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Smiling Fish and Goat On Fire
Your May Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Two Brothers, Four Women and the Search for Magnetic Perfection

Preshow Entertainment: The Honeymooners Second Reunion


It's true. I recorded this movie because of its title. Sure, it's no CAN HEIRONYMUS MIRKEN EVER FORGET MERCY HUMPPE AND FIND TRUE HAPPINESS? (1969), but SMILING FISH AND GOAT ON FIRE? I mean, come on!!

I knew absolutely nothing about this movie, not even who was in it. I've often said that it's the perfect way to see a movie - walk into the theater with absolutely no knowledge of what you're about to see. Sometimes you get screwed, other times you discover something incredible...or anything in between. I guess that's what Random Movie Club is.

1999's SMILING FISH AND GOAT ON FIRE, whose original title, I shit you not, was GOAT ON FIRE AND SMILING FISH, has all the elements of an indie film; snappy VO, offbeat ancillary characters, quirky hobbies/events (they don't play football or basketball, but rugby), too cool title (of course), and a tone just low-fi enough to coat the movie with charm. FISH was brought into the Toronto Film Festival by Sir Martin Scorsese. Its trailer claims two films were the two major award winners - this one and...AMERICAN BEAUTY. Huh.

Directed by Kevin Jordan and written, produced and starring brothers Derick and
Steven Martini, FISH is about...you guessed right...two 20something sluggish brothers who share their parents' (who died in a car crash) house. Chris is straight-laced and boring, so he's _______ (fill in the blank). If you guessed "an accountant," please move on to the next brother. Tony is directionless, so he's ______ (fill in blank). If you guessed "a struggling actor" you can now make your own movie.

Tony's VO tells us that their half-Native American grandmother gave them the names Smiling Fish (Tony) and Goat on Fire (Chris). Odd, since I think it's the only time these names are mentioned.

As the movie opens, both Chris and Tony are on top of a woman (in separate rooms...sadly, it's not that kind of a movie) and both women walk out on them, one after the other. So the brothers commiserate over a batch of homemade French toast (toldya it was an indie).

Kathy (Christa Miller)
With no real prospects (or fortitude), Tony sets his sights (after playing with a boomerang on the roof) on Kathy, his mail carrier (Christa Miller of DREW CAREY SHOW fame). I wish my mail carrier looked more like Christa Miller and less like Brian Posehn. Anyway, on the same day (I think) Chris goes to a party and meets a hot Italian animal wrangler named Anna (Rosemarie Addeo). Will the brothers find love with these two new prospects? Will they go back to their exes? Neither? One goes back, the other doesn't? So many possibilities.

FISH creates a world where, while on an audition, Tony gets hijacked by a little girl also reading for a part. When she brings him back to her mommy (the kid wants to rehearse with this stranger?!), whattaya know? It's Kathy the letter carrier! What a coinkidink! It's also a world where two brothers lose their girlfriends on the same day, get new ones on the same day, and after a sugary courtship, (I'm pretty sure) consummate their respective relationships on the same day as well.

Such is the stuff of these kinds of movies. Low-key romance with no real story. In fact, the first real plot point, which I thought was pretty good, doesn't come about until there's only 35 minutes of movie left. But it doesn't matter that much, because all of this gets undermined by a character named Clive.

Clive (Bill Henderson), a wizened, elderly black man, used to work for Lincoln Film Studios. Lincoln was real (the first all-black film studio, founded in 1915) but Clive, and the stories he tells, is fictional...and wonderful. It's Clive who provides the only interesting moments in FISH, while serving to help keep Chris in check. And herein lies the fatal flaw of this movie - I was more interested in Clive than in either of the two main characters. Clive's story often plays like a doc, a fascinating doc, with his soliloquies often performed over old (fake) movie stills. From working with Paul Robeson to being a boom operator on BRINGING UP BABY, Clive is rich in story. Chris and Tony? Not so much. Hell, even the brothers' deceased parents have a better backstory on how they met (at Universal Studios in 1966, when they used to pick volunteers from the crowd to reenact scenes).

SMAGOF also felt compelled to tell us everyone's weaknesses, no matter how uninteresting (Anna saw an animal truck topple over when she was a kid) or absurd (Kathy, a former camp counselor who coddled a camper with kisses when the other campers berated him with cries of "pumpkinhead!", feels that Tony is kissing her because he feels sorry for her, as she felt sorry for pumpkinhead...and yes, that was a earful of irrelevant data in the movie, too).

But here's the kicker; the commentary track (yes, I went for it) featuring the brothers and director Kevin Jordan is far more entertaining. I mean, faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaar more. Starting out trying for (like the movie itself) charming and ending in a giddy round table of pure frivolity as they make fun of each other, themselves and the movie. This is the rare (only?) case where, if you want entertainment bang for the buck, I recommend watching the commentary over the movie.

Kathy (Christa Miller) and Tony (Steven Martini
SMILING FISH AND GOAT ON FIRE is a lopsided attempt (again, I was more interested in everyone's stories BUT the brothers'). It kinda works, but it won't blow you away in the least. But boy, they did well for a 12 day shoot with a budget of 40-50 grand and a total of thirteen producers (I'm going to guess people got credits for favors and/or money donations). Derick and Steven Martini, who attended the same junior high and high school as yours truly (just a tiny bit later than I did), went on to make the more high profile 2003 Sundance indie LYMELIFE starring Alec Baldwin (another Long Island boy). I haven't seen it yet. I'm waiting for them to make STUBBORN WAPITI AND IMPETUOUS EMU.

PRESHOW ENTERTAINMENT: The Honeymooners Second Reunion

The Honeymooners
I'm so confused. IMDB has two listings for this TV special from 1985 - THE HONEYMOONERS ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION and THE HONEYMOONERS REUNION. Both feature mostly, but not exactly, the same cast and crew. To add to this chaos, the actual title card on the program itself says JACKIE GLEASON'S SECOND HONEYMOON. How'm I supposed to sleep tonight? The only thing I am sure about is this isn't THE HONEYMOONERS ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL which is on the "Classic 39" DVD box set.

A clip show, this presentation, by whatever name it's actually called, opens with bloopers (because it was a live show back then, these all went out over the airwaves). After the bloopers, it was one riotous clip after another. All four players were on board (separately) to tell stories, provide observations and move the clips along.

This particular special aired during the height of HONEYMOONERS fever in NYC, where said "39" played every night at 11. That meant the same episodes would rerun nearly every month, which meant people like me, my roommate Sal, and business partner Paul knew every word of every episode. We not only know the name of the IRS agent from Episode #28 (THE WORRY WART), but we could tell you how it's spelled because we froze the frame on his office door and read his name backwards. It's spelled Mr. Puder. Yeah, I know...

This special is one of the funniest compilation shows around. Of course I'm going to say that, for I believe THE HONEYMOONERS to be the funniest show ever made. I started to write more about the show, but I erased it all. I think this is a journey you'll have to take on your own, if you haven't already. When you do, tell Mr. Puder I said hello.

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