000 Fingers memories are mostly visual.The plot plays like Swiss cheese in my brain.It’d be interesting to see if the magic is still intact and if the storyline is anywhere as impressive as the cinematography.
Did the ivory tickler Dr. T still tickle Scott’s fancy? You can download it or listen here (Ed. – In this ep, it sounds as though Scott and I are speaking over one another in some parts. We were actually very considerate, but the recording somehow sped up our comments to overlap each other. Sorry. I’ll fix it in future eps.):
Addendum: We contacted Bill Davis, the pre-eminent Seuss-ologist whern it comes to ‘Dr. T’ with regards to this podcast, and he replied: ”
Probably the most interesting thing about the film is the fact that they cut 10 songs out of the film before it was released. The movie was supposed to be more about how the adults aren’t able to communicate to kids or to each other. I’m not saying the film would have been better received by the public if it had been released in the full version, but it would have been a different film.”
Directed by: Martin Davidson Written by: Martin and Arlene Davidson
Based on the novel by P.F. Kluge Starring: Michael Pare as Eddie Wilson
Tom Berenger as Frank Ridgeway
Ellen Barkin as Maggie Foley
Joe Pantoliano as Doc Robbins
Tagline: Rebel. Rocker. Lover. Idol. Vanished
By Rob Rector
If you were a teen during the first few years of MTV (which we now forget, but the ‘M’ once stood for Music, not M-barassingly shallow youth). The release of a new video was treated like a movie premier. You would gather around a friend’s house to watch that spaceship launch as it debuted a new favorite-to-be.
You would make sure the VCR was recording the right channel so after that three-minute movie, you could immediately rewind it and watch it over and over again to perfect your air instruments.
And if you were even the most casual viewier, the name Bruce Springsteen was certainly no stranger. There are not enough gigs on my hard drive to summarize my slavish devotion to all things Bruce – from spending summers as an early teen dancing on a roof of an outdoor bar as the raucous strains of “Rosalita” played in the salty beach breeze; being old enough to attend concerts in which I could worship my idol up close; the excitement of meeting a guy who wired Bruce’s home security system (Bruce and wife Patty Scialfa have their help all over their home every year for a barbecue where he cooks for them! How cool is that?); choosing “If I Should Fall Behind… (Wait for Me)” as my wedding song and inviting Bruce to attend (astonishingly, he declined).
During all this time, there were droughts where we would get no tunes from The Boss, so we would settle for anything even remotely similar.
Enter John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, aka the voice of Eddie and the Cruisers for the film of the same name. It wasn’t Bruce, but it was about the eighth- or ninth-best thing to listening to actual Bruce tunes.
In 1983, the little film came and went to the theater (I don’t even recall it appearing on local screens), but it was one of those lightening-in-a-bottle instances in which it received a breath of new life courtesy of one Home Box Office, which I think ran it on a loop with Beastmaster for months on end.
Music aside, there is very little of the film I recall. I remember it starring the dude from another favorite “Streets of Fire,” cementing Michael Pare’s place as the coolest living actor of the time for me. I think Diane Lane was in this or the sequel, but that could be “Streets of Fire” devotion bleeding over in my brain and the fact that I wanted Diane Lane to star in every film of my youth.
What I do recall is the video phenomenon that accompanied the film. There were two videos released: one featuring Pare lip-synching the entire song, as in the movie, the other starring the song’s real vocalist Cafferty and his bandmates aping “Springsteen style,” right down to the muscle shirts, bandanas and even the larger saxophonist who bared more than a slight resemblance to one Clarence “The Big Man” Clemons. I remember how disappointed I was when the latter version was screened, for I wanted to live in the dream. At least Pare vaguely resembled the rough-and-tumble look of a hungry-hearted rocker, not the scrawny incarnation that sang through his bangs into the mic, ala Cafferty.
Even though it was all some Milquetoast copy of Bruce, for a young kid, it would do. The accompanying cassette tape of the soundtrack would ultimately meet its demise in my boom box after succumbing to exhaustion (as did its followup “Tough All Over”. I did not want the videos, nor the liner notes to remind me of the actual ridiculously named band. I just wanted to close my eyes and pretend that it was the same artist that made me climb onto the rooftops and dance in the dark on those hot summer nights.
How dark was this trip ‘on the dark side? Will it ruin Rob’s memories of his ‘tender years?’