A Movie A Day #55: Where The Buffalo Roam (1980, directed by Art Linson)


where_the_buffalo_roam_ver3At his Colorado ranch, journalist Hunter S. Thompson (Bill Murray) is up against a deadline.  He has to finish his story about his friendship with the radical lawyer and activist, Carlo Lazlo (Peter Boyle).  Thompson flashes back to the time that he covered a trial in which Lazlo defended a group of young men charged with possession of marijuana.  When the men are sent to prison, Lazlo snaps and physically attacks the prosecutor.  Later, Lazlo resurfaces during the Super Bowl and tries to convince Thompson to join him in fighting a revolution in Latin America.  And finally, in 1972, Lazlo tracks Thompson down while Thompson is traveling with the Nixon campaign.

Bill Murray as the legendary gonzo journalist, Dr. Hunter S. Thompson?

It sounds like a great idea, it’s just too bad that the movie’s not any good.  Where The Buffalo Roam may be based on three of Thompson’s best known articles but it never feels gonzo.  It never comes close to capturing Thompson’s anarchistic spirit.  The real Thompson did drugs by the handful, was fascinated by guns, and always seemed to be on the verge of plunging into the abyss.  Where The Buffalo Roam’s Thompson is a mild prankster and an ironically detached hipster, the type who the real Dr. Thompson probably would have kicked out of a moving car.  As for Carlo Lazlo, the character is based on Oscar Zeta Acosta, the infamous “Samoan attorney” that Thompson renamed “Dr. Gonzo” in Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas.  The movie never figures out what to do with the character or Peter Boyle.

While preparing for the role, Bill Murray spent months hanging out with Thompson and, according to the book, Saturday Night: A Backstage History of Saturday Night Live by Doug Weingard and Jeff Hill, literally became Hunter Thompson for not only the duration of the filming but for several months afterward:

“In a classic case of the role overtaking the actor, Billy returned that fall to Saturday Night so immersed in playing Hunter Thompson he had virtually become Hunter Thompson, complete with long black cigarette holder, dark glasses, and nasty habits. ‘Billy,’ said one of the writers, echoing several others, ‘was not Bill Murray, he was Hunter Thompson. You couldn’t talk to him without talking to Hunter Thompson.'”

Neither Thompson nor Bill Murray were happy with Where The Buffalo Roam‘s neutered version of gonzo and the film is really for Murray completists only.  The closest that Hollywood had gotten to getting Thompson right remains Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Back to School Part II #9: National Lampoon’s Animal House (dir by John Landis)


NATIONAL-LAMPOONS-ANIMAL-HOUSE

You know what?  I’m going to start this review with the assumption that you’ve already seen the classic 1978 college comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  At the very least, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of it and that you know the general details.  Animal House was not only a huge box office success but it’s also one of the most influential films ever made.  Almost every comedy released since 1978 owes a debt to the success of Animal House.  Just as every subsequent high school film was directly descended from American Graffiti, every college film features at least a little Animal House in its DNA.

So, with that in mind, who is your favorite member of Delta House?

toga

Most people, I think, would automatically say Bluto (played by John Belushi) and certainly, Bluto is the best known and perhaps best-remembered member of the cast.  As played by Belushi, Bluto is the film’s rampaging ID and he’s such a force of nature that, whenever I rewatch Animal House, I’m surprised to be reminded of the fact that he’s not really in the film that much.  He’s present for the parties, of course.  He imitates a zit and starts a food fight.  He gives a rousing speech, in which he reminds the members of the Delta House that America didn’t give up after “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”  He destroys a folk singer’s guitar and I personally love the scene where he tries to cheer up a despondent pledge by smashing a beer bottle over his head.  But really, Bluto is used very sparingly and he’s one of the few members of the ensemble not to get his own subplot.  Bluto’s great but he’s not my favorite member of Delta House.

Hoover

Believe it or not, my favorite member of Delta House is Robert Hoover (James Widdoes).  Hoover is the president of Delta House and, when we first meet him, he seems like he’s way too clean-cut to be in charge of the “worst house” on campus.  But then, as the film progresses, we discover that Hoover may not be as openly crazy as everyone else but he’s definitely a Delta.  Just watch him in the Toga party scene.  Just look at him in the picture that shows up during the closing credits.  It took me a while to realize that Hoover, the future public defender, was giving the camera the finger.  Hoover may look uptight but he’s secretly a wild man!

animal-house 1

One of the things that I love about Animal House is that it truly is an ensemble film.  There’s not a weak performance to be found in the entire movie.  No matter how wild or over-the-top the humor gets, the entire cast commits to their roles and, as a result, they keep this movie grounded.  You actually find yourself caring about whether or not they get kicked off campus.  You truly believe that the members of Delta House have been friends for years but, even more importantly, you believe the same thing about their rivals at Omega House.  For that matter, it may be easy to make fun of Dean Wormer (John Vernon, setting the template for all evil deans to come) but you never doubt that he’s been in charge of Faber College for years and that he’s planning on being in charge for years to come.  As played by the deep-voiced and sinister-looking Vernon, Wormer becomes every unreasonable authority figure.  When he explains the concept of super secret probation, he does so with a smug pleasure that is practically chilling.  When he mentions that the members of Delta House can now be drafted, the smile on his face is terrifying.

Wormer

You know who else gives a really good performance in Animal House?  Donald Sutherland.  At the time, Sutherland was the biggest star in the film.  He was offered either a percentage of the grosses or a flat fee.  Sutherland thought the film would flop, took the flat fee, and missed out on millions as a result. Sutherland plays Prof. Jennings, an English teacher who, in the only scene actually set in a classroom, desperately tries to get his bored students to pay attention to him.  There’s something so poignant about the way Jennings begs his students to turn in their papers.  “I’m not joking,” he sputters, “this is my job!”

Jennings

Jennings turns out to be free thinker.  He turns Boone (Peter Riefert), Katie (Karen Allen), and Pinto (Tom Hulce) onto marijuana.  There’s an anachronistic peace sign hanging in his apartment (Animal House takes place in 1963) but no matter.  Far worse is the fact that he temporarily breaks up Boone and Katie!  Everyone knows those two belong together!

Bluto and Flounder

You know who else doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in Animal House?  Stephen Furst.  He plays Flounder, a new pledge.  Flounder is just so enthusiastic about everything and he doesn’t even seem to be upset when Wormer tells him, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”  I love the enthusiastic way that Furst delivers simple lines like, “What’s my Delta Chi name?” and “Brother Bluto!  Brother D-Day!  What are you doing here!?” My favorite Flounder moment comes when he accidentally gives a horse a heart attack.  Technically, it shouldn’t be funny but it is because Furst, Belushi, and Bruce McGill (playing the role of D-Day) so thoroughly throw themselves into their roles.  For that matter, the horse did a pretty good job too.

Boone and Otter

But that’s not all!  How can I praise the ensemble of Animal House without mention Tim Matheson, who plays Otter, the future Beverly Hills gynecologist?  Or what about Kevin Bacon, playing Omega pledge Chip Diller?  This was Bacon’s first role and who can forget him shouting, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” while being initiated into Omega House?  Or how about James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, as the two leaders of Omega House?  They were villains truly worth hissing!

Omega House

And yes, I know that a lot of the humor in Animal House is not politically correct but who cares?  It’s a hilarious movie, one that is full of good actors at their absolute best.  Yes, they’re all a bunch of privileged sexists blah blah blah, but I’d still party with the Delta House.  They know how to have fun and, even if they did wreck the Homecoming Parade, they had a good reason!

parade

And so is the movie.  Every time I see Animal House, I feel good about the world.  In 1978, The Deer Hunter was named best picture by the Academy.  Well, you know what?  With all due respect to that long epic about the tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War,  all the Oscars should have gone to Animal House!

Animal-House-e1349570128550

In conclusion … SING IT!

Let me t-t-tell you ’bout some friends I know
They’re kinda crazy but you’ll dig the show
They can party ’till the break of dawn
at Delta Chi you can’t go wrong

Otter, he’s the ladies man
Every girl falls into his hands
Boon and Katy playing “Cat and Mouse”

and Mrs. Wormer, she’s the queen of the
ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

That Pinto he’s a real swell guy
Clorette was jailbait but he gave her a try
Chip, Doug, and Greg, they’re second to none
They studied under Attila the Hun

Mr. Jennings has got his wig on tight
Flouder’s left shoe’s always on his right
Babs and Mandy are having a pillow fight
With D-Day, Hoover, Otis Day and the Knights

DO THE BLUTO

Come on baby, dance with me
Maybe if we do the Bluto
We will get an “A” in lobotomy

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

Aw, come on!
Let me tell ya
Dean Wormer tried to shut us down
But he fell and he broke his crown
He didn’t know about the Delta spunk
He came in handy when we were short a skunk

At the

ANIMAL HOUSE

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Music Video of the Day: I Wanna Rock by Twisted Sister (1984, dir. Marty Callner)


“Hello students.
School has begun.
The summer is over.
I am in command.”

According to my old high school’s calendar, it is the first day of school. If your teacher happens to look like the jilted husband/boyfriend from Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979), then…

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

be careful because the guy might be able to lift cars.

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979, dir. Joan Micklin Silver)

After We’re Not Gonna Take It worked out so well with actor Mark Metcalf, we got a repeat of his amazing performance. Also, with this and 1987’s Here We Go Again, director Marty Callner has directed at least two music videos that have become legends, not because of the band or the song, but because of someone else in the video.

I Wanna Rock is the riveting tale of Mark Metcalf trying to destroy fun by being funny himself while getting flung around a school through the power of rock. It’s also about choosing what you want to do in life, and not what somebody else tells you to do. The music video is not as good as We’re Not Gonna Take It largely because the song isn’t is as good. The music video is still fun though, and showcases Mark Metcalf’s talents as a comedian.

If you haven’t seen this music video, then it is essential. I’ll explain the story of how Metcalf wound up in these music videos when I get around to We’re Not Gonna Take It.

Enjoy!

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #91: A Reason to Believe (dir by Douglas Triola)


A Reason to BelieveThroughout the late 90s, a rather obscure film from 1995 called A Reason To Believe used to show up on Cinemax fairly frequently. I was 11 when I first saw it.  At the time, I was indulging in my rebellious streak by secretly staying up past my bed time and sneaking into the living room, where I would watch whatever forbidden sordidness what being aired.  Because I didn’t want to wake anyone up, I would watch with the volume turned almost all the way down.  Hence, when I first saw A Reason To Believe, I literally had to sit less than an inch away from the TV just so I could hear the dialogue.

And I remember that, at the age of 11, A Reason To Believe really blew me away.  I thought it was one of the greatest films that I had ever seen.  The fact that the film involved college students made me feel like I was both watching a movie for adults and getting a preview of what life would be like when I was older.  All of the sex and the language made me feel like I was getting away with something while I was watching it.  At one point, there was a shot of Sharon (played by Holly Marie Combs) putting a condom on Wesley’s (Danny Quinn) erect penis and I found myself glancing over my shoulder, convinced that at any minute a responsible adult was going to enter the living room and say, “WHAT ARE YOU WATCHING!?”

So, when I recently rewatched A Reason To Believe, I did so wondering how the film would hold up now that I’m an adult.  Not surprisingly, a good deal of the film now seemed to be heavy-handed.  For every good line in the script, there was a line that was way too obvious.  Characters who were funny when I was 11 — like dorky stoner Potto (Keith Coogan) — now seemed to be annoying.  And, of course, my more experienced eyes immediately realized that Holly Marie Combs was putting that condom on a prosthetic penis.

And yet, A Reason To Believe is still fairly effective and probably deserves to be better known than it actually is.  Usually, I refuse to give extra credit for good intentions but I’m willing to make an exception for A Reason To Believe because the film deals with a subject that, now more than ever, needs to be dealt with.

Charlotte (Allison Smith) is a student at an unnamed generic university.  When her boyfriend, Wesley (Danny Quinn), has to go away for the weekend, he asks Allison not to go to Viking, an annual party thrown by his fraternity.  Charlotte promises that she won’t but then goes anyway.  At Viking, she hangs out with Wesley’s best friend, Jim (Jay Underwood).  Jim is also dating Allison’s friend, Judith (Kim Walker).  Realizing that she’s had too much to drink, Allison attempts to leave the party but instead, Jim leads her into his bedrom.  He kisses her.  She says no but Jim forces himself on her.  Repeating all the old bullshit excuses (i.e., Charlotte was flirting with him, all girls say no when they mean yes, and all the rest) Jim seems to truly believe that the sex was consensual.  Charlotte knows it was rape.

At first, Charlotte doesn’t want to face what happened.  When she finally does go to the university administration and reports what happened, the frat — including her boyfriend — comes together to protect Jim.  Charlotte’s friends — like Judith — abandon her.  Her only supporter is Linda (Georgia Emelin), an anti-fraternity campus activist who is more interested in Charlotte as a means to an end than as a human being.

A Reason To Believe held up fairly well.  Yes, it’s heavy-handed and a lot of the dialogue is too spot-on and literal.  I could have done without the scenes featuring Obba Babatunde as a bombastic professor.  However, Allison Smith and Jay Underwood both gave excellent performances in the two lead roles and the film deserves a lot of credit for not shying away from just how misogynistic the fraternity/sorority culture can truly be.  Ultimately, flaws and all, it’s a valuable, realistic, and angry portrayal of rape culture and it deserves to be seen for that reason.

It can currently be viewed on YouTube.