“There Is No Dana, Only Zuul” (#97)

It’s about time we got around to Ghostbusters on the podcast. Ivan Reitman’s supernatural sensation is the granddaddy of the fantasy-action-comedy blockbuster, creating the formula that family-friendly genre pics are still using to this day.

1983’s top grossing films consisted largely of adult-oriented fare — Tootsie, Flashdance, Risky Business, Trading Places, Mr. Mom. Return Of The Jedi is the only film in the top ten not grounded in some semblance of reality. Then, in 1984, Ghostbusters made a killing, dominating the year’s box office — a couple slots above a nastier horror-comedy (Gremlins). Slowly but surely, the way was paved for other big movies to mix the macabre with comedy and eye-popping special effects. Without Ghostbusters, the world would probably never get The Addams Family or Men In Black (both previously covered on the podcast). Continue reading ““There Is No Dana, Only Zuul” (#97)”

“Draw A Crazy Picture, Write A Nutty Poem” (#96)

If you’re a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a magic bean buyer, or you just hate doing dishes and taking the garbage out, you’ll surely find something to relate to in our latest episode on celebrated author, illustrator, poet, and all-around Renaissance Man Shel Silverstein.

Though Where The Sidewalk Ends was first published in 1974, long before we were even born, Silverstein’s groundbreaking poetry collection was a staple in classrooms, on library shelves, and at bedtime throughout our childhoods, along with later volumes A Light In The Attic (1982) and Falling Up (1996).

Award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman joins us for a look at how writing for young readers has changed in the decades since we were young readers ourselves. Then we discuss Shel Silverstein’s salacious origins (far outside the realm of children’s fiction) and have a heated debate about what Silverstein’s massively popular children’s book The Giving Tree is really about. Finally, we dive back into Silverstein’s poetry to share which works still strike a chord with us now.

Revisit Hungry Kid Island, get reacquainted with Ridiculous Rose, and fire up the Homework Machine one last time, because we’ve got some flax golden tales to spin in this episode!

Continue reading ““Draw A Crazy Picture, Write A Nutty Poem” (#96)”

“He Can’t See Without His Glasses” (#95)

My Girl is something of an anomaly as a feature film. It sits right on the border between family film and adult-oriented coming-of-age tale. It’s a PG-rated film that’s entirely about death. It contains the line “flesh all amesh,” which is not the sort of dialogue you hear spoken in The Pagemaster or Gold Diggers: The Secret Of Bear Mountain. It has a fresh, frank attitude toward adolescence, one that evokes nostalgia for simpler times without any obvious pandering to yesteryear. And just as the movie sits somewhat awkwardly on the border between family fare and grownup drama, it explores the uncomfortable moment when childhood gives way to the teen age, when we start to grasp the cruel realities of impending adulthood. Continue reading ““He Can’t See Without His Glasses” (#95)”

“Okay To Go” (#94)

In 1997, Contact was something of an anomaly — the “hmm…” to Independence Day‘s “wow!” It was cerebral and character-driven, but released in the midst of summer blockbuster season, just one week after Men In Black had blessed the 4th of July with its second Will Smith-starring extraterrestrial-themed smash hit in a row. Contact cost $90 million and was helmed by a man who already had seven movies that had grossed over $100 million each under his belt. His previous film, Forrest Gump, not only outperformed all his more conventional blockbusters, raking in nearly $700 million worldwide, but also won a slew of Oscars including Best Picture.

Zemeckis’ thoughtful sci-fi opus did respectable business, but it wasn’t stellar. Audiences didn’t know quite what to do with a film that looked and sounded like a blockbuster, but felt like a prestige drama, with complex scientific jargon, a central thematic debate between God and science, multiple grounded and empathetic characters, and so much talking. The Oscars didn’t know what to do with it, either, nominating it for only one award — Best Sound — which it naturally lost to the juggernaut Titanic. Jodie Foster was snubbed in favor of long-forgotten turns by Helena Bonham Carter in The Wings Of The Dove and Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown.

Continue reading ““Okay To Go” (#94)”

“Now That’s What I Call A Close Encounter” (#93)

In the mid-90s, multiplexes were invaded by an influx of movies centered on mankind’s first contact with extraterrestrials. And unlike the cute and friendly aliens we got to know in the 80s, like E.T. and ALF, the space invaders of the 90s mostly just wanted to annihilate us, starting with our favorite tourist destinations.

Part One of our Alien Invasion Blockbuster Extravaganza looks at two of the deadliest interstellar assaults to ever breach the silver screen, both celebrating their 25th anniversaries this year.

First up, we celebrate the 4th of July in the most American way possible — with mass casualties, tons of military hardware, a bombastic presidential speech, and a stripper! Roland Emmerich’s record-smashing Independence Day (1996) raised the bar for special effects-loaded summer entertainment, redefining the blockbuster with its cataclysmic destruction of U.S. landmarks (a popcorn movie hallmark ever since).

Next, we attempt to shield ourselves from Tim Burton’s outrageous sci-fi send-up Mars Attacks! (1996), with a cast so star-studded that it stars Jack Nicholson twice! The wacky comedy had just as much death and destruction as Independence Day, but came in for a crash landing when it opened in theaters, and has been largely forgotten since.

Which of these uncomfortably close encounters holds up better now that we’re viewing them from a distance? Do we prefer President Pullman to President Nicholson? A dog that outruns an explosion, or a Chihuahua with Sarah Jessica Parker’s body? Will Smith’s fresh quips, or ack-ack-ack-ack? Get answers to these and other probing questions in a podcast that’s truly out of this world! Continue reading ““Now That’s What I Call A Close Encounter” (#93)”

“You’ll Be Dumb With Wonderment” (#92)

I’ve always wanted to like Moulin Rouge. It certainly looks fun. And most of it sounds pretty great. Baz Luhrmann’s vision for a jukebox musical was a lot more original back in 2001, before Broadway was littered with shows that repurpose pop songs, and before mashups were mainstream. The “Elephant Love Medley” is certainly an earworm, even if it feels a tad too generic and unfocused 20 years later, now that the internet mixes and matches pop culture artifacts like crazy.

Now Moulin Rouge feels a bit like YouTube brought to life a decade or so too early, or a TikTok with insane production value (or at least, some really good filters). There’s so much wrong with the story and its execution at the hands of Luhrmann, which I was happy to pick apart when we discussed it for the podcast. So many scenes drive me mad — I’m finally getting into the story and enjoying myself, and inevitably, Luhrmann speeds up or slows down or does something bizarre to shake me out of it. I can abide style over substance in certain cases, but the style is rather tacky, too — and the story wouldn’t even pass muster in a second-rate Disney animated musical. 

Still, I can’t find it in me to absolutely hate Moulin Rouge, as much as I hate so many individual choices. It has oomph, it has gumption, and it certainly has the courage of its convictions. Baz Luhrmann really went for it with this one, and we could use more splashy, insane experiments like this one on the big screen. I’d certainly love someone to give me $50 million dollars, a giant elephant, and the rights to all my favorite pop songs to do with what I wish.

Until that day, I suppose Moulin Rouge will have to do. Continue reading ““You’ll Be Dumb With Wonderment” (#92)”

“It Rubs The Lotion On Its Skin, Or Else It Gets The Hose Again” (#90)

Have the podcast hosts stopped screaming? Not yet! We follow last episode’s discussion of the Best Actress nominees of 1991 — including the groundbreaking, genre-defying tale of female outlaws Thelma & Louise — with a look at the night’s big winner, The Silence Of The Lambs. The serial killer thriller not only won the Best Actress Oscar, but also Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture — a feat accomplished by only two other films in the Academy’s 93 year history.

Like Thelma & Louise, The Silence Of The Lambs is now known for inserting intelligent, fully realized female characters into a genre typically dominated by men. And like Thelma & Louise, The Silence Of The Lambs generated plenty of controversy upon release, especially around its gender-bending antagonist, Buffalo Bill. Of course, it also birthed one of the most memorable and quotable screen villains of all time, with Anthony Hopkins’ brief but tasty turn as cannibal psychologist Hannibal Lecter.

In this episode, we dissect the film both as a crowd-pleasing, nail-biting thriller and through the lens of its sexual politics. Jodie Foster’s much-lauded performance made FBI trainee Clarice Starling one of the greatest screen heroines of the 90s, but does she still hold her own against the infamous Dr. Lecter 30 years later?

Is The Silence Of The Lambs still a snack? Or should we send this thing back to Baltimore? Grab your best bag and your cheapest shoes, lodge an exotic moth in your throat, and get a nice bottle of Chianti ready, because this podcast is going all the way to the FBI. Bon appétit!   Continue reading ““It Rubs The Lotion On Its Skin, Or Else It Gets The Hose Again” (#90)”

“You Watch Your Mouth, Buddy” (#89)

When it comes to leading ladies, you’d have a hard time finding a more powerhouse lineup than 1991’s Thelma & Louise, which saw both of its stars nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars that year. Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon play BFFs whose road trip goes seriously south when they shoot a rapist and end up as unlikely outlaws bound for Mexico — via the Grand Canyon, of course.

Callie Khouri’s original screenplay was so groundbreaking and audacious, it attracted the attention of nearly every actress in Hollywood — and was passed on by nearly every studio executive at the time, who pushed Khouri to make her characters more “ladylike” and change the controversial (and now totally legendary) ending.

In this episode, our hosts discuss a film that had the odds stacked against it ever getting a greenlight, which has since become one of the most iconic and beloved films of the 90s. We also dust off the two other runners-up from the 1991 Best Actress race, seeing how For The Boys’ Bette Midler and Rambling Rose’s Laura Dern stack up against Sarandon and Davis.

Does Thelma & Louise feel as fresh as it did 30 years ago? Would the film still ruffle as many patriarchal feathers if it were made today? And what ever became of that handsome newcomer who plays the drifter? Climb in your Thunderbird, lock a cop up in the trunk, and leave your sex hair as is, because we’re in hot pursuit of the ultimate female buddy movie — and we think we have it in our sights! Continue reading ““You Watch Your Mouth, Buddy” (#89)”

“I Don’t Need You Anymore” (#88)

We came away from our musical journey through the #1 Pop Singles of the 1980s loving many of the biggest hits of the decade. Good job, 80s!

The 90s? Well, that’s another story.

We’ve already discussed some of the decade’s biggest breakouts on the podcast, including No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, Spice Girls, and Nirvana, all of whom got to #1 on our own personal charts at one point in time. But the #1 Pop Singles of the 1990s are a much more scattered affair, veering from upbeat pop cheese to gangsta rap to disco-dance throwbacks, with a whole lot of “adult contemporary” in the mix.

As it turns out, the Billboard charts of the 90s watched America go through a diverse range of musical moods, from mourning the death of British royals to celebrating barely-contained boners on the dancefloor — plus a lot more Costner worship than should be permitted in one decade. Of course, the mid 90s also saw a Latin-flavored dance craze that’s not just a #1 Pop Single, but also the #1 Most Cringeworthy Aspect of the whole decade! (Maybe even the entire 20th century.)

So which songs do we want to “Hold On” to, and which have reached the “End of the Road”? Be forewarned — just because these songs were #1 does not mean we will always love them.

Continue reading ““I Don’t Need You Anymore” (#88)”