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Your August Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: Brian De Palma's comedy that catches every body in the act!

Pizza: Danielle's Woodfire Pizza

Preshow Entertainment: Norm MacDonald: ME DOING STAND-UP


I love every movie Brian De Palma's directed. From his popular stuff like MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, DRESSED TO KILL, CARRIE, CARLITO'S WAY, BODY DOUBLE, BLOW OUT, THE UNTOUCHABLES and SCARFACE, to his lesser-knowns like CASUALTIES OF WAR and SISTERS, to early stuff like GREETINGS and HI, MOM!, to his oddities like GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT, and even to his crap like REDACTED, SNAKE EYES and RAISING CANE. Yes, I love every film De Palma's done. Except HOME MOVIES (1980). And sadly, HOME MOVIES is what the Random Movie Generator selected tonight.

HOME MOVIES was a cooperative effort between De Palma and his film students at Sarah Lawrence, where he was teaching a class. It's hard to say how many people actually had their say in writing and directing this awful movie (he shared writing credit with 6 students), though De Palma has claimed that 5% of the finished film was directed by the students. So if you directed 95% of this movie, that means you blew it, Brian. And if others directed it with you, you were in charge, so...you blew it, Brian.

Denis Byrd (Keith Gordon)
Keith Gordon (who I really like) is our protagonist, a film student named Denis Byrd. If you think your family is nuts, wait'll you meet Denis'. His doctor dad (Vincent Gardenia) is fooling around on his mom (Mary Davenport), a non-stop, querulous sad sack. His brother James (Gerrit Graham, who I just saw play a dentist on an old WONDER YEARS ep.) runs an EST-like camp that practices "Spartanetics," and likes saying things like, "Those who know, know." Denis' only hope is his film school teacher, The Maestro (Kirk Douglas), an egotistical meta character that often pops up out of nowhere (once in a tree!), like he's Gazoo helping Fred Flintstone. When The Maestro teaches his film class, he begins by making an entrance, which is followed by his proteges giving him a round of applause. Douglas plays The Maestro like a typical 70s acting coach - teacher-as-therapist. But the idea (and slight logline) of this is - If Denis can just make a film that is honest, maybe he can turn his life around. The Maestro preaches an existential technique called Star Power, which transcends filmmaking by teaching you how not to "be an extra in your own life." Because "the camera never lies!" He goes on to tell his class that Denis' story is a "tragic example of someone who refused to star in his own life." So just how did Denis wind up being an extra in his own life? That's the story. The wacky story.

Kristina (Nancy Allen)
Denis is the neglected one in the family. When his mother overdoses on pills because of his father's extracurricular nookie, Denis is there to help her. Lying there with a (really funny, but not to her) framed 8 x 10 of son James by her bed - MOM: "James. I need James." See? Neglected. Not that mom's the epitome of stability and logic. When Dad pumps her stomach, she sees it as "He saved my life!" But he's the reason she took the pills in the first place. The trouble really begins when James brings his fiancee Kristina (Nancy Allen) home for the first time. James is an asshole, and with his New Age malarkey and "don't eat anything" edicts, he controls Kristina's every move. While pounding potatoes in the kitchen, Denis sees Kristina walking towards him in slo-mo, accompanied by a Pino Donaggio score reminiscent of (or lifted from) his music from CARRIE. Most of the movie, the shy "extra in his own life" Denis pines for Kristina. So what if she's marrying his brother? So what if she's a total airhead? And was a prostitute. And "did a lot of sex acts with a rabbit." Moving on....

Denis and The Maestro (Kirk Douglas)
When Denis screens rushes of his film for The Maestro, he gets a bad review and is sent back out with a three day deadline. Meanwhile, James, a man who has yet to touch Kristina (because he's apparently gay, and clueless about it), catches her with dried mustard under her nails (evil food!). He declares the wedding off unless she agrees to a "Temptation Marathon" where he places her in situations to see if she's seduced by things like sex and food (two of my favorite things, but not in that order). Can she resist cheap sex with bikers? We'll never know, because Denis rescues her (as Gordon does to Allen in De Palma's DRESSED TO KILL, released a few months later).



This mess of a movie becomes even messier when, at the halfway mark, Kristina gets a call from Bunny, whom we hear but do not see. But the phone is unplugged. Bunny, it turns out, is a rude bunny puppet. It's clear at this point that HOME MOVIES has ridden thousands of miles off the rails. Maybe two thousand miles, as not once, but twice this movie finds Denis in blackface and an afro wig, spying through the window on his philandering father.

James (Gerrit Graham)
From its animated overture to its horror film cliche comedic coda, HOME MOVIES is a sloppy effort. I think its biggest problem is its tone, in large part due to its annoying and abrasive characters, none of whom you can get behind. Mom spends all of her screen time crying in agony, like Brenda Blethyn with no emergency brake. But she was a mere runner-up to the winner of the Most Annoying Thing About HOME MOVIES Award (and with so many nominees, too!) - brother James. Accepting the award is Gerrit Graham, performing James as if he were a camp counselor in a silent film version of MEATBALLS 4. I can't say I'm surprised Kirk Douglas did this movie (and even invested in it), not just because he was the lead in De Palma's THE FURY two years earlier, but because he had just done SATURN 3 (where you get to see his ass) and was about to do THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, two suck-fi movies. I like Keith Gordon (now a DEXTER director), but he was such a wimpy thing in this movie that I couldn't really root for him. Believe it or not, it was Vincent Gardenia who had the least offensive performance. But not by much. Gordon, Douglas, Davenport, Graham and Allen were all De Palma alumni (Allen was also his wife at the time). And speaking of Nancy Allen:

Yes, this is another story about when I worked in a New York City video store in the 80s. Here's the set-up; all of the movies are on the walls behind the counter, on shelves. Their spines are facing the store, so to see what movies are available, all you have to do is look. But of course, some people would come up and ask, "Is GHOSTBUSTERS in?" As your friendly neighborhood clerk, I'd assist them by looking at the wall behind me - "Why yes. Here it is right here, between GHOST and GHOSTBUSTERS II." At this point, they'd catch on and just look for themselves. Except one day, this girl came in and kept asking for one movie after another. That's when I snapped and became rude to her. She must have really pissed me off because she was cute and I still got mad. Anyway, I said, "Let's play a little game. Instead of asking me if a movie is in, see if you can find it on this alphabetical wall." Man, I was an asshole. I still am, but I'll stick to this story. Anyway, at this time, Lee, a customer that I became friendly with socially, came in. Before I knew it, Lee and this girl were chatting each other up. Asshole Loses Cute Girl to Customer - Story at 11. I pick up on some of their dialogue. "....movie....Sarah Lawrence....producer...." Turns out Lee was a student at Sarah Lawrence, talking to this girl about HOME MOVIES, a girl who turned out to be Nancy Allen. Maybe one day I'll tell you the story on how I insulted David Byrne and Ellen Barkin. At least it wasn't at the same time. Anyway...

HOME MOVIES is said to be a parody of De Palma's childhood family life (his father was a doctor). But who cares what it's a parody of if it's never funny? And the repeated use of classical music cues to prompt a "funny" moment doesn't help any. The conceit of HOME MOVIES, being a movie by The Maestro about Denis making a movie about himself, never really works (The Maestro calls shots by turning to us and barking things like "Medium shot!"). In fact, I'm not totally sure that's the idea here. It's not clear, maybe on purpose, maybe not. But it was made in 1979, which was still the 70s, so, I suppose all bets are off. Every now and then the movie does treat us to a signature De Palma moment, like those jump cuts that move closer to the person (once again, like CARRIE), usually to the meter of the soundtrack; but honestly, this is just a bad student film. Remember, "The camera never lies."

Vincent Gardenia
So kudos to De Palma for making and releasing a feature film using his film students (wish I was in that class), but boo!-dos for making a movie that's so crappy that even a big fan of his found it terribly hard to sit through. This class project was an experiment that failed. It should not have been released to the paying public with the name Brian De Palma stamped on it. HOME MOVIES is something that De Palma should torture his friends with in his own living room - just like you do with your home movies. Only his have Kirk Douglas in them.

Preshow Entertainment: Norm MacDonald: ME DOING STAND-UP

Norm MacDonald Me Doing Stand Up (2011)

How much do I love Norm MacDonald? Thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis muuuuuuuuuuuuuch. There are so many levels to his comedy. The smirk. The stammering. The pretend he doesn't know he's saying something wrong. The delivery; a mix of stand-up and him sitting on your couch talking to you. His wiseass-ed-ness. His angle on how he sees things, which is skewed yet somehow, ridiculously correct. His use of words that sound spontaneous, like "endive" and "Janice." And his ability to make me laugh for an hour, non-stop.

His hunks go on forever (the one on the heart and death went on about 15 minutes, and the one on network news 10), and they're all delivered with gleeful (and fake) spontaneity.

I had just seen him live last week and loved him so much, decided to screen this special, which was loitering in the DVR. It turns out I wasn't the only one laughing. We all loved him. TOTAL RECOMMEND.

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