Man on the Moon, and six more movies

Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Man in the Moon (1991)

Hey, I remember this. It was the first movie I saw during my brief attempt to live in Los Angeles, before deciding on San Francisco instead. The theater was some monstrous maxi-plex with about thirty-six screens. It was half a mile from the parking lot to the box office, and then another half-mile from the box office to auditorium #27 or whatever.

The Man in the Moon is a folksy farm movie about an adolescent girl with a crush on the boy from the next farm over. There's lots of aw-shucks Southern charm, all polished to a pleasant but Hollywood version of rural reality. Sam Waterston and Tess Harper play the best darn parents in the world, and "introducing Reese Witherspoon" as their pipsqueak daughter in love.

It was written by Jenny Wingfield, presumably a woman, and it has what feels like more genuine girl and woman perspectives than you usually see in a movie. It's sweet and sad, and a little too preachy.

"Don't love me now, when things are so mixed up. I've got more than I can say grace over right now."

Directed by Robert Muilligan (To Kill a Mockingbird).

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Man on the Moon (1999)

I was never a fan of anti-comedian Andy Kaufman. He was intentionally unfunny, perpetually inappropriate, difficult, and probably he was mentally unwell. But aren't we all.

If you're unfamiliar with Kaufman, an example, as shown here, is when an adoring crowd came came to see what he'd come up with next, and he stood on stage reading from The Great Gatsby for the entire show.

Kaufman never gave an audience what they expected or wanted, always pranking the crowds, the entertainment industry, and the world. I respected the pranks, but didn't pay much attention during his short career and life — never watched Taxi, and saw but never connected with Kaufman's perplexing appearances on Letterman and SNL.

What I remember most about Kaufman is a bit he did on Dick Van Dyke's quickly-cancelled mid-1970s TV variety show, Van Dyke & Company. Not yet famous, Kaufman was uncredited but appeared on the show week after week as a disruptive member of the audience, barely speaking English, never making sense, heckling the show in progress. You watched and wondered what the fuck? And then in the third or fourth week of this, he suddenly dropped the accent and broke into a dang good Elvis impersonation.

That's dedication — weeks of setup for a pretty good gag that wouldn't have been funny without the weeks of setup.

Man on the Moon is the story of Kaufman's life, but like his public persona, it's unclear how much is true or false or beyond. Being mostly a neophyte, I agreed with a couple of background characters early in the flick who said, "This is not funny."

Gotta admit, though, never once did I consider turning it off, and eventually the film drew big belly laughs from my big belly.

Jim Carrey is good as Kaufman (Carrey is always good), and the movie plays with audience expectations like Kaufman did, only you don't have to wait weeks for a punchline — it's over in two hours.

I liked the movie much more than I liked the real Kaufman, and it made me like Kaufman better than I did, too.

Man on the Moon was directed by Milos Forman — Amadeus, Hair, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest — and produced by George Shapiro, who was Kaufman's agent, played by Danny DeVito in the movie. Music by R.E.M. Co-starring Courtney Love and Paul Giamatti, with smaller roles for just about everyone from Kaufman's career, including Howdy Doody.

Gotta say this about Courtney Love: From everything I've read, she's a wretched soul, but she's a dang fine actress. When she joins the story here, it's the moment the movie won me over.

"Would anybody like to pay a dollar to touch my cyst? I'm serious. I could really use the money right now."

Andy Kaufman died in 1984 at age 35, but there's a theory — alluded to twice in the film — that his death was a hoax, and he might still be out there somewhere. If so, he'd be 74 now. I hope he liked the movie.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring (1971)

This is a made-for-TV movie from 1971, which was heavily hyped as an "issue" film. The issue was that Sally Field was playing a runaway, a flower child, a hippie. Back then she was famous as TV's Gidget and The Flying Nun, but this promised to be far less wholesome, and Mom and Dad wouldn't let me watch.

Finally, I've watched it, but Mom and Dad were probably right to protect me from it. Not because it's subversive, though it is, but because it's kind of a mess.

With the title, Maybe I'll Come Home in the Spring, it ought to be about a runaway, but she comes home about ten minutes into the movie.

It's full of quick-cut flashbacks, constantly — while she's run off from home, the flashbacks and voiceovers are from before she ran away, and once she's back, the flashbacks and voiceovers are from her ten minutes as a hippie. With all the constant flashbacking, the story is a jigsaw puzzle, but I'm not convinced all the pieces are there.

It's directed by Joseph Sargent, who was one of the best journeymen moviemakers of the era, so there's definitely something here. One scene shows the girl using drugs — oh, the horror — while her parents get drunk at a fairly wild party, a subtle juxtaposition that challenges 1971. There's also a beautiful moment where the girl is high on something and writing words in the air via special effects.

On the downside, there's an awful lot of hollering — her parents hollering at Sally Field and her sister, and her shaggy boyfriend (John Carradine) hollering at her parents, and Sally hollering, her sister hollering.

And the flashbacks are too much, too many.

Field is fine in her part, John Carradine is OK but shaggy and "can't handle meth," but it all feels as superficial as, well, a better-than-average made-for-TV movie from the '70s.

Linda Ronstadt sings a few songs, and that's enough to give it a B.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

My Dinner with Hervé  (2018)

Same as Andy Kaufman above, I never paid much attention to Hervé Villechaize. Saw only the pilot episode of Fantasy Island, and turned it off halfway through. I've seen his Bond movie, The Man with the Golden Gun, but every Bond I've seen has disappointed me, and nothing about that one exists in my memory.

Eight or nine minutes into My Dinner with Hervé, Peter Dinklage shows up, playing Villechaize, complete with a plausible French accent, and the movie is instantly better. I've been a Dinklage fan since The Station Agent, and he probably makes a better Villechaize than Villechaize.

This is allegedly a true story, about a reporter sent to interview Villechaize and write a short, hopefully comic puff piece about him. It's set long after the actor's fame had faded, and the reporter isn't much interested in the assignment, but Hervé wants to talk so talk he does, all night long. He drops clues, which the reporter misses, that this will be his final interview, and a few days after their conversation, Villechaize killed himself.

Based only on what's shown here, he seems to have been a prickly actor with an out-of-control ego, like most successful stars only shorter. It's hard to like a guy who's such an ass, but still, the parts of the movie that are about Villechaize are of interest, and Dinklage is excellent.

The movie is more about the reporter, though, and he's at least as obnoxious and full of himself as Villechaize. He's played by someone named Jamie Dornan, who (as the kids say) I can't even. Wikipedia says Dornan's been hailed as both "one of Ireland's greatest film actors" and "one of the 25 Biggest Male Models of All Time," but to me he's a blob of nothing on the screen.

His character's alcoholism, his harassment of an ex-girlfriend, the office politics at his job, and any of the other things we're supposed to care about are rendered moot by the actor.

The real-life reporter Dornan is playing was Sacha Gervasi, who wrote a book about interviewing Villechaize, then wrote and directed this film. Gervasi previously made the finest heavy-metal documentary of all time, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, but My Dinner with Hervé is no Anvil.

Maybe I'm dead wrong, though. This flick was recommended to me by two people whose opinions I respect, and it won awards and got rave reviews from, apparently, everyone on earth who isn't me.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Paper Chase (1973)

"You come in here with a skull full of mush. You leave thinking like a lawyer."

The Paper Chase was a very good book about the struggles of law students at Harvard. I don't care about the law, about law students, or about lawyers, and I certainly don't care about Harvard, but I read the book when I was in high school, and liked it a lot. It later became a TV series, which I also liked a lot.

Between the book and the TV show, it was a movie I'd somehow missed seeing until tonight.

It's not a comedy, but I laughed a lot, because the driving dramatic question is whether these very straight-laced 20-somethings will get the big-bucks, big money, and big boring careers they desperately want. You kinda hope they don't succeed, since a few of them seem like decent people. Also, you can laugh at Timothy Bottoms' 1970s hair.

If anyone actually watches a movie because I've written about it, listen closely during the first scene, before there's any dialogue. There's only crowd noise, as students walk into a previously-empty classroom, but the audio must've been recorded separately, and doesn't last as long as the crowd noise needed to be, so it's looped — repeated. You can't not hear the same thumps and coughs happening three times.

Also, the movie's last few minutes, after the climax, are unnecessary and occasionally silly. Between the botched first minute and the tedious last few minutes, though, everything else mostly works.

Directed by James Bridges (The China Syndrome, Colossus: The Forbin Project). Scored by John Williams.

Lindsay Wagner plays "female plot device," and of course the inimitable John Houseman co-stars as the brilliant Professor Kingsfield. Bottoms' acting tends to annoy me but just this once it didn't. There are small bits from up-and-coming stars Blair Brown, Edward Herrmann, and Ronald Mlodzik.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Promised Land (2012)

Slick buyers from a natural gas company want to buy up a poor farming town, so they can frack the county for natural gas. Matt Damon and John Krasinski star, and also wrote the script, which hinders things.

I became impatient with the story's leisurely pace. A lot of the film goes by, and rather slowly, before anyone says the word 'fracking'.

Fracking is evil, and the movie shows and eventually explains that, but it feels generic, like a couple of Hollywood liberals trying to say something liberal, without offending anyone. It's a Blue Dog Democrat when it needs to be Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

There's a gut-punch twist waiting for you if you're willing to wait, and Promised Land isn't bad, certainly. It's just not as outraged as it ought to be. Googling about the movie after watching it, it wasn't a big surprise to read that Krasinski and Damon had first intended it as a story about wind power.

Directed by Gus Van Sant, music by Danny Elfman, with Frances MacDormand and Hal Halbrook.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Rubber (2010)

In the deserts of California, a crowd of people watch as a movie is filmed. That movie is about a sentient tire on a rampage, but this movie — the one you're watching — is about the first movie's moviemakers trying to kill the audience.

Why? "No reason," as the sheriff philosophically explains.

You might love this film, or hate it — and my response was both. I found it pretentious when it thought it was deep, boring when it thought it was funny. After twenty minutes I clicked it off, but it nagged at me, and I wondered if the problem might've been me and my mood. A month later I slipped Rubber on again, and found it amusing and intelligent all the way through.

There's also Wings Hauser in a wheelchair, and he helps.

The script is filled with existentialist wisecracks and exploding heads, and it plays like David Cronenberg meets Ludwig Wittgenstein. It's pleased with itself, made with maybe too much exuberance and bravado, but there's plenty of traction.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Coming soon:

Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Colors (1988)
The Death of Dick Long (2019)
Invaders from Mars (1953)
Prime Cut (1972)
Titanic II (2010)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. I cannot stand Andy Kaufman. I appreciate that what he did, he did as performance art. I cannot stand Jim Carrey. I find him monstrously unfunny as a comedic actor. I don't think Courtney love is a "wretched soul" - I think she's fucked up, but not as bad as all that, but I could be convinced. I agree, though, that she's a damn fine actor, and if she hadn't had drug problems, and hadn't warned young actresses "If Harvey Weinstein invites you to a private party in his Four Seasons [hotel room], don't go," she might have been bigger.

    All that said, I definitely enjoyed the movie.

    1. Whenever I saw Kaufman, he seemed to be intentionally trying to annoy me. In the movie, it seems more accidental.

      Carrey tends to be too much when he's trying to be funny, but early on I liked ACE VENTURA and THE MASK. When he does straight drama like MAN ON THE MOON, the annoyance factor fades to nada, for me.

      I'd forgotten that Love blew the whistle on Weinstein. No wonder her movie career was so short despite great reviews.

    2. In the music biz, it's said, "If you're gonna make a million dollars booking Courtney Love, take the tax loss and run the other way." I know more than I want to know about Kurt Cobain's abbreviated life, and Courtney Love was ###### (phrase deleted at insistence of writer's attorney). She's managed to give "alternative music" a bad name for 30 years.

    3. Well, yeah, no argument, but Hole made some music that's got a good beat and you can dance to it.

    4. Yeah, I'd give it an 86. Good shootin' music.


    5. I like google because the two choices they gave me were publish twice or not at all. Google's motto used to be "Do no evil". Turns out "Fuck you" is pithier.


    6. I wasn't yet doing the zine, so I didn't write about it, but I still remember my shock when it was reported that Kurt Cobain had killed himself: Who the hell is Kurt Cobain?

      I later became familiar with and respected his music, and mourned his death posthumously.

    7. Reports of Mr. Cobain's suicide by shotgun are likely greatly exaggerated. But if you're gonna mourn a death, posthumously is the way to go.


    8. You think he's perhaps alive and well, someplace secret, jamming with Elvis and Andy Kaufman?

    9. Captain HampocketsMay 30, 2023 at 8:44 AM

      My GUESS is that JTB subscribes to the murder theory. I don't, but it's not entirely ludicrous.

    10. I'm agnostic, but I don't trust the widow.

      A shotgun isn't the weapon of choice for those contemplating suicide. Shotguns are generally shorter than rifles, but still slightly cumbersome. I haven't read a book or even an article about the incident and won't, but I certainly wouldn't want to be the one to catch her on the rebound.

    11. Gotta be honest, I'd use a sawed-off. Effective as long as you don't pull away.

    12. Our friend used a Remington Model 11-87, 35-50 inches long. A little trickier, but it could be done. Doesn't matter anymore.

    13. He could have had Mary Lou Lord. She loved him dearly, and she was then and is still now a level-headed, quality woman. She'd been busking for years then, and she had a couple of records out. She knew how soul-crushing the Business was and how to survive it. I think he would have survived it.

    14. I don't care enough about a rocker's death 30 years ago to have an opinion, but who gains from 'murdering' Kurt Cobain?

    15. His surviving beneficiary.

    16. I would think there's more money in a living rock star at the top of his craft, than a dead one.

    17. Not if he can't fulfill gigs due to a crushing drug problem. In any case, she wasn't sane enough to run the numbers.

  2. "A month later I slipped Rubber on again..."


  3. Claude Reigns, BloviatingMay 29, 2023 at 9:45 AM

    Mulligan's Man On The Moon is a sweet, sincere, human film, worlds away from the hyperactive, hysterical, agenda-driven tween/YA tripe shoved onto screens now, thirty years later. Of course it pales next to the depths of his masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird, which is also sweet and sincere, but moreso full of menace and ambiguity and the mystery of "the other" whether that "other" be a parent, a teacher, a neighbor, a cop, or a "monster" like Boo Radley.

    I hate Andy Kaufman too, but I hate his ardent fans even more. I like non- or anti-humor quite a bit (I think it has reached its apex in the brilliant Neil Hamburger) but he always rubbed me the wrong way. Despite being, admirably, something of a non sequitur monkey-wrench in the media system, he was still part of that system, and really had nothing subversive to say or point to make.

    Jim Carrey is also annoying, but his performance in The Cable Guy is one of my favorites, post-2000. The film chickens out (of course) but it's a fascinating study of discomfort and inappropriateness up to a point. He's almost as compelling and off-putting as Malcolm McDowell's Alex, here. Ben Stiller's Tropic Thunder also has a great premise and is good up to a point, and then craps out. But it also has one of the great performances of the century: Robert Downey Jr. as Kirk Lazarus as Lincoln Osiris.

    Cannibal Holocaust is genuinely disturbing, and a great film. Good premise (spoiled white invaders have the [dinner] tables turned on them) concept (found footage), queasy score, convincingly repellant effects, and one of the few horror films that actually leave a bad taste in your mouth and uneasy ideas in your mind (why make a horror film, otherwise? So many are just chickenshit). I just cannot watch it again because of the couple of real animal killing scenes, ugh.

    1. https://youtu.be/RbZ3wm7yF6I

    2. THE MAN IN THE MOON is probably terrific. Chalk it up to my mood that night — it's wholesome, and I'm cynical, and that night I was extra cynical. There's so much salt of the earth in that movie, I was afeared of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

      I haven't run into any Kaufman fans in recent years, but damn if you're not right about that too. They always soured me, acting like they're in on the joke and I'm not, when I always thought and still think there's no joke there at all. At his best, Kaufman was just fucking with you, not trying to be funny, and certainly as you say, he had nothing subversive to say or any point to make.

      Saw and liked TROPICAL THUNDER. Haven't seen THE CABLE GUY, but Carrey is good when he's dramatic.

      CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST is not THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, that's for sure. I haven't yet decided what to make of it.

    3. Didn't the producers of Cannibal Holocaust almost get in trouble with (I think) the Italian govt, until they could prove it wasn't a snuff film, by producing the actors?

    4. Yes.

      "Cannibal Holocaust achieved notoriety as its graphic violence aroused a great deal of controversy. After its premiere in Italy, it was ordered to be seized by a local magistrate, and Deodato was arrested on obscenity charges. He was later charged with multiple counts of murder due to rumors that claimed several actors were killed on camera. Although Deodato was cleared of these charges, the film was banned in Italy, Australia, and several other countries due to its graphic content, including sexual assault and genuine violence toward animals. Although some nations have since revoked the ban, it is still upheld in several countries."

    5. They should've used that in the marketing. Ha!

      Watching CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, it never occurred to me that the deaths might be real. Snuff films are a myth, aren't they?

      Murders have been filmed, and shared and all; I'm not doubting that, but I'm skeptical that any feature-length 'snuff films' have played in theaters.

  4. I always saw Man In The Moon coupled with The People Vs Larry Flynt as Hollywood's periodic assimilating of misfits and scumbags that had previously spit out, now that neither was potentially offensive. (Hustler was no longer very transgressive and Flynt exposed Republican hypocrisy through his bounties; Kaufman was long dead.)

    There was a documentary about Jim Carrey & this role in particular that was showing up in my Netflix recs all the time before I cancelled it. I think I made it about 5 minutes in. There wasn't anything bad about what I saw, it just had that cheap feel of quickie Netflix films. "Say something outrageous in the first 30 seconds, then drag the next 30 second out for 5 hours."

  5. Good golly, why would anyone want a documentary about Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman? Did someone also make a documentary about the making of the documentary about Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman?

    And MAN ON THE MOON and PEOPLE VS FLINT both had the lovely and talented Miss Courtney Love.


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