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The Curious Cameography of Woody Allen

The Curious Cameography of Woody Allen (photo)

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With reports out of France that Woody Allen is shooting a cameo for the film “Paris Manhattan,” a comedy from first-time director Sophie Lellouche in which part of the plot revolves around a pharmacist (Alice Taglioni) so obsessed with his work she prescribes DVDs of his films to patients, the 75-year-old filmmaker continues a tradition of picking peculiar projects to appear in outside of his own.

In a career that’s entering its fifth decade, Allen has starred in just six films he hasn’t directed (“Play It Again, Sam,” “The Front,” “Scenes From a Mall,” the 1996 “Sunshine Boys” TV remake, “Antz” and “Picking Up the Pieces”) and limited himself to a handful of other uncredited cameos. Though he’s scarcely performed in anything in recent years – his last role as an actor was in 2006’s “Scoop” – some of his most intriguing roles have come in the films in which he’s scarcely seen, including these four below.

Jean-Luc Godard’s “King Lear” (1987)

Think of a far more languid version of Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind Rewind” and you have some idea of what Godard was up to with his adaptation of Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” which begins with the premise that the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster wiped out much of the world’s art, including the Bard’s most famous works and it’s up to his fifth generation descendant (Peter Sellars) to recreate his work and as most of the characters mirror those in the play, Allen assumes the role of the Fool, known in this film as Mr. Alien, who shows up at the end as a film editor whose dialogue is mostly pulled from the original Shakespeare text. It’s been suggested Allen wanted to be uncredited in the role so he wouldn’t be included in the film’s marketing materials, but his appearance is so brief, it’s understandable, though still rare as an example of Allen doing a thoroughly dramatic reading of Shakespeare. (Cinephiles still might be more interested in “Meeting WA,” the interview between Allen and Godard that likely influenced his being cast in “King Lear,” filmed a year earlier in 1986.)

“Just Shoot Me” (1997)

Allen’s most out of the blue appearance pre-“Paris” wasn’t in fact an appearance at all, but a voice cameo for the NBC sitcom “Just Shoot Me” in 1997. The episode “My Dinner With Woody” involved Laura San Giacomo’s writer Maya imagined a date with the auteur in the pages of the fictional Blush Magazine, after which an Allen impersonator actually does score a date with her and leaves her disillusioned, making a phone call from the real Allen at the end of the episode a moot point. To facilitate the phone call, the show’s executive producer Steve Levitan, who has since gone on to create “Modern Family,” wrote to Allen and included a tape of the episode without the ending, hoping that Allen would say the show’s final lines. As Levitan told Entertainment Weekly at the time, “There was stunned silence when we got Woody’s tape [in return].” His cameo can be heard at 9:25 in this clip:

“The Imposters” (1998)

As Stanley Tucci’s producing partner Elizabeth Alexander told Premiere magazine on the set of “The Imposters,” “Stanley [Tucci] collects people from different jobs,” so it was only a matter of time before the actor parlayed a small part in “Decontructing Harry” into an invitation to Allen to play a theater director in his follow-up to “Big Night.” At a point when his legend was accepted and the scandal of the early ’90s had subsided, it seems as though the late ’90s and early 2000s were the time to ask Allen for a favor – as one can tell from this list, it’s the most acting he ever did outside of his own films, even without counting appearances as proper leads in the TV remake of “The Sunshine Boys” and Alfonso Arau’s unfortunate 2000 comedy “Picking Up the Pieces” where he scatters Sharon Stone’s butchered remains across the New Mexico desert. There’s no doubt Allen was more at home with playing a fussy last ditch effort for two down-on-their-luck thespians (Tucci and Oliver Platt) to audition for before they sneak onto a cruise ship during the Depression to lighten the mood.

“Company Man” (2000)

Allen has only worked with three other writers throughout his career on films he’s directed himself – his childhood friend Mickey Rose on “Bananas” and “Take the Money and Run,” Marshall Brickman during the “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan” era, and Douglas McGrath on “Bullets Over Broadway.” And McGrath was the only one to persuade him to spend a day on the set in front of the camera in a film he directed (with Peter Askin), which led to Allen’s turn as a U.S. diplomat smitten with France whose dissatisfaction with his reassignment to Cuba seeps into his assessment of the region on the eve of the Bay of Pigs to a CIA agent, played by McGrath. Allen turns in one of the funniest performances in the film, a misfire that was made more of a disappointment considering McGrath’s success with “Emma” drew an all-star cast including the likes of John Turturro, Denis Leary, and Sigourney Weaver to this goofy ’60s spy spoof. Of course, McGrath has returned the favor repeatedly in bit parts in four of Allen’s films (including a turn as a jazz expert version of himself in “Sweet and Lowdown”), so that probably made putting on a beret and hamming it up for Allen a no-brainer.

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Bill and Teds Bogus Journey Everett

Die Laughing

5 Depictions of “Death” in Comedy

Catch Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey this week on IFC's Rotten Fridays.

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With Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey airing as part of IFC’s Rotten Fridays, we got to thinking about how exactly the character of Death made his way onto the screen – and onto the poster – of a 1991 comedy sequel.

Ingmar Bergman’s depiction of Death in his 1957 classic The Seventh Seal set the tone for how most people think of The Grim Reaper. Portrayed by Bengt Ekerot, Death was a chess-playing philosopher, answering deep existential questions while capturing your rook with his knight. In Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Death is partial to board games.

Here then is the journey of Death in movie comedies, from Bill & Ted to Whoopi.

1. The Dove / De Duva (1968)

Three years after The Seventh Seal hit theaters, this short film parodied as much Ingmar Bergman as could fit into 14 minutes. The centerpiece is of course the pale-faced and shrouded Death, challenged this time in a game of badminton. It’s also the film debut of Madeline Kahn, who would go on to become the queen of parody with Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety and Blazing Saddles.


2. Monty Python and the Holy Grail trailer (1975)

One of the greatest comedies of all times parodies one of the greatest movies of all times –- but only in the trailer. Referring to the director and title by name, this preview promises something “all rather silly” when compared to The Seventh Seal. To wit: Death takes a pie to the face.


3. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)

Bill and Ted
Orion Pictures

If Death can play chess, then why not Twister, Clue and Battleship? Of all the comic portrayals of Death in movies, this is the one that holds up best. William Sadler brings a vulnerability to the role while never losing Death’s sense of menace. Like the Bill & Ted movies, it’s brilliantly smart and stupid all at the same time.


4. The Last Action Hero (1993)

"Ian
Columbia Pictures

This action-comedy-trainwreck acknowledges The Seventh Seal as a movie and then takes a big leap as the character of Death leaves the land of Ingmar Bergman and jumps into the world of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ian McKellen (the Bengt Ekerot of our day) takes over the role and wreaks havoc in 1990s America.


5. Monkeybone (2001)

Monkeybone
20th Century Fox

Whoopi Goldberg plays Death in this bizarre 2001 comedy, where Brendan Fraser’s comatose cartoonist must get an “exit pass” from Death in order to return to the land of the living. Also, Death has a giant robot. It’s a weird movie, folks.

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Rick Moranis Honey I shrunk the kids

Rick of Time

10 Best Rick Moranis Roles

Catch Rick Moranis in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids this month on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Buena Vista Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection

Everyone loves Rick Moranis. It’s just the truth. This month on IFC, you get a chance to rediscover his awesomeness in Honey, I Shrunk the KidsAs you enjoy that family comedy gem, here are a few other roles that showcase Rick Moranis’ greatness.

1. Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour Krelborn

Only Rick Moranis could play a character that you still root for even though he’s murdering people and feeding them to an alien plant. Audiences loved Seymour so much, the studio had to reshoot the ending of the film. Originally, the film ended like the original Off-Broadway play, with Seymour and Audrey being eaten and Audrey II taking over the world. Test audiences couldn’t stand the fact that they were killed, so a new ending was shot with our leads victorious and the film became one of the best movie musicals of all time.


2. Ghostbusters, Louis Tully

In a film with so many comedy legends, it would have been easy for Rick Moranis to fade into the background as the hapless Louis Tully. But he more than holds his own up against the rest, making Tully just as funny as he is pathetic. And when he goes bug-eyed as Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer, that’s when the fun really starts.


3. Spaceballs, Dark Helmet

You don’t often think of James Earl Jones and Rick Moranis being typecast together. But in Mel Brooks’ goofy send-up of Star Wars, Moranis takes on his version of Darth Vader. As Dark Helmet, Moranis is a perfect mixture of occasionally threatening and mostly inept. If Brooks ever decides to revisit the Spaceballs franchise on the big screen, hopefully he’ll find a way to bring Dark Helmet into the new Star Wars universe.


4. Parenthood, Nathan Huffner

Directed by Ron Howard, Parenthood is a wonderfully truthful movie about marriage, having children and the dangers of oral sex while driving. Moranis plays Nathan Huffner, an intellectual who’s more interested in raising his daughter as a science experiment than being a loving father. Though there are many comedic moments, this is a much more understated performance for Moranis. And he gets easily the sweetest moment in the film when he serenades his estranged wife in front of her students.


5. Strange Brew, Bob McKenzie

Bob and Doug McKenzie were breakout characters from SCTV that were originally created by government demand — the CBC mandates that a certain percentage of all shows in Canada have specifically Canadian content. So, Moranis and Dave Thomas thought of the most stereotypical Canadians possible and the McKenzie brothers were born. The duo appeared on SCTV, in Pizza Hut and Molson commercials, on a platinum-selling comedy album and their big screen debut, Strange Brew. It’s a tale of poisoned beer, mind control plots and an escape from an insane asylum. Plus, it’s a loose take on Hamlet. Probably not what you’d expect from characters made as a joke, but that’s what makes Bob McKenzie a great and surprising “hoser.”


6. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Wayne Szalinski

In this 1989 classic, Rick Moranis plays a bumbling inventor who accidentally shrinks his kids and neighbors to the size of ants. Though that may sound horrifying, Moranis is great as a man who’s thrilled that something of his finally worked and just as comically terrified by what he’s done. With impressive special effects for the time, the film still holds up as a fun family comedy.


7. My Blue Heaven, Barney Coopersmith

Did you know that Rick Moranis was in a comedic version of Goodfellas? My Blue Heaven, starring Steve Martin and Moranis, came out one month before Scorsese’s legendary Mob film. Though the silly comedy and gritty gangster drama may seem completely different, both are based on the life of Henry Hill, known as Vinnie Antonelli in Heaven. Moranis plays the average neighbor who tries to keep former mobster Vinnie (Martin) in line so he can remain in witness protection. Though Goodfellas was based on a novel about Hill’s life by Nicholas Pileggi, My Blue Heaven was written Nora Ephron, who happened to be married to Pileggi at the time. It’s a small mob world.


8. The Wild Life, Harry

This ’80s teen comedy has been mostly forgotten, but it’s notable not only for a performance by Moranis as a trendy manager with very big hair but it’s top level cast. Eric Stoltz, Randy Quaid, Lea Thompson and a bleached blonde Chris Penn all star, with a soundtrack by Eddie Van Halen. It’s all the more surprising that this film isn’t better remembered, since it was writer Cameron Crowe’s follow up to Fast Times at Ridgemont High.


9. Head Office, Howard Gross

This 1985 satire of the corporate world stars Judge Reinhold as a new employee who gets mysteriously promoted within a huge company and learns of the seedy underbelly of business. The film features a few subplots, one starring Danny DeVito and one with Moranis as a failing executive whose screaming idiocy is a great parody of the executive top brass. Though it may not be much of a parody, since we’ve all probably experienced our fair share of screaming, asinine bosses.


10. Brewster’s Millions, Morty King

In Brewster’s Millions, Richard Pryor finds out he’ll get a $300 million inheritance only if he can spend $30 million in one month. (If only we all had such troubles.) As Pryor’s character gets more attention for his big spending and eventual mayoral campaign, he attracts a bunch of odd characters. One of which is Moranis as Morty King, King of the Mimics. It’s a small role where he plays a guy that always repeats everything that’s said, but Morty has got a great costume and Moranis plays this confident weirdo with delightful skill. Also, the idea of anyone crowning himself “King of the Mimics” for doing a trick that little brothers use to annoy everyone is a pretty insane thought.

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Jay Pharoah SNL

The Great Pharoah

Catch Jay Pharoah Post-SNL On the Oddball Comedy Festival

The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival kicks off August 25th in West Palm Beach, FL.

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Photo Credit: SNL/NBC

Like autumn leaves or an Italian government, Saturday Night Live cast members seem to change with each passing day — and this upcoming season is no different. Earlier this month, it was announced that regulars Taran Killam and Jay Pharoah will not be returning for SNL’s 42nd season, however you can still catch Pharoah and his incredible comedy chops — seriously, did you see him do Leon in the “Bern Your Enthusiasm” sketch? — on tour with the Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival.

The 28-year-old comedian is confirmed for the Portland and Seattle shows on September 17th and 18th, but lineups are subject change. You can also catch other great comedians on the tour, including Documentary Now! writer John Mulaney and Maron star and alt comedy favorite Cameron Esposito.

The Oddball Comedy & Curiosity Festival kicks off August 25th in West Palm Beach, FL. Check out the official site for the Oddball Comedy Festival for tickets and more information.

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