Take flight to Middle-Earth with Air New Zealand

31-Oct-12 2:04 PM by
Filed under Humor; 2 comments.

For six films, New Zealand has played host to the denizens of J.R.R. Tolkien's tales, its lush country landscapes providing the fantasy setting of Middle-Earth. While the first film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy doesn't land until December 14, you can land in Middle-Earth today, courtesy of Air New Zealand, who provides this pre-flight instructional video:

This is no indie work — it features cameos by both director Peter Jackson (who turns 51 today!) and Gollum. Impressive!

I have flown seven flights in the last two weeks, and many more than that every year. Not once have I ever found an instructional safety video that gripped my attention like this one. When else have you ever found yourself indulging in this genre on YouTube?

Well done, Air New Zealand! I look forward to visiting Middle-Earth soon.

(Hat tip: Gina Serpe via Gene Demaitre)

Surely You Can't Be Dead, Leslie Nielsen

28-Nov-10 10:14 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; 3 comments.

Leslie Nielsen, star of Police Squad, Naked Gun, and Airplane!, died Sunday at the age of 84.

Mr. Nielsen was much loved and fondly remembered for the many laughs the above films brought to generations of American theatergoers, but his legacy is older and more eclectic than many fans may realize. His acting career began with a television appearance 1948, from which he built a diverse portfolio as a talented, serious actor. But it was his turn as Dr. Rumack in the 1980 comedy Airplane! that introduced him to the comedic genre upon which he would establish three decades of celebrity status. The film, itself a parody of Zero Hour!, cast stars who would essentially be playing parodies of the dramatic characters for which they were previously known.

Mr. Nielsen's small but important role in that movie produced what the American Film Institute deemed the 79th top quotation in American cinematic history:

(Other Airplane! stars who passed away this year include Peter Graves [Capt. Clarence Oveur] and Barbara Billingsley [the jive-speaking passenger]. As Lisa Hoover put it: I hate you, 2010.)

Two years later, Mr. Nielsen cemented his transition to the genre and his status as a comedic powerhouse when he landed the leading role in Police Squad!. In this short-lived television series, he maintained his ability to deliver one-liners with a timing and tone that packed as much punch as any buildup:

Though the show lasted only six episodes, it spun off three feature-length films, something accomplished by not even the likes of Get Smart! or Firefly. Mr. Nielsen went on to play the lead in further spoofs such as Mel Brooks' Dracula: Dead and Loving It, Spy Hard, and Wrongfully Accused, and appearing in other comedies including Scary Movie 4 and Superhero Movie.

It was just this past Thanksgiving Eve that my girlfriend and I finished watching the complete Police Squad! on DVD. As it aired before she was born, she'd never heard of the show but immediately cottoned to it, riveted to catch every rapid-fire joke and subtle gag. It didn't take us long to decide that we had to give this set as a Christmas gift to introduce even more people to this brief, overlooked, yet valuable contribution Mr. Nielsen made to comedic history. We never expected that he would so soon be a part of history himself, making it especially poignant to discover there will be no more adventures of Frank Drebin.

As the optimistic Wil Wheaton: Leslie Nielsen's in a better place. "A better place? What is it?" A construct to help cope with grief, but that's not important right now.

The Legacy of Jive-Speaking Barbara Billingsley

17-Oct-10 12:43 PM by
Filed under Fade to Black; Comments Off on The Legacy of Jive-Speaking Barbara Billingsley

Barbara Billingsley, whose fame was founded by playing mom June Cleaver on Leave It to Beaver but who also enjoyed popularity as a jive-speaking passenger on Airplane! and as Nanny on Muppet Babies, passed away on Saturday at the age of 94, CNN reports.

Although I never saw Ms. Billingsley in her original black-and-white role, I've seen how surprised people are when they realize that the three parts listed above were played by the same person. It's a mark of a talented and open-minded artist that they can and will move so fluidly among a variety of performances. But I wonder if she wasn't the least bit frustrated that she achieved so much fame from such a minor part?

If she did, she graciously never let it show, instead focusing on gratitude for the opportunities it presented, as demonstrated in this interview:

She was a classy lady of a bygone era.

From Zero Hour to Airplane!

01-Jun-10 12:31 PM by
Filed under Films; 1 comment.

Kentucky Fried Movie is a relatively little-known film released in 1977 that consists of a series of humorous vignettes, sketches, and spoofs that bookend a "feature presentation": an extended parody of Bruce Lee action films, "A Fistful of Yen". The film was a financial success and encouraged its creators — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker — to create a sequel. This time, the featured skit would be a spoof of disaster films and would be set in an airport. As they developed the script, they realized it had enough potential to be a feature-length film, so they dropped the shorter sketches and built out the rest into one long parody.

Thus was born Airplane!

At least, that's the story I was told — but a recent post at Cinematical has me questioning its veracity. It seems that Airplane! was an unabashed remake of a 1957 drama Zero Hour! with almost the exact same premise. Rather than rework the concept for their purposes, Abrahams and the Zuckers copied it almost scene-for-scene:

It's remarkable the amount of dialogue that was copied verbatim. Although Airplane! often takes those scenes to ridiculous lengths, other lines are parroted perfectly — yet what was dramatic in Zero Hour! somehow becomes humorous in this new context.

Although the quantity of parody suggests this aping intentional, such is not always the case. Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove are two films based on different books that were released by the same studio in the same year — yet the former is the most terrifying Cold War film I have ever seen, while the latter was ranked as the American Film Institute's third funniest movie of all time. (Airplane! comes in at #10.) But to watch these films, you'd think that there had to have been some correlation between the two, as there was with Airplane! and its source material.

Regardless, will anyone ever watch Zero Hour! the same way again?

(Hat tip to Bill Loguidice)

Peter Graves: Avowing Knowledge of His Actions

15-Mar-10 9:56 AM by
Filed under Fade to Black; 1 comment.

Actor Peter Graves died of a heart attack at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif., on Sunday, just four days before his 84th birthday. (Story continues)

Mr. Graves had many film credits to his name, including spoofing his own gravitas as Capt. Clarence Oveur in the cult classic Airplane!, but he was perhaps best known for Mission: Impossible, in which he played team leader Jim Phelps, in both the original series (1967–1973) and the revival (1988–1990). His variety of roles demonstrated his talent for both drama and comedy, though his efforts at the former sometimes met with mixed success; It Conquered The World, The Beginning of the End, and Parts: The Clonus Horror were best suited to MST3K fodder. Nonetheless, he took his roles seriously and personally, to the point of expressing regret that Jon Voight's character in the 1996 Mission: Impossible film bore the same name with which Mr. Graves so closely identified.

To a great and memorable actor, I offer this fan memorial of the inestimable Mr. Graves, followed by one of his most dramatic moments:

(Hat tip to the Washington Post)

Staying Alive

13-Jan-07 5:44 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

I'd never seen Saturday Night Fever before this, the 30th anniversary of the film. But when a friend 52 years my senior was stunned at this gaping hole in my cinematic education, she insisted on filling it for me and one of my peers.

I now see how vital it is to have knowledge of this film; spoofs such as Airplane! suddenly make so much more sense! Regardless of our respective ages, we laughed at the symbols of the Seventies: the clothing, the language, the family dynamics.

At least at first. What I thought was a film about a disco competition proved to have far more depth than Bring It On or Drumline. I'm not familiar enough with Fever's era for the film to strike a nostalgic chord, but I can imagine how it might capture the aspirations of that generation, the changing gender roles, and religious obligations. That latter aspect was of the most interest to me; though I would've liked to see more of Father Frank Jr., they effectively summarized his position and decisions in the world and his family. His older brother's story was, again, more nuanced than I expected; it reminded me mostly of Catcher in the Rye. The choreography was a work of art as well. But I think I'll pass on the sequel, Staying Alive.

In a tale right out of Street Smart, Fever is based on a magazine article that was revealed 20 years later to have been fabricated. Its author, a Brit, found the American disco scene incomprehensible, and so created his own story. I wonder what value or meaning the ensuing movie adaptation has for an international audience? Does it too baffle them?